Оцените этот текст:

     Rev 0.0 (please up the revision and repost if you make corrections)

     A novel of the nobility of the human spirit.
     A novel of ideas.
     New  York  Times  bestselling  author  Terry Goodkind  returns with  an
extraordinary new novel of the  majestic  Sword of Truth.  Richard, the Lord
Rahl and the Seeker of Truth, has returned to his boyhood home, Hartland.
     When  a  Sister  of the Dark captures Richard,  he  makes  a  desperate
sacrifice to ensure that his beloved Kahlan  remains free.  Taken  deep into
the  old World and forced to  labor  for the tyrannical  evil he's sworn  to
defeat, he is determined to remain defiant even in the heart of darkness.
     Kahlan, left behind and unwilling to abandon the cause of the Midlands,
violates prophecy and  breaks her last pledge  to Richard.  Finally she will
come face to face with the architect of the terror sweeping her land-the mad
dreamwalker, Emperor Jagang.
     While Kahlan faces Jagang's  vast horde, Richard discovers the truth of
the  Imperial Order's  rule. Forced  to  endure  his  ordeal  without magic,
without the Sword of Truth, without his love, he stands against the  despair
and  soulnumbing  regime  of the Old World, his hope kept  alive only by the
knowledge of the rightness of his cause.

     She didn't remember dying.
     With an  obscure sense of apprehension, she  wondered  if  the  distant
angry voices drifting in to her meant she was again about to experience that
transcendent ending: death.
     There was absolutely nothing she could do about it if she was.
     While she  didn't  remember dying, she  dimly recalled, at  some  later
point, solemn whispers saying that she had, saying that death had taken her,
but  that he  had pressed  his  mouth over hers and filled her stilled lungs
with  his breath, his  life, and in so doing had rekindled hers. She had had
no idea who  it was  that spoke of such an inconceivable feat,  or  who "he"
     That  first  night,  when she  had perceived  the distant,  disembodied
voices as  little more than a vague notion, she had grasped that  there were
people around her who didn't believe, even though she was again living, that
she  would remain alive through the rest  of the night. But now she knew she
had; she had remained alive many more nights, perhaps in answer to desperate
prayers and earnest oaths whispered over her that first night.
     But if  she didn't remember  the  dying, she remembered the pain before
passing into that great oblivion. The pain, she never forgot. She remembered
fighting alone and  savagely against all those men,  men baring their  teeth
like  a pack of wild hounds with a  hare. She remembered  the rain of brutal
blows driving her to  the ground, heavy boots slamming into her once she was
there, and the sharp snap of bones. She remembered the blood, so much blood,
on their fists, on their boots. She  remembered the searing terror of having
no breath to  gasp at the agony, no  breath  to cry out against the crushing
weight of hurt.
     Sometime  after-whether hours  or  days,  she didn't  know-when she was
lying under clean sheets in  an unfamiliar  bed  and  had looked up into his
gray  eyes,  she knew that, for some, the world reserved pain worse than she
had suffered.
     She didn't know his name. The profound anguish so  apparent in his eyes
told  her  beyond doubt that she should have.  More  than her own name, more
than life itself, she knew she  should have known his name, but she  didn't.
Nothing had ever shamed her more.
     Thereafter, whenever  her own eyes were closed,  she  saw his,  saw not
only the helpless suffering  in them but also the light of  such fierce hope
as could only be kindled by  righteous love. Somewhere, even in the worst of
the darkness blanketing her mind, she refused to let the light  in his  eyes
be extinguished by her failure to will herself to live.
     At  some  point,  she  remembered  his  name.  Most  of  the time,  she
remembered it.

     Sometimes, she  didn't. Sometimes, when pain smothered  her, she forgot
even her own name.
     Now, as Kahlan heard men growling his name, she knew  it, she knew him.
With tenacious resolution she clung  to  that name-Richard-and to her memory
of hint, of who he was, of everything he meant to her.
     Even later,  when people had  feared  she would  yet die, she knew  she
would live.  She had to, for Richard, her husband. For the child she carried
in her womb. His child. Their child.
     The sounds of angry men calling Richard by name at last tugged Kahlan's
eyes open. She squinted against the  agony  that had been  tempered,  if not
banished, while in the cocoon of sleep. She  was greeted by a blush of amber
light filling the small room around  her. Since the light wasn't bright, she
reasoned that there must be a covering over a window muting the sunlight, or
maybe it was dusk. Whenever  she woke, as now, she  not only had no sense of
time, but no sense of how long she had been asleep.
     She worked her tongue against  the pasty dryness in her mouth. Her body
felt leaden with the thick, lingering  slumber. She  was as nauseated as the
time  when she was  little  and had  eaten three candy green apples before a
boat  journey on a hot, windy day. It was hot like that now: summer hot. She
struggled to rouse herself  fully, but her awaking  awareness seemed adrift,
bobbing in a  vast shadowy sea. Her stomach roiled. She suddenly had to  put
all her mental  effort  into not throwing up. She knew all too well  that in
her  present  condition, few  things  hurt more than  vomiting. Her  eyelids
sagged closed again, and she foundered to a place darker yet.
     She caught herself, forced her thoughts to the surface, and  willed her
eyes open again. She remembered: they gave her herbs to dull the pain and to
help  her sleep. Richard knew a  good  deal about  herbs. At least the herbs
helped her,  drift into stuporous sleep.  The pain, if not as  sharp,  still
found her there.
     Slowly,  carefully, so  as not  to twist what  felt  like  double-edged
daggers skewered here and there between her ribs, she drew  a deeper breath.
The fragrance  of balsam and pine filled her  lungs, helping  to settle  her
stomach. It  was not the aroma of trees  among other smells  in the  forest,
among  damp  dirt  and toadstools and cinnamon ferns, but  the  redolence of
trees freshly  felled and limbed. She concentrated on focusing her sight and
saw beyond the foot of the bed a wall of pale, newly peeled timber, here and
there oozing sap from fresh axe cuts. The wood looked to have been split and
hewn  in haste,  yet its  tight fit betrayed a  precision only knowledge and
experience could bestow.
     The room was tiny; in the Confessors' Palace, where she had grown up, a
room  this  small would not have qualified as a closet for linens. Moreover,
it would have been stone, if not marble. She liked the tiny wooden room; she
expected that Richard had built it  to protect her. It felt almost  like his
sheltering arms around her. Marble, with its  aloof dignity, never comforted
her in that way.
     Beyond the foot of  the bed, she spotted a carving of a bird in flight.
It  had been sculpted  with a few sure strokes of a knife into a log of  the
wall on a  flat  spot only a little bigger  than her hand. Richard had given
her  something  to look at. On occasion, sitting around a campfire,  she had
watched  him casually carve a  face or an animal from  a scrap  of wood. The
bird, soaring on wings spread wide as it watched  over her, conveyed a sense
of freedom.
     Turning her eyes  to  the right, she  saw a brown wool blanket  hanging
over  the  doorway.  From  beyond  the  doorway  came  fragments  of  angry,
threatening voices.

     "It's not  by our choice, Richard...  We have our own families to think
about... Wives and Children
     Wanting to know what was going on, Kahlan tried to push herself up onto
her left elbow. Somehow, her arm didn't work the way she had expected it to.
Like  a  bolt  of  lightning, pain  blasted up the marrow  of  her bone  and
exploded through her shoulder.
     Gasping against the racking agony  of attempted movement,  she  dropped
back before  she had managed to  lift her shoulder an inch off the  bed. Her
panting twisted the daggers piercing her sides. She  had to will herself  to
slow her breathing in  order to get the stabbing  pain under control. As the
worst  of  the torment in  her arm and the stitches in  her ribs  eased, she
finally let out a soft moan.
     With calculated calm, she gazed down  the length of her  left  arm. The
arm was  spitted. As soon as she  saw it, she remembered that  of course  it
was. She  reproached herself for not thinking of it before she  had tried to
put weight on it. The  herbs,  she  knew,  were  making her  thinking fuzzy.
Fearing  to make  another careless movement, and  since she couldn't sit up,
she focused her effort on forcing clarity into her mind.
     She  cautiously reached up with her right hand  and  wiped her  fingers
across the bloom  of sweat on her brow, sweat sown by the flash of pain. Her
right shoulder socket hurt, but  it worked well  enough. She was pleased  by
that triumph, at least.  She touched her  puffy eyes, understanding then why
it  had hurt to look  toward the  door.  Gingerly,  her  fingers  explored a
foreign landscape of  swollen flesh.  Her  imagination colored it  a ghastly
black-and-blue. When  her fingers brushed  cuts  on  her cheek,  hot  embers
seemed to sear raw, exposed nerves.
     She needed no mirror to  know she was a terrible sight. She knew,  too,
how bad it was  whenever she looked  up into Richard's eyes. She wished  she
could look good for  him if for  no other reason than to lift  the suffering
from his eyes. Reading her thoughts, he  would say, "I'm fine. Stop worrying
about me and put your mind to getting better."
     With a bittersweet longing, Kahlan recalled lying  with  Richard, their
limbs tangled in delicious exhaustion,  his skin hot against hers,  his  big
hand resting on her belly as they  caught their breath. It was agony wanting
to  hold  him  in her  arms  again and being  unable to  do so. She reminded
herself that it was only a matter of some time and some  healing. They  were
together and that was what mattered. His mere presence was a restorative.
     She  heard  Richard, beyond the  blanket over the  door,  speaking in a
tightly  controlled  voice,  stressing his  words as if  each had cost him a
fortune. "We just need some time . . ."
     The men's voices were heated and insistent as they all began talking at
once. "It's not  because we  want to-you should know that, Richard, you know
us  .... What  if  it  brings  trouble here? . .  .  We've  heard about  the
fighting. You said yourself she's from the Midlands. We can't allow . . . we
won't . . ."
     Kahlan listened,  expecting the sound of his sword being drawn. Richard
had  nearly infinite patience, but little  tolerance.  Cara,  his bodyguard,
their friend,  was no doubt  out there, too;  Cara  had neither patience nor
     Instead  of drawing his sword, Richard said, "I'm not asking  anyone to
give Me  anything I want only to be left  alone in  a peaceful place where I
can  care for her.  I wanted to  be  close to Hartland  in case  she  needed
something."  He  paused. "Please  .  . . just until she has a chance to  get

     Kahlan  wanted to scream  at him: No! Don't you dare beg them, Richard!
They have  no right  to make you beg.  They've no right!  They  could  never
understand the sacrifices you've made.
     But she could do little more than whisper his name in sorrow.
     "Don't test  us .... We'll burn you out if  we have to! You can't fight
us all-we have right on our side."
     The  men  ranted and swore dark oaths. She  expected, now,  at last, to
hear the sound of  his sword being drawn. Instead, in a calm voice,  Richard
answered the men in  words Kahlan couldn't quite make out. A dreadful  quiet
settled in.
     "It's not because we like doing this, Richard," someone finally said in
a sheepish voice. "We've  no  choice. We've got to consider our own families
and everyone else."
     Another man spoke out with righteous indignation. "Besides, you seem to
have  gotten all high-and-mighty  of a sudden, with  your fancy  clothes and
sword, not like you used to be, back when you were a woods guide."
     "That's  right," said another. "Just because you  went off and saw some
of the world, that don't mean you can come back here  thinking you're better
than us."
     "I've  overstepped  what  you have all decided  is  my  proper  place,"
Richard said. "Is this what you mean to say?"
     "You turned your back on  your  community, on your roots,  as I see it;
you think our women aren't good enough for the great Richard Cypher. No,  he
had to marry some woman  from  away.  Then you  come  back here and think to
flaunt yourselves over us."
     "How? By doing what? Marrying the woman I love? This, you see as  vain?
This nullifies my right to live in  peace? And takes away her right to heal,
to get well and live?"
     These men knew him as Richard Cypher, a simple woods guide, not as  the
person he had discovered  he was in truth, and who he had become. He was the
same man as before, but in so many ways, they had never known him.
     "You  ought to  be on your  knees praying for the  Creator to heal your
wife,"  another  man put in. "All of mankind  is  a wretched and undeserving
lot. You ought to pray and ask the Creator's forgiveness for your evil deeds
and  sinfulness-that's  what  brought your troubles  on you and  your woman.
Instead, you want to bring your troubles among honest  working folks. You've
no right to try to  force your sinful troubles  on  us.  That's not what the
Creator wants. You  should be  thinking of  us. The Creator wants you to  be
humble and to help others-that's why He struck her down: to teach you both a
     "Did he tell  you this, Albert?" Richard asked.  "Does  this Creator of
yours come  to talk with you about his  intentions and confide  in  you  his
     "He talks to anyone  who has the  proper modest attitude  to listen  to
Him," Albert fumed.
     "Besides,"  another  man  spoke up, "this Imperial Order you warn about
has  some  good things  to be said  for  it. If you weren't  so  bullheaded,
Richard, you'd see that. There's nothing wrong  with wanting to see everyone
treated  decent. It's only being fair minded. It's only right. Those are the
Creator's wishes,  you've got to admit, and that's what the  Imperial  Order
teaches,  too. If you can't see that much good in the Order-well then, you'd
best be gone, and soon."
     Kahlan held her breath.
     In an ominous tone of voice, Richard said, "So be it."

     These were men Richard knew; he had addressed them by name and reminded
them  of years  and deeds shared.  He had been  patient with them.  Patience
finally exhausted, he had reached intolerance.
     Horses snorted and stomped,  their leather tack  creaking, as  the  men
mounted up. "In  the morning  we'll  be  back to burn this  place down. We'd
better not catch you or yours anywhere near here,  or you'll burn  with it."
After  a few last curses, the men raced away. The sound of  departing hooves
hammering the ground rumbled through Kahlan's back. Even that hurt.
     She smiled a small  smile for Richard, even if he couldn't see  it. She
wished only  that he had not begged on her behalf; he would never, she knew,
have begged for anything for himself.
     Light  splashed across  the  wall as  the blanket over the doorway  was
thrown back.  By  the  direction and quality of the light, Kahlan guessed it
had to be somewhere in the middle of a thinly overcast day. Richard appeared
beside  her, his  tall form towering over her,  throwing  a slash of  shadow
across her middle.
     He  wore  a   black,   sleeveless  undershirt,  without  his  shirt  or
magnificent gold and  black tunic, leaving his  muscular arms  bare. At  his
left hip, the side toward  her, a  flash  of light glinted off the pommel of
his singular sword. His broad shoulders made the room seem even smaller than
it  had been only a moment before. His cleanshaven face, his strong jaw, and
the crisp  line of his mouth perfectly complemented his  powerful  form. His
hair, a color  somewhere  between  blond  and brown, brushed the nape of his
neck. But  it was the intelligence so  clearly  evident in those penetrating
gray eyes of his that from the first had riveted her attention.
     "Richard," Kahlan whispered, "I won't have you begging on my account."
     The corners of his mouth tightened with the hint of a smile. "If I want
to  beg, I  shall do so." He pulled her blanket up a little, making sure she
was snugly covered,  even though  she was sweating. "I  didn't know you were
     "How long have I been asleep?"
     "A while."
     She figured it must  have  been  quite  a  while. She  didn't  remember
arriving at this place, or him building the house that now stood around her.
     Kahlan felt  more like  a  person  in her  eighties  than  one  in  her
twenties. She had never been  hurt before,  not grievously hurt, anyway, not
to the point of being on the cusp of death and utterly helpless for so long.
She hated  it, and she  hated that she couldn't do the  simplest  things for
herself. Most of the time she detested that more than the pain.
     She  was stunned to understand so unexpectedly and so completely life's
frailty, her own  frailty, her own mortality. She had risked her life in the
past and had been in danger many times, but looking back she didn't know  if
she  had  ever truly believed that something like this  could happen to her.
Confronting the reality of it was crushing.
     Something inside seemed to have broken that night-some idea of herself,
some  confidence. She could so easily have died.  Their baby could have died
before it even had a chance to live.
     "You're getting better," Richard said, as if in answer to her thoughts.
"I'm not just saying that. I can see that you're healing."
     She gazed into his eyes, summoning the courage to  finally ask, "How do
they know about the Order way up here?"
     "People fleeing the fighting have been up this  way.  Men spreading the

     of the Imperial Order have been even here,  to  where  I grew up. Their
words can sound good-almost make sense-if you don't think, if you just feel.
Truth doesn't seem to count for much," He added in afterthought. He answered
the unspoken  question  in her eyes. "The men  from the Order are gone.  The
fools out there were just spouting things they've heard, that's all."
     "But they intend  us to  leave. They sound like men who keep the  oaths
they've sworn."
     He nodded, but then some of his smile returned. "Do you know that we're
very close to where I first met you, last autumn? Do you remember?"
     "How could I ever forget the day I met you?"
     "Our lives were in  jeopardy back  then and we had  to leave here. I've
never regretted it. It was the start of my  life with you. As long  as we're
together, nothing else really matters."
     Cara swept  in  through  the doorway and came to a halt beside Richard,
adding her shadow to  his across the blue cotton blanket that covered Kahlan
to her armpits. Sheathed in skintight red leather, Cara's body had the sleek
grace  of  a  falcon:  commanding, swift, and  deadly. Mord-Sith always wore
their  red leather when they believed  there was going to be trouble. Cara's
long  blond hair, swept back into a single thick braid, was  another mark of
her profession of Mord-Sith, member of an elite corps  of guards to the Lord
Rahl himself.
     Richard had, after a fashion, inherited the Mord-Sith when he inherited
the rule  of D'Hara, a  place  he grew  up never  knowing. Command  was  not
something he had sought; nonetheless it had fallen to him. Now a  great many
people  depended on him. The  entire New World-Westland,  the  Midlands, and
D'Hara depended on him.
     "How do you feel?" Cara asked with sincere concern.
     Kahlan was able to summon little more voice than a hoarse whisper. "I'm
     "Well, if you feel better,"  Cara growled, "then tell Lord Rahl that he
should allow me to do my job and put the proper respect into men like that."
Her menacing blue eyes turned for a moment toward the spot where the men had
been while delivering their threats. "The ones I leave alive, anyway."
     "Cara, use your head," Richard said. "We  can't turn  this place into a
fortress and protect ourselves  every  hour  of every  day.  Those  men  are
afraid.  No matter how wrong they  are,  they view us as a danger  to  their
lives  and  the  lives of their families. We  know  better  than to fight  a
senseless battle when we can avoid it."
     "But Richard," Kahlan said, lifting  her  right hand in  a weak gesture
toward the wall before her, "you've built this-"
     "Only this room. I wanted a shelter for you first. It didn't take  that
long just some trees cut and split. We've not built the rest of it yet. It's
not worth shedding blood over."
     If Richard seemed calm, Cara looked ready to chew steel and spit nails.
"Would  you  tell this  obstinate  husband of  yours to let me  kill someone
before  I  go crazy? I  can't just stand around and allow people to get away
with threatening the two of you! I am Mord-Sith!"
     Cara took  her job  of protecting  Richard-the Lord  Rahl of D'Hara-and
Kahlan  very  seriously.  Where  Richard's  life  was  concerned,  Cara  was
perfectly willing to kill first  and decide later if it had  been necessary.
That was one of the things for which Richard had no tolerance.

     Kahlan's only answer was a smile.
     "Mother  Confessor, you can't allow Lord  Rahl to  bow to  the will  of
foolish men like those. Tell him."
     Kahlan could probably  count on the fingers of one hand the people who,
in her  whole life, had ever  addressed her by the name "Kahlan"  without at
minimum the appellation "Confessor" before it. She  had  heard her  ultimate
title-Mother Confessor-spoken countless  times, in tones ranging  from  awed
reverence to  shuddering fear. Many people,  as they knelt before  her, were
incapable  of  even whispering through trembling lips  the two words  of her
title. Others, when alone, whispered them with lethal intent.
     Kahlan  had  been  named Mother  Confessor while  still  in  her  early
twenties-the  youngest Confessor ever  named to that powerful position.  But
that was several years past. Now, she was the only living Confessor left.
     Kahlan  had always endured  the title,  the  bowing  and  kneeling, the
reverence,  the awe, the fear, and the murderous intentions, because she had
no choice. But more than that,  she was the Mother  Confessor-by  succession
and selection, by right, by oath, and by duty.
     Cara  always  addressed  Kahlan as  "Mother Confessor." But from Cara's
lips  the words  were subtly different than from any others. It was almost a
challenge, a  defiance by  scrupulous  compliance, but with  a  hint  of  an
affectionate smirk. Coming from Cara,  Kahlan didn't hear "Mother Confessor"
so much as she heard "Sister." Cara was from the distant land of  D'Hara. No
one, anywhere, outranked Cara, as far as Cara was concerned, except the Lord
Rahl. The most she would allow was that Kahlan could be her equal in duty to
Richard. Being considered an equal by Cara, though, was high praise indeed.
     When  Cara addressed Richard as Lord Rahl, however, she  was not saying
"Brother." She was saying precisely what she meant: Lord Rahl.
     To the  men with  the  angry  voices,  the Lord Rahl  was as foreign  a
concept as was the distant land of D'Hara. Kahlan was from the Midlands that
separated D'Hara  from Westland. The people here in Westland knew nothing of
the Midlands or  the  Mother Confessor.  For decades, the three parts of the
New  World had  been separated by impassable  boundaries,  leaving what  was
beyond  those  boundaries  shrouded  in  mystery.  The autumn  before, those
boundaries had fallen.
     And then, in the winter,  the common barrier to the south  of the three
lands that had for  three thousand years sealed away  the menace of the  Old
World had been breached, loosing the Imperial Order on them all. In the last
year, the world had been thrown into turmoil; everything everyone  had grown
up knowing had changed.
     "I'm  not going to allow you to hurt people just because they refuse to
help  us," Richard said to  Cara. "It would  solve  nothing and only  end up
causing us  more trouble.  What we  started here only  took a short  time to
build. I thought this place would  be safe,  but it's not. We'll simply move
     He turned back to Kahlan. His voice lost its fire.
     "I was hoping to bring you home, to  some peace and quiet, but it looks
like home doesn't want me, either. I'm sorry."
     "Just those men, Richard." In  the land of Anderith, just before Kahlan
had  been  attacked and  beaten, the  people had rejected Richard's offer to
join  the emerging D'Haran Empire he  led  in the cause of freedom. Instead,
the people  of Anderith  willingly chose to  side with the  Imperial  Order.
Richard had  taken Kahlan and walked away from everything, it  seemed. "What
about your real friends here?"

     "I haven't had time . .  . I wanted to get a shelter up, first. There's
no time now. Maybe later."
     Kahlan  reached for his hand, which hung at his side. His fingers  were
too far away. "But, Richard-"
     "Look,  it's not safe to stay here anymore.  It's as simple  as that. I
brought  you  here because  I thought it would  be  a safe place for  you to
recover and regain your strength. I was wrong. It's not. We can't stay here.
     "Yes, Richard."
     "We have to move on."
     "Yes, Richard."
     There was  something more to  this, she knew-something  of far  greater
importance  than the more  immediate  ordeal it meant  for her. There was  a
distant, troubled look in his eyes.
     "But  what of the war? Everyone is depending  on us-on  you. I can't be
much  help  until  I get  better, but they need you right  now. The  D'Haran
Empire needs  you. You are the Lord Rahl. You lead  them.  What are we doing
here? Richard. . ." She waited until his eyes turned  to look  at  her. "Why
are we running away when everyone is counting on us?"
     "I'm doing as I must."
     "As you must? What does that mean?"
     Shadow shrouded his face as he looked away.
     "I've . . . had a vision."

     A vision?" Kahlan said in open astonishment.
     Richard hated anything to do with prophecy. It had caused him no end of
     Prophecy was always ambiguous and usually cryptic, no  matter how clear
it  seemed  on  the  surface.  The  untrained  were  easily  misled  by  its
superficially  simplistic  construction.  Unthinking adherence  to a literal
interpretation of prophecy had in the past  caused great turmoil, everything
from murder to war. As a result, those involved with prophecy went  to great
lengths to keep it secret.
     Prophecy, at  least  on the face  of  it, was  predestination;  Richard
believed  that  man created his own destiny. He had once told her, "Prophecy
can  only say that tomorrow the sun will come up. It  can't say what you are
going to  do with your  day.  The  act of  going about  your day  is not the
fulfillment of prophecy, but the fulfillment of your own purpose."
     Shota, the  witch woman, had  prophesied that Richard and Kahlan  would
conceive an infamous son.  Richard had more than once proven Shota's view of
the future to be, if not fatally flawed,  at least vastly more complex  than
Shota  would  have it  seem.  Like  Richard,  Kahlan  didn't  accept Shota's
     On any number of occasions,  Richard's view of prophecy had been  shown
to  be  correct.  Richard simply ignored what  prophecy said and  did as  he
believed he must. By his doing so, prophecy  was in the end often fulfilled,
but in ways that could not have been foretold. In this way,  prophecy was at
once proven and  disproved, resolving nothing and only demonstrating what an
eternal enigma it truly was.
     Richard's grandfather, Zedd,  who  had  helped  raise  him not far from
where  they were, had not only kept his own identity  as a wizard secret. In
order  to  protect  Richard,  he  also  hid the fact  that  Richard had been
fathered by  Darken  Rahl and not  George Cypher,  the man who had loved and
raised him. Darken Rahl,  a wizard of great  power, had been  the dangerous,
violent ruler of  far-off  D'Hara. Richard had inherited the  gift  of magic
from  two different bloodlines.  After  killing  Darken Rahl,  he  had  also
inherited the rule of D'Hara, a land that was in many ways as much a mystery
to him as was his power.
     Kahlan, being from the Midlands, had grown up around wizards; Richard's
ability was unlike that of any  wizard she had  ever known. He possessed not
one aspect of the  gift, but many, and not one side, but both: he  was a war
wizard.  Some of his  outfit came  from the Wizard's  Keep, and had not been
worn in three thousand years-since the last war wizard lived.
     With the gift  dying out in  mankind, wizards were uncommon; Kahlan had
known fewer than a dozen. Among wizards,  prophets were the  most rare;  she
knew  of  the existence of  only  two. One of those was Richard's  ancestor,
which made visions all

     the more within the  province of Richard's gift. Yet Richard had always
treated prophecy as a viper in his bed.
     Tenderly,  as if there were  no more precious thing in the whole world,
Richard lifted her hand. "You know  how  I  always talk about  the beautiful
places only I know way back in the mountains to the west of where I grew up?
The special  places  I've always wanted to  show you? I'm going  to take you
there, where we'll be safe."
     "D'Harans are bonded to you, Lord Rahl," Cara reminded  him,  "and will
be able to find you through that bond."
     "Well, our enemies aren't bonded to me. They won't know where we are."
     Cara seemed to find that thought agreeable. "If people don't go to this
place, then  there won't be any roads. How are  we going to get the carriage
there? The Mother Confessor can't walk."
     "I'll make a litter. You and I will carry her in that."
     Cara nodded thoughtfully. "We could  do  that. If there were  no  other
people, then the two of you would be safe, at least."
     "Safer than  here.  I  had  expected the  people  here  to  leave us to
ourselves. I  hadn't expected the Order  to foment unrest this  far  away-at
least not this quickly.  Those men  usually aren't a  bad  lot, but  they're
working themselves up into a dangerous mood. "
     "The cowards have gone back to their women's skirts. They won't be back
until morning. We can let  the  Mother Confessor rest and  then leave before
     Richard cast Cara a telling look. "One of those men, Albert, has a son,
Lester. Lester and his  pal, Tommy Lancaster,  once tried to put arrows into
me for spoiling some fun Tommy was about to have hurting  someone. Now Tommy
and Lester are missing a good many teeth.  Albert will  tell Lester about us
being here, and soon after, Tommy Lancaster will know, too.
     "Now  that  the  Imperial Order has  filled their heads with  talk of a
noble war on behalf of  good, those men  will  be fancying what it would  be
like to  be  war heroes. They aren't ordinarily violent, but today they were
more unreasonable than I've ever seen them.
     "They'll go drinking to fortify their courage. Tommy and Lester will be
with them by then, and their tales  of how  I  wronged  them  and how  I'm a
danger to decent folks will get everyone all worked up. Because they greatly
outnumber  us,  they'll begin to  see  the  merit in  killing  us-see  it as
protecting their families and  doing the right thing  for the community  and
their  Creator. Full  of  liquor and glory,  they won't want to  wait  until
morning. They'll be back tonight. We have to leave now."
     Cara  seemed unconcerned. "I say we  wait for them, and  when they come
back, we end the threat."
     "Some of them will bring  along other friends. There will be  a lot  of
them by the time they get here. We have  Kahlan to think about. I don't want
to risk one of us  being injured. There's nothing  to  be gained by fighting
     Richard  pulled  the   ancient,  tooled-leather  baldric,  holding  the
gold-and-silverwrought scabbard  and sword, off over his head and hung it on
the stump of a  branch sticking out of a log. Looking  unhappy,  Cara folded
her arms. She would rather not leave  a threat  alive.  Richard  picked  his
folded black shirt off the floor to  the  side, where Kahlan hadn't seen it.
He poked an arm through a sleeve and drew it on.
     "A vision?" Kahlan  finally  asked again. As  much  trouble  as the men
could  be,  they  were  not her  biggest concern  just  then. "You've had  a
     "The sudden clarity of it felt like a vision, but it was really more of
a revelation."

     "Revelation." She wished she could manage  more than a hoarse  whisper.
"And what form did this vision revelation thing take?"
     Kahlan stared up at him. "Understanding of what?"
     He started buttoning his shirt. "Through  this realization I've come to
understand  the larger picture.  I've come to understand what it  is I  must
     "Yes," Cara muttered, "and wait until you hear it. Go ahead, tell her."
     Richard  glared  at  Cara  and she  answered him in kind. His attention
finally returned to Kahlan.
     "If I lead us into this war, we will lose. A great many people will die
for nothing. The result will be a world enslaved by the Imperial Order. If I
don't lead our side in battle, the world will still fall under the shadow of
the Order but far fewer people will die. Only in that way will we ever stand
a chance."
     "By  losing? You  want to lose  first, and then fight? . . . How can we
even consider abandoning the fight for freedom?"
     "Anderith helped teach me a lesson," he said. His voice was restrained,
as if  he regretted  what he was saying. "I  can't press  this war.  Freedom
requires effort if it is  to be won and vigilance if it is to be maintained.
People just don't value freedom until it's taken away."
     "But many do," Kahlan objected.
     "There are always some, but most don't even understand it,  nor do they
care to-the  same as with magic. People  mindlessly  shrink  from  it,  too,
without seeing  the truth.  The Order offers them a world without  magic and
ready-made answers  to  everything. Servitude  is simple.  I thought that  I
could convince  people of  the value of their own lives, and  of liberty. In
Anderith they showed me just how foolish I had been."
     "Anderith is just one place-"
     "Anderith  was not  remarkable.  Look  at  all  the  trouble we've  had
elsewhere. We're having trouble  even here, where I grew up."  Richard began
tucking in his shirt. "Forcing people to fight for freedom is the worst kind
of contradiction.
     "Nothing  I can say will inspire people  to care-I've tried. Those  who
value liberty will have to run,  to hide, to try  to survive and endure what
is sure to come. I can't prevent it. I can't help them. I know that now."
     "But Richard, how can you even think of-"
     'I  must do what  is best for us. I must  be  selfish; life is far  too
precious  to  be  casually  squandered on  useless causes. There  can be  no
greater evil than that. People can only be saved from the coming dark age of
subjugation  and servitude  if they, too, come to understand and care  about
the value of their own lives, their freedom, and are willing to act in their
own interest. We must  try to stay alive in the  hope that  such a day  will
     "But we can prevail in this war. We must."
     "Do you think that I can just go off and lead men into war, and because
I wish it, we will win? We  won't. It takes more than my wishing it. It will
take  vast  numbers of people  fully committed to  the cause. We don't  have
that. If we throw our forces against the Order, we will be destroyed and any
chance for winning freedom in the future will be forever lost." He raked his
fingers back through his hair. "We must not lead our forces against the army
of the Order."
     He  turned to  pulling his black, open-sided  tunic on over  his  head.
Kahlan struggled to  give force  to  her  voice,  to  the magnitude  of  her

     "But  what about all those  who are  prepared  to fight-all  the armies
already in  the field?  There  are  good  men, able men, ready to go against
Jagang and stop his Imperial Order and drive them back to the Old World. Who
will lead our men?"
     "Lead them to what? Death? They can't win."
     Kahlan was horrified.  She  reached  up and  snatched  his  shirtsleeve
before he could lean down to retrieve his broad  over-belt. "Richard, you're
only saying this, walking away from the  struggle, because of  what happened
to me."
     "No.  I  had  already  decided  it  that  same night,  before you  were
attacked. When  I  went out alone for a walk, after the vote, I did a lot of
thinking. I came to this realization and made up my mind. What  happened  to
you made no difference except  to prove  the point that I'm right and should
have figured it out sooner. If I had, you would never have been hurt."
     "But if  the Mother Confessor had not been  hurt, you would  have  felt
better by morning and changed your mind."
     Light coming through the doorway behind him lit in  a blaze of gold the
ancient  symbols  coiled  along  the squared edges of his tunic. "Cara, what
would  happen if I'd been  attacked with her, and  we had both  been killed?
What would you all do then?"
     "I don't know."
     "That is why I withdraw. You are all following me, not participating in
a struggle for your own future. Your answer  should have been that you would
all fight on for yourselves, for your freedom. I have come to understand the
mistake I've  made  in this, and to see that we cannot  win in this way. The
Order is too large an opponent."
     Kahlan's father, King Wyborn,  had taught  her about  fighting  against
such odds, and she had practical experience at it. "Their army may outnumber
ours, but that  doesn't make it impossible. We just have to outthink them. I
will be there to help you, Richard. We have seasoned officers. We can do it.
We must."
     "Look how  the Order's cause spreads on words  that sound good"-Richard
swept out an arm-"even to distant places like this. We know beyond doubt the
evil of the Order, yet people everywhere passionately side with them despite
the ghastly truth of everything the Imperial Order stands for."
     "Richard,"  Kahlan whispered, trying not to  lose  what was left of her
voice,  "I led those  young Galean recruits  against an army of  experienced
Order soldiers who greatly outnumbered us, and we prevailed."
     "Exactly. They had  just seen their home city after the Order  had been
there. Everyone they loved had been murdered, everything they  knew had been
destroyed.  Those men fought with  an understanding of what  they were doing
and  why. They were going to  throw themselves at  the enemy with or without
you  commanding  them.  But they  were the only ones, and  even  though they
succeeded, most of them were killed in the struggle."
     Kahlan was incredulous. "So you are going to let the Order do the  same
elsewhere  so  as to give  people a  reason to fight? You are going to stand
aside and let the Order slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent people?
     "You want to quit because I was hurt. Dear spirits, I love you Richard,
but don't do  this to me. I'm the Mother  Confessor; I'm responsible for the
lives of the  people of the Midlands. Don't do this because of what happened
to me."
     Richard snapped on his leather-padded silver wristbands. "I'm not doing
this  because of what  happened to you.  I'm helping save those lives in the
only way that has a chance. I'm doing the only thing I can do."

     "You are doing the easy thing," Cara said.
     Richard met her challenge  with quiet sincerity. "Cara, I'm  doing  the
hardest thing I have ever had to do."
     Kahlan was sure now that their rejection by the Anderith people had hit
him harder than she had realized. She caught two of his fingers and squeezed
sympathetically.  He had  put  his  heart into  sparing  those  people  from
enslavement by the Order. He had tried  to show them the value of freedom by
allowing them the freedom to  choose their own destiny. He had put his faith
in their hands.
     In  a crushing defeat,  an  enormous majority had spurned  all  he  had
offered, and in so doing devastated that faith.
     Kahlan thought that perhaps  with  some time to heal, the same  as with
her, the pain would fade for him, too. "You can't hold yourself to blame for
the fall of Anderith, Richard. You did your best. It wasn't your fault."
     He picked up his big leather over-belt with its gold-worked pouches and
cinched it over the magnificent tunic.
     "When you're the leader, everything is your fault."
     Kahlan knew  the truth of that. She thought to dissuade him by taking a
different tack.
     "What form did this vision assume?"
     Richard's piercing gray eyes locked on her, almost in warning.
     "Vision,   revelation,  realization,   postulation,  prophecy  .  .   .
understanding--call it what you will, for  in  this they are  all in one the
same, and unequivocal. I can't describe it but to say  it seems as if I must
have always known it.  Maybe I have. It wasn't  so much words  as  it  was a
complete concept, a conclusion, a truth that became absolutely clear to me."
     She  knew he expected  her to leave it at  that. "If it became so clear
and is unambiguous," she pressed, "you must be able to express it in words."
     Richard slipped the baldric  over his  head,  laying it over his  right
shoulder. As he  adjusted the sword against his left hip, light sparkled off
the raised gold wire woven through the silver wire of the hilt  to spell out
the word TRUTH.
     His brow was smooth and his face calm. She knew she had at last brought
him to the heart of  the matter. His certainty would afford him no reason to
keep it  from  her  if she chose to hear it,  and she did. His words  rolled
forth with quiet power, like prophecy come to life.
     "I have been  a leader too soon. It  is not I who  must prove myself to
the people,  but the people who must now prove themselves to me. Until then,
I must not lead them, or all hope is lost."
     Standing there, erect,  masculine,  masterful in  his  black war wizard
outfit, he looked as  if he could be posing for a statue  of who he was: the
Seeker of  Truth, rightfully  named  by  Zeddicus Zu'1  Zorander, the  First
Wizard himself-and Richard's grandfather. It had  nearly broken Zedd's heart
to do so, because Seekers so often died young and violently.
     While he lived, a  Seeker was a law unto himself. Backed by the awesome
power of his sword, a Seeker could bring down kingdoms. That  was one reason
it was so  important to name the right  person-a moral  person-to the  post.
Zedd claimed that the Seeker, in a way, named himself by  the nature  of his
own mind and by his actions, and that the First Wizard's function was simply
to  act  on his observations by  officially naming him and  giving  him  the
weapon that was to be his lifelong companion.

     So many different qualities and responsibilities had converged in  this
man she loved that she sometimes wondered how he could reconcile them all.
     "Richard, are you so sure?"
     Because of the importance of the  post, Kahlan and then  Zedd had sworn
their lives in  defense of Richard  as the newly named Seeker of Truth. That
had been shortly after Kahlan had met him. It was as Seeker that Richard had
first come to accept all that had been thrust upon  him,  and to  live up to
the extraordinary trust put in him.
     His gray eyes fairly blazed with clarity of purpose as he answered her.
     "The only sovereign I can allow to rule me is reason. The  first law of
reason is  this: what exists,  exists; what  is, is. From  this irreducible,
bedrock principle, all knowledge is built. This is the foundation from which
life is embraced.
     "Reason is  a  choice. Wishes and whims are not facts, nor  are  they a
means to discovering them. Reason is  our only  way of grasping reality-it's
our basic tool of survival. We are free to  evade the effort of thinking, to
reject reason,  but  we  are not free to  avoid the penalty of the abyss  we
refuse to see.
     "If  I fail to use reason in this struggle, if  I close  my eyes to the
reality of what is, in favor of what I would wish, then we will  both die in
this, and for nothing. We will be  but two more  among uncounted millions of
nameless  corpses beneath the gray, gloomy decay of mankind. In the darkness
that will follow, our bones will be meaningless dust.
     "Eventually, perhaps a thousand years from now, perhaps more, the light
of  liberty will again be raised up to shine over a free people, but between
now and then,  millions upon millions  of people will be born into  hopeless
misery and have no choice but to bear the weight of the Order's yoke. We, by
ignoring reason, will have purchased  those mountains of broken  bodies, the
wreckage of lives endured but never lived."
     Kahlan found herself unable to summon  the courage to  speak, much less
argue; to do so right then  would be to ask him to disregard his judgment at
a cost he  believed would  be a sea of blood. But doing  as he saw they must
would cast her people helpless into the jaws of death.
     Kahlan, her vision turning to a watery blur, looked away.
     "Cara," Richard said, "get the horses hitched to the carnage. I'm going
to scout a circle to make sure we don't have any surprises."
     "I will scout while you hitch the horses. I am your guard."
     "You're  my  friend, too. I know  this land  better than you. Hitch the
horses and don't give me any trouble about it."
     Cara rolled her eyes and huffed, but marched off to do his bidding.
     The room rang with silence. Richard's  shadow slipped  off the blanket.
When Kahlan  whispered  her love to him,  he  paused  and looked  back.  His
shoulders seemed to betray the weight he carried.
     "I wish  I could,  but  I can't  make  people  understand freedom.  I'm
     From somewhere inside, Kahlan found a smile for him. "Maybe it isn't so
hard."  She gestured toward the bird he  had carved in the wall. "Just  show
them that, and they will  understand  what freedom really means:  to soar on
your own wings."
     Richard smiled, she thought gratefully, before he vanished  through the

     All  the troubling thoughts tumbling through her mind  kept Kahlan from
falling back  to sleep. She tried not to think about Richard's vision of the
future.  As  exhausted as she  was by pain, his  words were too troubling to
contemplate,  and  besides, there was nothing she  could do about  it  right
then. But she was  determined to  help him get over the loss of Anderith and
focus on stopping the Imperial Order.
     It  was more difficult to shake her thoughts about the men who had been
outside, men Richard  had grown up with. The  haunting memory of their angry
threats echoed  in her mind. She knew that ordinary men who had never before
acted violently,  could,  in the right circumstances,  be  incited  to great
brutality. With the way they viewed mankind as sinful,  wretched,  and evil,
it was only  a  small step more to  actually doing evil. After all, any evil
they might do, they  had already  rationalized as being  predestined by what
they viewed as man's inescapable nature.
     It was unnerving to contemplate an attack by such men when she could do
nothing  but  lie there waiting to be killed. Kahlan envisioned  a grinning,
toothless Tommy Lancaster leaning  over her to  cut her throat while all she
could do was  stare helplessly  up at him.  She  had  often  been afraid  in
battle, but at least then she could  fight with all her strength to survive.
That helped counter  the  fear. It was different to be helpless and have  no
means to fight back; it was a different sort of fear.
     If she had to, she could always resort to her Confessor's power, but in
her condition that was a dubious proposition. She had never had to call upon
her  power  when in  anything  like the  condition  in which she  now  found
herself. She  reminded  herself that  the three of them  would be long  gone
before the men returned, and besides, Richard  and Cara would never let them
get near her.
     Kahlan  had a  more  immediate fear, though, and  that one was all  too
real.  But she wouldn't feel it for long; she would pass out, she  knew. She
     She tried not to think of it, and instead put her  hand gently over her
belly,  over  their  child,  as  she listened  to the  nearby  splashing and
burbling  of a stream. The sound of the water reminded her  of  how much she
wished she could take a bath. The bandages over the oozing wound in her side
stank and needed to be changed often. The sheets were soaked with sweat. Her
scalp itched. The mat of grass that was the bedding under the sheet was hard
and chafed her back. Richard had probably made the  pallet quickly, planning
to improve it later.
     As hot as the day was, the stream's cold  water  would  be welcome. She
longed for a bath, to be clean, and to smell fresh. She longed to be better,
to be able to do things for herself, to be healed. She could only  hope that
as time passed, Richard, too,  would recover from his invisible,  but  real,
     Cara finally returned, grumbling about the horses being stubborn today.

     looked  up to see the room was empty. "I had better go look for him and
make sure: he's safe."
     "He's fine. He knows what he's doing.  Just wait, Cara, or he will then
have toy go out and look for you."
     Cara sighed and reluctantly agreed. Retrieving a cool,  wet cloth,  she
set to mopping Kahlan's forehead and temples. Kahlan didn't like to complain
when  people; were  doing  their  best  to care for her,  so  she didn't say
anything about  how much it hurt  her  torn neck  muscles when her  head was
shifted  in that way.  Cara  never  complained about  any of  it.  Cara only
complained when she believed her  charges were  in needless danger-and  when
Richard wouldn't let her eliminate those she viewed as a danger.
     Outside, a bird let out a high-pitched  trill.  The tedious  repetition
was  becoming, grating.  In  the  distance,  Kahlan  could  hear a  squirrel
chattering an objection to something, or perhaps arguing over his territory.
He'd been doing  it  for what seemed' an hour. The stream babbled on without
     This was Richard's idea of restful.
     "I hate this," she muttered.
     "You should be happy-lying about without anything to do."
     "And I bet you would be happy to trade places?"
     "I am Mord-Sith. For a Mord-Sith, nothing could be worse than to die in
bed." Her blue eyes  turned to Kahlan's.  "Old and toothless," she added. "I
didn't mean; that you-"
     "I know what you meant."
     Cara looked relieved. "Anyway, you couldn't die-that would be too easy.
You never do anything easy."
     "I married Richard."
     "See what I mean?"
     Kahlan smiled.
     Cara  dunked the  cloth in a pail on the floor and wrung it out  as she
stood. "It` isn't too bad, is it? Just lying there?"
     "How would you  like  to have to have someone push  a wooden bowl under
yours. bottom every time your bladder was full?"
     Cara carefully  blotted  the damp cloth along Kahlan's neck.  "I  don't
mind doing it for a sister of the Agiel."
     The Agiel, the weapon a  Mord-Sith always carried,  looked like nothing
more; than a short,  red leather rod hanging on  a fine chain from her right
wrist. A Mord~. Sith's Agiel was never more than a flick away from her grip.
It somehow functioned: by means  of the magic of  a Mord-Sith's  bond to the
Lord Rahl.
     Kahlan  had  once  felt the partial touch of an  Agiel. In  a  blinding
instant, it could inflict the kind of pain  that the entire  gang of men had
dealt Kahlan.  The  touch of  a,  Mord-Sith's Agiel  was  easily capable  of
delivering bone-breaking torture, and just as easily, if she desired, death.
     Richard  had given  Kahlan the Agiel that  had belonged  to Denna,  the
     who  had captured him  by order of Darken  Rahl.  Only Richard had ever
come to  understand  and  empathize  with the pain  an Agiel  also gave  the
Mord-Sith who '╟' wielded it. Before he was forced to kill Denna in order to
escape,  she had  given . him her  Agiel, asking to be remembered  as simply
Derma, the woman beyond the appellation  of  Mord-Sith, the woman no one but
Richard had ever before seen a understood. 28
     That Kahlan  understood, and  kept the Agiel  as a symbol of that  same
respect for women whose young lives had been stolen and twisted to nightmare
purposes and duties, was deeply  meaningful to the other  Mord-Sith. Because
of  that compassion-untainted  by pity-and  more, Cara  had  named  Kahlan a
sister of the Agiel. It was an informal but heartfelt accolade.
     "Messengers have come to see Lord Rahl," Cara said. "You were sleeping,
and  Lord  Rahl saw no reason to wake you,"  she added in answer to Kahlan's
questioning look.  The messengers were D'Haran, and able  to find Richard by
their bond to him as  their Lord Rahl. Kahlan,  not  able to  duplicate  the
feat, had always found it unsettling.
     "What did they have to say?"
     Cara  shrugged. "Not a lot. Jagang's army of the Imperial Order remains
in Anderith for  the time being, with Reibisch's force staying safely to the
north to watch and be ready should the Order decide to threaten the  rest of
the Midlands.  We know  little  of the  situation inside Anderith, under the
Order's occupation. The rivers flow  away from  our men, toward the  sea, so
they have  not seen  bodies  to indicate  if  there has been mass death, but
there  have been a few people who managed to escape. They  report that there
was some death due to the poison which was released, but they don't know how
widespread  it was. General Reibisch has  sent  scouts and spies in to learn
what they will."
     "What orders did Richard give them to take back?"
     "None? He sent no orders?"
     Cara shook her head and then leaned  over to dunk  the cloth again. "He
wrote letters to the general, though."
     She drew the blanket  down,  lifted the bandage  at  Kahlan's side, and
inspected its weak red charge before tossing it on  the floor. With a gentle
touch, she cleaned the wound.
     When Kahlan was  able  to  get her breath,  she asked, "Did you see the
     "Yes. They  say  much the same as  he has told  you-that  he has  had a
vision that  has caused him to come to see the nature of what he must do. He
explained to the general that he could not  give orders  for fear of causing
the end of our chances."
     "Did General Reibisch answer?"
     "Lord Rahl has had a vision. D'Harans know the Lord Rahl must deal with
the terrifying mysteries  of magic.  D'Harans do  not  expect  to understand
their Lord  Rahl and would not question his behavior:  he is the  Lord Rahl.
The  general made no  comment,  but  sent word  that  he  would  use his own
     Richard had probably told them it was a  vision, rather than say it was
simply a realization, for that very reason. Kahlan considered that a moment,
weighing the possibilities.
     "We have that much luck, then. General Reibisch is a good man, and will
know what  to  do.  Before too  long, I'll  be  up and about. By then, maybe
Richard will be better, too."
     Cara tossed the cloth  into the  pail. As she  leaned  closer, her brow
creased with frustration and concern.
     "Mother Confessor, Lord Rahl said he will not  act to lead us until the
people prove themselves to him."
     "I'm getting better. I hope to help him get over what happened-help him
to see that he must fight."
     "But this involves magic." She picked at the frayed  edge  of the  blue
blanket.  "Lord Rahl said it's a vision. If it is magic, then it's something
he would know about and must handle in the way he sees it must be done."
     "We need to  be a little  understanding  of what he's  been through-the
loss we've  all suffered to the Order-and remember, too, that Richard didn't
grow up around magic, much less ruling armies."
     Cara squatted and rinsed her cloth in the  pail. After wringing it out,
she went back to cleaning the wound in Kahlan's side. "He is  the Lord Rahl,
though. Hasn't he already proven himself to be a master of magic a number of
     Kahlan couldn't dispute that  much of it, but he still didn't have much
experience,  and experience was valuable. Cara not only feared magic but was
easily  impressed by any  act  of wizardry.  Like most  people, she couldn't
distinguish  between  a simple  conjuring and the  kind of magic  that could
alter the very nature of the  world. Kahlan realized now  that this wasn't a
vision, as such, but a conclusion Richard had arrived at.
     Much of what he'd said made sense, but Kahlan believed that emotion was
clouding his thinking.
     Cara  looked  up  from  her  work.  Her  voice  bore  an  undertone  of
uncertainty, if not despairing bewilderment. "Mother Confessor, how will the
people ever be able to prove themselves to Lord Rahl?"
     "I've no idea."
     Cara set down the cloth and looked Kahlan  in the eye. It  was  a long,
uncomfortable moment before she finally decided to speak.
     "Mother Confessor, I think maybe Lord Rahl has lost his mind."
     Kahlan's  immediate thought  was to wonder  if General  Reibisch  might
believe the same thing.
     "I thought  D'Harans  do not  expect to understand  their Lord Rahl and
would not question his behavior."
     "Lord Rahl also says he wants me to think for myself."
     Kahlan put her hand over  Cara's. "How  many times have we doubted  him
before?  Remember the chicken that-wasn't-a-chicken? We both thought he  was
crazy. He wasn't."
     "This is not some monster chasing us. This is something much bigger."
     "Care, do you always follow Richard's orders?"
     "Of course not. He must be protected and I  can't allow his foolishness
to interfere with my  duty. I only follow his orders if they do not endanger
him, or if  they  tell me  to do  what  I would  have done anyway,  or if it
involves his male pride."
     "Did you always follow Darken Rahl's orders?"
     Cara stiffened  at the  unexpected  encounter  with  the  name,  as  if
speaking  it might summon him back from the world of the dead. "You followed
Darken Rahl's  orders, no matter how foolish they were, or you were tortured
to death."
     "Which Lord Rahl do you respect?"
     "I would lay down my life for any Lord Rahl." Cara  hesitated, and then
touched her fingertips to the red leather over her heart. "But I could never
feel this way for  any other. I . . . love Lord Rahl. Not like you love him,
not like a woman loves a  man, but it is still love. Sometimes I have dreams
of how proud I am to serve and defend  him, and sometimes I  have nightmares
that I will fail him."
     Cara's  brow drew down with sudden  dread. "You  won't tell  him that I
said I love '; him, will you? He must not know."

     Kahlan smiled. "Cara, I think he already knows, because he  has similar
feelings about you, but if you don't wish it, I won't say anything."
     Cara let out a sigh of relief. "Good."
     "And what made you come to feel that way about him?"
     "Many things .... He wishes us to think for ourselves. He allows  us to
serve  him by choice. No Lord Rahl has ever done that before. I know that if
I  said I  wished  to quit him, he  would let me  go.  He  would not have me
tortured to death for it. He would wish me a good life."
     "That, and more, is  what you value about him:  he never pretended  any
claim to your  lives. He  believes no such claim can ever  rightfully exist.
It's  the first time  since you  were captured and  trained to be Mord-Sith,
that you have felt the reality of freedom.
     "That, Cara, is what Richard wants for everyone."
     She  swished a  hand,  as if dismissing  the  seriousness of  the whole
thing. "He would  be foolish to  grant me  my freedom if I asked for  it. He
needs me too much."
     "You  wouldn't need to ask for your freedom, Cara, and you know it. You
already  have  your freedom, and because  of him  you know that, too. That's
what makes him a  leader you are  honored to follow. That's why you feel the
way you do about him. He has earned your loyalty."
     Cara mulled it over.
     "I still think he has lost his mind."
     In the past, Richard had more than once expressed his faith that, given
a chance,  people would do the right  thing. That was what  he had done with
the  Mord-Sith. That was also  what he had done with the people of Anderith.
Now . . .
     Kahlan swallowed back  her emotion. "Not his  mind, Cara, but maybe his
     Cara, seeing  the look on Kahlan's face, dismissed  the seriousness  of
the matter with a shrug and a smile.  "I guess we will simply  have to bring
him around to the way things are going to be-talk some sense into him."
     Cara dabbed away the  remnant  of  a tear as  it rolled  down  Kahlan's
     "Before he comes  back, how about getting that stupid  wooden  bowl for
     Cara  nodded  and  bent to  retrieve  it. Kahlan was  already fretting,
knowing how much it was going to hurt, but there was no avoiding it.
     Cara  came up  with  the shallow  bowl. "Before those men  came,  I was
planning on making a fire and warming some water. I  was going to give you a
bed bath-you know, with a soapy cloth and a bucket  of warm water. I guess I
can do it when we get where we are going."
     Kahlan half closed her  eyes with the dreamy  thought of being at least
somewhat clean and fresh. She thought she needed a  bath  even more than she
needed the wooden bowl to relieve herself.
     "Cara, if you  would do that for me, I  would kiss your feet when I get
better, and name you to the most important post I can think of."
     "I am Mord-Sith." Cara looked nonplussed. She finally drew  the blanket
down.  "That is the  most important post there is-except perhaps wife to the
Lord Rahl. Since he already has a wife,  and I am  already Mord-Sith, I will
have to be content with having my feet kissed."
     Kahlan  chuckled,  but  a stab  of  pain through her  abdomen and  ribs
brought it to an abrupt halt.

     Richard was a long time in returning. Cara had made  Kahlan  drink  two
cups of cold  tea heavily laced with herbs to dull the pain. It  wouldn't be
long before she was in a stupor, if not exactly asleep. Kahlan had been just
about to yield to Cara's desire to go look for Richard, when he  called from
a distance to let them know it was him.
     "Did  you  see any of  the men?"  Cara asked when  he  appeared  in the
     With a straight  finger, Richard swiped glistening  beads  of sweat off
his forehead. His damp hair was plastered to his neck. "No. They're no doubt
off to Hartland to  do some drinking  and complaining. By the time they come
back we'll be long gone."
     "I still say we should lie  in wait and end the threat," Cara muttered.
Richard ignored her.
     "I cut and stripped some stout saplings  and used some canvas to make a
litter." He came closer  and with a knuckle  nudged Kahlan's chin, as if  to
playfully buck up her courage. "From now on we'll just let you  stay  on the
litter, and then we can move you in and out of the carriage without. . ." He
had  that look in his eyes-that look that  hurt her to see. He showed her  a
smile. "It will make it easier on Cara and me."
     Kahlan tried to face the thought with composure. "We're ready then?"
     His gaze dropped as he nodded.
     "Good," Kahlan said, cheerfully. "I'm in the  mood for a nice ride. I'd
like to see some of the countryside."
     He smiled, more convincingly this time,  she  thought.  "You shall have
it. And we'll end up at a beautiful place. It's going to take a while to get
there,  traveling  as slow  as  we must, but it will be worth  the  journey,
you'll see."
     Kahlan tried  to keep  her breathing even.  She said his name  over and
over in  her head,  telling herself  that she would not forget it this time,
that she would not forget her own name. She hated forgetting things; it made
her  feel a  fool to  learn  things  she  should  have  remembered  but  had
forgotten. She was going to remember this time.
     "Well, do I have to get up and walk? Or are you going to be a gentleman
and carry me?"
     He bent and kissed her forehead-the one part on her face  that the soft
touch of his lips would not hurt. He glanced at Cara and tilted his  head to
signal her to get Kahlan's legs.
     "Will those men be drinking a long time?" Kahlan asked.
     "It's still midday.  Don't worry,  we'll be long gone before  they ever
get back', here."
     "I'm  sorry,  Richard.  I  know  you thought  these  people  from  your
     "They're people, just like everyone else."
     She nodded as  she fondly stroked the back of his big hand.  "Cara gave
me some of your  herbs. I'll sleep for a long time, so  don't go  slow on my
account-I won't feel it. I don't want you to have to fight all those men."
     "I won't be doing any fighting just traveling my forests."
     "That's good."  Kahlan felt daggers twist in her ribs as her  breathing
started getting too fast. "I love you, you know. In case I forgot to say it,
I love you."
     Despite  the pain in his  gray  eyes, he smiled. "I love you, too. Just
try to relax. Cara and I will be as gentle as we can. We'll go easy. There's
no rush.  Don't  try  to help us. Just relax.  You're getting better,  so it
won't be so hard."
     She had  been hurt before and  knew that it  was  always better to move
yourself  because you knew  exactly  how  to  do  it. But she  couldn't move
herself this time.,

     She had  come to  know that the worst thing when you  were  hurt was to
have someone else move you.
     As  he leaned over, she  slipped her right arm around his neck while he
carefully slid his left arm under her shoulders. Being lifted even that much
ignited  a  shock of  pain.  Kahlan  tried to  ignore the burning stitch and
attempted to relax as she said his name over and over in her mind.
     She suddenly remembered something important. It was her last  chance to
remind him.
     "Richard," she whispered urgently just  before he  pushed his right arm
under  her bottom to lift  her. "Please . . .  remember to be careful not to
hurt the baby."
     She was startled to see her words stagger him. It took  a moment before
his eyes turned up to look into hers. What she saw there nearly  stopped her
     "Kahlan . . . you remember, don't you?"
     His eyes glistened. "That you lost the baby. When you were attacked."
     The memory slammed into her like a fist, nearly taking her breath.
     "Are you all right?"
     "Yes. I forgot for a moment. I just wasn't thinking. I remember, now. I
remember you told me about it."
     And she did. Their child, their child that  had  only begun to  grow in
her, was  long  since dead and gone. Those beasts who had  attacked  her had
taken that from her, too.
     The world seemed to turn gray and lifeless.
     "I'm so sorry, Kahlan," he whispered.
     She  caressed his  hair.  "No, Richard. I  should  have remembered. I'm
sorry I forgot. I didn't mean to . . ."
     He nodded.
     She felt a warm tear drop onto the hollow of her throat,  close  to her
necklace. The necklace, with its small dark stone, had  been a wedding  gift
from Shota, the witch woman. The gift was a proposal of truce. Shota said it
would allow  them  to be together and share their love,  as they  had always
wanted, without Kahlan getting  pregnant.  Richard  and Kahlan  had  decided
that, for the time  being, they  would reluctantly accept Shota's gift,  her
truce. They already had worries enough on their hands.
     But for a time, when the  chimes had been loose in the world, the magic
of the  necklace,  unbeknownst to Richard and Kahlan, had failed. One  small
but miraculous balance to the horrors the  chimes  had brought had been that
it had given their love the opportunity to bring a child to life.
     Now that life was gone.
     "Please, Richard, let's go."
     He nodded again.
     "Dear spirits," he whispered to himself so softly she could hardly hear
him, "forgive me for what I am about to do."
     She clutched his neck. She now longed for what was coming-she wanted to
     He lifted her as gently  as he could. It felt  like wild stallions tied
to  each limb all leaped into  a gallop at  the same instant. Pain ripped up
from the  core of her, the shock of it making her eyes go wide as she sucked
in a breath. And then she screamed.
     The blackness hit her like a dungeon door slamming shut.

     C H A P T E R 4
     A sound woke her as suddenly as a slap. Kahlan lay  on her  back, still
as  death, her eyes wide, listening.  It  wasn't so much that the  sound had
been loud, but that it  had been something disturbingly familiar.  Something
     Her whole body throbbed  with pain, but she was more awake than she had
been  in what  seemed  like weeks.  She didn't know  how long she  had  been
asleep,  or  perhaps unconscious.  She was awake enough  to remember that it
would be a grave mistake to  try to sit up, because just about the only part
of her  not  injured  was her  right arm. One  of the big chestnut  geldings
snorted nervously and stamped a hoof, jostling the carnage enough to  remind
Kahlan of her broken ribs.
     The sticky air smelled  of approaching rain, though  fits of wind still
bore dust to her nostrils. Dark masses of leaves overhead swung fretfully to
and fro, their creaking branches  giving voice to their torment. Deep purple
and violet clouds scudded  past in silence. Beyond the trees and clouds, the
field of blue-black sky held a lone star, high over her forehead. She wasn't
sure if it was dawn or dusk, but it felt like the death of day.
     As  the gusts beat strands of  her  filthy hair across her face, Kahlan
listened as hard as she could for the sound that didn't belong, still hoping
to  fit it into a picture  of something  innocent. Since she'd heard it only
from the deepness of sleep,  its conscious  identity remained  frustratingly
out of her reach.
     She listened, too, for sounds of Richard and Cara, but  heard  nothing.
Surely,  they  would be close. They would  not leave her alone-not  for  any
reason this  side of  death. She recoiled  from the image. She ached to call
out for Richard and prove the uninvited thought a foolish fear, but instinct
screamed at her to stay silent. She needed no reminder not to move.
     A metallic  clang came from the distance,  then a cry.  Maybe it was an
animal, she  told  herself. Ravens sometimes  let out the  most awful cries.
Their shrill  wails  could  sound  so human it was eerie.  But as far as she
knew, ravens didn't make metallic sounds.
     The carriage  suddenly lurched to  the  right. Her breath caught as the
unanticipated movement caused a stitch  of pain  in  the  back of her  ribs.
Someone  had put weight  on the  step.  By the  careless disregard  for  the
carriage's injured passenger, she knew it wasn't Richard or Cara. But  if it
wasn't Richard,  then who? Gooseflesh  tickled the nape of  her neck.  If it
wasn't Richard, where was he?
     Stubby fingers  grasped the top  of  the corded  chafing strip  on  the
carriage's side rail. The  blunt  fingertips were rounded back  over grubby,
gnawed-down little halfbutton fingernails. Kahlan held her breath, hoping he
didn't realize she was in the carriage.
     A face popped up. Cunning dark  eyes  squinted  at  her. The man's four
middle upper teeth  were  missing,  leaving his eyeteeth  looking like fangs
when he grinned.
     "Well, well. If it ain't the wife of the late Richard Cypher."
     Kahlan lay frozen. This was  just like her dreams. For an  instant, she
couldn't decide if it was only that, just a dream, or real.
     His shirt bore a dark  patina  of dirt,  as if it was never removed for
anything. Sparse, wiry hairs on his fleshy cheeks and  chin  were like early
weeds in the plowed field of his pockmarked face. His upper lip was wet from
his runny nose. He had no lower teeth in front. The tip of his tongue rested
partway out between the yawning gap of his smirk.
     He brought up a knife for her to  see.  He turned it this way and that,
almost as if he  were showing off  a prized possession to  a shy girl he was
courting. His  eyes kept  flicking  back  and forth  between the  knife  and
Kahlan. The slipshod  job of sharpening  appeared to have been done on rough
granite, rather than on a proper whetstone. Dark blotches and  rust  stained
the poorly kept cheap steel. But the scratched and  chipped edge was no less
deadly  for any of it.  His wicked, toothless grin widened  with pleasure as
her gaze  followed  the blade, watching it carve careful  slices of  the air
between them.
     She made herself look into his dark, sunken eyes, which peered out from
puffy slits. "Where's Richard?" she demanded in a level voice.
     "Dancing with the spirits in the underworld." He cocked his head to one
side. "Where's the blond bitch? The one my friends said they saw before. The
one with  the smart mouth.  The one what needs to have  her tongue shortened
before I gut her."
     Kahlan  glared at him  so  he  would  know  she  had  no  intention  of
answering. As the crude knife advanced toward her, his stench hit her.
     "You would have to be Tommy Lancaster."
     The knife paused. "How'd you know that?"
     Anger welled up from deep inside her. "Richard told me about you."
     The eyes glittered with  menace. His grin widened. "Yeah?  What did  he
tell you?"
     "That  you were  an ugly toothless pig who wets his  pants whenever  he
grins. Smells like he was right."
     The smirking grin turned to  a  scowl.  He  raised up  on the  step and
leaned in with the knife. That was what Kahlan wanted him to do-to get close
enough so she could touch him.
     With the discipline borne of a lifetime  of  experience,  she  mentally
shed her anger and  donned the calm of a Confessor committed to a  course of
action. Once a  Confessor was resolved to releasing her power, the nature of
time itself seemed to change.
     She had but to touch him.
     A Confessor's  power  was  partly  dependent  on her strength.  In  her
injured condition, she didn't know  if she would  be  able to call forth the
required force, and  if she could, whether she would survive the  unleashing
of it, but  she knew she had no choice. One of  them was about to die. Maybe
     He leaned his elbow on  the side rail. His fist with the knife went for
her exposed throat.  Rather  than  watching the  knife,  Kahlan  watched the
little scars, like dusty white cobwebs caught on his knuckles. When the fist
was close enough, she made her move to snatch his wrist.
     Unexpectedly,  she  discovered  she  was  snugly enfolded  in  the blue
blanket. She 35
     hadn't realized Richard had  placed her on  the  litter  he'd made. The
blanket was wrapped around her and tightly tucked under the stretcher  poles
in order to  hold her as still  as possible and  prevent her from being hurt
when the carriage was  moving. Her arm was trapped inside what  was about to
become her death shroud.
     Hot panic flared up as she struggled to  free her right arm. She was in
a  desperate  race  with the blade  coming for her  throat.  Pain knifed her
injured ribs as she battled  with the blanket. She had no time to cry out or
to curse in frustration at being so unwittingly snared. Her fingers gathered
a  fold of  material. She yanked at it, trying to pull some slack from under
the litter she lay atop so she could free her arm.
     Kahlan had merely to touch him, but she couldn't.  His blade  was going
to be the only  contact  between them.  Her  only  hope  was that maybe  his
knuckles would brush her flesh, or maybe he just might be close enough as he
started to slice her throat that she could press her chin  against his hand.
Then, she could release  her power, if she was still alive-if he didn't  cut
too deep, first.
     As she twisted and pulled at the blanket, it  seemed to her an eternity
as she watched the blade poised over her  exposed  neck, an eternity to wait
before she had any hope of unleashing her power-an eternity to live. But she
knew there was only an instant more before she would feel the  ripping slash
of that rough blade.
     It didn't happen at all as she expected.
     Tommy Lancaster  wrenched  backward with  an  earsplitting shriek.  The
world around  Kahlan  crashed back  in a  riot of sound and motion  with the
abrupt readjustment to  the discontinuation of  her  intent. Kahlan saw Cara
behind  him, her teeth  clenched  in a  grim commitment  of her own.  In her
pristine red leather, she was a precious ruby behind a clod of dirt.
     Bent into the  Agiel pressed against his back, Tommy Lancaster had less
hope of pulling away from Cara than  if she had  impaled him on a meat hook.
His torment  would not have been  more brutal to witness,  his shrieks  more
painful to hear.
     Cara's Agiel dragged up and around the side of his ribs as he collapsed
to his knees. Each rib the Agiel passed over broke with a  sharp crack, like
the sound of a tree  limb  snapping.  Vivid  red, the  match of her leather,
oozed over his knuckles and down  his fingers.  The  knife  clattered to the
rocky ground. A dark stain of blood grew  on the  side of his shirt until it
dripped off the untucked tails.
     Cara stood  over him,  an  austere  executioner, watching  him  beg for
mercy. Instead of granting  it, she pressed her Agiel against his throat and
followed him to the  ground. His eyes were wide and  white all around  as he
     It  was a  slow, agonizing journey toward death. Tommy Lancaster's arms
and legs  writhed as he began  to drown  in his own  blood. Cara  could have
ended  it quickly, but it didn't  appear she had  any intention of doing so.
This  man had meant to kill Kahlan.  Cara meant to extract a heavy price for
the crime.
     "Cara!" Kahlan  was surprised that she could get so much power into the
shout Cara glanced back over her shoulder.  Tommy  Lancaster's hands went to
his throat and he gasped for air when she rose  up to stand over him. "Cara,
stop it. Where's Richard? Richard may need your help."
     Cara leaned down over Tommy Lancaster, pressed her Agiel  to his chest,
and gave it  a twist. His left leg kicked out once,  his arms flopped to the
side, and he went still.
     Before either Cara or Kahlan could  say anything, Richard, his face set
in cold ferocity, sprinted up toward the carriage. He had his sword to hand.
The blade was dark and wet.
     The instant Kahlan saw  his  sword, she comprehended  what had awakened
her. The sound had been the Sword of  Truth announcing its  arrival  in  the
evening air. In  her  sleep, her subconscious  recognized the unique ring of
steel made by the  Sword of Truth  when  it was drawn, and she instinctively
grasped the danger that that sound represented.
     On his way to Kahlan's side, Richard only glanced  at the lifeless body
at Cara's feet.
     "Are you all right?"
     Kahlan  nodded.  "Fine."  Belatedly,  yet  feeling  triumphant  at  the
accomplishment, she pulled her arm free of the blanket.
     Richard turned to Cara. "Anyone else come up the road?"
     "No. Just this one." She gestured with  her Agiel toward the  knife  on
the ground. "He intended to cut the Mother Confessor's throat."
     If Tommy Lancaster hadn't already been dead, Richard's glare would have
finished him. "I hope you didn't make it easy on him."
     "No, Lord Rahl. He regretted his last vile act-I made certain of it."
     With his  sword, Richard indicated the surrounding area. "Stay here and
keep your eyes open.  I'm sure we got them all, but I'm going  to check just
to be certain no one  else was holding back  and trying  to surprise us from
another direction."
     "No one will get near the Mother Confessor, Lord Rahl."
     Dust rose in the gloomy  light  when he  gave  a reassuring pat to  the
shoulder of one of  the  two horses standing in their harnesses.  "Soon as I
get back, I want to get  going. We  should have enough moon-for a few hours,
anyway. I know a  safe place to make camp about four hours up the road. That
will get us a good distance away from all this."
     He pointed with his sword. "Drag his body past the brush over there and
roll  him  off the edge, down into the ravine. I'd just  as soon the  bodies
weren't found  until after  we're long gone  and far away. Probably only the
animals  will ever find  them  way out  here,  but I don't want to  take any
     Cara snatched a  fistful of Tommy Lancaster's hair. "With pleasure." He
was stocky, but the weight gave her no difficulty.
     Richard  trotted soundlessly  off  into  the gathering darkness. Kahlan
listened to the sound  of  the body scraping across  the  ground.  She heard
small branches  snapping  as Cara  pulled the dead weight through the brush,
and then the  muffled  thuds and tumbling scree as  Tommy  Lancaster's  body
rolled and bounced  down a  steep slope. It was  a  long time before  Kahlan
heard the final thump at the bottom of the ravine.
     Cara ambled back to the side of the carnage. "Everything all right with
you?" She casually pulled off her armored gloves.
     Kahlan blinked at the woman. "Cara, he nearly had me."
     Cara flicked her long blond braid back over her shoulder as she scanned
the surrounding area. "No he didn't. I was  standing  right there behind him
the whole time. I was nearly  breathing down his  neck. I never took my eyes
from  his  knife.  He had no chance  to harm you."  She  met Kahlan's  gaze.
"Surely, you must have seen me."
     "No, I didn't."
     "Oh. I thought you saw me." Looking a little sheepish,  she tucked most
of the cuffs of the gloves behind her belt and folded the rest down over the
front.  "I guess maybe  you were  too  low  in the carriage  to see me there
behind  him.  I had my attention  on him. I didn't mean to  let him frighten

     "If you were there the whole time, why did you allow him to nearly kill
     "He did not  nearly kill you." Cara smiled without humor. "But I wanted
to let  him believe  it. It's more of a shock, more of a horror, if you  let
them  think  they've won. It crushes a  man's spirit to  take him then, when
you've caught him dead to rights."
     Kahlan's head was swimming in confusion and so she decided not to press
the issue. "What's going on? What's happened? How long have I been asleep?"
     "We have  been traveling for  two days. You have  been  in  and out  of
sleep, but you didn't know anything the times you were  awake. Lord Rahl was
fretful about hurting you to get you into the carnage, and about having told
you . . . what you forgot."
     Kahlan knew what Cara meant: her dead baby. "And the men?"
     "They  came after us.  This time,  though,  Lord Rahl didn't discuss it
with  them." She  seemed especially  pleased about that. "He  knew in enough
time that they were coming,  so we weren't taken by surprise. When they came
charging in, some with arrows noched and some with their swords or axes out,
he shouted at them-once-giving them a chance to change their minds."
     "He tried to reason with them? Even then?"
     "Well, not exactly. He told them to go home in peace, or they would all
     "And then what?"
     "And  then  they all laughed. It  only  seemed to  embolden them.  They
charged,  arrows  flying, swords and axes raised. So Lord Rahl ran  off into
the woods."
     "He did what?"
     "Before they came, he  had  told  me that he was going to make them all
chase after him. As  Lord  Rahl  ran, the one  who thought he would cut your
throat yelled at the others to `get Richard, and finish him this time.' Lord
Rahl had hoped he would draw them all away from  you, but when that one went
after you instead, Lord Rahl gave me a look and I  knew what he wanted me to
     Cara clasped her hands behind her back as she scrutinized the gathering
darkness,  keeping  watch, should anyone  try  to  surprise  them.  Kahlan's
thoughts turned to Richard, and  what it must have been like,  all  alone as
they chased him.
     "How many men?"
     "I didn't count them." Cara shrugged. "Maybe two dozen."
     "And you left Richard alone with two dozen  men chasing after him?  Two
dozen men intent on killing him?"
     Cara shot  Kahlan an incredulous look. "And leave you unprotected? When
I  knew  that  toothless  brute  was going after you?  Lord Rahl  would have
skinned me alive if I had left you."
     Tall  and  lean,  shoulders  squared  and  chin raised, Cara looked  as
pleased as a cat licking mouse off its whiskers. Kahlan suddenly understood:
Richard had entrusted  Cara with Kahlan's life; the MordSith had proven that
faith justified.
     Kahlan felt a smile stretch the partly healed cuts on her lips. "I just
wish I'd , known you were standing there the whole time. Now, thanks to you,
I won't need the wooden bowl."
     Cara didn't  laugh.  "Mother Confessor,  you should  know that  I would
never let R anything happen to either of you."
     Richard appeared out of the shadows as suddenly as he had vanished.  He
stroked  the horses reassuringly. As  he moved down beside them, he  quickly
checked the  neck collars, the trace chains, and the  breaching to make sure
it was all secure.
     "Anything?" he asked Cara.
     "No, Lord Rahl. Quiet and clear."
     He leaned  in the carnage and smiled. "Well, as  long as you're  awake,
how about I take you for a romantic moonlight ride?"
     She rested her hand on his forearm. "Are you all right?"
     "I'm fine. Not a scratch."
     "That's not what I meant."
     His smile vanished.  "They tried to kill us. Westland has just suffered
its first casualties because of the influence of the Imperial Order."
     "But you knew them."
     "That doesn't entitle  them to misplaced  sympathy.  How many thousands
have I seen killed since I left here? I couldn't even convince men I grew up
with of the truth. I couldn't even get them  to listen fairly. All the death
and  suffering I've seen  is ultimately  because of  men like  this-men  who
refuse to see.
     "Their willful  ignorance  does  not entitle  them to my blood or life.
They picked their own path. For once, they paid the price."
     He didn't sound to her like a  man who was quitting the fight. He still
held the sword, was still in the grip of its rage.  Kahlan caressed his arm,
letting him know that she  understood.  It was clear to her that even though
he'd been justly defending himself, and though he was still  filled with the
sword's rage, he keenly regretted what  he'd  had to do. The  men,  had they
been able to kill Richard instead, would have regretted nothing.  They would
have celebrated his death as a great victory.
     "That was still perilous-making them all chase after you."
     "No, it wasn't. It drew them out  of  the open and into the trees. They
had to  dismount. It's rocky and the footing is poor, so they couldn't  rush
me together or with speed, like they could out here on the road.
     "The light is failing; they  thought  that was  to  their advantage. It
wasn't.  In the trees  it  was even darker.  I'm wearing  mostly black. It's
warm, so I'd left my gold  cape behind, here in the carriage. The little bit
of gold on  the rest of the  outfit  only serves to break up the  shape of a
man's figure in the near-dark, so they had an even harder time seeing me.
     "Once I took down Albert,  they stopped thinking  and fought  with pure
anger  until they  started seeing  blood and  death. Those men  are used  to
brawls, not battles.  They had  expected  an  easy  time  murdering  us-they
weren't mentally prepared to  fight for their own  lives.  Once they saw the
true nature of what was  happening, they ran for their lives. The ones left,
anyway. These are my  woods. In their  panic,  they became confused and lost
their way in the trees. I cut them off and ended it."
     "Did you get them all?" Cara asked, worried about any  who might escape
and bring more men after them.
     "Yes. I knew most of them, and besides, I had their number in  my head.
I counted the bodies to make sure I got them all."
     "How many?" Cara asked.
     Richard turned to take up the reins. "Not enough for their purpose." He
clicked his tongue and started the horses moving.

     Richard rose  up and  drew  his sword. This time,  when its distinctive
sound rang out in the night, Kahlan was awake. Her first instinct was to sit
up. Before she even had time to think better of it, Richard had crouched and
gently restrained her with  a  reassuring hand.  She  lifted her  head  just
enough to  see that it  was Cara, leading a  man  into the harsh, flickering
light  of the campfire. Richard sheathed his sword when he saw who Cara  had
with her: Captain Meiffert, the D'Haran  officer who had been with them back
in Anderith.
     Before any  other greeting, the  man  dropped  to his  knees  and  bent
forward, touching his forehead to the soft ground strewn with pine needles.
     "Master Rahl guide  us. Master Rahl  teach us. Master Rahl protect us,"
Captain Meiffert beseeched in sincere reverence. "In  your light  we thrive.
In your mercy we are sheltered. In your wisdom we are  humbled. We live only
to serve. Our lives are yours."
     When he had gone to his knees to recite the devotion, as it was called,
Kahlan saw Cara almost reflexively go  to  her knees with  him, so ingrained
was the  ritual.  The supplication to  their  Lord  Rahl  was something  all
D'Harans did.  In the  field they commonly recited it  once or, on occasion,
three  times. At the People's Palace in D'Hara, most people gathered twice a
day to chant the devotion at length.
     When he'd been  a captive of  Darken  Rahl, Richard,  often in much the
same condition as Tommy  Lancaster  just before  he died, had  himself  been
forced to his knees by Mord-Sith and  made to perform the devotion for hours
at a time. Now, the Mord-Sith, like all  D'Harans,  paid that same homage to
Richard. If the Mord-Sith saw  such a turn  of events as improbable, or even
ironic, they never  said as much. What many of them had found improbable was
that Richard hadn't had them all executed when he became their Lord Rahl.
     It  was Richard, though, who had  discovered that the devotion to their
Lord Rahl  was  in fact  a  surviving  vestige  of a bond, an  ancient magic
invoked by one of his ancestors to protect the D'Haran people from the dream
walkers. It had long been believed that the dream walkers-created by wizards
to be  weapons  during  that  ancient  and  nearly  forgotten great  war-had
vanished from  the world.  The conjuring of strange and varied  abilities-of
instilling  unnatural attributes  in people-willing or  not, had once been a
dark art,  the  results always  being  at  the  least  unpredictable,  often
uncertain, and sometimes dangerously unstable. Somehow,  some  spark of that
malignant  manipulation  had been passed  down  generation after generation,
lurking unseen for three thousand years-until it rekindled in the person  of
Emperor Jagang,
     Kahlan  knew something about the alteration of living  beings to suit a
purpose. Confessors  were such people, as  had  been the  dream  walkers. In
Jagang, Kahlan

     saw  a  monster created by magic.  She knew many people saw the same in
her. Much as some people had blond hair or brown eyes, she had  been born to
grow  tall,  with  warm  brown  hair, and  green  eyes-and the  ability of a
Confessor.  She  loved  and laughed and longed  for things  just the same as
those born with blond hair or brown eyes, and  without a Confessor's special
     Kahlan  used  her power for  valid,  moral  reasons. Jagang, no  doubt,
believed the same  of himself, and even if he didn't,  most of his followers
certainly did.
     Richard,  too,  had been  born with latent power. The ancient,  adjunct
defense  of the bond  was  passed  down  to  any  gifted  Rahl. Without  the
protection of the bond to Richard-the Lord Rahl-whether formally spoken or a
silent heartfelt  affinity,  anyone  was vulnerable  to Jagang's power as  a
dream walker.
     Unlike most  other permutations  conjured by  wizards in living people,
the Confessor's ability had always remained vital; at least it had until all
the other Confessors had been murdered by order of Darken Rahl. Now, without
such wizards  and  their specialized conjuring, only if Kahlan  had children
would the magic of the Confessors live on.
     Confessors usually  bore girls, but not always. A Confessor's power had
originally been created  for, and  had been intended  to  be used by, women.
Like  all  other  conjuring  that introduced  unnatural abilities in people,
this, too, had had unforeseen consequences:  a Confessor's male children, it
turned out, also bore the power. After it had been learned  how  treacherous
the power could be in men, all male children were scrupulously culled.
     Kahlan bearing a male child was precisely what  the witch woman, Shota,
feared. Shota knew very well that Richard would never allow his and Kahlan's
son  to be  slain for  the past evils of male Confessors. Kahlan, too, could
never allow Richard's son to be killed. In the past, a Confessor's inability
to marry out of love was one of the reasons she could emotionally endure the
practice of infanticide. Richard,  in discovering the means  by which he and
Kahlan could be together, had altered that equation, too.
     But Shota didn't  simply fear Kahlan giving birth to a male  Confessor;
she  feared  something of potentially far greater magnitude-a male Confessor
who possessed Richard's gift. Shota had foretold  that  Kahlan  and  Richard
would conceive  a male child. Shota viewed such a child  as an evil monster,
dangerous beyond comprehension, and so had vowed to kill their offspring. To
prevent such a thing from being required, she had given them the necklace to
keep  Kahlan from  becoming pregnant.  They  had  taken it  reluctantly. The
alternative was war with the witch woman.
     It was for reasons such as this that Richard abhorred prophecy.
     Kahlan  watched  as Captain  Meiffert spoke the devotion a third  time,
Cara's lips moving with his. The soft chant was making Kahlan sleepy.
     It was a luxury for  Kahlan to be able to be down with Richard and Cara
in the sheltered camp, beside the warmth of the fire, rather  than having to
stay in the carriage, especially since the night had turned chilly and damp.
With the litter they could move her more easily and without causing her much
pain. Richard would  have made the litter sooner, but he hadn't  expected to
have to abandon the house he had started to build.
     They were  far off  the  narrow,  forsaken  road,  in a  tiny  clearing
concealed in a cleft in a steep rock wall behind a dense expanse of pine and
spruce.  A small meadow  close by provided a snug  paddock for  the  horses.
Richard and Cara had

     pulled the carriage off the road, behind a mass of deadfall, and hidden
it with spruce and balsam boughs. No one but  a D'Haran bonded to their Lord
Rahl had much  of a chance  of ever finding  them in the vast  and trackless
     The secluded spot had a fire pit Richard  had dug and ringed with rocks
during a previous stay, nearly a year before. It  hadn't been used since.  A
protruding shelf of  rock about seven or eight feet above them prevented the
light of the campfire  from shining  up the rock wall, helping keep the camp
hidden. Its slope also kept them  snug and dry in the drizzle that had begun
to  fall. With  a fog  closing  in, too, it was  as  protected  and secure a
campsite as Kahlan had ever seen. Richard had been true to his word.
     It  had  taken  more like six  hours than four  to  reach the campsite.
Richard had  proceeded slowly  for Kahlan's sake. It  was late and they were
all  tired from  a  long  day of traveling,  to say nothing  of  the attack.
Richard had told her that it looked like it might rain for a day or two, and
they would stay in the camp and rest up until the weather cleared. There was
no urgency to get where they were going.
     After the third devotion, Captain Meiffert  came haltingly to his feet.
He clapped his right fist to  the leather over his heart in  salute. Richard
smiled and the two men clasped forearms in a less formal greeting.
     "How are you doing, Captain?" Richard grasped the man's elbow.  "What's
the matter? Did you fall off your horse, or something?"
     The  captain glanced at Cara, to  his side. "Ah, well, I'm  fine,  Lord
Rahl. Really."
     "You look hurt."
     "I just had my ribs . . . tickled, by your Mord-Sith, that's all."
     "I didn't do it hard enough to break them," Cara scoffed.
     "I'm truly sorry, Captain.  We had a bit of trouble earlier today. Cara
was  no doubt  worried  for our  safety when she saw you approaching in  the
dark."  Richard's  eyes turned toward Cara. "But she still should  have been
more  careful  before risking injuring people. I'm sure she's sorry and will
want to apologize."
     Cara made a sour face. "It was dark. I'm not  about to take any foolish
chances with the life of our Lord Rahl just so-"
     "I  would  hope  not,"  Captain Meiffert  put in  before Richard  could
reprimand her. He smiled at Cara. "I was once kicked by a stalwart warhorse.
You did  a better job of putting  me down, Mistress  Cara. I'm gratified  to
find  Lord  Rahl's  life is in capable hands. If sore ribs are the  price, I
willingly accept it."
     Cara's  face brightened.  The captain's simple  concession  disarmed  a
potentially nettlesome situation.
     "Well, if the ribs bother you, let me know," Cara said dryly, "and I'll
kiss them and make them better." In the silence, as Richard glowered at her,
she scratched her ear and  finally added, "Anyway,  sorry. But I didn't want
to take any chances."
     "As I said, a price I willingly pay. Thank you for your vigilance."
     "What are  you doing here, Captain?" Richard asked.  "General  Reibisch
send you to see if the Lord Rahl is crazy?"
     Although it was  impossible to  tell in the firelight, Kahlan was  sure
that the man's face turned scarlet. "No, of course not, Lord Rahl. It's just
that the general wanted you to have a full report."
     "I see."  Richard  glanced down at  their dinner pot. "When's  the last
time you ate, Captain? You look a little drawn, besides having sore ribs."
     "Well, ah,  I've been  riding hard, Lord Rahl. I guess yesterday I must
have eaten something. I'm fine, though. I can have something after-" 42
     "Sit  down, then." Richard  gestured. "Let me get you something  hot to
eat. It will do you good."
     As  the man reluctantly settled down on the mossy ground  beside Kahlan
and Cara,  Richard  scooped some rice and  beans  into a bowl. He  cut a big
piece of bannock from what he'd left to cool on  the griddle off to the side
of the fire. He held the bowl out to the man. Captain Meiffert saw no way to
prevent it, and was now mortified to find himself being served by none other
than the Lord Rahl himself.
     Richard had to lift the food toward him a second  time  before  he took
it. "It's only  some rice and beans, Captain.  It's  not like I'm giving you
Cara's hand in marriage."
     Cara  guffawed. "Mord-Sith don't  marry. They  simply  take a man for a
mate if they wish him-he gets no say in it."
     Richard glanced up at her. Kahlan knew by Richard's tone that he hadn't
meant anything by the comment but he didn't laugh with Cara. He knew all too
well  the  truth of  her  words.  Such an act was  not an  act of  love, but
altogether the opposite. In  the uncomfortable  silence, Cara  realized what
she'd  said, and  decided to break some branches down and  feed  them to the
     Kahlan knew  that Derma, the  Mord-Sith  who  had captured Richard, had
taken him for her mate. Cara knew it, too. When Richard would sometimes wake
with a start and cling to  her, Kahlan wondered  if his  nightmares were  of
things imaginary or real. When she kissed his sweat-slicked  brow  and asked
what he had dreamed, he never remembered. She was thankful for  that much of
     Richard retrieved a long stick that had been propped against one of the
rocks ringing the fire. With his  finger, he slid several sizzling pieces of
bacon off the stick and into the captain's bowl, and then set  the big piece
of bannock on top. They had with them a variety  of food. Kahlan  shared the
carnage with all  the supplies Richard  had picked up  along  their  journey
north to Hartland. They had enough staples to last for a good long time.
     "Thank you," Captain Meiffert  stammered.  He brushed back his fall  of
blond hair. "It looks delicious."
     "It is," Richard said. "You're lucky: I made dinner tonight, instead of
     Cara,   proud  of  being   a  poor  cook,  smiled  as  if  it  were  an
accomplishment of note.
     Kahlan was sure it was a story that would  be repeated to wide eyes and
stunned disbelief: the Lord Rahl himself serving food to one of  his men. By
the way the captain ate, she guessed it had been longer than  a day since he
had eaten. As big as he was, she figured he had to need a lot of food.
     He  swallowed  and  looked  up.  "My horse." He  began to  stand. "When
Mistress Cara. . . I forgot my horse. I need-"
     "Eat  your food." Richard stood and clapped Captain Meiffert's shoulder
to keep him seated. "I was going to check on our horses anyway. I'll  see to
yours as well. I'm sure it would like some water and oats, too."
     "But, Lord Rahl, I can't allow you to-"
     "Eat. This will save time; when I get back, you'll be done and then you
can give me your report." Richard's shape became  indistinct as he dissolved
into the shadows, leaving only a disembodied voice behind. "But I'm afraid I
still won't have any orders for General Reibisch."
     In the stillness, crickets once  again took up their rhythmic chirping.
Some dis-

     tance away, Kahlan heard a night bird calling. Beyond the nearby trees,
the horses whinnied contentedly,  probably when Richard greeted  them. Every
once in  a while a feather of mist  strayed in under the overhang to  dampen
her cheek. She wished she could turn on her side and close her eyes. Richard
had given  her some  herb tea and it was beginning  to make  her  drowsy. At
least it dulled the pain, too.
     "How are  you, Mother Confessor?" Captain Meiffert  asked. "Everyone is
terribly worried about you."
     A Confessor wasn't often confronted with such honest and  warm concern.
The young man's simple question was so sincere it almost brought  Kahlan  to
     "I'm getting better, Captain. Tell everyone I'll be fine after I've had
some time to heal. We're going someplace quiet where  I  can enjoy the fresh
air of the arriving summer and get some rest. I'll be better  before autumn,
I'm sure. By then, I hope Richard will be
     of the war."
     The captain  smiled. "Everyone will be relieved to know you're healing.
I  can't tell you how many  people told me  that  when I return they want to
hear how you're doing."
     "Tell them  I  said  I'll be fine  and  I  asked for them not to  worry
anymore about me, but to take care of themselves."
     He ate another spoonful. Kahlan saw in his eyes that  there was more to
the man's anxiety. It took him a moment before he addressed it.
     "We are concerned, too, that you and Lord Rahl need protection."
     Cara,  already  sitting  straight, nevertheless  managed  to straighten
more,  at  the  same time making  the subtle  shift  in her  posture  appear
threatening. "Lord Rahl and the Mother Confessor are not without protection,
Captain; they have me. Anything  more than a Mord-Sith is  just pretty brass
     This time, he  didn't back down. His  voice rang with the clear tone of
authority.  "This  is  not  a matter  of  disrespect,  Mistress Cara, nor is
presumption intended. Like you, I am sworn  to their safety,  and that is my
proper concern. These brass buttons have met the enemy before in the defense
of Lord Rahl, and I don't really  believe a Mord-Sith would want to deter me
from that duty for no more reason than petty pride."
     "We're going  to a remote and secluded place," Kahlan said, before Cara
could answer. "I think our solitude, and  Cara, will be ample protection. If
Richard wishes it otherwise, he will say so."
     With a reluctant nod, he  accepted her answer.  The last of it, anyway,
settled the matter.
     When  Richard had taken  Kahlan north,  he had  left their guard forces
behind. She knew it  was  deliberate, probably part of his  conviction about
what  he  felt he had  to do.  Richard  wasn't  opposed  to the  concept  of
protection; in  the past, he had accepted troops being with them. Cara, too,
had been insistent  on  having the security  of those  troops along.  It was
different, though, for Cara to admit it directly to Captain Meiffert.
     They had spent a good deal of time in Anderith with the captain and his
elite forces. Kahlan knew him to be a superb officer. She thought he must be
approaching his mid-twenties-probably a soldier for a decade already and the
veteran of a number of campaigns, from minor rebellions to open warfare. The
sharp wholesome lines of his face  were just beginning to take on  a  mature
     Over millennia, through war, migration, and  occupation, other cultures
had mixed

     in   with  the  D'Haran,  leaving   a  blend  of   peoples.   Tall  and
broad-shouldered,  Captain Meiffert  was marked as  full-blooded D'Haran  by
blond  hair  and  blue  eyes,  as  was  Cara.  The  bond  was  strongest  in
full-blooded D'Harans.
     After  he  had  finished  about  half his  rice, he  glanced  over  his
shoulder,  into the darkness  where Richard  had gone. His earnest blue eyes
took in both Cara and Kahlan.
     "I don't mean  it  to sound judgmental  or personal, and I hope I'm not
speaking out of turn, but may I ask you both a . . . a sensitive question?"
     "You may, Captain," Kahlan  said. "But I  can't promise  we will answer
     The  last part  gave him  pause  for  a moment,  but then he  went  on.
"General Reibisch and some of the other officers . . . well, there have been
worried discussions  about Lord Rahl. We  trust  in  him, of course," he was
quick to add. "We really do. It's just that . . ."
     "So what  are  your concerns,  then,  Captain?" Cara put  in, her  brow
drawing tight. "If you trust him so much."
     He stirred his wooden spoon around the bowl. "I  was there  in Anderith
through the whole  thing.  I  know how hard he worked-and you,  too,  Mother
Confessor. No  Lord  Rahl  before him  ever  worried about  what the  people
wanted. In the past,  the only thing that mattered  was what the  Lord  Rahl
wanted. Then, after all that, the people rejected his offer-rejected him. He
sent  us  back  to  the main force,  and just left  us"-he  gestured  around
himself-"to  come here. Out in the middle of  nowhere. To  be a  recluse, or
something." He paused while searching for the  right words. "We don't . .  .
understand it, exactly."
     He looked up from the fire, back into their eyes, as he went on. "We're
worried that Lord  Rahl has lost his will to fight-that he simply  no longer
cares. Or perhaps . . . he is afraid to fight?"
     The look on his face told Kahlan that he feared reprisal for saying the
things  he said, and  for  asking such a  question, but he needed the answer
enough to  risk  it.  This  was probably  why he had come  to give a report,
rather than send a simple messenger.
     "About six  hours before  he cooked that nice dinner  pot  of  rice and
beans," Cara said in a casual manner, "he killed a  couple dozen men. All by
himself. Hacked them apart like  I've never  seen before. The violence of it
shocked even  me.  He left only one man for me to dispatch. Quite unfair  of
him, I think."
     Captain  Meiffert looked  positively  relieved  as  he  let out  a long
breath. He looked away from  Cara's steady  gaze and back into  his bowl  to
stir his dinner.
     "That  news will be  well  received. Thank you for telling me, Mistress
     "He  can't  issue  orders,"  Kahlan  said,  "because  he  unequivocally
believes  that, for now, if he takes part in leading our forces  against the
Imperial Order, it would bring  about  our  defeat. He  believes  that if he
enters the battle too soon, we will then  have no chance of ever winning. He
believes he must  wait for the right time, that's all. There's nothing  more
to it."
     Kahlan felt  a bit  conflicted,  helping  to justify Richard's actions,
when she  wasn't  entirely in favor  of them.  She felt it  was necessary to
check the advance  of the Imperial Order's  army  now, and  not  give them a
chance to freely pillage and murder the people of the New World.
     The  captain mulled this over as he ate some bannock.  He frowned as he
gestured with the  piece he had left. "There is sound battle theory for such
a strategy. If you  have any choice in it, you only attack when it's on your
terms, not the enemy's."

     He  became more spirited as he thought about it a moment. "It is better
to hold an attack for  the  right  moment,  despite the damage an  enemy can
cause in the  interim, than to go into  a battle before the right time. Such
would be an act of poor command."
     "That's right." Kahlan laid her arm back and rested her right wrist  on
her  brow.  "Perhaps you  could  explain it  to the  other officers in those
words-that  it's premature to issue orders,  and he's waiting for the proper
time. I  don't  think that's  really  any different from the way Richard has
explained it to us, but perhaps it would be better understood if put in such
     The captain ate the last bite of his bannock, seeming to think it over.
"I trust Lord Rahl with my life. I know the others do, too, but I think they
will be  reassured by  such an  explanation as to why he is withholding  his
orders. I can see now why he had to leave us-it was to resist the temptation
to throw himself into the fray before the time was right."
     Kahlan wished she was as confident of the reasoning as the captain. She
recalled Cara's question, wondering how the people could prove themselves to
Richard. She knew he would not be  inclined to try it through a vote  again,
but she didn't see how else the people could prove themselves to him.
     "I'd not mention it to Richard," she  said. "It's difficult for him-not
being able to issue orders. He's trying to do what he believes is right, but
it's a difficult course to hold to."
     "I understand, Mother Confessor. `In his wisdom we are humbled. We live
only to serve. Our lives are his.' "
     Kahlan studied the smooth lines and simple angles of his young face lit
by  the  dancing firelight. In that  face,  she saw some of what Richard had
been  trying to  say to her before. "Richard doesn't  believe your lives are
his, Captain, but that they are your own,  and priceless. That is what he is
fighting for."
     He chose his words carefully; if he wasn't worried about her being  the
Mother Confessor, since he hadn't grown up fearing the power and the rule of
such a woman, she was still the Lord Rahl's wife.
     "Most of us see how different he is from  the  last Lord  Rahl. I'm not
claiming that any  of us understands  everything  about him, but we  know he
fights  to  defend,  rather  than  to  conquer. As  a  soldier,  I know  the
difference it makes to believe in what I'm fighting for, because. . ."
     The  captain looked away from her  gaze. He  lifted a  short branch  of
firewood,  tapping the end  on the ground for a  time. His  voice took on  a
painful inflection, "Because it takes something precious out of you to  kill
people who never meant you any harm."
     The fire crackled  and hissed as he slowly stirred the  glowing  coals.
Sparks  swirled  up to  spill out  from around  the  underside  of  the rock
     Cara watched her Agiel as she rolled it in her fingers. "You . . . feel
that way too?"
     Captain Meiffert met Cara's gaze. "I never realized,  before,  what  it
was doing to  me, inside. I didn't  know.  Lord  Rahl  makes me proud  to be
D'Haran. He makes  it stand for something right  .... It never did before. I
thought that the way  things  were, was just the way things  were, and  they
could never change."
     Cara's  gaze fell away  as  she privately nodded her  agreement. Kahlan
could only imagine  what life was like living  under that kind of rule, what
it did to people.
     "I'm  glad  you  understand,  Captain," Kahlan  whispered. "That's  one
reason he

     worries so much about all of you. He wants you to live lives you can be
proud of. Lives that are your own."
     He dropped the  stick into  the fire. "And he  wanted all the people of
Anderith  to  care  about themselves the way he wants us to value our lives.
The vote wasn't really  for him,  but for themselves. That was why the  vote
meant so much to him?"
     "That's  why,"  Kahlan  confirmed,  afraid to  test  her own voice  any
further than that.
     He  stirred his spoon around to  cool  his  dinner. It no longer needed
cooling,  she  was  sure. She supposed  his thoughts were being stirred more
than his dinner.
     "You know," he  said,  "one of the  things I heard people say,  back in
Anderith, was that since Darken Rahl was his father, Richard Rahl was  evil,
too.  They said that  since his father  had done wrong, Richard  Rahl  might
sometimes do good, but he could never be a good person."
     "I  heard that too,"  Cara  said. "Not just in Anderith,  but a lot  of
     "That's wrong. Why  should people think that  just  because  one of his
parents  was cruel, those crimes pass on to someone who never did  them? And
that he must spend his  life making amends? I'd hate  to think  that  if I'm
ever lucky enough to have children, they, and then their children, and their
children after that, would have to suffer forever  for  the things I've done
serving  under Darken Rahl." He  looked  over  at  Kahlan  and  Cara.  "Such
prejudice isn't right."
     In the silence, Cara stared into the flames.
     "I served under Darken Rahl. I know the difference in the two men." His
voice  lowered with simmering  anger. "It's wrong of people to lay guilt for
the crimes of Darken Rahl onto his son."
     "You're right  about that,"  Cara murmured. "The two may look  a little
alike, but anyone who has ever  looked into the eyes of both men, as I have,
could never begin to think they were the same kind of men."

     Captain Meiffert  ate the rest of his rice  and beans in  silence. Cara
offered him her waterskin. He  took it  with  a smile and his nod of thanks.
She dished him out a second bowlful from the pot, and cut  him another piece
of  bannock.  He looked  only slightly  less  mortified  to  be  served by a
Mord-Sith  than  by the  Lord Rahl. Cara  found his  expression amusing. She
called  him "Brass Buttons" and told him to eat  it  all.  He did so as they
listened to the sounds of the fire snapping and water dripping from the pine
needles onto the carpet of leaves and other debris of the forest floor.
     Richard  returned,  loaded  down   with  the   captain's   bedroll  and
saddlebags. He let them slip to the ground beside the officer and then shook
water off himself before sitting  down beside Kahlan. He offered her a drink
from a full waterskin he'd brought back. She  took only a sip. She was  more
interested in being able to rest her hand on his leg.
     Richard yawned.  "So, Captain Meiffert, you said the general wanted you
to give a full report?"
     "Yes, sir." The  captain went into a  long and detailed account on  the
state  of the army  to the south, how they were stationed out on the plains,
what passes they guarded in the mountains, and how they planned on using the
terrain, should the Imperial Order suddenly come up out of Anderith and move
north  into  the  Midlands. He reported on the health  of the men and  their
supply  situation-both good. The  other  half of  General Reibisch's D'Haran
force was back in Aydindril, protecting the city, and Kahlan was relieved to
hear that everything there was in order.
     Captain  Meiffert relayed all the communications they'd  received  from
around the Midlands,  including from Kelton  and Galen,  two of the  largest
lands of  the Midlands that were now allied with the new D'Haran Empire. The
allied lands  were helping  to  keep  the  army  supplied,  in  addition  to
providing men for rotation of patrols, scouting land they  knew  better, and
other work.
     Kahlan's half brother, Harold, had brought word that Cyrilla,  Kahlan's
half sister, had  taken  a  turn for  the better.  Cyrilla had been queen of
Galea.  After her  brutal treatment in  the hands  of the enemy, she  became
emotionally  unbalanced  and  was unable  to  serve  as  queen.  In her rare
conscious moments, worried for her people, she had begged Kahlan to be queen
in  her stead.  Kahlan had  reluctantly  agreed,  saying  it was  only until
Cyrilla  was well  again. Few people  thought she would ever  have  her mind
back, but, apparently, it looked as if she might yet recover.
     In order to soothe  the ruffled  feathers of Galea's neighboring  land,
Kelton, Richard had named  Kahlan queen of  Kelton.  When Kahlan first heard
what  Richard  had  done, she  had  thought  it was  lunacy. Strange as  the
arrangement was, though, if

     suited both lands, and brought them not only peace with each other, but
also into the fold of those lands fighting against the Imperial Order.
     Cara  was  pleasantly surprised  to hear that a number of Mord-Sith had
arrived  at the Confessors' Palace  in  Aydindril, in case Lord Rahl  needed
them. Berdine would no doubt be pleased to have some of her sister Mord-Sith
with her in Aydindril.
     Kahlan missed Aydindril. She guessed  the place you grew up could never
leave your heart. The thought gave her a pang of sorrow for Richard.
     "That would be Rikka," Cara said with  a  smile. "Wait until she  meets
the new Lord Rahl," she  added under her  breath,  finding that even more to
smile about.
     Kahlan's  thoughts  turned to the people they had  left to the Imperial
Order-or more  accurately, to the people  who had chosen the Imperial Order.
"Have you received any reports from Anderith?"
     "Yes,  from a number of men we sent in there. I'm afraid  we lost some,
too. The ones who  returned report that there were fewer  enemy deaths  from
the poisoned  waters than we  had hoped. Once the Imperial  Order discovered
their soldiers dying, or  sick, they tested everything on  the local people,
first. A number of  them died  or became  sick, but it wasn't widespread. By
using the people  to test the food and  water, they were able to isolate the
tainted  food  and  destroy it.  The  army  has  been been  laying claim  to
everything-they use a lot of supplies."
     The  Imperial  Order was said to  be  far larger  than  any  army  ever
assembled. Kahlan  knew that much of the reports  to be  accurate. The Order
dwarfed the  D'Haran and Midland  troops arrayed against them perhaps ten or
twenty  to onesome reports claimed more than that.  Some reports claimed the
New World forces were outnumbered by a hundred to one, but Kahlan discounted
that  as outright panic.  She didn't know how long the Order would  feed off
Anderith before they moved on, or if they were being resupplied from the Old
World. They had to be, to some extent, anyway.
     "How many scouts and spies did we lose?" Richard asked.
     Captain  Meiffert  looked  up. It  was  the first question Richard  had
asked.  "Some may yet turn up, but it appears likely  that we lost fifty  to
sixty men."
     Richard sighed. "And  General Reibisch thinks  it was worth  losing the
lives of those men to discover this?"
     Captain  Meiffert  cast about for an answer.  "We  didn't know what  we
would discover, Lord Rahl;  that was why we sent them in. Do you wish  me to
tell the general not to send in any more men?"
     Richard was carving a face in a piece of firewood, sporadically tossing
shavings into the fire. He sighed.
     "No,  he must do as he sees  fit.  I've explained to him that  I  can't
issue orders."
     The captain, watching Richard pick small chips of wood from his lap and
pitch  them into  the  fire,  tossed  a  small fan  of pine needles into the
flames,  where  it blazed  in  short-lived  glory.  Richard's carving was  a
remarkably good likeness of the captain.
     Kahlan had, on occasion, seen Richard casually carve animals or people.
She once had strongly suggested that his ability was guided by  his gift. He
scoffed at such  a  notion, saying that he had liked to carve ever  since he
was little. She reminded him that art was used to cast spells, and that once
he had been captured with the aid of a drawn spell.
     He insisted this was nothing like that. As a guide, he said he'd passed
many an

     evening  at camp, by  himself, carving. Not wanting to carry  the added
weight, he would toss the finished piece  into the fire. He said he  enjoyed
the act  of carving,  and could always carve another. Kahlan  considered the
carvings inspired and found it distressing to see them destroyed.
     "What do you intend to do, Lord Rahl? If I may ask."
     Richard took a smooth, steady slice that demarcated the line of an ear,
bringing it to life  along with the line of  the jaw he had  already cut. He
looked up and stared off into the night.
     "We're going to a place back in the mountains, where other people don't
go, so we can be alone, and safe. The Mother Confessor  will be able  to get
well there and gain back  her strength.  While  we're there, I may even make
Cara start wearing a dress."
     Cara  shot to  her  feet.  "What!" When she saw  Richard's  smile, Cara
realized he was only joking. She fumed, nonetheless.
     "I'd not  report that part of  it to the general, were I you, Captain,"
Richard said.
     Cara sank back down to the ground. "Not if Brass  Buttons, here, values
his ribs," she muttered.
     Kahlan struggled not to chuckle, lest she twist the ever present knives
in  her ribs.  Sometimes, she felt  as if  she knew  how the chunk  of  wood
Richard was carving felt. It was good to see Richard, for once, get the best
of Cara. It was usually she who had him flustered.
     "I can't help you, for now," Richard said, his serious tone  returning.
He went back to his work with his knife. "I hope you can all accept that."
     "Of course, Lord Rahl. We  know that you will lead us  into battle when
the time is right."
     "I hope that day  comes, Captain. I  really do. Not  because  I want to
fight,  but  because I  hope there to be something  to fight  for."  Richard
stared into the fire, his  countenance a chilling vision of despair.  "Right
now, there isn't."
     "Yes,   Lord  Rahl,"  Captain  Meiffert  said,  finally   breaking  the
uncomfortable  silence.  "We will  do  as we think  best  until  the  Mother
Confessor is better and you are then able to join us."
     Richard  didn't  argue the time  schedule, as the captain had described
it. It was one Kahlan hoped for, too, but Richard had never said it would be
that soon. He had, in  fact, made  it clear  to them that the time might not
ever come. He cradled the wood in his lap, studying what he had done.
     He ran his thumb along the fresh-cut line of the nose as he asked, "Did
the returning  scouts say . . . how it faired for the people in Anderith . .
. with the Imperial Order there?"
     Kahlan knew  he was only torturing himself by asking that question. She
wished he hadn't asked; it could do him no good to hear the answer.
     Captain Meiffert cleared his throat. "Well, yes, they did report on the
     "And . . .?"
     The young officer launched into a cold report  of  the facts they knew.
"Jagang  set  up his troop  headquarters in the capital, Fairfield. He  took
over the  Minister of  Culture's estate for  himself. Their army is so  huge
that it swallowed the city  and overflows far out onto the hills all around.
The Anderith army put  up  little resistance. They were  collected  and  all
summarily put to death. The government of Anderith

     for the  most part ceased to exist within the first few hours. There is
no rule or law. The Order spent the first week in unchecked celebration.
     "Most  people  in  Fairfield  were  displaced and  lost everything they
owned.  Many fled. The roads all around  were packed solid with those trying
to escape  what was happening in the city. The people fleeing the city  only
ended up  being  the  spoils for the soldiers in  the  hills all around  who
couldn't  fit  into  the  city.  Only  a trickle  mostly  the  very old  and
sickly-made it past that gauntlet."
     His impersonal tone abandoned him. He had spent time with those people,
too. "I'm afraid that, in all, it went badly for them,  Lord Rahl. There was
a horrendous amount of killing, of the men, anyway-in the tens of thousands.
Likely more."
     "They  got what  they asked for." Cara's  voice was  as cold as  winter
night.  "They picked their own fate." Kahlan agreed,  but didn't say so. She
knew Richard agreed, too. None of them were pleased about it, though.
     "And  the  countryside?"  Richard asked.  "Anything known  about places
outside Fairfield? Is it going better for them?"
     "No better, Lord Rahl.  The Imperial Order has been methodically  going
about a process of `pacifying' the land, as they call it. Their soldiers are
accompanied by the gifted.
     "By far, the  worst  of the accounts  were  about one  called  `Death's
Mistress.' "
     "Who?" Cara asked.
     " `Death's Mistress,' they call her."
     "Her. Must be the Sisters," Richard said.
     "Which ones do you think it would be?" Cara asked.
     Richard, cutting the mouth into  the  firewood  face, shrugged. "Jagang
has  both Sisters of the  Light and Sisters of the Dark held captive. He's a
dream  walker; he forces  both to do his bidding. It  could  be either;  the
woman is simply his tool."
     "I  don't  know,"  Captain Meiffert  said. "We've had plenty of reports
about the Sisters, and how dangerous they  are. But they're being  used like
you said, as tools of  the army-weapons, basically-not as his agents. Jagang
doesn't let them think for themselves or direct anything.
     "This one, from the reports, anyway, behaves very differently from  the
others. She  acts as Jagang's  agent, but  still,  the  word  is she decides
things for herself, and does as she pleases. The men  who came back reported
that she is more feared than Jagang himself.
     "The people of one town,  when they heard she was coming their way, all
gathered together in the town  square.  They made the  children drink poison
first, then  the adults took their dose. Every  last person in the  town was
dead when the woman arrived-close to five hundred people."
     Richard had stopped carving  as he listened. Kahlan knew that unfounded
rumors could also be  so lurid  as  to  turn alarm into deadly panic, to the
point where people would  rather  die than face the object  of their  dread.
Fear was a powerful tool of war.
     Richard went back to the carving in his lap. He held the knife near the
tip of  the  point,  like  a pen, and carefully cut character into the eyes.
"They didn't get a name for her, did they? This Death's Mistress?"
     "I'm sorry, no, Lord Rahl. They said she is simply  called  by everyone
`Death's Mistress.' "
     "Sounds like an ugly witch," Cara said.
     "Quite the contrary. She has blue eyes and long blond hair. She is said
to be one

     of the most beautiful  women you could ever lay eyes upon. They say she
looks like a vision of a good spirit."
     Kahlan couldn't help notice  the  captain's furtive glance at Cara, who
had blue  eyes and long blond hair, and was also one  of the  most beautiful
women you could ever lay eyes upon. She, too, was deadly.
     Richard was frowning. "Blond. . . blue eyes  . . . there are several it
could be .... Too bad they didn't catch her name."
     "Sorry, but  they gave no other name, Lord Rahl, only  that description
.... Oh yes, and that she always wears black."
     "Dear spirits,"  Richard  whispered  as  he rose  to his  full  height,
gripping his carving by its throat.
     "From what I've been told, Lord Rahl, though she looks like a vision of
one, the good spins themselves would fear her."
     "With good reason." Richard said, as he stared into the distance, as if
looking beyond the black wall of mist to a place only he could see.
     "You know her, then, Lord Rahl?"
     Kahlan listened  to the fire  pop and crackle as she  waited along with
the other  two for  his answer. It almost seemed Richard was trying  to find
his voice as his gaze  sank back down to meet the eyes of the carving in his
     "I know her," he said, at last.  "I  know her all too well. She was one
of my teachers at the Palace of the Prophets."
     Richard tossed his carving into the flames.
     "Pray you never have to look into Nicci's eyes, Captain."

     Look into my eyes, child," Nicci said in her soft, silken voice as  she
cupped the girl's chin.
     Nicci  lifted the bony face. The eyes, dark and wide-set, blinked  with
dull  bewilderment.  There  was nothing to be seen  in  them:  the  girl was
     Nicci  straightened, feeling a  hollow disappointment. She always  did.
She sometimes found herself looking into people's eyes, like this,  and then
wondering why. If she was searching  for something, she didn't know  what it
     She resumed her leisurely walk down  the  line  of the townspeople, all
assembled  along one side of the  dusty  market square. People  in  outlying
farms and  smaller  communities no doubt came into the town several times  a
month, on market  days, some  staying overnight if  they  had  come from far
away. This wasn't a market day, but it would suit her purpose well enough.
     A few of the crowded buildings had a second  story, typically a room or
two for a  family over their small  shop.  Nicci  saw a bakery, a  cobbler's
shop,  a shop selling  pottery,  a blacksmith, an herbalist, a shop offering
leatherwork-the usual places. One of  these towns  was  much the same as the
next. Many  of  the town's people  worked the surrounding fields of wheat or
sorghum, tended animals, and had extensive vegetable plots. Dung, straw, and
clay being plentiful, they lived  in homes of daub  and wattle. A few of the
shops with a second story boasted beam construction with clapboard siding.
     Behind her, sullen soldiers bristling with  weapons filled the majority
of the square. They were tired from  the hot  ride,  and worse, bored. Nicci
knew they were  a twitch  away from a rampage. A town, even one with  meager
plunder,  was an inviting diversion. It  wasn't  so  much the taking  as the
breaking that  they liked. Sometimes, though, it was the taking. The nervous
women only rarely met the soldiers' bold stares.
     As she strolled past  the  scruffy people,  Nicci  looked into the eyes
watching her. Most were wide with terror and fixed  not on the soldiers, but
on  the object of their dread: Nicci-or as people had taken to calling  her,
"Death's Mistress."  The designation  neither pleased nor displeased her; it
was simply a fact she noted, a fact of  no  more significance to her than if
someone had told her that they had mended a pair of her stockings.
     Some, she  knew,  were staring at the gold ring  through her lower lip.
Gossip  would  have  already  informed  them  that a  woman so marked  was a
personal slave to Emperor Jagang-something lower  even than  simple peasants
such as  themselves. That they stared at the gold ring, or what they thought
of her  for it, was  of  even  less significance to  her  than  being called
"Death's Mistress."
     Jagang only possessed her body in this world; the Keeper would have her

     for  eternity in  the next.  Her  body's existence in  this  world  was
torment;  her spirit's existence in the next would be no less. Existence and
torment were simply the two sides of the same coin-there could be no other.
     Smoke, rolling up from the fire pit over her left shoulder, sailed away
on  a fitful wind to make a dark slash across the bright blue afternoon sky.
Stacked  stones  to each side  of the  communal  cooking pit supported a rod
above the fire. Two  or three pigs or sheep, skewered  on the  rod, could be
roasted at once. Temporary sides were probably available to convert the fire
pit into a smokehouse.
     At other times, an outdoor fire pit was used, often in conjunction with
butchering, for  the making  of soap,  since making soap was  not  something
typically done  indoors. Nicci saw a wooden ash pit,  used  for making  lye,
standing to  the side of the open area, along with  a large iron kettle that
could be used for rendering fat. Lye and fat were the primary ingredients of
soap. Some women liked  to add fragrance to their soap  with herbs and such,
like lavender or rosemary.
     When  Nicci was little,  her mother made her go each  autumn, when  the
butchering was being done, to help people make soap. Her mother said helping
others built proper character.  Nicci still had a few small dots of scars on
the  backs of  her hands  and forearms  where  she  had  been  splashed  and
blistered  by  the  hot fat.  Nicci's  mother  always made her  wear  a fine
dress-not to impress the other people who  didn't  have such clothes, but to
make  Nicci conspicuous  and uncomfortable.  The  attention  her pink  dress
attracted was  not  admiration. As she stood  with  the long wooden  paddle,
stirring the bubbling kettle while the lye was being poured  in, some of the
other children, trying to splash the dress  and ruin it, burned Nicci,  too.
Nicci's mother had said the burns were the Creator's punishment.
     As  Nicci moved past, inspecting the assembled  people, the only sounds
were the horses off behind the buildings, the sporadic coughs of people, and
the flags of flame in the fire pit  snapping and flapping in the breeze. The
soldiers  had  already  helped  themselves  to the  two  pigs  that had been
roasting on the  rod, so the aroma of cooking meat  had mostly dissipated on
the  wind,  leaving  the sour  smells  of  sweat  and  the  stink  of  human
habitation. Whether  a  belligerent  army or a  peaceful town, the  filth of
people smelled the same.
     "You all know why I'm here," Nicci announced. "Why have you people made
me go to  the trouble of such  a journey?" She gazed down the line  of maybe
two  hundred people standing  four and  five  deep.  The  soldiers,  who had
ordered them out of their homes and in  from the fields, greatly outnumbered
them. She stopped in front of a man she had noticed people glancing at.
     л Well?"
     The wind fluttered his thin gray hair across his balding, bowed head as
he  fixed his gaze on the ground  at her  feet. "We don't  have  anything to
give, Mistress. We're a poor community. We have nothing."
     "You are a liar. You had two  pigs. You  saw fit to have  a  gluttonous
feast instead of helping those in need."
     "But we have to eat." It was not an argument, so much as a plea.
     "So do others, but they are not so fortunate as you. They know only the
ache of  hunger in their  bellies every  night. What an ugly  tragedy,  that
every  day  thousands  of children  die from  the simple  want  of food, and
millions more know  the  gnawing pain of hunger-while people  like you, in a
land of plenty, offer nothing  but selfish excuses. Having what they need to
live is their right, and must be honored by those with the means to help.

     "Our soldiers,  too,  need to eat.  Do you think our  struggle  on  the
behalf  of the  people is easy?  These men risk their lives daily so you may
raise your  children in  a proper, civilized society. How can you look these
men in the eye? How can we even feed  our troops, if  everyone  doesn't help
support the cause?"
     The trembling man remained mute.
     "What must I  do  to  impress upon  you people the  seriousness of your
obligation  to the lives of  others? Your contribution to those in need is a
solemn moral dutysharing in a greater good."
     Nicci's vision  suddenly went white.  With a pain  like  scorching  hot
needles driven into her ears, Jagang's voice filled her mind.
     Why must you  play this  game?  Make examples of  people!  Teach them a
lesson that 1 am not to be ignored!
     Nicci  swayed  on  her feet.  She  was completely  blinded by the  pain
bursting inside her head.  She  let it wash through her, as if  watching  it
happen to a stranger. Her abdominal muscles twitched and convulsed. A rusty,
barbed lance driven up through her, ripping her insides, could not have hurt
more.  Her  arms  hung limp at  her  sides  while she  waited  for  Jagang's
displeasure to end, or for death.
     She was  unable to tell how long the torture lasted.  When he was doing
it, she  was  never able to sense  time-the pain was  too all-consuming. She
knew, from  what others  told  her when  they saw  it done to her,  and from
seeing  it done  to  others,  that  it  sometimes  lasted  only  an instant.
Sometimes it lasted hours.
     Making it last hours was a waste of Jagang's effort-she  couldn't  tell
the difference. She had told him as much.
     Suddenly, she was unable to draw a breath. It felt like a fist squeezed
her heart to a stop. She thought her lungs might burst. Her knees were about
to buckle.
     Do not disobey me again!
     With  a gasp, air filled her lungs. Jagang's  discipline  ended,  as it
always  did, with an  impossibly tart,  sour  taste  on her tongue,  like an
unexpected mouthful of fresh raw lemon juice, and pain searing the nerves at
the  back of her jaw  under  her  earlobes. It left her head ringing and her
teeth throbbing.  As  she opened her eyes, she was  surprised, as she always
was, not to see herself standing in a pool of blood. She touched  the corner
of her mouth, and then brushed her fingers to an ear. She found no blood.
     She wondered in passing why Jagang had been able to  come into her mind
now. Sometimes, he couldn't. It didn't happen that way  for any of the other
Sisters-he always had access to their minds.
     As her  vision cleared, she saw people staring at her. They didn't know
why  she had paused.  The  young men-and a few  of the  older ones, too-were
sneaking  peeks  at  her body.  They  were  used  to  seeing  women in drab,
shapeless dresses, women whose bodies  exhibited  the toll  taken by endless
hard work and almost constant  pregnancy from the time they  were old enough
for the  seed to  catch.  They had  never before  seen a  woman  like Nicci,
standing straight and tall, looking  them  in  the eye, wearing a fine black
dress that hugged a nearly flawless shape marred by neither hard work or the
labor  of  birth.  The stark  black material  contrasted  the pale curve  of
cleavage revealed  by the  cut of the laced bodice.  Nicci was  numb to such
stares.  Occasionally, they suited her  purposes, but most of the  time they
didn't, and so she disregarded them.
     She  began  walking  down  the line of  people again,  ignoring Emperor
Jagang's orders. She rarely complied with his orders. She was, for the  most
part, indifferent to his punishment. If anything, she welcomed it.

     Nicci, forgive me. You know I don't mean to hurt you.
     She ignored his voice,  too, as she studied the eyes peering up at her.
Not everyone did. She liked to look into the eyes of those courageous enough
to risk a glimpse of her. Most were filled with simple terror.
     There would soon be abundant justification for such apprehension.
     Nicci, you  must  do as  I tell you, or  you  are only going to end  up
forcing  me to  do  something  terrible to you. Neither  of us  wants  that.
Someday, I am  going to end up doing something from which you will be unable
to recover.
     If that is what you wish to do, then do it, she thought, in answer.
     It was not a challenge; she simply didn't care.
     You know 1 don't want to do that, Nicci.
     Without  the pain, his voice was  little more than  a fly annoying her.
She paid it no heed. She addressed the crowd.
     "Do you people have any concept of the  effort being put into the fight
for your future? Or is it that  you expect to benefit without  contributing?
Many of our brave men have given their  lives fighting the oppressors of the
people, fighting for our new beginning. We struggle so that all people  will
be able to share equally  in the coming prosperity. You must  help us in our
effort on your behalf. Just as helping those in need is the moral obligation
of every person, so, too, is this."
     Commander  Kardeef, displaying  a  look  of sour  displeasure,  planted
himself in front  of her. The sunlight  slanting across his  lined face cast
his hooded eyes in deep shadows.  She was not  moved by his disfavor. He was
never satisfied with anything. Well, she corrected herself, almost never.
     "People  can only  achieve virtue through obedience and sacrifice. Your
contribution to the Order is to implement their compliance. We are not  here
to hold civic lessons!"
     Commander Kardeef was confident in his privileged mastery over her. He,
too, had given her pain. She endured what Kadar Kardeef  did to her with the
same detachment with which she endured what Jagang did to her.
     Only in  the furthest depths of pain could she begin  to feel anything.
Even pain was preferable to the nothingness she usually felt.
     Kadar  Kardeef was probably unaware  of the punishment Jagang had  just
completed,  or his  orders; His  Excellency didn't use  Commander  Kardeef's
mind. It was an arduous undertaking for Jagang to control  those  who didn't
possess the gift-lu could do it, but  it was rarely worth his effort; he had
the gifted to control people for  him. A dream walker somehow used  the gift
in  those  who  possessed it in order  to m help complete the  connection to
their minds. In a way, the gifted made it possible
     for Jagang to so easily control them.
     Kadar Kardeef glowered down at her as she gazed up at his darkly tanned
creased face. He was an  imposing  figure, with the  studded leather  straps
that  crossed  his  massive chest,  his armored  leather shoulder and breast
plates, his chain mail, array of well-used weapons. Nicci had seen him crush
men's  throats  in  one of  big, powerful  hands.  As silent witness  to his
bravery in battle, he bore a number scars. She had seen them all.
     Few officers ranked higher or were more  trusted than Kadar Kardeef. He
been  with the Order since  his youth,  rising  through  the ranks  to fight
alongside ' Jagang as  they expanded the empire of the Imperial Order out of
their homeland Altur'Rang to eventually subjugate the rest of the Old World.
Kadar Kardeef was the hero of the Little Gap campaign,  the  man who  almost

     the course of the battle, breaking  through enemy lines and  personally
slaying  the three great  kings who  had joined forces to trap and crush the
Imperial Order before it  could seize the imaginations  of the  millions  of
people living  in a patchwork of kingdoms, fiefdoms, clans, city-states, and
vast regions controlled by alliances of warlords.
     The  Old  World  had  been  a  tinderbox,  waiting  for  the  spark  of
revolution. The preachings of the Order were that spark. If the high priests
were the Order's soul, Jagang was its bone and muscle. Few people understood
Jagang's genius-they saw only a dream walker, or a ferocious warrior. He was
far more.
     It had taken Jagang  decades to finally bring the rest of the Old World
to heel-to  put  the Order on its final path to  greater glory. During those
years  of  struggle  for the  Order, while  engaged in  nearly constant war,
Jagang  toiled building the road system  that allowed  him  to move men  and
supplies great distances with lightning speed. The more lands and peoples he
annexed,  the  more laborers he put to the construction of yet more roads by
which he could  conquer yet  more territory. He was  thus able  to  maintain
communications  and to react to situations  faster  than anyone  would  have
believed possible.  Formerly  isolated lands were  suddenly connected to the
rest of the Old World. Jagang had knitted them together with a net of roads.
Along those roads, the people of the Old World had risen up to follow him as
he forged the way for the Order.
     Kadar Kardeef  had been part of it  all. More  than once  he  had taken
wounds to save  Jagang's life. Jagang had once taken a bolt  from a crossbow
to save Kardeef. If Jagang could be said to have a friend, Kadar Kardeef was
as close as any came to it.
     Nicci first met Kardeef when he had  come to the Palace of the Prophets
in Tanimura  to pray.  Old King Gregory, who  had ruled  the  land including
Tanimura,  had disappeared  without a trace. Kadar Kardeef  was  a  solemnly
devout man; before battle he  prayed to the  Creator for the  blood  of  the
enemy,  and after,  for the souls of the men he had killed. That  day he was
said  to have prayed  for the  soul of King  Gregory. The Imperial Order was
suddenly  the new rule in Tanimura. The people celebrated in the streets for
     Over the course of three thousand years, the Sisters,  from  their home
at the Palace of the Prophets in Tanimura, had seen governments come and go.
For the most part,  the Sisters, led by their prelate, considered matters of
rule  a petty foolishness best  ignored.  They believed in a higher calling.
The  Sisters  believed  they  would remain at  the Palace  of  the Prophets,
undisturbed  in their work, long after the Order had vanished  into the dust
of history.  Revolutions had  many times  come and gone. This  one,  though,
caught them up.
     Kadar Kardeef  had  been nearly twenty  years younger,  then-a handsome
conqueror riding into the city. Many of the Sisters  were fascinated  by the
man. Nicci never was. But he was fascinated by her.
     Emperor  Jagang,  of  course,  did  not send  such  invaluable  men  as
Commander Kardeef out  to pacify conquered  lands. He had  entrusted Kardeef
with a much more important task: guarding his valuable property-Nicci.
     Nicci turned  her attention away  from Kadar  Kardeef  and  back to the
     She settled her gaze on the man who had spoken before. "We cannot allow
anyone to shirk their responsibility to others and to our new beginning."
     "Please, Mistress . . . We have nothing-"
     "Disregard of our cause is treasonous."

     He thought better of disagreeing with that pronouncement.
     "You don't seem to understand that this man behind me wants  you to see
that the Imperial Order is  resolute in their devotion to their cause-if you
don't do your duty.  I know you have heard  the stories,  but this man wants
you to experience the grim  reality.  Imagining it  is never quite the same.
Never quite as gruesome."
     She  stared  at  the  man,  waiting  for  his  answer.  He  licked  his
weather-cracked lips,
     "We just need  some more time  .... Our crops are doing  well. When the
harvest  comes in  . .  . we could  contribute  our  fair  share  toward the
struggle for . . . for. . ."
     "The new beginning."
     "Yes, Mistress," he said, bobbing  his head, "the  new beginning." When
his gaze returned to the dirt at his feet, she moved on down the line.
     Her purpose was not really to collect, but to cow.
     The time had come.
     A girl gazing up at her  snagged Nicci to  a stop, distracting her from
what she  had intended. The girl's  big,  dark  eyes sparkled  with innocent
wonder. Everything was new to her, and she was  eager to see it  all. In her
dark  eyes shone  that  rare, fragile,  and  most perishable of qualities: a
guileless view of life that had yet to be touched by pain or loss or evil.
     Nicci  cupped  the  girl's  chin,  staring  into  the  depths  of those
thirsting eyes.
     One of  Nicci's earliest  memories was  of her mother standing over her
like this, holding her chin, looking down at her. Nicci's mother was gifted,
too.  She  said that', the  gift  was a curse, and  a test. It  was  a curse
because it gave her abilities others didn't have,  and it was a test  to see
if she  would wrongly exert that  superiority.  Nicci's mother almost  never
used her  gift. Servants handled the work; she spent most of her time nested
among her clutch of friends, devoting herself to higher pursuits.
     "Dear Creator,  but Nicci's father is a monster," she would complain as
she wrung her  hands. Some of  her friends would murmur their sympathy. "Why
must he burden me so! I fear his eternal soul is beyond hope or prayer." The
other women would ask in grim agreement.
     Her  mother's eyes were the same  dull brown as  a cockroach's back. To
Nicci's mind, they were set too close together. Her mouth, too,  was narrow,
as  if fixed is  -. place  by her perpetual disapproval. While  Nicci  never
really  thought of  her  mother  as  homely,  neither  did she  consider her
beautiful, although her friends regularly reassured her that she most surely
     Nicci's mother said beauty was a curse to a caring woman and a blessing
only to whores.
     Puzzled by her  mother's  displeasure of her  father, Nicci had finally
asked why had done.
     "Nicci,"  her mother  had said, cupping  Nicci's small  chin that  day.
Nicci eagerly awaited her mother's words. "You have beautiful eyes, but  you
do  not yet see  with .them. All people are miserable wretches,  that is the
lot of  man. Do  you  have any idea  how  it  hurts  those without all  your
advantages to see your beautiful face?  That  , is all  you bring to others:
insufferable pain.  The Creator brought you into  the world 1  for no reason
but to ease the misery of others, and here you bring only hurt." Ha mother's
friends, sipping tea, nodded, whispering to one another their sorrowful  b `
firm agreement.
     That was when Nicci had first learned that she bore the indelible stain
of so shadowy, nameless, unconfessed evil.
     Nicci gazed into the  rare face  looking up  at her. Today this  girl's
dark  eyes would  see things they  could not  yet  imagine.  Those  big eyes
eagerly watched without  seeing. She  could not possibly understand what was
to come, or why.
     What kind of life could she have?
     It would be for the best, this way.
     The time had come.

     Before  she   could  begin,  Nicci  saw   something  that  ignited  her
indignation. She whirled to a nearby woman.
     "Where is there a washtub?"
     Surprised by the  question, the woman pointed a trembling finger toward
a two story building not far  off. "There, Mistress. In the yard behind  the
pottery shop are laundry tubs where we were washing clothes."
     Nicci seized the woman by her throat. "Get me a pair of scissors. Bring
them  to me there." The woman stared  in wide-eyed fright. Nicci shoved her.
"Now! Or would you prefer to die on the spot?"
     Nicci  yanked  free  a  well-worn, reserve  studded strap  bunched with
several others  and secured over Commander  Kardeef's  shoulder. He made  no
effort to stop her, but as  she  gathered up the strap, he seized  her upper
arm in his powerful grip.
     "You  had  better  be  planning  on drowning this little brat-or  maybe
cutting  off hunks of her hide and then stabbing  out  her eyes." His breath
smelled of  onion and ale. He smirked.  "In fact, you start  in on her,  and
while she's  screaming and begging  for her life, I'll begin  separating out
some young men, or  perhaps  I'll select some women to be  an example. Which
would you prefer, this time?"
     Nicci turned her glare down at his fingers on her  arm. He removed them
as he  growled a warning. She turned to the girl and whipped the strap twice
around her neck to  serve as a collar, twisting it into a handle in the back
so she could control the girl with it. The girl squeaked in choked surprise.
She had  probably never  been handled so roughly  in  her entire life. Nicci
forced her ahead, toward the building the woman had pointed out.
     Seeing how angry Nicci had  suddenly  become, no  one followed. A woman
not far off, undoubtedly the girl's mother, began to cry out in protest, but
then  fell  silent as  Kardeef's men turned their attention  on her. By then
Nicci already had the perplexed girl around the corner.
     Out back, drab  laundry, deformed and crumpled from its  ordeal  on the
washboard, and  now stretched and pinned to lines, twisted in the wind as if
struggling to escape. Smoke from  the  fire  pit peeked over  the top of the
building. The nervous woman waited with a large pair of shears.
     Nicci  marched the  girl up to  a tub of  water, drove her down  on her
knees, and shoved her head under the water.  While the girl struggled, Nicci
snatched the  scissors from the woman. Her chore completed,  the  woman held
her apron up over her mouth to muffle her wails as she ran off in tears, not
wanting to watch a child being murdered.
     Nicci pulled  the  girl's  head up  out of  the  water, and  while  she
sputtered and gasped for air,  began clipping  her dark,  soaking  wet  hair
close to the scalp. When

     Nicci had finished cutting it off in sodden clumps, she dunked the girl
again while leaning over and scooping up a cake of pale yellow soap from the
washboard on the ground beside the tub. Nicci hauled  the girl's head up and
then  began  scrubbing.  The  girl  screeched, flailing her spindly arms and
clawing at  the strap around her neck by which Nicci  controlled  her. Nicci
realized she was probably hurting  her, but from within the grip of rage, it
was only a dim realization.
     "What's the matter with you!" Nicci shook the gasping girl. "Don't  you
know you're crawling with lice?"
     "But, but-"
     The soap was harsh and as  rough as  a rasp. The girl squealed as Nicci
bent her over and put more muscle into the scouring.
     "Do you like having a head full of lice?"
     "Well, you must! Why else would you have them?"
     "Please! I'll try to do better. I'll wash. I promise!"
     Nicci remembered how  much  she hated catching lice from the places her
mother sent her.  She remembered scrubbing herself, using the harshest  soap
she could  find, only to again be sent off to another place, where she would
get infested with the hated things all over again.
     When Nicci had scrubbed  and dunked  a dozen times, she finally dragged
the girl to a tub of  clean water and swished her head about in it  to rinse
her  off.  The  girl  blinked  furiously, trying to clear her  eyes  of  the
stinging, soapy water as it streamed down off her face.
     Gripping  the girl's chin,  Nicci  peered into her red  eyes. "No doubt
your  clothes  are lousy  with nits. You're  to  scrub  your  clothes  every
day-underthings,  especially-or the  lice  will just  be right  back." Nicci
squeezed the  girl's cheeks until her eyes watered. "You are better  than to
be filthy with lice! Don't you know that?"
     The  girl  nodded,  as  best as  she  could with Nicci's strong fingers
holding her  face. The big,  dark, intelligent  eyes, although red  from the
water and wide with shock, were still filled with that rare sense of wonder.
As painful and frightening as the experience was, this had not dispelled it.
     "Burn  your bedding.  Get new."  Given the way  these people  lived and
worked, it seemed a hopeless challenge. "Your  whole family must  burn their
bedding. Wash all their clothes."
     The girl nodded her oath.
     Task completed, Nicci marched the  girl back toward the gathered crowd.
Forcing  her  along  by  the studded  strap used  as  a  collar,  Nicci  was
unexpectedly struck by a memory.
     It was a memory of the first time she had seen Richard.
     Nearly every Sister at the  Palace of the Prophets had been gathered in
the  great  hall  to see the  new  boy Sister  Verna  had brought  in. Nicci
lingered  at the mahogany rail,  twining around her finger a  lace  dangling
from her bodice, only to pull the  lace straight and then to twine it again,
when  the  pair  of  thick  walnut  doors  opened.  The  rumbling  drone  of
conversation, sprinkled  with bright laughter, trailed  to an expectant hush
as the group, led by Sister Phoebe, marched into the chamber, past the white
columns topped by gold capitals, and in under the huge vaulted dome.
     The  birth of  gifted boys  was rare, and a  cause of expectant delight
when they were discovered and finally brought to live at the palace. A grand
banquet was planned  for that evening. Most of the Sisters, dressed in their
finery, stood on the

     floor below, eager to  meet the new boy. Nicci remained near the center
of the lower balcony. She didn't care whether she met him or not.
     It came as something of a shock to see how Sister Verna had aged on her
journey. Such journeys typically lasted at most a year; this one, beyond the
great barrier to  the New World,  had taken nearly twenty. Events beyond the
barrier being uncertain, Verna had apparently been sent  off on  her mission
too far in advance.
     Life at the Palace of the Prophets was as long as it was serene. No one
at the Palace of the Prophets appeared to have aged at all  in so trifling a
span of  time  as two decades, but  away from the  spell  that enveloped the
palace, Verna had. Verna, probably close to one hundred and sixty years old,
had to be at least twenty years younger than Nicci; yet she now looked twice
Nicci's age. People outside the palace  aged at  the normal rate, of course,
but to see it happen so rapidly to a Sister . . .
     As the  roaring applause  thundered  on in the huge room, many  of  the
Sisters wept over the  momentous occasion. Nicci yawned. Sister Phoebe  held
up her hand until the room fell silent.
     "Sisters." Phoebe's voice trembled. "Please welcome Sister Verna home."
She finally had  to raise a hand to again bring the clamor of  applause to a
     When the  room  had quieted, she  said,  "And may  I present our newest
student, our newest child of the Creator, our newest charge." She turned and
held an arm out in introduction, wiggling her fingers, urging the apparently
timid  boy forward  as she went  on.  "Please welcome Richard  Cypher to the
Palace of the Prophets."
     Several of the women stepped back out of the way  as he strode forward.
Nicci's eyes widened; her back straightened. It was not a  young boy. He was
grown into a man.
     The  crowd, despite their shock, clapped and cheered with the warmth of
their welcome. Nicci didn't hear it. Her attention was riveted by those gray
eyes of his. He  was  introduced to some of the nearby Sisters.  The  novice
assigned to him, Pasha, was brought before him and tried to speak to him.
     Richard brushed Pasha aside, a stag dismissing a vole, and  stepped out
alone  into  the  center of the  room.  His whole bearing conveyed the  same
quality Nicci beheld in his eyes.
     "I have something to say."
     The vast chamber fell to an astonished hush.
     His gaze swept the room. Nicci's breath  caught when,  for  an instant,
their eyes met, as he probably met countless others.
     Her trembling fingers clutched the rail for support.
     Nicci swore  at that moment to do whatever was necessary to be named as
one of his teachers.
     His fingers tapped the Rada'Han around his neck.
     "As  long as you keep  this collar on me, you are my  captors, and I am
your prisoner."
     Murmurs hummed in  the air. A  Rada'Han was put around a boy's neck not
joust to govern him, but to protect him as well. The boys were never thought
of as prisoners, but wards who needed security, care, and training. Richard,
though, did not set ' it that way.
     "Since  I have  committed  no  aggression against  you,  that  makes us
enemies. We are at war."
     Several  older Sisters  teetered  on their heels, nearly  fainting. The
faces of half the  women in the room went  red. The  rest  went white. Nicci
could not have imagined
     such an  attitude.  His  demeanor  kept  her  from blinking,  lest  she
overlook something.  She drew  slow breaths,  lest  she  miss  a  word.  Her
pounding heart, though, was beyond her ability to control.
     "Sister Verna has made a pledge to  me that I will be taught to control
the gift, and when I have learned what  is required, I will be set free. For
now,  as  long  as  you  keep that pledge,  we  have a truce. But there  are
     Richard lifted a red leather rod hanging  on  a  fine gold chain around
his neck.  At the  time,  Nicci  hadn't known  it to  be  the  weapon  of  a
     "I have  been collared before. The person  who put  that  collar  on me
brought me pain, to punish me, to teach me, to subdue me."
     Nicci knew that such could be the only fate of one like him.
     "That is the sole purpose  of a collar. You collar  a beast. You collar
your enemies.
     "I  made  her  much the  same offer I am making you. I  begged  her  to
release me. She would not. I was forced to kill her.
     "Not one of you could ever  hope  to be good enough to lick her  boots.
She did as she did because she was  tortured and broken, made mad enough  to
use a collar to hurt people. She did it against her nature.
     "You .  . ." His  gaze swept all  the eyes  watching  him.  "You  do it
because you think it is your right. You enslave in the name of your Creator.
I don't know your Creator. The only  one beyond this  world who I know would
do as you do is the Keeper." The crowd gasped. "As far as I'm concerned, you
may as well be the Keeper's disciples."
     Little did he know that some of them were.
     "If you do as she, and use this collar to bring me pain, the truce will
be  ended.  You may think you  hold the  leash to this collar, but I promise
you,  if the  truce ends, you will find  that  what you hold  is  a  bolt of
     The room was as silent as a tomb.
     He was alone, defiant, in the midst of hundreds of sorceresses who knew
how to harness every nuance of the power  with which they were born; he knew
next to nothing  of his ability,  and was collared by a Rada'Han besides. In
this, he may have been  a stag, but  a stag challenging  a  congregation  of
lions. Hungry lions.
     Richard rolled  up his  left  sleeve. He  drew  his  sword-a  sword!-in
defiance of the prodigious power arrayed before him. The distinctive ring of
steel filled the silence as the blade was brought free.
     Nicci stood spellbound as he listed his conditions.
     He finally pointed  back  with the sword. "Sister Verna  captured me. I
have fought her every step of this journey. She has done everything short of
killing me and draping my body over a horse to get me here. Though she, too,
is my captor and  enemy, I owe her certain debts. If anyone lays a finger to
her because of me, I will kill that person, and the truce will be ended."
     Nicci couldn't fathom such a strange sense  of honor, but  somehow  she
knew it fit what she saw in his eyes.
     The  crowd  gasped as Richard  drew his sword across the inside  of his
arm. He turned it, wiping both sides in the blood, until it dripped from the
tip. Nicci could  plainly see, even if the others could not much as  she saw
in his  eyes a quality  others  did not see-that the sword united  with, and
completed, magic within him.
     His knuckles white around the  hilt, he  thrust the glistening  crimson
blade into the air.
     "I give you a blood  oath!" he cried out. "Harm the Baka Ban Mana, harm

     Verna, or harm me,  and  the truce will be ended,  and I promise you we
will  have  t,  war! If we have war, I will lay waste  to the Palace  of the
     From  the  upper balcony,  where  Richard couldn't  see him, Jedidiah's
mocking voice drifted out over the crowd. "All by yourself?"
     "Doubt me at your peril. I am a prisoner; I have nothing to live for. I
am the t flesh of prophecy. I am the bringer of death."
     No answer came in the stupefied  silence.  Probably  every woman in the
room knew  of the prophecy of the bringer of  death, though none was certain
of  its intended meaning.  The text  of  that  prophecy, along with all  the
others, was kept in the vaults  deep under the Palace of the  Prophets. That
Richard knew it, that he dared declare it aloud in such company, augured the
worst possible interpretation. Every lioness in the room retracted her claws
in  caution.  Richard  drove  his  sword home  into  its  scabbard as if  to
punctuate his threat.
     Nicci knew that  the profound importance of what  she had seen  in  his
eyes and in his presence would forever haunt her.
     She knew, too, that she must destroy him.
     Nicci had  to surrender  favors and  commit  to  obligations  she never
imagined  she would have  willingly done, but in return, she became  one  of
Richard's six teachers.  The burdens  she had taken  on  in return for  that
privilege  were  all worth it when she sat alone with  him,  across  a small
table in his room, lightly holding his hands-if one could be said to lightly
grasp lightning-endeavoring to teach him to  touch his  Han, the  essence of
life  and spirit  within the gifted. Try as he might, he felt nothing. That,
in itself, was peculiar.  The inkling of what  she felt  within him, though,
was  often enough to leave her unable to bring forth more than a few  sparse
words. She had casually  questioned the others, and knew  they were blind to
     Although Nicci  could not comprehend what  it  was about his  intellect
that his eyes and his conduct  revealed, she  did know that it disturbed the
numb safety  of her  indifference. She  ached to grasp it before  she had to
destroy him, and at the same time ached to destroy him before she did.
     Whenever she  became confident  that  she  was beginning to unravel the
mystery  of his  singular character,  and thought she could predict  what he
would  do  in a given  , situation, he would confound her by doing something
completely unexpected, if not impossible. Time and again he reduced to ashes
what  she had  thought was the foundation of her understanding  of  him. She
spent  hours sitting alone,  in abysmal misery, because  it  seemed to be in
plain sight,  yet she couldn't  define  it. She knew  only that  it was some
principle important beyond measure, and it remained beyond her .: grasp.
     Richard,  never happy  about his situation, became increasingly distant
as time passed. Forlorn of hope, Nicci decided that the time had come.
     When she went to his room for what she meant to be his final lesson and
his  end, he  surprised her  by offering her a  rare  white  rose. Worse, he
offered  it with a smile  and no explanation. As he held it  out, she was so
petrified that she could only manage  to say, "Why, thank you, Richard." The
white roses were from  only one kind of place: dangerous restricted areas no
student should ever have been able  to enter. That  he apparently could, and
that he  would so  boldly offer her the proof of his trespass, startled her.
She held the white rose carefully between a finger and thumb, not knowing if
he  was warning  her-by giving her a  forbidden thing-that  ╟;  he  was  the
bringer of death, and she was being marked, or if it was a gesture of

     simple,  if strange,  kindness.  She erred on the side of caution. Once
again, his nature had stayed her hand.
     The other  Sisters  of the Dark had plans of their own. Richard's gift,
as far as Nicci was concerned, was probably the  least remarkable and by far
the least important thing about him, yet Liliana, one of his other teachers,
a woman of boundless  greed and limited insight, thought to steal the innate
ability of  his  Han  for herself.  It  sparked a lethal confrontation which
Liliana lost. The  six  of  them, their leader, Ulicia,  and Richard's  five
remaining  teachers-having  been discovered,  escaped with  their lives  and
little else, only to end up in Jagang's clutches.
     In  the end, Nicci  understood  that quality in his eyes no better than
the first moment she had seen it.
     It had all slipped through her fingers.
     The girl ran for her mother when Nicci released her grip on the studded
strap around her neck.
     "Well?"  Commander Kardeef shrieked. He planted his fists on his  hips.
"Are you  through  with your games? It's time these people learned the  true
meaning of ruthless!"
     Nicci  stared into  the  depths of his  dark eyes.  They were  defiant,
angry, and determined-yet they were nothing at all like Richard's eyes.
     Nicci turned to the soldiers.
     She gestured. "You two. Seize the commander."
     The  men blinked dumbly.  Commander Kardeef's face went red with  rage.
"That's  it! You've finally  gone too far!" He wheeled to his men,  a  whole
field  of  them-two  thousand of  them.  He  pointed a  thumb back over  his
shoulder at Nicci. "Grab this lunatic witch!"
     Half a dozen men nearest to her drew  weapons as they rushed her.  Like
all Order field troops, they were  big,  strong,  and  quick. They were also
     Nicci thrust  a fist out in  the direction of  the closest as he lifted
his  whip to  lash  out and  entangle her. With  the  speed of thought, both
Additive  Magic  and  Subtractive twined together  in a lethal  mix  as  she
unleashed a focused  bolt of power. It produced a burst of  light so hot and
so white that  for an instant  it  made  the sunlight seem  dim and  cold by
     The blast blew  a mellon-sized hole through the center of the soldier's
chest. For an instant, before  the internal  pressure forced his  organs  to
fill the  sudden  void,  she could see men behind through the gaping hole in
his chest.
     The afterimage of the flare lingered in her mind's eye like lightning's
arc. The acrid smell of scorched air stung her eyes. The clap of her power's
thunder rumbled out across the surrounding green fields of wheat.
     Before the soldier hit  the ground, Nicci unleased her  power  on three
more  of  the charging  men, taking off  one's  entire shoulder,  the wallop
whirling him around like a ghastly fountain, the  dangling limb flinging off
into the crowd. A third man was cut  almost in two. She  felt the concussion
of  the following  bolt deep  in her chest and,  amid a blinding  flash, the
fourth man's head came apart in a cloud of red mist and bony debris.
     Her warning  gaze  met the eyes  of  two men  with  knives  gripped  in

     fists. They halted. Many more  took a step back as the four reports, to
her so separate  yet so close atop  one another that they almost merged into
one ripping blast, still echoed off the buildings.
     "Now," she  said in a quiet,  calm,  composed voice  that  by its  very
gentleness  betrayed how deadly earnest was  the threat, "if you  men do not
follow my orders, and seize Commander Kardeef, I will seize him myself. But,
of course, not until after I've killed every last one of you."
     The only sound was the moan of wind between the buildings.
     "Do as I say, or die. I will not wait."
     The big men, knowing her,  made their decision in the instant they knew
was all she would grant them,  and leaped to seize the commander. He managed
to draw  his  sword. Kadar  Kardeef was no stranger  to  pitched  battle. He
screamed  orders as he fought them  off. More than one man fell  dead in the
melee. Others cried out as they took wounds. From behind, men finally caught
the  deadly sword arm. Additional men piled on  the commander until they had
him disarmed, down on the ground, and finally under control.
     "What  do you think you're doing?" Kadar Kardeef  roared at her  as the
men pulled him to his feet.
     Nicci  closed the  distance between them. The soldiers  held  his  arms
twisted behind his back. She stared into his wild eyes.
     "Why, Commander, I am merely following your orders."
     "What are you talking about!"
     She smiled  without humor just because she knew it would further madden
     One of the  men glanced back  over his shoulder. "What do you want done
with him?"
     "Don't hurt him-I want  him  fully conscious. Strip him and bind him to
the pole."
     "Pole? What pole?"
     "The pole that held the pigs you men ate."
     Nicci snapped her fingers, and they began pulling off their commander's
clothes, She watched  without  emotion as he  was finally stripped. His gear
and  prized weapons became  plunder, quickly disappearing into the  hands of
men he had commanded. They grunted with  effort as  they  fought to bind the
struggling, naked, hairy commander to the pole at his back.
     Nicci turned to  the stunned crowd.  "Commander  Kardeef wishes  you to
know  how  ruthless we  can  be. I am going to  carry out those  orders, and
demonstrate it for you."  She turned back to the soldiers. "Put him over the
fire to roast like a pig."
     The soldiers  bore  the struggling, furious Kadar Kardeef, the hero  of
the Little Gap campaign, to the fire pit. They knew that Jagang watched them
through her  eyes.  They  had reason to be confident  that the emperor would
stop her  if he wished to. After all, he was the dream walker, and  they had
seen him force her and the other Sisters to  submit  to his wishes countless
times, no matter how degrading those wishes were.
     They could  not know  that, for some reason, Jagang did not have access
to ha mind right then.
     The wooden ends of the pole  clattered  into  the  sockets in the stone
supports to each side of the fire pit. The pole sprang up  and down with the
weight of its load The weight finally settled, leaving Kadar Kardeef to hang
facedown. He had little choice but to watch the glowing coals beneath him.

     Even though the fire had burned down, it wasn't long before the heat of
the wavering,  low flames began causing him distress.  As  people watched in
silent  dismay, the  commander twisted as he shrieked orders, demanding that
his  men  take  him  down, promising  them punishment if they  delayed.  His
diatribe trailed off as he began gasping for control of his growing dread.
     Watching the eyes of the town's people, Nicci pointed behind her.
     "This  is  how  ruthless  the  Imperial  Order  is:  they  will slowly,
painfully,  burn to death a  great commander,  a  war  hero, a man known and
revered far and wide, a man who has served them well, just  to prove to you,
the people of an  insignificant little town, that they will  not hesitate to
kill  anyone.  Our  goal  is the  good of all,  and  that goal  is held more
important than any mere man among us. This is the proof. Now, do you people,
for any reason, still think that we would shrink from harming any or all  of
you if you don't contribute to the common good?"
     Nearly everyone shook their heads as they all mumbled, "No, Mistress."
     Behind her,  Commander Kardeef writhed in pain. He again yelled at  his
men, commanding them to bring him  down, and to kill "the crazy witch." None
of  the  soldiers moved to  comply with  his orders.  To look  at them, they
didn't even hear him. These  men had no notion of compassion. There was only
life, and death. They chose life; that choice required his death.
     Nicci stood  watching the eyes of the people as the minutes dragged on.
The commander was up a  good distance from the  low flames, but there  was a
expansive bed of broiling hot  coals. She knew  that, from time to time, the
gusty breeze diverted  the fierce heat  to give  him a fleeting reprieve. It
would only prolong his ordeal; the heat was inexorable. Still, it would take
some time. She didn't ask for more firewood. She was in no hurry.
     People's noses wrinkled; everyone could smell his body hair burning. No
one dared speak. As the ordeal wore on,  the skin across Kardeef's chest and
stomach reddened, and then darkened. It was a good fifteen minutes before it
finally began to crack and split open. He shrieked in pain nearly the entire
time. The smell turned to a surprisingly pleasant aroma of cooking meat.
     In the  end,  he  gave in  to  wailing  for  mercy. He called her name,
begging  her  to bring  it to an end, to either free him or  to  finish  him
quickly. As she listened  to him sob  her name,  she stroked  the gold  ring
through  her lower lip, his voice little  more  to her than the buzzing of a
     The thin layer of fat that lay over his powerful muscles began melting.
He grew hoarse. Fueled by the fat, flames flared up, scorching his face.
     "Nicci!" Kardeef knew his  pleas for mercy were  falling on indifferent
ears.  He betrayed  his true  feelings. "You  vicious  bitch!  You  deserved
everything I did to your"
     She casually confronted his wild gaze. "Yes, I did. Give my regards  to
the Keeper, Kadar."
     "Tell him  yourself! When Jagang finds out  about this,  he'll tear you
limb from limb! You'll soon be in the underworld, in the Keeper's hands!"
     His words were once more but a trifling drone.
     Sweat beaded  on people's  foreheads as the spectacle dragged  on. They
needed  no spoken orders to know she  expected  them to remain and watch the
whole  thing. Their own  imaginations,  should  they consider disobeying her
unspoken orders, would dream up punishments she never  could. Only  the boys
were  fascinated by the remarkable  exhibition. Knowing  looks passed  among
them; torture such as this was

     a treat to the minds of young immortals. Someday, they might make  good
Order troops-if they didn't grow up.
     Nicci  met  the  glare of  the  girl.  The  hatred  in those  eyes  was
breathtaking.  Even  though  the  girl had been afraid  of  the  dunking and
scrubbing,  her eyes, at the time, had shown  that the  world  was  still  a
wondrous place, and she was someone special. Now, her eyes betrayed her lost
     The whole  time, Nicci stood tall, with her back straight and shoulders
square, to take the full  blow of the girl's bright new hatred, feeling  the
rare sensation of experiencing something.
     The girl had no idea that  Commander Kardeef had taken her place in the
     When the commander finally went silent, Nicci turned her  eyes from the
girl and spoke to the town's people.
     "The past is gone.  You are part of  the Imperial  Order. If you people
don't  do  the moral  thing by  contributing toward  the  well-being of your
fellow citizens of the Order, I will return."
     They  did not doubt her. If there was one thing  they obviously wanted,
it was never to see her again.
     One of the soldiers, his fists trembling at his sides,  tramped forward
in halting steps. His eyes were wide with bewildered pain. "I want you back,
darlin," he growled  in a voice that didn't match the startled expression in
his eyes. The voice turned deadly. "And I want you back right now."
     There was no mistaking Jagang's voice, or the rage in it.
     It was difficult for him to  control  the mind of one without the gift.
He had  the  soldier  in  a tenacious  grip.  Jagang would  not have  used a
soldier, thereby betraying  his impotence, had he been able to reach  in and
control Nicci's mind.
     She had absolutely no idea why he had suddenly lost the link to her. It
had happened before. She knew he would eventually reestablish his ability to
hurt her. She had merely to wait.
     "You are angry with me, Excellency?"
     "What do you think?"
     She shrugged. "Since Kadar  was  your better in bed, I  would think you
would be pleased."
     "Get  yourself back  here right now!" the  soldier  roared in  Jagang's
voice. "Do you understand? Right now!"
     Nicci bowed. "But, of course, Excellency."
     As she straightened,  she yanked  the  soldier's  long  knife  from the
sheath  at his  belt  and slammed  it hilt-deep into his  muscled  gut.  She
`gritted her teeth with the effort of pivoting the handle sideways, sweeping
the blade in a lethal arc through his insides.
     She doubted the man felt his messy death writhing at her feet while she
waited for  her carriage to  make  its way around  the square. He died  with
Jagang's chuckle on his lips. Since a dream walker could only be in a living
mind, for the time being, the afternoon returned to quiet.
     After her  carriage rocked  to a dusty halt, a  soldier  reached up and
opened  the  door. She leaned out from the  step, turning back to the crowd,
holding  the  outside  handrail in  order to stand straight so that they all
might see her. Her blond hair fluttered in the sunny breeze.
     "Do not forget this day, and how your  lives  were all spared by Jagang
the Just!
     The  commander  would  have murdered you;  the emperor, through me, has

     shown his compassion. Spread the word of the mercy and wisdom of Jagang
the Just, and I will have no need to return."
     The crowd mumbled that they would.
     "Do you want us to  bring the commander with us," a soldier  asked. The
man,  Kadar   Kardeef's  loyal  second,  now  wore  Kardeef's   sword.  Like
vegetables, fidelity's  fresh vitality was  fleeting,  its final fate stench
and rot.
     "Leave him to roast as a reminder. Everyone else will return with me to
     "By your command," he said with a bow. He  circled  his arm and ordered
the men to mount up and move out.
     Nicci leaned out farther and looked up  at the  driver. "His Excellency
wishes to see me. Although he has not  said  as much, I'm reasonably sure he
would like you to hurry."
     Nicci  took  her place on  the hard leather  cushion  inside,  her back
straight against the upright seat, while the driver let out a shrill whistle
and cracked his whip.  The team leaped forward, jerking  the carriage ahead.
With a hand on the windowsill, she steadied herself as  the ironbound wheels
bounced over the  hard, rough  ground of  the town square until they reached
the  road, where  the carnage settled  down into this familiar jolting ride.
Sunlight slanted in  the  window, falling across the empty cushion  opposite
her. The bold bright patch glided off the  seat as the carriage negotiated a
curve  in the  road, finally slipping up to come  to rest in  her lap like a
warm  cat.  Darkly  clad riders to each side,  ahead,  and behind  stretched
forward  over the withers of their galloping mounts.  A rumbling  roar along
with  billowing  plumes  of dust lifted  into  the air  from the  thundering
     For  the moment,  Nicci  was free of  Jagang. She was surrounded by two
thousand men, yet she felt totally  alone. Before long, she would have  pain
to fill the terrible void.
     She felt no  joy, no fear. She sometimes wondered why she felt  nothing
but the need to hurt.
     As  the carriage raced toward Jagang, her thoughts were focused instead
on another man, trying to recall every occasion  that she had seen him.  She
went over every moment  she had spent with Richard  Cypher, or as he was now
known-and as Jagang knew him-Richard Rahl.
     She thought about his gray eyes.
     Until  the day she saw him, she had never believed such a person  could
     When she thought about Richard, like now, only one haunting need burned
in her: to destroy him.

     C H A P T E R 9
     Huge  garish  tents festooned the  prominent  hill outside  the city of
Fairfield, yet  despite the festive colors erected  amid  the gloom, despite
the laughing, the shouting, the coarse singing, and the riotous excess, this
was no carnival come  to town, but an  occupying army. The  emperor's tents,
and those of his  retinue, were  styled in the fashion of  the tents used by
some of the nomadic  people  from Jagang's homeland of Altur'Rang, yet  they
were embellished far beyond any actual  tradition. The emperor, a man vastly
exceeding  any nomadic  tribal leader's ability  to imagine, created his own
cultural heritage as he saw fit.
     Around the tents,  covering the hills and valleys as far as Nicci could
see, the soldiers had pitched their own small grimy tents.  Some  were oiled
canvas,  many more were  made from animal skins. Beyond the shared basics of
practicality, there was uniformity  only in their lack of conformity  to any
one style.
     Outside  some  of the  shabby  little tents,  and almost as large,  sat
ornate  upholstered chairs  looted from  the  city. The juxtaposition almost
looked as  if it had been intentionally done for a comical effect, but Nicci
knew the reality had no kinship to humor. When the army eventually moved on,
such large, meticulously crafted items were too cumbersome to take and would
be left to rot in the weather.
     Horses were  picketed  haphazardly,  with occasional  paddocks  holding
small herds. Other enclosures held meat on  the hoof. Individual wagons were
scattered here and there, seemingly wherever they could find  an empty spot,
but  in  other  places they had been set  up side by side.  Many  were  camp
followers, others  were army wagons with  everything  from basic supplies to
blacksmith equipment. The army  brought along minimal siege equipment;  they
had the gifted to use as weapons of that sort.
     Brooding clouds  scudded low over  the scene. The  humid air  reeked of
excrement  from both animals and  men. The  green fields all around had been
churned to a muddy morass. The two thousand men  who had returned with Nicci
had disappeared into the sprawling camp like a sprinkling of raindrops  into
a swamp.
     An Imperial  Order army encampment was  a  place of  noise and  seeming
confusion,  yet it was not  as  disorderly as it might appear.  There was  a
hierarchy  of authority,  and  duties and  chores  to attend.  Scattered men
worked  in  solitude on their  gear,  oiling weapons and  leather or rolling
their chain mail  inside barrels with sand and vinegar to clean it of  rust,
while others cooked at  fires. Furriers  saw to the horses. Craftsmen saw to
everything from repairing weapons to fashioning  new boots to pulling teeth.
Mystics of all sorts prowled the camp, tending impoverished souls or warding
troublesome demons.  Duties completed, raucous  gangs gathered together  for
entertainment,  usually  gambling  and drinking.  Sometimes  the  diversions
involved the camp followers, sometimes the captives.

     Even  surrounded by  such  vast  numbers,  Nicci  felt  alone. Jagang's
absence from her mind left a feeling of  staggering isolation-not a sense of
being  forsaken, but  simply  solitude by contrast. With the dream walker in
her  mind,  not  even  the  most  intimate detail  of  life-no  thought,  no
deed-could be held private. His presence lurked in the dark mental  corners,
and  from  there  he  could watch  everything:  every word you  spoke; every
thought you had; every bite  you  took; every time you cleared  your throat;
every time you  coughed; every time  you went to  the privy. You were  never
alone. Never. The violation was debilitating, the trespass complete.
     That was what broke most of the Sisters: the brutal totality of it, the
awareness  of  his constant  presence  in your  own  mind,  watching. Worse,
almost, the dream walker's  roots sunk down through you,  but you never knew
when his  awareness was focused on you. You might call him a vile name, and,
with his attention elsewhere, it would go unnoticed. Another time, you might
have a  brief,  private, nasty thought about him, and  he would know it  the
same instant you thought it.
     Nicci  had  learned  to  feel  those roots,  as  had many of  the other
Sisters. She  had also  learned to recognize when they were absent,  as now.
That  never happened with the others; with them, those roots were permanent.
Jagang always eventually returned, though, to once again sink his roots into
her, but for now, she was alone. She just didn't know why.
     The jumble of troops and campfires left no clear route for the team, so
Nicci had left her carriage for the walk the rest of the way up the hill. It
exposed  her to  the  lecherous looks  and lewd  calls  of  the soldiers who
crowded  the slope. She supposed  that before Jagang was finished with  her,
she might be exposed to far more from the men. Most of the Sisters were sent
out to the tents from time to time to be used for the men's pleasure. It was
done either  to punish them or, sometimes, merely to let them know it  could
be ordered on a whim-to remind them that they were slaves, nothing more than
     Nicci, though, was reserved for the exclusive amusement  of the emperor
and  those he  specifically selected-like Kadar Kardeef. Many of the Sisters
envied her status, but despite what they believed, being a personal slave to
Jagang  was no grace. Women  were sent to  the tents  for a period of  time,
maybe a  week or two,  but the  rest  of  the  time they had  less demanding
duties.  They  were valued, after  all, for their abilities with their gift.
There  was no  such time  limit for  Nicci. She  had  once spent a couple of
months sequestered in Jagang's room, so as to be there for his amusement any
time  of day or night. The soldiers enjoyed the women's company, but had  to
mind  certain  restrictions in what  they could do  to them; Jagang and  his
friends imposed on themselves no such limits.
     On occasion, for reason or not, Jagang would become  furious at her and
would heatedly order  her to the tents for a month-to teach her a lesson, he
would  say.  Nicci would obediently bow and pledge it would be as he wished.
He knew  she was  not bluffing; it would have been a lesser  torment. Before
she could be out the door to the tents, he would turn moody, command her  to
return to face him, and then angrily retract the orders.
     Since  the  beginning,  Nicci  had, measure by measure, inch  by  inch,
acquired a  certain status and  freedom afforded  none  of  the  others. She
hadn't  specifically sought it; it  just came about. Jagang had  confided to
her that he read the Sisters' thoughts, and that they privately referred  to
her as the Slave Queen. She supposed Jagang told her  so  as to honor her in
his own  way,  but  the title  "Slave Queen" had meant  no  more to her than
"Death's Mistress."

     For  now, she floated like a bright water-lily flower in the dark swamp
of men. Other Sisters always made an attempt to look as  drab as the men  so
as to go  less noticed and be less desirable. They only deceived themselves.
They  lived  in  constant  terror  of  what  Jagang might  do  to them. What
happened, happened. They had no choice or influence in it.
     Nicci simply didn't care. She wore her fine black dresses and left  her
long blond hair uncovered for all to see.  For the most part, she did as she
wished. She didn't care what Jagang did  to her, and he knew it. In much the
way Richard was an enigma to her, she was an enigma to Jagang.
     Too,  Jagang  was fascinated  by  her. Despite his  cruelty toward her,
there  was a spark  of caution mixed in. When he hurt her,  she welcomed it;
she  merited  the brutality.  Pain could sometimes reach down  into the dark
emptiness. He would then recoil from hurting her. When he threatened to kill
her, she waited patiently for it to be  done; she knew she didn't deserve to
live. He would then withdraw the sentence of death.
     The fact that she was sincere  was her safety-and her peril. She was  a
fawn among wolves, safe in her coat of indifference.  The fawn was in danger
only  if  it ran.  She  did  not view  her  captivity as a conflict with her
interests; she had no  interests. Time and again she had the opportunity  to
run, but didn't. That, perhaps more than anything, captivated Jagang.
     Sometimes,  he  seemed to  pay  court to her. She  didn't know his real
interest in her;  she never  tried to discover it. He occasionally professed
concern for her, and a few times, something akin  to affection. Other times,
when she left on some duty, he seemed glad to be rid of her.
     It had occurred to her, because of his behavior, that he might think he
was in love with her. As preposterous as such  a thought might be, it didn't
matter one way or the other to her. She doubted he was capable of love.  She
seriously doubted that Jagang really knew what the word meant, much less the
entire concept.
     Nicci knew all too well what it meant.
     A  soldier near  Jagang's  tent stepped  in  front  of her. He  grinned
moronically; it was meant to  be an invitation by means of threat. She could
have dissuaded him by  mentioning that Jagang waited  for her,  or she could
even have used her power  to drop him where he stood, but instead she simply
stared at him. It  was not  the reaction he  wanted. Many of the men rose to
the bait only if it squirmed. When she didn't,  his expression  turned sour.
He grumbled a curse at her and moved off.
     Nicci  continued on  toward  the  emperor's  tent. Nomadic  tents  from
Altur'Rang were actually  quite  small  and  practical, being made of bland,
unadorned lambskin, Jagang had re-created them rather more grandly than  the
originals. His own  was more oval than  round. Three poles,  rather than the
customary one,  held up the multipeaked roof. The tent's exterior walls were
decorated with  brightly embroidered panels.  Around the  top  edge  of  the
sides, where the roof met the walls, hung fistsized multicolored tassels and
streamers that  marked  the  traveling palace of  the  emperor. Banners  and
pennants of bright yellow and red atop the huge tent hung limp in the stale,
late-afternoon air.
     Outside,  a woman beat small  rugs  hung over one of the  tent's lines.
Nicci lifted aside  the heavy doorway curtain embellished with  gold shields
and hammered silver medallions depicting battle scenes. Inside, slaves  were
at work sweeping the  expanse of carpets, dusting  the delicate ceramic ware
set  about on the elaborate furnishings,  and  fussing  at the  hundreds  of
colorful pillows lining the edge of the floor. Hangings
     richly decorated with traditional Altur'Rang designs divided the  space
into several  rooms. A few openings overhead covered with gauzy material let
in a little light. All the thick materials  created a quiet place  amid  the
noise. Lamps and candles lent sleepy light to the soft room.
     Nicci did not acknowledge the eyes of the guards flanking the inside of
the doorway, or those of the other slaves going about their domestic duties.
In the middle of the front room sat Jagang's ornate chair, draped  with  red
silks. This  was where he sometimes took audiences, but the chair was empty.
She didn't falter, as did other women summoned by His Excellency, but strode
resolutely toward his bedroom in the rear section.
     One  of the slaves, a nearly naked boy looking to be in his late teens,
was down on his hands and knees with a small whiskbroom sweeping  the carpet
set  before the entrance  to the bedroom.  Without meeting Nicci's  gaze, he
informed her that His Excellency was not occupying his tents. The young man,
Irwin, was gifted. He had lived  at the Palace of the Prophets, training  to
be  a wizard. Now Irwin tended the fringe of carpets and emptied the chamber
pots. Nicci's mother would have approved.
     Jagang could  be any number  of  places. He  might  be off  gambling or
drinking with  his men. He could be  inspecting his troops or  the craftsmen
who  attended them.  He  might be looking over the  new captives,  selecting
those  he  wanted  for  himself. He  might be  talking with Kadar  Kardeef's
     Nicci saw several Sisters  cowering in a corner. Like her,  they,  too,
were Jagang's slaves. As she strode up to the three women, she saw that they
were busy sewing, mending some of the tent's gear.
     "Sister Nicci!" Sister Georgia rushed to her  feet as a look of  relief
washed across her  face.  "We didn't know  if  you  were  alive or  dead. We
haven't seen you for so long. We thought maybe you had vanished."
     Being that  Nicci was a Sister of the  Dark, sworn to the Keeper of the
underworld, she found  the concern from  three Sisters  of  the  Light to be
somewhat  insincere.  Nicci supposed that they considered  their captivity a
common  bond, and their feelings  about it paramount, overcoming their  more
basic  rifts. Too, they  knew  Jagang  treated  her  differently;  they were
probably eager to be seen as friendly.
     "I've been away on business for His Excellency."
     "Of  course," Sister Georgia said, dry-washing her hands as she  dipped
her head.
     The other two, Sisters  Rochelle and Aubrey, set  aside the bag of bone
buttons and tent thread, untangled themselves from yards of canvas, and then
stood beside Sister Georgia. They both bowed their heads  slightly to Nicci.
The three of them feared her inscrutable standing with Jagang.
     "Sister Nicci  .  .  . His  Excellency is  very angry," Sister Rochelle
     "Furious," Sister Aubrey confirmed. "He . . . he  railed  at the walls,
saying that you had gone too far this time."
     Nicci only stared.
     Sister Aubrey licked her lips. "We just thought you should know. So you
can be careful."
     Nicci  thought  this  would  be  a poor  time  to  suddenly begin being
careful.  She found the  groveling of women  hundreds  of  years her  senior
annoying. "Where's Jagang?"
     "He  has  taken  a  grand building,  not  far outside the  city, as his
quarters," Sister Aubrey said.

     "It used  to  be the  Minister  of Culture's estate,"  Sister  Rochelle
     Nicci frowned. "Why? He has his tents."
     "Since you've  been gone, he's decided  that an  emperor  needs  proper
quarters," Sister Rochelle said.
     "Proper? Proper for what?"
     "To show the world his importance, I suppose."
     Sister Aubrey nodded. "He's having  a palace built. In Altur'Rang. It's
his new vision." She  arced an  arm through the  air, apparently indicating,
with the slice of her  hand, the grand scale  of  the place. "He's ordered a
magnificent palace built."
     "He was planning on using the Palace of the Prophets," Sister  Rochelle
said, "but  since  it  was  destroyed he's  decided  to build  another, only
better-the most opulent palace ever conceived."
     Nicci frowned at the three women. "He wanted the Palace of the Prophets
because it had a spell to slow aging. That was what interested him."
     All three women shrugged.
     Nicci began to get an  inkling of what Jagang might have in  mind. "So,
this place he's at now?  What is he doing? Learning to  eat  with  something
other than his  fingers? Seeing how he likes living the  fancy life under  a
     "He only told  us he  was staying there for  now," Sister Georgia said.
"He took most  of the  . . . younger women with him. He told us to stay here
and see to things in case he wished to return to his tent."
     It didn't sound like much had changed, except the setting.
     Nicci sighed. Her carriage was gone. She would have to walk.
     "All right. How do I find the place?"
     After  Sister Aubrey gave her detailed  directions, Nicci  thanked them
and turned to go.
     "Sister Alessandra  has  vanished,"  Sister  Georgia said  in  a  voice
straining mightily to sound nonchalant.
     Nicci stopped in her tracks.
     She rounded on Sister Georgia. The woman was middle aged, and seemed to
look  worse  every time Nicci saw her.  Her clothes  were  little more  than
tattered  rags she wore  with the pride of a fine uniform. Her thin hair was
more white  than brown.  It might once  have looked  distinguished,  but  it
didn't  appear to have  seen  a brush, much less soap,  for  weeks.  She was
probably infested with lice, too.
     Some people looked forward to age as an excuse to become a frump, as if
all  along  their  greatest  ambition  in  life  had  been  to  be  drab and
unattractive. Sister Georgia seemed to delight in dowdiness.
     "What do you mean, Sister Alessandra has vanished?"
     Nicci  caught the  slight twitch  of satisfaction.  Georgia  spread her
hands  innocently.  "We  don't  know  what  happened. She's just  turned  up
     Still, Nicci did not move. "I see."
     Sister  Georgia spread her hands again, feigning simplemindedness.  "It
was about the time the Prelate disappeared, too."
     Nicci denied them the reward of astonishment.
     "What was Verna doing here?"
     "Not Verna," Sister Rochelle said. She leaned in. "Ann."
     Sister  Georgia  scowled her displeasure  at  Rochelle for spoiling the
surprise-and a surprise it was. The  old Prelate had died-at least, that was
what Nicci had been told. Since leaving the Place of the Prophets, Nicci had
heard about all the other

     Sisters, novices, and young men spending the night at the  funeral pyre
for Ann and the prophet, Nathan. Knowing Ann, there  was obviously some sort
of deception afoot, but even for her, such a thing would be extraordinary.
     The three Sisters smiled like cats with a carp. They looked eager for a
long game of truth-and-gossip.
     "Give me the important details. I don't have time for the long version.
His  Excellency wishes to see me." Nicci took  in the three wilting  smiles.
She kept her voice level. "Unless you want to risk him returning here, angry
and impatient to see me."
     Sisters Rochelle and Aubrey blanched.
     Georgia abandoned the game and went back to dry washing her hands. "The
Prelate came to the camp when you were gone-and was captured."
     "Why would she come into Jagang's midst?"
     "To try  to  convince  us to escape with  her," Sister Rochelle blurted
out. A shrill
     titter jittery,  rather  than amused-burbled up.  "She had  some  silly
story about the chimes  being loose  and magic failing.  Imagine that!  Wild
stories, they were. Expected us to believe-"
     "So that was what happened . . ."  Nicci whispered as she stared off in
reflection.  She  realized instantly  it  was  no  wild story. Pieces  began
fitting  together. Nicci used  her gift,  the others weren't allowed to,  so
they might not know if magic had failed for a time.
     "That's what she claimed," Sister Georgia said.
     "So, magic  had failed," Nicci  reasoned aloud, "and  she  thought that
would prevent the dream walker from controlling your minds."
     That might  explain  much  of what Nicci didn't understand: why  Jagang
sometimes couldn't enter her mind.
     "But if the chimes are loose-"
     "Were," Sister Georgia said. "Even if it was true, for a time, they now
have been banished. His Excellency has full access to us,  I'm happy to say,
and everything else concerning magic has returned to normal."
     Nicci could  almost see the three  of  them  wondering  if  Jagang  was
listening to their words. But if magic was returned to normal, Jagang should
be  in  Nicci's  mind;  he  wasn't.  She  felt   the  spark  of  a  possible
understanding fizzle and die.  "So,  the Prelate  made a blunder and  Jagang
caught her."
     "Well . . .  not exactly,"  Sister Rochelle said. "Sister Georgia  went
and got the guards. We turned her in, as was our duty."
     Nicci burst  out with  a  laugh. "Her  own Sisters of  the  Light?  How
ironic! She risks her life, while the chimes have interrupted magic, to come
and save  your worthless hides, and  instead of escaping with  her, you turn
her in. How fitting."
     "We  had to!" Sister  Georgia  protested. "His  Excellency  would  have
wished it. Our place is to serve. We know better than  to try to escape.  We
know our place."
     Nicci surveyed their tense  faces,  these women sworn to the  Creator's
light, these Sisters of  the Light  who had  worked hundreds of years in His
name. "Yes, you do."
     "You'd have done the same,"  Sister Aubrey snapped. "We  had to, or His
Excellency  would  have  taken it out  on the others. It was our duty to the
welfare of the others-and that  includes you, I might add. We couldn't think
only of ourselves, or Ann, but had to think of what was good for everyone."
     Nicci felt the numb indifference smothering her. "Fine, so you betrayed
the Prelate." Only a  spark of  curiosity remained. "But what made her think
she could escape with you for good? Surely,  she must have had some plan for
the chimes.

     What was she expecting to  happen  when Jagang once again had access to
your minds?-and hers?"
     "His Excellency  is always with  us," Sister Aubrey insisted. "Ann  was
just trying to fill our heads with her preposterous notions. We know better.
The rest of it was just a trick, too. We were too smart for her."
     "Rest of it? What was the rest of her plan?"
     Sister  Georgia huffed  her  indignation. "She tried  to tell  us  some
foolishness about a bond to Richard Rahl."
     Nicci blinked. She concentrated  on keeping her breathing even.  "Bond?
What nonsense are you talking about, now?"
     Sister Georgia met  Nicci's  gaze  squarely.  "She insisted that  if we
swore allegiance to Richard, it would  protect us. She claimed some magic of
his would keep Jagang from our mind."
     Sister  Georgia  shrugged. "She  claimed this  bond  business protected
people's minds from dream walkers. But we aren't that gullible."
     To still her fingers,  Nicci pressed her hands to her  thighs. "I don't
understand. How would such a thing work?"
     "She  said something about it  being inherited  from his  ancestor. She
claimed that  we had but  to swear loyalty  to him, loyalty in our hearts-or
some  such  nonsense.  To  tell the truth, it was so preposterous  I  wasn't
really paying  that much attention. She claimed that was why Jagang couldn't
enter her mind."
     Nicci was staggered. Of course . . .
     She  had  always wondered  why  Jagang didn't  capture the rest  of the
Sisters. There  were many more still free. They were protected  by this bond
to Richard. It had to be true. It made sense. Her own leader, sister Ulicia,
and  Richard's other teachers had escaped, too. But that didn't seem to make
sense; they were Sisters of the Dark-like Nicci-they would have had to swear
loyalty to Richard. Nicci couldn't imagine such a thing.
     But then, Jagang was often unable to enter Nicci's mind.
     "You said Sister Alessandra has vanished."
     Sister Georgia fussed with  the collar  of her scruffy  dress. "She and
Ann both vanished."
     "Jagang doesn't  bother to inform you of his actions. Perhaps he simply
had them put to death."
     Georgia  glanced  at her  companions.  "Well  . .  . maybe.  But Sister
Alessandra was one of yours  . . .  a Sister of the Dark. She was caring for
     "Why weren't you caring for her? You are her Sisters."
     Sister Georgia cleared  her throat. "She threw such a fit about us that
His Excellency assigned Sister Alessandra to look after her."
     Nicci could only imagine that it must have been quite a fit.  But after
being betrayed  by her own Sisters, it was understandable. Jagang would have
thought the woman valuable enough that he wanted to keep her alive.
     "As we marched into the city, the wagon  with  Ann's  cage never showed
up," Sister Georgia went on. "One of the drivers finally  came around with a
bloody  head and reported that the last thing  he saw  before the world went
dark was Sister Alessandra. Now the two of them are gone."
     Nicci felt her fingernails  digging  into her palms.  She made  herself
relax her  fists. "So, Ann offered you all freedom, and you chose instead to
continue to be slaves."

     The three women lifted their noses. "We did what is best for everyone,"
Sister Georgia said. "We are  Sisters  of the  Light.  Our  duty  is not  to
ourselves, but to relieve the suffering of others-not cause it."
     "Besides," Sister Aubrey added, "we don't see you leaving. Seems you've
been free of His Excellency from time to time, and you don't go."
     Nicci frowned. "How do you know that?"
     "Well, I, I mean. . ." Sister Aubrey stammered.
     Nicci seized the woman by the throat. "I asked you  a  question. Answer
     Sister Aubrey's face reddened  as Nicci added the force  of her gift to
the grip. The tendons in her wrist stood  out  with the  strain. The woman's
eyes showed white all around  as Nicci's power began squeezing the life from
her.  Unlike Nicci, Jagang possessed  their minds, and they  were prohibited
from using their power except at his direction.
     Sister Georgia gently placed a hand on Nicci's forearm. "His Excellency
questioned us about it, that's all, Sister. Let her go. Please?"
     Nicci  released  the woman  but  turned her  glare  on  Sister Georgia.
"Questioned you? What do you mean? What did he say?"
     "He simply  wanted  to know  if  we knew why he was  from  time to time
blocked from your mind."
     "He  hurt us," Sister  Rochelle said.  "He hurt us  with his questions,
because we had no answer. We don't understand it."
     For the first time, Nicci did.
     Sister Aubrey comforted her throat. "What is it with you, Sister Nicci?
Why is it His Excellency is so curious about you?  Why is it you  can resist
     Nicci turned and walked away. "Thank you for the help, Sisters."
     "If  you  can be  free of  him, why do you  not  leave?" Sister Georgia
called out.
     Nicci  turned back from the doorway. "I enjoy seeing Jagang torment you
Witches of the Light. I stay around so that I might watch."
     They were unmoved by her insolence-they were accustomed to it.
     "Sister Nicci," Rochelle said, smoothing back  her frizz of hair. "What
did you do that made His Excellency so angry?"
     "What?  Oh,  that. Nothing  of  importance.  I  just  had the  men  tie
Commander Kardeef to a pole and roast him over a fire."
     The three of them  gasped as  they straightened  as one. They  reminded
Nicci of three owls on a branch.
     Sister Georgia fixed Nicci with a grim glare, a rare blaze of authority
born of seniority.
     "You deserve everything Jagang does to you, Sister-and what the  Keeper
will do to you, too."
     Nicci smiled  and  said,  "Yes, I do," before ducking through the  tent

     The city of Fairfield had returned  to a semblance of order. It was the
order  of a military  post. Little  of what could be said to make a city was
left.  Many of the buildings remained, but  there were few of the people who
had once lived and worked in them. Some of the buildings had been reduced to
charred beams and blackened rubble, others were hulks with windows and doors
broken out, yet most were much the same as they  had been before, except, of
course, that all had been emptied in the wanton looting. The buildings stood
like husks, only a reminder of past life.
     Here and there, a few toothless old  people  sat, legs splayed, leaning
against a wall, watching with empty eyes the  masses of armed men moving  up
and down their streets. Orphaned  children wandered in a daze, or peered out
from dark  passageways.  Nicci found it remarkable  how quickly civilization
could be stripped from a place.
     As  she walked through  the  streets, Nicci thought she understood  how
many of the  buildings would feel if they could feel: empty, devoid of life,
lacking purpose  while  they  waited for  someone to  serve; their only true
value being in service to the living.
     The  streets, populated  as  they  were  by grim-faced soldiers,  gaunt
beggars, the skeletal old and sick, wailing children, all amongst the rubble
and filth, looked much  like some of the streets Nicci remembered  from when
she  was little. Her  mother  often  sent her  out to  streets like this  to
minister to the destitute.
     "It's  the fault of men  like your father," her mother had  said. "He's
just like  my  father  was. He  has  no feelings, no  concern for anyone but
himself. He's heartless."
     Nicci had stood, wearing a freshly washed, frilly  blue dress, her hair
brushed and pinned back, her hands  hanging at  her sides, listening  as her
mother  lectured on good and evil, on the ways of sin and  redemption. Nicci
hadn't understood a lot d it, but in later years it would  be repeated until
she would come  to  know every word,  every concept, every desolate truth by
     Nicci's  father  was wealthy.  Worse,  to Mother's  way of thinking, he
wasn't morseful about it. Mother explained that self-interest and greed were
like the eyes of a monstrous  evil, always  looking  for yet more  power and
gold to feed its insatiable hunger.
     "You must learn, Nicci, that a person's moral course in this life is to
help others  not  yourself,"  Mother said. "Money  can't  buy  the Creator's
     "But how can we show the Creator we're good?" Nicci asked.
     "Mankind is a wretched lot, unworthy, morbid, and foul.  We must  fight
depraved nature. Helping others is the only way to prove your soul's  value.
It's only true good a person can do."
     Nicci's father had been born  a noble, but  all his adult  life he  had
worked as

     armorer. Mother believed that he had been born with comfortable wealth,
and instead of being satisfied with that, he sought to build his legacy into
a shameless fortune.  She said wealth could only be had by  fleecing it from
the poor in  one fashion or another. Others of the nobility, like Mother and
many  of her friends, were  content not to squeeze an undeserved  share from
the sweat of the poor.
     Nicci  felt great  guilt  for Father's wicked ways,  for his ill-gotten
wealth. Mother said she was doing her best to try to save his straying soul.
Nicci never worried for her mother's soul, because people were always saying
how  caring, how  kindhearted, how  charitable Mother was, but  Nicci  would
sometimes lie awake at  night, unable to sleep with  worry for Father, worry
that the Creator might exact punishment before Father could be redeemed.
     While Mother went to meetings with her important friends, the nanny, on
the way to the  market, often  took Nicci to  Father's  business to  ask his
wishes for dinner. Nicci relished  watching  and learning things at Father's
work. It was a fascinating place. When  she was very  young, she thought she
might grow up to be an armorer, too. At home, she would sit on the floor and
play at  hammering  on  an item  of clothing meant to  be  armor laid on  an
upturned shoe used as an anvil. That innocent time was her fondest memory of
her childhood.
     Nicci's father had a great many people  working for him. Wagons brought
foursquare bars  and other supplies from  distant  places.  Heavy cast-metal
sows  came  in on  barges. Other  wagons, with guards, took goods to far-off
customers. There  were men who forged metal, men who hammered it into shape,
and yet other  men who shaped glowing metal into weapons. Some of the blades
were made from costly "poison steel," said to inflict mortal wounds, even in
a small cut.  There were other men who sharpened  blades,  men who  polished
armor,  and men who did beautiful engraving  and  artwork on shields, armor,
and blades.  There were even women who worked for Nicci's father, helping to
make  chain mail. Nicci watched them, sitting  on  benches  at  long  wooden
tables,  gossiping  a  bit  among themselves, tittering at stories, as  they
worked with their pincers burring over tiny rivets in the flattened  ends of
all those thousands of little steel rings that together went into the making
of a  suit  of chain-mail armor.  Nicci thought  it  remarkable  that  man's
inventiveness could turn something as hard as metal into a suit of clothes.
     Men  from  all around, and from  distant  places,  too, came to buy her
father's  armor. Father  said  it was the finest armor  made.  His eyes, the
color of the blue sky on a perfect summer day, sparkled wonderfully  when he
spoke of his  armor. Some was so  beautiful that  kings traveled from  great
distances to have armor ordered and  fitted. Some  was so elaborate that  it
took skilled men hunched at benches many months to make.
     Blacksmiths,  bellowsmen,   hammermen,   millmen,  platers,   armorers,
polishers, leatherworkers, riveters, patternmakers,  silversmiths, guilders,
engraving artists, even  seamstresses  for the  making of  the  quilted  and
padded linen, and, of course, apprentices, came from great distances, hoping
to work for her  father. Many of those with skills  lugged along samples  of
their best work to show him. Father turned away far more than he hired.
     Nicci's father was an impressive figure, upright, angular, and intense.
At his work, his blue eyes always seemed to Nicci to see more than any other
person saw, as if the metal spoke to him when his fingers glided over it. He
seemed  to move his limbs precisely as much as was needed,  and no  more. To
Nicci, he was a vision of power, strength, and purpose.

     Officers, officials, and  nobility  came  round to talk to him, as  did
suppliers, and  his workers. When  Nicci went  to her father's work, she was
always astonished to see him engaged in so much conversation. Mother said it
was because he was arrogant, and made his poor workers pay court to him.
     Nicci liked to watch the intricate dance of people working. The workers
would pause to smile at her, answer her questions, and sometimes let her hit
the metal with a hammer. From the looks of it, Father enjoyed talking to all
those people, too. At  home, Mother talked, and Father said  little,  as his
face took on the look of hammered steel.
     When he did talk at  home, he spoke almost exclusively about his  work.
Nicci  listened  to  every  word, wanting  to  learn  all  about him and his
business. Mother confided that at  his core  his vile nature ate away at his
invisible soul. Nicci always hoped to someday redeem his soul and make it as
healthy as he outwardly appeared.
     He adored Nicci, but seemed to  think raising her was a task too sacred
for his coarse  hands, so he left it to Mother. Even  when he disagreed with
something, he would bow to Mother's wishes, saying she would know best about
such a domestic duty.
     His work kept him busy most of the time. Mother said it was a  sign  of
his  barren  soul  that he  spent so  much  of  his  time  at  building  his
riches-taking from people, she often called it-rather than giving of himself
to people, as the Creator meant  all men to do. Many times, when Father came
home for dinner,  while  servants  scurried in and  out  with all the dishes
they'd prepared, Mother would go on, in tortured tones, about how bad things
were  in the  world. Nicci often heard people say  that  Mother was a  noble
woman because of how deeply she cared. After dinner Father  would go back to
work, often without a word. That would anger Mother, because she had more to
tell him about his soul, but he was too busy to listen.
     Nicci remembered  occasions  when Mother  would  stand  at  the window,
looking out over  the dark city,  worrying, no doubt, about  all  the things
that plagued her  peace. On those quiet  nights,  Father sometimes glided up
behind Mother, putting a hand tenderly to her back, as if she were something
of  great  value. He seemed to be mellow and  contented at those moments. He
squeezed her bottom just a little as he whispered something in her ear.
     She would look up hopefully and ask him to contribute to the efforts of
her  fellowship.  He would ask how  much.  Peering  up  into  his eyes as if
searching for some shred of human decency, she would name a figure. He would
sigh and  agree, His  hands would settle around her waist, and he would  say
that it was late, and that they should retire to bed.
     Once,  when he asked  her  how much she wished him  to contribute,  she
shrugged  and  said,  "I  don't know. What  does  your conscience tell  you,
Howard? But, a man of true compassion  would  do better than you usually do,
considering  that you have more than your fair share of wealth, and the need
is so great."
     He sighed. "How much do you and your friends need?"
     "It  is not me and my friends who  need it, Howard,  but the masses  of
humanity crying out  for help. Our  fellowship simply struggles to  meet the
     "How much?" he repeated.
     She said, "Five hundred gold crowns," as if the number were  a club she
had been  hiding behind her  back,  and, seeing  the opening  she  had  been
waiting for, she suddenly brandished it to bully him.
     With a gasp, Father staggered back a step. "Do you have any idea of the
work required to make a sum of that size?"
     "You do no work, Howard-your slaves do it for you."
     "Slaves! They are the finest craftsmen!"
     "They should be. You steal the best workers from all over the land."
     "I pay the best wages in the land! They are eager to work for me!"
     "They are the poor victims of your tricks. You exploit them. You charge
more than anyone else. You have connections and make deals to cut out  other
armorers. You steal the food from the mouths of working people, just to line
your own pockets."
     "I offer the  finest  work! People buy from me  because  they want  the
best. I charge a fair price for it."
     "No one charges as  much  as you and that's the simple fact. You always
want more. Gold is your only goal."
     "People come to me willingly because I have the highest standards. That
is my goal! The other  shops produce  haphazard work that doesn't proof out.
My tempering is superior. My work is all proofed to a double-stamp standard.
I won't sell  inferior  work. People trust me;  they know I create  the best
     "Your workers do. You simply rake in the money."
     "The profits go to wages and to the business-I just sank a fortune into
the new battering-mill!"
     "Business,  business,  business!  When  I  ask  you to  give  a  little
something back to the community, to those in  need,  you  act as if I wanted
you to gouge out your  eyes. Would you really  rather see people die than to
give  a pittance to save them? Does money really  mean more to  you, Howard,
than people's lives? Are you that cruel and unfeeling a man?"
     Father hung his head for a time, and at last quietly agreed to send his
man around with  the gold. His voice came  gentle again. He  said  he didn't
want  people to die, and he hoped the  money would help. He told her it  was
time for bed.
     "You've put me off,  Howard, with  your arguing. You couldn't just give
charitably of yourself; it always has to be dragged out of you-when it's the
right  thing to  do  in the first place.  You only agree now because of your
lecherous needs. Honestly, do you think I have no principles?"
     Father simply turned and headed for the door. He paused  as he suddenly
saw Nicci sitting on the  floor,  watching. The  look on his face frightened
her,  not because it was angry, or fierce, but because there seemed to be so
much in his eyes,  and  the weight  of  never being  able to express  it was
crushing him. Raising Nicci was Mother's work,  and  he had  promised her he
would not meddle.
     He swept his blond hair back from his  forehead, then turned and picked
up his coat. In a level  voice he said to Mother that he was going to go see
to some things at work.
     After  he was gone, Mother,  too,  saw Nicci,  forgotten  on the floor,
playing with  beads  on a board,  pretending  to make  chain mail. Her  arms
folded, she stood over Nicci for a long moment.
     "Your father goes  to whores, you know. I'm sure that's where he's  off
to now: a whore. You may be too young to understand, but I want you to know,
so that you don't  ever put any faith in him. He's  an evil man. I'll not be
his whore.
     "Now, put  away your  things and come with Mother. I'm going  to see my

     It's time you came  along and began learning about the needs of others,
instead of just your own wants."
     At her friend's house, there  were a few men  and several women sitting
and talking in  serious tones.  When they politely  inquired  after  Father,
Nicci's mother  reported that he was off, "working or whoring, I  don't know
which,  and can control neither." Some of  the women laid  a hand on her her
arm and comforted her. It was a terrible burden she bore, they said.
     Across the room sat a silent man, who looked to  Nicci as grim as death
     Mother quickly forgot  about Father  as  she became  engrossed  in  the
discussion her friends were  having about the terrible  conditions of people
in the city. People were suffering from hunger, injuries, sickness, disease,
lack of  skill, no  work, too many children to feed, elderly to care for, no
clothes,  no  roof  over  their  heads,  and  every  other  kind  of  strife
imaginable. It was all so frightening.
     Nicci  was  always anxious when Mother talked about how things couldn't
go on the way they were for  much longer, and that something had to be done.
Nicci wished someone would hurry up and do it.
     Nicci  listened  as  Mother's fellowship  friends talked about all  the
intolerant people who harbored hate. Nicci feared ending  up as one of those
terrible people. She didn't want the Creator to punish her for having a cold
     Mother and  her  friends  went on at  great  length  about  their  deep
feelings  for  all  the problems around  them. After each  person said their
piece, they would steal a  glance over  at the  man sitting  solemnly  in  a
straight  chair against the  wall,  watching with careful, dark eyes as they
     "The prices of things are just terrible,"  a  man with  droopy  eyelids
said.  He was all crumpled down in his chair, like a pile of dirty  clothes.
"It  isn't  fair. People  shouldn't  be allowed to  just raise their  prices
whenever they want. The duke should do something. He has the king's ear."
     "The duke  . .  ." Mother said. She sipped  her tea. "Yes,  I've always
found  the duke to be a man sympathetic to good causes.  I think he could be
persuaded to introduce sensible laws."  Mother glanced  over the gold rim of
her cup at the man in the straight chair.
     One of the women said she would encourage her husband to back the duke.
Another spoke up that they would write a letter of support for such an idea.
     "People  are  starving,"  a  wrinkled woman  said  into a  lull  in the
conversation.  People eagerly mumbled their acknowledgment, as  if this were
an umbrella to run in under to escape the drenching silence. "1 see it every
day. If we could just help some of those unfortunate people."
     One of the other women puffed herself up like a chicken ready to lay an
egg. "It's just terrible the way no one  will  give them a job, when there's
plenty of work if it was just spread around."
     "I know," Mother said with a tsk. "I've talked to Howard until I'm blue
in the face. He just hires people who please him, rather than  those needing
the job the most. It's a disgrace."
     The others sympathized with her burden.
     "It isn't right that a few men should have so much more than they need,
while so  many people have so much less," the  man with  the droopy  eyelids
said. "It's immoral."
     "Man has no right  to exist for his own sake," Mother was quick  to put
in as she  nibbled on  a piece  of dense cake while  glancing  again  at the
grimly silent man. "I

     tell Howard  all the time that  self-sacrifice in the service of others
is man's highest moral  duty and  his only  reason for being  placed in this
     "To that  end," Mother announced, "I  have decided to  contribute  five
hundred gold crowns to our cause."
     The other people gasped their delight, and congratulated Mother for her
charitable nature. They agreed, as they  sneaked peeks across the room, that
the Creator would reward her in  the  next life,  and talked about all  they
would be able to do to help those less fortunate souls.
     Mother finally turned  and regarded Nicci for a moment,  and then said,
"I believe my daughter is old enough to learn to help others."
     Nicci sat forward on the edge of  her chair, thrilled at the idea of at
last putting her hand to what Mother and her friends said was noble work. It
was as if the Creator Himself had offered her a path  to salvation. "I would
so like to do good, Mother."
     Mother  cast  a  questioning  look  at  the man in the straight  chair.
"Brother Narev?"
     The  deep creases of his face pleated to each side as the thin  line of
his  mouth stretched in a smile. There was no joy in it, or in his dark eyes
hooded  beneath  a brow of tangled white  and black hairs. He wore a creased
cap and heavy robes as dark as dried blood. Wisps of his wiry hair above his
ears curled  up around the edge of  the  cap that  came  halfway down on his
     He stroked his  jaw  with the side of a finger as he spoke  in  a voice
that  almost rattled  the teacups.  "So, child, you  wish  to  be  a  little
     "Well . . .  no, sir." Nicci didn't know what soldiering had to do with
doing  good.  Mother always said  that  father pandered to  men in  an  evil
occupation-soldiers. She said soldiers only cared about  killing. "I wish to
help those in need."
     "That is what we all try to do, child." His spooky smile remained fixed
on  his  face as he spoke. "We here are  all soldiers in  the fellowship-the
Fellowship of Order-as we call  our little group. All  soldiers fighting for
     Everyone seemed too timid to look directly at him.  They glanced  for a
moment,  looked  away,  then  glanced back  again,  as if his  face was  not
something to  be taken in all at  once, but  sipped at, like a scalding-hot,
foul-tasting remedy.
     Mother's brown eyes darted around like a cockroach looking for a crack.
"Why, of course,  Brother Narev. That is the only moral sort of  soldier-the
charitable  sort."  She  urged  Nicci  up  and scooted her  forward. "Nicci,
Brother Narev, here, is a great man. Brother Narev is the high priest of the
Fellowship of Order-an  ancient sect devoted to doing the Creator's will  in
this world. Brother  Narev is  a  sorcerer." She  cast  a smile  up  at him.
"Brother Narev, this is my daughter, Nicci."
     Her mother's hands pushed her at  the man,  as if she were an  offering
for the Creator. Unlike everyone else, Nicci couldn't take her gaze from his
hooded eyes. She had never seen their like.
     There was nothing in them but dark cold emptiness.
     He held out a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Nicci."
     "Curtsy and kiss his hand, dear," Mother prompted.
     Nicci went to one knee. She  kissed  the knuckles so as not to have  to
put her lips on the spongy web of thick blue veins covering  the back of his
hairy  hand floating before her face.  The whitish knobs were cold,  but not
icy, as she had expected.
     "We welcome you to our movement, Nicci," he said in that  deep rattling
voice of  his. "With your mother's  caring hand  raising you up, I know  you
will do the Creator's work."
     Nicci thought that the Creator Himself must be very much like this man.

     From all  the  things her mother told her, Nicci feared  the  Creator's
wrath. She was old enough to know that she had to start  doing the good work
her mother always  talked about, if she was to have any chance at salvation.
Everyone  said  Mother was a caring, moral person. Nicci wanted to be a good
person, too.
     But good work seemed so hard, so  stern-not  at all like  her  father's
work, where people smiled and laughed and talked with their hands.
     "Thank you, Brother  Narev," Nicci said. "I will do my  best to do good
in the world."
     "One day, with the help  of fine young people like  you, we will change
the  world.  I don't delude myself;  with so much callousness  among men, it
will take time to  win true converts,  but we  here in this room, along with
others of like mind throughout the land, are the foundation of hope."
     "Is the fellowship a secret, then?" Nicci asked in a whisper.
     Everyone  chuckled.  Brother Narev didn't  laugh, but his  mouth smiled
again. "No,  child. Quite the contrary. It is our most fervent wish and duty
to  spread the truth  of mankind's corruption.  The Creator is  perfect;  we
mortals are but miserable wretches. We  must recognize our wicked  nature if
we  hope to avoid His righteous  wrath and reap our deliverance in the  next
     "Self-sacrifice for the good of all is the only route to salvation. Our
fellowship  is  open to all  those  willing to give of  themselves and  live
ethical lives. Most people don't take us seriously. Someday they will."
     Gleaming, mousy  eyes around the room watched  without blinking  as his
deep, powerful voice rose, like the Creator's own fury.
     "A  day will come  when the hot flames of change will sweep across  the
land, burning away the old, the decaying, and the foul, to allow a new order
to  grow from the blackened remains of  evil. After we burn clean the world,
there will be no kings, yet the world  will  have order,  championed  by the
hand  of  the common man,  for  the common man. Only then, will  there be no
hunger, no shivering in the cold, no suffering without help. The good of the
people will be put above the selfish desires of the individual."
     Nicci wanted  to  do good-she truly did.  But his voice sounded  to her
like a rusty dungeon door grating shut on her.
     All the eyes in  the room watched her, to see if she was good, like her
mother, "That sounds wonderful, Brother Narev."
     He nodded. "It will be, child. You will help bring this to be. Let your
feelings  be your guide. You will be a soldier, marching toward a  new world
order. It will be a long and arduous task. You must keep the faith. The rest
of us in this room will not likely live to see it flourish,  but perhaps you
will live long enough to one day see such a wondrous order come to pass."
     Nicci swallowed. "I will pray for it, Brother Narev."

     The next day, loaded with  a big basket of bread, Nicci was let  out of
the carnage, along with a gaggle of other people from the fellowship, to fan
out and distribute bread to the needy. Mother  had attired  her in a ruffled
red  dress  for the special occasion. Her  short white stockings had designs
stitched in red  thread. Filled with pride  to at last be doing good,  Nicci
marched  down the  garbage strewn  street,  armed  with her basket of bread,
thinking about the day when the hope  of a new order  could be spread to all
so that all could finally rise up out of destitution and despair.
     Some people smiled and  thanked her for the bread. Some took the  bread
without a word  or  a smile.  Most, though, were surly about it, complaining
that the bread was late and the  loaves were  too  small, or the wrong kind.
Nicci was not discouraged.  She told them what Mother had said, that  it was
the  baker's fault, because he baked bread  for profit, first, and since  he
received a reduced rate for charity, baked that second. Nicci told them that
she  was  sorry that wicked people  treated  them as  second-rate,  but that
someday the  Fellowship of Order would come to the land and  see to  it that
everyone was treated the same.
     As Nicci walked down the street, handing  out the bread, a man snatched
her arm  and pulled her into the stench  of a narrow dark alley. She offered
him  a loaf  of bread.  He  swiped the basket out of  her  hands. He said he
wanted silver or gold. Nicci  told him she had no money. She gasped in panic
as he yanked her close.  His filthy probing fingers groped everywhere on her
body, even violating her most private places, looking for a purse, but found
none hidden on her. He  pulled  off  her shoes and  threw  them away when he
found they had no coins hidden in them.
     His fist punched her twice in the stomach. Nicci crashed to the ground.
He spat a curse at her as he stole away into the shadowed heaps of refuse.
     Holding herself up on trembling arms, Nicci vomited into the oily water
running from  under the mounds of offal.  People passing the alley looked in
and saw her retching  there on the ground, but turned their eyes back to the
street and  hurried on their way. A few quickly darted into the alley, bent,
and scooped up bread  from the overturned basket before  rushing  off. Nicci
panted, tears stinging her eyes, trying to get her wind back. Her knees were
bleeding. Her dress was splattered with scum.
     When she returned home,  in tears,  Mother smiled at seeing her. "Their
plight often brings tears to my eyes, too."
     Nicci shook her  head, her golden locks swinging side to side, and told
Mother that a  man  had  grabbed her  and hit her,  demanding  money.  Nicci
reached for her mother as she wailed in misery  that he was a wicked, wicked
     Mother smacked her mouth. "Don't  you dare judge people. You are just a
child. How can you presume to judge others?"
     Stopped cold, Nicci was bewildered  by the slap,  more  startling  than
painful. The

     rebuke stung more. "But,  Mother, he  was  cruel to  me-he  touched  me
everywhere and then he hit me."
     Mother smacked her mouth again, harder the  second time. "I'll not have
you disgrace me before Brother Narev and my  friends  with such  insensitive
talk.  Do you hear? You don't know what made him do it. Perhaps he has  sick
children at home,  and  he  needs money  to buy medicine. Here  he sees some
spoiled  rich child, and he finally breaks, knowing his  own child has  been
cheated in life by the likes of you and all your fine things.
     "You don't know what burdens life has handed the man. Don't you dare to
judge  people  for their  actions  just  because you  are  too  callous  and
insensitive to take the time to understand them."
     "But I think-"
     Mother  smacked  her across the mouth  a  third time,  hard  enough  to
stagger her. "You think? Thinking is a vile acid that corrodes faith! It  is
your duty to believe,  not think. The mind of man is inferior to that of the
Creator. Your thoughts-the thoughts  of anyone-are worthless, as all mankind
is worthless. You must have faith that the Creator has invested His goodness
in those wretched souls.
     "Feelings, not thinking, must be  your guide. Faith, not thinking, must
be your only path."
     Nicci swallowed back her tears. "Then what should I do?"
     "You  should  be ashamed  that  the world  treats those poor  souls  so
cruelly that they would so pitifully strike out in confusion. In the future,
you should find a way to help people like that because you are able and they
are not-that is your duty."
     That night, when her father came home  and tiptoed into her room to see
if she was tucked in snugly, Nicci clutched two  of his big fingers together
and held them  tight  to  her cheek. Even  though her mother said  he was  a
wicked man,  it felt  better than anything else in  the world when  he knelt
beside the bed and silently stroked her brow.
     In her work on the streets, Nicci came to  understand the needs of many
of the  people there.  Their  problems seemed insurmountable. No matter what
she did, it never seemed to resolve anything. Brother Narev said it was only
a sign that she wasn't  giving enough of herself.  Each time she  failed, at
Brother Narev's or Mother's urging, Nicci redoubled her efforts.
     One night at  dinner, after being in the fellowship several years,  she
said, "Father, there is a man  I've been trying to help. He has ten children
and no job. Will you hire him, please?"
     Father looked up from his soup. "Why?"
     "I told you. He has ten children."
     "But what sort of work can he do? Why would I want him?"
     "Because he needs a job."
     Father set down his spoon. "Nicci, dear, I employ skilled workers. That
he has ten children is not going to shape steel, now is it? What can the man
do? What skills has he?"
     "If  he had  a  skill, Father, he could get  work. Is it fair  that his
children should starve because people won't give him a chance?"
     Father  looked at her as if  inspecting  a wagonload of some suspicious
new metal, Mother's narrow mouth turned up in a little  smile, but she  said
     "A chance? At what? He has no skill."
     "With a business as big as yours, surely you can give him a job."

     He tapped a finger on  the  stem  of  his  spoon  as he considered  her
determined expression.  He cleared  his throat. "Well, perhaps I could use a
man to load wagons."
     "He can't load wagons. He  has a bad back. He  hasn't been able to work
for years because of his back troubling him so."
     Father's  brow drew down.  "His back didn't prevent him from  begetting
ten children.
     Nicci wanted to do good, and so she met his stare with a steady look of
her  own. "Must you be so  intolerant, Father? You have  jobs, and  this man
needs  one. He has hungry children needing  to be fed and clothed. Would you
deny him  a  living just because he has never had a fair chance in life? Are
you so rich that all your gold has blinded  your eyes to the needs of humble
     "But I need-"
     "Must you always frame everything in terms of what you need, instead of
what others need? Must everything be for you?"
     "It's a business-"
     "And what is the purpose of  a  business? Isn't it  to employ those who
need work? Wouldn't it be better if the man had a  job instead of  having to
humiliate himself begging? Is that what you want? For him to beg rather than
work? Aren't you the one who always speaks so highly of hard work?"
     Nicci was firing the questions like arrows, getting them off so fast he
couldn't get  a word through her barrage.  Mother smiled as Nicci rolled out
words she knew by heart.
     "Why must you reserve your  greatest  cruelty for the  least  fortunate
among us?  Why can't you for once think of  what you can do to help, instead
of always thinking of money, money,  money? Would it hurt  you to hire a man
who needs a  job?  Would it Father? Would it bring your business to  an end?
Would that ruin you?"
     The room echoed her  noble questions. He stared at her as if seeing her
for  the  first  time. He looked  as if real arrows had struck him. His  jaw
worked, but  no words came out. He didn't seem able to move;  he  could only
gape at her.
     Mother beamed.
     "Well . . ." he finally said, "I  guess . .  ." He  picked up his spoon
and stared down into his soup. "Send him around, and I'll give him a job."
     Nicci swelled with a new sense  of pride-and power. She had never known
it would be so easy to stagger her  father.  She had just bested his selfish
nature with nothing more than goodness.
     Father pushed back  from the table. "I .  . . I  need to go back to the
shop."  His  eyes searched  the  table,  but he  would not  look at Nicci or
Mother. "I just remembered . . . I have some work I must see to."
     After he had gone, Mother  said, "I'm glad to see  that you have chosen
the  righteous  path,  Nicci, instead of following his  evil ways.  You will
never regret letting  your love of mankind guide your feelings.  The Creator
will smile upon you."
     Nicci knew she  had done  the  right  thing, the moral thing,  yet  the
thought that came  to haunt her victory was  the  night her father  had come
into her room and silently stroked her  brow  as  she  had held  two of  his
fingers to her cheek.
     The man went to work for Father. Father  never mentioned anything about
it.  His work kept  him busy and away from home. Nicci's work took  more and
more of her time, as well.  She  missed  seeing that look  in  his eyes. She
guessed she was growing up.
     The next spring, when Nicci  was thirteen, she came home  one day  from
her work

     at  the fellowship to find a  woman in the  sitting  room with  Mother.
Something  about the woman's demeanor  made the  hair at the back of Nicci's
neck stand on end. Both women rose as Nicci set aside her  list of names  of
people needing things.
     "Nicci, darling, this  is Sister  Alessandra.  She's traveled here from
the Palace of the Prophets, in Tanimura."
     The woman  was older than  Mother. She had  a long braid of fine  brown
hair looped around  in  a circle  and pinned to the back of her skull like a
loaf of  braided bread. Her nose  was a little too big for her face, and she
was plain, but not at all ugly. Her eyes focused on Nicci with an unsettling
intensity, and they didn't dart about, the way Mother's always did.
     "Was it quite a journey, Sister Alessandra?"  Nicci asked after she had
curtsied. "All the way from Tanimura, I mean?"
     "Three days is  all," Sister Alessandra said. A  smile grew on her face
as she took in Nicci's bony frame. "My, my. So little, yet, for such grownup
work." She held out a hand toward a chair. "Won't you sit with us, dear?"
     "Are you a  Sister  with  the  fellowship?"  Nicci  asked,  not  really
understanding who the woman was.
     "The what?"
     "Nicci," Mother said, "Sister Alessandra is a Sister of the Light."
     Astonished, Nicci dropped  into a chair. Sisters  of the  Light had the
gift,  just  like her  and  Mother. Nicci  didn't know very  much  about the
Sisters, except  that they served the  Creator. That still didn't settle her
stomach. To have such a woman right there in her house was intimidating-like
when she stood before Brother Narev. She felt an inexplicable sense of doom.
     Nicci  was  also  impatient because she  had duties waiting. There were
donations to collect. She had older sponsors who accompanied her to some  of
the  places. For other places,  they  said  a young  girl  could get  better
results by herself, by shaming people who had more than they deserved. Those
people,  who had businesses, all knew who she was. They would always stammer
and ask how her father was. As she had been instructed,  Nicci told them how
pleased  her father would be to know they were thoughtful to the  needy.  In
the end, most became civic-minded.
     Then, there  were  remedies  Nicci  needed  to take to  women with sick
children. There  wasn't enough clothing for  the children, either. Nicci was
trying to  get some  people to give  cloth and other  people to sew clothes.
Some people had no  homes, others were crowded together in little rooms. She
was trying  to  get some rich people to donate a  building. Also,  Nicci had
been assigned the task of  locating  jugs for women to bring water from  the
well. She needed to pay a visit to the potter.  Soma  of  the older children
had been caught  stealing. Others had been fighting, and a few of them  were
beating younger children bloody.  Nicci had been pleading  on  their behalf,
trying  to  explain that they had no fair chance, and were only reacting  to
their cruel circumstance. She hoped to convince Father to take on at least a
few so they might have work.
     The problems  just kept mounting, without any end in sight.  It  seemed
like the more people  the fellowship helped, the more people there were  who
needed help. Nicci had thought  she  was going to solve the  problems of the
world; she was beginning to  feel  hopelessly  inadequate.  It  was  her own
failing, she knew. She needed to work harder.
     "Do you read and write, dear?" the Sister asked.
     "Not very much, Sister. Mostly just names. I've much too much to do for

     less fortunate  than myself.  Their needs must come before any  selfish
desires of my own."
     Mother smiled and nodded to herself.
     "Practically a good  spirit in the flesh."  The  Sister's  eyes teared.
"I've heard about your work."
     "You  have?" Nicci felt a flash of pride, but then  she thought  of how
things never seemed to get better, despite all her efforts, and her sense of
failure  returned. Besides, Mother  said pride was evil. "I don't see what's
so special about what I do.  The people in  the streets are the ones who are
special, because of their suffering in  horrid conditions. They are the true
     Mother smiled contentedly. Sister Alessandra  leaned forward, her  tone
serious. "Have you learned to use your gift, child?"
     "Mother teaches me  to  do some small things, like  how to  heal little
troubles, but I know it would be unfair to flaunt it over those less blessed
than I, so I try my best not to use it."
     The  Sister folded her hands  in  her lap. "I've  been  talking to your
mother,  while  we  waited for  you.  She's  done a fine  job of getting you
started on  the right path.  We feel, however, that  you would  have so much
more to offer were you to serve a higher calling."
     Nicci sighed.  "Well, all right.  Maybe I can get up a  little earlier.
But I already have my duties to the needy, and I will have to fit this other
in as I can. I hope you understand, Sister. I'm not trying to get undeserved
sympathy, honestly I'm not, but I hope you don't need this calling  done too
soon, as I'm already quite busy."
     Sister  Alessandra smiled in a long-suffering sort  of way. "You  don't
understand, Nicci. We would like you  to  continue your  work with us at the
Palace of the Prophets.  You would be a novice at first, of  course, but one
day, you will be a Sister of the  Light, and as such, you will carry on with
what you have started."
     Panic welled up  in Nicci like  rising floodwaters.  There were so many
people who hung to life only by a thread  she tended. She had friends at the
fellowship whom she had come to love. She had so much to do. She didn't want
to leave  Mother, and even Father. He was evil, she knew, but he wasn't evil
to her. He was  selfish and greedy, she  knew, but he still tucked  her into
bed,  sometimes,  and  patted her shoulder.  She  was  sure  she  would  see
something in his blue eyes again, if she just  gave it time. She didn't want
to leave him. For  some reason, she  desperately needed  to  again  see that
spark in his eyes. She was being selfish, she knew.
     "I have needy  people here, Sister Alessandra." Nicci  blinked  at  her
tears. "My responsibility is to them. I'm sorry but I can't abandon them."
     At that  moment,  Father came  in  the  door. He stopped in  an awkward
posture, his legs frozen  in midstride, with his hand  on the lever, staring
at the Sister.
     "What's this, then?"
     Mother stood. "Howard,  this  is  Alessandra.  She is  a Sister  of the
Light. She's come to-"
     "No! I'll not have it, do you hear? She's our daughter, and the Sisters
can't have her."
     Sister Alessandra  stood, giving Mother  a sidelong glance. "Please ask
your husband to leave. This is not his business."
     "Not my business? She's my daughter! You'll not take her!"
     He lunged forward to seize Nicci's outstretched hand. The Sister lifted
a finger  and, to Nicci's astonishment, he  was thrown  back  in a sparkling
flash of light.

     Father's back  slammed  against the wall. He  slid down,  clutching his
chest as he gasped for breath. Tears bursting forth, Nicci ran for  him, but
Sister Alessandra snatched her by the arm and held her back.
     "Howard," Mother said through gritted teeth,  "the child is my business
to raise.  I carry the Creator's gift. You gave your word when our union was
arranged  that if we  had a  girl and  she  had the  gift  I  would have the
exclusive authority to raise her as  I  saw fit.  I  believe this to  be the
right  thing  to do, what the Creator wants. With the Sisters  she will have
time to learn to read. She will have time to learn to  use  her gift to help
people as only the Sisters can. You will keep your word. I will see to this.
I'm sure you have work to which you must immediately return."
     With the flat  of  his  hand, he rubbed his chest.  Finally,  his  arms
dropped  to his  sides. Head down, he shuffled to the door. Before he pulled
closed the door, his gaze met Nicci's. Through the tears, she  saw the spark
in his eyes, as if he  had things to tell her, but then it  was gone, and he
pulled the door shut behind himself.
     Sister Alessandra said it  would be best if they left at  once, and  if
Nicci  didn't see  him  just  now.  She  promised  that  if  Nicci  followed
instructions, and after she was settled, and after  she had learned to read,
and after she had learned to use her gift, she would see him again.
     Nicci  learned to read and to use her gift and mastered everything else
she was supposed to master.  She  fulfilled  all  the  requirements. She did
everything expected of her. Her life, as  a novice to become a Sister of the
Light, was numbingly selfless. Sister Alessandra forgot her promise. She was
not pleased to  be reminded of  it, and found more work that Nicci needed to
     Several  years after she had been taken  to the palace, Nicci again saw
Brother Narev.  She came  across him quite by accident; he  was working as a
stablehand at the Palace of  the Prophets. He smiled his slow smile with his
eyes fixed on  her. He told her that he had  gotten the idea  to go  to  the
palace  by her example. He said he wished  to live long enough to  see order
come to the world.
     She thought it an odd occupation for him. He said that he found working
for  the  Sisters  morally superior to contributing his labor to the evil of
profit. He said  it mattered not if she chose to tell  anyone at  the palace
anything  about him or his work for the fellowship,  but he asked her not to
tell  the Sisters  that he  was  gifted, since  they  would not allow him to
continue to  stay and  work in the stables if they knew, and he would refuse
to serve them should they discover his  gift, because, he said, he wanted to
serve the Creator in his own quiet way.
     Nicci honored his secret, not so much out of any sense of  loyalty, but
mostly because  she  was  kept far too busy with  her  studies  and work  to
concern  herself  with  Brother  Narev and  his  fellowship.  She rarely had
occasion to see him, mucking out horse stalls, and  as his importance in her
childhood had faded into her  past, she never  really even gave him a second
thought.  The  palace had work they wished her to put  her attention to-much
the same sort of  work Brother Narev would have approved of. Only many years
later did she  come to  discover  his  real reasons  for  having been at the
Palace of the Prophets.
     Sister Alessandra saw  to it that Nicci was kept busy.  She was allowed
no time for such selfish indulgences as going home for a visit. Twenty-seven
years after she had been taken away to become a Sister of the Light, still a
novice, Nicci again saw her father. It was at his funeral.
     Mother had sent word  for Nicci to return home to see Father because he
was is

     failing  health.  Nicci immediately  rushed home, accompanied by Sister
Alessandra. By the time Nicci arrived, Father was already dead.
     Mother said that  for several weeks he had been begging her to send for
his  daughter.  She  sighed and said she put it off, thinking  he  would get
better. Besides,  she said, she hadn't wanted to disturb  Nicci's  important
work-not for  such a trivial matter.  She said it had been the only thing he
asked for: to see Nicci.  Mother thought that  was silly, since he was a man
who didn't  care  about people. Why should  he  need to see  anyone? He died
alone, while Mother was out helping the victims of an uncaring world.
     By that time, Nicci was forty. Mother, though, still thinking  of Nicci
as a young  woman because under  the spell at  the palace she  had aged only
enough to look to  be maybe fifteen or sixteen,  told her  to wear a pretty,
brightly colored dress, because it wasn't really a sad occasion, after all.
     Nicci stood looking at the body for a  long time. Her chance to see his
blue eyes again was forever lost. For the first time in years, the pain made
her feel something, down deep inside. It felt good to feel  something again,
even if it was pain.
     As Nicci  stood looking at her father's sunken  face, Sister Alessandra
told Nicci  that she was  sorry she  had  to take her away, but that in  her
whole life, she had not  encountered a woman with the gift as powerful as it
was in  Nicci, and that such a thing as the Creator had given her was not to
be wasted.
     Nicci said she understood.  Since  she had ability, it  was  only right
that she use it to help those in need.
     At the Palace of the Prophets, Nicci was said  to be the most selfless,
caring novice  they had  under their roof. Everyone pointed to her, and told
the younger  novices  to  look  to  Nicci's  example.  Even  the Prelate had
commended her.
     The praise was but  a buzz in her ear. It was an injustice to be better
than others. Try as she might, Nicci could not escape her father's legacy of
excellence. His taint coursed through her veins, oozed from every  pore, and
infected everything  she did.  The  more selfless she was the  more it  only
confirmed her superiority, and thus her wickedness.
     She knew that could mean only one thing: she was evil.
     "Try not  to  remember  him like this," Sister Alessandra  said after a
long silence  as  they stood before the  body.  "Try to remember what he was
like when he was alive."
     "I can't," Nicci said. "I never knew him when he was alive."
     Mother  and her  friends at  the fellowship ran the business. She wrote
Nicci joyful letters, telling her how she had put  many of the needy to work
at the armorers. She said the business could afford it, with  all the wealth
it had accumulated.  Mother was proud that that wealth could now be put to a
moral  use. She said Father's death had been  a cloaked blessing, because it
meant help  at last  for  those who had always deserved it most. It  was all
part of the Creator's plan, she said.
     Mother  had to raise her prices in order to  pay the wages of  all  the
people she'd  given work. A  lot of the older  workers left. Mother said she
was glad they were gone because they had uncooperative attitudes.
     Orders  fell  behind.  Suppliers  began demanding  to  be  paid  before
delivering goods. Mother discontinued  having the armor proofed  because the
new  workers complained that it was an  unfair standard to be held  to. They
said  they were  trying  their  best,  and that  was  what  counted.  Mother

     The battering-mill  had  to be  sold. Some  of  the  customers  stopped
ordering armor and  weapons. Mother said  they would be  better off  without
such intolerant people. She sought new laws from the duke to require work to
be spread out equally, but the laws were  slow in coming.  The few remaining
customers hadn't paid their account for quite a while, but promised to catch
up. In the meantime, their goods were shipped, if late.
     Within  six  months  of  Father  dying, the  business failed.  The vast
fortune he had built over a lifetime was gone.
     Some of the skilled  workers  once hired by  Father moved on, hoping to
find work at armories in distant places. Most men who stayed could find only
menial work; they were lucky to have that. Many of the  new workers demanded
Mother  do something; she  and the fellowship petitioned other businesses to
take them on.  Some business tried to help, but  most were in no position to
hire workers.
     The  armory had been the largest employer in  the  area, and  drew many
other people employed in other occupations. Other businesses,  like traders,
smaller suppliers, and cargo earners, who had depended on the armory, failed
for  lack  of  work,  Businesses  in  the  city, everything  from bakers  to
butchers, lost customers and were reluctantly forced to let men go.
     Mother asked the duke  to speak with  the king. The duke said  the king
was considering the problem.
     Like her father's armory, other buildings were abandoned as people left
to  find work  in  thriving cities elsewhere. Squatters, at the fellowship's
urging, took  over  many of the abandoned buildings. The empty places became
the sites of  robberies and even  murders. Many a woman  who went near those
places  regretted  it. Mother couldn't  sell the  weapons  from  her  closed
armory,  so she gave  them  to the needy  so they might  protect themselves.
Despite her efforts, crime only increased.
     In  honor of  all  her  good  work,  and her  father's  service  to the
government, the king granted Mother  a pension that allowed  her to  stay in
the house, with a reduced staff. She continued her work with the fellowship,
trying to right all the injustice that  she believed was responsible for the
failure of the business. She  hoped one  day to reopen the  shop and  employ
people. For her righteous work, the  king awarded her a silver medal. Mother
wrote that the  king proclaimed  she was as close  to a good  spirit  in the
flesh as  he had ever seen.  Nicci regularly received word of awards  Mother
was given for her selfless work.
     Eighteen years later, when Mother died, Nicci still looked like a young
woman  of perhaps  seventeen. She  wanted a  fine black dress to wear to the
funeral-the finest available.  The palace  said that it was  unseemly for  a
novice to make such a selfish request, and it was out of  the question. They
said they would supply only simple humble clothes.
     When  Nicci arrived home,  she went to  the tailor to the king and told
him that for her mother's funeral  she needed the finest black dress he  had
ever  made. He  told her the price. She informed him  she had no  money, but
said she needed the dress anyway.
     The tailor, a man  with three chins, waxy  down growing from his  ears,
abnormally  long yellowish  fingernails, and an unfailing  lecherous  smirk,
said there were things he needed,  too. He leaned close, lightly holding her
smooth arm in his knobby fingers, and intimated that if  she would take care
of his needs, he would take care of hers.
     Nicci wore the finest black dress ever made to her mother's funeral.
     Mother had been a woman who had devoted her entire life to the needs of
others. Nicci  could  never  again  look  forward  to  seeing  her  mother's
cockroach-brown eyes. Unlike at  her  father's  funeral, Nicci felt  no pain
reach  down  to touch  that abysmal place inside her. Nicci knew she  was  a
terrible person.
     For  the first time,  she  realized that for some reason  she simply no
longer cared.
     From that day on, Nicci never wore any dress but black.
     One  hundred and  twenty-three  years later, standing  at  the  railing
overlooking the great hall, Nicci saw eyes that stunned her with their sense
of  an inner value held dear. But what  had  been an uncertain ember  in her
father's eyes was ablaze in Richard's. She still didn't know what it was.
     She knew only that  it was the  difference between life and death,  and
that she had to destroy him.
     Now, at long last, she knew how.
     If only, when  she  had  been little, someone had shown her father such

     Trudging  down the road between the  edge of the city of  Fairfield and
the estate  where  the three Sisters had told her Emperor Jagang  had set up
his residence, Nicci scanned the  surrounding jumble of the Imperial Order's
encampment, looking for  a specific station of tents. She knew they would be
somewhere  in the area; Jagang  liked to have  them  close at hand.  Regular
sleeping  tents, wagons,  and men lay like a dark soot  over the fields  and
hills as far  as she could see. Sky and land alike seemed  tinted by a dusky
taint. Sprinkled through  the dark fields,  campfires  twinkled, like  a sky
full of stars.
     The day was  becoming oppressively dim,  not only with  the approach of
evening,  but also from the  dull overcast of churning gray clouds. The wind
kicked up in little fits, setting tents and clothes flapping, fluttering the
campfires' flames, and whipping smoke this  way and that.  The gusts  helped
coat the tongue with the fetid stench of human and animal waste,  smothering
any pleasant but  weak cooking aroma that struggled to take to  the air. The
longer the army stayed in place, the worse it would get.
     Up ahead, the elegant buildings of the estate rose above the dark grime
at its feet. Jagang  was there.  Because he had access  to  Sisters Georgia,
Rochelle, and Aubrey's minds,  he would know Nicci was  back.  He  would  be
waiting for her.
     The  emperor  would have to wait; she had something else to  do, first.
Without Jagang able to enter her mind, she was free to pursue it.
     Nicci saw what she was looking for, off in the distance. She could just
make  them  out, standing  above  the smaller  tents. She left  the road and
headed through the  crowded  snarl of  troops.  Even  from the distance, she
could distinguish the  distinctive sounds coming  from  the group of special
tents-hear it  over the  laughing and  singing, the crackle  of  fires,  the
sizzle  of meat in skillets, the scraping rasp of whetstones  on metal,  the
ring of hammers on steel, and the rhythm of saws.
     Boisterous  men grabbed  at  her arms and legs or tried  to  snatch her
dress  as she marched along, picking her way through the disorder. The rowdy
soldiers  were but a minor  consideration; she simply pulled  away, ignoring
their mocking calls of love,  as she made her way through the throng. When a
husky soldier seized her wrist in his powerful grip, yanking her around to a
jerking halt, she  paused only long enough to loose  her power and burst his
beating heart within his chest. Other men laughed when they saw him collapse
to  the ground with a thud, not yet realizing he was dead, but none tried to
claim his  intended prize. She  heard the words "Death's . Mistress" pass in
whispers among the men.
     She finally made her  way through the gauntlet.  Soldiers  played dice,
ate  beans, or  snored  in their  bedrolls beside the  tents where  captives
screamed under the agony

     of torture. Two men lugged a corpse, dragging some of its  innards, out
of a big tent. They  threw the  flaccid form  in  a wagon with  a  tangle of
     Nicci  snapped  her  fingers at  an unshaven  soldier coming  from  the
direction of another tent. "Let me see  the  list, Captain." She knew he was
the officer  in charge by  the  blue  canvas  cover  of the register book he
     He  scowled at her a moment,  but  when he glanced down  at  her  black
dress, a look of recognition came over  his face. He passed  her the grubby,
rumpled  book.  It  had a deep crease across the middle, as  if someone  had
accidentally sat on it. The pages that had  fallen out had been pushed  back
in, but they never  fit right and their  edges stuck out  here and  there to
become frayed and filthy.
     "Not much to report, Mistress, but please let  His Excellency know that
we've tried just about every skill known, and she isn't talking."
     Nicci opened the book and began  scanning the  list of recent names and
what was known about them.
     "Her? Who are you talking about, Captain?" she mumbled as she read.
     "Why, the Mord-Sith, of course."
     Nicci  turned her  eyes up  toward the man. "The Mord-Sith. Of  course.
Where is she?"
     He  pointed  at a  tent  a ways  off through the disarray. "I know  His
Excellency said he didn't expect a witch of her dark talents  to give us any
information  about Lord Rahl, but  I  was  hoping to surprise  him with good
news."  He  hooked his thumbs behind  his  belt as  he  let  out  a sigh  of
frustration. "No such luck."
     Nicci  eyed the tent for a moment. She heard no screams.  She had never
before seen one of those women,  the  Mord-Sith, but she knew a little about
them. She knew that using magic against one was a deadly mistake.
     She went back to reading the entries in the register. There was nothing
of much interest to her. Most of the people were from around here. They were
merely a sampling  collected to check what  they might know. They would  not
have the information she wanted.
     Nicci  tapped a line near the end of the writing in  the book. It  said
     "Where is this one?"
     The captain  tilted his head, indicating a tent  behind him. "I put one
of my best questioners  with him. Last I checked, there was nothing from him
yet-but that was early this morning."
     It had been all day  since he had checked. All day could be an eternity
under  torture.  Like  all  the  rest of  the  tents  used  for  questioning
prisoners,  the  one with  the  messenger stood above the surrounding  field
tents, which were only large enough for soldiers to lie in. Nicci pushed the
book at the officer's thick gut.
     "Thank you. That will be all."
     "You'll be giving His Excellency a report, then?" Nicci nodded absently
at his question. Her mind was already elsewhere. "You'll tell him that there
is little to be learned from this lot?"
     No one was eager to stand before Jagang and admit  they  were unable to
accomplish a task, even  if there was nothing to  accomplish. Jagang did not
appreciate  excuses. Nicci nodded as she strode  away, heading  for the tent
holding the messenger. "I'll be seeing him shortly. I'll give him the report
for you, Captain."
     As  soon as she  threw back the  flap and entered, she saw that she was
too late. The messy remains of  the messenger lay on  a  narrow wooden table
affixed with

     glistening tools of the trade.  The  messenger's  arm hung down off the
sides, dripping warm blood.
     Nicci saw that the questioner had a  folded  piece of paper. "What have
you there?"
     "A map of what?"
     "Where this fellow's been. I drew it all out from what he volunteered."
He laughed at his own humor. She didn't.
     "Really," Nicci said. The  man's grin was what had her attention. A man
like this only grinned when he had something he'd been seeking, something to
bring him favor in the eyes of his superiors. "And where has the man been?"
     "To see his leader."
     He  waved the  paper like  a  treasure map.  Tired of  the  game, Nicci
snatched the booty from his hand. She unfolded the wrinkled yellow paper and
saw that it was indeed  a map, with rivers, the coastline, and mountains all
meticulously drawn out. Even mountain passes were noted.
     Nicci could tell that the map was authentic.  When she had lived at the
Palace  of  the Prophets, the New World was a far-off and  mysterious place,
rarely visited by anyone but a few Sisters. Any  Sister  who ventured  there
always  kept exacting records that  were added to maps at the  palace. Along
with many other esoteric  items,  all  novices  memorized those maps  in the
course of their studies. Even though, at the time, she had never expected to
travel to the New World, she was  thoroughly familiar with  the lay  of  the
land  there. Nicci scrutinized the  paper in  her hands, carefully surveying
the geography, overlaying everything on it that was  new  onto the memorized
map in her mind.
     The soldier pointed a thick  finger at a  single bloody  fingerprint on
the  map. "That there  is where Lord Rahl  himself is hiding-on that dot, in
those mountains."
     Nicci's breath paused. She stared at  the paper,  burning  the  line of
every stream  and river, every  mountain,  every road, trail,  and  mountain
pass, every village, town, and city into her memory.
     "What did  this  man  confess  before  he died?"  She  looked up.  "His
Excellency is  waiting for my report. I was just on my  way to see him." She
snapped her fingers impatiently. "Let's have it all."
     The  man  scratched his  beard. His fingernails were crusted with dried
blood, "You'll tell him, won't you? You'll tell His Excellency that Sergeant
Wetzel was the one who got the information out of the messenger?"
     "Of course,"  Nicci assured him. "You will receive full credit. I  have
no  need of  such recognition." She tapped  the  gold ring through her lower
lip. "The Emperor is always-every  moment  of  every day-in  my mind. He  no
doubt this very moment sees through my eyes that you, not I, are the one who
succeeded in getting the information. Now, what did this man confess?"
     Sergeant Wetzel scratched his beard again, apparently trying to  decide
if be could trust her to  credit him, or if he  should  be sure and take the
information to Jagang. There was little  trust among those in  the  Imperial
Order,  and  good reason  to  distrust everyone. As he scratched his  beard,
flakes of dried blood stuck in its curly hair.
     Nicci stared  into  his red-rimmed eyes. He smelled of liquor.  "If you
don't report everything to me, Sergeant Wetzel, and I mean right now, I will
have you up on the

     table next,  and I will have your report between your screams, and when
I'm  done  with you, they will throw you  in the wagon with the  rest of the
     He dipped his head twice in surrender. "Of course.  I only wanted to be
sure His Excellency knew of my success." When Nicci nodded, he went  on. "He
was  just a messenger.  We had a small  unit of six men doing  deep scouting
patrol. They went on a  circle far to the  north, around  any enemy  forces.
They had one  of the gifted women  with  them to help them  remain at a good
distance, so they wouldn't be detected. They were somewhere northwest of the
enemy force, when by chance they came across this man. They brought him back
for  me to  question.  I  discovered he  was  one  of  a number  of  regular
messengers sent back and forth to report to Lord Rahl."
     Nicci waggled  a finger at the  paper. "But this, down here, looks like
the enemy force. Are you  saying Rich . . . Lord  Rahl, isn't with  his men?
With his army?"
     "That's  right. The messenger  didn't  know why. His only  duty was  to
carry troop positions and regular news of their condition to his master." He
tapped the map  in her hand. "But right here is  where Lord Rahl  is hiding,
along with his wife."
     Nicci looked up, her mouth falling open. "Wife."
     Sergeant  Wetzel nodded.  "The  man  said Lord Rahl married  some woman
known as the Mother  Confessor. She's hurt, and they're hiding way up there,
in those mountains."
     Nicci remembered  Richard's  feelings for  her, and  her  name: Kahlan.
Richard being married put everything in a new light. It had the potential to
disrupt Nicci's plans. Or . . .
     "Anything else, Sergeant?"
     "The man said Lord Rahl and his wife have one of them women,  them Mord
Sith, guarding them."
     "Why are they  up there? Why aren't Lord Rahl and  the Mother Confessor
with their army? Or back in Aydindril? Or in D'Hara, for that matter?"
     He shook  his  head. "This messenger was just a low-ranking soldier who
knew  how  to  ride  fast and read the lay of the land. That's all  he knew:
they're up there, and they're all alone."
     Nicci was puzzled by such a development.
     "Anything else? Anything at all?" He shook his head.  She laid her hand
on the man's back, between his shoulder blades. "Thank you, Sergeant Wetzel.
You have been more help than you will ever know."
     As he grinned, Nicci released a  flow of power that shot up through his
spine and instantly incinerated  his brain inside his skull. He dropped with
a crash to the hard ground, the air fleeing his lungs in a grunt.
     Nicci held up the map she had committed to memory and with her gift set
it aflame. The  paper crackled and blackened as the fire advanced across the
rivers and cities and mountains all carefully drawn out on it, until the hot
glow  surrounded the bloody fingerprint over a dot in the mountains. She let
the paper rise from her fingers as it was consumed in a final puff of smoke.
Ash, like black snow, drifted down onto the body at her feet.
     Outside the tent where the Mord-Sith was held,  Nicci cast a  wary gaze
across the surrounding camp to see if anyone was watching. No one was paying
any attention to the business of  the torture tents.  She slipped in through
the opening.
     Nicci  winced  at the sight of the woman laid out on the wooden  table.
She finally made herself draw a breath.

     A soldier,  his hands red  from his work,  scowled at Nicci. She didn't
wait for him to object, but simply commanded, "Report."
     "Not a word from her," he growled.
     Nicci nodded and placed her hand on  the soldier's broad back. Wary  of
her hand, he began to step away from it, but  he was  too late. The man fell
dead before he knew he was in trouble. Had she the time, she would have made
him suffer first.
     Nicci  made herself step up to the table and look down  into  the  blue
eyes. The woman's head trembles slightly.
     "Use your power . . . to hurt me, witch."
     A small smile  touched  Nicci's  lips.  "To  the  bitter end, you would
fight, wouldn't you?"
     "Use your magic, witch."
     "I think not. You see, I know a bit about you women."
     Defiance blazed up from the blue eyes. "You know nothing."
     "Oh,  but I do. Richard told me. You  would know him as your Lord Rahl,
but  be  was for a  time my student.  I know  that women  like you have  the
ability to  capture the power of the gifted, if  that  power is used against
you. Then,  you can turn it  against us. So, you see, I  know better than to
use my power on you."
     The woman looked away. "Then torture me if that is what you came to do.
You will learn nothing."
     "I'm not here to torture you," Nicci assured her.
     "Then what do you want?"
     "Let me introduce myself," Nicci said. "I am Death's Mistress."
     The woman's blue eyes turned back, betraying for the first time a glint
of hope, "Good. Kill me."
     "I need you to tell me some things."
     "I'll not . .  . tell you . . . anything." It was a struggle for her to
speak. "Nor anything. Kill me."
     Nicci picked  up a bloody blade  from the table and held it  before the
blue eyes, "I think you will."
     The woman smiled. "Go ahead.  It will only hasten my death.  I know how
much a person can take.  1 am not far from  the  spirit world. But no matter
what you do, I'll not talk before I die."
     "You misunderstand. I do not  wish you to betray your Lord Rahl. Didn't
you  hear your  questioner hit  the ground? If you turn your  head  a little
more, perhaps you can  see that  the man who  did this to you is now dead. I
don't wish you to tell me any secrets."
     The  woman glanced, as best she could, toward the  body  on the ground.
Her brow twitched. "What do you mean?"
     Nicci noticed that she didn't ask  to be freed. She knew  she  was well
past the point of hope to live.  The only thing she could hope for, now, was
for Nicci to end her agony.
     "Richard was my  student. He told me that  he was once a captive of the
Mord~ Sith. Now, that's not a secret, is it?"
     "That's what I want to know about. What is your name?"
     The woman turned her face away.
     Nicci put a  finger to the  woman's chin and turned her head  back.  "I
have  an offer to make you. I won't ask you  anything secret that you aren't
supposed to tell. fly

     not ask  you to betray your Lord Rahl-I wouldn't want you to. Those are
not the things that are of interest to me. If you cooperate" -Nicci  held up
the  blade  again  for the woman to  see-"I will end  it  quickly for you. I
promise. No more torture. No more pain. Just the final embrace of death."
     The woman's lips  began trembling.  "Please,"  she whispered,  the hope
returning to her eyes. "Please . . . kill me?"
     "What is your name?" Nicci asked.
     Nicci, for the most  part, was numb to sights of  torture, but this she
found disturbing. She  avoided  looking away from  the woman's face, down at
the naked body, so  as not to  have to consider what  had  been done to her.
Nicci  could not imagine how this woman  could keep  from screaming, or even
how she was able to speak.
     "Hania." The  woman's hands and ankles were shackled  to the table,  so
she was unable to  move much other than her head. She stared up into Nicci's
eyes. "Will you kill me? . . . Please?"
     "I will, Hania,  I promise. Quickly and efficiently-if you tell me what
I want to know."
     "I can't tell you  anything." In despair, Hania  seemed to  sag against
the table, knowing her ordeal was to go on. "I won't."
     "I  only want to know about when Richard was a captive. Did you know he
was once a captive of the Mord Sith?"
     "Of course."
     "I want to know about it."
     "Because 1 want to understand him."
     Hania's  head rocked side  to side.  She  actually smiled. "None  of us
understands Lord Rahl. He was tortured,  but he never . . . took revenge. We
don't understand him."
     "I don't either, but I hope  to. My name is Nicci. I  want you to  know
that.  I'm Nicci,  and I'm going  to deliver you from  this,  Hania. Tell me
about it.  Please? I need to know. Do you  know the woman who captured  him?
Her name?"
     The woman  considered for a moment before she spoke,  as if testing  in
her own  mind whether or not the information was in any way secret, or could
in any way harm him.
     "Derma," Hania whispered at last.
     "Derma. Richard killed her  in order to escape-he already told  me that
much. Did you know Denna before she died?"
     "I'm not asking anything of secret military importance, am I?"
     Hania hesitated. She finally shook her head.
     "So, you knew Denna. And did  you know Richard at the time? When he was
there, and she had him? Did you know he was her captive?"
     "We all knew."
     "Why is that?"
     "Lord Rahl-the Lord Rahl at the time-"
     "Richard's father."
     "Yes. He wanted Denna to be the one to train Richard, to prepare him to
answer without hesitation whatever  questions Darken Rahl asked him. She was
the best at what we do."
     "Good. Now, tell me everything about it. Everything you know."

     Hania drew a shaky breath.  It took a moment before she spoke again. "I
won't betray him. I am  experienced at what is being done to me. You  cannot
trick me. I will not betray Lord Rahl just to  spare myself this. I have not
endured this much to betray him now."
     "I promise not to ask anything about the present-about the war-anything
that would betray him to Jagang."
     "If I tell you only about  when Denna had him, and not about now, about
the war or where he is or anything  else,  do you give me your word that you
will end it for me-that you will kill me?"
     "I  give you my word,  Hania.  I wouldn't ask  you to betray your  Lord
Rahl-I know him and have too much respect for him  to ask that of you. All I
wish is to understand  him  for  personal  reasons. I was his teacher,  last
winter, instructing  him in the use of  his gift. I want  to understand  him
better. I need to understand him. I believe I can help him, if I do."
     "And then you will help me?" There was a shimmer of hope along with the
tears. "You will kill me, then?"
     This woman could aspire to nothing  more, now. It was all that was left
to her in this life: a quick death to finally end the pain.
     "Just  as soon as you're finished  telling me  all about it, I will end
your suffering, Hania."
     "Do you  swear it by your  hope to an eternity in the underworld in the
warmth of the Creator's light?"
     Nicci felt a sharp shiver of pain wail up  from her  very soul. She had
started out near to one hundred and seventy years before wanting nothing but
to help, and yet  she could not escape the  fate of her evil nature. She was
Death's Mistress.
     She was a fallen woman.
     She ran  the  side  of a finger down Hania's soft cheek. The two  women
shared a  long and intimate look. "I promise," Nicci  whispered.  "Quick and
efficient. It will be the end of your pain."
     Tears overflowing her eyes, Hania gave a little nod.

     The estate  was  a grand place, she  supposed. Nicci had  seen grandeur
such as this before. She had also seen much greater majesty, to be sure. She
had lived among such splendor for nearly one  and  three-quarters centuries,
among  the imposing columns and arches of immaculate rooms,  the intricately
carved stone vines and buttery smooth wood  paneling,  the feather  beds and
silk coverlets,  the exquisite carpets and rich  draperies,  the silver  and
gold ornamentation, and the bright sparkle of windows made  of colored glass
composed into epic scenes. The Sisters there offered Nicci brighteyed smiles
and clever conversation.
     The extravagance meant no more  to her  than the rubble of the streets,
the cold wet blankets laid on rough ground, the beds made in the slime among
greasy runnels in the muck of narrow alleys  with nothing but the bitter sky
overhead. The huddled people there never offered  a smile, but  gaped up  at
her with hollow eyes, like so many pigeons cooing for alms.
     Some  of  her  life was spent among splendor, some  among garbage. Some
people were fated to spend  their lives in one place, some in the other, she
in both.
     Nicci  reached  for the silver handle on one of the ornate double doors
flanked by two husky soldiers who had probably been raised in a sty with the
hogs, and saw that her hand  was covered  in blood. She  turned and casually
wiped the  hand on the filthy, bloodstained fleece vest  worn by  one of the
men.  The  biceps of his  folded  arms were nearly as  thick  as her  waist.
Although he scowled as  she cleaned her hand on him, he made no move to stop
her. After all, it wasn't as if she were defiling him.
     Hania had kept her part of the bargain.  Nicci rarely resorted to using
a weapon; she usually used her gift. But of course, in this case, that could
have been a mistake. When she had held the knife  over her throat, Hania had
whispered her thanks for what Nicci was about  to do. It was the  first time
anyone had ever thanked Nicci before  she  had killed them. Few  people ever
thanked Nicci for the help she provided. She was able, they were not; it was
her duty to serve their needs.
     When she had finished  cleaning her hand on the mute guard, she flashed
an empty smile at his dark glaring visage and then went on through the doors
into a stately reception hall. A row of tall windows lining one wall of  the
room was trimmed  with wheat-colored drapes.  Near their tasseled edges, the
curtains sparkled in the lamplight as if they might be embellished with gold
thread. Latesummer rain spattered  against tightly  shut  glass  panes  that
revealed only darkness outside, but reflected the activity  inside. The pale
wool carpets, graced with flowers painstakingly sculpted in relief  by means
of different-length yarn, were tracked with mud.
     Scouts came  and went, along  with messengers and soldiers giving their
reports  to  some  of the  officers. Other  officers barked orders. Soldiers
carrying rolled maps

     followed a  few of the higher-ranking men  as they meandered around the
stuffy room.
     One of  the maps lay unrolled across a narrow table. The table's silver
candelabrum  had been  set aside on the  floor  behind the table.  As  Nicci
passed the table,  she glanced  down and saw that it was missing many of the
elements so carefully marked on the  map  drawn by the D'Haran messenger. On
the map laid out over the narrow table, there was nothing but dark splotches
from spilled ale in the area to the northwest; in the map etched  in Nicci's
mind, there were the mountains,  rivers, high passes, and streams there, and
a dot, marking the  place where Richard was, along with his Mother Confessor
bride, and the Mord-Sith.
     Officers  talked among  themselves,  some  standing  about,  some  half
sitting on iron-legged, marbletopped tables, some lounging in padded leather
chairs as they  took delicacies  from  silver trays borne on  the  trembling
hands of sweating servants.  Others  swilled ale from tall  pewter mugs, and
yet  others drank wine  from dainty  glasses,  all  acting as  if  they were
intimate  with such splendor,  and all  of them looking  as  out of place as
toads at tea.
     An older woman, Sister Lidmila, apparently  trying to be unobtrusive by
cowering  in the shadows beside the  drapes, snapped upright  when  she  saw
Nicci marching across the room. Sister  Lidmila stepped out of  the shadows,
briefly pausing to  smooth her dingy  skirts, an act that could not possibly
produce any noticeable improvement; Sister Lidmila once  had told Nicci that
things learned in youth never left you, and were often much easier to recall
than yesterday's dinner. Rumor had it that the old Sister, skilled in arcane
spells known  to only  the most powerful sorceresses,  had  many interesting
things from her youth to recall.
     Sister Lidmila's leathery skin was stretched so tight over the bones of
her skull that  she reminded Nicci of nothing so  much as an exhumed corpse.
As cadaverous looking as  the aged Sister was, she advanced across the  room
in quick, sharp movements.
     When she was only ten feet away, Sister Lidmila waved an arm, as if not
sure Nicci would  see her. "Sister Nicci. Sister Nicci, there you are."  She
seized  Nicci's wrist. "Come along,  dear.  Come  along. His  Excellency  is
waiting for you. This way. Come along."
     Nicci clasped the Sister's tugging hand. "Lead the way, Sister Lidmila.
I'm right behind you."
     The  older  woman smiled  over  her shoulder.  It wasn't a pleasant  or
joyous smile, but  one of relief. Jagang punished anyone who displeased him,
regardless of their culpability.
     "What  took  you  so long, Sister  Nicci? His Excellency  is in quite a
state, he is, because of you. Where have you been?"
     "I had . . . business I had to attend to."
     The woman had  to  take two or three steps  for every  one  of Nicci's.
"Business indeed!  Were  it  up to me,  I'd  have  you  down  in the kitchen
scrubbing pots for being off on a lark when you are wanted."
     Sister Lidmila was  frail  and forgetful, and she  sometimes  failed to
realize she was no longer at the Palace of the Prophets. Jagang  used her to
fetch  people,  or  to  wait for them  and show them the  way-usually to his
tents. Should she forget the way, he could always correct her route, if need
be.  It  amused  him  to use a  venerable Sister  of the Light -a  sorceress
reputedly possessing knowledge of the most esoteric  incantations-as nothing
more than an errand girl. Away from the palace and it's

     spell  that slowed aging, Sister Lidmila was in a sudden headlong  rush
toward the grave. All the Sisters were.
     The  round-backed Sister, her dangling arm swinging,  shuffled along in
front of Nicci, pulling her by her hand, leading her through grand rooms, up
stairways,  and  down hallways. At a doorway framed in gold-leafed moldings,
she finally paused, touching her fingers to her lower lip as she  caught her
breath.  Sober soldiers  prowling the hall painted Nicci with glares as dark
as her dress. She recognized the men as imperial guards.
     "Here it is." Sister Lidmila peered up at Nicci. "His Excellency is  in
his rooms. Hurry, then. Go on. Go on, now." She swirled her hands as if  she
were trying to herd livestock. "In you go."
     Before entering, Nicci took  her hand from the lever and turned back to
the old woman. "Sister Lidmila, you once told me that you thought I would be
the one best suited for some of the knowledge you had to pass on."
     Sister Lidmila's  face brightened with a sly  smile. "Ah,  some  of the
more occult magic interests you, at long last, Sister Nicci?"
     Nicci  had  never  before been  interested  in what  Sister Lidmila had
occasionally pestered  her  to  learn.  Magic  was a  selfish pursuit. Nicci
learned what she had to, but never went out of her way  to go beyond, to the
more unusual spells.
     "Yes, as a matter of fact, I believe I am at last ready."
     "I  always told the Prelate that  you were the  only one at the  palace
with the power for the conjuring I know." The woman leaned close. "Dangerous
conjuring, it is, too."
     "It should be passed on, while you are able."
     Sister Lidmila nodded with satisfaction. "I believe you are old enough.
I could show you. When?"
     "I will come see you . . . tomorrow." Nicci glanced toward the door. "I
don't believe I will be able to take a lesson tonight."
     "Tomorrow, then."
     "If I . . . do come around to see you, I will be most eager to learn. I
especially wish to know about the maternity spell."
     From what Nicci knew  of it, the  oddly  named maternity spell might be
just what she needed. It had the further advantage that once invoked, it was
     Sister Lidmila straightened  and again touched her fingers to her lower
lip. A look of concern crossed her face.
     "My, my. That one,  is it? Well,  yes,  I could teach you. You have the
ability-few do. I'd trust none but you to be able  to bring such a thing  to
life;  it requires tremendous power  of the gift.  You have that. As long as
you  understand and  are  willing  to  accept the cost involved, 1 can teach
     Nicci nodded. "I will come when 1 can, then."
     The  old  Sister  ambled on  down the  hall,  deep in thought,  already
thinking about the  lesson. Nicci didn't know if  she would live to take the
     After she had  watched  the  old Sister vanish around the corner, Nicci
entered a quiet room lit by myriad candles and lamps.  The high  ceiling was
edged  with  a  painted  leaf-and-acorn  design.  Plush couches  and  chairs
upholstered in muted browns were set about on thick carpets of rich yellows,
oranges, and reds, making them look like a forest floor in the autumn. Heavy
drapes  had  been  pulled  closed across an expanse of windows. Two  Sisters
sitting on a couch leaped to their feet.
     "Sister Nicci!" one virtually shouted in relief.

     The  other ran to the double doors at the other side  of the  room  and
opened one  without knocking, apparently by instruction. She stuck her  head
into the room beyond to speak in a low voice Nicci couldn't hear.
     The Sister leaped  back  when Jagang,  in the inner room,  roared, "Get
out! All of you! Everyone else out!"
     Two more young  Sisters,  no doubt personal  attendants to the emperor,
burst out  of the room. Nicci  had to step out of the way as all four gifted
women made for the doorway  leading out of  the apartment. A young man Nicci
hadn't noticed in the corner joined the  women. None even glanced in Nicci's
direction as they rushed to do as they  were ordered.  The first lesson  you
learned as a slave to Jagang was that  when he told  you to do something, he
meant you to do it right now. Little provoked him more than delay.
     At the door to the inner room, a woman Nicci didn't recognize ran  out,
following close on the heels  of  the  others. She was young  and beautiful,
with dark hair  and  eyes, probably a captive picked up  somewhere along the
long march,  and no doubt  used for Jagang's amusement. Her eyes reflected a
world gone mad for her.
     Such  were the unavoidable  costs if the world was to be  brought  to a
state of order. Great leaders, by their very nature, came  with shortcomings
in  character,  which  they  themselves  viewed as  mere  peccadilloes.  The
far-ranging  benefits  Jagang  would bring to  the poor suffering masses  of
humanity  far  outweighed his  crass acts of personal gratification  and the
relatively  petty  havoc he  wrought. Nicci  was often  the  object  of  his
transgressions.  It  was  a  price  worth  paying for  the  help  that would
eventually accrue  to the helpless;  that was the only matter  that could be
     The outer  door closed and  the apartment was finally empty of everyone
but  Nicci and  the  emperor. She stood erect, head held high,  arms at  her
sides, relishing the  quiet of the place. The splendor  meant little to her,
but quiet  was a luxury she had come to appreciate, even if it was  selfish.
In the tents  there was  always the noise  of the army pressed close around.
Here,  it  was  quiet.  She glanced  around  the  spacious  and  elaborately
decorated outer room, contemplating the idea that Jagang would have acquired
the taste for such places. Perhaps he, too, simply wanted quiet.
     She  turned  back  to  the inner  room. He was  just  inside,  waiting,
watching her, a muscled mass of fury coiled in rage.
     She strode directly up to him. "You wished to see me, Excellency?"
     Nicci felt a stunning pain as the back of his beefy hand whipped across
her face. The  blow spun her around. Her knees  hit the floor. He yanked her
to  her feet by  her  hair. The  second time, she  clouted  the  wall before
crashing to the floor again. Stupefying pain throbbed through her face. When
she had her bearings, she got her legs under her and stood before him again.
The third time, she took a freestanding candelabrum  down  with her. Candles
tumbled and rolled across the floor.  A long  wisp ╟f sheer curtain she  had
snatched as she grabbed for support ripped away and drifted down over her as
she  and  an upturned  table  slammed to  the  floor. Glass shattered. Metal
clattered as small items bounded away.
     She was dizzy and stunned,  her vision faltering. Her  eyes felt as  if
they might have burst, her jaw as if it  had been shattered, her neck as  if
the  muscles  had  ripped.. Nicci lay sprawled on  the  floor,  savoring the
strident waves of pain, wallowing 'n the rare sensation of feeling.
     She saw blood splattered across the  light fringe of the carpet beneath
her  and across the warns glow of wooden flooring. She  heard Jagang yelling
something at her, but  she  couldn't make out the words  over the ringing in
her ears. With a shaky

     arm pushed  herself up onto her hip. Blood warmed her fingers  when she
touched them to her mouth.  She relished the hurt. It had been so long since
she had felt anything, except  for that too brief moment with the Mord-Sith.
This was a glorious wash of agony.
     Jagang's  brutality was  able to  reach down into  the abyss,  not only
because of the cruelty itself, but because she knew she  need not suffer it.
He,  too,  knew  that she was  here  by  her  choice,  not  his.  That  only
intensified his anger, and thus, her sensations.
     His rage  seemed  lethal.  She merely  noted the  fact  that  she  very
probably wouldn't leave the room alive. She would probably not  get to learn
Sister Lidmila's  spells. Nicci simply  waited  to  discover  what fate  had
already decided for her.
     The  room's spinning finally slowed enough for her to once more make it
to her feet. She pulled herself up straight before the silent brawny form of
Emperor Jagang. His shaved  head reflected points of light from  some of the
lamps.  His only facial  hair was a two-inch braid of mustache growing above
each corner of his mouth, and another in the center under his lower lip. The
gold ring through  his left  nostril  and  its  thin  gold chain running  to
another ring in his left ear glimmered in the mellow lamplight. Except for a
heavy ring on each finger, he was without the plundered  assortment of royal
chains and jewels  he usually wore around his neck. The rings glistened with
her blood.
     He was  bare-chested, but unlike his  head,  his  chest  was covered in
coarse hair. His muscles bulged, their tendons standing out as he flexed his
fists. He had the neck of a bull, and his temperament was worse.
     Nicci, half  a  head shy  of  his  height, stood  before  him, waiting,
looking into the eyes she used to  see  in her nightmares. They were a murky
gray, without whites, and clouded over with sullen, dusky  shapes that stole
across a surface of inky obscurity. Even though they had no evident iris and
pupil-nothing but  seeming  dark voids where  a  normal  person had eyes-she
never had any doubt whatsoever as to when he was looking at her.
     They were the eyes of a dream  walker. A dream walker  denied access to
her mind. Now, she understood why.
     "Well?" He growled. He threw  up  his hands.  "Cry!  Yell! Scream! Beg!
Argue make excuses! Don't just stand there!"
     Nicci  swallowed back the sharp taste  of  blood as  she gazed placidly
into his scarlet glare.
     "Please be specific, Excellency, as to which one you would  prefer, how
long I should carry on, and if I should end it of my own accord, or wait for
you to beat me into unconsciousness."
     He lunged at  her  with a  howl of fury. He  seized  her  throat in his
massive fist to  hold her as he struck  her. Her knees buckled, but  he held
her up until she was able to steady herself.
     He released her throat  with a shove. "I want to  know why you did that
to Kadar!"
     She offered only a bloody smile to his anger.
     He wrenched her arm behind  her  back and pulled  her hard against him.
"Why would you do such a thing! Why?"
     The deadly  dance with  Jagang had  begun. She dimly  wondered again if
this time she would lose her life.
     Jagang had killed  a number of  the  Sisters  who  had  displeased him.
Nicci's  safety  hIm-such as it  was-lay in her  very  indifference  to  her
safety. Her utter Ikerest in her own life fascinated  Jagang because he knew
it was sincere.

     "Sometimes, you're a fool," she said with true  contempt, "too arrogant
to see what is in front of your nose."
     He twisted her  arm until she thought it surely would snap. His panting
breath was warn on  her throbbing cheek. "I've killed people for saying much
less than that."
     She  mocked  him through  the pain. "Do you intend to bore me to death,
then?  If  you want  to kill me, seize me by the  throat and strangle me, or
slash me to a bloody mess so  that I will bleed  to death at your feet-don't
think you can suffocate me with the sheer weight of your monotonous threats.
If you wish to kill me, then be a man and do so! Or else shut your mouth."
     The mistake most people made with Jagang was to believe, because of his
capacity for  such profound brutality,  that he was an ignorant, dumb brute.
He was not.  He  was  one of  the most  intelligent  men Nicci had ever met.
Brutality was but  his  cloak. As an outgrowth of his access to the thoughts
of  so  many different  people's minds,  he was directly  exposed  to  their
knowledge, wisdom, and ideas; such exposure augmented his intellect. He also
knew what people most feared. If anything  about him  frightened her, it was
not  his brutality,  but his  intelligence, for  she knew  that intelligence
could be a bottomless well of truly inventive cruelty.
     "Why did you kill him, Nicci?" he asked again, his voice losing some of
its fire.
     In her mind, like a protective stone wall, was  the thought of Richard.
He had to see it in  her eyes. Part  of Jagang's  rage, she knew, was at his
own impotence at penetrating her mind, of possessing her as he could so many
others. Her knowing smirk taunted him with what he could not have.
     "It amused  me to hear  the great Kadar Kardeef cry for mercy, and then
to deny it."
     Jagang roared again, a beastly sound out of place for such  a  mannerly
bedchamber. She saw the  blur of his arm swinging for her. The  room whirled
violently around  her. She expected  to  hit something with a  bone-breaking
impact. Instead, she upended and crashed  onto unexpected softness: the bed,
she realized. Somehow, she had  missed the marble and mahogany  posts at the
corners-they  surely would  have killed her.  Fate, it seemed, was  trifling
with her. Jagang landed atop her.
     She thought he  might beat her to  death  now.  Instead, he studied her
eyes  from inches away.  He  sat up,  straddling  her  hips. His meaty hands
pulled at  the laces on the bodice of her  dress. With a quick yank  of  the
material, he exposed her breasts. His fingers squeezed her bared flesh until
her eyes watered.
     Nicci didn't  watch him, or resist, but instead  went limp as he pushed
her dress  up around  her waist. Her mind  began its  journey away, to where
only she alone  could go. He fell on her, driving the wind from her lungs in
a helpless grunt.
     Arms lying at her sides, her fingers  open and slack, eyes  unblinking,
Nicci stared at the folds of the  silk in the  canopy  of the bed, her  mind
unaffected in the distant
     quiet  place.  The pain seemed remote.  Her struggle  to breathe seemed
     As he went about his coarse  business, she focused her thoughts instead
on what  she  was going  to do. She had never believed possible what she now
contemplated; now she knew it was. She had only to decide to do it.
     Jagang slapped her, causing her to focus her  mind back on him. "You're
too stupid to even weep!"
     She realized he had finished; he was not happy that she hadn't noticed.
She had to make an effort not to comfort her jaw, stinging  from what to him
was a smack, but to the  person receiving it was a blow nearly strong enough
to cripple. Sweat

     dripped from his  chin onto her face. His powerful body glistened  from
the exertion she had not perceived.
     His  chest heaved as he glared down at  her.  Anger, of course, powered
the glare, but Nicci thought she saw  a  tinge of something else there, too:
regret, or maybe anguish, or maybe even hurt.
     "Is that what you wish me to do, then, Excellency? Weep?"
     His voice  turned bitter as he flopped onto his side beside her. "No. I
wish you to react."
     "But I am," she said as she stared up at the canopy. "It is simply  not
the reaction you wish."
     He sat up. "What's the matter with you, woman?"
     She gazed up at him a moment, and then turned her eyes away.
     "I have no idea," she answered honestly. "But I think I must find out."

     Jagang gestured.  "Take off  your  clothes.  You're spending the night.
It's been too long." This time, it was he who stared off at the walls. "I've
missed you in my bed, Nicci."
     She didn't  answer.  She did  not believe  that in  his  bed he  missed
anything. She didn't believe she could conceive of him understanding what it
was to  miss  a person. What he missed, she  thought, was being able to miss
     Nicci sat up  and threw  her  legs  over the  side of  the  bed as  she
untangled herself from the black dress.  She pulled it off over her head and
then  laid  it out across the  back of a padded leather chair. She reclaimed
her underthings from the tangles of the bed covering and  tossed them on the
chair before drawing off her stockings and placing them, too, on the seat of
the  chair. He watched her body the whole time, watched her as she tended to
her  dress, smoothing it to straighten what he had  done  to it, watched the
mysterious allure of a woman acting a woman.
     When she had finished she turned back to him. She stood proudly, to let
him see that which he could have only by force, and never as a willing gift.
She  could detect the  sense of  privation in his  expression. This, was the
only  victory she could have: the more  he took her by  force, the  more  he
understood that that was the only way he could ever  have her,  and the more
it  maddened him.  She  would just  as soon  die as willingly  give him  the
satisfaction of that gift, and he knew the brutal truth of that.
     He  finally forced  himself  away from  his private, bitter longing and
looked up into her eyes. "Why'd you kill Kadar?"
     She  sat  on  the  edge  of the bed opposite him, just out of  his easy
reach, but within range of his lunge, and shrugged her bare shoulders.
     "You  are  not the Order. The Order  is no single man, but  an ideal of
equity. As such, it  will survive any one  person. You serve  that ideal and
the Order, for now, in the capacity of but a brute. The  Order could use any
brute  to  serve its  purpose. You, Kadar,  or another. I  simply eliminated
someone  who  might one  day have been a threat to  you before you  can rise
above your present role."
     He grinned.  "You  expect  me  to  believe that  you were  doing  me  a
kindness? Now you mock me."
     "If it pleases you to think so, then do."
     Her smooth  white limbs were  a  vivid  contrast  to  the  heavy, dark,
variegated  verdant bedcover  and  sheets.  He lay  back  atop them  against
several  rumpled pillows.  immodestly  displayed before her. His eyes looked
even darker than usual.
     "What's all this talk I keep hearing about 'Jagang the Just'?"
     "Your new title. It is the thing  that  will  save  you, the thing that
will win  for you, the thing  that  will bring you more  glory than anything
else. Yet, in return for elimi-

     nating a future threat to your standing,  and for making you a  hero to
the people, you draw my blood."
     He  put  an  arm  behind his head. "Sometimes you make me  believe  the
stories fat people tell, that you really are crazy."
     "And if you kill everyone?"
     "Then they will be dead."
     "I have recently been through towns  visited by your soldiers. It seems
they  didn't harm the people-at  least, they  didn't slaughter  everyone  in
sight, as they did when fey began their march into the New World."
     He lunged and seized a fistful of her hair. With a snarl, he yanked her
onto her  back beside him. She caught her  breath as he rose up on an  elbow
and directed his disturbing gaze down into her eyes.
     "It is your job to make examples of people, to show them that they must
contribute  to our cause; to make  them fear  the Imperial Order's righteous
wrath. That is the task I assigned you."
     "Is that so? Then why did the soldiers not make examples, too?  Why did
they let those towns be? Why did they not  contribute to striking  fear into
the hearts of the people? Why didn't they lay waste  to every  city and town
in their path?"
     "And then who would I rule but my soldiers? Who would  do the work? Who
would make things? Who would grow the  food? Who would pay tribute? To  whom
will I bring the hope of the Order? Who will there be  to  glorify the great
Emperor Jagang, if I kill them all?"
     He flopped onto his back. "You may be  called Death's  Mistress, but we
can't have it your way and kill everyone. In this world you are bound to the
Order's purpose.  If  people feel the Order's arrival can  mean nothing  but
their death,  they  will resist to the  end. They must know that it  is only
their resistance which  will  bring a swift and sure death.  If they realize
our arrival  offers  them a  moral  life,  a life which puts  man  under the
Creator and the welfare of man above all else, they will embrace us."
     "You dealt death to this city," she taunted, forcing him to unwittingly
prove the validity of what she had done. "Even though they chose the Order."
     "I've given orders that any  people of the city still alive  be allowed
to go back to  their homes. The rampage is ended.  The people  here betrayed
their  promises and  thus  invited  brutality; they saw it,  but now that is
finished and a new day  of order has come. The  old ideas  of separate lands
are  over, as it  was  ended in  the  Old World. All people will be governed
together, and will enter a new age of prosperity together-under the Imperial
Order. Only those  who resist will be crushed-not  because they  resist, but
because, ultimately, they are traitors to the well-being of their fellow man
and must be eliminated.
     "Here, in Anderith, was the turning point in our struggle. Richard Rahl
was at last cast out by the people themselves, who came to see the virtue of
what we offer. No longer can he claim to represent them."
     "Yet you came in and slaughtered-"
     "The leaders here betrayed certain promises to me-who knows how much of
the  general population may  have collaborated in that-and so the people had
to pay a puce, but collectively they  have also earned a place in the  Order
for their  courage  In  emphatically rejecting Lord  Rahl and the  outdated,
selfish, uninspired morals he offered them.

     "The tide has turned. People no longer have faith in Lord Rahl, nor can
he now have any faith in them. Richard Rahl is a fallen leader."
     Nicci smiled inwardly, a sad smile. She was a fallen woman, and Richard
was a fallen man. Their fate was sealed.
     "Perhaps here, in this  one small place," she said, "but he is far from
defeated. He is still dangerous.  After all, you  failed to  gain everything
you  sought here in Anderith because of Richard Rahl. He not only denied you
a  clear victory by destroying  vast  stores  of supplies  and  leaving  the
systems  and services of production in  total disarray, but  he also slipped
right through your fingers when you should have captured him."
     "I will have him!"
     "Really?  I wonder." She watched his  fist, and waited until it relaxed
before  she  continued. "When will  you  move  our  forces  north,  into the
     Jagang stroked his hand down  his woolly chest.  "Soon. I  want to give
them  time to become careless, first.  When  they  grow  complacent, I  will
strike north.
     "A great  leader must  read the  nature  of  the battle, to be  able to
adjust his tactics. We will be liberators, now, as  we  move north into  the
Midlands, bringing the Creator's glory to the people. We must win the hearts
and minds of the unconverted."
     "You have  decided  this change? On your own? You do  not consider  the
will of the Creator in your campaign?"
     He glared at her insolence, as if to  tell her she knew better  than to
even ask such a question.
     "I am the  emperor; I  need not consult our spiritual guides, but since
their.  counsel  is always  welcome, I've already  talked  to  the  priests.
They've spoken favorably  about my plans.  Brother Narev thinks it wise  and
has given his blessing. You had better keep to your job of extinguishing any
ideas of  opposition. If you  don't follow my orders, well, no one will miss
one Sister. I have others."
     She was not moved by his threats, real as they were. By his  suspicious
look, he was beginning to understand her vision, too.
     "What you are doing is fitting," she said, "but it  must be cut up into
little pieces the people can chew.  They  do not have  the Order's wisdom in
seeing what is best for them-the public  rarely does. Even one as bullheaded
as you must be  able to see that I have  anticipated your  plans  by helping
those  you can't  afford to kill to understand that you are sparing them out
of your sense of justice. Word of such deeds will win hearts."
     He cast her a sidelong glance. "I  am the  Order's cleansing fire.  The
fire is a necessary conflagration, but not the important  end-it  is  merely
the means to the end. From the ashes I, Jagang, create, new order can sprout
and grow.  It  is this end, this glorious new  age of man, that warrants the
means. In this, it is  my responsibility  not yours-to decide  justice, when
and how I will dispense it, and who will receive it."
     She  grew impatient  with his vanity.  Scorn seeped into her voice.  "I
have simply put a name to it-Jagang  the  Just-and begun  to spread your new
title  for you when the opportunity  arose. I sacrificed Kadar to  that end,
for all the same reasons you've listed. It had to be done now  in order  for
it to have the necessary time to spread and flourish, or the New World would
soon harden irreversibly against the Order. I  chose the time and place, and
by  using Kadar Kardeef's life-a war hero's life-proved your devotion to the
cause of the Order above all else. You benefit.
     "Any  brute could ignite the conflagration;  this new title  shows your

     vision-another manifestation  of worth over other men.  I have  planted
the vital seed that will make you a hero to the common people and, even more
important,  to  the priests. Are  you going to pretend you  think  the title
inadequate? Or that it will not serve you well?
     "What I alone have  done  will help win what your powerful army cannot:
willing  allegiance without a battle,  at a  cost  of nothing. With  Kadar's
life,  I,  Nicci, have made  you more  than you  could  make of yourself. I,
Nicci, have given you  the reputation of honor. I, Nicci, have made you into
a leader people will trust because they believe you to be just."
     He brooded for  a time, turning his gaze  from  her  hot glare. His arm
finally fell own  and his fingers tenderly trailed down her thigh. The touch
was an admission for him-an admission  that she was  right, even if he would
not say the words.
     After a few moments he yawned,  and then his eyes closed. His breathing
evened, and he started to drift off into a nap, as was  his way with her. He
expected her to remain right  where she was, so that when he awoke she would
be available to him. She supposed she could leave. But it was not time.  Not
     He  finally  awoke an hour later.  Nicci  was  still  staring up at the
canopy, thinking about Richard. There seemed to be one piece missing  in her
plan, one more thing that she felt needed to fall into place.
     In his sleep Jagang  had rolled over on his side facing away  from her.
Now,  he  turned back.  His  dark  eyes took  her in  with  a  look of  lust
rekindled. He drew her close. His body was as warm  as a rock in the sun and
only slightly softer.
     "Pleasure me," he commanded in a husky growl that would have frightened
any other woman into doing as ordered.
     "Or what? You will kill me? If I feared that, I would not be here. This
is by force, not consent. I  will not  willingly take part in it, nor will I
allow you to deceive yourself into believing that I want you."
     He  backhanded  her,  knocking  her  across  the  bed. "You  take  part
willingly!" He seized her by the wrist and dragged her back toward him. "Why
else would you be here?"
     "You ordered me here."
     He smirked. "And you came when you could have fled."
     She opened  her mouth, but  she had no answer she could put into words,
no answer he would understand.
     With a grin of victory, he fell on her and pressed his lips to hers. As
much as it hurt  her, for Jagang this was gentle behavior. He had  told  her
several times that she was the only woman  he ever  cared to kiss. He seemed
to  believe  that  by expressing those emotions  for her, she could have  no
alternative but to  surrender  feelings in kind, as  if spoken feelings were
currency with which he could purchase affection on demand.
     It was only the beginning of  a long night-along  ordeal-she  knew. She
would  have to  endure his  forceful violation  several  more  times  before
morning. His question haunted the distant place in her mind.
     Morning came, accompanied by the dull throbbing of a  headache from her
succeeding beating, and the sharper aches from the  places where he'd struck
her when he came to find that what he thought was her willing submission was
but a  delusion  that  left him  more angered than before. The pillows  were
stained with her blood. It had
     g been a long night of rare sensations experienced. -HIre knew  she was
evil, and deserved to be violated in such a brutal fashion. She

     could offer no moral  objection to it; even  in the  terrible things he
did  to her, Jagang was  nowhere  near  as corrupt as  she. Jagang erred  in
simple matters of the flesh, and that could only be expected all people were
corrupt in the flesh-but because of her indifference to the suffering around
her, she failed in  matters of  the spirit. That, she knew,  was pure  evil.
That was why she deserved to suffer  whatever he did to her. For the moment,
that deep dark place within came close to being sated.
     Nicci touched  her mouth and  found  the  cuts painful, but closed. The
healing  of wounds,  though,  did  not  offer the  warranted  sensations  of
receiving them, so she resolved to have  one  of the other Sisters heal her,
rather  than  give  him the  satisfaction of  witnessing  her  suffering the
inconvenience of the injures.
     With that, her mind turned to thoughts of Sister Lidmila.
     Nicci realized that Jagang wasn't in bed beside her. She sat up and saw
him in a chair not far away, watching her.
     She pulled the sheet up to cover her breasts, speckled with droplets of
dried blood. "You are a pig."
     "You can't get  enough of me. Despite what  you say, Nicci, you wish to
be with me. If not, why would you stay?"
     Those nightmare eyes of his  watched her, trying to find a way into her
mind. There  was none. He could no  longer be a nightmare  for her.  Richard
guarded her mind.
     "Not  for  the reasons you wish to believe. I stay because the ultimate
cause  of  the  Order is  a  moral one. I wish  it  to succeed. I  wish  the
suffering of life's helpless  victims to end. I wish everyone to finally  be
equal and to finally live with everything they need. I have worked nearly my
entire life for those goals. The Order can see to it that  such a fair world
comes to be. If  I must endure  you-even aid you-for such an end, then it is
but an insignificant gnat to swallow."
     "You  sound so  very noble, but I think  there is  something more basic
behind it. I think you would have left  if you could,  or"-he smiled-"if you
could,  you  would  have left  if  you really  wanted to. Which is it, then,
     She didn't want to contemplate the question. Her head hurt.
     "What's all the talk about you building a palace?"
     "So you heard, then." He took a deep breath and  sighed wistfully.  "It
will  be the grandest palace ever built. A fitting  place for the Emperor of
the Imperial Order, for the man who rules both the Old and the New Worlds."
     "The  man who wants to  rule.  Lord Rahl stands in your way.  How  many
times has he bested you, now?"
     Jagang's eyes flashed a  rage she knew could turn  violent. Richard had
frustrated Jagang a number of times. Even if  Richard hadn't been victorious
over Jagang, he had stung him.  Quite an accomplishment,  really, for such a
tiny force against the
     array of the Imperial Order. A man like Jagang hated the humiliation of
a sting almost as much as he would hate to be gored.
     "I will eliminate Richard  Rahl, don't you worry," Jagang said in a low
     She changed  the subject  back to what she really wanted to know about.
"Sine when  has the all conquering Emperor Jagang turned soft and  wanted to
live in splendor?"
     "Ali, but I am Jagang the Just, now. Remember?" He  returned to the bed
and  flopped down beside her. "Nicci, I'm sorry I  hurt you. I never want to
hurt you, but you make me do it. You know I care about you."
     You  care  about me yet you heat me? You care about  me,  yet you never

     to tell  me of such  an enormous project as the building of a palace? I
am insignificant to you.
     "I  told you, I'm sorry I hurt you-but  that was your own fault and you
know  it."  He  spoke the words almost lovingly. With mention of the palace,
his face  had softened into a visionary look. "It's only proper and  fitting
that I at last have the prestige of such a monumental edifice."
     "You, the man who was content in tents in the, field, now wants to live
in a resplendent building? Why?"
     "Because once I bring the New World under the  guidance of the Order, I
will owe it  to all the  people, as their  leader,  to be seen in a majestic
setting . . . but it will have more than simple splendor."
     "But of course," she sniped.
     He gathered up  her hand. "Nicci, I will proudly wear the title  Jagang
the  Just.  You're right, the  time has come  for  such  a move. I was  only
angered because you
     wrongly made that move without first  discussing it with me. But let us
forget that, now."
     She  said  nothing.  He  gripped  her hand  more  tightly,  to show his
sincerity, she supposed.
     You're going to love the  palace,  when it's finished." He ran the back
of the fingers of his other  hand tenderly down her cheek. "We will all live
there for a very long time."
     The words struck a cord in her. "A very long time?"
     For the first time  she realized there was  something more to this than
simply  his  vanity  of  wanting a palace after  Richard had  denied him the
Palace of the Prophets. He wanted what else Richard had denied him. Could it
be . . .
     She looked up into his face, searching for the answer. He simply smiled
at the questions in her eyes.
     "Construction has already begun,"  he said, turning his words away from
those questions. "Architects and great  builders from all over the Old World
have  gathered  to  work on it.  Everyone wants to be part  of such  a grand
     "And Brother Narev?" she probed. "What does he think of building such a
frivolous monument to one man when there is important work to be done for so
many needy people?"
     "Brother  Narev  and his disciples  greatly favor the project."  Jagang
flashed her a sly smile. "They will live there, too, of course."
     Understanding washed over her.
     "He's going to  spell the new palace," she whispered in astonishment to
     Jagang  only  smiled  as  he  watched her,  clearly  pleased  with  her
     Brother Narev  had been at the Palace of the Prophets almost as long as
she, nearly one hundred and seventy years, but in all that time he seemed to
have aged only ten or fifteen years-the same as she. No one but  Nicci  ever
knew he was anything but a stablehand-they didn't know he was gifted.
     In all that time, with her, along with everyone else, paying him little
heed, he must have been studying the spell around the palace. From what  she
knew, most  of  Brother Narev's disciples  had been  young  wizards from the
Palace of the Prophets; they had access to the vaults. They, too, could have
added information that helped him. But could he really do such a thing?
     "Tell me about  the palace,"  she  said, preferring  his  voice to  the
silent scrutiny of nightmare eyes.

     He kissed her  first, the way a man kisses a woman, not the way a brute
kisses a  victim. She endured it with no more favor than any  of the rest of
it.  He seemed  not  to notice,  this time, and by the  smile  of his  face,
appeared to have enjoyed it.
     "It will be a walk of nearly fifteen miles to walk  all the  halls." He
swept a  hand  out and began  to give shape to  the grand  palace in the air
before them. As he went on, he stared off  at his imaginary outline, hanging
there in space.
     "The world has never seen anything to match  it. While  I carry on with
our work of bringing the hope of the Order to the New World, of bringing the
true  word of the  Creator to  the wicked  and the  greedy, of banishing the
selfish  ideals of  the ancient  religion of magic, back in my  homeland the
work of building the palace will go on.
     "Quarries  will be busy for years extracting all the rock  that will go
into the construction. The variety  of stone  will leave no  doubt about the
glory  of the place. The marble will  be the finest.  The woods will be only
the best. Every material going into the palace will be exceptional. The best
craftsmen will shape it all into a grand structure."
     "Yes, but, despite the fact that others may  live there," she mocked in
cool  disdain, "it will be but a pompous monument to only one man: the great
and powerful Emperor Jagang."
     "No, it will be devoted to the glory of the Creator."
     "Oh? And will the Creator be taking up residence there, too, then'?"
     Jagang scowled at her blasphemy. "Brother Narev wishes the palace to be
instructional  to the people. He is contributing  his spiritual  guidance to
the undertaking,  and  will  personally oversee  the  construction  while  I
cleanse the way for the Order."
     That was what she wanted to know.
     He stared  off at the invisible shape still hanging in  the  air before
them. His voice took on a reverent tone.
     "Brother  Narev shares my vision in  this.  He  has  always been like a
father to me. He put the fire in my belly. His spiritual  direction has been
a  lifelong  inspiration.  He allows me to stand at the  fore, and take  the
glory of our victories, but I would be nothing without his  moral teachings.
What I win is only as the fist of  the Order,  and a fist is but one part of
the whole, as we are all but insignificant fragments of society as a  whole.
You are right: many others could stand in my place for  the Order. But it is
my part  to be the one  to lead  us. I would never do anything to betray the
trust  Brother  Narev  has  placed in me-that  would be  like  betraying the
Creator Himself. He guides the way for all of us.
     "I  only thought to  build  a fitting  palace for us  all, a place from
which to govern for the benefit of the people. It was Brother Narev who took
up the dream and gave it  moral meaning by  envisioning  everyone, when they
see the  vast structure, as seeing man's place in  the new order-seeing that
man can  never live  up to the glory of the Creator, and that, individually,
he is but a meaningless member of the greater brotherhood  of  man  and thus
can have no greater part to play than to uplift all his  brothers in need so
all will  thrive  together.  Yet, it  will also be a place  that will humble
every  man before  it, by  showing  him his  utter insignificance before the
glory  of his  Creator, by showing man's depravity, his tortured, contorted,
inferior nature, for all men in this world are such as this."
     Nicci could  almost  see  such a place when  he spoke  of it.  It would
indeed be a  humbling inspiration to the people. He, came near  to inspiring
her with such talk, as Brother Narev had at one time inspired her.

     "This is why I have  stayed," she whispered, "because the cause  of the
Order is righteous."
     The piece that had been missing was now found.
     In  the quiet, Jagang kissed her again.  She  allowed him to finish it,
and then pushed away from his embrace. With a distant  smile, he  watched as
she rose and began dressing.
     "You're going  to love it there, Nicci. It  will be a  place  befitting
     "Oh? As the Slave Queen?"
     "As a queen, if you wish it.  I plan to give you the kind of  authority
you've never before had. We'll be happy there, you and I, truly happy. For a
long, long time, we'll be happy there."
     She drew a stocking  up her leg. "When Sister Ulicia and the four  with
her found away to leave you,  I  chose to ignore  their discovery  and stay,
because I know the Order is the only moral course for mankind. But now I-"
     "You stayed because you would be nothing without the Order."
     She looked away from his eyes. She tugged her dress down over her head,
poked her arms through  the sleeves, and worked the skirt over  her hips. "I
am  nothing without the Order, and  I am nothing with it. No one is. We  are
all inadequate, miserable creatures; that is the nature of man; that is what
the Creator teaches. But the Order shows man  his duty to make a better life
for the good of all."
     "And I am the emperor of the Imperial Order!" His  red face cooled more
slowly than it had heated. He gestured vaguely in the  hollow silence and he
went on in a more mellow tone. `The world will be one under the Order. We'll
be happy at the  palace when  it's finished, Nicci.  You  and  I,  under the
spiritual guidance of our priests. You'll see. In time, when-'
     "I'm leaving." She drew on a boot.
     "I will not permit it."
     Nicci paused at pulling on her other  boot and glanced up into his dark
eyes. She flicked a finger  toward a stone vase on a  table  against the far
wall. Light flashed. The vase exploded in a cloud of  dust and  chips with a
sound  that  rocked the room. The  draperies  shuddered.  The panes  in  the
windows chattered.
     When the dust had settled, she said, "You will not permit it?" She bent
forward and began doing up the laces on her boots.
     Jagang strolled  over to  the table and dragged his fingers through the
dust that was all that remained  of the stone vase. He turned back to her in
all his naked, hairy, imperial glory.
     "Are you threatening me? Do you actually think you could use your power
against me?"
     "I do not think it"-she yanked the laces tight-"I know it. The truth is
I choose not to."
     He struck a defiant pose. "And why is that?"
     Nicci stood and faced him. "Because, as you said, the  Order needs you,
or rather, a brute like  you. You serve  the ends of the Order-you are their
fist. You bring that cleansing fire. You perform that function very well. It
could even be said that you perform that service with extraordinary talent.
     "You are Jagang the Just. You  see the wisdom in the title I have given
you, and will use it  to further the  cause of  the. Order. That  is  why  I
choose not to  use any power against you.  It would be like using  my  power
against the Order, against my own duty to the future of mankind."

     "Then why do you want to leave?"
     "Because I must." She  gave him a look of icy determination, and deadly
threat. "Before I go, 1 will be spending some time with Sister Lidmila.  You
are to  immediately and completely withdraw from her  mind and remain out of
it the entire time I am with  her. We will use your tents, since you are not
using them. You will see  to  it that everyone leaves us entirely  alone for
however long it takes us. Anyone who enters,  without my express permission,
will die. That includes you. You have my  oath, as a  Sister of the Dark, on
that. When I'm  finished,  and after I leave, you may  do what you will with
Sister  Lidmilakill her if that is your wish, although I don't  see  why you
would want to bother, since she is going to be doing you a great service."
     "I see." His huge chest rose. He let the  deep breath out  slowly. "And
how long will you be gone, this time, Nicci?"
     "This is not like the other times. This is different."
     "How long?"
     "Perhaps only a short time. Perhaps a very long time. I don't yet know.
Leave me alone to  do as  I  must, and,  if I can, I  will one day return to
     He gazed into her eyes, but  he could not look into  her  mind. Another
man protected her mind, and kept her thoughts her own.
     In all the time  she  had  spent with  Richard, Nicci had never learned
that which  she hungered most to know,  but  in one way, she had learned too
much. Most  of the time she was able to entomb that unwanted knowledge under
the numb weight  of indifference. Occasionally, though, it would, like  now,
unexpectedly  rise up  out of its tomb to seize her.  When  it did,  she was
helpless in its grip, and could do nothing but wait for the oblivion of numb
detachment to bury it yet again.
     Staring  into the long dark night  of Jagang's inhuman  eyes, eyes that
revealed nothing but the bleakness of his soul, Nicci  touched her finger to
the gold ring Jagang had  ordered pierced through her lower lip to  mark her
as  his personal  slave.  She released a  thread-thin channel of Subtractive
Magic, and the ring ceased to exist.
     "And where are you going, Nicci?"
     "I am going to destroy Richard Rahl for you."

     Zeddicus Zu'1 Zorander had been able to talk and smile his way past the
other soldiers,  but  these  were not  moved by his explanation  that he was
Richard's grandfather. He  supposed he should have entered  the camp  in the
daylight-it  would have avoided a lot of the suspicion-but he  was tired and
hadn't thought it would be that much trouble.
     The soldiers  were  properly suspicious, which greatly pleased him, but
he was weary and had more  important things to do than  answer questions: he
wanted to ask them, instead.
     "Why do you want to see him?" the bigger guard repeated.
     "I told you, I'm Richard's grandfather."
     "This is the Richard Cypher, you're talking about, who you now say-"
     "Yes, yes, that was his name when he grew  up  and that's what I'm used
to  calling him,  but I meant Richard Rahl,  who he is now. You  know,  Lord
Rahl,  your  leader? I  would  think being  the  grandfather  of someone  as
important as your Lord Rahl would accord me  some respect. Maybe even  a hot
     "I  could say I'm Lord Rahl's brother,"  the man said, keeping  a tight
grip on the bit in the mouth of Zedd's horse, "but that doesn't make it so."
     Zedd sighed. "How very true."
     As vexing as it was, Zedd, at some dim inward level, was pleased to see
that the men weren't stupid, nor easily duped.
     "But  I'm  also a  wizard," Zedd  added,  drawing  low his eyebrows for
dramatic effect.  "If I  wasn't friendly, I could simply do you up crisp and
be on my way past the both of you."
     "And if I wasn't friendly," the  man said, "I could give the signal-now
that  we've  let  you  venture  in  this  far  so  that   you're  completely
surrounded-and the dozen archers hiding all around you in the dark would let
fly the arrows that are  at  this moment trained on  you,  as they have been
ever since you approached our encampment."
     "Ah,"  Zedd said, holding  up a finger in  triumph,  "all very well and
good, but-"
     "And  even  if I were to die  in a final  flame of service  to the Lord
Rahl, those arrows will let fly without me needing to give any signal."
     Zedd  harrumphed, lowering his finger, but inwardly  he smiled. Here he
was, First Wizard, and if he weren't entering a friendly camp, he would have
been bested in this game of banter by a simple soldier.
     Or maybe not.
     "In the first place, Sergeant, I am, as I said, a wizard, and so I knew
of the  archers  and have already dealt with  the threat by  spelling  their
arrows so  they will fly  no truer  and with  no more deadly effect than wet
dishrags. I have nothing to fear

     from  them. In  the second place, even if I'm lying-which is  precisely
what you are  considering at this very moment-you  have  made a  mistake  by
telling me of the threat, which enables me, as  a wizard of great repute, to
now use my magic to nullify it."
     A  slow  smile came  to  the  man's face. "Why,  that's remarkable." He
scratched his head. He looked to his partner and  then back to Zedd. "You're
right, that was exactly  what I was thinking: that  you could be lying about
knowing the archers were back there in the dark."
     "You see there, young man? You're not so smart after all."
     "You're  right, sir, I'm not. Here  I was, so busy  talking to you  and
being so intimidated by your wizardly powers and all, that I plumb forgot to
tell you about what else was out there in the dark,  watching you . . ."-the
soldier's brow lowered-"and it would be a mite more trouble than any  simple
arrows, I dare say.
     Zedd scowled down at the man. "Now see here-"
     "Why don't you do as I ask and come down here in the light, where I can
see you better, and answer some of our questions'?"
     With  a  sigh  of  resignation,  Zedd  dismounted.  He  gave  Spider  a
reassuring  pat on her neck. Spider,  a  chestnut-colored mare, had a  leggy
black splotch  on her creamy rump, from  which  she had  acquired her  name.
Young,  strong, and possessing  an  agreeably spirited  nature,  she made  a
pleasant traveling companion. The two of them
     had been through a great deal together. `
     Zedd stepped into the intimate circle  of light from the watch fire. He
turned his a hand up and  brought a white-hot flame to  life just  above the
flesh of his palm. The
     two soldiers' eyes widened. Zedd scowled.
     "But, I have my own fire, if you need to see better. Does this help you
see things better, Sergeant?"
     "Uh . . . why, yes it does, sir," the man stammered.
     "Yes, it does indeed," a woman said as she stepped into the light. "Why
didn't you simply use your Han and give a display of your craft in the first
place?" She motioned into the darkness, as  if signaling for others to stand
down.  She  turned back  with  a  smile  that  was  no more than  courteous.
"Welcome, wizard."
     Zedd  bowed  from the  waist. "Zeddicus Zu'1 Zorander, First Wizard, at
your j service . . . ?"
     "Sister Philippa, Wizard Zorander. I am aid to the Prelate."
     She  gestured and the sergeant  took the reins from Zedd's hand to lead
the horse away. Zedd clapped the  man on the back to let him know there were
no hard  feelings, and then gave  a similar pat to Spider to let her know it
was all right to go with the men.
     "Treat her especially well, Sergeant. Spider is a friend."
     The  sergeant saluted by tapping his fist  to  his  heart.  "She'll  be
treated as a friend, sir."
     After the soldiers had  led Spider away, Zedd said, "The Prelate? Which
     The  narrow-jawed Sister clasped her hands together. "Prelate Verna, of
     "Oh, yes, of course. Prelate Verna."
     The Sisters of the Light didn't know Ann was still alive. At least, she
had been  ' alive  when Zedd  last saw  her,  several months  past. Ann  had
written in her  journey book, telling  Verna  that she  was alive,  but also
asking her to keep that information x private  for the time being. Zedd  had
been hoping that perhaps Ann had turned up at 1

     the D'Haran army camp, with her Sisters of the Light. He  was sorry  to
learn she hadn't. It boded ill for her.
     Zedd  held  no  favor  with  the  Sisters of the  Light-a  lifetime  of
disapproval was not easily forgottenbut  he had  come to  respect  Ann  as a
woman of self-discipline and resolve, even if he took a dim  view of some of
her  convictions and past objectives. He knew that, at the least, he and Ann
shared many important values. He didn't know about the rest  of the Sisters,
     Sister  Philippa appeared  middle-aged, but  with  Sisters  that  meant
little. She might have lived at the  Palace of the Prophets for only a year,
or  for  centuries.  With  dark   eyes  and  high   cheekbones  she  was  an
exotic-looking woman. As in the Midlands, there were places in the Old World
where the people had unique physical characteristics. Sister Philippa  moved
the way high-minded women tended to move, like a swan taken to human form.
     "How may I be of service, Wizard Zorander?"
     "Zedd will do. Is this Prelate of yours awake?"
     "She is. This way, Zedd, if you please."
     He fell in behind the woman as she glided off toward the dark shapes of
tents. "Got anything to eat around here?"
     She looked back over her shoulder. "This late?"
     "Well, I've been traveling hard .... It's not really all that  late, is
     In the dark, she assessed him briefly.  "I  don't believe it's ever too
late,  according  to  the  teachings  of   the  Creator.  And  you  do  look
emaciated-from your travels, I'm sure." Her smile warmed a little. "Food  is
always at the  ready; we have  soldiers who are active through the night and
need to be  fed. I believe I could find something for you." She returned her
gaze to the indiscernible path.
     "That would be a kindness," Zedd said in  a  jovial voice as he scowled
at  her  back. "And I'm not  emaciated; I'm wiry.  Most  women find lean men
     "Do they`? I never knew that."
     Sisters of  the Light  were  a lofty  lot,  Zedd thought  ruefully. For
thousands of years it had been a death sentence for them to even set foot in
the New World. Zedd had always been a little more  lenient-but  not by much.
In the past, the Sisters only came into the New World to steal boys with the
gift-they  claimed to  be  saving  them. It was  a  wizard's  task to  train
wizards. If they came for the reason  of taking  a boy back beyond the great
barrier to their palace, Zedd viewed it as the gravest of crimes.
     They had come for that  very reason  only the winter before,  and taken
Richard. Sister  Verna was the one who had captured him and taken him to the
Old World.  Under the  spell  of their  palace, he could have ended up being
there for centuries. Leave it to Richard to make friends with the Sisters of
the Light, of all people.
     Zedd guessed he  and the Sisters were even-that they had good reason to
view  him in a harsh way. He had, after all, set the spell that Richard  had
used to destroy their palace. But  Ann  had helped, knowing it was  the only
way to prevent Jagang from capturing the palace and acquiring the prophecies
therein for his own purposes.
     All around, guards, big guards, prowled the  encampment. In  chain mail
and leather armor, they were an imposing  sight. They watched  everything as
they  slipped  through   the  darkness.   The  camp  was  relatively  quiet,
considering its size. Noise could give away a variety  of information  to an
enemy. It was not easy to see to it that this many men kept quiet.

     "I'm relieved  that our first incursion by  someone possessing the gift
turned out to be a friend," the Sister said.
     "And I'm glad to  see  that  the gifted are helping to keep watch.  But
there  are types  of  enemy  forays that  the  regular  sentries  could  not
identify." Zedd  wondered if they were  really  prepared  for those kinds of
     "If magic is involved, we will be there to detect it."
     "I suppose you were watching me the whole time."
     "I was," Sister Philippa said. "From the time  you crossed  the line of
hills, back there."
     Zedd scratched his jaw. "Really? That far away."
     With a satisfied smirk she said, "That far."
     He peered over his shoulder into the night. "Both of you. Very good."
     She  halted and  turned  to  him. "Both? You knew there were two of us,
     Zedd smiled  innocently.  "But, of course.  You were just watching. She
was  farther  away, following, conjuring  some little  nasty  should I prove
     Sister  Philippa blinked in astonishment. "Remarkable.  You could sense
her touching her Han? From that distance?"
     Zedd nodded with satisfaction. "They didn't make me  First Wizard  just
because I was wiry."
     Sister Philippa's smile finally looked sincere. "I am relieved you came
as a friend, rather than one intent on harm."
     There was more truth in that than  the woman knew; Zedd  had experience
in the  unpleasant, dirty business of magic in warfare.  When he'd come near
their camp, he saw  the holes in their defense and the weaknesses in the way
they used the gift  for their purpose. They were not thinking as their enemy
would think.  Had lie been intent on  harm,  the  entire camp would be in an
uproar by now, despite what they had done to prepare for one such as he.
     Sister  Philippa  turned  back to  the night  to  lead him  on.  It was
somewhat unsettling  for Zedd to walk through a D'Haran  camp-even though he
knew they were ,  now fighting on the same side. He had spent a good deal of
his  life dealing with D'Harans as the deadly enemy. Richard had changed all
that. Zedd sighed. He some- t times thought that Richard  might make friends
with thunder and lightning and invite them both to dinner.
     Dark  shapes  of tents and  wagons loomed all around. Pole weapons were
stacked upright in neat ranks,  ready, should they be  suddenly needed. Some
soldiers  snored, and some sat around  in the dark, talking in low voices or
laughing  quietly, while  x others patrolled the  inky shadows. Those passed
close  enough for Zedd to smell  their  breath, but in the darkness he could
not make out their faces.
     Well-hidden sentries were stationed  at  every possible approach route.
There were very few fires in the camp, and those were mostly watch fires set
away from  the main force,  leaving the mass  of  the  camp a dark whole  of
night. Some  armies carried.  on a  considerable  amount of  work at  night,
performing repairs or making things . they needed, and letting the men do as
they would. These men remained quiet ; throughout the night so watching eyes
and listening  ears could gain little if  any help , for  an invading force.
These were well trained, disciplined, professional soldiers. From a distance
it was difficult to tell the size of the camp. It was huge.
     Sister Philippa  brought Zedd  to a sizable tent,  one  tall  enough to
stand in. Light  from lamps hanging inside gave  the canvas walls and roof a
soft amber glow. She ducked beneath a tent line and poked  her head in under
the flap.

     "I have a wizard out here who wishes to see the Prelate."
     Zedd heard muffled, astonished acknowledgment from inside.
     "Go on in." Sister Philippa smiled while giving his back a gentle push.
"I'll see if I can find you some dinner."
     "I would  be not only  grateful, but greatly  in your  debt," Zedd told
     As he  stepped  inside the tent, the people  were just  coming to their
feet to greet him.
     "Zedd! You old fool! You be alive!"
     Zedd grinned as Adie,  the old  sorceress  known as the  bone woman  in
their adopted homeland of Westland, rushed into his arms. He let out a grunt
as  she  momentarily squeezed  the  wind  from  his  lungs. He  smoothed her
square-cut, jawlength black and gray hair as he held her head to his chest.
     "I promised you'd see me again, now didn't I?"
     "Yes, you did," she whispered into his heavy robes.
     She pushed back, holding his arms, and looked him  over. She reached up
and smoothed down his unruly, wavy white hair.
     "You look as lovely as ever," he told her.
     She peered  at him with her  completely white  eyes. Her sight had been
taken from her when she was but a young woman. Adie now saw by  means of her
gift. In some ways, she saw better.
     "Where be your hat?"
     "I bought you  a fine hat arid  you  lost it. I see  you still have not
replaced it. You told me you would get another. I believe you promised."
     Zedd  hated the hat  with  the long  feather she'd bought for him  when
they'd  acquired the rest of his  clothes. He'd rather be wearing the simple
robes befitting a wizard of his rank and authority, but Ache had "lost" them
after he purchased  the  fancy maroon robes  with black  sleeves  and cowled
shoulders  he  now wore.  Three rows of  silver  brocade circled the  cuffs.
Thicker  gold  brocade ran around the neck and down the  front. A red  satin
belt set with a gold buckle gathered  the  outfit at  his thin  waist.  Such
clothes marked one with the gift as  an initiate. For one without  the gift,
such  clothes  befitted nobility or  in most  places a  wealthy merchant, so
although  Zedd  disliked the  ostentatious attire,  it had  at  times been a
valuable  disguise. Besides, Adie  liked him in the  maroon robes.  The hat,
though, was too much for him. It had been "misplaced."
     He noted that Adie  had  managed to keep her simple clothes  along  the
way. Yellow and real beads around the neck of her robes, sewn in  the shapes
of  the  ancient  symbols  of  her  profession  of sorceress, were the  only
ornamentation she wore.
     "I've been  busy,"  he said,  flicking his hand, hoping to  dismiss the
matter, "or I would have replaced the hat."
     "Bale," she scoffed. "You be up to mischief."
     "Why, I've been-"
     "Hush, now," Adie said. Holding his  arm in a tight grip,  she held out
the  long thin  fingers of her other hand.  "Zedd, this be Verna: Prelate of
the Sisters of the Light."
     The  woman looked to be in  her  late thirties,  perhaps early forties;
Zedd knew her  to be  much older. Ann,  Verna's  predecessor,  had  told him
Verna's age, and while he couldn't recall the exact number, it was somewhere
close to one hundred and sixty years-young for a  Sister of the  Light.  She
had simple, attractive features

     and  brown  hair  with  just  enough curl  and body to  add  a  hint of
sophistication. Her intent,  brown-eyed gaze  looked as if  it  could  scour
lichen off granite. By the lines of  a resolute  expression enduringly fixed
on her face, she appeared  to be a woman with a shell as tight as a beetle's
and just as hard.
     Zedd bowed his head. "Prelate. First Wizard Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander,  at
your service." He let her know, by his tone, that it was  merely a figure of
     This was the woman who had taken Richard away to the Old World. Even if
she believed it was to save his life, Zedd, as First Wizard, viewed  such an
act  as abhorrent.  The  Sisters-sorceresses all-believed they  could  train
gifted  young men to be wizards.  They were wrong; such a task could only be
adequately accomplished by another wizard.
     She offered her  hand with the sunburst-patterned gold ring of  office.
He bent forward and kissed it, out of what he  thought must be their custom.
She pulled his hand close when he had finished, and kissed it in return.
     "I am humbled to meet the man who helped raise our Richard.  You  would
have  to be as rare a person as I  found him to be when we  helped begin his
training." She forced a chuckle. "We found it a formidable labor, trying  to
teach that grandson of yours."
     Zedd slightly altered  his  opinion of  the  woman, treating  her  with
greater caution. The air in the tent was stuffy and uncomfortable.
     "That  is because you are all oxen trying to teach a horse  to run. You
Sisters should stick to work more befitting your nature."
     "Yes,  yes,  you be  a  brilliant  man, Zedd,"  Adie  scoffed.  "Simply
brilliant. One of these days even 1 may come to believe you." She tugged his
sleeve, turning  him from  Verna's scarlet face. "And this be Warren,"  Adie
     Zedd  inclined his head toward Warren, but the boy  was already falling
to his knees and bowing his blond head.
     "Wizard Zorander! This is quite an honor." He popped back up and seized
Zedd's hand in both of his, pumping it until Zedd thought his arm might come
undone at the  shoulder. "I'm so  pleased to meet you. Richard  told me  all
about  you.  I'm so pleased to meet a wizard of  your standing and talent. I
would be so happy to learn from you!"
     The happier he looked, the more Verna scowled.
     "Well, I'm pleased to meet you,  too, my boy." Zedd didn't  tell Warren
that  Richard had never mentioned him. But that was not out of disrespect or
neglect; Richard had never had a chance to tell Zedd a great  number of very
important things. Zedd thought he could sense through Warren's grip that the
young man was a wizard of unusual talents.
     A bear of a man with a curly rust-colored beard, a white scar  from his
left temple to his  jaw,  and heavy  eyebrows  stepped forward.  His grayish
green  eyes fixed on  Zedd with fierce intensity, but he  had a grin  like a
soldier on a long march who had spotted a lonely cask of ale..
     "General Reibisch,  commander of the D'Haran forces here in the south,"
the  man said, taking Zedd's  hand when Warren at  last  surrendered it  and
stepped back . beside Verna. "Lord Rahl's grandfather! What good fortune  to
see you, sir." His
     grip  was firm,  but  not  painful.  It got tighter.  "What  very  good
     "Yes,  indeed,"  Zedd muttered. "Unfortunate as the circumstances  are,
General Reibisch."
     "Unfortunate . . . ?"

     "Well, never mind, for the moment," Zedd said, waving off the question.
He asked another, instead. "Tell me, General, have you begun  to dig all the
mass  graves,  yet?  Or  do you intend the few who are left  alive to simply
abandon all the bodies."
     "Why . . .  yes, the bodies of all  your troops who are  going to die."

     I hope you like eggs,"  Sister  Philippa sang out as she swept into the
tent, holding out a steaming plate.
     Zedd rubbed his hands together. "Delightful!"
     Everyone  else was  still  standing  in stiff, stunned silence.  Sister
Philippa didn't seem to notice all the hanging jaws.
     "I had the cook add some ham and a  few other things he had about." She
glanced down at Zedd's form. "I thought you could use some substance."
     "Marvelous!" Zedd grinned  as he relieved her of the plate mounded high
with scrambled eggs and ham.
     "Ah . .  ." the  general began, seemingly befuddled as to how to  frame
his question, "might you kindly explain . . . what you mean by that,  Wizard
     "Zedd will do."  Zedd looked up from inhaling the intoxicating aroma of
the  dish. "Dead."  He drew  the  fork across  his  throat. "You know, dead.
Nearly all of  them. Dead." He turned  back to Sister Philippa. "This smells
delightful." He  again  inhaled the steam  lifting from the  plate  of eggs.
"Simply delightful.  You are a woman of a kind heart and a skillful mind, to
think to have the cook add such a splendid complement of ingredients. Simply
     The Sister beamed.
     The general lifted a hand. "Wizard Zorander, if I may-"
     Adie hushed  the burly general. "You  be  poor competition to  food. Be
     Zedd took a forkful, humming his pleasure at the flavor he encountered.
As  he took a second forkful, Adie  guided him to a simple bench at the side
of the tent. A table in the middle  held a few mugs and a lamp that lent the
cozy tent not only its light but its oily odor as well.
     Despite  Adie's advice to be patient, everyone  began  talking at once,
asking  questions and offering objections. Zedd  ignored them as he shoveled
in  the scrambled eggs. The  large chunks of ham were delicious.  He waved a
particular juicy piece of meat to the confounded spectators  to indicate his
pleasure with it. The spices, the onions, the peppers, and the warm lumps of
cheese were delightful. He rolled his eyes and moaned in bliss.
     It  was  the best food  he'd had in  days. His traveling  rations  were
simple and had long ago become boring. He had often grumbled that Spider ate
better than  he did. Spider  seemed smug about it, too, which  he had always
found annoying. It wasn't good for a horse to be smug with you.
     "Philippa,"  Verna growled,  "must you be  so pleased  about a plate of
     "Well the poor  man is practically starving." Puzzled by Verna's scowl,
she waggled her hand at Zedd. "Just look at him. I'm simply happy to see him
enjoy his meal, and pleased I could help one of the Creator's gifted."

     Zedd  slowed  when  he  all too soon approached the  end  of  his meal,
putting off the last  few bites. He could have eaten another  plate the same
size. General Reibisch, sitting on a bench on the opposite side of the small
tent, had been furiously twisting a strand of beard. Now, he leaned forward,
his intent gaze fixed on Zedd.
     "Wizard Zorander, I need-"
     "Zedd. Remember?"
     "Yes, Zedd.  Zedd, the lives of these  soldiers  are my responsibility.
Could you please tell me if you think they are in danger?"
     Zedd spoke around a mouthful. "I already did."
     "But . . . what is the nature of the danger?"
     "The gifted. You know, magic."
     The general straightened with a sober expression.  His fingers dug into
his muscular thighs. "The gifted?"
     "Yes. The enemy has gifted among them. I thought you knew."
     He blinked a few times as he seemed  to run it through his mind  again,
trying  to  discover  the  nugget  of  invisible  danger  in  Zedd's  simple
     "Of course we know that."
     "Ah. Then why haven't you dug some mass graves?"
     Verna  shot to her feet. "In the name of Creation! What do you think we
are, serving wenches? Here to bring you dinner? We  are gifted Sisters, here
to defend the army from Jagang's captive Sisters!"
     Adie stealthily signaled  Verna to sit down  and keep quiet.  Her voice
came out like gravel  in honey. "Why don't you tell us what you have  found,
Zedd?  I be  sure  the  general  and  the Prelate  would like to hear how to
improve our defenses."
     Zedd  scraped the  small yellow lumps across the plate, collecting them
into a final, pitifully  small forkful. "Prelate, I didn't  mean to imply  a
deliberate inadequacy on your part."
     "Well you certainly
     "You are all too good, that's all."
     "I beg your pardon?"
     "Too  good. You and your  Sisters have  spent your lives trying to help
     "Well . . . 1, we-why, of course we help people. That's our calling."
     "Killing is not. Jagang will be intent on killing you all."
     "We know that, Zedd." The general scratched his beard, his gaze darting
back and  forth  between Verna and  Zedd. "The Prelate and  her Sisters have
helped us with detecting a number of enemy scouts and such. Just the same as
Sister Philippa, here, found you when you approached our camp, they've found
others intent on harm. They've done their part, Zedd, and without complaint.
Every soldier in this camp is glad to have them here."
     "All well and good, but when the army of the Imperial Order attacks, it
will be different. They will use the gifted to lay waste to your forces."
     "They  will  try,"  Verna  insisted,  trying to be  convincing  without
shouting, which  she was clearly  itching to do,  "but  we  are  prepared to
prevent such a thing."
     "That's right," Warren said, nodding his confidence. "We have gifted at
the ready at all times."
     "That's  good,  that's  good,"   Zedd  drawled,  as   if  he  might  be
reconsidering.  "Then  you  have dealt  with the simple threats. The  albino
mosquitoes and such."
     General Reibisch's bushy eyebrows wrinkled together. "The what?"
     Zedd   waved  his  fork.  "So,  tell  me,  then  just  to  satisfy   my
curiosity-what are

     the gifted planning to do when the enemy charges our  forces? Say, with
a line of cavalry?"
     "Lay down a line of fire  before  their cavalry,"  Warren said  without
hesitation. "As they charge in, we'll incinerate  them before  they  can  so
much as launch a spear."
     "Ah," Zedd said. "Fire." He put the last forkful in his mouth. Everyone
silently watched him chew.  He  paused in  his  chewing and  looked up. "Big
fire, I presume? Colossal gouts of flame, and all?"
     "What mosquitoes is he talking about,"  General Reibisch muttered under
his breath toward Verna and Warren beside him on his bench opposite Zedd and
     "That's right," Verna said, ignoring the general. He sighed  and folded
his  arms across his  barrel chest. "A  proper line of  fire." Verna  waited
until  Zedd swallowed.  "Do you find  something  unsatisfactory  about that,
First Wizard?"
     Zedd shrugged. "Well . . ." He  paused,  then frowned. He leaned toward
the general, peering  more closely. Zedd wagged a  bony finger at  the man's
folded arms.
     "There's one now. A mosquito is about to suck your blood, General."
     "What? Oh." He swatted it. "They've been thick this summer. I think the
season for them is drawing to an  end,  though. We'll be  happy to be rid of
the little pests, I can tell you."
     Zedd waggled his finger again. "And were they all like that one'?"
     General Reibisch  lifted his forearm and glanced  down at the  squashed
bug. "Yes, the  bloodthirsty little . . ."  His voice trailed off. He peered
more closely. With a finger and thumb  he gingerly lifted the tiny insect by
a wing, holding it up to have a better look.
     "Well  I'll  be  .  .  .  this  thing is"-his  face  lost  a  shade  of
color-"white." His grayish-green eyes turned up toward Zedd. "What was  that
you were saying about . . . ?"
     "Albino mosquitoes," Zedd  confirmed as  he set his empty plate  on the
ground. He gestured with a sticklike finger at the general's flat assailant.
"Have you  ever  seen the albino  fever, General? Have any  of you? Terrible
thing, albino fever."
     "What's albino fever?" Warren asked. "1 never heard  of  it. I've never
read anything about it, either, I'm sure."
     "Really? Must be just a Midlands thing."
     The general peered more closely at the tiny white insect he was holding
up. "What does this albino fever do to a person?"
     "Oh, your flesh turns the most ghastly white." Zedd waved his fork. "Do
you know," he said, frowning in thought as if  distracted by something as he
looking up at the ceiling of the tent, "that I once  saw a wizard lay down a
simply prodigious font of flame before a line of charging cavalry?"
     "Well, there you  go," Verna said.  "You know its  value, then.  You've
seen it in action."
     "Yes . . ." Zedd drawled. "Problem was, the enemy had been prepared for
such a simpleminded trick."
     "Simpleminded!" Verna shot  to  her feet.  "I don't see how  you  could
possibly consider-"
     "The enemy had conjured curved shields just for such an eventuality."
     "Curved  shields?" Warren swiped back  a curly lock of his  blond hair.
"I've never heard of such a thing. What are curved-'
     "The wizard  who  laid down  the fire  had been expecting  shields,  of
course, and

     so he  made  his fire  resistant  to such  an  expected  defense. These
shields,  though,  weren't  conjured to  stop the fire"-Zedd's gaze. shifted
from Warren's wide eyes to Verna's scowl-"but to roll it."
     "Albino fever?" The  general waved  his  bug. "If you might,  could you
     "Roll the fire?" Warren asked as he leaned forward.
     "Yes,"  Zedd said. "Roll  the  fire before the  cavalry  charge-so that
instead  of a simple cavalry assault,  the  defenders  now  had  deadly fire
rolling back at them."
     "Dear Creator . . ." Warren whispered. "That's ingenious-but surely the
shield would extinguish the fire."
     Zedd twirled  his  fork as  he spoke, as if to demonstrate  the  shield
rolling the flames. "Conjured by their own wizard for the  expected defense,
the fire  had been  hardened  against  shields, so instead  of fizzling,  it
stayed viable. That,  of course,  enabled the curved shield to roll the fire
back without it extinguishing. And,  of course, being  hardened to  shields,
the wizard's own  quickly thrown up defensive shields couldn't stop his  own
fire's return."
     "But he could  just cut it oft!"  Warren was becoming panicked,  as  if
seeing his own wizard's fire coming back at him. "The wizard who created  it
could call it and cut it off."
     "Could  he?"  Zedd  smiled. "He thought so, too,  but  he  hadn't  been
prepared  for the  peculiar nature of the enemy's shield. Don't you  see? It
not only rolled the fire back, but in so doing rolled around the  fire as it
went, protecting it from any alteration by magic."
     "Of course . . ." Warren whispered to himself.
     "The  shield was also sprinkled with a provenance-seeking  spell, so it
rolled  the fire back toward the wizard who  conjured it. He died by his own
fire-after it had seared through hundreds of his own men on its way to him."
     Silence settled into the tent. Even the general,  still holding out the
albino mosquito, sat transfixed.
     "You see," Zedd finally went on, tossing his  fork down onto his plate,
"using the gift in war is not simply an act of exercising your power, but an
act of using your wits."
     Zedd  pointed.  "For  example,  consider  that  albino mosquito General
Reibisch is holding. Under cover of darkness, just like  right now, tens  of
thousands  of them, conjured by the enemy, could be  sneaking into this camp
to infect your men with fever, and no one would even realize they were under
attack.  Then, in  the morning,  the enemy  strikes  a camp of weak and sick
soldiers and slaughters the lot of you."
     Sister Philippa, over  on the  other side  of Adie, swished her hand in
alarm  at a tiny buzzing mosquito. "But,  the gifted  we have  could counter
such a thing." It was more a plea than an argument.
     "Really? It's difficult to detect such  an  infinitesimal bit of magic.
None of you detected these minuscule invaders, did you?"
     "Well, no, but . . ."
     Zedd  fixed a fierce  glare on  Sister  Philippa. "It's night.  In  the
night, they simply  seem to  be ordinary mosquitoes, pesky, but no different
from any other. Why, the general here didn't notice them. Neither did any of
you gifted  people.  You can't detect the fever  they carry, either, because
it,  too, is such a  tiny speck of magic you aren't  watching for  it-you're
looking for something huge and powerful and fearsome.

     "Most of the gifted Sisters will be bitten in their sleep, without ever
knowing  it  happened, until  they awake  in the  pitch  blackness  with the
shivering  chills  of a  frightful fever, only  to discover the  first truly
debilitating symptom of this particular fever: blindness. You  see, it isn't
the blackness of night  they awake to-dawn has already broken-but blindness.
Then  they  find that  their legs  won't obey  their wishes. Their  ears are
ringing with what sounds like an endless, tingling scream."
     The general's gaze darted about, testing his eyesight  as Zedd went on.
He. twisted a big finger in an ear as if to clean it out.
     "By now, anyone bitten is too weak to stand. They lose control of their
bodily functions and lie helpless in  their own filth. They are within hours
of death . . . but those last hours will seem like a year."
     "How  do we counter it?"  On the edge  of his seat, Warren  licked  his
lips. "What's the cure?"
     "Cure? There is no cure! Now a fog is  beginning to  creep  toward  the
camp. This  time,  the  few  gifted left  can sense  that  the wide  mass of
seething murk  is foul with  dark, suffocating  magic.  They  warn everyone.
Those too sick to stand wail in terror.  They can't see, but  they  can hear
the distant  battle  cries of  the  advancing enemy. In  a panic  not to  be
touched by the  deadly fog, anyone able to rise from their bedrolls does so.
Too delirious to  stand, a few manage to crawl. The rest run for their lives
before the advancing fog.
     "It's the last mistake they ever make," Zedd whispered. He swept a hand
out  before  their  white  faces. "They run  headlong into  the horror of  a
waiting death trap. "
     Everyone  was wide-eyed and slack-jawed by now,  sitting on the edge of
their benches.
     "So, General," Zedd said in a bright, cheery tone as he sat back, "what
about those mass graves? Or are you planning on any  of you  left alive just
abandoning  the sick for dead and  leaving the bodies to rot? Probably not a
bad idea. There will be enough to worry about without the burdensome task of
trying  to care for the  dying and burying all the dead-especially since the
very act of touching their white flesh will  contaminate  the living  with a
completely unexpected sickness, and then-"
     Verna shot to her feet. "But what can we do!" She could plainly see the
potential for chaos  all  around  her. "How can we counter such vile magic?"
She threw open her arms. "What do we need to do?"
     Zedd shrugged. "I thought you and your Sisters had it all  figured out.
I  thought you knew  what  you were doing."  He  waggled  his hand over  his
shoulder, gesturing off to  the south, toward the enemy. "I thought you said
you had the situation well in hand."
     Verna silently sank back down to the bench beside Warren.
     "Uh, Zedd  . . ." General  Reibisch swallowed in distress. He  held out
the  mosquito.  "Zedd,  I think I'm  starting  to feel  dizzy.  Isn't  there
anything you can do?"
     "About what?"
     "The fever. I think my vision is getting dimmer. Can you do nothing?"
     "No, nothing."
     "Nothing, because there's nothing wrong with you. I just conjured a few
albino mosquitoes to make a point.  The point is that what I saw when I came
into this camp scared the wits out of  me. If the gifted among the enemy are
at all diabolical,

     and with Jagang  we  have ample reason to believe they  are,  then this
army is ill prepared for the true nature of the threat."
     Sister Philippa  haltingly  lifted  a hand  like a  schoolgirl  with  a
question. "But, with all the gifted  among us, surely, we would . . . know .
. . or something."
     "That's what I'm trying to tell you: the  way things are now, you won't
know. It's the things you never heard of, haven't seen before, don't expect,
and can't even imagine, that are going to  be coming for you. The enemy will
use conventional magic, to  be  sure, and  that will be trouble  enough, but
it's the albino mosquitoes you must fear."
     "As you said, though, you only conjured them to make a  point,"  Warren
said.  "Maybe  the enemy  isn't  as smart as you,  and won't  think  of such
     "The Order did  not take over all  of the Old World by being stupid but
by  being ruthless." Zedd's brow drew lower.  He  lifted a finger skyward to
mark  his  words.  "Besides, they have already thought of just such  things.
This past spring, one of the Sisters in the hands of the enemy used magic to
unleash a deadly plague that  could not be detected by anyone with the gift.
Tens of  thousands of people,  from newborn  infants  to  the old,  suffered
gruesome deaths."
     Those Sisters, in the hands of the enemy, were a grave and ever-present
danger. Ann had gone  off alone on a mission  to either rescue those Sisters
or  eliminate them. From  what  Zedd had  seen  when  he  had  been down  in
Anderith, Ann had failed in her mission. He didn't  know  what had become of
her, but he knew that Jagang still held Sisters captive.
     "But we stopped the plague," Warren said.
     "Richard stopped it, as only he could." Zedd held the gaze of the young
wizard. "Did you know that  in order to save  us from that grim fate, he had
to venture to the Temple of  the Winds, hidden away beyond the veil of  life
in the underworld itself?  Neither you nor I can imagine  the  toll  such an
experience must have taken on him. I saw a shadow of the specter in his eyes
when he spoke of it.
     "I can't even hazard a  guess as to how trifling a chance at success he
had when he started on  so hopeless  a journey. Had he not prevailed against
all odds,  we would all be dead by now  from an unseen  death brought on  by
magic we could not detect and could not counter. I'd not want to again count
on such an auspicious deliverance."
     No one  could disagree  with him; they nodded slightly, or looked away.
The tent had become a gloomy place.
     Verna rubbed  her fingers across her brow.  "Pride  is of no use to the
dead. I admit it: those gifted among  us have little knowledge of what we're
doing when it comes to using  our gift in warfare. We know some things about
fighting, perhaps even a great many things, but I admit we could be woefully
lacking in the depth of knowledge needed.
     "Think us fools if you will, but don't ever  think us at odds with you,
Zedd; we are all here on the same side." Her brown eyes betrayed nothing but
simple sincerity. "We  not only could use your  help,  we  would  gratefully
welcome it."
     "Of course he will help us," Adie scoffed while giving Zedd  a scolding
     "Well, you have a  good  start. Admitting that you don't know something
is the first step to learning." Zedd scratched his chin. "Every day, I amaze
myself with all I don't know."
     "That would be wonderful," Warren said. "If you would help us, I mean."

     sounded hesitant, but forged ahead anyway. "I would really like to have
the benefit of a real wizard's experience."
     Despondent with the weight  of his other troubles, Zedd shook his head.
"I would like  to-and to be sure I will give you all some advice in the task
at  hand.  However, I've  been on  a long and frustrating  journey, and  I'm
afraid  I'm  not yet finished with  it.  I  can't stay. I  must  soon be off

     Warren swiped back his curly blond hair. "What sort of journey have you
been on, Zedd?"
     Zedd pointed  a bony  finger. "You don't need  to keep  that  flattened
mosquito, General."
     General Reibisch realized it was still between his finger and thumb. He
tossed it away. Everyone  awaited Zedd's words. He smoothed the heavy maroon
robes over his twiglike thighs as his gaze absently studied the dirt floor.
     He let out a crestfallen sigh. "I was recovering from my own auspicious
deliverance  from   grappling   with   remarkable  magic  I'd  never  before
encountered, and,  as  I regained my senses,  spent months  searching. I was
down  in Anderith,  and saw some  of what  happened after the Order swept in
there.  It  was a dark  time  for  the people. Not  only  from the rampaging
soldiers, but also  from one of your  Sisters, Verna. Death's Mistress  they
called her."
     "Do you know which one it is?" Verna asked in a bitter voice at hearing
of a Sister causing harm.
     "No. I only  saw  her once, from a  goodly  distance. Had I been  fully
recovered, I might have tried to  remedy the situation, but  I wasn't myself
yet and  dared not  confront  her. She also had a few thousand soldiers with
her. The sight of all the soldiers, led  by a woman  they  had heard of  and
feared, had  people  in a panic. The Sister was young,  with blond hair. She
wore a black dress."
     "Dear Creator," Verna whispered. "Not one of mine-one  of the Keeper's.
There are few women born  with the strength  of power  such as  she has. She
also has power acquired by nefarious means; Nicci is a Sister of the Dark."
     "I've gotten reports," General Reibisch  said. By his  grim tone,  Zedd
knew the reports must have had it right. "I've heard, too, that it's quieted
     Zedd nodded. "The  Order  was  at first brutal,  but  now  'Jagang  the
Just'-as  they have  taken to calling him-has spared them  further  harm. In
most places, other than the capital of Fairfield where the most killing took
place, people have  turned to supporting him as a  liberator come to deliver
them  into a better life. They're reporting neighbors,  or travelers-whoever
they suspect is not an adherent to the noble ideals of the Order.
     "I  was all through Anderith, and  spent a good deal of time behind the
enemy lines searching-without  success. I then  journeyed up into  the wilds
and north to a number of  towns,  and even a  few  cities, but I can find no
sign  of them. I guess my abilities were a long time in recovering; I only a
short time  ago  discovered  where you  all  were.  I have  to  commend you,
General, you've kept the presence of your forces well hidden-took me forever
to find your army. The boy, though, seems to have vanished without a trace."
Zedd's fists tightened in his lap. "I must find him."

     "You mean Richard?" Adie asked. "You be searching for your grandson?"
     "Yes.  For  Richard and  Kahlan, both."  Zedd  lifted  his  hands  in a
helpless gesture. "However, without any success,  I  must admit. I've talked
to no one who has seen even a sign of them. I've used every skill I possess,
but to no avail. If I didn't know better, I'd say they no longer existed."
     Looks passed among  everyone else. Zedd  peered from one surprised face
to another.  For the first time in months, Zedd's hopes rose. "What? What is
it? You know something?"
     Verna gestured under the bench. "Show him, General."
     At her urging, the  general lifted out a map roll. He pulled it wide in
his callused hands and laid it on the ground at his feet. The map was turned
around so Zedd  could read it. General Reibisch tapped the mountains to  the
west of Hartland.
     "Right here, Zedd."
     "Right there . . . what?"
     "Richard and Kahlan," Verna said.
     Zedd gaped  at her  face  and then down  at the map. General Reibisch's
finger hovered over a wild range  of  peaks. Zedd knew those mountains. They
were an inhospitable place.
     "There? Dear spirits, why would Richard and  Kahlan be  all the way  up
there in such a forbidding place? What are they doing there?"
     "Kahlan be hurt," Adie said in a consoling tone. ',
     "She was at the brink of passing into the spirit world. From what we be
told,  maybe she saw the world on the other side of  the veil." Adie pointed
to the map, "Richard took her there to recover."
     "But . . . why would he do that?" With a  hand, Zedd flattened his wavy
white hair  to the top of his head. His thoughts spun in a confusing  jumble
while he tried to take it all in at once. "She could be healed-"
     "No. She be spelled. If magic be used to try to heal her, a vile hidden
spell would be unleashed and she would die."
     Understanding washed over him. "Dear spirits . . . I'm thankful the boy
knew it in time." Before the horror of  memories of  the  screams could come
roaring to  the fore of his thoughts, Zedd slammed a mental door on them. He
swallowed with the pain of those that slipped through. "But still, why would
he go there? He's needed here."
     "He certainly is," Verna snapped. By her tone, it was a sore subject.
     "He can't come here," Warren said. When  Zedd only  stared  at  him, he
explained further.  "We don't understand it  all, but  we believe Richard is
following a prophecy of some sort."
     "Prophecy!" Zedd dismissed it  with  a  wave. "Richard doesn't  take to
riddles, He hates them  and won't pay heed  to them. There are times when  I
wish he would but he won't."
     "Well, this one he's paying heed to." Warren pressed his lips tight for
a moment. "It's his own."
     "His own . . . what?"
     Warren cleared his throat. "Prophecy."
     Zedd jumped to his feet. "What! Richard? Nonsense."
     "He's a war wizard," Verna said with quiet authority.

     Zedd passed a scowl among all the  suddenly circumspect expressions. He
made a sour face and, with a flourish of  his robes, returned  to  his  seat
beside Adie.
     "What is this prophecy?"
     Warren  twisted  a little  knot  of his violet robes. "He  didn't  say,
     "Here."  General  Reibisch pulled some folded papers from a pocket. "He
wrote me letters. We've all read them."
     Zedd  stood  and snatched the letters from the  general's  big fist. He
went to the table and smoothed out the pages. As everyone else  sat silently
watching, Zedd  leaned over the table and read Richard's words lying  before
     With great authority, Richard paradoxically turned away from authority.
He said  that  after much reflection, he  had come  to an understanding that
arrived with the power of a vision, and he knew then, beyond doubt, that his
help would only bring about certain catastrophe.
     In letters that followed, Richard said  he and Kahlan were safe and she
was slowly recovering.  Cara was with them. In  response  to letters General
Reibisch and others had written, Richard remained steadfast in his stand. He
warned them that the cause of  freedom would be forever lost if he failed to
remain  on his  true path. He said that whatever  decisions General Reibisch
and  the rest of  them made, he  would not contradict or criticize. He  told
them  that his heart was with  them,  but  they were on  their own  for  the
foreseeable future. He said possibly forever.
     His letters basically gave no real information, other  than alluding to
his understanding  or vision, and making it clear that  they could expect no
guidance  from him. Nonetheless, Zedd  could read  some  of what  the  words
didn't say.
     Zedd stared at the letters long after he had finished reading them. The
flame of the lamp wavered  slowly from side to side, occasionally fluttering
and sending up a coiled thread  of oily smoke. He could  hear muffled voices
outside the  tent as  soldiers on patrol  quietly  passed along information.
Inside, everyone remained silent. They had all read the letters.
     Verna's expression was tight with anxiety. She could hold her tongue no
longer.  "Will  you go  to  see him,  Zedd?  Convince him to  return  to the
     Zedd lightly  trailed his fingers  over the  words on paper.  "I can't.
This is one time I can be of no help to him."
     "But he's our leader in this struggle." The  soft lamplight illuminated
the feminine grace of her slender fingers as she pressed them to her brow in
vain solace. Her hand fell back to her lap. "Without him . . ."
     Zedd  didn't answer  her.  He could not  imagine what Ann's reaction to
such a development would be. For centuries she had combed through prophecies
in anticipation of the  war  wizard who  would be born to lead  them in this
battle for the very existence of magic. Richard was that war wizard, born to
the battle he had suddenly abandoned.
     "What  do  you  think be  the problem?" Adie asked in her quiet,  raspy
     Zedd looked back to the letters one last time. He pulled his  gaze from
the words and straightened.  All eyes  around the dimly lit tent were on him
as  if  hoping he could  somehow  rescue  them  from  a fate  they  couldn't
comprehend, but instinctively dreaded.
     "This is a time of trial to  the depth of Richard's soul." Zedd slipped
his hands up opposite sleeves  until the silver brocade at the cuffs met. "A
passage, of  sortsthrust upon  him because of his comprehension of something
only he sees."

     Warren cleared his throat. "What sort of trial, Zedd? Can you tell us?"
     Zedd gestured vaguely as memories of terrible times flashed through his
mind. "A struggle . . . a reconciliation . . ."
     "What sort of reconciliation?" Warren pressed.
     Zedd gazed into the young  man's  blue eyes, wishing he wouldn't ask so
many questions. "What is the purpose of your gift?"
     "Its purpose? Well, I ability."
     "It  is  to help others," Verna stated flatly. She  clutched  her light
blue cloak more  tightly  around her shoulders as if it were armor to defend
her from whatever Zedd might throw at her in answer.
     "Ah. Then what are you doing here?"
     The question caught her by surprise. "Here?"
     "Yes." Zedd waved  his  arm, indicating a vague, distant place. "If the
gift is to help others, then why are you not out there doing it?  There  are
sick needing  to be healed,  ignorant needing  to be  taught, and the hungry
needing to be fed. Why are you  just sitting there, healthy, smart, and well
     Verna rearranged her cloak as she squared her shoulders into a  posture
of firm resolve.  "In battle,  if  you abandon  the gates to help  a  fallen
comrade,  you have given in to a weakness: your inability to  steel yourself
to an  immediate suffering in order to prevent suffering on a  much  greater
scale.  If I run off to help the few people I could in  that  manner, I must
leave  my  post here,  with this army,  as they try  to keep the  enemy from
storming the gateway into the New World."
     Zedd's  estimation   of  the  woman  rose  a   little.   She  had  come
tantalizingly close to expressing the essence of  a  vital truth. He offered
her a small smile of respect as he nodded. She looked more surprised by that
than she had by his question.
     "I can  certainly  see why the Sisters of the Light are widely regarded
as proper servants of need." Zedd  stroked  his  chin. "So then, it  is your
conviction  that we with the ability-the gift-are born into the world to  be
slaves to those with needs?"
     "Well, no . . . but if there is a great need-"
     "Then we  are more tightly bound in the chains of slavery to those with
every greater need,"  Zedd  finished  for her. "Thus, anyone with a need, by
right-to your mind-becomes our master? Indentured servant  to one  cause, or
to any greater cause that might come along, but chattel all the same. Yes?"
     This time, Verna  chose not to dance with him over  what she apparently
regarded as a patch of quicksand. It didn't prevent her from glaring at him,
     Zedd held that there could be  only one philosophically valid answer to
the question; if Verna knew it, she didn't offer it.
     "Richard  has  apparently  come  to a  place where he  must  critically
examine  his alternatives and determine the proper course of his life," Zedd
explained. "Perhaps circumstances have caused him to question the proper use
of his abilities, and, in view of his values, his true purpose."
     Verna opened her hands in a helpless gesture. "1 don't see how he could
have any higher purpose than to be here, helping the army against the threat
to the New World-the threat to the lives of free people."
     Zedd  sank back down onto the bench. "You do not see, and I do not see,
but Richard sees something."
     "That doesn't mean he's right," Warren said.
     Zedd studied  the  young man's face  for  a  moment.  Warren had  fresh
features, but
     . guess to . . . well, it just is. The gift is simply an

     also a knowing  look in  his eyes that  betrayed something beyond  mere
youth. Zedd wondered how old Warren was.
     "No,  it  does  not mean Richard  is  right. He may be  making a heroic
mistake that destroys our chance to survive."
     "Kahlan thinks  maybe it  be a mistake,"  Adie  finally put in,  as  if
regretting having to  tell  him. "She wrote a note  to me-I  believe without
Richard's knowledge,  seeing as Cara wrote down  Kahlan's words  for her-and
gave it to the  messenger. Kahlan says that  she fears Richard be doing this
in part because of what happened to her. The  Mother Confessor also confided
that she be afraid Richard has lost his faith in people, and, because of his
rejection  by the people  of Anderith, Richard may  view himself as a fallen
     "Bah." Zedd waved his hand dismissively. "A leader cannot follow behind
people,  tail  between his legs,  sniffing  for  their  momentary  whims and
wishes, whining to  follow them this  way  and  that as they ramble  through
life. Those kind of people are not looking for a leader-they are looking for
a master, and one will find them.
     "A true leader forges a  clear  path through a moral wilderness so that
people might  see the way. Richard  was a  woods guide  because  such is his
nature. Perhaps he is lost in that dark wood. If he is, he must find his way
out,  and  it must be a correctly reasoned course, if he is  to be the  true
leader of a free people."
     Everyone silently considered  the implications. The general  was a  man
who followed the Lord Rahl,  and simply awaited his orders. The Sisters  had
their own ideas. Zedd and Adie knew the way ahead was not what it might seem
to some.
     "That's what Richard  did for me," Warren said in a soft voice, staring
off  into memories of  his own. "He showed me the way-made me want to follow
him  up out of the vaults. I had become comfortable down there, content with
my  books and my fate, but I was a prisoner of that darkness, living my life
through  the  struggles  and   accomplishments  of  others.  I  never  could
understand precisely how he inspired me  to want to follow him up  and out."
Warren looked up into Zedd's  eyes. "Maybe he needs  that same kind of help,
himself. Can you help him, Zedd?"
     "He  has entered a dark time for any man, and especially  for a wizard.
He must  come out the  other side of this on his own. If  I take  him by the
hand and lead him through, so to speak, I might take him a way he  would not
have selected on  his own,  and then he would forever  be crippled by what I
had chosen for him .
     . . . But worse yet, what if he's right? If I unwittingly forced him to
another course, it could doom us all  and result in a world enslaved by  the
Imperial Order." Zedd shook his head. "No. This much I know: Richard must be
left alone  to do as he must.  If  he  truly is  the one to  lead us in this
battle for the future of magic and of mankind, then this can only be part of
his journey as it must be traveled."
     Almost everyone nodded, if reluctantly, at Zedd's words.
     Warren  didn't nod.  He  picked  at  the  fabric of  his violet  robes.
"There's one thing we haven't considered." As everyone waited, his blue eyes
turned  up to  meet Zedd's gaze. In  those eyes, Zedd saw an uncommon wisdom
that told him that this was  a  young  man who could gaze into the depths of
things when most people saw only the sparkles on the surface.
     "It could be,"  Warren  said in  a  quiet  but unflinching voice, "that
Richard,  being  gifted,  and being  a  war  wizard,  has been  visited by a
legitimate prophecy.  War wizards are different  from the  rest of us. Their
ability  is  not  narrowly  specific,  but  broad.  Prophecy  is,  at  least
theoretically, within  his purview. Moreover, Richard has Subtractive  Magic
as well as Additive. No wizard born in the last three thousand

     years  has had both sides. While we can perhaps  imagine,  we could not
possibly  begin  to understand  his  potential, though  the prophecies  have
alluded to it.
     "It could very well  be that Richard has  had  a valid prophecy that he
clearly understands.  If so,  then he may be doing  precisely what  must  be
done. It could even be that he clearly understands the prophecy and it is so
gruesome he is doing us the only kindness he can-by not telling us."
     Verna covered his hand  with hers. "You don't  really believe  that, do
you,  Warren?" Zedd noticed  that  Verna  put a lot of stock  in what Warren
     Ann had told Zedd that Warren was only beginning to exhibit his gift of
prophecy. Such wizards-prophets-were so rare that they came along only  once
or  twice  a  millennium.  The  potential importance of  such  a  wizard was
incalculable.  Zedd didn't know how far along that path  Warren really  was,
yet. Warren probably didn't, either.
     "Prophecy  can be  a  terrible burden." Warren smoothed his robes along
his thigh. "Perhaps Richard's prophecy told him that if he is to ever have a
chance to oversee victory,  he  must  not die  with the rest of  us  in  our
struggle against the army of the Imperial Order."
     General  Reibisch, silent  about such wizardly doings, had nevertheless
been  listening and  watching intently. Sister Philippa's thumb  twiddled  a
button on her dress. Even with Verna's comforting hand  on  his,  Warren, at
that moment, looked nothing but forlorn.
     "Warren"-Zedd waited until their eyes met-"we all at times envision the
most fearful turn of events, simply because it's the most  frightening thing
we can  imagine. Don't invest your thoughts  primarily in that  which is not
the  most likely reason  for Richard's  actions,  simply because  it  is the
reason you fear the most. I believe Richard is struggling to understand  his
place in all this. Remember, he grew up as a woods guide.  He has to come to
terms not only with his ability, but with the weight of rule."
     "Yes, but-"
     Zedd lifted a finger for emphasis. "The truth of a situation most often
turns out to be that one with the simplest explanation."
     The  gloom  on  Warren's  face  finally melted away under  the  dawning
radiance of  a  luminous  smile. "I'd forgotten  that ancient bit of wisdom.
Thank you, Zedd."
     General Reibisch, combing his curly  beard with his fingers, pulled the
hand free and made a fist. "Besides, D'Harans will not be so  easily bested.
We have  more forces to call upon,  and  we have allies here in the Midlands
who will come to aid in the fight. We have all heard the reports of the size
of the Order, but they are just men, not evil spirits. They have gifted, but
so  do  we. They have  yet to come faceto-face  with  the  might of  D'Haran
     Warren picked up a small rock, not quite the size of his fist, and held
it in  his palm as he spoke.  "I  mean no disrespect, General, and  I do not
mean to dissuade you from our just cause, but the subject  of the Order  has
been a pastime of mine. I've studied them  for  years. I'm also from the Old
     "Fair enough. So what is it you have to tell us?"
     "Well, say that  the  tabletop  is  the Old  World-the  area from which
Jagang draws his troops. Now,  there are places, to be sure, where there are
few  people  spread over vast areas.  But there are many  places with  great
populations, too."
     "It's much the  same in  the New World," the  general said. "D'Hara has
populous places, and desolate areas."

     Warren shook his head. He passed his hand over the tabletop.  "Say this
is the Old World-the  whole of this table."  He held up the rock to show the
general and then placed  it on the edge  of  the  tabletop. "This is the New
World. This is its size-this rock--compared to the Old World."
     "But,  but, that doesn't include  D'Hara,"  General Reibisch sputtered.
"Surely . . . with D'Hara-"
     "D'Hara is included in the rock."
     "I'm afraid Warren is right," Verna said.
     Sister  Philippa, too, nodded grim acknowledgment. "Perhaps . . ."  she
said, looking down at her hands folded in her lap, "perhaps Warren is right,
and Richard has seen a vision of our defeat, and knows he must remain out of
it, or be lost with all the rest of us."
     "I  don't think that's it at all," Zedd offered in  a  gentle voice. "I
know Richard. If Richard thought we would lose, he would  say so in order to
give people a chance to weigh that in their decisions."
     The general cleared his throat. "Well, actually, one of the  letters is
missing from that stack. It was the first-where Lord Rahl told  me about his
vision. In it, Lord Rahl did say that we had no chance to win."
     Zedd felt  the blood drain down into  his  legs. He tried to  keep  his
manner unconcerned. "Oh? Where is the letter?"
     The general gave Verna a sidelong glance.
     "Well, actually," Verna said, "when I read it, I was angered and . . ."
     "And she balled it up and  threw  it in the fire,"  Warren finished for
     Verna's  face  turned red,  but  she offered  no  defense.  Zedd  could
understand the sentiment,  but he would have  liked to have read it with his
own eyes. He forced a smile.
     "Were those his actual words-that we had no chance to win?" Zedd asked,
trying not  to sound alarmed.  He could  feel sweat running down the back of
his neck.
     "No . . ." General Reibisch said as he shifted his shoulders inside his
uniform while giving the question  careful thought.  "No,  Lord Rahl's words
were that  we must not commit our forces to  an attack  directly against the
army of the Imperial Order, or our side will be destroyed and any chance for
winning in the future will be forever lost."
     The feeling began to return to Zedd's fingers. He wiped a bead of sweat
from the side of his forehead. He was able  to draw an easier breath. "Well,
that only makes sense. If they are as large a force as Warren says, then any
direct attack would be foolhardy."
     It did make sense. Zedd wondered, though, why Richard would make such a
point of it  to a man of General  Reibisch's experience. Perhaps Richard was
only being cautious. There was nothing wrong with being cautious.
     Adie slipped her hand under Zedd's and cuddled her loose fist under his
palm. "If you believe you must let Richard be  in this, then  you will stay?
Help teach the gifted here what they must know?"
     Every face was etched with concern as they watched him, hanging on what
he might  decide.  The general idly stroked a finger down the white  scar on
the  side  of his  face. Sister Philippa knitted her fingers together. Verna
and Warren entwined theirs.
     Zedd smiled  and hugged Adie's shoulders. "Of course I'm  not  going to
abandon you."

     The three on  the bench opposite him each let out a little  sigh. Their
posture relaxed as if ropes around their necks had been slackened.
     Zedd passed  a hard look among  them all.  "War is nasty business. It's
about  killing people  before they  can  kill you. Magic in  war  is  simply
another weapon,  if  a frightening one.  You must realize that  it,  too, in
this, must be used for the end result of killing people."
     "What do  we  need  to do?" Verna  asked, clearly relieved  that he had
agreed to stay, but not to  the obvious extent of General  Reibisch, Warren,
or Sister Philippa.
     Zedd pulled some of his  robes from each side of his legs over into the
middle, between them,  as he gave the question some  thought. It was not the
sort of lesson he relished.
     "Tomorrow  morning,  we  will  begin.  There  is  much to  learn  about
countering magic in warfare. I will teach all  the gifted some  things about
the awful business of using what you always hoped to use for good, for harm,
instead. The  lessons are not  pleasing to endure, but then, neither  is the
     The  thought  of  such lessons, and  worse, the use of such  knowledge,
could  not be pleasant for any  of  them to  contemplate.  Adie,  who knew a
little  bit about the horrific nature of such struggle, rubbed  his  back in
sympathy.  His heavy robes  stuck to his  skin.  He wished he had his simple
wizard's robes back.
     "We  will all do as we must to prevent our  own people from  falling to
the monstrous magic of the Imperial Order," Verna said. "You have my word as
     Zedd nodded. "Tomorrow, then, we begin."
     "I fear to think  of magic added to warfare," General  Reibisch said as
he stood.
     Zedd shrugged.  "To tell  the truth, the  ultimate object  of magic  in
warfare is to counter the enemy's magic.  If we do our job properly, we will
bring balance to this. That would mean that all magic would be nullified and
the soldiers would then be able  to fight without magic swaying  the battle.
You will  be able  to  be  the steel against steel, while  we are  the magic
against magic."
     "You mean, your magic won't be of direct help to us?"
     Zedd shrugged. "We will try to  use magic to visit  harm on them in any
way we can, but when we try  to use magic as a weapon, the enemy will try to
counter ours.  Any attempt  to  use their power against  us, we  will try to
counter. The result  of magic in warfare, if properly  and expertly done, is
that it seems as if magic did not exist at all.
     "If we fail to rise to the challenge,  then the power they throw at  us
will be  truly horrific to witness. If we can best them,  then  you will see
such  destruction  of  their  forces  as  you  can't  imagine.  But,  in  my
experience, magic  has a  way  of balancing,  so  that you  rarely see  such
     "A deadlock, then, is our goal?" Sister Philippa asked.
     Zedd turned his palms  up, moving his hands up  and down in opposition,
as if they were  scales holding great weight. "The gifted on both sides will
be working  harder  than  they have ever worked before. I can tell you  that
it's exhausting. The result, except with small  shifts  in the advantage, is
that it will seem as if we are d doing nothing to earn our dinner."
     Zedd let his hands drop.  "It  will be punctuated with brief moments of
sheer horror and true panic when it seems beyond doubt that the world itself
is about to end in one final fit of sheer madness."
     General  Reibisch grinned in  an odd, gentle, knowing way. "Let me tell
you, war, when you're holding a sword, looks about the same way." He held up
a hand in

     mock  defense.  "But I'd rather that, I guess,  than have  to swing  my
sword at every  magic  mosquito that came along. I'm a man of  steel against
steel. We have Lord Rahl to be the magic  against the magic. I'm relieved we
have Lord  Rahl's grandfather, the First Wizard, to aid  us, too. Thank you,
Zedd. Anything you need is yours. Just ask."
     Verna  and Warren  added silent nods  as the  general  stepped  to  the
entrance  of  the  tent. When  Zedd  spoke, General  Reibisch  turned  back,
gripping the flap in one hand.
     "You're still sending messengers to Richard?"
     The general confirmed  that they were.  "Captain Meiffert was up there,
too. He might be able tell you more about Lord Rahl."
     "Have all of the messengers returned safely?"
     "Most of them." He rubbed his bearded chin.  "We've lost two,  so  far.
One messenger was found by chance  at  the  bottom  of a  rockslide. Another
never returned, but his body  wasn't found-which wouldn't be unusual. It's a
long and  difficult journey.  There  are  any  number of hazards  on  such a
journey; we have to expect we might lose a few men."
     "I'd like you to stop sending men up there to Richard."
     "But Lord Rahl needs to be kept informed."
     "What if the enemy should  capture one of those messengers and find out
where Richard is? If you have no  scruples,  most any man can eventually  be
made to talk. The risk is not worth it."
     The  general rubbed his palm on the hilt of his sword as  he considered
Zedd's words. "The Order is far to the south of us-way down in Anderith.  We
control all  the  land between  here and the  mountains where  Lord Rahl  is
staying." He shook his  head in resignation at Zedd's unflinching gaze. "But
if you think it's a concern, I'll not send another.  Won't Lord Rahl wonder,
though, what's going on with us?"
     "What's going on with us is not really relevant to him right now; he is
doing  as he must do, and  he can't allow our situation to influence him. He
has  told you already that he won't be able to give you any  orders, that he
must stay out of it."
     Zedd  tugged his sleeves straight  and sighed as he  thought  about it.
"Perhaps when  the  summer is over, before  the full grip of winter descends
and they're snowed in way up there, I'll go and see how they fare."
     General  Reibisch gave  a  departing smile. "If you  could talk to Lord
Rahl, it would be a relief for  us all, Zedd; he would trust your word. Good
night, then."
     The man had just betrayed  his true feelings. No one in the tent really
trusted  what Richard was  doing,  except,  perhaps, Zedd,  and Zedd had his
doubts, too.  Kahlan  had said that she believed Richard viewed himself as a
fallen  leader;  these  people who claimed  not  to  understand how he could
believe such a thing, at the same time didn't trust his actions.
     Richard  was all alone with only the strength of his beliefs to support
     After  the general had gone, Warren leaned  forward  eagerly. "Zedd,  I
could  go with you to  see Richard. We  could get him to tell us everything,
and we could then determine if it really is a prophecy, or as  he says, just
an understanding  he's come to.  If it's  not really a prophecy, we might be
able to make him see things differently.
     "More important, we could begin teaching him-or you could, anyway-about
his gift, about using magic. He needs to know how to use his ability."
     As Zedd paced, Verna let out a  little grunt to express her  misgivings
about Warren's  suggestion. "I tried  to teach  Richard to touch his  Han. A
number of Sisters attempted it, too. No one was able to make any progress."

     "But Zedd believes a  wizard is  the  one to  do it. Isn't that  right,
     Zedd halted his pacing and regarded them both a moment as he considered
how to put  his  thoughts into words. "Well, as  I  said  before, teaching a
wizard is not really the work for sorceresses, but another wizard-"
     "With  Richard, I don't  think you would have any better  luck  than we
did," Verna railed.
     Warren didn't give ground. "But Zedd believes-
     Zedd cleared his throat, bidding silence. "You're right,  my boy; it is
the job of a wizard to teach  another wizard born with the gift." Verna rose
an angry finger to object, but Zedd went right on. "In this case, however, I
believe Verna is right."
     "She is?" Warren asked.
     "I am?" Verna asked.
     Zedd waved in a mollifying gesture. "Yes, I believe  so, Verna. I think
the Sisters can  do  some teaching.  After  all,  look at  Warren, here. The
Sisters have managed to teach him something about using his gift, even if it
was at  the cost of time. You've taught others-if  in a limited  way,  to my
view of  it-but  you  couldn't  manage  to teach Richard the  most simple of
things. Is that correct?"
     Verna's mouth twisted with displeasure. "None of us could teach him the
simple task of sensing his own Han. I sat with him hours at a time and tried
to guide  him through  it."  She folded  her arms and looked away  from  his
intent gaze. "It just didn't work the way it should have."
     Warren  touched a finger to his chin while he frowned, as if  recalling
something.  "You know,  Nathan said something to me once.  I told him that I
wanted to leam from him-that I wanted him to teach me about being a prophet.
Nathan said that a prophet could  not  be made, but that they  were born.  I
realized, then, that everything I knew and  understood about prophecy-really
understood about  it, in  a whole  new way-I  had learned on my own, and not
from anyone else. Could this, with Richard, be something like that? Is  that
your point, Zedd?"
     "It is." Zedd sat down  once more on the hard wooden bench beside Adie.
"I  would love, not only as his grandfather, but  as  First Wizard, to teach
Richard what he needs  to know about using his ability,  but I'm  coming  to
doubt that  such  a thing  is possible. Richard  is different from any other
wizard  in more ways than just  his having the gift for Subtractive Magic in
addition to the usual Additive."
     "But still," Sister Philippa  said, "you are First  Wizard. Surely, you
would be able to teach him a great deal."
     Zedd pulled  a fold of his heavy robes from between his bony bottom and
the hard bench as he considered how to explain it.
     "Richard has done things even I don't understand.  Without my training,
he has accomplished more than I can even fathom. On his own, Richard reached
the Temple of the Winds in the underworld, accomplished the task of stopping
a plague, and returned from beyond the veil to the world of life. Can any of
you even grasp such a thing? Especially for an untrained wizard? He banished
the  chimes from  the world of the living-how, I have no idea. He has worked
magic I've never heard of, much less seen or understand.
     "I'm afraid my knowledge could  be more of an interference than an aid.
Part  of  Richard's  ability,  and  advantage,  is  the  way  he  views  the
world-through  not  just fresh eyes, but the  eyes of a Seeker of  Truth. He
doesn't know  something  is impossible, so he tries to accomplish it. I fear
to tell him how to do things, how  to use  his magic, because  such teaching
also might suggest to him limits of his powers, thus

     creating  them  in reality. What could I  teach  a  war wizard? I  know
nothing  about the  Subtractive side  of magic, much  less the gift  of such
     "Lacking  another war wizard with Subtractive Magic, are you suggesting
it would maybe take a Sister of the Dark to teach him?" Warren asked.
     "Well," Zedd mused, "that  might be a thought." He let out a tired sigh
as he turned more serious. "I have come to realize that it would not only be
useless to  try  to teach Richard  to  use his ability,  but  it may even be
dangerous-to the world.
     "I  would  like  to  go  see  him,  and  offer  him  my  encouragement,
experience, and understanding,  but  help?"  Zedd  shook his head. "I  don't
     No  one offered any objection. Verna, for one, had firsthand experience
that very likely confirmed the truth of his words. The rest of them probably
knew Richard well enough to understand much the same.
     "May  I help  you find a spare  tent, Zedd?" Verna finally  asked. "You
look like  you could use some  rest.  In the morning, after you get  a  good
night's rest, and we all think this over, we can talk more."
     Warren, who had just  been  about to ask another question  before Verna
spoke first, looked disappointed, but nodded in agreement.
     Zedd stretched  his  legs  out straight  as  he yawned. "That  would be
best." The thought of the  job ahead was daunting. He  ached to see Richard,
to help him, especially  after searching  for him for so long. Sometimes  it
was hard  to leave people alone when that  was what they most needed.  "That
would be best," he repeated, "I am tired."
     "Summer be slipping away from  us.  The nights be turning chilly," Adie
said as she pressed against Zedd's side. She looked up at him with her white
eyes that in the lamplight had a soft amber cast. "Stay  with me and warm my
bones, old man?"
     Zedd smiled as he embraced  her. It was as much of a comfort to be with
her again as he had expected. In fact, at that moment, if she had  given him
another  hat  with  a  feather, he would  have  donned it, and with a smile.
Worry, though, ached through his bones like an approaching storm.
     "Zedd," Verna said, seeming to notice  in  his  eyes the weight of  his
thoughts, "Richard is a  war wizard who, as you say, has in  the past proven
his remarkable ability. He's a very resourceful young man. Besides  that, he
is none other than  the Seeker himself and has the Sword of  Truth  with him
for protection-a sword that I can testify he  knows  how to use. Kahlan is a
Confessor-the Mother Confessorand  is  experienced in  the use of her power.
They have a Mord-Sith with them. MordSith take no chances."
     "I know,"  Zedd  whispered,  staring  off  into a  nightmare  swirl  of
thoughts. "But I still fear greatly for them."
     "What is it that worries you so?" Warren asked.
     "Albino mosquitoes."

     Panting  in exhaustion, Kahlan had to  dance backward through the snarl
of hobblebush stitched  through with thorny blackberry to dodge the swing of
the sword. The  tip whistled past,  missing her ribs  by an inch. In her mad
dash  to escape,  she  ignored the  snag and tug of thorns on her pants. She
could feel her heartbeat galloping at the base of her skull.
     As he relentlessly pressed his attack, forcing her back over a low rise
of ledge and  through the swale beyond, mounds of fallen leaves kicked aloft
by  his  boots  boiled  up   into  the  late-afternoon  air  like   colorful
thunderheads.  The  bright  yellow, lustrous orange,  and  vivid  red leaves
rained  down over rocky outcrops swaddled in prickly  whorls of  juniper. It
was like doing battle amid a fallen rainbow.
     Richard lunged at her  again. Kahlan  gasped but blocked his sword.  He
pressed his  grim  attack with  implacable  determination. She gave  ground,
stepping  high  as  she did so in order to avoid tripping over  the snare of
roots around a huge white spruce. Losing her  footing would be fatal; if she
fell, Richard would stab her in an instant.
     She glanced left.  There loomed a  tall prominence of sheer rock draped
with long trailers of woolly moss. To the other side, the brink of the ridge
ran back to eventually meet that rock  wall. Once  the level  ground tapered
down to that dead end, the only option was going to be to climb straight  up
or straight down.
     She deflected a quick  thrust  of  his sword, and he  warded hers. In a
burst of fury, she pressed a fierce assault, forcing him back a dozen steps.
He effortlessly parried  her strikes, and then  returned her attack in kind.
What  she had  gained  was  quickly  lost  twice  over. She was  once  again
desperately defending herself and trading ground for her life.
     On a  low,  dead branch of a balsam fir not  ten feet away, a small red
squirrel,  with  his winter ear  tufts already grown in, plucked  a leathery
brown rosette of lichen growing on the bark. With his white belly gloriously
displayed, he sat on his haunches at the end of the broken-off deadwood, his
bushy tail raised up, holding the crinkled piece of lichen in his tiny paws,
eating round and round the edges, like some spectator at a tournament eating
a fried bread cake while he watched the combatants clash.
     Kahlan gulped air as her eyes darted around, looking for  clear footing
among  the  imposing trunks  of  the highland  wood while at  the same  time
watching for  an opportunity that might save her.  If she could  somehow get
around Richard,  around the menace of his sword, she might be able to gain a
clear escape  route. He would run her down, but  it would buy her time.  She
dodged a quick thrust of his sword and ducked around a maple sapling  into a
bed of brown and yellow bracken ferns dappled by glowing sunlight.

     Richard, driving  forward  in a sudden  mad rush to end it, lifted  his
sword to hack her.
     It was her opening-her only chance.
     In a blink,  Kahlan  reversed  her retreat  and  sprang ahead  a  step,
ducking under his arm. She drove her sword straight into his soft middle.
     Richard covered the wound with both  hands.  He teetered a moment,  and
then crumpled into the bed  of  ferns, sprawling flat  on  his back.  Leaves
lying  lightly atop  taller ferns  were  lifted  by  the  disturbance.  They
somersaulted up into the air, finally drifting down to brightly decorate his
body. The fierce  red of the maple leaves was so vibrant  it would have made
blood look brown by comparison.
     Kahlan stood over Richard, gasping to catch her breath. She was  spent.
She dropped  to her knees and then threw herself across his supine body. All
around them, fern fronds,  the  color of  caramel candy,  were  curled  into
little  fists  as if  in  defiance  of having to die  with  the  season. The
sprinkling of lighter, yellowish, hayscented ferns lent a clean, sweet scent
to  the  afternoon air. There were few things that could equal the fragrance
of the  woods in late autumn. In  a spectacular bit of chance, a  tall maple
nearby, sheltered as it was by a protective corner in the rock wall, was not
yet denuded,  but displayed  a wide spread  of leaves  so orange they looked
tangy against the powder blue sky above.
     "Cara!" Putting her left hand to Richard's chest, Kahlan pushed herself
up on one arm to call out. "Cara! I killed Richard!"
     Cara, not far off, laying on her belly at the edge  of the ridge as she
watched out beyond, said nothing.
     "I killed him! Did you hear? Cara-did you see?"
     "Yes," she muttered, "I heard. You killed Lord Rahl."
     "No you didn't," Richard said, still catching his breath.
     She whacked him across the shoulder with her willow-switch sword.  "Yes
I did. I killed you this time. Killed you dead."
     "You only grazed me." He pressed the point of  his willow switch to her
side. "You've fallen into my trap. I have you at the point of my sword, now.
Surrender, or die, woman."
     "Never," she said, still gasping for breath as she laughed. "I'd rather
die than be captured by the likes of you, you rogue."
     She  stabbed him repeatedly in his ribs with her willow practice  sword
as he giggled and rolled from side to side.
     "Cara! Did you see? I killed him this time. I finally got him!"
     "Yes, all fight," Cara  grouched as she intently watched out beyond the
ridge.  "You killed  Lord Rahl. Good for you."  She glanced  back  over  her
shoulder. "This one  is mine, right, Lord  Rahl?  You promised  this one was
     "Yes,"  Richard  said, still catching his  breath,  "this  one goes for
yours, Cara."
     "Good." Cara smiled in satisfaction. "It's a big one."
     Richard smirked up at Kahlan. "I let you kill me, you know."
     "No you didn't! I won. I got you this time." She whacked him again with
her willow sword.  She paused and frowned. "I  thought  you said you weren't
dead. You said it was only a scratch. Ha! You admitted I got you this time."
     Richard chuckled. "I let you-"
     Kahlan kissed him to shut him up. Cara saw and rolled her eyes.
     When Cara  looked  back over  the  ridge, she suddenly sprang up. "They
just left! Come on, before something gets it!"

     "Cara, nothing is going to get it," Richard said, "not this quickly.'
     "Come on!  You  promised this  one was mine. I  don't want to have gone
through all this for nothing. Come on."
     "All right, all right." Richard  said as Kahlan climbed off him. "We're
     He held his  hand out for Kahlan to help him up. She stabbed him in the
ribs instead. "Got you again, Lord Rahl. You're getting sloppy."
     Richard only smiled as Kahlan finally offered her  hand. When he was up
he  hugged her in a  quick gesture, and before turning to follow after Cara,
said, "Good job, Mother Confessor, good job. You killed  me dead.  I'm proud
of you."
     Kahlan endeavored  to show him a sedate smile, but  she  feared it came
out as  a  giddy  grin.  Richard scooped up  his pack and hefted it onto his
back. Without delay, he started the descent down  the  steep, broken face of
the mountain.  Kahlan threw her long wolf's-fur mantle around  her shoulders
and followed him through the deep shade  of sheltering spruce at the edge of
the ridge, stepping on the exposed ledge rather than the low places.
     "Be careful," Richard called out to Cara, already a good distance ahead
of them, "With all the  leaves covering the  ground, you  can't see holes or
gaps in the rock."
     "I know, 1 know," she grumbled.  "How many times do you think I need to
hear it'?"
     Richard constantly watched out for them both. He had taught them how to
walk in such terrain and what to be careful of. From the beginning, marching
through the  forests  and mountains, Kahlan noted that  Richard  moved  with
quiet fluidity, while Cara traipsed along, bounding up onto and off of rocks
and ledges, almost like an exuberant youngster. Since Cara had spent most of
her life indoors, she didn't know that it made  a difference  how you walked
in such terrain.
     Richard had patiently explained to her, "Pick where to put your feet in
order to make your steps comparatively level.  Don't  step down  to a  lower
spot if you  don't  need to,  only to have to step up  again as you continue
your climb up the trail. Don't step up needlessly, only to have to step down
again. If you must step up on something, you don't always need to  lift your
whole body just flex your legs."
     Cara complained that it was too  hard to think about where to  put  her
foot  each  time.  He told  her that by walling the  way  she did,  she  was
actually  climbing the  mountain  twice  for  each time  he  climbed it.  He
admonished her to think as she walked, and  soon it would become instinctive
and  would require no conscious thought. When Cara found that her  shin  and
thigh  muscles  didn't  get  as  tired   and  sore  when  she  followed  his
suggestions, she became a keen  student. Now she  asked questions instead of
arguing. Most of the time.
     Kahlan saw that as Cara descended the steep trail, she  did as  Richard
had taught her  and  used  a  stick as  an  improvised  staff  to  probe any
suspicious low  area where leaves  collected before stepping there. This was
no place to break an  ankle. Richard  said nothing, but sometimes he  smiled
when she found a hole with her stick rather than her foot, as she used to.
     Forging a  new trail on a steep slope like the one they were descending
was  dangerous  work.  Potential  trails  often  withered  into  dead  ends,
requiring that you retrace your steps. On less severe slopes, hillsides, and
flatter  ground especially, animals often made  good trails. In a  valley, a
suitable trail that shrank to nothing wasn't a big problem because there you
could beat through the brush to more open ground. Making your own trail on a
rocky  precipice,  a  thousand  feet  up,  was  always  arduous  and   often
frustrating. In such conditions, particularly if the hour grew late,

     the  desire not to have  to backtrack  a difficult climb tempted people
into taking chances.
     Richard said that it was hard work that demanded  you put reason before
your wish to get down, get home, or get to  a  place to  camp. "Wishing gets
people killed," he often said. "Using your head gets you home."
     Cara poked her stick into  a pile of leaves between bare granite rocks.
"Don't step in the  leaves here," she  said over her  shoulder as she hopped
onto the far rock. "There's a hole."
     "Why, thank you,  Cara," Richard said in mock gratitude, as if he would
have stepped there had she not warned him.
     The cliff face they were on had a number  of sizable ledges with rugged
little  trees  and  shrubs  that provided good  footing and the  safety of a
handhold.  Below, the  mountainside  dropped  away  before  them into a lush
ravine. Beyond the defile, it rose up  again in a  steep slope  covered with
evergreens  and  the  dull  gray and  brown  skeletons of oaks,  maples, and
     The  raucous coats  of  autumn  leaves had  been resplendent while they
lasted, but now  they were but confetti on the ground, and there  they faded
fast. Usually, the oaks held on to their leaves until at least early winter,
and some  of them until spring, but up in the mountains icy winds and  early
storms  had  already stripped even the  oaks bare  of  their tenacious brown
     Cara stepped  out onto a shelf  of  ledge  jutting  out over the  chasm
below. "There," she said as she  pointed  across the way. "Up  there. Do you
     Richard shielded  his eyes against  the  warm  sunlight  as he squinted
higher up on  the  opposite slope. He made a  sound  deep  in  his throat to
confirm that he saw it. "Nasty place to die."
     Kahlan snugged the warm  wolf fur up against her ears  to protect  them
from the cold wind. "There's a good place?"
     Richard let his hand drop from his brow. "I guess not."
     Farther up the slope from where Cara had pointed, the forest ended in a
place  called the crooked  wood. Above that, where no trees  could grow, the
mountain was naked rock ridges and scree. A  little farther up, snow,  white
as  sugar, sparkled  in the slanting sunlight. Below the snow and bare rock,
the crooked wood was exposed to  harsh winds and bitter weather, causing the
trees to grow in tortured shapes. The crooked wood was a line of demarcation
between the  desolation where  little  more  than  lichen could  survive the
forbidding weather, and the forest of trees huddled below.
     Richard gestured off to their right. "Let's not waste any time, though.
I don't want to be caught up here come dark."
     Kahlan looked out to where  the mountain opened  onto  a grand vista of
snowcapped  peaks, valleys, and the undulating green of  seemingly  endless,
trackless forests.  A  roiling blanket  of  thick  clouds had  invaded those
valleys,  stealing  in  around the mountains,  sneaking  ever closer. In the
distance, some of the snowcapped peaks stood isolated in a cottony gray sea.
Lower down the mountains, below those dense,  dark clouds, the weather would
be miserable.
     Both  Richard and  Cara awaited  Kahlan's  word.  She didn't  like  the
thought of  being exposed  in  the  crooked  wood when the  icy cold fog and
drizzle arrived. "I'm fine,  let's  go and get it done. Then we can get down
lower where we'll be able to  find  a  wayward  pine to  stay dry tonight. I
wouldn't mind sitting beside a hearty little fire sipping hot tea."

     Cara blew warm breath into her cupped hands. "That sounds good to me."
     It was on the first  day Kahlan  met Richard, more than a year  before,
that he had taken her to a  wayward pine. Kahlan had  never known about such
trees in  the deep  woods  of Westland.  Wayward pines still held  the  same
mystic quality  for her as they did the  first time she  saw one silhouetted
against a darkening sky, taller than  all the  trees around it. Such  mature
trees were a friend to travelers far from any conventional shelter.
     A big  wayward pine's boughs hung  down to the  ground  all around. The
needles grew  mostly  at the outer fringe, leaving the inner branches  bare.
Inside, under their  dense  green skirts,  wayward pines  provided excellent
shelter  from  harsh  weather,  Something  about  the  tree's  sap made them
resistant to  fire, so if you were  careful, you  could have a cozy campfire
inside while outside it rained and stormed.
     Richard, Kahlan, and Cara often stayed in wayward pines when they  were
out  in the mountains.  Those nights getting warm around a small fire within
the tree's confines brought them all closer,  and gave them time to reflect,
to talk,  and  to tell stories.  Some of the  stories  made them laugh. Some
brought a lump to their throats.
     After Kahlan's assurance that she was up to it, Richard and Cara nodded
and started down the cliff. She had recovered from her  terrible wounds, but
they still left it up to her to decide if she was prepared for the effort of
such  a  descent and  climb and  then descent  again  before  they  found  a
sheltered campsite-hopefully in a wayward pine.
     Kahlan had been a long time  in healing. She had known, of course, that
injuries such  as she had suffered would take time to heal. Bedridden for so
long, her muscles had become withered, weak, and  nearly useless. For a long
time, it had been hard for  her to eat much. She became a skeleton. With the
realization  of just  how  weak and  helpless  she had  become, even  as she
healed, she had inexorably spiraled down into a state of abject depression.
     Kahlan had not  comprehended completely the punishing effort that would
be required if she was to he  herself again. Richard and Cara tried to cheer
her up,  but their efforts seemed distant; they  just didn't understand what
it was  like. Her legs wasted away  until they were bony sticks  with knobby
knees. She felt not just helpless, but ugly. Richard carved animals for her:
hawks,  foxes, otters,  ducks,  and  even  chipmunks.  They  seemed  only  a
curiosity to her. At  the lowest  point, Kahlan almost  wished she  had died
along with their child.
     Her  life became a tasteless  gruel.  All she saw, day after day,  week
after week, were the four walls of her sickroom. The pain was exhausting and
the monotony numbing. She came to  hate the bitter yarrow tea they made  her
drink,  and the smell  of the  poultice made  of tall cinquefoil and yarrow.
When after a time she resisted drinking yarrow, they would sometimes  switch
to linden, which wasn't so bitter  but didn't work as  well, yet it did help
her sleep.  Skullcap  often  helped  when her head hurt,  though it  was  so
astringent it make her mouth pucker  for a long time  after, Sometimes, they
switched to a tincture of  feverfew to help ease her pain.  Kahlan  came  to
hate taking herbs and would often say she didn't hurt, when she did, just to
avoid some horrid concoction.
     Richard hadn't made the  window in the bedroom very big; in the  summer
heat the room was often  sweltering. Kahlan could see only a bit of the  sky
outside her window, the tops of some  trees, and the jagged blue.-gray shape
of a mountain in the distance.
     Richard  wanted to take her outside, but Kahlan  begged  him not to try

     she  didn't think it  would  be worth the pain.  It  didn't  take  much
convincing for him  to be talked out of hurting her. Every kind of day, from
sunny and bright to gray and gloomy, came and went. Lying in her little room
as  time slipped away while she slowly  healed, Kahlan thought  of it as her
"lost summer."
     One day, she was parched, and Richard had forgotten to fill the cup and
place  it where she could reach it on the simple  table beside the bed. When
she asked for water, Richard came back with the cup and a full waterskin and
set  them both  on  the windowsill as  he called to Cara, outside. He rushed
out, telling Kahlan as he went that he and  Cara had to go check the fishing
lines and they would be  back as soon as they could. Before Kahlan could ask
him to put the water closer, he was gone.
     Kahlan lay fuming  in the silence, hardly able to believe that  Richard
had  been  so inconsiderate as to leave the water out  of her reach. It  was
unusually  warm  for  late  summer.  Her  tongue felt  swollen.  She  stared
helplessly at the wooden cup setting in the windowsill.
     On the verge  of tears, she let out a moan of self-pity and smacked her
fist  against  the  bed.  She  rolled her head to the  right, away from  the
window, and closed her eyes. She decided to take a nap in order not to think
about her thirst. Richard and Cara would be  back by the time she awoke, and
they would get the water for her. And Richard would get a scolding.
     Sweat  trickled  down  her  neck. Outside, a  bird  kept  calling.  Its
repetitious song sounded like a little girl with a high pitched voice saying
"who, me?" Once  a  "who, me?" bird  started in, it was a long  performance.
Kahlan could think of little else besides how much she wanted a drink.
     She couldn't make herself fall  asleep. The annoying bird  kept  asking
its  question  over  and  over  again.  More  than once,  she found  herself
whispering "yes,  you,"  in answer. She  growled  a  curse  at Richard.  She
squeezed her  eyes shut  and tried to  forget her thirst, the  heat, and the
bird and go to sleep. Her eyes kept popping open.
     Kahlan lifted her sleeping gown away from her chest, ruffling it up and
down  to  cool herself.  She realized she was  staring at the water  in  the
window. It was out of her reach-clear  over  on the other side of  the room.
The room wasn't very big, but still, she couldn't walk. Richard knew better.
She  thought that maybe,  if she could sit up and move to the bottom  of the
bed, she might be able to reach the cup.
     With an ill-tempered huff, she threw the light cover off her bony legs.
She hated seeing them. Why was Richard being  so inconsiderate? What was the
matter with him? She intended to  give him a piece  of her  mind when he got
back. She eased her legs over the side of the bed.
     The mattress was a pliable woven mat stuffed  with grasses and feathers
and  tow padding. It was quite comfortable, and Kahlan was pleased  with her
snug bed. With  a great  effort, she pushed herself up. For a long time, she
sat on the edge of the bed holding her head in  her hands as she caught  her
breath. Her whole body throbbed in pain.
     It was the first time she had sat up all by herself.
     She  understood very  well what  Richard  was doing.  Still, she didn't
appreciate his way of forcing her to get up. It was cruel. She wasn't ready.
She was still badly hurt. She needed to rest in bed in order to recover. Her
oozing wounds had finally  closed up and  healed over, but she  was sure she
was still too injured to be getting up. She feared to test broken bones.
     Accompanied  by a lot of groaning  and  grunting, she worked herself to
the bottom

     of  the bed. Sitting  there,  one hand  holding the footboard to steady
herself, she  was still too far from the window to reach the water.  She was
going to have to stand.
     She paused for a while to have dark thoughts about her husband.
     After a day many weeks before, when she had called for a  long time and
Richard hadn't heard her weak voice, he had left  a light pole beside her so
she would be able to use it  to reach  out and knock on the wall  or door if
she was in  urgent need of their help. Now, Kahlan worked her fingers around
the pole lying  alongside her  bed and  lifted  it  upright. She planted the
thicker  end  on  the  ground  and  leaned on the  pole for  support as  she
carefully slid off the bed.  Her feet touched the cool  dirt  floor. Putting
weight on her legs made her gasp in pain.
     She half  stood, half  leaned  on the  bed, prepared to  cry  out,  but
realized she was gasping more at  the brutal pain she expected than from the
actual pain. It did hurt, but she realized it wasn't too much to endure. She
was a bit disgruntled  to  learn it wasn't nearly as bad as it had been; she
had been planning on reducing Richard to tears  with the torturous suffering
he had so cavalierly forced upon her.
     She put more  weight on her feet and  pulled herself up with the aid of
the pole. Finally, she stood  in wobbling triumph.  She  was actually on her
feet, and she had done it by herself.
     Kahlan couldn't seem to make her legs walk the way she wanted them  to.
In  order  to get  to the water, she was going to have  to  make them do her
bidding-at least until she  reached the window. Then, she could  collapse to
the  floor,  where  Richard would  find  her. She  luxuriated in her  mental
picture of it. He wouldn't think his  plan to get  her out of bed so clever,
     With the aid of the stout pole for support and her tongue poked out the
corner of her  mouth for balance,  she slowly shuffled to the window. Kahlan
told herself that if she  fell, she was going to lie there  in a heap on the
floor,  without any water, until Richard  came back  and  found her  moaning
through cracked  lips, dying of thirst. He would be  sorry he had ever tried
such a pitiless trick.  He would  feel guilty for the rest  of his life  for
what he had done to her-she would see to it.
     Almost wishing every difficult step of the way that she would fall, she
finally made it to the window. Kahlan threw an arm over the sill for support
and closed her eyes  as  she panted in little breaths so as not  to hurt her
ribs.  When she had her wind back,  she drew herself up  to the  window. She
snatched the cup and gulped down the water.
     Kahlan  plunked the  empty cup down  on the sill  and peered out as she
caught her breath again.
     Richard was sitting on the ground just outside, his  arms hooked around
his knees, his hands clasped.
     "Hi there," he said with a smile.
     Cara, sitting right beside him, gazed up without emotion. "I see you're
     Kahlan wanted to yell at him, but instead she found herself trying with
all her might not to laugh. She felt suddenly and overwhelmingly foolish for
not trying sooner to get up on her own.
     Tears stung  her eyes as she looked out at the  expanse  of  trees, the
vibrant  colors,  the majestic  mountains, and  the huge  sweep  of blue sky
dotted with fluffy  white clouds marching off into the distance. The size of
the  mountains,  their  imposing  slopes,  their luscious color,  was beyond
anything she had  ever  encountered before. How  could she possibly not have
wanted more than anything to get up and see the world around her?

     "You know, of course, that you've made a big mistake," Richard said.
     "What do you mean?" Kahlan asked.
     "Well, had you not gotten up,  we'd have  kept waiting on you-at  least
for a  time.  Now that you've shown us that you can get  up and move on your
own, we're only going to keep doing this-putting things out of your reach to
make you start moving about and helping yourself."
     While  she  silently thanked  him, she was unwilling, just yet, to tell
him out loud how right he had  been. But  inside, she loved him all the more
for braving her anger to help her.
     Cara turned to  Richard. "Should we  show her where  she  can  find the
     Richard shrugged. "If she gets  hungry, she'll come  out of the bedroom
and find it."
     Kahlan threw the cup at him, hoping to wipe  the smirk off his face. He
caught the cup.
     "Well,  glad  to see  your arm works," he  said. "You can  cut your own
bread." When she started  to protest,  he said,  "It's only fair. Cara baked
it. The least you can do is to cut it."
     Kahlan's mouth fell open. "Cara baked bread?"
     "Lord Rahl taught me," Cara  said. "I wanted bread with  my  stew, real
bread, and he  told me that if I wanted bread, I would have to learn to make
it. It was easy, really. A little like walking to the window. But I was much
more good-natured about it, and didn't throw anything at him."
     Kahlan could not  help smiling, knowing it  must  have been  harder for
Cara to  knead dough than for Kahlan to get up and walk. She somehow doubted
that Cara had been "good-natured" about it.  Kahlan  would like to have seen
that battle of wills.
     "Give me back my cup.  And  then  go catch  some fish  for dinner.  I'm
hungry. I want a trout. A big trout. Along with bread."
     Richard smiled. "I can do that. If you can find the table."
     Kahlan did find the table. She never ate in bed again.
     At  first,  the pain  of walking  was  sometimes  more  than  she could
tolerate, and she took refuge in her bed.  Cara would come in  and brush her
hair, just so Kahlan wouldn't be alone. She had no power in her muscles, and
could  hardly  move by herself.  Brushing her  own hair was a colossal task.
Just getting to  the  table was exhausting, and all she could accomplish  at
first. Richard and  Cara were sympathetic, and continually  encouraged  her,
but they pushed her, too.
     Kahlan was joyous to be out of the bed and  that helped  her to  ignore
the pain. The  world was again a wondrous place. She was more than joyous to
be able  at last to go out to the privy. While she never said so, Kahlan was
sure Cara was happy about that, too.
     As  much  as  she liked the snug home,  going outside felt like finally
being freed  from a dungeon. Before,  Richard had frequently offered to take
her outside for the day,  but she had never wanted to leave her bed, fearing
the pain. She realized that because she was so sick, her thinking had slowly
become dull  and foggy. Along  with  her summer,  she  had for  a  time lost
herself. Now, at long last, she felt clearheaded.
     She  discovered  that  the  view  outside  her  window  was  the  least
impressive of  the surrounding  sights. Snowcapped peaks  towered around the
small house Richard and Cara had built in the lap of breathtaking mountains.
The simple house, with a bed-

     room at either end, one for Richard and Kahlan, and  one for Cara, with
a common room in the middle, sat at  the  edge  of a meadow of velvety green
grasses  sprinkled with  wildflowers.  Even though it was late in the season
when they  had arrived, Richard managed to  start a small garden in  a sunny
place  outside Cara's window,  growing fresh  greens for the table and  some
herbs to add flavor to their cooking. Right behind the house, huge old white
pines towered over them, sheltering them from the full force of the wind.
     Richard  had  continued  his carving, to  pass the time  as  he  sat by
Kahlan's bed, talking and telling stories, but after she had at  last gotten
out  of  bed,  his  carvings  changed. Instead  of  animals,  Richard  began
sculpting people.
     And then one day he surprised her with his most magnificent carving yet
in celebration, he said, of her getting well enough to finally come out into
the world.
     Astonished  by the utter realism and  power  of  the small  statue, she
whispered that it could only be the gift that had guided his hand in carving
it. Richard regarded such talk as nonsense.
     "People  without the  gift carve  beautiful  statues  all the time," he
said. "There's no magic involved."
     She knew, though, that some artists were  gifted, and  able  to  invoke
magic through their art.
     Richard occasionally spoke wistfully about the works of art  he'd  seen
at the People's Palace, in D'Hara,  where he had been held  captive. Growing
up in Hart  land,  he  had never  before seen statues carved in  marble, and
certainly  none carved on  such  a grand  scale, or  by such talented hands.
Those works had in some ways opened his eyes to the greater world around him
and  had made a  lasting  impression  on  him. Who  else  but  Richard would
remember fondly the beauty he saw while held captive and being tortured?
     It was true that art could exist independent  of magic, but Richard had
been taken captive in  the first place only with the aid  of a spell brought
to life through art.  Art  was a  universal language, and thus an invaluable
tool for implementing magic.
     Kahlan finally stopped  arguing with him about whether  the gift helped
him to carve. He simply didn't believe it. She felt, though, that, having no
other outlet, his gift must be  expressing itself in this  way. Magic always
seemed  to find a way to seep out, and his  carvings of people certainly did
seem magical to her.
     But the figure of the woman that he carved  for her  as a  gift stirred
profound emotion within  her. He called it,  an  image nearly two  feet tall
carved from  buttery smooth, rich, aromatic walnut, Spirit. The feminity  of
her  body, its exquisite  shape  and curves, bones  and muscle, were clearly
evident beneath her flowing robes. She looked alive.
     How Richard had accomplished such a feat, Kahlan couldn't even imagine.
He had conveyed through the woman, her robes flowing in a wind as she  stood
with her head thrown back, her chest out, her hands fisted at her sides, her
back  arched and  strong as  if in opposition  to an invisible  power trying
unsuccessfully to subdue her, a sense of . . . spirit.
     The statue  was obviously  not intended  to  look  like Kahlan,  yet it
evoked  in  her  some  visceral response,  a  tension  that was  startlingly
familiar.  Something  about  the  woman in  the  carving,  some  quality  it
conveyed, made Kahlan hunger to be well, to be fully alive, to be strong and
independent again.
     If this wasn't magic, she didn't know what was.
     Kahlan  had  been around grand palaces her whole life, exposed  to  any
number of

     pieces of great art  by renowned artists,  but none had  ever taken her
breath with its thrust of inner vision, its sense of individual nobility, as
did this proud, vibrant woman in flowing robes. The strength and vitality of
it brought  a  lump  to  Kahlan's throat, and  she could only throw her arms
around Richard's neck in speechless emotion.

     Now Kahlan went outside at every opportunity. She placed the carving of
Spirit  on the windowsill so she  could see it  not only from bed,  but also
when  she  was outdoors.  She  turned the  statue so that  it  always  faced
outside. She felt it should always be facing the world.
     The  woods  around the house were  mysterious and alluring.  Intriguing
trails went off into the  shadowy distance,  and she could just detect light
off at the end of the  gently curving tunnel through the trees. She ached to
explore those narrow tracks, animal trails enlarged by Richard  and  Cara on
their short treks  to tend fishing lines  and forays in search of  nuts  and
berries.  Kahlan, with the aid of a  staff, hobbled around the house and the
meadow to strengthen her legs; she wanted to go with Richard on those treks,
through  the filtered sunlight and gentle  breezes, over the open patches of
ledge, and under the arched, enclosing limbs of huge oaks.
     One of the  first  places Richard took her when  she insisted she could
walk for a short distance was through that tunnel in the thick, dark wood to
the patch of light at the other end, where a brook descended a rocky  gorge.
The brook  was sheltered on the hillside  above  them  by a  dense  stand of
trees.  An enormous  weight of water continuously plunged  over that stepped
tumble of rocks, surging around  boulders  and pouring in glassy sheets over
ledges. Many of the bear-sized rocks sitting in the shady pools were flocked
in  a dark green velvet of  moss and sprinkled  with long tawny needles from
the white  pines that  favored the rock  slope.  Flecks of  sunlight winking
through the dense canopy shimmered in the clear pools.
     At the  bottom  of that gorge, in that  sunny  mountain glen off behind
their house where the trail emerged  from the woods, the brook broadened and
slowed  as  it  meandered  through the expansive valley  surrounded  by  the
awesome jut of the mountains.  Sometimes  Kahlan would  dangle her bony legs
over a bank and let the cool water caress  her feet. There, she could sit on
the  warm grass and soak  up the  sun while watching fish  swim through  the
crystal-clear water flowing over gravel beds. Richard had been right when he
told her that trout liked beautiful places.
     She loved watching the fish, frogs, crayfish, and even the salamanders.
Oftentimes,  she would lie  on her stomach on the  low grassy bank, with her
chin resting on the backs of her hands, and watch for hours as the fish came
out from under sunken logs, from beneath rocks, or from the  dark  depths of
the  larger  pools to snatch a  bug from  the surface  of  the water. Kahlan
caught crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs and periodically tossed them in for
the fish. Richard laughed when she  talked  to the fish, encouraging them to
come up out of their  dark holes for a tasty bug. Sometimes, a graceful gray
heron  would stand on its thin legs in the shallow marshes not  far away and
occasionally spear a fish or a frog with its daggerlike bill.
     Kahlan  could not  recall, in the whole  of her life, ever  being in  a
place with such

     a  vibrancy  of life to it, surrounded  by such majesty. Richard teased
her, telling her she hadn't seen anything yet, making  her  curious and ever
eager to get stronger so  she  could explore  new  sights.  She felt like  a
little girl in  a  magical kingdom that  was theirs and theirs alone. Having
grown up a Confessor, Kahlan had never  spent  much time  outdoors  watching
animals or water tumbling down over rocks or clouds or sunsets. She had seen
a great  many magnificent things, but they  were in the context  of  travel,
cities, buildings,  and people. She had never lingered in one  place  in the
countryside to really soak it all in.
     Still, the thoughts in the  back of her mind hounded her; she knew that
she  and  Richard were needed elsewhere. They  had responsibilities. Richard
casually  deflected the subject  whenever she broached  it;  he had  already
explained his reasoning, and believed he was doing what was right.
     They hadn't been visited by messengers for a very long time. That worry
played on  her mind, too, but Richard said that he couldn't allow himself to
influence the army, so it was just as well that General Reibisch had stopped
sending  reports.  Besides,  he said,  it  only  needlessly  endangered  the
messengers who made the journey.
     For  the  time being, Kahlan knew she needed  to  get better,  and  her
isolated  mountain  life was  making  her stronger by the day,  probably  as
nothing  else  could. Once  they returned to the war-once she convinced  him
that they  must  return-this peaceful life would be  but a cherished memory.
She resolved to enjoy what she couldn't change, while it lasted.
     Once when  it  had  been raining for a few  days and Kahlan was missing
going  out to the brook to  watch  the fish, Richard did the most unheard-of
thing.  He  started bringing  her  fish in ajar. Live  fish.  Fish just  for
     After he'd cleaned an empty lamp-oil jug  and several widemouthed glass
jars that had held preserves, herbs, and  unguents for  her injuries,  along
with other supplies he had purchased on their journey away from Anderith, he
put some gravel in the bottom and filled them with water from the stream. He
then  caught  some  blacknose  dace  minnows  and  put  them  in  the  glass
containers. They were yellowish olive on top speckled with black, with white
bottoms, and a thick black line down each side. He even provided them with a
bit of weed from the brook so they could have a place to hide and feel safe.
     Kahlan  was astonished  when Richard brought home the first jar of live
fish. She  set  the jars-eventually  four jars  and one  jug  in  all-on the
windowsill in  the main room, beside  several of Richard's smaller carvings.
Richard, Kahlan, and Cara sat  at the  small wooden  table when they ate and
watched the marvel of fish living in ajar.
     "Just don't name them," Richard said, "because eventually they're going
to die."
     What she had at first thought was an entirely daft idea became a center
of fascination for her. Even Cara, who cited fish-in-a-jar as lunacy, took a
liking  to the  little fish. It  seemed that every  day with Richard  in the
mountains held some  new marvel to turn her mind away from her own pains and
     After  the fish became  accustomed  to  people,  they went  about their
little lives as if living in ajar were perfectly natural. From time to time,
Richard would pour out part  of their water, and  add fresh  water  from the
brook. Kahlan and Cara fed the  little  fish crumbs  of bread or tiny scraps
from dinner, along with small bugs. The fish ate eagerly, and  spent most of
their time pecking at the gravel  on the  bottom, or swimming about, looking
out at the world. After a while, the fish learned when it

     was lunchtime. They would wiggle eagerly on the other side of the glass
whenever anyone approached, like puppies happy to see their masters.
     The  main room had a small fireplace Richard had built with  clay  from
stream banks he'd formed  into bricks and dried in the sun,  and then cooked
in a fire. They had the table he'd made, and chairs constructed of  branches
intertwined and lashed together. He'd woven the chair bottoms and backs from
leathery inner bark.
     In  the corner of the room was  a wooden door over a  deep root cellar.
Against the  back wall  were  simple  shelves  and  a big  cupboard  full of
supplies. They'd bought a lot of  supplies along  the way  and carried  them
either  in  the  carriage with Kahlan or strapped on the back and sides. For
the last part  of  the journey Richard  and  Cara  had lugged everything in,
since the carriage couldn't  make it over narrow mountain passes where there
were no roads. Richard had blazed the trail in.
     Cara had  her  own room opposite theirs. Once up and about, Kahlan  was
surprised to find that Cara  had a collection of rocks. Cara bristled at the
term "collection,"  and  asserted that they were there as defensive weapons,
should they be attacked and trapped in the house. Kahlan found the rocks-all
different colors-suspiciously pretty. Cara insisted they were deadly.
     While Kahlan had been  bedridden,  Richard had slept on a pallet in the
main  room, or  sometimes  outside under the  stars.  A  number of times, at
first, when  she was in so much pain, Kahlan had awakened to see him sitting
on the  floor beside her bed, dozing as  he leaned against  the wall, always
ready to jump up  if she needed anything, or to offer her medicines and herb
teas. He hadn't wanted to sleep in bed  with her for fear of it hurting her.
She  almost  would  have been willing  to  endure it for the  comfort of his
presence beside her. Finally, though, after she was up and about, he was  at
last able to lie beside her. That first night with  him in bed, she had held
his  big  warm hand to  her belly as she gazed  at Spirit silhouetted in the
moonlight, listening to the night calls of birds, bugs, and the songs of the
wolves until her eyes closed and she drifted into a peaceful slumber.
     It was on the next day that Richard first killed her.
     They  were at the  stream, checking the fishing lines, when he  cut two
straight willow switches. He  tossed one on the ground beside where she sat,
and told her it was her sword.
     He  seemed in a playful mood,  and told her  to defend herself. Feeling
playful herself, Kahlan took up the challenge by suddenly trying to stab him
just  to put him in his place. He stabbed  her first and declared her  dead.
She  fought  him  again, more  earnestly  the  second  time, and  he quickly
dispatched her with a convincingly feigned beheading. By the third  time she
went  after  him, she was a little irked. She  put  all her  effort into her
assault, but he smoothly thwarted her attack and then pressed the tip of his
willow-switch sword  between her breasts. He  announced her dead for a third
time out of three.
     Thereafter, it became a  game  Kahlan wanted  to win. Richard never let
her win, not even  just to be  nice when she was feeling  low because of her
slow  progress at getting stronger. He  repeatedly  humbled her  in front of
Cara. Kahlan knew he  was  doing it to  make her push  herself  to  use  her
muscles,  to forget  her aches, to stretch  and  strengthen her body. Kahlan
just wanted to win.
     They each  carried their willow-switch swords sheathed  behind a  belt,
always at  the  ready. Every  day, she would attack him, or he  would attack
her, and the fight was on. At first,  she  was  no challenge to  him, and he
made it  clear she  was  no  challenge.  That,  of  course,  only  made  her
determined to show him that she was no

     novice, that it was not so much a  battle of strength, but of leverage,
advantage, and  swiftness.  He  encouraged  her, but  never gave  her  false
praise. As the weeks passed, she slowly began making him work for his kills.
     Kahlan had  been taught to  use a sword  by her father, King Wyborn. At
least, he had been king  before Kahlan's mother took  him for her mate. King
was an insignificant title  to a Confessor. King Wyborn of Galea had had two
children with his queen and first wife, so  Kahlan  had  both an  older half
sister and a half brother.
     Kahlan wanted very much to make a  good show of  her training under her
father. It was frustrating to know she was far better with a weapon than she
was showing Richard. It wasn't so much that she didn't know what to  do, but
that she simply couldn't do it; her muscles were not yet  strong enough, nor
would they respond nearly quickly enough.
     Something about it,  though, was still unsettling:  Richard fought in a
way Kahlan had never encountered in her  training, or in the real combat she
had seen. She couldn't define or analyze  the difference, but she could feel
it, and she didn't know what to do to counter it.
     In the beginning, Richard and  Kahlan had most of their battles  in the
meadow outside their  house,  so  that Kahlan wouldn't be as  likely to trip
over something, and  if she did, not  as likely to hit her head  on anything
granite. Cara was  their  everpresent  audience. As time passed, the battles
lasted longer, and grew more strenuous. They became furious and exhausting.
     A couple  of  times  Kahlan  had been so  upset by Richard's relentless
attitude toward their sword fights that  she didn't  speak  to him for hours
afterward, lest she let slip words she didn't really mean and which she knew
she would regret.
     Richard would then sometimes tell her, "Save  your anger for the enemy.
Here it will do you no good; there, it can overcome  fear. Use this time now
to teach your  sword  what  to do, so later it will do it  without conscious
     Kahlan  well  knew  that an enemy was never kind. If Richard gave in to
kindnessawarded her false pride-it could only serve her ill.  As aggravating
as such  lessons  sometimes were,  it was impossible  to  remain angry  with
Richard for very long, especially because she knew she was really only angry
with herself.
     Kahlan  had  been around weapons and men  who used them all her life. A
few of  the better  ones,  in addition to her  father,  were on occasion her
teachers. None of them had fought like Richard. Richard made fighting with a
blade look like art.  He gave beauty to the act  of dealing death. There was
something  about it, though, tickling at her,  something she  knew she still
wasn't grasping.
     Richard  had told her once, before she had  been hurt, that he had come
to believe that  magic  itself could be an art  form. She had  told him  she
thought  that was crazy. Now, she didn't know.  From the bits  of  the story
she'd heard, she suspected that Richard  had used magic in something of that
way to defeat the chimes:  he  had  created  a  solution  where it had never
before existed, or even been imagined.
     One day, in one of their fierce sword fights, she had been positive she
had him dead to rights and that she was delivering the stroke of victory. He
effortlessly evaded what she had been sure was her killing strike and killed
her instead. He made what had seemed impossible look natural.
     It was  in that instant that the whole concept came  clear for her. She
had been looking at it all wrong.
     It wasn't that Richard could fight well  with a sword, or that he could
create beautiful statues  with a knife  and chisel, it was  that Richard was
one with the

     blade-the blade in any form: sword, knife, chisel, or willow switch. He
was a  master-not  of  sword fighting or carving as  such, but, in  the most
fundamental way, of the blade itself.
     Fighting was but one use of a blade. His balance for using his sword to
destroymagic always  sought balance-was using  a blade  to  carve  things of
beauty. She  had been looking at the individual parts of what he did, trying
to understand them separately; Richard saw only one unified whole.
     Everything about him: the way he shot an arrow;  the way he carved; the
way he  used  a sword;  even  the  way  he  walked with  such fluid reasoned
intent-they weren't separate things, separate  abilities . . . they were all
the same thing.
     Richard paused. "What's the matter? Your face is turning white."
     Kahlan stood with her willow sword lowered. "You're dancing with death.
That's what you're doing with your sword."
     Richard blinked at her as if she had just  announced that rain was wet.
"But, of  course." Richard touched the amulet hanging  at his chest.  In the
center,  surrounded  by  a   complex  of  gold  and  silver  lines,   was  a
teardrop-shaped ruby as  big as her thumbnail. "I told you  that a long time
ago. Are you just now coming to believe me?"
     She stood gaping. "Yes, I think I am."
     Kahlan recalled all too clearly his chilling words to her when  she had
first seen the amulet around his neck, and she had asked him what it was:
     "The  ruby  is  meant to represent a drop  of blood. It is the symbolic
representation of the way of the primary edict.
     "It means only one thing, and everything: cut. Once committed to fight,
cut.  Everything else is  secondary.  Cut. That is your  duty, your purpose,
your hunger. There is no rule  more  important, no commitment that overrides
that one. Cut.
     "The lines are a  portrayal  of the dance. Cut from the  void, not from
bewilderment. Cut the  enemy as quickly and directly as  possible.  Cut with
certainty. Cut decisively, resolutely.  Cut into his strength.  Flow through
the  gaps in his guard. Cut  him. Cut  him down  utterly. Don't allow  him a
breath. Crush him. Cut him without mercy to the depths of his spirit.
     "It is the balance to life: death. It is the dance with death.
     "It is the law a war wizard lives by, or he dies."
     The  dance was art.  It was no  different,  really,  from carving.  Art
expressed  through a blade. It was all one  and  the same to him. He  saw no
distinction, for within him, there was none.
     They  shared the meadow  with  a red  fox  who  hunted it for  rodents,
mostly,  but wasn't averse to chewing on whatever juicy bugs she could catch
there. Their horses didn't mind  the fox so much, but  they didn't  like the
coyotes  that sometimes  visited. Kahlan rarely saw  them, but she knew they
were  about when the horses  snorted their displeasure. She often heard  the
coyotes barking  at night, higher up  in the surrounding  slopes. They would
let out long  flat howls,  followed by  a series  of yips. Some  nights, the
wolves sang, their long monotone  howls, without the yapping of the coyotes,
echoing  through  the mountains. Once  Kahlan saw  a black  bear  off in the
trees, ambling  along, giving  them only a  passing look, and  once a bobcat

     near their  house, sending  the horses off  in a panic. It took Richard
the better part of a day to find the horses.
     Chipmunks begged  at  their door, and regularly invited themselves into
the house for a look around. Kahlan often caught herself talking to them and
asking questions as if they could  understand  her every word.  The way they
paused and cocked their heads at her made her suspect they really could.  In
the  early  mornings, small herds  of  deer often  visited the  meadow, some
leaving  fresh, inverted heart-shaped  tracks near  the door as they passed.
Lately,  aggressive bucks in  rut, bearing huge racks, had been showing  up.
One of the hides Kahlan wore was from a wolf injured  by one  of those bucks
up in an  oak grove not far  away. Richard  had spared the wounded animal  a
lingering, suffering death.
     Beside the  sword fights, they went on marches up into the mountains to
help  Kahlan  strengthen  her limbs.  Those walks  were taxing  on  her  leg
muscles, sometimes leaving her so sore she couldn't sleep. Richard would rub
oil into her feet, calves, and  thighs when  they hurt too  much for  her to
sleep. That usually worked, relaxing her and making her  drowsy and  able to
fall asleep.
     She distinctly remembered the rainy night after walking home in the wet
and cold, when she lay on her back in bed, eyes shut, as Richard rubbed warm
oil into her  leg muscles. He whispered that her legs finally seemed to have
gotten back all their tone and shape. Kahlan looked up and saw desire in his
eyes. It was an almost forgotten thrill to know his hunger  for her. She had
been so startled that she felt tears trickle down her cheeks with the joy of
suddenly feeling like a woman again-a desirable woman.
     Richard raised her  leg to his  mouth and gently kissed her bare ankle.
By the time  his soft warm kisses reached  her thighs,  she was panting with
suddenly and unexpectedly  awakened desire. He laid  open her nightshirt and
rubbed the warm oil on her exposed belly. His big hands moved up her body to
caress her breasts.  He breathed through his mouth as  he rolled her nipples
until they were hard between his finger and thumb.
     "Why, Lord Rahl," she  said in a breathy whisper, "I do believe you are
going to get carried away."
     He paused, seeming to  check  himself and what he  was doing,  and then
pulled back.
     "I won't break, Richard," she said as she caught his hand and pulled it
back. "I'm all right, now. I'd like it if you got carried away."
     She  clutched his hair in her  fists  as his kisses covered her breasts
and then her  shoulders and then  worked up her neck. His panting warmed her
ear. His exploring fingers made her frantic with need. His body against hers
felt  wildly  erotic. She no longer  felt weary. Finally, he tenderly kissed
her lips. She let him know by the way she returned the kiss that  he needn't
be all that tender.
     As the rain  drummed on the  roof, as lightning  lit the lines and  the
clenched-fist strength of  the  statue  in the  window  and thunder  rumbled
through the  mountains,  Kahlan, without fearing it,  without worrying about
it, without wondering  if she would be able,  held  Richard tightly  as they
made quiet, gentle, fierce love. They had never needed each other as much as
that night. All her fears and worries evaporated in the heat of overpowering
need welling up through her.  She wept with the strength of her pleasure and
the release of her emotions.
     When later Richard lay in her arms, she felt a tear roll  off his face,
and  she  asked  him  if something was wrong. He shook  his  head  and  said
distantly that he had for

     so long  feared losing her that sometimes he had believed he  might  go
mad. It seemed as if he could finally allow himself release from his private
terror.  The pain  Kahlan  had  first seen  in  his  eyes when  she couldn't
remember his name was at last banished.
     Their marches into the mountains ranged farther and  farther. Sometimes
they took packs and  spent  the night in the woods, often in a wayward pine,
when they could find  one. The rugged terrain offered a never-ending variety
of vistas. In places, sheer rock cliffs  towered over them. In other places,
they stood at the brink  of sheer drops and  watched  the  sun  turn the sky
orange and purple as it went down  while wispy clouds  drifted through quiet
green  valleys  below.  They  went  to  towering waterfalls  with their  own
rainbows. There were clear,  sunlit pools  up in  the  mountains where  they
swam. They ate on rocks  overlooking rugged sights no one but they ever saw.
They followed animal trails through vast woods  of gnarled trees, and others
among the dark forest floor where  grew  trees with trunks like  huge  brown
columns, so big twenty men couldn't have joined hands around them.
     Richard  had Kahlan practice with  a bow  to  help strengthen her arms.
They  hunted  small game for stews, or for  roasting. Some  they  smoked and
dried along with the fish they  caught. Richard usually didn't eat meat, but
occasionally  he did. Not eating meat was part of  the balance needed by his
gift  for when  he was  forced to kill. That  need of balance was  lessening
because he  wasn't  killing. He was at peace.  Perhaps  the  balance was now
being served by his carving. As  time passed,  he was able to eat more meat.
When they were  out  on journeys, they usually ate rice and beans along with
bannock  and any berries they  collected along the way,  in addition to game
they caught.
     Kahlan helped  clean fish and salt them  down and  smoke yet others for
their winter stores. It was a job that she had never before undertaken. They
collected berries, nuts, and wild apples and put a lot of  those away in the
root cellar along with root crops he had purchased before coming up into the
mountains. Richard dug up small apple trees, when he found  any, and planted
them in  the meadow  by the house so that, he  said, someday they would have
apples close at hand.
     Kahlan wondered how  long he intended to keep them away from where they
were  needed.  The  silent question always  hung  there, seen  by  all,  but
unspoken. Cara never asked him, but she sometimes made some small mention of
it to Kahlan when they were alone. She was Lord Rahl's guard, and glad to be
close at hand,  so she  generally offered  no objection.  He was, after all,
Lord Rahl, and he was safe.
     Kahlan had always felt the weight  of their responsibilities. Like  the
towering mountains all  around,  looming over  them, always  shadowing them,
that  responsibility  could never be completely  forgotten.  As much as  she
loved the house  Richard had built on the edge of the meadow, and as much as
she loved  exploring  the  rugged  beautiful,  imposing,  and  ever-changing
mountains, with  each passing day she mom and more felt that weight and  the
anxious  need to  be  back where they were needed most. She fretted  at what
could be going on  that  they weren't aware of.  The Imperial Order was  not
going to  stay put;  an  army that size  liked to move. Soldiers, especially
soldiers of  that  ilk, became restless in  long encampments, and sooner  or
later  started causing trouble. She worried about all the  people who needed
the  reassurance of Richard's presence,  his  guidance-and hers.  There were
people who their whole

     lives had  depended on the Mother Confessor always being there to stand
up for them.
     With winter  coming on, Richard  had made Kahlan a warm mantle,  mostly
out of wolf fur. The other two pelts were coyotes. Richard had  found one of
the coyotes with a broken  leg, probably from a fall, and had put it out  of
its  misery. The other had been a rogue chased off by the local pack. It had
taken to raiding  food from lei little smokehouse. Richard had taken the sly
looter with a single arrow.
     They had collected most of the wolf pelts from injured or  old animals.
Richard, Kahlan, and Cara often tracked wolf  packs as a way  of  helping to
build  Kahlan's strength.  Kahlan came to recognize  their  tracks, and even
learned to know at a  glance, if the prints were in  mud or soft dirt, their
front  paws from the  rear. Richard showed  her how  the  toes of  the front
spread out more, with a more welldefined heel pad than the  rear paw. He had
located several packs in the mountains, and the three of them often followed
one group or family to  see if they could do  so without the wolves knowing.
Richard  said it  was  a  kind of  game  guides used  to  play  to  keep  in
practice-to keep their senses sharp.
     After Kahlan's  mantle  was  completed, they had  turned to  collecting
pelts  for  Cara's winter  fur. Cara,  who always  wore the  clothes  of her
profession,  had  liked the idea of Lord  Rahl making  something for  her to
wear-the same as he had made for Kahlan. While  she had  never said as much,
Kahlan had always felt that  Cara saw the mantle he  was making for her as a
mark  of  his feelings, his  respect-proof that she was more than  just  his
     This  had been a journey to  find pelts for Cara's mantle, and she  had
been eager. She had even cooked for them.
     Now,  coming down off the ridge where Kahlan had finally bested Richard
in a sword fight, Kahlan was in  a good mood. For the last two days they had
been following the wolf pack up in the mountains to the west of their house.
It was not simply a hunt, and not simply to get a pelt for Cara, but part of
the never-ending pressure Richard put on Kahlan to keep up.
     Almost every day for the last two months, Richard had her marching over
the  most difficult terrain, the kind of terrain that made  her strain every
muscle  in her body.  As Kahlan had gotten stronger, the  marches had gotten
longer. At  first they were  only  across the  house;  now they were  across
mountains. On top of that, he frequently  attacked her with his willow sword
and poked fun at her if she didn't put in her absolute hardest fight.
     In a way, finally  beating Richard in  one  of  their mock sword fights
puzzled  her.  He  might have been tired from carrying the heaviest pack and
scouting  some of the steeper trails  by himself first  and then coming back
for them, but he  hadn't  slacked  off,  and  she had still killed  him. She
couldn't  help but  be pleased with  herself, even if she did  question  her
victory. Out of the corner of her  eye, she  had  caught him  smiling  as he
looked at her. Kahlan knew Richard was proud  of her  for besting him.  In a
way, his losing was a victory for him.
     Kahlan  thought  that she must be stronger, now, after all  Richard had
put her through, than at any time in her life. It had not been easy,  but it
had been worth at last  feeling  like  the  carving  in the  window  of  her
     Kahlan put a hand on Richard's shoulder as he followed Cara down broken
granite blocks placed by chance like big, irregular steps. "Richard, how did
I beat you?"
     He  saw  in her eyes the seriousness  of the question.  "You  killed me
because I made a mistake."

     "A mistake? You mean, perhaps you had gotten too confident? Perhaps you
were just tired, or were thinking of something else."
     "Doesn't really matter, does it? Whatever it was, it was a mistake that
cost  me  my  life in the game.  In a real fight, I would have died.  You've
taught  me  a  valuable lesson to redouble  my resolve to  always  put in my
absolute full effort. It just goes to remind me, though, that I could make a
mistake at any time, and lose."
     Kahlan couldn't help but to be  struck by the obvious question:  was he
making a mistake in staying out of the effort to keep the Midlands free from
the tyranny of the Imperial Order? She couldn't  help  feeling  the pull  to
help her people, even though Richard still felt  that  if the  people didn't
want his  leadership, his  efforts could  do no good. As  Mother  Confessor,
Kahlan  knew  that while people  didn't always understand that what a leader
did was done in their best interest, that was no reason to abandon them.
     With  winter coming on, she hoped the  Imperial  Order  would choose to
stay  put in Anderith. Kahlan needed  to convince  Richard to return to help
the Midlands,  but  she was  at a loss to  know how.  He  was  firm  in  his
reasoning, and she  could find  no  chink in the armor of his logic. Emotion
did not sway him in this.
     Cara  led  them down  the  craggy precipice, having  to backtrack  only
twice. It was a difficult descent. Cara  was pleased with  herself, and that
Richard  had let her pick the route.  It was her pelt they were going after,
so  he let her lead them across  the tangle of undergrowth  in the ravine at
the bottom and then up the following lip of the notch where trees clung with
roots like talons to the rocky rise.
     The  wind  coming  up  the ravine  had  turned  bitter. The clouds  had
thickened until they snuffed out the golden  rays of sunlight.  Their ascent
took them up into a gloomy, dark wood of towering evergreens. Far over their
heads, the treetops  swayed in  the  wind, but  down on  the ground,  it was
still. Their footfalls were hushed by a thick spongy mat of brown needles.
     The climb was steep,  but not arduous. As they ascended, the  big trees
grew farther and farther apart. The boughs became scraggly, allowing more of
the somber light to seep in.  For  the most part, the  rocks  higher up were
bare of moss and leaves. In places they had to use handholds on the rock, or
else  roots, to help them climb. Kahlan pulled deep breaths of the cold air;
it felt good to test her muscles.
     They came out of the forest into the steel-gray light of late afternoon
and the moaning voice of the wind. They were in the crooked wood.
     The scree  and rock were naked of  the thick moss common lower down the
mountain, but  they bore yellow-green splotches of lichen outlined in black.
Only a bit of scraggly brush clung to the low places here and there.  But it
was the trees that were  the most odd, and gave the place at the top of  the
tree line its name. They were all stunted-few taller than Kahlan or Richard.
Most  of the branches  grew to one side  because  of the  prevailing  winds,
leaving  the trees  looking  like  grotesque,  running  skeletons  frozen in
     Above the crooked wood, few  things other than sedges and lichens grew.
Above that, the snowcap held sway.
     "Here it is," Cara said.
     They found the wolf  sprawled on the  scree beside a low boulder with a
dark stain  of dried  blood at the sharp edge. Up  higher, the  pack of gray
wolves had been trying  to take  down a woodland caribou.  The old  bull had
grazed the unlucky  wolf with a kick. That  in itself would likely  not have
been  anything more than painful, but the  wolf had slipped from the  higher
ledge and fallen to its death. Kahlan ran her fingers

     through the  thick,  yellow-gray coat tipped in  black. It was in  good
condition, and would be a warm addition to Cara's winter mantle.
     Richard  and  Cara  started skinning the  good-sized  female  animal as
Kahlan went out to the edge  of  an overhang.  She  drew  her own mantle  up
around her ears  as she stood in the bitter  wind  surveying the approaching
clouds. She was somewhat startled by what she saw.
     "Richard, it's not drizzle coming our way," Kahlan said. "It's snow."
     He  looked up from  his bloody work. "Do you see any wayward pines down
in the valley?"
     She squinted down to the valley floor spread out before her.
     "Yes, I see a couple. The snow is still a ways off.  If you're not long
at that, we can probably  make it down there and collect some wood before it
gets wet."
     "We're almost done," Cara said.
     Richard stood to have a quick look for  himself. With a bloody hand, he
absently  fifted his real sword  a few inches and then  let  it drop back, a
habit he had of checking to make sure the weapon  was clear in its scabbard.
It  was an  unsettling  gesture. He had not drawn  the weapon  from its hilt
since the day he had been forced to kill all those men who had attacked them
back near Hartland.
     "Is something wrong?"
     "What?" Richard saw where her eyes were looking and glanced down at the
sword on his hip. "Oh. No, nothing. Just habit, I guess."
     Kahlan pointed. "There's a wayward pine,  there. It's the closest,  and
good-sized, too."
     Richard  wiped the back of his wrist across his brow, swiping  his hair
away from his eyes. His fingers glistened with blood. "We'll  be down there,
sheltered by a wayward pine,  sitting  beside a  cozy fire having tea before
dark. I can stretch the hide on the branches inside and scrape it there. The
snow will help insulate us  inside the tree's boughs. We'll have a good rest
before heading  back  in the morning. Down a little  lower,  it will only be
     Kahlan  snuggled  her cheek  inside  her wolf  fur  as a shiver tingled
through her shoulders and  up the back of her neck.  Winter  had snuck up on

     When they arrived home two days later, the little fish in the jars were
all  dead. They had used the same easier  route over the pass that they  had
originally used to enter the  valley when they  had first come in  with  the
horses, months before.  Of  course,  Kahlan didn't recall that trip; she had
been unconscious. It seemed a lifetime ago.
     There was now a  shorter trail to their home,  one they had blazed down
from the  pass.  They could have used that  alternative route,  but  it  was
narrow and difficult and would have  saved them only ten or fifteen minutes.
They had  been out for days, and as they had wearily stood in the  windswept
notch at  the top of the pass  looking down at their cozy home  far below at
the edge of the meadow, they had  decided to take  the easier passage,  even
though  it took a little longer. It had been a  relief to finally get inside
the house, out of the wind, and drop all their gear.
     As Richard brought in firewood  and Cara fetched  water,  Kahlan pulled
out a little square of cloth with some small bugs she'd  caught earlier that
day, intending to give her fish a treat, since they were sure to  be hungry.
She let out a little groan when she saw that they were dead.
     "What's the matter?" Cara asked as she walked in lugging a full bucket.
She came over to see the fish.
     "Looks like they starved," Kahlan told her.
     "Little fish like that don't often live long in a jar," Richard said as
he knelt and started stacking birch logs atop kindling in the fireplace.
     "But they did live a long time," Kahlan said, as  if to prove him wrong
and somehow talk him out of it.
     "You didn't name  them, did you? I  told you not  to  name them because
they  would  die  after  a  time.  I warned  you  not  to  let yourself  get
emotionally attached when it can only come to no good end."
     "Cara named one."
     "Did not,"  Cara protested. "I  was just trying to show you which one I
was talking about, that's all."
     After  the flames took from his flint,  Richard looked  up and  smiled.
"Well, I'll get you some more."
     Kahlan yawned. "But these were the best ones. They needed me."
     Richard snorted a  laugh. "You've got quite  the imagination. They only
depended  on us because we artificially altered  their  lives. Just like the
chipmunks would stop hunting seeds for their  winter stores if we  gave them
handouts all the time. Of course,  the fish had  no  choice, because we kept
them in jars. Left to their  own initiative, the fish wouldn't need any help
from us. After all, it took a net to catch  them.  I'll catch you some more,
and they'll come to need you just as much."

     Two days later,  on a thinly overcast day, after they'd had a big lunch
of thick rabbit stew with turnips and onions along with bread Cara had made,
Richard  went off to  check  the fishing lines and to catch some more of the
blacknose dace minnows.
     After he'd left, Cara picked up their spoons and put them in the bucket
of wash water on the counter.
     "You know,"  she said, looking back over her shoulder, "I like it here,
I really do, but it's starting to make me jumpy."
     Kahlan scraped the  plates  off into  a wooden  bowl  with the  cooking
leavings  for  the  midden heap.  "Jumpy?"  She  brought the plates  to  the
counter. "What do you mean?"
     "Mother Confessor, this place is nice enough, but it's starting to make
me go daft. I  am  Mord-Sith.  Dear  spirits, I'm starting to  name  fish in
jars!" Cara turned back to the bucket and bent to cleaning the spoons with a
washcloth. "Don't you think it's about time  we convinced Lord  Rahl that we
need to get back?"
     Kahlan sighed. She loved their home in the mountains, and she loved the
quiet and solitude. Most of all, she treasured the time she and Richard were
able to spend together without other people making demands  of them. But she
also missed the activity of Aydindril, the company of people, and the sights
of cities and crowds. There was a lot not to like about being in places like
that, but there was an excitement about it, too.
     She'd had a  lifetime to become  used to  the way people didn't  always
want  or understand her help,  and forging  ahead anyway because she knew it
was in  their best interest.  Richard never had  to learn to  face that cold
indifference and go about his duty despite it.
     "Of course I do,  Cara." Kahlan placed  the bowl of scraps on a  shelf,
reminding herself  to empty it later. She wondered if she was to be a Mother
Confessor who  forever lived in the  woods, away from her  people, a  people
struggling for their liberty.  "But you know how Richard feels. He thinks it
would be wrong-more than that, he thinks  it would be  irresponsible to give
in to such a wish when reason tells him he must not."
     Cara's  blue  eyes  flashed  with  determination.  "You are the  Mother
Confessor. Break the spell of this place. Tell him that you are needed  back
there, and that you are going to return. What's he going to do? Tie you to a
tree? If you leave, he will follow. He will have to return, then."
     Kahlan shook  her head emphatically. "No,  I  can't do  that. Not after
what  he's told us.  That's not the  kind  of thing you  do to  a person you
respect. I may not exactly agree with him, but I understand  his reasons and
know him well enough to dread that he's right."
     "But going back doesn't mean  he would have to lead our side. You would
only be making him follow you back, not making  him  return to  leadership."
Cara smirked. "But maybe when he sees how much he is needed, he will come to
his senses."
     "That's part of the reason he's brought us so far out in the mountains:
he fears that if he's near the struggle, or if he goes back, he will see all
that's happening and be drawn in.  I can't use  his feelings for me to force
him  into  such  a corner.  Even  if  we  did go  back and  he resisted  the
temptation to help people fighting for their lives and wasn't drawn into the
struggle  against the brutality of  the Imperial Order, such an overt act of
coercion on my part would create an enduring rift between us."

     Kahlan  shook  her  head  again.  "This  is  something  he believes too
strongly. I won't force him into returning."
     Cara  gestured with  the  dripping  washcloth. "Maybe he doesn't really
believe it,  not really,  not deep down inside. Maybe he doesn't  want to go
back because he doubts himself-over the Anderith thing-and so he thinks it's
just easier for him to stay away."
     "I don't believe Richard doubts himself in this. Not in this. Not for a
second.  Not  one  tiny  little  bit.  I  think that  if  he had  any  doubt
whatsoever, he would return, because that is really the easier path. Staying
away is harder-as you and I can attest.
     "But  you can leave  at any time, Cara, if  you feel so  strongly about
going back. He has no claim on your life. You don't have to stay here if you
don't wish to."
     "I am sworn to follow him no matter what foolish thing he does."
     "Foolish?  You follow him because you  believe in  him. So do I. That's
why I could never walk away, forcing him to follow."
     Cara pressed  her lips  tight. Her  blue  eyes  lost their fire  as she
turned  away and flopped the cloth back into  the bucket  of water. "Then we
will be stuck here, condemned to live out our lives in paradise."
     Kahlan  smiled  in  understanding  of  Cara's  frustration.  While  she
wouldn't try  to force Richard into  something he was dead set against, that
didn't  preclude her  from trying to change his mind. She drained her teacup
and plunked it down on the counter. That would be different.
     "Maybe not. You know, I've been thinking the same thing-that we need to
go back, I mean."
     Cara peered  over with a suspicious  sidelong  glance. "So, what do you
think we can do to convince him?"
     "Richard is  going to  be gone for  a while. Without him here to bother
us, how about we have a bath?"
     "A bath?"
     "Yes, a bath. I've been thinking about how much I'd like to get cleaned
up. I'm tired of looking like a backcountry traveler. I'd  like  to  wash my
hair and put on my white Mother Confessor's dress."
     "Your   white   Mother   Confessor's   dress   .  .   ."  Cara   smiled
conspiratorially. "Ah. Now that will be the kind of battle a woman is better
equipped to fight."
     Out of the  corner of her eye,  Kahlan could see Spirit standing in the
bedroom window, looking out at the world, her robes flowing in the wind, her
head thrown back, her  back  arched,  her fists at her sides in  defiance of
anything that would think to bridle her.
     "Well,  not  exactly a battle the way you're thinking, but  I believe I
can state the case  better if I'm dressed properly. That wouldn't be unfair.
I will be putting  the issue to him as the Mother Confessor. I  believe that
in  some ways  his judgment  has  been  clouded; it's  hard  to  think about
anything else when you're worried sick about someone you love."
     Kahlan's fists tightened at her sides as she  thought about  the danger
hanging over the Midlands. "He's got to see that all of that is in the past,
that I'm healthy, now, and that the time has come to return to our duties to
our people."
     Smirking, Cara swiped back a wisp of her blond hair. "He will see that,
and more, if you were in that dress of yours, that's for sure."

     "I  want him to see the woman who was  strong enough to win against him
with a sword. I want him to see that Mother Confessor in the dress, too."
     From the  corner of her mouth,  Cara puffed another strand of hair  off
her face. "To tell you the truth, I wouldn't mind a bath myself. You know, I
think that if I stand beside you in a proper Mord-Sith outfit and my hair is
washed and my braid is done up fresh and I'm looking properly Mord-Sith-like
and I speak  my agreement with what you  say, Lord Rahl will be all the more
convinced that we're right and inclined to see that the time has come for us
to return."
     Kahlan  set the  plates into  the bucket of water. "It's settled, then.
We've enough time before he comes back."
     Richard had made them a small wooden tub, big enough to sit in and have
a nice bath. It wasn't big enough to lie back and  luxuriate in, but  it was
still quite the luxury for their mountain home.
     Cara towed the tub from the corner, leaving drag  marks across the dirt
floor. "I'll put it in my room.  You  go first. That  way, if  he comes back
sooner  rather than later, you can keep your nosy husband busy and out of my
hair while I wash it."
     Together,  Kahlan and  Cara  hauled in buckets of water from the nearby
spring,  heating some in  a kettle over a roaring fire. When  Kahlan finally
sank  into the steaming  water, she let out a long sigh. The air was chilly,
and the hot bath felt all the better for it. She would have liked to linger,
but decided not to.
     She smiled at recalling all the  trouble Richard had had with  women in
bathwater. It was a good thing he wasn't there. Later,  after they had their
talk, she thought she would ask him to take a bath before bed. She liked the
aroma of his sweat when it was clean sweat.
     With the knowledge that she would face Richard with her hair washed and
sparkling, and in her white dress, Kahlan felt more confident about the real
possibility of  their return  than she had  in  a long time.  She  dried and
brushed her  hair by  the heat of the  fire as Cara boiled  some more water.
While Cara  went in to take her bath, Kahlan went to  her room to  slip into
her dress. Most people  feared the dress because they feared  the  woman who
wore it; Richard had always liked her in the dress.
     As she tossed the towel on the bed, her eye was caught by the statue in
the window. Kahlan fisted her hands at her sides and, standing naked, arched
her back and threw her head back,  mimicking Spirit, letting  the feeling of
it overcome her,  letting  herself be  that strong spirit,  letting it  flow
through her.
     For that moment, she was the spirit of the statue.
     This was a day of change. She could feel it.
     It  seemed a little odd, after being a  woods woman for so long, to  be
back in her  Mother Confessor's dress,  to  feel the satiny smooth  material
against her  skin. Mostly, though,  the  feeling  was  the  comfort  of  the
     As  Mother  Confessor,  Kahlan  felt sure  of herself. On a fundamental
level, the dress was a form of battle armor.  Wearing the dress, Kahlan also
felt a sense of importance, in  that she carried the weight of  history,  of
exceptional  women who had  gone before her.  The Mother  Confessor  bore  a
terrible responsibility, but also had the satisfaction of being able to make
a real difference for the better in people's lives.
     Those people  depended on her. Kahlan had  a job to do, and she had  to
convince Richard that she needed to do it. They needed him, too, but even if
he would not

     issue  orders, he  needed to  at least willingly return with her. Those
fighting  for  their  cause deserved to know  the Mother Confessor was  with
them, and that she  had not  lost faith in  them or their  cause. She had to
make Richard see that much of it.
     Once  she  was  back  out in  the  main room,  Kahlan  could  hear Cara
splashing in the tub. "Need anything, Cara?" she called out.
     "No, I'm fine," Cara called from her room. "This feels so good! I think
there's enough dirt in this water to plant potatoes."
     Kahlan laughed knowingly.  She saw a chipmunk casting about outside the
house. "I'm going to go feed Chippy  some apple cores. If you need anything,
call out."
     Their  universal  name  for all the  chipmunks  was "Chippy." They  all
answered to it; they knew the name augured well for a handout.
     "All right," Cara said  from her  tub. "If Lord Rahl gets back, though,
just kiss him or something to keep him busy but  wait until I'm done  before
you talk to him. I want to  be with  you to help you convince him. I want to
be sure we make him see the light."
     Kahlan smiled. "I promise."
     She  plucked  an  apple  core from the  wooden  bucket of little animal
snacks  they kept hanging on a piece of  twine  where the chipmunks couldn't
get to them  on their own. The squirrels loved apple cores, too. The  horses
preferred their apples whole.
     "Here,  Chippy," Kahlan  called out  through the door in the  voice she
always  used  with them. She raised  the bucket back toward  the ceiling and
hooked the line to the peg on the wall. "Chip, Chip, you want an apple?"
     Outside, Kahlan saw  the chipmunk off to the side, foraging through the
grass. The  chill breeze caressed the long folds of her dress to her legs as
she  walked. It  was almost cold  enough to  need  the fur mantle.  The bare
branches  of  the  oaks behind the house creaked and groaned  as they rubbed
together. The  pines, reaching toward  the sky where the wind was  stronger,
bowed deeply with some of  the  gusts. The  sun  had  taken refuge behind  a
steel-gray overcast that made her white dress all the more striking  in  the
     Near  the  window  where Spirit  stood  watching out, Kahlan called the
chipmunk again. The chipmunks  were held spellbound by the soft voice Kahlan
used when she talked to  them. When he heard  her, the  furry little striped
creature stood on his hind legs for a moment, stiff and still, checking that
all was  clear, and when  he was  sure it was safe, scurried to her.  Kahlan
squatted and rolled the apple core out of her hand onto the ground.
     "Here you go, sweetheart," she cooed. "A nice apple for you."
     Chippy wasted  no time starting in on  his treat. Kahlan's cheeks  hurt
from smiling at the way the chipmunk nibbled his way  around the  apple core
as it rolled  along the ground. She  rose to  her  feet, brushing  her hands
clean  as she  watched,  captivated by the little creature  at  his feverish
     He suddenly flinched with a squeak and froze.
     Kahlan looked up. She was staring right into a woman's blue eyes.
     The woman stood not ten feet away in a pose  of cool scrutiny. Kahlan's
throat locked the  gasp in her lungs. The woman  had seemed to appear in the
middle  of  nowhere, out of nowhere. Icy gooseflesh prickled up the backs of
Kahlan's arms.
     The woman's long blond hair cascaded over the shoulders of an exquisite
black dress.  She  was  of  such  shapely  beauty,  her  face  of  such pure
perfection, but especially her eyes were of such intelligent lucid witnesses
to all around her, that she could only be a creature of profound integrity .
. . or unspeakable evil.

     Kahlan knew without doubt which it was.
     This  woman   made  Kahlan  feel  as  ugly  as  a  clod  of  dirt,  and
instinctively  as  helpless as a child. She wanted  nothing so  much  as  to
shrink  away.  Instead,  she  stared  into the woman's blue  eyes  for  what
couldn't have been more  than a second or two, but  in that span of  time an
eternity seemed  to pass. In those knowing blue eyes flowed some formidable,
frightful current of contemplation.
     Kahlan remembered Captain Meiffert's description of this woman. For the
life of  her,  though, Kahlan couldn't just then recall her  name. It seemed
trivial. What mattered was that this woman was a Sister of the Dark.
     Without speaking a  word, the  woman lifted her hands  out a little and
turned her palms up, as if humbly offering something. Her hands were empty.
     Kahlan  committed to  the  vault through space necessary  to  close the
distance.  She committed to unleashing her power. With  her resolution,  the
act had in a way already commenced. But she desperately needed to get closer
if it was to be meaningful, or effective.
     As she began  to move, to make that reckless leap, the world went white
in a bloom of pain.

     Richard heard an odd sound that  stopped him  in his tracks. He  felt a
thump through the ground and deep in his chest. He thought he'd seen a flash
in the treetops, but it had been so quick he wasn't sure.
     It was  the sound, though, as  if  some great hammer had struck off the
top of a mountain, that made his blood go cold.
     The house wasn't far  off through the trees. He dropped  the string  of
trout and the jar of minnows, and ran.
     At the edge of the woods where it opened into the meadow, he skidded to
a halt. His pounding heart felt as if it had risen up into his throat.
     Richard  saw  the  two women not far  away, in front of the  house, one
dressed  in white, and  one  in  black. They were  connected by  a  snaking,
undulating,  crackling line of  milky white  light. Nicci's arms were lifted
slightly with her hands turned palms up and a little farther apart than  the
width of her hips.
     The milky  light went from Nicci's chest, across the space between  the
two women, and pierced Kahlan through the heart. The wavering aurora between
the two turned blindingly bright, as if twisting  in  an agony it was unable
to escape.
     Seeing  Kahlan trembling with the fury  of that lance of  light pinning
her to the wall, Richard was paralyzed by fear for her, fear he knew all too
well, from when she had been on the cusp of death. That bolt pierced Nicci's
heart,  too, connecting  the two women.  Richard didn't understand the magic
Nicci was using, but he instinctively recognized it as profoundly dangerous,
not only to  Kahlan, but to Nicci as well, for she, too, was  in pain.  That
Nicci would put herself at such risk gripped him with dread.
     Richard knew he had to remain calm  and keep his wits  about himself if
Kahlan was  to have a chance. He viscerally wanted to do something to strike
Nicci down, but he was certain that it wouldn't be as simple as that. Zedd's
oft-repeated expression-nothing  is  ever easy-flashed  into  Richard's mind
with sudden and tangible meaning.
     In a desperate search  for answers, everything Richard knew about magic
cascaded in a torrent through his mind. None of it told him what  to do, but
it did tell him what he must not do. Kahlan's life hung in the balance.
     Just  then, Cara came flying out of the house. She was stark naked.  It
somehow didn't look all that odd. Richard was accustomed to the shape of her
body  in  her skintight leather  outfits. Other than  the color, this didn't
look  all that different. She  was  dripping wet. Her hair was undone, which
seemed more outlandishly indecent to him than her naked body. He was used to
seeing her with a braid all the time.
     Cara's fist clutched the red leather rod-her Agiel-as she crouched. The
muscles  of her legs, arms, and  shoulders  strained  with tension demanding

     "Cara! No!" Richard cried out.
     He was already tearing across the meadow as Cara sprang and slammed her
Agiel against the side of Nicci's neck.
     Nicci shrieked  in pain that dropped her to her knees. Kahlan cried out
in equal pain and crumpled to her knees  as well, her movement a close match
to Nicci's.
     Cara  seized Nicci's hair in  a fist and yanked her head back. "Time to
die, witch!"
     Nicci was doing nothing to stop Cara as the Agiel hung only inches from
her throat.
     Richard  dove  toward the Mord-Sith, desperately hoping he wouldn't  be
too  late. Cara's  Agiel just grazed Nicci's  throat as Richard  tackled her
around  the  middle,  ramming  her  backward.  The  feel  of her was briefly
surprising-silky soft flesh over iron-hard muscle. The impact drove the wind
from her when they hit the ground.
     Cara was  so enraged  and in such a combative state that she lashed out
with  her Agiel at Richard,  not really realizing  it was him, knowing  only
that she was being prevented from protecting Kahlan.
     The  violent  impact of  the  weapon to the side of Richard's face felt
like a blow by an  iron bar followed immediately  by a lightning strike. The
crack of pain through his skull was momentarily blinding. His ears rang. The
jolt took his breath, staggering him, and  brought back  in a single instant
an avalanche of macabre memories.
     Cara was riveted on the kill and furious at  any interference.  Richard
regained his  senses  just in time to seize her  wrists and  pin her to  the
ground  before she could pounce on  Nicci. A Mord-Sith was formidable, to be
sure, but such a woman was instilled with the ability  to counter magic, not
muscle. That was why she had been trying to goad Nicci into using her power;
only in that way could she capture the enemy's magic and so overpower her.
     Cara's writhing naked body  under  him hardly  registered in  Richard's
mind. He  tasted blood in his mouth. His attention was focused on  her Agiel
and making sure she couldn't use it on him. His head throbbed with a painful
ringing, and he had to fight not only Cara, but encroaching unconsciousness.
It was all he could do to hold Cara down.
     At  that  moment,  the Mord-Sith was more of a  threat to Kahlan's life
than Nicci was. If Nicci intended to kill Kahlan, he was sure she could have
already  done so. Richard might not have understood specifically what  Nicci
was doing, but by what he had already seen, he grasped the general nature of
     Blood dripped  down  onto  Cara's  bare  chest,  vivid red against  the
expanse of her white skin.
     "Cara,  stop!"  His jaw worked, if painfully, so he reasoned it  wasn't
broken. "It's me. Stop. You'll kill Kahlan." Cara stilled under him, staring
up in angry confusion. "What you do to Nicci happens to Kahlan, too."
     "You had  better listen to  him,"  Nicci said from behind  him in  that
velvety voice of hers.
     Cara reached  up when Richard released her wrists  and touched the side
of his mouth. "I'm  sorry," she whispered, realizing what she had done.  Her
tone told him she meant it. Richard nodded and then stood, pulling her up by
her hand before rounding on Nicci.
     Nicci  stood  tall,  in  that proud  and  proper  posture she  had. Her
attention and her magic  was focused on Kahlan. The  calm but  violent power
from  within him had  awakened, waiting to be commanded. Richard didn't know
how  to use  it to stop Nicci. He held back,  fearing that  anything he  did
would only make Kahlan's peril worse.

     Kahlan  was on her feet, too, but once again pinned to the  wall of the
house by  the  milky rope  of  light.  Her  green eyes  were  wide  with the
trembling torment of whatever it was Nicci was doing.
     Nicci's hands lifted. She laid her  palms to her heart, over the light.
Her back was to Richard, but he could see the light through her,  like  fire
eating  through  the  center of  a  piece  of paper,  the incandescent  hole
expanding outward, appearing to consume her. The twisting flare of light was
doing the same  thing to Kahlan,  seeming  to burn  through her, yet Richard
could  see that  she  was not being killed by it.  She  was still breathing,
still moving, still alive-not reacting at all the way a person would if they
were  really having holes burned through them. With magic,  he  knew  better
than to believe his eyes.
     At  the  center of Nicci's  chest, under her hands, she began to become
solid again,  re-forming  where the light  had spent itself in  glowing rays
working out toward the edges of her.
     The  light cut  off. Kahlan, her own  hands pressed to the  wall behind
her, sagged in relief as  it extinguished, her eyes closing as if it was too
much to endure looking at the woman standing before her.
     Richard was restrained fury. His muscles  screamed  to be released. The
magic within  was a  coiled viper waiting to strike. He  wanted almost  more
than anything to cut down this woman. The only thing he wanted more  was for
Kahlan to be safe.
     Nicci smiled pleasantly at  Kahlan  before turning to Richard. Her calm
blue eyes  momentarily took in his white-knuckled fist  on the  hilt  of his
     "Richard. It's been a long time. You look well."
     "What have you done?" He growled through gritted teeth.
     She smiled. It was a smile a mother gave a child-a smile of indulgence.
She  took a  breath,  as if recovering from a  difficult  bit  of labor, and
lifted a hand to indicate Kahlan.
     "I have spelled your wife, Richard."
     Richard  could  hear Cara's breath close  behind his left shoulder. She
was staying out of the way of his sword arm.
     "To what end?" he asked.
     "Why, to capture you, of course."
     "What's going to happen to her? What harm have you done?"
     "Harm?  Why, none. Any  harm that comes to her  will  only be  by  your
     Richard frowned,  understanding her, but  wishing  he were  wrong. "You
mean, if I hurt you, Kahlan will suffer it, too?"
     Nicci smiled with the same discerning, disarming smile she used to have
when she came to give him lessons. He could hardly  believe that he  used to
imagine that she  must look  like nothing so  much  as a good spirit in  the
     Richard could sense  the magic crackling around this woman. He had come
to  know in most cases,  through his  own gift, when a person had the  gift.
What others  couldn't  see, he saw.  He  could  see it  in  their eyes,  and
sometimes sense the aura  of  it around them. He had rarely met gifted women
who  made the very air about them sizzle with  their  power. Worse,  though,
Nicci was a Sister of the Dark.
     "Yes, and more. Much  more.  You see, we are now  linked by a maternity
spell.  Odd name for a  spell, yes? The name,  in part, is derived from  the
spell's nurturing aspects.  As in lifegiver-the  way  a  mother nurtures her
child and keeps it alive.
     "That light you saw  was an umbilical cord of  sorts: an umbilical cord
of magic. By bending the nature of this world, it links our lives, no matter
the distance between

     us. Just  as  I  am the daughter of  my  mother and  nothing could ever
change that, so neither can this magic be altered by anyone else."
     She spoke as an instructor, as she had once spoken to him at the Palace
of the Prophets when she had been one of his teachers. She always spoke with
a quiet economy of  words that  he had once thought added an air of nobility
to  her bearing. Back then, Richard  couldn't  have  imagined  coarse  words
coming from Nicci's mouth, but the words she spoke now were vile.
     She still moved with an unmatched, slow elegance. He had always thought
her  movements  seductive. He  now saw them as  the sinuous  movements of  a
     The  magic of his sword thundered through him, screaming  to be loosed.
The sword's  magic  had been created specifically to combat what the sword's
wielder considered evil. At  that moment, Nicci fit the requirement to  such
an extent that the magic of the sword was close to overpowering him, near to
taking command in order to destroy this threat. With the pain from the Agiel
still throbbing in his head, it was a struggle to maintain his control  over
the power of  the sword. Richard  could feel  the raised gold letters of the
word TRUTH on the hilt pressing into his palm.
     This was a time, perhaps  more than any other,  that he knew had to  be
faced  with  truth,  and  not  his raw  wishes.  Life  and death hung in the
     "Richard,"  Kahlan said in a level voice. She waited until his eyes met
hers. "Kill her."  She spoke with a quiet authority that demanded obedience.
In her white  Mother  Confessor's dress, her words  carried  the unequivocal
weight of command. "Do it. Don't  wait another moment. Kill her. Don't think
about it, do it."
     Nicci calmly  watched to see what he  might do.  What  he would finally
decide seemed no more than a matter of curiosity to her. Richard had no need
to think or to decide.
     "I can't," he said to Kahlan. "That would kill you, too."
     Nicci lifted one eyebrow. "Very good, Richard. Very good."
     "Do it!" Kahlan shrieked. "Do it now, while you still have the chance!"
     "Keep still," he said in  a calm voice. He looked back at Nicci. "Let's
hear it."
     She clasped her hands in the way the Sisters of the Light  were wont to
do.  Only she was not  a  Sister of the Light. There looked to  be something
deeply felt behind that blue-eyed gaze, but what those feelings could be, he
didn't know and feared to imagine. It was one  of those  intense gazes  that
held a world of emotion, everything from longing to hatred. One thing he was
sure he saw was a dead serious determination that was  more important to her
than life itself.
     "It's like this, Richard. You are to come with me. As  long as I  live,
Kahlan will live. If I die, she dies. It's as simple as that."
     "What else?" he demanded.
     "What else?" Nicci blinked. "Nothing else."
     "What if I decide to kill you?"
     "Then  I  will die.  But  Kahlan  will die  with me-our  lives  are now
     "That's not what  I mean. I mean, you must have some purpose. What else
will it mean if I decide to kill you."
     Nicci shrugged. "Nothing. It's  up to  you to  decide. Our lives are in
your hands. Should you choose to preserve  her life,  you will  have to come
with me."
     "And what do you intend to do with him?" Kahlan asked  as she edged her
way  over to  Richard's side. "Torture a sham confession out of him, so that
Jagang  can put  him on some  kind  of show trial followed by  a very public
     If anything,  Nicci  looked surprised, as if such  a  thought had never
occurred to

     her, and  she found  it abhorrent. "No, none of that.  I  intend him no
harm. For  now, anyway. Eventually,  of course,  I will  most likely have to
kill him."
     Richard glared. "Of course."
     When Kahlan made a move forward, he caught her  arm and restrained her.
He knew what  she  intended.  He didn't know  exactly what  would happen  if
Kahlan unleased her Confessor's power  on Nicci  while they were both linked
by the spell, but he had no intention  of finding  out, since he was sure it
could come to no  good  end. Kahlan  was far too  ready, as far  as  he  was
concerned, to forfeit her life to save his.
     "Just hold on for now," he whispered to her.
     Kahlan  threw her arm out, pointing.  "She just admitted she intends to
kill you!"
     Nicci smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry about that for now. If it comes
to that, it will not likely be for a long time. Perhaps even a lifetime."
     "And in the meantime?"  Kahlan asked. "What plans  do you have for  him
before you discard his life as if it were insignificant?"
     "Insignificant . . . ?" Nicci opened her hands in  an innocent gesture.
"I have no plans. I expect only to take him away."
     Richard had thought he  understood what was going  on, but he was  less
and less  sure with everything Nicci said. "You  mean, you want  to take  me
away so that 1 can't fight against the Imperial Order?"
     Her  brow twitched. "If you wish to think of it in those terms, I admit
it  is true that your time as the leader  of the D'Haran Empire is over. But
that is not the point. The point is that everything about your life up until
now"-Nicci glanced pointedly at Kahlan-"is over."
     Her words seemed to chill the air. They surely chilled Richard.
     "What's the rest of it?" He  knew there had to be  more, something that
would  make sense of  it all. "What other terms are there  if I want to keep
Kahlan alive?"
     "Well, no one is to follow us, of course."
     "And  if  we do?" Kahlan snapped.  "I  might follow  you  and kill  you
myself, even if it means the end  of my own life." Kahlan's green eyes shone
with icy resolve as she cast a threatening glare on the woman.
     Nicci  lifted her  brows deliberately as  she  leaned ever so  slightly
toward Kahlan, the way a mother would in cautioning a child. "Then that will
be the end of it unless Richard stops  you from doing such a thing. That  is
all part of what he must decide to do. But you make a miscalculation if  you
think I care one way or the other. 1 don't, you see. Not at all."
     "What is it you intend  me  to  do?"  Richard said,  pulling Nicci,'  s
unsettlingly  calm gaze from Kahlan. "What if I get where you're  taking me,
and I don't do as you wish?"
     "You  misunderstand,   Richard,  if  you  believe  that   I  have  some
preconceived notion of what it is I wish you to  do. I don't. You will do as
you wish, I imagine."
     "As I wish?"
     "Well, naturally you  won't be allowed to return to  your people."  She
tossed her head, flicking back strands of her long blond hair  that the wind
had pulled across in front of her blue eyes. Her gaze never left his. "And I
suppose if you  were to  be in some  way  impossibly and defiantly contrary,
then in that  case, such  would obviously be an answer in and of itself.  It
would be a shame, of course,  but I would then have no  use for you. I would
kill you."
     "You would have no further use? You mean  Jagang would  have no further

     "No." Once again, Nicci looked  surprised.  "I  do not act on behalf of
His Excellency." She tapped her lower lip. "You see? I  removed the ring  he
put through my lip marking me as his slave. I do this on behalf of myself."
     A yet more disturbing thought  surfaced. "How is it that he can't enter
your mind? That he can't control you?"
     "You don't need me to answer that question, Richard Rahl."
     It made  no sense to  him; the bond to the Lord  Rahl worked for  those
loyal  to him. He could see no way that this could be construed as an act of
loyalty. This  was unequivocally an act of aggression and against  his will;
the bond shouldn't work for her. He reasoned that perhaps Jagang was  in her
mind  and she unaware  of it. The thought occurred to him that  maybe Jagang
was in her mind, and it had driven her insane.
     "Look," Richard said, feeling like they weren't even speaking the  same
language, "I don't know what you think-"
     "Enough talk. We are leaving."
     Her  blue eyes  watched him without anger. It  almost seemed to Richard
that for Nicci, Kahlan anal Cara were not there.
     "This  doesn't  make  any  sense.  You want  me to go with you, but you
aren't acting on behalf of Jagang. If that's true, then-"
     "I believe I've made it as clear as possible and quite simple, besides.
If you  wish  to be  free,  you may kill me at any opportunity.  If you  do,
Kahlan will also die. Those are your only two  choices. Although I believe I
know what you will do, I am in no way certain. Two paths now lie before you.
You must take one."
     Richard  could hear  Cara's angry  breath behind him. She was  a coiled
spring ready to strike. Fearing she might do something of irredeemable harm,
he lifted his hand just to be sure she knew he meant  for her to stay behind
     "Oh, and one additional matter, should you think to resort to some plot
or  treachery, or, for that matter, refuse to do the simple things I ask  of
you: through the spell that joins us, I can at any time end Kahlan's life. I
have but to will it. It  is not necessary for me to die. She lives every day
from now on only by my grace, and thus yours.
     "I wish her  no  harm, and have no feelings one  way or the other about
her life. In fact, if anything, I wish it to be  long. She has brought you a
measure  of happiness, and in return for  that,  I hope she will not have to
forfeit  her  life. But then, you  have some  influence over  that  by  your
     Nicci cast  a deliberate glare over  Richard's shoulder,  to Cara.  She
then reached out and with her fingers gently wiped blood from his mouth. She
finished  cleaning his chin with  her thumb.  "Your MordSith has hurt you. I
can help you if you wish."
     "Very well." She  wiped her  bloody  fingers clean  on the skirt of her
black dress. "Unless you want to  risk  other  people causing Kahlan's death
without  your  intending it,  I suggest you insure  that  others  don't  act
without  your consent. Mord-Sith are  resourceful  and  determined  women. I
respect their devotion to duty. However, if your Mord-Sith follows us-and my
magic will tell me if she does-Kahlan will die."
     "And just how will I know Kahlan is all right? We could get a mile away
from  here,  and you  could  use that magic link to kill her.  I would never
     Nicci's brow creased together. She looked genuinely puzzled.
     "Why would I do that?"

     A  storm of rage and  panic pushed his emotions first one way, and then
the other. "Why are you doing any of this!"
     She regarded him in silent curiosity for a moment.  "I have my reasons.
I'm  sorry, Richard,  that you must suffer in this. Making you suffer is not
my purpose. I give you my word that I will not harm Kahlan without informing
     "You expect me to believe your word?"
     "I've told you the truth. I have no reason to lie to you.  In time, you
will come to understand everything better. Kahlan will come  to no harm from
me as long as I am safe, and you come with me."
     For  reasons  he couldn't  fathom, Richard found himself believing her.
She  seemed dead honest  and completely  sure  of  herself,  as  if she  had
reasoned it all out a thousand times.
     He didn't believe that Nicci was telling him everything. She was making
it  simple so that he could grasp  the important elements and have an easier
time  deciding what  to do. Whatever the rest of it was,  it  couldn't be as
devastating as this much of it. The  thought  of being taken from Kahlan was
agony, but he would do almost anything to save her life. Nicci knew that.
     The enigma resurfaced. It was somehow linked to this.
     "The spell  that  protects  a person's mind from the dream walker works
only for those loyal to me. You can't expect to be safe from Jagang  if  you
do this. It's an act of treachery."
     "Jagang  does  not frighten me. Don't fear  for my  mind,  Richard. I'm
quite  safe from His Excellency. In time,  perhaps you will  come to see how
wrong you have been in so many things."
     "You're deceiving yourself, Nicci."
     "You only see part of it, Richard."  She lifted an eyebrow in a cryptic
manner. "At heart, your cause is the cause of the Order. You are too noble a
person for it to be otherwise."
     "I may die at  your hands, but I will die hating everything you and the
Order stand for." Richard's fists  tightened. "You'll not get what you want,
Nicci. Whatever it is, you'll not get it."
     She regarded  him with great  compassion.  "This  is all for the  best,
     Nothing he said  seemed to hold any sway with her, and he could make no
sense of  the things she said. The fury inside boiled up. The  magic of  the
sword  fought him  for control. He could  barely contain  it. "Do you really
expect me to ever come to believe that?"
     Nicci's blue eyes seemed to be focused somewhere beyond him.
     "Possibly not."
     Her gaze fixed on him  once  more. She put two fingers between her lips
as she turned and whistled.  In the distance, a horse whinnied  and  trotted
out of the woods.
     "I have another  horse for you, waiting  up  on the other side  of  the
     Terror  clawed at his bones.  Kahlan's fingers  tightened  on  his arm.
Cara's hand  touched his back. Memories of being captured  before and all it
meant, all  the things he had endured,  made  his pulse race and  his breath
come  in  rapid pulls. He felt trapped.  Everything was slipping through his
fingers and there didn't seem to be anything he could do about it.
     He  wanted more than anything to fight,  but he couldn't figure how. He
wished it were as simple as striking down his adversary. He reminded himself
that reason, not

     wishing,  was his only chance. He  seized the calm  center  within, and
used it to quell the rising storm of panic.
     Nicci stood  tall, her shoulders  square, her chin up. She  looked like
someone facing an  execution with courage.  He realized then that she  truly
was prepared for whichever way it was to go.
     "I  have given  you your  choice, Richard.  You have no  other options.
     "There is no choice to make. I'll not allow Kahlan to die."
     "Of  course not." Nicci's posture  eased almost  imperceptibly. A small
smile of reassurance warmed her eyes. "She will be fine."
     The horse  slowed  from  its  trot as  it approached. When the handsome
dappled mare halted beside her,  Nicci took ahold of the reins near the bit.
Its gray mane ruffled in the  cold breeze. The  mare snorted and  tossed her
head, uneasy before strangers, and eager to be away.
     "But .  .  . but,"  Richard  stammered as  Nicci  stepped up  into  the
stirrup. "But, what am 1 allowed to take?"
     Nicci swung  her leg over the horse's rump and settled into the saddle.
She squirmed herself into position and adjusted her  shoulders, setting them
back. Her black dress  and blond  hair stood out in stark relief against the
iron sky.
     "You may  bring anything you like, as long as it isn't a  person."  She
clicked her tongue, urging her horse around to face him. "I suggest you take
clothes  and  such. Whatever you wish  to have with you.  Take all  you  can
carry, if you want."
     Her voice took  on  an edge. "Leave  that  sword  of yours, though. You
won't be  needing it."  She leaned  down,  her expression for the first time
turning  cold and threatening. "You are no longer the  Seeker, or Lord Rahl,
leader  of the D'Haran empire,  or for that  matter, you  are no  longer the
husband of the Mother Confessor. From now on, you are nobody but Richard."
     Cara stepped  out  beside  him, a  thunderhead  of  dark  fury.  "I  am
Mord-Sith.  If you think I'm  going  to allow you to take Lord  Rahl, you're
crazy.  The Mother  Confessor has already stated her wishes. My duty,  above
all else, is to kill you."
     Nicci  curled  three fingers around the reins, her thumbs holding  them
tight. "Do as you must. You know the consequences."
     Richard  held out a restraining arm to prevent Cara from going up after
Nicci and dragging her off the horse. "Take it easy," he whispered. "Time is
on  our side. As long as we're all still alive, we have the chance  to think
of something."
     The  strain  of Cara's  weight against  his arm eased. She  reluctantly
backed a step.
     "I have  to get some things," Richard said to Nicci, trying to buy that
time. "Wait, at least, until I can get my pack together."
     Nicci laid the reins over and stepped  her  horse back toward him.  She
rested her left wrist across the saddle's pommel.
     "I'm leaving."  With  a long graceful finger  of her  other  hand,  she
pointed. "You see that pass  up there? You be with me by the time I'm at the
top, and Kahlan will  live. If I cross over  and you  aren't with me, Kahlan
will die. You have my word."
     It was all  happening too fast. He  needed  to think of a way to stall.
"Then what good will any of this have done you?"
     "It will have told me what means  more to you." She sat  back up in her
saddle. "When you think  about it, that  is quite a profound question. It is
yet to be answered. By the  time I get  to the top  of the pass, 1 will have
the answer."
     Nicci rocked  her  hips  in the saddle, urging  the horse ahead into  a
walk. "Don't

     forget-top of the pass. You have until then to say your good-byes, pack
what you wish to take, and then catch up with me if you wish Kahlan to live.
Or, if you choose to stay, you have until then  to say your good-byes before
she dies. Understand, though, when making your  choice, that the  first will
be as final as the second."
     Kahlan  struggled  to run  toward the  horse, but Richard clutched  her
around her waist.
     "Where are you taking him?" she demanded.
     Nicci stopped  her horse momentarily  and gazed down  at  Kahlan with a
look of frightening finality.
     "Why, into oblivion."

     As she watched  Nicci turn her dappled  mare  toward  the pass and  the
distant  blue mountains beyond, Kahlan was still struggling  to overcome her
dizziness from what the woman had done to her. Off near the distant trees, a
doe and her nearly grown fawn, two of the small herd of deer that frequented
the meadow, stood  at alert, their ears perked, watching  Nicci,  waiting to
see  if she might  be a threat, Spooked  by what  they saw when Nicci turned
their  way, both deer flicked their tails  straight up and  bounded  for the
     Kahlan refused to allow herself to  give in  to the disorientation. But
for Richard's  iron arms  around her waist, she would have thrown herself at
the  Sister  of  the  Dark.  Kahlan had desperately wanted  to  unleash  her
Confessor's power. No one had ever deserved it more.
     Had her  senses  not still been floundering  in a  daze, she might have
been able  to invoke  her power through the  Con  Dar, the Blood Rage  of an
ancient  ability  she  possessed.  Such  rare magic  would have bridged  the
relatively small distance, but, reeling from the lingering force of  Nicci's
conjuring, the attempt had been futile. It  was all  Kahlan could do to keep
her feet under her and her last meal in her stomach.
     It  was  frustrating,  infuriating,  and  humiliating,  but  Nicci  had
surprised her  and  with magic  as  swift as Kahlan's Confessor's power  had
taken  her before she could react.  Once Nicci's talons clutched her, Kahlan
had been powerless.
     She had grown up being trained not to be taken  by surprise. Confessors
were  always targets;  she  knew  better.  Any number  of  times  in similar
situations  she had prevailed. Lulled  by months of tranquillity, Kahlan had
lost her edge.  She vowed never to let it happen again .  . , but that would
do her no good now.
     She could still  feel Nicci's  vital  magic sizzling through her, as if
her soul  itself  had  been scorched in the  heat of the ordeal. Her insides
roiled  as  waves  of  the onslaught had  yet to  settle down. The  cold air
rushing across the  meadow,  bending the brown  grass, swept up to chill her
burning  face.  The  wind  carried  an  unfamiliar  scent  into the  valley,
something that her jumbled senses perceived as vaguely  portentous. The  big
pines  behind the house bowed  and twisted but stood tall  as the wind broke
against them with a sound not unlike waves rushing against stone cliffs.
     Whatever sort of magic  had been unleashed in her, Kahlan was convinced
Nicci had  told the truth about its consequence. Despite how  much she hated
the woman, because of the maternity spell Kahlan felt a connection to her, a
connection that  she could  only interpret  as . .  .  affection.  It was  a
bewildering sensation. While positively disturbing, it was also, in a way, a
comforting  connection  to  the woman  beyond  her  vile magic  and  twisted
purpose. There seemed to be something deep within Nicci worth loving.
     Regardless  of  Kahlan's   far-fetched  feelings,  her  perception  and
reasoning told

     her the truth of the matter: such impressions were illusion. If she got
the opportunity, she would not again hesitate for an instant to kill Nicci.
     "Cara,"  Richard said, glaring at  Nicci's back as she walked her horse
across the  meadow, "I don't  want you  even thinking  about  trying to stop
     "I'm not going to allow-"
     "I mean it. I mean it more than any  order I've ever given you. If  you
ever brought Kahlan to harm in such a way . . . well, 1 trust you'd never do
such an evil thing to me. Why don't you go get dressed."
     Cara growled a curse under her breath. Richard  turned to Kahlan as the
Mord Sith marched off into  the house. Kahlan only then really  noticed that
Cara was naked. She must have been interrupted in her bath.  The magic Nicci
used had fogged Kahlan's mind, blurring her memory of recent events.
     Kahlan  did  recall quite clearly, though, the feel  of the  Agiel. The
shattering torture of the MordSith's weapon had spiked through Nicci's magic
like  a lance through  straw. Even though Cara had  used her Agiel on Nicci,
Kahlan felt it as  if it had been used directly against the  side of her own
     Kahlan gently touched Richard's jaw in sympathy,  then took hold of his
upper  arms  instead  when  he gave  her a look that  suggested no  need for
sympathy.  His  big hands closed on her waist. She stepped into  his embrace
and rested her forehead against his cheek.
     "This can't be," she whispered. "It just can't."
     "But it is."
     "I'm so sorry."
     "That I let  her  take me  by surprise." Kahlan trembled with anger  at
herself. "I should have been alert. If I'd done as I should have, and killed
her first, it would never have come to this."
     Richard ran a hand gently down the back of her head, holding her to his
     "Remember how you killed me in a sword fight the other day?" She nodded
against  him. "We  all  make  mistakes, get  caught  off  guard. Don't blame
yourself. No one is  perfect. It could even  be that she cast a web of magic
to  dull  your awareness  so she could slip up  to you like . . . like  some
silent unseen mosquito."
     Kahlan had never  considered that.  Caught off guard or not, though, it
made her furious with herself. If only she had not  been paying attention to
the stupid chipmunk. If only she had looked up sooner. If only she had acted
without waiting a split second to  analyze  the true nature of the threat to
decide if it warranted the unleashing of her devastating magic.
     Almost from birth, Kahlan had been instructed in the  use of her power,
with the  mandate of unleashing it only upon being certain of the need. Much
like killing, a Confessor's  power was the destruction of  who a person was.
Afterward, the person acted exclusively on  behalf of the Confessor, and  at
the direction of the Confessor. It was as final as death.
     Kahlan  looked up  into Richard's gray eyes.  They looked  all the more
gray with the gray sky behind him.
     "My life is a precious and sacred thing to me," she said. "Yours  is no
less to you. Don't throw yours away to be a slave to mine.  I couldn't stand
     "It's  not come to that yet. I'll figure something out. But for  now, I
have to go with her."

     "We'll  follow, but stay well back."  He was already shaking  his head.
"But, she won't even be aware-"
     "No.  For all we know, she could have  others with  her. They  could be
waiting to  catch you if you follow. I couldn't bear  the thought of knowing
that  at  any  moment  she  could use magic  or  somehow find  out you  were
following. If that happened, you would die for nothing."
     "You mean  you think she  could . .  . hurt you to  make you tell her I
planned to follow."
     "Let's not let our imaginations get the better of us."
     "But I should be close, for when  you make a move-for when you figure a
way to stop her."
     Richard cupped her face tenderly in his hands. He had a strange look in
his eyes, a look she didn't like.
     "Listen to me. I  don't know what's going on,  but you mustn't die just
to free me."
     Tears of desperation stung  her eyes. She blinked them away. She fought
to keep her voice from becoming a wail.
     "Don't go, Richard. I don't care what it means  for  me, as long as you
can be  free. I would die happy if doing so  would keep you from the enemy's
cruel  hands. I  can't allow the  Order to  have  you.  I can't allow you to
endure  the  slow grinding death of a slave in exchange for my life. I can't
allow them to-"
     She bit off the words of  what  she feared most; she  couldn't bear the
thought of him being tortured. It made her even more dizzy and sick to think
of him being maimed and mutilated, of him  suffering all alone and forgotten
in some distant stinking dungeon with no hope of help.
     But Nicci  said they wouldn't. Kahlan  told herself that, for  her  own
sanity, she had to believe Nicci's word.
     Kahlan realized Richard was smiling to  himself, as if trying to commit
to memory every detail of her face while at the same time running a thousand
other things through his thoughts.
     "There's no choice," he whispered. "I must do this."
     She  clutched  his  shirt  in  her  fist. "You're  doing just  as Nicci
wants-she knows  you'll want to save  me.  I  can't  allow  you to make that
     Richard looked up briefly, gazing out at the trees and mountains behind
their house, taking it all in, like a condemned man savoring his  last meal.
His gaze, more earnest, settled once more on hers.
     "Don't you see? I am making no sacrifice. I am making a fair trade. The
reality that you exist is my basis for joy and happiness.
     "I make  no  sacrifice," he  repeated,  stressing each  word. "To be  a
slave, even if that is what happens to me, and yet  know you're alive, is my
choice over being free in a world in which you don't exist. I can  live with
the first. I  can't,  with the second.  The  first is  painful,  the  second
     Kahlan beat a fist against his chest. "But you will be a slave or worse
and I can't bear that!"
     "Kahlan, listen to me. I will always have freedom in my heart because I
understand what it is. Because I do, I can work toward it. I will find a way
to be free.
     "I cannot find a way to bring you back to life.
     "The spirits know that in the past I've been willing to forfeit my life
for a just

     cause and if my life would truly make a difference. In the past, I have
knowingly  imperiled both  our lives,  been  willing to sacrifice  both  our
lives-but not in return  for nothing. Don't you see? This would be  a fool's
bargain. I'll not do it."
     Kahlan pulled her breaths in small gasps, trying to told back the tears
as well  as  her rising  sense of panic. "You're the Seeker. You must find a
way to freedom. Of  course you will. You will, 1 know." She forced a swallow
past  the constriction in her throat as  she  tried to reassure  Richard, or
perhaps herself. "You'll find a  way. I know you will. You'll find a way and
you'll come back. You did before. You will this time."
     The shadows of Richard's features seemed dark and severe,  cast as they
were in a mask of resignation.
     "Kahlan, you must be prepared to go on."
     "What do you mean?"
     "You must find joy in the fact that I, too, live. You  must be prepared
to go on with that knowledge and nothing else."
     "What do you mean, nothing else?"
     He  had  a terrible  look in his  eyes-some kind of sad,  grim,  tragic
acceptance. She didn't  want to look into his eyes, but, standing there with
her hand against his chest, feeling the warmth of him, the  life within him,
she couldn't make herself look away as he spoke.
     "I think it's different this time."
     Kahlan pulled her  hair  back when  the  wind dragged it over her eyes.
     "There's  something very different about the  feel  of this. It doesn't
make sense in the way things  in the past have made sense. There's something
deadly serious  about Nicci. Something singular. She's planned  this out and
she's prepared to die for it. I can't lie to  you to deceive  you. Something
tells me that, this time, I may never be able to find a way to come back."
     "Don't say that." In weak fingers trembling with dread, Kahlan gathered
his dark  shirt into  a wrinkled  knot. "Please don't say that, Richard. You
must try. You must find a way to come back to me."
     "Don't ever think I won't be doing my best." His voice was impassioned,
almost to the point of sounding angry. "I swear to you, Kahlan, that as long
as there is a  breath in my lungs, I'll  never give up;  I'll  always try to
find a way. But we can't ignore the possibility just because it's painful to
contemplate: I may never be back.
     "You must face the fact that it looks  like you  must go on without me,
but with the knowledge that I'm alive, just as I will have that awareness of
you in my heart where no one can touch it. In our hearts, we have each other
and always will. That was the oath we swore when we were married-to love and
honor each other for all time. This  can't change it.  Distance can't change
it. Time can't change it."
     "Richard .  . ." She choked back her  wail, but she  couldn't keep  the
tears from coursing down her face. "I can't stand the thought of you being a
slave because of me. Don't you see that? Don't you see what that would do to
me? I'll kill myself if I must so that she can't do this to you. I must."
     He  shook  his head, the wind ruffling  his hair. "Then I would have no
reason to escape her. Nothing to escape for."
     "You  won't need  to escape, that's just it  she won't be  able to hold
     "She's a Sister of the Dark." He threw open his hands. "She will simply
use another means I  won't know how  to counter-and if  you're dead, I won't
care to."

     "Don't you see?" He seized her by her shoulders. "Kahlan, you must live
to give me a reason to try to escape her."
     "Your own  life is your reason," she said.  "To be free to  help people
will be your reason."
     "The people be cursed." He released  her  and  gestured  angrily. "Even
people where I grew up turned against us. They tried to murder us. Remember?
The lands that have  surrendered into the  union with D'Hara will likely not
remain loyal, either, when they see the reality of the Imperial Order's army
moving up into the Midlands. Eventually, D'Hara will stand alone.
     "People don't understand or value freedom. The way it  now stands, they
won't fight for it.  They've proven it in Anderith, and in Hartland, where I
grew  up. What  more clear evidence could be seen? I hold out no false hope.
Most  of the rest  of  the Midlands will quail when it comes time  to  fight
against the  Imperial Order. When they see the size of the Order's  army and
their brutality with those who resist, they will surrender their freedom."
     He looked away from her, as if regretting his flash of  anger in  their
last moments  together.  His tall  form,  so  stalwart  against the sweep of
mountains and  sky, sagged a  little,  seeming to huddle closer to her as if
seeking comfort.
     "The only thing I have to hope for is to get away so I can come back to
you."  His voice had lost all traces of heat as he spoke in a  near whisper.
"Kahlan, please don't take that hope from me-it's all I have."
     In the  distance she could see the fox trotting across  the meadow. Its
thick, whitetipped tail followed  out straight behind as  the  fox  made its
inspection for any rodents that might be about. As Kahlan's gaze tracked its
movement, from the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of Spirit standing
proud and free in the window. How could she lose the man who had carved that
for her when she needed it most?
     She could, she knew, because now he  needed what  only  she  could give
him. Looking back up into his intense gray eyes, she realized she  could not
hope to deny him his earnest plea and only request, not at a time like this.
     "All right, Richard. I  won't do anything rash to free  you. I'll  wait
for you. I'll endure it.
     "I know  you. I know you won't ever give  up. You know I expect no less
from you. When you get away-and you will-I'll be waiting  for you, and  then
we'll be  together again. We'll never  be apart in our hearts.  As you said,
our oath of love is timeless."
     Richard closed his  eyes  with  relief. He tenderly kissed her brow. He
lifted her hand from his  chest and pressed soft kisses to her knuckles. She
saw then how much her pledge meant to him.
     Kahlan pulled her hand back and quickly removed  her necklace,  the one
Shota had given  her as  a wedding  gift.  It was meant to prevent her  from
getting  pregnant. She turned  Richard's hand over  and pushed the  necklace
into his palm. He frowned in confusion at the small, dark stone hanging from
the gold chain draped over his fingers.
     "What's this about?"
     "I want you to take  it." Kahlan cleared her throat to keep her  voice.
She could only manage a whisper. "I know what she wants of you-what she will
make you do."
     "No, that's not what . . ." He shook his head. He said, "I'm not taking
this," as if turning it away would somehow deny the possibility.

     Kahlan put her hand  to  the side of his face. His  face wavered before
her in a watery blur.
     "Please, Richard. Please take it. For me. I  couldn't  bear the thought
of  another woman having your child." Or even the thought of the attempt  at
its creation-but she didn't say that part of it. "Especially  not after mine
. . . "
     He looked away from her eyes. "Kahlan . . ." Words failed him.
     "Just do it for me. Take it.  Please, Richard. I'm doing as you ask and
will endure your captivity;  please honor  my request in return.  I couldn't
stand the thought of that bewitching blond beast having your child-the child
that should be mine. Don"you see? How could I  ever  love something I hated?
And how could I ever hate
     something that was  part  of you? Please, Richard, don't let it come to
     The cold wind lifted and twisted her hair.  Her whole  life, it seemed,
was twisting out of her control. She could hardly believe that this place of
such joy, peace, and redemption, a place where  she had come to  live again,
could be a place where it would all be taken away.
     Richard held the necklace out to her, as if it were  a thing that might
bite him. The dark stone swung under his fingers, gleaming in the gloom.
     "Kahlan, I don't think that's what this is about. I  really  don't. But
anyway,  she could simply refuse  to  wear it  and  threaten  your life if I
didn't . . ."
     Kahlan pulled the  gold chain from  his fingers and  laid it  all  in a
small neat mound in his palm. The dark stone glimmered from its imprisonment
behind  the  veil  of  tiny  gold links. She closed  his fingers around  the
necklace and held his fist shut with both of her hands.
     "You're the one who demands we not ignore those things that are painful
to contemplate."
     "But if she refuses . . ."
     Kahlan gripped his fist tighter in her trembling  fingers. "If it comes
to a time when she  makes  that demand of you, you must convince her to wear
the necklace.  You must. For me. It's bad  enough for me to  think she might
take my love, my husband, from me like that, but to also fear . . ."
     His big hand felt so warm and familiar and comforting to her. Her words
came choked  with  desperate tears. She  could do no more than beg. "Please,
     He  pressed his lips tight,  then nodded and stuffed the necklace  in a
pocket. "I don't believe those are her intentions, but if it should turn out
to be so, you have my word: she will wear the necklace."
     Kahlan sagged against him with a sob.
     He  took her by the arm. "Come on. Hurry. I have to get whatever I need
to take. I've only got a few minutes, or all this will be for nothing. I can
take the shorter trail  and still catch up with her at the top of  the pass,
but I don't have much time."

     Kahlan was aware of Cara, wearing her bloodred leather, standing in the
doorway to their  bedroom watching  Richard cram his things  into his  pack.
Kahlan nodded as she and Richard exchanged brief, stilted instructions. They
had already come to terms  with  the life-and-death issues. It  seemed  they
both feared  to  say  anything of  consequence for  fear of  disturbing  the
delicate, desperate, difficult agreements they had reached.
     The meager light coming in  the small window did little to brighten the
gloom.  Cara, over  in the doorway, blocked some  of the light. The room had
the feel  of  a  dungeon.  Richard, dressed in dark clothes, looked  like  a
shadow. So  many times, as she lay in bed recovering, Kahlan had thought  of
it that way-as her dungeon. Now it had the palpable sense of a  dungeon, but
with the clean aroma  of pine walls  instead  of the stench of a stone  cell
from where trembling, sweating prisoners were taken to their death.
     Cara looked  forlorn  one moment and  the  next like lightning  seeking
ground. Kahlan  knew that the Mord-Sith's  emotions had to be as torn as her
own, balancing on a knife's edge with despair and grief on one side and rage
on the other. MordSith were not used to being in such  a position, but then,
Cara was now more than simply Mord-Sith.
     Kahlan watched Richard pack the black trousers, black undershirt, black
and gold tunic, silver wristbands,  over-belt  with its  pouches, and golden
cloak  into  his pack, where they took up a  good  portion of the  available
space. He was wearing his dark forest garb; he didn't  have  time to change.
Kahlan hoped a  time would soon come when he would escape and again wear the
clothes of  a war wizard to toad them against the Order. They all needed him
to lead the D'Haran Empire against the invading horde from the Old World.
     For reasons that weren't  always entirely clear, Richard had become the
linchpin of their struggle. Kahlan knew his feelings about that-that  people
must be willing to fight for  themselves and not only for him-were valid. If
an idea was sound, it had to have a life beyond a leader, or the  leader had
     As he  threw other clothes and small items into his pack, Richard  told
Kahlan that maybe she could find Zedd, that  he  might have  some ideas. She
nodded  and said she would,  knowing Zedd wouldn't be able  to  do anything.
This terrible triangle  was not liable  to  be  susceptible  to influence by
outsidersNicci had seen to that. It was just a hope Richard was  giving her,
the only bouquet he could offer in the desolate void of reality.
     Kahlan didn't  know what to do  with her hands. She stood  twining  her
fingers together as tears  dripped off her chin. There must be  something to
say, something important, some last words while she  had the chance, but she
couldn't think of them.

     She supposed  he knew what she felt,  what was  in her heart, and words
couldn't add anything to that. She  pressed her fist against the aching knot
of anxiety in the pit of her stomach.
     A sense of doom crowded in the room like a fourth person,  a grim guard
waiting to take Richard away. This was the heart of terror, being controlled
by what you couldn't see, couldn't reason with, couldn't persuade or battle.
The doom waited, implacable, immune, indifferent.
     As Cara vanished from the doorway, Richard pulled a fistful of gold and
silver from an inside pocket in his leather pack. He hastily dropped roughly
half back in the pack and then held out the rest.
     "Take this. You might need it."
     "I'm the Mother Confessor. I don't need gold."
     He tossed it on the bed for her anyway, apparently not wanting to argue
with her in their last moments together.
     "Do you want any  of the carvings?" she asked. It was a stupid question
and she knew  it, but she had to fill the  awful silence and it was the only
thing to come into her head, other than a hopeless plea.
     "No.  I've no need for them. When you  look  at them,  think of me, and
remember I love you."  He rolled a blanket  tight, wrapped  it with  a small
patch of oiled canvas, and tied it with leather thongs to the  bottom of his
pack. "I guess if I were to want any, I could always carve some."
     Kahlan handed him a cake of soap.
     "I don't  need your carving to  remind me of your  love. I'll remember.
Carve something to make Nicci see that you should be free."
     Richard glanced up with a grim smile. "I plan on  seeing to it that she
knows  I  won't  ever  give  in  to  her  and the Order. Carvings  won't  be
necessary. She thinks she has this all planned out, but  she's going to find
out  I'm bad company." Richard jammed a  fist in his pack, making more room.
"Very bad company."
     Cara  rushed back in, carrying small bundles  with  the corners tied in
knots at the top. She plopped them down one at a time onto the bed.
     "I put together some food for you, Lord Rahl. Things that will keep for
traveling--dried meat and fish and such. Some rice and  beans. I . . . I put
a loaf of bread that I made on top, so eat it first, while it's still good."
     He thanked her  as he put the small  bundles into his pack. He  put the
bread to his nose for a  deep whiff before packing it away.  He gave  Cara a
smile of appreciation.
     Richard straightened. His  smile  evaporated in  a  way that  for  some
reason  made  Kahlan's blood go cold. Looking like  he  was in the throes of
committing himself  to  some last, grim deed, Richard pulled the baldric off
over  his head. He held the goldand-silver wrought scabbard in his left hand
and drew the Sword of Truth in his white-knuckled right fist.
     The blade  rang out  with its  unique  metallic  sound, announcing  its
     Richard drew  his  sleeve  up his  arm and  wiped the sword  across his
forearm.  Kahlan  winced as  she  watched.  She didn't know if he cut deeply
accidentally, or on purpose. With an icy sensation she recalled that Richard
cut very precisely with any sharp steel edge.
     He turned the blade and  wiped both sides in gouts of  vivid red blood.
He bathed the  blade  in  it,  giving  it  a  voluptuous taste,  wetting its
appetite for more.  Kahlan didn't know what he was doing or why he was doing
it now, but it was a frightening

     ritual to  witness. She  wished  he  had drawn it before  and cut  down
Nicci. Her blood, Kahlan would not fear seeing.
     Richard picked up  the scabbard  and slammed the Sword  of Truth  home.
Blood running over his hand left greasy red smears across the scabbard as he
slid his  hand  down  the  length of it, to  the  tip, and  then  seized the
sheathed weapon at its center point in his fist. His head bowed, his eyes on
the dull silver and gold reflections lustrous even through his own blood, he
loomed closer to her.
     Richard looked up, and Kahlan saw  the lethal rage of magic  dancing in
his  eyes. He  had invoked the sword's terrible  wrath, called it forth, and
then put it away. She'd never seen him do such a thing before.
     He lifted the  sword in its scabbard to her. The tendons in the back of
his fist  stood out in  the strain. The white of his knuckles showed through
the blood.
     "Take it," he said in a hoarse voice that betrayed the struggle within.
     Spellbound, Kahlan lifted the scabbard in her palms. For  that instant,
until he pulled away his bloody  hand,  she felt a jolting shock  as  if she
were suddenly welded  to the weapon by hot fury unlike anything she had ever
experienced. She half expected to see a burst of sparks. She could feel such
rage emanating from the cold steel that it nearly dropped her  to her knees.
She might have dropped the weapon itself in that first instant, had she been
able to let go of it. She could not.
     Once Richard removed his hand, the sheathed  sword lost  the passionate
rage and felt no different from any other weapon.
     Richard  lifted a  finger in caution. The dangerous magic still  glazed
his eyes. The muscles of his jaw tightened until she could  see  it standing
out all the way up through his temples.
     "Don't  draw  this  sword," he  warned  in  that awful  hoarse whisper,
"unless it's a matter of your life. You know  the ghastly things this weapon
can do to a parson. Not only the  one under the power  of the blade, but the
one under the power of the hilt."
     Kahlan, arrested by  the  intensity of  his gaze, could  only nod.  She
clearly recalled the first  time  Richard  had used the sword to kill a man.
The first time he  came  to learn the horror of  killing had been to protect
     Using the  weapon that first time, unleashing the magic the first time,
had nearly killed  Richard as well. It had been a struggle for  him to learn
how to control such a storm of magic as the Sword of Truth freed.
     Without the rage of the sword's magic,  Richard's eyes were  capable of
conveying menace. Kahlan could recall several times when his raptor's glare,
by itself, had brought a roomful of people to silence. There were few things
worse  than the  need  to escape  the look  in  those eyes. Now,  those eyes
hungered to deliver death.
     "Be angry if you must use this," he growled.  "Be very angry. That will
be your only salvation."
     Kahlan swallowed. "1 understand." She nodded. "I remember."
     Righteous rage  was the  only defense against the  crippling  pain  the
sword exacted as payment for its service.
     "Life or death. No other reason. I don't know what will happen, and I'd
just  as soon you  not  find out. But I'd prefer that, to you  being without
this terrible defense if you need it.  I've given it  a taste  of  blood, it
will come out voracious. When it comes out, it will be in a blood rage."
     "I understand."

     His  eyes  cooled  at  last.  "I'm  sorry  to  give  you  the  terrible
responsibility  of  this weapon,  especially in this way,  but it's the only
protection I can offer."
     With  a hand on his arm to gently  reassure him, Kahlan said, "I  won't
have to use it."
     "Dear spirits, I hope not." He glanced over his shoulder, taking a last
look at their room, and then at Cara. "I have to get going."
     She ignored his words. "Give me your arm, first."
     He  saw  she  had  bandages  left  over  from  when  Kahlan  was  still
recovering. Without objection, he held out his blood-soaked arm. Cara used a
wet cloth to quickly swab his arm before she wound it in clean bandages.
     Richard thanked  her as she was finishing. Cara split the  end, put the
tails around his  wrists, and tied a  quick knot. "We will come part of  the
way with you."
     "No. You will stay here." Richard pulled down his sleeve. "I don't want
to risk it."
     "Cara, I  want you to protect Kahlan. I'm leaving  her in your hands. I
know you won't let me down."
     Cara's big beautiful  blue eyes,  glistening  with tears, reflected the
kind of pain Kahlan was sure Cara never allowed anyone to see.
     "I swear to protect her as I would protect you, Lord Rahl, if you swear
to get away and return."
     Richard flashed her a brief smile, trying to ease her misery. "I'm Lord
Rahl-I don't need to remind you  that I've wiggled out of tighter spots than
this."  He kissed her cheek. "Cara, I swear I'll never give up trying to get
away-you have my word."
     Kahlan realized  he  hadn't really sworn to  Cara's words. He wouldn't,
she knew, want to make a promise he might not be able to keep.
     Bending to the bed, he pulled his pack close.  "I have  to go." He held
the strap in a stranglehold. "I can't be late."
     Kahlan's  fingers  tightened  on  his  arm,  Cara laid  a  hand on  his
shoulder. Richard turned back and gripped Kahlan's shoulders.
     "Listen to me, now. I wish you would stay here, in this  house in these
mountains where it's safe  for you,  but I don't think anything  short of my
dying request could convince you to do that. At least stay  for four or five
days, in case I'm able to figure  out what's going on and can  escape Nicci.
She may be a  Sister of the  Dark, but I'm no  longer  exactly a stranger to
magic.  I've  escaped powerful  people before. I've sent Darken Rahl back to
the underworld. I've gone  to  the Temple of  the Winds in another  world in
order to stop the plague. I've escaped worse than this. Who knows-this might
be  simpler than it seems. If  I do escape her, I'll come back here, so wait
for a while, at least.
     "If I can't  get away from Nicci for now, try  to find Zedd.  He  might
have some idea  of what to  do. Ann was  with him  the last time we saw him.
She's the Prelate of the Sisters of the Light and knew Nicci for a very long
time.  Perhaps she knows something that, along with what  Zedd might be able
to come up with, could help."
     "Richard, don't  worry  about me. Just take care  of  yourself. I'll be
waiting  for you when you get away, so just be at ease about that much of it
and put all your  effort into escaping from  her.  We'll  wait  here  for  a
while-I promise."
     "I will watch  over  her,  Lord  Rahl.  Don't worry  about  the  Mother
     Richard nodded. He  turned  back  to  Kahlan. His  fingers  on her arms
tightened. His brow drew down.

     "I know you and I know the way you  feel, but you have to listen to me.
The time  has  not yet come. It may never come.  You may think I'm  wrong in
this, but if you close your eyes to the reality of what is, in favor of what
you would wish just because you're the Mother Confessor and feel responsible
for the  people of  the  Midlands, then there is no reason for us to  bother
hoping we'll be  together again because we won't.  We will be dead,  and the
cause of freedom will be dead."
     His face loomed closer. "Above all else, our forces must not attack the
heart of the  Order's army.  It's too soon. If they-if you-carry  an assault
directly into the heart  of the Order thinking you  can win, it will  be the
end of  our forces,  and the  end of our  chances. All hope for the cause of
freedom, and all hope to defeat the  Order, will be lost for generations  to
     "It's the same way we must use our heads with Nicci, and not  fight her
in a  direct attack, or we  will both die. You  promised you  would not kill
yourself to free me. Don't throw that promise away by going against what I'm
telling you now."
     It all  seemed  so  unimportant  at  the  moment. The only  thing  that
mattered was that she was losing him. She  would have cast  the  rest of the
world to the wolves if she could just keep him.
     "All right, Richard."
     "Promise me." His fingers were hurting her arms. He shook  her. "I mean
it. You could  throw it all away if  you don't heed my  warning.  You  could
destroy the hope of people for the next fifty  generations. You could be the
one who  destroys freedom and brings a dark  age upon the  world. Promise me
you won't."
     A thousand thoughts swirled in chaotic turmoil through her mind. Kahlan
stared  up into his eyes. She heard herself say, "I promise,  Richard. Until
you say so, we'll make no direct attack."
     He  looked  like  a great  weight had been lifted from his shoulders. A
smile spread  on  his  face as he pulled  her  into  an embrace. His fingers
combed into her hair and cradled her head as she rose to his kiss. Her hands
slipped up the backs of  his  shoulders  as she  held  him. It only lasted a
moment, but in that moment of stolen bliss, they shared a world of emotions.
     All too soon the kiss, the embrace, was over. His warm presence swirled
away from her, allowing the  awful weight of doom to settle firmly down atop
her. Richard briefly hugged Cara before he hefted his pack onto a  shoulder.
He turned back at the bedroom doorway.
     "I  love you,  Kahlan.  Never anyone before you, nor  ever after.  Only
you." His eyes said it even better.
     "You're everything to me, Richard. You know that."
     "I love you, too, Cara." He winked at her. "Take  good care of the both
of you until I'm back."
     "I will, Lord Rahl. You have my word as Mord-Sith."
     He gave her a crooked smile. "I have your word as Cara."
     And then he was gone.
     "I love you, too, Lord Rahl," Cara whispered to the empty doorway.
     Kahlan  and  Cara ran  into  the  main  room and  stood in  the doorway
watching him running across the meadow.
     Cara  cupped her hands around  her mouth. "I love you  too, Lord Rahl,"
she shouted.
     Richard turned as he ran and acknowledged her words with a wave.
     Together, they watched  Richard's dark figure  flying through  the dead

     grass,  his  fluid  gait  swiftly carrying  him  away.  Just before  he
disappeared into the trees, he stopped and turned. Kahlan shared a last look
with  him,  a look  that said everything.  He  turned  and vanished into the
woods, his clothes making him impossible to  distinguish from the trees  and
     Kahlan collapsed to her  knees, sitting back on her heels  as she  lost
control of her emotions. She wept helplessly, her head in her hands, at what
seemed the end of the world.
     Cara squatted beside  her to put  an arm around her  shoulders.  Kahlan
hated to have Cara see her cry that way, cry in  such  weakness.  She felt a
distant gratitude when Cara held  her  head to her shoulder and  didn't  say
     Kahlan didn't know  how long she  sat on the  dirt  floor in  her white
Confessor's dress, sobbing, but after a  time, she was  able to make herself
stop.  Her heart continued to spiral  down into hopeless gloom. Each passing
moment  seemed unendurable.  The bleak future stretched out  before  her,  a
wasteland of agony.
     She finally looked up and gazed about  at the house. Without Richard it
was empty. He had given it life. Now it was a dead place.
     "What do you wish to do, Mother Confessor?"
     It was getting dark. Whether it  was the sunset, or the clouds  getting
thicker, Kahlan didn't know. She wiped at her eyes.
     "Let's begin  to get our  things together. We'll stay here  a few days,
like  Richard  asked.  After that, anything the horses can't carry that will
spoil, we'd better bury. We should board up the windows. We'll  close up the
house good and tight."
     "For when we return to paradise, someday?"
     Kahlan nodded as she looked about, trying desperately to focus her mind
on a task  and not on that which would crush her. The worst part, she  knew,
was going to be night. When she was alone in bed. When he wasn't with her.
     Now,  the  valley seemed  more  like  paradise lost.  She  had  trouble
believing that Richard was really gone. It seemed as if he  were just off to
catch some  fish, or  hunt berries,  or  scout  the hills. It  seemed as if,
surely, he would be coming back soon.
     "Yes, for when we return. Then it  will be paradise again. I guess when
Richard returns, wherever we are will be paradise."
     Kahlan noticed  that  Cara didn't  hear  her answer.  The Mord-Sith was
staring out through the doorway.
     "Cara, what is it?"
     "Lord Rahl is gone."
     Kahlan  rested a comforting hand on  Cara's shoulder. "I know it hurts,
but we must put our minds to-"
     "No." Cara turned back. Her  blue  eyes  were strangely  troubled. "No,
that's not what I mean. I mean that I can't sense him. I can't feel the bond
to Lord Rahl. I know where he is-he's going up the trail up to that pass-but
I can't feel it." She looked panicked. "Dear spirits, it's like going blind.
I don't know how to find him. I can't find Lord Rahl."
     Kahlan's first  flash of fear was  that he fell and was killed, or that
Nicci had executed him. She used reason to force the fear aside.
     "Nicci knows about the bond.  She probably used her magic to  cloak it,
or to sever it."
     "Cloaked it,  somehow." Cara rolled her  Agiel  in her fingers. "That's
what it  has to be. I can still feel my  Agiel, so I know that Lord Rahl has
to be alive. The  bond is  still there . . . but I cannot feel  it  to sense
where he is."

     Kahlan sighed with relief. "That has to be it, then. Nicci doesn't want
to be followed, so she cloaked his bond with magic."
     Kahlan realized that to be protected from  the dream walker by the bond
to Richard, people would  now have to believe in him without the reassurance
of feeling the bond. Their link would have to remain true in their hearts if
they were to survive.
     Could they do that? Could they believe in that way?
     Cara stared out  the doorway, across  the meadow to the mountains where
Richard had disappeared. The blue-violet sky  behind the blue-gray mountains
was  slashed  with  blazing orange gashes. The snowcaps were lower than they
had been. Winter was  racing toward them. If Richard didn't soon  escape and
return, Kahlan and Cara would have to be gone before it arrived.
     Bouts of dizzying grief  threatened  to drown her in a flood of  tears.
Needing to do something,  she went to her room to  take  off her Confessor's
dress.  She  would set to work with the  task of closing up  the  house  and
preparing to leave.
     As Kahlan pulled her dress off, Cara appeared in the doorway.
     "Where are we going to go, Mother Confessor? You said we  were going to
leave, but you never said where we were going to go."
     Kahlan saw Spirit standing  in the  window, fists at  her sides  as she
looked out at the world. She lifted the carving off the sill and trailed her
fingers over the flowing form.
     Seeing the statue, touching it,  feeling the  power of it,  made Kahlan
want  to reach deep  inside for resolve. Once before, she had been hopeless,
and Richard  carved  this for her. Her other hand fell to her  side, and her
fingers found Richard's  sword  lying across their  bed. Kahlan focused  her
mind, ordering the turbulent swirl of despair thickening into wrath.
     "To destroy the Order."
     "Destroy the Order?"
     "Those beasts  took my unborn  child, and  now they've taken Richard. I
will make them regret it a thousand times  over and then another thousand. I
once  swore an oath of death without mercy to the Order. The time has  come.
If killing every last one of them is the  only way to get Richard back, then
that's what I will do."
     "You swore an oath to Lord Rahl."
     "Richard said nothing about  not killing them, just about how. My  oath
was not to try to drive a sword through  their heart. He said  nothing about
bleeding  them to death  with a thousand cuts. I won't  break my oath, but I
intend to kill every last one of them."
     "Mother Confessor, you must not do that."
     Cara's blue eyes gleamed with menace. "You must leave half for me."

     Richard had  stopped to turn back and look at her only once  as he ran,
just before he went  into  the trees. She was standing in the doorway in her
white Confessor's  dress, her  long thick  hair tumbling  down, her form the
embodiment of feminine grace, looking  as beautiful as the first time he saw
her. They held each other's gaze for a brief moment. He was  too far away to
see the green of her eyes, a color he'd never beheld on anyone else, a color
of  such  heart-piercing  perfection  that  it  sometimes  would   stop  his
breathing, and at other times quicken it.
     But it  was the mind  of the woman  behind those  eyes  that in reality
captivated him. Richard had never met her equal.
     He knew he was cutting the time close. As much  as he hated the idea of
turning his gaze away from Kahlan, her life hung in the balance. His purpose
was clear. Richard had plunged into the woods.
     He had traveled the trail often enough; he knew where he could run, and
where he had to be careful. Now, with little time left,  he couldn't  afford
to be too careful. He didn't try for a glimpse of the house.
     He was alone in  the woods  as he ran, his  thoughts  but salt in a raw
wound. For once he  felt out of place in the woods-powerless, insignificant,
hopeless. Bare branches clattered together in the wind, while others creaked
and moaned, as  if in mock  sorrow to see him leaving. He tried not to think
as he ran.
     Fir and spruce trees took  over  as the  ground rose out of the valley.
His breath came in rapid pulls. In the cold shadows of the forest floor, the
wind was  a  distant  pursuer far overhead,  chasing after him, shooing  him
along, hounding him  away from the happiest place he had  ever  been. Spongy
mounds of verdant moss  lay dotting the forest floor in the low places where
mostly cedars grew,  looking like wedding cakes done up in an intense green,
sprinkled over with tiny, chocolate brown, scale-like cedar needles.
     Richard  tiptoed on rocks  sticking up above the water  as he crossed a
small  stream. As  the little brook  tumbled down the  slope,  it went under
rocks and boulders in places, making an  echoing drumming  sound, announcing
him to the stalwart oaks along his march into imprisonment. In the flat gray
light, he failed to see a reddish loop of cedar root. It caught his foot and
sent  him  sprawling  facedown  in the trail,  a  final  humiliation on  his
judgment and sentence of banishment.
     As Richard lay in the cold,  damp, discarded leaves, dead branches, and
other  refuse of  the forest,  he considered not getting up ever  again.  He
could just lie there and let it all end, let the indifferent wind freeze his
limbs stiff, let the  sneaky  spiders and snakes and wolves come to bite him
and bleed him to death, and then finally  the uncaring trees would cover him
over, never to be missed except by a few, his vanishing a  good riddance  to

     A messenger with a message no one wanted to heed.
     A leader come too soon.
     Why not just let it end, let silent death take them both to their peace
and be done with it?
     The scornful trees all watched to see what this unworthy man might  do,
to see if he had the courage to get to his feet and  face what was ahead. He
didn't know himself if he did.
     Death was  easier,  and  in that  bottomless moment,  less  painful  to
     Even  Kahlan, as much as  he loved her,  wanted  something from him  he
could not give her: a lie. She wanted him to tell her that something he knew
to be so, was not. He would do anything for her, but he couldn't change what
was. At least she had enough faith  in him to let him lead her away from the
shadows  of tyranny darkening the world. Even if she didn't believe him, she
was probably the only one willing, of her own free will, to follow him.
     In  truth, he lay on the ground for  only seconds, regaining his senses
from  the fall  and catching his breath  as the thoughts flooded through his
mind-brief seconds in  which he allowed himself to  be weak, in exchange for
how hard he knew everything to come would be.
     Weakness, to balance the  strength he would need. Doubt, to balance his
certainty  of purpose. Fear, to  balance  the courage he would have  to call
     Even  as  he  wondered  if  he could  get up,  he  knew  he  would. His
convulsion of  self-pity ended abruptly. He would do anything for her.  Even
this. A thousand times over, even this.
     With renewed resolve, Richard forced his mind away from the dominion of
dark  thoughts. It wasn't so hopeless;  he  knew better. After all,  he  had
faced  trials  much more difficult than this  one Sister of the Dark. He had
once gotten Kahlan out of the clutches of five Sisters of the Dark. This was
but one. He  would defeat her, too. Anger welled  up at the thought of Nicci
thinking she could make them dance at the end of her selfish strings.
     Despair extinguished, rage flooded in.
     And then he was running again, dodging trees as he cut corners off  the
trail. He  hurdled fallen trees  and leaped over gaps  in  the rock shelves,
rather  than taking the safe route down  and up. Each shortcut or leap saved
him a few precious seconds.
     A broken tree limb snagged his pack, yanking it from  his shoulder.  He
tried to hang on to  it as he flew past, but it slipped from his  grasp  and
spilled across the ground.
     Richard exploded in fury, as if the tree had done it on purpose just to
taunt him in  his rush. He  kicked the offending branch, snapping  it out of
its dry socket. He fell to his knees  and scooped  his things back into  the
pack, clawing up moss along with gold and silver coins, and a  pine seedling
along with the soap Kahlan had given him. He didn't have time to care as  he
shoved it all back in. This time, he put the pack onto his back, rather than
letting it  hang from one shoulder. He had been trying to save  time before,
and it had cost him instead.
     The path,  which in places was no more than sections of animal  trails,
began to rise sharply, occasionally requiring that he use both hands to hold
on to rocks or roots as he climbed. He'd been up it enough times to know the
sound handholds.  As cold as the day was, Richard had to wipe sweat from his
eyes. He skinned his knuckles on rough granite as he jammed his fingers into
cracks for handholds.
     1n  his  mind's eye, Nicci  was  riding  too swiftly, covering too much
ground, get-

     ting too far ahead. He knew it had been foolhardy to take so much  time
before leaving, thinking he could make  up for it on the trail. He wished he
could have taken more time, though, to hold Kahlan.
     His insides were in agony at the thought of how heartbroken Kahlan was.
He felt, somehow, that it was  worse for her.  Even if she was free,  and he
was  not, that  made it worse for her  because, in  her freedom, she  had to
restrain herself when she wanted nothing  more  than to come  after  him. In
bondage to a master, Richard had it easy; he had only to follow orders.
     He burst out  of the trees onto the wider trail at the top of the pass.
Nicci was nowhere to be seen. He held his  breath as he looked to the  east,
fearing to  spot her going down the back side  of  the pass. Beyond the high
place  where  he stood,  he could  see forests  spread out  before  him with
mountains to each side lifting the carpet of trees. In the distance, greater
mountains yet soared  to  dizzying  heights, their peaks  and  much of their
slopes stark white against the gloom of heavy gray sky.
     Richard didn't  see  any horse and rider, but since  the  trail twisted
down into the trees not tar  beyond where he stood, that didn't really prove
anything. The top of the pass was a bald bit of open ledge, with most of the
rest of the horse trail winding through deep woods. He quickly inspected the
ground, casting about for tracks, hoping she  wouldn't be too far  ahead  of
him and he could catch her before she did something  terrible.  His sense of
doom eased when he found no tracks.
     He peered out at  the valley far below, across the  straw-brown meadow,
to  their house. It  was too far  away to see anyone.  He hoped Kahlan would
stay there for a few days, as he had asked. He didn't want her going to  the
army, going to fight a losing war, endangering her life for nothing.
     Richard understood  Kahlan's desire to be with her people and to defend
her homeland. She believed she  could make a difference. She could not.  Not
yet. Maybe  not  ever.  Richard's vision  was really nothing more  than  the
acceptance of  that reality. Shaking your sword  at the sky didn't keep  the
sun from setting.
     Richard cast an appraising squint at the clouds. For the last two days,
he had  thought that the signs pointed to the first snow of the season  soon
rolling down onto their valley home. By the look of the sky and the scent in
the wind, he judged he was right.
     He  knew he wasn't going to be able to escape Nicci  so easily as to be
able to get back to Kahlan within a few days. He had invented that story for
another  reason. Once the  weather shitted and the snow  arrived up in these
mountain highlands,  it tended to come in an onslaught. If  the storm was as
big as he estimated  by the signs it could be, Kahlan and  Cara would end up
being stuck in their house until spring. With all the food they'd put up, as
well  as  the supplies he'd brought in, they had plenty to last the  two  of
them. The firewood he'd cut would keep them warm.
     There,  she  would be  safe. With  the army,  she  would be in constant
     The dappled mare walked out of the trees, coming around  a bend not far
away. Nicci's blue eyes were on Richard from the first instant she appeared.
     At the time the Sisters of the Light had taken him to the Palace of the
Prophets in the Old World, Richard had mistakenly believed Kahlan wanted him
taken away. He didn't  know or understand she had  sent him away to save his
life. Richard thought she didn't ever want to see him again.
     While  in  captivity  at  the palace,  Richard  thought  Nicci was  the
personification of lust.  He was hardly able to find  his  voice when around
her. He had hardly been

     able  to believe a creature of such physical perfection existed,  other
than in daydreams.
     Now,  as he  watched her swaying gently in her saddle as she walked her
horse  up the trail, her intense blue eyes locked on his, it  seemed to  him
she  wore her beauty with a kind of grim  acceptance. She had  so completely
lost her stunning presence that he couldn't even envision any reason for his
onetime sentiment about her.
     Richard had since learned  the  true depths  of what  a real woman was,
what real love was,  and  what  real  fulfillment was. In  that light, Nicci
paled into insignificance.
     As he watched her coming closer, he was surprised to realize she looked
sad. She seemed almost  to be sorry to find him there, but  more than  that,
there seemed to be a shadow of relief passing across her countenance.
     "Richard, you lived up to  my  faith." Her voice suggested  that it had
been tenuous as best. "You're in a sweat; would you like to rest?"
     Her feigned kindness  drove hot  blood all the way up to his  scalp. He
pulled  his  glare  from her gentle smile  and  turned to the trail, walking
ahead of her horse. He thought it best if he not say anything until he could
get a grip on his rage.
     Not far down the trail they came to a black stallion with a white blaze
on its  face.  The  big horse was picketed in a  small grassy  patch of open
ground among towering pines.
     "Your horse,  as I promised," she said. "I hope you  find him  to  your
liking. I judged him to be big and strong enough to carry you comfortably."
     Richard checked and found the smooth snaffle  bit  to his approval; she
wasn't abusing the animals with cruel bits used to dominate, as he knew some
of the Sisters did. The rest  of the tack  appeared sound. The horse  looked
     Richard  took a few moments to  introduce himself to the  stallion.  He
reminded himself that the horse was not the  cause  of his problems,  and he
shouldn't let his  attitude toward Nicci affect how he treated this handsome
animal. He didn't ask the horse's name. He let it sniff his hand beneath its
curled muzzle, then  stroked the stallion's sleek black neck.  He patted its
shoulder, conveying a gentle introduction  without words. The powerful black
stallion stamped his front  hooves. He was not yet all  that pleased to meet
     For  the time being, there was no  choice of routes; there was only the
one trail  and it ran from  the direction of the house where Kahlan was back
to the  east.  Richard took  the lead so that he  wouldn't  have to look  at
     He didn't want to  jump right on the stallion at first sight and make a
bad impression that would take a lot of work to overcome. Better to let  the
horse  get to know him, first, if  just for a mile  or so. He held the reins
slack  under the stallion's jaw  and walked in front of him, letting him get
comfortable  with following this strange  new man. Putting his  mind  to the
task  of working  with  the  horse helped  divert  him  from  thoughts  that
threatened to  drag him under a sea of  sorrow. After a time,  the  stallion
seemed at ease with his new master and Richard mounted without any ado.
     The  narrow  trail precluded Nicci walking  her  horse  beside his. Her
dappled  mare  snorted  its displeasure  at  having to follow  the stallion.
Richard was pleased to know that he had already upset the order of things.
     Nicci offered no  conversation, sensing, he supposed, his mood.  He was
going with her, but there was no  way she could hope to make him happy about
     When it started getting dark, Richard  simply dismounted beside a small
brook where the horses  could have  a drink, and  tossed his things  on  the
ground. Nicci

     wordlessly accepted his  choice of campsite, and unstrapped her bedroll
from her  saddle  after  she'd taken it  down off her horse. She  sat on her
bedroll,  looking  a little downcast, more than  anything else, and ate some
sausage along  with  a  hard biscuit washed down with water. After her first
bite,  she  lifted  the  sausage to him, meeting  his gaze in  a questioning
manner. He didn't acknowledge the offer. Nicci assumed he declined, and went
back to eating.
     When she was finished and had washed in  the brook, she went behind the
thick  undergrowth for a  time. When  she  came back, she  crawled into  her
bedroll without a word, turned away from him, and went to sleep.
     Richard sat on the mossy ground, arms  folded, leaning the small of his
back against his saddle. He didn't sleep the  entire night.  He sat watching
Nicci sleep in the light  of the overcast sky lit from  the other  side by a
nearly full moon,  watching her slow  even  breathing,  her slightly  parted
lips, the slow pulse in the  vein at the  side of  her throat,  thinking the
whole time how he might overcome what she had done to them. He thought about
strangling her, but he knew better.
     He  had  used magic before. He  had  in  the  past  not  only  felt but
unleashed incredible  power  through his gift. He  had  faced situations  of
enormous danger  involving a wide  variety of magic. Richard had called upon
his gift to conjure such power as  no one living had ever  seen, and he  had
watched as it was brought to life at his conscious direction.
     His gift was invoked  mostly through anger and need. He had an abundant
supply  of  both.  He  just didn't  know how  it could help him.  He  didn't
understand well  enough what Nicci had done to  begin  to  think of what  he
might do  to  counter it.  With  Kahlan's life at the  other end of  Nicci's
invisible  cord  of magic, he dared not do anything until he was sure of it.
He would be, though; he just had  to figure it out. Experience told him that
it was a reasonable  supposition. He  told himself it  was only a matter  of
time. If he wanted to keep his sanity, he knew he had to believe that.
     The next  morning,  without speaking a  word to Nicci, he  saddled  the
horses. She  sat watching him  tighten the cinch straps,  making  sure  they
weren't pinching the horses, as she  sipped from a waterskin. She took bread
from her saddlebag  lying  beside her and asked  if  he would like  a piece.
Richard ignored her.
     He would have been  tired  from not sleeping the  whole cold night, but
his anger kept him wide awake. Under a  leaden sky, they rode at an easy but
steady  pace all that day through forests that seemed endless. It felt  good
to have  a warm  horse under him. Throughout the  day,  they continued their
gradual  descent from the higher country, where the house was, down into the
     Toward dark, the snow arrived.
     At first, it was just a few furtive flakes swirling through the air. As
it  steadily increased, it  seemed to leach  the color from trees and ground
alike, until the  world turned white. Visibility  steadily diminished as the
snow  thickened into a disorienting, drifting,  solid  wall.  He had to keep
blinking the fat flakes from his eyes.
     For the first time  since leaving  with Nicci, Richard felt a  sense of
     Kahlan and Cara, up higher  in the mountains, would wake in the morning
to several feet of  snow.  They would decide  that it was foolish to  try to
leave when, they would  believe, it  was only an early snow  that would melt
down  enough in a few days for  them to have an easier time of traveling. Up
in those mountains, that would be  a mistake. It would stay  cold.  A  storm
would follow on the heels of this

     one,  and they  would soon have snow  up to the shutters. They would be
nervous  about  waiting,  but would  probably decide  that  it was  now more
important for them to delay until a  break  in  the weather-after all, there
was no urgency.
     In  all likelihood, they would end up safely stuck in the house for the
winter. When he  eventually escaped from Nicci's talons, Richard would  find
Kahlan snug in their home.
     He decided that it would be foolish to  let his anger dictate that they
sleep  on  the open ground. They  could freeze to death. He recalled all too
well that if Nicci died, Kahlan died. When he spotted a big wayward pine, he
walked his horse off the trail. Brushing against branches dumped wet snow on
him. Richard flicked it off his shoulders and shook it from his hair.
     Nicci glanced  around, confused, but  didn't object.  She dismounted as
she waited to see what he was doing. When he held  a heavy bough to the side
for  her, she frowned at him before poking her head inside for  a  look. She
straightened with an expression of childlike  delight. Richard didn't return
her wide grin.
     Inside,  under the  thick boughs  caked with snow, was a  still, frigid
world.  With the snow crusting the  tree,  it  was dark  inside. In the  dim
light, Richard dug a small fire pit and  soon  caught fire  to the  deadwood
he'd carefully stacked over shavings.
     When the crackling flames built into a warm glow, Nicci gazed around in
wonder at the inside of the wayward pine. The spoke-like branches over their
heads were cast in a soft orange  blush by the  flickering light.  The lower
trunk was bare of limbs, leaving the  inside of  the tree a hollow cone with
ample open space at the bottom for them.
     Nicci quietly warmed her hands by the fire, looking contented-not  like
she was gloating that he'd given in and found shelter and built  a fire, but
contented. She looked as if she had been through a great ordeal, and now she
could be at peace.  She looked  like a woman expecting nothing, but grateful
for what she had.
     Richard hadn't had breakfast with her, or  anything the day before. His
bitter  resolve gave way  to his hunger, so he boiled water from melted snow
and  cooked rice and beans. Starving wouldn't  do him  or  Kahlan  any good.
Without  words, he offered Nicci half the  rice  and beans poured  into  the
crust of one end of his loaf of bread. She took the bread  bowl  and thanked
     She offered  him a sun-dried slice of meat. Richard stared at her thin,
delicate fingers holding out the piece  of meat. It  reminded him of someone
feeding  a chipmunk. He snatched the meat from her hand and tore off a chunk
with his teeth. To  avoid her gaze, he watched the fire  as he ate his  rice
and beans out of the heel of bread. Other than  the crackle of the fire, the
only sound was the thump  of snow falling  in  clumps from  limbs not  stout
enough to hold the load. Snowfalls often turned a forest to a place of eerie
     Sitting  by  the low fire  after  he'd  finished  his meal, feeling the
warmth of the flames on his face,  the  exhaustion from the long ride on top
of his vigil the night  before finally caught up  with him.  Richard stacked
thicker  wood  on  the  dwindling fire and banked  the  coals around it.  He
unrolled his  bedroll on the  opposite side  of  the fire from Nicci as  she
silently watched him, climbed in,  and,  as he thought about  Kahlan safe in
their house, fell soundly asleep.
     The next  day they  were up  early. Nicci  said nothing, but, once they
were mounted, decisively cut her dappled mare in front of the black stallion
and took the lead. The snow had changed to a cold drizzling mist. What  snow
was left on the

     ground had melted down to gray slush. The lowlands were not quite ready
to relinquish  themselves to winter's grip. Up higher, where Kahlan  was, it
was colder and would be snowing in earnest.
     As they rode carefully along a  narrow road  at the side of a mountain,
Richard tried to watch the woods to keep  his  mind on other things,  but he
couldn't help occasionally looking at Nicci riding right in front of him. It
was cold and damp; she wore a heavy black  cloak over  her black dress. With
her back straight, her head held high, and her  blond  hair  fanned out over
her cloak, she looked regal. He  wore  his  dark  forest  clothes and hadn't
     Nicci's  dappled mare was dark  gray, almost black, with  lighter  gray
rings over its body. Its mane was dark gray,  as  were the lightly feathered
legs, and the tail was a milky white. It was one of the most handsome horses
Richard had ever seen. He hated it. It was hers.
     By afternoon, they  intersected a  trail running to the  south.  Nicci,
leading the way,  continued to  the east. Before the  day was out they would
encounter a few more paths, used  mainly by an occasional hunter or trapper.
The  mountains were inhospitable. Even  if you cleared  the ground of trees,
the soil was thin and rocky. In  a few places closer  to  Hartland or  other
population centers to the north or south, there were grassy slopes that were
able to support thin flocks of sheep or goats.
     As he felt the stallion's  muscles moving beneath him,  Richard  looked
out at land he knew and loved. He didn't know how long it would  be until he
was  home again-if  ever.  He hadn't asked where  they were  going, figuring
Nicci  wouldn't likely tell him this soon. That they were headed east didn't
mean much just yet because their choice of routes was limited.
     In the passive rhythm of the ride, Richard's mind kept returning to his
sword, and how he had given it to Kahlan. At the time it had seemed the only
thing  to do. He  hated that he had given it to  her the way he  had, yet he
could think of no other way to afford  her  any  protection.  He prayed  she
would never have  to  use the sword. If she did, he'd given  it a measure of
his rage, too.
     At his belt he wore a  fine knife, but he felt naked without his sword.
He hated the ancient weapon,  the way it pulled dark things from within him,
and at the  same time he  missed  it.  He  often reminded himself of  Zedd's
words, that it was merely a tool.
     It  was more, too.  The sword was a mirror,  albeit one  bound in magic
capable of raining terrible destruction. The Sword of Truth would annihilate
anything  before it-flesh or steel-as long  as  what stood before it was the
enemy, yet it could not harm a friend. Therein lay the paradox of its magic:
evil was defined  solely by the perceptions of the person holding the sword,
by what he believed to be true.
     Richard was the true Seeker and heir to the  power of the sword created
by  the  wizards  in the  great war. It  should  be with  him. He should  be
protecting the sword.
     A lot of things "should be," he told himself.
     Late in the afternoon they left the eastern path they were  on and took
one tending east and south. Richard  knew the trail; it would pass through a
village in  another day,  and then become  a  narrow road. Since  Nicci  had
deliberately taken the new route, she must have known that, too.
     Near dark they  skirted  the north shore  of a good-sized lake. A small
raft  of seagulls  floated out  near  the  middle  of  the rain-swept water.
Seagulls weren't  common in  these  parts, but  they  were  not unheard  of,
either. He recalled all the seabirds he had seen when he had been in the Old
World. The sea had fascinated him.

     In a cove on the far shore Richard could just make out two men fishing.
On that side of the  lake there was  a trail worn  to a deep rut  over  many
generations by people coming up to fish from a hamlet to the south.
     The two  men, sitting on a broad flat rock  jutting  out into the lake,
waved in greeting. It  wasn't often one encountered riders out here. Richard
and Nicci were too far  away for the men to make them out.  The men probably
assumed they were trappers.
     Nicci returned  the wave in  a casual manner, as if  to say, "Good luck
with the fishing. Wish we could join you."
     They rounded a bend and finally disappeared from the men. Richard wiped
his wet hair off his forehead as they rode along beside the lake,  listening
to the small waves lapping at the muddy shore. Leaving the lake behind, they
cut  into the  forest as  the trail rose on its way  across a gentle  slope.
Nicci had put her hood up against the intermittent rain and drizzle  purring
through the trees. A darkening gloom descended on the woods.
     Richard didn't want to do anything  that  would get  Kahlan killed; the
time had finally come when he had to speak.
     "When we come  upon someone, what am I to say? I don't suppose you want
me  telling people you're a Sister of the  Dark out snatching victims. Or do
you wish me to play the part of a mute?"
     Nicci gave him a sidelong glance.
     "You will  be my husband,  as  far  as everyone is concerned," she said
without  hesitation.  "I  expect  you to  adhere  to  that  story  under all
circumstances.  For all practical purposes, from now on, you are my husband.
I am your wife."
     Richard's fists tightened  on the reins.  "I have  a wife. You  are not
she. I'm not going to pretend you are."
     Swaying  gently in her saddle, Nicci seemed indifferent to his words or
the emotion behind them. She gazed skyward, taking in the darkening sky.
     It  was  too  warm down  in the lowlands  for snow. Through  occasional
breaks in the  low clouds,  though, Richard had caught glimpses of windswept
mountain  slopes  behind them cloaked in thick white drifts. Kahlan was sure
to be dry, warm, and stuck.
     "Do you think you could find us another of those shelter trees?"  Nicci
asked. "Where it would be dry, like last night? I'd  dearly love to get  dry
and warm."
     Between  sporadic gaps  in the pine trees,  and through the scramble of
bare branches of the alder and ash, Richard surveyed the hillside descending
before them.
     "Good. We need to have a talk."

     As  Richard  dismounted  near one of his shelter trees at the edge of a
small, slanted,  open  patch  of grassy ground,  Nicci took the reins of his
horse. She could feel  his smoldering glare on her  back as she picketed the
horses to the thick branches of an alder heavy with catkins. The horses were
hungry, and promptly started cropping the wet grass. Without a word, Richard
began casting about, collecting deadwood from under dense thickets of spruce
trees, where, she supposed, it might be a little dryer.
     She watched him, not openly, but casually, covertly, from the corner of
her eye as he went about his chore. He  was everything she  remembered,  and
more. It  was  not so  much that he was  just  big, physically, but he had a
commanding  presence that had matured  since she  had last seen him. Before,
she had been tempted  at times to think of him as little more than a boy. No
     Now, he was  a  powerful wild  stallion  trapped in  a  pen of  his own
construction. She kept her distance, letting  him kick at the  walls of that
pen. It would bring her  no gain to  taunt  this wild beast.  Taunting  him,
torturing him in his anguish, was the last thing in the world she wanted.
     Nicci could understand his smoldering anger. It was to be expected. She
could plainly see his feelings for the  Mother Confessor, and  hers for him.
The integrity of the walls of his  pen consisted of  nothing more  than  the
gossamer  fence  rails of his feelings for her. While Nicci sympathized with
his  pain, she knew that she, of all  people,  could do nothing to alleviate
it. It would take time for  his  hurt  to heal. Over time, the rails of  his
fence would be replaced by others.
     Someday, he would come to terms  with what had to be. Someday, he would
come to  understand  the  truth  of the  things she  intended  to  show him.
Someday, he would come to understand the necessity of what she was doing. It
was for the best.
     At the edge  of  the clearing, Nicci settled herself on a gray  slab of
granite that, by the unique angles of its broken face, had once belonged  to
the ledge  poking out from under the deep  green of balsam and spruce behind
her,  but over time had been moved away  from it by the inexorable effort of
nature, leaving  a gap  the  shape  of a jagged lightning bolt between their
once-mated edges.
     Nicci sat with her back straight, a habit instilled in her from a young
age by her mother, and watched Richard going about unsaddling the horses. He
let them both eat some oats from  canvas  nosebags while he  collected rocks
from the clearing. At first, she couldn't imagine what he was doing. When he
took them,  along with the wood he had collected, in under the boughs of the
shelter tree,  she realized he must be going to use the rocks to ring a fire
pit. He was inside a long time, so she knew he must be working on building a
fire out of the wet wood. She could have used her gift to help, had her gift
enough power left to light wet wood. It didn't.

     Richard seemed up to the task, though; she had watched him light a fire
the night before, starting it in birch bark, shavings, and twigs. Nicci  had
never been one for such outdoor activities. She left him to it and set about
the small chore of repairing  her horse's cinch  strap. The rain had  let up
for the time being,  leaving behind the tingle  of a fine mist  against  her
     As she worked at knotting the loose cords of the heavy twine strap back
onto its  buckle, she heard  little crackling sounds  coming from  under the
tree. The sputtering and popping told her that Richard  had gotten the  fire
going.  She heard the  clang of a pot on rock, so she  reasoned  that we was
leaving water to boil when the fire got hot enough.
     Sitting  on the slab of  granite, Nicci quietly worked a tangle out  of
the cinch strap  as  he came back out to  care for the  horses. Free  of the
nosebags,  the  horses drank  from  a pool  of water in a  depression in the
smooth tan  ledge.  Though  Richard  wore  dark clothes appropriate  for the
woods,  they could not  diminish  his bearing. His gray-eyed gaze swept over
her, taking in what she was doing. He left her to  her knot work as he  went
about his chore of  currying the horses. His big hands worked smoothly, with
a  sure  touch. She was certain the horses would appreciate  having  all the
caked mud cleaned from their legs. She would, were she they.
     "You said we needed to talk," Richard finally said to her as he stroked
the curry comb over the mare's rump, whisking away a last spatter of mud. "I
presume a talk consists of you  dictating the  terms of my  imprisonment.  I
imagine you have rules for your captives."
     By his icy inflection, it sounded as if he had decided to provoke her a
little, to test her  reaction. Nicci set the  cinch strap aside. She met his
challenging tone with one of genuine sympathy, instead.
     "Just  because something  has happened to  you  before,  Richard, don't
assume  that means it will again. Fate does not give birth to the same child
over and over. Each is different. This is not like the two times before."
     Her response, as well  as  the compassion in her eyes, appeared to have
caught him off  guard. He stared at her a moment before crouching to replace
the curry comb in a pocket in the saddlebag and take out a pick.
     "Two times  before?" There was no  way he  could  miss her meaning. His
blank expression didn't betray what  he  might be thinking as he lifted  the
stallion's right forefoot to pick its hoof  clean. "I don't know what you're
talking about."
     Just  as he probed  the hoof with his pick, she knew he was probing her
as well, wanting to know just how much she knew of those two times, and what
she thought was different, this time. He would  surely want to  know how she
intended to avoid the mistakes of his past captors. Any warrior would.
     He was not yet ready to accept how fundamentally different this was.
     Richard worked his way around the big black horse, cleaning its hooves,
until  he ended at the left forefoot,  close to her. As he finished and  let
the stallion's leg down, Nicci stood. When  he  turned around, she was close
enough to  feel his warm breath on her cheek. He fixed her with his glare, a
look that was no longer as unsettling to her as it had been at first.
     She  found  herself,  instead  of  shrinking  back, staring  into  that
penetrating gaze of his, marveling that she had him. She finally had him. It
could have been no more wondrous to her  had  she  somehow managed to bottle
the moon and stars.
     "You  are  a prisoner,"  Nicci said.  "Your  anger  and  resentment are
entirely understandable. 1 would never have expected you to be pleased about
this, Richard. But

     it  is  not the same  as  those  times before." She gently  gripped his
throat.  He  was  surprised,  but  sensed  he was  in  no  immediate danger.
"Before," she said in quiet solace, "you had a collar around your neck. Both
     "You  were at the  Palace of the Prophets, where I was taken." She felt
him swallow. "But the other . . ."
     She released his throat. "I do not use a collar,  as did the Sisters of
the Light, to control you, to give you pain in order to make you obey, or to
put you through their ridiculous tests. My purpose is nothing like that."
     She  pulled  her  cloak  forward  over  her  shoulders  as  she  smiled
distantly.  "Remember when you  first  came to the  Palace of  the Prophets?
Remember the speech you gave?"
     Richard's words were brittle with caution. "Not . . . exactly."
     She was still  staring off into the  memories. "I  do. It was the first
time I saw you. I remember every word."
     Richard said  nothing, but in his eyes she could see the shadows of his
mind working.
     "You were  in  a rage-not unlike now.  You held out a  red  leather rod
hanging around your neck. Remember, Richard?"
     "I guess I did."  His suspicious glare broke. "A lot has happened since
then. I guess I'd put it out of my mind."
     "You said  that you had been collared before. You  said that the person
who had once put that collar around your neck had brought you pain to punish
you, to teach you."
     His posture shifted to stiff wariness. "What of it?"
     She focused  once more  on  his  gray eyes, eyes that watched her every
blink, her every breath, as he weighed her every word. It was all going into
some inner calculation, she knew-some inner master  analysis of how high was
his fence, and if he could jump it. He could not.
     "I  always wondered about that," she said.  "About  what  you  had said
about  having been in a collar before. Some months back, we captured a woman
in red leather. A Mord-Sith."  His color paled just a little. "She  said she
was searching for Lord Rahl,  to protect  him.  I persuaded her  to tell  me
everything she knew about you."
     "I'm  not from D'Hara." His voice sounded confident, nevertheless,  she
sensed  a subterranean torrent of  dread.  "A  Mord-Sith would know next  to
nothing about me."
     Nicci reached inside her cloak for the thing  she had brought with her.
She let  the  small red leather rod  roll  from  her fingers to  fall to the
ground at his feet. He stiffened.
     "Oh,  but she did, Richard. She knew a great deal." She smiled  a small
smile, not  pleasure, nor mockery, but  in  distant sadness at the memory of
that brave woman.  "She knew Derma. She had been at the People's  Palace  in
D'Hara, where you  were taken after Derma captured you. She knew  all  about
     Richard's  gaze fell away. On bended knee he reverently picked  the red
leather rod off the wet ground.  He wiped the thing clean on his pant leg as
if it were priceless.
     "A Mord-Sith would not tell  you anything." He stood and boldly met her
gaze. "A Mord-Sith is a product  of torture. She  would say  only  enough to
make you believe she  was cooperating.  She would feed you  a clever  lie to
deceive you. She would die before speaking any words to harm her Lord Rahl."

     With  one long finger, Nicci  pulled a  sodden strand of blond hair off
her cheek. "You underestimate me, Richard. That woman was very brave. I felt
great sorrow for her, but  there were  things I wanted to  know. She told it
all. She told me everything I wanted to know."
     Nicci could see the rage rising in him, bringing a flush to his cheeks.
That was  not what  she  had intended, or wanted.  She  was telling him  the
truth,  but he rejected it,  trying to overlay it instead with his own false
     A moment passed, and  that truth finally found its way  into  his eyes.
The rage  departed reluctantly, replaced by the weight of sadness that  made
him swallow at his grief  for this woman.  Nicci had expected  no less  from
     "Apparently," Nicci whispered, "Derma was very talented at torture-"
     "I neither need nor want your sympathy."
     "But I did feel sympathy, Richard, for what that woman put  you through
for  no  purpose but  to  give pain. That's the worst  kind  of pain,  isn't
it?-pain to no benefit, no confession? The pointlessness  of it only adds to
its torture. That was what you suffered."
     Nicci gestured to the  red leather weapon  in his fist. "This woman did
not suffer that kind of pain. I want you to know that."
     He pressed his lips tight in mistrust as  he looked away from her eyes,
gazing out at the gathering darkness.
     "You  killed  her, this Mord-Sith named Denna,  but not  before she did
unspeakable things to you."
     "So  I did."  Richard's expression  hardened with the implied menace of
his words.
     "You threatened the  Sisters of  the Light  because they, too, collared
you. You  told  them they were not good  enough  to  lick the  boots of that
woman, Denna, and so  they  were not. You told the Sisters that they thought
they held the  leash to your collar, but you promised them  that they  would
find that what they held was a bolt of lightning. Don't think for one moment
that I don't understand your feelings in this, or your resolve."
     Nicci reached out and tapped the center of his chest.
     "But this time,  Richard,  the collar  is  around your heart  and it is
Kahlan who will be forfeit, should you make a mistake."
     His  fists, at  the ends  of  his rigid arms, tightened. "Kahlan  would
rather die than have me be a slave at her expense. She  begged me to forfeit
her life for my freedom. A day may  dawn when it becomes necessary for me to
honor her request."
     Nicci felt a weary boredom  at his threats. People so often resorted to
threatening her.
     "That is entirely up to you,  Richard. But you make a great mistake  if
you think I care."
     She  couldn't begin to  recall how  many times  Jagang had  made solemn
threats on  her  life,  or  how many of those  times his hands had tightened
around  her  throat  choking the  life out  of her  after he  had beaten her
senseless.  Kadar Kardeef had at times been no less brutal. She'd lost count
of the times she fully expected to die, starting with the time when  she was
little and the man pulled her into the alley to rob her.
     But such men were not the only ones who promised her suffering.
     "I cannot tell you the promises  the Keeper of the  underworld has made
to me in my dreams, promises of unending suffering. That is my fate.
     "So, please, Richard,  do  not think to frighten  me  with  your  petty
threats. More

     savage men than you have made credible promises as to  my doom. I  long
ago accepted my fate and ceased to care."
     Her  arms felt heavy at her  sides. She felt empty of feeling. Thoughts
of  Jagang, of the Keeper, reminded her that her  fife was meaningless. Only
what she  had  seen in Richard's  eyes gave her a hint that  there  might be
something more, something she had yet to discover or understand.
     "What is it you want?" Richard demanded.
     Nicci returned her mind to the  here and now. "I told you. Your part in
fife now is as  my husband.  That is  the way  it is going to be-if you wish
Kahlan to live. I've told you the truth about all of it. If you come with me
and do the  simple things I ask, such as  assuming the  role  of my husband,
then Kahlan will live a long life. I can't say it will be entirely happy, of
course, for I know she loves you."
     "How long do you think you can hold me, Nicci?" In frustration, Richard
ran his fingers back through his wet hair. "It isn't going to work, whatever
it is you want. How long until you tire of this absurd sham?"
     Her eyes narrowed, studying his profound innocence, if not ignorance.
     "My  dear boy,  I  was  born into this wretched world  one  hundred and
eighty-one  years past. You know that.  Do you suppose I have  not learned a
great deal of patience, in all that time`? Though our  bodies may look about
the same age, and in  many ways I am no older than you, I have lived near to
seven  of  your  lifetimes. Do  you  honestly  believe that  you would  have
patience to exceed mine? Do you think me some young  foolish girl for you to
outwit or outwait?"
     His demeanor cooled. "Nicci, 1
     "And don't think to  make  friends with me, or win  me  over. I  am not
Denna, or  Verna,  or Warren,  or even  Pasha,  for  that  matter.  I'm  not
interested in friends."
     He turned a little and ran a hand over the stallion's shoulder when the
horse snorted and stamped a hoof at the  smell of the woodsmoke curling  out
from the upper limbs of the shelter tree.
     "I want to  know what vile thing you did to that poor woman to make her
tell you about Denna."
     "The Mord-Sith told me in return for a favor."
     Frowning his incredulity, he turned to her once more. "What favor could
you possibly do for a MordSith?"
     "I cut her throat."
     Richard  closed his  eyes as  his head sank with grief for this unknown
woman who had died because of him. He clenched her weapon in his fist to his
     His voice lost its fire. "1 don't suppose you know her name?"
     It  was  this, his empathy for others, even others he didn't know, that
not only made  him the man he was, but shackled  him. His concern for others
would also be the thing that eventually brought him to understand the virtue
in what she was doing. He, too, would then willingly work  for the righteous
cause of the Order.
     "I do." Nicci said. "Hania."
     "Hania." He looked heartsick. "I didn't even know her."
     "Richard."  With a finger under his chin, Nicci gently brought his face
up.  "I want  you  to  know that I did  not torture her. I  found  her being
tortured.  I  was not happy about what  I saw.  I killed the man who did it.
Hania was beyond any help. I offered her release from her pain, a quick end,
if she would tell me about you.  I never asked her to betray you in any  way
that the Order would want. I asked only

     about  your past, about  your first captivity.  I wanted  to understand
what you said that first day at the Palace of the Prophets, that's all."
     Richard didn't look relieved, as she had intended.
     "You withheld  that quick release, as you call it,  until she had given
you what you wanted. That makes you a party to her torture."
     In the  gloom, Nicci looked away in  pain and anguish at the  memory of
that bloody  deed. It  had  long since  lost its ability to  make  her  feel
anything more than a ghost of emotions.
     There were so many needing release from their suffering-so many old and
sick,  so many  wailing  children,  so many destitute and hopeless and poor.
This woman had merely been another of life's victims needing release. It was
for the best.
     Nicci had renounced the Creator in  order to do His work, and sworn her
soul to the Keeper of the underworld. She had to; only one  as  evil as  she
would fail to feel any fitting feelings, any proper compassion, for all  the
suffering and desperate need. It was grim irony-faithfully serving the needy
in such a way.
     "Perhaps you see it that way, Richard," Nicci said in a hoarse voice as
she  stared into the numb nightmare of memories.  "I did  not.  Neither  did
Hania. Before I cut her throat for her, she thanked  me for what I was about
to do."
     Richard's eyes offered no mercy. "And  why did  you make  her tell  you
about me-about Denna?"
     Nicci snagged her cloak tighter on her shoulders. "Isn't it obvious?"
     "You couldn't possibly make the same mistake Denna made. You aren't the
woman she was, Nicci."
     She was tired.  The  first night, he had not slept,  she knew.  She had
felt his eyes on  her back. She knew how much he hurt. Turned away from him,
she had wept silently at  the hate his eyes held, at the burden of being the
one to have to do what was best. The world was such an evil place.
     "Perhaps,  Richard," she said in a soft voice, "you  will someday teach
me the difference."
     She  was so very tired. The night before, when he had succumbed to  his
weariness, and turned away from her to sleep, Nicci had in turn stayed awake
all night, watching  him in his sound sleep as she  felt  the  connection of
magic to the Mother Confessor.  The  connection brought Nicci  great empathy
for her, as well.
     It was all for the best.
     "For now," Nicci said, "let's get inside out of  this foul weather. I'm
cold and I'm hungry. We need to get some rest, too. And as I've told you, we
have things to discuss, first."
     She couldn't lie to him, she knew. She couldn't tell him everything, of
course, but she dared not lie to him in the things she did tell him.
     The dance had begun.

     Richard broke up  the sausage  Nicci  gave him from her  saddlebag  and
tossed it in the pot with  the simmering  rice. The things she  had told him
kept shouting in his mind as he tried to fit them into their proper order.
     He didn't know how  much of  what she had said  he dared to believe. He
feared it  was  all true. Nicci just  didn't seem  to  need to lie to him-at
least not about what she had told him so  far. She  didn't seem  as  .  .  .
hostile,  as he  thought  she would  have to be.  If  anything,  she  seemed
melancholy, perhaps because of  what she had done-although,  he  had trouble
believing  that  a  confessed  Sister of  the  Dark  would suffer  a  guilty
conscience. It was probably just some bizarre part of her act, some artifice
directed toward her ends.
     He stirred the pot of rice with  a stick he'd  peeled the  bark off of.
"You said  there were things to discuss." He rapped  the stick clean  on the
edge of the pot. "I assume that means there are orders you wish to issue."
     Nicci blinked, as if he'd caught her thinking about something else. She
looked out of place, sitting prim and straight in a wayward pine, dressed as
she  was  in her  fine  black  dress. Richard  would never before have  ever
thought of Nicci  out-of-doors,  much less sitting  on  the ground. The very
idea had always seemed ludicrous to him. Her dress constantly made him think
of Kahlan,  not  only  because of it  being so  completely opposite  that it
evoked  the  comparison,  but also  because  he so  vividly  recalled  Nicci
connected to Kahlan by that awful rope of magic.
     That memory twisted him in agony.
     "Orders?" Nicci folded her hands in her lap and met his gaze. "Oh, yes,
I have a few requests I wish you to honor. First, you may not use your gift.
Not at all. Not in any way. Is that clear? Since, as I recall, you  have  no
love of the  gift, this  should be  neither a burden nor a difficult request
for  you to follow, especially because there is  something you do love which
would not survive such a betrayal. Do you understand?"
     Her cold  blue eyes conveyed the threat perhaps  even  better  than her
words. Richard gave her  a single nod, committing himself  to what, exactly,
he wasn't entirely sure at the moment.
     He poured her steaming dinner in a shallow wooden bowl and handed it to
her along  with  a  spoon.  Nicci smiled her thanks.  He set the  pot on the
ground between  his legs and took a spoonful of rice, blowing on it until it
was cool enough to eat.  He watched  her from  the corner of his  eye as she
took a dainty taste.
     Beyond her physical perfection, Nicci had a singularly expressive face.
She seemed  to go cold and blank when  she was unhappy, or when she meant to
convey anger, threat, or displeasure.  She didn't really scowl the way other
people did when

     they felt those  emotions; rather, a  look of cool detachment descended
on her. That  look was, in  its own way,  far more  disturbing. It  was  her
impenetrable armor.
     On the other  hand, she was expressively animated when she was  pleased
or  thankful. Even  more  than  that,  though, such  pleasure  or  gratitude
appeared genuine. He remembered her as aloof, and while she  still possessed
a noble bearing, to some extent her air of reticence had lifted to reveal an
innocent delight in any kindness, or even simple courtesy.
     Richard still  had bread Cara had baked for  him. He hated sharing that
bread  with  this evil woman, but it now seemed a childish consideration. He
tore off a piece and offered it to Nicci. She took it with the reverence due
something greater than mere bread.
     "I also expect you to keep  no secrets from me," she said after another
bite.  "You would not  like  me  to discover you were doing so. Husbands and
wives have no need for secrets."
     Richard  supposed not, but they were  hardly  husband and  wife. Rather
than say so, he said instead, "You seem to know a lot about how husbands and
wives behave."
     Rather than  rising  to his bait, she gestured with her  bread  at  her
bowl. "This is very good, Richard. Very good indeed."
     "What  is  it  you  want,  Nicci? What is the  purpose  of this  absurd
     The  firelight played across her alabaster face,  and  lent her  hair a
torrid  color  it didn't in reality possess.  "I took you because  I need an
answer which I believe you will provide."
     Richard broke a stout branch in two across his knee. "You said husbands
and wives  have no need for secrets."  He used half the  branch to  push the
burning wood together before placing the branch atop the fire. "Then  aren't
wives, too, supposed to be honest?"
     "Of course." Her hand with the bread lowered. She rested her wrist over
her knee. "I will be honest with you, too, Richard."
     "Then  what's the question? You said  you took me because you  need  an
answer you think I can provide. What's the question?"
     Nicci stared oft again. once more looking anything but the grim captor.
She looked as  if  memories,  or perhaps fears, haunted  her. It was somehow
more unsettling than  the sneer of an armed guard outside of the bars of his
     The rain outside had increased to a dull roar. They'd made camp just in
time. Richard couldn't help but remember the cozy  times he'd had in wayward
pines huddled beside Kahlan. At the thought of Kahlan, his heart sank.
     "I don't know," Nicci  finally said. "I honestly don't, Richard. I seek
something,  but I will only know it when I find it. After nearly  all my one
hundred and eightyone years  without knowing it  existed, I  finally saw the
first hint of it not long ago . . . ." She seemed to be looking through  him
again, to some point beyond. Her voice, too, seemed to  be addressed to that
distant place her vision beheld. "That was when you stood in a collar before
all those Sisters, and defied them. Perhaps I will  find the  answer  when I
understand  what it was  I saw that day, in  that room. It was not just you,
but you were its center . . . ."
     Her  eyes  focused  once  more on  his  face.  She  spoke  with  gentle
assurance. "Until then, you will live. I have  no  intention of harming you.
You need fear no  torture  from me. I'm not like  them-that woman, Derma, or
like the Sisters of the Light, using you for their games."

     "Don't patronize me.  You are using me for your own game, no  less than
they used me for theirs."
     She  shook her head. "I want you to know, Richard, that  I have nothing
but respect for you. I probably have  more  respect for  you than any person
you have ever met. That's why I took you. You are a rare person, Richard."
     "I'm a war wizard. You've just never seen one of those before."
     She  spurned the notion  with a dismissive flick of  her  hand. "Please
don't  try  to impress  me with your `power.'  I'm  not in the mood for such
     Richard knew it was  no idle boast on her part.  She was a sorceress of
remarkable ability. He doubted he had any hope  of outsmarting her knowledge
of magic.
     She  was not acting  the way he had expected a Sister of the Dark would
act, though.  Richard  put  his  anger,  hurt, and  heartache  aside for the
moment,  knowing  he had to face what was, rather than  putting his hope  in
wishes, and spoke to Nicci in the same gentle fashion she used with him.
     "I don't understand what it is you want of me, Nicci."
     She shrugged in an involuntary gesture of frustration. "Neither  do  I.
Until  I  do, you  will do as I ask  and everything will be fine. I will not
harm you."
     "Considering  the circumstances, do you really expect  me to  take your
     "I'm telling you the truth, Richard. If you were to twist your ankle, I
would, like  a good wife,  put my shoulder  under your arm and  help  you to
walk. From now on, I am devoted to you, and you to me."
     He could only blink at how crazy this was. He almost thought she  might
be  mad.  Almost. He knew  that would be too easy an answer. As  Zedd always
said, nothing was ever easy.
     "And if I choose not to go along with your wishes?"
     Again, she shrugged. "Then Kahlan dies."
     "I understand that, but if she dies, then you lose the collar around my
     She fixed him with cold blue eyes. "Your point?"
     "Then  you couldn't  get  what you  wanted  from me. You would have  no
     "I  don't have what I want now, so I would be losing  nothing. Besides,
if you were to do  that, then Emperor Jagang would  welcome your head  as  a
gift. I would no doubt be showered with gifts and riches."
     Richard didn't think Nicci wanted gifts or riches showered  on her. She
was a Sister of the  Dark, after all, and he supposed she could manage to be
so showered if she really wished it.
     Even so, he was sure his head would have a price, and she could salvage
that much out of it if he proved ungovernable. She might  not care for gifts
and riches, but if there  was one thing she did want, it had to be power. He
was  pretty sure  she could gain a good measure of that, should she slay the
enemy of the Imperial Order.
     He bent over the pot between his legs and went back  to his dinner, and
his  dark  thoughts. Talking to  her  was useless.  They just went around in
     "Richard," she said in a quiet tone, drawing his eyes to her gaze, "you
think I'm doing this to hurt you, or to defeat you because you are the enemy
of the Order. I am not. I told you my true reasons."
     "So,  when you  finally  find  this  answer you seek, in  return for my
`help,' then you will let me go?" It was not really meant as a question, but
as trenchant incrimination.
     "Go?" She  stared down  into her bowl of rice and sausage,  stirring it
around as if it  might reveal a secret. She looked  up. "No, Richard, then I
will kill you."

     "I see."  He hardly thought that was a way to encourage his cooperation
in  her search,  but he didn't say so.  "And Kahlan'?  After  you kill me, I
     "You have  my word that if I decide I must kill you, as long as I live,
she will, too. I have no ill will toward her."
     He  tried  to find  solace in that  much  of  it. For  some reason,  he
believed Nicci.  Knowing that Kahlan would be all right gave him courage. He
could endure what was to happen to him, if only  she would be all  right. It
was a price he was willing to pay.
     "So, `wife,' where are we going? Where is it you're taking me?"
     Nicci didn't look  at him  but instead used her bread to sop up some of
her dinner. She considered his question as she nibbled.
     "Who are you fighting, Richard?  Who is  your enemy?"  She took another
small bite of her bread.
     "Jagang. Jagang and his Imperial Order."
     Like an instructor correcting him,  Nicci  slowly shook her head.  "No.
You are wrong. I think perhaps you are in need of answers, too."
     Games.  She was playing  foolish games  with him.  Richard  ground  his
teeth, but held his temper in check.
     "Then who, Nicci? Who, or what, am I fighting if it is not Jagang."
     "That is what  I hope to show  you." She watched  his eyes in  a way he
found unsettling. "I am going to take  you to the Old World, to the heart of
the Order, to show you what you  are  fighting-the taste  nature of what you
believe to be your enemy."
     Richard frowned. "Why'?"
     Nicci smiled. "Let's just say it amuses me."
     "You  mean  we're going back to Tanimura? Back  to  where you lived all
that time as a Sister?"
     "No. We are going to  the heart and soul of the  Old World: Altur'Rang.
Jagang's homeland. The name means, roughly, `the Creator's chosen.' "
     Richard felt a chill run up his spine. "You expect to  take me, Richard
Rahl, there,  into  the heart  of enemy territory? I hardly doubt we will be
living as `husband and wife' for long."
     "Besides not using  your  magic, you will not  use the  name associated
with that magic-Rahl-but instead the name you grew up with: Richard  Cypher.
Without your magic, or  your name, no  one  will know you  are anyone  but a
humble man  with his  wife. That is exactly what you shall be-what  we  both
shall be."
     Richard  sighed. "Well, if the enemy  should find  I'm more, I guess  a
Sister of the Dark can . . . exert her influence."
     "No, I can't."
     Richard's eyes turned up. "What do you mean?"
     "I can't use my power."
     Gooseflesh prickled his arms. "What?"
     "It's  devoted  to the link with Kahlan, to keeping her alive.  That is
how  a maternity  spell works. It  requires a prodigious amount of power  to
even establish such a complex spell, much less maintain it. My power must be
invested  into the labor of preserving the  living link.  A maternity  spell
leaves nothing to spare; l doubt I could make a spark.
     "If we have  any trouble, you will have  to handle it. Of course, I can
at any time

     call upon my ability as a sorceress, but  to do so I would have to draw
the power from our link. If I do that without her near . . . Kahlan dies."
     Alarm raced through him. "But what if you accidentally
     "I won't.  As long as you  take good care  of  me, Kahlan  will be safe
enough.  If, however, I should fall off my horse and break my neck, her neck
snaps, too. As long as you take good care of me, you are taking good care of
her. This is why it's important that we live as husband and wife-so that you
can be close at hand, and so that I  can guide and help you, too. It will be
a difficult life with both of us living without our power, just as any other
married couple, but  1 believe this to  be necessary if I am to find what  I
seek from you. Do you understand?"
     He wasn't sure he really did, but he said "Yes," anyway.
     Numb dismay swamped him.  He would never have believed this woman would
have willingly  given up her power for  some unspecified knowledge. The very
idea of it unleashed cold panic through his veins.
     Richard couldn't make sense of  it. With  his mind groping blindly in a
world gone insane, he spoke without even considering his words.
     "I'm already married. I'll not sleep with you as your husband."
     Nicci blinked in surprise,  then  let  out a dainty titter, covering it
with  the back of her hand, not in  shyness, but at his presumption. Richard
felt his ears heating.
     "That is not the way in which I want you, Richard."
     Richard cleared his throat. "Good."
     In the  quiet of the wayward pine, with  the  rain outside falling in a
gentle  patter  and  the  glowing  checkered  wood  hissing  softly, Nicci's
focused, intense, resolute expression turned very cold and very still.
     "But if I should decide I do, Richard, you will comply with that, too."
     Nicci was a  beautiful woman, the kind  of  woman  most  any man  would
eagerly accept.  It was hardly that,  though, that made  him believe her. It
was the look in her eyes. Never had the vague possibility of the act of  sex
seemed so vicious.
     Her  voice  lost  the  conversational quality. It went on in a lifeless
drone, a  thing not human, pronouncing a sentence on his life. A sentence he
himself would enforce, or Kahlan would die.
     "You  will act as my  husband.  You will provide for us  as any husband
would. You will care for me, and I for you, in the sense of worldly needs. I
will  mend your shirts and cook your meals and  wash your  clothes. You will
provide us with a living."
     Nicci's  leaden words slammed into him  with the deliberate  methodical
force of a beating delivered with an iron bar.
     "You will  never see Kahlan  again-you must understand that-but as long
as you do as I wish, you  will know she lives.  In that way you will be able
to  show your love  for  her. Every  day  she wakes,  she will  know you are
keeping her alive. You have no other way to show her your love."
     He felt sick to his stomach.  He stared off  into  memories of  another
place and time.
     "And if I choose to end it?" The weight of such madness was so crushing
that he earnestly considered it. "Rather than be your slave?"
     "Then perhaps that  is the  form the knowledge I seek  will take. Maybe
that  senseless  end will be what  I  must learn." She brought her first and
second fingers together  in a snipping motion, simulating the cutting of the
umbilical  cord  of  magic  that  sustained Kahlan's  life.  "One  last evil
convulsion to finally confirm the senselessness of existence."

     It dawned on  Richard that this woman could not  be threatened, because
she was  a  creature  who,  he  was  beginning to  understand, welcomed  any
terrible outcome.
     "Of all  there is to me in this world," he whispered in dim agony, more
to  himself and to Kahlan than to his  implacable captor, "there is only one
thing that  is irreplaceable:  Kahlan. If I  must  be  a slave in  order for
Kahlan to live, then I shall be a slave."
     Richard realized  Nicci was silently studying his face. He met her gaze
briefly,  then looked away,  unable  to bear  the  terrible  scrutiny of her
beautiful blue eyes while he held the image of Kahlan's love in his mind.
     "Whatever you  shared with her, whatever happiness,  joy, or  pleasure,
will  always be yours, Richard."  Nicci seemed almost  to  be peering inside
him, reading the  pages  of his past  written  in his mind.  "Treasure those
memories. They will have  to sustain you. You will never  see her again, nor
she you. That chapter of  your life is ended. You both have new  lives, now.
You  may as well  get  used  to  it  because  that  is  the  reality of  the
     The reality of what was. Not the world as he would wish it. He  himself
had told Kahlan that they must act according to the reality of what was, and
not waste their precious lives wishing for things that could not be.
     Richard ran his fingertips across his forehead as he tried to hold  his
voice steady. "I hope you don't expect me to learn to be pleased with you."
     "I am the one, Richard, who expects to learn."
     Fists  at his side, Richard shot to  his feet. "And what is it you wish
this knowledge for?" he demanded in  unrestrained, violent bitterness.  "Why
is it so important to you!"
     "As punishment."
     Richard stared in stunned disbelief. "What?"
     "I wish to hurt, Richard." She smiled distantly.
     Richard sank back to the ground.
     "Why?" he whispered.
     Nicci  folded  her  hands in her  lap. "Pain,  Richard, is all that can
reach that cold dead thing within me that is my life. Pain is the only thing
for which I live."
     He stared numbly at her. He thought about his vision. There was nothing
he  could do to fight  the advance of the Imperial  Order. He could think of
nothing he could do to fight his fate with this woman.
     If not for Kahlan, he would, at that moment, have thrown himself into a
battle with Nicci that would have decided it once and for all. He would have
willingly gone to his death fighting  this cruel insanity. Except his reason
denied him that.
     He had to live so that Kahlan would live. For that, and that alone,  he
had to put one foot in front of the other and march into oblivion.

     Kahlan  yawned as she rubbed her eyes. Squinting, she  arched  her back
and stretched her sore  muscles.  The terrible desperate memories swooped in
from  the sleep-darkened corners of her mind, leaving little chance  for any
other thoughts to long survive.
     She was  beyond the realm  of merciless anguish  and  crying;  she  had
entered the sovereign dominion of unbridled anger.
     Her fingers  found the  cold steel scabbard of his  sword lying at  her
side. It felt alive  with icy  rage. That,  the carving of  Spirit, and  her
memories were about all she had of him.
     There wasn't a lot of firewood, but since they wouldn't be needing much
more anyway, Kahlan put another stick  of what was left into the  fire.  She
squatted, holding her hands close over the top of the feeble  flames, hoping
to bring  feeling to her numb fingers. The wind shifted  a  little.  Pungent
smoke billowed up into her face, making her cough. The smoke rolled past her
face and followed the rock overhang up and out from their shelter.
     Cara was gone, so Kahlan  pushed the  little pot of water back onto the
fire to warn it for tea for when the  Mord-Sith returned. Cara was  probably
visiting  their makeshift privy. Or maybe she was checking  the traps they'd
set the night  before for rabbits. Kahlan didn't hold out any real hope that
they would catch a rabbit for their breakfast. Not in this weather. They had
brought enough provisions, in any event.
     Through slits in the clouds, the crimson  light of  a  cold  crisp dawn
penetrated gaps in the snowcrusted limbs of trees to slant in under the rock
overhang,  casting everything in their  little campsite in a blush glow. The
two of them  had tried without avail to find a  wayward pine.  The screen of
trees, along with a short wall of boughs she and Cara had cut and placed the
night before to protect them from  the wind, as Richard  had taught  them to
do, shielded the secluded spot. With their improvements it  had proven a fit
shelter.  They had  been lucky to find it in  the driving snow. Outside, the
snow was fairly deep, but in the  shelter they had had  a relatively dry, if
cold,  night. Kahlan and Cara had huddled together under  blankets and their
thick wolf fur mantles to keep each other warm.
     Kahlan wondered  where Richard was, and if he was  cold, too. She hoped
not. Probably, since he had started out a few days sooner, he had been lucky
and had made it down to the lowlands already, avoiding the snow.
     Cara  and  Kahlan had stayed  in their home, as he had asked, for three
days. Snow had arrived the morning after he'd left. Kahlan had been  tempted
to wait  for a break in  the weather before  they  started out,  but she had
learned a bitter lesson from Sister

     Nicci: don't wait, act. When Richard didn't return, Kahlan and Cara had
immediately struck out.
     It was hard  going at first. They struggled through the drifts, leading
the horses at times, riding them occasionally. They couldn't see  very  far,
and  most  of  the time had to keep the  wind from the west  at their  right
shoulder  as  their  only clue  as  to  which direction they faced.  It  was
dangerous traveling over  the  passes in such conditions.  For a  time, they
feared  that they had made a  terrible  mistake leaving the safety of  their
     Through  a break in the clouds  just before  dark the night  before, as
they were gathering boughs for their shelter, they'd caught a glimpse of the
lower hills; they were  green  and brown, not white. They would be below the
snow line before long. Kahlan was confident that they were through the worst
of it.
     As she  stuffed an arm into a sleeve, pulling another shirt on over the
top of the two  she was wearing, Kahlan heard  the crunch of snow underfoot.
When she realized it was more than one pair of footsteps, she  stood up in a
     Cara pushed  her way through the boughs of the  sheltering  trees.  "We
have company," she announced in a  grim  voice. Kahlan saw that Cara's  fist
held her Agiel.
     A bundled up squat woman  came through  the trees,  following in Cara's
footsteps. Under layers of cloaks,  scarves,  and other dangling corners  of
thick cloth, Kahlan was surprised to  recognize Ann, the old Prelate  of the
Sisters of the Light.
     Behind Ann  came  a  taller woman,  her scarves pushed  back to  reveal
graying brown  hair loose to her  shoulders. She  had  an  intense,  steady,
calculating  gaze that  had earned her an enduring  network of fine wrinkles
radiating  out from  the  corners  of her  deep-set eyes. Her  brow was less
steady, twitching  down several times toward her prominent nose.  She looked
like a woman who used a switch to teach children.
     "Kahlan!" Ann rushed forward, seizing Kahlan's arms. "Oh, my dear, it's
so  good to see  you!" She looked back  when Kahlan  glanced up  behind her.
"This is  one  of my  Sisters, Alessandra.  Alessandra,  may I introduce the
Mother Confessorand Richard's wife."
     The woman  stepped  forward  and smiled. The  pleasant  grin completely
altered  her  face,  instantly erasing  the  severity of it  with  open good
nature. It was a  somewhat disorienting transformation, making her seem like
two different people sharing  one  face. Or,  Kahlan  thought,  perhaps  one
person with two faces.
     "Mother Confessor, it's so good to meet  you. Ann has told me all about
you, and what a wonderful  person  you are." Her  eyes took in the  campsite
with a quick glance. "I'm so happy for you and Richard."
     Ann's eyes turned left and right,  searching. Her gaze  snagged on  the
     "Where's  Richard?  Cara  wouldn't  say  a  word." She  looked up  into
Kahlan's  eyes.  "Dear  Creator,"  she  whispered.  "What's   wrong?  What's
happened? Where's Richard?"
     Kahlan finally managed to unclench her teeth. "One of your Sisters took
     Ann pushed her  scarves  back off  her  gray  hair  and  took  ahold of
Kahlan's  arm again. The  top of Ann's  head came up only to Kahlan's chest,
but she looked at least twice as wide.
     "What are you talking about? What do you mean, a Sister took him? Which
     "Nicci," Kahlan growled.
     Ann pulled back. "Nicci . . ."

     Sister Alessandra gasped. "Sister  Nicci?"  She crossed both hands over
her heart. "Sister Nicci isn't one of Ann's. Nicci is a Sister of the Dark."
     "Oh, I'm well aware of that," Kahlan said.
     "We  have to go  get him back,"  Ann said. "At once. He's not safe with
     "There's  no  telling  what  Nicci  might-" Sister  Alessandra's  mouth
snapped shut.
     The wind carried a sparkling gust into their faces, momentarily whiting
out the red dawn. Kahlan blinked  the  snow  away.  Cara, in her red leather
with both a cloak and her heavy fur mantle  over top, ignored it.  The other
two women brushed their heavy woolen mittens across their eyes.
     "Kahlan, everything will be all right," Ann said in a reassuring voice.
"Tell us, now, what's happened? Tell us everything. Is he hurt?"
     Kahlan swallowed against her rising rage. "Nicci used what she called a
maternity spell on me."
     Ann's mouth fell open. Sister Alessandra gasped again.
     "Are  you  sure?" Ann asked in a  careful tone. "Are you  sure that was
what it was? How do you know for sure?"
     "She slammed  some kind  of magic into me. I've never heard  of such  a
spell. All I know is that it was definitely powerful magic and  she said  it
was called a maternity spell. She said that it connects us, somehow, through
that magic."
     Alessandra took a  step forward.  "That  doesn't  make  it a  maternity
     "When Cara used  her Agiel on Nicci," Kahlan said, "it dropped me to my
knees just the same as if Cara had used the Agiel on me."
     Ann and Alessandra shared a silent look.
     "But . . . but, if she were to . . ." Ann stammered.
     Kahlan voiced  what  Ann was  trying  to say without saying it. "If she
were to desire it,  Nicci  could snip that cord of magic,  and  1 would die.
That was the means by which she captured Richard. She promised I would  live
if Richard  went with her. Richard surrendered himself into slavery to  save
my life."
     "It can't be," Ann  said, touching mitten-covered fingers  to her chin.
"Nicci  wouldn't  know how to  use  such  an unusual spell-she's  too young.
Besides,  such a  rare spell  requires  great  power.  She  must  have  done
something else and just said  that it was a  maternity spell. Nicci couldn't
do a maternity spell."
     "Yes,  she could,"  Sister Alessandra  said in  reluctant disagreement.
"She has the power and ability. It would only have required someone with the
specialized knowledge teaching her. Nicci doesn't have any great passion for
magic, but she is as able as they come."
     "Lidmila . .  ." Ann  whispered to  Alessandra  in  sudden realization.
"Jagang has Lidmila. "
     Kahlan  turned a suspicious glare on Sister Alessandra. "And how do you
know so much more about Nicci's ability than the Prelate herself?"
     Sister Alessandra gathered her open cloak  back together. Her face lost
its warmth and reverted to a scowl-this time, though, with bitterness in the
set of her mouth.
     "I brought  Nicci in to the  Palace of the  Prophets when she was but a
child. I was responsible  for her upbringing, and  I  guided her training in
the use of her gift; I know her better than anyone. I know her darker powers
because I, too, was a Sister of the Dark. I'm the one who brought her to the
     Kahlan  could  feel herself  rocking with the  force  of her  hammering
heart. "So, you, too, are a Sister of the Dark."

     "Was," Ann said, lifting a cautionary hand before Kahlan.
     "The Prelate came into Jagang's  camp  and  rescued  me. Not just  from
Jagang,  but  from  the Keeper,  too.  I  once  again serve the Light."  The
incandescent smile again transformed Alessandra's face. "Ann brought me back
to the Creator."
     As far  as Kahlan was concerned, the claim  was not worth the effort of
confirmation. "How did you find us?"
     Ann  ignored the terse question. "We must  hurry. We  must get  Richard
away from Nicci before she delivers him to Jagang."
     Kahlan kept her glare on Alessandra while she answered  Ann. "She isn't
taking him to Jagang. She said she isn't acting on behalf of His Excellency,
but  on behalf of herself. Those were her words.  She  said she had  removed
Jagang's ring from her lip and that she wasn't afraid of him."
     "Did she say why, then, she  was taking  Richard?" Ann  asked. "Or,  at
least, where?"
     Kahlan moved her scrutiny back  to  Ann.  "She said  she was taking him
into oblivion."
     "Oblivion!" Ann gasped.
     "I  asked you a question,"  Kahlan said,  anger seeping into her voice.
"How did you find us?"
     Ann  tapped her waist. "I have a journey book. I used it to communicate
with Verna, back with our  forces. Verna told me about the messengers coming
to see you. That's how 1 knew where to find  you. Lucky  I came as soon as I
did; we nearly missed you. I can't tell you  how happy I am to  see you have
recovered, Kahlan. We were so worried."
     Kahlan  saw that Cara,  standing  behind  the two  women, still had her
Agiel clenched in her fist. Kahlan  didn't need  an  Agiel; her  Confessor's
power boiled but an impulse away. She wouldn't again  make an error for  the
sake of caution.
     "The  journey book. Of course. Then  Verna would  have  told  you about
Richard's vision that he must not lead our troops against the Order."
     Ann nodded reluctantly, apparently not eager to discuss  such a vision.
"Then,  a few days  ago, Verna sent a message when we were almost here, that
the D'Harans are  in quite a state because they suddenly lost their sense of
direction to  Richard.  She said they  are still  protected  from  the dream
walker by the bond to their Lord Rahl, but they suddenly lost their sense of
where he is."
     "Nicci cloaked his bond from us," Cara said in a growl.
     "Well, we have to  find him," Ann  said.  "We have to get him away from
Nicci. He's our only chance. Whatever he's  thinking, it's nonsense  and  we
will have  to  set him straight, but first we must get him back. He  has  to
lead  our  forces against  the  Imperial Order.  He  is  the  one  named  in
     "That's why you're here," Kahlan whispered to herself. "You heard  from
Verna about  his declining  to lead  the army or  even  to give  orders. You
journeyed here in hopes of forcing him to fight."
     "He must," Ann insisted.
     "He must not," Kahlan said. "He has come to realize that if he leads us
into battle, we  will lose the cause of  liberty for generations to come. He
said he came to realize that people  don't yet understand freedom  and won't
fight for it."
     "He must simply prove himself to the people." Ann's scowl reddened. "He
must prove himself their leader, which he  has already begun to do, and they
will follow him."

     "Richard says that he has come to understand that it is not he who must
prove himself to the people, but the people who must now prove themselves to
     Ann blinked in astonishment. "Why, that's nonsense."
     "Is it?"
     "Of  course it is. The boy was  named in  prophecy centuries ago.  I've
been waiting hundreds of years for him to  be  born in order for him to lead
us in this struggle."
     "Really. Then who are  you to try to countermand  Richard's decision-if
you are so set  on following him? He has come to his decision.  If he is the
leader  you  want,  then  you must  abide by  his lead,  and  therefore  his
     "But this is not what prophecy demands!"
     "Richard  doesn't  believe in  prophecy. He  believes we  make  our own
destiny.  I'm coming to see the grounds of his assertion that the belief  in
prophecy artificially alters events. It is the misplaced faith  in  prophecy
itself-in some mystical outcome-that harms people's lives."
     Ann's eyes grew round with dismay, and then narrowed. "Richard  is  the
one  named  in  prophecy to lead us  against  the Imperial Order. This  is a
struggle for the very existence of magic in this world-don't  you understand
that! Richard was born to fight this fight. We have to get him back!"
     "This is all your fault," Kahlan whispered.
     "What?" Ann's frown changed to a tolerant  smile. "Kahlan, what are you
talking about?"  Her voice  backslid  to genial. "You  know me, you know our
struggle for the survival of freedom of magic. If Richard does not lead  us,
we have no chance."
     Kahlan threw her arm out and seized a startled Sister Alessandra by the
throat. The woman's eyes went wide.
     "Don't  move," Kahlan said through gritted teeth, "or I will unleash my
Confessor's power."
     Ann held her hands up, imploring. "Kahlan, have you lost your mind? Let
her be. Calm down."
     With  her  other  hand, Kahlan  pointed down at the fire. "The  journey
book. Throw it in the fire."
     "What? I'm not going to do any such thing!"
     "Now,"  Kahlan said through  her clenched teeth. "Or Sister  Alessandra
will  be mine. When  I  finish  with her, Cara will see to it you throw that
journey book in the fire, if you have to do so with broken fingers."
     Ann glanced at the Mord-Sith towering over her shoulder.
     "Kahlan, I know you're upset, and I completely understand, but we're on
the same  side in this. We love Richard,  too.  We,  too, wish to  stop  the
Imperial Order from taking the whole world. We-"
     "We? If it wasn't  for  you  and your Sisters, none  of  this would  be
happening.  This is  all your fault.  Not Jagang's  fault,  not the Imperial
Order's fault, but yours."
     "Have you lost your-"
     "You alone bear responsibility for what is befalling the world. Just as
Jagang  has his ring through the lip of his slaves, you've had yours through
the nose  of yours-Richard!  You  alone  bear  responsibility for the  lives
already lost, and those yet  to be lost in bloody slaughters that will sweep
across the land. You, not Jagang, are the one who has brought it!"
     Despite the cold, beads  of sweat  dotted Ann's brow. "What in the name
of Creation  are  you  talking about?  Kahlan,  you know  me. I  was at your
wedding.  I have  always  been  on your  side.  I  have  only  followed  the
prophecies to help people."

     "You create the prophecies! Without your  help they would not have come
to pass!  They only come about because you have fulfilled them! You pull the
ring through Richard's nose!"
     Ann presented a face of calm to the stone of Kahlan's rage.
     "Kahlan,  I  can only imagine how you must feel,  but now you are truly
losing all sense of reason."
     "Am I? Am I, Prelate? Why does Sister Nicci have my husband? Answer me.
Why! +
     Ann's  expression drew tight in  a  darkening  glower. "Because she  is
     "No." Kahlan's grip  tightened on Alessandra's throat. "It's because of
you. Had you not sent Verna into the New World in the  first place, ordering
her to take Richard back across the barrier into the Old World-"
     "But the prophecies say the Order  will  rise  up to take the world and
extinguish magic if we  fail to stop them! The prophecies say Richard is the
only one to lead us! That Richard is the only one with a chance!"
     "And  you brought  that dead  prophecy to  life.  All by  yourself. All
because  of  your faith  in  bloodless words  rather than your  own reasoned
choices.  You're  here  today  not  to back  the choices of your  proclaimed
leader, not to  reason with him. but to enforce  prophecy  upon  him-to give
that ring a tug. Had you not sent Verna to recover  Richard, what would have
happened, Prelate?"
     "Why, why, the Order-"
     "The Order? The  Order  would still be trapped back in  the  Old World,
behind  the   barrier.  Wouldn't  they!   For  three  thousand  years   that
wizard-created  barrier has  stood  invincible against  the pressure of  the
Order-or those like them-and their wish to swarm up here into the New World,
bent on conquest.
     "Because you had  Richard captured, against his will,  and ordered  him
brought back to the Old  World, all in slavish homage to dead words in dusty
old books, he was forced to destroy the barrier, and thus the Order now  can
flood into the  New World, into  the Midlands, my Midlands, slaughtering  my
people, taking my husband, all because of you and your meddling!
     "Without you, none  of  this  would be happening! No war,  no mounds of
butchered  people  in  cities  of  the  New World, no thousands of dead men,
women, and children slaughtered at the hands of Imperial Order thugs-none of
     "Because of you and your precious prophecies, the veil was breached and
a plague was  unleashed on the world. It  would  never have happened without
your actions to 'save' us all from prophecy. I don't even dare to recall all
the children I saw suffering  and dying from the black death because of you.
Children who  looked up into  my eyes and asked  if they would be all right,
and I had to say yes when I knew they would not survive the night.
     "No  one  will ever  know the tally  of the  dead. No  one  is  left to
remember all the small places wiped out of existence by that plague. Without
your meddling, those children would be alive, their mothers would be smiling
to  themselves as they watched  them  play, their fathers would be  teaching
them  the ways of the world-a world denied them by  you for the sake of your
faith in prophecy!
     "You  say  this  is  a  battle for  the very existence of magic in this
world-yet  your work to  fulfill  prophecy may have  already  doomed  magic.
Without your intervention,  the chimes  would  never have come to be  loosed
upon the world. Yes,  Richard managed to banish them,  but what irreversible
harm  was done? We may  have our power back, bent during the time the chimes
withdrew magic from this world, crea

     tures  of magic, things  dependent  on magic for  their very existence,
surely died out.  Magic requires balance to exist. The balance of  magic  in
this  world was  disturbed.  The irrevocable destruction of  magic  may have
already begun. All because of your slavish service to prophecy.
     "If  not for you,  Prelate,  Jagang, the Imperial Order's army, and all
your Sisters would be back there, behind the barrier, and we would  be here,
safe and  at  peace. You  cast blame  everywhere but where  it  belongs.  If
freedom, if magic,  if the world itself is destroyed, it will all be by your
hand, Prelate."
     The low moan of the wind was the only sound and made the sudden silence
all that much more agonizing. Ann stared with tear-filled eyes up at Kahlan.
Snow sparkled in the rays of a cold dawn.
     "It  isn't like  that, Kahlan. It only  seems that  way  to you in your
     "It is that way," Kahlan said with finality.
     Ann's mouth worked, but this time no words came out.
     Kahlan thrust out her hand, palm up.
     "The journey book. If you think I would not  destroy this woman's life,
then  you  don't know  the first thing about me. She's one of  your Sisters,
helping to destroy the world in the name  of  good, or else she is still one
of  the Keeper's Sisters, helping to destroy the world in the name of death.
Either way, if you don't give me the  journey book, and right  now, her life
is forfeit."
     "What do you think this will accomplish?" Ann whispered in despair.
     "It will be a start at halting your meddling in the lives of the people
of the  Midlands,  and the  rest (,f  the New World-in my life, in Richard's
life. It's the only  beginning I  can  think to  make, short of  killing you
both; you would  not like to know how close I  am to that alternative.  Now,
give me the journey book."
     Ann  stared  down at  Kahlan's hand open before her. She blinked at her
tears.  Finally, she pulled  off a woolen mitten and  worked the little book
out from behind  her belt. She paused a moment, reverently gazing at it, but
in the end laid it on Kahlan's palm.
     "Dear  Creator,"  Ann whispered, "forgive  this  poor  hurting child of
yours for what she is about to do."
     Kahlan tossed the book in the fire.
     With  ashen faces, Ann and Sister Alessandra stood staring  at the book
in the hissing flames.
     Kahlan snatched up Richard's sword. "Cara, let's get going."
     "The horses are ready. I was saddling them when these two showed up."
     Kahlan dumped  the  hot water  to the side while  Cara started  quickly
collecting  their belongings.  They both  stuffed  items in the  saddlebags.
Other gear they slung  over  their shoulders and carried to the horses to be
strapped back on the saddles.
     Without looking  back  at Ann or  Alessandra, Kahlan  swung up into her
cold saddle. With a grim Cara at her side, she turned her mount and cantered
off into the swirling snow.

     As soon  as she saw  Kahlan and Cara  vanish like vengeful spirits into
the whiteness, Ann fell to her knees and thrust her  hands into the fire  to
snatch the burning  journey book  from its funeral  pyre  in  the  white-hot
     "Prelate!" Alessandra cried. "You'll burn yourself!"
     Flinching  back from the ferocity of  the pain, Ann ignored the gagging
stench of burning flesh and thrust her hands again into the wavering heat of
the fire. She saw, rather than felt, that she had the priceless journey book
in her fingers.
     The entire rescue of the burning  book took only a second, but, through
the prism of pain, it seemed an eternity.
     Biting down on her lower lip  against the suffering, Ann rolled  to the
side. Alessandra came running back with her hands full of snow. She threw it
on Ann's bloody blackened fingers and the journey book clenched in them.
     She let out a low wail of agony when the wet snow contacted  the burns.
Alessandra  fell to  Ann's side, taking her  hands by the wrists, gasping in
tears of fright.
     "Prelate! Oh, Prelate, you shouldn't have!"
     Ann  was in a  state of  shock from the pain. Alessandra's shrill voice
seemed a distant drone.
     "Oh, Ann! Why didn't you use magic, or even a stick!"
     Ann was  surprised by the  question. In her  panic  over  the priceless
journey book burning there in  the fire, her mind  was filled only with  the
single thought to get it  out before it  was too late. Her  reckless action,
she knew, was precipitated by her bitter anguish over Kahlan's accusations.
     "Hold still," Alessandra admonished through her own tears. "Hold  still
and let me see  what I  can do about healing you. It will be all right. Just
hold still."
     Ann sat on  the snowy ground, dazed by the hurt, and by the words still
hammering  her  from inside her  head, as she let Alessandra work at healing
her hands.
     The Sister could not heal her heart.
     "She was wrong," Alessandra said, as  if  reading  Ann's thoughts. "She
was wrong, Prelate."
     "Was  she?" Ann asked in a  numb voice after the searing  pain  in  her
fingers  finally  began  to  ease,  replaced  by the achingly  uncomfortable
tingling  of  magic  coursing  into her flesh, doing  its  work.  "Was  she,
     "Yes.  She  doesn't  know so  much  as  she  thinks.  She's a child-she
couldn't be a paltry three decades yet. People can't learn to wipe their own
noses in that much time." Alessandra was prattling, Ann knew, prattling with
her worry over the  journey book, and with her worry over the anguish caused
by Kahlan's words. "She's just a  foolish child  who doesn't know the  first
thing about anything. There's much more to it. Much more. It isn't so simple
as she thinks. Not so simple at all."

     Ann wasn't so sure anymore. Everything seemed dead to her. Five hundred
years of work-had it all been a mad task, driven on by selfish desires and a
fool's faith? Wouldn't she, in Kahlan's place, have seen it the same way?
     Endless rows of corpses lay before  her in the  trial going  on in  her
mind. What was there to say  in her defense? She  had a thousand answers for
the Mother  Confessor's charges, but at that  moment, they all seemed empty.
How could Ann possibly excuse herself to the dead?
     "You're the Prelate of the Sisters of the Light," Alessandra rambled on
during a pause in her  work. "She should have been  more  considerate of who
she  was talking to. More respectful. She  doesn't know everything involved.
There's a great deal more to it. A great deal. After all, the Sisters of the
Light don't casually choose their Prelate."
     Nor did Confessors casually choose their Mother Confessor.
     An hour  passed,  and then another, before  Alessandra finally finished
the difficult and tedious work of healing Ann's burns.  Burns were difficult
injuries to heal. It was  a tiring experience, being helpless and cold while
magic sizzled through her, while Kahlan's words sliced her very soul.
     Ann flexed the aching fingers when Alessandra had finished. A shadow of
the burning pain  lingered, as she knew it  would for a  good long time. But
they were healed, and she had her hands back.
     When  the matter was weighed, though, she  feared she had lost a  great
deal more of herself than she had recovered.
     Exhausted and  cold,  Ann, to Alessandra's  worry, lay  down beside the
hissing remnants of  the fire that had so hurt  her. At that moment, she had
no desire to ever  rise again. Her years,  nearly a thousand of them, seemed
to have all caught up with her at once.
     She missed Nathan terribly right then. The prophet doubtless would have
had something wise,  or foolish, to  say. Either would have  comforted  her.
Nathan always had something to say. She missed his boastful voice, his kind,
childlike, knowing eyes. She missed the touch of his hand.
     Weeping silently, Ann cried herself to sleep. Her dreams kept the sleep
from being either restful, or deep. She awoke in late morning to the feel of
Alessandra's comforting hand on her shoulder. The Sister had added more wood
to the fire, so it offered warmth.
     "Are you feeling better, Prelate?"
     Ann  nodded her  lie. Her first thought was  for the  journey book. She
gazed at  it lying in  the protection  of Alessandra's  lap. Ann sat  up and
carefully lifted the blackened book from the sling of Alessandra's dress.
     "Prelate, I'm so worried for you."
     With a sour wave of her hand, Ann dismissed the concern.
     "While you slept, I've looked at the book."
     Ann grunted. "Looks bad."
     Alessandra nodded. "That's  what  I  thought.  I don't think  it can be
     Ann used an easy, gentle flow of her  Han to hold the pages-little more
than ash-together as she carefully turned them.
     "It has endured three thousand years. Were it ordinary paper,  it would
be beyond help-ended-but this is a thing of magic, Alessandra, forged in the
fires of magic, by  wizards of power  not seen  in all those  three thousand
years . . . until Richard."
     "What can we do? Do you know a way to restore it?"

     Ann shook her head as  she inspected the curled,  charred journey book.
"I don't know if it can be restored.  I'm just saying  that  it's a thing of
magic. Where there is magic, there is hope."
     Ann pulled a handkerchief from a pocket deep under  the layers  of  her
clothes. Laying  the blackened  book in the center of the handkerchief,  she
carefully folded the handkerchief up  to hold  it together. She wove a spell
around it all to protect and preserve it for the time being.
     "I  will have  to try to find a way to restore it-if I  can.  If it can
even be restored."
     Alessandra dry-washed  her  hands.  "Until then, our eyes with the army
are lost."
     Ann  nodded. "We  won't know if  the Imperial Order decides  to finally
leave  their place in the south and move up into the Midlands. l can give no
guidance to Verna."
     "Prelate, what do you think will happen if the Order finally decides to
attackand Richard isn't there with them? What will they do? Without the Lord
Rahl to lead them . . ."
     Ann did  her best to move the terrible weight  of Kahlan's words to the
side as she considered the immediate situation.
     "Verna is the Prelate now-at least as far as the Sisters with the  army
are concerned.  She  will guide them wisely. And Zedd is with  them, helping
the Sisters prepare for  battle, should it come. They  could have  no better
counsel than  to  have  a wizard of  Zedd's  experience  with them. As First
Wizard, he has been through great wars before.
     "We will have to place our faith in the Creator that He will watch over
them.  I can't advise them unless I  can restore the journey book. Unless  I
can do that, I won't even know their situation."
     "You could go there, Prelate."
     Ann  brushed snow from  the  side of  her shoulder, where she had  been
lying on the ground, as she considered that possibility.
     "The Sisters of the Light  think I'm  dead. They've put  their faith in
Verna,  now,  as  their Prelate. It would  be  a  terrible  thing  to do  to
Verna-and to the  rest of the Sisters-to come back to life in  the middle of
such trying circumstances. Certainly many would be relieved to have me back,
but it also sows the seeds of confusion and doubt. Battle is a very bad time
for such seeds to sprout."
     "But they would all be encouraged by your-"
     Ann shook her head. "Verna is their  leader. Such a thing could forever
undermine their trust  in  her  authority. They must not lose their faith in
her leadership. I must put the welfare of the Sisters of the Light above all
else. 1 must keep their best interests at heart, now."
     "But, Ann, you are the Prelate."
     Ann stared off. "What good has that done anyone?"
     Alessandra's eyes turned  down. The wind moaned sorrowfully through the
trees. Gusts  kicked up blue-gray trailers of  snow  and  whipped them along
through the  campsite. The sunlight had vanished behind somber  clouds.  Ann
wiped her nose on the edge of her icy cloak.
     Alessandra laid a compassionate hand on Ann's arm. "You brought me back
from the  Keeper, back into  the Light of  the Creator. I  was  in  Jagang's
hands,  and treated you terribly when they  captured you, yet you never gave
up on me. Who else would have cared? Without  you, my soul would be lost for
all time. I doubt you could fathom my gratitude for what you did, Prelate."
     Despite  Alessandra's apparent  return to  the Creator's Light, Ann had
been fooled

     by the woman before. Years before, Alessandra had turned to the Keeper,
becoming a Sister of the Dark, and  Ann had never known. How could one  have
faith in a person after such a betrayal?
     Ann looked up  into Alessandra's eyes. "I hope so, Sister.  I pray such
is really true."
     "It is, Prelate."
     Ann lifted  a  hand toward the shrouded  sun. "And perhaps when I go to
the  Creator's Light in  the next  world,  that one good act  will erase the
thousands of lives lost because of me?"
     Alessandra looked away, rubbing her arms through the layers of clothes.
She turned and put two sticks of wood on the fire.
     "We should have a hot meal. That will make you feel better, Prelate. It
will make us both feel better."
     Ann sat on the ground watching Alessandra prepare her hearty camp soup.
Ann doubted that even the pleasant aroma of soup would arouse her appetite.
     "Why  do you think  Nicci  took  Richard?" Alessandra asked  as she put
dried mushrooms from a pouch into the soup.
     Ann looked up at Alessandra's puzzled face. "I can't imagine, except to
think that she may be lying, and she is taking him to Jagang."
     Alessandra broke  up dried meat and dropped  it into the boiling pot of
soup.  "Why?  If she had  him, and he was forced to do as she asked-why lie?
What would be the purpose?"
     "She's  a  Sister  devoted to the Keeper." Ann lifted her hands and let
them flop back  into her lap. "That's excuse enough to lie, isn't it?  Lying
is wrong. It's wicked. That's reason enough."
     Alessandra  shook  her head in admonition. "Prelate, I was  a Sister of
the Dark. Remember? I know better. That isn't  the way it  is at all. Do you
always  tell the truth just  because you are devoted to the Creator's Light?
No;  one lies for the Keeper  just  as you would lie for  the Creator-to His
ends, if lying  is necessary.  Why would  Nicci lie  about  that? She was in
control of the situation and had no need to lie."
     "I  can't imagine." Ann had  difficulty  caring  enough to consider the
question. Her  mind was in a morass of hopeless  thoughts.  It was her fault
Richard was in the hands of the enemy, not Nicci's.
     "I think she did it for herself."
     Ann looked up. "What do you mean?"
     "I think Nicci is still looking for something."
     "Looking for something? What ever do you mean?"
     With a finger, Alessandra brushed a measure of spices into the pot from
a waxed paper she'd unfolded. "Ever since the first  day I took her from her
home and  brought her to the Palace of the Prophets, Nicci  continually grew
more .  .  . detached,  somehow.  She always  did whatever she could to help
people, but she was always  a child who made me feel as if I was  inadequate
at fulfilling her needs."
     "Such as?"
     Alessandra shook her head. "I don't know. She always seemed to me to be
looking for  something.  I  thought she  needed to find  the  Light  of  the
Creator. I pushed her mercilessly, hoping it would open her eyes  to His way
and fill her inner need. I allowed her no room to think about anything else.
I  even  kept her away from  her family. Her father was  a selfish lover  of
money and her mother . . . well, her mother was well intentioned, but always
made me feel uncomfortable. I thought the Creator

     would fill that private void within  Nicci." Alessandra hesitated. "And
then I thought it was the Keeper she needed."
     "So, you think she took Richard to fill some . . . inner need? How does
that make sense?"
     "I don't know." Alessandra  breathed  out  heavily in frustration.  She
stirred the  soup as she drizzled  in a pinch of salt.  "Prelate, I  think I
failed Nicci."
     "In what way?"
     "I don't  know. Perhaps 1 failed to involve her adequately in the needs
of othersgave  her too  much  time  to think  of herself. She  always seemed
devoted to the welfare of her fellow man, but maybe I should have rubbed her
nose  in  other people's troubles  more, to teach  her  the Creator's way of
virtue through caring more  for her fellow man  rather  than her own selfish
     "Sister,  I  hardly  think  that  could be it. Once she asked me for an
extravagant black  dress to wear to her mother's funeral,  and  of  course I
refused such  a profligacy  because it was unfitting for a novice needing to
learn to put others  first, but other than that one time, l never knew Nicci
to  once ask for anything  for herself. You did  an admirable job with  her,
     Ann recalled that, after that, Nicci started wearing black dresses.
     "I  remember that." Alessandra didn't look up. "When her father died, I
went  with her to his funeral. 1 always felt  sorry for taking her away from
her  family, but I  explained to her that she was  so talented that  she had
great potential for helping others and must not waste it."
     "It's always hard to bring young ones to  the palace. It's difficult to
part a child from loving parents. Some adapt better than others."
     "She told me she understood. Nicci was  always good that way. She never
objected to  anything,  any duty. Perhaps  I assumed  too  much  because she
always threw herself into helping others, never once complaining.
     "At  her father's funeral,  I wanted to help  her over her grief.  Even
though she had that  same  cool  exterior she always had, I knew her, I knew
she  was  hurting inside.  I tried  to  comfort her  by  telling  her not to
remember her father like  that, but to try to remember him as he was when he
was alive."
     "Those are kind words  to one  in such grief, Sister.  You offered wise
     Alessandra  glanced up. "She  was not comforted, Prelate. She looked at
me with those blue eyes of hers-you remember her blue eyes."
     Ann nodded. "I remember."
     "Well, she looked  at me with those piercing blue eyes, like she wanted
to hate me,  but  even  that emotion  was beyond her,  and she said  in that
lifeless voice of hers that she couldn't remember him as he  was when he was
alive, because she had never  known him  when he  was alive. Isn't that  the
strangest thing you've ever heard?"
     Ann  sighed.  "It sounds like  Nicci.  She always  was  one to  say the
strangest things  at the strangest  times.  I should have  offered  her more
guidance  in her life. I should  have taken  more interest in her  . . . but
there were so many matters needing my attention."
     "No,  Prelate,  that was  my  job.  I tailed  in it. Somehow, I  failed
     Ann  pulled her cloak righter  against a  bitter gust of wind. She took
the bowl of soup when Alessandra handed it to her.
     "Worse, Prelate, I brought her to the shadow of the Keeper."
     Ann looked over the rim of the  bowl  as she took a  sip. She carefully
set the steaming bowl in her lap.

     "What's done is done, Alessandra."
     While  Alessandra  sipped at  her soup, Ann's mind wandered to Kahlan's
words. They were words spoken in anger, and as such, were to be forgiven. Or
were they to be considered in an honest light?
     Ann feared to say Kahlan's words were wrong; she feared they were true.
For centuries Ann had worked with Nathan and the prophecies, trying to avoid
the disasters she saw, and the ones he pointed  out to  her. What if  Nathan
had been pointing out things that were only dead words, as Kahlan said? What
if he only pointed them out so as to bring about his own escape?
     After all, what Ann had set in motion with Richard had also resulted in
the prophet's escape. What if she had been duped into being the one to bring
about all those terrible results?
     Could that be true? Grief threatened to overwhelm her.
     She was beginning to greatly fear that she had been so absorbed in what
she thought she knew that she had acted on false assumptions.
     Kahlan could be right. The Prelate of the Sisters of the Light might be
personally responsible for  more suffering than  any monster born  into  the
world had ever brought about.
     "Alessandra," Ann said in  a soft voice after she  finished her bowl of
soup, "we must go and try to find  Nathan. It's dangerous for the prophet to
be out there, in the world that is defenseless against him."
     "Where would we look?"
     Ann shook her head in  dismay at the enormity of  the task. "A man like
Nathan does not go unnoticed in the world. I must believe that if we set our
minds to it, we could find him."
     Alessandra  watched Ann's face. "Well, as you say,  it is dangerous for
the prophet to be loose in the world."
     "It is indeed. We must find him."
     "It took Verna twenty years to find Richard."
     "So it did.  But part of that was by my design. I hid facts from Verna.
Then again, Nathan is no doubt hiding facts from  us. Nonetheless, we have a
responsibility.  Verna is with the Sisters, and with the  army; they will do
what they can in that capacity. We must go after Nathan. That part of  it is
up to us."
     Alessandra  set  her bowl aside. "Prelate, I understand why you believe
the prophet must be found, but, just as you feel you must find him, I feel I
must find Nicci.  I'm  responsible for  bringing  her  to  the Keeper of the
underworld.  I may be the only  one who can bring her  back to the  Light. I
have a unique understanding of that journey of  the heart. I fear  what will
happen to Richard if I don't try to stop Nicci.
     "Worse," Alessandra added,  "I  fear  what will happen to the  world if
Richard dies. Kahlan is wrong. I believe in what you've worked for all these
years. Kahlan is  making a complex thing  sound simple because  her heart is
broken, but without what you did, she would never even have met Richard."
     Ann  considered  Alessandra's words.  The seduction  of  acquittal  was
     "But, Alessandra, we don't  have the  slightest idea  where  they went.
Nicci  is as smart as they come. If, as she says, she is  acting  on her own
behalf,  she will be  clever about  not  being found.  How would you even go
about such a search?
     "Nathan is a prophet loose in the world. You remember  the trouble he's
caused in the past.  He could, by himself, bring about such calamity  as the
world has never

     seen.  Nathan boasts when he's around people; he will surely leave such
traces  where he goes. With Nathan, I  believe  we at least have a chance of
success. But hunting for Nicci . . ."
     Alessandra met Ann's gaze  with grim  resolution.  "Prelate, if Richard
dies, what chance have the rest of us?"
     Ann  looked away.  What if Alessandra  was right?  What  if Kahlan  was
right? She had to catch Nathan; it was the only way to find out.
     "Alessandra . . ."
     "You don't completely trust me, do you, Prelate?"
     Ann  met  the  other  woman's  eyes, this  time  with  authority.  "No,
Alessandra, I admit that I don't. How can I?  You  deceived me. You  lied to
me. You turned  your back on the Creator and gave yourself to the Keeper  of
the underworld."
     "But I've come back to the Light, Prelate."
     "Have  you? Would not one  acting for the Keeper lie  for  him, as  you
yourself only moments ago suggested?"
     Alessandra's eyes filled with  tears.  "That's  why I must try  to find
Nicci, Prelate. I must prove that your faith in me was not misplaced. I need
to do this to prove myself to you."
     "Or, you need to help Nicci, and the Keeper?"
     "I know I'm not  worthy  of trust.  I know that. You said we must  find
Nathan-but we must also help Richard."
     "Two tasks of the utmost importance," Ann said, "and no journey book to
call for help."
     Alessandra wiped at  her  eyes.  "Please,  Prelate,  let me  help.  I'm
responsible for Nicci going to the Keeper. Let me try to make amends. Let me
try  to bring her back. I know  what the return journey is like. I  can help
her. Please, let me try to save her eternal soul?"
     Ann's  gaze sank  to the ground. Who was she  to question  the value of
another? What had  her life been for? Had she herself been the Keeper's best
     Ann cleared her throat. "Sister Alessandra, you are to listen to me and
you are to listen well. I am the Prelate  of the Sisters of the Light and it
is your duty  to do as I  command." Ann shook  a  finger at the woman. "I'll
have no arguments, do you  hear? I must  go find the prophet  before he does
something beyond foolish.
     "Richard  is  of utmost  importance to  our cause-you  know  that.  I'm
getting old and would only slow the search for him  and his  captor.  I want
you  to go after him. No arguments, now. You  are to find Richard Rahl,  and
put the fear of the Creator back into our wayward Sister Nicci."
     Alessandra threw  her  arms around  Ann, sobbing her thanks. Ann patted
the Sister's back,  feeling  miserable about losing a  companion, and afraid
that she might have lost her faith in everything for which she stood.
     Alessandra pushed away. "Prelate, will you be able to travel alone? Are
you sure you're up to this?"
     "Bah. I may be old, but I'm not useless. Who do you think came into the
center of Jagang's army and rescued you, child?"
     Alessandra  smiled  through  her  tears.  "You  did,  Prelate,  all  by
yourself. No one but you could have  done such a thing. I hope I can do half
as well for Nicci, when I find her."
     "You will, Sister. You will. May the Creator cradle you  in His palm as
you go on your journey."

     Ann knew that they were both going off on difficult journeys that could
take years.
     "Hard times  lie ahead," Alessandra said.  "But  the  Creator  has  two
hands, does He not? One for me, and one for you, Prelate."
     Ann couldn't help but smile at such a mental picture.

     Come in," Zedd grouched to  the  persistent throat-clearing outside his
     He poured water from the ewer into the dented metal pot that served  as
his washbasin sitting atop a log  round. When he splashed some of the  water
up  onto his face, he gasped  aloud. He was astonished that water that  cold
would still pour.
     "Good morning, Zedd."
     Still gasping, Zedd swiped the frigid water  from his eyes. He squinted
at Warren. "Good morning, my boy."
     Warren  blushed.  Zedd  reminded  himself he  probably  shouldn't  call
someone twice his own age "boy." It was Warren's own fault; if the boy would
just stop looking so young!  Zedd sighed as he bent  to forage for  a  towel
among  the  litter  of  maps,  dirty  plates,  rusty dividers,  empty  mugs,
blankets, chicken bones, rope, an egg  he'd lost in  the middle of  a lesson
weeks back, and other paraphernalia that seemed to collect over  time in the
corner of his small field tent.
     Warren was twisting his purple robes into a  small wad  at his  hip. "I
just came from Verna's tent."
     Zedd halted his search and looked back over his shoulder.
     "Any word?"
     Warren shook his head of curly blond hair. "Sorry, Zedd."
     "Well," Zedd scoffed,  "that doesn't mean anything. That old  woman has
more lives than a  cat I once had that was hit by lightning and fell  down a
well, both in the same day. Did I ever tell you about that cat, my boy?"
     "Well, yes,  you did,  actually." Warren  smiled. "But  if  you like, I
wouldn't mind hearing it again."
     Zedd dismissed the story with a feeble wave as  he turned more serious.
"I'm sure Ann is fine. Verna knows Ann better  than I do, but I do know that
that old woman is downright hard to harm."
     "Verna said something like that." Warren smiled to himself. "Ann always
could scowl a thunderstorm back over the horizon."
     Zedd grunted his agreement as he went back to digging through his pile.
"Tougher  than  bad meat,  she is." He tossed  two  outdated  maps over  his
     Warren leaned down  a little. "What  is it you're  looking for,  if you
don't mind my asking?"
     "My towel. I know I had-'
     "Right there," Warren said.
     Zedd looked up. "What?"
     "Your towel."  Warren pointed  again. "Right there on  the  back of the
     "Oh." Zedd snatched up  the wandering towel and dried  his dry face. He

     at Warren. "You have the eyes of a burglar." He tossed the towel in the
pile with everything else, where it belonged.
     Warren's grin returned. "I'11 take that as a compliment."
     Zedd cocked his head. "Do you hear that?"
     Warren's grin melted away as he joined Zedd in listening to the  sounds
outside. Horses clogged along the hard ground, men talked as they passed the
tent,  other:  called  orders, fires  crackled, wagons  squeaked,  and  gear
clanged and rattled.
     "Hear what?"
     Zedd's face  twisted  in vague  unease. "I don't  know.  Like,  maybe a
     Warren  lifted a  thumb over his  shoulder.  "The  men  whistle now and
again, to get  the  attention  of  their  horses  and such.  Sometimes  it's
     They  all did  their best  to keep the whistling  and other noise down.
Whistles, especially, carried  in  such open terrain.  It  was hard  to miss
something  the size  of the D'Harans' encampment,  of  course, so they moved
camp  from time to time to keep the  enemy from getting too confident  about
their location. Sound could give away more than they would like.
     Zedd shook his head. "Must have been that. Someone's long whistle."
     "But still, Zedd," Warren went on, "it's long  past time when Ann would
have sent Verna a message."
     "There were times when I was with Ann that she couldn't send messages."
Zedd waved  an arm expansively. "Bags, there was a time when I  wouldn't let
her use that confounded journey book. The thing gave me the shivers. I don't
know why  she couldn't just send letters,  like normal people." His face, he
knew,  was  betraying  his  concern. "Confounded journey books.  Lazy way of
doing things. I got to be First Wizard and I never needed a journey book."
     "She could have lost it. That's what Verna suggested, anyway."
     Zedd  held  up a finger. "That's right. She very well could have.  It's
small-it  could have fallen from her belt and she didn't nonce until she and
Alessandra  made camp.  She'd  never  find the  book in  a circumstance like
that."  He shook the finger.  "Makes my  point, too. You shouldn't depend on
little trick things of magic, like that. It just makes you lazy."
     "That's  what Verna thought,  too. About it  falling from  her  belt, I
mean." Warren chuckled. "Or a cat could even have eaten it."
     From beneath a furrowed brow, Zedd peered at Warren. "A cat? What cat?"
     "Any cat."  Warren  cleared  his throat. "I just meant .  . . oh, never
mind. I never was any good at jokes."
     Zedd's knotted brow lifted. "Oh, I see. A cat could have eaten it. Yes,
yes, I see."  He didn't, but Zedd forced a chuckle for the boy's sake. "Very
good, Warren."
     "Anyway, she probably  lost it. It's  probably something  as  simple as
     "If  that's  the case,"  Zedd reasoned, "she will likely end up  coming
here to  let  us know  that she's all  right, or at least  she will  send  a
letter,  or messenger, or something. Ever more likely, though, she  probably
had nothing to tell  us and simply saw  no need  to  bother with  sending  a
message in her journey book."
     Warren  made a skeptical face. "But we  haven't had  a message from her
for nearly a month."
     Zedd waved a hand  dismissively. "Well, she was way north, up almost to
where Richard  and Kahlan are, last we heard.  If she  did lose the book and
started right out to come here from there, she won't show up for yet another
week or two. If she

     went  on to  see Richard first, then it will  be longer, I imagine. Ann
doesn't travel all that fast, you know."
     "I know," Warren said. "She  is getting  up there in  years. But that's
just another reason why I'm so worried."
     What really worried Zedd was the way the journey book went silent  just
as  Ann was  about  to  reach  Richard  and Kahlan.  Zedd  had  been eagerly
anticipating hearing that  Richard and Kahlan were safe, that Kahlan was all
healed. Maybe even that Richard was ready to return. Ann knew how eager they
were for word and would certainly have had something  to report. Zedd didn't
like the coincidence  that the journey book went silent right at  that time.
He didn't like it one bit.
     The whole thing  made  him want to scratch as if he'd been  bitten by a
white mosquito.
     "Now look here, Warren, a month isn't so long not to hear from her.  In
the past, it's sometimes been weeks and weeks between her messages. It's too
early to start getting ourselves all worked up  with worry. Besides, we have
our own concerns which require our attention."
     Zedd  didn't  know  what they  could  do even  if Ann were  in  trouble
somewhere. They had no idea how to find her.
     Warren flashed an apologetic smile. "You're right, Zedd."
     Zedd moved a map  and found a half loaf  of  bread left  from the night
before.  He  took  a big bite, giving  himself an excuse to  chew instead of
talk. When he talked, he feared he only let out  the true level of his worry
not just about Ann, but also about Richard and Kahlan.
     Warren was an  able wizard, and smarter than just about anyone Zedd had
ever met. Zedd often had trouble finding something to talk about that Warren
hadn't  already  heard  of,  or was  intimately  familiar  with.  There  was
something  refreshing  about  sharing  knowledge  with  someone  who  nodded
knowingly at esoteric points of magic that no one else would fathom, someone
who could fill  in  little gaps in the odd spell, or delighted at having his
own  little gaps filled  in by what  Zedd  knew. Warren retained  more about
prophecy than Zedd thought anyone had a right to know in the first place.
     Warren was a fascinating mix of obstinate  old man and callow youth. He
was  at  once  set in his  ways, and  at  the same time  openly, infinitely,
innocently, curious.
     The  one thing  that  made  Warren  fall silent, though, was when  they
discussed Richard's "vision." Warren's face would go blank and  he would sit
without  comment  while  others  argued over what  Richard had  said in  his
letters and if there was any validity to it. Whenever Zedd had Warren  alone
and  asked him what  he thought, Warren would say only "I follow Richard; he
is my friend, and he is  the Lord Rahl." Warren would not debate  or discuss
Richard's instructions  to the army-or, more specifically, Richard's refusal
to  give instructions. Richard had given his orders, as  far as  Warren  was
concerned, and they were to be swallowed, not chewed.
     Zedd noticed than Warren was twisting his robes again.
     Zedd waved  his bread. "You  look like a  wizard with his pants full of
itching spells. Do you have something you need to let out, Warren?"
     Warren grinned sheepishly. "Am I that obvious?"
     Zedd patted the boy on the back. "No, Warren, I'm just that good."
     Warren laughed at Zedd's  joke. Zedd gestured with his bread toward the

     canvas chair. Warren looked  behind himself at the chair, but shook his
head. Zedd figured it must be important, if Warren  felt he  needed to stand
to say it.
     "Zedd,  with winter upon us,  do you believe the  Imperial  Order  will
attack, or wait until spring?"
     "Well, now, that's always a worry. The not knowing leaves  your stomach
all in knots. But you've all  worked hard. You've all trained and practiced.
You'll do just fine, Warren. The Sisters, too."
     Warren didn't seem to be interested in hearing what Zedd was saying. He
was scratching his temple, waiting his turn to speak.
     "Yes, well, thank you, Zedd. We have been working hard.
     "Umm,  General Leiden  thinks winter is our best friend right now.  He,
his  Keltish officers, and some of the D'Harans believe that Jagang would be
foolhardy to  start a campaign with winter just setting in. Kelton isn't all
that far north of here, so General Leiden is familiar with the difficulty of
winter warfare in the terrain  we would  fall  back  to.  He's convinced the
Order is waiting for spring."
     "General Leiden  in a good  man, and  may  be second-in-command,  after
General Reibisch," Zedd said in an  even voice  as he  watched Warren's blue
eyes, "but, I don't agree with him."
     Warren looked crestfallen. "Oh."
     The general  had  brought his Keltish division down south  a  couple of
months before to reinforce the D'Haran army, at General  Reibisch's request.
Regarding Kahlan as their queen, since Richard had named her so, the Keltish
forces still had  an independent streak, even if  they were now  part of the
"D'Haran Empire," as everyone had taken to calling it.
     Zedd  didn't  do anything  to discourage  such talk;  it was better for
everyone in  the  New  World  to be one  mighty force than  a collection  of
tribes. As far  as  Zedd  was concerned, Richard  had clearly had the  right
instincts in that. A war of this scale would have been ungovernable were the
New World  not  one. Having everyone think  of  themselves  as  part of  the
D'Haran Empire first and foremost could only help make it so.
     Zedd  cleared his throat. "But  that's just a guess, Warren. I could be
wrong. General Leiden is an experienced man, and no fool. I could be wrong."
     "But so could  Leiden  be  wrong. I  guess that  puts you  with General
Reibisch. He's been pacing his tent every night for the last two months."
     Zedd  shrugged.  "Is  there  something important  to you, Warren,  that
hinges  on what the Imperial Order does? Are you waiting for them to make up
your mind for you about something?"
     Warren held  up  his hands as if to  ward the very notion.  "No-no,  of
course not. It's just that . . . it's just that it would be a bad time to be
thinking about  such  things,  is all .... But if they were going to lie low
for the winter . . ." Warren  fussed with  his  sleeve. "That's all I  meant
.... If you  thought they were going  to wait until spring, or something . .
." His voice trailed off.
     "And if they were, then-?"
     Warren stared at the ground  while he twisted his robes at his  stomach
into a purple knot.  "If you think they might  decide  to  move this winter,
then it wouldn't be right for me-for us-to be thinking about such things."
     Zedd scratched his chin and changed his approach. "Let's  say I believe
the Order is going to sit  tight for the winter. Then what  might you do, in
that case?"
     Warren threw his hands up. "Zedd will you marry Verna and me?"

     Zedd's brow went up as he drew back his head. "Bags, my  boy,  that's a
mouthful to swallow first thing in the morning."
     Warren took two big strides closer. "Will you Zedd? I mean, only if you
really  think the  Order  is  going to sit down  there in  Anderith for  the
winter. If  they are,  then,  well, then  it would be, I mean,  we might  as
     "Do you love Verna, Warren?"
     "Of course I do!"
     "And does Verna love you?"
     "Well, of course she does."
     Zedd shrugged. "Then I'll marry the both of you."
     "You will? Oh, Zedd, that would  be wonderful." Warren turned, reaching
one  hand toward  the  tent's opening, lifting his  other  back toward Zedd.
"Wait. Wait there a moment."
     "Well, I was about to flap my arms and fly to the moon, but if you want
me to wait-"
     Warren was already out the tent.  Zedd heard muffled voices coming from
outside. Warren came back in-right on Verna's heels.
     Verna  beamed  from ear to ear,  which Zedd found unsettling in its own
way, being so unusual.
     "Thank you  for offering to marry  us, Zedd. Thank  you!  Warren and  I
wanted you to do the ceremony. I told him you would do it, but Warren wanted
to ask you and give you a chance to say  no. I can't  think of anything more
meaningful than being wedded by the First Wizard."
     Zedd  thought she was a lovely  woman.  A little fussy  about rules and
such, at times, but well intentioned. She worked hard.  She didn't shy  from
some of the things Zedd had  asked of her. And, she obviously held Warren in
warm regard, as well as respecting him.
     "When?" Verna asked. "When do you think would be an appropriate time?"
     Zedd screwed up his face. "Do you two think you can wait until I've had
a proper breakfast?"
     They both grinned.
     "We were thinking more along the  lines of  an evening  wedding," Verna
said. "Maybe we could have a party, with music and dancing."
     Warren gestured  nonchalantly. "We were  thinking  something to make  a
pleasant break in all the training."
     "A  break? How much time do you two think you will be needing away from
your duties-"
     "Oh, no, Zedd!" Warren had gone as purple as his robes. "We didn't mean
we would-I mean we would still be doing-we would only like-"
     "We don't want any  time  away, Zedd," Verna  put in, bringing Warren's
bashful babbling to an end. "We just thought it would be a  nice opportunity
for everyone to have a well-earned party for an evening. We won't be leaving
our posts."
     Zedd put a bony arm around Verna's shoulders. "You two can have all the
time away you want. We all understand. I'm happy for you both."
     "That's great, Zedd," Warren said with a sigh. "We really-"
     A red-faced officer burst  into the tent without  so much as announcing
himself. "Wizard Zorander!"
     Two Sisters charged in right behind him.
     "Prelate!" Sister Philippa called.

     "They're coming!" Sister Phoebe cried.
     Both  women  were white-faced and  looked  to be on the verge of losing
their breakfast. Sister Phoebe  was trembling like a wet dog in winter. Zedd
then saw that Sister Philippa's hair was singed on one side and the shoulder
of her dress was blackened. She had been one  of  those on far watch for the
enemy gifted.
     Now Zedd knew what the  whistling  sound  he thought he'd heard was. It
was very distant screams.
     Rolling up  from the distance came the note of  the secondary  waypoint
alarm  horns. Zedd felt the faint tingle of magic woven through them,  so he
knew they were genuine. Outside the tent, the muted sounds of camp life rose
into  a din of  activity.  Weapons were being  yanked from  where  they were
stacked, fires hissed  as  they were dowsed, swords  were being strapped on,
others were being drawn, horses whinnied at the sudden racket.
     Warren  seized Sister  Philippa's arm and started  issuing orders. "Get
the line  coordinated. Don't  let them be seen-keep behind the  third ridge.
Set the trips close-we need to give the enemy confidence. Cavalry?"
     The woman nodded.
     "Coming  in two wings," the officer put  in. "But they  aren't charging
yet-they don't want to get out too far ahead of their foot soldiers."
     "Start  the  first fire behind them-once they're past  the blast  point
just like
     we've drilled," Warren told Sister Philippa as she nodded heedfully  to
his instructions. The intention was to trap any cavalry charge between walls
of violent magic. It had to be focused properly to have any hope of piercing
the enemy's shields.
     "Prelate,"  Sister Phoebe said, still panting,  "you can't imagine  the
numbers. Dear Creator,  it  looks like the ground is  moving, like the hills
are melting men toward us."
     Verna  put a comforting  hand to  the young Sister's shoulder. "I know,
Phoebe. I know. But we all know what to do."
     Verna  was  already ushering the two Sisters out  and  calling  for her
other aides, as yet more officers and returning scouts leaped from horses.
     A big, bearded soldier, sweat  running down  his  face, barged into the
tent gasping for his breath.
     "The whole blasted force. All of 'em."
     "Cavalry  with lances-enough to break their way and then some," another
man shouted  into the tent  from atop a  lathered  horse,  pausing only long
enough to deliver the news to Zedd before charging off.
     "Archers?" Zedd asked the two soldiers still in his tent.
     The officer with the beard shook his head. "Too far to tell." He gulped
air. "But I'd bet my life they're right behind the pikemen's shields."
     "No  doubt," Zedd  said. "When  they  get  close enough,  they'll  show
     Warren grabbed the bearded officer's sleeve and pulled him along behind
as he trotted out of the tent. "Don't worry, when they show themselves we'll
have something to put out their eyes."
     The other man ran  on to his duties.  In an instant, Zedd was  standing
alone in his tent, lit  from the outside by early-morning winter sun. It was
a cold dawn. It would be a bloody day.
     Outside  the  tent, the racket  exploded into the uproar  of  practiced
pandemonium.  Everyone  had a job,  and  knew  it  well;  these were  mostly
battle-tested  D'Harans.  Zedd had snuck close and had seen how fearsome the
Imperial Order troops looked,

     but the D'Harans were their match in gristle. For generations, D'Harans
prided themselves on being  the  fiercest  fighters in existence. For a good
part of his  life,  Zedd had  battled D'Harans who had proven  their  boasts
     Zedd could  heir someone  shouting, "Move, move, move." It sounded like
General Reibisch. Zedd dashed to the tent's opening, pausing at the brink of
a river of men flowing past in a great churning mass.
     General Reibisch skidded to a halt just outside the tent.
     "Zedd-we were right."
     Zedd nodded his disappointment to have surmised the enemy's plans. This
was one time he wished he'd been wrong.
     "We're breaking camp," General Reibisch  said. "We've  not  much  time.
I've already  ordered  the advance guard to shift their  positions north  to
cover the supply wagons."
     "Is it all of them-or just a jab to test us?"
     "It's the whole bloody lot."
     "Dear  spirits," Zedd whispered.  At least he had  made what plans  for
this eventuality as could be made.  He had trained the gifted to expect this
so they wouldn't be thrown off balance. It would come just as Zedd told them
it would;  that would aid their confidence  and give them courage.  The  day
hinged on the gifted.
     General Reibisch swiped his meaty  hand across his mouth  and jaw as he
looked to the south, toward an enemy he couldn't yet see. The early sun made
his rustcolored hair look red, and the scar that ran from his left temple to
his jaw stand out like a streak of frozen white lightning.
     "Our sentries  pulled  back along with the outer lines. No use  in them
standing ground, since it's the whole Imperial Order."
     Zedd quickly nodded  his agreement. "We'll be the  magic  against magic
for you, General."
     The man had a lusty glint in his  grayish-green eye.  "We're  the steel
for you, Zedd. We'll show them bastards a lot of both today."
     "Just don't show them too much, too soon," Zedd warned.
     "I'm not about to change  our plans now," he said over the sound of the
     "Good." Zedd snatched  the arm of a  soldier running past. "You. I need
your help. Pack up my things in  there for me, would you, lad? I need to get
to the Sisters."
     General Reibisch gestured the young soldier  into Zedd's  tent, and the
young man leaped to the task.
     "The scouts said they're  all staying on  this side of  the Drun River,
just as we hoped."
     "Good. We won't have to worry about them flanking us, at least not from
the west." Zedd swept  his gaze over the dissolving  camp as the men swiftly
set about their jobs. He looked back to the general's  weathered face. "Just
get our men  north into those valleys in time, General,  so that we can't be
surrounded. The gifted will cover your tails."
     "We'll plug up the valleys, don't you worry."
     "The river isn't frozen over, yet, is it?"
     General  Reibisch shook his head. "Maybe enough  for a rat to skate on,
but not the wolf that's after him."
     "That should keep them from crossing." Zedd  squinted off to the south.
"I have to go check  on Adie  and her Sisters. May the good spirits be  with
you, General. They won't need to watch your back-we'll do that."

     General  Reibisch caught  Zedd's arm.  "There's more  than  we thought,
Zedd. Twice the number at least. If my scouts weren't just stuttering, there
may be  three  times  the number.  Think you can  slow  that many down while
keeping them focused on trying to sink their teeth into my backside?"
     The plan was to draw the enemy north  while  staying just  out of their
reach--close  enough to make them salivate but not close enough  to let them
get  a good  bite.  Crossing  the  river  at  this  time  of  year would  be
impractical for an army that size. With the river on one side, and mountains
on the other,  a  force the size of the  Imperial Order  couldn't  so easily
surround and overwhelm the "D'Haran Empire" troops, who were outnumbered ten
or twenty to one.
     The plan, too, was designed to keep  in mind Richard's admonition about
not attacking  directly into the Order. Zedd wasn't sure about  the validity
of Richard's warning, but knew better than to so openly tempt ruin.
     Hopefully,  once  they  enticed the enemy into  that  tighter  terrain,
terrain more  defensible,  the Order  would lose some of their advantage and
their advance  could  be  halted. Once the  Imperial Order  was stalled, the
D'Harans could begin working the enemy down  to size.  The D'Harans  thought
nothing of  being outnumbered; it  just  gave them  a  better opportunity to
prove themselves.
     Zedd  stared  off,  imagining the  hillsides darkened  with  the  enemy
pouring forth. He was already seeing the lethal powers he would unleash.
     He knew, too, that in battle things rarely went as planned.
     "Don't you worry, General,  today the  Imperial Order is going to begin
paying a terrible price for its aggression."
     The  grinning  general clapped Zedd on the side of the shoulder.  "Good
     General Reibisch  charged off,  calling for his aides  and  his  horse,
collecting a growing crowd of men around him as he went.
     It had begun.

     Arms resting on his thighs, Richard crouched in the belly of the beast.
     "Well?" Nicci asked from atop her horse.
     Richard stood  beside a  rib bone that towered  to  well over twice his
height.  He  shielded  his eyes against  the golden  sunlight as he  briefly
scanned the empty horizon  behind himself. He looked back at Nicci, her hair
honeyed by the low sun.
     "I'd say it was a dragon."
     When her mare began to  dance sideways, trying to put distance  between
itself and the expanse of bones, Nicci took the slack out of the reins.
     "Dragon," she repeated in a flat voice.
     Here and there dried scraps of meat stuck to the bones. Richard swished
a hand  at the cloud of flies buzzing around him. The faint stench of  decay
hung  over  the site.  As he stepped  out  of  the  cage  of giant rib bones
standing  belly-up, he gestured toward  the head, nestled in a bed  of brown
grass. There  was enough room to walk between the ribs without them touching
his shoulders.
     "I recognize the teeth. I had a dragon's tooth, once."
     Nicci looked skeptical.  "Well, whatever it is, if you've  seen enough,
let's be on our way."
     Richard brushed his hands clean.  The stallion snorted and stepped away
from him when he approached. The horse  didn't like the smell of death,  and
didn't trust  Richard after having been near  it. Richard stroked the glossy
black neck.
     "Steady, Boy," he said in a comforting voice. "Easy now."
     When she  saw Richard  finally mount  up, Nicci turned her dappled mare
and  started  off once  more.  The  late-afternoon  light  cast long, clawed
shadows of the rib bones toward him, as if reaching out, calling him back to
the ghost  of some terrible end. He glanced back over  his  shoulder  at the
length  of the skeletal remains, stretched out in  the middle  of  an empty,
gently rolling grassland, before urging his stallion into a trot to catch up
with Nicci. His horse needed little encouragement to be away  from the dying
place, and happily sprang into his easy loping gallop, instead.
     In  the month or  so Richard had  spent with the horse, the two of them
had become  used to  each other. The horse  was  willing enough,  but  never
really friendly. Richard wasn't  interested  enough  to go to the effort  of
doing more; making friends  with a  horse  was  just about  the last of  his
concerns.  Nicci hadn't  known if  the  horses had names,  and  didn't. seem
interested in naming animals,  so  Richard simply called the black  stallion
"Boy," and  Nicci's dappled gray  mare "Girl," and  left it  at that.  Nicci
seemed neither pleased or displeased about him naming the horses; she simply
went along with his convention.

     "Do  you actually  believe  it's the remains of a dragon?" Nicci  asked
when he caught up with her.
     The stallion slowed and, glad to be back  in the  herd, gave the mare's
flanks  a  nuzzle.  Girl  merely  turned  her  closest  ear  toward  him  in
     "It's about the right size, as I remember."
     Nicci tossed her head to flick her hair back over her shoulder. "You're
serious, aren't you?"
     Richard  frowned  his  puzzlement.  "You  saw  it. What  else could  it
possibly be?"
     She conceded with  a  sigh. "I just thought  it  was the  bones of some
long-extinct beast."
     "With flies still buzzing around it? It still had  a few bits of  sinew
dried  to the bones.  It's not some ancient thing. It couldn't be much older
than six monthspossibly much less."
     She  was  watching him  from  the  corner of her eye,  again. "So, they
really do have dragons in the New World?"
     "In the Midlands, anyway. Where I grew up there were  none. Dragons, as
I understand it, have magic. There was  no magic  in  Westland. When  I came
here I . . . saw a red dragon. From what 1 heard, they're very rare."
     And now there was at least one less.
     Nicci was little concerned about the remains of  an  animal, even if it
was a  dragon. Richard had  long ago decided that,  as much as  he lusted to
crush her skull, he would have a better chance of figuring a way out  of his
situation if he  didn't antagonize her.  Battling another person sapped your
own  strength,  making  it more difficult  to  reason your way  out  of  the
trouble. He kept his mind focused on what was most important to him.
     He couldn't force himself to pretend to befriend Nicci, but he tried to
give her no cause to become angry enough to hurt Kahlan. So far, it had been
successful. Nicci  didn't  seem easily inclined to  anger, anyway.  When she
became displeased, she submerged  back into an  indifference which seemed to
smother her distant rancor.
     They finally reached  the road  from where  they had spotted  the white
speck that had turned out to be the remains of the dragon.
     "What was it like growing up in a place with no magic?"
     Richard shrugged.  "I don't know.  That's just  the way it  was. It was
     "And you were happy? Growing up without magic, I mean?"
     "Yes. Very happy." The frown returned to his face. "Why?"
     "And yet, you fight to keep magic  in the world, so other children will
have to grow up with it. Am I right?"
     "The Order wishes to rid the world of magic, so that people can grow up
happy,  without the poisonous fog of  magic always outside their  door." She
glanced over at him. "They  want children to grow up much  like you did. And
yet you fight this."
     It  was  not  a question, so Richard chose not to turn it into  one for
her. What the Order chose  to do was not his concern. He turned his thoughts
to other things.
     They  were traveling  east-southeast on  a  road traversed  by the  odd
trader. They had smiled and nodded at two that day. The road, as it took the
easiest route across the rolling hills,  had  that afternoon begun  to  turn
more to the south. As they crested a rise, Richard spotted  a flock of sheep
in the far distance. Not far ahead, they had

     been told, was a  town where they could pick up some needed provisions.
The horses could use some grain, too.
     Over his left shoulder, to the northeast,  snowcapped mountains turning
pink in  the late sunlight  rose up out of the  foothills. To his right, the
ground rolled off into the wilds. Beyond the  town, it  wouldn't be  too far
until they crossed the Kern River.  They were not far at all from what  used
to be the wasteland where the great barrier had stood.
     They were close to cutting south into the Old World.
     Even though  there was no longer a barrier  to prevent his  return once
they crossed over, he felt  downhearted about leaving the  New World. It was
like  leaving  Kahlan's  world.  Like  leaving her by one  more  degree.  As
fiercely  as he  loved her, he could  feel  her slipping farther and farther
into the distance.
     Nicci's blond hair fluttered in the  breeze  as she turned toward  him.
"It's said they used to have dragons in the Old World, too."
     Richard brought himself out of his brooding.
     "But no more?" he asked. She shook her head. "How long ago was that?"
     "Long ago. No one living  has ever  seen  one-and that includes Sisters
living at the palace."
     He thought about  it  as he  rode,  listening to the  rhythmic clop  of
hooves. Nicci had proven forthcoming, so he asked, "Do you know why not?"
     "I can only  tell you what was taught to me,  if you would like to hear
it." When Richard nodded, she  went  on. "During the great war, at  the time
when the barrier between  the Old  and New Worlds was raised, the wizards in
the Old World worked toward revoking magic from the world. Dragons could not
exist without magic, so they went extinct."
     "But they still existed here."
     "On the other side  of  the barrier.  It  may be  that the old wizards'
suppression  of  magic, on their side, had  only a local, or even temporary,
effect. After  all, magic still exists, so obviously  they failed to achieve
their ends."
     Richard was  getting an uneasy feeling  as  he  considered both Nicci's
words and the bones he had seen.
     "Nicci, may I ask you a question, a serious question, about magic?"
     She gazed over at him as she slowed her horse to an easy walk. "What is
it you wish to know?"
     "How long do you think a dragon could exist without magic?"
     Nicci  considered his question  for a moment, but in the end  let out a
sigh.  "I only know about the history  of the dragons in the Old World as it
was  taught. As  you  know,  words  written that  long  ago  are  not always
dependable. It would only be an educated guess. I would say it could be mere
moments, possibly days-or even  longer, but not a great  deal longer. It's a
much simplified  version of asking how long a fish could live out  of water.
Why do you ask?"
     Richard raked his fingers back through his hair. "When  the chimes were
here, in this world, they drew away magic. All of  the magic, or nearly all,
anyway, was withdrawn from the world of life for a time."
     She turned  her  eyes back to the  road.  "My estimation  is  that  the
withdrawal was total, for a time, at least."
     That  was what he had feared.  Richard considered  her words along with
what he knew. "Not all  creatures of magic depend on it. Us, for example; we
are, in a way,

     creatures of  magic, but we can live without it, too. I'm  wondering if
creatures that depended  on magic for their very  existence  might not  have
made it through until the chimes were banished and magic was restored to the
world of life."
     "Magic was not restored."
     Richard pulled his horse up short. "What?"
     "Not in  the  way  you  are thinking about it." Nicci circled around to
face him.  "Richard, while  I  have  no direct knowledge with precisely what
happened, such an event could not be without consequence."
     "Tell me what you know."
     She frowned in curiosity. "Why do you look so concerned?"
     "Nicci, please, just tell me what you know?"
     She folded her wrists over the horn of her saddle.
     "Richard, magic is a complex matter, so there can be no certainty." She
held up a hand to forestall his cascade of questions. "This much, though, is
certain. The world doesn't stay the same. It changes continuously.
     "Magic is not merely part of  this world. Magic is  the conduit between
worlds. Do you understand?"
     He thought  he  might. "I  accidentally used  magic to call  forth  the
spirit  of  my father  from  the  underworld.  I  banished  him back to  the
underworld with the use of magic. The Mud People, for  example, use magic to
communicate with their spirit ancestors beyond the veil in the underworld. I
had to go to the Temple of the Winds, in another  world, when  Jagang sent a
Sister there to start a plague which she brought back from that world."
     "And what do all of those things have in common?"
     "They used magic to bridge the gap between worlds."
     "Yes. But there is more. Those worlds exist, but they are dependent  on
this one to define them, are they not?"
     "You mean, like life is created into this world, and after death, souls
are taken by the Keeper to the underworld?"
     "Yes. But more, do you see the connection?"
     Richard  was getting  lost. He hadn't grown up knowing  anything  about
magic. "We're caught between the two realms?"
     "No, not  exactly."  Her blue eyes flashed with  intensity. She  waited
until his gaze  steadied  on  hers, then she held up a  finger to  mark  the
importance of her words.
     "Magic is a  conduit between worlds. As magic  diminishes,  those other
worlds  are not just more distant to us, but the  power of  those worlds, in
this world, diminishes. Do you see?"
     Richard was  getting goose bumps. "You mean, the other worlds have less
influence, like . . . like a child who has  grown and his parents  have less
influence over him. "
     "Yes."  In the fading light  her eyes seemed more blue than  usual. "As
the  worlds  grow  more separate,  it is  something like a child growing and
leaving home. But there is more to it, yet."
     She leaned  forward  ever so slightly in her  saddle. "You  see,  those
other worlds can be said to exist only by their relationship to life-to this
world." At that moment, she seemed like  nothing  to him so much as what she
really was: a onehundred-and-eighty-year-old  sorceress.  "It might  even be
said,"  she whispered in  a  voice that sounded like  the  shadows speaking,
"that without magic to link those  other worlds to  this, those other worlds
cease to exist."

     Richard swallowed. "You mean, just as the child grows  and leaves home,
the  parents become  less important  to his  existence. When they eventually
grow old  and die, even though they were once  vital and  strongly linked to
him, when they now cease to exist, he lives on without them."
     "Exactly," she hissed.
     "The world changes," he said almost to himself. "The world doesn't stay
the same. That's what Jagang wants. He wants magic, and those other  worlds,
to cease to exist so that he will have this one all for himself."
     "No," she said in a soft voice. "He  wishes it not for himself, but for
mankind." Richard started to argue, but she cut him off. "I know Jagang. I'm
telling you  what he believes. He may enjoy the spoils, but in his heart, he
believes he is doing this for mankind, not himself."
     Richard  didn't really  believe her, but  he  didn't see  any  point in
quarreling with her. Either  way, because of the  changes taking place, such
creatures as  dragons  might  have already become extinct. Those white bones
could very well have been the remains of the last red dragon.
     "Because  of  events like  the  chimes,  the  world  may  already  have
irrevocably changed to a point where creatures of magic have died  out," she
said as she stared out over the  empty  twilight. "In an evolving world such
as  I describe, magic, even such as ours,  would soon  die out, too. Do  you
see,  now? Without that conduit to other  worlds, worlds that may no  longer
exist, magic would not come  into existence when offspring of the gifted are
     One  thing  was sure: when  the time came,  he was  going to make Nicci
     As they rode on, Richard gazed back over his shoulder at bones he could
no longer see.
     It  was well after  dark when  they  rode into  the  town. When Richard
inquired of a passerby, he was  told that  the town, Ripply, was named after
the rippling  foothills.  It  was a quiet place, off  in  a nearly forgotten
corner of the Midlands, its back to what used to be the wasteland from where
no one  ever returned. Many of  the  people grew  wheat and raised sheep  to
provide themselves with trade goods, while keeping small animals and gardens
for themselves.
     There was a road coming in from the southwest, from Renwold,  and other
roads  going off to the north. Ripply  was  a  crossroads for  trade between
Renwold,  the  people of  the wilds  who traded  at that  outpost  city, and
villages  to the  north  and  east.  Now,  of course, Renwold  was gone; the
Imperial Order had sacked the city.  Now,  with only  ghosts  inhabiting the
streets of Renwold, the people of  the wilds  who traded  their  goods there
would  suffer.  The people from  the towns and villages  who came  to Ripply
would suffer, too; Ripply was falling on hard times.
     Richard  and  Nicci  created  a  small  sensation.  Strangers traveling
through had become a sporadic event, what with Renwold gone. The two of them
were tired, and there was  an inn, but raucous drinking was going on  there,
and Richard didn't want to have to deal with that kind of trouble. There was
a well-kept stable at  the other end of  town from the inn, and the man  who
owned it offered to  let them stay  in the hayloft for a silver penny  each.
The night was cold, and it would be warmer in the  hayloft out of  the wind,
so Richard paid the man the penny  each  for  themselves, and three more for
the horses to be cared for and fed. The taciturn stable owner was so

     pleased with  the  extra penny for the horses  that he told  Richard he
would tend their shoes while he had them.
     When Richard thanked him and told him they were tired,  the man  smiled
for the  first time and said,  "I'll be seeing to your  horses, then. I hope
you and your wife sleep well. Good night, then."
     Richard  followed Nicci up the rough wooden  ladder at the back  of the
barn. They  had a cold dinner sitting  in the hay  as they listened  to  the
stable owner fetching grain  and water for  their horses. Richard  and Nicci
had  only  the  bare  bones  of  necessary  conversation before they  rolled
themselves up  in their cloaks and went to sleep. When they  woke  a  little
after dawn,  they discovered  a  small  gathering  of  skinny  children  and
hollow-cheeked  adults,  come to see the  "rich"  folks  traveling  through.
Apparently, their horses, better than any that  had boarded at the stable in
a long time, had been the source of gossip and speculation.
     When Richard greeted the people, he got back only vacant looks. When he
and  Nicci  walked to  the supply store,  not  far  away  past  a  few  drab
buildings, the people all followed, as if it  were a king and queen  come to
town,  and they all wanted to see what  such highborn  people did with their
day. Goats and chickens wandering Ripply's main street scattered  before the
procession. A milk cow  cropping  brown grass behind the leather shop paused
for a look. A rooster atop a stump flapped his wings in annoyance.
     When the bolder children asked who they were, Nicci told them that they
were only  travelers, husband and wife,  looking  for  work.  Such  news was
greeted with  skeptical tittering. In her fine black dress,  the people took
Nicci for a queen looking  for a kingdom. They thought only a little less of
     When  an  older boy  asked where they were going to  look for  work, as
there was little to be found in Ripply, Nicci told them that they were going
to the Old World. Some of  the adults snatched up children and hurried away.
Yet more remained close on Richard and Nicci's heels.
     An older man  who owned  the supply store gently shooed the people away
from his door when Richard went in. Once Richard had gone inside, he watched
the  people  grow  bolder and begin pawing at Nicci, begging for  money, for
medicine, for food. Nicci stayed outside with the  people, asking them about
their  troubles and their needs. She moved through the crowd, inspecting the
children. She had that blank look on her face that Richard didn't like.
     "What can I get you," the proprietor asked.
     "Ah, what about those people?" Richard asked instead.
     He glanced out the sparkling-clean little window to  see Nicci standing
in the  middle  of the  ragged  group, talking  about the Creator's love for
them. They all listened as if she were a good spirit come to comfort them.
     "Well, they're all sorts," the shop owner said. "Most  wandered in from
the   Old  World  after  the  barrier  came  down.  Some  are  just  no-good
locals-drunks  and such-who'd  just as  soon  beg  or  steal as  work.  When
strangers from the  Old World came in, some of the people here  joined their
ways. We get traders through here, and men like that, with goods to protect,
find they have less trouble if they're generous with that sort. Some of them
out there are folks who've had trouble-widows with children who can't find a
husband; things like that. A few of them will work for me, when I have work,
but most won't."
     Richard was about to give  the  man a  list of their  needs, when Nicci
glided in the door.

     "Richard, 1 need some money."
     Rather than argue with her, he passed her the saddlebag with the money.
She reached in and pulled out a handful of gold and silver. The shop owner's
eyes went wide when he saw how much  she  had  in  her fist. She paid him no
heed. Richard  stood  slack jawed as he watched  Nicci,  back out  with  the
crowd, giving  away  all the money.  Arms  waved and reached for her. People
cried out all the louder. A few ran off with what she had given them.
     Richard pulled open the saddlebag, peering in to see  how much they had
left. It wasn't much. He  could hardly believe what  Nicci had just done. It
made no sense.
     "How  about some  barley flour,  some  oatmeal, some  rice, some bacon,
lentils, dried biscuits, and salt?" he asked the waiting proprietor.
     "No oatmeal, but I've got the rest. How much do you want?"
     Richard  was  running calculations  through his head. They  had  a long
journey,  and Nicci had just given away most of their  money. They'd used up
the better portion of the supplies they had.
     He laid  six  silver pennies on  the counter. "Just what that  will buy
us." He pulled his  pack  off  his back and set it on the counter beside the
     The  man scooped up the coins  and  sighed at the  money he had  almost
made. He began pulling the  items down from a shelf  and placing them in the
pack. As he worked, Richard requested a few other small things he remembered
as the man was going about getting the order. He parted with another penny.
     Richard had only a  few silver pennies, two silver crowns, and no  gold
left.  Nicci had handed out more money  than  most of those people  had ever
seen in their entire lifetimes. Worried about what they were going to do for
supplies in the future, Richard slung his pack onto  his back when  the shop
proprietor had  finished,  and  rushed out  to see if he couldn't slow Nicci
     She  was lecturing on the Creator's love  of  every  man and asking the
people to  forgive  the  cruelty  of heartless  and uncaring people, as  she
handed  the last gold coin to  an unshaven man without teeth. He grinned his
thanks and then licked his parched lips. Richard knew how he would wet them.
There were yet more pleading hands thrusting toward her.
     Worried,  Richard seized  Nicci's arm and  pulled  her back. She turned
toward him.
     "We have to get back to the stables," she said.
     "That's what I'm thinking," Richard said, holding his  anger  in check.
"Let's hope the stableman is  done with  them by now  so  we  can get out of
     "No," she said  with a  look  of grim finality in her eye.  "We need to
sell the horses."
     "What?" Richard  blinked  in  angry astonishment. "May  I at  least ask
     "To share what we have with those who have nothing."
     Richard was beyond words. He just stared at her. How were they going to
travel?  He considered  the  question briefly,  and decided that  he  didn't
really care  how  soon they got to wherever it was she  was taking him.  But
they  would  have to  carry everything. He was  a  woods guide, and used  to
walking with a pack, so he guessed he could  walk. He let out his breath and
turned toward the stables.
     "We need to sell the horses," Richard told the stable owner.
     The man frowned,  looked  at the horses standing  in  their stalls, and
then back at Richard. He looked thunderstruck.
     "Those are mighty fine horses,  mister. We don't  have horses like this
around here."

     "You do now," Nicci said.
     He  glanced uneasily at  her. Most people were uneasy  gazing at Nicci,
either  because  of  her  startling  beauty, or because of  her cool,  often
denunciative, presence.
     "I can't pay what horses like this are worth."
     "We didn't ask you to," Nicci said  in a dull voice. "We only asked  to
sell them to you. We need to sell them. We'll take what you can give us."
     The  man's eyes  shifted from  Richard's to  Nicci's and  back. Richard
could  tell the man was  uneasy  about cheating  them in such a way,  but he
couldn't seem to figure out how to turn down such an offer.
     "All I can pay is four silver marks for the both of them."
     Richard knew they were worth ten times that much.
     "And the tack," Nicci said.
     The man scratched his cheek. "I  guess I could throw in another silver,
but that's all I got to my name. I'm sorry, I  know they're  worth more, but
if you're bound  and determined for me  to  buy  them off you, that's all  I
     "Is there  anyone else in  town who might  buy them for more?"  Richard
     "I don't believe so,  but  to  tell  you the truth, son, it wouldn't be
hurting  my feelings if  you were to go  ask around. I  don't like swindling
folks, and  I know you  couldn't call five  silver marks for the horses  and
tack anything else but a swindle."
     The  man  kept  glancing  at   Nicci,  seeming  to  suspect  that  this
transaction was beyond Richard's  ability  to  control. Her steady blue eyes
could make any man fidget.
     "We  accept  your  offer,"  Nicci   said  without  any  hesitation   or
uncertainty. "I'm sure it's quite fair."
     The man sighed unhappily at his windfall. "I don't have that much money
on me.  I'll go in the house"-he lifted a thumb over his  shoulder-"out back
of the barn and get it, if you'd be so good as to wait a minute."
     Nicci nodded and he hurried on his way, not so much eager to consummate
the  deal, Richard thought, as he  was eager  to be out from  under  Nicci's
     Richard  turned to  her,  feeling his  face  heating. "What's this  all
about?" He saw through the partly open stable doors that the crowd of people
who had followed them were still out there.
     She ignored his  question. "Get your things-whatever you  can carry. As
soon as he comes back, it's time we were on our way."
     Richard pulled his glare from her. He stalked over to his gear, sitting
outside Boy's stall, and began  stuffing everything he  could into his pack.
He strapped the waterskins around  his waist and flipped the saddlebags over
his shoulders.  He was  sure the stable  owner  wouldn't complain  about not
having the  saddlebags with the rest  of the tack. Richard thought that when
they reached a  more prosperous town, he could at least sell the saddlebags.
While he worked, Nicci put her belongings into a pack she could carry.
     When the man came back  with the money, he offered it to Richard. Nicci
held out her hand.
     "I'll take it," she said.
     He glanced to Richard's eyes once and  then  handed Nicci the money. "I
threw in the  silver pennies you paid me  last  night.  That's all l have, I
     "Thank  you," Nicci said. "That was very  generous of you to share what
you have. That is the Creator's way."

     Without  another word, Nicci  turned  and strode through the dimly  lit
stable and out the door.
     "It's my way," the man muttered under  his breath to her back. "Creator
had no say in it."
     Outside in the sunlight, Nicci began doling out  the money she had just
gotten for the  horses.  The people vied for her favor as  she walked  among
them, speaking to them,  asking questions, until she  was out of sight, past
the edge of the barn door.
     Richard gave Boy a quick rub  on the blaze of his forehead, hoisted his
saddlebags onto his shoulder, and turned to the  dumbfounded  expression  on
the stable owner's face. He and Richard shared a helpless look.
     "I hope she's a good wife to you," the man finally said.
     Richard wanted to  say that Nicci was a Sister of the Dark, and that he
was her prisoner,  but in the end he decided that it could serve no purpose.
Nicci had made it clear to him that he was Richard Cypher, her  husband, and
she was Nicci Cypher, his wife. She had told him to stick to  that story-for
Kahlan's sake.
     "She's just generous," Richard said. "That's  why I married her.  She's
good to people."
     Richard  heard a  woman's cry, and shouting.  He bolted for  the partly
open  door and  ran  out into the  bright morning sunlight.  He  didn't  see
anyone.  He  raced  around  to  the  side of the barn,  to  where  he  heard
     A half dozen men had Nicci  down on  the ground, some  swinging at  her
with their  fists  as she tried to fend them off with her bare hands. Others
pawed at  her,  searching for a money  pouch. They were  fighting  over  the
unearned before it  was even out of her hands.  A crowd of women,  children,
and other  men stood around the  scene in a circle, vultures waiting to pick
the bones.
     Richard crashed through the  ring of people, seized the closest  man by
the back of his collar, and heaved him back. He was skinny, and flew through
the air,  crashing  into  the wall of  the barn.  The  whole building shook.
Richard kicked another in the ribs, tumbling him off Nicci  and  through the
dirt. A third man spun and took  a mighty swing at  Richard.  Richard caught
the fist  and bent it  down until he felt a  snap as the  man  cried out. At
that, the men all scattered in every direction.
     Richard  started  after one  of them,  but  Nicci suddenly flew at him,
restraining him.
     "Richard! No!"
     In his rage to get at the men,  Richard  nearly smashed her  face, but,
when he realized it was her, lowered his fists to his sides as he glared  at
the crowd.
     "Please,, my  lord,  please, my lady;" one of  the  women wailed, "have
mercy  on us woeful folk. We's just  the Creator's miserable wretches.  Have
mercy on us."
     "You're a bunch of thieves!" Richard yelled. "Thieving from someone who
was trying to help you!"
     He made an  effort  to go  after the lot  of them, but  Nicci held  his
wrists down. "Richard, no!"
     The people vanished like mice before a hissing cat.
     Nicci let Richard's fists drop. He saw  then that she  had blood on her
     "What's  the  matter with you? Giving money to people who would  rather
rob you than wait for you to hand it  to them willingly? Why  would you give
money to such vermin?"
     "That's  enough.  I'll  not  stand here and  listen  to you  insult the
Creator's chil-

     dren. Who  are you  to judge?  Who are you, with a full  belly, to  say
what's right? You have no idea what those poor people have been through, and
yet you are quick to judge."
     Richard took a purging breath. He reminded himself yet again of what he
had to  keep  uppermost in  his mind.  It  was not  really Nicci he had been
     He pulled a shirtsleeve  from the corner of his pack, wet it with water
from a waterskin hanging  around his waist,  and carefully wiped her  bloody
mouth and chin. She winced as he worked but without protest let him  inspect
her injury.
     "It's not bad," he told  her. "Just  a cut in the corner of your mouth.
Hold still, now."
     She stood quietly as he  held her head in one hand while he cleaned the
blood off the rest of her face with the other.
     "Thank  you, Richard." She hesitated. "I was sure one of them was going
to cut my throat."
     "Why didn't you use your Han to protect yourself?"
     "Have you forgotten? To  do that, I  would have  to take power from the
link keeping Kahlan alive."
     He looked into her blue eyes. "I guess I  forgot. In  that case,  thank
you for restraining yourself."
     Nicci said nothing as  they walked out of  the town of Ripply, carrying
everything they owned on their backs. As cold as the day was, it wasn't long
before his brow was dotted with sweat.
     Finally  he could stand it no longer. "Do you mind telling me what that
was all about?"
     Her brow twitched. "Those people were needy."
     Richard pinched the bridge of his nose, pausing in an  effort to remain
civil to her. "And so you gave them all our money?"
     "Are  you so selfish that you would not share what you have? Are you so
selfish  that you  would ask the hungry to starve, the unclothed  to freeze,
the sick to die? Does money mean more to you than people's lives?"
     Richard  bit  the  inside  of his cheek to check  his temper.  "And the
horses? You virtually gave them away."
     "It  was  all  we could get.  Those  people  were  in  need.  Under the
circumstances, it was the best we could do.  We acted with the most noble of
intentions. It  was our  duty to not be selfish  and to joyfully give  these
people what they needed."
     There was no road going their way as  they walked on into  what had not
long ago
     been the wasteland from which no one returned. -
     "We needed what we had," he said.
     Nicci glanced up  into his eyes.  "There are things you  need to learn,
     "Is that right."
     "You  have  been  lucky  in life. You  have had  opportunities ordinary
people never have. I want you to see how ordinary people must live, how they
must struggle just to  survive. When you live like them, you will understand
why the Order is so necessary, why the Order is the only hope for mankind.
     "When  we get to where we're going, we will  have  nothing.  We will be
just like all the other  miserable people of this wretched world-with little
chance to  make it on our own.  You don't have  any idea what that's like. I
want you to learn how the compassion of the Order helps ordinary people live
with the dignity they are entitled to."

     Richard returned his gaze to the empty land stretching out before them.
A Sister of the  Dark  who  couldn't  use her power, and  a  wizard who  was
forbidden  from using his. He guessed  they couldn't  get any more  ordinary
than that. "I thought it was you who  wanted  to learn," he said. "I am also
your teacher. Teachers sometimes learn more than their students."

     Zedd lifted  his head when he heard the distant horns. He struggled  to
regain his senses. He was well past dread, into a world of little more  than
numb  awareness.  The  horns were  those meant  to signal  the  approach  of
friendly forces. Probably some of the scouting patrols, or  perhaps yet more
wounded being brought in.
     Zedd realized  he was slumped on the ground,  his  legs sprawled out to
the side. He saw that  he had been sleeping with his head on the burly chest
of a cold corpse. In despair, he recalled that he had been trying everything
he knew to heal the horribly wounded man. In  mournful revulsion, he  pushed
away from the cold body and sat up.
     He  rubbed his eyes against the darkness  from within,  as well as  the
night. He was beyond aching.  Acrid smoke hung  thick as fog. The air reeked
with the heavy, throat-clenching stink of blood. From various  places around
him,  he could see the drifting haze illuminated around glowing orange fists
of  firelight. The moans of the wounded lifted from the  blood-soaked ground
to  drift through  the frigid night air.  In the distance, men cried out  in
pain. When Zedd  wiped a hand across his brow, he realized he wore gloves of
crusted blood from those he had been trying to heal. It was an endless task.
     Not  far  away,  the ground  was  littered with  shattered tree trunks,
blasted asunder by the enemy gifted. Men lay sprawled, torn apart or impaled
by huge  splintered sections of  those  trees. It had  been two  of Jagang's
Sisters  who had  done  it, just before dark, as the D'Haran forces were all
collecting into the  valley, thinking the battle had ended. Zedd  and Warren
had ended it by taking those two Sisters down with wizard's fire.
     By the dull ache in  his head, Zedd knew he hadn't been asleep for more
than a  couple of hours, at  most.  It  had to  be the  middle of the night.
People passing by had  let him  sleep-or maybe  they thought  him one of the
     The first  day had  gone as well as could be  expected.  The battle had
dragged  on sporadically throughout  the first night with  relatively  minor
skirmishes, and then had erupted with full force at dawn  of the second day.
As night had  fallen on  the second day,  the  fighting  had finally  ended.
Looking around,  Zedd thought it seemed to  be over-at  least  for the  time
     They had made the valley and succeeded in drawing the Order after them,
away from other gateways up into the Midlands, but at a terrible price. They
had little choice, if they were  to  engage  the  enemy with  any  chance of
success, rather than allow them unhindered access into the Midlands. For the
moment, anyway, the Order  was stalled. Zedd didn't know how long that would
     Unfortunately, the Order had gotten the better of the battle, by far.
     Zedd  peered about.  It was not so much a camp as simply a  place where

     had  dropped in exhaustion. Here and there, arrows  and spears stuck up
from the ground. They had fallen like rain as Zedd had worked throughout the
night, the night before, trying to heal wounded soldiers. During the day, in
the battles,  he had unleashed everything he  had. What had started  out  as
skillful, calculated, focused use  of his ability had in the end degenerated
into the magic equivalent of a brawl.
     Zedd  staggered  to  his feet, worried about  the  distant  thunder  of
horses.  Horns  closer  into camp repeated  the  warning to hold  arrows and
spears, that it was friendly forces. It sounded like too many horses for any
patrol  they  had out. In the back of his mind,  Zedd tried to  recall if he
felt the twinge of magic that would tell him  the horns were genuine. In the
fog of fatigue, he had forgotten to pay attention. That was how people ended
up dead, he knew-inattention to such details.
     Men  were  rushing  all about, carrying supplies, water, and  linen for
bandages, or messages and reports: Here and there Zedd saw a Sister  working
at healing. Other men struggled with repairs to wagons and gear in case they
had to depart in a hurry. Some men sat staring at nothing. A few wandered as
if in a daze.
     It was difficult  to  see  in the poor light, but Zedd was  able to see
well enough to tell that the ground was littered with the dead, the wounded,
or  the simply spent. Fires,  both the common  orange  and  yellow flames of
burning  wagons  and  the unnatural green  blazes  that were the remnants of
magic,  were left  to burn  out  on  their own.  Horses  as well as men  lay
everywhere,  still   and  lifeless,   torn  open  by  ghastly   wounds.  The
battlefields changed, but battle didn't. Now  was a time of  helpless shock.
He  remembered from  his youth the stench of  blood and  death mingled  with
greasy smoke. It was still the same.  He remembered in battles past thinking
the world had gone mad. It still felt the same.
     The  rumble  of  horses was  getting  closer.  He  could  hear  quite a
commotion, but he  couldn't tell  what sort of  ruckus it was.  Off  to  his
right, he spotted a stooped woman shuffling toward him. He recognized Adie's
familiar  limp. A  woman more distant, catching up to Adie from  behind, was
probably  Verna.  A  little farther  off,  Zedd  saw  Captain Meiffert being
lectured to by General Leiden. Both men turned to look toward the clatter of
     Zedd squinted into the murk and saw in the distance soldiers scattering
before a  mass  of approaching  riders.  Men  waved  their  arms,  as if  in
greeting.  A  few offered  weak cheers.  Many pointed  in Zedd's  direction,
funneling the horsemen his way. As First Wizard, he had become a focal point
for everyone. The D'Harans, in Richard's absence, relied on Zedd to be their
magic against magic. The Sisters relied on his experience  in  the nasty art
of magic in warfare.
     In  the  wavering glow  of  fires still burning  out  of control,  Zedd
watched  the  column of horsemen coming relentlessly onward, points of light
glinting off  row upon row of armor and  weapons, shimmering off  chain mail
and  polished boots, as they  each  in  turn passed the  burning wagons  and
barricades. The thundering column  slowed  for nothing, expecting men to get
out of its  way.  At their  fore, long  pennons flew atop perfectly  upright
lances.  Standards  and flags flapped in  the  cold  night  air. The  ground
thundered  with thousands of horses charging  over  the blood-soaked ground.
They rolled onward, like a ghost company riding out of the grave.
     Orange and  green smoke, lit from  behind by the eerie light  of fires,
curled away to  each  side as the column of riders charged though the middle
of the camp at an easy gallop.

     Zedd saw, then, who was leading them.
     "Dear spirits . . ." he whispered aloud.
     Sitting tall atop a huge horse at the head of the column was a woman in
leather armor with fur billowing out behind her like an angry pennant.
     It was Kahlan.
     Even  at that  distance, Zedd could  see, sticking up  behind her  left
shoulder, the gleam of light off the silver  and gold  hilt of the Sword  of
     His flesh went cold with tingling dread.
     He felt a hand on his arm and turned to  see Adie, her completely white
eyes transfixed  by the sight she beheld  through  her gift alone. Verna was
still  weaving  her way  through  the wounded.  Captain Meiffert and General
Leiden rushed to follow in Verna's footsteps.
     The column stretched out behind Kahlan as  far as Zedd could see.  They
charged onward, collecting cheering men as they came. Zedd waved his arms as
they all bore down on him, so that Kahlan would notice him, but it seemed as
if she had had her eyes on him the whole time.
     The horses skidded to a halt before him, snorting and stamping, tossing
their armored heads. Plumes of steam rose from their nostrils when they blew
great  hot breaths  in the icy air. Powerful muscles flexed  beneath  glossy
hides as  they pawed the ground. The eager beasts  stood at the ready, their
tails lashing side to side, slapping their flanks like whips.
     Kahlan swept the scene with  a careful  gaze. Men were rushing up  from
all directions. Those gathering  around stared  in wonder. The horsemen were
     Kahlan had provisionally taken the place  of  her half sister, Cyrilla,
as queen  of  Galea, until Cyrilla  was well  again-if  that ever  happened.
Kahlan's  half  brother, Harold, was the commander of the  Galean  army, and
didn't  want the crown, feeling  himself  more fit to serve his land in  the
soldier's  life.  Kahlan had Galean  blood in  her  veins,  although,  to  a
Confessor, matters of blood  were irrelevant. They were not so irrelevant to
     Kahlan swung her right leg forward over the horse's neck and dropped to
the ground. Her  boots resounded  like a hammer strike announcing the Mother
Confessor's  arrival. Cara, in  her red leather, and similarly  cloaked in a
fur mantle, likewise jumped down off her horse.
     Battle-weary men all around stood in rapt silence. This was  not merely
the Mother Confessor. This was Lord Rahl's wife.
     For just an instant, as Zedd stared into her green eyes, he thought she
might run into his arms and break down in helpless tears. He was wrong.
     Kahlan pulled off her gloves. "Report."
     She wore stealth-black light leather armor, a royal Galean sword at her
left hip, and  a long  knife at  her right. Her  thick fall of hair cascaded
boldly  over  the  wolf's  fur mantle topping  a  black  wool cloak.  In the
Midlands, the length of a  woman's hair denoted rank and social standing. No
Midlands  woman wore hair as long as Kahlan's. But it  was the  hilt  of the
sword sticking up behind her shoulder that held Zedd's gaze.
     "Kahlan," he whispered as she stepped closer, "where's Richard?"
     Whatever pain  he had seen for that instant was gone. She swept a brief
glare  Verna's way, as the  young Prelate still hurried  toward them between
the wounded, then met Zedd's gaze with eyes like green fire.
     "The enemy has him. Report."

     "The enemy? What enemy?"
     Again her glare slid to Verna. Its power  straightened Verna's back and
slowed her approach.
     Kahlan returned her attention to Zedd. Her eyes softened with a vestige
of sympathy for the anguish she must have seen on his face. "A Sister of the
Dark  took  him, Zedd." The respite of warmth in her voice and eyes faded as
her  countenance  returned to the cold, empty mask  of a Confessor. "I would
like a report, please."
     "Took him?  But  is  he-is  he all right?  You mean she took  him  as a
prisoner? Do they want ransom? He's still all right?"
     She touched the side of her mouth and Zedd  saw then  that  she.  had a
swollen cut. "He's all right as far as I know."
     "Well,  what's going on?" Zedd  threw up his  skinny arms. "What's this
about? What does she intend?"
     Verna finally  made  it  up to  Zedd's left side. Captain Meiffert  and
General Leiden ran up to the other side of Adie, on his right.
     "What Sister?"  Verna asked, still getting her breath back. "You said a
Sister took him. What Sister?"
     "Nicci. . ." Captain Meiffert gasped. "Death's Mistress?"
     Kahlan met his gaze. "That's the one.  Now, is someone going to give me
a report?"
     There was no mistaking the command, or  the rage, in her voice. Captain
Meiffert lifted an arm to the south.
     "Mother Confessor,  the Imperial  Order  forces,  all of  them, finally
moved up from Anderith." He rubbed his brow as he tried to think. "Yesterday
morning, I guess it was."
     "We wanted to pull them up here, into the valley country," Zedd put in.
"Our idea was to get  them out of  the grassland, where  we couldn't contain
them, up into country where we had a better chance to do so."
     "We knew," Captain Meiffert went on, "that  it would be a fatal mistake
to let them get by us and stream into the Midlands unopposed. We had to draw
them into action to prevent  them  from unleashing their  might against  the
populace. We had to engage them and  bog them down. The only  way to do that
was  to  taunt  them  into following us out of the open, where they  had the
advantage, into terrain that helped even the odds."
     Kahlan  nodded as she scanned the dismal  scene. "How  many  men did we
     "I'd guess maybe fifteen thousand," Captain Meiffert  said. "But that's
just a guess. It may be more."
     "They flanked you, didn't they." It didn't sound like a question.
     "That's right, Mother Confessor."
     "What went wrong?"
     The Galean troops behind her formed a grim wall of leather, chain mail,
and steel. Officers with incisive eyes watched and listened.
     "What didn't?" Zedd growled.
     "Somehow," the captain explained, "they knew what we planned. Although,
I guess it wouldn't be all that hard to figure out, since anyone would  know
it was our only chance against their numbers. They were confident they could
defeat us, regardless, so they obliged our plan."
     "Like I asked, what went wrong?"

     "What  went wrong!"  General  Leiden  interrupted  heatedly.  "We  were
outnumbered beyond all hope! That's what went wrong!"
     Kahlan settled her cool gaze on the man. He seemed to catch himself and
fell to one knee.
     "My queen," he added in formal address before falling silent.
     Kahlan's gaze  lost  some  of  its edge as  it  moved  back  to Captain
     Zedd noticed the  captain's fists tightening as  he went  on  with  his
report. "Somehow, Mother Confessor,  near as we can tell they managed to get
a division across the river.  We're  pretty  sure they  didn't use  the open
ground to  the east-we  had preparations should they try that, as we  feared
they might."
     "So," Kahlan  said, "they  reasoned you  would  think it impossible, so
they sent a division across the river-probably a great deal more, willing to
bear  their  losses  in  the  crossing-went  north  through  the  mountains,
unsuspected, unseen, and undetected, and  crossed back to this side  of  the
river. When you got here, they were waiting for  you, holding the ground you
had planned to hold. With the Order hot on your heels,  you had nowhere else
to go.  The Order  intended to crush you between  that division holding this
defendable ground and their army on your tail."
     "That's the gist of it," Captain Meiffert confirmed.
     "What happened to the division waiting here?" she asked.
     "We wiped  them out," the  captain said  with a cool  rage of his  own.
"Once we realized what had happened, we knew it was our only chance."
     Kahlan  gave him  a nod.  She knew full well what a mighty  effort  his
simple words conveyed.
     "They cut  us to pieces from  behind  as we did  so!" General  Leiden's
temper was getting frayed around the edges. "We had no chance."
     "Apparently you did," she answered. "You gained the valley."
     "What of it? We can't fight a force their size. It was  insane to throw
men  into  that  meat  grinder.  What for? We gained this valley,  but  at a
terrible price. We won't be able  to hold a force that  huge! They had their
way with us from the first until  the last.  We didn't stop them, they  just
got tired of hacking us to pieces for the night!"
     Some men looked away. Some  stared at the  ground. Only the crackle  of
fires and the moans of the wounded filled the frigid night air.
     Kahlan glanced around again. "What are you doing sitting here, now?"
     Zedd's  brow went up, along with  his own anger. "We've  been at it for
two days, Kahlan."
     "Fine. But I don't allow  the enemy to go to bed with  victory. Is that
     Captain Meiffert clapped a fist to his heart in salute.  "Clear; Mother
     He  glanced over  his  shoulders. Fists of  attentive men  near and far
likewise went to their hearts.
     "Mother Confessor," General Leiden said, dropping her  title of  queen,
"the men have been up for two days, now."
     "I  understand,"  Kahlan  said. "We  have been riding without pause for
three days, now. Neither changes what must be done."
     In the harsh reflection of firelight, the  creases in  General Leiden's
face looked like angry gashes. He pressed his lips together and bowed to his
queen, but when he came up, he spoke again.
     "My  queen,  Mother  Confessor, you can't seriously be expecting  us to
carry out a night attack. There's no moon and clouds  mostly hide the stars.
In the dark such an attack would be a disaster. It's lunacy!"

     Kahlan  finally withdrew  her cold  glare from the  Keltish general and
passed a gaze among those assembled around her. "Where is General Reibisch?"
     Zedd swallowed. "I'm afraid that's him."
     She looked where Zedd pointed, at the corpse he had  fallen asleep atop
while trying to heal.  The rust-colored beard  was  matted with dried blood.
The  grayishgreen eyes stared without seeing, no longer showing pain. It had
been a fool's  task,  Zedd knew,  but he couldn't help  trying  to heal what
could  not  be healed, giving  it  everything he  had  left. It  hadn't been
     "Who is next in command," Kahlan asked.
     "That would be me, my queen," General Leiden said as  he took a  stride
forward. "But as the ranking officer, I can't allow my men to-"
     Kahlan lifted a hand. "That will be all, Lieutenant Leiden."
     He cleared his throat. "General Leiden, my queen."
     She  fixed him with  an  implacable  stare.  "To question  me once is a
simple mistake, Lieutenant. Twice is treason. We execute traitors."
     Cara's Agiel spun up into her fist. "Step aside, Lieutenant."
     Even  in the  haunting orange and green light of fires, Zedd could  see
the  man's  face  pale. He  took a step back  and wisely, if belatedly, fell
     "Who is next in command?" the Mother Confessor asked again.
     "Kahlan," Zedd  said, "I'm afraid the Order used their gifted to single
out men of rank. Despite our best efforts, I believe we lost  all our senior
officers. It cost them dearly, at least."
     "Then who is next in command?"
     Captain Meiffert looked around and finally lifted his hand.
     "I'm not positive, Mother Confessor, but I believe that would be me."
     "Very well, General Meiffert."
     He  inclined  his  head.  "Mother  Confessor,"  he  said  in  a  quiet,
confidential voice, "that isn't necessary."
     "No one said it was, General."
     The new general softly struck a  fist to his heart. Zedd saw Cara smile
in grim approval.  Of  the thousands  of faces  watching, that  was the only
smile.  It  wasn't  that the  men  disapproved, but rather  that  they  were
relieved to  have someone so  firmly  in  command.  D'Harans  respected iron
authority. If they couldn't have Lord Rahl, they would take his wife, and an
iron one at that. They might  not have smiled, but  Zedd  knew they would be
     "As I said, I don't  allow the enemy to go to bed with victory." Kahlan
scanned  the faces watching  her. "I want a cavalry raid ready  to go within
the hour."
     "And who do you intend to send on such an attack, my queen?"
     Everyone knew what the former General Leiden meant  by the question. He
was asking who she was sending to their death.
     "There will  be  two  wings. One  to make their  way  unseen around the
Order's camp so as to come in from their south, where they will least expect
it, and another wing to hold back until the first is in place, and then come
in  from this side, from the north. I intend to have us spill some  of their
blood before bed."
     She looked back  to  the new Lieutenant  Leiden's eyes and answered his
question. "I will be leading the southern wing."
     Everyone, except  the new  general, began  voicing  objections.  Leiden
spoke up louder.
     "My queen, why would you want us to get our men together  for a calvary

     He  pointed  to  the  wall  of  men,  all  on  horses  behind her:  all
Galeans-traditional adversaries of the Keltans, Leiden's  homeland. "When we
have these?"
     "These men will be helping get this army back together, relieving those
on duty to get needed  rest,  helping  dig defensive ditches, and filling in
wherever they are needed. The men who were bloodied are the ones who need to
go to  bed  with the sweet  taste of vengeance.  I  would not dare  to  deny
D'Harans that to which they are so entitled."
     A cheer went up.
     Zedd thought  that  if war was  madness, madness  had  just  found  its
     General  Meiffert took  a step closer to  her. "I'll  have  my best men
ready within the hour, Mother Confessor. Everyone will want to go; I'll have
to disappoint a lot of volunteers."
     Kahlan's face softened when she nodded. "Pick your man for the northern
wing, then, General."
     "I will be leading the northern wing, Mother Confessor."
     Kahlan smiled. "Very well."
     She ordered the Galean  troops off to their duties. With a sweep of her
finger, she dismissed everyone but the immediate group and called that inner
circle closer.
     "What  about  Richard's admonition not to  directly  attack the Order?"
Verna asked.
     "I remember well  what Richard said.  I'm  not going to directly attack
their main force."
     Zedd  supposed  she  did  remember  it well.  She  had been there  with
Richard-they hadn't. Zedd brought up a touchy issue.
     "The main force will  be in the center, well protected. At their edges,
where you attack, will be defenses, of course, but mostly the camp followers
will  be  at  the tail  end  of the Order's  camp-the fringe  to  the south,
     "I don't really care,"  she  said with cold fury. "If they're  with the
Order, then  they are the enemy. There will be no mercy." She was looking at
her  new general as she spoke  her orders. "I don't care  if  we  kill their
whores or their generals. I want every baker and cook dead as much as I want
every officer and archer dead. Every camp follower we kill will deprive them
of the comforts they  enjoy. I  want to strip them of everything,  including
their lives. Is that understood?"
     General Meiffert gave  his nod. "No mercy. You'll  get no argument from
us, Mother Confessor; that is the D'Haran code of warfare."
     Zedd  knew that,  in war,  Kahlan's  way  was  usually the  only way to
prevail. The enemy would grant  no mercy, and would need none themselves had
they  not invaded.  Every  whore and  hawker chose  to  be  a part  of  that
invasion, to make  what they could off the blood and  plunder spilled at the
Order's feet.
     Verna  spoke  up.  "Mother  Confessor,  Ann  was going  to see  you and
Richard. We last heard from her over a month ago. Have you seen her?"
     Verna licked her  lips in caution  at the steely look in Kahlan's eyes.
"Was she all right?"
     "The last I saw her, she was."
     "Would you know why she hasn't sent any word to us?"
     "I threw her journey book in the fire."
     Verna stepped forward, making  to snatch Kahlan by the shoulder. Cara's
Agiel came up like lightning, barring her way.

     "No  one touches the Mother  Confessor."  Cara's cold blue eyes were as
deadly as her words. "Is that clear? No one."
     "You  have one Mord-Sith and one Mother  Confessor, here,  both in very
bad moods," Kahlan said in a  level voice. "I would suggest you not  give us
an  excuse to  lose our  temper, or  we may  never  find  it again  in  your
     Zedd's fingers found Verna's arm and gently urged her back.
     "We're  all tired," he said. "We have enough  troubles with the Order."
He  shot Kahlan a scowl. "No  matter how tired or distraught we are, though,
let's remember we're all on the same side here."
     Kahlan's  eyes  told  him she challenged that  statement,  but she said
     Verna changed the subject. "I will  get together some  of the gifted to
escort you on the raid."
     "Thank you, but we will be taking no gifted."
     "But  you will at  least need  them to help you  find your way  in  the
     "We will have the enemy campfires to show us our way."
     "Kahlan," Zedd said, hoping to  interject some reason, "the  Order will
have gifted-including Sisters of the Dark.  You  will  need protection  from
     "No.  I don't want any gifted with us. They are expecting any attack to
be accompanied by our gifted. Their gifted  will be watching for shields  of
magic.  Any  riders they do  see without  detecting magic they will be  more
likely  to  discount.  We'll  be able to get  in deeper  and draw more blood
without gifted along."
     Verna  sighed  at  such foolishness, but didn't argue. General Meiffert
liked her  plan.  Zedd knew she was  right  about getting in deeper, but  he
knew, too, that getting back out would be more difficult, once the enemy was
on to them.
     "Zedd, I would like one bit of magic."
     He scratched his brow in resignation. "What would you like me to do?"
     Kahlan gestured at the ground. "Make that dust  glow. I want it to show
up in the dark, and I want it sticky."
     "For how long?"
     She shrugged. "The rest of the night would be enough."
     After Zedd had  spun a web over the dusty patch  of ground, giving it a
green glow, Kahlan bent and rubbed her hand in it. She walked around back of
her  horse  and  slapped the  hand on  each flank, leaving  a  glowing green
handprint on each hindquarter.
     "What are you doing?" Zedd asked.
     "It's dark. I want  them to be able to see me. They can't come after me
if they can't find me in the dark."
     Zedd sighed at the madness.
     General Meiffert squatted and rubbed his hand in the glowing dust. "I'd
also hate for them to miss me in the dark."
     "Be sure to wash your hand clean before we go," she said.
     After she had explained her plan to the new general,  Kahlan, Cara, and
General Meiffert started off to their tasks.
     Before  they  could get far,  Zedd halted  Kahlan with a  softly spoken
     "Kahlan, do you have any idea how we can get Richard back?"
     She gazed boldly into his eyes. "Yes. I have a plan."
     "Would you mind sharing it with me?"
     "It's simple.  I plan on  killing every  Imperial Order man, woman, and
child until I get to the very  last one  left alive, and then if she doesn't
give him back, I'm going to kill her, too."

     Kahlan focused past the black void  to the glowing  points of the fires
as she leaned forward over the withers of  her galloping  horse,  urging him
onward, faster and faster. The muscles in her thighs strained as she pressed
her weight against the stirrups  and  squeezed her legs against the feverish
warmth  of  the massive body rhythmically,  incessantly, frantically flexing
and stretching,  feeling  its every pounding  strike against the ground. Her
ears were filled with the  hammering of her own heart and the thunder of yet
more hooves  behind her.  She was distantly aware of the weight of the Sword
of Truth sheathed in its scabbard, an ever-present reminder of Richard.
     She gripped the reins in one fist. With her other, she lifted her royal
Galean sword high. The lights were coming. Unexpectedly, the  first came out
of nowhere and exploded into her vision.
     Racing past what  looked to be the light  of a  single candle, she  was
there, at last.  Crying out with the sudden power of  emotions that could no
longer be stifled, she slammed  her sword  down against  the dark shape of a
man. The impact of the blade against  bone jarred her wrist. The  hilt stung
against her palm.
     On their  way by, the men behind  her unleashed  their fury against the
remaining  sentries at the  outpost. Kahlan held tight, knowing  the greater
unleashing of her need was yet to come. She would not be denied, now.
     The fires of the outer fringes of the camp flew toward her. Her muscles
were rigid with expectation. She felt  at the brink of control. And then she
was upon  them. At last, she was there. She met them with all her  strength.
Her blade came down again  and again, lashing against their bodies, slashing
anyone within her reach. The outer  fires shot past the  sides of her  horse
with dizzying speed. She gasped for breath.
     Laying the reins over, Kahlan pulled her big warhorse around in a tight
circle. He was not  as agile  as she would have  preferred, but  he was well
trained  and for this  job he would  do.  He bellowed with the excitement of
battle begun.
     Tents and wagons were scattered everywhere, with little apparent order.
Kahlan could hear the  merry laughter of those not yet aware of the enemy in
their  midst. She had brought a  small  attack force, keeping them tight and
close on the way in so it wouldn't  raise the kind  of alarm a broad  attack
would. It had worked. She saw men around fires tipping up bottles, or eating
meat  off skewers. She  saw men  sleeping, with their feet  sticking out  of
tents. She  saw a  man walking  with his arm around the waist of a woman. In
the dim light she saw men in tents between the legs of other women.
     The couple, arm in arm-undoubtedly at a price-was close. The man was on
the far side  of the woman as Kahlan raced up behind them, so with  a mighty

     she took off  the woman's head, instead. The stupefied man clutched the
headless  body as it began to fall. The cavalry man right behind Kahlan took
the startled man down.
     Kahlan dug in her heels  and  charged her big warhorse over a haphazard
row of tents with  men  and  women inside.  She  could feel  the huge hooves
crushing bone. Screams rose around her and her mount.
     A soldier with a pike stood with his legs spread in a  stance of sudden
alarm. On her way  past, Kahlan snatched the pike from his grip, stabbed  it
into a  small tent, twisting it, getting the canvas tangled up on its barbs,
and then  backed her  horse, hauling  the tent off a man and  woman. Her men
following behind stabbed the exposed couple as Kahlan pulled the remnants of
the tent through a fire. As soon as it lit,  she  dragged the flaming canvas
to  a wagon, setting  that wagon's tarp  afire, and then  threw  the blazing
remains in another wagon full of supplies.
     With  a backhanded swing  of  her sword,  Kahlan smashed  the face of a
burly man who ran up to pull her  off her horse.  She had to  yank the blade
free of his skull. Before more men could snatch at her, she dug in her heels
again and charged off toward another fire, where  men  were  just jumping to
their  feet. The  horse knocked down several, and  her sword cut another. By
now, the shrieks of women sent up  an  effective alarm, and men were rushing
out of tents and wagons with weapons in their fists. The whole scene was one
of erupting pandemonium.
     Kahlan  wheeled her  mount, stabbing anyone within reach. Many were not
soldiers.  Her sword felled leatherworkers  and wagon  masters,  whores  and
soldiers. High-stepping at her command, her horse  trampled  down a line  of
big tents where wounded were being cared for. Beside a lamp,  Kahlan spotted
a surgeon with needle and thread working on a man's leg. She drove her horse
around to trample the surgeon and the man he was sewing up. The surgeon held
his arms up before his face, but his arms were no good at warding the weight
of a huge warhorse.
     Kahlan signaled her men in.  Army surgeons were valuable. The  D'Harans
killed every one they saw. She knew that killing each was as good as killing
untold numbers of  enemy soldiers. Kahlan  and her men wreaked havoc through
the  whores' tents,  toppled  cook wagons, cut down  soldiers  and civilians
alike. When her men  saw lamps, they  leaped off their  horses  and snatched
them up to  use to start fires. Kahlan hacked at an enraged cook who came at
her with a butcher knife. It took three rapid cuts to dispatch him.
     To  her left, Cara's horse cut off a man  about to  throw a spear. Cara
coolly went about killing him and anyone else within her  reach.  A twist of
her Agiel usually seized up their hearts, and if not,  Kahlan could at least
hear  bones snap. Their cries of death  and pain seemed frightful  enough to
send  a shiver  up  the  spines  of the dead,  and  did  add  to the general
confusion and panic. It was glorious music to Kahlan's ears.
     The Agiel would only  function  through  the  bond  to  the Lord  Rahl.
Because  it worked,  she  and Cara knew Richard  was  alive. That alone gave
Kahlan heart. It was almost as if he were there with her. His sword strapped
to her back was like his hand touching her, encouraging her to throw herself
into the fight, telling her to cut.
     The indiscriminate nature of the killing in among  the  camp  followers
confused the enemy soldiers, and terrorized the people who commonly believed
themselves  impervious  to the  violence they  ultimately fed  off  of. Now,
rather  than  being  the vultures  picking  at the carcasses,  they were the
hapless  prey.  Life  in the  Imperial  Order's  camp  would  never  be  the
same-Kahlan would see to that. No more would

     the enemy  soldiers enjoy the comforts  provided  by these people. They
would now know they were no less targets than officers.  They would know the
price of their  participation.  The price was a merciless death  and payment
had come due.
     Slashing her way through the running crowds of screaming people, Kahlan
kept an eye on a large group of the Imperial Order's horses, stabled not far
off, watching as soldiers threw saddles on their mounts. She drove her horse
over  men  and  tents, getting  closer,  until  she was sure she  was within
earshot of those cavalry men saddling their horses.
     Kahlan stood  in  her stirrups, waving her sword high in  the  air. Men
paused to stare.
     "I am  the Mother Confessor! For the crime of invading  the Midlands, I
condemn you all to death! Every one of you!"
     The  hundred  men with  her sent  up a cheer. Their voices  joined in a
     "Death to the Order! Death to the Order! Death to the Order!"
     Kahlan  and  her  men charged their horses  around in  an ever-widening
circle, trampling anyone  they could, hacking  anyone within reach, stabbing
anyone  who  rushed  them,  setting fire  to anything that would burn. These
D'Haran  soldiers  were the  best at  what they  did, and  they did it  with
brilliant  effectiveness. When  they found  a wagon with oil, they broke the
barrels open and tossed  on flaming logs  they plucked  up  with lances from
fires. Night whooshed into day. Everyone  could  plainly see Kahlan, now, as
she charged through their midst, screaming her pronouncement of death.
     Kahlan saw the Order's  cavalry mounting up,  pulling their lances from
racks, drawing their swords. She reared her horse, holding her sword high.
     "You are all cowards! You will never catch me or best me!  You will all
die like the cowards you are at the hands of the Mother Confessor!"
     When  her  horse came down, she thumped its  ribs  with  her boots. The
horse charged off at a dead run, Cara right at her side,  her hundred men at
her heels, a  few thousand infuriated Imperial Order  cavalry  right  behind
them, with more mounting up all the time.
     Being at the edge of  the Order's camp,  they wouldn't have much ground
to  cover  before  they  were  out  of the camp,  again, and  into  the open
countryside. As they  raced away, Kahlan took the opportunity to kill anyone
who presented themselves. It was too dark to tell if they were men or woman,
and it didn't matter anyway.  She wanted them all dead. Each  time her sword
made contact, slashing muscle or breaking bone, was a delicious release.
     Running at full  speed,  past  the last of the campfires,  they plunged
suddenly into the  black  void  of  night.  Kahlan leaned  forward  over her
horse's muscular  neck,  as they ran west, hoping there were no holes in the
ground.  If they hit one, it would  be all over not just for her horse, but,
most likely, for her as well.
     She knew this land well enough, the gentle hills, the bluffs ahead. She
knew where she was, even in the dark, and she knew where she was  going. She
was  counting  on  the  enemy not knowing.  In  the  disorienting  sweep  of
darkness,  they  would fixate  on  following  the glowing  handprints on her
horse's rump,  thinking one of their gifted had gotten  close enough to mark
her horse for them. They would be gleeful with the blinding  anticipation of
having her naked to their swords.
     Kahlan used the flat of  her own  sword  to smack her  horse's  flanks,
urging  him on, whipping him  into  a wild  state. They were  away  from the
excitement  of  battle,  now,  and  out   in  the  lonely  openness  of  the
countryside. Horses dreaded predators

     nipping at their flanks, especially in the dark. She encouraged  him to
think teeth were snapping at his hindquarters.
     Her men were right behind her, but, as instructed, rode to each side so
there was a gap, allowing the enemy to see the glowing  marks on  her horse.
When Kahlan feared  she was  as close as they dared get, she signaled with a
whistle. Over  her shoulders, she watched  her men, her protection,  peeling
away, off into the night. She would not see them again until she returned to
the D'Haran camp.
     With her advantage of  the distant fires of the Order's camp in back of
them, Kahlan  was  able to see  the silhouette  of  the enemy  cavalry close
behind,  coming at a  full charge, their hungry gazes no doubt  fixed on the
glowing handprints on her horse's flanks, the  only thing they could see out
in the wide-open countryside on a moonless night.
     "How far?" Cara called over from close beside her.
     "Should be-"
     Kahlan's words cut off when she suddenly spotted briefly what was right
there before her.
     "Now, Cara!"
     Kahlan pulled her leg up just in time as  Cara  rammed her  horse over.
The two huge animals jostled dangerously. Kahlan threw her arm around Cara's
shoulders.  Cara's arm  seized Kahlan's  waist  and yanked her over, off her
horse. Kahlan gave her horse one last smack with the flat of her  sword. The
horse  snorted  in  panic  as  it  charged  onward  at full speed  into  the
     Kahlan threw her leg over the rump of Cara's horse, sheathed her sword,
and then held tight to Cara's waist as the Mord-Sith pulled her horse's head
hard to the left, forcing it, at a full gallop, to turn away just in time.
     For an instant, through a break  in  the clouds,  Kahlan spied the dull
slur of starlight reflecting off the  churning, icy waters of the Drun River
     She felt a pang of sorrow for her startled, bewildered, terrified horse
as it  sailed out over  the bluff.  It was giving its life to take many more
with it. The beast would probably never know what had happened.
     Neither would the Imperial  Order  cavalry as they followed the glowing
handprints on  into  the dark. This was her Midlands; Kahlan knew  what  was
there;  they  were invaders, and  did not. Even if they did see it coming in
the  last twinkling  of their lives, at  a full charge into pitch  blackness
they would never have a chance to avert their doom.
     She  hoped, though,  that those men did realize what was happening just
before they  gasped  in the frigid dark waters, or before their  lungs burst
with the need of air as the merciless river dragged them down into its  inky
embrace. She hoped every one of those men suffered a horrifying death in the
dark depths of those treacherous currents.
     Kahlan turned her thoughts away from the heat of battle. The  forces of
the  D'Haran  Empire could sleep,  now, with  a victory over their enemy and
with the  sweet taste of vengeance. Kahlan found that it did little, though,
to quell the fires of her raging anger.
     After a brief time, Cara's horse slowed  to  a canter, and then a walk.
They heard no hoofbeats behind  them, only winter's  vast silence. After the
crush of people, the noise, and the turbulence of the Imperial Order's camp,
the isolation of the empty grasslands seemed somehow oppressive. Kahlan felt
as if she were a speck of nothing in the middle of nowhere.

     Cold and exhausted, Kahlan pulled her fur mantle  around her shoulders.
Her  legs  trembled  from the  effort  finally  finished.  She  felt  as  if
everything had been washed  out  of her.  Her head slumped  forward  to rest
against Cara's back. Kahlan was aware of the weight of Richard's sword lying
against her own back.
     "Well," Cara  said over her shoulder  after  they had ridden for a time
through the hushed expanse of countryside,  "we do this every  night  for  a
year or two, and that should just about wipe them all out."
     For the first time in what  seemed an  eternity, Kahlan almost laughed.

     By  the time Kahlan and Cara rode in  among the wounded, the exhausted,
and the sleeping D'Haran troops, it was  only a few hours from dawn.  Kahlan
had thought they might have to find  a safe place  out in the grasslands  to
sleep and  wait for daylight in order to find their way back,  but they  had
been fortunate;  a  break in the cloud cover had  allowed the  stars to show
them the way. In the shimmering sweep of  stars alone, they had been able to
see the black drape of  mountains at  the horizon. With that  visual  guide,
they were able to make their way far out into the empty country so that they
could  safely  get around the Imperial  Order,  and then head back  north to
their own troops.
     A reception party awaited them. Men rushed up to form cheering  rows as
they  passed into camp. Kahlan  felt a distant sense of  pride that  she had
given these men what they needed most right then: a measure  of retribution.
From the  back of  Cara's horse, Kahlan lifted a hand to wave at the men she
passed. She smiled for them alone.
     Near the area where  the horses were picketed, General Meiffert, having
heard the  cheering, was waiting impatiently. He  trotted over to meet them.
Beside  the gate of the temporary corral, one of the soldiers took the reins
to the horse as Kahlan and then Cara jumped down. Kahlan winced  at the ache
in her  muscles  from the recent  days  of  hard riding,  and  the  night of
fighting. Her right arm  socket throbbed from the blows she had landed.  She
mused to herself that her sword arm never hurt like that in her mock battles
with Richard. For the benefit of anyone watching, she forced herself to walk
as if she had just had a three-day rest.
     General Meiffert, looking  no  worse  for the battle  he  had seen that
night, clapped a fist to his heart. "Mother Confessor, you can't imagine how
relieved I am to see you."
     "And I you, General."
     He leaned  forward. "Please,  Mother Confessor, you aren't going  to do
anything that foolhardy again, are you?"
     "It wasn't foolhardy," Cara  said.  "I was with  her, watching out  for
     He frowned over at Cara, but didn't argue with her. Kahlan wondered how
one could fight a war without doing anything foolhardy. The entire thing was
     "How many men did we lose?" Kahlan asked instead.
     General Meiffert's face split with a grin. "None, Mother Confessor. Can
you believe it? With the Creator's help, they all came back."
     "I don't recall the Creator wielding a sword with us," Cara said.
     Kahlan was dumbfounded. "That's the best news I could have, General."
     "Mother Confessor,  I can't tell you what a boost that was to the  men.
But, please, you won't do anything like that again, will you?"

     "I'm not here  to smile and wave and look pretty for the men,  General.
I'm here to help them send those murderous bastards into the eternal arms of
the Keeper."
     He  sighed  in resignation. "We have  a  tent for  you. I'm sure you're
     Kahlan nodded  and let  the general lead her  and  Cara through the now
quiet  camp. Men not sleeping stood and silently saluted with fists to their
hearts. Kahlan tried to smile for them. She could see in their eyes how much
they appreciated what she had done  to turn the tide of the grim battle back
a  little in  their  favor.  They probably thought she had done it for them.
That was only partly true.
     Arriving  at  a  well-guarded  group of  a  half-dozen  tents,  General
Meiffert gestured to the one in the center.
     "This was General Reibisch's tent, Mother  Confessor. I had your things
put inside. I thought  you should have  the best tent. If it  bothers you to
sleep  in his tent, though, I'll have your belongings  moved to anywhere you
     "It will be fine, General." Kahlan took stock of the man's  young face,
seeing the shadow of sorrow. She reminded herself that he was about the same
age as she. "We all miss him."
     His expression showed only  some of the pain she thought he  must feel.
"I can't replace a man like that, Mother Confessor. He was  not just a great
general, but a great man, too.  He taught  me a lot and honored me  with his
trust. He was the best man I ever served under. I don't want you to have any
illusions about my replacing him. I know I can't."
     "No one asked you to. Your best effort is all  we expect and will serve
us well, I'm sure."
     He smiled  at  her generosity. "You'll  have that, Mother Confessor.  I
promise you,  you'll have that." He turned to Cara and  changed the subject.
"I had your things put in  this tent, here,  Mistress Cara." It  was the one
right beside Kahlan's tent.
     Cara  scanned  the scene, taking  note  of the  patrolling guards. When
Kahlan told her that she was  going to go  right to bed, and that she should
get  some sleep, too,  Cara agreed and bade the  two  of them  a good  night
before disappearing into her tent.
     "I appreciated your help, tonight, General.  You should get some sleep,
     He bowed his head, turned to leave, but then turned back.
     "You know, I always hoped to someday become a general. Ever since I was
a  boy, I've dreamed of it.  I imagined . . ."  He looked away from Kahlan's
eyes. "I guess I imagined it would make me proud  and happy."  He hooked his
thumbs in his  pockets and gazed out over the  dark camp, perhaps seeing all
those dreams from his past, or maybe seeing all his new duties.
     "It didn't make me feel happy at all," he finally said.
     "I know," she  answered in sincere sympathy. "This wasn't the  way  any
good man  would want to  gain rank, but sometimes  challenges arise,  and we
must face  them." She let  out a  silent sigh, and tried to envision  how he
must feel. "Someday, General, the pride and satisfaction will come. It comes
from doing the job well and knowing that you are making a difference."
     He nodded. "I know it felt pretty good, tonight, Mother Confessor, when
I saw  you on the back  of  Cara's  horse,  returning safely to camp. I look
forward to the day when I  see Lord Rahl ride into  camp, too."  He  started
away. "Sleep well.  Dawn  is in a couple of hours. Then we'll  find out what
the new day will bring. I'll have reports ready for you."
     Inside  her  tent,  Zedd was  sitting  alone,  waiting. Kahlan  groaned
     She  was  dead  tired  and  didn't  want  to  face  the   old  wizard's
questioning. Sometimes, especially if you were tired, his nettling questions
could become irksome. She knew he meant well, but she was in no mood for it.
She didn't think she  could even be civil to him if he started down his road
of a thousand  questions. It was so late,  and she was so  tired, she simply
wished he would let her be.
     She stood just inside, saying nothing, watching him  as  he rose to his
feet. His wavy white  hair was more  disorderly than usual.  His heavy robes
were filthy and  spattered  with blood. Around his knees the robes were dark
with dried blood.
     He gave her a long look, and then enclosed  her in his skinny arms. She
just wanted to sleep. He  silently held  her head to his shoulder.  Maybe he
thought she might be about to start crying, but there seemed  no tears left.
She felt numb. She  supposed it was the constant rage, but she just couldn't
cry anymore. She seemed only able to feel anger.
     Zedd finally  held her out at arm's length,  squeezing her shoulders in
his surprisingly strong fingers. "I just wanted to wait until you were back,
and safe, before  I went to bed. I wanted  to  let  my eyes take you in." He
smiled in a sad way. "I'm so very relieved you're safe. Sleep well, Kahlan."
     Her bedroll, still  tied up with its leather thongs,  lay atop a pallet
with  a strawfilled mattress. Saddlebags were  draped over her pack, sitting
in the corner. Opposite  the bed there was a small folding  table and chair.
Beside them, a basket with rolls of maps. Another little folding  table held
a ewer and  basin. A  clean  towel was draped over the table legs' stretcher
     The tent was spacious, by army standards, but it was still cramped. The
canvas looked  heavy enough to keep out most any weather.  Lamps, hanging at
each  end of the tent  from a  rod forming the peak of the roof, cast a warm
glow  inside  the snug  tent.  Kahlan  tried  to imagine  the burly  General
Reibisch  pacing  in such  a small  space, tugging  his  rust-colored beard,
worrying over the problems of an army bigger than many cities.
     Zedd  looked exhausted.  Creases etched an  inner  anguish on his  bony
face. She reminded  herself that he had only just learned that his grandson,
the  only family  he had  left  in the world, was in the cruel  hands of the
     Besides that,  Zedd had been fighting for two days and healing soldiers
at night. She had seen him, when she arrived, staggering to his feet  beside
the corpse of what turned out  to be General Reibisch. She knew that if Zedd
couldn't save the man, he was beyond saving.
     With her fingers, Kahlan combed  back her hair and then gestured to the
     "You could sit for a minute, Zedd. Couldn't you?"
     He looked at the chair, then  at her bedroll. "For a minute, I suppose,
while you get your bed ready. You need some rest."
     Kahlan couldn't  argue with that. She realized her head was  throbbing.
The passions of battle masked little  things, like  a pounding headache. The
straw-filled mattress looked as good as a feather bed to her right then. She
tossed  her  wolf-fur mantle and her  cloak on  the bed. They would keep her
     Without comment, Zedd watched as she unstrapped  the Sword of Truth and
pulled it off her back. He had given the weapon  to Richard. Kahlan had been

     and  begged Zedd  not to do it, but he  said  he  had  no choice,  that
Richard was the one. Zedd had been right. Richard was indeed the one.
     She felt her  face flush when, just before she laid the sword down, she
kissed the top of the hilt,  where Richard's hand had so often rested. Zedd,
if  he even  noticed,  said nothing, and she laid the  gleaming scabbard and
sword to rest beside her mattress.
     In the awkward quiet, Kahlan took off the royal Galean  sword. She  saw
then that  there was  blood  running down the scabbard.  She unstrapped  and
removed the layer of light leather armor and laid  it beside her pack.  When
she leaned the royal sword and scabbard against the plates of leather armor,
she saw then that they were splattered with blood.
     She noticed, too, that the leather leg armor had bloody handprints here
and there  on it, and there  were long  gouges  in  the  leather from  mens'
fingernails. She remembered men grabbing for her, trying to unhorse her, but
she  didn't recall  their  hands actually clawing  at  her. The  images that
started flooding back threatened to make her  nauseated, so she directed her
mind to other things.
     "Cara  and I  crossed  over the Rang'Shada mountains,  north of  Agaden
Reach,  and  came  down  through  Galea,"  she  said into the  uncomfortable
     "I gathered," he said.
     She gestured vaguely to suggest the  surrounding camp.  "I  thought I'd
better bring some troops with me."
     "We can use them."
     Kahlan glanced  up at his hazel  eyes. "I brought all  I could  without
waiting. I didn't want to wait."
     Zedd nodded. "That was wise."
     "Prince  Harold wanted to come, but  I asked him to gather  together  a
larger force and  then bring  them down. If  we're to defend  the  Midlands,
we'll need more troops. He thought that was a good idea."
     "Sounds so."
     "Prince Harold will be here to help just as soon as  he can gather  his
army from their defensive positions."
     Zedd only nodded.
     She cleared her throat. "I wish we could have gotten here sooner."
     Zedd shrugged. "You came as fast as possible. You're here, now."
     Kahlan  turned away to the bedroll. She sank down to her knees and bent
to the  work of undoing the leather thongs holding the bedding all rolled up
together.  For  some reason,  the  knots  looked blurry-she guessed  it  was
because she was so tired.
     She  glanced  over her shoulder briefly in the dim  lamplight and  then
went  back  to picking at the knot.  "I suppose you'd like  to know how that
Sister of the Dark managed to capture Richard."
     He was silent for a moment. His  voice finally came, soft  and  gentle.
"There's time enough for that later, Kahlan. There's no need tonight."
     As  she  picked at  the stubborn  knot, her hair fell forward over  her
shoulder.  She had  to push it back in order to see what  she was doing. The
stupid leather thong  was tightly knotted. She wanted to yell at the  person
who had tied it, but she  had  done it  up herself and  had no  one  else to
     "She used a  maternity spell on me. It links us. She said she could-she
could kill me if Richard didn't do as she said and go with her."

     At the news, Zedd only let out a desolate sigh.
     "Richard can't kill her, or I die, too."
     She waited for his voice behind her. It finally came.
     "I've only read about  such spells, but from what I  know, it sounds as
if she told you the truth of it."
     "I have a cut  on my mouth. I didn't do it. It happened to me the other
daythrough  that link.  What happens  to  her happens to  me. I hope Richard
struck her. It was worth it."
     "I don't think Richard would do that."
     She knew he wouldn't. It was only a wish.
     One of the little lamps was flickering, making shadows waver. The other
was hissing softly. Kahlan wiped her nose on her sleeve.
     "Richard gave up  his freedom to keep me alive.  I wish I could die, to
free him, but he made me promise I wouldn't do that."
     Kahlan felt a comforting  hand  on her shoulder. Zedd  said nothing. It
was the greatest kindness he could have given her at that moment-not burying
her heart under an avalanche of questions.
     Enjoying  the calming effect of his hand, Kahlan finally managed to get
the knot undone. Zedd sat back in his chair as she unfurled her bedding. The
carving of Spirit was rolled up inside, for safekeeping. Its height was just
right  to fit crosswise in  her bedroll. Kahlan lifted it out and held it to
her heart a moment. She turned, then, and set Spirit on the little table.
     Zedd slowly rose to his feet. He was a collection of bony angles  under
his maroon robes. With one arm crooked to point  while  he  gaped  at Spirit
standing proudly atop the small  table, his  lanky body looked as stiff as a
spindly tree in winter.
     "Where  else did you stop on your way  here?" He cast a suspicious look
in her direction. "Have you been looting treasures from palaces?"
     She realized then that the look wasn't so much  meant to be suspicious,
as  teasing.  Kahlan  ran a  finger down Spirit's flowing robes, letting her
gaze follow  the strength in the lines of the woman's strong pose. Something
felt so right about the way her head was  thrown back, with her fists at her
sides, and her back arched, standing against the  invisible power  trying to
subdue her.
     "No." Kahlan swallowed. "Richard carved it for me."
     Zedd's brow  drew  lower. He stared at  the carving  for a time  before
reaching out a sticklike finger to  touch it,  as if it  were some priceless
     "Dear spirits. . ."
     Kahlan pretended a smile. "Almost. It's called Spirit, he said. Richard
carved it for me when I was feeling like I would never get better. It helped
me . . ."
     In the awful silence, Zedd finally turned from the woman with her fists
at her sides and her head thrown back to peer into Kahlan's eyes. He frowned
in the oddest way.
     "It's you," he said half to himself. "Dear spirits . . . the boy carved
a statue of your spirit. I recognize it. It's as plain as day."
     Zedd was  not only  Richard's grandfather-he was now hers, too. He  was
not merely the  First  Wizard.  He  was  also the man who had  helped  raise
Richard. Zedd had no family left save Richard.
     Other than a half sister and brother who were strangers but  for blood,
neither did she. She was as alone in the world as was Zedd.

     Now, through Richard, Zedd  was  her family, but even if he wasn't, she
realized he could mean no less to her.
     "We'll get him back, dear one,"  he whispered in tender compassion. His
sticklike hand reverently cupped her face. "We'll get him back."
     Everything seemed to be swimming. Kahlan fell into his protective  arms
and dissolved into tears.

     Warren carefully pulled the snow-laden pine bough aside for her. Kahlan
peered through the gap.
     "There," he said in a low voice. "You see?"
     Kahlan nodded as she squinted off into the narrow valley far below. The
scene was frosted whitewhite trees, white rocks, white meadows. Enemy troops
moving up the distant valley floor  looked like a dark line of ants marching
across powdered sugar.
     "I don't  think you  need to  whisper, Warren,"  Cara said from  behind
Kahlan's other shoulder. "They can't hear you. Not from this far."
     Warren's  blue eyes turned  to the Mord-Sith.  Cara's red leather would
have stood  out like a  beacon, were she not sheathed in wolf fur  that made
her melt into the background of  snow-dusted brush. Kahlan's own fur  mantle
was soft  and warm against the sides  of her  face. Sometimes, since Richard
had made it for her, the feel  against her skin was evocative of his  gentle
caress protecting her and keeping her warm.
     "Oh, but their gifted can hear us, Cara, even from this distance, if we
are too vociferous."
     Cara's nose wrinkled. "What's that mean?"
     "Loud," Kahlan whispered  in a way as if  to suggest Cara  should use a
little more caution and be more quiet.
     Cara's face distorted with her displeasure at the thought of magic. She
shifted her  weight to  her  other foot,  went  back to watching the line of
troops slowly flowing up the valley, and kept silent.
     After she'd seen enough, Kahlan gestured, and the three of them started
back through the ankledeep  snow. At their elevation  in the mountains, they
were right at the base of oppressive gray clouds, making it feel as  if they
were  looking down from another world.  She didn't like the  world  she  had
     They trudged  up  the slope  dense with pine  and naked  aspen, to  the
thickly wooded  top  of the ridge, where the backbone  of rock broke through
the snow here  and there  like half-buried bones. Their horses waited a good
distance back down off  the rocky  slope.  Farther  back down the  mountain,
where Warren and Kahlan were sure they would  not be detected  by any gifted
who might be protecting the Order troops, waited an escort of D'Haran guards
General Meiffert had  handpicked to protect Kahlan and the two with her, who
were also protecting her.
     "So you see?"  Warren asked in  little more  than  a  whisper. "They're
still at  it-moving more and  more men up this  way, trying to get around us
without us being aware of it."

     Kahlan held up the fur to shelter her face as a  light breeze dragged a
curtain of snow past them. At least it wasn't snowing again, yet.
     "I don't think so, Warren."
     His questioning, handsome face turned her way. "Then what?"
     "I think they want it to look like they're sending troops past us so we
will send men way out here after them."
     "A diversion?"
     "I  think  so. It's just  close  enough to  us to  be  likely we  would
discover them, yet far enough away and through difficult enough terrain that
it would require us to split our  forces in order to  do  anything about it.
Besides, every one of our scouts came back."
     "Isn't that good?"
     "Sure it is. But  what if they have gifted with them,  as you  believe?
How is it that  not one of our scouts failed to make it back to report these
massive troop movements?"
     Warren thought that over a moment as the  three of them  carefully made
it  over a  high spot, sliding on their bottoms  down the  far  side of  the
slippery sloping rock.
     "I think they're fishing," Cara said as her boots thumped down on solid
ground behind them.  "Their gifted don't try to net the small fry, hoping to
draw bigger fish close."
     Kahlan brushed the snow from her backside. "Like us."
     Warren looked  skeptical.  "You think this  is all just  some  sort  of
elaborate trap to snare officers or gifted?"
     "Well, no," Kahlan said. "That  would only be a bonus for them. I think
their main intent  is to spur us into splitting our forces to deal with what
they want us to believe is this threat."
     Warren scratched his head  of curly blond hair. His blue  eyes twitched
back in  the direction the three of  them had come down off the ridge, as if
trying to look again at what he could not see.
     "But if they're sending great numbers of  troops north-even if it is to
draw away some of our forces-shouldn't that concern us?"
     "Of course it should," Kahlan said. "If it were true."
     Warren glanced over  at  her  as they  struggled  through  deeper  snow
drifted under crags they passed beneath on their way up a steep little rise.
Her legs were weary with the effort. Warren held out his hand to help her up
a high step.  He did the same for Cara. Cara gestured that  she  didn't need
the hand,  but she  didn't level  a scowl at  him, either. Kahlan was always
pleased to see evidence that Cara  was learning that offers  of  modest  aid
were simply a courtesy and not necessarily accusations of weakness.
     "Then I'm confused," Warren said as he panted.
     Kahlan came to a halt to let them all catch their breath. She lifted an
arm back toward the enemy troops off beyond the ridge.
     "Yes,  if it  were true that great numbers  of  troops were  going  out
around us and heading north, that would concern us. But I don't believe they
     Warren swiped a blond lock off his forehead. "You don't think all those
men are heading north? Where, then?"
     "Nowhere," Kahlan said.
     "That many men? You've got to be joking."

     She  smiled at the look on his face. "I believe  it's  a trick. I think
it's only a small number of men."
     "But the  scouts have  been reporting mass  numbers of men moving north
for three days now!"
     "Hush," Cara warned, getting even with an air of mock scolding.
     Warren covered his mouth with both hands when he realized he'd shouted.
     They had their  breath back, so Kahlan started out  again, taking  them
over the  top  of the  little  rise  onto  flatter ground,  following  their
footsteps back the way they had come.
     "Remember what the scouts  said yesterday?" she  asked him. "They tried
to  go over  to the mountains on the other side to have a look at the lay of
the land beyond and the enemy troops moving north through it, but the passes
were too heavily guarded?"
     "I remember."
     "I think  I've just figured out  why." She gestured by looping her hand
around as she  went on.  "I think  what we're seeing  is a relatively  small
group of the same men just going  around  in a big circle. We're only seeing
them at the point where they  pass up this valley. We see troops marching by
continuously for days and we assume they're moving a lot of men, but I think
it's just a circle of the same ones going round and round."
     Warren  stopped  to  stare  at  her.  His  face  turned  grave  at  the
implications. "So if we're tricked into thinking  they're  moving an army up
this way, then we will split our army in response and send part of them  out
after this phantom force."
     "We're already outnumbered," Cara said as she nodded to  herself,  "but
we have the  advantage of defending terrain that suits our purpose. However,
if they could reduce our numbers substantially simply by getting us to  send
a large  percentage  off on some  mission,  first, their  entire army  might
finally be able to overrun a smaller number of remaining defenders."
     "Makes sense." Warren stroked his chin  in thought, looking back at the
ridge. "What if you're wrong?"
     Kahlan turned to look back toward the ridge, too. "Well, if  I'm wrong,
then. . ."
     Kahlan  frowned at a fat old maple tree  not ten feet away. She thought
she saw the  bark move. The dusting of snow on the scaly gray, furrowed bark
began  disappearing,  melting  away  in an ever  widening area.  Like  dross
floating on the surface of a boiling cauldron, the bark moved.
     Kahlan  gasped as Warren  seized her and Cara by the collar  and  flung
them both down on their backs. The wind knocked from her lungs, Kahlan tried
to sit  up, but Warren dived to  the ground between them,  pinning them both
     Before Kahlan had  a chance to  get her breath  or  ask what was wrong,
blinding light flashed in the still woods. A deafening boom rent the air and
jolted  the  ground  beneath  her.  Splintered  wood,  from   toothpick-size
fragments  to fence-post-size sections,  howled past inches  above her face.
Huge  sections  of wood  thanked as they rebounded off  rocks.  Others spun,
caroming off  tree trunks. Pieces  tumbling along the ground kicking up snow
peppered with frozen chunks of  dirt. The air  went white as  the shock from
the blast blew a wall of snow up into the air.
     If any of them had been standing, they would have been torn to shreds.
     As  soon as the  last pieces of  timber,  trailing  smoke,  thudded  to
ground, Warren rolled toward her. "Gifted," he whispered.

     Kahlan frowned at him. "What?"
     "Gifted," he  whispered  again. "They focused their  power to  boil the
frozen tree inside and make it explode. That's how we lost so many men  when
we  gathered back in that valley during the first battle,  back  just before
you came to us. They surprised us."
     Kahlan  nodded. She peeked up,  but saw no one. She glanced over to see
if Cara was all right.
     "Where's Cara," she asked in an urgent whisper.
     Warren cautiously peered off, searching the  empty scene. Kahlan lifted
herself a  little on an elbow and saw only the disturbed snow where Cara had
     "Dear Creator," Warren said. "You don't suppose  they've  snatched her,
do you?"
     Kahlan saw tracks where there had been  none before, leading off to the
side. "I think-"
     A scream that would have  made a brave man blanch  reverberated through
the trees. It trailed off in an agonizing echo.
     :,Cara?" Warren asked.
     "I don't think so."
     Kahlan carefully sat up  and saw  that a hole had been torn open in the
crowded growth of the forest crown, letting harsh light penetrate the shaded
woodland sanctuary below. The ground all around was littered with splintered
wood, broken branches, huge limbs fallen to  ground, and boughs  ripped from
other trees. Gouges down through  the  white  layer  of snow into  the  dark
forest  floor  radiated from a ragged bowl-shaped depression where the  tree
had been. Fragments  of wood  and root lay on the ground everywhere and were
even caught up in the surrounding trees.
     Warren  put a hand to  her shoulder, urging  Kahlan to  stay down as he
rolled into a crouch. She flipped over onto her stomach and cautiously  rose
up onto her hands and knees.
     Kahlan jumped up and pointed. "There."
     Through the  trees, she saw Cara returning. The Mord-Sith was herding a
small man in obvious pain along before her. Each time  he stumbled and fell,
she kicked him in  the ribs,  rolling him through  the  snow  before her. He
cried out, his words coming as a whining cry that Kahlan  couldn't  make out
because of the distance. The words weren't hard to imagine, though.
     Cara had captured one of the gifted. It was for tasks such as this that
Mord-Sith  had been created. For someone with the gift, trying to  use magic
against a Mord Sith was  a mistake that cost them their control  over  their
own ability.
     Kahlan  stood, brushing  snow  from herself.  Warren, his  violet robes
crusted with snow, rose beside her, transfixed by the sight. This was one of
the  wizards  responsible  for  killing so many  men when  the D'Harans  had
gathered  in the valley  after the Order  began moving  north. This was  the
vicious  animal who did  Jagang's bidding. He  didn't seem  like  a  vicious
animal, now, as he wept and begged before the implacable captor  driving him
on before her.
     He was a bundle of rags, flinging out around  him as he rolled  through
the  snow with a final mighty kick that deposited him at Kahlan and Warren's
feet. He lay facedown, whimpering like a child.
     Cara  bent, seized him  by his tangled mat of dark hair, and yanked him
to his feet.
     It was a child.

     "Lyle?" Warren stared incredulously. "Lyle? It was you?"
     Tears ran  from  wintery eyes.  He  wiped  his  nose  on the back of  a
tattered sleeve as he glared  at Warren.  Young Lyle looked to be  a boy  of
perhaps  ten or twelve years, but since Warren knew him, Kahlan realized  he
was probably from the Palace of the Prophets, too. Lyle was a young wizard.
     Warren reached out  to  cup  the  boy's bloody  chin.  Kahlan  snatched
Warren's wrist. The boy lunged to bite Warren's hand. Cara was quicker.  She
snatched him back by the hair as she rammed her Agiel into his back.
     Shrieking  in pain, he crumpled to the ground.  She kicked the  injured
lad in the ribs.
     Warren held his hands out, imploring. "Cars, don't-"
     Her icy blue eyes turned up to challenge him. "He tried  to kill us. He
tried to kill the Mother Confessor."
     She ground her teeth and, while looking  Warren in the  eye, kicked the
whimpering boy again.
     Warren licked his lips. "I know . . . but..."
     "But what?"
     "He's so young. It isn't right."
     "And so it would be better if we just let him kill us? Would that  make
it right for you?"
     Kahlan knew Cara was right. As difficult as it was to witness, Cara was
right.  If  they died, how  many men, women, and children would the Imperial
Order go on to slaughter? Child though he was, he was a tool of the Order.
     Nonetheless,  Kahlan gestured Cara  that  that was enough. When  Kahlan
signaled, Cara again seized his tangled mat of dirty hair  in  her  fist and
hauled him to his feet. With  Cara's thighs at his back, he stood shivering,
blood running down his face, pulling short, ragged breaths.
     As Kahlan stared  down into terrified, tear-filled brown eyes,  she put
on her Confessor's face, the face her mother had taught her when she was but
a little girl, the face that masked her inner tumult.
     "I  know you're, there, Jagang," she said  in a quiet  voice  devoid of
     The boy's bloody mouth turned up in a smile that was not his own.
     "You made a mistake, Jagang. We'll have an army soon on its way to stop
     The boy smiled a vacant bloody smile, but said nothing.
     "Lyle,"  Warren said, his voice brittle with anguish, "you  can be free
of the dream walker. You must only swear loyalty to Richard  and you will be
flee. Believe me, Lyle. Try. I know  what it's like. Try,  Lyle, and I swear
I'll help you."
     Kahlan thought that, with Warren there, a man he knew, he  might  throw
himself toward the unexpected light coming from  the open  dungeon door. The
boy behind the smile  that  was not his own watched Warren with longing that
slowly curdled  to loathing. This was  a child who had seen the struggle for
freedom bring  horror  and death  and knew  that  servile  obedience brought
rewards and life. He was not old enough to understand what more there was to
     With a  gentle touch of her fingers, Kahlan urged Warren  to back away.
He reluctantly complied.
     "This isn't the first  of  Jagang's wizards we've captured," she  said,
offhandedly, to Warren. Her words, though, were not meant for Warren.
     Kahlan  looked up into Cara's stern  blue eyes and then  glanced off to
the side, hoping the Mord-Sith understood the instruction.

     "Marlin Pickard," Kahlan said, as if recalling the name for Warren, but
her  words were still meant  for Cara.  "He  was  grown,  and even with this
pompous pretend  emperor  directing him, Marlin still wasn't able to give us
much trouble."
     Marlin  had  in fact given them  a great deal of trouble. He had nearly
killed  Cara and Kahlan  both. Kahlan  hoped Cara remembered how tenuous was
her control over someone possessed by the dream walker.
     The mood in the quiet woods was still and tense as the boy glared up at
     "We discovered your scheme in time, Jagang. You made a mistake thinking
you could get by our  scouts. I hope you're with those men, so that when  we
wipe them out we can cut your throat."
     The bloody grin widened. "A woman like you is wasted on the side of the
weak," the boy  said in the  menacing voice  of  a man. "You'd  have a  much
better time serving strength, and the Order."
     "I'm afraid my husband likes me right where I am."
     "And where is your husband, darlin? I was hoping to say hello."
     "He's around," Kahlan said in the same dispassionate voice.
     She saw Warren, when she had spoken the words, move in a way that was a
little too much like surprise.
     "Is he, now?" The boy's eyes turned from Warren, back  to  Kahlan. "Why
is it I don't believe you?"
     She wanted to kick  the boy's teeth in as she  watched his  cruel grin.
Kahlan's mind raced, trying to figure out  what Jagang could  possibly know,
and what he was trying to discover.
     "You'll see him soon enough, when  we get this poor child back to camp.
I'm sure Richard Rahl will want  to laugh  in your cowardly face when I tell
him how we discovered the great  emperor's plan to sneak troops north. He'll
want to personally tell you what a fool you are."
     The boy  tried to take a  step toward her, but Cara's  fist in his hair
restrained him. He was a cougar on a leash, still  testing  its  chains. The
bloody smile remained, but it  was not as self-satisfied  as it had been. In
the brown eyes, Kahlan thought she saw hesitation.
     "Ah, but I don't believe you," he said, as if losing interest. "We both
know he's not there at all. Don't we, darlin?"
     Kahlan  resolved to take a  risk.  "You'll  see him for  yourself, soon
enough." She made to look as if she were going to turn away, but turned back
to him instead.
     Kahlan let a sarcastic smile taint her lips. "Oh-you must mean Nicci?"
     The smile  vanished  from the boy's face. The  brow  drew down, but  he
managed to keep any anger out of his voice.
     "Nicci? I don't know what you're talking about, darlin."
     "Sister  of  the  Dark? Shapely?  Blond hair?  Blue eyes?  Black dress?
Surely, you  would remember a woman that hauntingly beautiful.  Or,  besides
your other shortcomings, are you also a eunuch?"
     The  eyes  watched, and in  them  Kahlan could see careful calculations
weighing her every word. But it was  Nicci's  words about Jagang that Kahlan
was remembering.
     "I know who Nicci is. I know every private inch of her. One day, I will
come to know you as intimately as I know Nicci."
     Such an obscene threat was somehow more chilling, coming as it did from

     mouth of a boy. It made her sick to her stomach to hear a child express
Jagang's vile thoughts.
     The boy's  arm gestured for his master. "One of my beauties,  and quite
the lethal lady, besides." Kahlan thought she detected  in Jagang's gravelly
growl  a hint  of the false  bravado of a  bluff. Almost in afterthought, he
added, "You haven't really seen her."
     Kahlan heard in the assertion the ghost of a question he dared not ask,
and  knew by it that there was something more to this.  She wished  she knew
     She shrugged again. "Lethal? I wouldn't know."
     He licked the blood from his lips. "That's what I thought."
     "I wouldn't  know because she didn't  seem  all that lethal. She didn't
manage to harm any of us."
     The grin returned. "You lie, darlin. If you really saw Nicci, she would
have killed at least some of you, even if she didn't manage to kill you all.
You  couldn't  best  that one without  her scratching  someone's  eyes  out,
     "Really? So sure, are we?"
     The boy let out a belly laugh. "Darlin, I know Nicci. I'm sure."
     Kahlan smiled her contempt  into the boy's  brown  eyes. "You  know I'm
telling you the truth."
     "Really?" he said, still chuckling. "How's that?"
     "You know  it's the truth  because  she's  one  of your slaves, so  you
should  be able to enter her  mind. You can't, though. I know why you can't.
Even though you aren't too bright, I don't suppose you'll need to  think too
long to imagine why not."
     Fierce rage fired the boy's eyes. "I don't believe you."
     Kahlan shrugged. "Suit yourself."
     "If you saw her, then where is she now?"
     As she turned her back on him, Kahlan told him the brutal, bitter truth
and let him interpret it his  own way. "Last  I saw her, she was  on her way
into oblivion."
     Kahlan heard the bellow behind her. She spun back to see Cara trying to
stop  him with  her Agiel. Kahlan heard the bone in his arm snap.  It didn't
even slow him. The boy,  in a wild rage, his hands clawed, his  teeth bared,
lunged for Kahlan.
     Half turned back to him, Kahlan lifted her hand against the full weight
of the boy crashing  toward her as he leaped for her throat. His small chest
contacted  her hand. His feet were clear of the ground. It felt not as if he
were  throwing himself at her, but no more than dandelion fluff, floating to
her on a breath of air.
     Time was hers.
     It was not necessary for Kahlan to invoke her birthright, but merely to
withdraw her restraint of  it. Her feelings could provide her no safe haven;
only the truth would serve her now.
     This was not a small boy, hurt, alone, afraid.
     This was the enemy.
     The inner violence of her power's cold coiled force slipping its bounds
was breathtaking. It surged up from that  deep dark core within,  obediently
inundating every fiber of her being.
     She could count each small rib under her fingers.
     She contained no  hate, no rage, no horror  . .  .  no sorrow. In  that
infinitesimal  spark  of time,  her  mind was in  a  void where there was no
emotion, only the allconsuming rush of time suspended.

     He had no chance. He was hers.
     Kahlan did not hesitate.
     She unleashed her power.
     From an ethereal state as  part  of her innermost  essence,  that power
became all.
     Thunder without sound  jolted the air-exquisite, violent, and for  that
pristine instant, sovereign.
     The boy's face was twisted by the hate  of the  man who  had controlled
him. In that singular moment, if she was the absence of emotion, then he was
the embodiment  of  it.  Kahlan stared  back  into that lost  child's  face,
knowing that he saw only her merciless eyes.
     His mind, who he was, who he had been, was already gone.
     Trees all around  shook from  the force of the concussion. Snow dropped
from  branches and boughs. The terrible shock  to  the air lifted a ring  of
snow that grew around the two of them in an ever-expanding circle.
     Kahlan had known that Jagang could slip into and out of a person's mind
between thought, when time itself did not exist. She had no choice but to do
as she had done. She could not afford to hesitate. With Jagang in a person's
mind, even Cara could not control them.
     Jagang had burned his bridges behind him as he fled the young mind.
     The boy fell dead at Kahlan's feet.

     Kahlan swayed  on  her feet as  she stood over the crumbled body of the
boy,  feeling  her emotions flood back  in.  As always  happened,  using her
Confessor's power  left her  drained  and  exhausted. In the aftermath,  the
forest sat  in silent  judgment. Here and there, the virgin snow around  the
small body exhibited its red evidence.
     Only then  did Kahlan even pause to consider if she  might have  killed
Cara, too.
     A Mord-Sith would not live long after the  touch of a Confessor.  There
had been no choice. She  had done her best to  warn Cara, to let her know to
get  clear,  but  in  the  end  Kahlan  couldn't  allow  her decision  to be
influenced by any consideration other  than what had to be  done. Hesitation
could have meant disaster.
     Now that it was over, though, dread roiled through.
     Kahlan looked around, and to the right saw  Cara  sprawled in the snow.
If she had been touching the boy when Kahlan unleashed her power . . .
     Cara  groaned. Kahlan  staggered  to  her  and dropped to a  knee.  She
clutched  the fur at Cara's  shoulder and  with a mighty effort  pulled  her
     "Cara-are you all right?"
     Cara squinted  up with a look of disgust working its way to the surface
of pain. "Well of course I'm all right. You didn't  think I would be foolish
enough to hang on to him, did you?"
     Kahlan smiled in thankful relief. "No, of  course not.  I  only thought
you might have broken your neck jumping away."
     Cara spat snow and dirt. "Nearly did."
     Warren  helped  them both to  their  feet.  Grimacing,  he  rubbed  his
shoulders  and then his elbows. From  what Kahlan had often been told, being
too  close to  a  Confessor unleashing  her  power was a painful experience,
sending  a shock of agony  through every joint. Fortunately, it did no  real
damage and the suffering faded quickly.
     As Warren glanced over at the dead boy, she  knew that  there was other
pain that would not leave so quickly.
     "Dear  Creator," Warren whispered to himself. He looked back at  Kahlan
and Cara. "He was just a boy. Was it really necessary-"
     "Yes," Kahlan  said in a forceful voice. "I'm positive. Cara and I have
encountered this situation before-with Marlin."
     "But Marlin was  grown.  Lyle was  so small . .  . so young.  What real
     "Warren,  don't start  down  the path of  what-might-have-been.  Jagang
controlled  his  mind, just as he  controlled  Marlin's mind.  We know about
this. He was a deadly threat."
     "If I couldn't hold him," Cara said, "nothing could."

     Warren sighed in misery. He sank to his knees at the boy's side. Warren
whispered a prayer as his fingers stroked the boy's temple.
     "I  guess  the blame  rightly lies at Jagang's feet." Warren  stood and
brushed the  snow from his knees. "Ultimately, Jagang is the one who brought
this about."
     Kahlan could  see the  distant figures  of  their  men,  rushing up the
hillside to rescue her. She started down toward them.
     "If it pleases you to think so."
     Cara stayed right with her. Warren struggled through the  snow to catch
up. He snatched Kahlan's arm and pulled her to a stop.
     "You mean Ann, don't you?"
     Kahlan schooled her anger as she studied Warren's blue eyes.
     "Warren, you were a  victim of that  woman, too. You were taken  to the
Palace of the Prophets when you were young, weren't you?"
     "I guess so, but-"
     "But nothing. They came and took you. They came and took that poor dead
child back there."  Kahlan's fingernails dug into her palms. "They came  and
took Richard."
     Warren pressed his hand gently to the side of Kahlan's arm. "I know how
it seems. Prophecy is often-"
     "There!" Kahlan angrily pointed back at the corpse. "There is prophecy!
Death and misery-all in the sacred name of prophecy!"
     Warren didn't try to answer her rage.
     Kahlan forced control  into  her voice, if not  the emotion  behind it.
"How  many  are  going to die needlessly in a  perverted devotion to  seeing
prophecy carried out? Had Ann not sent Verna here for Richard,  none of this
would be happening."
     "How do  you know that? Kahlan, I can understand how  you feel, but how
can you be sure?"
     "The  barrier stood for three thousand years. It could  only be brought
down by a wizard born with both sides of the gift. There has been none until
Richard. Ann sent  Verna to get him. Had she not, the barrier would still be
there. Jagang and the Order would be  on  the other side. The Midlands would
be safe. That boy would be playing ball somewhere."
     "Kahlan,  it's  not  so simple as you make it  seem." Warren opened his
hands in an expression of frustration. "I don't want to argue this with you,
but I want you to understand that prophecy gets fulfilled in  many ways.  It
often seeks its own solution. It could be that had Ann not sent for Richard,
he  would have, for some other reason, ventured down there and brought  down
the  barrier. Who is to know  the reason? Don't you see? It could be that it
was  bound  to happen,  and Ann  was simply  the  means.  If  not  her, then
     Kahlan pulled angry breaths through gritted teeth. "How much blood, how
many  corpses, how much grief will it take before you  see the harm prophecy
has inflicted upon the world?"
     Warren  smiled  sadly.  "I am a prophet. I've  always  wanted to  be  a
prophet in  order to help people. I  wouldn't  put my faith in it if I truly
thought  it was  the  cause of harm." He smiled more brightly with a memory.
"Don't  forget, without prophecy, you would never have come to meet Richard.
Aren't you better off having had him come into your life? I know I am."
     Kahlan's look of cold fury took the warm smile from his face.
     "I-would rather have been condemned to a lonely life without love, than
to know

     that harm has come to him because he came into my  life. I would rather
never have met him, than to have  come to know his value, and know that that
value is being dashed on the rocks of this mad faith in prophecy."
     Warren stuck  his hands in the opposite sleeves of his purple robes  as
his gaze  sank  to the  ground.  "I understand how  you can  feel that  way.
Please, Kahlan, talk to Verna."
     "Why? She's the one who carried out Ann's orders."
     "Just talk to her. I almost lost Verna because she felt the same way as
you do now."
     Warren nodded. "She came to  believe  she had  been used maliciously by
Ann.  For twenty years she  was on a fruitless search  for Richard, when all
the while Ann knew right where he was.  Can you imagine how Verna felt  when
she discovered  that? There  were  other things,  too.  Ann  tricked us into
believing  she was dead.  She maneuvered  Verna  into being Prelate." Warren
pulled  a hand from his sleeve and held his  first finger  and thumb an inch
apart. "She was once this close to throwing her journey book into a fire."
     "She should have."
     Warren's sad smile returned. "I'm  just saying it might make  you  feel
better to talk to her. She will understand how you feel."
     "What good is that going to do?"
     Warren shrugged. "Even if you're right,  so what? What's done is  done.
We can't undo it.  Nicci has Richard. The Imperial Order is here  in the New
World.  Whatever caused the  events, they are upon us and we  must  now deal
with that reality."
     Kahlan appraised  his sparkling  blue eyes.  "You learned this studying
     His smile widened into a  grin. "No. That  was what Richard taught  me.
And, a pretty smart woman I know just told me not to start  down the path of
     As much  as she  was of a mind to hold on to it, Kahlan  felt her anger
slipping away. "I'm not so sure how smart she is."
     Warren waved down  at the troops charging up the hill with their swords
drawn, signaling  the  allclear. The men slowed to  a fast walk,  but didn't
sheathe their weapons.
     "Well," Warren said, "she was smart enough to figure out Jagang's plan,
and  in the middle  of being attacked by his gifted minion to keep her  wits
about her and to trick him into thinking she had fallen for his scheme."
     Kahlan drew her face into a peevish scowl. "How old are you, Warren?"
     He looked surprised  by the question. "I turned one hundred fifty-eight
not long ago."
     "That  explains it,"  Cara griped, starting  off  down the hill.  "Stop
looking  so  young  and  innocent  all  the  time, Warren.  It's just  plain
     By the  time  Kahlan,  Cara, Warren,  and their  escort of guard troops
arrived  back  in camp  several  hours  later, it  was a  scene  of  furious
activity.  Wagons  were  being loaded, horses hitched, and  weapons readied.
Tents  were not  yet being taken  down,  but soldiers  in their  leather and
chain-mail  armor,  and  still eating  the remnants of  their  dinners, were
gathered around officers, listening to instructions for when the

     order  was  given  to send  a  force  out to intercept the enemy moving
north. Other officers in tents Kahlan passed were bent over maps.
     The aroma of  stew drifting through the afternoon air reminded  her how
hungry she  was. Winter darkness  came early, and  the overcast made it feel
like it  was already evening.  The  endless cloudy days were getting  to  be
depressing. There was little chance to  see much of the sun;  soon,  heavier
snow would make it down this far south.
     Kahlan dismounted and let a young soldier take her horse. She no longer
rode a big warhorse. She, and  most of the cavalry, had switched to smaller,
more  agile mounts. For  a  clash between large units,  big  warhorses added
weight to a charge, but since the D'Haran Empire forces were so outnumbered,
they   had  decided  it  would  be  best  to  trade  weight  far  speed  and
     By changing  tactics in such a way, not just with the cavalry but  with
their  entire army, Kahlan and General Meiffert had  been  able to  keep the
Order off balance  for weeks. They let the enemy put  a huge  effort into  a
crushing  attack,  and then dodged it just enough  to save themselves  while
letting the Order, being  tantalizingly close, wear themselves out. When the
Order tired  from the effort  of  such massive attacks  and paused to  rest,
General  Meiffert sent in glancing attacks to step on  their toes  and  make
them dance. Once the Order dug in for the  expected attack, Kahlan  withdrew
their forces to a more distant spot, rendering useless the Order's effort at
building defenses.
     If the  Order  tried  the same  thing again, the  D'Harans continued to
harry  them  day  and  night, buzzing  around  them like  angry hornets, but
staying out  of reach of  a heavy swat. If  the Imperial Order tired of  not
being able to sink their teeth into  their enemy, and turned their forces to
go after population centers, then Kahlan had her men jump on their tails and
put arrows in  their backs  as they struggled to get free. Eventually,  they
would  have  to forget their thoughts of plunder  and turn back  toward  the
     The Imperial  Order was maddened by  the  D'Harans'  constant badgering
tactics. Jagang's men were insulted  by that kind of fighting; they believed
real  men  met face-to-face in the  field of battle, and exchanged blow  for
blow.  Of  course,  it  didn't  trouble  their  dignity  that  they  greatly
outnumbered  the  D'Harans. Kahlan knew  such  a meeting would be bloody and
only to the  Order's advantage. She didn't care what they thought, only that
they died.
     The  more angry  and frustrating the  Imperial Order became,  the  more
recklessly they  behaved,  launching  impetuous  attacks  into  well-ordered
defenses, or heedlessly pressing men into  doomed  attacks  trying  to  take
ground they couldn't possibly take in such a  fashion. It sometimes  stunned
Kahlan to watch so many of the enemy march into  range below their  archers,
fall  dead,  only  to  have  yet  more  men  march  right  in  behind  them,
continuously adding  corpses to a battlefield already  choked with  the dead
and dying. It was insanity.
     The  D'Harans had suffered several thousand  dead or seriously wounded.
On the  other hand,  Kahlan and  General Meiffert  estimated that  they  had
killed  or wounded  in excess  of  fifty thousand of the  enemy.  It was the
equivalent  of stepping  on one ant as the colony poured out of its anthill.
She could think of nothing else to do but to keep at it. They had no choice.
     Kahlan, with Cara at her side, crossed  a  river  of men  to get to the
command tents sporting blue  cloth  strips. Unless you knew the day's  color
code, finding the command tents would be nearly impossible. Because  of  the
fear of an infiltrator or an

     enemy gifted finding and being able to kill a group  of senior officers
gathered  together,  they met  in nondescript  tents.  Colored  cloth strips
marked  many of the  tents-the men  used them as as system  of finding their
units  when they had to move on short notice and so often-so  Kahlan got the
idea of  using  the  same system to identify the command tents. They changed
the color code  often so no  one  color would become known as  the officers'
     Inside the cramped tent, General  Meiffert looked up from where he bent
over a table with a  map unfurled at a cockeyed angle. Lieutenant Leiden, of
Kelton, was there along with Captain Abernathy, the commander of  the Galean
forces Kahlan had brought down with her weeks before.
     Adie was sitting quietly  in  the corner, as the representative  of the
gifted, watching the goings-on with her completely white eyes. Blinded  as a
young woman,  Adie had learned to see using her gift. She  was  a remarkably
talented sorceress. Adie was quite proficient at using that talent to do the
enemy harm. Now she was there to help coordinate the Sister's abilities with
the needs of the army.
     When Kahlan inquired, Adie  told her,  "Zedd  be  down  at the southern
lines, checking on details."
     Kahlan nodded her thanks. "Warren went down there to help, too."
     Kahlan scrunched up  her freezing  toes  in her boots, trying to  bring
feeling  back  to  them. She blew warm air  into  her cupped  hands and then
turned her attention to the waiting general.
     "We need to get together a good-sized force-maybe twenty thousand men."
     General Meiffert sighed his frustration. "So they are moving an army up
past us."
     "No," she said. "It's a trick."
     The  three  officers frowned  their puzzlement as  they  waited  for an
     "I ran into Jagang-"
     "You what!" General Meiffert shouted in unbridled panic.
     Kahlan waved a hand, allaying his fears.  "Not like you're thinking. It
was  through the body of one of his  slaves." She  stuck her hands under her
arms to warm them. "The important thing is that I played along with Jagang's
scheme so that he would think we were falling for his plan."
     Kahlan explained how Jagang's ruse of troop movements was meant to work
and how its true  design was to draw away  a good-sized force so as to leave
those remaining behind weaker. The men listened as she laid it all out while
pointing to the locations on the map.
     "If  we were  to  send  that  many men  out," Lieutenant  Leiden asked,
"wouldn't that be just what Emperor Jagang wanted?"
     "It would be," she told him, "but that's not what  we're going to do. I
want those men to ride out of camp, to make it look as if we were doing what
he expected."
     She leaned over the map, using a piece of charcoal to sketch in some of
the nearby  mountains  she had  just  traveled  through, and showed  .them a
lowland pass around several.
     Captain Abernathy spoke up. "We have my Galean troops-they're close  to
the number you need to serve as the decoy."
     "That's what I was thinking," General Meiffert said.
     "Done," Kahlan said. She pointed at the map again. "Circle around these
mountains, here, Captain, so that when the  Order attacks our camp, thinking
to  roll over  us, your men  can stick  them in their soft side, right here,
where they won't expect it."
     Captain Abernathy,  a  trim  man with a  graying  bushy  mustache  that
matched his

     eyebrows, nodded  as  he  watched Kahlan pointing  out the route on the
map. "Don't worry, Mother Confessor, the Order will believe we're  gone, but
we'll be  standing  ready to drive right into their ribs  when they come for
     Kahlan  turned her attention back to the  general.  "We'll also need to
secretly trickle another force out of camp to  wait at  the opposite side of
the  valley  from  Captain Abernathy,  so that when the  Order  comes up the
valley in the middle,  we can drive into their ribs from both sides at once.
They won't  want to  let us cut off and trap part of their force, so they'll
turn tail. Then our main force can drive steel into their vulnerable backs."
     The three  officers considered her plan in silence, while  outside  the
confusion of noise went on. Horses galloped past, wagons creaked and bounced
along, snow underfoot crunched as soldiers shuffled past, and men called out
     Lieutenant Leiden's eyes turned up toward Kahlan. "Mother Confessor, my
Keltans could be that other force. They've all served together a  long time,
and work well in our own units under my command. We could begin slipping out
of camp at once and gather down there to wait for the attack. You could send
a Sister  with us  to verify a prearranged  signal, and then I could take my
men in when Captain Abernathy attacks from the opposite side."
     Kahlan knew the man wanted to redeem himself  in her eyes. He  was also
looking  to  establish  for Kelton a measure of  autonomy within the D'Haran
     "That will be a dangerous spot, Lieutenant.  If anything goes wrong, we
can't come to your aid."
     He nodded.  "But  my  men are familiar with the area and  we're used to
traversing  mountainous country in the winter. The Imperial  Order is from a
warmer land. We have the advantage of weather  and terrain.  We  can do  the
job, Mother Confessor."
     Kahlan  straightened,  letting  out a breath as she  appraised the man.
General  Meiffert,  she knew, would like the  idea. Captain Abernathy would,
too; Galea and Kelton were traditional rivals, so the two would just as soon
fight their own way, and separately.
     Richard had brought the lands together, so that  they would all come to
feel they  were  one, now.  That  was  vital if  they were  to  survive. She
supposed that they were fighting for the same goal, so in that way they were
working together-they would have to  coordinate  their  attacks.  Lieutenant
Leiden did make sense, too; his troops were mountain fighters.
     "All right, Lieutenant."
     "Thank you, Mother Confessor."
     Kahlan thought to add some insurance. "If you acquit  yourself well  in
this, Lieutenant, it could move you up in command."
     Lieutenant Leiden clapped a fist to his  heart  in salute. "My men will
make their queen proud."
     Kahlan acknowledged his pledge with the  nod of the  Mother  Confessor.
She addressed them all. "We had better get under way."
     General  Meiffert  grunted  his  agreement.   "This  will   be  a  good
opportunity to knock down their numbers. If  it  goes even  half right, this
time we'll bleed them good." He turned to the other two officers. "Let's get
started. We need to have your men moving at once to give them enough time to
be in position by morning.  There's no telling how  long  they might wait to
attack, but if it comes as soon as dawn, I want you in position and ready."
     "The Order favors attacking at dawn," Captain Abernathy  said. "We  can
be on

     our way within the hour. We'll be  in  place and ready by  dawn, should
they come in early."
     "As can we," Lieutenant Leiden agreed.
     The two officers bowed and started to leave.
     "Captain," Kahlan called. The men turned back.
     "Mother Confessor?"
     "Do you have any idea what could be keeping Prince Harold  and the rest
of  your army? He should  have  been here long  ago. We could really use the
rest of your men."
     Captain  Abernathy's thumb  twiddled a bone button on the front  of his
dark coat.  "I'm sorry,  Mother Confessor. I, too, thought  they should have
been here by now. I can't imagine what could be keeping the prince."
     "He  should have been here by now," she  repeated  under her breath  to
herself. She looked up at the captain. "Weather?"
     "Perhaps, Mother  Confessor.  If  there are  storms,  that  could  have
delayed him. That is  probably the reason, and in that case I don't  imagine
he  should  be  much  longer.  Our  men  train  in  the  mountains  in  such
     Kahlan sighed. "Let's hope he's here soon, then."
     Captain Abernathy confidently met her gaze. "I know for a fact that the
prince was eager  to  collect his men and get down here to help. Galea spans
the Callisidrin Valley. The prince personally told me that it was to our own
best interest to halt the Imperial Order down here, rather than letting them
advance further up into the Midlands, where our lands and our families would
come under the terror of the enemy."
     Kahlan could see  in Lieutenant Leiden's eyes that he was thinking that
if Prince Harold instead decided to make a stand  in the Callisidrin Valley,
in order to selfishly protect  his homeland of  Galea, such an obstacle very
well could force the Order to  instead  bear  toward the northeast  in their
advance,  around  the  intervening  mountains,  and  over   into  the   Kern
Plain-right toward  Leiden's homeland  of Kelton. If Lieutenant  Leiden  was
imagining such treachery, he had the wisdom not to voice it.
     "I  know  the  weather was bad when  I came down," Kahlan said. "It  is
winter,  after all. I'm  sure Prince Harold  will soon be here to  help  his
queen and the fellow people of the D'Haran Empire."
     Kahlan offered them a  smile  to soften the subtle threat. "Thank  you,
gentlemen.  You'd best get to your tasks.  May  the good spirits watch  your
     After the men had saluted  and  horned off to their work, Adie put  her
hands to her knees and levered herself to her feet.
     "If you do not need me, I  must see to informing the Sisters, Zedd, and
Warren of our plans."
     Kahlan nodded wearily. "Thank you, Adie."
     Adie, her eyes completely white, saw with the aid  of her  gift. Kahlan
could feel that gifted gaze on her.
     "You have used your power," the old  sorceress  said. "I be able to see
it in your face. You must rest."
     "I know," Kahlan said. "But there are things needing to be done."
     "They will not get  done if you fall ill, or worse-which could happen."
Adie's thin fingers gripped Cara's arm. "See to it that the Mother Confessor
be left  alone for  a while, so she can at least rest her head on the table,
if nothing else."
     Cara  swung  the folding chair around and  set it behind the table. She
pointed at it while leveling a stern look at Kahlan.

     "Sit. I will stand watch."
     Kahlan  was  exhausted.  Using  her  Confessor's   ability  sapped  her
strength. She needed  time  to  recover. The hard  ride back  had only  made
matters worse. She went around the table and sat down heavily in the folding
chair. She opened her fur mantle and set it back on her shoulders. Richard's
sword  was still  strapped  to  her back,  its  hilt jutting  up  above  her
shoulder. She didn't bother to remove the sword.
     Adie, at seeing Kahlan comply without complaint, smiled to herself  and
went on  her way. Cara took up guard  at the entrance  as Kahlan's head sank
down  into  her  pillowed arms. Trying not to let the terrible events of the
day overwhelm her, she instead thought  of Richard, remembering his handsome
smile,  his penetrating gray eyes, his gentle touch. Her own eyes closed. In
her weariness, the chair and table felt as if they were spinning her around.
In  moments, though, as she  held her thoughts of Richard in her mind's eye,
she felt herself sliding into sleep.

     Mother Confessor?"
     Kahlan squinted up at a dark shape above her. She blinked, clearing her
vision, and saw  that it was Verna. The gold sunburst ring of the Prelate of
the  Sisters of the Light reflected  a  glimmer  of  lamplight.  Behind her,
twilight tainted the tent canvas with a rusty glow.
     Kahlan  rubbed the  sleep  from her eyes. Verna wore  a long, gray wool
dress and a dark brown  cloak. At her throat, the dress  had a bit  of white
lace that  softened the austerity of the  outfit. Verna's brown  hair  had a
carefree wave and spring to it, but her brown eyes held a troubled look.
     "What is it, Verna?"
     "If you have a moment, I would like to talk to you."
     No doubt, Verna had been talking  to  Warren. Whenever Kahlan  saw them
together, the shared intimate glances, the chance furtive touch reminded her
of the way  she  and  Richard felt  about each  other. It softened  Kahlan's
feelings about Verna's stern exterior, to  know she was in love-knowing, for
that matter, that she was capable of tenderness. Kahlan knew that  she, too,
must be regarded  with the  same sort of curiosity, if not  amazement, where
tender feelings were concerned.
     She sighed, wondering if this was going to  be  a "talk" about  Ann and
prophecy. Kahlan wasn't in the mood.
     "Cara, how long have I been asleep?"
     "A couple of hours. It will soon be dark."
     As  tight  and sore  as Kahlan's shoulders and neck were  from sleeping
with  her head  on the  table, the lateness of  the hour  didn't  come as  a
surprise. She stretched to the side and then saw the frail looking sorceress
sitting on a short bench. She had a dark blanket over her lap.
     "How do you feel?" Adie asked.
     "I'm fine." Kahlan could see her breath  in the frigid air. "The men we
sent out?"
     "Both groups  be on their way, more than an hour ago,"  Adie said. "The
first group, the Galeans, all left  together in  big  columns.  The  Keltans
dribbled out in  small  groups not  as  likely  to be noticed  by  any spies
     Kahlan yawned. "Good."
     She knew they had to  fear an attack  by  the Imperial Order as soon as
morning. At least that should give their  men enough time to travel to their
positions and be ready. Waiting for an attack made her  stomach feel queasy.
She knew the men, too, would be on edge and likely get little sleep.
     Adie idly  ran a thin finger back and  forth along  the red  and yellow
beads at the neckline of her modest robes. "I  came back after  the  Galeans
left, to help Cara keep people away  so you would not be disturbed while you

     Kahlan  nodded her  thanks. Apparently, either Adie  thought Kahlan had
rested enough, or she thought Verna's visit was important.
     "What is it, then, Verna?"
     "We have .  . . discovered something. Not so much discovered it, as had
an idea."
     "Who is `we'?"
     Verna cleared her throat. Under her  breath she beseeched the Creator's
forgiveness before she went on.
     "Actually, Mother Confessor, I thought of it. Some of my Sisters helped
me with it, but I'm the one who thought it up. The blame falls to me."
     Kahlan thought  that was  an  odd way  of putting  it. She didn't think
Verna looked at all pleased by her own  idea, whatever it was. Kahlan waited
silently for her to go on.
     "Well,  you see,  we have  a  problem  getting  things past the enemy's
gifted. They have Sisters of the light,  but  also  Dark, and  we don't have
their power. When we try to send things-"
     "Send things?"
     Verna pursed her lips. "Weapons."
     When  Kahlan's brow twitched with  a  questioning look,  Verna bent and
gathered  something  from the ground.  She held out  her open  hand, showing
Kahlan a collection of small pebbles.
     "Zedd showed us how to turn simple things into  devastating weapons. We
can use our  power to fling them or even with our breath blow on  some small
thing, like these  pebbles, and use our magic to send  them out faster  than
any arrow, even an arrow from a crossbow.  The pebbles we flung  out in this
way cut  down waves  of advancing  soldiers. The pebbles traveled so swiftly
that sometimes each would pierce the bodies of half a dozen men."
     "I  remember those reports,"  Kahlan said.  "But  that  stopped working
because their gifted caught  on to the artifice and now  defend against such
     Kahlan recognized  the weary  look  of the  weight of responsibility in
Verna's brown eyes.  "That's right. The Order learned how to look for things
of magic, or even things  propelled  by magic. Most of our conjuring that is
in any way similar has become useless."
     "That's what Zedd told me-that  in war magic is most often unseen, that
each side manages only to balance the other."
     Verna nodded. "It is so. We do the same  against them. Things they used
at  first, we now know how to counter so we can protect our men. Our warning
horns, for example. We learned that  we must code them with a trace of magic
to know they are genuine."
     Kahlan drew  her  fur mantle up around her neck. She was chilled to the
bone and couldn't seem to get warm.  Not surprising, seeing as how  she  was
spending all of her time  outdoors. It was insanity to be carrying on  a war
in such conditions. She guessed that war in  fine weather was  no more sane.
Still, she ached to be inside, beside a cozy fire.
     "So what is this thing you thought up?"
     As if reminded  of the cold,  Verna pulled her cloak tighter around her
shoulders. "Well, I got the notion that if the enemy gifted are, in a sense,
filtering for  anything  magic, or  even  anything being propelled by magic,
then what we need is something not magic."
     Kahlan gave Verna a grim smile. "We do. They're called soldiers."

     Verna  didn't  smile.  "No.  I meant  something the gifted  could do to
disable enemy troops without risk to our own men."
     Adie shuffled  forward to stand behind Kahlan's left shoulder as  Verna
reached into her cloak  and pulled out a small leather pouch  closed  with a
drawstring. She tossed  it on the table  before  Kahlan, then set a piece of
paper beside it.
     "Pour a little on the paper, please." Verna was holding  her stomach as
if she were having  indigestion. "But be careful not  to  touch it with your
finger or  get it on your skin-and whatever  you do,  don't  blow on it.  Be
careful not to even breathe on it."
     Adie leaned in to watch as Kahlan carefully poured a  small quantity of
a sparkling dust from the pouch onto the square of paper. She pushed  at the
little pile with the corner of the pouch. There were hints of pallid colors,
but it was mostly a pale, glimmering, greenish-gray.
     "What is it? Some kind of magic dust?"
     Kahlan's eyes turned up. "Glass. You thought up glass?"
     Verna let  out a tsk at herself for how  foolish she must have sounded.
"No, Mother Confessor.  I  thought of  breaking  it. You  see, this  is just
simple glass that has been  broken and crushed into fine pieces-almost dust.
But we used  our Han to  aid  us when we crushed the glass with a mortar and
pestle. By  using our gift, we were  able  to break the glass into very tiny
fragments, but in a special way."
     Verna  leaned over, her finger hovering above the little  greenish-gray
mound. Cara leaned  in beside  her in order  to look  down at  the dangerous
thing on the piece of paper.
     "This glass-every piece-is sharp and jagged, even though each piece  is
very  tiny. Each piece is  hardly bigger than  dust, so  it  weighs nothing,
almost like dust."
     "Dear  spirits,"  Adie said before  whispering  a  prayer  in  her  own
     Kahlan cleared her throat. "I don't understand."
     "Mother Confessor,  we can't  get our magic  past  the defenses of  the
Order's gifted.  They are prepared for magic,  even if it's a simple  pebble
but uses magic to hurl it at their troops.
     "This  glass,  however, even though we  used magic to break it, has  no
magic properties-none at all. It's just inert material, the same as the dust
kicked  up by their  feet. They can't detect it as magic, because  it  isn't
magic. Through their gift,  they will sense this as simple as dust, or mist,
or possibly fog, depending on atmospheric conditions at the time."
     "But  we sent dust clouds  at them before," Kahlan said.  "Dust to make
them sick and such. They mostly countered it."
     Verna held  up a  finger to note her point as she smiled a  grim smile.
"But those were  dust clouds containing  magic. Mother  Confessor, this does
not. Don't  you see? It's so light it floats in the  air for a long time. We
could use  simple magic to cast  it up  into  the air, and then withdraw the
magic,  or we  could  simply fling it up  into the breeze, for  that matter.
Either way, we have only to let their troops run through it."
     "All  right." Kahlan  scratched an  eyebrow. "But what will  it  do  to
     "It  will get in their  eyes," Adie said in her raspy voice from behind
Kahlan's shoulder.
     "That's right," Verna said. "It gets in their  eyes,  just  as any dust
would. At first,  it will feel  like dust in their eyes and they will try to
blink it  away. However, since the fragments are all still jagged  and razor
sharp, they will instead embed themselves

     in the body's tissue. It  will  stick in their eyes, and build up under
their eyelids, where  it will make thousands of  tiny cuts across their eyes
with  each blink.  The more  they blink,  the more  it  eats  away  at their
delicate eyes." Verna straightened and  pulled her cloak together. "It  will
blind them."
     Kahlan sat in numb disbelief at the madness of it all.
     "Are you sure?" Cara asked. "Might  it just  irritate them, like gritty
     "We know for sure," Verna said. "We . . . had an accident, and know all
too well what it does. It may do more damage when it gets in the throat, the
lungs, and  the gut-we don't  know about that, yet-but we do  know for  sure
that such  special glass, if we grind it  to just the right  size particles,
will float in  the air and people  passing through the cloud will be blinded
in remarkably short order. As long as we can blind a man, he can't fight. It
may not kill them, but as  long as they are blind they  can't  kill  us,  or
fight back as we kill them."
     Cara,  usually  gleeful at the prospect of  killing the enemy, did  not
seem so, now. "We would have but to line them up and butcher them."
     Kahlan put her head in her hands, covering her eyes.
     "You want me to approve its use, don't you? That's why you're here."
     Verna said nothing. Kahlan looked up at last.
     "That's what you want, isn't it?"
     "Mother Confessor, I need  not tell you  that the  Sisters of the Light
abhor harming people. However, this is a war for our very existence, for the
very existence of free people. We know it must be done. If Richard were here
.  . . I just thought  that you would want to be made aware of  this, and be
the one to give such orders."
     Kahlan stared at the woman, understanding then why she was  holding her
hand over a pain in her stomach.
     "Do you know, Prelate," Kahlan said in a near whisper, "that I killed a
child today?  Not by accident, but on purpose. I would do  it again  without
hesitation. But that won't make me sleep any better."
     "A child? It was truly necessary to . . . kill a child?"
     "His name was  Lyle.  I believe you know him. He was another one of the
victims of Ann's Sisters of the Light."
     Verna, her face gone ashen, closed her eyes against the news.
     "I guess if I can kill a child," Kahlan said, "I can easily enough give
the orders for you to use your  special glass against the monsters who would
use a child as a weapon. I have sworn no mercy, and I meant it."
     Adie laid a gnarled hand on Kahlan's shoulder.
     "Kahlan," Verna said in a gentle voice, "I can understand how you feel.
Ann used me,  too,  and I didn't understand why. I thought she used everyone
for her own selfish purposes. For a time, I thought her a despicable person.
You have every reason to believe as you do."
     "But I  would be wrong, Verna? Is  that what you were going to add? I'd
not be so sure, were I you. You didn't have to kill a little boy today."
     Verna nodded in sympathy but didn't argue.
     "Adie,"  Kahlan asked,  "do you think there would be anything you might
be able to  do for the woman who was accidentally blinded? Perhaps you could
help her?"
     Adie nodded. "That be a good idea. Verna, take me  to her, and  let  me
see what I can do."
     Kahlan cocked her head as the  two women moved toward the tent opening.
"Did you hear that?"

     "The horn?" Verna asked.
     "Yes. It sounds like alarm horns."
     Verna  squinted  in  concentration.  She turned her head  to  the side,
listening attentively.
     "Yes, it  does sound like alarm horns,"  she finally declared,  "but it
doesn't  have  the right  trace  of magic through  it.  The enemy  does that
often-tries to get us  to  act based on false alarms. We've been having more
and more lately."
     Kahlan frowned. "We have? Why?"
     "Why . . . what?"
     Kahlan  stood. "If we know  they're false alarms,  and they don't work,
then why would the Order increase the attempts? That makes no sense."
     Verna's  gaze roved  about as as  if  searching in  vain for an answer.
"Well,  I  don't  know. I can't  imagine.  I'm no expert in the  tactics  of
     Cara turned to go have a look. "Maybe it's just some scouts coming back
     Kahlan turned her  head, listening. She heard horses  running, but that
wasn't  so  rare.  It  could be, as Cara  suggested,  scouts returning  with
reports. But, by the sound of the hooves, the horses sounded big.
     She heard men yelling. The clash of steel rang out-along with  cries of
     Kahlan  drew her Galean royal sword  as  she started around  the table.
Before any of them could get  more than a step, the tent shuddered violently
as  something crashed against its  walls.  For an instant,  the whole  thing
tipped at an impossible angle;  then  steel-tipped  lances burst through the
canvas. With a rush of wind the tent collapsed around them.
     The  heavy canvas  drove  Kahlan to  the ground as  it  caved  in.  She
couldn't get a grip on anything solid as the tent rolled her  over and began
dragging her  along. Hooves thundered past, pounding the ground right beside
her head.
     She could smell  lamp  oil  as it  sloshed  across  the canvas.  With a
whoosh, the oil and the tent ignited. Kahlan coughed on the smoke. She could
hear the crackle of flames. She could see nothing. She was trapped-rolled up
in the bucking tent as it slid across the ground.

     Tightly  shrouded in stiff canvas,  Kahlan couldn't see  anything.  She
choked and gagged  on the  thick, acrid  smoke burning her lungs. She pulled
frantically at the canvas, trying to disentangle herself, but as she bounced
and tumbled  along the ground,  she couldn't  make  any headway gaining  her
liberty. The  heat  of  flames close to  her face ignited  in her a sense of
panic. Her weariness forgotten, she kicked and struggled madly as she gasped
for air.
     "Where are you!"
     It was Cara's  voice.  It sounded  close,  as  if she, too,  was  being
dragged along and strenuously engaged in  her own fight  for life. Cara  was
smart enough  not  to shout  Kahlan's name or title when  surrounded by  the
enemy; hopefully, Verna knew better, as well.
     "Here!" Kahlan shouted in answer to Cara.
     Kahlan's sword was trapped, pressed  to her legs by  the rolled canvas.
She managed  to wiggle  her left  hand  up onto the knife  at  her belt. She
yanked it free.  She had to turn her face to try to keep away  from the heat
of the oily flames. The smothering smoky blindness was terrifying.
     With  angry resolve, Kahlan stabbed  at the canvas,  punching her knife
through. Just then,  the  tent  hit something and they were bounced into the
air.  The hard  landing knocked the wind  from her  lungs. A  gasp pulled in
suffocating smoke. Again, Kahlan plunged her knife into the heavy canvas and
slashed an opening as her entire shroud erupted into flame.
     She yelled again to Cara. "I can't get-"
     The tent hit  something solid. Her shoulder whacked hard into what felt
like a tree stump and she was flipped up and over the top of it. Had she not
been wearing her stiff leather armor, the blow surely would have broken  her
shoulder. Crashing down  on  the other side, Kahlan  tumbled free and across
the snow. She spread her arms to stop herself from rolling.
     Kahlan saw  General Meiffert reach up, seize a  fistful of  chain mail,
and unhorse the man who  had been dragging  her tent. The man's eyes gleamed
from behind long, curly, greasy hair. His stout  body was covered with hides
and furs over  chain mail and leather armor. He was missing his upper teeth.
As he lunged at the general, he lost his head, too.
     Yet more Order troops wheeled their big warhorses, striking down at the
D'Harans scrambling both to escape the blows and to mount a defense.  One of
the warhorses charged Kahlan's way, its rider leaning out, swinging a flail.
Kahlan sheathed  both her knife and sword. She snatched up  the lance of the
man who had been dragging the  tent. She brought the long weapon up and spun
around just in time to

     plant the  butt end in a frozen  rut and let the charging warhorse take
the steel-tipped point in his chest.
     As the grinning Order soldier with the flail leaped from the staggering
horse, he drew his sword with his  free hand. Kahlan didn't wait; as  he was
still alighting on his feet, she spun while drawing her own sword and landed
a solid backhanded blow across the left side of his face.
     Without pause, she  dove  under the legs of  another  horse to dodge  a
blade when the horse's rider slashed down at her. She sprang up on the other
side and hacked the rider's leg open to  the bone  twice before turning just
in  time to  ram her sword up to its hilt into  the chest of  another  horse
sidling in, trying to crush her against the first. As the animal reared with
a wild scream, Kahlan yanked her sword free and tumbled away just before the
big horse crashed  to the ground. The rider's leg was trapped, and he was at
an awkward angle to defend himself Kahlan made the best of the opportunity.
     For the moment, the  immediate area was clear, enabling her to scramble
over to the tent where  the general was on his knees, yanking at the snarled
mess  of   canvas  and  rope.  More  Order  cavalry  were  thundering  past,
threatening to trample Verna, Adie, and Cara  still trapped in the tangle of
tent. At least the burning section had pulled away.
     Kahlan  worked beside General Meiffert to  tug and  cut the canvas.  At
last  they ripped  open the heavy material, freeing Adie and Verna.  The two
women were  rolled  up together, nearly  in each another's arms. Adie's head
was bleeding,  but she pushed  away  Kahlan's concerned hands. Verna emerged
from the cocoon and stumbled to her feet, still dizzy from the wild ride.
     Kahlan helped Adie up. The scrape  on her brow didn't look too serious.
General  Meiffert  pulled frantically at the canvas. Cara was  still inside,
somewhere, but they no longer heard her.
     Kahlan seized Verna by the arm. "I thought they were false alarms!"
     "They were!" Verna insisted. "Obviously, they tricked us."
     All around, soldiers were engaged in pitched battle with Imperial Order
cavalry. Men shouted in  fury  as they threw  themselves  into battle;  some
screamed  as  they  were  wounded  or  killed;  others  called  out  orders,
commanding a defense, while the men on horseback ordered in their attack.
     Some of the  cavalry were setting fire to wagons, tents,  and supplies.
Others charged past,  trampling men and tents.  Pairs of riders teamed up to
single out soldiers and take them down, then charged after another victim.
     They were using the same tactics the D'Harans had used. They were doing
what Kahlan had taught them to do.
     When a  soldier, draped in filthy fur and weapons, cried out in bravado
as he rushed at her wielding  a  raised mace studded with  glistening bloody
spikes, Kahlan  took  his hand off with a lightning-swift blow. He staggered
to  a  stop and  stared a her in surprise. Without missing a beat, she drove
her sword into his gut and gave it a wrenching twist before pulling it free.
She  turned  her attention  elsewhere  as he crashed  down atop a  fire. His
screams melted in with all the others.
     Kahlan fell to her  knees once more to help General Meiffert free Cara.
He had  found her  amid the snare of rope and folds  of canvas. From time to
time one of  them had  to turn to fight off sporadic attackers. Kahlan could
see  Cara's  red boots sticking out  from under  the canvas, but  they  were

     Tent line was tangled around  Cara's legs. With Kahlan  and the general
working together, they cut through the mire of rope and were finally able to
unroll Cara. She held her head  as  she  moaned. She wasn't unconscious, but
she was groggy and  unable to  get her bearings. Kahlan found a lump  in her
hair, at the right side of her head, but it wasn't bleeding.
     Cara tried to sit up. Kahlan pressed her down on her back.
     "Stay there. You were hit on the head. I don't want you to get up  just
     Kahlan looked over her shoulder and  saw  Verna, nearby,  singling  out
Imperial Order  troops, each  twitch  of her hands  casting a fiery spell to
blast them  from  their horses, or a  focused edge of air  as sharp  as  any
blade,  yet  more swift and sure,  to  slice  them  down.  Without the  gift
themselves, or one of the  gifted to  protect them, the enemy's simple armor
was no defense.
     Kahlan caught Verna's attention  and motioned for her help. Seizing the
woman's cloak at  her  shoulder, Kahlan pulled Verna close to speak into her
ear so as to be heard above the noise of battle.
     "See how she is, will you? Help her?"
     Verna nodded and then huddled at  Cara's side as Kahlan and the general
turned to a fresh charge of cavalry. As one  man galloped in close, wielding
his lance around, General Meiffert dodged the strike and then leaped up onto
the  side of the horse, catching hold of the  saddle's horn. With a grunt of
angry effort, he drove his sword through the rider. The surprised man clawed
at  the  blade in his soft  middle. The general yanked his sword  free, then
grabbed the man  by the hair and dragged him out of the saddle. As the dying
man fell away, General Meiffert sprang up  into the saddle,  in  his  place.
Kahlan snatched up the fallen cavalryman's lance.
     The big D'Haran general wheeled the huge horse into the way of charging
enemy cavalry, protecting Verna and Cara. Kahlan sheathed her sword and used
the lance  to  good effect against  the warhorses. Horses, even well-trained
warhorses,  didn't  appreciate  being  stabbed  in  the  chest. Many  people
considered them just dumb beasts, but horses were smart enough to understand
that driving themselves onto a pointed lance was not what they wanted to do,
and reacted accordingly.
     As horses  bucked  and reared  when Kahlan stabbed them with her lance,
many of  their riders  fell. Some  were injured from the fall onto scattered
equipment or  the frozen ground, but  most came under the swarming attack of
the D'Harans.
     From atop his Imperial Order  warhorse, General Meiffert commanded  his
men  to  form  a defensive line. After directing them into place, he charged
off,  roaring a string of orders as he went.  He didn't tell his men  who to
protect, so as not to betray Kahlan to the enemy, but  they quickly saw what
it was he intended them to do. D'Harans grabbed up the enemy lances, or came
running  with their  own  pikes,  and  soon  there  was  a bristling line of
steel-tipped pole weapons presenting  a deadly  obstacle to any  approaching
     Kahlan called out orders to men on either side, and, as  she joined the
line, commanded them  into  position to block an Imperial Order cavalry unit
of about two hundred who  were trying to make  good their  escape. The enemy
might  have been emulating the raids  the  D'Haran  cavalry had made  on the
Imperial Order's camp, but Kahlan wasn't  about to allow them to  succeed at
it. She intended them to fail.
     The  enemy's  horses balked  when they  encountered  a  solid  line  of
advancing  pikes brandished by men  shouting  battle cries. Soldiers  coming
from behind the Order cavalry  rained  down arrows. D'Harans dragged trapped
riders from their saddles, down into the bloody hand-to-hand fighting on the

     "I  don't want one of them escaping camp alive!" she yelled to her men.
"No mercy!"
     "No mercy!" every D'Haran within earshot called out in answer.
     The enemy, so confident and arrogant as they had charged in,  relishing
the prospect of spilling D' Haran blood, were now nothing more than pathetic
men in the ungainly grip of despair as the D'Harans hacked them to death.
     Kahlan  left the  soldiers  with  the  lances  and  pikes, now  that  a
defensive line had been established  and the enemy was trapped, and ran back
through the fires and choking smoke to find Verna, Adie, and Cara.  She  had
to dodge wounded soldiers of both armies on the ground. The fallen attackers
who still had fight  in them snatched at her ankles. She had to stab several
who tried to rise up  to grab  her. Others  afoot who suddenly appeared, she
had to cut down.
     The enemy knew who  she was, or at least they were  pretty sure. Jagang
had seen  her, and no doubt had  described the Mother Confessor  to his men.
Kahlan was sure to have a heavy price on her head.
     There seemed to  be Imperial Order men scattered  throughout  the camp.
She doubted  there had been an attack by foot  soldiers;  they were probably
cavalrymen  who  had  lost their  mounts.  Horses  were  often easier moving
targets to  hit with arrows  and  spears than  were  men.  In  the gathering
darkness it was hard to make out enemy  soldiers.  They were  able to  sneak
through the  camp  undiscovered as  they hunted targets  of  value,  such as
officers, or maybe even the Mother Confessor.
     When the lurking enemy spotted Kahlan making her way through the chaos,
they came  out from their hiding places to  go after her with wild  abandon.
Others,  she  came upon and  surprised.  Remembering not  only her  father's
training, but  Richard's  admonition,  Kahlan cut  fiercely  into  the enemy
soldiers. She gave them no opening; no chance; no mercy.
     Her  training under her  father had  been  a  good  foundation  for the
esoteric  tactical  precepts  that  Richard  had taught  her  when  she  was
recovering from her  wounds  back in  Hartland. Richard's way had  seemed so
strange, then; now,  it seemed so natural. In  much the  same way  a lighter
horse could  outmaneuver a big warhorse, her lighter weight became her edge.
She didn't need the weight because she simply didn't clash with the enemy in
the  traditional manner,  as  they expected. She was a hummingbird, floating
out of their reach, swooping in between their ponderous moves to efficiently
deliver death.
     Such moves were not at odds with the manner of fighting that her father
had taught,  but complemented it  in a way that fit her. Richard had trained
her  not with a sword, but  with a willow switch, a mischievous smile, and a
dangerous glint in his eyes. Now, Richard's sword, strapped over the back of
her shoulder, was an everpresent reminder of those playful  lessons that had
been not only unrelenting, but deadly serious.
     She  finally found Verna, bent  over Cara,  but  didn't see the general
anywhere. Kahlan snatched Verna's sleeve.
     "How is she?"
     "She threw up, but that seemed to have helped, once it passed. She will
probably be woozy for a while, but I think she's otherwise all right."
     I  "She  has a thick  skull," Adie  said.  "It not be  cracked, but she
should lie still for
     a time-at least until she recovers her balance."
     Cara's hands groped  as if having trouble  finding  the ground  beneath
her. Despite

     her obvious dizziness, she was  cursing the Prelate  and trying  to sit
up. Kahlan, squatting beside Cara, pressed her shoulder to the ground.
     "Cara, I'm right here. I'm fine. Lie still for a few minutes."
     "I want at them!"
     "Later,"  Kahlan said. "Don't  worry, you'll get  your chance." She saw
that the blood was cleaned from Adie's head. "Adie, how are you? How is your
     The  old sorceress  gestured  dismissively. "Bah. I be fine. My head be
thicker than Cara's."
     Soldiers had gathered, forming a protective wall of steel. Verna, Adie,
and Kahlan crouched over Cara, keeping an eye on the surrounding  area,  but
the fighting immediately around them  seemed to have ended. Even if  pockets
of  battle remained,  with  the  large  number of  D'Haran soldiers who  had
protectively closed ranks, the four women were safe for the time being.
     General Meiffert finally returned, charging through the line of D'Haran
defenders  as they parted for  him. He leaped from  his enemy  warhorse. The
horse tossed his head at the indignity of being ridden by the enemy, and ran
off. The young D'Haran general crouched down on the opposite  side of  Cara.
Winded, he started talking anyway.
     "I've  been  down checking with the  front lines.  This is a raid, much
like  what we've  been doing to  them.  It looked bigger than it really was.
When they  spotted the Mother  Confessor,  they  called their men  into this
area, so the damage was mostly focused in this section."
     "Why didn't we know?" Kahlan asked. "What went wrong with the alarm?"
     "Not  sure." He was shaking his head, still  getting his breath.  "Zedd
thinks that they learned our codes,  and that  when we  blew the alarm, they
must have  used Subtractive Magic  to  alter the magic woven into  the sound
that tells our gifted that it's a real attack."
     Kahlan let out  an angry breath.  It was all starting to make sense  to
her. "That's why  there have been so many false alarms. They were numbing us
to  them  so  that  when they attacked, we  would  be  unconcerned,  falsely
believing our own alarms were just another enemy false alarm."
     "I'm guessing you're  right." He  flexed his  fist in  frustration.  He
looked down  then and noticed Cara  scowling  up at him. "Cara.  Are you all
right? I was so-I mean, we thought you might be badly hurt."
     "No,"  she said, casting a cool glare at Verna and Kahlan, each of whom
used a hand to  hold her shoulders down. She casually crossed her ankles. "I
just thought you could handle it, so I decided to take a nap."
     General Meiffert gave her  a quick smile and then turned a serious face
to Kahlan.
     "It gets worse. This  cavalry attack was  a  diversion.  They hoped  it
might get  you, I'm sure, but it was  meant to make us believe it was just a
     Kahlan felt  her  flesh go  cold with dread.  "They're  coming,  aren't
     He nodded. "The entire force.  They're still a distance out, but you're
right, they're coming. This was just to throw us into  confusion and keep us
     Kahlan stared,  dumbfounded.  The Order  had never  attacked  at sunset
before. The prospect of the onslaught of hundreds of thousands upon hundreds
of  thousands of Imperial  Order troops storming  in from  the darkness  was
     "They've changed  their tactics," Kahlan whispered to herself.  "He's a
quick study. I thought I'd tricked him, but I was the one who was taken in."

     "What are you mumbling  about?" Cara asked, her fingers locked together
over her stomach.
     "Jagang. He counted on me not being fooled by those troops going around
in a circle. He wanted me to think I had outsmarted him. He played me for  a
     Cara made a face. "What?"
     Kahlan felt  sick  at  the  implications.  She  pressed a  hand to  her
forehead as the awful truth inundated her.
     "Jagang  wanted me to  think I  had his scheme figured out, so we would
pretend  to  play along and send  out our troops. He probably  figured  they
wouldn't be sent after his decoy, but would be used instead against his real
plan of attack.  He  didn't  care  about that,  though.  All  along, he  was
planning on  changing his  tactics. He was waiting only  until  those troops
left so that he could attack before they were in place and while our numbers
were reduced."
     "You  mean,"  Cara asked,  "that  whole  time you were talking to  him,
pretending  to  believe  he  was  moving  troops  north, he  knew  you  were
     "I'm afraid so. He outsmarted me."
     "Maybe, maybe not,"  General Meiffert said.  "He hasn't succeeded, yet.
We don't have to let him have it his way. We  can move  our forces before he
can pounce."
     "Can't we call back the  men  we sent out?" Verna asked. "Their numbers
would help."
     "They're hours  away," General  Meiffert said, "traveling  through back
country on  the way to  their assigned locations. They  would never get back
here in time to help us tonight."
     Rather than dwell on how gullible she  had been, Kahlan put her mind to
the immediate problem. "We need to move fast."
     The general nodded his  agreement. "We could  fall  back on  our  other
plansabout breaking up and scattering into the mountains."
     He  ran  his  fingers  back through  his  blond  hair. The  gesture  of
frustration unexpectedly reminded Kahlan of Richard.  "But if we do that, we
would have to abandon most  of our supplies. In winter,  without supplies, a
number  of our men wouldn't last long. Either way, killed in battle or dying
of hunger and cold-you're just as dead."
     "Broken  up like that,  we would  be  easy  pickings,"  Kahlan  agreed.
"That's  a last resort. It may work later, but not now.  For now, we need to
keep  the army together if we're to survive the winter-and  if we're to keep
the Order distracted from its designs at conquest."
     "We dare not allow them to go  uncontested into  a city.  It would  not
only be a bloodbath, but if they picked the right city, we would face a near
impossible task of dislodging them." The  general shook his head.  "It could
end up being the end of our hopes of driving them back to the Old World."
     Kahlan  gestured over her  shoulder. "What about that  valley we talked
about, back there? The high pass is  narrow-it can be defended on this  side
by two men and a dog, if need be."
     "That's what I was thinking,"  he said. "It keeps the army together-and
keeps the Order having to contend with us, rather  than  being able  to turn
their attention on  any  cities. If they try to move around  us  up into the
Midlands, there are easy northern routes out of the valley from which we can
strike. We have more men on

     the  way, and we can  send  for others; we need to  stay  together  and
maintain our engagement with the Order's army until those forces arrive."
     "Then what are we waiting for?" Verna asked. "Let's get moving."
     He  gave her a worried look. "The problem right now is that if we're to
make it into that  valley before  the Order can pounce on us, we're going to
need more time to do it. The pass is  too narrow for wagons. The  horses can
make  it, but not the wagons-they'll  have to  be  dismantled.  Most of  our
equipment is  designed to be  knocked  down so the parts can be portaged, if
need  be. We'll have to leave a  few that  aren't. It won't take long to get
started, but  we're going to  need  time to funnel all the men  and supplies
over that narrow pass-especially in the dark."
     "Torches will  work well enough with a steady  line of men," Adie said.
"They must only follow the one in front, and even if the fight  be bad, they
can do it."
     Kahlan remembered the handprint made of glowing dust. "The gifted could
lay down a glowing track to guide the men."
     "That would  help,"  the general said. "We're still left with our basic
problem, though.  While our  men are trying to  break  down and move all our
equipment  and supplies, and waiting  their turn to  go  over the pass,  the
Order will arrive. We'll find ourselves in a pitched battle trying to defend
ourselves  while withdrawing  at  the  same time. A  withdrawal requires the
ability to move  faster  than the enemy,  or at least keep  him at bay while
pulling back; the pass doesn't provide that."
     "We've kept ahead of them before,"  Verna said.  "This isn't the  first
     "You're  right."  He pointed to his left. "We  could try to withdraw up
this valley, instead, but in the  dark and with the Order attacking, I think
that would be a mistake.  Darkness is the problem,  this time. They're going
to  keep coming.  In  daylight,  we could establish  defenses  and hold them
off-not at night."
     "We already  have defenses  set up, here," Cara said. "We  could  stand
where we are and fight them head-on."
     General Meiffert  chewed  his lower lip. "That was  my  first  thought,
Cara, and still an option, but I don't like our chances in a head-on, direct
confrontation like this, not at  night when they can  sneak great numbers of
men in close. We couldn't use our archers to advantage in the dark. We can't
see  their  numbers  or  movements accurately,  so we wouldn't  be  able  to
position our men properly.  It's  a  problem  of numbers: theirs  are almost
unlimited, ours aren't.
     "We don't have enough gifted to cover every possibility-and in war it's
always what you don't  cover that gets hit. The  enemy could pour  through a
gap, get in behind  us in the dark, without  us even realizing it, and  then
we're finished."
     Everyone was silent as the implications truly sank in.
     "I agree,"  Kahlan said.  "The pass is the only chance we have  to keep
from losing a major battle tonight-along with a huge number of our men.  The
risk without real benefit of standing and fighting is a poor choice."
     The general appraised her  eyes. "That still leaves us with the problem
of how we're going to get over that pass before they annihilate us."
     Kahlan turned  to Verna. "We need you to slow the enemy down to give us
the time we need to get our army over that pass."
     "What do you wish me to do?"
     "Use your special glass."
     The general screwed up his face. "Her what?"
     "A weapon of magic," Cara said. "To blind the enemy troops."

     Verna looked thunderstruck. "But I'm not ready. We only made up a small
batch. I'm not ready."
     Kahlan turned  back to the general. "What  did the scouts say about how
much time we have until the Order is upon us?"
     "The Order  could be here within an hour,  at the  soonest, two  at the
latest. If we  don't slow them down, we'll never make  it out of this valley
with our men and supplies. If we can't find a way to delay them, we can only
run  for  the  hills,  or  stand and fight. Neither is a choice I would make
except in desperation."
     "If  we just  run  for the hills,"  Adie said,  "we be as good as dead.
Together, we be  alive and at least be a threat to the enemy. If we scatter,
the  Order  will take the opportunity to  attack and capture cities. If  our
only choice is to  scatter, or stand our ground and  fight, then we can only
choose to stand and fight. Better to try, than  to die one  at a time out in
the mountains."
     Kahlan rubbed her fingers across her brow as she tried to think. Jagang
had changed his tactics and decided to engage them in a night battle. He had
never done that before because it would be  so costly for him,  but with his
numbers, he  apparently  wasn't concerned about that. Jagang  held  life  in
little regard.
     "If  we have to fight him, in a full battle, here, now," Kahlan said in
resignation, "we will probably lose the war by dawn."
     "I agree," the general  finally  said. "As  far as I see it, we have no
choice. We have to act quickly and get as many of  our men  over the pass as
we can.  We'll lose all those who don't get over before  the  Order arrives,
but we'll manage to preserve some."
     The four  of them  were silent a moment, each considering the horror of
that reality, of  who would remain behind to die. Furious activity continued
around them. Men were rushing around, putting out fires, collecting panicked
horses, tending to wounded, and battling the few remaining invaders they had
trapped. The Order soldiers were greatly outnumbered. Not for long, though.
     Kahlan's  mind raced.  She couldn't help being  furious with herself at
being  gulled.  Richard's  words  echoed  through  her  mind: think  of  the
solution, not  the problem. The solution  was the  only  thing that mattered
     Kahlan looked again to Verna. "We have  an hour before they're upon us.
You  have to  try, Verna. Do you think  you have any chance at  making  your
special glass and then deploying it before the enemy is upon us?"
     "I will do  my best-you  have my word on  that. I  wish I could promise
more." Verna scrambled to  her feet. "I'll need the Sisters  who are tending
the wounded, of course. What about  the ones working at the front lines? The
ones countering enemy magic? Can I have any of them?"
     "Take them  all,"  Kahlan said.  "If this doesn't work, nothing else is
going to matter."
     "I'll  take them  all, then.  Every  one," Verna  said. "It's the  only
chance we have."
     "You get started," Adie  told Verna. "Go down near  the front lines, on
this  side  of the valley  where you will be upwind from  the attack. I will
begin collecting the Sisters and get them down there to help you."
     "We need  glass," Verna said to the general.  "Any kind. At least a few
barrels full."
     "I'll have men down there with  the first barrel right away.  Can we at
least help to break it up for you?"

     "No. It  won't  matter if what you  throw  in the barrels  breaks,  but
beyond that, it must be done by the gifted.  Just bring  whatever glass  you
can collect, that will be all you can do."
     The general promised her  he would see to it. Holding her hem up out of
her way, Verna ran off to the task. Adie was close on her heels.
     "I'll  get the men moving now," the general told Kahlan as he scrambled
to his feet. "The  scouts can  mark the trail; then we  can start moving the
heavier supplies first."
     If it worked, they would slip out of Jagang's grasp.
     Kahlan knew that if Verna failed, they could all very  well  lose their
lives,  and  the war, by  morning.  General Meiffert  paused  with  one last
hesitant look, one last chance for her to change her mind.
     "Do it," she said to the general. "Cara-we have work."

     Kahlan pulled her horse up short. She felt the heat of blood rushing to
her face. "What  are you doing?" Cara asked as Kahlan threw her leg over the
horse's neck and leaped to the ground.
     The moon  lit a  layer of lacy clouds  scudding  past, giving a  faint,
serene illumination to the  surrounding countryside. The thin layer of  snow
gathered the  muted light of  the  moon  to make  it  more  luminous than it
otherwise would be.
     Kahlan pointed in the direction of the small figure she could just make
out in the dim light. The skinny girl, surely  not  much past ten years, was
standing at a barrel, ramming a metal  rod down inside to smash the glass in
the bottom. Kahlan handed the reins to Cara as soon as she had dismounted.
     Kahlan stalked over to the Sisters working on the snowy ground. Running
off  in  a haphazard  line,  to  keep the wind at  their  backs, were over a
hundred of the women, all focused intently on the work before them. Many had
their cloaks tented around themselves and their work.
     Not far down that line, Kahlan  bent,  put a  hand under  the Prelate's
arm, and  lifted her to her feet. Mindful of  the serious nature of the work
going on, Kahlan  at  least kept her voice  quiet,  since she wasn't able to
make it congenial.
     "Verna, what is Holly doing down here?"
     Verna glanced  over  the heads of a dozen intervening Sisters  kneeling
before a long  board,  breeze  at their backs, carefully griding glass chips
with pestles in mortars. There being not nearly enough pestles and  mortars,
many of the women to the other side were using dished rocks and round stones
to  carefully  crunch  the  glass  chips. The  concentration showed on  each
woman's face. The accident that had blinded  a Sister had  happened when the
wind  had changed, and a gust had blown her work  back  up in her  face. The
same thing could happen again at any time, although, as darkness had settled
in, the wind had at least died down to a steady breeze.
     Holly was bundled in  an oversized cloak.  She had a determined grimace
as she lifted the rod and then let it drop down in the  barrel set away from
the Sisters' dangerous work.  Kahlan saw that  the rod had a faint  greenish
glow to it.
     "She's helping, Mother Confessor."
     "She's a child!"
     Verna  pointed  off into the darkness, to what Kahlan hadn't  seen. "So
are Helen and Valery."
     Kahlan  pinched  the bridge of her nose  between her  first finger  and
thumb  and took a purging breath. "What  madness  would possess you to  have
children down here near the front helping to-to blind people?"
     Verna glanced at the women working nearby. She took Kahlan's arm by the
elbow and led her out of earshot  of the others. Alone, where they were less

     to be  heard,  she  folded her hands before herself as  she assumed the
stern visage that came so naturally to her.
     "Kahlan, Holly may be  a child, but she is a  gifted child, and she  is
far from stupid besides.  That goes for  Helen and Valery as well. Holly has
seen  more  in her young life than any  child  should see. She  knows what's
going  on tonight, with that attack, and  with the attack that's coming. She
was terrified-all the children were."
     "So you bring her to the front-to the greatest danger?"
     "What would you have me do? Send her  back somewhere to be watched over
by soldiers? Do you wish me  to force her to be alone at a time like this so
she could only tremble in terror?"
     "But this is-"
     "She's gifted. Despite how horrific it seems, this is better  for  her,
as it is for the others. She's with  the Sisters, who understand her and her
ability as other people can't. Don't you recall the comfort you derived from
being with older Confessors who knew the way you felt about things?"
     Kahlan did, but said nothing.
     "The  Sisters are the only  family she and the other novices have, now.
Holly is  not alone and afraid. She may still  be afraid,  but  she's  doing
something to help us, so that her fear is channeled into something that will
assist in overcoming the cause of her fear."
     Kahlan's brow was still set in a glare. "Verna, she's a child."
     "And  you had to kill a child today. I understand.  But don't let  that
terrible  event make it harder on Holly. Yes, this  is an awful thing she is
helping to do, but this  is the reality of the way things are. She could die
tonight,  along  with the rest of us. Can you even imagine what those brutes
would do to  her, first? At least that much is beyond the imagination of her
young mind. What she can comprehend, though, is fear enough.
     "If she wanted to hide somewhere, I would have  let her,  but she has a
right-if she so chooses-to contribute to saving  herself. She is gifted  and
can use her power to do the simple part of  what  needs doing. She begged me
to give her the chance to help."
     In anguish, Kahlan gathered her fur mantle at her throat as she glanced
back  over her shoulder at the  little girl using  both her spindly arms  to
lift the heavy steel rod and drop it again to break  the glass in the bottom
of the  barrel. Holly's features were  drawn tight  as  she concentrated  on
using her gift while at the same time lifting the weight of the rod.
     "Dear spirits," Kahlan whispered to herself, "this is madness."
     Cara  impatiently  shifted  her  weight to  her other  foot.  It wasn't
indifference to  the  situation, but a matter of priorities. Madness or not,
there was little  tine left, and,  as Verna said, they could all  die before
the  night was  finished. As cruel as it sounded, there were more  important
matters than the life of one child, or, for that matter, three.
     "How is the work going? Are you going to be ready?"
     Verna's bold expression finally  faltered. "I don't know." She lifted a
hand hesitantly, motioning out  over  the dark valley before them. "The wind
is  right, but the valley approach  to  our forces  is quite broad. It's not
that  we won't have some, it's  that we need to have enough so that when the
enemy gets close, we can release the glass dust to float across the span  of
the entire field of battle."

     "But you have some. Surely, what you have will do damage to the enemy."
     "If there  isn't  enough,  then they may skirt  it, or  it  may not  be
concentrated enough to do  the damage necessary to  bring their forces to  a
halt. Their attack will not be turned back by a small number of casualties."
Verna squeezed one  fist in her  other hand. "If the Creator will  just slow
the Imperial Order enough to grant us  another  hour,  at  the least, then I
believe we may have enough."
     Kahlan wiped a hand across  her face. That  was asking a lot,  but with
the darkness,  she thought  that it just might  be  possible  that the Order
would have to go slow enough  to give Verna  and  her Sisters  the time they
     "And you're sure we can't help? There is nothing any but the gifted can
do to assist you?"
     Verna's mask of authority again emerged in the moonlight.
     "Well, yes, there is one thing."
     "What is it, then?"
     "You could leave me alone so I can work."
     Kahlan sighed. "Just promise me one thing." Verna raised  an eyebrow as
if willing  to listen prudently. "When the attack comes, and you have to use
this special  glass, get the  children  out of  here  first? Get them to the
rear, where they can be taken over the pass to safety."
     Verna smiled  with  relief. "We are  of  like  minds  in  that,  Mother
     As Verna hurried back to her work, Kahlan and  Cara  returned along the
line of Sisters, past the  end to where  Holly was preparing glass to supply
those gifted women. Kahlan couldn't help but to stop for a word.
     "Holly, how are you getting along?"
     When the  girl rested the  rod against the side  of  the  barrel, Cara,
absent  any  fondness for  magic,  aimed a suspicious frown  at the  faintly
glowing metal. As Holly  took  her small  hands from the metal, the greenish
glow faded, as if a magical wick had been turned down.
     "I'm fine, Mother Confessor.  Except  I'm  cold. I'm  getting  terribly
tired of being cold."
     Kahlan smiled warmly as she ran a gentle hand down the  back of Holly's
fine hair. "As are we  all." Kahlan crouched down beside the girl.  "When we
get over into another valley, you can get warm by a nice fire."
     "That would be splendid." She cast a  furtive glance at her steel  rod.
"I have to get back to work, Mother Confessor."
     Kahlan couldn't resist  pulling the girl close and kissing  her  frigid
cheek. Hesitant  at first, the  thin little arms  surrendered to desperately
encircle Kahlan's neck.
     "I'm so scared," Holly whispered.
     "Me too," Kahlan whispered  back  as she  squeezed the girl tight.  "Me
     Holly straightened. "Really? You get  scared, too, that those awful men
will murder us?"
     Kahlan nodded. "I get  frightened, but  I know  we have a lot  of  good
people  who will  keep  us safe. Like you, they work as hard as they  can so
that we can all someday be safe, and not have to be scared anymore."
     The girl stuck her hands under her cloak to warm them. Her gaze sank to
the ground  at  her  feet. "I miss Ann, too."  She looked  up again. "Is Ann
     Kahlan groped for words of comfort. "I saw  Ann  not long  ago, and she
was fine. I don't think you need worry for her."

     "She saved me. I love her and miss her so. Will she be with us, soon?"
     Kahlan cupped the girl's cheek. "I don't know, Holly. She had important
business she  was taking  care  of.  I'm  sure, though,  that we'll  see her
     Pleased with that news and seemingly relieved to know  that she was not
alone  in   her  fears,   Holly  turned  back  to   her  work  with  renewed
     As  Kahlan  and  Cara  collected  their  horses,  they  heard  a  horse
approaching  at a  gallop. Before she  recognized  the rider, Kahlan saw and
recognized the black  splotch on  its rump.  When  he saw  her waving,  Zedd
trotted Spider around to her. He slid down off the animal's bare back.
     "They're coming," the wizard announced without preamble.
     Verna rushed up, having seen Zedd ride in. "It's too soon! They weren't
supposed to be here this soon!"
     He gaped at her in astonishment.  "Bags, woman, shall  I tell them that
it would  be rather inconvenient for them to attack right now and  to please
come back to kill us later?"
     "You know what I mean," she snapped. "We don't have enough, yet."
     "How long till they get here?" Kahlan asked.
     "Ten minutes."
     That thin sliver  of  time  was  the  only  bulwark  between  them  and
catastrophe.  Kahlan felt as  if her heart rose into  her  throat, recalling
suddenly the forsaken  feeling of  being  mobbed and beaten to death.  Verna
sputtered in wordless frustration, anger, and dread.
     "Do you have any ready?" Zedd  asked as calmly as if  he were inquiring
about dinner.
     "Yes, of course," she said. "But if  they will be here that soon, we've
not  enough. Dear Creator, we don't have nearly what we'll need  in order to
drift it out all across the front. Too little is as good as none."
     "We've  no choice, now."  Zedd gazed  off  into  the  darkness, perhaps
seeing  what  only  a  wizard  could   see.  His  jaw   was  set  in  bitter
disappointment.  He spoke in a disembodied voice,  a  man going through  the
motions when he knew he had come to the end of his options, perhaps even his
faith. "Start releasing what you have. We'll just have to hope for the best.
I have messengers  with me; I'll send word  of the situation back to General
Meiffert. He will need to know."-
     To  see Zedd  seemly  relinquish  hope  cast their  fate  in  the  most
frightening light possible. Zedd was always the one who  kept  them  focused
and  gave them courage,  conviction, and confidence. He gathered up Spider's
reins in one hand and gripped her mane with the other.
     "Wait," Kahlan said.
     He paused and looked back at her. His eyes were a window into  an inner
weariness. She couldn't imagine all the  struggles he had faced in his life,
or  even  in the last  few  weeks. Kahlan  ran through seemingly  a thousand
thoughts as she searched frantically for some way of turning away their grim
     Kahlan  couldn't  let Zedd down. He had  so often  carried them; now he
needed another shoulder to help endure the  weight. She presented him a look
of fierce determination before she turned to the Prelate.

     "Verna, what if we didn't  release it in the way we planned? What if we
didn't simply let it drift out, hoping for the breeze to. carry it  where we
need it?"
     Verna opened her hands in a bewildered gesture. "What do you mean?"
     "Won't it take more of  the glass-the amount you say you need-simply so
that there is enough to let it drift all the way  across the valley, and yet
have enough to hang in the air, too?"
     "Well . . . yes, of course, but-"
     "What if," Kahlan asked, "we  released  it in a line along  the face of
the front? Right where it was needed. Then it would take less, wouldn't it?"
     "Well I suppose." Verna threw  up her  hands. "But I told you, we can't
use  magic  to help  us or they will detect our conjuring and then they will
shield for the glass as fast as we release it. It will be useless. Better to
release what we have and hope for the best."
     Kahlan  glanced out  over  the empty plain faintly lit  by  the  placid
clouds  veiling  the moon. There  was nothing to be seen out in  the valley.
Soon,  there would be. Soon, the virgin snow would  be trampled by the boots
of over a million men.
     Only  the sound  of glass  being  crushed on stone and the thump of the
steel rods  in the barrels disturbed the quiet darkness. Soon, bloodcurdling
battle cries would inundate the hush of the night.
     Kahlan felt the suffocating dread she had felt  when she first realized
that all those men had caught her alone. She felt the anger, too.
     "Collect what you've made so far," she said. "Let me have it."
     They all stared at her.
     Zedd's  brow  drew  together in a  wrinkled  knot.  "Just what are  you
     Kahlan pulled  her  hair  back  from  her face  as she  rapidly  pieced
together her plan, so that it was whole in her own mind, first.
     "The enemy is attacking into the  wind-not directly, but  close  enough
for  our purpose. I'm thinking that if I ride along the  front  of our line,
right in front of the advancing  enemy troops, and I release the glass dust,
letting it dribble out as I go, then it will flow out in the wind behind me,
right into the faces of the enemy. Delivering it right where it's needed, it
won't take as much as it would were we to  let it drift out from here hoping
to spread  it all  across the valley." She looked  from one startled face to
another.  "Do you see what I'm saying? Closer to the enemy, wouldn't it take
much less to do the job?"
     "Dear  Creator," Verna protested, "do  you have any  idea how dangerous
that would be?"
     "Yes," Kahlan  answered in grim resolve.  "A  lot  less dangerous  than
facing a direct attack by their entire force. Now, would that work? Wouldn't
it take considerably less  if I were to  ride along the  front, trickling it
out as I went, than letting  it drift  out to  them from  here?  Well? We're
running out of time."
     "You're  right-it wouldn't take nearly as much." Verna touched  her lip
as she stared off into the darkness while considering. "It's better than the
way we were going to do it, that much is sure."
     Kahlan started pushing her. "Get it together. Now. Hurry."
     Verna abandoned her protests and ran off to collect what they had. Cara
was about to unleash a tirade of objections when Zedd lifted a hand as if to
ask she let him do the objecting, instead.
     "Kahlan, it sounds like you might have something here, but someone else
can do this. It's foolish to risk-"

     "I'll be needing a diversion," she said, cutting him off. "Something to
distract their attention. I'll  be riding by  in the dark,  so they probably
won't  notice me, but it  would be best  if there  were something  to occupy
their attention, just in case, something to make them look elsewhere-for the
last time."
     "As I was saying, someone else can-"
     "No,"  she said in  quiet finality.  "I'll  not ask someone else to  do
this. It was my idea. I'm doing it. I won't allow someone to take my place."
     Kahlan  deemed  herself responsible for the peril they were in. It  was
she who had blundered and fallen for Jagang's trick. It was she who had come
up  with the plan and  ordered the troops out. It  was she who made Jagang's
night attack possible.
     Kahlan  knew all too well the  terror  everyone felt,  waiting  for the
attack. She felt it herself. She thought of Holly, fearful of being murdered
by the marauding beasts coming out of  the night for  her. The fear  was all
too real.
     It would be Kahlan who had lost the war for them, this very  night,  if
they didn't get their army back across that pass to safety.
     "I'm doing this myself,"  she repeated. "That's  the  way it's going to
be. Standing here arguing about it can only  cost us our chance. Now, I need
a diversion, and I need one quickly."
     Zedd let out an angry breath. The fire was back in his eyes. He flicked
out his hand, pointing. "Warren is back there waiting for me. The two of  us
will move to separate locations and give you your diversion."
     "What will you do?"
     At last, Zedd surrendered to a grim, cunning grin. "Nothing fancy, this
time. No  clever devious tricks, like they no doubt expect. This time, we'll
give them a good old-fashioned firefight."
     Kahlan  gave a sharp tug to the  strap at her  ribs holding her leather
armor on her shoulders, chest, and back, cinching  it down tight. She nodded
once to seal the pact.
     "Wizard's fire it is, then."
     "Keep an eye to your right,  to our side, as you ride. I don't want you
to get in the way of what I mean for the enemy. You must also watch for what
their gifted send back at me."
     As  she  secured   her  cloak,  she  nodded   assent  to  Zedd's  brief
instructions. She checked the straps on her leg armor, making sure they were
tight, remembering  how the enemy's  strong fingers had clawed at her  legs,
trying to unhorse her.
     Verna came-rushing back,  a big  bucket  at the end of each  arm pulled
down straight by the weight. Some of the Sisters were scurrying along beside
     "All right," the winded Prelate said. "Let's go."
     Kahlan reached for the buckets. "I'll take-"
     Verna yanked them back. "How  do you propose  to ride and sprinkle this
out? It's too much. Besides, you don't know its properties."
     :'Verna, I'm not letting you-"
     "Stop acting like an obstinate child. Let's go."
     Cara snatched one of the  buckets. "Verna is  right,  Mother Confessor.
You can't  hold on to your  horse, release  the glass  dust, and carry  both
buckets all at the same time. You two take that one, I'll take this one."
     The willowy  Sister  Philippa  rushed to  Cara's side  and  lifted  the
bucket. "Mistress Cara is right, Prelate. You and the Mother Confessor can't
do both buckets. You two take one; Mistress Cara and I will take the other."
     There was no time to argue with the three determined women. Kahlan knew

     no one would be able  to talk her out of what she had to  do, and  they
probably felt the same. Besides, they had a valid point.
     "All right," Kahlan said as she pulled on her gloves.
     She lashed tight  the fur  mantle she  wore  over the top  of  the wool
cloak. She  didn't want anything flapping in the wind. The hilt of her sword
was  covered,  but she figured  she  wouldn't  be  needing  it. The  hilt of
Richard's sword stuck up behind  her shoulder,  her ever-present reminder of
him-as if she  needed one. She quickly tied her  hair  back  with a  leather
     Verna tossed a handful of the  fluffy  snow, checking the wind.  It had
held  its direction and  was light,  but steady. At  least that much  was in
their favor.
     "You two  go first," Kahlan said to Cara. "Verna and I  will wait maybe
five minutes to let  what you release drift in toward the enemy, so  that we
won't ride  through it. Then,  we'll follow  you across the valley. That way
we'll  be sure to overlap  what you release  with ours so as not to have any
gaps.  We  need  to make sure there's no  safe  place for  the Order to  get
through.  We need  the ruin  and  panic  to be  as uniform and widespread as
     Sister  Philippa,  noting  what  Kahlan had done,  fastened  her  cloak
securely at her neck and waist. "That makes sense."
     "It would be more effective doubled like that," Verna agreed.
     "I guess there's no time to  argue this foolishness,"  Zedd grumbled as
he  seized  Spider's mane and  pulled himself up, laying across  the horse's
back  on his belly. He  swung a  leg over Spider's rump and sat up.  "Let me
have a minute or two to  get ahead of  you and  let Warren know,  then we'll
start showing the Imperial Order some real wizard work."
     He  pulled  his horse  around and smiled. It  was  heartening to see it
     "After all this work, someone had better  have  some dinner waiting for
me on the other side of that pass back there."
     "If I have to cook it for you myself," Kahlan promised.
     The wizard gave them a jaunty wave and galloped off into the darkness.

     Kahlan  stuffed  a boot in  the  stirrup, grabbed the saddle horn,  and
sprang  up into  her seat.  The cold leather creaked as she  leaned over and
held a  hand  down in order to help Verna  up. Once  the Prelate squirmed in
close behind Kahlan, two Sisters carefully handed the heavy wooden bucket up
to her. Cara and Sister Philippa were on their horse and ready,  the  Sister
balancing her bucket on her thigh.
     "Get the children back across the pass," Verna ordered.
     Sister  Dulcinia  bobbed her head  of gray  hair. "I  will  see  to it,
     "Whatever  more of the glass you can have ready by the time  the Mother
Confessor and I ride out, you should release into the wind for good measure,
then get yourselves spread out  behind our lines to help if the Order breaks
through. If we fail,  the  Sisters must do their  best to hold the enemy off
while as many as possible make it across the pass to safety."
     Sister Dulcinia again promised to carry out the Prelate's orders.
     They  all waited a few  minutes  in silence  while giving Zedd the head
start he needed to reach Warren with instructions. There seemed nothing else
to  say. Kahlan concentrated  on  what  she had to  do, rather than worrying
whether or not it would work. In the back of her mind, though, she was aware
of how notoriously imperfect were such last-minute battle plans.
     Judging that they had waited  as long  as they  dared,  Kahlan motioned
with her  arm, signaling  Cara  to start out. The two of them  shared a last
look. Cara offered a brief smile, good luck-then raced away, Sister Philippa
holding tight to  the MordSith's waist with one arm and balancing the bucket
on her thigh with the help of her other hand.
     As  the sound of hoofbeats from Cara's  horse  faded  into  the  night,
Kahlan for the first time realized that, in the distance, she could hear the
collective yells of hundreds  of  thousands of  Imperial  Order  troops. The
countless  voices fused into one continuous  roar as their attack  drew ever
closer. It  almost sounded  like  the moan of an ill wind through a canyon's
rocky fangs.  Her horse snorted and pawed the frozen ground. The awful drone
made Kahlan's  pulse  race even faster. She wanted  to race away, before the
men got too close, but  she  had  to wait, to give the  glass dust Cara  and
Sister Philippa released time to drift out of the way.
     "I wish we could use magic to protect ourselves," Verna said in a quiet
voice,  almost as if  in  answer to  what Kahlan was thinking. "We can't, of
course, or they would detect it."
     Kahlan nodded, hardly hearing the woman. Verna was just saying anything
that came to mind so as not to  have to sit and  listen  to the enemy coming
for them.
     The bitter cold  long  forgotten, her  heartbeat throbbing in her ears,
Kahlan sat  still as  death, staring  out  into the empty  night,  trying to
envision every aspect of the

     task at  hand, trying to go  through it all in her  mind  first, so she
wouldn't be surprised by anything that  might happen and then have to decide
what to do. Better to anticipate, if you could, than to react.
     As she quietly sat her horse, she let her anger  build, too. Anger made
a better warrior than fear.
     Kahlan fed that anger with images  of all  the terrible  things she had
seen  the Imperial  Order do to the people  of  the  Midlands.  She  let the
memories of all the bodies she had seen pass through  her mind,  as if  they
came  before  the  Mother  Confessor  to  plead  with  stilled  tongues  for
vengeance.  She  remembered the  women she  had  seen wailing over  murdered
children, husbands, sisters,  brothers,  mothers and fathers. She remembered
strong men in helpless anguish over the senseless slaughter of their friends
and loved  ones. In her mind's eye,  she  saw those men, women, and children
suffering at the hands of a people to whom they had done no harm.
     The Imperial Order  was but  a  gang of killers without  empathy.  They
merited no pity; they would get none.
     She  thought about Richard in the hands  of that enemy. She savored her
promise to kill every one of them if she had to until she got Richard back.
     "It's time,"  Kahlan  said through  gritted teeth. Without looking back
over her shoulder, she asked, "Are you ready?"
     "Ready. Don't slow for  anything,  or  we will end up its victims, too.
Our only  chance  is to keep fresh air streaming over us  to carry the glass
dust all away from our bodies. When we  get to the opposite side, after I've
dumped it  all, then  we'll be safe. By that time,  the Order should be in a
state of mass confusion, if not complete panic."
     Kahlan nodded. "Hold tight. Here we go."
     The horse, already  in an excited state, probably  from the approaching
cries,  sprang away too  fast, nearly  dumping Verna  off the  back. Her arm
jerked tight around Kahlan's  middle. At  the same time, Kahlan reached back
and  caught Verna's  sleeve, holding  her on. As they raced  away  and Verna
fought  to regain  her balance,  the bucket lurched, but  Verna was able  to
steady it. Fortunately, it didn't spill.
     Even as the muscular gelding  was obeying her  command and racing away,
his ears were turned to the approaching clamor. He was skittish carrying the
unfamiliar  burden  of two riders. He  was well trained and  had seen battle
often enough,  so  he probably  was also edgy because he knew what  the  war
cries  signified. Kahlan knew he was  strong and quick.  For what she had to
do, speed was life.
     Kahlan's heart galloped  as fast as the horse as they thundered through
the blackness of the valley. The enemy was much closer, now,  than they  had
been  when Cara passed through not long before. The horse's hoofbeats partly
drowned out the battle cries of countless enemy soldiers to their left.
     Terrifying bits of memories of fists  and boots flashed  unbidden  into
her  mind  as she heard men coming toward  her in  the  dark, screaming  for
blood.  She  felt her vulnerability  as  never before.  Kahlan  turned those
memories from fear to anger  at the  outrage of these brutes coming into her
Midlands and murdering  her people. She wanted every one of them to  suffer,
and every one of them dead.
     There was no telling precisely how  far the enemy had already advanced,
or, with  the  moonlight  behind her, even her  own exact direction.  Kahlan
worried that she might have sliced it too  close to the bone, and that  they
could  unexpectedly encounter a wall of  bloodthirsty  men. She wanted to be
close, though, to deliver the blinding

     dust right in their faces, to  be sure it had  the best chance to work,
to turn back the attack.  She resisted the urge to guide  her horse  to  the
right, away from the enemy.
     The night  suddenly ignited with  harsh yellow light. The  clouds  went
from gray to bright  yelloworange. White snow blazed  with garish color.  An
awful droning sound vibrated deep under her ribs.
     A hundred feet in  front of her  and maybe ten  feet above  the ground,
tumbling  liquid yellow and blue  light roared  headlong  across her  route,
dripping honeyed fire, trailing billowing  black smoke. The  seething sphere
of wizard's fire vividly illuminated the ground beneath it as it shot  past.
Even though not directed at her, the sound  alone was enough to  make Kahlan
ache to cringe away in dread.
     She  knew enough about  wizard's fire, how it  clung tenaciously to the
skin,  to be more than wary of  it. Once that living  fire  touched you,  it
couldn't  be dislodged. Even a  single droplet of wizard's  fire would often
eat  through flesh down to bone. There was  no one  either brave or  foolish
enough not to fear it. Few people touched by such conjured  flame  lived  to
recount  the  horror of the experience. For  those who did, revenge became a
lifelong obsession.
     Then,  in  the light of that bright flame streaking  across  the valley
floor,  Kahlan  caught sight  of the  horde, all with swords, maces, flails,
axes, pikes, and lances raised in the air as they yelled their battle cries.
The men, grim, daunting, fierce, were all in the grip of a wild lust for the
fight as they ran headlong out of the night.
     In the  moonlight, Kahlan could see  for the  first time since  she had
joined up with the army the full extent of the enemy forces. The reports had
told  the story,  but  could not fully convey the reality of the sight.  The
numbers were so  far  removed from her experience as to defy  comprehension.
Eyes wide, jaw hanging open, she gasped in awe.
     Kahlan realized with alarm that the enemy  was much closer than she had
expected. Throughout the ocean of men, torches meant to be used to set fires
sparkled  like  moonlight off the vast sea flooding  into the valley. At the
horizon, that moonlight gleaming off uncountable weapons blurred into a flat
line over which she almost expected to see ships sailing.
     The undulating  leading edge, bristling  shields and spears, threatened
to close off her path. Kahlan  used her right heel, back against her horse's
flank,  to  guide  him a  little to the right  so  as  to clear the wave  of
soldiers. After she had corrected his course,  she thumped her heels against
the animal's ribs, urging him on.
     And then she  realized, as arrows zipped past and spears plunged to the
ground just in front of  her,  that  in the  light of the wizard's fire, the
enemy could see her, too.
     The ball of wizard's fire that had revealed her to the enemy wailed off
into the darkness, leaving her in shadow  and lighting tens of thousands  of
men at a time as it passed over their heads. Far in the distance, behind the
advancing  horde,  the  fire  finally  crashed  to  the  ground,  igniting a
conflagration in the midst  of the cavalry. Horsemen  were often  held back,
ready  to  charge  forth when their men encountered the  D'Haran  lines. The
distant mortal screams of man and beast rose into the night.
     An arrow skipped off her leather leg armor. More zipped past. One stuck
in  the  saddle just  below  her  stomach  as  she leaned  forward  over the
galloping horse's withers.  Apparently, in  the  moonlight  they could still
spot her and Verna racing past.
     "Why aren't they blind?" Kahlan called over her shoulder.
     She  could see  a cloud billowing  out  behind them.  It  looked little
different than

     the dust the horse raised as it galloped, except Kahlan saw that it was
coming from the  bucket Verna rested against  her  thigh as  she  tipped  it
toward the enemy lines, a little more, a little less, controlling the amount
that poured out, keeping it in a steady stream. Cara had already  been past,
yet the men showed no ill effect.
     "It  takes a little while to work,"  Verna  said in Kahlan's ear. "They
have to blink a bit."
     Fire raced  past right  behind them. Fiery  droplets splashed down onto
the snow, splattering when they hit, hissing like rain on hot stones round a
fire. The horse snorted as he raced onward in near panic. As she leaned over
his withers, Kahlan  stroked his neck reassuringly,  reminding him  that  he
wasn't alone.
     Kahlan let  her  gaze sweep along the advancing enemy line as she raced
before  them. She saw  that the men were  doing little blinking.  Their eyes
were wide in their fervor for the coming battle.
     The wizard's fire  that  had so spooked the  horse from behind exploded
through  the enemy ranks. Liquid flames spilled across the mass of soldiers,
touching off a shrill roar of ghastly cries.  When  burning men crashed into
soldiers  around them,  fire splashed  onto them, too, spreading the horror.
Around the fire, the advancing line buckled. Yet other men running  headlong
through  the night  trampled  those on the ground,  only to lose  their  own
footing and topple.
     Another sphere of wizard's fire droned past to crash down, spilling its
flame like  water from  a  burst dam. So massive  was the  eruption that the
surge swept men away, carrying them off in a flaming current.
     A huge knot of fire erupted out of  the enemy line not far in  front of
Kahlan, headed toward the D'Haran lines. Immediately, a small sphere of blue
flame roared in  from her right, meeting the ponderous globe of yellow flame
in midair. The  collision  sent a shower of  fire raining down around her as
she  rode past. Kahlan gasped and yanked the reins left as a fat  gob of the
plummeting fire crashed to  the ground right before them, splattering  flame
     They missed the fire by inches, but she now found herself closing  with
the  enemy  soldiers at an  alarming  rate. Kahlan  could  read some of  the
obscene oaths on their lips.  She spurred the terrified horse to the  right.
He turned a  little but not enough to divert them from angling in toward the
enemy lines.
     Glowing bits of fire rained down on the men as well as the open ground.
The  horse was  running  in a  panic, too frightened to  take direction from
Kahlan. The  stench of burning leather was adding fuel  to the horse's fear.
She  glanced  down  and  saw  a bit of  fire burning  on  the  leather armor
protecting her  thigh. The small but fierce  flame fluttered wildly  in  the
wind. She dared not try to brush the glowing  spot off lest it then stick to
her  hand.  She  feared to  imagine what it would feel like  when it finally
burned through the leather. She would have to endure  the pain when it  did;
she had no choice.
     Verna  didn't  realize what was  happening. She  was twisted  sideways,
still releasing the glass  dust.  Kahlan could see  the plume of it  carried
away behind them.  The long trail  curved, carried by  the breeze, into  the
enemy, past the  front  lines, back through the  ranks of soldiers, off into
the blackness. Farther back in  the Order's ranks, the torches lit the cloud
as it mingled with the dust churned up from the frozen ground.
     An  arrow nicked  the horse's shoulder and  skipped up into the air.  A
surge of men, seeing her coming, ran with wild abandon in an effort to block
her way.  Kahlan yanked  on the reins, trying  to haul the powerful  horse's
head to the right. In the grip

     of terror, the horse galloped on. She felt helpless as she tried to get
it  to turn. It was doing  no good. They were  headed right toward a wall of
     "We're getting too close!" Verna yelled in her ear.
     Kahlan  was too busy to  answer. Her arm was shaking with the effort of
pulling on the right rein, trying  to turn the horse's  head over and to the
right, but  the horse had the bit in his teeth  and was stronger than she by
far. Sweat trickled down her neck. She stretched  her right leg back and dug
her  heel  into the  horse's right  flank to turn him.  The men  before them
brought  their pikes and  swords around to bear. Fighting was one thing, but
not having any control and just watching her fate come at her was different.
     "Kahlan! What are you doing!"
     With the pressure of her heel in front  of his  right rear leg, she was
finally forcing the horse to turn. It  wasn't enough. She wasn't going to be
able to divert the  runaway horse. The enemy  looked  like a steel porcupine
rushing at them.
     Three strides away, the horse lowered his head.
     "Good boy!" she cried.
     Maybe he had a chance to clear  the pikes. Kahlan took her  weight  off
the  saddle  and angled forward,  flattening her back.  She bent  her  arms,
giving  the  reins slack with her hands to either  side of the horse's neck.
She  kept pressure on him with her lower legs, but let him have  the freedom
he needed.
     She didn't know  if it  would work with the extra  weight. If only  the
pikes were shorter. Kahlan screamed for Verna to hold on.
     Wizard's fire  suddenly streamed past in  front of them, coming in low.
The men who had rushed ahead in a line to block  Kahlan's  way dove  to  the
ground.  The entire  line before them collapsed. The  fire wailed  past just
over top of them, finally touching down off to Kahlan's left. The cries of a
thousand men filled her ears.
     The  horse stretched his lowered head, getting his hocks underneath his
body.  At  the last instant, his neck  shortened and his  head came up as he
sprang upward,  using his powerful  hindquarters to launch himself. His back
rounded  as they sailed over the  leading edge of men.  Verna cried out, her
arm like a hook around Kahlan's middle. They came  down beyond the  soldiers
who had dropped flat. With her weight  on the stirrups, Kahlan used her legs
to absorb the shock-Verna couldn't.  With the  extra load,  the horse nearly
stumbled as it landed, but kept his balance and continued running. They were
at last clear of the Order soldiers.
     "What's the  matter  with you!" Verna yelled. "Don't do that or I won't
be able to let it out evenly!"
     "Sorry," Kahlan called over her shoulder.
     Despite  the cold wind in her face, sweat ran from her scalp. The Order
soldiers seemed to fall away to their rear quarter. Giddy relief washed over
her  as she realized they had made it past the bulge in the Imperial Order's
front lines.
     In the  distance behind them, a storm of fire lit  the  night. Zedd and
Warren were showing them a good old-fashioned firefight, as Zedd had put it.
It was a terrifying demonstration, if insufficient to stop an enemy as large
as the Order. As the Order's gifted raced to the scene and threw up shields,
it limited the death and devastation. The two wizards had bought  Kahlan and
Verna the time they had needed.
     Kahlan heard Cara calling "Whoa!" as she galloped up close.
     This  time,  with  Cara's horse heading  them  off,  the lathered mount
rapidly came  to a halt:  The horse  was exhausted,  as was  Kahlan. As they
dismounted beside Cara and Sister Philippa, Verna tossed the empty bucket to
the ground. Kahlan was glad

     it was dark, so that the  others couldn't see her  legs trembling.  She
was relieved to see that the spot of fire had expended itself before burning
     The  four of  them  watched  as the  night  went mad with  flame,  most
exploding  against shields of  magic,  yet still doing  damage to anyone too
close. Zedd and Warren sent forth one tumbling  sphere  of fiery death after
another. The  cries of men could be heard all  along the line.  The fire was
being returned, reaping  death  in  the D'Haran lines,  but the Sisters were
throwing up their own shields.
     Still the vast  enemy army  advanced. At most,  the deadly  flames only
slowed them and disrupted their orderly attack.
     As  the  gifted on  both  sides gained control, they managed to nullify
each other's fiery attacks. Kahlan knew that  the  forward D'Haran lines had
no hope of  holding the onrushing  flood of the  Order. They had  no hope of
even slowing them. In the moonlight, she could see them beginning to abandon
their positions.
     "Why isn't it  working?"  Kahlan whispered, half to herself. She leaned
toward Verna. "Are you sure it was made properly?"
     Watching the  enemy's  headlong rush, and in  the din  of battle cries,
Verna didn't seem  to  hear the question.  Kahlan  checked  her  sword.  She
realized how futile it would be to try to fight. She felt Richard's sword on
her back, and considered drawing  it, but decided that it would be better to
run. She pushed  Verna, urging her to  their  spent horse. Cara did the same
with Sister Philippa.
     Before she stepped into the stirrup,  Kahlan noticed the Order slowing.
She saw men stumbling. Some groped with outstretched arms. Others fell.
     Verna pointed. "Look!"
     An  endless  moan of frightened agony began  rising up into the  night,
growing in intensity. Staggering men fell over one another. Some swung their
swords at an invisible enemy, hacking instead their blinded fellow soldiers.
     The progress of  the men at the  front slowed to a crawl. Soldiers kept
coming,  colliding  with the  stalled  front line. Cavalry horses  panicked,
bucking  off riders. Spooked horses ran off in every direction, oblivious of
the men they trampled. Racing wagons overturned. Confusion swept the enemy's
     The advance buckled. The Imperial Order ground to a halt.
     Zedd and Warren  rode  up and dismounted,  both  sweating  despite  the
frigid night air. Kahlan gave Zedd's bony hand a squeeze.
     "You two saved our necks at the end, there."
     Zedd gestured to Warren. "Him, not me."
     Warren shrugged. "I saw your predicament."
     They all stared in wonder, watching the army gone blind.
     "You did it, Verna," Kahlan said. "You and your glass saved us."
     At  last, she  and Verna threw  their arms around each  other, tears of
relief coursing down their cheeks.

     Kahlan was one  of the last to  cross over the pass. The  valley beyond
was well protected by towering rock walls around the southern half. It was a
long  and  difficult  route around  those mountains  if  the  Order  had any
thoughts of attacking them here. While the troops of  the D'Haran Empire had
no intention of letting themselves get trapped in  that valley, for the time
being it was a safe place.
     Big  old spruces filled  the lap  of the surrounding mountains, so they
were somewhat protected from the wind, as  well.  Tents  carpeted the forest
floor.  It was good to see all the campfires and smell  the woodsmoke-a sign
that they were safe enough for  the men to have fires. The  aroma of cooking
filled the  late-night air,  too. It had been a  lot of work moving the army
and their equipment over the pass, and the men were hungry.
     General Meiffert looked as  pleased as any general would  when the army
he  feared lost was  at last safe-at  least for  the time  being.  He guided
Kahlan and Cara through the  darkness  dotted  by thousands of  campfires to
tents he  had  set  up for them. Along the  way,  he filled them  in  on how
everything with the army had gone, and ran through a list of what few things
they had had to leave behind.
     "It's  going to be a  cold night,"  General Meiffert said when they had
reached the tents he had set aside for them between  two towering spruce. "I
had a sack of pebbles heated by a fire  for you, Mother Confessor. You, too,
Mistress Cara."
     Kahlan  thanked  him before he left to see to his duties. Cara went off
to  go get  something  to eat.  Kahlan  told her to go  ahead, that she just
wanted to sleep.
     Inside her  tent, Kahlan  found Spirit  standing on a little table, the
lamp hanging from the ridgepole lighting her proud pose. She paused to trace
a finger down the flowing robes.
     Kahlan, her  teeth chattering, could hardly wait to crawl into  bed and
pull that sack of heated pebbles under the fur mantle with her. She  thought
about how cold she was, and then instead of climbing into her bed, went back
outside and searched through  the  dark camp until she found a Sister. After
following the Sister's directions, going between tents until she reached the
area with the thick young trees,  Kahlan found the small lean-to shelter set
among the boughs for protection from the wind and weather.
     She squatted down, peering inside at the bundle  of blankets  she could
just make out in the light coming from nearby campfires.
     "Holly? Are you in there?"
     A little head  poked out.  "Mother  Confessor?" The girl was shivering.
"What is it? Do you need me?"
     "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Come with me please."
     Holly climbed out, swaddled in  a  blanket. Kahlan took her little hand
and walked

     her  back  to her tent in silence.  Holly's eyes grew big and round  as
Kahlan ushered in inside.  Before the small table,  the girl paused to stand
still as a stump while she stared in wonder at Spirit.
     "Like it?" Kahlan asked.
     Trembling with  the cold,  Holly reverently ran her frail fingers  down
Spirit's arm. "Where ever did you get something so beautiful?"
     "Richard carved it for me."
     Holly finally pulled her  gaze from the statue and looked up at Kahlan.
"I miss Richard." Kahlan could  see Holly's breath in the motionless  air of
the tent. "He was always nice to me. A lot of  people were mean, but Richard
was always nice."
     Kahlan  felt  an unexpected stab of  anguish.  She hadn't expected  the
subject to turn to Richard.
     "What was it you needed, Mother Confessor?"
     Kahlan  turned her thoughts away from  her sorrow  and smiled.  "I  was
proud of the work you did to  help save us today.  I  promised you  that you
would be warm. Tonight, you will be."
     The girl's teeth were chattering. "Really?"
     Kahlan laid the Sword of Truth on the far side of the bed. She stripped
off some of her heavier clothing, doused the lamp, and then sat down on  the
straw-filled pallet. Light from  nearby campfires lent a  soft  glow  to the
tent's walls.
     "Come. Climb into bed with me. It's going  to be  very cold tonight.  I
need you to keep me warm."
     Holly only had to consider for a second.
     As Kahlan lay down on her  side, she  pulled  Holly's  back against her
stomach and  then  drew the sack  of heated  pebbles  up  against the girl's
front.  Holly hugged  the  sack  and  moaned with the thrill of  warmth. The
satisfied moan made Kahlan smile.
     For  a long time,  she smiled, enjoying the simple pleasure  of  seeing
Holly warm and safe. Having the girl there, holding her close, helped Kahlan
to forget all the terrible things she had seen that day.
     Far up in the mountains, a single wolf sang out in a long, lonely call.
The cry  echoed through the  valley, trailing off,  to be renewed  again and
again with forlorn persistence.
     With his  sword  at  her  back, Kahlan's  thoughts turned  to  Richard.
Thinking  about him, wondering where he was and if he was safe, she silently
wept herself to sleep.
     The  next  day, snow moved  down from the higher mountains  to  rampage
across the southern regions of the Midlands.  The storms raged for two days.
The second night of the blizzard, Kahlan shared her tent with Holly, Valery,
and Helen. They sat under blankets, ate camp stew,  sang songs, told stories
of princes and princesses, and slept together to keep warm.
     When the snowstorm finally ended in a bleak golden sunrise, most of the
taller tents had  snow  drifted to  their eaves on their  downwind side. The
smaller  ones  were completely covered  over.  The  men dug themselves  out,
looking like so many woodchucks come up out of their burrows for a peek.
     Over the next several weeks, the storms continued to roll past, dumping
more snow. In such weather, fighting, or  even  moving an army very far, was

     Scouts  reported that the  Imperial Order had withdrawn a  week's march
back to the south.
     It  would be a burden  to care for blinded men. Within a  days walk all
around the place where the  special  glass had  been  released,  the D'Haran
scouts reported that they had seen well over  sixty thousand frozen corpses,
now drifted over with the snow-blind men unable  to care  for themselves  in
the harsh  conditions.  The Imperial  Order had probably abandoned  them  to
their fate. A  few dozen  of the blind had managed to make it over the pass,
looking for help, begging for mercy. Kahlan had ordered them executed.
     It was hard telling the exact  number blinded by Verna's special glass;
it  could be that there were many who did in fact retreat with  the Imperial
Order, brought  along  to  perform menial tasks. It was likely, though, that
the corpses  reported by the scouts were  the bulk  of those blinded. Kahlan
could  imagine that Jagang might not want them  in his camp, using  food and
supplies, reminding his men of their stinging retreat.
     She  knew, though,  that for Jagang retreat was but a momentary setback
and not  a reappraisal of his objectives. The Order had  men enough to shrug
off the loss of  the hundred thousand killed since the fighting had started.
For the time being, the weather prevented Jagang from striking back.
     Kahlan didn't intend to sit and  wait for him. A  month later, when the
representative from Herjborgue arrived, she met with him immediately in  the
small trappers' lodge they had found up in the trees to the west side of the
valley. The lodge sat under the  protection of towering, ancient pines, away
from the  open areas where the tents were congregated. The lodge  had become
Kahlan's frequent quarters, and often also served as their command center.
     It  greatly relieved  General Meiffert when  Kahlan  would  stay in the
lodge, rather  than  a  tent.  It made him  feel  as if  the  army was doing
something about providing better accommodations for the Mother Confessor-the
wife of Lord Rahl. Kahlan and Cara did appreciate the  nights they  slept in
the  lodge, but  Kahlan  didn't  want anyone  to think  she wasn't up to the
conditions the rest of them had to endure. Sometimes, she would instead have
the girls sleep in the lodge along  with some  of the Sisters, and sometimes
she insisted Verna sleep there with Holly, Valery, and Helen. It didn't take
a great deal of effort to persuade the Prelate.
     Kahlan greeted Representative Theriault from the  land  of  Herjborgue,
inviting him into the cozy lodge. He was accompanied by  a small guard unit,
who  waited outside. Herjborgue was  a small  country. Their contribution to
the  war effort was in the area of their only product: wool. Kahlan had need
of the man.
     After  Representative  Theriault  knelt  before the  Mother  Confessor,
receiving the traditional greeting,  he  at  last stood and pushed his heavy
hood back on his shoulders. He broke into a broad grin.
     "Mother Confessor, so good to see you well."
     She returned a sincere smile. "And you, Representative Theriault. Here,
come over by the fire and warm yourself."
     By the stone fireplace, he pulled  off his  gloves  and held his  hands
before the  crackling flames. He glanced to  the gleaming hilt of  the sword
sticking  up behind  her  shoulder. His  eye was caught  by  Spirit standing
proudly  on the  mantel. He  stared in wonder, as  did everyone who saw  the
proud figure.
     "We heard about Lord Rahl being captured," he finally said.  "Has there
been any word?"

     Kahlan  shook her  head. "We know  they haven't harmed him,  but that's
about all. I know my husband; he's resourceful. I expect he will find a  way
to get back to help us."
     The man nodded, his brow furrowed as he listened earnestly.
     Cara, standing beside the table, reminded of her Lord  Rahl by Kahlan's
words,  idly rolled  her Agiel in her fingers. Kahlan could tell by the look
in Cara's blue eyes, and by the way she casually  let the weapon dangle once
more by the small gold chain around her wrist, that  the Agiel, being linked
to the living Lord Rahl, still possessed its  power.  As  long as it worked,
they knew Richard was alive. That was all they knew.
     The man opened his heavy traveling cloak. "How  goes the  war? Everyone
anxiously awaits word."
     "As  near as  we can figure,  we've  managed to  kill  over  a  hundred
thousand of their troops."
     The man gasped.-Such numbers were staggering to someone from a place as
small as his homeland of Herjborgue.
     "Then, they must be defeated. Have they run back to the Old World?"
     Rather than meet his gaze, Kahlan stared at the  logs checkering in the
wavering glow of the flames. "I'm afraid that losing that many men is hardly
crippling to the Imperial Order.  We're taking their numbers down,  but they
have an army  of  well over ten  times that  many.  They remain a  threat, a
week's march to the south of here."
     Kahlan looked up to see him  staring at her. She could tell by the look
in  his eyes  that he  was  having difficulty trying  to  imagine that  many
people. His wind-reddened face had paled considerably.
     "Dear spirits . .  ." he  whispered. "We've  heard rumors, but to learn
they are true . . ."  With  a despondent look, he shook his head. "How is it
ever going to be possible to defeat a foe of that size?"
     "Seems that I  remember, a number of years back, you  were in Aydindril
to see the Council and you  had  a bit of trouble after a grand dinner. That
big man from Kelton-I forget his name-was boasting and speaking  ill of your
small land.  He called you some name. Do you remember  that  night?-what  he
called you?"
     Representative Theriault's eyes sparkled as he smiled.
     "Puny.  That  was  it. I guess  he felt that  because he was twice your
size, that made him your  better. I recall men clearing off a table, and the
two of you arm wrestling."
     "Ah, well, I was younger back  then, and I  had  a few  glasses of wine
with dinner, besides."
     "You won."
     He  laughed  softly.  "Not  by strength.  He was  cocky. I  was clever,
perhaps, and quick-that's all."
     "You won; that  was the result.  Those hundred  thousand  Order  troops
aren't any less dead because they outnumbered us."
     The smile left his lips. "Point taken. I guess the Imperial Order ought
to  quit now,  while they have men left.  I recall  how those five  thousand
Galean  recruits  you led went  after  that force  of  fifty  thousand,  and
eliminated them." He leaned an arm on the  rough-hewn mantel. "Anyway, I see
your point. When you are facing superior strength, you must use your wits."
     "I need your help," Kahlan told the man.
     His  big brown  eyes reflected the firelight as they turned toward her.
"Anything, Mother Confessor. If it be in my power to do, anything."

     Kahlan bent and shoved another log onto the fire. Sparks swirled around
before ascending the chimney.
     "We need wool cloaks--hooded cloaks-for the men."
     He considered only briefly. "Just  tell me the numbers, and I will  see
to it. I'm sure it can be arranged."
     "I'll need at least a  hundred thousand-our entire  force  down here at
present. We're  expecting more men any time, so if you could add  half again
that number, it would go a long way to helping destroy the Order."
     As  he went through  mental calculations, Kahlan used the  poker to set
the new log to the  back  of  the fire. "I know I'm not asking for something
     He scratched his  scalp through his thick gray hair. "You've no need of
hearing  how difficult it will be, that  won't help you win, so let me  just
say that you will have them."
     Representative  Theriault's word was a  pledge as sound as gold, and as
valuable. She stood and faced him.
     "And I want them made from bleached wool."
     He lifted an eyebrow in curiosity. "Bleached wool?"
     "We need to be  clever, as you can understand. The Imperial Order comes
from  far to the south. Richard was down there,  once, and told me about how
the  weather is very different than  it is up here,  in the New World. Their
winters are nothing like  we have. If I don't miss my  bet, the Order is not
familiar with  winter, nor is it used to surviving, much  less  fighting, in
such  weather. Winter conditions may  be difficult, but this puts it to  our
     Kahlan  made a fist before him. "I  want  to harry them  mercilessly. I
want to use
     the winter weather to make them suffer.  I want  to draw them  out make
them have to fight-in conditions they don't understand as well as we do.
     "I want the hooded  cloaks to help disguise our men.  I want to be able
to use the conditions  to  get in  close  on raids, and then disappear right
before their eyes."
     "They don't have gifted?"
     "Yes, but they're not  going to have  a sorceress telling every  archer
where to aim his arrow."
     He stroked his chin. "Yes, I see your point." He  slapped the mantel as
if  to seal  his promise. "I'll have our people begin at once. Your men will
need warm mittens, too.
     Kahlan smiled appreciatively. "They will  be grateful. Have your people
start sending  the cloaks down to  us as soon as they have some made.  Don't
wait for them all. We can start our raids with any number and add to them as
you deliver more."
     Representative Theriault pulled his hood up and fastened his heavy wool
cloak. "Winter has just set in. The more  time you have to whittle them down
while you have the advantage of weather, the better. I had best be on my way
at once."
     Kahlan  clasped arms  with the man-not something  the Mother  Confessor
typically did, but something anyone else might do in sincere appreciation of
     As she and Cara stood outside the door, watching the representative and
his guards trudging off through  the  snow, Kahlan hoped the supply of white
cloaks would start arriving soon, and that they would be as effective as she
     "Do you really think we can press the war effectively in winter?"  Cara

     Kahlan turned back to the door. "We have to."
     Before she went back inside, Kahlan caught sight of a procession coming
up through the trees. When they were  a little closer, she  saw that it  was
General Meiffert,  on foot, leading. She was  able to pick out  Adie, Verna,
Warren, and  Zedd,  all walking  along beside  four riders. The  midday  sun
sparkled off the hilt of the lead rider's sword.
     Kahlan gasped when she saw who it was.
     Without bothering to go back inside to get her cloak or fur mantle, she
raced down through the snow to great him. Cara was right on Kahlan's heels.
     "Harold!" she  called out as she  got closer. "Oh, Harold! Are  we ever
glad to see you!"
     It was her half  brother, come from Galea. Kahlan then  saw some of the
other men riding behind him,  and gasped  again in surprise. Captain Bradley
Ryan,  commander of the Galean  recruits she had  fought with was there, and
his  lieutenant, Flin Hobson. She thought  she recognized Sergeant Frost, in
the rear. Her face hurt from grinning as she ran up to them through the deep
     Kahlan wanted to pull her  half brother off his horse and hug him. In a
Galean field-officer uniform, far more  muted  than their dress uniform,  he
looked grand on his well-bred mount. She only now fully realized how worried
she had been over his late arrival.
     Carrying himself like the prince he was, Harold  tipped his head to her
as he bowed in his saddle. He offered only a small, private smile.
     "Mother Confessor. I'm gratified to find you well."
     Captain  Ryan  was grinning, even if Prince  Harold  wasn't. Kahlan had
fond memories of Bradley and Flin, of their bravery, courage, and heart. The
fighting  had been horrifying, but the company of those  fine soldiers, fine
young  men all, was a cherished memory. They had done the impossible before,
and had come to help do it again.
     Standing beside his horse,  Kahlan reached up  for Harold's hand. "Come
inside. We've  a  good  fire  going."  She  motioned  to  the  captain,  the
lieutenant, and the sergeant. "You, too. Come inside and get warm."
     Kahlan  turned to the others, who didn't look nearly as happy as Kahlan
thought they should. "We'll all fit. Come inside."
     Prince Harold stepped down out of the stirrup. "Mother Confessor, I-"
     Kahlan couldn't resist. She threw her  arms around her half brother. He
was  a big bear of a man, much like their father, King Wyborn.  "Harold, I'm
so relieved to see you. How's Cyrilla?"
     Cyrilla, Harold's sister  and  Kahlan's half  sister, was a dozen years
older  than  Kahlan. Cyrilla had been ill for  ages, it seemed. When she had
been captured  by the Order she had been thrown into the pit with  a gang of
murderers and  rapists. Harold  had  rescued her, but the abuse she suffered
had left  her  in an  incoherent  state, oblivious of those  around her. She
regained her senses only infrequently. When  she came awake, she more  often
than not  screamed and  cried uncontrollably. One of the times  when she was
lucid, she had asked Kahlan to promise to be the queen of Galea and keep her
people safe.
     Harold,  wishing to remain commander of  the Galean  army, refused  the
crown. Kahlan reluctantly had acceded to his wish.
     Harold's  eyes shifted  to  the  others, briefly. "Mother Confessor, we
need to have a talk."

     At  Prince Harold's instructions, Captain Ryan and his  two men went to
see to their troops and horses while the rest of them crowded into the small
trapper's lodge. Zedd and Warren sat on  a bench made of  a board  laid atop
two  log rounds.  Verna and Adie  sat against the opposite  wall  on another
bench. Cara gazed out the small window. Standing near Cara, General Meiffert
watched as the  prince ran  a finger back and forth along the front edge  of
the table. Kahlan folded her hands on the table before her.
     "So," she began, fearing the worst, "how is Cyrilla?"
     Harold smoothed the front of his coat. "The queen has . . . recovered."
     "Queen . .  . ?" Kahlan  rose out of her chair. "Cyrilla has recovered?
Harold,  that's wonderful  news. And she has at last taken  her  crown back?
Even better!"
     Kahlan was delighted to be relieved of the  role of queen to Galea.  As
Mother Confessor, it was an awkward duty better served by Cyrilla. More than
that, though,  she  was relieved to learn that  her half sister had  finally
recovered. While  the two of  them were  never close,  they shared a  mutual
     More than her cheer at Cyrilla's recovery, though,  Kahlan felt a sense
of deliverance that  Harold had at last brought his troops down to join with
them.  She  hoped  he had been able  to raise  the hundred thousand they had
previously  discussed;  it  would be a good  beginning  for the  army Kahlan
needed to raise.
     Harold licked his weather-cracked lips. By the slump in his  shoulders,
she  was  sure that the task of collecting his army had been trying, and the
journey  arduous. She  had never seen  his face looking  so  worn. He  had a
vague, empty look that reminded her of her father.
     Kahlan smiled  exuberantly, determined to  show  her appreciation. "How
many  troops  did  you bring? We  could  certainly  use  the  whole  hundred
thousand. That  would  just about double what we have down here  so far. The
spirits know we need them."
     No one was saying anything.  As she looked from one person to the next,
no one would meet her gaze.
     Kahlan's sense of relief was sloughing away.
     "Harold, how many troops did you bring?"
     He  ran  his meaty fingers back  through  his long,  thick,  dark hair.
"About a thousand."
     She stared dumbly, sinking back into her chair. "A thousand?"
     He nodded, still not  meeting her  eyes. "Captain  Bradley and his men.
The ones you led and fought beside, before."
     Kahlan could feel her  face heating. "We need all your troops.  Harold,
what's going on?"

     He at last met her gaze.
     "Queen Cyrilla refused my plan  to take our troops south. Shortly after
you were there and visited her, she came out of her illness. She was herself
again-full of ambition and fire. You know  what she was like. She was always
tireless in her advocacy for Galea." His fingers idly tapped the table. "But
I'm afraid she has been changed  by  her infirmity.  She fears  the Imperial
     "So  do  I,"  Kahlan  said  with quiet  bottled  rage.  She  could feel
Richard's sword  pressed against the back of her shoulder. She  saw Harold's
eyes  take it in. "Everyone in  the Midlands fears the Order. That is why we
need those troops."
     He was nodding as she spoke. "I told her all that. I did. She said that
she is Queen of Galea, and as such, she must put our land first."
     "Galea has joined the D'Haran Empire!"
     He opened his hands in a helpless gesture. "When she was ill, she was .
. . unaware of that event taking place. She said she only gave you the crown
for the safekeeping  of her people, not to surrender their sovereignty." His
hands dropped to his sides. "She claims you never had any such authority and
refuses to abide by the agreement."
     Kahlan glanced at the others in the room, sitting mute, like a panel of
grim judges.
     "Harold, you and I have discussed all this in the past. The Midlands is
under threat." She  swept her arm out.  "The entire New World is threatened!
We must turn back that threat,  not take to defending one land at a time--or
have  each land try to fend for itself. If we do that, we will all fall, one
at a time. We must stand together."
     "I  agree with you, in principle, Mother Confessor. Queen Cyrilla  does
     "Then Cyrilla is not recovered, Harold. She is still sick."
     "That may be, but it is not for me to say."
     Elbow on the table, Kahlan rested her  forehead against her fingertips.
Thoughts  were screaming  around inside her head, demanding that this not be
     "What  about Jebra?" Zedd  asked from the  side of the room. Kahlan was
relieved to hear his voice,  as  if reason were returning  to the lunacy  of
what she was  hearing,  as if  the weight  of another voice would set things
straight. "We left  the  seer there to help care for Cyrilla and  to  advise
you. Surely, Jebra must have advised Cyrilla against such actions."
     Harold hung his head  again.  "I'm  afraid  that Queen Cyrilla  ordered
Jebra thrown into a dungeon. Moreover, the queen  gave orders  that if Jebra
speaks one word of her blasphemy-as Queen  Cyrilla  calls it-she is to  have
her tongue cut out."
     Kahlan had  to tell herself  to  blink.  It  was  no  longer  Cyrilla's
behavior that so  stunned her. Her  words came sparse and brittle, the naked
bones of dead respect.
     "Harold, why would you follow the orders of a madwoman?"
     His jaw took  a  set, as if injured by her tone. "Mother Confessor, she
is not only my sister, but my queen. I am sworn to obey my queen in order to
protect the Galean people. All those men of  ours out  there  who have  been
fighting with your army  are also sworn to protect the people of Galea above
all else. I've already given them our queen's orders.  We must all return to
Galea at once. I'm sorry, but that is the way it must be."
     Kahlan pounded her fist on the table and shot to her feet.
     "Galea  stands at  the  head of the Callisidrin Valley! It's a  gateway
right up the center of the  Midlands! Don't you see what a tempting route it
might  be for the Imperial Order? Don't you see how they might want to split
the Midlands?"

     "Of course I do, Mother Confessor."
     She aimed a stiff arm, pointing at the camp beyond the lodge.
     "So you just  expect all those men out there to put their lives between
you  and the Order? You and Queen Cyrilla callously expect all those men out
there  to  die  protecting you?-while  you  sit  back in Galea?-hoping  they
prevent the Order from ever reaching you?"
     "Of course not, Mother Confessor."
     "What's the matter with you! Don't you see that if you fight with us to
halt the Order, you are protecting the people of your homeland?"
     Harold licked his lip. "Mother Confessor, all you say is probably true.
It is also irrelevant. I am commander of the Galean army. My entire life has
been devoted to serving the people of Galea and my sovereign-first my mother
and father, and  then my sister. From  the time  I was  a boy at my father's
knee, I was taught to protect Galea above all else."
     Kahlan did her best to control her voice. "Harold, Cyrilla is obviously
still sick.  If you are  honestly  interested in protecting your people, you
must see that what you're doing is not the way to accomplish it."
     "Mother Confessor, I have been  charged by my queen with protecting the
people of Galea. I know my duty."
     "Duty?" Kahlan wiped a hand across her face. "Harold, you can't blindly
follow that woman's whim. The  route to life and liberty exists only through
reason. She  may be  queen,  but reason can be your only  true sovereign. To
fail to use reason in this, to fail to think, is intellectual anarchy."
     He looked at her as if  she were  some poor child who didn't understand
the world of adult responsibility.
     "She is my queen. The queen is devoted to the people."
     Kahlan drummed her fingers on the table.  "What Cyrilla is,  is deluded
by ghosts that still haunt her. She is going to bring harm to  your  people.
You are going  to aid her in delivering your  people  into ruin because  you
wish something to be true, even though it is  not. You are seeing her as she
once was, not as she is now."
     He shrugged. "Mother Confessor, I can understand why you think what you
think, but it can change nothing. I must do as my queen commands."
     Elbows  on  the table, Kahlan  held her face in  her hands for a  time,
trembling with  anger at the insanity of what she  was hearing.  She finally
looked up, meeting her half brother's gaze.
     "Harold, Galea is part of the D'Haran Empire. Galea has a queen only at
the indulgence of the Empire. Queen though she may be,  even if she does not
recognize  the  rule of the D'Haran Empire, she  is still, as she always has
been,  subordinate  to the  Mother  Confessor of  the  Midlands.  As  Mother
Confessor, as well  as  the leader  of  the D'Haran  Empire in  Lord  Rahl's
absence, I formally  terminate  that  indulgence.  Cyrilla  is  now  without
authority  and  is  removed from  office. She  is no  longer  the  queen  of
anything, much less Galea.
     "You are ordered  to return  to Ebinissia, to  put Cyrilla under arrest
for  her own protection,  to release  Jebra, and to return to this army with
the seer and all Galean forces except a home guard for the crown city."
     "Mother Confessor, I'm sorry, but my queen has ordered-"
     Kahlan slammed the flat of her hand down on the table. "Enough!"
     He  fell silent as  Kahlan  rose.  With her fingertips pressed  to  the
table, she leaned closer to him.

     "As Mother Confessor, I  am commanding you  to carry out my  orders  at
once. That is final. I will hear no more."
     The room seemed gripped by the grave consequence of what was happening.
Each forbidding face watched, waiting to see how it was going to go.
     Harold spoke in a voice that reminded Kahlan of her father's.
     "I  realize that it may  make no sense  to you, Mother Confessor, but I
must choose my duty to my people above my duty to you. Cyrilla is my sister.
King Wyborn always  told me to run a good army.  An  officer must  obey  his
queen. My men  down here  are ordered by their  queen to return at  once  to
protect Galea. I am a man bound by my honor to protect my people, as ordered
by my queen."
     "You  pompous  fool. How dare you  speak  to  me of your honor? You are
sacrificing the lives of innocent people to  your delusions  of honor. Honor
is honesty to what is,  not blind duty to what  you wish  to be. You have no
honor, Harold."
     Kahlan sank into  'her chair. She looked past him, to the side, staring
into the hearth, into the flames.
     "I have given you my orders. Do you refuse to obey them?"
     "I must refuse, Mother Confessor. Let me say only that it is not out of
     "Harold," she  said  in  a flat tone without looking at  him,  "you are
committing treason."
     "I realize that you may see it that way, Mother Confessor."
     "Oh, I  do. I  do  indeed.  Treason  to your  people,  treason  to  the
Midlands,  treason to  our  D'Haran  union  against the Imperial Order,  and
treason  against  the  Mother Confessor. What do  you suppose I  ought to do
about it?"
     "I would expect that if you feel so strongly,  you would have me put to
death, Mother Confessor."
     She looked  up at him. "If you have enough sense to realize  that, then
what good will  it do for you to stick  to the orders of a madwoman? It will
only  bring  your death, and  then you will  not be  able to carry  out your
queen's orders.  Staying to your course  can only leave your  people without
your aid, which is what  you claim to put above all  else. Why not simply do
the right thing and help us to help your  people? Since you refuse, you have
shown yourself, in truth, to be without common sense, much less honor."
     His eyes turned to her, filled with smoldering  anger. The knuckles  of
his fists went white.
     "I will be heard, now, Mother Confessor.  If I stand by  my honor, even
if it costs me my life, it will be honoring my family, my sister,  my queen,
and my homeland. A homeland forged by my father, King Wyborn, and my mother,
Queen Bernadine. When  I was young, my  father, my sovereign king, was taken
from  my mother,  my family, and my  homeland of  Galea,  by the Confessors,
taken by a  Confessor's power for their selfish desire of a husband for your
mother, for her  selfish desire for a strong man to father her  a child-you.
Now, you, Mother Confessor-the daughter of  that theft  of that  beloved man
from us  when I was  but a boy-you would take  me from my sister? 'hake her,
too,  from our  land? Take me from my duty to  serve my  queen, my land, and
above all my  people?  The last duty my father  charged me  with before your
mother took him from us and destroyed him for no reason but that he was good
and she wanted him, was that I should  always honor my duty to my sister and
my  land. I will carry out my father's last charge to me, even if you  think
it madness."
     Kahlan stared at him in cold shock.

     "I'm sorry you feel that way, Harold."
     His face had aged and hardened. "I know that  you are  not  responsible
for  all that happened before  you came to  be, and I will always love  that
part of you that is my  father, but I am still the one who must live with it
all. Now I must be true to myself, to my own feelings."
     "Your feelings," she repeated.
     "Yes, Mother Confessor. Those are my feelings, and I must  put my faith
in them."
     Kahlan swallowed  past  the painful  constriction in  her  throat.  Her
fingers, lying limply on the table before her, tingled.
     "Faith and feelings. Harold, you are as mad as your sister."
     She drew herself up  straight and folded  her hands.  She shared a last
look  with her half brother,  a man  she had never known, except in name, as
she pronounced sentence on him.
     "Beginning  at  sunrise tomorrow, the  D'Haran Empire and  Galea are at
war. After sunrise tomorrow,  if you  are seen by me or  any of our men, you
will be put to death for the crime of treason.
     "I will not allow  those brave men out there  to die  for traitors. The
Imperial  Order  will,  in  all likelihood,  turn  north up the  Callisidrin
Valley. You will be alone. They will butcher every man in your army, just as
they butchered  the people of Ebinissia. Jagang will give your sister to his
men, as a whore.
     "It will be by your doing, Harold, for  refusing to use your ability to
think,  and  instead following your feelings  and faith  in  what  does  not
     Harold, hands clasped behind  his back, chin  held  up, said nothing as
Kahlan continued.
     "Tell  Cyrilla that  she had  better hope  for  the  fate  I have  just
described, because if the Order does not come through Galea, I will.  I have
promised  no  mercy to the Order. Galea's treason  condemns her  to the same
fate as the Order. If the Order  does  not get Cyrilla, then I swear I will,
and when I get her, I am  going to take her back to Aydindril  and I'm going
to personally throw her back down into that pit from which you rescued  her,
and I am going to leave her down  there with every criminal brute I can find
for as long as she lives."
     Harold's jaw dropped. "Mother Confessor . . . you wouldn't."
     Kahlan's eyes told  him  otherwise. "You be sure to tell Cyrilla what's
in  store for her. Jebra probably tried to tell  her,  and was  thrown  in a
dungeon for it. Cyrilla is refusing to see the open pit before her,  and you
are walking  into it with  her.  Worse, you are taking your innocent  people
with you."
     Kahlan drew her  royal Galean sword. She grasped either end  in a hand.
Gritting her teeth, she pulled the flat  of the blade against her  knee. The
steel bent,  then finally snapped with a loud  report. She tossed the broken
blade on the floor at his feet.
     "Now get out of my sight."
     He turned to leave, but before  he took a step, Zedd stood, holding out
a hand as if to ask him to remain where he was.
     "Mother Confessor," Zedd said, choosing his words carefully. "I believe
you are letting your emotions get in the way."
     Harold  gestured to Kahlan, relieved to hear Zedd's intercession. "Tell
her, Wizard Zorander. Tell her."
     Kahlan couldn't believe her ears. She remained  where she was,  staring

     Zedd's hazel eyes. "Then would you mind explaining my error of emotion,
First Wizard?"
     Zedd  glanced at  Harold and  then back to  Kahlan.  "Mother Confessor,
Queen Cyrilla is obviously deranged.  Prince Harold is not only doing  her a
disservice,  but enabling  her  to bring  only  the specter of death to  her
people. If he chose  the side of reason, he would  be protecting his people,
and honoring his sister's past admirable service when she was of sound mind.
     "Instead, he  has betrayed his duty to his people by embracing  what he
wishes to be true about her instead of facing what is true. In  this way, he
is embracing death, and in this case, embracing death for his people, too.
     "Prince Harold has been justly found guilty of  treason.  Your emotions
for him
     are  interfering with your judgment.  Obviously, he is now a danger  to
our cause, to
     the lives of our people, and to the lives of his  own people. He cannot
be allowed to
     leave." -
     Harold looked thunderstruck. "But Zedd. . ."
     Zedd's hazel  eyes, too, were a  terrible  pronouncement of  guilt.  He
waited,  as if challenging the  man  to further  prove his treason. Harold's
mouth moved, but he could offer no words.
     "Does anyone disagree with me?" Zedd asked.
     He looked at Adie.  She  shook her head. Verna likewise shook her head.
Warren stared at Harold for a moment, then shook his head.
     Harold's expression turned indignant. "I'm not going to stand for this.
The Mother Confessor has given me until dawn to withdraw. You must honor her
     He  took two strides  toward the door, but  then  paused, clutching his
chest. Twisting  slowly as  he started  to sink,  his eyes rolling up in his
head. His legs folded and he crashed to the floor.
     Kahlan  sat  stunned. No one  moved or  said anything. General Meiffert
went  down on one knee beside the body, checking Prince Harold for breath or
pulse. The general looked up at Kahlan and shook his head.
     She  passed  her gaze from  Zedd, to  Adie, to  Verna, to  Warren. None
revealed anything in their expression.
     Kahlan stood and spoke softly. "I  don't ever want to know which one of
you did  this.  I'm  not saying you  were wrong . .  . I just  don't want to
     The four gifted people nodded.
     At the door, Kahlan stood in  the bright sunlight a moment, feeling the
cold air on  her face, searching, until she saw Captain Ryan leaning against
a  stout  young maple  tree. He stood  at attention as she strode out to him
through the snow.
     "Bradley, did Prince Harold tell you why he was coming here?"
     Calling him by his given name, rather than his rank, changed the nature
of the question. His rigid posture slackened.
     "Yes,  Mother  Confessor.  He  said he had to tell you that he had been
ordered back by his queen to defend  Galea,  and that he was further ordered
to bring his men serving with you back to Galea with him."
     "Then what are you doing here?  Why did you and your men come along, if
he was to take everyone back?"
     He  lifted his  square jaw  and  looked  at  her with clear  blue eyes.
"Because we deserted, Mother Confessor."

     "You what?"
     "Prince Harold gave me  his orders, as I just reported them. I told him
that it was wrong, and could only harm our people. He said it was not for me
to  decide  such things. He said it  was not for me to think, but to  follow
     "I've  fought with you, Mother Confessor. I believe  I  know you better
than Prince Harold does-I know you  are  devoted to  protecting the lives of
the people of  the  Midlands. I told him  that  what Cyrilla  was  doing was
wrong. He was angry, and said it was my duty to follow my orders.
     "I told him that, in that case, I was deserting the Galean army and was
going to stand with you, instead. I thought  he was going to  have me put to
death for disobeying him, but he would have had to put all thousand of us to
death because all  the men  felt the same way.  A good many came forward  to
tell him so. The fire seemed to go out of him, then, and he let us ride down
here with him.
     "I hope you aren't angry with us, Mother Confessor."
     Kahlan  couldn't  force  herself  to  be  the Mother  Confessor at that
moment. She put her arms around him.
     "Thank you, Bradley."
     She gripped his shoulders  and smiled at him through her watery vision.
"You used your head. I couldn't be angry with that."
     "You told us once we were a badger trying to swallow an ox whole. Looks
to me you've taken to trying  to  do  the same  thing. If there  ever was  a
badger who could swallow an ox whole, it would be you, Mother Confessor, but
I guess we wouldn't want you to try it without us to help you do it."
     They  turned then and saw General Meiffert directing some  of his  men.
They were carrying Prince  Harold's  limp body out of the lodge, holding him
by the shoulders and feet. His hands dragged through the snow.
     "I figured this  wasn't going  to come  to  any  good  end,"  the young
captain said. "Ever since Cyrilla was hurt, Prince Harold just  never seemed
himself. I always  loved the man. It hurt me to have to desert  him.  But he
just wasn't making sense anymore."
     Kahlan put a comforting hand on  his shoulder as they  watched the body
being carried away.
     "I'm sorry, Bradley. Like you, I always thought highly of  him. I guess
seeing his  sister and  his  queen so long held  in the grip of that kind of
sickness just brought him to his wits'  end. Try to keep your  good memories
of him."
     "I will, Mother Confessor."
     Kahlan  changed  the  subject.  "I'll need one of  your men to  take  a
message to Cyrilla. I was going to have Harold take it, but now we'll need a
     "I will see to it, Mother Confessor."
     She only then  realized  how cold  it  was outside, and that she didn't
have a cloak. As the captain went to get his men quartered and to pick out a
man to act as a messenger, Kahlan went back inside the lodge.
     Cara  was  putting more wood on  the  hearth. Verna and Adie  had gone.
Warren  was selecting a rolled map from the basket  of  maps and diagrams in
the corner.
     As  he was  leaving; Kahlan  caught Warren's  arm.  She looked into the
wizard's blue eyes, knowing they were much older than they appeared. Richard
had always said that Warren was one of the smartest  people he had ever met.
Besides that, Warren's true talent was said to lie in the area of prophecy.
     "Warren, are we all going to die in this mad war?"

     His  face  softened with a shy but impish grin.  "I thought you  didn't
believe in prophecy, Kahlan."
     She released his arm. "I guess I don't. Never mind."
     Cara,  leaving  to find some more firewood, followed Warren out. Kahlan
warmed herself before the  hearth as she  stared  at  Spirit standing on the
mantel. Zedd rested a comforting hand on her shoulder.
     "What you had to say to Harold about using your mind, about reason, was
very wise, Kahlan. You were right."
     Her fingers touched the buttery smooth walnut robes of Spirit.  "It was
what  Richard said, when  he was  telling  me what he  had finally  come  to
understand about what  he had to do.  He  said the only sovereign  he  could
allow to rule him was reason."
     "Richard said that? Those were his very words?"
     Kahlan nodded as she gazed at Spirit. "He  said the first law of reason
is that what  exists,  exists; what is, is, and that from this  irreducible,
bedrock principle,  all knowledge is built. He said  that was the foundation
from which life is embraced.
     "He said thinking is a choice, and that wishes and whims are not facts,
nor are they a means  to  discover them.  I guess  Harold proved the  point.
Richard said reason is our only way  of grasping reality-that it's our basic
tool of  survival. We are free  to evade  the  effort of  thinking-to reject
reason-but  we are not free to avoid the penalty  of  the abyss we refuse to
     She  listened to the  fire crackling at her  feet as  she let her  gaze
wander over the lines of  the figure he  had carved  for her. When she heard
nothing from Zedd,  she  looked over her shoulder.  He was staring into  the
flames, a tear running down his cheek.
     "Zedd, what's wrong?"
     "The boy figured it out himself." The old wizard's voice was the uneasy
sum  of  loneliness and  quiet pride. "He understands  it-he  interpreted it
perfectly. He even came to it on his own, by applying it."
     "Came to what?"
     "The  most important rule  there is, the Wizard's  Sixth Rule: the only
sovereign you can allow to rule you is reason."
     Reflections of  the firelight danced in his hazel eyes. "The Sixth Rule
is  the  hub upon which all rules turn.  It is not  only the most  important
rule, but  the simplest.  Nonetheless, it is the one most often ignored  and
violated, and  by far the most despised. It must be wielded in spite  of the
ceaseless, howling protests of the wicked.
     "Misery, iniquity,  and utter destruction lurk  in the  shadows outside
its full light,  where half-truths snare the faithful  disciples, the deeply
feeling believers, the selfless followers.
     "Faith and  feelings are the warm marrow  of evil. Unlike reason, faith
and feelings provide no boundary to limit any delusion, any whim. They are a
virulent poison,  giving the numbing  illusion  of  moral sanction to  every
depravity ever hatched.
     "Faith and feelings are the darkness to reason's light.
     "Reason is the very  substance of truth itself. The  glory that is life
is  wholly embraced through reason,  through this rule. In rejecting  it, in
rejecting reason, one embraces death."

     By the  next  morning,  about half  of  the Galean force  had vanished,
returning to their homeland and queen as ordered by Prince Harold before his
death. The rest, like Captain Ryan and his young soldiers, remained loyal to
the D'Haran Empire.
     Lieutenant Leiden, the former general, and his entire  force of Keltish
troops  had also departed by morning. He left Kahlan a letter, in  it saying
that with Galea  choosing to break with the D'Haran Empire, he had to return
to help protect Kelton, as surely the  selfish actions  of the Galeans meant
the Order would be more likely to come up the Kern River Valley and threaten
Kelton. He wrote that he hoped the Mother  Confessor would realize how grave
was the  danger to Kelton, and understand  that it was  not his intention to
desert her or the D'Haran Empire, but simply to help protect his people.
     Kahlan knew of the men leaving; General Meiffert and Warren had come to
tell her. She had  expected  it, and had  been  watching. She  told  General
Meiffert to allow them to leave if they wished. War in their camp could come
to no  good end. The  morale of  the remaining men was boosted by a sense of
being on the right side, and of doing the right thing.
     That  afternoon,  as  she  was  drafting  an urgent  letter to  General
Baldwin, commander of  all Keltish forces, General Meiffert and Captain Ryan
came  to see  her. After  listening to their plan, she granted  Captain Ryan
permission to go with a like number of General Meiffert's handpicked D'Haran
special forces to conduct raids on the Imperial Order force. Warren and  six
Sisters were sent to accompany them.
     With the Imperial Order  having moved so far back to  the south, Kahlan
needed  information  on what they were  doing and what shape their force was
in. More than that, though, with the foul weather in their favor, she wanted
to keep pressure on the enemy. Captain Bradley Ryan and his band of nearly a
thousand were experienced mountain  fighters and  had grown up in  just such
harsh conditions. Kahlan had fought beside  the captain and his young Galean
soldiers,  and had  helped  train  them  in the  ways  of  fighting a vastly
superior force. If only the enemy force did not number over a million . . .
     General  Meiffert's special  forces, which, until  Kahlan  had promoted
him, he had ably commanded, were now led by  Captain Zimmer, a young, square
jawed, bullnecked  D'Haran  with  an infectious smile. They  were everything
Captain  Ryan's  young  men were, tripled:  experienced, businesslike  under
stress, tireless,  fearless, and coolly efficient at killing. What made most
soldiers blanch made them grin.
     They  preferred fighting just such as  this,  where  they  were free of
massive battlefield tactics and could instead use their special skills. They
treasured being  let  off the leash to  do what they did  best. Rather  than
check them, Kahlan gave them a free hand.
     Each of those D'Harans collected enemy ears.
     They felt a great fidelity to Kahlan, in part because she didn't try to
rein them in and integrate them into the larger  army, and, perhaps more so,
because when they  returned  from missions,  she always asked to  see  their
strings of ears. They relished being appreciated.
     Kahlan intended to later send them to collect Galean ears.

     Kahlan  glanced over her shoulder  at  the  Prelate bent  over the  map
basket  in the  corner. It had been almost a  full  phase of the  moon since
Warren  had left on the mission  with captains  Ryan and Zimmer. Although it
was difficult to judge accurately just how  long  such missions  would last,
they should have  been back by now.  Kahlan knew all too  well  the  kind of
worry that had to be churning beneath the woman's no-nonsense exterior.
     "Verna," Kahlan asked as she rubbed her arms,  "on your way past, could
you throw some more wood on the fire, please?"
     Cara  hopped down off her stool,  where she was  perched, watching over
Kahlan's shoulder. "I'll do it."
     Verna  pulled  a map free and,  on her way back to  the  table, thanked
Cara. "Here it is, Zedd. I think this better shows  the area  you're talking
     Zedd unfurled the new map over the top of  the one already laid out  on
the table before Kahlan. It was a larger scale,  giving a more detailed look
at the southern regions of the Midlands.
     "Yes," Zedd drawled as he peered at the new  map. "See here?" He tapped
the Drun River. "See  how narrow the lowlands are  down south, through here?
That's  what  I  was talking  about. Rough country, with  cliffs  in  places
hemming the river. That's why I don't think they would try to go up the Drun
     "I suppose you're right," Verna said.
     "Besides"-Kahlan waggled  a finger  over the  area to the  north on the
first map"up  this way is mostly only Nicobarese. They are rather  isolated,
and so a tempting  target,  but they  aren't a wealthy land. The plunder and
trade  goods would be slim. The Order has much more opportunity for conquest
if they stay over here.  Besides, can you  see how difficult it would be for
them to get their army  back over the Rang'Shada  mountains, if they went up
the  Drun? Strategically, it wouldn't make as much sense for  them to  go up
that way."
     Verna idly twiddled with a button on her blue dress as she  studied the
map. "Yes . . . I see what you mean."
     "But your point is well taken," Kahlan said. "It wouldn't be a bad idea
if you sent a Sister or two to watch that area; just because it doesn't make
as much  logistic sense, that  doesn't  mean Jagang  wouldn't try  it.  Come
spring, he's bound to move on us. We wouldn't want to be surprised  to  find
the Imperial Order storming in the back door to Aydindril."
     Cara answered  the  knock at the door. It was a head scout named Hayes.
Kahlan stood  when she saw  through the  open  door  and  nearby trees  that
Captain Ryan was also making his way toward the lodge.
     Hayes saluted with a fist to his heart.

     "Glad to see you back, Corporal Hayes," Kahlan said.
     "Thank you, Mother Confessor. It's good to be back."
     He looked like  he  could  use a  meal.  After Captain  Ryan rushed  in
through the  door,  Cara pushed  it  shut  against  the  blowing snow. Hayes
stepped to the side, out of the way of the captain.
     Kahlan  was  relieved  to  see  the  young  Galean  officer.  "How  did
everything go, Captain? How is everyone?"
     He pulled off his scarf and wool hat  as he  caught  his  breath; Verna
looked to be holding hers.
     "Good,"  the captain said. "We did well. The Sisters were able  to heal
some of  our wounded. Some needed to be  transported  for a ways  before the
Sisters  could see to them. That slowed us. We had a few losses,  but not as
many as we feared. Warren was a great help."
     "Where is Warren?" Zedd asked.
     As if bidden by his name,  Warren came in through the door, escorted by
a swirling gust of snow. Kahlan  squinted at the slash of bright light until
the door was pushed shut once more. She caught the look on Verna's face, and
recalled  how  lighthearted  she always felt to see Richard back safely when
they  had been  separated. Warren casually kissed Verna  on the cheek with a
quick  peck. Kahlan noticed the look they  shared, even if no one  else did.
She was happy for them,  but still, the reminder was like  a jab at the pain
of her helpless heartache and worry over Richard.
     "Did you tell them?" Warren asked, unbuttoning his cloak.
     "No," Captain Ryan said. "We haven't had a chance yet."
     Zedd's brow drew down. "Tell us what?"
     Warren heaved a  sigh. "Well, Verna's special glass worked better  than
we thought it had. We captured several men  and questioned  them at  length.
The ones we saw dead in the valley were only the ones who died at first."
     Verna helped Warren  shed his heavy, snow-crusted cloak.  She put it on
the floor by the fire, where Captain Ryan had laid his brown coat to dry.
     "It seems," Warren went on, "that there were a great many-maybe another
sixty, seventy thousand-who  didn't  go blind, but who lost the sight in one
eye, or  have impaired  vision.  The Order  couldn't very well abandon them,
because they  can  still see well enough  to stay  with  the rest,  but more
important, it's hoped that maybe those men will heal, and regain full use of
their sight-and their ability to fight."
     "Not likely," Verna said.
     "I don't  think  so, either,"  Warren said,  "but  that's what they are
thinking,  anyway.  Another  goodly  number, maybe  twenty  five  or  thirty
thousand, are sick---their eyes and noses red and horribly infected."
     Verna nodded. "The glass will do that."
     "Then  some  more,  maybe  half  that  number,  are  having   breathing
     "So," Kahlan said, "with those killed  and those injured enough to keep
them from being  effective fighters, that makes somewhere  near one  hundred
fifty  thousand  put   out  of  the  way  by  the  glass   dust.   Quite  an
accomplishment, Verna."
     Verna  looked  as  pleased  as Kahlan.  "It  was worth  that horse ride
scaring  the  wits out of me. It wouldn't have worked had you not thought of
doing it that way."
     "What kind of success did you have, Captain?" Cara asked as she came to
stand behind Kahlan.,
     "Captain Zimmer and I had the kind  of success we  hoped for. I'd guess
we took out maybe ten thousand in the time we were down there."

     Zedd let out a slow whistle. "Pretty heavy fighting."
     "Not really. Not the way the Mother Confessor taught us  to do it,  and
not the way Captain Zimmer works, either.  Mostly we  eliminate the enemy as
efficiently as possible, and try to keep from having to fight at all. If you
slit a man's throat in his sleep, you  can accomplish a lot more, and you're
less likely to get hurt yourself."
     Kahlan smiled. "I'm glad you were such a good student."
     Captain Ryan lifted a thumb. "Warren and the Sisters were  a great help
at getting us where we needed to be without being discovered. Any word about
the white cloaks, yet? We could really  use them. I can tell  you for a fact
that they would have enabled us to do more."
     "We just got in our first  load the day before yesterday," Kahlan  told
him. "More than enough for your  men  and Captain Zimmer's. We'll  have more
within a few days."
     Captain Ryan  rubbed  his hands,  warming  his fingers. "Captain Zimmer
will be pleased."
     Zedd gestured to the south. "Did you find out why they  withdrew so far
back over ground they'd taken?"
     Warren nodded. "From the men we questioned, we found out that they have
fever going through their camp. Nothing we did, just your regular fever that
happens in such crowded camp conditions in the field. But they've lost  tens
of thousands  of men  to the  fever.  They  wanted  to withdraw to put  some
distance  between  us,  give themselves  some  breathing  room.  They aren't
concerned about being able to push us out of their way when they wish."
     That made sense. With their numbers, it was only natural for them to be
confident, even cavalier, about dealing with any opposition. Kahlan couldn't
understand why  Warren and  Captain  Ryan looked  so downhearted. She sensed
that, despite their good news, there was something amiss.
     "Dear  spirits," Kahlan said, trying to  give  them  some cheer. "Their
numbers are  dwindling  away like snow  beside  the hearth.  This is  better
     Warren  held up a hand. "I asked Hayes, here, to  come and give you his
report firsthand. I think you had better hear him out."
     Kahlan motioned the man to  come forward. He stepped smartly up to  her
table and snapped to attention.
     "Let's hear what you have to report, Corporal Hayes."
     His face looked chalky, and despite the cold, he was sweating.
     "Mother Confessor, my  scout team  was down  to the southeast, watching
the routes in from the wilds, and watching,  too in  case the Order tried to
swing wide around us. Well, I guess the short of it is, we  spotted a column
making its way west to resupply and reinforce the Order."
     "They're a big  army," Kahlan said. "They would have supplies sent from
their homeland to augment what they can get as spoils. A supply column would
have men guarding them."
     "I followed them for a week, just to get an accurate count."
     "How many," Kahlan asked.
     "Well over a quarter million, Mother Confessor."
     Kahlan's flesh tingled as if icy needles were dancing over it.
     "How many?" Verna asked.
     "At least two hundred and fifty  thousand men at arms, plus drivers and
civilians with the supplies."

     Everything they had worked for, all the sacrifices, all the struggle to
whittle  down the  Imperial  Order,  had  just  been  nullified. Worse  than
nullified, their work had been  erased,  and nearly that many more  had been
added to the force the enemy had started with.
     "Dear spirits," Kahlan whispered, "how many men does the Old World have
to throw at us?"
     When she met Warren's gaze, she knew that this number, even, was hardly
surprising to him.
     Warren gestured to the  scout. "Hayes saw only the first group. The men
we  captured  told  us about  the reinforcements.  We weren't sure they were
telling us the truth-we thought they might be trying to spook us-but then we
met up with Corporal Hayes, on his way back. We did some further questioning
and scoutingthat's why we were delayed in returning."
     "Another quarter  million  . .  ." Kahlan's words  trailed  off. It all
seemed so hopeless.
     Warren  cleared his throat.  "That is  just the  first column  of fresh
troops. More are coming."
     Kahlan went to the hearth  and warmed her hands  as she stared into the
flames. She was standing  beneath the  statue Richard had carved for her, to
make her feel better. Kahlan wished that at that moment she could recall the
defiant feeling Spirit portrayed.  It felt as if  she could only contemplate
     The news of the  Imperial Order  reinforcements, just  as the  news  of
departure of the Galeans and Keltans, spread through  the camp faster than a
storm wind. Kahlan, Zedd, Warren, Verna, Adie, General Meiffert, and all the
rest of the officers held nothing back from the  men. Those men were risking
their  lives daily  and had  a  right  to  the truth.  If Kahlan was passing
through the camp, and  a soldier was brave enough  to ask her, she told  him
what she knew. She tried to give them confidence, too, but she didn't lie to
     The men, having struggled for so long, were beyond fear. The bleak mood
was a palpable  pall smothering  the spark  of life out of them.  They  went
about their tasks as if numb, accepting their fate, which now seemed sealed,
resigned to the inevitable. The New World offered no shelter, no safe place,
nowhere to hide from the boundless menace of the Imperial Order.
     Kahlan  showed  the  soldiers  a  determined face. She  had  no choice.
Captain Ryan and his men, having been through such despair before, were less
troubled by the news. They couldn't die; they were already dead. Along  with
Kahlan, the young Galeans had long ago taken an  oath of the dead, and could
only be returned to life when the Order was destroyed.
     None  of it mattered much to Captain Zimmer and his men. They knew what
needed to be done, and they simply kept at it. Each of them now had multiple
strings of ears. They began new strings  at one hundred.  It was a matter of
honor  to  them that they kept only the  right ear, so no  two ears could be
from the same man.
     Representative Theriault  of Herjborgue  was as good  as his  word. The
white wool  cloaks,  hats, and mittens arrived weekly, helping  hide the men
who  regularly went  on missions, while  the weather was in their favor,  to
attack the Imperial Order. With the sickness in the Order's  camp leaving so
many of them weak, along with so

     many  of  the  enemy   having  impaired  vision,  those  missions  were
extraordinarily  successful.  Troops wearing the concealing cloaks were also
sent to  lie in wait  and intercept any supply trains, hoping  to neutralize
the reinforcements before they could join with the enemy's main force.
     Still, the attacks were little more than an annoyance to the Order.
     Kahlan, after a meeting with a group just returned, found Zedd alone in
the lodge, looking over  the latest  information that had been added  to the
     "Good fortune," she said when he looked up, watching as she removed her
fur mantle. "The men  who just got in had few casualties, and they caught  a
large group out on patrol. They were able to cut them off and  take them all
out, including one of Jagang's Sisters."
     "Then why the long face?"
     She could only lift her hands in a forsaken gesture of futility.
     "Try not to be so disheartened," Zedd told her. "Despair is often war's
handmaiden. I can't tell you how many years  it was, back when I was  young,
that everyone fighting for their lives in that war back then thought that it
was only a matter of time until we were crushed. We went on to win."
     "I know, Zedd. I know." Kahlan  rubbed at the chill  in  her hands. She
almost hated to say it, but she finally  did. "Richard wouldn't come to lead
the army because  he said  that the way things  stand now,  we can't win. He
said  whether or  not  we  fight the Order,  the  world will fall  under its
shadow,  and if we fight,  it  will only result in more death-that  our side
will be destroyed, the Order would still rule the world,  and any chance for
winning in the future would be lost."
     Zedd peered at her with one eye. "Then what are you doing here?"
     "Richard said  we  can't win, but,  dear  spirits,  I  can't let myself
believe that. I would rather die fighting to be free, to help keep my people
free, than to live the death of a slave. Yet, I know I'm violating Richard's
wishes, his advice, and his orders. I gave him my word .... I feel as if I'm
treading the quicksand of betrayal, and taking everyone with me."
     She searched his face for some sign that Richard might have been wrong.
"You said that he had figured out the Wizard's Sixth Rule on his own-that we
must use our minds to see the reality of the way  things are. I had hopes. I
thought he had to be wrong about the futility of this war, but now. . ."
     Zedd  smiled to himself, as if finding fancy  in something she  saw  as
only horrifying.
     "This is going to be a long war. It is far from beyond  hope, much less
decided. This is the agony of leadership in such a struggle-the doubts,  the
fears, the  feelings  of hopelessness.  Those are  feelings-not  necessarily
reality. Not yet. We have much yet to bring to bear.
     "Richard  said  what he believed  based on the way matters stood at the
time  he said them. Who is to  say that the people  are not now prepared  to
prove themselves to him? Prove themselves ready to reject the Order? Perhaps
what Richard needed  in  order for him to commit to the  battle, has already
come about."
     "But I know how strongly he warned  me  against joining this battle. He
meant what  he  said. Still  .  . .  I don't  have  Richard's strength,  the
strength to turn my back and let it happen." Kahlan gestured to her inkstand
on the table. "I've sent letters asking that more troops be sent down here."
     He smiled again, as if to say that proved it could be done.
     "It will  take continual effort to grind  down  the enemy's numbers.  I
think we

     have yet  to  deal the Order a  truly  serious  blow, but we  will. The
Sisters and I will come up with something. You never know in matters of this
kind. It could  be that we will  suddenly do something  that will send  them
     Kahlan smiled and rubbed his  shoulder. "Thanks, Zedd. I'm  so thankful
to have you with  us." Her  gaze wandered to  Spirit, standing proudly above
the hearth. She  stepped over to the mantel, as if to an altar that held the
sacred carving. "Dear spirits, I miss him."
     It was  a question without the words, hoping he would surprise her with
something that he had thought of to help get Richard back.
     "I  know,  dear  one.  I  miss  him,  too. He's  alive-that's  the most
important thing."
     Kahlan could only nod.
     Zedd  clapped his hands together,  as if taken with a gleeful  thought.
"What we need, more than  anything, is something  to get everyone's mind off
of the task at hand for  a while. Something  to give them  a reason to cheer
together for a while. It would do them more good than anything."
     Kahlan  frowned over  her shoulder. "Like what? You mean some  kind  of
game, or something?"
     His face was all screwed up in musing.  "I don't know. Something happy.
Something to  show them that the Order can't stop us from living  our lives.
Can't stop us  from the enjoyment of life-of what life is really all about."
He stroked a thumb along the sharp line of his jaw. "Any ideas?"
     "Well, I can't really think of-"
     Just  then, Warren strode  in. "Just got a report from over in the Drun
Valley. Our lucky day-no activity, as we expected."
     He stopped dead in  his tracks,  his hand still holding the door lever,
looking from Kahlan to Zedd and back again.
     "What's the matter? What's going on? Why are you two looking at me like
     Verna  came up behind Warren and gave him a shove  into  the lodge. "Go
on, go  on, get in there. Close  the door. What's the matter with  you? It's
freezing out there."
     Verna huffed and shut the  door herself. When she turned around and saw
Zedd and Kahlan, she backed a step.
     "Vema, Warren," Zedd said in a honeyed voice, "come on in, won't you?"
     Verna scowled. "What are you two scheming and grinning at?"
     "Well," Zedd drawled as he winked at Kahlan, "the Mother  Confessor and
I were just discussing the big event."
     Verna's scowl darkened as she  leaned in. "What big  event? I've  heard
nothing about any big event."
     Even Warren, rarely given to scowling, was scowling now. "That's right.
What big event?"
     "Your wedding," Zedd said.
     Both  Verna  and Warren's scowls evaporated  as they straightened. They
were overcome with surprised, silly, radiant grins.
     "Really?" Warren asked.
     "Really?" Verna asked.
     "Yes, really," Kahlan said.

     It took more than two weeks to prepare for Verna  and Warren's wedding.
It wasn't that it couldn't have been done more quickly, but  rather, as Zedd
had explained to Kahlan, he wanted-to "drag out the whole affair." He wanted
to give everyone ample time to ponder it and to dream up lavish doings; time
to organize,  to  make decorations, to cook special  foods,  to get the camp
ready for a grand party; time to have a stretch where  everyone could gossip
about it as they eagerly looked forward to the big event.
     The soldiers, at first merely pleased, soon got caught up in the spirit
of the occasion. It became a grand diversion.
     They all liked  Warren. He  was  the sort of  man that  everyone felt a
little sorry for, a bit protective of-the awkward shy type. Most didn't have
the  foggiest understanding of  many  of  the things  he babbled about. They
thought  that  he just wasn't the  type who would  ever win a woman. That he
had, to them seemingly against all odds, gave the men an inner pride that he
was one  of  theirs,  and he had done  it: he'd won a woman's heart. It gave
them hope that they might one day have a wedding, a wife, and a family, even
if they were afraid that they, too, were often awkward and shy.
     The men even openly expressed happiness for Verna. She was a woman they
respected, but had never exactly felt warmly toward.  Their bold well-wishes
flummoxed her.
     The entire camp was caught up in the spirit of the event even more than
Kahlan had hoped.  After a brief pause in the beginning,  while it  sank in,
the  men,  so weary not  only  of fighting against such odds,  the  loss  of
friends, and being in  the field away from their homes and loved ones for so
long,  but also the harsh,  difficult, dreary weather, took to the diversion
with gusto.
     A large central area was cleared-tents moved,  and  the area cleaned of
snow down to the bare ground. At the head  of the cleared area, they built a
platform-laid  across  anchored supply wagonsatop which  the wedding was  to
take place. The  platform  was needed so that the  men would have  a  better
chance to see the ceremony. A dance area was set aside  and  those  men with
musical  instruments, and not out on duty, spent night and day practicing. A
choir was  formed and went  off to a secluded ravine to  rehearse.  Wherever
Kahlan went, she could  hear  pipes and drums, or the  piercing  notes  of a
shawm, or the melodic  chords of strings.  Men came to fear  playing off-key
more than they feared the Imperial Order.
     With over a  hundred Sisters  available, it was  suggested  that  there
could be dancing after the ceremony.  The Sisters liked the idea, until they
started doing the math and realized  how many men there were to  each woman,
and how much dancing they would be doing. Still, they were titillated at the
prospect of having attention lavished

     on  them at a  dance,  and  approved the idea. Women centuries old were
blushing like girls again  at all  the requests from men  in their teens and
twenties for the promise of a turn with them at the wedding dance.
     As the wedding approached  the men made streets, of sorts, in a winding
course through the camp, so that after the ceremony, the wedding party could
pass in review through the entire  camp. All the men wanted a chance to be a
part in greeting the newly married couple and wishing them well.
     Kahlan  had the idea that,  after the wedding, Warren and  Verna should
have the lodge. It was  to be her  wedding  gift to them,  so, for  the most
part, she kept it a secret.  Kahlan had  Cara direct  the public pretense of
having a tent  set aside  and  reserved for  the newly  married couple. Cara
moved Verna's things  in the tent, and freshened it up with herbs and frozen
sprigs  with wild berries. The diversion worked; Verna believed the tent was
to be hers and Warren's, and wouldn't let  him into it until after they were
     The day of the wedding dawned with sparkling  blue skies, and wasn't so
cold that people were likely  to get frostbite. The fresh snow  of  the  day
before was quickly cleared out of the central area  so that  the festivities
could  take place without the Sisters getting snow down their boots  as they
danced. Some of the Sisters came out  to inspect the dance floor, sauntering
around, giving  the men a look at who they  might get to have a turn with-if
they were lucky. It was all done with much humor and good cheer.
     While Verna spent the early afternoon in her tent, submitting to having
her hair fussed over, her face painted, and her wedding dress tended to by a
gaggle of Sisters, Kahlan was finally able to have the secrecy she needed in
order to decorate the lodge.  Inside, she secured fragrant, feathery, balsam
boughs to a  cord and draped it in  swags around the top of every  wall. She
tied red berries-as that was all she could come by-into  the  boughs to give
them some color.
     One of the Sisters had given Kahlan some plain weave fabric that Kahlan
had  made into  a curtain for  the window.  She  had  worked on  it when she
retired to the lodge at night, stitching designs to give the simple material
a lacy look. She kept it under her bed so that when they  came in to go over
battlefield strategy,  Verna and  Warren  wouldn't know what she  was doing.
Kahlan  was  finally  able to put the  scented candles, donated by different
Sisters as gifts,  all around the  room, and at last  hang  the curtain on a
straight limb she stripped of bark.
     The one thing Kahlan wouldn't leave to brighten the lodge for the newly
wedded couple was Spirit. That, she would take to her new tent.
     As Kahlan was  making up the bed with  fresh bedding, Cara came in with
an armload of something blue.
     Kahlan  folded the blanket under the foot  of the straw-filled mattress
as she watched Cara shut the door.
     "What have you got there?"
     "You won't believe it," Cara  said with a grin. "Wide blue silk ribbon.
The Sisters have Verna  tied to a  chair while they're fussing over her, and
Zedd has Warren off doing  something, so I thought you and  I could use  the
ribbon to  decorate  the  place  a little. Drape  it  around.  Make it  look
pretty."  She pointed. "Like up there-we could wind it around the balsam you
hung to give it a fancy look."
     Kahlan blinked in surprise. "What a good idea."
     She didn't  know what was more astonishing, actually  seeing  Cara with
blue  silk ribbon, or hearing her say  "decorate" and "pretty" in  the  same
breath. She smiled

     to herself, happy to have heard such a thing. Zedd was more of a wizard
than he knew.
     Kahlan and Cara each stood  on a log round, working their way along the
wall as  they wove the ribbon through and  around the swagged balsam boughs.
It  was so beautiful  seeing the first wall  completed that  Kahlan couldn't
stop gazing  and grinning. They started in  on the second wall, opposite the
door, using extra ribbon for best effect when Verna and Warren first entered
and saw their new place.
     "Where  did you ever get all this ribbon, away?" Kahlan  asked around a
mouthful of pins.
     "Benjamin  got  it  for me." Cara chuckled as  she threaded the  ribbon
around the  cord. "Can you believe it?  He made  me promise  not to  ask him
where he got it from."
     Kahlan took the pins from her mouth. "Who?"
     "Who what?" Cara mumbled before she stuck  her tongue out the corner of
her mouth while wiggling a pin into a tight place.
     "Who did you say got you the ribbon?"
     Cara  lifted another  length  of  blue silk  to  the ceiling.  "General
Meiffert. I don't have a clue where he-"
     "You said Benjamin."
     Cara lowered the ribbon and stared at Kahlan. "No I didn't."
     "Yes, you did. You said Benjamin."
     "I said General Meiffert. You only thought-"
     "I never knew that General Meiffert's first name was Benjamin."
     "Is `Benjamin' General Meiffert's first name?"
     Had Cara been wearing her red leather, her face would  have matched it.
As it was, her dark scowl matched the brown leather she had on.
     "You know it is."
     A smile grew on Kahlan's lips. "I do now."
     Kahlan wore her white Mother Confessor's dress. She was a bit surprised
to  notice  that it fit a  little loosely,  but all  things considered,  she
supposed it was to be expected. Because of the cold, she also wore the  wolf
fur mantle Richard had made for her, but draped it around her shoulders more
like  a  stole. She  stood  with  her  back  straight  and  chin  held high,
overseeing the  ceremony  and gazing out at the tens of  thousands of  quiet
faces.  Behind her  was  a rich verdant wall of  woven boughs  that  enabled
distant  spectators to  more  easily  pick  out  the  six people up  on  the
platform.  An ethereal mist  of  silent breath lifted  in the still, golden,
lateafternoon air.
     As he conducted the wedding  ceremony,  Zedd's  back was to her. Kahlan
was fascinated to  see his wavy  white  hair, perpetually  in  disarray, now
brushed and smoothed down. He wore his fine  maroon robes with black sleeves
and cowled shoulders. Silver  brocade circled the cuffs,  while gold brocade
ran around  the neck and down  the  front.  A red satin belt set with a gold
buckle gathered the  outfit at his waist. Adie stood beside him, wearing her
simple sorceress's robes  with their yellow and  red beads at  the neckline.
Somehow, the contrast looked as grand.
     Verna  wore a rich  violet dress  done up with gold  stitching  at  the
square neckline.

     The intricate gold needlework ran down  the tight sleeves showing under
slashed  sham sleeves  tied  at the  elbow with  gold  ribbon.  The delicate
smocking over  the midriff extending in  a  funnel  shape down  into a gored
skirt flaring nearly to the floor. Vema's wavy brown hair was festooned with
blue, gold,  and crimson  flowers the sisters had made from little pieces of
silk. With her serene smile, she  made a beautiful sorceress  bride standing
beside the handsome blond groom in his violet wizard's robes.
     Everyone seemed to lean in a little as the ceremony reached the climax.
     "Do you, Vema, take this wizard to be your husband for life," Zedd went
on in a clear tone that carried out over the crowd, "mindful of his gift and
duty to it, and swear to both love and honor  him without  pause for as long
as you live?"
     "I do," Vema said in a silken voice.
     "Do you, Warren,"  Adie  said, her voice all the more raspy in contrast
to  Vema's, "take this sorceress to be your  wife  for life, mindful  of her
gift  and duty to it, and swear to both love and honor her without pause for
as long as you live?
     "I do," Warren said in a confident tone.
     "Then, it being of your  free will, I accept  you, sorceress,  as being
agreeable  and  give  my  joyful  blessing  to  this  union."  Zedd   raised
outstretched arms up into the air. "I ask the good spirits to  smile on this
woman's oath."
     "Then, it  being  of  your  free  will, I accept  you, wizard, as being
agreeable  and  give  my  joyful  blessing  to  this  union."  Adie   raised
outstretched arms up into the air. "I ask the good  spirits to smile on this
man's oath."
     The four of them crossed their arms and joined hands. With heads bowed,
the air in the center of their circle glowed with a living  light shining on
the union. The brilliant flare sent a golden ray skyward, as if carrying the
oath to the good spirits.
     Together, Zedd and Adie  said, "From this time forward, you are forever
joined as husband and wife, both by oath, by love, and now by gift."
     The magical  light  dissolved from the  bottom up until it  was  but  a
solitary star directly above them in an empty, late-afternoon sky.
     In the silent winter air tens of thousands of spellbound eyes watched a
trembling  Vema meet Warren's kiss  to seal a  wedding unlike any  they were
likely to ever see again: the marriage of a sorceress and a wizard, bound by
more than any mere oath-bound also by a covenant of magic.
     When Vema and Warren parted, both wearing broad smiles,  the crowd went
wild. Cheers, along with hats, rose into the air.
     Both beaming,  Vema  and  Warren joined hands after  they  tumed to the
soldiers. They waved with their free arms high in the air. Soldiers cheered,
applauded, and whistled as if it were their own  sister  or best  friend who
was just married.
     The  voices  of  the   choir  then  built  in  an  extended  note  that
reverberated through the trees all around. It made Kahlan's skin tingle with
the quality of its  haunting tone. The  sound brought a reverent hush to the
     Cara  leaned close  to Kahlan and  whispered  in astonishment that  the
choir was singing an ancient D'Haran wedding ceremonial song,  the origin of
which went back thousands  of years. Since the men  had gone off to practice
alone, Kahlan  hadn't heard  it before the  wedding. It was  so  powerful it
swept her  emotions away with the rise  and fall  of the joined voices. Vema
and  Warren stood  on  the  edge of  the platform,  likewise  gripped by the
achingly beautiful song to their union.

     Flutes joined in, and  then drums. The soldiers, mostly D'Haran, smiled
as they listened  to the  music they knew well. It struck Kahlan then, since
she had  so  long thought  of D'Hara  as  an enemy  land, that she had never
really thought of D'Harans as having traditions that could be meaningful, or
stirring, or beloved.
     Kahlan glanced over at Cara, standing beside her, smiling distantly  as
she  listened  to  the  music. There  was an  entire land of D'Hara that was
largely a mystery  to Kahlan; she  had only seen  their  soldiers. She  knew
nothing  of  their  womenother than  the  Mord-Sith,  and  they  were hardly
typical-or their children, or their homes, or their customs. She had come to
think  of  them  as joined together  at last, but she now realized that they
were a people she didn't know, a people with their own heritage.
     "It's beautiful," Kahlan whispered to Cara.
     Cara  nodded blissfully, carried away  on the strains of music that was
an old acquaintance to her,-and a exotic wonder to Kahlan.
     As  the  choir came  to the  end  of their tribute to the  newly wedded
couple, Verna reached back and squeezed Kahlan's hand. It was  an apology of
sorts-an acknowledgment of how difficult this ceremony must be for Kahlan.
     Refusing  to let  that hurt tarnish this joyous event, Kahlan beamed at
Verna's  quick glance. She came forward, standing  behind  Warren  and Verna
with an arm around each. The  noise of the crowd trailed off so Kahlan could
     "These  two  people belong together. Perhaps they always have. Now they
forever shall be. May the good spirits be with them always."
     With one voice, the entire crowd repeated the prayer.
     "I want to thank Verna and Warren from  the bottom of my heart," Kahlan
said  as  she  gazed out at the  tens of thousands  of faces  watching, "for
reminding  us  what  life  is  really  about.  There  is  no  more  eloquent
demonstration of the simple yet deep meaning of our cause than  this wedding
     Heads as far as she could see bobbed in agreement.
     "Now," Kahlan called out,  "who wants  to see these  two have the first
     The men cheered and hooted as they spread back  to open up  the central
area. Musicians lined up along the benches at the sides.
     As they waited for Verna and Warren to make their way down to the dance
area, Kahlan draped an arm over Zedd's shoulder and kissed his cheek.
     "This is the best idea you ever had, wizard."
     He  took her  in  with hazel eyes that seemed to  see all the way  to a
person's soul.
     "Are you all right, dear one? I know this has to be hard."
     Kahlan nodded, holding her  grin  firmly in place. "I'm fine. It has to
be hard on you, twice over."
     A smile  took him unexpectedly.  "There you go again, Mother Confessor.
Worrying about others."
     Kahlan watched a laughing Verna and Warren, arm in arm, dancing lightly
across the open area ringed by applauding soldiers.
     "When  they're done,"  Kahlan asked, "and after you've given your first
to Adie, would you dance with me, sir? Stand in for  him? I'm sure he  would
want that."
     Kahlan couldn't bring herself to say his name at  that  moment, or  the
spell of the joyful celebration would have been broken.
     Zedd lifted an eyebrow with playful delight. "What  makes  you think  I
can dance?"

     Kahlan laughed. "Because there isn't anything you can't do."
     "I be able to name a  number of  things this skinny old  man can't do,"
Adie said with a smile as she shuffled up behind him.
     When the  dance was done,  and others began  joining  in  as the  newly
married couple began the second, Zedd  and Adie went out in the ring to have
a dance and show the young people how it was done.  Kahlan stood at the edge
of the circle  with  Cara  close at her side. General Meiffert, laughing and
shaking men's hands, slapping others on the back, made his way over.
     "Mother Confessor!" He was  pushed up close  by the press of the crowd.
"Mother Confessor, this is a wonderful day, isn't it? Have you ever seen the
likes of it?"
     Kahlan  couldn't  help  but  to  smile  at  his delight.  "No,  General
Meiffert, I don't think I have."
     He glanced briefly at Cara. He stood awkwardly a moment, then turned to
watch the dancing. Despite how well the men had come to know her, Kahlan was
still a Confessor-a woman people feared to be near, much less  touch. No one
was likely to ask a Confessor to dance.
     Or a Mord-Sith.
     "General?"  Kahlan  asked,  tapping  him on  the back of  his shoulder.
"General, could you do me a great personal favor?"
     "Well, of course, Mother Confessor,"  he stammered. "Anything.  What is
it I can do?"
     Kahlan  gestured out  at  the dance area and  the  soldiers and Sisters
ringing  it. "Would you  please dance? I know we're  supposed to be on guard
for  any mischief, but I  think  it would let  the men  see the true festive
nature of this party, were their general to go out there and dance."
     "Yes. Please?"
     "But, I-that is, I don't know who. . ."
     "Oh, do  please  stop  trying  to get out  of it." Kahlan turned, as if
suddenly  struck with a  thought. "Cara. Would you go out there with him and
dance so his men will see that it's all right to join in?"
     Cara's blue eyes shifted between Kahlan and the general. "Well, I don't
see how-"
     "Do  it for me?  Please,  Cara?" Kahlan turned back to  the general. "I
believe I heard someone mention that your given name is Benjamin?"
     He scratched his temple. "That's right, Mother Confessor."
     Kahlan turned back to Cara. "Cara, Benjamin, here,  needs a-partner for
a dance. How about you? Please? Do it for me?"
     Cara  cleared  her  throat.  "Well,  all  right. For you, then,  Mother
     "And don't break his ribs, or anything. We have need of his talents."
     Cara scowled back over her shoulder as a smiling Benjamin led her away.
     Kahlan folded her arms and grinned as she watched the  man take Cara in
his arms. It was just about a perfect day. Just about.
     Kahlan was watching Benjamin gracefully  swirl Cara around,  and  other
soldiers  pulling suddenly shy Sisters out  of the line  at the edge of  the
dance area, when Captain Ryan stumbled up.
     He straightened before her. "Mother  Confessor  . . .  uh, well,  we've
been through a lot together and, if  I'm  not being too forward, could I ask
you to . . . you know, dance?"

     Kahlan blinked in surprise at the tall, young, broad Galean.
     "Why, yes,  Bradley, I would love to dance  with you. I would love  it.
But  only if you promise not to hold me like I'm made of glass. I don't want
to look foolish out there."
     He grinned and nodded. "All right."
     She placed one  hand in  his, and laid  the other over his shoulder. He
put his big  hand to the side of  her waist, under her open  fur mantle, and
twirled  her  out amid  the  merrymakers. Kahlan  smiled and laughed as  she
endured it. She thought of Spirit,  and willed herself to remember that kind
of strength, and she  was able to relax, and take the party for what it was,
and not think about what was missing as another man held her in his arms, if
     "Bradley, you're a wonderful dancer."
     Pride  shined in his eyes.  She felt him loosen up, and  let  the music
flow  more  smoothly through his movements. Kahlan caught sight of Cara  and
Benjamin, not far away, doing their best  to  dance  and  not  look  at each
other. When he whirled her around  him, his arm securely  holding her waist,
Cara's long blond braid sailed out behind her. Then Kahlan actually saw Cara
look up into Benjamin's blue eyes and smile.
     Kahlan was relieved  when the song ended  and Captain Ryan was replaced
for the next dance by Zedd. She held him close as she moved to a slower tune
with him.
     "I'm proud of  you,  Mother  Confessor. You gave  a  wonderful thing to
these men."
     "And what is that?"
     "Your heart." He tilted his head. "See  them watching you? You've given
them courage. You've given them a reason to believe in what they're doing."
     Kahlan lifted an eyebrow. "You trickster, you. You may fool others, but
not me. It is you who has given me heart."
     Zedd only smiled. "You know, not since the very  first Confessor  has a
man ever  again  figured  out  how  to love such a woman  without  her power
destroying  him.  I'm  glad it  was my grandson  who  accomplished  such  an
exploit, and that it was for his love of you. I love you as a granddaughter,
Kahlan, and look forward to the day when you are back with my grandson."
     Kahlan held Zedd close, resting her head against  his shoulder, as they
both danced on with their memories.
     As the  dancing went on, the golden setting sun was finally replaced by
torches and warm fires. Sisters changed partners after each dance, and still
there were jovial men lined up out  of  sight  waiting a turn, and not  just
with  the younger, more  attractive Sisters. Cooks'  helpers set  out simple
fare on food tables, sampling some and joking with the soldiers as they went
about their task. Between dances, Warren and Verna tried the variety of food
from different tables.
     Kahlan danced once more with Captain Ryan, and once more with Zedd, but
then busied herself speaking to officers and soldiers alike so she  wouldn't
have to dance with anyone,  should anyone feel awkward about asking her, yet
work up the nerve. She was more able to enjoy the festivities without having
to dance.
     As she was greeting a line of young officers, and they were telling her
how much they appreciated the party, someone tapped Kahlan  on the shoulder.
She turned to a smiling Warren.
     "Mother  Confessor, I  would be honored were you to  have  a dance with
     Kahlan noticed Verna dancing with Zedd.  This  was one dance that would
be different. "Warren, I would love to dance with the handsome groom."

     He moved  smoothly with her, not at all haltingly  as she had expected.
He seemed  to be blissfully at peace, and  not  nervous  about the crush  of
people or the men constantly clapping him on the back, or the joking remarks
from some of the Sisters.
     "Mother Confessor, I just wanted to thank you for making  this the best
day I've ever had."
     Kahlan smiled up into his young  face, his ageless eyes. "Warren, thank
you for agreeing to this big  party. I know it's not the  sort of thing that
fits you-"
     "Oh, but it is. That's just it. People used to call me the mole."
     "They did? Why?"
     "Because I used to stay down in the  vaults  all the  time studying the
prophecies. It wasn't just that I liked  to  study the books-I was afraid to
come out."
     "But you finally did."
     He  turned her  in  time with the  sweep  of music. "Richard brought me
     "He did? I never knew that."
     "In  a  way,  you've  helped  add to  what  he started."  Warren smiled
distantly. "I just wanted to thank you. I know  how much I miss him, and how
much Verna misses him. I know the men miss their Lord Rahl."
     Kahlan was only able to nod.
     "And I  know how  much you miss  your  husband. That's why  I wanted to
thank you-for  giving us  this,  and the gift of  your  grace, despite  your
heartache. Everyone here feels  it with you. Please know that while you miss
him, you are not alone, and are among those who love him too."
     Kahlan smiled, and managed to get out a "Thank you."
     As they danced across the open area, laughing at the merry tune and the
awkward steps of some of the soldiers, the music abruptly trailed off.
     It was then that she heard the horns.
     Alarm swept  through  the  assembled  soldiers,  as men  ran for  their
weapons, until one of  the sentries sprinted in, waving his arm, calling out
for everyone to stand down, that it was friendly forces.
     Puzzled, Kahlan stretched her neck along with  everyone else, trying to
see.  They  had  no forces out. She had let them all be present to enjoy the
wedding party.
     The  crowd  parted  as  horses  trotted  through  the  throng. Kahlan's
eyebrows went up,  and her  jaw dropped. The distinguished General  Baldwin,
commander of all Keltish forces, was at the fore, riding a handsome chestnut
gelding. He brought the horse to a smart halt. He ran his first finger along
the  length  of  his  white-flecked dark  mustache as  he took in the  crowd
gathered in around  him. His graying black hair grew down over his ears, and
his pate shone  through on top.  He was a  striking figure in his serge cape
fastened on one  shoulder with two  buttons, allowing  it to  show the  rich
green  silk lining.  His  tan  surcoat was decorated  with a heraldic emblem
slashed  through  with  a  diagonal black line  dividing  a yellow  and blue
shield. The  man's high boots were rolled down below  his  knees. Long black
gauntlets, their flared cuffs  lying over  the front, were  tucked  behind a
wide belt set with an ornate buckle.
     The press of men made way for Kahlan to step through. "General!"
     He lifted a hand  in his noble manner, a smile spreading  wide. "Mother
Confessor, how good to see you."
     Kahlan started to speak, but horses charged  through, the crowd falling
back for  them. They stormed  into the  dance area like a  wind-borne fire-a
dozen Mord-Sith in red leather. One of the women leaped from her horse.

     "Rikka!" Cara called out.
     The  woman's  bold  glare swept  over the gathered people. She  finally
settled her gaze, taking in Cara. Cara moved out of General Meiffert's arms.
     "Cara,"  she  said as way  of greeting. She glanced  around.  "Where is
     Cara stepped closer. "Hania? She's not here."
     The woman  pressed  her  lips  together  in  bitter  disappointment. "I
thought as much. When I never received word back, I feared we had  lost her.
Still, I was hoping. . ."
     Kahlan stepped forward, a little miffed that  the woman saw fit to step
in front of General Baldwin. "Rikka, is it?"
     "Ah," Rikka said, a knowing smile stealing onto her face, "You could be
none  other  than  Lord Rahl's wife-the Mother  Confessor.  I recognize  the
description."  The woman saluted casually with  a fist to her heart. "Yes, I
am Rikka."
     "I'm glad to have you here, and your sisters of the Agiel."
     "I  came  from  Aydindril as soon as Berdine  received  your letter. It
explained a lot. She and I discussed it, and decided I should come with some
of my  sisters to  help in our effort.  I  left  six  sister  Mord-Sith with
Berdine to watch over Aydindril and the Wizard's Keep. I also brought twenty
thousand troops." She lifted a thumb, pointing with it behind  her. "We  met
up with the general, here, a week back."
     "We can  certainly use  your help. That was wise of Berdine-I know  how
eager she was to come herself, but she knows the city and the Keep. I'm glad
she  followed   my  instructions."  Kahlan   settled   her  most  unsettling
Mother-Confessor-gaze on Rikka. "Now,  if you  don't mind,  you  interrupted
General Baldwin."
     Cara shoved Rikka, pushing her  back out of the way. "We need to  talk,
Rikka, before you're up to  the task of serving Lord Rahl  and his wife, who
just happens to be a sister of the Agiel."
     Rikka lifted and eyebrow in surprise. "Really? How could-"
     "Later," Cara said with a smile before Rikka could get herself into any
more trouble,  moving the woman  and her sister Mord-Sith back. Zedd,  Adie,
and Verna eased closer to Kahlan.
     General Baldwin, now off his horse, stepped forward at last and went to
a knee in a bow. "My queen, Mother Confessor."
     "Rise, my child," Kahlan  said  in formal answer  as the camp looked on
with the  same  rapt attention they  had  devoted to  the  wedding. This had
important bearing on them, too.
     The  general  rose to  his  feet. "I  came as soon  as I received  your
letter, Mother Confessor."
     "How many men did you bring?"
     He looked  surprised by  the  question. "Why .  .  . all of  them.  One
hundred seventy thousand  men. When my queen asks for an  army, I bring  her
     Whispers spread through the men as they passed word back.
     Kahlan  was  stunned.  She  no  longer  even  felt  the  cold.  "That's
wonderful,  General. They  are  sorely needed. We have a  real fight on  our
hands,  as  I  explained  in  my  letter.  The  Imperial  Order  is  getting
reinforcements all the time. We need to cut those lines."
     "I  understand. With the D'Harans from Aydindril  come with us, we  can
just about triple the size of your force down here."
     "And we can still bring more in from D'Hara," General Meiffert said.
     Kahlan felt the hot spark of faith in their chances swelling within her
breast. "By

     spring, for  sure, we will need them." She cocked her  head at  General
Baldwin. "What about Lieutenant Leiden?"
     "Who?  Oh, you must mean Sergeant Leiden.  He only has  a scout patrol,
now. When a man deserts his queen, he's lucky to keep his head, but he acted
to protect her people, so  I sent him to guard  some remote pass. I hope the
man dresses warmly."
     Kahlan  wanted  to throw her  arms around the  dashing General Baldwin.
Instead, she  touched her fingers to his arm in  a gesture of her gratitude.
"Thank you, General. We surely need the men."
     "Well, they're up country a little ways, half a day back. Couldn't  fit
them all in here with your army."
     "That's  fine."  Kahlan  waggled  her  fingers,  calling  the Mord-Sith
forward.  "I'm very glad  to  see  you,  too, Rikka. With  Mord-Sith, we can
better handle the enemy gifted. We may even  be able to turn the tide. Cara,
here, has helped eliminate some of  the gifted already, but  I'm afraid that
Lord  Rahl  has her  under  orders to protect me. She will  continue in that
capacity. But you will be free to go after their gifted."
     Rikka bowed. "Love  to."  She came up and  smiled.  "Berdine warned  me
about her," she said under her breath to Cara.
     "You should listen  to  Berdine," Cara said, clapping her on  the back.
"Come, I'll help you find some quarters-"
     "No," Kahlan said, stopping them in their tracks. "This is a party. The
general, Rikka, and her sisters are invited. In fact, I insist."
     "Well,"  Rikka  said, brightening, "as long as  we're  protecting  Lord
Rahl's wife, we would be only to happy to stay."
     Kahlan took Rikka's arm and pulled her close. "Rikka, we have a  lot of
men here, and few women. This is a dance. Get out there and dance."
     "What! Are you out of your-"
     Kahlan  shoved her out into the  dance area. She snapped her fingers at
the musicians. "Shall we  resume?"  She turned to General Baldwin. "General,
you have come at a  wonderful time, a time of celebration. Please, would you
dance with me?"
     "Mother Confessor?"
     "I am your queen, also. Generals dance with queens, do they not?"
     He smiled and offered his arm. "Of course they do, my queen."
     Long after it was dark, the wedding procession made its way through the
makeshift streets, greeting all the men. Thousands of soldiers congratulated
Warren and Verna on their marriage, offered jesting advice, a gentle slap on
the back, or just a merry wave.
     Kahlan recalled a time when the Midlands feared these men. Under Darken
Rahl,  they were a formidable invader;  inspiring dread and terror.  She was
amazed at how civil these men could be, how human,  when given a  chance. It
was Richard, really, who had  given them that chance. She knew  that many of
them understood that, and appreciated it.
     When finally they reached the  end of the long winding walk through the
sprawling camp,  they came at  last to the tent Verna and Warren thought was
to be theirs. Those following along bid the couple a good night and wandered
back to the party, leaving the three of them alone.
     Rather  than let Verna and Warren  slow,  Kahlan stepped between  them,
took each under an arm, and  guided  them onto  the  path among the towering
trees. Moonlight

     through the boughs cast wavering patterns on the snow. Not knowing what
she  was  up to, neither  Verna  nor  Warren protested as  Kahlan kept  them
     Finally, Kahlan spotted the lodge off through the trees. She  stopped a
little distance away to let them see the  candlelight coming from behind the
lace-like curtain.  The juxtaposition against life  in an  army camp made it
looked all the more romantic.
     "This is a long and difficult struggle,"  Kahlan told them. "Starting a
marriage under  these  conditions is a  harsh  burden. I can't tell you  how
happy I am that you two chose to go forward  with it at a time like this. It
means a great deal to all of us.  We're  all  very happy for you.  More than
anything, I would like to thank you both for choosing life in all its glory.
     "We  will  one day have to move on, as surely the Order will move again
when spring comes,  if  not  before. But for  now,  I  want this place to be
yours. I can give you at least this much, this little piece of a normal life
     Verna unexpectedly burst  into tears  and  buried her  face in Kahlan's
shoulder. Kahlan patted the Prelate's heaving  back, chuckling at how out of
character it was for Verna to show such emotion.
     "Not a good idea, Verna, to let your new  husband see  you cry just  as
he's about to take you to his bed."
     That did it, and Verna laughed, too. She  gripped Kahlan's shoulders as
she searched her eyes.
     "I don't know what to say."
     Kahlan kissed her cheek. "Love each another, be good to each other, and
treasure being together-that's what I would like more than anything."
     Warren hugged  her, whispering his thanks in her ear. Kahlan watched as
he led Verna the remaining distance to the  lodge.  At the door, both turned
and waved. At the last moment, Warren swept Verna off her feet.  Her lilting
laugh drifted among the trees as he carried her through the doorway.
     Alone, Kahlan turned back to the camp.

     The door opened a crack.  One bloodshot eye peered out  into the  dingy
     "You have a room? My wife and I are looking for a room." Before the man
could close the door, Richard quickly added, "We were told you had one."
     "What of it?"
     Despite  it  being self-evident, Richard  answered  politely. "We've no
place to stay."
     "Why bring your problems to me?"
     Richard could hear angry words going back and forth  between a man  and
woman upstairs.  Behind  several of the  doors in  the  hall, babies  wailed
without pause. The heavy odor of rancid  oil hung in  the  dank air. Out the
door at  the back standing open to the  narrow alley, young children,  being
chased by older children, squealed as they ran through the cold rain.
     Richard spoke without  expectation  into  the narrow  slit. "We need  a
     A dog not far up the alleyway barked with monotonous persistence.
     "Lots of people need a room. I only have one. I can't give it to you."
     Nicci eased Richard aside and put her face close to the crack.
     "We have the money for the first week." She shoved her hand against the
door when he started to shut it.  "It's a public room. Your duty is  to help
the public get rooms."
     The man shouldered his weight into the door, shutting it in her face.
     Richard turned away  as  Nicci  began knocking.  "Forget  it," he said.
"Let's go get a loaf of bread."
     Nicci  usually  followed his lead  without admonishment, challenge,  or
even comment, but this time, instead of minding him, she rapped persistently
on  the door. Layers of peeling  paint,  every color from blue to yellow  to
red, fell from under her knuckles.
     "It's your duty," Nicci called to the closed door. "You've no right  to
turn us away." No answer came. "We're going to report you."
     The door opened a crack again. The eye glared out with menace.
     "Has he a job?"
     "No, but-"
     "You go away. The both of your I'll report you!"
     "For what, might I ask?"
     "Look, lady, I got a room, but  I got to  keep it for people at the top
of the list."
     "How do you know we're not at the top of the list?"
     "Because if you were you would have said so first off and showed me the
approval you got with a seal on it. People at the head of the list have been
waiting a long time  for a place. You're no  better than a thief,  trying to
take the place of a good

     citizen who's followed the law. Now, go away, or I will take  down your
names for the lodging inspector."
     The door  slammed  shut again. The  threat of having their  names taken
down  appeared to take some of the fight out of Nicci. She huffed a  sigh as
they  walked away, the bowed floor creaking and groaning underfoot. At least
they had been able to get in out of the rain for a brief time.
     "We will have to keep looking," she told him. "If you had a job, first,
it would probably help. Maybe tomorrow you can  look for a  job while I keep
looking for a room."
     Out in the cold rain once more,  they crossed the  muddy  street to the
cobbled walkway  on  the  other side. There were  yet more places  to check,
though Richard didn't  hold out any hope of getting a room. They'd had doors
shut in their faces more times than he  could  count.  Nicci  wanted a room,
though, so they kept looking.
     The weather  was unusually cold for this  far south  in the Old  World,
Nicci had told him. People said the cold spell and rain  would soon  pass. A
few  days before it  had  been muggy and warm, so Richard  had  no reason to
doubt their judgment. It was disorienting for him to see woods and fields of
lush green  vegetation  in  the  dead of winter. There were some trees  with
limbs bare for the season, but most were in full leaf.
     As  far south as they  were in the  Old World, it never got cold enough
for water to freeze. People only  blinked dumbly when he spoke of snow. When
Richard explained snow as flakes  of  frozen white  water that fell from the
sky and covered the ground with a cottony blanket, some people turned huffy,
thinking he was making a joke at their expense.
     He knew  that back home winter  would  be  raging.  Despite the turmoil
around him,  Richard felt an inner tranquillity knowing that Kahlan was most
likely to be warm and snug in the house he had built; in that light, nothing
in his new life  was  of enough importance to distress him. She had food  to
eat, firewood to keep her warm, and Cara for company. For now, she was safe.
Winter  was wearing on and in spring  she  would  be able to leave, but, for
now, Richard was  confident that she was safe.  That,  and his  thoughts and
memories of her, were his only solace.
     People without rooms huddled in the alleyways,  using whatever scrap of
solid material they could find to  prop up over themselves for a roof. Walls
were fashioned from sodden  blankets. He supposed  that  he and Nicci  could
continue to do  the  same, but he feared Nicci falling ill  in  the cold and
wet-feared that then Kahlan, too, would fall ill.
     Nicci checked the  paper  she carried. "These  places on this  register
they gave us are all supposed to  be available for people newly  arrived-not
just  for people on a list.  They need workers; they should be more diligent
in seeing to  it  that places are available. Do you see, Richard? Do you see
how hard it is for ordinary people to get along in life?"
     Richard, hands  shoved in his pockets,  shoulders  hunched against  the
wind and rain, asked, "So, how do we get on a list?"
     "We  will  have to go to a lodging office and request a  room. They can
put us on a housing list."
     It sounded simple, but matters were proving far more complex than  they
     "If there aren't enough rooms, how will being on a list get  us a place
to stay?"
     "People die all the time."
     "There's work  here, that's why  we came-that's  why  everyone else has

     I'll work hard and  then we can  afford to  pay more.  We  still have a
little money. We just need to find a place that wants to rent a room for the
right price-without all this list foolishness."
     "Really, Richard, are you that inhumane? How would those less fortunate
ever get  rooms, then? The  Order  sets the prices to stop profiteers.  They
make sure there  is no favoritism. That  makes it fair for all. We just need
to get on a list for a room, and then everything will be fine."
     Watching the  glistening  cobbles  before him  as  he  walked,  Richard
wondered how long they would be  without a place until their name worked its
way to the top of a list. It looked to him  as if a lot of people would need
to die before his and Nicci's names came up for a room-with more yet waiting
in turn for them to die.
     He  stepped first to one side and then  the other to avoid bumping into
the  river  of  people  swirling  past,  making their  way  in  the opposite
direction while trying to stay out  of  the mud of the street. He considered
again staying outside  the city-a lot  of people  did that.  But  there were
outlaws and desperate people aplenty  who preyed on those who were forced to
stay out in the open where there were no city guards. Were Nicci not opposed
to  the idea, Richard would  have  found  a  place farther out and  built  a
shelter,  perhaps  with  some  other  people  so that  they  could  together
discourage trouble.
     Nicci  wasn't interested in the idea. Nicci  wanted  to be in the city.
Multitudes came to the city looking for  a better life. There were  lists to
get on, and lines to wait in to see official people. You had a better chance
of doing those things if you had a room in the city, she said.
     It was getting late in the day. The line at the bakery was out the door
and partway down the block.
     "Why are all these people in line?" Richard whispered  to Nicci. It was
the same every day when they went to buy bread.
     She shrugged. "I guess there aren't enough bakeries."
     "Seems  like  with all  the customers, more people  would want  to open
     Nicci  leaned close,  a scolding  scowl darkening her brow.  "The world
isn't as simple as you would  like it to be, Richard. It used to be that way
in  the  Old  World. Man's evil nature was allowed  to flourish. People  set
their own prices for goodswith greed being their only interest, not the good
of their fellow man. Only the wellto-do could afford to buy  bread. Now, the
Order sees to it that everyone gets needed goods for a fair price. The Order
cares about everyone, not just those with unfair advantages."
     She always seemed so impassioned when  she spoke  about the evil nature
of  people. Richard wondered why a Sister of the Dark would care about evil,
but he didn't bother to ask.
     The line wasn't moving very fast. The woman in front of him, suspicious
of their whispering, scowled back over her shoulder.
     Richard met her glare with a broad smile.
     "Good afternoon, ma'am." Her somber scowl faltered in  the light of his
beaming  grin.  "We're new  in town"-he gestured  behind-"my wife and I. I'm
looking for work. We need a room, though. Would you know how a young couple,
strangers to the city, could go about getting a room?"
     She half turned, holding her canvas  bag in both hands, letting it pull
her arms straight as