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     You knew they were there, didn't you?" Kahlan asked in a hushed tone as
she leaned closer.
     Against the darkening sky, she could  just make out the shapes of three
black-tipped races taking to  wing,  beginning their nightly hunt. That  was
why  he'd  stopped. That  was what  he'd been watching as the  rest of  them
waited in uneasy silence.
     "Yes," Richard said. He gestured over his  shoulder  without turning to
look. "There are two more, back there."
     Kahlan briefly scanned the dark jumble of rock, but she didn't see  any
     Lightly grasping the silver pommel with two fingers, Richard lifted his
sword a few inches,  checking  that  it  was  clear in  its scabbard. A last
fleeting glimmer of amber light played across his golden  cape as he let the
sword drop back in place. In the gathering gloom of dusk, his familiar tall,
powerful contour seemed  as  if it  were no more than  an apparition made of
     Just then, two more of  the huge  birds shot by  right  overhead.  One,
wings stretched wide, let out  a piercing scream as  it banked  into a tight
gliding turn, circling  once in assessment of the  five people below  before
stroking its powerful  wings to catch  its departing comrades in their swift
journey west.
     This night they would find ample food.
     Kahlan expected that  as  Richard watched  them he  was thinking of the
half brother that until just recently he  hadn't known existed. That brother
now  lay a hard day's travel to the west in a place  so naked to the burning
sun that few  people ever  ventured  there. Fewer  still  ever returned. The
searing heat, though, had not been the worst of it.
     Beyond  those desolate lowlands,  the  dying light silhouetted a remote
rim of mountains, making them look as if  they had been charred black by the
furnace of the underworld itself. As dark as those mountains, as implacable,
as perilous, the flight of five pursued the departing light.
     Jennsen, standing to the far side of Richard,  watched in astonishment.
"What in the world ... ?"
     "Black-tipped races," Richard said.
     Jennsen mulled  over the unfamiliar name. "I've often watched hawks and
falcons and such," she said at last,  "but I've never seen any birds of prey
that hunt at night, other than owls---and these aren't owls."
     As Richard watched  the races, he idly gathered small  pebbles from the
crumbling jut of rock beside him, rattling them in a  loose fist. "I'd never
seen  them before, either, until I came  down here. People we've spoken with
say  they began appearing only in the last  year  or two, depending on who's
telling the  story. Everyone  agrees, though, that they never saw  the races
before then."
     "Last couple of years ..." Jennsen wondered aloud.
     Almost against  her will,  Kahlan found  herself recalling the  stories
they'd heard, the rumors, the whispered assertions.
     Richard  cast the  pebbles  back down  the hardpan  trail.  "I  believe
they're related to falcons."
     Jennsen finally crouched  to comfort her brown goat, Betty, pressing up
against  her  skirts. "They  can't  be falcons." Betty's little white twins,
usually  either capering,  suckling, or  sleeping, now huddled  mute beneath
their mother's round belly. "They're too big to be  falcons-- they're bigger
than hawks, bigger than golden eagles. No falcon is that big."
     Richard finally  withdrew his glare from  the  birds and  bent  to help
console the trembling twins. One, eager for reassurance, anxiously peered up
at him, licking out  its little  pink tongue before deciding to  rest a tiny
black  hoof  in his palm. With a  thumb,  Richard stroked  the kids  spindly
white-haired leg.
     A smile softened his features as well as his voice. "Are you saying you
choose not to see what you've just seen, then?"
     Jennsen smoothed Betty's  drooping ears. "I guess the hair  standing on
end at the back of my neck must believe what I saw."
     Richard rested his  forearm  across his knee as  he glanced toward  the
grim horizon. "The races have sleek bodies with round heads and long pointed
wings similar to all the falcons I've seen. Their tails often  fan out  when
they soar but otherwise are narrow in flight."
     Jennsen  nodded,  seeming  to  recognize  his  description of  relevant
attributes. To Kahlan, a bird was a bird. These, though, with red streaks on
their chests and crimson at the  base of their flight feathers, she had come
to recognize.
     They're  fast, powerful,  and aggressive,"  Richard  added. "I saw  one
easily  chase down  a  prairie  falcon and snatch  it  out of midair in  its
     Jennsen looked to be struck speechless by  such an account. Richard had
grown up in the  vast forests of  Westland and  had  gone on to be  a  woods
guide. He knew a great deal about the outdoors and  about animals.  Such  an
upbringing  seemed  exotic to  Kahlan, who had  grown up in a palace  in the
Midlands.  She  loved learning  about nature from Richard, loved sharing his
excitement over the wonders  of the  world, of life. Of course,  he had long
since come to  be more than a woods guide. It  seemed a  lifetime  ago  when
she'd  first met him in those woods of his,  but in  fact  it  had only been
little more than two and a half years.
     Now they were a long way from Richard's simple boyhood home or Kahlan's
grand childhood haunts. Had they a choice, they would choose to be in either
place, or just about anywhere else, other than where they were. But at least
they were together.
     After   all  she  and  Richard  had  been  through--the  dangers,   the
anguish,the heartache of  losing  friends  and loved ones--Kahlan  jealously
savored  every  moment  with  him,  even  if it  was in the heart  of  enemy
     In addition to  only just  finding out that he had a half brother, they
had also learned that Richard had a half sister: Jennsen. From what they had
gathered since they'd met her the day before, she, too, had grown up  in the
woods. It  was  heartwarming  to see her simple  and  sincere  joy at having
discovered a close relation  with whom she  had  much in  common.  Only  her
fascination with her new big  brother exceeded Jennsen's wide-eyed curiosity
about  Kahlan and her mysterious upbringing in the Confessors' Palace in the
far-off city of Aydindril.
     Jennsen had had  a different  mother than Richard,  but the same brutal
tyrant, Darken Rahl, had fathered them both. Jennsen  was younger, just past
twenty, with sky blue eyes and ringlets of red hair down onto her shoulders.
She had inherited  some of  Darken Rahl's cruelly perfect features, but  her
maternal  heritage   and  guileless  nature  altered  them  into  bewitching
femininity. While Richard's raptor gaze  attested to his Rahl paternity, his
countenance,  and his bearing, so  manifest in his gray  eyes, were uniquely
his own.
     "I've seen  falcons rip apart small  animals,"  Jennsen said. "I  don't
believe I much like thinking about a falcon that big, much less five of them
     Her goat, Betty, looked to share the sentiment.
     "We  take  turns  standing  watch  at  night," Kahlan  said,  answering
Jennsen's  unspoken  fear.  While that  was hardly the  only  reason, it was
     In the  eerie silence,  withering waves of heat rose  from the lifeless
rock all around. It had been an arduous day's journey out from the center of
the valley wasteland and across the surrounding flat plain, but none of them
complained about  the brutal  pace.  The torturous  heat, though,  had  left
Kahlan with a pounding headache. While she  was dead tired, she knew that in
recent days Richard had gotten far less sleep  than any of the rest of them.
She could read that exhaustion in his eyes, if not in his stride.
     Kahlan realized, then, what it was that had her  nerves so  on edge: it
was the silence. There were no yips of coyotes,  no howls of distant wolves,
no flutter of bats, no rustle of a raccoon, no soft  scramble of a vole--not
even the  buzz and chirp of insects. In the past, when all those things went
silent it had meant  potential danger. Here,  it  was  dead  silent  because
nothing lived  in  this place, no coyotes or wolves or bats or  mice or even
bugs. Few living things ever trespassed  this barren land.  Here, the  night
was as soundless as the stars.
     Despite the heat, the oppressive silence ran a chill  shiver up through
Kahlan's shoulders.
     She  peered off once more at the races barely still visible against the
violet blush  of the western sky.  They, too,  would  not stay long  in this
wasteland where they did not belong.
     "Kind of unnerving to encounter such a menacing creature when you never
even knew such a thing existed," Jennsen said.  She used  her sleeve to wipe
sweat from  her brow as she changed the subject. "I've heard it said  that a
bird of prey wheeling over you at the beginning of a journey is a warning."
     Cara, until then content to remain silent, leaned in past Kahlan. "Just
let me get close enough and I'll pluck their wretched  feathers." Long blond
hair,  pulled  back  into the  traditional single braid  of her  profession,
framed Cara's heated expression.  "We'll  see how much of an omen  they are,
     Cara's glare  turned as  dark as  the  races whenever she saw the  huge
birds. Being swathed from head to foot in a  protective layer of gauzy black
cloth, as were all  of them  except  Richard, only added to her intimidating
presence. When Richard had unexpectedly inherited  rule, he had been further
surprised  to discover that Cara and her  sister Mord-Sith were part of  the
     Richard returned the little white kid to its watchful mother and stood,
hooking his  thumbs  behind his multilayered leather  belt. At  each  wrist,
wide, leather-padded silver  bands bearing linked  rings and strange symbols
seemed to gather and reflect what little  light remained. "I once had a hawk
circle over me at the beginning of a journey."
     "And what  happened?" Jennsen asked, earnestly, as if his pronouncement
might settle once and for all the old superstition.
     Richard's smile widened into a grin. "I ended up marrying Kahlan."
     Cara folded her arms. "That only proves it was a warning for the Mother
Confessor, not you, Lord Rahl."
     Richard's arm gently encircled Kahlan's waist.  She smiled with him  as
she leaned against his embrace in answer to the  wordless gesture. That that
journey had  eventually  brought  them  to  be husband and wife  seemed more
astonishing  than anything she  would  ever  have  dared  dream.  Women like
her--Confessors--dared not dream of love. Because  of Richard, she had dared
and had gained it.
     Kahlan shuddered to think of the terrible times she  had feared  he was
dead,  or worse. There had been  so many times she had ached to be with him,
to simply feel his warm touch, or to even be granted the mercy of knowing he
was safe.
     Jennsen  glanced at Richard and Kahlan to  see that neither took Cara's
admonition  as  anything  but  fond  heckling.  Kahlan  supposed  that  to a
stranger,  especially  one from  the land of D'Hara,  as was Jennsen, Cara's
gibes at  Richard would  defy  reason; guards  did  not  bait their masters,
especially when their master was the Lord Rahl, the master of D'Hara.
     Protecting the Lord  Rahl with their  lives had  always been the  blind
duty of the Mord-Sith. In a perverse way, Cara's irreverence  toward Richard
was a celebration of her freedom, paid in homage to the one who  had granted
     By  free choice,  the  Mord-Sith had  decided to  be Richard's  closest
protectors.  They had given Richard  no  say in the matter. They often  paid
little heed to his orders  unless  they deemed  them important enough;  they
were, after all, now free to pursue what was important to them, and what the
Mord-Sith considered important above all else was keeping Richard safe.
     Over time,  Cara,  their  ever-present bodyguard,  had gradually become
like family. Now that family had unexpectedly grown.
     Jennsen,  for her  part, was awestruck to  find herself welcomed.  From
what they had so far learned, Jennsen had grown up in hiding, always fearful
that the former Lord Rahl, her father, would finally find her and murder her
as he murdered any other ungifted offspring he found.
     Richard  signaled to Tom and Friedrich, back with the wagon and horses,
that they would stop for the night. Tom lifted an  arm in acknowledgment and
then set to unhitching his team.
     No longer  able to see the races in the dark void of the  western  sky,
Jennsen  turned  back to Richard. "I  take it  their feathers are  tipped in
     Before Richard  had a chance  to  answer, Cara  spoke in a silken voice
that was  pure menace. "They  look like death itself drips  from the tips of
their  feathers--like the  Keeper of  the  underworld has been  using  their
wicked quills to write death warrants."
     Cara loathed seeing those birds anywhere near Richard or Kahlan. Kahlan
shared the sentiment.
     Jennsen's  gaze  fled  Cara's  heated  expression.  She  redirected her
suspicion to Richard.
     "Are they causing you ... some kind of trouble?"
     Kahlan pressed a fist to her abdomen, against the ache of dread stirred
by the question.
     Richard appraised Jennsen's troubled eyes. "The races are tracking us."

     Jennsen frowned. "What?"
     Richard  gestured between  Kahlan  and  himself.  "The  races,  they're
tracking us."
     "You  mean they  followed you  out  into  this  wasteland  and  they're
watching you, waiting  to see if you'll die of thirst  or something so  they
can pick your bones clean."
     Richard  slowly  shook  his  head. "No,  I  mean they're  following us,
keeping track of where we are."
     "I don't understand how you can possibly know--"
     "We know," Cara snapped. Her  shapely form was  as spare, as  sleek, as
aggressive-looking as the races themselves and, swathed in the black garb of
the nomadic  people  who sometimes traveled  the  outer fringes of  the vast
desert, just as sinister-looking.
     With the back of  his hand  against her shoulder, Richard gently  eased
Cara back as he went on. "We were  looking  into it when  Friedrich found us
and told us about you."
     Jennsen  glanced  over at the  two men back with  the wagon. The  sharp
sliver of moon floating above the black drape of  distant mountains provided
just enough  light for Kahlan to see that  Tom  was working at  removing the
trace chains from his big draft horses while Friedrich unsaddled the others.
     Jennsen's  gaze returned to search Richard's eyes. "What have you  been
able to find out, so far?"
     "We never had a chance to really find out much of  anything.  Oba,  our
surprise half brother lying dead back there, kind of diverted  our attention
when he tried to kill  us." Richard unhooked a waterskin from his belt. "But
the races are still watching us."
     He handed Kahlan his  waterskin, since she had left hers hanging on her
saddle.  It  had been hours since  they had last stopped. She was tired from
riding and weary from walking when they had needed to rest the horses.
     Kahlan lifted the waterskin to her lips only  to  be  reacquainted with
how bad hot water tasted. At least they had water. Without water, death came
quickly  in  the unrelenting heat of the  seemingly endless, barren  expanse
around the forsaken place called the Pillars of Creation.
     Jennsen  slipped the strap of her  waterskin off  her  shoulder  before
hesitantly starting again. "I  know it's easy to misconstrue things. Look at
how I was tricked into thinking you wanted to kill me just like  Darken Rahl
had. I really believed it, and there  were so many  things that seemed to me
to prove it,  but I  had it all  wrong. I guess I was just so afraid  it was
true, I believed it."
     Richard and Kahlan  both knew it hadn't  been Jennsen's  doing--she had
merely been a means  for  others to get at Richard--but  it  had  squandered
precious time.
     Jennsen took  a long drink. Still grimacing at the taste of the  water,
she lifted the waterskin toward the empty desert behind them. "I mean, there
isn't much  alive out here--it  might actually be that the  races are hungry
and are simply waiting to see if  you die out here and, because they do keep
watching and waiting, you've begun  to think  it's more." she gave Richard a
demure  glance, bolstered by a smile, as if hoping to-cloak the admonishment
as a suggestion. "Maybe that's all it really is."
     "They  aren't waiting to see if we  die out here," Kahlan said, wanting
to end the discussion  so  they could eat and Richard could  get some sleep.
"They were watching us before we had to come here. They've been watching  us
since we  were back in the forests  to the northeast.  Vow,  let's have some
supper and--"
     "But why? That's not the way birds behave. Why would they do that?"
     "I  think they're keeping track of us for someone," Richard said. "More
precisely, I think someone is using them to hunt us."
     Kahlan  had  known various people  in the  Midlands, from simple people
living  in the  wilds  to  nobles living  in  great cities, who  hunted with
falcons. This,  though,  was different.  Even if she didn't fully understand
Richard's  meaning, much less the reasons  for his conviction,  she  knew he
hadn't meant it in the traditional sense.
     With abrupt realization, Jennsen paused in the middle of another drink.
"That's why you've started scattering pebbles along the  windblown places in
the trail."
     Richard smiled  in  confirmation.  He took his  waterskin  when  Kahlan
handed it back. Cara frowned up at him as he took a long drink.
     "You've been throwing pebbles along the trail? Why?"
     Jennsen eagerly answered in his place. "The  open rock gets blown clean
by the wind. He's been making sure that if anyone tries to sneak up on us in
the dark, the pebbles strewn across those open patches will crunch underfoot
and alert us."
     Cara wrinkled a questioning brow at Richard. "Really?"
     He shrugged as he passed her his waterskin so that she wouldn't have to
dig hers out from beneath  her desert garb. "Just a little  extra precaution
in  case  anyone is close,  and careless. Sometimes people  don't expect the
simple things and that catches them up."
     "But  not you,"  Jennsen  said, hooking the strap of her waterskin back
over her shoulder. "You think of even the simple things."
     Richard chuckled softly. "If you think  I don't make mistakes, Jennsen,
you're wrong. While it's dangerous to assume that  those  who  wish you harm
are stupid, it can't hurt to spread out a little gravel just in case someone
thinks  they  can sneak across  windswept rock  in the  dark  without  being
heard." .
     Any trace of  amusement faded as Richard stared off toward the  western
horizon where stars had yet to appear. "But I fear that pebbles strewn along
the ground  won't do any  good for eyes watching from a dark sky." He turned
back to Jennsen, brightening, as if remembering he had been speaking to her.
"Still, everyone makes mistakes."
     Cara  wiped droplets of water from  her sly smile as she handed Richard
back his waterskin. "Lord Rahl is always making mistakes,  especially simple
ones. That's why he needs me around."
     "Is that right, little miss perfect?" Richard chided as he snatched the
waterskin  from her hand. "Maybe if  you  weren't 'helping' keep me  out  of
trouble, we wouldn't have black-tipped races shadowing us."
     "What else  could  I  do?"  Cara blurted out. "I was trying to help--to
protect you both." Her smile had withered. "I'm sorry, Lord Rahl."
     Richard sighed. "I know," he admitted as he  reassuringly  squeezed her
shoulder. "We'll figure it out."
     Richard turned back to Jennsen. "Everyone  makes mistakes. How a person
deals with their mistakes is a mark of their character."
     Jennsen nodded as she thought it over. "My mother was always  afraid of
making a mistake that would get us killed. She used to do
     things like you did, in case my father's men were trying to sneak up on
us. We always lived in forests, though, so it was dry twigs, rather
     than pebbles, that she often scattered around us."
     Jennsen pulled on  a  ringlet of her hair  as she stared  off into dark
memories.  "It  was  raining the  night they  came.  If those men stepped on
twigs, she wouldn't have been able to hear  it." She  ran trembling  fingers
over the silver hilt of  the knife  at  her belt.  "They were  big, and they
surprised her, but still, she got one of them before they ..."
     Darken Rahl had wanted Jennsen dead because she had been born ungifted.
Any ruler of that bloodline killed offspring such as she. Richard and Kahlan
believed that a person's life was their own  to live, and that birth did not
qualify that right.
     Jensen's haunted eyes turned up to Richard. "She got one of them before
they killed her."
     With one arm, Richard pulled Jennsen  into a tender embrace.  They  all
understood such terrible loss. The man who had lovingly raised
     Richard had  been killed by Darken Rahl himself. Darken Rahl had orderd
the  murders  of  all  of Kahlan's  sister  Confessors  The  men who  killed
Jennsen's  mother, though,  were  men from  the Imperial Order sent to trick
her, to murder  in order to  make her  believe it was Richard who  was after
     Kahlan felt  a forlorn wave of helplessness at all they faced. She knew
what it was to be alone, afraid, and overwhelmed by powerful men filled with
blind  faith and the lust for blood,  men devoutly believing  that mankind's
salvation required slaughter.
     "I'd give anything for her to know that it  wasn't  you who  sent those
men."  Jennsen's soft  voice held the dejected  sum  of what it  was to have
suffered such a loss, to have no solution to the  crushing solitude it  left
in its wake. "I wish  my mother could have  known the  truth, known what you
two are really like."
     "She's with the good spirits and finally at peace," Kahlan whispered in
sympathy,  even if  she now had reason to question the  enduring validity of
such things.
     Jennsen  nodded as she  swiped  her  fingers  across  her cheek.  "What
mistake did you make, Cara?" she finally asked.
     Rather than be angered by the question, and perhaps because it had been
asked in innocent empathy, Cara answered  with quiet  candor. "It has to  do
with that little problem we mentioned before."
     "You mean it's about the thing you want me to touch?"
     By  the light of the moon's  narrow crescent, Kahlan  could see  Cara's
scowl return. "And the sooner the better."
     Richard rubbed  his  fingertips across  his brow. "I'm  not sure  about
     Kahlan, too, thought that Cara's notion was too simplistic.
     Cara threw her arms up. "But Lord Rahl, we can't just leave it--"
     "Let's get camp set up before it's pitch dark," Richard  said  in quiet
command. "What we need right now is food and sleep."
     For once,  Cara saw the sense in his orders and  didn't object. When he
had earlier been out scouting alone, she had confided in Kahlan that she was
worried at how weary Richard looked and had suggested that, since there were
enough other people, they shouldn't wake him for a turn at watch that night.
     "I'll check the area,"  Cara said, "and make sure there aren't any more
of those birds  sitting  on  a rock  watching  us with  those black eyes  of
     Jennsen  peered  around as  if  fearing  that a black-tipped race might
swoop in out of the darkness.
     Richard countermanded Cara's plans with a dismissive shake of his head.
"They're gone for now."
     "You said they  were tracking  you." Jennsen stroked  Betty's neck when
the  goat  nudged her, seeking  comfort.  The twins  were still hiding under
their  mother's  round belly.  "I  never saw them  before  now. They weren't
around yesterday, or today. They didn't show up until  just this evening. If
they really were  tracking  you,  then  they  wouldn't  be  gone for such  a
stretch. They'd have to stick close to you all the time."
     "They can leave us for a time in order to hunt--or to make us doubt our
suspicion of their true intent--and, even if we  keep going, they can easily
find us when they return. That's the advantage  the black-tipped races have:
they don't need to watch us every moment."
     Jennsen planted her fists on her hips. "Then how in the world could you
possibly  be  sure they're tracking you?" She flicked a hand  out toward the
darkness  beyond.  "You often see the  same kind of birds. You  see  ravens,
sparrows, geese, finches, hummingbirds, doves--how do  you know that any one
of them aren't following you and that the black-tipped races are?"
     "I know," Richard said as he turned and started  back toward the wagon.
"Now, let's get our things out and set up camp."
     Kahlan caught Jennsen's arm as she headed after him, about to renew her
objections. "Let  him be for  tonight,  Jennsen?" Kahlan lifted an  eyebrow.
"Please? About this, anyway."
     Kahlan  was  pretty  sure  that  the  black-tipped  races  really  were
following them,  but it  wasn't  so much  an issue of  her being sure of  it
herself.  Rather, she  had confidence  in Richard's  word in matters such is
this.  Kahlan  was  versed  in  affairs of  state,  protocol, ceremony,  and
royalty;  she  was  familiar with various  cultures, the  origins of ancient
deputes between lands,  and the history of treaties; and she was con-versant
in any number of languages, including the duplicitous dialect of  diplomacy.
In such areas, Richard trusted her word when she ex-pressed her conviction.
     In matters about something so  odd as strange birds following them, she
knew better than to question Richard's word.
     Kahlan knew, too, that he didn't yet have all the answers. She had seen
him like  this before,  distant and withdrawn, as he struggled to understand
the  important  connections   and  patterns  in  relevant  details  only  he
perceived. She knew  that he needed to be left alone about it. Pestering him
for answers before  he  had them only  served  to  distract him from what he
needed to do.
     Watching  Richard's back as he  walked away,  Jennsen finally forced  a
smile  of  agreement.  Then,  as  if struck  with another  thought, her eyes
widened. She leaned close to Kahlan and whispered, "Is this about magic?"
     "We don't know what it's about."
     Jennsen nodded. "I'll help. Whatever I can do, I want to help."
     For the time being, Kahlan kept  her worries to herself as she  circled
an  arm around  the young woman's  shoulders in  an appreciative embrace and
walked her back toward the wagon.

     In  the  immense,  silent  void of night,  Kahlan  could  clearly  hear
Fried-rich, off to the side, speaking gently to  the horses. He patted their
shoulders or  ran a  hand along their flanks  each time on his way by  as he
went  about  grooming  and  picketing  them for  the  night.  With dark-ness
shrouding the empty expanse beyond, the familiar
     task of caring for the animals made the unfamiliar surroundings  seem a
little less forbidding.
     Friedrich  was an older,  unassuming man of average height. Despite his
age, he had undertaken a long and difficult journey to the Old World to find
Richard. Friedrich had undertaken  that journey, carrying with him important
information, soon after his wife had died. The terrible sadness of that loss
still haunted his gentle features. Kahlan supposed that it always would.
     In the dim light, she saw Jennsen smile as Tom looked her way. A boyish
grin momentarily overcame the big, blond-headed D'Haran when he spotted her,
but he quickly bent back to work, pulling bedrolls from a corner beneath the
seat.  He  stepped  over  supplies in  his wagon  and handed a load down  to
     "There's no  wood  for a  fire, Lord Rahl."  Tom rested a  foot on  the
chafing rail, laying a forearm over his bent knee. "But, if you like, I have
a little charcoal to use for cooking."
     "What I'd  really  like is  for you to stop calling  me 'Lord Rahl.' If
we're anywhere near the wrong people and you slip up and call me that, we'll
all be in a great deal of trouble."
     Tom  grinned and patted the  ornate letter  "R" on the silver handle of
the knife at his belt. "Not to worry, Lord Rahl. Steel against steel."
     Richard sighed at  the oft-repeated  maxim involving  the  bond  of the
D'Haran people to their Lord  Rahl, and he  to them. Tom  and Friedrich  had
promised they  wouldn't use  Richard's  and  Kahlan's  titles  around  other
people.  A lifetime's habits were difficult to change,  though,  and  Kahlan
knew  that  they  felt  uncomfortable  not  using  titles when  they were so
obviously alone.
     "So," Tom  said as he handed down the last bedroll, "would  you  like a
small fire for cooking?"
     "Hot  as  it is, it  seems to  me  we could  do without any more heat."
Richard set the bedrolls atop a sack of oats already unloaded. "Besides, I'd
prefer not to take the time. I'd like to be on our way at first light and we
need to get a good rest."
     "Can't argue with you there," Tom said, straightening his big frame. "I
don't like us being so out in the open where we could easily be spotted."
     Richard swept his hand in a suggestive arc across the dark vault above.
     Tom cast a wary eye skyward. He nodded reluctantly before  turning back
to the task of digging out tools to mend the breeching and wooden buckets to
water the horses.  Richard put a boot  on a spoke of the cargo wagon's stout
rear wheel and climbed up to help.
     Tom, a shy but cheerful man who had appeared only the day before, right
after  they'd encountered Jennsen, looked to be a merchant who  hauled trade
goods. Hauling goods in his  wagon, Kahlan and Richard had learned, gave him
an  excuse to travel where and when he needed as a member of a covert  group
whose  true profession was  to protect the Lord Rahl  from unseen  plots and
     Speaking in a low voice, Jennsen leaned closer to Kahlan. "Vultures can
tell  you, from a great distance, where a kill lies--by the  way they circle
and  gather,  I  mean.  I  guess I  can see  how  the races  could  be  like
that--birds  that  someone  could spot  from afar in order to know there was
something below."
     Kahlan  didn't  say anything.  Her head  ached, she was hungry, and she
just  wanted to go to sleep,  not to discuss things she couldn't answer. She
wondered how many times  Richard had  viewed her own insistent  questions in
the same way she now viewed Jennsen's. Kahlan silently vowed to try to be at
least half as patient as Richard always was.
     "The thing is,"  Jennsen went on,  matter-of-factly, "how would someone
get birds  to  ... well, you know,  circle around  you like  vultures over a
carcass in order  to  know  where you were?"  Jennsen  leaned  in  again and
whispered so as to be sure that  Richard  wouldn't hear. "Maybe they're sent
with magic to follow specific people."
     Cara fixed Jennsen with a murderous glare.  Kahlan idly wondered if the
Mord-Sith would clobber Richard's sister, or extend her leniency because she
was family. Discussions about magic, especially in the context of its danger
to  Richard or Kahlan, made Cara testy.  Mord-Sith were fearless in the face
of death, but they did  not like  magic and  weren't  shy about making their
distaste clear.
     In a  way,  such hostility toward  magic characterized the  nature  and
purpose of Mord-Sith; they were  singularly able to appropriate the gifted's
power and use it to destroy  them. Mord-Sith had been mercilessly trained to
be ruthless at their task. It was from the madness of this duty that Richard
had freed them.
     It seemed obvious  enough  to Kahlan, though, that if the races  really
were tracking them it would have to involve conjuring of some sort.  It  was
the questions raised by that assumption that so worried her.
     When Kahlan  didn't debate the theory, Jennsen asked, "Why do you think
someone would be using the races to track you?"
     Kahlan  lifted an eyebrow  at the young woman. "Jennsen,  we're in  the
middle  of  the  Old  World.  Being  hunted  in  enemy territory  is  hardly
     "I  guess you're  right," Jennsen admitted.  "It  just seems that there
would have to be more to it." Despite the heat, she rubbed her arms as  if a
chill had just  run through her. "You have no  idea how much  Emperor Jagang
wants to catch you."
     Kahlan smiled to herself. "Oh, I think I do."
     Jennsen watched Richard a moment as  he filled the  buckets with  water
from barrels carried  in  the  wagon. Richard leaned down and handed one  to
Friedrich. Ears turned attentively  ahead, the horses all watched, eager for
a drink. Betty, also watching as  her twins suckled, bleated her longing for
a drink. After  filling the buckets, Richard submerged his waterskin to fill
it, too.
     Jennsen shook  her head and looked  again into  Kahlan's eyes. "Emperor
Jagang tricked me into thinking Richard wanted me dead." She glanced briefly
over at the men engaged in their work before she went on. "I  was there with
Jagang when he attacked Aydindril."
     Kahlan felt as if her heart came up  in her throat at hearing firsthand
confirmation of  that  brute invading  the  place where she'd  grown up. She
didn't  think she could bear to hear the answer, but she had to ask. "Did he
destroy the city?"
     After Richard had been  captured  and taken from her, Kahlan, with Cara
at her side, had led  the D'Haran army  against Jagang's vast invading horde
from the Old World.  Month after month, Kahlan and the army  fought  against
impossible odds, retreating all the way up through the Midlands.
     By the  time they lost the battle for the Midlands, it had been  over a
year  since  Kahlan  had  seen  Richard;  he had seemingly  been  cast  into
oblivion. When at last she learned where he  was being held, Kahlan and Cara
had  raced south, to the Old World, only to arrive just as Richard ignited a
firestorm of revolution in the heart of Jagang's homeland.
     Before  she'd  left,  Kahlan  had  evacuated  Aydindril  and  left  the
Confessors' Palace empty of all those who called it home. Life, not a place,
was what mattered.
     "He  never  got a chance to destroy the city,"  Jennsen said.  "When we
arrived  at the Confessors' Palace, Emperor  Jagang thought he  had you  and
Richard cornered. But  out in front  waited a spear holding the  head of the
emperor's revered  spiritual  leader:  Brother  Narev."  Her  voice  lowered
meaningfully. "Jagang found the message left with the head."
     Kahlan remembered well  the day Richard  had sent the head of that evil
man,  along  with  a  message for  Jagang,  on the  long  journey  north.  "
'Compliments of Richard Rahl.'"
     "That's  right," Jennsen said. "You can't  imagine Jagang's  rage." She
paused to be  certain  Kahlan heeded her warning.  "He'll do anything to get
his hands on you and Richard."
     Kahlan hardly needed Jennsen to tell her how much Jagang wanted them.
     "All the more reason to get away--hide somewhere," Cara said.
     "And the races?" Kahlan reminded her.
     Cara cast a suggestive look at Jennsen before speaking in a quiet voice
to Kahlan. "If  we do  something about the rest of  it, maybe  that  problem
would  go  away, too." Cara's goal was  to  protect  Richard.  She would  be
perfectly  happy to  put  him in  a hole somewhere and board him over if she
thought doing so would keep harm from reaching him.
     Jennsen  waited, watching the two of  them. Kahlan wasn't  at all  sure
there was  anything Jennsen  could do. Richard had thought  it over  and had
come  to  have  serious doubts.  Kahlan  had been  amply  skeptical  without
Richard's doubts. Still...
     "Maybe" was all she said.
     "If there's anything I can do, I want to try it." Jennsen fussed with a
button on the front of her dress. "Richard doesn't think I  can help.  If it
involves magic,  wouldn't he know? Richard  is a wizard, he would know about
     Kahlan sighed. There was so  much more to it.  "Richard  was raised  in
Westland--far  from the Midlands, even farther from  D'Hara.  He  grew up in
isolation from  the rest  of the New World, never  knowing  anything  at all
about the gift. Despite all  he's  so far learned and some of the remarkable
things he's accomplished, he still knows very little of his birthright."
     They had already told Jennsen this, but she seemed skeptical, as if she
suspected there  was  a certain  amount of exaggeration  in what  they  were
telling her about Richard's unfamiliarity with his own gift. Her big brother
had, after all,  in one day  rescued  her from  a lifetime of terror. Such a
profound awakening probably seemed tangled in magic to one  so devoid of it.
Perhaps it was.
     "Well, if Richard is as ignorant of magic  as you say," Jennsen pressed
in a meaningful voice, finally  having arrived  at the heart of her purpose,
"then maybe we shouldn't worry so much about what he thinks. Maybe we should
just not tell him and go ahead and do whatever it is Cara wants me to  do to
fix your problem and get the races off your backs."
     Nearby, Betty  contentedly  licked  clean her  little white twins.  The
sweltering  darkness  and vast weight of  the surrounding silence seemed  as
eternal as death itself.
     Kahlan gently took  ahold of Jennsen's  collar. "I grew  up walking the
corridors  of the Wizard's Keep  and the Confessors'  Palace.  I know a  lot
about magic."
     She  pulled the young  woman closer.  "I can  tell you that such  naive
notions,  when applied  to ominous matters  like this, can easily get people
killed. There is always the  possibility that  it's  as simple as you fancy,
but most likely it's complex beyond your imagination and any rash attempt at
a remedy  could  ignite a conflagration that would consume us  all. Added to
all that is the  grave peril of not knowing  how someone,  such as yourself,
someone so pristinely ungifted as  to be forewarned of in that ancient  book
Richard has, might affect the equation.
     "There are times  when there is no choice but  to act immediately; even
then it  must  be with your  best  judgment, using all  your  experience and
everything  you do know. As  long as there's a choice, though, you don't act
in matters of magic until you can be sure of the consequence. You don't ever
just take a stab in the dark."
     Kahlan  knew all too well the terrible truth  of  such  an  admonition.
Jennsen seemed unconvinced. "But if he doesn't really know much about magic,
his fears might only be--"
     "I've walked through dead cities, walked among the mutilated  bodies of
men, women, and  children the Imperial Order  has left in  their  wake. I've
seen young women  not as  old as you make thoughtless, innocent mistakes and
end  up chained to a stake to be  used by gangs  of soldiers for days before
being tortured to death just for the amusement  of men who get sick pleasure
out of raping a woman as she's in the throes of death."
     Kahlan  gritted her teeth  as  memories flashed  mercilessly before her
mind's eye. She tightened her grip on Jennsen's collar.
     "All  of my sister  Confessors died in such  a  fashion,  and they knew
about their power and how to use it. The men  who caught them knew, too, and
used that knowledge against them. My closest girlhood friend died in my arms
after such men were finished with her.
     "Life means nothing to people like that; they worship death.
     "Those are  the kind of people who butchered your mother. Those are the
kind of people who  will have us, too, if we make  a mistake.  Those are the
kind of people laying traps for us--including traps constructed of magic.
     "As for  Richard not knowing about magic, there are times when he is so
ignorant of the simplest  things  that I  can scarcely  believe it and  must
remind  myself that  he grew up not  being taught  anything at all about his
gift. In those things, I  try to be patient and to guide him as best I  can.
He takes very seriously what I tell him.
     "There  are  other  times  when  I  suspect  that  he  actually  grasps
complexities  of  magic that  neither  I  nor  anyone alive  has ever before
fathomed or even so much as  imagined. In those things  he  must  be his own
     "The lives of a great many good people depend on us not making careless
mistakes, especially careless mistakes with magic.  As  the Mother Confessor
I'll  not allow reckless whim to  jeopardize  all those lives.  Now, do  you
understand me?"
     Kahlan had nightmares  about the things  she had  seen, about those who
had been caught,  about  those who  had made a simple mistake  and  paid the
price  with their  life.  She was not many  years beyond Jennsen's  age, but
right then that gulf was vastly more than a mere handful of years.
     Kahlan gave Jennsen's collar a sharp yank. "Do you understand me?"
     Wide-eyed,  Jennsen swallowed.  "Yes, Mother Confessor."  Finally,  her
gaze broke toward the ground.
     Only then did Kahlan release her.

     Anyone hungry?" Tom called to the three women.
     Richard pulled a lantern from the wagon and, after  finally  getting it
lit  with a  steel and  flint,  set it  on  a shelf  of  rock.  He  passed a
suspicious look among the three  women as  they  approached, but  apparently
thought better of saying anything.
     As Kahlan sat close at Richard's side, Tom offered him the first  chunk
he sliced  from  a long  length of  sausage.  When  Richard declined, Kahlan
accepted it. Tom sliced  off  another piece and passed it to  Cara and  then
another to Friedrich.
     Jennsen had gone  to  the  wagon  to  search  through her  pack. Kahlan
thought that maybe she just wanted to  be alone a moment to collect herself.
Kahlan knew how harsh her words had  sounded, but she couldn't allow herself
to do Jennsen the disservice of coddling her with pleasing lies.
     With  Jennsen reassuringly  close  by,  Betty  lay  down  beside Rusty,
Jennsen's red roan mare. The horse and the goat were fast friends. The other
horses seemed pleased by the visitor and took keen interest in her two kids,
giving them a good sniff when they came close enough.
     When Jennsen walked over displaying a small piece of carrot, Betty rose
up in a  rush.  Her tail went into a blur  of expectant wagging. The  horses
whinnied and tossed their heads,  hoping not to  be left  out. Each in  turn
received a small treat and a scratch behind the ears.
     Had they a  fire,  they  could have  cooked  a stew,  rice,  or  beans;
grid-died  some bannock;  or maybe have made a nice soup. Despite how hungry
she was, Kahlan didn't think she would have  had the energy  to cook, so she
was content  to settle for  what  was  at hand.  Jennsen retrieved strips of
dried meat from her pack, offering them around. Richard declined this,  too,
instead eating hard travel biscuits, nuts, and dried fruit.
     "But  don't you want any meat?" Jennsen  asked  as she sat down  on her
bedroll  opposite him.  "You need more than that  to eat. You need something
     "I can't eat meat. Not since the gift came to life in me."
     Jennsen's wrinkled her nose with a puzzled  look. "Why would  your gift
not allow you to eat meat?"
     Richard  leaned  to the  side,  resting his weight  on an elbow  as  he
momentarily surveyed the sweep of stars, searching for the words to explain.
"Balance, in nature," he said at last, "is  a  condition resulting from  the
interaction  of  all things in  existence. On  a  simple level,  look at how
predators and prey are in balance. If there were too many predators, and the
prey were all eaten, then the thriving predators, too, would end up starving
and dying out.
     "The lack  of balance  would be deadly to both prey  and  predator; the
world, for  them both, would end. They  exist in  balance because acting  in
accordance  with  their nature  results  in  balance. Balance  is  not their
conscious intent.
     "People  are  different.  Without  our  conscious  intent,   we   don't
necessarily achieve the balance that our survival often requires.
     "We must  learn  to use our minds, to  think, if  we're  to survive. We
plant crops,  we hunt for fur to keep us warm, or  raise  sheep  and  gather
their wool and  learn how to weave  it into cloth.  We have to learn  how to
build shelter. We balance the value  of one  thing against another and trade
goods to exchange what  we've made for what we need that others have made or
grown or built or woven or hunted.
     "We  balance what we  need with what we know of  the  realities of  the
world.  We balance  what  we  want against our rational  self-interest,  not
against fulfilling a momentary impulse, because we  know that our  long-term
survival requires it. We use wood to build a  fire in the hearth in order to
keep from freezing on a winter night, but, despite how cold we might be when
we're building the fire, we don't build the fire too big, knowing that to do
so would risk burning our shelter down after we're warm and asleep."
     "But people also act  out of shortsighted  selfishness, greed, and lust
for  power.  They  destroy  lives." Jennsen lifted her arm  out  toward  the
darkness. "Look at what the Imperial Order is doing--and succeeding at. They
don't care about  weaving  wool or building  houses or  trading goods.  They
slaughter people just for conquest. They take what they want."
     "And we  resist them. We've learned to understand the value of life, so
we fight to reestablish reason. We are the balance."
     Jennsen hooked some of her hair back behind an ear. "What does all this
have to do with not eating meat?"
     "I  was  told that wizards, too, must  balance themselves, their gift--
their power--in the things they do. I fight against those, like the Imperial
Order, who would  destroy  life  because  it has no  value to them, but that
requires that I do the same terrible  thing by destroying what is my highest
value--life. Since  my gift has to do with being  a warrior, abstinence from
eating meat is believed to be the balance for the killing I'm forced to do."
     "What happens if you eat meat?"
     Kahlan knew that Richard had cause, from  only the  day before, to need
the balance of not eating meat.
     "Even the idea of eating meat nauseates  me. I've done it when I've had
to, but it's something I avoid if at all possible. Magic deprived of balance
has grave consequences, just like building a fire in the hearth."
     The thought occurred to Kahlan that Richard carried the Sword of Truth,
and perhaps  that weapon also imposed its own need for balance. Richard  had
been rightly named the Seeker of Truth by the First Wizard himself, Zeddicus
Zu'l  Zorander--Zedd,  Richard's  grandfather, the man  who had helped raise
him,  and from whom Richard had  additionally inherited the gift.  Richard's
gift had been passed down not only from the Rahl bloodline, but the Zorander
as well. Balance indeed.
     Rightly named Seekers had been carrying that very same sword for nearly
three thousand  years.  Perhaps  Richard's  understanding  of the  need  for
balance had helped him to survive the things he'd faced.
     With her teeth, Jennsen tugged off a strip of dried meat as she thought
it over. "So, because you have to fight and sometimes kill people, you can't
eat meat as the balance for that terrible act?"
     Richard nodded as he chewed dried apricots.
     "It must be dreadful  to have the gift," Jennsen said in a quiet voice.
"To  have something  so destructive that it requires  you balance it in some
     She looked away from Richard's  gray eyes. Kahlan knew what a difficult
experience it sometimes was to meet his direct and incisive gaze.
     "I used to feel that way," he said, "when I  first was named the Seeker
and given the sword, and even  more so later, when  I learned that I had the
gift. I didn't  want to have the gift, didn't want the things the gift could
do, just as I hadn't wanted the sword because  of  the things  in me  that I
thought shouldn't ever be brought out."
     "But now you don't mind as much, having the sword, or the gift?"
     "You have a knife and have used it." Richard leaned toward her, holding
out his hands. "You have hands. Do you hate your knife, or hands?"
     "Of course not. But what does that have to do with having the gift?"
     "Having  the gift is simply how  I was born,  like being born male,  or
female, or  with  blue, or  brown, or green eyes--or with two hands. I don't
hate my hands because I could  potentially  strangle someone with them. It's
my mind that directs my  hands. My  hands don't act  of their own accord; to
think so is to ignore  the truth of what each thing is, its true nature. You
have to  recognize the truth of things if you're to achieve balance--or come
to truly understand anything, for that matter."
     Kahlan wondered why she didn't require balance the way Richard did. Why
was it so vital for him,  but not for her? Despite how much she wanted to go
to  sleep,  she couldn't keep silent. "I often  use my Confessor's power for
that  same end--to kill--and I  don't have to keep in  balance by not eating
     "The  Sisters of the Light claim that the veil that separates the world
of  the living from the world of the dead is maintained  through magic. More
precisely, they claim that the veil is here," Richard said, tapping the side
of  his  temple, "in those of us who have the gift--wizards and  to a lesser
extent sorceresses. They claim that balance for those of us with the gift is
essential because in  us, within our gift, resides the  veil, making  us, in
essence, the guardians of the veil, the balance between worlds.
     "Maybe they're  right.  I have  both  sides of  the gift:  Additive and
Subtractive. Maybe that makes it  different for  me. Maybe having both sides
makes it more important than usual for me to keep my gift in balance."
     Kahlan  wondered just  how much  of that might be true.  She  feared to
think  how extensively the balance of magic itself had  been altered  by her
     The world was unraveling, in more ways  than one. But there had been no
     Cara dismissively waggled a piece of dried  meat before them. "All this
balance business  is  just a message from  the good spirits--in  that  other
world--telling Lord Rahl to leave such fighting to  us.  If he did,  then he
wouldn't have to worry about balance, or  what he can and  can't eat.  If he
would stop putting himself in mortal danger  then his balance  would be just
fine and he could eat a whole goat."
     Jennsen's eyebrows went up.
     "You know what I mean," Cara grumbled.
     Tom leaned  in.  "Maybe  Mistress Cara is right,  Lord  Rahl.  You have
people to protect you. You should let them  do it and  you could  better put
your abilities to the task of being the Lord Rahl."
     Richard closed his eyes and rubbed his temples with his fingertips. "If
I  had  to wait for Cara to save me all the  time, I'm afraid I'd have to do
without a head."
     Cara  rolled  her  eyes at  his  wisp of a smile and went back  to  her
     Studying  his  face  in the dim light as he sucked on a  small  bite of
dried biscuit, Kahlan thought that Richard didn't look well, and that it was
more than simply being exhausted.  The soft glow of light  from the  lantern
lit  one side of his face,  leaving the rest in darkness, as if he were only
half there, half in this world and half  in the world of  darkness, as if he
were the veil between.
     She leaned close  and brushed back the hair  that had fallen across his
forehead, using the excuse to feel his  brow. He felt hot, but they were all
hot  and sweating, so she  couldn't really  tell if  he had a fever, but she
didn't think so.
     Her hand slipped down to cup his  face, kindling his smile. She thought
she could lose herself in the  pleasure  of just  looking  into his eyes. It
made her  heart ache with joy to see his smile. She smiled back, a smile she
gave no one but him.
     Kahlan had an  urge to  kiss  him,  too, but there always seemed to  be
people around and the kind of  kiss she really wanted to give him wasn't the
kind of kiss you gave in front of others.
     "It seems so hard to imagine," Friedrich said to Richard. "I mean,  the
Lord  Rahl  himself,  not  knowing about the gift  as he grew up." Friedrich
shook his head. "It seems so hard to believe."
     "My grandfather,  Zedd, has the gift," Richard said as he  leaned back.
"He wanted to help raise me away from magic, much like Jennsen-- hidden away
where  Darken  Rahl couldn't  get at me. That's  why he  wanted me raised in
Westland, on the other side of the boundary from magic."
     "And even your grandfather--a wizard--never let on that he was gifted?"
Tom asked.
     "No,  not until Kahlan came to Westland. Looking back  on it, I realize
that there were  a lot  of little things that told  me he was  more than  he
seemed, but growing up I never knew. He just always seemed wizardly to me in
the sense that he seemed to know about everything in the world around us. He
opened up that world for me,  making me want to all the time know more,  but
the gift wasn't ever the magic he showed me--life was what he showed me."
     "It's really true, then," Friedrich said,  "that Westland was set aside
to be a place without magic."
     Richard smiled at  the mention of his home  of Westland. "It is. I grew
up in the  Hartland woods, right  near  the boundary, and I never saw magic.
Except maybe for Chase."
     "Chase?" Tom asked.
     "A  friend of mine--a  boundary  warden. Fellow about  your  size, Tom.
Whereas you serve to protect the Lord Rahl, Chase's charge was the boundary,
or rather, keeping people away from it.  He told me that his job was keeping
away  the prey--people--so that the things that  come out  of  the  boundary
wouldn't get any stronger. He worked to maintain balance." Richard smiled to
himself. "He didn't have the gift, but I often  thought that the things that
man could pull off had to be magic."
     Friedrich, too, was smiling at  Richard's story. "I lived in D'Hara all
my life. When I was  young those men who guarded the boundary were my heroes
and I wanted to join them."
     "Why didn't you?" Richard asked.
     "When the boundary went up I was too young." Friedrich stared off  into
memories, then sought  to change  the subject. "How much longer until we get
out of this wasteland, Lord Rahl?"
     Richard  looked east,  as if he could see  off into the black of  night
beyond the dim circle of lantern light. "If we keep  up our pace, a few more
days  and  we'll be out of the worst  of it, I'd say. It gets rockier now as
the ground continues to rise up toward the  distant mountains. The traveling
will be more difficult but at least as  we get higher it shouldn't  be quite
so hot."
     "How  far  to  this thing  that... that  Cara  thinks I should  touch?"
Jennsen asked.
     Richard  studied her face a  moment. "I'm not  so  sure that's  a  good
     "But we are going there?"
     Jennsen  picked  at  the strip of  dried meat. "What is this thing that
Cara touched, anyway? Cara and Kahlan don't seem to want to tell me."
     "I asked them not to tell you," Richard said.
     "But why? If we're going to see it, then why  wouldn't you want to tell
me what it is?"
     "Because  you don't have the  gift,"  Richard  said.  "I don't  want to
influence what you see."
     Jennsen blinked. "What difference could that make?"
     "I haven't had time to translate much of it yet, but from what I gather
from the book Friedrich brought me, even  those who  don't have the gift, in
the common sense, have at least some tiny spark  of it. In that way they are
able  to interact with the  magic in the world--much like you  must  be born
with  eyes  to see color. Being born with eyes, you can see and understand a
grand painting, even though  you may not have  the ability  to create such a
painting yourself.
     "The gifted Lord Rahl gives birth to only one  gifted heir. He may have
other children, but rarely are any of them ever also gifted. Still,  they do
have this infinitesimal  spark, as  does  everyone  else. Even  they, so  to
speak, can see color.
     "The book says,  though, that there are rare offspring of a gifted Lord
Rahl, like you, who are born devoid of any trace whatsoever of the gift. The
book calls them pillars of Creation. Much like those born without eyes can't
perceive color, those born like you can't perceive magic.
     "But even that is imprecise, because with you it's more than simply not
perceiving  magic. For  someone  born blind,  color exists, they just aren't
able to see  it. For you, though, it isn't  that you  simply can't  perceive
magic; for you magic does not exist--it isn't a reality."
     "How is such a thing possible?" Jennsen asked.
     "I don't  know," Richard said. "When our  ancestors created the bond of
the  Lord Rahl  to the  D'Haran  people,  it  carried the unique  ability to
consistently bear a gifted heir. Magic needs balance. Maybe they had to make
it work  like this, have this counter  of those born like you,  in order for
the magic they created to  work; maybe they didn't realize what would happen
and inadvertently created the balance."
     Jennsen  cleared her  throat. "What would happen if...  you know, if  I
were to have children?"
     Richard surveyed Jennsen's  eyes for what seemed a painfully long time.
"You would bear offspring like you."
     Jennsen sat forward, her hands reflecting her emotional entreaty. "Even
if I marry someone with that  spark  of the gift? Someone able  to  perceive
color, as you called it? Even then my child would be like me?"
     "Even then and every time," Richard said with quiet certitude. "You are
a broken link in the chain of the gift. According to the book, once the line
of all those born with  the spark of the gift, including those with the gift
as it  is in  me,  going  back thousands of  years, going back  forever,  is
broken, it is broken for all  time. It cannot be restored. Once forfeited in
such a marriage, no descendant of that line can ever restore the link to the
gift.  When  these children marry, they too  would be  as you,  breaking the
chain in the line of those they marry. Their children would be the same, and
so on.
     "That's why  the  Lord Rahl always hunted  down ungifted  offspring and
eliminated them. You would be  the genesis of something  the world has never
had before: those untouched by the gift. Every offspring of every descendant
would end  the line of the spark  of the gift in everyone they married.  The
world, mankind, would be changed forever.
     "This  is  the  reason the  book  calls  those  like  you  'pillars  of
Creation.' "
     The silence seemed brittle.
     "And that's what this place is  called, too," Tom said as he  pointed a
thumb back over his shoulder, seeming to feel the need to say something into
the quiet, "the Pillars of Creation." He looked at the faces surrounding the
weak light coming from the sputtering  lantern. "Seems a strange coincidence
that both those like Jennsen and this place would be called the same thing."
     Richard stared off into the darkness  toward  that terrible place where
Kahlan would have died had he  made  a mistake with  the  magic involved. "I
don't think it's a coincidence. They are connected, somehow."
     The  book--The Pillars  of Creation--describing those born like Jennsen
was written in the ancient language of High D'Haran. Few people still living
understood High D'Haran. Richard had  begun to learn it  in order to unravel
important information in other books they'd found that were from the time of
the great war.
     That war, extinguished three thousand years before, had somehow ignited
once again, and was burning uncontrolled through the world. Kahlan feared to
think  of the central--if inadvertent--part  she and  Richard had played  in
making it possible.
     Jennsen leaned in, as if looking for some thread of  hope.  "How do you
think the two might be connected?"
     Richard let out a tired sigh. "I don't know, yet."
     With a  finger, Jennsen rolled  a  pebble  around  in a  small  circle,
leaving a tiny rut in the dust. "All of those things about me being a pillar
of  Creation, being  the  break in  the link of  the  gift,  makes  me  feel
somehow... dirty."
     "Dirty?" Tom asked, looking hurt to hear her even suggest such a thing.
"Jennsen, why would you feel that way?"
     "Those like me are also called 'holes in the world.' I  guess I can see
why, now."
     Richard leaned  forward, resting his elbows on his knees.  "I know what
it's like to feel regret for how you were born, for  what you have, or don't
have. I hated being born the way I was--with the gift. But I came to realize
how  senseless such feelings  are, how completely wrong it was to think that
     "But it's different with me," she said as she pushed at the sand with a
finger,  erasing  the  little ruts  she'd made with the pebble.  "There  are
others like you--wizards or sorceresses with the  gift. Everyone else can at
least see colors, as you put it. I'm the only one like this."
     Richard gazed at  his half sister, a  beautiful, bright, ungifted  half
sister that any previous Lord Rahl would have murdered on the spot,  and was
overcome with a radiant smile. "Jennsen, I think of you as born pure. You're
like a new snowflake, different than any other, and startlingly beautiful."
     Looking  up at  him, Jennsen was overcome  with a smile  of her own. "I
never thought  of it that way." Her smile withered as she thought  about his
words. "But still, I'd be destroying--"
     "You  would be  creating, not destroying," Richard said. "Magic exists.
It cannot possess the 'right'  to exist. To  think so would be to ignore the
true nature--the reality--of things. People, if they don't take the lives of
others,  have the right to live their  life. You can't say that  because you
were born with red hair you  supplanted the 'right' of brown hair to be born
on your head."
     Jennsen giggled at such a concept. It was good  to see the smile taking
firmer hold. By the look on Tom's face, he agreed.
     "So,"  Jennsen finally asked, "what  about this  thing  we're  going to
     "If the thing Cara  touched has  been altered by someone with the gift,
then since  you can't  see the magic, you might see something we can't  see:
what lies beneath that magic."
     Jennsen rubbed the edge of her boot heel. "And you think that will tell
you something important?"
     "I don't know. It may be useful, or it may not, but I want to know what
you see--with your special vision--without any suggestion from us."
     "If you're so worried about it, why did you leave it? Aren't you afraid
someone might come across it and take it?"
     "I worry about a lot of things," Richard said.
     "Even if  it really is something altered by magic and  she  sees it for
what it truly is," Cara said, "that doesn't mean that it still isn't what it
seems to us, or that it isn't just as dangerous."
     Richard nodded.  "At least we'll know that much more about it. Anything
we learn might help us in some way."
     Cara scowled. "I just want her to turn it back over."
     Richard gave her a  look designed to keep her from saying anything else
about it. Cara huffed, leaned in, and  took one of Richard's dried apricots.
She scowled at him as she popped the apricot into her mouth.
     As soon  as supper was finished,  Jennsen suggested that  they pack all
the food safely back in the wagon so that Betty wouldn't help  herself to it
in  the night. Betty was always hungry. At least, with her two kids, she now
had a taste of what it was like to be badgered for food.
     Kahlan thought that Friedrich should be given consideration, because of
his age, so she asked him if  he'd like to take first watch. First watch was
easier than being awakened in the middle of the night to stand watch between
stretches of sleep. He smiled his appreciation as he nodded his agreement.
     After opening his and Kahlan's bedroll, Richard doused the lantern. The
night  was  sweltering  but  crystal  clear  so that,  after  Kahlan's  eyes
adjusted, the sweep of stars was enough to see by, if not very  well. One of
the white twins thought the newly unfurled bedrolls would be a perfect place
to  romp.  Kahlan  scooped  up the  leggy  bundle  and  returned it  to  its
tail-wagging mother.
     As she lay down beside  Richard, Kahlan saw the  dark shape of  Jennsen
curl up by Betty and collect the twins in the tender bed  of her arms, where
they quickly settled down.
     Richard leaned  over and  gently kissed Kahlan's lips. "I love you, you
     "If we're ever alone, Lord Rahl,"  Kahlan  whispered back, "I'd like to
have more than a quick kiss."
     He  laughed  softly and kissed her forehead before lying  on  his side,
away from her. She had been  expecting an intimate  promise,  or  at least a
lighthearted remark.
     Kahlan  curled  up  behind  him and  rested  a  hand on  his  shoulder.
"Richard," she whispered, "are you all right?"
     It took him  longer  to answer  than  she would  have  liked. "I have a
splitting headache."
     She  wanted to ask what kind of headache, but she  didn't want the tiny
spark of fear she harbored to gain the glow of credence by voicing it aloud.
     "It's different from  the headaches I  had before," Richard said, as if
in answer  to her thoughts. "I  suppose it's  this wicked heat on top of not
having had any sleep for so long."
     "I suppose." Kahlan bunched  up the blanket she was using  for a pillow
to make  a lump that  would press against  the sore  spot at the base of her
skull. "The heat is making my  head pound,  too." She gently rubbed the back
of his shoulder. "Have a good sleep, then."
     She  was exhausted and aching  all  over, and it felt delicious to  lie
down. Her  head felt better,  too, with  the  soft lump  of  blanket pressed
against the  back of  her  neck.  With  her  hand resting against  Richard's
shoulder, feeling his slow breathing, Kahlan fell into a dead sleep.

     As tired as she was, it  was a marvelous sensation being beside Richard
and letting  herself  go, letting her  concerns and worries go for  the time
being, and so effortlessly sinking into sleep.
     But  the sleep  seemed only  just  started when she woke  to find  Cara
gently shaking her shoulder.
     Kahlan  blinked up at the familiar  silhouette standing over  her.  She
ached  to go  back to sleep, to be left  alone to  be so  wonderfully asleep
     "My watch?" Kahlan asked.
     Cara nodded. "I'll stand it if you'd like."
     Kahlan glanced over her shoulder as she sat up, seeing that Richard was
still fast asleep. "No," she whispered.  "You get some sleep. You need rest,
     Kahlan yawned and stretched her back. She took Cara's elbow  and pulled
her a short distance away, out of earshot, and leaned close. "I think you're
right. There's  more  than enough of  us  to stand watch  and all still  get
enough rest. Let's let Richard sleep till morning."
     Cara  smiled her  agreement before heading for her bedroll.  Conspiracy
designed to protect Richard suited the Mord-Sith.
     Kahlan  yawned and stretched again, at the same time forcing herself to
shake the lingering haze  of sleep from her  mind, to be alert.  Pulling her
hair back  from  her face and flipping it over her shoulder, she scanned the
wasteland all  around, looking for anything out  of the ordinary. Everything
beyond  their  camp was  as  still  as  death.  Mountains  blacked  out  the
glittering sweep of stars in a jagged line all the way around the horizon.
     Kahlan took careful assessment  of everyone, making sure they were  all
accounted for. Cara already looked comfortable. Tom slept  not far  from the
horses.  Friedrich was  asleep on the  other side of the horses. Jennsen was
curled  up beside Betty, but by her movements,  the  way she turned from her
side to her  back,  didn't look asleep.  The babies  had moved  and now  lay
sprawled with their heads butted up tight against their mother.
     Kahlan was  always especially vigilant right at change of watch. Change
of watch was a prime time for attack; she knew,  for she had often initiated
raids around change of  watch. Those just going off watch  were often  tired
and already thinking of other things, considering watch the duty of the next
guard. Those  just coming on  watch were  often  not mentally prepared for a
sudden  attack. People tended to think that the enemy  would  not come until
they were properly settled  in and on the lookout. Victory favored those who
were ready. Defeat stalked those who were unwary.
     Kahlan  made her way to a  formation of rock not  far from Richard. She
scooted back, sitting atop a high spot in order to get a better  view of the
lifeless surroundings. Even in the middle of the night, the rough rock still
radiated the fierce heat of the previous day.
     Kahlan  pulled  a skein of  damp hair away from her neck, wishing there
were  a breeze.  There had been times, in winter, when she had nearly frozen
to death. Try as she might, she couldn't seem to recall what it felt like to
be truly cold.
     It wasn't long after Kahlan had gotten  herself situated before she saw
Jennsen get up and step quietly through  their camp,  trying not to wake the
     "All right if I  sit  with  you?"  she  asked when she finally  reached
     "Of course."
     Jennsen pushed her bottom back up onto  the  rock beside Kahlan, pulled
her knees  up,  and wrapped her  arms around them, hugging them close to her
body. For a time she just gazed out at the night.
     "Kahlan, I'm sorry--about before." Despite the dark, Kahlan thought she
could see that  the young woman  looked  miserable. "I didn't mean  to sound
like  a fool who would do something without thinking. I'd never  do anything
to hurt any of you."
     "I know you wouldn't deliberately do any such  thing. It's  the  things
you might do unwittingly that concern me."
     Jennsen  nodded. "I think  I understand a little better, now, about how
complicated everything is and how  much  I really don't  know.  I'll  not do
anything unless you or Richard tells me to, I promise."
     Kahlan smiled and ran a hand down  the back of Jennsen's  head, letting
it  come to rest  on her shoulder. "I only  told you those things because  I
care about you, Jennsen." She gave the shoulder  a compassionate squeeze. "I
guess I'm worried for you the same way Betty worries for her innocent twins,
knowing the dangers all around when they rarely do.
     "You need  to  understand  that if you  go out on  thin ice, it doesn't
matter if the lake was frozen over by a cold spell, or a magic spell. If you
don't know  where you're stepping, so to speak, you could fall into the cold
dark arms of death. It matters not what made the ice--dead is dead. My point
is that you  don't go  out on that thin ice  unless you have a very powerful
need, because it very well could cost you your life."
     "But I'm not touched by magic. Like Richard said, I'm like someone born
without  eyes who can't see color. I'm  a broken link in the chain of magic.
Wouldn't that mean that I can't accidentally get into trouble with it?"
     "And if someone pushes a boulder off a cliff and it  crushes you,  does
it  matter if that boulder was sent crashing over the edge by  a  man with a
lever, or by a sorceress wielding the gift?"
     Jennsen's voice took on a troubled tone.  "I see what you mean. I guess
that I never looked at it that way."
     "I'm only trying to help you because  I know how  easy it is to make  a
     She  watched Kahlan in the dark  for a  moment.  "You know about magic.
What kind of mistake could you make?"
     "All kinds."
     "Like what?"
     Kahlan  stared off into the memories. "I once delayed for half a second
in killing someone."
     "But I thought you said that it was wrong to be too rash."
     "Sometimes the most foolhardy thing you  can do is to delay.  She Was a
sorceress. By  the  time  I acted  it was already too  late.  Because of  my
mistake she  captured  Richard and took him away. For a year, I  didn't know
what  had happened to him. I  thought I  would never see  him again, that  I
would die of heartache."
     Jennsen stared in astonishment. "When did you find him again?"
     "Not long ago. That's why we're down here in the Old World--she brought
him here. At  least I  found him. I've  made other  mistakes, and they, too,
have  resulted in no  end  of trouble. So has  Richard. Like he said, we all
make mistakes. If I can, I want to spare you from making a needless mistake,
at least."
     Jennsen   looked  away.  "Like  believing  in  that  man  I   was  with
yesterday--Sebastian.  Because of him, my  mother was murdered and I  almost
got you killed. I feel like such a fool."
     "You  didn't  make  that  mistake  out of carelessness,  Jennsen.  They
deceived you, used you. More importantly, in the end you used  your head and
were willing to face the truth."
     Jennsen nodded.
     "What should we name the twins?" she finally asked.
     Kahlan didn't  think that  naming  the twins  was a good idea,  not yet
anyway, but she was reluctant to say it.
     "I don't know. What names were you thinking?"
     Jennsen let out a heavy breath. "It was a shock to  suddenly have Betty
back with me, and  even more of a surprise to see that she had babies of her
own. I never considered that before. I haven't even had  time to think about
     "You will."
     Jennsen smiled at  the thought. Her smile grew, as if at the thought of
something more.
     "You know," she said,  "I think  I understand what Richard meant  about
thinking  of his grandfather as wizardly,  even though he  never saw  him do
     "What do you mean?"
     "Well, I can't  see  magic,  so  to speak,  and Richard didn't  do  any
tonight--at  least none I know of." She laughed softly, as  pleasing a laugh
as Kahlan had ever heard, full of life and joy. It had a quality to  it much
like Richard's, the  feminine  balance  to Richard's  masculine  laugh,  two
facets of the same delight.
     "And yet," Jennsen went on, "the things he said made me think of him in
that way--wizardly--like he said about Zedd. When he was saying that, I knew
just what he  meant, just how he'd felt, because Richard  has opened  up the
world for me, but the gift wasn't the magic he showed me. It was him showing
me life, that my life is mine, and worth living."
     Kahlan smiled  to  herself, at how  very  much that described  her  own
feeling of what Richard had  done for her, how he had brought her to cherish
life and believe  in  it not just  for  others, but, most  importantly,  for
     For a time they sat together, silently watching  the  empty  wasteland.
Kahlan kept an eye on Richard as he tossed in his sleep.
     With  growing  concern, Jennsen, too,  watched Richard. "It looks  like
there's something wrong with him," she whispered as she leaned close.
     "He's having a nightmare."
     Kahlan watched, as she had so many  times before, as Richard made fists
in his sleep, as he struggled silently against some private terror.
     "It's  scary  to  see  him  like  that,"  Jennsen  said.  "He seems  so
different. When he's awake he always seems so ... reasoned."
     "You can't reason with a nightmare," Kahlan said in quiet sorrow.

     Richard woke with a start."
     They were back.
     He  had  been  having a bad dream.  Like all of  his  dreams, he didn't
remember it.  He only knew  it was  a bad dream  because it left behind  the
shapeless feeling of breathless, heart-pounding, undefined, frantic  terror.
He  threw off the lingering  pall  of the  nightmare as he would throw off a
tangled blanket.  Even though it felt  as  if the  dark things  in lingering
remnants of  the  dream were  still clawing at  him, trying to drag him back
into their world,  he knew that dreams were  immaterial, and so he dismissed
it. Now that he was awake, the  feeling of dread  rapidly began to dissolve,
like fog burning off under hot sunlight.
     Still, he had to make an effort to slow his breathing.
     What was important was that they were back. He  didn't always know when
they returned, but this time, for some reason, he was sure of it.
     Sometime  in the  night,  too, the wind had come  up.  It buffeted him,
pulling at his  clothes, tearing at his hair.  Out on  the sweltering waste,
the  scorching gusts offered no  relief  from the  heat. Rather  than  being
refreshing, the  wind was  so hot that it felt as though the door to a blast
furnace had opened and the heat were broiling his flesh.
     Groping for his  waterskin, he didn't find it immediately at  hand.  He
tried to  recall  exactly  where  he'd  laid it,  but,  with  other thoughts
screaming for his attention,  he  couldn't remember. He  would have to worry
about a drink later.
     Kahlan lay close, turned toward him. She had gathered her long hair  in
a loose  fist beneath  her  chin.  The wind whipped stray strands across her
cheek. Richard loved just to sit and look at her face; this time, though, he
delayed but a moment, looking at her only long enough in the faint starlight
to note her even breathing. She was sound asleep.
     As he scanned their camp, he could just  make  out a  weak blush in the
eastern sky. Dawn was still some time off.
     He realized that he'd slept  through his watch.  Cara and Kahlan had no
doubt  decided that he needed the sleep more than he was needed for standing
a watch and had conspired to  not wake him. They were probably right. He had
been  so exhausted  that he'd slept right through the night. Now, though, he
was wide awake.
     His headache, too, was gone.
     Silently, carefully, Richard slipped away from Kahlan so as not to wake
her.  He  instinctively reached for  his sword lying at  his other side. The
metal was warm beneath his touch as his fingers  curled around the  familiar
silver-and-gold-wrought scabbard. It was always reassuring to find the sword
at the ready, but even more so at that moment. As  he silently rolled to his
feet,  he  slipped  the  baldric over his head, placing the familiar  supple
leather across his right shoulder. As he rose up, his  sword was already  at
his hip, ready to do his bidding.
     Despite how reassuring it was to have the weapon at his side, after the
carnage back at  the place  called  the Pillars of  Creation the thought  of
drawing it sickened him. He recoiled  from the mental image of the things he
had done. Had  he not, though, Kahlan wouldn't  be sleeping peacefully;  she
would be dead, or worse.
     Other good had come of it,  too. Jennsen had been pulled back from  the
brink.  He saw  her curled  up  beside her beloved goat, her  arm corralling
Betty's two sleeping kids. He smiled at seeing her, at what a wonder it  was
to have  a sister, smiled at how smart she was and  all  the wonders of life
she had ahead of her. It made him happy that she was eager to be around him,
but being around him made him worry for her safety, too. There really wasn't
any  place  safe, though,  unless the  forces of the  Order  that  had  been
unleashed could be defeated, or at least bottled back up.
     A  heavy gust tore through their  camp,  raising even thicker clouds of
dirt. Richard blinked, trying to keep  the blowing sand out of his eyes. The
sound  of  the wind  in his  ears  was  aggravating because  it masked other
sounds. Though he listened carefully, he could hear only the wind.
     Squinting against  the blowing grit, he  saw that  Tom was sitting atop
his wagon, looking this way and that, keeping watch. Friedrich was asleep on
the  other  side  of the  horses,  Cara  not far away on the desert  side of
Kahlan, putting herself between them and anything that might be out  beyond.
In the dim starlight Tom hadn't spotted Richard. When  Tom scanned the night
in the  opposite direction, Richard  moved  away from  camp, leaving Tom  to
watch over the others.
     Richard was comfortable in the cloak of darkness. Years of practice had
taught him to slip unseen through shadows, to move silently in the darkness.
He did  that now, moving away from camp as he  focused  on what had awakened
him, on what others standing watch would not sense.
     Unlike Tom, the races did  not  miss  Richard's movements. They wheeled
high overhead as  they  watched  him, following him as he  made  his way out
along  the broken ground. They were  almost invisible against the  dark sky,
but Richard could make them out  as they  blacked  out stars,  like telltale
shadows  against  the  sparkling  black curtain  of  night--shadows that  he
thought he could feel as well as he could see.
     That the crushing headache was gone was a great relief, but that it had
vanished in the manner that it had was also a cause for concern. The torment
often  vanished  when  he was  distracted  by something important. Something
dangerous. At the same time, even though the pain was gone, it felt as if it
were simply hiding in the  shadows of his  mind, waiting for him to relax so
that it could pounce.
     When  the  headaches  surged  through him,  the nauseating pain was  so
intense that  it made him feel sick in every fiber of his being. Even though
the crushing pain at times  made  it difficult for him to stand, to  put one
foot in front of  the other, he had known that to remain behind, where  they
were, would have meant certain death. While the headaches were bad in and of
themselves, Richard wasn't so much concerned  about the pain as he was about
the nature of the headaches--their cause.
     They  weren't the same  as the  headaches  he'd had  before that  he so
feared--the headaches brought on by the gift--but they weren't like those he
considered  to  be  normal  headaches,  either.  Throughout  his  life  he'd
occasionally had terrible headaches, the same as  his mother used to have on
a  more  regular basis.  She'd  called  them "my  grim  headaches."  Richard
thoroughly understood her meaning.
     These, however grim, were not like those. He worried that they might be
caused by the gift.
     He'd had the headaches brought on by the gift before. He had been  told
that as he grew older, as his ability grew, as he came to  understand  more,
he would, at times  later in his life,  be confronted with headaches brought
on by the  gift. The remedy was supposedly simple. He  had only to  seek the
help of another wizard and have him assist with the necessary next  level of
awareness and comprehension  of the nature of the gift  within himself. That
mental awareness and  understanding  would enable him to control and thereby
eliminate the pain--to douse the flare-up. At least, that's what he had been
     Of course, in the absence of another wizard to help, the Sisters of the
Light would gladly put a  collar around his neck to help control the runaway
power of the gift.
     He  had been told that such headaches, if not properly tended to,  were
lethal. This  much of it, at least, he knew was true.  He couldn't afford to
have that problem now, on top of all his others. Right now there was nothing
he could do about it; there was no one anywhere near who could help him with
that kind of  headache--no wizard, and even though  he would never allow it,
no Sister of the Light to put him in a collar again.
     Richard once more reminded himself that it wasn't the same kind of pain
as  the  last  time, when it had been  brought  on by the gift. He  reminded
himself not to invent trouble he didn't have.
     He had enough real trouble.
     He heard the whoosh as one of  the huge birds shot  past  low overhead.
The race twisted in flight, lifting on a gust of wind, to peer back at him.
     Another followed in its wake, and then a third, a fourth,  and a fifth.
They  slipped  silently away,  out  across  the open  ground, following  one
another roughly  in a line. Their  wings rocked as they worked to  stabilize
themselves in the gusty air. Some distance away, they soared into a gliding,
climbing turn back toward him.
     Before  they returned, the races tightened their flight into  a circle.
When  they  stroked  their  huge  wings, Richard  could  usually  hear their
feathers whisper through the air, although now, with the sound  of the wind,
he couldn't. Their black eyes watched him watching them. He wanted  them  to
know he  was  aware of  them,  that he hadn't slept  through their nocturnal
     Were he not so concerned about the meaning of the races, he might think
they  were  beautiful,  their  sleek black  shapes  silhouetted majestically
against the crimson flush coming to the sky.
     As he watched, though,  Richard couldn't imagine what they were  doing.
He'd seen this behavior  from them before  and  hadn't  understood  it then,
either. He  realized, suddenly, that those other times when they'd  returned
to circle in this curious fashion, he had also been aware of them. He wasn't
always aware of them or  aware of when they returned. If he had  a headache,
though, it had vanished when they returned.
     The hot  wind ruffled Richard's hair as he  gazed  out across wasteland
obscured by the dusty predawn gloom. He didn't like  this  dead place.  Dawn
here would offer no promise of  a world coming to life. He wished Kahlan and
he were back in his woods. He couldn't help smiling as he recalled the place
in the mountains where the year before  they had spent the summer. The place
was so wondrous that it had even managed to mellow Cara.
     In the faint but gathering  light,  the black-tipped races  circled, as
they always did when they performed this curious maneuver, not over him, but
a  short distance  away,  this  time  out over  the  open  desert  where the
buffeting wind unfurled diaphanous curtains of  sandy  grit. The other times
it had been over forested hills, or open grassland. This time, as he watched
the races,  he had to squint to keep the  blowing sand from  getting in  his
     Abruptly tipping their broad wings, the races tightened their circle as
they descended closer  to the desert floor.  He knew that they would do this
for a short while before breaking up their formation to  resume their normal
flight.  They  sometimes  flew  in pairs  and performed  spectacular  aerial
stunts, each gracefully matching the other's every move, as ravens sometimes
did, but otherwise  they never flew in anything  like the  compact  group of
their sporadic circling.
     And then, as the inky shapes wheeled around in  a tight vortex, Richard
realized that the trailers of blowing sand below them weren't simply snaking
and curling  aimlessly  in the wind, but  were  flowing  over something that
wasn't there.
     The hair along his arms stood stiffly up.
     Richard blinked, squinting  into the wind, trying to see better in  the
howling storm of blowing sand. Yet more dust and dirt lifted in the blast of
a heavy gust. As the twisting eddies raced across the flat ground and passed
beneath the  races, they swirled around and over something below, making the
shape more distinct.
     It appeared to be the form of a person.
     The dirt  swirled around the empty  void, silhouetting it, defining it,
revealing what was there, but not. Whenever the wind lifted and carried with
it a heavy load, the outline of the shape,  bounded  by  the swirling  sand,
looked like the outline of a man shrouded in hooded robes.
     Richard's right hand found the hilt of his sword.
     There  was  nothing to the  shape save the  sand  that flowed  over the
contours of what wasn't there, the way  muddy water streaming around a clear
glass  bottle  revealed its covert contour. The  form seemed to  be standing
still, watching him.
     There were, of course, no  eyes  in the  empty sockets of blowing sand,
but Richard could feel them on him.
     "What  is  it?" Jennsen  asked in  a worried  whisper as she rushed  up
beside him. "What's the matter? Do you see something?"
     With his left hand, Richard pushed her  back, out of his way. So urgent
was his headlong rush of need that  it took concentrated effort to be gentle
about it.  He was gripping the  hilt of his sword  so  tightly that he could
feel  the  raised letters of the word TRUTH woven in gold  wire  through the
     Richard was invoking from within the sword its  purpose for being,  the
very  core of  its  creation.  In answer,  the might  of the  sword's  power
     Beyond  the  veil of rage, though, in the shadows  of his mind, even as
the  anger  of the  sword thundered through him,  Richard dimly perceived an
unexpected  opposition on the  part of the  flux  of  magic  to  rise to the
     It was like heading out a door and leaning his weight  into the howl of
a gale, and stumbling forward a step at unexpectedly finding less resistance
than anticipated.
     Before Richard could question the sensation,  the wave of wrath flooded
through  him, saturating him  in the cold fury  of  the  storm  that was the
sword's power.
     As the races wheeled, their circle began coming closer. This, too, they
had done before, but this time the shape that moved  with them was  betrayed
by the swirl of  sand  and grit. It appeared that the intangible  hooded man
was being pulled closer by the black-tipped races.
     The distinctive  ring of steel announced the  arrival  of the Sword  of
Truth in the hot dawn air.
     Jennsen squeaked at his sudden movement and jumped back.
     The  races answered with piercing, mocking  cries  that  carried on the
howling wind.
     The unmistakable  sound  of Richard's sword being  drawn brought Kahlan
and Cara  at  a dead run. Cara would have leapt protectively  ahead, but she
knew better  than to get in front  of him when  he had the  sword out. Agiel
clenched in her fist, she skidded to a halt off to the side, crouched and at
the ready, a powerful cat ready to spring.
     "What is  it?" Kahlan asked as she ran up behind him, gaping out at the
pattern in the wind.
     "It's the races," came Jennsen's worried voice. "They've come back."
     Kahlan  stared  incredulously  at  her.  "The races don't look like the
worst of it."
     Sword in  hand,  Richard  watched the thing  below the  wheeling races.
Feeling the sword in his grip, its power sizzling through the very marrow of
his bones, he felt a  flash of hesitation, of doubt. With no  time to waste,
he turned back to Tom,  just starting away from  securing  the lead lines to
his big draft horses.  Richard mimed shooting  an arrow.  Grasping Richard's
meaning, Tom  skidded to  a  halt and  spun  back  to  the wagon.  Friedrich
urgently seized the tethers to the other  horses, working to keep them calm,
keeping them from spooking. Leaning in the wagon, Tom threw gear aside as he
searched for Richard's bow and quiver.
     Jennsen peered from one  grim  face  to another.  "What do you mean the
races aren't the worst of it?"
     Cara pointed with her Agiel. "That... that figure. That man."
     Frowning in confusion, Jennsen looked back and forth  between  Cara and
the blowing sand.
     "What do you see?" Richard asked.
     Jennsen threw her hands up in  a gesture of  frustration. "Black-tipped
races.  Five of them. That, and the blinding blowing sand  is all.  Is there
someone out there? Do you see people coming?"
     She didn't see it.
     Tom pulled the bow and  quiver from the wagon  and  ran for the rest of
them. Two of the  races, as if noting Tom running in  with the bow, lifted a
wing and circled  wider. They swept around him once before disappearing into
the darkness. The other  three,  though, continued to circle,  as if bearing
the floating form in the blowing sand beneath them.
     Closer still the races came,  and the  form with them. Richard couldn't
imagine  what  it was, but the sense of  dread  it  engendered  rivaled  any
nightmare. The  power from the sword surging through him had no such fear or
doubt. Then why  did he? Storms of magic  within,  beyond  anything storming
across the wasteland,  spiraled up  through him, fighting  for release. With
grim effort, Richard contained the need, focused it on the task of doing his
bidding should  he choose to release it. He was the master of  the sword and
had at all times  to consciously exert that mastery. By the sword's reaction
to  what the currents of sand  revealed, there  could  be  no  doubt  as  to
Richard's conviction of  the nature of what stood before him. Then  what was
it he sensed from the sword?
     From  back  by the wagon, a  horse  screamed. A quick  glance over  his
shoulder  revealed Friedrich trying  to calm them.  All three  horses reared
against  the  rope  he  held fast. They came down stamping their hooves  and
snorting. From the  corner  of his eye,  Richard  saw  twin streaks of black
shoot in out of the  darkness, skimming in just above the ground.  Betty let
out a terrible wail.
     And then, as quickly as  they'd appeared, they were gone, vanished back
into the thick gloom.
     "No!" Jennsen cried out as she ran for the animals.
     Before them, the  unmoving shape watched. Tom  reached out,  trying  to
stop Jennsen  on the way past. She tore away from him. For a moment, Richard
worried that Tom might go  after  her,  but  then he was  again running  for
     Out  of  the  dark swirling murk, the  two  races suddenly appeared, so
close  Richard  could  see  the quills  running  down through  their  flight
feathers spread wide in the wind. Swooping in  out  of the swirling storm of
dust to rejoin the  circle, each  carried  a small, limp, white  form in its
powerful talons.
     Tom ran up holding the bow out in one hand and the quiver in the other.
Making his choice,  Richard slammed his sword into its scabbard and snatched
up the bow.
     With one smooth motion  he  bent  the  bow  and attached the string. He
yanked an arrow from the leather quiver Tom held out in his big fist.
     As  Richard turned  to the target, he already had the  arrow nocked and
was drawing back  the string.  Distantly,  it felt good to feel his  muscles
straining against  the  weight, straining  against the  spring  of  the bow,
loading  its force for  release.  It felt good  to rely on his strength, his
skill, his endless hours of practice, and not have to depend on magic.
     The still  form of the man who wasn't there seemed to watch. Eddies  of
sand sluiced over the shape, marking the outline. Richard glared at the head
of the form beyond the razor-sharp steel tip of the  arrow. Like all blades,
it fell comfortingly familiar to Richard. With a blade in his hands, he  was
in his element and it mattered not if it was  stone dust his blade drew,  or
blood. The steel-tipped arrow was squarely centered on the empty spot in the
curve of blowing sand that formed the head.
     The piercing cry of races carried above the howl of the wind.
     String  to his cheek,  Richard savored the  tension in his muscles, the
weight  of the bow, the feathers  touching  his flesh, the  distance between
blade and objective filled with swirling sand, the pull  of the wind against
his arm, the bow, and  the arrow.  Each of those factors  and a hundred more
went into an inner calculation that after a lifetime of practice required no
conscious computation yet decided where the point of the arrow belonged once
he called the target.
     The form before him stood watching.
     Richard abruptly raised the bow and called the target.
     The world  became not  only  still but silent for him  as the  distance
seemed  to  contract.  His  body  was drawn  as taut as the  bow, the  arrow
becoming a projection of his fluid focused intent, the mark before the arrow
his purpose for  being. His conscious intent invoked the  instant sum of the
calculation needed to connect arrow and target.
     The swirling sand seemed to slow  as  the  races,  wings  spread  wide,
dragged through the thick air. There was no doubt in Richard's mind what the
arrow would find at the end of a journey only just begun. He felt the string
hit his wrist. He saw the feathers clear the bow above his fist. The arrow's
shaft flexed slightly as it sprang away and took flight.
     Richard  was already  drawing the second arrow from the quiver in Tom's
fist  as  the first found its target. Black feathers exploded in the crimson
dawn. The bird  tumbled gracelessly through the air and with a hard thud hit
the ground not far from the shape floating just above the ground. The bloody
white form was free of the talons, but it was too late.
     The four remaining races  screamed in fury.  As the birds  pumped their
wings, clawing for  height, one  railed at  Richard with  a  shrill  scream.
Richard called the target.
     The second arrow was off.
     The arrow ripped right into the race's open throat and out the  back of
the head,  cutting off the angry cry. The flightless weight plummeted to the
     The form  below  the remaining three  races  began  to  dissolve in the
swirling sand.
     The  three  remaining birds, as  if abandoning  their  charge,  wheeled
around, racing  toward Richard  with angry intent. He calmly considered them
from behind  feathers of his own. The third arrow was away. The race  in the
center lifted its right wing, trying to change direction, but took the arrow
through  its  heart. Rolling wing over  wing, it  spiraled down through  the
blowing sand, crashing to the hardpan out ahead of Richard.
     The remaining two birds, screeching defiant cries, plunged toward him.
     Richard pulled string to cheek, placing the fourth arrow on target. The
range was swiftly closing. The arrow was away in an instant. It tore through
the body of  the  black-tipped race still clutching in its talons the bloody
corpse of the tiny kid.
     Wings raked back, the  last angry race dove toward  Richard. As soon as
Richard snatched an arrow from the quiver an impatient Tom held out, the big
D'Haran heaved his knife. Before Richard  could nock the arrow, the whirling
knife  ripped into the  raptor. Richard stepped aside as the huge bird  shot
past in a lifeless drop and slammed into  the ground right behind him. As it
tumbled, blood sprayed across  the windswept  rock and black-tipped feathers
flew everywhere.
     The dawn, only moments ago filled with the the bloodcurdling screams of
the black-tipped races, was suddenly quiet but for the low moan of the wind.
Black  feathers lifted in  that wind, floating  out across  the open expanse
beneath a yellow-orange sky.
     At that moment, the sun broke the  horizon,  throwing  long shadows out
over the wasteland.
     Jennsen clutched one  of the  limp white twins to  her  breast.  Betty,
bleating  plaintively,  blood running  from a gash on her side, stood on her
hind legs trying to arouse her still  kid in Jennsen's arms. Jennsen bent to
the other  twin sprawled  on the ground and laid  her lifeless charge beside
it. Betty  urgently licked at the  bloody carcasses. Jennsen hugged  Betty's
neck a moment before trying to pull the goat away. Betty  dug in her hooves,
not wanting  to  leave her  stricken kids. Jennsen could do  no more than to
offer her friend consoling words choked with tears.
     When she stood,  unable to  turn Betty from her dead offspring, Richard
sheltered Jennsen under his arm.
     "Why would the races suddenly do that?"
     "I don't  know," Richard said. "You didn't see  anything other than the
races, then?"
     Jennsen leaned against  Richard, holding her face in her  hands, giving
in briefly to the tears. "I just  saw the birds,"  she said as  she used the
back of her sleeve to wipe her cheeks.
     "What about the shape defined by the blowing sand?" Kahlan asked as she
placed a comforting hand on Jennsen's shoulder.
     "Shape?" She looked from Kahlan to Richard. "What shape?"
     "It looked like a man's shape." Kahlan drew the curves of an outline in
the  air before her with both hands. "Like  the outline of a  man wearing  a
hooded cape."
     "I didn't see anything but black-tipped races and the clouds of blowing
     "And you didn't see  the sand blowing around anything?"  Richard asked.
"You didn't see any shape defined by the sand?"
     Jennsen shook her head insistently before returning to Betty's side.
     "If  the shape involved magic," Kahlan  said in a confidential  tone to
Richard, "she wouldn't see that, but why wouldn't she see the sand?"
     "To her, the magic wasn't there."
     "But the sand was."
     "The color is there on a painting  but a blind person can't see it, nor
can they see  the  shapes that  the  brush  strokes,  laden with color, help
define." He shook his head in wonder as he watched Jennsen. "We don't really
know  to  what degree  someone is  affected by other things  when they can't
perceive the magic that interacts with  those other things. For all we know,
it could be  that her mind  simply fails to  recognize the pattern caused by
magic and just reads it as blowing sand. It could even be that because there
is a pattern to the magic, only we can see those particles  of sand directly
involved  with defining the pattern, while she  sees them all  and therefore
the subordinate pattern is lost to her eyes.
     "It  could even  be that it's something  like  the boundaries were; two
worlds existing in the same place  at the same time. Jennsen and we could be
looking  at the  same thing,  and  see it through  different  eyes-- through
different worlds." Kahlan nodded  as Richard bent to one knee beside Jennsen
to inspect
     the gash through the goat's wiry brown hair.
     "We'd better stitch this," he told Jennsen. "It's not life-threatening,
but it needs attention."
     Jennsen snuffled  back  her  tears as  Richard  stood.  "It  was magic,
then--the thing you saw?"
     Richard  stared off toward where the  form had appeared in  the blowing
sand. "Something evil."
     Off behind them, Rusty tossed  her head and whinnied  in  sympathy with
inconsolable Betty.  When Tom  laid a sorrowful hand on Jennsen's  shoulder,
she seized it as if for strength and held it to her cheek.
     Jennsen  finally  stood, shielding her eyes against the blowing dust as
she looked to the horizon. "At least we're rid of the filthy races."
     "Not for long," Richard said.
     His headache came slamming back with such force that it nearly took him
from his feet. He had learned a great deal about controlling pain, about how
to disregard it. He did that now.
     There were bigger worries.

     Around midafternoon, as they were walking across the  scorching desert,
Kahlan noticed Richard carefully watching  his  shadow  stretched out before
     "What is it?" she asked. "What's the matter?"
     He gestured at  the shadow before him. "Races. Ten or twelve. They just
glided up behind us. They're hiding in the sun."
     "Hiding in the sun?"
     "They're flying high and in the spot where their shadow falls on us. If
we were to look up in the sky we wouldn't be  able to see them  because we'd
have to look right into the sun."
     Kahlan  turned and, with her hand shielding her eyes, tried to  see for
herself,  but  it  was too  painful to  try  to  look up  anywhere near  the
merciless sun. When she looked back, Richard, who hadn't turned to look with
her, again flicked his hand toward the shadows.
     "If you look carefully at  the  ground around your shadow, you can just
make out the distortion in the light. It's them."
     Kahlan might have thought that Richard was having a little fun with her
were it not about  a matter as serious as the races. She searched the ground
around their  shadows until she finally saw  what he was talking  about.  At
such  a  distance,  the  races'  shadows  were  little  more  than  shifting
irregularities in the light.
     Kahlan  glanced back  at the  wagon.  Tom was  driving,  with Friedrich
sitting up on the seat beside him. Richard and Kahlan were giving the horses
a rest from being ridden, so they were tethered to the wagon.
     Jennsen sat on blankets in the back of  the wagon, comforting Betty  as
she bleated in misery. Kahlan didn't think the goat had been silent for more
than  a minute or two all day. The  gash  wasn't  bad; Betty's suffering was
from other pain. At least the poor goat had Jennsen for solace.
     From what Kahlan had learned, Jennsen had  had Betty for half her life.
Moving around as she  and her mother had, running from Darken Rahl,  hiding,
staying  away  from  people so  as  not to  reveal themselves and  risk word
drifting back to Darken Rahl's  ears, Jennsen had never had a chance to have
childhood friends. Her mother had gotten her the goat as a companion. In her
constant effort to keep  Jennsen  out of  the hands of a monster, it was the
best she could offer.
     Kahlan wiped the  stinging sweat from her eyes.  She took  in  the four
black feathers  Richard  had bundled together and strung on  his upper right
arm. He had  taken  the feathers when  he'd retrieved the  arrows  that were
still good. Richard had given the last feather to Tom  for killing the fifth
race with his knife. Tom wore his  single feather  like Richard, on his arm.
Tom thought of it as a trophy, of sorts, awarded by the Lord Rahl.
     Kahlan knew that Richard wore his four feathers for a different reason:
it was a warning for all to see.
     Kahlan pulled her hair back over her shoulder. "Do you think that was a
man below the races? A man watching us?"
     Richard shrugged. "You know more about magic than me. You tell me."
     "I've never seen anything like it." She frowned over at him. "If it was
a  man... or something like that,  why  do you think  he  finally decided to
reveal himself?"
     "I don't think he did decide to reveal himself." Richard's  intent gray
eyes turned toward her. "I think it was an accident."
     "How could it be an accident?"
     "If it's someone using the  races to track us, and  he  can somehow see
     "See us how?"
     "I don't know. See us through the eyes of the races."
     "You can't do that with magic."
     Richard fixed her with a trenchant look. "Fine. Then what was it?"
     Kahlan  looked  back at the shadows stretching out  before them  on the
buckskin-colored rock,  back at the small bleary shapes  moving  around  the
shadow of  her head,  like flies around a corpse.  "I  don't know. You  were
saying? .. . About someone using the races to track us, to see us?"
     "I think," Richard  said, "that someone  is  watching  us,  through the
races or with their aid--or  something like that--and they can't  really see
everything. They can't see clearly."
     "So, since he can't see with clarity, I think  maybe he  didn't realize
that there was a sandstorm. He didn't anticipate what the blowing sand would
reveal. I don't think he intended to give himself away." Richard looked over
at  her  again.  "I  think  he  made  a  mistake. I think  he showed himself
     Kahlan let out  a measured, exasperated breath. She had no argument for
such  a  preposterous notion. It was no wonder he hadn't told her  the  full
extent of his  theory. She had been  thinking,  when he said the races  were
tracking them,  that probably a web had  been  cast  and then some event had
triggered  it--most  likely  Cara's innocent  touch--and that spell had then
attached to them, causing the races to follow that marker of magic. Then, as
Jennsen  had suggested, someone  was simply watching where the races were in
order to get a pretty good idea of where Richard and Kahlan were. Kahlan had
thought of it in terms of the way Darken Rahl had once hooked a tracer cloud
to Richard in order to  know  where they were.  Richard  wasn't thinking  in
terms of what had happened before; he was looking at it through the prism of
a Seeker.
     There were still a number  of things about Richard's notion that didn't
make sense  to  her, but  she knew better than to discount  what  he thought
simply because she had never heard of such a thing before.
     "Maybe it's not a 'he,' " she finally said. "Maybe it's a she.  Maybe a
Sister of the Dark."
     Richard gave  her  another  look, but  this  one  was more  worry  than
anything else. "Whoever it  is--whatever it  is--I  don't  think  it can  be
anything good."
     Kahlan  couldn't  argue  that  much  of  it,  but still,  she  couldn't
reconcile such a notion. "Well, let's say it's like you think it is--that we
spotted him spying on us, by accident. Why did the races then attack us?"
     Dust rose from Richard's boot as he casually kicked a  small stone.  "I
don't know. Maybe he was just angry that he'd given himself away."
     "He was angry, so he had the races kill Betty's kids? And attack you?"
     Richard shrugged. "I'm  just guessing because you asked; I'm not saying
I  think it's so." The  long feathers, bloodred at  their base, turning to a
dark gray and then to inky black at the tip, ruffled in the gusts of wind.
     As he thought it over, his tone turned more speculative. "It could even
be  that whoever it was using the races to watch us had nothing at all to do
with the attack. Maybe the races decided to attack on their own."
     "They  simply took the reins from  whoever it was that was  taking them
for the ride?"
     "Maybe. Maybe he can send them to us so  he can have a peek at where we
are, where we're going, but can't control them much more than that."
     In frustration, Kahlan  let out a sigh. "Richard,"  she said, unable to
hold back her  doubts, "I know a good deal about all sorts of magic and I've
never heard of anything like this being possible."
     Richard leaned  close, again taking her in  with  those  arresting gray
eyes  of his. "You know about  all sorts of things magic from the  Midlands.
Maybe down here they have something you never encountered before. After all,
had you ever  heard  of a dream walker before we encountered Jagang? Or even
thought such a thing was possible?"
     Kahlan  pulled  her lower lip through her teeth as she studied his grim
expression for  a long moment. Richard hadn't  grown up around magic--it was
all new to him. In some ways, though, that was a strength, because he didn't
have  preconceived   notions  about  what  was  possible  and  what  wasn't.
Sometimes, the things they'd encountered were unprecedented.
     To Richard, just about all magic was unprecedented.
     "So,  what  do  you  think  we  should  do?"  she  finally  asked in  a
confidential tone.
     "What we planned."  He glanced over his shoulder to see Cara scouting a
goodly distance off to their left side. "It has to be connected  to the rest
of it."
     "Cara only meant to protect us."
     "I  know. And who knows, maybe it would have been  worse if she  hadn't
touched it. It could even be that by doing what she did, she actually bought
us time."
     Kahlan swallowed at the feeling of dread churning in her. "Do you think
we still have enough time?"
     "We'll  think of  something. We don't  even know yet  for sure  what it
could mean."
     "When the  sand finally runs  out of an hourglass, it usually means the
goose is cooked."
     "We'll find an answer."
     Richard  reached  over  and  gently caressed  the  back  of  her  neck.
     Kahlan loved his smile,  the way  it sparkled in his eyes. Somewhere in
the  back  of her  mind she  knew that he always kept his promises. His eyes
held  something else, though, and  that distracted her  from  asking  if  he
believed  the answer he promised would come in time, or even if  it would be
an answer that could help them.
     "You have a headache, don't you," she said.
     "Yes."  His smile  had vanished.  "It's different than before, but  I'm
pretty sure it's caused by the same thing."
     The gift. That's what he meant.
     "What do  you  mean  it's  different? And if  it's different, then what
makes you think the cause is the same?"
     He  thought about it  a  moment.  "Remember  when I was  explaining  to
Jennsen  about how the gift needs to be balanced, how I  have to balance the
fighting I do by not eating meat?" When she nodded he went on. "It got worse
right then."
     "Headaches, even those kind, vary."
     "No ..." he said, frowning as he  tried to  find the words. "No, it was
almost as  if  talking  about--thinking about--the need not  to eat meat  in
order  to balance the gift  somehow brought it more to the fore and made the
headaches worse."
     Kahlan  didn't at all like  that concept. "You mean like maybe the gift
within you that is the cause of the headaches is trying to  impress upon you
the importance of balance in what you do with the gift."
     Richard raked his fingers back through his hair. "I don't know. There's
more to  it. I just can't  seem to  get it all worked out. Sometimes when  I
try, when I go down that line of reasoning, about how I  need to balance the
fighting I do, the pain starts to get so bad I can't dwell on it.
     "And something  else,"  he  added. "There  might be  a problem  with my
connection to the magic of the sword."
     "What? How can that be?"
     "I don't know."
     Kahlan tried to keep the alarm out of her voice. "Are you sure?"
     He  shook  his head  in frustration. "No, I'm not sure. It just  seemed
different when I felt the need of it and drew the sword this morning. It was
as if the sword's magic was reluctant to rise to the need."
     Kahlan thought it over a moment.  "Maybe that means that  the headaches
are something different,  this time. Maybe  they aren't really caused by the
     "Even if some of it is different, I still think its cause is the gift,"
he  said. "One thing  they  do  have in common with  the  last  time is that
they're gradually getting worse."
     "What do you want to do?"
     He lifted his arms  out to the sides  and let them fall back. "For now,
we don't have much of a choice--we have to do what we planned."
     "We could go to Zedd. If it is the gift, as you think, then  Zedd would
know what to do. He could help you."
     "Kahlan, do you honestly believe that we have any chance in Creation of
making it all the way to Aydindril in time? Even  if it weren't for the rest
of it, if the headaches are from the gift, I'd be dead weeks before we could
travel all the way to Aydindril. And that's not even taking into account how
difficult  it's bound  to be  getting past Jagang's army  all throughout the
Midlands and especially the troops around Ay-dindril."
     "Maybe he's not there now."
     Richard kicked at another stone in the path. "You think Jagang  is just
going to leave the Wizard's Keep and all it contains--leave it all for us to
use against him?"
     Zedd  was First  Wizard.  For  someone of his  ability,  defending  the
Wizard's Keep wouldn't be too difficult. He also had Adie there with  him to
help. The  old  sorceress, alone, could probably defend a  place such as the
Keep. Zedd knew what  the Keep would  mean to Jagang, could he gain it. Zedd
would protect the Keep no matter what.
     "There's  no way for Jagang to  get past  the barriers in  that place,"
Kahlan said.  That  much  of it was one  worry they could set aside. "Jagang
knows that and might not waste time holding an army there for nothing."
     "You may be  right,  but  that  still doesn't do us  any good--it's too
     Too far. Kahlan seized Richard's arm  and  dragged him to a  halt. "The
sliph. If we can find one of  her  wells,  we could  travel in the sliph. If
nothing  else, we  know  there's the well down here  in the Old  World--  in
Tanimura. Even that's a lot closer than  a journey overland all the  way  to
     Richard looked  north. "That might work.  We  wouldn't have  to make it
past Jagang's army. We could come right up inside the Keep." He  put his arm
around  her  shoulders.  "First,  though, we  have  to  see  to  this  other
     Kahlan  grinned. "All right. We take care of me  first,  then we see to
taking care of you."
     She felt a heady sense of relief that there was a solution at hand. The
rest of  them couldn't travel in  the sliph--they didn't have  the  required
magic--but Richard,  Kahlan, and Cara  certainly could.  They could come  up
right in the Keep itself.
     The Keep was immense, and thousands of years old. Kahlan had spent much
of her life there, but she had seen only a fraction of the  place. Even Zedd
hadn't  seen  it all, because  of some of the shields  that  had been placed
there ages ago by those with  both sides of  the gift, and Zedd had only the
Additive side. Rare  and dangerous items  of magic had been stored there for
eons, along  with records and  countless books. By  now it was possible that
Zedd  and  Adie had  found something  in the Keep that would help drive  the
Imperial Order back to the Old World.
     Not  only would going to  the Keep be a way to  solve Richard's problem
with the gift, but it might provide them with something they needed to swing
the tide of the war back to their side.
     Suddenly, seeing Zedd, Aydindril, and the Keep seemed only a short time
     With a renewed sense of optimism, Kahlan squeezed Richard's  hand.  She
knew  that he wanted to keep scouting ahead. "I'm going to go  back  and see
how Jennsen is doing."
     As Richard moved on and Kahlan slowed, letting  the wagon catch up with
her,  another dozen  black-tipped races drifted in on the air currents  high
above the burning plain. They stayed close to the sun, and well out of range
of Richard's arrows, but they stayed within sight.
     Tom  handed a waterskin down to  Kahlan when the bouncing wagon rattled
up beside  her. She was so dry that she gulped the hot  water without caring
how bad it  tasted.  As  she let the  wagon roll past, she put a boot in the
iron rung and boosted herself up and over the side.
     Jennsen looked to be happy for the company as Kahlan climbed in. Kahlan
returned  the smile  before sitting beside Richard's sister  and the  puling
     "How is she?" Kahlan asked, gently stroking Betty's floppy ears.
     Jennsen shook her head. "I've never  seen her like  this. It's breaking
my heart. It  reminds me of how  hard  it was for me when  I lost my mother.
It's breaking my heart."
     As  she  sat  back  on  her  heels,   Kahlan  squeezed  Jennsen's  hand
sympathetically.  "I  know it's hard, but it's  easier for an  animal to get
over something like this than for people to do the same. Don't compare it to
you  and your mother.  Sad as this  is,  it's different. Betty can have more
kids and she'll forget all about this. You or I never could."
     Before the  words were out, Kahlan  felt a sudden stab of  pain for the
unborn  child  she  had lost.  How  could  she ever  get over losing her and
Richard's  child?  Even if she ever had  others, she would never  be able to
forget what was lost at the hands of brutes.
     She  idly  turned  the  small dark  stone  on  the  necklace  she wore,
wondering if she ever would have a child, wondering if there would ever be a
world safe for a child of theirs.
     "Are you all right?"
     Kahlan realized that Jennsen was watching her face.
     Kahlan forced herself to put on a smile. "I'm just sad for Betty."
     Jennsen ran a tender hand over the top of Betty's head. "Me too."
     "But I know that she'll be all right."
     Kahlan watched the endless expanse of ground slowly slide by  to either
side  of the  wagon.  Waves of heat  made the horizon  liquid, with detached
pools of ground floating up  into the sky. Still, they saw nothing  growing.
The land was slowly  rising, though,  as they came  ever  closer  to distant
mountains.  She knew that it was only a  matter of time  until  they reached
life again, but right then it felt like they never would.
     "I  don't understand about something," Jennsen said. "You told me how I
shouldn't do anything rash, when it came to magic, unless I was sure of what
would happen. You said it was dangerous.  You said not  to act in matters of
magic until you can be sure of the consequence."
     Kahlan knew what Jennsen was driving at. "That's right."
     "Well, that back there pretty much seemed like one  of those  stabs  in
the dark you warned me about."
     "I  also  told  you  that  sometimes  you  had no  choice  but  to  act
immediately.  That's  what  Richard  did.  I  know  him.  He  used his  best
     Jennsen  looked to be satisfied. "I'm not suggesting that he was wrong.
I'm just  saying  that I don't understand. It seemed pretty  reckless to me.
How am I supposed to know what you mean when you tell me not to  do anything
reckless if it involves magic?"
     Kahlan  smiled. "Welcome to life with Richard.  Half the  time I  don't
know what's in his head.  I've often thought he was acting recklessly and it
turned out to be the right thing, the only thing, he could have done. That's
part of the reason he was named Seeker. I'm sure he took into account things
he sensed that even I couldn't."
     "But how does he know those things? How can he know what to do?"
     "Oftentimes  he's  just  as  confused  as  you, or  even  me.  But he's
different, too, and he's sure when we wouldn't be."
     Kahlan looked over at  the young woman, at  her red hair shining in the
afternoon sunlight. "He was born with both sides of the gift. All those born
with the gift in the last three thousand  years have been born with Additive
Magic only. Some, like Darken  Rahl and the Sisters  of the Dark, have  been
able to  use Subtractive Magic, but only  through the  Keeper's help--not on
their own. Richard alone has been born with Subtractive Magic."
     "That's what you mentioned  last night, but I don't know anything about
magic, so I don't know what that means."
     "We're  not exactly  sure  of everything  it means  ourselves. Additive
Magic uses  what is there, and adds to it, or changes  it somehow. The magic
of the Sword of Truth, for example, uses anger, and adds to it,  takes power
from  it, adds to it until it's  something else. With Additive, for example,
the gifted can heal.
     "Subtractive  Magic is the undoing  of things. It can  take things  and
make them  nothing.  According to  Zedd, Subtractive Magic is the counter to
Additive, as night is to day. Yet it is all part of the same thing.
     "Commanding  Subtractive, as Darken Rahl did,  is one thing, but to  be
born with it is quite another.
     "Long ago,  unlike  now,  being born with the gift--both  sides of  the
gift--was common. The  great war then resulted  in a barrier sealing the New
World off from the Old. That's kept the peace all this time, but things have
changed since then. After that time, not only have those born with the  gift
gradually  become exceedingly  rare, but those  who have been born  with the
gift haven't been born with the Subtractive side of it.
     "Richard  was  born  of  two  lines of  wizards,  Darken  Rahl  and his
grandfather Zedd. He's also the first in  thousands of years to be born with
both sides of the gift.
     "All  of our  abilities  contribute  to  how  we're  able  to react  to
situations.  We  don't know  how having both sides contributes to  Richard's
ability to  read a situation and  do  what's necessary.  I suspect he may be
guided by his gift, perhaps more than he believes."
     Jennsen let  out a troubled sigh.  "After all  this time, how  did this
barrier come to be down, anyway?"
     "Richard destroyed it."
     Jennsen looked  up in astonishment. "Then  it's true. Sebastian told me
that the Lord Rahl--Richard--had brought the barrier down. Sebastian said it
was so that Richard could invade and conquer the Old World."
     Kahlan smiled at such a grandiose lie. "You don't believe that part  of
it, do you?"
     "No, not now."
     "Now that the barrier is down, the  Imperial Order is flooding  up into
the New World, destroying or enslaving everything before them."
     "Where can people live that's safe? Where can we?"
     "Until they're stopped or driven back, there is no safe place to live."
     Jennsen thought it over a moment. "If  the barrier coming down  let the
Imperial  Order flood in  to conquer the  New World, why  would Richard have
destroyed it?"
     With  one  hand,  Kahlan held  on to the side of the wagon as it rocked
over a  rough  patch of ground.  She stared ahead, watching  Richard walking
through the glaring light of the wasteland.
     "Because of me," Kahlan said in a quiet voice. "One of those mistakes I
told you about." She let out a tired sigh. "One of those stabs in the dark."

     Richard squatted  down, resting  his forearms  across his  thighs as he
studied the curious  patch of rock. His head was pounding with pain;  he was
doing  his  best  to ignore it.  The headache  had  come and gone  seemingly
without reason. At times he had begun  to think that  it just  might  be the
heat after all, and not the gift.
     As he considered the signs on the ground, he forgot about his headache.
     Something  about  the rock  seemed familiar. Not  simply  familiar, but
unsettlingly familiar.
     Hooves  partially covered  by long wisps  of wiry brown hair came to an
expectant halt beside him. With the top of her head, Betty gently butted his
shoulder, hoping for a snack, or at least a scratch.
     Richard looked up  at the  goat's intent,  floppy-eared expression.  As
Betty  watched him  watching her,  her  tail  went  into a  blur of wagging.
Richard smiled and  scratched behind her ears. Betty bleated her pleasure at
the scratch, but it sounded to him like she would have preferred a snack.
     After not eating for  two  days as she lay  in misery in the wagon, the
goat seemed to come  back to life and begin to recover from  the loss of her
two  kids.  Along with her appetite,  Betty's curiosity  had  returned.  She
especially  enjoyed scouting with Richard, when  he would let hercome along.
It made  Jennsen laugh  to watch  the goat  trotting after him like a puppy.
Maybe  what really made her laugh was that Betty was getting back to her old
     In  recent days  the land  had changed, too. They had begun to  see the
return of life.  At first,  it had  simply been the  rusty discoloration  of
lichen growing  on the fragmented rock. Soon  after,  they spotted  a  small
thorny bush  growing  in a low  place. Now  the rugged plants grew at widely
spaced intervals, dotting the landscape. Betty appreciated the tough bushes,
dining  on them  as if  they were the  finest salad greens. On  occasion the
horses  sampled the brush,  then turned  away,  never  finding it  to  their
     Lichen  that had begun to grow on the rock appeared as crusty splotches
streaked with color. In some places  it was dark, thick, and leathery, while
in other spots it was no more than what almost appeared to be a coat of thin
green  paint.  The greenish discoloration  filled cracks  and  crevasses and
coated the underside of  stones  where the sun  didn't bleach it out.  Rocks
sticking partway out of the crumbly ground could be pulled up to reveal thin
tendrils of dark brown subterranean fungal growth.
     Tiny insects with  long feelers skittered  from rock to rock or  hid in
holes in the scattering of rocks lying about on the ground that looked as if
they  had once been  boiling and bubbling, and had suddenly turned to stone,
leaving the bubbles forever set in place. An occasional glossy green beetle,
bearing wide pincer jaws, waddled through the sand. Small red  ants  stacked
steep ruddy  mounds of dirt around their  holes. There  were cottony webs of
spiders  in  the crotches  of  the  isolated,  small, spindly  brush growing
sporadically across the  ever rising plain. Slender light green  lizards sat
on rocks basking  in the  sun,  watching the  people pass. If they came  too
close, the little creatures, lightning quick, darted for cover.
     The  signs of life Richard had so  far  seen were still a long way from
being  anything substantial enough  to support people, but it was at least a
relief to once again feel like he was rejoining the  world of the living. He
knew, too, that  up  beyond the  first wall  of mountains they would at last
encounter life in abundance. He also knew that there  they would again begin
to encounter people.
     Birds, as well, were just beginning to become a common sight. Most were
small--strawberry-colored finches, ash-colored gnatcatchers, rock  wrens and
black-throated  sparrows. In the distance  Richard saw single birds  winging
through  the blue sky, while sparrows congregated in small  skittish flocks.
Here and there, birds lit on the scraggly brush, flitting  about looking for
seeds and bugs. The birds disappeared  instantly  whenever  the races glided
into sight.
     Staring at the expanse of rock and open ground before him, Richard rose
up, startled, as the reason  it looked unsettlingly familiar came to him. At
the same time as the realization came to him, his headache vanished.
     Off to his right,  Richard saw Kahlan,  with Cara at  her side,  making
their way out to where Richard stood staring down at the astonishing stretch
of rock. The  wagon, with Tom,  Friedrich,  and Jennsen, rumbled on  in  the
distance to the  south. The dust  raised by the wagon and horses hung in the
dead air and could  be seen for miles. Richard supposed  that with the races
periodically  paying them  a  visit,  the telltale of  the dust didn't  much
matter. Still, he would be glad when they reached ground where they could at
least have a chance to try to remain a little more inconspicuous.
     "Find anything interesting?" Kahlan  asked  as  she  wiped  her  sleeve
across her forehead.
     Richard cast a few  small pebbles down at the stretch of rock he'd been
studying. "Tell me what you think of that."
     "I think you look like you feel better," Kahlan said.
     Her eyes on his,  she gave him her special smile, the smile she gave no
one but him. He couldn't help grinning.
     Cara,  ignoring  the  smiles  that passed between Richard  and  Kahlan,
leaned  in for a gander. "I think  Lord Rahl has been  looking at  too  many
rocks. This is more rock, just like all the rest."
     "Is  it?" Richard asked. He gestured at the area he'd been scrutinizing
and then pointed at another place by where Kahlan and Cara stood. "Is it the
same as that?"
     Cara peered at both areas briefly before she folded her arms. "The rock
over there that you've been looking at is just a paler brown, that's all."
     Kahlan shrugged. "I think she's right,  Richard. It looks like the same
kind of rock, maybe just a little more of a tan  color." She thought it over
a  moment as she scanned  the ground, then added to her assessment. "I guess
it looks more like the rock  we've been  walking across  for days  until  we
started encountering a little bit of grass and brush."
     Richard put his hands on his hips  as he stared back  at the remarkable
stretch  of rock he'd found. "Tell me,  then, what characterized the rock in
the place where we  were before--a few days ago, back  closer to the Pillars
of Creation?"
     Kahlan  looked  over  at  an expressionless Cara  and  then  frowned at
Richard. "Characterized  it?  Nothing.  It was  a  dead place. Nothing  grew
     Richard waved his hand  around, indicating the land through which  they
were now traveling. "And this?"
     "Now   things   are   growing,"   Cara   said,  becoming   increasingly
disinterested in his study of flora and fauna.
     Richard held a hand out. "And there?"
     "Nothing  is  growing there,  yet," Cara  said in an exasperated  sigh.
"There are a lot of spots around where  nothing is growing yet. It's still a
wasteland. Just  have patience,  Lord Rahl,  and we will soon enough be back
among the fields and forests."
     Kahlan  wasn't  paying  attention  to  what  Cara was saying;  she  was
frowning as she leaned closer.
     "The place where things  begin  to grow seems to  start  all  at once,"
Kahlan said, almost to herself. "Isn't that curious."
     "I certainly think so," Richard said.
     "I think Lord Rahl needs to drink more water," Cara sniped.
     Richard smiled. "Here. Stand over here," he told her. "Stand over by me
and look again."
     Cara, her curiosity aroused,  did  as  he asked. She looked down at the
ground, and then frowned at the places where things grew.
     "The Mother Confessor is right." Cara's voice had taken on a  decidedly
businesslike tone. "Do you think it's important? Or somehow a danger?"
     "Yes--to the first, anyway," Richard said.
     He squatted down beside Kahlan. "Now, look at this."
     As  Kahlan  and Cara knelt down  beside  him, leaning forward,  looking
closely at  the  rock,  Richard had to push a curious Betty back  out of the
way. He then pointed out a patch of yellow-streaked lichen.
     "Look here," he  said. "See  this  medallion of lichen?  It's lopsided.
This side is round, but this side, near where nothing grows, is flatter."
     Kahlan  looked up  at  him. "Lichen  grows on  rocks  in all  kinds  of
     "Yes, but  look  at how the  rock over where there is  lichen and brush
growing  is spotted all  over with  little bits of growth. Here, beyond  the
stunted side of the lichen, there  is nearly nothing. The rock almost  looks
scoured clean.
     "If  you look closely  there  are a few tiny things,  things  that have
started to grow only  in  the  last  couple of years, but they have  yet  to
really begin to take hold."
     "Yes," Kahlan said  in a cautious drawl,  "it is  odd, but I'm not sure
what you're getting at."
     "Look at where things are growing, and where they aren't."
     "Well, yes, on  that side there's nothing  growing, and over here there
     "Don't just look down." Richard lifted  her  chin.  "Look  out  at  the
boundary between the two--look at the whole pattern."
     Kahlan frowned  off  into  the  distance.  All of  a sudden, the  color
drained from her face.
     "Dear spirits ..." she whispered.
     Richard smiled that she finally saw what he was talking about.
     "What are you two mooning over?" Cara complained.
     Richard put his hand behind Cara's neck and pulled her head in to  look
at what he and Kahlan were seeing.
     "That's  odd," she said, squinting off  into the  distance. "The  place
where things are growing seem to  stop in a comparatively  clean line-- like
someone had made an invisible fence running east."
     "Right," Richard said as he got up, brushing his hands clean.
     "Now, come  on." He started walking north. Kahlan and Cara scrambled to
their feet and followed behind as he marched across the lifeless rock. Betty
bleated and trotted after them.
     "Where are we going?" Cara asked as she caught up with him
     "Just come on," Richard told her.
     For  half  an  hour they  followed  his  brisk  pace as he headed in  a
straight line to the north, across  rocky ground and gravelly  patches where
nothing  at all  grew. The  day was  sweltering,  but  Richard almost didn't
notice  the  heat,  so focused  was  he on  the lifeless expanse  they  were
crossing. He hadn't  yet  gone to see what lay at the other side, but he was
convinced of what they would find once they reached it.
     The other two were sweating profusely as they chased  behind him. Betty
bleated occasionally as she brought up the rear.
     When they finally reached the place he was looking for, the place where
lichen and scraggly brush once again began  to appear,  he brought them to a
halt. Betty poked her head between Kahlan and Cara for a look.
     "Now, look at this," Richard said. "See what I mean?"
     Kahlan was  breathing hard from the  brisk walk in the heat. She pulled
her waterskin off her shoulder and gulped water. She passed the waterskin to
Richard. He watched Cara study the patch of ground as he drank.
     "The growing things start again  over  here," Cara said.  She  absently
scratched behind  Betty's  ears  when the goat  rubbed the  top of her  head
impatiently against Cara's thigh. "They start to appear  in the same kind of
line as the other side, back there, where we were."
     "Right," Richard said, handing Cara the waterskin. "Now, follow me."
     Cara threw up her arms. "We just came from that way!"
     "Come on," Richard called back over his shoulder.
     He headed south again, back toward the center of the  lifeless patch of
rock,  the  small group in tow. Betty bleated her displeasure at the pace of
the  hot dusty excursion.  If Kahlan or  Cara  shared Betty's  opinion, they
didn't voice the complaint.
     When Richard  judged  they were back somewhere  in the middle, he stood
with his feet spread, his fists  on his  hips, and  looked  east again. From
where they stood, they couldn't make out the sides of the lifeless  stretch,
the places where growth began.
     Looking to the east, though, the pattern was evident. A clearly defined
strip--miles wide--ran off into the distance.
     Nothing  grew  within  the  bounds  of  the straight  strip of lifeless
desert, whether going over rock or sandy ground.  To either  side the ground
with widely spaced brush  and  lichen  growing on the  rock was  darker. The
place where nothing grew was a  lighter tan. In the distance the discrepancy
in the color was even more apparent.
     The  lifeless strip ran straight for mile  after mile  toward  the  far
mountains,  gradually becoming  but a  faint line following the rise  of the
ground until, finally, in the hazy distance, it could no longer be seen.
     "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Kahlan asked in  a low,  troubled
     "What?" Cara asked. "What are you thinking?"
     Richard studied the  confused concern  on the Mord-Sith's  face.  "What
kept Darken Rahl's armies in D'Hara? What prevented him,  for so many years,
from invading the Midlands and taking it, even though he wanted it?"
     "He couldn't cross the boundary," Cara said as  if  he  must  be having
heat stroke.
     "And what made up the boundary?"
     At last, Cara's face, framed by the black desert garb, went white, too.
"The boundary was the underworld?"
     Richard nodded.  "It  was like a rip in  the veil, where the underworld
existed in this world. Zedd told us  about it. He put the boundary up with a
spell he found in the Keep--a  spell from  those ancient times of the  great
war.  Once up, the boundary was a place in this world where the world of the
dead also  existed. In  that place, where both worlds touched, nothing could
     "But are you so sure things wouldn't still grow there?" Cara asked. "It
was still our world, after all--the world of life."
     "It  would be impossible for  anything to grow there. The world of life
was there, in that spot--the ground was there--but life couldn't exist there
on that ground because it shared that same space with the world of the dead.
Anything there would be touched by death."
     Cara looked out  at the straight,  lifeless strip  running off into the
wavering distance. "So you think what? . . . This is a boundary?"
     Cara looked from his face, to Kahlan, and  again  out to the  distance.
"Dividing what?"
     Overhead a  flight  of  black-tipped races came into sight, riding  the
high currents, turning lazy circles as they watched.
     "I don't know," Richard admitted.
     He looked west again, back down the gradual slope running away from the
mountains, back to where they had been.
     "But look," Richard said, gesturing out into the burning wasteland from
where they had come. "It runs back toward the Pillars of Creation."
     As the  things growing  thinned and  eventually  ceased to be back that
way,  so too did  the lifeless  strip. It became indistinguishable from  the
surrounding wasteland  because  there was no life to mark where the line had
     "There's no telling  how far  it runs. For all I  know,"  Richard said,
"it's possible that it runs all the way back to the valley itself."
     "That part makes no sense to me," Kahlan said. "I can see what you mean
about it maybe being like the boundaries up in the New World, the boundaries
between Westland, the  Midlands,  and D'Hara. That much I  follow.  But  the
spirits take me,  I don't get why  it would run to  the Pillars of Creation.
That part just strikes me as more than odd."
     Richard  turned and gazed back to the east, where  they were headed, to
the rumpled  gray wall of mountains rising  steeply up from the broad desert
floor,  studying the  distant  notch that  sat a little north  of  where the
boundary line ran toward those mountains.
     He looked south, to the wagon making its way toward those mountains.
     "We better catch up  with the others," Richard finally said. "I need to
get back to translating the book."

     The spectral spires around Richard glowed under the lingering caress of
the low sun. In  the  amber light,  as he scouted the forsaken brink  of the
towering  mountains  beyond,  long  pools  of  shadow were darkening  to the
blue-black color of bruises.
     The  pinnacles of  reddish rock  stood like  stony  guardians along the
lower reaches  of the desolate  foothills,  as  if listening for the echoing
crunch of his footsteps along the meandering gravel beds.
     Richard had felt like being alone to think,  so he had set out to scout
by  himself.  It  was  hard  to  think when people  were  constantly  asking
     He was frustrated that the book hadn't yet told him anything that would
in any way help explain the presence of the strange boundary line, much less
the  connection  of  the  book's  title,  the  place  called the  Pillars of
Creation, and those ungifted people like Jennsen. The book, in the beginning
that he'd so  far translated,  anyway, appeared mostly to be  an  historical
record dealing with  unanticipated matters involving occurrences of "pillars
of  Creation," as those  like Jennsen  were  called,  and  the  unsuccessful
attempts at "curing" those "unfortunates."
     Richard was beginning to get the clear sense that the book was laying a
careful foundation of early details in preparation for something calamitous.
The nearly quaking care of the recounting of every possible course of action
that had been investigated gave him the  feeling that whoever wrote the book
was being painstaking for reasons of consequence.
     Not  daring to slow  their pace,  Richard had  been  translating  while
riding  in  the wagon.  The dialect  was slightly  different  from  the High
D'Haran  he was  used  to  reading,  so working out the translation was slow
going, especially sitting in the  back of the bouncing  wagon. He had no way
of knowing  if the book would  eventually offer any answers,  but he  felt a
gnawing  worry  over what the unfolding account was working  up to. He would
have jumped ahead, but he'd learned  in the past that doing  so often wasted
more time than  it saved, since  it interfered with accurately  grasping the
whole picture, which  sometimes led to dangerously erroneous conclusions. He
would just have to keep at it.
     After working all day, focused intently on the book, he'd ended up with
a fierce headache. He'd had days without  them, but  now when  they came  it
seemed they were worse each time. He didn't tell Kahlan how concerned he was
that he wouldn't make it to the sliph's well in Tanimura. Besides working at
translating, he racked his brain trying to find a solution.
     While he had no idea  what  the key to the headaches brought on  by the
gift was, he had the nagging feeling that it was within  himself.  He feared
it was a matter of balance he was failing to see. He had  even resorted when
out alone, once, to sitting and meditating as  the Sisters had  once  taught
him in order to try to focus on the gift within. It had been to no avail.
     It would be dark  soon and they would need to stop for the night. Since
the terrain  had changed,  it was no longer a simple task to see if the area
all around them was clear. Now there  were places where an army could lie in
wait. With  the races shadowing  them, there was no telling  who might  know
where to find  them. Besides simply wanting a break to think about what he'd
read  and what  he  might find within himself to  answer the problem  of his
headaches, Richard wanted to check the surrounding area himself.
     Richard paused for a moment to watch  a family of quail,  the juveniles
fully grown, hurry across an open patch of ground. They trotted  across  the
exposed gravel  in a  line  while the  father,  perched  atop a  rock, stood
lookout. As soon as they melted into the brush, they were again invisible.
     Small scraggly pine trees dotted the sweep of irregular hills, gullies,
and rocky  outcroppings at  the  fringe of the mountains.  Up higher, on the
nearby slopes, larger conifers  grew in greater abundance. In low, sheltered
places clumps of brush lay in thick clusters. Thin grasses covered  some  of
the open ground.
     Richard wiped sweat from  his  eyes.  He hoped that  with the sun going
down the air  might cool a little. As he made his way  along the concealment
of the base of a runoff channel in a fold of two hills, he  reached for  the
strap of his  waterskin, about to take a long drink, when movement on a  far
hillside caught his attention.
     He slipped behind the screen of a long  shelf of  rock to  stay out  of
sight. Taking  a careful peek, he saw a  man making his  way  down the loose
scree on the side of the hill. The sound of the rock crunching underfoot and
sliding down the slope sent a distant echo through the rocky canyons.
     Richard  had expected that as they left  the  forbidding wasteland they
might  at any time begin encountering people, so he had had everyone  change
out of the black  outfits of the nomadic  desert people and back into  their
unassuming  traveling  clothes. While  he was in  black trousers and  simple
shirt, his  sword  was  hardly inconspicuous. Kahlan,  as well,  had put  on
simple clothes that were more in keeping with the impoverished people of the
Old World,  but on Kahlan they didn't seem to make much difference;  it  was
hard to  hide her  figure and her hair,  but most of  all her presence. Once
those green eyes  of hers fixed on people,  they usually had an urge to drop
to a knee and bow their head. Her clothes made little difference.
     No  doubt  Emperor Jagang had spread their description far and wide and
had offered a reward large enough that even his enemies  would  find it hard
to resist. For many in the Old  World,  though,  the price of continued life
under  the  brutal  rule of  the Imperial Order  was too  high. Despite  the
reward, there were many who hungered to live free and were willing to act to
gain that goal.
     There  was also  the  problem  of the bond the  Lord  Rahl had with the
D'Haran people;  through that  ancient  bond forged  by Richard's ancestors,
D'Harans could  sense where  the Lord  Rahl  was. The  Imperial Order  could
discover where Richard was by that bond, too. All they had to do was torture
the  information  out of  a D'Haran.  If  one  person failed  to talk  under
torture, they would not be shy about trying  others until  they learned what
they wanted.
     As  Richard watched, the  lone  man, once he reached  the bottom of the
hill, made his way  along the  gravel beds lining the  bottom  of  the rocky
gullies. Off to  Richard's right  the wagon and horses  were lifting a  long
trail of dust. That was where the man seemed to be headed.
     At such a distance  it  was hard  to tell for sure, but Richard doubted
that  the man was a soldier. He wouldn't likely be a scout,  not  in his own
homeland,  and they weren't near the hotbeds of the  revolt against the rule
of  the Imperial Order.  Richard didn't think there would  be any reason for
soldiers to  be  going this way, through  such uninhabited areas. That  was,
after all,  why he had picked this route, heading east to the  shadow of the
mountains  before turning to  a more northerly  route back to where they had
     There was also the possibility that the bond had inadvertently revealed
Richard's whereabouts and an army was  out looking for him. If the man was a
soldier,  there could shortly be many more, like ants, swarming down out  of
the hills.
     Richard climbed  the back side of a short rocky prominence  and  lay on
his stomach, watching over the top. As the man got closer, Richard could see
that  he looked young, under  thirty years, a  bit scrawny, and  was dressed
nothing at all like  a soldier.  By  the way he stumbled, he was not used to
the terrain, or maybe just not used to traveling. It was tiring walking over
ground of loose,  sharp, broken rock, especially if it was on a slope, since
it never provided any solid place for a steady stride.
     The man stopped, stretching his neck to peer at the wagon. Panting from
the effort of making it  down the slope, he  combed his fine blond hair back
repeatedly  with his fingers, then bent at  the waist and rested a hand on a
knee while he caught his breath.
     When the man straightened and started out  once more, crunching through
the gravel at  the  bottom of the wash, Richard slid back down the  rock. He
used the intervening lay of the land and  patches of scraggly pine to screen
himself  from sight.  He paused  from time to time, as  he moved closer,  to
listen  for  the  heavy  footsteps  and  labored  breathing,   checking  his
dead-reckoning estimation of where the man would be.
     From behind a freestanding wall of rock a good sixty feet tall, Richard
carefully  peered  out  for  a  look.  He had managed to  close most of  the
distance without the man being aware of his presence. Richard moved silently
from tree to rock to the  back side of slopes, until he was out ahead of the
man and in his line of travel.
     Still as stone behind a twisted reddish  spire of rock jutting from the
broken  ground, Richard  listened  to  the crunch of footfalls  approaching,
listened to the man gulping for  breath  as he climbed over fingers  of rock
that lay in his way.
     When the man was not six feet  away, Richard stepped out right in front
of him.
     The man  gasped, clutching his light travel coat beneath his chin as he
cringed back a step.
     Richard  regarded  the man  without outward  emotion,  but  inside  the
sword's power churned with the  menace  of rage restrained. For an  instant,
Richard felt the power falter. The magic of the sword keyed off its master's
perception of danger, so such  hesitation could  be because the  smaller man
didn't appear to be an immediate threat.
     The man's clothes,  brown trousers, flaxen shirt,  and a light,  frayed
fustian  coat, had seen better days. He looked  to have had a rough time  of
his journey--but then, Richard,  too, had put on unassuming clothes in order
not to raise suspicion. The man's backpack looked  to hold  precious little.
Two  waterskins, their straps crisscrossed across  his  chest,  bunching the
light coat, were flat and empty. He carried no weapons that Richard saw, not
even a knife.
     The man waited expectantly, as if he feared to be the first to speak.
     "You  appear  to be headed  for my friends," Richard said, tipping  his
head  toward the  thin  golden plume  of dust hanging like  a  beacon in the
sunlight  above the darkening  plain,  giving  the  man  a chance to explain
     The  man, wide-eyed,  shoulders  hunched, raked back  his hair  several
times. Richard  stood before him like a stone pillar, blocking  his way. The
man's blue eyes turned to each side, apparently checking to see if he had an
escape route should he decide to bolt.
     "I mean you no harm," Richard said. "I just want to know what you're up
     "Up to?"
     "Why you're headed for the wagon."
     The man glanced toward the wagon, not visible beyond  the craggy  folds
of rock, then down at Richard's sword, and finally up into his eyes.
     "I'm ... looking for help," he finally said.
     The  man nodded.  "Yes.  I'm  searching  for  the  one  whose craft  is
     Richard cocked his head. "You're looking for a soldier of some kind?"
     He swallowed at the frown on Richard's face. "Yes, that's right."
     Richard shrugged.  "The Imperial Order has lots  of soldiers.  I'm sure
that if you keep looking you will come across some."
     The man shook his head. "No. I seek the man from  far away--from far to
the north. The man who came to bring freedom to many of the oppressed people
of the Old World. The man who gives us all hope that the Imperial Order--may
the Creator forgive their misguided ways--will be  cast out of  our lives so
that we can be at peace once again."
     "Sorry," Richard said, "I don't know anyone like that."
     The man didn't look disappointed  by Richard's  words.  He looked  more
like he simply didn't believe them. His fine features were pleasant-looking,
even though he appeared unconvinced.
     "Do  you  think  you  could"--the man  hesitantly lifted  an  arm  out,
pointing--"at least... let me have a drink?"
     Richard relaxed a bit. "Sure."
     He pulled the strap off  his shoulder  and  tossed his waterskin to the
man. He caught it as if it were precious glass he feared  to drop.  He pried
at the stopper, finally getting it free, and started gulping the water.
     He  stopped abruptly, lowering the waterskin. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean
to start drinking all your water right down."
     "It's  all right." Richard gestured for him to  drink up.  "I have more
back at the wagon. You look to need it."
     As  Richard hooked a thumb behind  his wide leather belt, the man bowed
his head in thanks before tipping the waterskin up for a long drink.
     "Where did you hear about  this man  who  fights for freedom?"  Richard
     The  man brought  the waterskin  down  again,  his  eyes never  leaving
Richard  as he paused to catch his breath. "From many a  tongue. The freedom
he has spread down here in the Old World has brought hope to us all."
     Richard smiled inwardly at  how the bright hope  of freedom burned even
in  a  dark  place like  the  heart  of the  Old  World.  There were  people
everywhere who hungered for the same things  in life,  for a  chance to live
their life free and by their own labor to better themselves.
     Overhead a black-tipped race,  wings spread  wide, popped into sight as
it glided  across the open swath of sky above the rise of rock to each side.
Richard didn't have his bow, but the race stayed out of range, anyway.
     The man shrank at seeing the race the way a rabbit would shrink when it
saw a hawk.
     "Sorry I can't  help you,"  Richard said when the race had disappeared.
He  checked behind, in  the direction of  the wagon,  out beyond the  nearby
hill. "I'm traveling with my wife and family, looking for work,  for a place
to mind our own business."
     Richard's business was the revolution, if he was  to  have a chance for
his plan to  work, and there  were a number of people waiting on him in that
regard. He had more urgent problems, first, though.
     "But, Lord Rahl, my people need--"
     Richard spun back around. "Why would you call me that?"
     "I'm, I'm sorry." The man swallowed. "I didn't mean to anger you."
     "What makes you think I'm this Lord Rahl?"
     The  man painted  his hand  up  and  down  in front  of  Richard  as he
sputtered, trying to find words. "You, you, you just... are. I can't imagine
... what else you want me to  say. I'm sorry if I have offended you by being
so forward, Lord Rahl."
     Cara stalked out from behind a rocky spire. "What have we here?"
     The man  gasped  in surprise  at seeing  her as he  flinched  back  yet
another step, clutching the waterskin to his chest as if it were a shield of
     Tom, his silver  knife to  hand, stepped up out  of a  gully behind the
man, blocking the way should the man decide to run back the way he'd come.
     The man  turned in a circle to  see Tom towering behind.  As he finally
came back around and saw Kahlan standing beside Richard, he let out  another
gasp. They  all were wearing dusty traveling  clothes, but  somehow  Richard
didn't  suppose that at that moment they looked at all like simple travelers
in search of work.
     "Please," the man said, "I don't mean any harm."
     "Take  it easy,"  Richard said as he  stole a sidelong glance at Cara--
his words meant not  only for the man  but  the Mord-Sith as  well. "Are you
alone?" Richard asked him.
     "Yes, Lord Rahl. I'm on  a mission for my people,  just as I  told you.
You  are of  course  to be  forgiven  your aggressive nature--I would expect
nothing less.  I  want you to  know I hold  no feelings of resentment toward
     "Why  does he  think you're the Lord Rahl?"  Cara said to  Richard in a
tone that sounded more accusation than question.
     "I've heard  the descriptions,"  the  man  put in. Still clutching  the
waterskin to his chest,  he pointed  with the other  hand. "And  that sword.
I've  heard  about Lord Rahl's sword." His  gaze moved cautiously to Kahlan.
"And the Mother Confessor, of course," he added, dipping his head.
     "Of course," Richard sighed.
     He'd  expected that he would have to  hide the sword  around strangers,
but now he knew just how important  that was going to be whenever they  went
into any populated areas. The sword would be relatively easy to hide. Not so
with Kahlan.  He thought that maybe they could cover her in rags and say she
was a leper.
     The  man leaned cautiously  out,  arm extended, and handed Richard  his
waterskin. "Thank you, Lord Rahl."
     Richard took a long drink of the terrible-tasting water before offering
it  to Kahlan.  She lifted hers out  for  him to see  as she declined with a
single shake  of  her head. Richard took another long  swig before replacing
the stopper and slinging the strap back over his shoulder.
     "What's your name?" he asked.
     "Well, Owen, why don't you come back  to camp with us for the night. We
can fill up your waterskins for you, at least, before you're on  your way in
the morning."
     Cara was near  to bursting  as she gritted her  teeth at  Richard. "Why
don't you just let me see to--"
     "I think Owen has  problems we can all understand.  He's  concerned for
his friends and  family. In the morning, he can be on his way, and we can be
on ours."
     Richard  didn't want  the man out there  somewhere, in the dark,  where
they couldn't as easily keep an eye on him as they could if he were in camp.
In the morning it would be easy enough to make sure that he wasn't following
them.  Cara  finally  understood Richard's  intent and relaxed. He  knew she
would want any stranger in her sight while Richard and Kahlan were sleeping.
     Kahlan at  his  side, Richard  started  back  to  the  wagon.  The  man
followed, his head swiveling side to side, from Tom to Cara, and back again.
     Since they were headed  back to  the wagon, Richard finished what water
remained in his waterskin while, behind, Owen thanked him for the invitation
and promised not to be any trouble.
     Richard intended to see to it that Owen kept his promise.

     Up in the wagon, Richard  dunked  Owen's two waterskins in  the  barrel
that still had water. Owen,  sitting  with his back pressed against a wheel,
glanced  up at  Richard from time  to  time,  watching expectantly,  as Cara
glared  at him. Cara clearly didn't  like the  fellow, but as  protective as
Mord-Sith were, that didn't necessarily mean that it was warranted.
     For some reason,  though,  Richard didn't care for  the man, either. It
wasn't so much  that  he disliked him,  just that he  couldn't  warm  to the
fellow. He  was polite and certainly  didn't look threatening, but there was
something about the man's attitude that made Richard feel... edgy.
     Tom and Friedrich broke up dried wood they'd collected, feeding it into
the  small fire. The wonderful aroma of pine pitch  covered the smell of the
nearby horses.
     From time  to time Owen  cast a fearful eye  at  Cara, Kahlan, Tom, and
Friedrich.  By far, though, he seemed most uneasy about Jennsen. He tried to
avert his eyes from her, tried  not to look her directly in the eye, but his
gaze  kept being  drawn to her red hair shining in the firelight. When Betty
approached to investigate the stranger, Owen stopped breathing. Richard told
Owen  that the  goat just wanted  attention. Owen gingerly patted the top of
Betty's head as if the  goat were  a gar that might take  off his  arm if he
weren't careful.
     Jennsen, with  a  smile  and  ignoring  the way  he stared at her hair,
offered Owen some of her dried meat.
     Owen just stared wide-eyed up at her leaning down over him.
     "I'm not a witch," she said to Owen. "People  think  my  red hair  is a
sign that I'm a witch. I'm not. I can assure you, I have no magic."
     The edge in her voice surprised  Richard,  reminding him that there was
iron under the feminine grace.
     Still wide-eyed, Owen said, "Of course not. I, I... just never saw such
... beautiful hair before, that's all."
     "Why,  thank you," Jennsen said, her smile returning. She again offered
him a piece of dried meat.
     "I'm sorry," Owen  said  in polite  apology, "but  I prefer not to  eat
meat, if it's all right with you."
     He quickly reached in  his pocket, bringing out  a  cloth pouch holding
dried biscuit. He forced a smile at Jennsen as he held out the biscuits.
     "Would you like one of mine?"
     Tom started, glaring at Owen.
     "Thanks, no," Jennsen  said as she  withdrew her  extended hand and sat
down on a low, flat rock. She snagged Betty by  an ear and made her lie down
at her feet.  "You'd best eat the biscuits yourself if you don't want meat,"
she said to Owen. "I'm afraid we don't have a lot that isn't."
     "Why don't you eat meat?" Richard asked.
     Owen looked up over his shoulder at Richard in the wagon above  him. "I
don't like the thought of harming animals just to satisfy my want of food."
     Jennsen smiled politely. "That's a kindhearted sentiment."
     Owen twitched a smile before his gaze was drawn once again to her hair.
"It's just the way I feel," he said, finally looking away from her.
     "Darken  Rahl felt  the same way,"  Cara  said,  turning  the  glare on
Jennsen. "I saw him horsewhip a woman to death because he caught  her eating
a  sausage  in  the   halls  of  the  People's  Palace.  It  struck  him  as
disrespectful of his feelings."
     Jennsen stared in astonishment.
     "Another time," Cara went on as she chewed a bite  of  sausage, "I  was
with him when he came around a  corner outside, near the gardens. He spotted
a cavalry man atop his horse eating  a meat pie. Darken Rahl lashed out with
a  flash  of   conjured  lightning,   beheading  the  man's  horse   in   an
instant--thump, it  dropped into  the hedge. The man managed to  land on his
feet  as  the rest of his horse crashed to the  ground. Darken Rahl  reached
out, drew the man's sword, and  in a fit  of anger slashed  the belly of the
horse open. Then he seized the soldier by  the scruff of his neck and shoved
his face  into the horse's innards, screaming at him to  eat. The man  tried
his best, but ended up suffocated in the horse's warm viscera."
     Owen covered his mouth as he closed his eyes.
     Cara waved her sausage  as  if  indicating  Darken Rahl standing before
her. "He turned to  me, the fire gone out of him, and asked  me  how  people
could be so cruel as to eat meat."
     Jennsen, her mouth hanging open, asked, "What did you say?"
     Cara shrugged. "What could I say? I told him I didn't know."
     "But  why would  people eat meat, then, if he  was like  that?" Jennsen
     "Most of  the  time, he wasn't. Vendors  sold meat at the palace and he
usually  paid it no  mind. Sometimes he would shake his  head in disgust, or
call them cruel, but usually he didn't even take notice of it."
     Friedrich  was nodding. "That  was  the thing  about the man--you never
knew  what he  was going to do.  He  might smile at  a person, or have  them
tortured to death. You never knew."
     Cara stared into the  low flames of  the fire before her. "There was no
way  to reason out  how he  would react  to anything." Her  voice took  on a
quiet, haunted quality. "A lot of  people simply decided  that it was only a
matter of time until he killed them, too, and so they lived  their  lives as
the condemned would, waiting for the axe to fall, taking no pleasure in life
or the thought of their future."
     Tom nodded  his grim agreement with Cara's assessment of life in D'Hara
as he fed a crook of driftwood into the fire.
     "Is that what you did, Cara?" Jennsen asked.
     Cara looked up and scowled. "I am Mord-Sith. Mord-Sith are always ready
to embrace death. We do not wish to die old and toothless."
     Owen, nibbling his  dried biscuit as  if out of obligation to eat since
the  rest of them were, was clearly shaken by the  story.  "I can't  imagine
life  with such  savagery as  all of  you must live.  Was this  Darken  Rahl
related to you, Lord Rahl?" Owen suddenly seemed to think he might have made
a mistake, and rushed to  amend his question. "He has the same name ... so I
thought, well, I just thought--but I didn't mean to imply that I thought you
were like him...."
     Stepping down from the wagon, Richard handed Owen his full wa-terskins.
"He was my father."
     "I didn't mean  anything  by the question. I would  never intentionally
cast aspersions on a man's father, especially a man who--"
     "I killed him," Richard said.
     Richard didn't feel like elaborating. He recoiled from the very thought
of going into the whole dreadful tale.
     Owen gaped around as if he were a fawn surrounded by wolves.
     "He was a monster,"  Cara said, appearing to  feel  the need to rise to
Richard's  defense. "Now the people  of D'Hara have a chance to look forward
to a future of living their lives as they wish."
     Richard sat down beside Kahlan. "At least they will if they can be free
of the Imperial Order."
     Head down, Owen nibbled on his biscuit as he watched the others.
     When no one else spoke, Kahlan did. "Why don't you tell us your reasons
for coming here, Owen."
     Richard recognized her  tone as  that of the Mother  Confessor asking a
polite question meant to put a frightened petitioner at ease.
     He dipped his head respectfully. "Yes, Mother Confessor."
     "You know her, too?" Richard asked.
     Owen nodded. "Yes, Lord Rahl."
     The man's gaze shifted from Richard to Kahlan and back again.
     "Word of you and the Mother  Confessor  has  spread everywhere. Word of
the way  you freed  the  people  of  Altur'Rang  from the  oppression of the
Imperial  Order is known far and wide. Those who want freedom  know that you
are the one who gives it."
     Richard frowned. "What do you mean, I'm the one who gives it?"
     "Well,  before, the Imperial Order ruled. They are brutal--forgive  me,
they are misguided and don't know any better. That is why their  rule  is so
brutal. Perhaps it  isn't their fault. It is not for me to say." Owen looked
away as  he tried  to  come  up  with words  while apparently seeing his own
visions  of  what the  Imperial  Order had  done  to  convince  him of their
brutality. "Then you  came  and  gave people  freedom--just  as you  did  in
     Richard wiped a hand across his face. He needed to translate  the book,
he needed  to find out what  was  behind the thing Cara had  touched and the
black-tipped races following them, he needed to get back to Victor and those
who were engaged  in the revolt  against the Order,  he was past due to meet
Nicci, and he needed to deal with his headaches. At least, maybe Nicci could
help with that much of it.
     "Owen, I don't 'give' people freedom."
     "Yes, Lord Rahl."
     Owen  evidently took  Richard's words as something he  dared not  argue
with, but his eyes clearly said that he didn't believe it.
     "Owen, what do you  mean when  you say  that  you think I  give  people
     Owen  took a  tiny  bite  of his biscuit  as he  glanced  around at the
others. He  squirmed  his shoulders in  a self-conscious shrug.  Finally, he
cleared his throat.
     "Well, you, you  do  what the Imperial Order does--you kill people." He
waved his biscuit awkwardly,  as if it were a sword,  stabbing the air. "You
kill those  who  enslave  people,  and  then you give  the  people who  were
enslaved their freedom so that peace can return."
     Richard took a deep breath. He wasn't sure if Owen meant it the way  it
came out, or if it was just that he was having difficulty explaining himself
in front of people who made him nervous.
     "That's not exactly the way it is," Richard said.
     "But  that's why you came down here. Everyone knows it.  You came  down
here to the Old World to give people freedom."
     Elbows on  his knees, Richard leaned forward rubbing his palms together
as he thought  about  how  much he  wanted  to  explain.  He felt a  wave of
calmness when Kahlan draped a gentle, comforting hand  over  the back of his
shoulder.  He didn't want to  go into  the horror of how he had  been  taken
prisoner and taken from Kahlan, thinking he would never see her again.
     Richard put the whole weight of emotion over that long ordeal aside and
took another approach. "Owen, I'm from up in the New World--"
     "Yes,  I know," Owen said as  he  nodded. "And you came  here  to  free
people from--"
     "No. That's not the truth of  it. We lived  in  the New World. We  were
once at peace, apparently much like your people were. Emperor Ja-gang--"
     "The dream walker."
     "Yes, Emperor Jagang,  the dream walker, sent his armies to conquer the
New World, to enslave our people--"
     "My people, too."
     Richard  nodded.  "I  understand.  I know what a  horror that  is.  His
soldiers are  rampaging up through  the New World, murdering,  enslaving our
     Owen  turned his watery gaze  off into the  darkness as he  nodded. "My
people, too."
     "We tried  to fight back,"  Kahlan  told him. "But there  are too many.
Their army is far too vast for us to drive them out of our land."
     Owen  nibbled his biscuit again,  not  meeting her gaze. "My people are
terrified of the men of  the Order--may  the Creator forgive their misguided
     "May they scream in agony for all eternity in the darkest shadow of the
Keeper of the underworld," Cara said in merciless correction.
     Owen stared slack-jawed at such a curse spoken aloud.
     "We  couldn't fight  them like  that--simply drive them back to the Old
World,"  Richard  said, bringing  Owen's gaze back to him as he went on with
the  story. "So I'm  down  here,  in Jagang's homeland,  helping people  who
hunger to  be free  to cast off the shackles of the  Order.  While he's away
conquering  our land, he has left his own homeland open to  those who hunger
for freedom.  With  Jagang  and  his armies away,  that gives us a chance to
strike at Jagang's soft underbelly, to do him meaningful harm.
     "I'm doing this because it's the only way we can fight back against the
Imperial  Order--our only means to  succeed. If I weaken his foundation, his
source of men and  support, then he will have to withdraw his army from  our
land and return south to defend his own.
     "Tyranny  cannot endure forever. By its  very nature it rots everything
it rules,  including  itself. But  that can  take  lifetimes. I'm  trying to
accelerate that  process so that  I and those  I  love  can be  free in  our
lifetimes--free to live our own lives. If  enough people rise up against the
Imperial Order's rule, it may even loosen  Jagang's grip on power and  bring
him and the Order down.
     "That's how  I'm  fighting him, how I'm  trying to defeat him, how  I'm
trying to get him out of my land."
     Owen nodded.  'This is  what we need, too. We  are  victims of fate. We
need for you to  come and get  his men out of our land, and then to withdraw
your sword, your ways, from our people so  we may live in tranquility again.
We need you to give us freedom."
     The  driftwood  popped,  sending a  glowing swirl  of  sparks  skyward.
Richard, hanging his  head, tapped his fingertips together. He  didn't think
the man had heard a word he'd said. They needed rest. He needed to translate
the book.  They needed to get to  where they  were going. At least he didn't
have a headache.
     "Owen, I'm sorry," he finally said in a quiet voice. "I  can't help you
in so  direct a manner. But I would like you to  understand that my cause is
to your advantage, too,  and that what I'm doing will  also cause Jagang  to
eventually pull his troops out of your homeland  as well, or at least weaken
their presence so that you can throw them out yourselves."
     "No," Owen  said. "His men will not leave my land until you come and ..
." Owen winced. "And destroy them."
     The very word, the implication, looked sickening to the man.
     "Tomorrow," Richard said, no longer bothering  to try to sound  polite,
"we have to be on our way.  You will have to  be on your way as well. I wish
you success in ridding your people of the Imperial Order."
     "We  cannot do such a thing," Owen protested.  He sat up straighten "We
are not savages. You and those like you--the unenlightened ones--it is up to
you to do it and  give us freedom, I am the only one who can bring  you. You
must come and do as your kind does. You must give our empire freedom."
     Richard  rubbed  his fingertips across  the furrows of  his brow.  Cara
started to rise. A look from Richard sat her back down.
     "I gave  you  water,"  Richard  said  as  he  stood. "I can't give  you
     "But you must--"
     "Double watch tonight," Richard said as he turned to Cara, cutting Owen
     Cara  nodded once as  her mouth twisted with a satisfied smile  of iron
     "In the morning," Richard added, "Owen will be on his way."
     "Yes,"  she said, her blue-eyed glare  sliding to  Owen, "he  certainly
will be."

     What is it?" Kahlan asked as she rode up beside the wagon.
     Richard looked to be furious about something.  She saw then that he had
the book  in one hand; his other was a fist. He opened  his mouth, about  to
speak, but when Jennsen, up on the  seat beside Tom, turned back to see what
was going on,  Richard said to her instead, "Kahlan and I are going to check
the road up ahead. Keep your eye on Betty so she doesn't jump out, will you,
     Jennsen smiled at him and nodded.
     "If Betty gives you any trouble," Tom said, "just  let me know and I'll
take her to a lady I know and have some goat sausages made up."
     Jennsen grinned at their private joke and gave Tom a good-natured elbow
in his ribs. As  Richard climbed over the side of the wagon  and  dropped to
the ground, she snapped her fingers at the tail-wagging goat.
     "Betty!  You  just stay  there. Richard doesn't need  you tagging along
every single time."
     Betty, front hooves on the  chafing  rail, bleated as  she looked up at
Jennsen, as if asking for her to reconsider.
     "Down," Jennsen said in admonishment. "Lie down."
     Betty bleated and reluctantly hopped back down into the  wagon bed, but
she  would  settle for no less than a scratch behind the ears as consolation
before she would lie down.
     Kahlan leaned over from her seat in the saddle  and untied the reins to
Richard's horse from the back of the wagon. He stepped  into the stirrup and
gracefully swung up in one fluid motion. She could see that  he was agitated
about something, but it made her heart sing just to look at him.
     He shifted his weight forward slightly, urging his  horse ahead. Kahlan
squeezed  her legs to the side of her own horse to spur her into a canter to
keep  up with Richard.  He rode out  ahead, rounding  several  turns in  the
flatter  land  among the  rough  hillsides, until he caught up with Cara and
Friedrich, patrolling out in the lead.
     "We're going to check out front  for a while," he told them. "Why don't
you fall back and check behind."
     Kahlan  knew  that Richard was sending  them to the back because if  he
took  Kahlan to the back under the pretense of watching anything  that might
come up  on them from behind, Cara would keep falling back to check on them.
If they  were out front,  Cara wouldn't worry  about them  dropping back and
getting lost.
     Cara laid her reins over and turned back. Sweat stuck Kahlan's shirt to
her  back  as  she  leaned over  her horse's  withers, urging  her  ahead as
Richard's  horse sprang away. Despite the  clumps of  tall grass dotting the
foothills and  occasional sparse  patches of woods, the heat  was still with
them. It cooled some at night, now, but the days were hot, with the humidity
increasing  as the clouds built  up against the wall of mountains  to  their
     Up  close,  the  barrier  of  rugged  mountains  to  the  east  was  an
intimidating sight.  Sheer  rock  walls  rose up  below  projecting plateaus
heaped to their  very edge with loose rock crumbled from yet higher plateaus
and walls, as if the entire range was all gradually crumbling. With drops of
thousands  of  feet at the fringe  of overhanging shelves of  rock, climbing
such unstable scree would be impossible. If  there were passes  through  the
arid slopes, they were no doubt few and would prove difficult.
     But making it past those gray mountains of scorching rock,  they  could
now see, was hardly the biggest problem.
     Those closer mountains spreading north and south in the burning heat at
the edge of the desert partially hid what lay to the  other side--a far more
daunting range of snowcapped peaks rising up to completely block any passage
east. Those imposing mountains were beyond the scale  of any Kahlan had ever
seen. Not even the most rugged of  the Rang'Shada  Mountains in the Midlands
were their match. These mountains were like a  race  of  giants. Precipitous
walls of rock  soared thousands of  feet straight  up. Harrowing slopes rose
unbroken by any pass or rift and were so arduous that few trees could find a
foothold. Lofty snow-packed peaks that ascended majestically above windswept
clouds were jammed so close together that it reminded her more  of a knife's
long jagged edge than separate summits.
     The day before, when  Kahlan had  seen Richard studying those  imposing
mountains, she had asked him if he thought there was any way across them. He
had  said no, that the  only way he could see to get beyond was possibly the
notch he'd spotted  before,  when he  had found the place  where the strange
boundary had once been, and that notch still lay some distance north.
     For  now,  they skirted the  dry side of the closer mountains  as  that
range made its way north along the more easily traversed lowlands.
     Along the  base of a  gentle  hill covered in  clumps of brown grasses,
Richard finally slowed his horse. He turned in his saddle, checking that the
others were still coming, if a goodly distance behind.
     He pulled his horse close beside her. "I skipped ahead in the book."
     Kahlan didn't  like the sound of that. "When I asked you before why you
didn't skip ahead, you said that it wasn't a wise thing to do.'\
     "I know, but I wasn't really getting  anywhere and we  need answers^ As
their horses settled into a comfortable walk, Richard rubbed his  shoulders.
"After all that heat I can't believe how cold it's getting."
     "Cold? What are you--"
     "You  know  those rare  people like Jennsen?" The leather of his saddle
squeaked as he  leaned toward  her. "Ones born pristinely ungifted-- without
even that tiny  spark of the  gift? The pillars of Creation? Well, back when
this book was written, they weren't so rare."
     "You mean it was more common for them to be born?"
     "No, the ones who had been born began to grow up, get married, and have
children--ungifted children."
     Kahlan looked over in surprise.  "The  broken links in the chain of the
gift that you were talking about, before?"
     Richard nodded.  "They were children of  the Lord Rahl.  Back  then, it
wasn't like  it  has been in recent times with Darken Rahl,  or his  father.
From  what I can  tell, all  the children of the Lord Rahl and his wife were
part of  his family, and treated as  such,  even though  they were born with
this problem. It seems that the wizards tried to help them-- both the direct
offspring, and then  their  children, and their children. They tried to cure
     "Cure them? Cure them of what?"
     Richard  lifted  his arms in a heated gesture of frustration. "Of being
born ungifted--of being  born without  even that tiny spark of the gift like
everyone else has. The wizards back then tried to restore the breaks in  the
     "How did  they think they would be able to  cure someone of not  having
even the spark of the gift?"
     Richard  pressed his lips together as he  thought of  a way  to explain
it_"Well, you know  the  wizards who sent  you across the  boundary to  find
     "Yes," Kahlan said in a suspicious drawl.
     "They  weren't born  with  the  gift--born  wizards, that is. What were
they--second or third wizards? Something like that?  You told me about them,
once."  He  snapped his fingers as  it  came to him.  "Wizards of  the third
Order. Right?"
     "Yes. Just one, Giller,  was the Second  Order.  None were able to pass
the tests to be a wizard of the First  Order, like Zedd, because they didn't
have the gift.  Being wizards  was their calling, but they weren't gifted in
the  conventional  sense--but  they  still  had  that spark of the gift that
everyone has."
     "That's  what I'm talking about," Richard said. "They weren't born with
the  gift to be  wizards--just  the spark of it like everyone else. Yet Zedd
somehow trained them to  be  able to  use magic--to be wizards-- even though
they weren't born that way, born with the gift to be wizards."
     "Richard, that was a lifetime of work."
     "I know,  but  the point  is  that Zedd  was able  to help  them  to be
wizards--at least wizards enough to pass his tests and conjure magic."
     "Yes, I  suppose. When I was young they taught me about the workings of
magic and  the  Wizard's  Keep,  about  those  people and creatures  in  the
Midlands with magic. They may not have been born with the gift, but they had
worked a lifetime to become wizards. They were wizards," she insisted.
     Richard's mouth turned up with the kind of smile that told her that she
had just framed  the essence of his argument for him. "But they had not been
born  with that aspect, that attribute, of the gift." He leaned  toward her.
"Zedd,  besides  training them,  must  have used magic to  help them  become
wizards, right?"
     Kahlan frowned at the thought. "I don't  know. They never told me about
their  training  to  become  wizards.  That  was   never  germane  to  their
relationship with me or my training."
     "But Zedd has Additive  Magic," Richard  pressed. "Additive can  change
things, add to them, make them more than they are."
     "All right," Kahlan cautiously agreed. "What's the point?"
     "The  point is that Zedd took people who  weren't born with the gift to
be wizards and he trained them but--more importantly--he must have also used
his power  to help  them along that path by altering  how they were born. He
had to  have added  to their gift  to make them more than they  were born to
be."  Richard  glanced over  at her  as his horse stepped  around  a  small,
scraggly pine. "He altered people with magic."
     Kahlan let out a deep breath as she looked away  from Richard and ahead
at the gentle spread of grassy hills to either side of them, as she tried to
fully grasp the concept of what he was saying.
     "I never considered that before, but all right," she finally said. "So,
what of it?"
     "We thought that only the  wizards of old could do  such a thing,  but,
apparently, it's not a lost art nor would it be entirely so far-fetched as I
had  imagined for  the  wizards back then to believe they could change  what
was, into what they thought it ought to  be.  What I'm  saying is that, like
what Zedd  did to give people that with which they were not born, so too did
the wizards of old try to give people born as pillars of Creation a spark of
the gift."
     Kahlan felt a chill of realization. The implication was staggering. Not
just the wizards of old, but Zedd,  too,  had used  magic to alter the  very
nature of people, the very nature of what they were, how they were born.
     She supposed that he  had  only helped them to achieve  what was  their
greatest ambition in life--their calling--by enhancing what they already had
been  born with. He helped them to reach  their full potential. But that was
for men who had the innate potential. While the wizards of long ago probably
had done  similar things to help people, they had also sometimes  used their
power for less benevolent reasons.
     "So," he said, "the wizards back then, who were experienced in altering
people's abilities, thought that these people called the pillars of Creation
could be cured."
     "Cured of  not having been  born gifted," she  said  in a flat tone  of
     "Not exactly.  They weren't trying  to make them into wizards, but they
thought they could  at least be cured of not having that infinitesimal spark
of the gift that simply enabled them to interact with magic."
     Kahlan took a purging breath. "So then what happened?"
     "This book was written after the great war had ended--after the barrier
had  been created  and the Old World  had been  sealed away. It was  written
after  the New World was at peace, or, at least,  after the barrier kept the
Old World contained.
     "But remember what we found out  before? That we  think that during the
war Wizard  Ricker  and his  team  had done something to  halt  Sub-tractive
Magic's ability to be passed on to the offspring of wizards? Well, after the
war, those born with  the gift started becoming  increasingly uncommon,  and
those who were being born were being born without the Subtractive side."
     "So, after the war,"  she said, "those who were born  with the  gift of
both Additive and Subtractive were rapidly becoming nonexistent. We  already
knew that."
     "Right." Richard leaned toward her and lifted the book. "But then, when
there are fewer wizards being born, all of a sudden the wizards additionally
realize that they have  all these pristinely  ungifted--breaks altogether in
the  link to magic--on their  hands. Suddenly, on  top of the problem of the
birth  rate of  those with the gift  to be wizards dropping, they were faced
with what they called pillars of Creation."
     Kahlan swayed in the saddle as she  thought about it, trying to imagine
the situation at the Keep at the time. "I can see  that they would have been
pretty concerned."
     His voice lowered meaningfully. "They were desperate."
     Kahlan  laid  her  reins over,  moving  in  behind Richard as his horse
stepped around an ancient, fallen tree that had been  bleached  silver  from
the sweltering sun.
     "So, I suppose,"  Kahlan asked as she walked her  horse back  up beside
him, "that the wizards started to do the same thing Zedd did?  Trained those
who had the calling--those who  wished to be  wizards  but had not been born
with the gift?"
     "Yes,  but  back then,"  Richard  said,  "they trained those  with only
Additive to be able  to use the  Subtractive, too, like full wizards  of the
time. As time  went on,  though, even that was being lost  to them, and they
were  only able to do  what Zedd did--train men to be wizards but they could
only wield Additive Magic.
     "But  that  isn't really what  the  book is about," Richard said as  he
gestured dismissively. "That was just  a side point to record  what they had
attempted. They started out with confidence. They thought that these pillars
of Creation could be cured of being pristinely  ungifted, much  like wizards
with  only Additive could be  trained  to  use both sides of the  magic, and
those without the gift  for wizardry could be made  wizards able  to use  at
least the Additive side of it."
     The way he used his hands when he talked reminded her  of  the way Zedd
did  when he became worked up. "They tried to modify the  very nature of how
these people  had been born. They tried to take people  without any spark of
the gift, and alter them in a desperate attempt to give them  the ability to
interact with magic. They weren't just adding or enhancing, they were trying
to create something out of nothing."
     Kahlan didn't  like the sound of that. They knew that in those  ancient
times the wizards  had  great power, and they  altered people with the gift,
manipulated their gift, to suit a specific purpose.
     They created weapons out of people.
     In  the  great  war,  Jagang's  ancestors were one  such weapon:  dream
walkers. Dream  walkers were created to  be able to take over  the minds  of
people in the  New World and control  them. Out of desperation,  the bond of
the Lord Rahl was  created  to counter that weapon, to protect a people from
the dream walkers.
     Any number of human weapons were conjured from the gifted. Such changes
were often profound, and they were irrevocable. At times, the creations were
monsters of boundless cruelty. From this heritage, Ja-gang had been born.
     During that great war, one of the wizards who had been put on trial for
treason refused  to reveal what damage he had done. When even torture failed
to gain the man's confession, the wizards conducting the trial turned to the
talents of a  wizard named Merritt  and ordered the creation of a Confessor.
Magda Searus,  the  first  Confessor, extracted  the  man's confession.  The
tribunal  was so pleased with the results of Wizard Merritt's conjuring that
they commanded that an order of Confessors be created.
     Kahlan felt no different than other people felt, she was no less human,
no  less  a  woman,  loved  life no less, but her Confessor's power was  the
result of that  conjuring. She, too, was a descendant of women altered to be
weapons--in this case weapons designed to find the truth.
     "What's the matter?" Richard asked.
     She glanced over and saw the look of concern on his face. Kahlan forced
a smile and shook her head that it was nothing.
     "So what is it that you discovered by jumping ahead in the book?"
     Richard took  a deep breath as he  folded  his hands over the pommel of
the saddle. "Essentially, they were attempting to use color in order to help
people born without eyes ... to see."
     From  Kahlan's  understanding  of  magic  and  of   history,  this  was
fundamentally different from even the  most malevolent experiments to  alter
people into  weapons. Even in the most  vile of  these instances, they  were
attempting  to take away some  attribute of their humanity and  at  the same
time add to or enhance an elemental ability.  In none of it were they trying
to create that which was not there at all.
     "In other words," Kahlan summed up, "they failed."
     Richard nodded. "So, here  they were, the great war  was  long over and
the Old World--those  who  had  wanted to end magic, much like the  Imperial
Order--was safely sealed  away beyond the barrier that had been created. Now
they find out  that the birth rate of those carrying the gift of wizardry is
plummeting,  and that  the magic  engendered  by the House of Rahl, the bond
with his people designed to stop the  dream walkers from taking them, has an
unexpected consequence--it also  gives birth to the pristinely ungifted, who
are an irreversible break in the lineage of magic."
     "They  have two problems, then," Kahlan said. "They  have fewer wizards
being  born to  deal with problems of magic, and they have people being born
with no link at all to the magic."
     "That's right.  And  the second problem  was  growing  faster  than the
first.  In  the beginning, they thought they would find  a solution, a cure.
They didn't. Worse,  as I  explained  before, those  born  of the pristinely
ungifted, like  Jennsen,  always bear children  the same  as they. In  a few
generations,  the number of  the  people without  the link to  the  gift was
growing faster than anyone ever expected."
     Kahlan let out a deep breath. "Desperate indeed."
     "It was becoming chaos."
     She hooked a loose strand of hair back. "What did they decide?"
     Richard regarded  her  with one of those  looks that told  her  he  was
pretty disturbed by what he'd found.
     "They chose magic over people. They deemed that this attribute-- magic,
or those who  possessed  it--was more important than human life." His  voice
rose. "Here they took the very thing they fought  the war over, the right of
those  who were born the  way  they were--in  that  case  people  born  with
magic--to their  own  lives, to exist, and they turned it  all around to  be
that this attribute was more important than the life which held it!"
     He  let  out  a breath and lowered his voice.  "There were too many  to
execute, so they did the next best thing--they banished them."
     Kahlan's eyebrows went up. "Banished them? To where?"
     Richard leaned toward her with fire in his eyes. "The Old World."
     Richard shrugged, as  if speaking  on behalf of  the wizards back then,
mocking their reasoning. "What else could they do? They could hardly execute
them; they  were  friends and  family. Many of  those normal people with the
spark of the gift--but who were not gifted as wizards or sorceresses  and so
didn't  think  of  themselves  as  gifted--had  sons,  daughters,  brothers,
sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins,  neighbors who had married these pristinely
ungifted, these pillars  of  Creation. They  were part of society--a society
which was less and less populated by the truly gifted.
     "In a society where they were increasingly outnumbered and  mistrusted,
the ruling gifted  couldn't bring themselves to put all these tainted people
to death."
     "You mean they even considered it?"
     Richard's eyes told  her that  they  had  and  what  he  thought of the
notion. "But in  the end, they  couldn't. At  the same  time,  after  trying
everything,  they now realized  that they couldn't  ever restore the link to
magic once it was broken by these  people, and such people were marrying and
having children, and the children were marrying  and having children--who in
every case passed along this taint. And, those so tainted were increasing in
numbers faster than anyone had imagined.
     "As  far as the gifted were concerned, their very world was threatened,
in much the same way it had been threatened by the war. That was, after all,
what those in the Old World had been trying to  do-- destroy magic--and here
it was, the very thing they feared, happening.
     "They couldn't repair the damage, they couldn't stop it from spreading,
and they couldn't put  to death all those among them. At the same time, with
the taint  multiplying, they knew that they  were  running out of  time. So,
they settled on what to them was the only way out-- banishment."
     "And they could cross the barrier?" she asked.
     "Those with the gift, for  all practical purposes, were  prevented from
crossing the barrier, but for those who  were pillars of Creation, magic did
not exist; they were unaffected  by it, so, to them, the barrier was  not an
     "How  could  those in  charge  be  sure  they  had  all the pillars  of
Creation? If any escaped, the banishment would fail to solve their problem."
     "Those with the gift--wizards  and  sorceresses--can  somehow recognize
those pristinely ungifted for  what they are: holes in the world, as Jennsen
said those like her were called. The gifted can see them, but not sense them
with their gift. Apparently, it wasn't a problem to know who  the pillars of
Creation were."
     "Can you tell  any difference?" Kahlan asked. "Can you sense Jennsen as
being different? Being a hole in the world?"
     "No. But I've not been taught to use my ability. How about you?"
     Kahlan shook her head.  "I'm not a sorceress, so I  guess  that I don't
have the  ability to detect those  like her." She  shifted her weight in her
saddle. "So, what happened with those people back then?"
     "The people of the New  World collected all those ungifted offspring of
the House of Rahl and their every single last descendant, and sent the whole
lot of them across the great barrier, to the Old World, where the people had
professed that they wanted mankind to be free of magic."
     Richard smiled with the irony, even of such a grim event as  this. "The
wizards  of  the  New  World, in essence, gave their enemy in  the Old World
exactly  what they  professed to  want,  what they  had  been  fighting for:
mankind without magic."
     His  smile  withered.  "Can you imagine  deciding that we had to banish
Jennsen and send  her  into some fearful unknown, simply because of the fact
that she can't see magic?"
     Kahlan  shook her head as she tried to envision  such  a time. "What  a
horror, to be uprooted  and sent away, especially to the  enemy of  your own
     Richard rode in silence for a time. Finally, he went on with the story.
"It was a terrifying event for  those banished,  but  it  was also traumatic
almost beyond endurance to those who were left. Can you even imagine what it
must have  been like. All those friends and relatives suddenly ripped out of
your life, your  family? The disruption to trade and livelihood?"  Richard's
words came with  bitter finality.  "All because  they decided some attribute
was more important than human life."
     Just listening to  the story, Kahlan felt as if she had been through an
ordeal. She watched Richard riding  beside her, staring off, lost in his own
     "Then what?" she finally asked. "Did they ever hear from those who were
     He  shook  his  head. "No, nothing.  They  were  now  beyond  the great
barrier. They were gone."
     Kahlan stroked her horse's neck,  just to feel the comfort of something
alive. "What did they do about those who were born after that?"
     Still he stared off. "Killed them."
     Kahlan  swallowed  in  revulsion. "I can't  imagine how  they could  do
     "They  could tell, once the child was born, if it  was ungifted. It was
said to be easier then, before it was named."
     Kahlan couldn't  find  her voice for a moment. "Still,"  she  said in a
weak voice, "I can't imagine it."
     "It's  no different  from what  Confessors did about  the birth of male
     His words cut  through her. She hated the  memory of those times. Hated
the memory of a male child being  born to  a Confessor. Hated the  memory of
them being put to death by command of the mother.
     There  was said to be no choice. Male Confessors in the past had had no
self-control over their power.  They became monsters, started  wars,  caused
unimaginable suffering.
     It was argued that there  was no choice but to  put a  male child of  a
Confessor to death, before they were named.
     Kahlan couldn't force herself to look up into Richard's eyes. The witch
woman, Shota, had foretold that she and Richard would conceive a male child.
Neither  Kahlan nor Richard would  ever  for an instant consider harming any
child of theirs, a child  resulting from their love for  one  another,  from
their love of life. She couldn't imagine putting a child of  theirs to death
for being born a male  child  of her  as a Confessor, or an ungifted male or
female child of Richard for being a Rahl. How  could anyone say that such  a
life had no right to exist because of who they were, what they were like, or
what they might possibly become.
     "Somewhere along the line after this book was written," Richard said in
a quiet voice, "things changed. When this book was written, the Lord Rahl of
D'Hara always married, and they knew when he produced an offspring. When the
child  was pristinely ungifted, they ended its  life as  mercifully as  they
     "At some point, ruling wizards of the House of  Rahl became like Darken
Rahl. They  took  any woman they wanted,  whenever they wanted. The details,
such as if  an ungifted child  born of those couplings was actually a pillar
of Creation, became unimportant to  them. They simply killed  any offspring,
except the gifted heir."
     "But they were wizards--they could have  told which ones were like that
and at least not killed the rest."
     "If  they wanted,  I  suppose  they could have,  but, like Darken Rahl,
their  only interest was  in the single gifted heir.  They simply killed the
     "So,  such  offspring hid for fear  of their life  and  one managed  to
escape the grasp of Darken Rahl until you killed him first.  And so you have
a sister, Jennsen."
     Richard's smile returned. "And so I do."
     Kahlan followed  his gaze and saw  distant specks,  black-tipped races,
watching, as they soared on the updrafts of the high cliffs of the mountains
to the east.
     She  took  a  purging breath  of the  hot,  humid air. "Richard,  those
ungifted offspring  that were  banished to  the Old World, do you think they
     "If the wizards in the Old World didn't slaughter them."
     "But everyone down  here in the Old  World is the  same as  in  the New
World. I've fought against the soldiers from here--with Zedd and the Sisters
of  the  Light.  We used  magic  of every  sort to try  to halt the  Order's
advance. I  can tell you  firsthand that  all  those from the Old  World are
affected by  magic,  so that means they all are born with  that spark of the
gift. There are no broken links in the chain of magic in the Old World."
     "From everything I've seen down here, I'd have to agree."
     Kahlan  wiped sweat from  her brow. It  was running into her eyes.  "So
what happened to those banished people?"
     Richard gazed  off toward the mountains  beneath the  races.  "I  can't
imagine. But it must have been horrifying for them."
     "So you  think that maybe  that was the end  of them?  That  maybe they
perished, or were put to death?"
     He  regarded her with a  sidelong glance.  "I don't know. But  what I'd
like  to  know  is why that place back  there is named the same as they were
called  in this  book: the Pillars of Creation." His eyes took on a menacing
gleam. "And far worse yet,  I'd like to know why, as Jennsen told us, a copy
of this book is among Jagang's most prized possessions."
     That troublesome thought  had been running  through  Kahlan's  mind  as
     She looked up at him  from beneath a frown. "Maybe  you  shouldn't have
skipped ahead in your reading of the book, Lord Rahl."
     Richard's fleeting smile wasn't all she'd hoped  for. "I'll be relieved
if that's the biggest mistake I've made, lately."
     "What do you mean?"
     He  raked his hair  back. "Is anything different about your Confessor's
     "Different?"  Almost  involuntarily, his  question caused  her  to draw
back, to focus inwardly, to take stock of the  force she always  felt within
herself. "No. It feels the same as always."
     The power coiled in the core of her being did  not need  to be summoned
when there was need of it.  As always, it was there at the  ready;  it  only
required that she release her restraint of it for it to be unleashed.
     "There's  something  wrong  with the  sword," he said, catching  her by
surprise. "Wrong with its power."
     Kahlan couldn't  imagine what to  make  of such a notion.  "How can you
tell? What's different?"
     Richard idly stroked his thumbs  along  the reins turned  back over his
fingers. "It's hard to define exactly what's different. I'm just used to the
feeling of it being at my beck and call. It responds when I need it, but for
some reason it seems to be hesitant about doing so."
     Kahlan  felt  that  now,  more  than ever, they needed  to  get back to
Aydindril  and see Zedd. Zedd was the keeper of the sword. Even though  they
couldn't take the sword through the sliph, Zedd  would be able  to give them
insight about any nuance of its power. He would know what to do. He would be
able to help Richard with the headaches, too.
     And Kahlan knew  that Richard needed help. She could see that he wasn't
himself. His gray eyes held  a glaze  of  pain, but there was something more
etched in his expression, in the way he moved, the way he carried himself.
     The whole explanation of the book and  what he had discovered seemed to
have sapped his strength.
     She was beginning  to think that it wasn't  she, after all, who was the
one running out of time, but that it was Richard. That  thought, despite the
warm afternoon sun, sent cold terror racing through her.
     Richard  checked the others over  his shoulder. "Let's go  back  to the
wagon. I need to get something warmer to put on. It's freezing today."


     Zedd  peered up the  deserted street. He could have  sworn  that he saw
someone. Using  his gift to search for any sign of  life told him that there
was no one anywhere around. Still, he remained motionless as he stared.
     The warm breeze pressed his simple  robes against his  bony  frame  and
gently ruffled his disheveled white hair. A tattered,  sun-faded  blue dress
that  someone  had pinned  to a second-floor  balcony railing to dry flapped
like  a flag in the  wind. The dress, along  with a city  full  of  personal
possessions, had long ago been left behind.
     The buildings,  their walls painted various colors  from a rusty red to
yellow  with  shutters  in bright, contrasting  hues, stuck  out to slightly
varying degrees on either side of the narrow cobbled street, making a canyon
of colorful walls. Most of  the second stories overhung the bottom floors by
a  few feet, and, with  their eaves  hanging  out  even more, the  buildings
closed off the better part of the sky except for a snaking slit of afternoon
sunlight that  followed the  sinuous  course  of the street up and over  the
gentle hill. The doors were all tightly shut, most of the windows shuttered.
A pale green gate to an alleyway hung open, squeaking as it swung to and fro
in the breeze.
     Zedd decided  that it  must have been a trick  of the  light that  he'd
seen, maybe a windowpane that  had  moved in the wind sending a  flicker  of
light across a wall.
     When he was at last sure that he had been mistaken about seeing anyone,
Zedd started  back down the street, yet remained close to one side,  walking
as quietly as possible. The Imperial Order army had not returned to the city
since Zedd had unleashed the light web that had killed an enormous number of
their force, but that didn't mean that there couldn't be dangers about.
     No doubt Emperor Jagang still wanted the city, and especially the Keep,
but he was no fool and he knew that a few  more light webs ignited among his
army, no matter how vast it was, would in  that  instant reduce his force by
such  staggering numbers that it could alter the  course of  the war. Jagang
had fought  against  the Midland and  D'Haran forces for  a year and  in all
those battles he had not lost as many men as he'd lost in that one  blinding
moment. He would not casually risk another such event.
     After  such a blow Jagang would want  to  capture the Keep more than he
had ever wanted it before. He would want Zedd more than ever before.
     Had Zedd more of the light webs like the one his frantic search through
the Keep  had turned up, he would have  already  unleashed them  all on  the
Order. He sighed. If only he had more.
     Still, Jagang didn't know that he had no more  such constructed spells.
As long as Jagang feared that there were more,  it served Zedd's  purpose in
keeping the Imperial Order out of Aydindril and away from the Wizard's Keep.
     Some  harm had been done to the Confessors' Palace when Jagang had been
gulled into attacking, but Zedd judged that trying that trick had been worth
the regrettable damage;  it had almost  netted  him and  Adie the  emperor's
hide. Damage could always be repaired. He vowed that it would be repaired.
     Zedd clenched a fist at how close  he had come to finishing Jagang that
day. At least he had dealt a mighty blow to his army.
     And Zedd might have  had Jagang had it  not been for that strange young
woman. He  shook his head at the memory of actually seeing one who could not
be  touched by  magic. He'd known, in theory, of  their  existence,  but had
never before known it for certain to be true. Vague references in  old books
made for interesting abstract speculation, but seeing it  with his  own eyes
was quite something else.
     It had been  an unsettling sight. Adie had been shaken by the encounter
even more than he; she was blind, yet with  the aid of  the  gift could  see
better than he could. That day, she had not been able to see the young woman
who  was there, but, in some  ways, not there. To Zedd's eyes,  if  not  his
gift, she  was  a beautiful sight, with some  of Darken  Rahl's  looks,  but
different  and altogether captivating. That she  was half sister  to Richard
was clear;  she  shared some  of his  features, especially the eyes. If only
Zedd could have stopped her, kept her out of the way, convinced her that she
was making a terrible mistake by  being with the Order, or  even if he could
have killed her, Jagang would not have escaped justice.
     Still, Zedd held no  illusions about ending the  threat of the Imperial
Order simply  by killing  Jagang. Jagang was merely the  brute who led other
brutes in enforcing blind faith in  the Order, a blind  faith  that embraced
death as salvation from what it  preached was the corrupt misery  of life, a
blind faith in which life itself had no value but as a bloody sacrifice upon
the altar of altruism,  a  blind  faith that blamed the failure  of its  own
ideas  on mankind  for being  wicked  and  for failing to  offer  sufficient
sacrifice in an endless quest  for some illusive greater good that grew ever
more distant, a blind faith in an Order that clung  to power by  feeding off
the carcasses of the productive lives it ruined.
     A  faith that by  its  very beliefs  rejected reason and  embraced  the
irrational could  not long endure without intimidation  and  force-- without
brutes like Jagang to enforce such faith.
     While Emperor Jagang was brutally effective, it was a  mistake to think
that  if Jagang were to die that very  day  it  would end the  threat of the
Order. It was the Order's ideas that were so dangerous;  the priests of  the
Order would find other brutes.
     The only real way to end  the Order's reign of terror was to expose the
naked evil of its  teachings to the light of truth, and for  those suffering
under its doctrines  to  throw off the Order's yoke. Until then, they  would
have to fight the Imperial Order back as best they could, hoping at least to
eventually contain them.
     Zedd poked his head around a corner, watching, listening, sniffing  the
wind for  any  trace  of anyone who might  be  lurking about. The  city  was
deserted, but on  a  number  of  occasions stray Imperial Order soldiers had
wandered in out of the mountains.
     After  the destruction caused by the light web, panic had swept through
the Order's  encampment. Many soldiers had scattered to the hills. Once  the
army had regrouped, a large number of men had decided to desert  instead  of
returning to their units. Tens of thousands of  such deserters  were rounded
up and executed, their  bodies left to rot  as a warning of what happened to
those who abandoned the cause of the greater glory of the Imperial Order, or
as the Order  liked to  put it,  the cause of  the greater good. Most of the
rest of the men who had  run to the hills had then had a change of heart and
straggled back into camp.

     There were  still some, though,  who had not  wanted to go back and had
not been  caught. For a  time, after Jagang's army had  moved  on,  they had
wandered  into  the city,  sometimes alone,  sometimes in small groups, half
starved,  to search for food  and to loot. Zedd  had lost count  of how many
such men he had killed.

     He was reasonably sure that all of those stragglers were dead, now. The
Order was made up of men mostly from cities and towns. Such men weren't used
to living  in the wild. Their job was to overwhelm the enemy, to kill, rape,
terrorize, and plunder. A  whole corps of logistics  personnel provided them
with support, delivering and dispensing a  constant stream  of supplies that
rolled in to feed and care for the soldiers. They were violent men, but they
were  men  who needed to  be tended,  who depended  on the  group for  their
survival. They  didn't last long  on  their own in  the  trackless  forested
mountains surrounding Ay-dindril.

     But Zedd hadn't seen any of them for quite some time. He was reasonably
sure that the stragglers  had starved, been  killed, or had  long ago headed
back south, to the Old World.

     There  was  always  the  possibility,  though,  that  Jagang  had  sent
assassins to  Aydindril; some  of  those  assassins could be Sisters  of the
Light, or worse, Sisters of the Dark. For that reason,  Zedd rarely left the
safety of  the Keep, and when he did, he was cautious. Too, he hated  poking
around the city, seeing it so  devoid of  life. This had  been  his home for
much  of  his life. He  remembered  the days  when  the Keep  was a  hub  of
activity--not  as it once  had  been, he knew,  but alive with people of all
sorts. He found himself smiling at the memory.

     His smile  faded. Now  the  city was a  joyless sight,  forlorn without
people filling  the streets, people  talking from one balcony to  a neighbor
across the  street in another window, people gathering to trade goods in the
market. Not so long  ago men  would  have stopped to  have  conversations in
doorways  while vendors pulled carts of their wares along the narrow streets
and  children at  play skipped through the  throngs. Zedd  sighed at the sad
sight of such lifeless streets.

     At least those lives were safe, if a long way  from  home.  Although he
had many fundamental differences with the Sisters of the Light, he knew that
their  Prelate, Verna, and the  rest of  the  free Sisters  would watch over
     The only problem was that now  that Jagang  had nothing in Aydindril of
any real value to conquer except the Keep, and much to lose, he had  wheeled
his army east  toward the  remnants of the  Midland forces.  To be sure, the
D'Haran  army waited across those mountains  to the east and  Zedd knew  how
formidable they were, but he couldn't fool himself that they  stood a chance
against a force as immense as the Imperial Order.
     Jagang had left the city in order to go after those D'Haran forces. The
Imperial Order could not win the war by occupying an empty city; they needed
to crush any resistance once and for  all so that there  would be  no people
left who  could, by living prosperous, happy, peaceful lives, put the lie to
the Order's teachings.
     Now that  Jagang had  come all the way up through  the Midlands, he had
cleaved the New World. Forces had  been left all  along the route to  occupy
cities and towns. Now the main  force of the Order would turn its blood lust
east, on a lone  D'Hara.  By  dividing  the New World  in such a way, Jagang
would be able to more efficiently crush opposition.
     Zedd  knew that it wasn't  for  lack of  trying that the New  World had
given  ground.  He  and  Kahlan,  among  a  great many  others,  had  worked
themselves  sick, month after  month, trying to find a way to stop Ja-gang's

     Zedd clutched  his robes at his  throat,  at the painful memory of such
ferocious  fighting, at how nothing had worked against Jagang's numbers,  at
the  death  and dying, at the friends he  had lost. It was only a  matter of
time until all was lost to the hordes from the Old World.
     Richard and Kahlan would  not  survive  such a conquest by the Imperial
Order. Zedd's thin fingers covered his trembling lips at the ghastly thought
of them being lost, too.  They  were the only family he had  left. They were
everything to him.
     Zedd felt a crushing  wave of hopelessness, and had to sit on the stump
of a log section set outside a shoe  shop that had been boarded closed. Once
the Imperial Order finally annihilated  all opposition, Ja-gang would return
to take the city and lay siege to  the Keep. Sooner or later, he would  have
it all.
     The future, as Zedd imagined it,  seemed  to be a world shrouded in the
gray pall of  life under the  Imperial Order.  If the world fell  under that
pall, it would probably  be  a very long time before mankind ever emerged to
live free  again. Once  liberty  was  surrendered  to  tyranny, it  could be
smothered  for  centuries  before  its  flames  again  sprang  to  life  and
brightened the world.
     Zedd hadn't  sat  for long when he forced himself to his  feet. He  was
First Wizard. He  had been in hopeless  straits before and  had seen the foe
turned back. There was  still the possibility  that he  and Adie could  find
something in the  Keep that would aid them, or that they  might yet discover
information in the libraries that would give them a valuable advantage.
     As long as there  was life, they could fight on toward their goal. They
still had the ability to triumph.
     He harrumphed to himself. He would triumph.
     Zedd was glad that  Adie wasn't with  him to see him  in  such a  sorry
state that he would have--if even momentarily--considered defeat. Adie would
have never let him hear the end of it, and deservedly so.
     He harrumphed  again. He was  hardly  inexperienced, hardly without the
wherewithal  to handle  challenges that  arose. And if  there were assassins
about, gifted or  not, they  would find  themselves caught up by one  of the
many little surprises he had left around. Very nasty surprises.
     Chin  up,  Zedd smiled  to  himself as he  turned down a  narrow alley,
making his way past a patchwork of yards with empty pens that had once  held
chickens, geese, ducks,  and  pigeons.  His  gaze  passed  over  small  back
courtyards,  their herbs and  flowers  growing  untended,  their wash  lines
empty, their  wood and  other  materials stacked to the  sides,  waiting for
people to return and work them into something useful.

     Along the way  he stopped in various vegetable  gardens, harvesting the
volunteer crops that had sprung up. There was lettuce aplenty, spinach, some
small squash, green  tomatoes, and still a few peas. He collected his bounty
in a canvas sack and slung it over a shoulder as he walked the garden plots,
checking on the progress of irregular patches of  onions,  beets, beans, and
turnips. Still some growing to do, he concluded.
     While  the vegetables weren't thick from a careful planting, the random
growth in yards all over  the  city meant that he and Adie would  have fresh
vegetables for some time to come. Maybe she might even take to  putting some
things up  for next winter. They could store root crops in the colder places
in  the Keep, and preserve more  perishable vegetables. They would have more
food than they could eat.

     On  his  way up the  alley,  Zedd spied  a bush off toward the  corner,
sprawled green and lush over  a short  back  fence  between  two homes.  The
blackberry  bush was loaded  with ripe  berries. He  paused occasionally  to
check  up and down the streets beyond while he made a nice-sized pile of the
dark, plump berries in a square of cloth, then tied it up and placed it atop
the heavier goods in his sack.

     There were still plenty of ripe berries, and he hated to let them go to
waste, or to the birds, so he worked at filling his pockets. He didn't worry
that it would  spoil his dinner; it was a long walk back up  the mountain to
the Wizard's Keep,  so he could  use a snack. Adie  was  making a thick stew
from cured ham. There was no danger that he would spoil his appetite on mere
berries. She  would be  pleased  by the  vegetables he  brought and would no
doubt want  to add them to the stew straightaway. Adie was a wonderful cook,
although he dared not admit it  to  her  lest she get a big head. Before the
stone  bridge, Zedd paused, gazing back down the  wide  road  leading up the
mountainside. Only the wind in the trees and their shimmering leaves created
any sound or movement. For a  long  moment,  though,  he  stared down at the
empty road.
     Finally, he turned back to the bridge that in less  than three  hundred
paces  spanned a chasm with near vertical sides dropping  away for thousands
of feet.  Clouds far below hung hard  against  the sheer rock walls. Despite
the countless times he had  walked over the stone bridge, it  still made him
feel just a little queasy. Without wings, though, there was but this  single
way into the Keep--except for the little trick passage he had used as a boy.
     Because  of  their strategic role, Zedd had  placed  enough  snares and
traps along the bridge  and the rest of the road  up to the Keep that no one
was going to live for more than a few paces once they came close. Not even a
Sister  of the Dark could  trespass here.  A few  Sisters had  attempted the
impossible, and had paid with their lives.
     They would  have suspected such webs laid  by the First Wizard himself,
and felt some of the warning shields, but no doubt  Jagang had given them no
choice in the  matter and had sent them to attempt  entry, sacrificing their
lives for the greater good of the Order.
     Verna  had once  briefly been taken captive by the dream walker and she
had told Zedd all about the experience in the  hope  that they might  find a
counter, other  than  swearing  loyalty in one's heart to the  Lord Rahl and
thereby invoking the protection of the bond. Zedd  had tried, but there  was
no  countermagic  he could  provide. In  the great  war,  wizards  far  more
talented than  he, and with  both sides  of the gift,  had  tried  to devise
defenses against  dream walkers. Once the  dream  walker had  taken  over  a
person's mind, there was no defense; you had to  do his  bidding, regardless
of the cost, even if the cost was your life.

     Zedd suspected that  for a few, death was a  coveted  release from  the
agony of possession  by the dream walker. Suicide  was  a  course blocked by
Jagang; he needed  the talents of the Sisters and other gifted.  He couldn't
have  them all kill  themselves for release  from  the misery of life as his
chattel. But if he sent them to their certain death,  such as  attempting to
enter the Keep, then they could at last be free of the agony that had become
their life.
     Ahead, the Keep towered on the mountainside. The soaring  walls of dark
stone, intimidating to most people, offered Zedd the warm sense of home. His
eyes roamed the ramparts, and he remembered strolling there with his wife so
many years  ago--a lifetime ago, it seemed.  From  the  towers  he had often
looked  down at the beautiful  sight of Aydindril below. He had once marched
across the bridges and passageways to deliver orders  defending the Midlands
from an invasion from D'Hara, led by Darken Rahl's father.
     That, too, seemed  a lifetime ago. Now Richard,  his grandson, was  the
Lord Rahl,  and had succeeded in uniting most of the Midlands under the rule
of the  D'Haran Empire.  Zedd shook  his head at the  wonder  of it, at  the
thought of how Richard had changed everything. By  Richard's hand, Zedd  was
now a subject of the D'Haran Empire. What a wonder indeed.
     Before he reached the far side  of the  bridge, Zedd glanced down  into
the chasm. Movement caught his  attention. Putting  his bony fingers  on the
rough stone, he leaned out a little for a look. Below, but above the clouds,
he saw two huge birds, black as moonless midnight, gliding along through the
split in the mountain. Zedd had never  seen  the like  of them.  He couldn't
imagine what to make of the sight.
     When he turned  back to  the Keep,  he thought he saw three more of the
same  kind  of large  black birds flying together, high above  the Keep.  He
decided that  they  had to be ravens.  Ravens  were big.  He  must simply be
misjudging the distance--probably from lack  of food.  Concluding that  they
had to be ravens, he  tried to adjust his estimation  of their distance, but
they  were already gone.  He  glanced  down, but didn't see  the  other two,
     As he passed under the iron portcullis, feeling the warm embrace of the
Keep's spell, Zedd felt  a wave of loneliness.  He  so  missed  Erilyn,  his
long-dead wife, as well as his long-passed daughter,  Richard's mother, and,
dear spirits, he missed  Richard. He smiled then,  thinking of Richard being
with his own wife,  now. It was  still sometimes hard for  him  to  think of
Richard as  grown  into a man. He had had a  wondrous time  helping to raise
Richard. What a time  that had been  in his life, off in Westland, away from
the  Midlands,  away  from  magic  and responsibility,  with  just that ever
curious boy and a whole world of wonders to explore and show him.
     What a time  indeed.  Inside the Keep, lamps  along the wall obediently
sprang  to flame as First Wizard Zeddicus Zu'l  Zorander made his way  along
passageways  and  through  grand  rooms, deeper  into the  immense  mountain
fortress. As he passed the webs he'd placed, he checked the texture of their
magic to find that they  were  undisturbed.  He sighed in  relief. He didn't
expect that anyone would be foolish enough to try to enter the Keep, but the
world had fools  to spare. He didn't really like leaving such dangerous webs
cast all about the place, in addition to the often dangerous shields already
guarding the Keep, but he dared not relax his guard.
     As he passed a long side table in a  towering gathering hall,  Zedd, as
he had done since he was a  boy, ran his  finger along the smooth groove  in
the edge of the variegated chocolate-brown marble top.  He stopped, frowning
down at the table, and realized that it contained something he suddenly felt
the  want of: a  ball of fine black cord left there years ago to tie ribbons
and other decorations on the lamp brackets in the gathering hall to mark the
harvest festival.
     Sure enough, in the center drawer, he found  the ball of fine  cord. He
snatched  it  up  and slipped it into a pocket long emptied of  its load  of
berries. From the wall bracket beside the table, he  lifted a wand  with six
small bells. The wand, one of hundreds if not thousands throughout the Keep,
was  once used to  summon servants. He sighed  inwardly. It had been decades
since servants  and  their families  last  lived  in the Wizard's  Keep.  He
remembered their children running and  playing in the halls.  He  remembered
the joy of laughter echoing throughout the Keep, bringing life to the place.

     Zedd  told  himself that one day children  would again run and laugh in
the halls. Richard and Kahlan's children. Zedd's broad  smile  stretched his
     There were windows and openings in the stone that let light  spill into
many halls and rooms, but there were  other places less well lit. Zedd found
one of those darker places that was dim enough to satisfy  him. He stretched
a piece of the black cord, strung with one of the bells, across the doorway,
winding it around coarse stone molding  to each side. Moving  deeper through
the labyrinth of halls and passage-ways, he stopped and strung  more strings
with  a bell at places  where it would be hard  to  see. He  had to  collect
several more of the servant wands for a supply of bells.
     Although  there were shields  of magic  laced everywhere, there was  no
telling what powers some of the Sisters of the Dark possessed. They would be
looking for magic, not bells. It couldn't hurt to take the extra precaution.

     Zedd made  mental notes of  where he strung  the fine  black cord--  he
would have to let  Adie know. He doubted, though, that with her gifted sight
she would  need the  warning. He was sure that with her blind eyes she could
see better than anyone.
     Following the wonderful  aroma  of ham  stew, Zedd made his  way to the
comfortable room lined with bookshelves they used most of the time. Adie had
hung spices to dry from the low beams carved with ancient designs. A leather
couch  sat  before  a  broad  fireplace  and  comfortable  chairs  beside  a
silver-inlaid table  placed  in front of a  diamond-patterned leaded  window
with a breathtaking view overlooking Aydindril.
     The sun was setting, leaving the city below  bathed in a warm light. It
almost looked like it always did, except there was no telltale smoke curling
up from cooking fires.
     Zedd set his burlap sack loaded with his harvest on piles of books atop
a round mahogany table behind the couch. He shuffled closer to the fire, all
the while taking deep breaths to inhale the intoxicating aroma of the stew.
     "Adie,"  he called, "this smells delightful!  Have  you looked  outside
today? I saw the oddest birds."
     He smiled as he inhaled another whiff.
     "Adie--I think it must be done by now," he called toward the doorway to
the side pantry room. "I think we ought to taste it, at least. Can't hurt to
check, you know."
     Zedd glanced back over his shoulder. "Adie? Are you listening to me?"
     He went to the doorway and peered into the pantry, but it was empty.
     "Adie?"  he called down the stairs at the back of  the pantry. "Are you
down there?"
     Zedd's mouth twisted with discontentment when she didn't answer.
     "Adie?" he called again. "Bags, woman, where are you?"
     He turned back, peering at the stew bubbling in the kettle hung  on the
crane  over the  fire. Zedd  scooped up  a long  wooden spoon from a  pantry
     Spoon in hand, he stopped and leaned back toward the stairs. "Take your
time, Adie. I'll just be up here . .. reading."
     Zedd grinned and hurried for the stew.

     Richard  rose up in a rush when he saw Cara marching up a ravine toward
camp, pushing ahead of her a  man Richard vaguely recognized. In the failing
light, he couldn't make out the man's face. Richard scanned  the surrounding
flat washes, rocky hills, and steep tree-covered slopes beyond,  but  didn't
see anyone else.
     Friedrich was  off  to  the south and  Tom  to  the west,  checking the
surrounding country, as Cara had been, to be sure there was no one about and
that  it  was  a  safe  place  to spend the night; they were  exhausted from
picking a sinuous route through  the increasingly  rugged country. Cara  had
been  checking  north--the  direction they  were  headed  and  the direction
Richard considered  potentially the most dangerous. Jennsen turned  from the
animals, waiting to see who the Mord-Sith had with her.
     Once  on  his  feet,  Richard  wished  he  hadn't  gotten  up  quite so
quickly--doing so made him light-headed. He couldn't seem to  shake the odd,
disconnected  sensation he felt, as if  he were watching someone else react,
talk,  move. When he concentrated, forcing himself to focus  his  attention,
the feeling would sometimes drift at least partly away and he would begin to
wonder if it was only his imagination.
     Kahlan's hand slipped up on his arm, gripping  him as if she thought he
might fall.
     "Are you all right?" she whispered.
     He nodded as he watched Cara and the man as he also kept  an eye on the
surrounding countryside. By the end of  their ride earlier that afternoon to
discuss the book, Kahlan had become  even more worried about him. They  were
both  troubled about what he'd read, but Kahlan  was far more  concerned, at
the moment, anyway, about him.

     Richard suspected that he might  be  coming  down with a slight  fever.
That would explain why he was  feeling so cold when everyone  else was  hot.
From  time to time, Kahlan would feel his forehead or place the  back of her
hand against his cheek.  Her touch warmed his heart;  she ignored his smiles
as she  fretted  over him. She thought  that  he might be slightly feverish.
Once she  had Jennsen feel  his forehead  to see  if she thought he might be
warmer  than he should  be. Jennsen, too, thought  that, if  he  did  have a
fever,  it was minor. Cara,  so far,  had been  satisfied by Kahlan's report
that  he didn't  feel feverish,  and hadn't deemed it necessary to  see  for

     A  fever  was  just about  the last thing  Richard  needed. There  were
important... important, something. He couldn't seem to recall at the moment.
He concentrated  on trying to  remember the  young  man's name, or  at least
where he'd seen him before.

     The last rays of the setting sun cast  a pink glow across the mountains
to the east. The closer hills  were dimming to a soft gray  in the gathering
dusk. As darkness approached, the  low fire was beginning to tint everything
close around it a warm yellow-orange. Richard  had kept the cook fire small,
not wanting it to signal their location any more than necessary.

     "Lord Rahl," the man said in a reverent tone as he  stepped into  camp.
He dipped his head forward in a hesitant bow, apparently not sure if it  was
proper to bow or not. "It's an honor to see you again."
     He was perhaps a couple of years younger than Richard, with curly black
hair that brushed the  broad shoulders of his buckskin tunic. He wore a long
knife at his belt but  no sword. His ears stuck out to the sides of his head
as if  he were straining  to listen to every little  sound. Richard imagined
that as a boy he'd probably endured a lot of taunts  about his ears, but now
that  he was  a man  his ears  made  him look rather intent and  serious. As
muscular as the man  was, Richard doubted  that he still had to contend with
     "I'm . .. I'm sorry, but I can't quite seem to recall..."
     "Oh, no, you wouldn't remember me, Lord Rahl. I was only--"
     "Sabar,"  Richard  said  as  it came  to him. "Sabar.  You  loaded  the
furnaces in Priska's foundry, back in Altur'Rang."
     Sabar beamed. "That's right. I can't believe you remember me."
     Sabar had been one  of the men at the foundry able to have work because
of the supplies Richard hauled  to Priska  when no one else could. Sabar had
understood how hard Priska worked just to  keep his  foundry alive under the
oppressive, endless, and contradictory mandates of the Order. Sabar had been
there the  day the statue Richard carved  had been  unveiled; he had seen it
before  it  was  destroyed.  He  had  been there  at  the beginning  of  the
revolution in Altur'Rang, fighting close alongside  Victor, Priska, and  all
the others who had seized the moment when it was upon them. Sabar had fought
to help gain freedom for himself, his friends, and for his city.

     That had been a day everything had changed.
     Even though  this  man, like many  others,  had  been a subject  of the
Imperial Order--one of the enemy--he wanted to live  his own life under just
laws, rather than under the dictates of despots who extinguished any hope of
bettering  oneself under  the  crushing burden of  the  cruel illusion  of a
greater good.

     Richard   noticed,  then,   that  everyone   was  standing   in   tense
anticipation, as if they had expected this to be trouble.
     Richard smiled at Cara. "It's all right. I know him."
     "So he  told me," Cara  said. She put  a hand  on Sabar's  shoulder and
pushed him down. "Have a seat."
     "Yes," Richard said,  glad  to  see that Cara had  been fairly  amiable
about it. "Sit down and tell us why you're here."
     "Nicci sent me."

     Richard rose again  in  a  rush, Kahlan  coming  up  right beside  him.
"Nicci? We're on our way to meet her."
     Sabar  nodded,  rising into a half crouch, seeming not to be sure if he
was supposed to stand, since Richard and Kahlan had, or stay seated
     Cara hadn't sat down;  she stood behind Sabar like an executioner. Cara
had  been there  when  the  revolution  in Altur'Rang had started and  might
remember Sabar, but that would make no difference. Cara trusted no one where
the safety of Richard and Kahlan was concerned.

     Richard gestured for Sabar  to remain  seated. "Where is  she," Richard
asked as he and Kahlan sat down again,  sharing a seat on a bedroll. "Is she
coming soon?"
     "Nicci said to tell you that she waited as long as she could, but there
have been some urgent developments and she could wait no longer."
     Richard let out a disappointed sigh. "Some things came up for us, too."
Kahlan had  been captured and  taken to the Pillars  of Creation  as bait to
lure  Richard  into a trap. Rather  than go into all that, he kept the story
short and  to the point. "We were  trying to get to Nicci, but  needed to go
elsewhere. It was unavoidable."
     Sabar nodded. "I was worried when she returned to us and said  that you
had not shown up at  your meeting place, but she told us that  she was  sure
you were busy taking care of something important and that was the reason you
had not come.
     "Victor  Cascella,  the blacksmith,  was very  worried, too, when Nicci
told us  this. He  was thinking you  would  be returning with Nicci. He said
that other places he knows,  places  he  and Priska have  dealings  with for
supplies and such, are on the verge of revolt. These people have heard about
Altur'Rang,  how the Order  has  been overthrown there, and  how people  are
beginning to  prosper. He said  that he knows  free men in these  places who
struggle to survive  under the oppression  of the Order  as we once did, and
they hunger to be free. They want Victor's help.

     "Some of the Brothers  in  the  Fellowship  of Order who  escaped  from
Altur'Rang have gone  to these other places to insure that  such revolt does
not  spread   there.  Their  cruelty  in  punishing  any   they  suspect  of
insurrection  is costing the  lives  of many people, both  the  innocent and
those valuable to the cause of overthrowing the Imperial Order.

     "In order to insure their  control of the gears of  governance  and  to
ready the Order's defense against the  spread of the revolt, Brothers of the
Order have gone to all the important cities, Surely,  some of  these priests
have also gone to report to Jagang the fall of Altur'Rang, of the loss of so
many officials in  the fighting there, and of  the deaths of Brothers  Narev
and many of his close circle of disciples."

     "Jagang already knows of  the death  of Brother  Narev," Jennsen  said,
offering him a cup of water.
     Sabar  smiled his  satisfaction  at her news.  He  thanked  her for the
water, then leaned forward toward Richard and Kahlan as he went on with  his

     "Priska thinks the Order will want  to sweep away  the  success  of the
revolt in Altur'Rang--that  they  can't afford to let it stand. He said that
instead of  worrying about  spreading  the  revolt,  we  must  prepare, make
defenses, and have  every man stand ready because the Order will return with
the intent of slaughtering every last person in Altur'Rang."
     Sabar  hesitated, clearly  worried  about  Priska's  warning.  "Victor,
though, said we should hammer the iron while it is hot and create a just and
secure future for ourselves,  rather than wait for the Order to gather their
strength  to deny us that  future.  He says that if the revolt  is spreading
everywhere, the Order will not so easily stamp it out."
     Richard ran a weary hand across his face. "Victor is right. If those in
Altur'Rang try to sit alone as a singular place  of freedom in  the heart of
hostile enemy territory, the Order will sweep in and cut out that heart. The
Order  can't  survive on its perverted ideals and  they know it; that's  why
they must use force to sustain their  beliefs. Without that bully of  force,
the Order will crumble.
     "Jagang spent twenty years creating a system of roads to knit a diverse
and fractured Old  World together into the Imperial Order. That was but part
of the means of how he succeeded. Many resisted the rantings of his priests.
With roads  to swiftly respond  to  any  dissent, though, Jagang was able to
react quickly, to sweep in and kill those who openly opposed his new Order.
     "More  importantly, after  eliminating those  who  resisted the Order's
teachings, he filled the minds of children, who didn't know any better, with
blind faith in those  teachings,  turning them into zealots eager to die for
what  they were taught was a  noble  cause--sacrifice to some  all-consuming
greater good.
     "Those young men, their minds twisted with the teachings of  the Order,
are now off  to the north  conquering the New World, butchering any who will
not take up their altruistic tenets.
     "But while  Jagang  and that  vast army are to the north, that strength
there leaves  the Order weak  here. That weakness is our opportunity and  we
must capitalize on it. Now, while Jagang and his men  are absent, those same
roads he built down here will be our means of rapidly spreading the struggle
for freedom far and wide.

     "The torch of freedom has been lit by the will of those like you, those
in  Altur'Rang who seized liberty  for themselves. The  flames of that torch
must be held high, giving others the chance to see its light. If hidden  and
insulated, such flames will be extinguished by the Order. There may never be
another chance in  our lifetimes,  or  our children's  lifetimes,  to  seize
control of our own lives. That torch must be carried to other places."

     Sabar smiled, filled with quiet pride that he had been a part of it all
coming  to be. "I know that Victor would like for others, like Priska, to be
reminded of such things, of what the Lord  Rahl would say about what we must
do. Victor wants to talk to you before he goes to these places to  'pump the
bellows,' as he  put it.  Victor said that he  awaits your  word  on how you
would move next, on how best to 'put the white-hot iron to them'--again, his
     "So Nicci sent you to find me."
     "Yes. I was happy to go to you when she asked me. Victor will be happy,
too, not only that you are well but to hear what the Lord Rahl  would say to
     While  Victor was  awaiting  word, Richard also knew that  absent  such
word, Victor would  act. The revolution  did not revolve around  Richard--it
couldn't to be  successful--but  around the hunger  of  people to have their
lives back. Still, Richard needed to help coordinate the spreading revolt in
order  to be  sure it was  as effective  as  possible,  not just at bringing
freedom to those who sought it, but at crumbling the foundation of the Order
in the Old World. Only if they were  successful in toppling the rule  of the
Order in  the  Old World would Jagang's attention--and many of  his  men--be
pulled away from conquering the New World.
     Jagang intended to conquer the New World by  first dividing it. Richard
had to do the same if  he was  to succeed. Only dividing  the Order's forces
could defeat it.
     Richard knew that with  everyone evacuated from Aydindril, the Imperial
Order  would now  turn its swords  on D'Hara. Despite the competence  of the
D'Haran troops, they  would be  overwhelmed by the numbers that Jagang would
throw at  them. If the Order was not  diverted from its cause,  or  at least
divided  into  smaller  forces, D'Hara would  fall under  the  shadow of the
Order. The D'Haran  Empire,  forged to unite  the New World against tyranny,
would end before it had really gotten started.
     Richard  had to  get back to Victor and Nicci  so that  they could  all
continue  what  they  had begun--devising  the  most effective  strategy  to
overthrow the Imperial Order.
     But they were running out of time to resolve another problem, a problem
they didn't yet understand.
     "I'm  glad you found us, Sabar. You can tell Victor and Nicci  that  we
need to see to something first, but as soon as we  do, we'll be able to help
them with their plans."
     Sabar looked relieved. "Everyone will be happy to hear this."
     Sabar hesitated, then tilted  his  head,  gesturing north. "Lord  Rahl,
when I came to find you, following the directions Nicci gave me, I went past
the area where she was to meet with you, and then I continued coming south."
Worry stole  into his expression. "Not  many  days ago, I  came to a  place,
miles wide, that was dead."
     Richard looked up. He realized that his  headache seemed to be suddenly
gone. "What do you mean, dead?"
     Sabar waved his hand  out toward the evening gloom.  "The  area where I
was  traveling  was much like this place; there  were some trees, clumps  of
grass, thickets of brush." His voice  lowered.  "But then I came  to a place
where everything that grew ended.  All at the same place.  There was nothing
but rock beyond. Nicci had not told me that I would come to such  a place. I
admit, I was afraid."
     Richard  glanced to  his right--to the east--to the  mountains that lay
beyond. "How long did this dead place last?"
     "I walked, leaving life behind, and I  thought I might  be walking into
the underworld itself." Sabar looked away from Richard's eyes. "Or into  the
jaws of some new weapon the Order had created to destroy us all.

     "I  came to be  very afraid and  I was going to turn back.  But  then I
thought about how the Order made me  afraid my whole life, and I didn't like
that feeling. Worse, I thought about how I would stand before Nicci and tell
her I turned around rather than go to Lord Rahl as she asked of me, and that
thought made me ashamed, so  I went on.  In several  miles  I came again  to
growing things."  He let out a breath. "I was  greatly relieved,  and then I
felt a little foolish that I had been afraid."
     Two. That now made two of the strange boundaries.
     "I've been to places like that, Sabar, and I can tell you that  I, too,
have been afraid."
     Sabar broke into a grin. "Then I was not so foolish to be afraid."
     "Not foolish at all. Could  you tell  if this dead area was  extensive?
Could you tell  if  it was more than just a patch of open rock  in that  one
place?  Could  you  see if  it  ran in  a  line,  ran in  any  direction  in
     "It was like  you  say, like a line." Sabar flicked his hand toward the
east. "It came down out of the far mountains, north of that  depression." He
held  his hand flat like  a  cleaver, and sliced  it  downward  in the other
direction. "It ran off to the southwest, into that wasteland."
     Toward the Pillars of Creation.
     Kahlan leaned close and  spoke  under her breath. "That would be almost
parallel to the boundary we crossed  not  far back  to the south.  Why would
there be two boundaries so close together? That makes no sense."
     "I don't know,"  Richard whispered to her. "Maybe whatever the boundary
was protecting was so dangerous that whoever placed it feared that one might
not be enough."
     Kahlan  rubbed her  upper arms  but didn't comment. By the look  on her
face, Richard knew how  she felt about such a notion--especially considering
that those boundaries were now down.
     "Anyway,"  Sabar said  with a self-conscious  shrug, "I was happy I did
not turn back, or  I would have had to face Nicci after she had asked  me to
help Lord Rahl--my friend Richard."

     Richard  smiled. "I'm glad, too, Sabar. I  don't think that  place  you
went through is a  danger any  longer, at  least not a danger the way it was
     Jennsen could contain her curiosity no longer. "Who is this Nicci?"
     "Nicci is  a sorceress," Richard said. "She used  to be a Sister of the
     Jennsen's eyebrows went up. "Used to?"
     Richard nodded. "She worked to further Jagang's  cause, but she finally
came to see how wrong  she had  been and joined our side." It was a story he
didn't  really feel like going into.  "She now  fights  for us. Her help has
been invaluable."
     Jennsen  leaned in, even  more astonished.  "But can you trust  someone
like that,  someone who had labored  on behalf of Jagang? Worse, a Sister of
the Dark? Richard, I've been with some of those women,  I  know how ruthless
they are. They may have to do as Jagang  makes them, but they're  devoted to
the Keeper  of the  underworld.  Do you really think you can trust with your
life that she will not betray you?"
     Richard  looked  Jennsen in the eye.  "I trust you with a knife while I
     Jennsen  sat  back up.  She  smiled,  more  out of  embarrassment  than
anything else, Richard thought. "I guess I see your point."
     "What else did Nicci say," Kahlan asked, keen to get back to the matter
at hand.
     "Only that I must go in her place and meet you," Sabar said.
     Richard knew that Nicci was being cautious. She didn't want to tell the
young man too much in case he was caught.
     "How did she know where I was?"
     "She said  that she  was able to tell where you were by magic. Nicci is
as powerful with magic as she is beautiful."
     Sabar said  this in a tone of awe. He didn't know the half of it. Nicci
was one of the  most powerful sorceresses ever  to have lived.  Sabar didn't
know that when Nicci was  laboring toward the ends  sought by the Order, she
was known as Death's Mistress.
     Richard surmised that Nicci  had somehow used the bond to the Lord Rahl
to find him. That bond  was loyalty sworn in the heart, not by rote, and its
power  protected those so sworn from the dream walker  entering their minds.
Full-blooded D'Harans, like Cara, could tell through the bond where the Lord
Rahl  was. Kahlan had  confided to him that she  found it unnerving the  way
Cara always  knew where  Richard was. Nicci  wasn't D'Haran, but she  was  a
sorceress and she  was  bonded to Richard, so she might have  been  able  to
manipulate that bond to tell where he was.

     "Sabar, Nicci must have  sent you to  us for  a reason,"  Richard said,
"other than to say that she couldn't wait for us at our meeting place."
     "Yes, of course," Sabar said  as he nodded hastily, as  if chagrined to
have to be reminded. "When I asked her what I was to say to you, she told me
that  she had put it all in  a letter." Sabar opened the leather flap of the
pouch at his belt. "She said that when she realized how far away you  really
were, she was distraught and couldn't take the  time to journey to  you. She
told me that it was important for me to be sure I found you and gave you her
letter. She said the letter would explain why she could not wait."
     With one finger and a thumb, Sabar lifted out the letter, looking as if
he were handling a deadly viper instead of a small roll sealed with red wax.
     "Nicci told me that  this is dangerous," he explained, looking up  into
Richard's eyes.  "She said that if anyone but you opened it, I should not be
standing too close or I would die with them."
     Sabar carefully  laid  the rolled  letter on Richard's palm.  It warmed
appreciably  in his hand. The red wax  brightened,  as if lit by  a  ray  of
sunlight even though  it was getting dark.  The glow  spread from the wax to
envelop the whole length  of the rolled letter. Fine cracks raced all across
the red  wax,  like  autumn ice on a pond breaking up under the weight  of a
foot placed on it. The wax suddenly shattered and crumbled away.
     Sabar swallowed.  "I hate  to think of  what  would  have  happened had
anyone but you tried to open it."
     Jennsen leaned in again. "Was that magic?"
     "Must have been," Richard told her as he started to unroll the letter.
     "But I saw it fall apart," she said in a confidential tone.
     "Did you see anything else?"
     "No, it just all of a sudden crumbled."
     With a thumb and finger, Richard  lifted some  of the disintegrated wax
from his palm. "She probably put a web of magic around the  letter and keyed
that spell  to my touch. If anyone else had tried to break that  web to open
the letter it  would have  ignited the spell. I guess that my touch unlocked
the seal.  You saw the result of  the magic--the broken seal--not  the magic

     "Oh, wait!" Sabar smacked his forehead with the flat of his palm. "What
am I thinking? I'm supposed to give you this, too."
     Shrugging the straps off his shoulders and down his arms, he pulled his
pack around  onto his lap. He quickly undid  the leather thongs  and reached
inside,  then  carefully  lifted  out  something wrapped  in  black  quilted
material.  It was only about a foot tall but not very big around. By the way
Sabar handled it, it appeared to be somewhat heavy.

     Sabar set the wrapped object on the  ground,  upright,  in front of the
fire. "Nicci told me that  I should give this  to you, that the letter would
explain it."

     Jennsen leaned  in a little, fascinated by  the mystery of the  tightly
wrapped object. "What is it?"
     Sabar shrugged. "Nicci didn't  tell me." He made a face that  suggested
he was somewhat uncomfortable with the way he was in the dark  about much of
the mission he'd been  sent on. "When Nicci looks at you and tells you to do
something, it goes out of your head to ask questions."

     Richard smiled to himself as he began to unroll the letter. He knew all
too well what Sabar meant.
     "Did Nicci say anything about who could unwrap that thing?"
     "No, Lord Rahl. She just said to give it to you, that  the letter would
explain it."
     "If it had a  web around it, like the  letter, she  would  have  warned
you." Richard looked  up.  "Cara," he said, gesturing at the bundled package
sitting  before the fire, "why don't you unwrap it  while Kahlan and  I read
the letter."
     As Cara sat cross-legged on the ground and started working on the knots
in the leather thongs around the black quilted wrap, Richard held the letter
sideways a bit so that Kahlan could read it silently along with him.
     Dear Richard and Kahlan,
     I  am sorry that  I cannot  tell  you everything right now that I would
have you know,  but there  are urgent matters  I must see to and  I dare not
delay. Jagang has initiated something I  considered impossible.  Through his
ability as  a dream walker, he has forced Sisters of the Dark he controls to
attempt to create  weapons out of people, as was done during  the great war.
This is dangerous  enough  in itself,  but  because Jagang does not have the
gift,  his understanding of such things  is very crude.  He  is a blundering
bull  trying to use  his  horns to  knit lace. They are  using the  lives of
wizards as the fodder for his experiments. I don't yet know the exact extent
of their  success, but  I fear to discover the results. More  of this  in  a
     First,  the  object  I  sent. When  1  picked up  your trail and  began
tracking it to  where we were to meet, I discovered this. I believe you have
already come across it because  it has been touched by  a principal involved
in the matter or involved with you.
     The object is a  warning beacon. It  has been  activated--not  by  this
touch, but by events. I cannot overstate the danger it represents.
     Such objects  could only be made by the wizards of  ancient  times; the
creation of such an object required both Additive and Subtractive Magic, and
required the gift of both to  be  innate. Even then, they are so rare that I
have never actually seen one.
     I have, however, read  about them down in  the vaults at  the Palace of
the Prophets.  Such warning beacons are kept viable  by  a link to  the dead
wizard who created them.
     Richard sat back and let out a troubled breath. "How can such a link be
possible?" Kahlan asked.
     He hardly had to read  between the lines to  be able to tell that Nicci
was warning him in the gravest possible terms.
     "It  has  to be linked somehow  to the underworld,"  Richard  whispered
     Little  points of firelight danced in her  green eyes as she stared  at
     Kahlan glanced again  at Cara as  she worked at the knots,  pulling off
one  of  the leather thongs around an object linked to  a dead wizard in the
underworld. Kahlan held up the edge of the letter as she urgently read along
with him.
     From what  I know  of such warning beacons,  they monitor  powerful and
vital   protective  shields  created  to  seal   away  something  profoundly
dangerous. They are paired. The first beacon is always amber. It is meant to
be  a  warning to the one who caused the breach of the seal. The  touch of a
principal  or  one  involved  with a  principal  kindles  it  so  it  may be
recognized for what  it is and  serve as it  was  intended--as  a warning to
those involved.  Only after alerting the one it is  meant to warn  can it be
destroyed. I send it to be absolutely certain you have seen it.
     The precise nature of  the  second  beacon is  unknown to  me, but that
beacon is meant for the one able to replace the seal.
     I don't  know the nature of the seal or what it was protecting. Without
doubt, though, the seal has been breached.
     The source of the  breach, while not the specific cause activating this
beacon, is self-evident.
     "Oh, now wait a minute," Cara  said, standing,  backing away as if  she
had released a  deadly plague from the  black quilting, "it  isn't  my fault
this time." She pointed down at it. "You told me to, this time."
     The translucent statue Cara had touched before now stood  in the center
of its unfolded black quilted wrapping.
     It was the same statue: a statue of Kahlan.
     The statue's  left arm was pressed  to  its  side, the  right  arm  was
raised,  pointing. The  statue, in an hourglass shape,  looked as if it were
made of transparent amber, allowing them to see inside.
     Sand  trickled  out of  the top  half  of the  hourglass,  through  the
narrowed waist, into the bottom of the full dress of the Mother Confessor.
     The sand was still trickling  down, just  as it had been the last  time
Richard  had seen  the thing. At  that time, the top half had been more full
than the bottom half. Now, the top held less sand than the bottom.
     Kahlan's face had gone ashen.
     When he'd first seen it, Richard wouldn't have needed Nicci to tell him
how dangerous such  a  thing was. He hadn't wanted any of them to touch  it.
When they  had first  come across it,  in a recess of rock beside the trail,
looking almost like part  of the rock itself, the thing was  opaque,  with a
dull, dark surface, yet it was clearly recognizable as Kahlan. It  was lying
on its side.
     Cara wasn't pleased to  find such a thing and  didn't  want to  leave a
representation of  Kahlan lying about for  anyone to find and to pick up for
who-knew-what.  Cara  snatched  it up, then, even  though Richard started to
yell at her to leave such a thing be.
     When she picked it up, it started turning translucent.
     In a panic, Cara set it back down.
     That was when the right arm had lifted and pointed east.
     That was when  they could  begin to  see  through the thing, to see the
sand inside trickling down.
     The implied  danger of the sand  running  out had them all upset.  Cara
wanted to pick  it up again and turn it over, to stop the sand from falling.
Richard,  not  knowing  anything about such an  object and doubting that  so
simple a solution would have any beneficial effect,  hadn't  allowed Cara to
touch it again. He had piled rocks and brush around it so no one  else would
know it was there. Obviously, that hadn't worked.
     He  knew  now  that  Cara's  touch  had  nothing to do  with  what  was
happening,  except to initiate  the  warning, so he thought to  confirm  his
original belief. "Cara, put it down."
     "On its side--like  you wanted to do the last time--to see if that will
stop the sand."
     Cara stared at  him for a moment and  then used the toe  of her boot to
tip the figure over on its side.
     The sand continued to run as if it still stood upright.
     "How can the  sand do that?" Jennsen asked, sounding quite shaken. "How
can the sand still fall--how can it fall sideways?"
     "You can see it?" Kahlan asked. "You can see the sand falling?"
     Jennsen  nodded. "I  sure can,  and I have to tell  you, it's giving my
goose bumps goose bumps."
     Richard could only  stare at her staring at  the statue of Kahlan lying
on its  side.  If nothing else, the sand running sideways through the statue
had to be magic. Jennsen  was a  pillar of Creation, a hole  in the world, a
pristinely  ungifted offspring of Darken Rahl. She should not be able to see
     And yet, she was seeing it.
     "I  have  to agree with the young lady," Sabar  said. "That's even more
frightening than those  big black birds that I've seen circling for the last
     Kahlan straightened. "You been seeing--"
     When he heard Tom's urgent warning yell,  Richard rose  up  in  a rush,
drawing his sword in one swift  movement. The unique sound of ringing  steel
filled the night air.
     The magic did not come out with the sword.

     KahIan  ducked to the side, out of harm's  way,  as  Richard pulled his
sword free. The distinctive ring of steel being  drawn in anger  fused  with
Tom's  warning yell  still echoing through  the surrounding hills to  send a
flash of fright tingling across her flesh. As she stared  out into the empty
blackness of the  surrounding night, her  instinct was to  reach for her own
sword, but she had packed it in the  wagon rather than wear it, so as not to
raise suspicions  about who  they might be--women in the  Old  World did not
carry weapons.
     By the light of the fire, Kahlan could clearly see  Richard's face. She
had seen  him  draw the Sword of Truth countless  times  and in a variety of
situations, from that very first time when Zedd, after giving him the sword,
commanded  him  to  draw  it  and  Richard tentatively  pulled  it from  its
scabbard, to times he  pulled  it free in the heat  of battle, to times like
this when he drew it suddenly in defense.
     When Richard  drew the sword, he was also drawing its attendant  magic.
That  was the function of the weapon; the magic had  not been created simply
to defend the  sword's true owner, but, more importantly, to be a projection
of his intent. The Sword of Truth was not even really a talisman, but rather
a tool, of the Seeker of Truth.
     The true weapon was the rightly named Seeker who wielded the sword. The
sword's magic answered to him.
     Each and every one of the times Richard had drawn the sword, Kahlan had
seen that magic dancing dangerously in his gray eyes.
     This was the first time he had drawn the sword that she didn't see  the
magic in his eyes; the raptor's glare was pure Richard.
     While seeing him  draw the  sword without seeing its concomitant  magic
evident in his eyes  shocked her, it seemed  to surprise  Richard even more.
For an instant he hesitated, as if mentally stumbling.
     Before  they  had  time  to even wonder what had prompted Tom's warning
yell, shadowy shapes slipping through the cover of the nearby trees suddenly
stormed out of the darkness and into their midst.  The sudden sound and fury
of bloodcurdling cries filled the  night  air as men rampaged into the camp,
lit at last by firelight.
     They didn't appear to be  soldiers--they weren't wearing uniforms-- and
they weren't attacking  as soldiers would, with weapons drawn. Kahlan didn't
see any of the men brandishing swords or axes or even knives.
     Weapons or not, there were a lot of  men and they yelled  fierce battle
cries as if they intended nothing short of  bloody murder. She knew, though,
that the sudden shock of deafening noise was a tactic designed to render the
intended target powerless with fright, making them easier to cut  down.  She
knew because she used such tactics herself.
     Blade in  hand, Richard was  fully  in his  element; focused, resolute,
ruthlessly committed--even without his sword's attendant magic.
     As assailants  charged  in, the sword, driven  by  Richard's own wrath,
flashed  through the air,  a  flash of crimson light from the fire's  flames
reflected  along the blade's length, lending it a fleeting  stain of red. In
that charged moment of attack met,  there  was a  split  second  when Kahlan
feared that without the sword's magic, it all might go terribly wrong.
     In  an  instant, the  camp  that  had  been  so  quietly  tense  became
pandemonium. Although the attackers weren't dressed like soldiers, they were
all big and  as  they  swept in there  was no doubt  whatsoever as  to their
hostile intent.
     A  man  rushing onward  threw  his arms  up to seize Richard before his
sword could be brought to bear.  The sword's tip whistled as it came around,
driven by deadly commitment. The blade severed  one of the man's raised arms
before exploding  through his skull.  The  air above the fire  filled with a
spray of blood, bone, and  brain. Another man lunged. Richard's sword ripped
through his chest. In the space of two blinks, two men were dead.
     The  magic at  last  seemed to slam into Richard's  eyes, as if finally
catching up with his intent.
     Kahlan couldn't make  sense of  what  the men were doing. They attacked
without weapons drawn, but they  seemed no less fierce for it. Their  speed,
numbers, and  size,  and the angry  look of  them, were  enough to make most
anyone tremble in fright.
     From  the darkness, more men  rushed in on them. Cara stepped  into the
path of the attack, lashing out with her Agiel. Men  cried out in horrifying
pain when her  weapon  made contact, causing hesitation among the attackers.
Sabar, knife to hand, tumbled to the  ground  with  one of the  men  who had
seized him from behind. Jennsen ducked away  from another  man snatching for
her hair. As she spun away from him, she slashed his  face  with her  knife.
His cries joined a strident chorus of others.
     Kahlan realized that  it  wasn't just men  yelling, but the horses were
also  screaming  in  fright. Cara's Agiel against  a  bull  neck  brought  a
terrifying shriek. Men yelled with effort and shouted  orders that  were cut
off abruptly as Richard's  sword tore through them. All  the  yelling seemed
directed at the task of overwhelming the four of them.
     Kahlan understood, then, what was going on. This  was not an attempt to
kill, but to capture. For these men, killing would be a great mercy compared
to what they intended.
     Two of the burly men  dove  across the fire,  arms spread wide as if to
tackle Richard and  Kahlan. Cara reached out and seized a  fistful of shirt,
abruptly  spinning one of  the two around. She drove her Agiel into his gut,
dropping him to his  knees. The other man unexpectedly encountered Richard's
sword  thrust straight  in with formidable muscle  driving it. The scream of
mortal  pain  was brief before the sword slashed his  throat. Cara, standing
above the  man on his knees, pressed her Agiel to his chest and  gave  it  a
twist that dropped him instantly.
     Already, Richard was  leaping over the fire to penetrate into the brunt
of the  attack. As his boots landed with a thud, his sword cut  the man atop
Sabar nearly in two, spilling his viscera across the ground.
     The man  Jennsen had slashed rose up only to be met by her knife driven
by desperate  fright. She jumped  back  as he tumbled forward, clutching the
base of his throat where  she had severed his windpipe. Cara snagged the man
Jennsen didn't see going for her back. The Mord-Sith,  her face a picture of
savage resolve, held her Agiel to his throat, following him to the ground as
he choked on his own blood.
     Then, among  the men Richard ripped into, Kahlan  saw the knives coming
out. The men abandoned  their failed  attempt to bring him down  by grabbing
and overpowering him, and decided,  instead,  to knife him. If anything, the
threat of the knives served  only to further unleash  Richard's fury. By the
look in  his  eyes, the  sword's  magic seemed  to be fully  engaged  in the
     For an instant,  Kahlan  stood transfixed by  the sight  of Richard  so
ruthlessly  committed  to self-defense  that  the  act  of killing  became a
graceful manifestation  of art--a dance with death. Compared  with Richard's
fluid  movements,  the men  blundered  like  bulls.  Without wasted  motion,
Richard slipped among them as if  they  were statues,  his  sword delivering
unrestrained violence. Each thrust met a vital area of the enemy. Each swing
sliced through flesh and bone. Each turn met an attack and crushed it. There
was no  lost  opportunity,  no slash that missed, no  thrust gone  wide,  no
bobble that only slightly  wounded. Each time he spun past the thrust  of  a
blade, met a rush, or turned to a new attack, he cut without mercy.
     Kahlan was furious that she didn't have her sword. There was no telling
how many more  men there were. She knew all too well  what it was like to be
helpless  and  overwhelmed by  a gang of men. She started edging  toward the
     Jennsen and Sabar were both tackled by a burly man diving in out of the
darkness. As they  hit  the  ground, the man  landed atop them, knocking the
wind from them. His big hands  pinned  their  wrists to  the ground, keeping
their knives at bay.
     Richard's  blade swept past  with  lightning speed, slicing  across the
man's  back,  severing  his spine.  Richard  went  to a  knee  as he turned,
whipping the  sword around to impale  another attacker rushing  in at a dead
run, trying to get to Richard before he could recover. The look on the man's
face was a picture of  horrified surprise  as  he ran instead onto Richard's
sword, running  it into his  own chest up  to the  hilt. The heavy  man atop
Jennsen and Sabar convulsed, unable to draw a breath, as they threw him off.
Richard,  still on one knee,  yanked the sword free as  the mortally wounded
man fell past him.
     As  another man  rushed into  camp,  looking around, trying  to get his
bearings, Cara slammed her Agiel against his neck. As he crumbled, she drove
her elbow up to smash the face of a  man following  the first  in, trying to
grab  her from behind while she  was occupied. Crying out, his hands covered
crushed bone and gushing blood. She spun and kicked him between the legs. As
he fell forward,  his hands going  to  his groin, she broke his jaw with her
knee, turned, and dropped a third man by slamming her Agiel to his chest.
     Another  attacker threw himself  at  Sabar, knocking  him  back.  Sabar
lashed out with his knife, making solid contact. Another man saw the opening
and snatched  up  Nicci's letter  lying  on the ground. Kahlan  dove for the
letter  in his fist,  but missed as  he yanked his hand back before  dashing
away. Jennsen blocked his escape. He straight-armed her  as he charged past.
Jennsen was  knocked reeling, but came around to bury her knife between  his
shoulder blades.
     Jennsen managed to keep hold of her knife,  twisting it  forcefully, as
the man arched his back with a gasp of pain and then a  bellow of anger that
withered to  a wet burble before it was fully out of  his  lungs. Jenn-sen's
knife had  found  his heart. He staggered, stumbled, and fell onto the fire.
The flames whooshed to life as his clothing ignited. Kahlan  tried to snatch
the letter  from his fist as  he  writhed in horrifying pain,  but, with the
intensity of the heat, she couldn't get close enough.
     It  was already too late, though;  the  letter she and Richard had only
had  a chance  to partially read flared briefly before transforming to black
ash that disintegrated and lifted skyward in the roar of flames.
     Kahlan  covered her mouth and  nose,  gagging on the  stench of burning
hair and flesh as she  was driven back by  the heat. Though  it  seemed like
hours of fighting, the assault had only just begun and  already men lay dead
everywhere as yet more of the big men joined the attack.
     As she  recoiled from the flames and her futile  attempt to recover the
lost letter, Kahlan turned again toward the wagon, toward her sword.
     She looked up  and  saw a man who seemed as big as  a mountain charging
right at her, blocking her way. He grinned at seeing  that he had run down a
woman without a weapon.
     Beyond the man,  Kahlan saw  Richard. Their eyes  met. He had taken his
sword to the bulk of the attack, trying  to cut it down before it could  get
to the rest of them, trying to  end  it before  harm could get to any of the
rest of them.
     He couldn't be everywhere at once.
     He wasn't close enough to get to her in time. That didn't stop him from
trying. Even as he  did, Kahlan discounted the attempt. He was too far away.
The effort was futile.
     Looking into the eyes of the man  she  loved more than life itself, she
saw his pure rage; she  knew  that Richard  was seeing  a face  that  showed
nothing: a Confessor's  face, as her  mother  had  taught  her. And then the
racing enemy came between them, blocking their sight of one another.
     Kahlan's vision focused on the man bearing down on her. His arms lifted
like a bear lost in a mad charge. His teeth were gritted with determination.
A grimace  twisted his face in his wild effort to reach her before she could
dodge to the side, before she had a chance to escape.
     She knew he was too close for her to have that chance and so she didn't
waste any effort in a useless attempt.
     This one  had made  it past  the killing.  He  had avoided Jennsen  and
Sabar.  He had  figured his attack to skirt Richard's blade while  making it
past Cara's Agiel as she turned to another man.  He hadn't charged in  madly
like the rest; he had delayed just enough to time his onslaught perfectly.
     This one knew he was on the verge of having what he sought.
     He  was far  less than a heartbeat away,  plunging  toward  her at full
     Kahlan  could  hear  Richard's scream even as her gaze met the gleam of
the man's dark eyes.
     The man let out a cry of rage as he lunged. His feet left the ground as
he  sailed  through  the  air  toward  her. His  wicked  grin  betrayed  his
     Kahlan  could  see his eyeteeth hooked over his cracked lower  lip, saw
the dark  tooth in the front of the  top row between his other yellow teeth,
saw  the little white hook of a scar, as if he had once been eating  with  a
knife and  had  accidentally  sliced  the corner  of his mouth.  His stubble
looked like wire. His left eye didn't open as  wide as  his right. His right
ear had a big V-shaped notch taken out of the upper portion. It reminded her
of the way some farmers marked their swine.
     She could see her own reflection in his dark eyes as her right arm came
     Kahlan wondered  if he  had  a wife, a woman who cared for  him, missed
him, pined for him. She wondered if he might  have children, and, if he did,
what  a man like this would teach his children. She had a momentary flash of
the  ugliness it  would  be to have this  beast  atop her, his wire  stubble
scraping  her cheek raw, his cracked  lips  on hers, his yellow teeth raking
her neck as he lost himself in what he wanted.
     Time twisted.
     She  held  out  her  arm.  The man  crashed in toward her. She felt the
coarse  weave of his dark brown shirt as the flat of her hand met the center
of his chest.
     That  heartbeat of time  she  had before he was  atop  her  had not yet
begun. Richard had not yet managed to take a single frantic step.
     The weight of the bear of a man against her hand felt as if it were but
a  baby's breath. To Kahlan, it seemed  as if he were frozen in space before
     Time was hers.
     He was hers.
     The  rush of  combat, the cries,  the yells, the  screams; the stink of
sweat and blood; the flash  of  steel, the clash of bodies;  the curses  and
growls; the fear, the terror, the heart-pounding dread... the  rage  ... was
no longer there for her. She was in a silent world all her own.
     Even though she had been born with it  and had always felt  it there in
the  core  of  her being,  the awesome power  within,  in  many ways, seemed
incomprehensible,  inconceivable,  unimaginable,  remote. She knew it  would
seem that way  until  she let  her  restraint slip, and then she  would once
again be joined with a  force  of such  breathtaking magnitude that it could
only  be  fully  comprehended as  it was being experienced. Although she had
unleashed it more times than she could remember,  no matter how prepared she
was the extraordinary violence of it always still astonished her.
     She regarded the man before her  with  cold calculation, ready for that
     As he had charged in on her, time had belonged to this man.
     Now time belonged to her.
     She  could feel  the  thread count of the fabric of his shirt, feel his
woolly chest hairs beneath it.
     The heart-pounding shock of  the sudden attack, the violence of it, was
gone now. Now there was only this man and her, forever linked by what was to
happen. This man had consciously chosen his own fate when he chose to attack
them. Her certainty of what was  called for carried  her beyond the need for
the assessment of  emotion,  and  she felt none--no joy, not even relief; no
hate, not even aversion; no compassion, not even sorrow.

     Kahlan shed those  emotions to make way  for the rush of power, to give
it free run.
     Now he had no chance.
     He was hers.
     The man's face was contorted with the intoxicated, gloating glee of his
certitude  that he was the glorious victor  who would have  her, that he was
now the one to decide what was to become of her life,  that  she was but his
to plunder.
     Kahlan unleashed her power.
     By her  deliberate  intent,  the subordinate state  of  her  birthright
instantly altered into  overpowering force able to alter the  very nature of

     In the  man's dark eyes  had come the spark of suspicion that something
which he could not comprehend had irrevocably begun. And then there came the
lightning  recognition  that  his  life, as  he  had  known  it,  was  over.
Everything he wanted, thought about, worked toward,  hoped  for, prayed for,
possessed, loved, hated ... was ended.
     In her eyes he saw no  mercy, and that, more than anything, brought him
stark terror.
     Thunder without sound jolted the air.
     In that instant, the violence of it was as  pristine, as  beautiful, as
exquisite, as it was horrific.
     That  heartbeat  of time Kahlan had before he  was on her had still not
yet begun.
     She could see in the man's eyes that even thought  itself was  too late
for him, now. Perception itself  was being  outpaced  by the race  of brutal
magic tearing through his mind, destroying forever who this man had been.
     The force of the concussion jolted the air.
     The stars shuddered.
     Sparks  from  the fire lashed  along  the  ground  as the  shock spread
outward in a ring, driving dust before its passing. Trees shook when  hit by
the blow, shedding needles and leaves as the raging wave swept past.
     He was hers.
     His full  weight  flying  forward  knocked  Kahlan back a  step as  she
twisted out of  the way.  The  man flew past her and crashed  to the ground,
sprawling on his face.
     Without an instant  of hesitation, he scrambled  up onto his knees. His
hands came up in prayerful supplication. Tears flooded his eyes.  His mouth,
which only  an instant before was so  warped with perverted expectation, now
distorted with the agony of pure anguish.

     "Please, Mistress," he wailed, "command me!"
     Kahlan  regarded  him, for  the first time in  his  new life,  with  an
emotion: contempt.

     O'nly the  sound of Betty's soft, frightened bleating  drifted out over
the  otherwise silent  campsite. Bodies lay  sprawled haphazardly across the
ground.  The attack appeared  to  be  over. Richard,  sword in hand,  rushed
through the  carnage to get to  Kahlan. Jennsen stood  near the  edge of the
fire's light, while Cara checked the bodies for any sign of life.
     Kahlan left the man she had just touched with her power kneeling in the
dirt, stalking past him toward  Jennsen. Richard met her halfway there,  his
free arm sweeping around her with relief.
     "Are you all right?"
     Kahlan nodded, quickly appraising  their  camp,  on the lookout for any
more attackers, but saw only the men who were dead.
     "What about you?" she asked.
     Richard  didn't  seem to  hear  her  question. His arm slipped from her
waist. "Dear spirits," he said, as he  rushed to one of the bodies lying  on
its side.
     It was Sabar.
     Jennsen  stood not  far away, trembling with  terror, her knife held up
defensively in  a fist, her eyes wide. Kahlan gathered Jennsen  in her arms,
whispering assurance that it was over,  that it was ended, that she was  all
     Jennsen clutched at Kahlan. "Sabar--he was--protecting me--"
     "I know, I know," Kahlan comforted.
     She  could see  that  there was no urgency in Richard's movements as he
laid Sabar on his back. The young man's arm flopped lifelessly to the  side.
Kahlan's heart sank.
     Tom ran into camp,  gasping for air.  He  was streaked  with  blood and
sweat. Jennsen wailed and flew into his arms.  He embraced her protectively,
holding her head to his shoulder as he tried to regain his breath.
     Betty bleated  in dismay  from beneath  the wagon,  hesitantly emerging
only  after Jennsen  called  repeated encouragement to her. The  puling goat
finally rushed to Jennsen and huddled trembling against her skirts. Tom kept
a wary watch of the surrounding darkness.
     Cara calmly  walked among the  bodies,  surveying them for  any sign of
life. With most,  there could be no question. Here and there she  nudged one
with  the  toe of  her boot, or with the  tip  of  her Agiel. By her lack of
urgency, there was no question that they were all dead.
     Kahlan put  a tender  hand  to  Richard's  back  as  he crouched beside
Sabar's body.
     "How many people must die," he asked in a low,  bitter  voice, "for the
crime of wanting to be free, for the sin of wanting to live their own life?"
     She saw that he still held the Sword of Truth in a white-knuckled fist.
The  sword's  magic,  which  had  come  out  so  reluctantly,  still  danced
dangerously in his eyes.
     "How many!" he repeated.
     "I don't know, Richard," Kahlan whispered.
     Richard  turned  a glare  toward the man across the camp,  still on his
knees, his hands  pressed together in  a beseeching gesture  begging  to  be
commanded, fearing to speak.
     Once touched by a Confessor, the person was no longer who they had once
been. That part  of  their mind was forever gone.  Who  they were, what they
were, no longer existed.
     In its  place  the  magic  of a  Confessor's  power  placed unqualified
devotion to  the  wants and  wishes  of the Confessor who  had touched them.
Nothing else mattered. Their  only purpose in life, now, was to  fulfill her
commands, to do her bidding, to answer her every question.
     For one thus touched, there  was no crime they wouldn't confess, if she
asked it of them. It was  for  this alone that  Confessors had been created.
Their purpose, in a way, was the same as the Seeker's--the truth. In war, as
in all other  aspects  of life, there was no  more important  commodity  for
survival than the truth.
     This man, kneeling not far away, cried in  abject misery because Kahlan
had asked nothing of him. There could be no agony more ghastly, no void more
terrifying, than to be empty of knowing her wish. Existence without her wish
was pointless. In the absence of her command, men touched by a Confessor had
been known to die.
     Anything she now asked  of him, whether  it  be  to tell  her his name,
confess his  true love's  name, or to murder his beloved mother, would bring
him boundless joy because he would finally have a task to carry out for her.
     "Let's find out what this is all about," Richard said in a low growl.
     In exhaustion, Kahlan stared at the man on his  knees. She was so weary
she could hardly stand. Sweat trickled down between  her breasts. She needed
rest,  but this problem was  more  immediate  and  needed to be attended  to
     On  their  way  to  the  man  waiting  on his knees,  his  eyes  turned
expectantly up  toward Kahlan, Richard halted. There, in the dirt before his
boots,  was the  remains  of the statue Sabar  had  brought  to them. It was
broken  into a hundred  pieces, none of them  any longer recognizable except
that those pieces were still a translucent amber color.
     Nicci's letter had said that they didn't need the  statue, now  that it
had given its warning--a warning that Kahlan had somehow broken a protective
shield sealing away something profoundly dangerous.
     Kahlan  didn't know  what the seal protected, but  she feared  that she
knew all too well what she had done to break it.
     She feared even more that, because of her, the magic of Richard's sword
had begun to falter.
     As Kahlan  stood staring down at  the  amber fragments ground  into the
dirt, despair flooded into her.
     Richard's  arm  circled  her  waist.  "Don't  let your  imagination get
carried away. We  don't know what  this  is  about, yet.  We  can't  even be
certain that it's true--it could even be some kind of mistake."
     Kahlan wished that she could believe that.
     Richard finally slid his sword back into its scabbard.  "Do you want to
rest first, sit a bit?"
     His concern for her took precedence over everything. From the first day
she met him, it always had. Right then, it was his well-being that concerned
     Using  her power sapped a Confessor  of strength.  It  had  left Kahlan
feeling not only weak, but, this time, nauseated. She had been named  to the
post of Mother Confessor,  in part, because her power was so strong that she
was  able to recover it in hours; for others it had taken a day or sometimes
two. At the thought of all those other Confessors, some of whom she'd dearly
loved, being  long dead, Kahlan felt the weight of hopelessness  pulling her
even lower.
     To fully recover her  strength, she would need  a night's rest. At  the
moment,  though,  there were more important considerations, not the least of
which was Richard.
     "No," she said. "I'm all right.  I can rest later.  Let's ask  him what
you will."
     Richard's  gaze moved over the campsite littered with  limbs, entrails,
bodies. The ground was soaked with blood. The stench of  it  all, along with
the still  smoldering body beside the fire,  was making Kahlan sicker by the
second. She turned away from the man on his knees, toward Richard,  into the
protection of his arms. She was exhausted.
     "And  then let's get away  from this place," she said. "We need to  get
away from here. There might  be more men  coming." Kahlan worried that if he
had to draw the sword again, he might  not  have the  help of its magic. "We
need to find a more secure camp."
     Richard nodded his agreement. He looked over her head as he held her to
his  chest.  Despite everything, or perhaps  because of  everything, it felt
wonderful simply to be held. She could hear Friedrich just rushing back into
camp,  panting as  he ran.  He  stumbled to  a halt as  he let out a moan of
astonishment mixed with revulsion at what he saw.
     "Tom, Friedrich," Richard asked, "do you have any idea if there are any
more men coming?"
     "I don't think  so,"  Tom said. "I think they  were together. I  caught
them coming up a gully. I was going to try to make it back here to warn you,
but four  of them came over a rise and jumped  me while the rest ran for our
     "I  didn't see anyone, Lord Rahl," Friedrich said, catching his breath.
"I came running when I heard the yelling."
     Richard acknowledged Friedrich's words with  a  reassuring hand on  the
man's shoulder. "Help Tom get the horses hitched. I don't want  to spend the
night here."
     As the two men sprang into action, Richard turned to Jennsen.
     "Please lay out some bedrolls  in the back of  the wagon, will you? I'd
like Kahlan to be able to lie down and rest when we move out."
     Jennsen  patted Betty's shoulder,  urging  the goat to follow her.  "Of
course, Richard." She hurried off to the wagon,  Betty trotting along  close
at her side.
     As everyone rushed as quickly as possible to get their things together,
Richard  went by himself to an open patch  of ground nearby to dig a shallow
grave.  There was no time for  a  funeral pyre. A lonely  grave was the best
they could do, but Sabar's spirit was gone, and wouldn't fault the necessity
of their hurried care for his body.
     Kahlan  reconsidered  her thought.  After the  letter  from  Nicci  and
learning the meaning of the warning beacon,  she now had even more reason to
doubt that many things, including spirits, were still true. The world of the
dead was connected to the world  of the  living by links of magic. The  veil
itself was magic and said to be within those  like Richard. They had learned
that without magic those links themselves could fail, and that, since  those
other worlds  couldn't  exist  independent  of the world of  life,  but only
existed in a  relational  sense to the world  of life, should the links fail
completely,  those other  worlds might very well cease  to  exist--much  as,
without the sun, the concept of daytime would not exist.
     It was now clear to Kahlan that the world's hold on magic was slipping,
and had been slipping for several years.
     She knew the reason.
     Spirits,  the good and the bad,  and the  existence  of everything else
that depended  on magic, might  soon be lost. That  meant  that  death would
become final, in every sense of the word. It could even be that there was no
longer the possibility of being with a  loved one after  death,  or of being
with the good spirits. The good spirits, even the  underworld itself,  might
be passing into nothingness.
     When  Richard was finished, Tom helped him gently place Sabar's body in
the  ground. After Tom spoke quiet  words asking  the  good spirits to watch
over one of their own, he and Richard covered the body over.
     "Lord Rahl," Tom said  in a low  voice when they were  finished, "while
some  of  the men began the attack  on you,  here,  others slit  the horses'
throats before joining their fellows to come after you four."
     "All the horses?"
     "Except  mine. My draft horses  are  pretty big. The  men were probably
worried about getting  trampled. They  left some men to take care of  me, so
these here thought  they had me out of the way. They probably  figured  they
could worry  about the draft horses later, after  they had the rest of you."
Tom shrugged his broad shoulders. "Maybe  they even  planned to capture you,
tie you up, and take you in the wagon."
     Richard  acknowledged  Tom's  words with a single  nod.  He  wiped  his
fingers across his forehead.  Kahlan  thought he looked worse than she felt.
She could  see that the headache had returned and was crushing him under the
weight of its pain.
     Tom looked around  their  camp, his gaze  playing over  the fallen men.
"What should we do with the rest of the bodies?"
     "The races can have the rest of them," Richard said without hesitation.
     Tom didn't look to have any disagreement with that. "I'd better go help
Friedrich finish  getting  the horses  hitched  to the wagon.  They'll  be a
handful with the  scent  of blood  in their nostrils  and the  sight of  the
others dead."
     As Tom went to see  to his horses,  Richard called to  Cara. "Count the
bodies," he told her. "We need to know the total."
     "Richard,"  Kahlan asked in a  confidential tone after  Tom was out  of
earshot and Cara had started stepping over  some  of  the bodies and between
others, going about the task of taking a count, "what happened when you drew
the sword?"
     He didn't ask what she meant or try to spare her from worry.
     "There's something  wrong with  its  magic. When  I  drew the sword, it
failed to heed my call. The men were rushing in and I couldn't delay in what
I had to do. Once I met the attack, the magic finally reacted.
     "It's  probably  due  to  the  headaches  from the gift--they  must  be
interfering with my ability to join with the sword's magic."
     "The  last  time you  had the  headaches they didn't interfere with the
sword's power."
     "I told you, don't let your imagination get carried away. This has only
happened since I've started getting  the headaches again. That has to be the
     Kahlan  didn't know  if  she dared  believe him, or if he  really  even
believed  it  himself. He  was right, though. The problem with  the  sword's
magic had only recently developed--after he started getting the headaches.
     "They're getting worse, aren't they?"
     He nodded. "Come on, let's get what answers we can."
     Kahlan let out a  tired sigh, resigned to that part of  it. They had to
use this chance to find out what information was now available to them.
     Kahlan turned to the man still on his knees.

     The man's tearful eyes gazed pleadingly  up at Kahlan as she stepped in
front of him. He had been waiting, alone and without her wishes, for quite a
while and as a result was in a state of dire misery.
     "You are  to come with us," Kahlan told him in a cold tone. "You are to
walk  in front of the  wagon for now,  where  we can keep an eye on you. You
will obey the orders  of  any of  the others with  me as  you would obey  my
orders. You will answer all questions truthfully."
     The  man fell to his belly on the ground, in  tears, kissing her  feet,
thanking her profusely  for at last commanding him. Groveling on the ground,
with that V-shaped notch in his ear, he reminded her of nothing so much as a
     Fists at  her side, Kahlan screamed "Stop  that!"  She didn't want this
murdering pig touching her.
     He  sprang  back   instantly,  aghast   at  the  rage  in   her  voice,
horror-struck that she was displeased with him. He cringed motionless at her
feet, his  eyes wide, fearful that  he would do  something else to displease
     "You aren't in a uniform,"  Richard said to the man. "You and the other
men aren't soldiers?"
     "We're soldiers, just not regular soldiers,"  the man said  with  eager
excitement to be able  to answer the question and thus do Kahlan's  bidding.
"We're special men serving with the Imperial Order."
     "Special? How are you special?"
     With a hint of uncertainty in his wet eyes, the man looked nervously up
at  Kahlan. She gave  him no sign. She had already told him that he  was  to
follow  all their orders. The man, at last  certain of her intention, rushed
to go on.
     "We're a special unit of  men--with the army--our task  is  to  capture
enemies of the Order--we have to pass tests to be sure we're able men--loyal
men--and that we can accomplish the missions we're sent on--"
     "Slow down," Richard said. "You're talking too fast."
     The man glanced quickly at Kahlan, his eyes  filling with tears that he
might have displeased her, too.
     "Go on," she said.
     "We don't wear uniforms or let our purpose be known," the man said with
obvious  relief that if he continued it would  satisfy her. "Usually we work
in  cities, searching out insurrectionists. We mingle  with people, get them
to think of us as one of them. When they plot against the Order, we go along
until we find out the names of all those  involved  and then we capture them
and turn them over for questioning."
     Richard stared  down  at  the man for a  long time, his face showing no
reaction. Richard  had  been in  the  hands  of  the Order and "questioned."
Kahlan could only imagine what he must have been thinking.
     "And  do you hand over only those who  you know  to be plotting against
the Order?" Richard asked.  "Or  do you simply turn in those you suspect and
anyone who they know?"
     "If we suspect  they might be plotting--like if they keep to themselves
and their own group, and won't open their lives  to other  citizens--then we
turn them  in to be questioned so  that it can be determined what they might
be hiding." The man licked his  lips, keen to tell them  the  full extent of
his  methods. "We  talk to those  they work with, or neighbors, and get  the
names of anyone  they associate  with, any of their  friends--sometimes even
their closest  family members. We  usually take at least some  of them, too,
and  turn  them  over  for questioning.  When they're  questioned, they  all
confess their crimes against the Order  so that proves  our suspicions about
them were right."
     Kahlan thought that Richard might draw his  sword and behead the man on
the  spot. Richard knew all too well what they did to those who were brought
in, knew how hopeless was their plight.
     Confessions obtained under torture often  provided  names of anyone who
might be suspicious for any reason, making  the job of torturing a very busy
profession.  The people  of  the Old World lived in constant fear that  they
would be taken to one of the many places where people were questioned.
     Those pulled in were rarely guilty  of plotting against the Order; most
people were too  busy just trying to survive, trying to feed their families,
to have  time  to plot  to overthrow the rule  of the  Imperial  Order. Many
people did, however, talk about a better life, about what they would like to
do, to grow, to create, to own,  about their hopes that their children would
have a better life than theirs. Since mankind's duty  was  sacrifice  to the
betterment of their fellow  man, not  to their own betterment, that, to  the
Imperial Order, was not just insurrection, but blasphemy. In the  Old World,
misery was a widespread virtue, a duty to a higher calling.
     There  were others  who  didn't dream of a better life,  but dreamed of
helping the Order  by  turning in  the names  of those who spoke ill  of the
Order, or hid food  or even a  bit of money, or talked  of  a  better  life.
Turning in such "disloyal citizens" kept yet other fingers  from pointing at
the informer. Informing became an indicator of sanctity.
     Instead of drawing his sword, Richard changed the subject. "How many of
you were there, tonight?"
     "Including me, twenty-eight," the man said without delay.
     "Were you all together in one group when you attacked?"
     The  man nodded, keen to admit their whole plan and thus gain Kah-lan's
approval. "We wanted to make sure you and, and..." His eyes turned to Kahlan
as  he  realized  the incompatibility  of  his  two  goals--  confessing and
pleasing the Mother Confessor.
     He  burst  into  tears, clasping his  hands prayerfully.  "Forgive  me,
Mistress! Please, forgive me!"
     If  his voice was the  quintessence of emotion, hers was the  opposite.
"Answer the question."
     He brought his sobbing to a  halt  in order  to  speak as  he  had been
commanded. Tears, though,  continued  to stream down his filthy cheeks.  "We
stayed together for a  focused attack, so we could be sure that  we captured
Lord  Rahl  and,  and... you, Mother Confessor.  When  trying  to  capture a
good-size group we split up,  with half  holding back to look for anyone who
might  try to slip away, but  I told the men  that I wanted the both of you,
and you  were said to be together, so this was  our chance. I didn't want to
run the risk that you would  have any hope of fighting us off, so I  ordered
all the men to the attack, having some cut the throats of the saddle horses,
first, to prevent any possibility of escape."
     His face brightened. "I never suspected that we might fail."
     "Who sent you?" Kahlan asked.
     The man shuffled forward on his  knees, his hand tentatively  coming up
to touch her leg. Kahlan remained motionless,  but by her icy glare  let him
know that touching her would displease her greatly. The hand backed away.
     "Nicholas," he said.
     Kahlan's  brow  twitched. She had been expecting him  to say Jagang had
sent him.
     She was wary of the possibility that the dream walker might be watching
through this man's eyes. Jagang had  in the past sent assassins after he had
slipped into their  thoughts. With Jagang  in a person's mind,  he dominated
and  directed them,  and even  Cara could  not control  them. Nor, for  that
matter, could Kahlan.
     "You're lying to me. Jagang sent you."
     The man fell to pitiful  weeping.  "No,  Mistress!  I've  never had any
dealings  with His Excellency. The  army is vast and  far-flung. I  take  my
orders from those  in my  section.  I don't  think  that the ones they  take
orders  from, or  their  commanders,  or  even  theirs,  are worthy  of  His
Excellency's  attention.  His  Excellency is far to the north,  bringing the
word of the Order's salvation to a  lawless and savage people; he would  not
even be aware of us.
     "We are but a lowly squad  of men with the muscle  to snatch people the
Order wants, either for questioning or to silence them. We are all from this
part of the empire and so we were called upon because we were here. I am not
worthy of the attention of His Excellency."
     "But Jagang has visited you--in your dreams. He has visited your mind."
     "Mistress?"  The  man looked terrified  to have to  question her rather
than answer her question. "I don't understand."
     Kahlan stared. "Jagang has come into your mind. He has spoken to you."
     He looked sincerely puzzled as he shook his head. "No, Mistress. I have
never met His  Excellency.  I  have  never dreamed about  him--I  don't know
anything  about him, except that Altur'Rang has the honor of being the place
where he was born.
     "Would you like me to kill him for you, Mistress? Please, if it is your
wish, allow me to kill him for you?"
     The man didn't know how preposterous such a notion was;  in his  desire
to  please her, though, if  she commanded  it  he would be only too happy to
make the attempt. Kahlan turned her back on the man as Richard watched him.
     She  leaned toward  Richard  a bit as  she  spoke quietly, so  the  man
wouldn't  hear. "I  don't know if those  visited  by the dream  walker  must
always be aware of it, but I think they would  be. The ones I've seen before
were mindful of Jagang's presence in their mind."
     "Couldn't the  dream  walker  slip into a person's  mind without  their
being aware of it just so he could watch us?"
     "I suppose it's possible," she said. "But think of all the  millions of
people  in the Old World--he can't know whose mind to enter so he can watch.
Dream walker or not, he is only one man."
     "Are you gifted?" Richard asked the man.
     "Well," Richard  whispered, "Nicci told me that  Jagang rarely  bothers
with the ungifted. She said  that it was difficult for him  to take the mind
of the  ungifted,  so he  simply uses the gifted  he controls  and has  them
control the ungifted for him.  He has all the Sisters he's captured  that he
has  to  worry about. He  has to maintain his  control over  them and direct
their actions--including  what we started  to read in  Nicci's letter--about
how he's guiding  the Sisters in altering people into weapons.  Besides that
he heads the  army and plans strategy. He has a lot  of things to manage, so
he usually confines himself to the minds of the gifted."
     "But not always. If he has to, if  he needs to, if he wants  to, he can
enter the minds of the ungifted. If  we were  smart," Kahlan whispered,  "we
would kill this man now."
     As they  spoke,  Richard's glare never left the man. She knew  he would
not hesitate to agree unless he thought the man might still be of use.
     "I  have but to  command  it," Kahlan reminded  him,  "and he will drop
     Richard took in her eyes for a moment, then turned  back to the man and
frowned. "You said someone named Nicholas sent you. Who is this Nicholas?"
     "Nicholas is a fearsome wizard in the service of the Order."
     "You saw him. He gave you these orders?"
     "No. We  are too lowly  for one such as he  to bother with us. He  sent
orders that were passed down."
     "How did you know where we were?" Richard asked.
     "The orders included  the general  area. They said  that we should look
for  you  coming north at the eastern edge of the desert wasteland and if we
found you we were to capture you."
     "How did Nicholas know where we were?"
     The man blinked,  as if searching his mind to see if he had the answer.
"I don't know. We weren't  told how he  knew. We were told only that we were
to search this area and if we found you we were to bring you both in, alive.
The  commander who passed on  the orders  told me not  to fail or  the Slide
would be very displeased with us."
     "Who would be displeased? ... The Slide?"
     "Nicholas  the  Slide. That is what he's  called. Some people just call
him 'the Slide.' "
     Frowning, Kahlan turned back to the man. "The what?"
     The man began trembling at her frown. "The Slide, Mistress."
     "What does that mean? The Slide?"
     The man fell to  wailing, his hands clasped together again as he begged
her forgiveness. "I don't  know, Mistress. I don't know. You asked  who sent
me, that is his name. Nicholas. People call him the Slide."
     "Where is he?" Richard asked.
     "I don't know,"  the man blurted out as he wept. "I  received my orders
from my commander. He said that a Brother of the Order brought the orders to
his commander."
     Richard  took a deep breath  as he rubbed the back  of his neck.  "What
else do you know about this Nicholas, other than that he's a wizard and he's
called 'the Slide'?"
     "I only know to fear him, as do my commanders."
     "Why? What happens if you displease him?" Kahlan asked.
     "He impales those who displease him."
     With the stench of blood and burning flesh,  along with the  things she
was hearing, it was all Kahlan could do to keep from being sick. She  didn't
know how much longer her stomach could take it if they stayed in this place,
if this man told her anything else.
     Kahlan  gently  grasped   Richard's  forearm.  "Please,  Richard,"  she
whispered, "this isn't really getting us anything very useful. Please, let's
get out of here? If we think of anything, we can question him more later."
     "Get  out in front of the wagon," Richard said  without  hesitation. "I
don't want her having to look at you."
     The man bobbed his head and scrambled away.
     "I don't think Jagang  is  in  his mind," Kahlan said, "but what if I'm
     "For now, I think we should keep him alive. Out  in front of the wagon,
Tom  will have a clear view of him. If we're wrong, well, Tom  is very quick
with  his  knife." Richard let  out a shallow breath.  "I've already learned
something important."
     His hand in the small of her back started  her moving. "Let's get going
and I'll tell you about it."
     Kahlan could see the wagon waiting in  the distant darkness. Tom's eyes
followed  the man as he ran out  in front of  the big draft horses and stood
waiting. Jennsen and Cara were in the back of the wagon. Friedrich sat up on
the seat beside Tom.
     "How many?" Richard called to Cara as they approached the wagon.
     "With the four out in the hills that Tom  took  care  of, and this one,
here, twenty-eight."
     "That's all of them, then," Richard said with relief.
     Kahlan felt his hand on  the small of her back slip away. He  staggered
to a halt. Kahlan paused  beside him, not knowing why he'd  stopped. Richard
sank to one knee. Kahlan dropped down beside him, throwing an arm around him
for support. He squeezed his eyes shut in pain. With his arm  pressed across
his abdomen, he doubled over.
     Cara leaped over the side of the wagon and raced to their side.
     Despite how exhausted Kahlan was,  panic jolted  her  instantly to full
alert. "We need to  get to the sliph," she said to Cara as  well as Richard.
"We need to get to Zedd and get some answers--and some help. Zedd can help."
     Richard drew labored breaths, unable  to speak  as he  held his  breath
against a wave of agony. Kahlan felt helpless not knowing what to do to help
     "Lord Rahl," Cara said,  kneeling before him, "you have been taught  to
control pain. You must do that,  now." She seized  a fistful of his hair and
lifted his  head to be  able to  look into his eyes. "Think," she commanded.
"Remember. Put the pain in its place. Do it!"
     Richard clutched her forearm as if to thank her for her words. "Can't,"
he finally managed to say to Kahlan through his obvious suffering. "We can't
go in the sliph."
     "We must," she insisted. "The sliph is the fastest way."
     "And  if  I step  down  into the  sliph,  breathe  in that  quicksilver
creature--and my magic fails?"
     Kahlan was frantic.  "But  we must go in  the  sliph to get there in  a
hurry." She feared to say "in time."
     "And  if anything is  wrong, I'll die." He panted,  trying to catch his
breath against the  pain. "Without magic, breathing the sliph is death.  The
sword is failing me." He swallowed, coughed, gasped for  breath. "If my gift
is  causing the headaches, and that's making magic falter in me, and I enter
the sliph,  I will be dead after I take the first  breath. There's no way to
test it."
     An  icy  wave of  terror shot through  her veins.  Getting to Zedd  was
Richard's only hope. That had been her plan. Without help, the  headaches of
the gift would kill him.
     She  feared,  though, that she knew why  the  magic of  his  sword  was
failing, and it  wasn't the  headaches. She feared that  it  was in fact the
same  thing  that  had  caused  the  seal to be broken. The  warning  beacon
testified that she was the cause of that. If it was true, then she  was  the
cause of that and much more.
     If she was right, she realized, if it was true,  then Richard was right
about  the sliph--going  into  the sliph  would indeed be death.  If she was
right, then he wouldn't even be able to call  the sliph, much less travel by
     "Richard Rahl, if you're going  to throw  mud on my best ideas then you
had better have an idea of your own to offer in its place."
     He was gasping, now, in the clutch of violent pain. And then Kahlan saw
blood when he coughed.
     Tom,  looking  alarmed, raced up  beside  them. When he  saw  the blood
running down Richard's chin, he turned ashen.
     "Help him to the wagon," Kahlan said, trying to keep her voice steady.
     Cara  put her shoulder under his arm. Tom circled an arm around Richard
and helped Kahlan and Cara lift him to his feet.
     "Nicci," Richard said.
     "What?" Kahlan asked.
     "You wanted to know if I had an  idea. Nicci." He  gasped in  pain  and
struggled to  get his breath.  Yet more blood came  when  he coughed. It was
dripping off his chin.
     Nicci was a sorceress, not  a wizard. Richard needed a  wizard. Even if
they  had  to travel  overland, they  could  race  there. "But Zedd would be
better able--"
     "Zedd  is too far," he said. "We need to get to Nicci. She can use both
sides of the gift."
     Kahlan hadn't thought of that. Maybe she really could help.
     Halfway to the wagon, Richard  collapsed.  It was all  they could do to
hold  up his  dead weight.  With Tom gripping him  under  the backs  of  his
shoulders and Cara and Kahlan each holding a leg, they ran the rest  of  the
way to the wagon.
     Tom,  without  the need of help  from Cara  and Kahlan, hoisted Richard
into the back of the wagon. Jennsen hurriedly unfurled another bedroll. They
laid  Richard out as carefully  as they  could. Kahlan felt  as  if she were
watching herself react, move, talk. She  refused to allow herself to give in
to panic.
     Kahlan and Jennsen tried to lean in, to see how he was, but Cara shoved
them back out of the  way.  She  bent over Richard,  putting  her ear to his
mouth, listening.  Her fingers  felt for a pulse at the  side of his throat.
Her other hand cupped the back of  his  neck, no doubt preparing to hold him
to give him the breath of  life if  she had to. Mord-Sith were knowledgeable
about such things;  they knew how  to keep people alive in  order to  extend
their torture. Cara knew how to use that knowledge to help save lives, too.
     "He's breathing," Cara said  as she straightened. She laid a comforting
hand on Kahlan's arm. "He's breathing easier now."
     Kahlan nodded  her thanks, unwilling  to  test  her voice. She moved in
closer to Richard,  on the  other side, while Cara wiped the blood  from his
chin and mouth. Kahlan felt helpless. She didn't know what to do.
     "We'll  ride  all night,"  Tom said  over his shoulder as he climbed up
into the driver's seat.
     Kahlan forced herself to think. They had to get to Nicci.
     "No,"  she said.  "It's a  long way  to Altur'Rang. We're not near  any
roads; picking  our way  cross country in  the dark  is foolhardy. If  we're
reckless  and push too  hard we'll just end up  killing the horses--or  they
could break a leg,  which would  be  just as bad.  If we lose the horses, we
can't very well carry Richard all the way and expect to make it in time.
     "The wisest thing  to do is  to go just as fast as we possibly can, but
we also  have to get rest  along  the  way to be ready should we be attacked
again. We have to use our heads or we'll never make it."
     Jennsen held Richard's hand in both of hers. "He has that headache, and
he  fought all those  men--maybe if  he can just get some  sleep,  he'll  be
better, then."
     Kahlan was buoyed by that thought,  even though she didn't think it was
that simple.  She stood in the wagon bed, looking out at the man waiting for
her to command him.
     "Are there any more of you? Any more sent  to  attack us or capture us?
Did this Nicholas send anyone else?"
     "Not that I'm aware of, Mistress."
     Kahlan spoke softly to Tom. "If he even looks like he's  going to cause
any trouble, don't hesitate. Kill him."
     With a nod, Tom  readily agreed.  Kahlan  dropped back  down  and  felt
Richard's brow. His skin was cold and wet.
     "We'd best go on until we find a place that will be easier to defend. I
think Jennsen is right that he needs rest; I  don't think bouncing around in
the back of this wagon is going to help him. We'll all need to get some rest
and then start out at first light."
     "We need to find a horse," Cara said. "The wagon is too slow. If we can
find a horse, I'll ride  like the wind, find Nicci, and start back with her.
That way we don't have to wait all the way until we get there in the wagon."
     "Good idea." Kahlan looked up at Tom. "Let's get going--find a place to
stop for the night."
     Tom nodded as he threw off the brake. At his  urging, the horses heaved
their weight against the names and the wagon lurched ahead.
     Betty, puling  softly,  lay  beside an unconscious Richard and  put her
head down on his shoulder. Jennsen stroked Betty's head.
     Kahlan  saw  tears  running  down Jennsen's cheeks.  "I'm  sorry  about
     Betty's head came up. She let out a pitiful bleat.
     Jennsen nodded. "Richard will be all right," she said, her voice choked
with tears as she took Kahlan's hand. "I know he will."

     Zedd thought he heard something.
     The spoonful of stew he was about to put into his waiting mouth paused.
He remained motionless, listening.
     The Keep often had sounded alive to him,  as if it were breathing. Once
in  a  while  it even  sounded as if it were letting  out a small sigh. Ever
since  he was a boy,  Zedd had, on occasion, heard loud  snaps that he never
could  trace.  He suspected such sounds  were most likely the massive  stone
blocks moving just a tad, popping as they yielded ground against a neighbor.
There  were stone blocks  down in the foundations of  the Keep that were the
size of small palaces.
     Once, when Zedd  was no more than ten or twelve, a  loud crack had rung
through the entire Keep as if the place had been struck with a giant hammer.
He ran out of the  library,  where  he'd been studying, to see  other people
coming  out of  rooms  all up  and down  the hall, looking about, whispering
their worries to one another. Zedd's father had later  told  him that it was
found  to  be  nothing  more than one of the huge foundation blocks cracking
suddenly, and while  it posed no structural problem, the abrupt snap of such
an enormous  piece of granite had been  heard throughout the Keep.  Although
such  occurrences  were rare,  it was  not  the  last  time he  heard such a
harmless, but frightening, sound in the Keep.
     And then  there were the animals. Bats flew unrestricted through  parts
of the Keep.  There were towers that soared to dizzying heights, some  empty
inside but for  stone stairs curving up around the inside of  the outer wall
on their way up to a  small room at the top,  or an observation deck. In the
dusty streamers of sunlight penetrating  the dark interiors of those  towers
there could be seen myriad bugs flitting about. The bats loved the towers.
     Rats,  too,  lived in parts  of  the Keep. They  scurried and squeaked,
sometimes  causing  a  fright.  Mice were  common  in places,  making  noise
scratching and gnawing at things. And then there were the cats, offspring of
former mousers and pets, but  now all wild, that lived  off the rats and the
mice. The cats  also  hunted the  birds  that flew  in and out  of uncovered
openings to feed on bugs, or to build nests up in high recesses.
     There were sometimes awful  sounds when a bat, a mouse, a bird, or even
a cat  went somewhere they weren't permitted. The shields were meant to keep
people away from dangerous or restricted areas, but they were also placed to
prevent unauthorized access to many of the items stored and preserved in the
Keep.  The  shields  guarded against life; they made  no distinction between
human and nonhuman life.
     Otherwise,  after  all,  a  pet  dog that  innocently  wandered into  a
restricted  area  could  theoretically  retrieve  a  dangerous talisman  and
proudly take it to a child master who could be put in peril by it. Those who
placed  the  shields  were aware that it was also possible for  unscrupulous
people  to  train  animals to go  to restricted areas,  snatch whatever they
might be able to carry, and bring it to them.  Not knowing what animal might
potentially be trained for  such a task,  the shields were made to ward  all
life. If a bat flew into the wrong shield, it was incinerated.
     There were shields  in the Keep  that  even Zedd could not  get through
because they required both sides of the gift and he had only the Additive.
     Some of the shields took the form of a barrier of magic that physically
prevented passage in some way, either by restricting movement or by inducing
a  sensation so unpleasant that  one wouldn't  force  oneself  beyond. Those
shields  were meant to  prevent  ungifted people  or children from  entering
certain  areas,  not to  prevent  entrance  to  the gifted, so  it  was  not
necessary for those shields to kill.
     But such shields only worked for those who were ungifted.
     In other places, entrance was  strictly  forbidden to anyone but  those
with not only  the appropriate  ability, but  proper authority. Without both
the  appropriate  ability  and  authority  granted by  spells  keyed  to the
particular  defenses  in  that  area,  such as  metal plates that had  to be
touched by an  authorized wizard, the shields  killed whatever entered them.
The shields killed animals as infallibly, as effectively, as they would kill
any intruder.
     Such dangerous shields gave warnings of heat,  light, or  tingling as a
warning so  as to prevent people from unintentionally going near them--after
all,  with the  size of the place, it was easy  enough  to become lost. Such
warnings  worked for  the  animals,  too, but  occasionally  a cat  chased a
panicked mouse into a lethal  shield, and sometimes  the cat, racing  after,
would run right into it as well.
     As Zedd  waited, listening, the  silence stretched on, unbroken.  If he
really had heard something, it could have been the Keep moving, or an animal
squeaking when it approached a shield, or even a gust of wind coming through
one of the  hundreds of openings.  Whatever it was, it was  silent, now. The
wooden spoonful of stew finally completed its journey.
     "Umm ..." Zedd declared to no one in particular. "Good!"
     To his great disappointment when he'd  first  tasted it, he  had  found
that  the  stew wasn't done. Rather  than hurry  the  process with a  bit of
magic, and possibly incur Adie's wrath for  meddling with her  cooking, Zedd
had sat down on the couch and resigned himself to doing a bit of reading.
     There  was  no  end to the  reading.  Books  offered  the potential  of
valuable information  that  could aid  them in ways they  couldn't foretell.
From time to time, as he read, he checked the  progress of  the stew, rather
patiently, he thought.
     Now, as he tasted it, it finally  seemed to be done. The chunks of  ham
were so tender  they  would fall apart when his  tongue pressed them to  the
roof of his mouth. The  whole  delightfully  bubbling pot had  taken  on the
heady melding of  onions and oils, carrots and turnips, a hint of garlic and
a dizzying  swirl of  complementary spices, all crowded with nuggets of ham,
some still with crisp fat along one edge.
     To his great annoyance, Zedd had long ago noticed that Adie hadn't made
any  biscuits. Stew went  well with biscuits.  There should be  biscuits. He
decided that a bowl of stew would hold him until she returned and made some.
There should be biscuits. It was only right.
     He didn't know where Adie had gone. Since he had been down in Aydindril
most of the day, he reasoned  that  she  had probably gone off to one of the
libraries to  search through books for anything  that might be of help.  She
was  a great help ferreting potentially relevant books out of the libraries.
Being from Nicobarese,  Adie sought out books  in that  language. There were
books all over the Keep, so there was no telling where she was.
     There were also storerooms filled  with racks and racks of bones. Other
rooms  contained rows of tall cabinets, each with hundreds  of drawers. Zedd
had seen bones  of creatures there that he had never seen in  life. Adie was
an expert of sorts on bones. She had lived for a good portion of her life in
seclusion in the shadow of  the boundary. People living in the area had been
afraid of  her; they called her the bone  woman because she collected bones.
They had been  everywhere in  her house.  Some of  those bones protected her
from the beasts that came out of the boundary.
     Zedd  sighed. Books  or  bones, there  was no  telling  where she  was.
Besides that, there were  any number  of  other things in  the Wizard's Keep
that  would be of great interest to a sorceress.  She might even have simply
wanted to go for a walk, or up on a rampart to gaze at the stars and think.
     It was much easier  to  wait for her to  come back to her stew than for
him to go looking  for her. Maybe he should have put one of the bells around
her neck.
     Zedd hummed a merry tune to himself  as he spooned stew into  a  wooden
bowl. No use waiting on an empty  stomach, he always said;  that only made a
person grouchy. It was really better  to have  a snack and be in good  humor
than to  wait and  be miserable.  He would only  be  bad company  if  he was
     On the eighth spoon of stew into the bowl, he heard a sound.
     His hand froze above the bubbling pot.
     Zedd thought he'd heard a bell tinkle.
     Zedd wasn't given  to flights of imagination or to  being  unreasonably
jumpy, but a cold shiver tingled across his flesh as if he'd been touched by
the  icy fingers  of a spirit  reaching  out  from  another world.  He stood
motionless, partly bent toward the pot in the fire, partly turned toward the
hall, listening.
     It could be a cat. Maybe he hadn't  tied  the thin cord high enough and
as a cat  went under the line  its tail had swished  up  and rung the  bell.
Maybe  a  cat  was being  mischievous  and as  it sat on  its haunches, tail
swishing back and forth, it had batted a bell. It could be a cat.
     Or maybe a bird had landed on the line to roost for the night. A person
couldn't  get past the shields in  order  to trip a belled  cord.  Zedd  had
placed extra shields. It had to be an animal--a cat, or a bird.
     If  so, if no one could get past  the regular shields and the extras he
had placed, then why had he strung bells?
     Despite the likely explanations,  his hair was  trying to stand on end.
He didn't  like the way the  bell had rung;  there was something  about  the
character of the sound that told him it wasn't an animal. The sound had been
too firm, too abrupt, too quick to stop.
     He  realized  fully,  now, that a bell  had  in  fact rung.  He  wasn't
imagining it. He tried to re-create the sound in his  mind so that  he might
be able to put shape to the form that had tripped the cord.
     Zedd silently set the bowl down  on the side of the  granite hearth. He
rose up, listening with an  ear turned toward the passage from where he  had
heard the bell. His mind raced through a map of all the bells he'd placed.
     He needed to be sure.
     He slipped  through the door and  into the passageway,  the back of his
shoulder  brushing  the plastered  wall  as  he  moved  down  to  the  first
intersection  on  his  right,  watching not just ahead but behind  as  well.
Nothing moved in the hallway ahead. He paused, leaning ahead to take a quick
glance down the hall to the right. When he found it clear, he took the turn.
     Zedd moved quickly past closed doors, past a tapestry of vineyards that
he had always thought was rather poorly executed, past an empty doorway to a
room with a  window  that looked out  over a  deep shaft between towers on a
high rampart, and past three more  intersections until he  reached the first
stairway. He swept around the corner to the right, up the stairs that curved
around  to the left as they climbed up  and crossed over the hall  he'd just
been in. In this way he could head back toward a network of halls where he'd
placed a web of bells without using those same halls.
     Zedd followed  a mental map  of a  complex tangle  of  passages, halls,
rooms, and dead ends that, over a lifetime, he had come to  know intimately.
Being First Wizard,  he had  access to every place  in the Keep except those
places  that  required Subtractive Magic. There were  a few  places where he
could get confused, but this was not one of them.
     He knew that  unless someone was following in his footsteps, they would
have to either go back or pass a place  where he had set traps of  elaborate
magic  as well as  simple  string.  Then, if they didn't see the cord,  they
would ring another bell. Then he would be sure.
     Maybe it was Adie. Maybe she simply hadn't seen the inky cord stretched
across  a  doorway.  Maybe she had been annoyed that  he'd  strung bells and
maybe she'd rung one just to vex him.
     No, Adie  wasn't like that.  She  might shake  her finger  at  him  and
deliver a  scathing lecture on why  she didn't agree with him that stringing
bells was  an  effective thing to  do, but  she  wouldn't pull a trick about
something she would recognize  as intended to warn of danger. No, Adie might
possibly  have  accidentally rung the bell, but  she  wouldn't have rung  it
     Another bell rang. Zedd spun to the sound and then froze.
     The bell had come from the wrong direction--from  where he'd set a bell
on  the other  side of  a conservatory. It  was  too far from the  first for
anyone to  have made it this  soon.  They would have  had to  go  up a tower
stairway, across a bridge to a rampart, along a  narrow walkway in the dark,
past several  intersections to the correct turn  that would descend a spiral
ramp and make  it down through a snarl  of passageways in order to break the
     Unless there was more than one person.
     The  bell  had chimed  with  a  quick  jerk  and then clattered  as  it
skittered across stone. It  had to  be a person tripping  over the  cord and
sending the bell skipping across the stone floor.
     Zedd changed his plan.  He turned and raced down a narrow passageway to
the left, climbing the first stairwell, running up the oak treads three at a
time. He took  the right fork at the landing,  raced to the second  circular
stairwell of cut stone and climbed as fast as his  legs would carry him. His
foot slipped on the narrow wedges of spiraling steps and he banged his shin.
He paused to wince only for a second. He used the time to consult his mental
map of the Keep, and then he was moving again.
     At the top, he dashed down a short paneled  hall, sliding to  a stop on
the polished maple floor. He shouldered open a small, round-topped oak door.
A starry sky greeted him. He  sucked deep draughts of cool  night  air as he
raced along the  narrow rampart. He paused twice along the way  to peer down
through the slots in the crenellated battlements. He didn't see anyone. That
was a  good sign--he knew where they had to be  if they weren't moving by an
outer route.
     He ran on  across the swaying span between towers, robes flying behind,
crossing over the entire section of the Keep  where  both bells had rung far
below,  going over the top of the  area  in order to  get behind whoever had
tripped  the  cords.  While  they had tripped bells on opposite sides of the
conservatory,  they  had to have come in through the same wing--he knew that
much. He wanted to get behind them, bottle them in before they  could get to
an unprotected section where they  would  encounter a bewildering variety of
passageways. If they were to make it there and hide in that area,  he  could
have a time of rooting them out.
     His  mind  raced as fast  as his feet as he tried  to  think, tried  to
recall all  the shields, tried to figure how someone could  have gotten past
the defenses to get to that specific wing where the bells that had rung were
placed. There were shields  that should  have made it impossible. He had  to
consider thousands of corridors  and passageways in the Keep, trying to come
up with all the potential routes.  It  was like a complex multilevel puzzle,
and despite how thorough he'd been, it was  possible he'd  missed something.
He had to have missed something.
     There were rooms or even  entire  sections that were shielded and could
not be entered,  but often they could  be circumvented. Even if  a  hall was
shielded at both ends, so  as to prevent anyone from getting to the rooms in
that hall, you  could still usually get around to the other end of  the hall
and make  your way to whatever  lay beyond. That was deliberate;  while  the
rooms might  have  held  dangerous  items of  magic  that  had  to  be  kept
contained, there needed to be ways to  get to them, and get beyond  to other
rooms that might, from time to time, also have to be restricted. Most of the
Keep was  like that--a three-dimensional maze with  almost endless  possible
     For the unwary,  it could  also be a killing field of traps. There were
places layered with warning barriers and other  devices  that would keep any
innocent  person  away. Beyond those protective layers, the shields  gave no
warning before they  killed. Trespassers  would  not know there were shields
embedded beyond,  and that they were stepping into a trap. Such shields were
designed  that way  in order to  kill invaders who penetrated that deep; the
lack of warning was deliberate.
     Zedd supposed it was possible for someone to bypass all the shields and
work  their way  into  the  depths  of  the  place  in order  to  ring those
particular bells, but for the life of him, he  couldn't trace all the  steps
necessary. But  whoever it was,  no  matter how lucky they were, they  would
soon get  themselves stuck in the labyrinth and then, if they weren't killed
by a shield, he could deal with them.
     Zedd gazed out past towers, ramparts, bridges, and open stairs to rooms
projecting from soaring walls, out  on the city of Aydindril far  below, now
all dark and dead-looking. How  had  someone gotten past the stone bridge up
to the Keep?
     A Sister of the Dark,  maybe. Maybe one of them had  figured out how to
use  Subtract!ve  Magic to take his shield down.  But  even if  one had, the
shields in  the  Keep were different. Most  of them had  been placed  by the
wizards in ancient times, wizards  with both sides of the gift. A  Sister of
the  Dark would not be able to  breach such shields-- they had been designed
to withstand enemy wizards of that time. They  were far more  powerful  than
any mere Sister of the Dark.
     And where was Adie? She should have been back.  He wished now  that  he
had gone and  found her. She needed to know that there  was  someone in  the
Keep. Unless she already knew. Unless they had her.
     Zedd turned and raced down the  rampart. At the  projecting bastion, he
seized the railing to the side  to halt  his  forward rush  and spin himself
around the corner. He raced down the dark steps as if he were running down a
     With his  gift, he could sense that  there was no one in  the vicinity.
Since  there was no one  near, that meant  that he had managed to get behind
them. He had them trapped.
     At the  bottom of the steps he threw open the  door  and flew  into the
hallway beyond.
     He crashed into a man standing there, waiting.
     Zedd's  momentum  knocked the big man  from his feet.  They  fell  in a
tangle,  sliding together along the polished green and yellow marble  floor,
both grappling for control.
     Zedd could not have been more surprised. His gifted  sense told him the
man was not there. His  gifted sense was obviously wrong. The disorientation
of encountering a  man when  he had sensed that the hall was  empty was more
jarring than the headlong tumble.
     Even as he was rolling, Zedd was  casting webs to tangle  the  man in a
snare of magic. The man, in turn, lunged to tangle Zedd in meaty arms.
     In desperation, despite  the close range, Zedd pulled enough  heat from
the surrounding air to unleash a  thunderous blast of lightning and cast  it
directly into the man. The  blinding flash burned a lacing line  through the
stone block wall beyond him.
     Only too late  did Zedd realize that the  discharge of deadly power had
lanced through the  man without effect. The hall filled with shards of stone
whistling about,  ricocheting  from walls and  ceiling,  skipping along  the
     The man landed on Zedd, driving the wind from him. Desperately  yelling
for help, the man wrestled Zedd on the slippery floor. Zedd concocted a weak
and fumbling defense, to give  the man a false sense of confidence, until he
was able  to  suddenly land a knee sharply  at  the point of his  attacker's
sternum.  The man cried out in  surprise as much  as in pain  as he  flipped
backward off Zedd, gasping to get his wind back.
     Having  sucked so much heat from  the  air had left it as frigid  as  a
winter night. Clouds of their breath  filled the cold air as both men panted
with the effort of the struggle. The man again cried out for help, hoping to
bring comrades to his aid.
     Zedd would assume that  anyone would fear to  attack a wizard by muscle
alone. This man, though, had no need to fear magic. Even if he hadn't  known
that before, certainly the evidence was now all too clear. Yet,  despite the
man  being at least twice the size of his opponent, less  than  a  third his
age,  and  having  immunity  from the  conjuring being  thrown at him,  Zedd
thought that he fought rather... squeamishly.
     However  timid the  man was, he was determined. He  scrambled to attack
again. If he broke Zedd's neck, it wouldn't matter that he did so timidly.
     As  the man  regained  his feet  and lunged,  Zedd drew back  his arms,
elbows cocked, fingers spread, and cast more of the lightning, but this time
he knew better than to waste his effort trying to cut down a man not touched
by magic. Instead, Zedd sought to rake the floor with the conjured  bolts of
power.  It  slammed  into the  stone with unrestrained violence, ripping and
splintering whole  sections, throwing  sharp jagged shards streaking through
the air.
     A fist-sized block of  stone hurtling  at tremendous speed crashed into
the man's shoulder.  Above the boom  of  thunderous power, Zedd heard  bones
snap. The  impact spun the man around and knocked him back against the wall.
Since  Zedd  now  knew that this intruder could not  directly be  harmed  by
magic,  he instead filled the hall  with a deafening storm of magic designed
not to assail the  man directly but to tear  the place apart into a cloud of
deadly flying fragments.
     The man, as he recoiled from striking the wall, again threw  himself at
Zedd.  He was  met by a shower  of deadly  shards whistling through  the air
toward him. Blood splattered across the wall beyond as the man was ripped to
shreds. In a blink, he was killed and dropped heavily to the floor.
     From beyond the smoke and  dust filling the hall, two more men suddenly
flew at Zedd. His gifted sense  told him that, like the first man, these men
were not there, either.
     Zedd  threw yet more lightning to rip up  the floor and  unleash flying
stone at the men, but they were already through the flares of  power, diving
onto him. He crashed to his back, the men atop him. They seized his arms.
     Zedd  struggled  frantically to let loose  a  blast  to bring down  the
ceiling. He began to whirl the air above the men to tear the hall to pieces,
and them with it.
     A  beefy hand with a filthy white rag clamped down over Zedd's face. He
gasped, only to inhale a powerful  smell that made his throat want to clench
shut, but too late.
     With  the cloth and the big hand covering his whole face, Zedd couldn't
see. The world spun sickeningly.
     Soft, silent blackness pressed in around him as he fought to resist it,
until he lost consciousness.

     Zedd woke, his  head spinning, his  stomach heaving with rippling waves
of nausea. He didn't think that in his entire life he had ever felt so sick.
He hadn't known it was possible to feel so intense an urge to vomit, without
actually throwing up. He couldn't lift his head. If he  could just die right
then, it would be a welcome release from such dizzying agony.
     He started to put  his hands over the light hurting his eyes, but found
his wrists were tied behind his back.
     "I think he's waking," a man said in a subservient voice.
     Despite his nausea, Zedd instinctively  tried to  use his gift to sense
how many people were  around him. For some reason,  his gift that ordinarily
flowed as easily as thought, as simply as using his eyes to see, his ears to
hear, felt  thick and slow, as if mired in molasses. He reasoned that it was
probably the result of whatever vile substance it  was they had  soaked  the
rag in to cause him to  pass  out when held over his face. Still, he managed
to sense that there was only one person around him.
     Powerful hands seized his  robes and yanked him  to his feet. Zedd gave
himself permission to vomit. Against all  expectation, it didn't happen. The
dark night swam before his blurred vision. He could make  out  trees against
the sky, stars, and the looming black shape of the Keep.
     Suddenly,  a  tongue of flame ignited in midair. Zedd  blinked  at  the
unexpected brightness. The small flame, wavering with a lazy motion, floated
above  the upturned palm of  a woman with  wiry  gray  hair. Zedd saw  other
people in the shadows;  his gifted  sense  was wrong. Like the  man who  had
attacked him, these, too, had to be people not affected by magic.
     The woman  standing before him peered at  him intently. Her  expression
twisted with satisfied loathing.
     "Well,  well,  well," she  said  with  patronizing  delight. "The great
wizard himself awakes."
     Zedd  said nothing.  It seemed  to amuse  her.  Her fearsome scowl  and
humped nose, lit from the side by the flame she held above her palm, floated
     "You are ours, now," she hissed.
     Zedd, having waited patiently to gather his resolve, abruptly initiated
the  required mental twist to the gift all the way down to his soul in order
to simultaneously call down lightning, focus air to slice this woman in two,
and gather every stone  and  pebble from all  around to  crush  her under an
avalanche  of rock. He expected  the night to  light with such  power as  he
unlocked and sent forth.
     Nothing happened.
     Not waiting to waste the time to analyze what  could be the difficulty,
he was forced to abandon attempts at  satisfying his  emotional preferences,
and to ignite wizard's fire itself to consume her.
     Nothing happened.
     Not only did nothing happen, but it  felt as if the attempt itself were
but  a pebble falling  endlessly  into  a vast, dark  well.  The expectation
withered in  the face of  what he found within himself:  a  kind of dreadful
     Zedd felt  as  if he couldn't light a tongue of  flame to match hers if
his life  depended  on it. He was somehow  cut off from  forming his ability
into  much of  anything useful  other  than  to use  it for  a  bit  of  dim
awareness. Probably a lingering result  of the  foul-smelling substance they
had pressed over his face to make him lose consciousness.
     Since Zedd couldn't  muster any power, he did the  only thing he could:
he spit in her face.
     With lightning speed, she backhanded him, knocking him from the arms of
the men holding him. Unable to use his  hands to break his fall, he  hit the
ground unexpectedly hard. He lay in the dirt for a time, his ears ringing in
the aftereffect of the hit he'd taken, waiting for someone  to lean over and
kill him.
     Instead,  they hauled him to his feet again. One of the men seized  his
hair and pulled  his head up, forcing him to look into the woman's face. The
scowl he saw there looked like it spent a great deal of time on her face.
     She spit in his face.
     Zedd smiled.  "So, here we have a spoiled child playing the game of tit
for tat."
     Zedd grunted with the sudden  shock of a wallop of  pain  that  twisted
inside of his abdomen. Had  the  men not been holding him under his  arms he
would have doubled over and fallen to the ground. He wasn't quite  sure  how
she had done it--probably with a fist of air delivered with all the power of
her gift  behind it.  She  had left the  gathered air loosely formed, rather
than focusing it to a sharp  edge, or it  would have torn him  in two. As it
was, he knew it would leave his middle black and blue.
     It was  a long and desperate wait before he was able to at last draw  a
     The men who his gift said weren't there pulled him straight.
     "I'm disappointed to discover I'm in  the  hands of a sorceress who can
be no more inventive than that," Zedd mocked.
     That brought a smile to her  scowl. "Don't you worry, Wizard Zo-rander,
His Excellency  very much wants your scrawny hide. He will be playing a game
of tit for tat that I believe you will  find quite inventive. I have learned
that  when it comes to inventive cruelty,  His Excellency  is peerless.  I'm
sure he will not disappoint you."
     "Then what are we standing around for? I can't wait to have a word with
His Excellency."
     As the men  held his head back  for  her, she ran a fingernail down the
side of his face and across  his throat, not hard enough to draw blood,  but
enough to  hint  at her own  restrained  cruelty. She leaned  in again.  One
eyebrow lifted in a way that ran a chill up Zedd's spine.
     "I imagine you have grand ideas  about  such a  visit,  about  what you
think  you will  do  or  say." She reached  out  and hooked a finger  around
something at his neck. When she gave it a firm tug, he realized that he  was
wearing a collar of some  sort. By the way it dug into the flesh at the back
of his neck, it had to be metal.
     "Guess what this is," she said. "Just guess."
     Zedd  sighed.  "You really are  a  tedious woman. But I imagine  you've
heard that ofttimes before."
     She ignored his  gibe,  eager to  be  the  messenger  of bad  news. Her
scowling smile widened. "It's a Rada'Han."
     Zedd's sense of alarm rose, but he kept any trace of it from his face.
     "Really." He paused for an extended, bored yawn. "Well,  I'd not expect
a woman of your limited intellect to think up something clever."
     She slammed a knee into his groin. Zedd doubled over in pain, unable to
contain his groan. He hadn't been expecting something so crude.
     The men  pulled him up straight,  not  allowing him pause  to  recover.
Being pulled up  straight brought a gasp of agony. His teeth  were clenched,
his eyes were watering, and his knees wanted to buckle, but the men held him
     Her smile was getting annoying. "You see, Wizard Zorander? Being clever
isn't necessary at all."
     Zedd saw her point but didn't say so.
     He  was already  preparing to unlock the  cursed  collar from his neck.
He'd been "captured" before--by the Prelate herself--and  had had a Rada'Han
put around his  neck, like  some boy born with the gift who needed training.
The  Sisters of the  Light put such  a collar around those boys so that  the
gift  wouldn't  harm  them  before  they could learn to control their  gift.
Richard  had been  captured and put in such  a Rada'Han right after his gift
came to life in him.
     The collar was also used to control the  young  wizard wearing  it,  to
give  pain, when  the  Sisters  thought it necessary.  Zedd  understood  the
Prelate's  reasons for wanting Richard's help, since  they  knew he had been
born  with  both  sides of the gift, and,  too, they worried  about the dark
forces that pursued him, but  he could never forgive her for putting Richard
in a collar.  A wizard needed to be trained by  a wizard, not some misguided
gaggle like the Sisters of the Light.
     The  Prelate,  though, had  harbored  no  delusion of actually training
Richard to be a  wizard.  She had collared  him in  order  to smoke out  the
traitors among her flock: the Sisters of the Dark.
     Unlike Richard,  though,  Zedd  knew  how  to  get  such  a  disgusting
contrivance off his neck. In  fact, he had done it before,  when the Prelate
had thought to collar him and thus force his cooperation.
     Zedd used  a thread of power to probe  at the lock, not overtly, so  as
this  woman might notice  it, but just enough to find the twist in the spell
where he would be able to focus his ability to snap the conjured lock.
     When  the time was right, when he had his feet solidly under him,  when
his head stopped spinning long enough, he would break  the collar's hold. In
that same  instant, before  she knew  what had  happened, he  would  release
wizard's fire and incinerate this woman.
     She hooked a finger under the collar again and gave it another tug.
     "The  thing  is,  my dear wizard,  I  would expect that a  man  of your
renowned talent might know how to get such a device off."
     "Really?  I'm  renowned?"  Zedd  flashed  her  a  grin.  "That's   very
     Her utter contempt brought her a smile of pure disdain. With her finger
through  the  collar she  pulled him  close to  her twisted  expression. She
ignored his words and went on.
     "Since His Excellency would be extremely displeased should you  get the
collar off,  I've  taken  measures to insure  that such  a  thing  would not
happen. I used Subtractive Magic to weld it on."
     Now, that was a problem.
     She nodded to  the men.  Zedd glanced to them at  each side and noticed
for the first time that their eyes were wet. It shocked  him to realize they
were weeping.
     Weeping or not,  they  followed her orders, unceremoniously lifting him
and heaving him in the back of a wagon as if he were firewood.
     Zedd landed beside someone else.
     "Glad to see you be alive, old man," a  soft voice  rasped.It was Adie.
The side of her face was swollen and bleeding. It looked like they'd clubbed
her nearly  to death. Her wrists were tied behind her back as well.  He saw,
too, tears on her cheeks.
     It broke his heart to see her hurt. "Adie, what did they do to you?"
     She smiled. "Not as much as they intend to, I fear."
     In the  dim light of a lantern, Zedd could see that she, too,  wore one
of the awful collars.
     "Your stew was excellent," he said.
     Adie groaned. "Please, old man, do not mention food to me right now."
     Zedd  cautiously  turned his  head and  saw  more  men  waiting  in the
darkness  off to the side. They had been  behind  him, so  he hadn't noticed
them before. His gift had not told him they were there.
     "I think we're  in a great deal of trouble," he  whispered to no one in
     "Really?" Adie rasped. "What be your first clue?"
     Zedd knew she was only trying to  make him smile, but he could not even
manage a small one.
     "I be sorry, Zedd."
     He nodded, as  best he  could lying  on his side with his wrists  bound
behind his back. "I thought I  was so clever, laying every  kind  of  trap I
could think of. Unfortunately, such traps didn't work for those who  are not
affected by magic."
     "You could not know of such a thing," Adie said in a comforting tone.
     His mood  sank into bitter regret. "I should have taken it into account
after we encountered that one down at the Confessors' Palace, in the spring.
I  should have realized the danger." He  stared  off  into  the darkness. "I
served our cause no better than a fool."
     "But where  did all  of them come from?"  She looked  on  the  verge of
losing  herself to panic. "I have  never encountered a single such person in
my entire life, and now there be a whole gang of them standing there."
     Zedd  hated to see Adie  so distraught.  Adie  only  knew  there were a
number of them by the  telltale sounds they made. At  least he could see the
men with his eyes, if not his gift.
     The men stood around, heads hanging, waiting to be commanded.
     They didn't look pleased  by what was happening. They all looked young,
in their  twenties. Some were crying. It seemed strange  to see such big men
weeping. Zedd almost regretted killing one of them. Almost.
     "You  three,"  the  woman growled  to more  of  the men waiting in  the
shadows as she  lifted another lantern from  one of  them and sent the flame
she held into it, "get in there and start the search."
     Adie's completely  white eyes turned  to  Zedd,  her expression  grave.
"Sister of the Dark," she whispered.
     And now they had the Keep.

     And just how can you be sure that it was a Sister of the Dark you saw?"
Verna asked, absently, as she dipped her pen again.
     She scrawled her initials at  the bottom of the request for a Sister to
travel to  a  town down  south to see to  a  local  sorceress's  plans for a
defense of their area. Even in the field, the paperwork of the office of the
Prelate seemed to have chased  after and  found her.  Their palace  had been
destroyed,  the prophet himself was at large  and the real  Prelate was  off
alone chasing after him, some of the Sisters of the  Light had pledged their
souls to the Keeper of the underworld and in so doing had brought the Keeper
a step closer to having them all in  the dark forever  of  eternity, a  good
number  of  the  Sisters--both  Sisters  of  the  Light and Sisters  of  the
Dark--were  in the cruel hands  of  the  enemy and  doing  his  bidding, the
barrier separating the Old  and New World was down, the whole world had been
turned upside  down,  the  only  man--Richard  Rahl--whom  prophecy named as
having a chance  of defeating  the  threat  of the  Imperial Order  was  off
who-knew-where doing  who-knew-what,  and  yet,  the  paperwork  managed  to
survive it all and persist to vex her.
     Some of Verna's assistants handled the paperwork and the requests, but,
as much  as  she  disliked dealing  with such tedious matters, Verna felt  a
sense of duty to keep an eye on it all.  Besides, as much as paperwork vexed
her,  it  also  occupied her  mind,  preventing her  from  dwelling  on  the
     "After all," Verna added, "it could  just as easily have been  a Sister
of  the Light. Jagang  uses both for  their ability  with  magic.  You can't
really be sure  it was a Sister of  the Dark. He's been  sending Sisters  to
accompany his scouts all winter and spring."
     The Mord-Sith placed her knuckles on the small desk and leaned in. "I'm
telling you, Prelate, it was a Sister of the Dark."
     Verna saw no point in arguing, since it mattered little, so she didn't.
"If you say so, Rikka."
     Verna turned over the paper  to the next in the  stack, a request for a
Sister to come and speak  to children on the calling of the Sisters  of  the
Light, with a lecture on why the  Creator  would be against the  ways of the
Imperial  Order and on their side. Verna  smiled to herself,  imagining  how
Zedd  would fume at the very idea  of a Sister, in the New  World, lecturing
her views on such a subject.
     Rikka withdrew her knuckles from the  desk. "I thought you might say as
     "Well, there you go, then," Verna mumbled as she read the  next message
from the Sisters of the  Light to the south  reporting on the passes through
the mountains and the methods that had been used to seal them off.
     "Wait right here," Rikka growled before flying out of the tent.
     "I'm not going  anywhere," Verna said  with a  sigh as  she scanned the
written account, but the fiery, blond-headed woman was already gone.
     Verna  heard  a  commotion  outside  the tent. Rikka  was  delivering a
scathing lecture  to  someone. The  Mord-Sith  was  incorrigible.  That  was
probably why, despite everything, Verna liked her.
     Since Warren had died, Verna's heart was no longer in much of anything,
though. She did as she had to, did  her duty, but she  couldn't make herself
feel  anything but despair. The man she loved, the man she  had married, the
most wonderful man in the world... was gone.
     Nothing much mattered after that.
     Verna tried to do her part, to do as was needed, because so many people
depended on her, but, if truth be told, the reason she worked herself nearly
to death was to try to keep her mind  occupied, to  think of something else,
anything else, except Warren. It didn't really work, but she kept at it. She
knew  that people counted on her,  but she just couldn't  make herself truly
     Warren was  gone. Life was empty of what mattered most to her. That was
the end of it, the end of her caring about much of anything.
     Verna idly pulled her journey book from her  belt. She didn't know what
made her do so, except perhaps that it had been some time since she had last
looked for a message from the real Prelate. Ann was having her own crisis of
caring  ever  since Kahlan had laid the  blame for so much of  what had gone
wrong, including  being  the cause of the war itself, right at the Prelate's
feet. Verna thought  that Kahlan had been wrong  about much  of it, but  she
understood all  too  well why she thought  that Ann had been responsible for
tangling up their lives; Verna had felt the same way for a time.
     Holding the journey book  off to the side with one  hand, flipping  the
pages with a thumb, Verna saw a message flash by.
     Rikka  swept  back  into the tent.  She plunked a  heavy  sack  down on
Verna's desk, right on top of the reports.
     "Here!" Rikka said, fury powering her voice.
     It was  then, when Verna looked up, that she saw for the first time the
strange  way  Rikka  was dressed. Verna's mouth  fell  open. Rikka  was  not
wearing the skintight red leather that the Mord-Sith typically wore,  except
for occasionally when they were relaxing and  then they sometimes wore brown
leather, instead.  Verna had never seen the  woman  in  anything other  than
those leather outfits.
     Now Rikka had on a dress.
     Verna could not remember being so astonished.
     Not just a dress, but a pink dress that no decent woman of Rikka's age,
probably her late twenties  or early  thirties, would be caught dead in. The
neckline plunged down to  reveal ample cleavage.  The twin mounds of exposed
flesh were shoved up and nearly spilling out the top. Verna was  amazed that
Rikka's nipples had managed to remain covered, what with the way her breasts
heaved with her heated breathing.
     "You, too?" Rikka snapped.
     Verna finally  looked  up  into Rikka's  blazing blue eyes.  "Me,  too,
     "You, too, can't get enough of looking at my chest?"
     Verna felt  her face  go scarlet.  She  gave her  red face an excuse by
shaking a finger at the woman.
     "What are you doing dressed like that in an army camp! Around all these
soldiers! You look like a whore!"
     Despite how their leather outfits went  all the way up  to their necks,
the tight leather  left little to the imagination. Seeing the woman's flesh,
though, was altogether different, and quite shocking.
     Verna realized, only  then, because she had finally  looked up  at  the
woman's  face, that Rikka's single braid was undone. Her long blond hair was
as free as a horse's mane. Verna had never seen one of the Mord-Sith out  in
public  without her hair done up  in the  single braid  that  in large  part
identified their profession of Mord-Sith.
     Even seeing the woman's cleavage exposed  was not as shocking as seeing
her hair undone.  It was that, more than anything, Verna realized, that lent
a  lewd  look  to the woman. Something  about her braid  being undone seemed
sacrilegious, even though Verna  could not condone a profession dedicated to
     Verna remembered, then,  that she had asked one of the Mord-Sith, Cara,
to  do her worst  to the young man--a boy, really--who had  murdered Warren.
Verna  had sat up  the entire night listening  to  that young man scream his
life away. His suffering had been monstrous, and yet it  had not been nearly
enough to suit her.
     At  times,  Verna wondered  if  in  the  next life  the  Keeper of  the
underworld would have something wholly unpleasant in store for her  for  all
eternity in  recompense for what Verna had done. She didn't  really care; it
had been worth whatever the price might be.
     Besides, she decided, if she was to be punished for condemning that man
to  just  retribution, then  the  very concept of justice would  have  to be
invalid, rendering  living a life  of good or  evil to have  no  meaning. In
fact, for the justice she  had meted out to that  vile amoral animal walking
the world of  life in the  form of a man who had murdered Warren, she should
be  rewarded in  the  afterlife  by being  eternally  in  the warmth of  the
Creator's light, along with the good spirit of  Warren, or else there was no
     General Meiffert swept into the tent, fists at  his sides,  coming to a
halt beside  Rikka. He raked his blond hair back when he  saw Verna  sitting
behind her little desk, and cooled visibly.
     He'd had  the carpenters  nail together the tiny desk  for  her out  of
scrap furniture left in an abandoned farm. It was  nothing like the desks at
the Palace of the  Prophets,  of course,  but it had  been  given with  more
concern and meaning  behind  it than the grandest  gold-leafed  desk she had
ever seen. General Meiffert had been proud at seeing how  useful Verna found
     With a quick glance,  he took in Rikka's dress  and  her  hair. "What's
this about?"
     "Well,"  Verna said, "I'm  not sure. Something  about  one of  Jagang's
Sisters scouting a pass."
     Rikka folded  her bare arms  atop  her nearly bare  bosom.  "Not just a
Sister, but a Sister of the Dark."
     "Jagang has been sending Sisters  scouting the passes all winter,"  the
young general said.  "The Prelate has laid  traps and shields." His level of
concern rose. "Are you telling us that one of them got through?"
     "No, I'm telling you that I went hunting for them."
     Verna frowned.  "What  are you talking  about?  We lost  half  a  dozen
Mord-Sith  trying that. After you  found  the  heads of two  of your  sister
Mord-Sith mounted on pikes, the Mother Confessor herself ordered you to stop
throwing their lives away on such useless missions."
     Rikka  at last smiled. It  was the kind  of satisfied smile, especially
coming from a Mord-Sith, that tended to give people nightmares.
     "Does this look useless?"
     Rikka reached into her sack and pulled  out a human head. Holding it by
the hair, she brandished it in  front of Verna's face.  She turned, shook it
at General Meiffert  as well, and then  plunked it down  on  the  desk. Gore
oozed out over the reports.
     "Like I said, a Sister of the Dark."
     Verna recognized the face,  even as twisted in  death as it  was. Rikka
was right, it  was a Sister of the  Dark. The question was, how did she know
it was a Sister of the Dark, and not one of the Light?
     Outside  Verna could  hear horses clopping past her  tent. Some of  the
soldiers called out greetings to men returning from patrols. In the distance
could be heard conversations and men  issuing orders. Hammers  on steel rang
like  bells as  men  worked  hot  metal into useful shapes  for  repairs  to
equipment.  Nearby, horses  frisked in a corral. As men made  their way past
Verna's tent, their gear jingled. Fires  crackled as wood was added for  the
cooks or roared as bellows pumped to turn it white-hot for the blacksmiths.
     "You touched her with your Agiel?" Verna asked in a quiet  voice. "Your
Agiel doesn't work effectively on those the dream walker controls."
     Rikka's smile  turned sly. She spread  her  arms. "Agiel? Do you see an
     Verna  knew that no Mord-Sith  would ever  let  her  Agiel  out of  her
control. With a glance to the woman's cleavage, she could only imagine where
she had it hidden.
     "All right," General Meiffert said,  his  tone  no longer indulgent. "I
want to know what's going on, and I want to know right now."
     "I was down near Dobbin Pass,  checking around,  and what do I find but
an Imperial Order patrol."
     The general nodded  as  he let  out  a  frustrated sigh.  "They've been
coming in that  way from time to time. But how did you manage to come across
such an enemy patrol? Why hadn't one of our Sisters already snared them?"
     Rikka shrugged. "Well, this patrol was still  on the other side of  the
pass. Back at that  deserted farm." She tapped Verna's  desk with  her  toe.
"Where you got the wood for this."
     Verna  twisted her mouth with displeasure. Rikka wasn't supposed  to be
beyond the pass. The Mord-Sith,  though, recognized no orders but those from
Lord Rahl  himself. Rikka had only followed Kahlan's orders because,  during
his absence, Kahlan was acting  on Richard's behalf. Verna suspected that it
was simpler than that, though; she suspected that they had only followed the
Mother Confessor's orders  because she  was  wife to Lord Rahl, and  if they
didn't it would bring Lord Rahl's wrath down on them. As long as such orders
weren't  viewed by the Mord-Sith as troublesome, they went  along. When they
decided otherwise, they did as they wished.
     "The   Sister   was   by   herself,"   Rikka  went  on,   "having   one
powerful-looking headache."
     "Jagang," Verna  said. "Jagang was issuing  his order, or punishing her
for something, or giving  her a lecture in her mind. He does that  from time
to time. It isn't pleasant."
     Rikka  stroked the hair on the woman's  head  sitting  on Verna's desk,
making  a mess of the reports. "The poor thing," she mocked. "While  she was
off among the pines staring at nothing while she pressed her fingers  to her
temples, her men were back at the farmhouse,  having their way with a couple
of young women. The two were squealing and crying and  carrying on,  but the
men weren't put off by it any."
     Verna lowered her  eyes as she let out  a heavy breath. Some people had
refused  to  believe  the  necessity  of fleeing  before the arrival of  the
Imperial Order.
     Sometimes, when people refused to recognize the existence of evil, they
found  themselves having to face precisely that  which they  had never  been
willing to admit existed.
     Rikka's satisfied smile returned. "I went in and took care of the brave
soldiers  of the Imperial  Order.  They  were  so  distracted, they paid  no
attention as I snuck up behind them. The women  were so terrorized that they
screamed even though I was saving  them. The  Sister hadn't  been paying any
attention to the screaming before, and didn't then, either.
     "One of the young women was blond and about my size, so an idea  struck
me. I put on her dress and  took out my braid, so I  might  be  mistaken for
her. I  gave the one girl  some of the men's clothes  to  wear and told them
both  to run for the hills, in the opposite direction of the Sister, and not
to look back. I didn't  have to tell them twice. Then I  sat down on a stool
outside the barn.
     "Sure enough, in  a while the Sister  came  back.  She saw  me  sitting
there, hanging my head, pretending to be crying. She thought the other woman
was still inside, with the men. She said, 'It's time those foolish  bastards
in there were  done with you and your friend. His Excellency wants a report,
and he wants it now--he's ready to move.' "
     Verna came up out of her chair. "You heard her say that?"
     "Then what?" General Meiffert asked.
     "Then the Sister made for the side door into the barn. When she stormed
past  me,  I rose up behind  her  and cut her throat with one  of the  men's
     General Meiffert leaned toward  Rikka. "You cut her  throat? You didn't
use your Agiel?"
     Rikka gave him a look that suggested she thought he hadn't  been paying
attention. "Like the  Prelate said, an Agiel doesn't work very well on those
the dream  walker controls. So  I used a knife. Dream walker or not, cutting
her throat worked just fine."
     Rikka lifted the  head before Verna again. One of the reports stuck  to
the bottom of it as it  swung by the  hair. "I sliced  the knife through her
throat and around her neck. She was  thrashing about quite a bit, so I had a
good hold on her as she died. All of a sudden, there was an instant when the
whole world went  black--and I  mean black, black as the Keeper's heart.  It
was as if the underworld had suddenly taken us all."
     Verna  looked away from the  head of a Sister she had known for a  very
long time and had always  believed was devoted to the  Creator, to the light
of life. She had been devoted, instead, to death.
     "The Keeper came to claim  one of his own,"  Verna explained in a quiet
     "Well," Rikka  said,  rather  sarcastically, Verna  thought,  "I didn't
think that when a Sister of the Light died such a thing happened. I told you
it was a Sister of the Dark."
     Verna nodded. "So you did."
     General  Meiffert  gave the Mord-Sith a hurried clap on the back of the
shoulder. "Thanks, Rikka. I'd better  spread the word. If Jagang is starting
to  move,  it  won't be many days before he's here. We need to  be  sure the
passes are ready when his force finally gets here."
     "The passes will hold," Verna  said.  She let  out a silent  sigh.  "At
least for a while."
     The Order  had to come  across the mountains  if they  were  to conquer
D'Hara. There were few ways across those formidable mountains.
     Verna and  the Sisters had shielded and sealed those passes as  well as
it was possible to seal  them. They had used magic  to bring  down  walls of
rock  in places, making the narrow roads  impassable. In  other places, they
had  used  their  power to cleave  away  roads cut into the  steep  sides of
mountains, leaving no way through, except to clamber over rubble. To prevent
that, and in other places, the  men had worked all winter constructing stone
walls  across  the passes.  Atop those  walls were fortifications from which
they could  rain  down  death  on the narrow passes below.  Additionally, in
every one of  those places, the Sisters  had  set snares of magic so  deadly
that coming through would be a bloody ordeal that would only get  worse, and
that was before they encountered the walls lined with defenders.
     Jagang had  Sisters of the  Dark to  try  to undo the barriers  of both
magic and stone,  but Verna was more powerful,  in the Additive anyway, than
any of them. Besides  that, she had joined  her power with other  Sisters in
order  to  invest  in  those  barriers  magic  that  she  knew  would  prove
     Still, Jagang would come. Nothing  Verna, her Sisters, and the  D'Haran
army could do would ultimately be able to withstand the numbers Jagang would
throw at them. If he had to command his men to march through passes filled a
hundred feet deep with their fallen comrades, he would not flinch from doing
so. Nor would it matter to him if the corpses were a thousand feet deep.
     "I'll be back a little later, Verna," the  general said. "We'll need to
get the officers and some of  the Sisters together  and make sure everything
is ready."
     "Yes, of course," Verna said.
     Both General Meiffert and Rikka started to leave.
     "Rikka,"  Verna called. She  gestured down at the desk. "Take  the dear
departed Sister with you, would you please?"
     Rikka sighed, which nearly spilled her bosom out of the dress. She made
a long-suffering  face before snatching up the head and vanishing out of the
tent behind the general.
     Verna sat down and put her head in her hands. It was going to start all
over again.  It  had been a long and peaceful,  if  bitterly  cold,  winter.
Jagang  had made his  winter encampment on  the other side of the mountains,
far enough away that,  with the snow and cold, it  was difficult  to  launch
effective  raids  against his troops. Just as it had the summer  before, the
summer Warren had died, now  that the weather was favorable, the Order would
begin to move. It was starting  all over again. The killing, the terror, the
fighting, running, hunger, exhaustion.
     But what choice was there, other than to be killed. In  many ways, life
had come to seem worse than death.
     Verna abruptly remembered, then, about  the journey book. She worked it
out of  the  pocket in  her belt and pulled  the lamp  closer,  needing  the
comfort as well as the light. She wondered where Richard and Kahlan were, if
they were safe, and she thought, too, about Zedd and Adie all alone guarding
the Wizard's Keep.  Unlike everyone else, at least  Zedd and  Adie were safe
and at peace where they were--for the time  being, anyway. Sooner or  later,
D'Hara would fall and then Jagang would return to Aydindril.
     Verna  tossed the  small black book  on  the  desk, smoothed  her dress
beneath her legs, and scooted her chair closer. She ran her fingers over the
familiar leather cover on an object of  magic that was  over three  thousand
years  old.  The journey  books  had  been  invested  with  magic  by  those
mysterious wizards who  so long  ago had built the Palace of the Prophets. A
journey book was twinned, and as such, they were priceless; what was written
in one appeared at the same time in its twin. In that way, the Sisters could
communicate  over  vast  distances  and  know  important information  as  it
happened, rather than weeks or even months later.
     Ann, the real Prelate, had the twin to Verna's.
     Verna, herself,  had  been sent  by Ann on  a journey  of nearly twenty
years  to find Richard. Ann had known all  along where  Richard had been. It
was for that reason that Verna could understand Kahlan's rage at how Ann had
seemed to  twist her and Richard's life.  But Verna had  come  to understand
that  the Prelate had  sent her  on  what  was actually  a  mission of vital
importance,  one that had brought change to the world, but also brought hope
for the future.
     Verna opened the journey book,  holding it a little sideways to see the
words in the light.
     Verna, Ann  wrote, / believe I  have  discovered  where the prophet  is
     Verna  sat back in  surprise.  After  the  palace  had  been destroyed,
Nathan, the prophet,  had escaped their control  and had  since been roaming
free, a profound danger.
     For the last couple of years, the rest of the Sisters  of the Light had
believed that the Prelate and the  prophet were dead. Ann,  when  she'd left
the Palace of the Prophets with Nathan on an important mission, had  feigned
their  deaths and named Verna Prelate to succeed her. Very  few people other
than  Verna, Zedd, Richard, and  Kahlan knew the truth. During that mission,
however, Nathan had managed to get his  collar off and escape Ann's control.
There was no telling what catastrophe that man could cause.
     Verna leaned over the journey book again.
     / should have Nathan  within days, now. I can hardly believe that after
all this time, I nearly have my hands on that man. I will let you know soon.
     How are you, Verna? How are you feeling? How are the Sisters and how go
matters with  the  army? Write when  you can. I will be  checking my journey
book nightly. I miss you terribly.
     Verna  sat  back again.  That was all there was. But it was enough. The
very  notion of Ann  finally  capturing  Nathan made Verna's head swim  with
     Even that momentous news,  though, failed to do much to lift  her mood.
Jagang was about to launch his attack on D'Hara and Ann was about to finally
have Nathan  under control,  but  Richard  was somewhere off to  the  south,
beyond their control. Ann  had worked for five hundred years to shape events
so that Richard could lead them in the battle for the future of mankind, and
now, on the eve  of what could very well  prove to  be that final battle, he
was not there with them.
     Verna drew the stylus out  of the journey book's spine and  leaned over
to write Ann a report.
     My dearest Ann,  I'm afraid that things  here are about to  become very
     The siege of the passes into D'Hara is about to begin.

     The  sprawling  corridors of  the People's  Palace,  seat  of power  in
D'Hara, were  filled  with  the whisper  of footsteps  on  stone. Ann pushed
herself back a  little on  the  white  marble bench  where  she sat  stuffed
between  three  women  on  one  side and an older  couple on  the other, all
gossiping  about what people were wearing as they strolled the grand  halls,
or what  other people did while they  were here, or what they most wanted to
see. Ann supposed that such gossip was harmless enough and probably meant to
take  people's  minds  off the  worries of the  war.  Still, it  was hard to
believe that  at such a late  hour people would rather be out gossiping than
in a warm bed asleep.
     Ann kept her  head  down and pretended to be pawing through her  travel
bag  while at the same time keeping a wary eye  on  the soldiers passing not
too  far  away  as  they  patrolled.  She  didn't  know if  her  caution was
necessary, but she would rather not find out too late that it was.
     "Come from far?" the closest woman beside her asked.
     Ann looked up, realizing that the woman had spoken to her. "Well,  yes,
I guess it has been a bit of a journey."
     Ann put her nose back in  her bag and rummaged in earnest, hoping to be
left alone.
     The  woman, middle-aged with her curls  of brown hair just  starting to
carry a bit of gray, smiled. "I'm not all that  far from home, myself, but I
do so  like to spend a  night at  the palace, now  and then, just to lift my
     Ann glanced around  at the polished marble floors, the glossy red stone
columns below  arches, decorated with carved vines, that supported the upper
balconies. She gazed up at the skylights  that allowed the light to flood in
the place during the day, and peered off at the grand statues that  stood on
pedestals  around a fountain with life-sized stone horses galloping  forever
through a shimmering spray of water.
     "Yes, I see what you mean," Ann murmured.
     The  place didn't  lift  her  spirits. In  fact, the place  made her as
nervous as a cat in a doghouse with the door closed. She could feel that her
power was frighteningly diminished in this place.
     The People's Palace was more than any mere palace.  It  was a  city all
joined together and  under  countless  roofs  atop a huge  plateau.  Tens of
thousands of  people  lived in the magnificent structure, and thousands more
visited it daily. There were different levels to  the  palace  itself,  some
where people had shops and sold goods, others where officials  worked,  some
that were  living  quarters. Many  sections  were off limits  to  those  who
     Sprawled  around  the base of  the plateau were  informal markets where
people gathered  to buy, sell, and trade goods. On  the climb all the way up
through the interior  of the plateau to  reach  the palace  itself,  Ann had
passed many  permanent  shops.  The  palace was  a center of trade,  drawing
people from all over D'Hara.
     More than that, though, it was the ancestral home of the House of Rahl.
As  such, it was grand  for  arcane  reasons beyond  the awareness  or  even
understanding of  most of the people who called it  home or visited  it. The
People's Palace was a spell--not a  place spelled, as had been the Palace of
the Prophets where Ann had spent  most of her life. The place itself was the
     The entire palace had  been built to a careful and precise design: that
of a spell drawn  on  the face of  the ground.  The  outer  fortified  walls
contained the actual spell form and the major congregations  of rooms formed
significant hubs, while the  halls and corridors themselves  were the  drawn
lines--the essence of the spell itself, the power.
     Like a  spell being  drawn in  the dirt with the point of  a stick, the
halls would have had  to have been built  in  the sequence  required by  the
specific  magic  the  spell  was  intended  to invoke.  It  would  have been
enormously  expensive  to  build it  in that manner,  ignoring  the  typical
requirements of construction and  accepted methods of the trade of building,
but only by doing so would the spell work, and work it did.
     The spell was specific. It was  a place  of safety for any Rahl. It was
meant  to give a Rahl  more power in the place, and to leach power away from
anyone else who entered. Ann had never been in a place where she felt such a
waning of her Han, the essence of life and the gift within. She doubted that
in this place her Han would for long be vital enough to light a candle.
     Ann's  jaw dropped in  astonishment  as  another element  of  the spell
abruptly occurred to her. She  looked out at the halls--part of the lines of
the spell--filled with people.
     Spells drawn  with blood were always more  effective  and powerful. But
when the blood soaked into the ground, decomposed, and dissipated, the power
of the spell  would often fade as well. But  this spell, the  drawn lines of
the spell itself--the corridors--were filled  with the vital living blood of
all the people moving through them. Ann was struck dumb with  awe  at such a
brilliant concept.
     "So, you're renting a room, then."
     Ann  had forgotten the  woman  beside her, still staring  at her, still
holding  the  smile on her  painted lips.  Ann  forced herself to close  her
     "Well. . ." Ann finally admitted, "I haven't actually made arrangements
yet as to where I will sleep."
     The woman's smile persisted, but it looked as if it was taking more and
more effort all  the time.  "You can't  curl up  on  a bench, you know.  The
guards won't allow it. You have to rent a room, or be put out at night."
     Ann understood,  then, what the woman  was driving at. To these people,
most dressed in their finest clothes for their visit to the palace, Ann must
look  like a beggar in  their midst. After all the gossip  about what people
were wearing, this  woman must have been disconcerted to find herself beside
     "I  have  the price of a room," Ann assured her. "I just haven't  found
where  they are, yet, that's  all. After such a long journey,  I meant to go
there  right away and get myself cleaned up, but  I just needed  to  rest my
weary feet for  a bit,  first. Could you tell me where to  find the rooms to
     The smile looked a little easier. "I'm off to my  own room  and I could
take you. It isn't far."
     "That would be kind of you," Ann said as she rose now that she saw  the
guards moving off down the corridor.
     The woman stood, bidding her two benchmates a good night.
     If Ann was tired, it was only  from  being caught  up in  the afternoon
devotion to the Lord Rahl. A bell in an open square had tolled, and everyone
had moved to  gather there and bow down.  Ann had noticed then  that  no one
missed the  devotion. Guards moved among  the crowd watching people  gather.
She  felt like  a mouse being watched by hawks so she joined with  the other
people moving toward the square.
     She had spent nearly two hours on her knees, on a hard clay tile floor,
bowed  down  with her forehead  touching  the  ground  like  everyone  else,
repeating the devotion in concert with all the other somber voices.
     Master Rahl guide us. Master Rahl teach us.  Master Rahl protect us. 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.
     Twice a day, those in the palace  were expected to  go to the devotion.
Ann didn't know how people endured such torture.
     Then she remembered  the bond between the Lord Rahl and his people that
prevented the dream walker from entering their minds, and she knew  how they
could endure  it. She,  herself,  had briefly  been  a prisoner  of  Emperor
Jagang. He murdered a Sister right before her eyes, just to make a point.
     In the face  of  brutality and torture,  she  guessed that she knew how
people endured a mere devotion.
     For her, though, such  a spoken devotion to the Lord Rahl, to  Richard,
was  hardly necessary. She had been  devoted to  him for nearly five hundred
years before he had even been born.
     Prophecy said that Richard  was their only chance to avoid catastrophe.
Ann  peered  carefully around  the  halls. Now  she just needed the  prophet
     "This way," the woman said, tugging at Ann's sleeve.
     The woman gestured for  Ann to follow her down a hallway to  the right.
Ann pulled her shawl forward, covering the pack she  carried, and hugged her
travel bag closer as she followed along the wide corridor. She wondered  how
many people sitting on benches  and low marble  walls around fountains  were
gossiping about her.
     The  floor  had  a  dizzying pattern  of  dark  brown, rust,  and  pale
tan-colored  stone running across  the hall in  zigzag lines meant  to  look
three-dimensional. Ann had  seen such traditional patterns before,  down  in
the Old World, but none of  this  grand scale. It was a work of art, and  it
was but the floor. Everything about the palace was exquisite.
     Shops were set back under a mezzanine to each side. Some of them looked
to  sell  items travelers might want. There  was a variety of small food and
drink  stands, everything from  hot meat  pies, to sweets,  to ale,  to warm
milk. Some places sold nightclothes. Others sold hair  ribbons. Even at this
late hour, some of the shops were still open and doing brisk business.  In a
place such as this, there would be people who worked at night and would have
need of  such  shops. The places  that offered to  do up a woman's hair,  or
paint her face, or promised to  do wonders with her  fingernails,  were  all
closed until morning. Ann doubted they could pull off wonders with her.
     The woman cleared her throat as they strolled down the broad  corridor,
gazing at the shops to each side. "And where have you traveled from?"
     "Oh, far to  the south. Very far." Ann took note of the woman's focused
attention as she leaned in a bit.  "My sister lives here,"  Ann said, giving
the  woman  something more  to chew on. "I'm  here  to visit my sister.  She
advises Lord Rahl on important matters."
     The woman's eyebrows lifted. "Really! An advisor to  Lord Rahl himself.
What an honor for your family."
     "Yes," Ann drawled. "We're all proud of her."
     "What does she advise him on?"
     "Advise him on? Oh, well, matters of war."
     The woman's mouth fell open. "A woman? Advising Lord Rahl on warfare?"
     "Oh  yes,"  Ann insisted.  She leaned  over  and  whispered,  "She's  a
sorceress.  Sees  into the future, you know. Why, she wrote me a  letter and
told me she saw me coming to the palace for a visit. Isn't that amazing?"
     The woman frowned a bit. "Well, that does seem rather remarkable, since
here you are and all."
     "Yes, and she told me that I'd meet a helpful woman."
     The woman's smile  returned, it again looked forced. "She sounds to  be
quite talented."
     "Oh, you have  no  idea,"  Ann  insisted. "She  is so specific  in  her
forecasts about the future."
     "Really? Had she anything else to say about your  visit, then? Anything
     "Oh  yes indeed. Why, do you know that she told  me I would  meet a man
when I came here?"
     The woman's  gaze  flicked  around  the halls. "There are a lot  of men
here. That hardly seems very  specific. Surely, she must have said more than
that... I mean, if she is so talented, and an advisor to Lord Rahl and all."
     Ann  put  a  finger   to   her  lip,  frowning  in  feigned  effort  at
recollection. "Why, yes, she did, now that you mention  it. Let's  see  if I
can remember ..." Ann laid  a hand on the woman's arm in a  familiar manner.
"She  tells me about my future all the time. My  sister is always telling me
so many things  about my future in  her letters that I sometimes feel as  if
I'm having trouble catching  up  with my own  life! I sometimes have trouble
remembering it all."
     "Oh do try,"  the  woman  said,  eager  for the  gossip.  "This  is  so
     Ann returned  the finger to her  lower lip as she gazed at the ceiling,
pretending  to be  engaged  in deep thought, and noticed  for the first time
that the ceiling was  painted like the  sky, with clouds and all. The effect
was quite clever.
     "Well," Ann  finally  said  when she was sure she had the woman's  full
attention, "my sister said that  the man I would meet was old." She returned
the hand to the woman's arm.  "But very distinguished. Not old and decrepit,
but  tall--very tall--with a full head of white hair that comes all the  way
down to his broad shoulders.  She said  that  he would  be clean-shaven, and
that he would be ruggedly handsome, with penetrating dark azure eyes."
     "Dark azure eyes ... my, my," the woman  tittered,  "but he does  sound
     "And she said that when he looks at a woman with those hawklike eyes of
his, their knees want to buckle."
     "That is precise," the  woman said,  her face getting flushed. "Too bad
she didn't know this handsome fellow's name."
     "Oh, but she did. What kind of advisor to the Lord Rahl would she be if
she wasn't talented enough to know such things."
     "She  told  his name,  too?  She  can  really do such  tellings of  the
     "Oh my yes," Ann assured her.
     She  strolled along for a time, watching people making their way up and
down  the  hall, stopping  at  some  of the  shops that were still  open, or
sitting on benches, gossiping.
     "And?" the woman asked.  "What  is the  name your sister  foretold? The
name of this tall distinguished gentleman."
     Ann  frowned up  at the ceiling again.  "It was  N something.  Nigel or
Norris, or something. No, wait--that wasn't it." Ann snapped  her finger and
thumb. "The name she said was Nathan."
     "Nathan," the woman repeated, looking almost as  if she  had been ready
to pluck the name off Ann's tongue if she didn't spit it out. "Nathan."
     "Yes, that's it. Nathan. Do you know  anyone here at the palace by that
name? Nathan? A tall  fellow, older, with long white hair, broad  shoulders,
azure eyes?"
     The woman  peered up  at the ceiling in thought. This  time it  was Ann
leaning in, waiting for word, watching intently for any reaction.
     A hand seized  Ann's dress at her shoulder and brought her to an abrupt
halt. Ann and the woman turned.
     Behind them stood a very tall woman, with a very long blond braid, with
very blue eyes, wearing a very dark scowl and an outfit of very red leather.
     The woman beside Ann went as pale as  vanilla pudding. Her  mouth  fell
open. Ann forced her own mouth to stay shut.
     "We've been expecting you," the woman in red leather said.
     Behind her, back  up  the hallway a short distance, spread out to block
the hall, stood a dozen perfectly huge men in perfect leather armor carrying
perfectly polished swords, knives, and lances.
     "Why, I think you must have me mistaken for--"
     "I don't make mistakes."
     Ann wasn't nearly as tall as the blond woman in red leather. She hardly
came up past the yellow crescent and star across her stomach.
     "No, I don't suppose you do. What's this  about?" Ann asked, losing the
timid innocent tone.
     "Wizard Rahl wanted us to bring you in."
     "Wizard Rahl?"
     "Yes. Wizard Nathan Rahl."
     Ann heard a gasp from the woman beside  her. She thought  the woman was
going to faint, and so took hold of her arm.
     "Are you all right, my dear?"
     She stared, wide-eyed, at the woman  in red leather glowering  down  at
her. "Yes. I have to go. I'm late. I must go. Can I go?"
     "Yes, you had better go," the tall blonde said.
     The woman dipped a quick bow and muttered "Good night" before scurrying
off down the hall, looking over her shoulder only once.
     Ann turned back to the scowl. "Well I'm glad you found me. Let's be off
to see Nathan. Excuse me ... Wizard Rahl."
     "You won't be having an audience with Wizard Rahl."
     "You  mean,  not tonight,  I won't be having  an ... audience with  him
     Ann was being as polite as she could be, but she wanted to clobber that
troublesome man, or wring his neck, and the sooner the better.
     "My name is Nyda," the woman said.
     "Pleased to meet--"
     "Do you  know  what  I am?" She didn't  wait  for Ann to answer.  "I am
Mord-Sith.  I give  you  this  one  warning as a  courtesy. It  is  the only
warning, or courtesy, you will receive,  so  listen  closely. You came  here
with hostile  intent against Wizard Rahl. You  are now my  prisoner.  Use of
your  magic against a Mord-Sith will result in the capture of  that magic by
me or one of my  sister  Mord-Sith and its use as  a weapon  against you.  A
very, very unpleasant weapon."
     "Well," Ann said,  "in this  place my magic  is  not  very  useful, I'm
afraid. Hardly worth a hoot, as a  matter  of  fact. So, you  see, I'm quite
     "I don't care how useful you find  your magic. If you try to so much as
light a candle with it, your power will be mine."
     "I see," Ann said.
     "Don't believe me?" Nyda leaned down. "I encourage you to try to attack
me.  I haven't captured a sorceress's magic for quite  a while. Might be ...
     "Thank you, but I'm a bit too tired out--from my travels and all--to be
attacking anyone just now. Maybe later?"
     Nyda smiled. In that smile Ann could see why Mord-Sith  were so feared.
"Fine. Later, then."
     "So, what is it you  intend to do with me in the meantime, Nyda? Put me
up in one of the palace's fine rooms?"
     Nyda ignored  the question and gestured with a tilt of her head. Two of
the men a short  way back up the  hall rushed forward. They towered over Ann
like two oak trees. Each grasped her under an arm.
     "Let's go," Nyda said as she marched off down the hall ahead of them.
     The men started  out after  her, pulling Ann along with them.  Her feet
seemed to touch the floor only every  third or fourth  step. People  in  the
hall parted for the Mord-Sith. Passersby  pressed themselves up  against the
walls to the side, a goodly distance away. Some  people disappeared into the
open shops, from where they peered out windows. Everyone stared at the squat
woman in  the dark  dress  being  hauled along  by  the two palace guards in
burnished leather and  gleaming  mail. Behind she could  hear the  jangle of
metal gear as the rest of the men followed along.
     They  turned  into a small hall  to the side going back between columns
holding a projecting balcony.  One of the men rushed  forward to  unlock the
door. Before she knew it, they'd all swept through the little door like wine
through a funnel.
     The corridor beyond was dark and cramped--nothing like the marble-lined
hallways  most  people  saw.  Not  far down  the  hall,  they  turned down a
stairway. The oak treads creaked underfoot. Some of the  men handed lanterns
forward so Nyda could light her way.  The sound  of all the footsteps echoed
back from the darkness below.
     At the bottom of the steps, Nyda led them through a maze of dirty stone
passageways. The seldom-used halls smelled musty,  and in places  damp. When
they  reached another stairwell, they continued  down a  square  shaft  with
landings at each turn,  descending into the  dark  recesses  of the People's
Palace. Ann wondered  how many  people in the past were taken by routes such
as this,  never  to be  seen again.  Richard's father, Darken  Rahl, and his
father before him, Panis, were rather fond of torture. Life meant nothing to
men such as those.
     Richard had changed all that.
     But Richard wasn't at the palace, now. Nathan was.
     Ann had known Nathan for a very long time--for nearly a thousand years.
For  most  of  that  time,  as  Prelate,  she  had kept  him locked  in  his
apartments. Prophets could not  be allowed to  roam free.  Now, though, this
one was free. And,  worse, he had managed  to establish his authority in the
palace--the ancestral  home of the House  of  Rahl.  He was  an  ancestor to
Richard. He was a Rahl. He was a wizard.
     Ann's plan  suddenly  started to  seem very  foolish.  Just  catch  the
prophet off guard, she'd thought. Catch him off guard and snap a collar back
around  his  neck. Surely, there would  be an opening and he would  be  hers
     It had seemed to make sense at the time.
     At the bottom of the long descent, Nyda swept to the right, following a
narrow walk with a stone wall soaring up on the right and an iron railing on
the  left.  Ann  gazed off  over the railing,  but the  lantern light showed
nothing  but inky  darkness  below.  She  feared  to think  how far it might
drop--not that she had  any  ideas of a battle with her captors, but she was
beginning to worry that they just might  heave her over the edge and be done
with her.
     Nathan  had  sent them,  though.  Nathan,  as  irascible  as  he  could
sometimes  be, wouldn't  order  such  a  thing.  Ann considered,  then,  the
centuries  she had kept him locked away, considered the extreme measures  it
had sometimes taken to keep that incorrigible man under control. Ann glanced
over the iron rail again, down into the darkness.
     "Will Nathan  be  waiting for us?" she asked, trying to sound cheerful.
"I'd really like to talk to him. We have business we must discuss."
     Nyda shot  a dark look back  over her shoulder.  "Nathan has nothing to
talk to you about."
     At an uncomfortably narrow passageway  tunneling into  the stone on the
right,  Nyda led them  into the  darkness. The way  the woman rushed  lent a
frightening aspect to an already frightening journey.
     Ann at last  saw light up ahead.  The narrow passageway emptied  into a
small  area  where several halls converged.  Ahead and to the right they all
funneled  down  steep  stairs  that twisted as they  descended. As  she  was
prodded down the stairs, Ann  gripped the iron  rail, fearful of losing  her
footing, although the big hand holding  a fistful of her  dress at her right
shoulder would probably preclude  any chance of falling,  to say nothing  of
running off.
     In the  passageway at  the  bottom of  the  stairs, Nyda, Ann,  and the
guards  came  to a halt under  the  low-beamed ceiling.  Wavering light from
torches in floor stands gave the low area a surreal look. The place stank of
burning pitch, smoke, stale sweat, and urine. Ann doubted that any fresh air
ever penetrated this deep into the People's Palace.
     She heard a hacking cough echoing from a dim corridor to the right. She
peered  into that dark  hall and saw  doors to either side.  In  some of the
doors fingers gripped iron bars in small openings.  Other than the coughing,
no sound came from the cells holding hopeless men.
     A big man in uniform waited before an iron-bound door to the  left.  He
looked as if he might have been hewn from the same stone as the walls. Under
different  circumstances,  Ann  might have thought  that he was  a  pleasant
enough looking fellow.
     "Nyda,"  the  man said by way of greeting. When his eyes turned back up
after a  polite bow  of his  head, he asked in his deep voice, "What have we
     "A prisoner for you, Captain Lerner." Nyda seized the empty shoulder of
Ann's dress and hauled  her forward as if  showing  off a  pheasant after  a
successful hunt. "A dangerous prisoner."
     The  captain's  appraising  gaze  glided briefly  over  Ann  before  he
returned his attention to Nyda. "One of the secure chambers, then."
     Nyda nodded her approval. "Wizard Rahl doesn't want her getting out. He
said she's no end of trouble."
     At least half a dozen  curt responses sprang to mind,  but Ann held her
     "You had better come with  us, then," Captain Lerner said, "and  see to
her being locked in behind the shields."
     Nyda tilted her head. Two  of her men dashed forward and pulled torches
from stands. The  captain finally found the right key from a dozen or  so he
had on a ring.  The lock sprang open with a  strident clang that  filled the
surrounding  low corridors. It  sounded to Ann like a bell  being tolled for
the condemned.
     With a grunt of effort, the captain tugged the heavy door, urging it to
slowly  swing open. In  the  long hallway  beyond, Ann saw  but a couple  of
candles bringing meager light to the small openings in doors  to  each side.
Men began  hooting and  howling, like animals, calling  vile  curses  at who
might be entering their world. Arms reached out, clawing  the air, hoping to
net a touch of a passing person.
     The  two  men with torches swept into the hall right  behind  Nyda, the
firelight illuminating her in her red leather  so all those faces pressed up
against the  openings in their doors could see her.  Her Agiel, hanging on a
fine chain at her wrist, spun up  into her fist. She glared  at the openings
in the doors to each side. Filthy arms drew back in. Voices fell silent. Ann
could hear men scurry to the far recesses of their cells.
     Nyda, once certain there would be no  misbehavior,  started out  again.
Big  hands shoved Ann ahead. Behind,  Captain Lerner followed with his keys.
Ann pulled the corner of her shawl over her  mouth and nose, trying to block
the sickening stench.
     The captain took a small lamp from  a recess, lit it  from a candle  to
the  side, and  then  stepped  forward  to unlock  another door.  In the low
passageway beyond, the  doors  were spaced  closer together.  A hand covered
with infected lesions hung limp out of one of the tiny openings to the side.
     The  hall  beyond the next door  was  lower,  and no wider  than  Ann's
shoulders. She  tried  to slow her racing heart as she followed  the  rough,
twisting passageway. Nyda and the men had  to stoop, arms folded in, as they
made their way.
     "Here," Captain Lerner said as he came to a halt.
     He held  up his lantern and peered into the small opening in the  door.
On the second  try, he found  the right key and unlocked the door. He handed
his small lamp to  Nyda  and then  used both hands  to pull  the  lever.  He
grunted and tugged with  all his weight until  the door grated partway open.
He squeezed around the door and disappeared inside.
     Nyda handed in  the lamp  as  she followed  the captain  in.  Her  arm,
sheathed in red leather, came back out to seize a fistful of Ann's dress and
drag her in after.
     The captain was opening a second  door on the  other  side  of the tiny
room.  Ann could sense that  this was  the room  containing  the shield. The
second door grated open. Beyond  was a  room carved from  solid bedrock. The
only way out was  through the  door, and the outer room  that contained  the
shield, and then the second door.
     The House of Rahl knew how to build a secure dungeon.
     Nyda's hand gripped Ann's elbow,  commanding her into the room  beyond.
Even Ann, as short as she was, had to duck as she stepped over the high sill
to get through the doorway. The  only furniture inside  was  a  bench carved
from the  stone of the far wall itself, providing both a seat and a  bed off
the floor. A tin ewer  full of  water sat  on one end of the  bench. At  the
opposite end was a single, folded, brown blanket. There was a chamber pot in
the corner. At least it was empty, if not clean.
     Nyda set the lamp on the bench. "Nathan said to leave you this."
     Obviously it was a luxury the other guests weren't afforded.
     Nyda  stepped  one leg over the sill, but  paused when Ann  called  her
     "Please  give Nathan a message  for me? Please?  Tell  him that I would
like to see him. Tell him that it's important."
     Nyda smiled to herself. "He said you would say those words. Nathan is a
prophet, I guess he would know what you would say."
     "And will you give him that message?"
     Nyda's cold blue eyes looked to be weighing Ann's soul. "Nathan said to
tell you that he  has a  whole palace to run, and can't come running down to
see you every time you clamor for him."
     Those  were  almost  the exact  words she  had  sent down  to  Nathan's
apartments  countless times  when a  Sister  had come to her  with  Nathan's
demands to see the Prelate.  Tell Nathan that I have  a  whole palace to run
and I can't go running down there every  time he bellows  for  me. If he has
had a prophecy, then write  it down and  I will look it over when I have the
     Until that moment, Ann had never truly realized how cruel her words had
     Nyda pulled  the  door shut behind her. Ann was alone in  a  prison she
knew she could not escape.
     At least she was near  the  end of her life, and could not be held as a
prisoner  for nearly  her entire  life,  as she had held Nathan prisoner for
     Ann rushed to the little window. "Nyda!"
     The  Mord-Sith turned back from the second door, from beyond the shield
Ann could not cross. "Yes?"
     "Tell Nathan ... tell Nathan that I'm sorry."
     Nyda let out a brief laugh. "Oh, I think Nathan knows you're sorry."
     Ann thrust her arm through  the door, reaching toward the woman. "Nyda,
please. Tell him . .. tell Nathan that I love him."
     Nyda stared  at  her a  long moment  before she pushed the  outer  door

     Kahlan  lifted her head. She  gently laid a hand on Richard's  chest as
she turned her ear toward the sound she'd heard off in the darkness. Beneath
her hand, Richard's chest  rose and  fell with  his labored  breathing, but,
even at that, she felt relief--he was still  alive. As long as he  was alive
she could fight to find a solution. She wouldn't give him up. They would get
to Nicci. Somehow, they would get to her.
     A quick glance to  the position of the quarter moon told her that she'd
been asleep  less  than  an  hour. Clouds,  silvery in  the  moonlight,  had
silently begun streaming in from the north. In the distant sky she saw, too,
the moonlit wings of the black-tipped races that always trailed them.
     She hated  those birds.  The  races had  been following them ever since
Cara had touched the statue of Kahlan that Nicci said was a warning  beacon.
Those dark wings were never far, like the shadow of death, always following,
always waiting.
     Kahlan  recalled  all  too well  the  sand  in  that  hourglass  statue
trickling out.  Her time was running  out. She  had no actual  indication of
what would  happen when the time that sand had represented finally ran out--
but she could imagine well enough.
     The place where they had set up camp, before  a sharp rise of rock with
a  stand  of  bristlecone  pine  and thorny  brush to  one  side,  wasn't as
protected or tenable  a camp as  any of them would have liked,  but Cara had
confided that she was afraid that if they didn't stop, Richard wouldn't live
the night.
     That whispered warning had set Kahlan's heart to pounding, brought cold
sweat to her brow, and swept her to the verge of panic.
     She had known that the rough wagon ride, slow as it had been while they
made their way across open  country in the dark, seemed to have made it more
difficult for Richard to breathe. Less than two hours after they had started
out,  after Cara's  warning, they'd  been forced  to  stop. After  they  had
stopped,  they were all relieved that Richard's breathing  became more even,
and sounded a little less labored.
     They needed  to make it to roads  so that traveling would be  easier on
Richard, and  so  they could  make better  time. Maybe after  he rested  the
night, they could make swifter progress.
     She  had  to fight constantly to tell  herself  that they would get him
there, that they had a chance, and that the journey's  purpose wasn't merely
empty hope meant to forestall the truth.
     The  last  time  Kahlan had felt  this  helpless,  felt  this  sense of
Richard's life  slipping away, she'd at least had one solid chance available
to her to save him.  She'd  had no  idea, at the  time, that that one chance
taken  would be the catalyst  that  would initiate a  cascade of events that
would begin the disintegration of magic itself.
     She was the one who had made  the decision to take that chance, and she
was the one  responsible for all that  was now coming to pass. Had she known
what she now knew, she would have made  the same decision--to save Richard's
life--but that made her no less liable for the consequences.
     She  was  the  Mother  Confessor,  and, as  such,  was responsible  for
protecting the  lives  of  those with  magic, of  creatures of  magic.  And,
instead, she might very well be the cause of their end.
     Kahlan sprang to  her  feet,  sword  in  hand,  when  she  heard Cara's
whistled birdcall to alert them to her return. It was a birdcall Richard had
taught her.
     Kahlan slid the shutter on the lantern open all the way to provide more
light. She saw Tom, hand resting  on  the silver-handled  knife at his belt,
rise from  the nearby rock  where he'd been sitting as he watched  over both
the camp and the man Kahlan had touched with her power. The man still lay on
the ground at Tom's feet where Kahlan had ordered him to stay.
     "What  is  it?"  Jennsen  whispered as she  appeared at  Kahlan's side,
hastily rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
     "I'm not sure, yet. Cara signaled, so she must have someone with her."
     Cara walked in out of  the  darkness, and, as Kahlan had suspected, she
was pushing a man ahead of her. Kahlan frowned, trying to recall where she'd
seen him before. She blinked, then, realizing it  was the young man they had
come across a week or so back--Owen.
     "I tried to get to you sooner!" Owen cried out when  he saw  Kahlan. "I
swear, I tried."
     Holding him  by the shoulder  of his light coat, Cara  marched  the man
closer, then yanked him to a halt in front of Kahlan.
     "What are you talking about?" Kahlan asked.
     When Owen caught sight of Jennsen standing behind Kahlan's shoulder, he
paused with his mouth hanging open for an instant before he answered.
     "I meant to get to  you earlier, I swear," he said to Kahlan,  sounding
on the verge of  tears. "I went to  your  camp." He  clutched his light coat
closed at his chest as he began to  tremble. "I, I saw ... I saw all the ...
remains. Dear Creator, how could you be so brutal?"
     Kahlan thought Owen looked like he might throw up. He covered his mouth
and closed his eyes as he shook.
     "If you mean all those men," Kahlan said, "they tried to capture us, to
kill  us. We  didn't collect  them  from  their rocking chairs  beside their
hearths and  bring them out into  this  wasteland where we slaughtered them.
They attacked us; we defended ourselves."
     "But, dear Creator, how could you ..." Owen stood before her, unable to
control his  shivering.  He closed  his eyes. "Nothing is  real.  Nothing is
real. Nothing  is real." He repeated  it over  and  over, as  if  it were an
incantation meant to protect him from evil.
     Cara forcibly dragged Owen back a  bit  and sat him down on a shelf  of
rock.  Eyes closed  meditatively, he mumbled "Nothing  is real"  to  himself
continually while Cara took up a position to the left side of Kahlan.
     "Tell  us  what  you're doing here," Cara  commanded  in  a  low growl.
Although she didn't say it, the "or else" was clear enough.
     "And  be quick about it," Kahlan said. "We have  enough  trouble and we
don't need you added on top of it."
     Owen opened his eyes. "I went to your camp to tell you about it, but...
all those bodies ..."
     "We know about what happened back there. Now, tell us why you're here."
Kahlan was at the end of her patience. "I'm not going to ask you again."
     "Lord Rahl," Owen wailed, tears bursting forth at last.
     "Lord Rahl what," Kahlan demanded through gritted teeth.
     "Lord Rahl has been poisoned," he blurted out as he wept.
     Gooseflesh prickled up Kahlan's legs. "How can you possibly know such a
thing is true?"
     Owen stood, clutching twisted wads of his  coat at his chest. "I know,"
he cried, "because I'm the one who poisoned him."
     Could it be? Could it be that it wasn't really the runaway power of the
gift killing Richard, but poison? Could it  be that they had  it all  wrong?
Could it be that it was all caused by this man poisoning Richard?
     Kahlan felt her sword's hilt slip from her fingers as  she  started for
the man.
     He stood  watching her come, like a fawn watching a mountain lion about
to leap.
     Kahlan  knew there was something strange about this man. Richard,  too,
had thought there was something unsettling  about him,  something  not quite
     Somehow, this quaking stranger had poisoned Richard.
     Richard barely hung to life. He was suffering and in pain. This man had
been the  cause of it all.  Kahlan would  know why,  and she would  know the
truth of it.
     Kahlan closed the distance quickly. She  would not risk his escape. She
would not risk his lies.
     She would have his confession.
     Her  hand started coming up toward  him. Her power  was recovered-- she
could feel it there, in the core of her being, at the ready.
     This  man had tried to kill Richard. She intended to find out if  there
was a way to save him. This man could tell her.
     She committed herself to taking him.
     It was not necessary for Kahlan to invoke her birthright, but merely to
withdraw her  restraint of  it.  Her feelings  about  what this man had done
faded away; they no longer  mattered in this. Only the truth would serve her
now. She was a being of raw commitment.
     He had no chance. He was hers.
     She  saw  him standing frozen,  watching  her come,  saw his  blue eyes
widen, saw the  tears running down his cheeks. Kahlan  felt the cold coil of
power straining for release, demanding  to be freed. As her hand rose toward
this  man who had  harmed Richard,  she  wanted nothing so much as  what she
would have.
     He was hers.
     Cara abruptly jumped in between them.
     Kahlan's sight of the man was blocked by the Mord-Sith. Kahlan tried to
brush Cara aside, but she was ready and firmly held her ground.  Cara seized
Kahlan by the shoulders and forced her back three paces.
     "No. Mother Confessor, no."
     Kahlan was still focused on Owen,  even  if she couldn't see him.  "Get
out of my way."
     "No. Stop."
     "Move!"  Kahlan  tried to shove Cara aside, but the  woman had her feet
spread and couldn't be budged. "Cara!"
     "No. Listen to me."
     "Cara, get out of--"
     She  shook  Kahlan  so hard that  Kahlan  thought  her neck would snap.
"Listen to me!"
     Kahlan panted in rage. "What."
     "Wait until you hear what  he says. He came here  for a reason. When he
finishes, you can use  your power if  you want,  or  you can let me make him
scream  until  the  moon covers its ears, but  first we need to hear what he
     "I'll find out soon enough what he says,  and I'll know the truth. When
I touch him he will confess every detail."
     "And if Lord  Rahl  dies  as a result?  Lord Rahl's life hanging in the
balance. We must think of that first."
     "I am. Why do you think I'm going to do this?"
     Cara pulled Kahlan close  to hear her whisper. "And what  if using your
power on this  man kills him for some reason we  don't yet even  know about.
Remember when we didn't know everything in the past? Remember Marlin Pickard
announcing he had  come to assassinate  Richard? It was too easy  then,  and
it's too easy this time.
     "What if your touching this man is someone's design--a trick, with this
man  sent  as bait  of some sort?  What if they want you  to  do it for some
reason? What if  you do what they intend you to do--then what? It won't be a
simple mistake that we can work to fix. If Lord Rahl dies we can't bring him
     Cara's fierce  blue  eyes  were  wet. Her  powerful  fingers  dug  into
Kah-lan's shoulders. "What can  it hurt to hear him first,  before you touch
him? You can then touch him, if you still think it's necessary--but hear him
first. Mother Confessor, as a sister of the Agiel, I'm  asking  you, please,
for the sake of Lord Rahl's life, wait."
     More than  anything,  it was Cara's  reluctance to use force that  gave
Kahlan  pause. If there was  anyone who  would  be more than  willing to use
physical force to protect Richard, it was Cara.
     In  the dim light of the lantern, Kahlan studied the emotion  in Cara's
expression. Despite  everything Cara said, Kahlan didn't know  if  she could
afford to take the chance, to hesitate.
     "What if it's a stab in the dark?" Jennsen asked from behind.
     Kahlan glanced back over her shoulder at Richard's sister, at the worry
on her face.
     Kahlan had made a  mistake before in not acting  quickly enough, and it
resulted  in Richard  being  captured and taken from her.  Then  it was  his
freedom; this time it was his life at stake.
     She knew that while  hesitation had  been a  mistake in  that instance,
that didn't mean that immediate action was always right.
     She looked back into Cara's eyes. "All right. We'll hear what he has to
say." With  a  thumb, she brushed a tear from Cara's cheek, a tear of terror
for Richard, a tear of terror at the thought of losing him. "Thanks," Kahlan
     Cara nodded and released her. She turned and folded  her  arms,  fixing
Owen in her glare.
     "You had better not make me sorry for stopping her."
     Owen  peered  about at  all  the faces  watching  him--Friedrich,  Tom,
Jennsen, Cara, Kahlan, and  even the man Kahlan had touched,  lying  on  the
ground not far away.
     "In  the first place, how could you  possibly  have poisoned  Richard?"
Kahlan asked.
     Owen  licked  his  lips, fearful  of  telling her, even though that was
apparently why he had returned. His gaze finally broke toward the ground.
     "When I saw the dust rising from the wagon, and I knew that I was near,
I dumped  out  what water  I had  left, so it would appear I had none. Then,
when Lord Rahl  found me, I asked for a drink. When he gave me his waterskin
so I could have a drink, I put poison in it, just before I handed it back. I
was relieved that you had showed up, too. It was  my intention that I poison
both  Lord  Rahl and you, Mother  Confessor, but you had your  own water and
didn't take a  drink when  he  offered it to  you.  But  I  guess it doesn't
matter. This will work just as well."
     Kahlan couldn't make sense of such  a confession. "So  you  intended to
kill us both, but you were only able to poison Richard."
     "Kill... ?" Owen looked up in shock at the very idea. He shook his head
emphatically. "No, no, nothing  like  that. Mother Confessor, I tried to get
to you earlier, but those men went to your camp before I got there. I needed
to get the antidote to Lord Rahl."
     "I see. You wanted to save him--after you'd poisoned  him--but when you
got to our camp, we'd gone."
     His eyes filled with  tears again. "It was so awful. All  the  bodies--
the blood. I've never seen such brutal murder." He covered his mouth.
     "It  would have  been murder--our murder,"  Kahlan said,  "had  we  not
defended ourselves."
     Owen seemed not to hear her.  "And you were gone--you'd left.  I didn't
know where you'd gone. It was hard to follow your wagon's trail in the dark,
but I  had to. I had to run,  to catch up with you. I was  afraid the  races
would get me, but I knew I had to reach you tonight. I couldn't  wait. I was
afraid, but I had to come."
     The whole story was nonsense to Kahlan.
     "So  you're like  one of those people  who starts  a fire, calls out an
alarm, and then helps put it out--all so you can be a hero."
     Startled, Owen shook his head. "No, no, nothing like that. Nothing like
that at all--I swear. I hated doing it. I did. I hated it."
     "Then why did you poison him!"
     Owen twisted  his  light coat in his fists  as tears trickled  down his
cheeks. "Mother Confessor, we have to give him the antidote, now, or he will
die.  It's already so very late." He clasped his hands prayerfully and gazed
skyward. "Dear Creator, let it not be  too late, please." He reached out for
Kahlan, as if to  urgently beg her as well, to  assure her of his sincerity,
but  at  the  look  on  her face, drew back.  "There's  no more time, Mother
Confessor. I tried to get to you earlier--I swear. If you don't let him have
the  remedy  now,  it   will  be  the  end  of  him.  It  will  all  be  for
naught--everything, all if it, all for nothing!"
     Kahlan didn't know if  she dared  trust in  such an  offer. It  made no
sense to poison a man and then save him.
     "What's the antidote?" she asked.
     "Here." Owen hurriedly pulled  a small vial from  a  pocket inside  his
coat. "Here it is. Please, Mother Confessor." He  held the square-sided vial
out toward her. "He must have this now. Please, hurry, or he will die."
     "Or this will finish him," Kahlan said.
     "If  I wanted to  finish him,  I  could have done so when I slipped the
poison into his  waterskin. I could have used  more of it, or I could simply
not have come  with the antidote. I'm not a killer, I swear--  that's why  I
had to come in the first place."
     Owen  wasn't making a whole  lot  of sense. Kahlan wasn't  confident in
such  an offer. It  was Richard's life  that would be  forfeit if she  chose
     "I say we give Richard Owen's antidote," Jennsen whispered.
     "A stab in the dark?" Kahlan asked.
     "You said that  there  were  times when there  is no choice  but to act
immediately,  but  even then  it must be with  your best judgment, using all
your experience and everything you  do  know. Earlier, in the wagon, I heard
Cara tell you  that  she didn't know if Richard would  live  the night. Owen
says he has an antidote. I think this is one of those times we must act."
     "If it means anything," Tom offered in a  confidential tone,  "I'd have
to agree.  I don't  see as  there really is any choice. But  if  you have an
alternative that might save Lord Rahl, I think now would be the time to  add
it to the stew."
     Kahlan  didn't have any alternative, except getting  to Nicci, and that
was looking more and more like no more than empty hope.
     "Mother  Confessor," Friedrich  offered in  a hushed tone, "I agree  as
well. I think you should know that if  you let  him have the remedy, we  all
were in agreement that it was the best choice to be made."
     If the antidote killed Richard, they wouldn't blame her. That  was what
he was saying.
     Jennsen stepped toward Owen, pulling  Betty  along with her. "If you're
lying about this being an antidote, you will have to  answer to me,  and  to
Cara, and then to the Mother Confessor--if there's even anything left of you
by then. You do understand that, don't you?"
     Owen shrank from  her, his head  turned away, as he  nodded vigorously,
apparently fearing to look  up at her, or at Betty.  Kahlan thought that  he
looked more afraid of Jennsen than of any of the rest of them.
     Cara leaned toward  Kahlan and whispered. "He has to have  an antidote.
What purpose would it be to place himself in danger of all  we'll do to  him
if  he's lying?  Why  even come back here, if he only wanted  to poison Lord
Rahl? He had  already poisoned  him and gotten away. Mother Confessor, I say
that we give Lord Rahl the antidote, and we do it quickly."
     "Then  why poison him in the  first place?" Kahlan whispered back.  "If
you intend to give a man the antidote, then why poison him?"
     Cara let out a frustrated sigh. "I don't know.  But right  now, if Lord
Rahl dies ..."
     Cara's words trailed off at the unthinkable.
     Kahlan looked over at Richard  lying unconscious.  She went weak at the
thought of him never waking. How could she live in a world without Richard?
     "How much do we give him?" she asked Owen.
     Owen rushed forward, past Jennsen.  "All of  it. Make him drink it  all
down."  He  pressed  the small, square-sided  bottle  into  Kahlan's  hands.
"Hurry. Please hurry."
     "You've hurt him," Kahlan said with unrestrained  menace. "Your  poison
hurt him. He's been coughing up blood, and  he passed out from  the pain. If
you think I'll ever forget that and be pleased with you for now returning to
save his life, you're wrong."
     Owen nervously  licked  his lips. "But I tried  to  get to  you. I  was
bringing you the antidote so that wouldn't happen. I never intended him such
pain. I tried to get to you--but you slaughtered all those men."
     "So, it's our fault, then?"
     Owen smiled just a bit as he nodded, a small smile of satisfaction that
she'd finally seen the light and at last understood that it wasn't his fault
at all, but their fault.
     While  Jennsen watched  Owen, keeping him  back  out  of  the  way, Tom
watched the man  Kahlan had touched, and Friedrich watched Betty, Kahlan and
Cara  knelt  and lifted  Richard  so they  could try to get him to drink the
antidote. Cara propped his back against her thigh  while Kahlan cradled  his
head in her arm.
     She  pulled  the  stopper with her teeth and spit out the cork. Careful
not to  spill and waste any of the antidote, she put the  bottle to his lips
and tipped  it up. She  watched it wet his lips. She  tilted his  head  back
more, so  that his mouth would fall open  a bit,  and tipped the bottle some
more. Carefully, she let some of the clear liquid dribble into his mouth.
     Kahlan didn't know if what was in the bottle really was an antidote. It
was colorless and looked to her just like water. As Richard smacked his lips
a  little,  swallowing what she had poured in his mouth, Kahlan  smelled the
bottle. The liquid had the slight aroma of cinnamon.
     She dribbled  more  of it  into Richard's  mouth. He  coughed, but then
swallowed. Cara used a finger to swipe up a drop that  ran down his chin and
return it to his mouth.
     Kahlan,  her heart pounding  with  worry, poured the rest of the liquid
past his lips. Holding the empty bottle  between her thumb and first finger,
she used the  palm of  her hand to  push Richard's jaw up, forcing his  head
back, forcing him to swallow.
     She sighed with relief when  he swallowed several times, taking all the
cure. At least she'd been able to get him to swallow it.
     Carefully, Kahlan and  Cara laid Richard back down. As Cara stood, Owen
rushed forward.
     "Did you give him all of it? Did he drink it all?"
     Cara's Agiel spun into her fist. As Owen,  in  his exuberance to get to
Richard, charged forward, Cara rammed her Agiel into Owen's shoulder.
     Owen tottered back a step.  "I'm sorry." He  rubbed  his shoulder where
Cara had jabbed her Agiel into him. "I only wanted to see how he is. I don't
mean any harm. I want him to be well, I swear."
     Kahlan stared  in astonishment. Cara glanced down at her Agiel, then at
     Her Agiel hadn't worked on him. He wasn't affected by magic.
     Even Jennsen  was staring  at Owen.  He was just  like her--a pillar of
Creation, born  pristinely ungifted and unaffected by magic.  While  Jennsen
understood what  that meant,  it didn't seem that Owen did.  He  had no idea
that Cara had  done anything more  than poke him good and hard to get him to
stand back.
     Her Agiel should have dropped him to his knees.
     "Richard  drank  all the  antidote.  Now it  must  do its work.  In the
meantime, I think we had better get some sleep." Kahlan gestured with a tilt
of her head. "See to the watches, would you Cara? I'll stay with Richard."
     Cara nodded. She gave Tom a look, which he understood.
     "Owen," Tom said,  "why don't  you come  over by me and spend the night
over here, with this fellow."
     Owen  blanched  at  the  look  on  the face of  the  big  D'Haran,  and
understood  that  he  wasn't being  offered  a choice. "Yes,  all right." He
turned back to Kahlan.  "I'll  pray  that he got the  antidote in time. I'll
pray for him."
     "Pray for yourself," she said.
     When  everyone  had  gone, Kahlan lay down beside Richard. Now that she
was  alone  with him, tears of worry finally began to  seep out. Richard was
shivering with cold, even though it was a warm  night. She drew  the blanket
back up around him  and then put  her hand on  his shoulder  as  she cuddled
close, not knowing if when the new day came he would still be with her.

     Richard opened his eyes,  only to squint at  the light, even though  it
was far from sunny. By the  layered streaks  of violet tinting the iron gray
sky, it appeared to be just dawn. A  heavy overcast hung low overhead. Or it
could be sunset--he wasn't really sure. He felt strangely disoriented.
     The  dull throbbing in  his head  ached back down through his neck. His
chest burned with  every breath  he  drew. His throat  was  raw. It  hurt to
     The heavy pain, though, the pain that had squeezed so hard it had taken
his  breath and  had  made the  world  go black,  seemed to  have ebbed. The
bone-chilling grip of cold had lifted, too.
     Richard felt as if he had lost contact with the  world for a time-- how
long a time he didn't  know. It seemed like it  had been  an eternity, as if
the world of life was a distant memory from his past. He also felt  as if he
had  come  close to  never waking again. It brought a flash  of sweat to his
brow to feel that he had been close to losing his life,  to realize  that he
might never have awakened.
     The surroundings  were different from  those he remembered. Close by, a
wall of straw-colored  rock with sharp  fractured edges rose nearly straight
up. To the side he saw a stand of twisted bristlecone pine. Pale,  bare wood
stood out in naked relief where  sections of  dark bark had peeled open. The
imposing  mountains loomed closer  than he remembered,  and  there were more
trees on the slopes of the nearby hills.
     Jennsen  lay curled up in a  blanket beside Betty, her back against the
rear wheel  of  the wagon. Tom was asleep not too far  away right beside his
draft horses. Friedrich  sat on a rock standing watch. Richard couldn't make
sense of  the  two men who lay at Friedrich's  feet. Richard thought  one of
them  must  be the  man  Kahlan had touched  with her power. The other  one,
though, he  wasn't  sure of, although Richard thought  there  was  something
familiar about him.
     Kahlan  was sound asleep up  against  him. His sword  lay on  his other
side, close  by  his  hand. On  the other  side  of  Kahlan lay  her  sword,
sheathed, but at the ready.
     All the  Seekers who  had used the Sword of  Truth before  Richard, the
good and the evil, had  left within the sword's  magic the essence of  their
skill. By mastering the sword as the  true Seeker for whom the makers of the
sword  intended its power, Richard had  learned to tap that ability and make
it his own,  to  draw on all the skill and knowledge of those before him. He
had become a master  of the blade, in more ways than  one, and  part of that
had come from the blade itself.
     Kahlan  had  been  taught to  use a sword  by her father,  King  Wyborn
Amnell, once king  of  Galea  before  Kahlan's mother had taken him  for her
mate.  Richard had  completed Kahlan's training, teaching her  how to use  a
sword in ways she had never been shown, ways that used her size and speed to
her  best advantage,  rather  than fighting like the enemy and depending  on
     Despite his pounding head, and the pain when he drew a breath, the warm
feel of  Kahlan  against  his  side  brought  him  a smile.  She  looked  so
beautiful, even with her hair all in a  tangle. She made his heart ache with
longing. He had always loved her long beautiful hair. He loved to watch  her
sleep  almost as much  as he loved to gaze into her arresting green eyes. He
loved to make her hair a tangled mess.
     He remembered, back when  he had first met her, watching her  sleep  on
the  floor of Adie's home, watching her  slow  heartbeat in the vein  in her
neck. He  remembered, as he'd  watched, being struck by the life in her. She
was just  so  alive, so  passionately filled  with  life.  He couldn't  stop
smiling as he looked at her.
     Gently, he bent and kissed  the  top of her head. She stirred, nuzzling
up tighter to him.
     Suddenly, she jerked upright, sitting on a  hip as she stared wide-eyed
at him.
     She threw herself down  beside him, her head on his shoulder,  her  arm
across his chest.  She clutched him for dear  life. A single gasp  of  a sob
that terrified him with its forlorn misery escaped her throat.
     "I'm all right," he soothed as he smoothed her hair.
     She pushed herself up again, slower, gazing  at  him  as if she  hadn't
seen him in  an  eternity. Her  special smile,  the one  she  gave only him,
spread incandescent across her face.
     "Richard..." She seemed only able to stare at him and smile.
     Richard, still lying back trying to  let his head clear, lifted an  arm
just enough to point. "Who is that?"
     Kahlan  looked  back  over her shoulder. She turned  back  and took  up
Richard's hand.
     "Remember that fellow a week or so back? Owen? That's him."
     "I thought I recognized him."
     "Lord  Rahl!" Cara dropped to the  ground  on the side  of him opposite
Kahlan. "Lord Rahl..."
     She, too,  seemed to have trouble finding  words. Instead, she took  up
his free hand. That, in itself, said a world to him.
     Richard took the hand back,  kissed his first  two  fingers and touched
the fingers to her cheek.
     "Thanks for watching out for everyone."
     Jennsen  hobbled  over,  the blanket  still  tangled  around  her legs.
"Richard! The antidote worked! It worked, dear spirits, it worked!"
     Richard rose  up onto an elbow. "Antidote?"  He  frowned  at the  three
women around him. "Antidote to what?"
     "You were poisoned," Kahlan told him.  She aimed a  thumb back over her
shoulder. "Owen. When he came to us the first time, you gave him a drink. In
thanks, he put poison in your  waterskin. He intended to poison  me with it,
too, but only you drank it."
     Richard's glare  settled  on  the  men  at Friedrich's  feet,  watching
them.He nodded  his confirmation  that it  was  true,  as  if he  should  be
commended for it.
     "One of those little mistakes," Jennsen said.
     Richard puzzled at her. "What?"
     "You  said that  even you  made  mistakes, and even a little  one could
cause  big trouble.  Don't you remember?  Cara  said you were  always making
mistakes,  especially  simple ones,  and  that's why you  need  her around."
Jennsen flashed him a teasing smile. "I guess she was right."
     Richard didn't correct the story, but  said, as he stood, "It just goes
to  show how you can be taken by  surprise  by  something as simple  as that
fellow over there."
     Kahlan was watching Owen. "I have a suspicion he isn't so simple."
     Cara  put her arm out for  Richard to grab hold of in order  to  steady
     "Cara," he said as he had to sit down on a nearby crate from the wagon,
"bring him over here, would you?"
     "Gladly," she said  as she started across their camp.  "Don't forget to
tell him about Owen," Cara said to Kahlan.
     "Tell me what?"
     Kahlan leaned close as she watched Cara haul Owen to his feet. "Owen is
pristinely ungifted--like Jennsen."
     Richard  raked  his  hair back, trying  to make sense  of  it. "Are you
saying that he's also my half brother?"
     Kahlan shrugged. "We don't know that; we know only that he's pristinely
ungifted." A wrinkle of puzzlement tightened on her brow. "By the  way, back
at the camp where those men attacked us, you were about to tell me something
important  you figured out when we were questioning the man that I  touched,
but you never got the chance."
     "Yes"--Richard  squinted,  trying  to  recall  what the  man  had  told
them--"it was  about the one he said gave  the orders sending him to capture
us: Nicholas ... Nicholas something."
     "The Slide," Kahlan reminded him. "Nicholas the Slide."
     "Right. Nicholas told  him where to find us--at the eastern edge of the
wasteland, heading north. How could he know?"
     Kahlan mulled over  the question.  "Come to  think  of it, how could he
know? We've seen no one,  at least no one we  were aware of,  who could have
reported where  we  were. Even if  someone had  seen  us,  by the  time they
reported our position and Nicholas sent the men, we would have been far from
here. Unless Nicholas is close."
     "The races," Richard said. "It has to  be that he's the one watching us
through the races. We've seen no one else. That's the only  way anyone could
have known where  we were. This Nicholas the  Slide had to  have seen us, to
have seen where we  were, through those  birds that have been  shadowing us.
That's how he was able to give our location along with the orders."
     Richard rose as the man approached.
     "Lord Rahl,"  Owen  said,  arms  spread in a  gesture  of relief  as he
scurried forward, Cara holding a fistful of his coat at his shoulder to keep
him reined in.  "I'm so relieved you're better. I never meant for the poison
to hurt you as  it did--and it  never  would have,  had you had the antidote
sooner.  I  tried  to get to  you sooner--I meant to--I swear I did, but all
those men you slaughtered... it wasn't my fault."  He added a small smile to
the  pleading  expression he gave Kahlan.  "The Mother  Confessor knows, she
     Kahlan  folded her  arms as she  looked up  at Richard  from under  her
frown. "It's our fault, you see, that Owen didn't make it to  us sooner with
the antidote  to the poison. Owen got  to our  last  camp, intending to hand
over the antidote to cure  you, only to find that  we had murdered all those
men and then up  and left. So, it's not his fault--his  intentions were good
and he tried; we spoiled his effort. Very inconsiderate of us."
     Richard stared, not sure if Kahlan was giving him a sarcastic summation
of what Owen had  told her, or an accurate portrayal of Owen's excuse, or if
his head still wasn't clear.
     Richard's mood turned as dark as the thick overcast.
     "You poisoned me," he said to Owen, wanting to be sure he had the man's
story straight,  "and then you brought an antidote to where we were  camped,
but when you got to that camp, you came across the men  who had attacked  us
and you found we had gone."
     "Yes."  His  cheer  that Richard  had  it right abruptly  faded.  "Such
savagery from the unenlightened is to be  expected,  of course." Owen's blue
eyes filled with tears.  "But still, it  was so  ..." He hugged  himself and
closed his eyes as he rocked his weight from side to side, from one foot  to
the other. "Nothing is real. Nothing is real. Nothing is real."
     Richard seized  the man's  shirt at  his throat and  yanked him closer.
"What do you mean, nothing is real?"
     Owen paled before  Richard's glare. "Nothing is real.  We can't know if
what we see, if anything, is real or not. How could we?"
     "If you see it, then how can you possibly think it isn't real?"
     "Because our  senses  all the time  distort the  truth  of  reality and
deceive us. Our senses  only delude us into  the illusion of  certainty.  We
can't see at night--our sight tells us  that the night  is empty--but an owl
can snatch up a mouse that with  our eyes we couldn't  sense was there.  Our
reality says the mouse  didn't exist--yet we  know it must, in spite of what
our vision tells us--that another reality exists outside our experience. Our
sight, rather than revealing truth, hides the truth from us--worse, it gives
us a false idea of reality.
     "Our senses  deceived  us.  Dogs can smell a world of  things we can't,
because our  senses  are so limited. How can a dog  track something we can't
smell, if our senses tell us  what is real and what isn't. Our understanding
of reality, rather than being enhanced by, is instead limited by, our flawed
     "Our  bias   causes  us   to   mistakenly  think   we   know   what  is
unknowable--don't you see? We aren't equipped  with adequate senses to  know
the true nature of reality, what is real and what isn't. We only know a tiny
sampling of the world around us. There is a whole  world  hidden from  us, a
whole world of mysteries we don't see--but it's there just the same, whether
we see  it or not, whether we have the  wisdom to admit  our inadequacies to
the task  of knowing reality,  or  not. What  we  think we know  is actually
unknowable. Nothing is real."
     Richard leaned down. "You saw those bodies because they were real."
     "What  we  see  is  only  an  apparent  reality,  mere  appearances,  a
self-imposed illusion, all based on our flawed perception. Nothing is real."
     "You didn't like what you saw,  so you choose, instead, to say it isn't
     "I  can't  say  what's real.  Neither can  you.  To  say  otherwise  is
unenlightened  arrogance.   A  truly  enlightened  man  admits  his   woeful
ineffectiveness when confronting his existence."
     Richard pulled Owen closer. "Such whimsy can  only  bring you to a life
of misery and  quaking fear, a life  wasted  and never really lived. You had
better start  using your  mind  for  its true  purpose  of knowing the world
around you,  instead  of abandoning it to faith  in irrational notions. With
me, you will  confine  yourself  to the  facts of the  world we live in, not
fanciful daydreams as concocted by others."
     Jennsen tugged on Richard's sleeve, pulling him back to hear her as she
whispered.  "Richard,  what  if  Owen  is right--not  necessarily about  the
bodies, but about the general idea?"
     "You mean  you think  his conclusions  are all wrong, and yet, somehow,
the convoluted idea behind them must be right."
     "Well, no--but what if what he says really is true? After  all, look at
you and me. Remember the conversation we had a while back, the one where you
were explaining how I was born without eyes to see"-- she glanced briefly at
Owen and  apparently  abbreviated  what  she  had  intended to say--"certain
things.  Remember that you said that, for me, such things don't  exist? That
reality is different for me? That my reality is different than yours?"
     "You're getting what I said wrong, Jennsen. When most people get into a
patch of poison  ivy, they  blister  and itch. Some rare  people don't. That
doesn't  mean the poison ivy doesn't exist, or, more to the point,  that its
existence depends on whether or not we think it's there."
     Jennsen pulled him  even closer. "Are  you  so sure? Richard, you don't
know what it's like to be different from everyone  else, to not see and feel
what they  do. You say  there's  magic,  but I can't see it, or  feel it. It
doesn't touch me.  Am  I  to believe you  on  faith,  when my  senses say it
doesn't exist?  Maybe  because of that I can understand a little better what
Owen means. Maybe he  doesn't have it all  wrong.  It  makes a person wonder
what's real and what's  not, and if, like he says, it's  only your own point
of view."
     "The information our  senses give us  must be  taken  in context.  If I
close  my  eyes  the  sun  doesn't  stop shining.  When I go  to  sleep  I'm
consciously unaware of anything; that  doesn't mean that the world ceases to
exist. You have  to use the information  from your  senses  in context along
with what you've learned to be true about the nature of things. Things don't
change because of the way we think about them. What is, is."
     "But,  like  he says,  if we don't experience something  with  our  own
senses, then how can we know it's real?"
     Richard folded his arms. "I can't get pregnant. So would you argue that
for me women don't exist."
     Jennsen backed away, looking a little sheepish. "I guess not."
     "Now," Richard said, turning back to Owen, "you poisoned me-- you admit
that much." He  tapped his fist against his  own  chest. "It  hurts in here;
that's real. You caused it.
     "I want to know why,  and I  want to know why you brought the antidote.
I'm not interested in what you  think of the camp where the men who attacked
us  lay dead.  Confine  yourself to  the  matter  at hand. You  brought  the
antidote for the poison you gave me. That can't be the end of it. What's the
     "Well," Owen  stammered, "I didn't want you to  die, that's why I saved
     "Stop telling me your  feelings  about what you did and tell me instead
what you did and why. Why poison me, and why then save me? I want the answer
to that, and I want the truth."
     Owen glanced around at the grim faces watching him. He took a breath as
if to gather his composure.
     "I needed your help. I had to convince you to help me. I asked, before,
for  your  help and you refused, even  though  my people have  great need. I
begged. I told you how important it was for them  to have your help, but you
still said no."
     "I have my own problems I must deal with," Richard said. "I'm sorry the
Order invaded your homeland--I  know how terrible that is-- but  I told you,
I'm trying to bring them down and our doing  so will only help you and  your
people in your effort to rid yourselves of them. You aren't the only one who
has  had  their home  invaded by  those brutes.  We  have men  of  the Order
murdering our loved ones as well."
     "You must help us, first," Owen insisted. "You and those like  you, the
unenlightened ones, must free my  people.  We can't do it  ourselves--we are
not savages. I  heard  what you all had to say about  eating meat. Such talk
made  me ill. Our people  are  not  like  that--we can't be, because we  are
enlightened. I saw how you murdered  all those men back there. I need you to
do that to the Order."
     "I thought that wasn't real?"
     Owen ignored the question. "You must give my people freedom."
     "I already told you, I can't!"
     "Now, you  must." He looked  at Cara,  Jennsen, Tom, and Friedrich. His
gaze settled on Kahlan. "You must see to it that Lord Rahl  does this--or he
will die. I have poisoned him."
     Kahlan  seized  Owen's  shirt.  "You  brought him  the antidote  to the
     Owen nodded. "That first night, when I told you all of my great need, I
had just given him the poison." His gaze  returned to Richard. "You had just
drunk it, within hours. Had you  agreed to give my people  the freedom  they
need, I would have given you the antidote then, and you would be free of the
poison. It would have cured you.
     "But  you  refused  to  come with  me,  to help  those who  cannot help
themselves, as is your duty  to those  in need.  You sent me away. So, I did
not offer you the antidote. In the time since, the poison has worked its way
through your  body. Had you not been selfish, you would have been cured back
     "Instead, the poison is  now established in you, doing  its work. Since
it was so long since you drank the poison, the antidote I had with me was no
longer enough to cure you, only to make you better for a while."
     "And what will cure me?" Richard asked.
     "You will  have to have more of the antidote  to rid you of the rest of
the poison."
     "And I don't suppose you have any more."
     Owen shook his head. "You must  give my people freedom. Only then, will
you be able to get more of the antidote."
     Richard wanted to shake the answers out of the  man. Instead, he took a
breath,  trying to stay calm so that he  could  understand the truth of what
Owen had done and then think of the solution.
     "Why only then?" he asked.
     "Because,"  Owen  said, "the  antidote is in  the place  taken  by  the
Imperial Order. You must rid us of the invaders if you are to be able to get
to  the  antidote. If you want to live, you must give us our freedom. If you
don't, you will die."

     Kahlan reached in to seize  Owen by the throat. She wanted to  strangle
him,  to choke him, to  make him feel the desperate, panicked need of breath
that Richard had endured, to make him suffer, to show him what it was  like.
Cara went for Owen as well,  apparently having the same thought  as  Kahlan.
Richard thrust his arm out, holding them both back.
     Holding Owen's shirt in his other fist, Richard shook the man. "And how
long do I  have until I  get sick again?  How long do I have to  live before
your poison kills me?"
     Owen's confused gaze flitted from  one angry face  to another. "But  if
you do as I ask, as is your duty, you will  be fine. I promise. You saw that
I  brought  you the antidote.  I don't  wish  to  harm you.  That  is not my
intent--I swear."
     Kahlan could only think of Richard in crushing pain, unable to breathe.
It had  been terrifying. She couldn't  think of anything  else but him going
through it again, only this time never to wake.
     "How long?" Richard repeated.
     "But if you only--"
     "How long!"
     Owen  licked  his lips.  "Not a month. Close to  it, but not a month, I
     Kahlan tried to push Richard away. "Let me have him. I'll find out--"
     "No." Cara  pulled Kahlan back. "Mother Confessor," she whispered, "let
Lord Rahl do as he must. You don't know what your touch would do to one such
as he."
     "It might do nothing," Kahlan insisted, "but it  might  still work, and
then we can find out everything."
     Cara restrained her with an arm around her waist that Kahlan  could not
pry off. "And if only the Subtractive side works and it kills him?"
     Kahlan stopped struggling as she frowned  at Cara. "And since when have
you taken up the study of magic?"
     "Since it might harm Lord Rahl." Cara  pulled  Kahlan back farther away
from Richard. "I have a mind, too, you know. I can think things through. Are
you  using your head? Where is this city? Where  is  the antidote within the
city? What  will you do if using  your power kills this man and you are  the
one who condemns Lord Rahl to death when you  could have had the information
we need had you not touched him.
     "If you want, I will break his arms. I will make him bleed. I will make
him scream in agony. But I will not kill him;  I will keep him alive so that
he  can give us  the  information we need  to  rid  Lord Rahl of  this death
     "Ask  yourself,  do you really want to  do  this because you believe it
will  gain  you  the answers  we  need, or because you want to lash  out, to
strike  out  at him?  Lord Rahl's life may  hang on you being truthful  with
     Kahlan panted from the effort of the struggle, but more  from her rage.
She wanted to lash out,  to strike  back, just as Cara  said--to do whatever
she could to save Richard and to punish his attacker.
     "I've had it with this game," Kahlan said. "I want to  hear the story--
the whole story."
     "So do I," Richard said. He lifted the man by his shirt and slammed him
down atop the crate. "All right, Owen, no more excuses  for why you did this
or that. Start at the beginning and tell us what happened, and  what you and
your people did about it."
     Owen sat trembling like a leaf. Jennsen urged Richard back.
     "You're frightening him," she whispered to Richard. "Give him some room
or he will never be able to get it out."
     Richard took a purging breath as he acknowledged Jennsen's words with a
hand  on her shoulder. He walked off  a few paces,  standing with  his hands
clasped behind his back as he stared off  in  the  direction of the sunrise,
toward  the mountains Kahlan had so often seen him studying.  It had been on
the other side of the range  of  the smaller, closer mountains, tight in the
shadows  of  those massive peaks thrusting  up through the iron gray clouds,
where  they  had  found  the  warning  beacon  and  first  encountered   the
black-tipped races.
     The clouds that capped the sky all the way to the wall of those distant
peaks hung heavy and dark. For  the first time since Kahlan  could remember,
it looked  like a storm  might  be  upon them.  The expectant smell of  rain
quickened the air.
     "Where are you from?" Richard asked in a calm voice.
     Owen cleared his throat as he straightened his shirt and light coat, as
if rearranging his dignity. He remained seated atop the crate.
     "I lived  in  a place of  enlightenment, in a civilization  of advanced
culture ... a great empire."
     "Where is this noble empire?" Richard asked, still staring off into the
     Owen stretched his neck up, looking east. He pointed at the far wall of
towering peaks where Richard was looking.
     "There. Do  you  see  that notch in the high  mountains?  I lived  past
there, in the empire beyond those mountains."
     Kahlan remembered asking Richard  if he thought they could make it over
those mountains. Richard had been doubtful about it.
     He looked back over his shoulder. "What's the name of this empire?"
     "Bandakar," Owen said in a reverent murmur. He smoothed his  blond hair
to the side,  as  if to  make himself a  respectable representative  of  his
homeland. "I was a citizen of Bandakar, of the Bandakaran Empire."
     Richard had  turned  and was staring at Owen in a most peculiar manner.
"Bandakar. Do you know what that name, Bandakar, means?"
     Owen  nodded.  "Yes.  Bandakar  is an  ancient  word  from a time  long
forgotten. It means 'the chosen'--as in, the chosen empire."
     Richard seemed to have lost a little  of his color. When  his  eyes met
Kahlan's, she could see that he knew very well what the word meant, and Owen
had it wrong.
     Richard seemed  to  suddenly  remember himself. He rubbed  his  brow in
thought. "Do you--do any of your people--know the language that this ancient
word, bandakar, is from?"
     Owen gestured dismissively. "We don't know  of the  language; it's long
forgotten. Only the meaning of this word has been passed down, because it is
so important to our people to hold on to the heritage of its meaning: chosen
empire. We are the chosen people."
     Richard's demeanor had changed. His anger seemed to have faded away. He
stepped closer to Owen and spoke softly.
     "The Bandakaran Empire--why isn't  it  known? Why does no  one  know of
your people?"
     Owen looked away, toward the east, seeing his  distant homeland through
wet eyes. "It is said that the ancient ones, the ones who gave us this name,
wanted to protect us--because  we are a special people. They  took  us  to a
place where  no one  could go, because of  the  mountains all  around.  Such
mountains as only the Creator could impose to close off the land beyond,  so
that we are protected."
     "Except that  one  place"--Richard  gestured  east--"that  notch in the
mountain range, that pass."
     "Yes," Owen admitted, still staring off toward his homeland.  "That was
how  we entered the land beyond, our  land, but  others could enter there as
well;  it  was the  one place where we were  vulnerable. You see, we  are an
enlightened people who have risen above  violence,  but the world  is  still
full  of  savage races. So, those  ancient people,  who wanted our  advanced
culture to survive, to thrive without the brutality of the rest of the world
.. . they sealed the pass."
     "And your people have been isolated for all this time--for thousands of
     "Yes. We have a perfect  land, a place of  an advanced  culture that is
undisturbed by the violence of the people out here."
     "How was the pass, the notch in the mountains, how was it sealed?"
     Owen looked at Richard,  somewhat startled  by the question. He thought
it over a moment. "Well. . . the pass was sealed. It was a place that no one
could enter."
     "Because they would die if they entered this boundary."
     With an  icy  wave  of  understanding, Kahlan suddenly understood  what
composed the seal to this empire.
     "Well,  yes,"  Owen  stammered. "But  it  had to be  that  way to  keep
outsiders from invading our empire. We reject violence unconditionally. It's
unenlightened behavior. Violence  only invites ever more violence, spiraling
into a cycle of  violence with no end." He fidgeted with the worry of such a
trap catching them up in the allure of its wicked spell. "We are an advanced
race, above the violence of our ancestors. We have grown beyond. But without
the boundary that seals that  pass and until the  rest  of the world rejects
violence as we have, our people could be the prey of unenlightened savages."
     "And now, that seal is broken."
     Owen stared at the ground, swallowing before he spoke. "Yes."
     "How long ago did the boundary fail?"
     "We aren't sure. It  is a dangerous place. No one  lives near it, so we
can't be positive, but we believe it was close to two years ago."
     Kahlan felt the dizzying burden of confirmation of her fears.
     When  Owen looked up, he was a picture  of  misery. "Our empire is  now
naked to unenlightened savages."
     "Sometime after the boundary  came  down, the  Imperial  Order came  in
through the pass."
     "The land  beyond those snowcapped mountains, the Empire of  Ban-dakar,
is where the black-tipped races are from, isn't it?" Richard said.
     Owen looked up, surprised  that Richard  knew  this.  "Yes. Those awful
creatures,  innocent though they are of  malice, prey on  the  people  of my
homeland. We must stay  indoors at  night, when they hunt. Even so,  people,
especially children, are sometimes  surprised and caught by  those  fearsome
     "Why don't you kill  them?" Cara asked,  indignantly.  "Fight them off?
Shoot them with arrows? Dear spirits, why don't you bash their heads in with
a rock if you have to?"
     Owen looked shocked by the  very  suggestion. "I told you, we are above
violence. It would  be even more wrong to  commit  violence on such innocent
creatures.  It is our duty to preserve them, since it is we who entered into
their domain. We are the ones who bear the guilt because we entice them into
such behavior  which  is only  natural to  them. We preserve virtue  only by
embracing  every aspect  of the  world without the  prejudice  of our flawed
human views."
     Richard gave  Cara a stealthy gesture to be quiet. "Was everyone in the
empire peaceful?" he asked, pulling Owen's attention away from Cara.
     "Weren't  there  occasionally those who...  I don't  know,  misbehaved?
Children, for example. Where I  come  from,  children can  sometimes  become
rowdy. Children where you come from must sometimes become rowdy, too."
     Owen shrugged a bit with  one shoulder. "Well, yes,  I  guess so. There
were times when children misbehave and become unruly."
     "And what do you do with such children?"
     Owen cleared his throat, plainly  uncomfortable. "Well, they are... put
out of their home for a time."
     "Put  out  of their  home  for a time," Richard repeated. He lifted his
arms  in a questioning shrug. "The children I  know will usually be happy to
be put outside. They simply go play."
     Owen shook his head emphatically at the serious  nature  of the matter.
"We are different. From the time  we  are born, we are together with others.
We are all very close. We depend on one another. We cherish  one another. We
spend  all our waking hours with others. We cook and wash and work together.
We sleep in a sleeping house, together. Ours is an enlightened life of human
contact, human closeness. There is no higher value than being together."
     "So," Richard  asked, feigning a  puzzled look,  "when one  of you--  a
child--is put out, that is a cause of unhappiness?"
     Owen  swallowed as a  tear ran down his cheek. "There  could be nothing
worse. To be put out,  to be  closed off from others, is the worst horror we
can endure. To be  forced  out into  the  cold cruelty  of  the  world is  a
     Just talking about such a  punishment,  thinking about  it,  was making
Owen start to tremble.
     "And that's when, sometimes, the races get such children," Richard said
in a compassionate tone. "When they're alone and vulnerable."
     With  the back of his hand Owen wiped the tear from his cheek.  "When a
child must be put out  to be punished, we take all  possible precautions. We
never put them out  at  night because  that  is when the races usually hunt.
Children are put  out for  punishment only in  the day. But when we are away
from  others,  we  are  vulnerable to all  the terrors  and cruelties of the
world. To be alone is a nightmare.
     "We  would  do  anything  to  avoid  such  punishment.  Any  child  who
misbehaves  and  is  put  out  for a while will  not likely misbehave  again
anytime soon. There  is no greater joy than to finally be  welcomed back  in
with our friends and family."
     "So, for your people, banishment is the greatest punishment."
     Owen stared into the distance. "Of course."
     "Where I come from, we all got along pretty well, too. We enjoyed  each
other's company and had great  fun when many people would gather. We  valued
our times  together. When we're  away for a time, we  inquire  about all the
people we know and haven't seen in a while."
     Owen smiled expectantly. "Then you understand."
     Richard nodded,  returning the smile.  "But  occasionally there will be
someone who  won't behave, even when they're  an adult. We try everything we
can, but, sometimes, someone  does  something wrong--something they know  is
wrong.  They  might  lie  or  steal.  Even  worse,  at  times  someone  will
deliberately hurt another person--beat someone when  robbing them, or rape a
woman, or even murder someone."
     Owen wouldn't look up at Richard. He stared at the ground.
     As  he spoke, Richard paced slowly before the  man.  "When someone does
something  like that where you come from, Owen, what do your people  do? How
do  an  enlightened people handle  such  horrible crimes some of your people
commit against others?"
     "We attack the root cause of  such  behavior  from the beginning," Owen
was  quick to answer. "We share  all we have to make sure that everyone  has
what they need so that they  don't have to steal. People steal because  they
feel the hurt of others acting superior. We show these people that we are no
better  than they and so they need not harbor such fears of others. We teach
them to be enlightened and reject all such behavior."
     Richard shrugged nonchalantly. Kahlan would  have thought that he would
be ready to strangle the answers out of Owen, but, instead, he was  behaving
in a calm,  understanding manner. She had seen  him act this  way before. He
was  the  Seeker of Truth,  rightfully named  by  the  First Wizard himself.
Richard was doing what  Seekers did: find  the truth. Sometimes  he used his
sword, sometimes words.
     Even though  this  was  the way Richard  often  disarmed people when he
questioned them,  in  this case it  struck  Kahlan that  such  a  manner was
precisely what Owen would be most accustomed to, most comfortable with. This
gentle manner was pulling answers  from  the man  and  filling in  a lot  of
information Kahlan had never thought of trying to get.
     She had  already  learned that  she was the cause of  what had befallen
these people.
     "We both know, Owen,  that,  try as we might, such  efforts  to  change
people's ways don't always work. Some people won't  change. There  are times
when people do evil  things. Even among civilized people, there are some who
will  not behave  in a civil  manner despite all  your best  efforts. What's
worse  is that,  if  allowed  to  continue,  these few  jeopardize the whole
     "After  all, if you  have  a rapist  among you,  you can't allow him to
continue to  prey  on women. If a  man committed murder, you couldn't  allow
such a man to threaten the  empire with his ways, now could you? An advanced
culture,  especially, can't  be  faulted for wanting to stop such dangers to
enlightened people.
     "But  you've shunned all  forms of violence,  so you can  hardly punish
such a man physically--you  couldn't put a  murderer to death--not if you've
truly rejected  violence unconditionally. What do you  do with such men? How
does an enlightened people handle grave problems, such as murder?"
     Owen  was  sweating. It seemed not to have occurred  to him to deny the
existence of  murderers--Richard had already led him  past that, had already
established the existence of  such men. Before  Owen could think to  object,
Richard was already beyond, to the next step.
     "Well,"  Owen said,  swallowing,  "as you  say,  we are  an enlightened
people.  If someone does  something to harm  another, they are  given  ... a
     "A denunciation. You mean, you condemn  their actions, but not the man.
You give him a second chance."
     "Yes, that's right." Owen wiped sweat from his brow as he glanced up at
Richard. "We work very hard to  reform people who make such mistakes and are
given a denunciation. We recognize that their actions are a cry for help, so
we counsel them in  the  ways of enlightenment in order to help them  to see
that they are hurting all our people when they hurt one, and that since they
are one of our beloved people, they are  only  hurting  themselves when they
hurt another. We show such people compassion and understanding."
     Kahlan caught Cara's arm, and with a stern look convinced her to remain
     Richard paced slowly before Owen, nodding as if he thought that sounded
reasonable. "I understand. You put  a great deal of effort into  making them
see that they can never do such a thing again."
     Owen nodded, relieved that Richard understood.
     "But  then there  are  times when  one of  those  who  has  received  a
denunciation, and has been counseled to the very best of your ability,  goes
out and does the same crime again--or one even worse.
     "It's  clear, then, that  he refuses to be reformed  and  that  he's  a
threat to  public order, safety, and  confidence.  Left to his  own devises,
such a  person, by himself, will bring  the very thing  you  unconditionally
reject--violence--to stalk among your people and win others to his ways."
     A light  mist  had  begun  to fall. Owen sat on the  crate,  trembling,
frightened,  alone. Only  a short time ago he  had been reluctant  to answer
even  the most  basic  question  in a  meaningful way;  now  Richard had him
speaking openly.
     Friedrich stroked the jaw of  one of the horses as  he quietly watched.
Jennsen sat on a rock, Betty lying at her feet. Tom stood behind Jenn-sen, a
hand resting  gently on her  shoulder, but keeping an eye  on the man Kahlan
had touched  with  her  power.  That  man  sat  off to  the  side, listening
dispassionately as he waited to be commanded. Cara stood beside Kahlan, ever
watchful for  trouble,  but obviously caught  up  in  the unfolding story of
Owen's homeland, even if she was having a hard time holding her tongue.
     For her part, Kahlan, while she could sympathize with Cara's difficulty
in holding  her tongue, was transfixed by  the tale of  a  mysterious empire
that Richard casually,  effortlessly, drew from this  man who  had  poisoned
him.  She couldn't imagine where  Richard was  going with his matter-of-fact
questions.  What did  this  empire's forms  of  punishment  have to  do with
Richard being poisoned? It was clear to her, though, that Richard knew where
he was headed, and that the path he was following was wide and sunlit.
     Richard paused before Owen. "What do you do in those instances?--  when
you can't  reform someone  who has  become a danger to everyone.  What do an
enlightened people do with that kind of person?"
     Owen  spoke  in  a  soft  voice  that  carried  clearly  in  the  misty
early-morning hush. "We banish them."
     "Banish them. You mean, you send them into the boundary?"
     Owen nodded.
     "But you said  that  going  into  the boundary is  death.  You couldn't
simply send them into the boundary or you would be  executing them. You must
have  a place to  send  them through. A special place. A place where you can
banish them, without killing them, but a place where you know they can never
return to harm your people."
     Owen  nodded again.  "Yes.  There is such a  place. The  pass  that  is
blocked by the  boundary is steep and treacherous. But  there is a path that
leads down into the boundary. Those ancient ones who protected us by placing
that boundary  placed  the path  as  well. The path is said to allow passage
out. Because of the way  the mountain  descends, it is a difficult path, but
it can be followed."
     "And just because of how  difficult it  is, it's not possible  to climb
back up? To enter the Bandakaran Empire?"
     Owen  chewed his lower lip. "It goes down  through a  terrible place, a
narrow passageway through the boundary, a  lifeless  land, where it is  said
that death itself  lies to each side. The person banished is given  no water
or food.  He  must  find his own, on  the other side,  or  perish.  We place
watchers  at the  entrance of the  path, where they wait to be sure that the
one banished has gone through and  is  not lingering in the boundary only to
return.  The watchers  wait and watch for  several weeks to be sure that the
one banished has  gone beyond in search  of water and food, in search of his
new life away from his people.
     "Once beyond, the forest is a terrible place, a frightening place, with
roots that descend over the  edge like a land of  snakes. The path takes you
down  under that cascade of roots  and running water. Then,  even lower, you
find yourself in a strange land where the  trees are far above, reaching for
the distant light, but you see only their roots twisting and stretching down
into  the  darkness toward the ground. It is  said that  once  you  see that
forest of roots  towering all around you,  you  have  made  it  through  the
boundary and the pass through the mountains.
     "There is said to be no way to enter our land from that other  side--to
use the pass to return to our empire.
     "Once banished, there is no redemption."
     Richard moved up close beside Owen and placed a hand on his shoulder.
     "What did you do to be banished, Owen?"
     Owen  sank  forward, putting his  face in his hands as he finally broke
down sobbing.

     Richard left his hand on Owen's shoulder as he spoke in a compassionate
tone. "Tell me what happened, Owen. Tell me in your own way."
     Kahlan was  startled  to hear,  after  all Owen had  said,  that he had
become one of the banished. She saw Jennsen's jaw fall open. Cara lifted  an
     Kahlan  could  see  that  Richard's hand  on  Owen's  shoulder  was  an
emotional lifeline for the man. He finally sat up, sniffling back the tears.
He wiped his nose on his sleeve.
     He looked up  at Richard.  "Should I tell  you  the whole story? All of
     "Yes. I'd like to hear it all, from the beginning."
     Kahlan was struck  at how much Richard reminded her, at that moment, of
his  grandfather, Zedd,  and the way  Zedd always wanted  to hear  the whole
     "Well,  I was happy among my people, with them all around me. They held
me to their  breast when I  was young. I was always safe in  their welcoming
arms. While I knew of other children who became  unruly  and were put out as
punishment,  I never did anything to be  put out. I hungered to  learn to be
like my people.  They  taught me the ways  of enlightenment.  For a  time  I
served my people as the Wise One.
     "Later,  my people were pleased  with  how  enlightened I  was,  how  I
embraced them all, and  so  they made me the speaker of our town. I traveled
to  nearby  towns  to  speak the words  of what  the people  of my  town all
believed  as one.  I went to our great cities  for the  same  reason. I  was
always happiest, though, when I was home with my closest people.
     "I fell in love with a woman from my town. Her name is Marilee."
     Owen stared off into his memories. Richard didn't rush him, but  waited
patiently until he began again at his own pace.
     "It was spring, a little more than two years ago, when we fell joyfully
in love. Marilee and I  spent  time talking,  holding  hands,  and,  when we
could, sitting together  while among all the others. Among  all  the others,
though, I only had eyes for Marilee. She only had eyes for me.
     "When  we  were with others,  it  felt like we were alone in the world,
Marilee and I, and the world belonged to us alone, that only we had the eyes
to see all its  hidden beauty. It is wrong to  feel this way, to be so alone
in our hearts is to be  selfish and  to think our eyes can see so clearly is
sinful pride, but we  could not help ourselves. The trees blossomed just for
us. The water in the streams burbled their music just for us.  The moon rose
for  us alone." Owen slowly shook his head. "You could not understand how it
was ... how we felt."
     "I understand  quite well how  it was," Richard assured him in a  quiet
     Owen glanced up at Richard; then  his gaze moved  to Kahlan. She nodded
to him that  it was so. His brow twitched with wonder. He  looked away then,
perhaps, Kahlan thought, in guilt.
     "Well," Owen said,  going back to his story, "I was the speaker of  our
town--the one who speaks what all decide that must be decided as being true.
I also sometimes  helped other people  resolve  questions  of  what is right
according to the tenets of an advanced culture." Owen flicked his hand in  a
self-conscious manner. "As  I said, I once served my people as the Wise One,
so the people trusted me."
     Richard just nodded, not interrupting, even though Kahlan  knew that he
didn't quite  understand the meaning of many of the details of what Owen was
saying any more  than she did. The gist of the story, though,  was  becoming
all too clear.
     "I asked Marilee if she would be  my wife, if she would marry me and no
other. She said that it was the happiest day of her life, to be asked by me,
for I said I wanted  no  other but her. It was the happiest day of  my  life
when she said she would have me as her husband.
     "Everyone  was  very pleased.  Everyone  loved  us  both,  and  kept us
sheltered in  their arms  for  a  long time to show  their  joy.  As  we sat
together with everyone,  we all talked about the plans for  the  wedding and
how much we would all be  pleased  that  Marilee and  I would be husband and
wife and bring children among our people."
     Owen stared off in his thoughts. It seemed that he might have forgotten
that he'd stopped speaking.
     "So, was it a grand wedding?" Richard finally prompted.
     Owen  still  stared off. "The men of the  Order  came. That was when we
first realized that  the seal,  that  had protected  our  people  since  the
beginning times, had failed. There was no longer a barrier protecting us.
     "Our empire was now naked to savages."
     Kahlan knew that what she  had done had  caused the  boundary  to fail,
resulting in these people being defenseless. She had had no choice, but that
didn't make it any easier to hear.
     "They came to our town, where I was speaker. Our town, like others, has
walls all  around;  those  who gave us our  name,  Bandakar, proclaimed that
towns should be built such as this. It was wise of them to tell us this. The
walls  protect  us  from  the  beasts  of the forests, make us safe, without
having to harm any creatures.
     "The men of the Order set up a camp outside our walls. There was really
no place for them to stay in the town--we have no accommodations to house so
many  people  because we never have  great numbers  of visitors  from  other
towns. Worse, I was fearful of having such men as they looked sleeping under
our roof  with us. It was wrong  to  have such fear; it  is  my failing, not
theirs, I know, but I had the fear.
     "Since I was the speaker for my  town, I  went  out to their camp  with
food and  offerings. I was filled with my sinful failing of being afraid  of
them. They  were big, some with long, dark, greasy, tangled hair, some  with
shaved heads, many with filthy beards of coarse hair--none of them with fair
sun-golden hair like our people. It  was shocking to see  them wearing hides
of animals, leather plates,  chains and metal,  and straps with sharp studs.
Hanging  on  their  belts,  they all  carried vicious-looking implements the
likes of which I had never  in my life  imagined, but  which I later learned
were weapons.
     "I told these strange men that they were welcome to share what  we had,
that we would honor them. I told them that they were invited to sit with us,
to share their words with us."
     Everyone waited in silence, not wanting to say a word as tears ran down
Owen's face and dripped off his jaw.
     "The  men  of  the Order did not sit with us.  They did not share their
words with us. Though I spoke to them, they acted as if I were not worthy of
their recognition, other than to grin at me as if they intended to eat me.
     "I  sought to  allay their fears, since it  is the fear of  others that
causes hostility. I assured the men that we were  peaceful and intended them
no ill will. I told them that we would do our best to accommodate them among
     "The man who was their speaker, a commander he called himself, spoke to
me then. He  told me that  his  name was Luchan. His shoulders were twice as
wide  as mine, even though he was no taller than  me. This man, Luchan, said
that he did not believe  me. I was horrified to  hear this. He said that  he
thought my people meant him harm. He accused us of wishing  to kill his men.
I was shaken that he would think  such a thing of us, especially after I had
told him of  our open welcome to  his men. I  was shaken  to know that I had
done something to cause him  to feel we were threatening to him and his men.
I assured him of our desire to be peaceful with them.
     "Luchan smiled at me then, not a smile of happiness, not a smile like I
had ever seen before. He said that they were going to burn down our town and
kill  all the  people  in  it  to prevent  us from attacking his men as they
slept. I begged him to believe our peaceful ways, to sit  with  us and share
his worries  and we would do what we needed to do to dispel such  doubts and
show him our love of him for being our fellow man.
     "Luchan said, then,  that he would not burn  down our town and  kill us
all upon a condition, as he called it. He said that  if I would surrender my
woman to him as a token of my sincerity  and goodwill  he would then believe
our  words. He said that if, on the other hand, I failed to  send her out to
him,  what  happened  would  be  my  fault,  would be on  my  head,  for not
cooperating  with them,  for not showing my  sincerity and  goodwill  toward
     "I went back to  hear the words of my people. Everyone agreed and  said
that I must do this--that I must send Marilee out to the men of the Order so
that they would not burn down our town and murder everyone. I asked them not
to decide so quickly, and offered  the idea that we could close the gates in
the wall to keep the men from  coming in and harming us. My people said that
men  such as these  would find a way to  break the wall, and then they would
murder everyone  for shutting our  gates and shaming them  with our  bigotry
toward them. The people all spoke up loudly that I must show the  man Luchan
goodwill and our peaceful intent, that I must allay his fears of us.
     "I never felt so alone among my people. I could not go against the word
of everyone, for it is taught that only the voices of people joined together
in one voice can be wise enough to know the true way. No one person can know
what is right. Only consensus can make a thing right.
     "My knees trembled as I stood before Marilee. I heard myself ask if she
wished  me to do as the men  wanted--as our people wanted. I told her that I
would run away with her if she would wish it.  She wept as she said that she
would not hear such sinful talk from me, for  it  would mean  the  death  of
everyone else.
     "She said that she must go  to the men  of the Order to appease them or
there would  be violence. She  told  me  that  she would  tell  them  of our
peaceful ways and thus gentle them toward us.
     "I was proud of Marilee for upholding the highest values of our people.
I wanted to die for being proud of such a thing as would take her from me.
     "I kissed  Marilee a last time,  but  I could not stop my tears. I held
her in my arms and we wept together.
     "Then, I took her out to the  man who  was their commander, Luchan.  He
had a thick black beard, a shaved head,  and a  ring through one ear and one
nostril.  He said that I had made a  wise choice. His sundarkened arms  were
nearly as big around as Marilee's waist. His big filthy hand took Marilee by
her arm and  bore her away with him as he turned back and told me to 'scurry
back' to my town, to my people. His men laughed at me as they  watched me go
back up the road.
     "The men of the  Order left my town and my people alone. We had peace I
had purchased with Marilee.
     "I had no peace in my heart.
     "For  a  time, the  men  of  the Order  were gone  from our  town. They
returned, then, one afternoon, and called for me to come out. I asked Luchan
about Marilee, if she was well, if she was happy. Luchan turned his head and
spat, then said he didn't know, that he never asked her. I  was worried, and
asked if  she  spoke with  him of our  peaceful ways,  assured  him  of  our
innocent intent toward him. He said that when he  was with  women  he wasn't
much interested in them for their talking.
     "He winked  at me.  Though  I had  never seen  anyone  wink in  such  a
fashion, I knew his meaning.
     "I was very frightened for Marilee,  but I reminded myself that nothing
is real, that I could not  really know anything from  what  I was hearing. I
was only  hearing what this one  man  said of things, as he saw  them, and I
knew that  I was only  sensing part of  the world. I could not know  reality
from my eyes and ears alone.
     "Luchan  said, then, that I should open the town gates  lest they think
we were  acting in a  hostile way toward them. Luchan said that if we failed
to do as he asked, it would begin a cycle of violence.
     "I went back and spoke his words to all the people  gathered around me.
My people all spoke in one  voice, and said that we must open  the gates and
invite them in to prove that we held no  hostility, no prejudice, toward the
     "The men of the Order came in through those gates we let stand wide for
them  and seized nearly all the women,  from those still the age of girls to
grandmothers. I stood  with the other men,  begging them to leave  our women
be, to leave us be. I told them that we had agreed to their demands to prove
to  them  that we meant  them no  harm, but it did no good.  They  would not
     "I told Luchan, then,  that I had sent Marilee to him  as his condition
for peace. I  told him that they must  honor their agreement. Luchan and his
men laughed.
     "I cannot say  if what I saw then was real. Reality is in  the realm of
fate, and we, in this place we think we know as the world, cannot know it in
full truth. That day, fate swept down on my people; we had no say in  it. We
know  that  we  must  not  fight  against  fate, for  it  has  already  been
foreordained by the true reality we cannot see.
     "I watched as  our women  were dragged away. I  watched,  unable to  do
anything, as  they  screamed our names, as they  reached out for us,  as the
hands of those  big men held  our women and bore  them away  from us.  I had
never heard such screams as I heard that day."
     The overcast seemed as if it would soon brush the tops of the trees. In
the thick silence, Kahlan  heard  a  bird in the  bristlecone pines singing.
Owen was alone, off  in  his solitary  world  of  terrible memories. Richard
stood, arms folded, watching the man, but saying nothing.
     "I went to other towns," Owen finally said. "In a couple of places, the
Order had been there  before  me. The men of the Order did  much the same to
those towns as they had done to my town; they took the women. In some places
they also took a few men.
     "In other places I went, the Order had not come  yet. As the speaker of
my town, I told them of  what had  befallen my town and I urged others to do
something. They were angry with me and said it was wrong to resist,  that to
resist  was  to give in to  violence, to become no better  than the savages.
They urged  me to renounce my outspoken ways  and to heed the wisdom  of the
joined voices of our people that had brought enlightenment and thousands  of
years  of peace. They told me that I  was  only looking at events through my
limited eyes, and not the better judgment of the group.
     "I went then to one of our  important  cities and told them again  that
the seal on the pass was broken and that the Imperial Order was upon us, and
that something must be done.  I  urged them to listen  to me and to consider
what we could do to protect our people.
     "Because I was so  inconsiderately assertive, the assembly  of speakers
took  me to the Wise  One so that I might have  his counsel.  It is  a great
honor to have  the words of the Wise One. The Wise One  told  me that I must
forgive those who had done these things against my people, if we were to end
the violence.
     "The Wise One said that the anger and hostility shown by the men of the
Order was a mark of their inner pain, a cry for help, and they must be shown
compassion  and  understanding.  I should  have been humbled  by such  clear
wisdom  as could only come from the Wise One, but instead I spoke out  of my
wish for Marilee and all the other people to be  returned from such men, and
for the speakers to help me in this.
     "The Wise One said that Marilee would find her own happiness without me
and that I was guilty of selfishness for wanting to keep  her for myself. He
said that fate had come for the other people and it was not my place to make
demands of fate.
     "I asserted to the speakers and the Wise One that the men of  the Order
had not upheld  the agreement made by Luchan for Marilee to be sent to them.
The Wise One said that Marilee had acted properly  by  going in peace to the
men so that the cycle of violence would end. He said that it was selfish and
sinful for me to put my  wants above peace she selflessly worked toward  and
that  my  attitude toward them  was  probably  what had provoked the  men to
     "I asked what I  was to do, when I had acted honestly but they had not.
The Wise One said that I was wrong to condemn  men I did not know, men I had
not first forgiven, or tried to embrace, or even to understand. He said that
I must  encourage them in the ways  of  peace by throwing myself before them
and begging them to forgive me for acting in a way that kindled their  inner
pain by reminding them of past wrongs done to them.
     "I told the  Wise One, then, in front of all the other speakers, that I
did not want to forgive these men or to embrace these men, but that I wanted
to cast them out of our lives.
     "I was given a denunciation."
     Richard handed Owen a cup of water but said nothing. Owen sipped at the
water without seeing it.
     "The gathering of  speakers commanded me to go back to my town and seek
the advice of those among whom I lived, commanding  that I ask my people  to
counsel me back to our ways. I went back intending to redeem myself, only to
discover that it had become worse than before.
     "Now,  the Order  had  returned to take  whatever they wanted  from the
town--food and goods. We  would have given them  whatever they  wanted,  but
they  never  asked,  they  just took.  More of our men had  been taken away,
too--some of the  boys  and some of those who  were  young and strong. Other
men, who had in some  way offended the dignity of the men  of the Order, had
been murdered.
     "People I knew stood staring with empty eyes at blood where our friends
had died.  In other such places, people gathered to mound remembrances  over
the blood. These places had become  sacred shrines and people knelt there to
pray. The children would not stop crying. No one would counsel me.
     "Everyone in my town trembled  behind doors,  but they  cast their eyes
down  and opened  those doors  when the men of  the Order  knocked,  lest we
offend them.
     "I  could not stand to be in our town any longer. I ran to the country,
even though I  was terrified  that I would be  alone. There, in the hills, I
found other men, selfish as I,  hiding in fear for their lives. Together, we
decided to  try to do  something, to try to  bring an end to the misery.  We
resolved to restore peace.
     "At first, we sent representatives to speak  with the men of the Order,
to let  them know  that we meant them no harm, and that we only sought peace
with them, and to ask what we could do to satisfy them. The men of the Order
hung  these  men by  their  ankles from poles at the  edge of our  town  and
skinned them alive.
     "I knew these men all my life, these men who  had counseled me, advised
me,  broken fasts with  me,  sheltered me  in their arms with joy when I had
told  them Marilee and I wanted to be wed. The  men  of the Order left these
poor men to hang by their ankles as they screamed in agony in the hot summer
sun, where the black-tipped races came and found them.
     "I reminded myself that what  I saw that day was not real,  and  that I
should not believe  such sights, that possibly my eyes were deceiving  me as
punishment for having improper thoughts, and that my mind could not possibly
know if this sight was real or an illusion.
     "Not every man that  had gone  to speak with  the men of the  Order was
killed. A few of our men were sent back to us with word from the Order. They
said that if we did not come down out  of the hills and return to their rule
in our town, to show that we did not intend  to attack them, then they would
begin  skinning  a dozen  people a day, and hanging  them  on  poles for the
races, until either we returned to demonstrate our peaceful intent, or until
every last person left in the town was skinned alive.
     "Many of our  men wept, unable to stand to think that they would be the
cause  of a cycle  of violence,  so they went back to the town  to show that
they intended no harm.
     "Not all of us went back. A few of us remained in the hills. Since most
returned, and the Order  had no count  of us, they  thought all had complied
with their command.
     "Those  few  of us who were left in the hills hid, living off the nuts,
fruits, and  berries we could find or the food  we snuck  back and stole. We
slowly gathered together supplies to  see us through. I  told  the other men
with  me that we should find  out what  the Order  was doing with our people
they had taken  away.  Since the  men of the Order didn't know  us, we could
sometimes mingle in with people working the fields or tending to animals and
sneak back into  our  town without  the Order  knowing who  we were--without
knowing that we were  men from the hills. Over  the next months, we followed
and watched the men of the Order.
     "The children had been sent away,  but  the men  of the Order had taken
all the women  to a  place they built--an encampment,  they  called it--that
they fortified against attack."
     Owen put his face in  his  hands again as he spoke through  sobs. "They
were  using  our women  as  breeding stock. They sought  to  have  them bear
children--as many children  as they could birth--children of their soldiers.
Some women were already pregnant. Most of those who weren't already pregnant
became pregnant. Over  the next year  and a half,  many  children were born.
They were  nursed for a time,  and then  they were all  sent  away  as their
mothers were gotten pregnant again.
     "I don't  know where these children were  taken--somewhere  beyond  our
empire.  The men  who had been  taken  from the  towns were also  taken away
beyond our empire.
     "The men  of  the  Order did not  watch their captives well, since  our
people  shunned violence, so a couple of men escaped and  ran  to the hills,
where they found us. They told us that the Order had  taken them  to see the
women, and told them that if they did not do as they were  told, if they did
not follow  all the orders they were given, then all these women before them
would die--that they would be  skinned alive. These  men who escaped did not
know where they were to be taken, or what it  was they were to do, only that
if they did not  follow the instructions given them, then  they would be the
cause of the violence to our women.
     "After a year and a half of  hiding, of meeting with others, we learned
that the Order had spread to other places in  our empire, taken  other towns
and cities. The Wise One and the  speakers  went into  hiding. We discovered
that some  towns and cities had invited  the Order to come  in, to be  among
them, in an attempt to appease them and keep them from doing harm.
     "No  matter  how  hard  our people  tried, their concessions  failed to
placate the belligerence of  the men of the  Order. We  could not understand
why this was true.
     "In some of the largest  cities, though,  it was different. The  people
there had listened to the speakers of the Order and had come to believe that
the cause of the Imperial Order was the same  as our  cause--to bring an end
to abuse and injustice. The Order convinced these  people that they abhorred
violence, that they had been enlightened as were our people, but they had to
turn to  violence to  defeat those who would oppress us all. They said  that
they were champions of our people's cause of enlightenment. The people there
rejoiced that they were at last in the hands of saviors who would spread our
words of enlightenment to the savages who did not yet live by peace."
     Richard, a thunderstorm building, could hold his tongue no longer. "And
even after  all  the brutality, these  people  believed  the  words  of  the
Imperial Order?"
     Owen  spread his hands. "The people  in those places were swayed by the
words of the Order--that they were fighting for the same ideals as  we lived
by. They told  our people  in those cities that  they had only acted as they
did because my town and some of the other  places like it had sided with the
savages from the north--with the D'Haran Empire.
     "I had heard this name before--the D'Haran Empire. During the  year and
a half  that I lived in the hills with the other  men, I  sometimes traveled
out  of our  land, out  into  the  surrounding  places, to see what  I could
discover  that  might help  us to cast  the Imperial  Order out of Bandakar.
While I was out of my land, I went to  some of the cities in  the Old World,
as I learned it was  called. In one place, Altur'Rang, I heard whispers of a
great man from the north, from the D'Haran Empire, who brought freedom.
     "Other of my men also went out to  other  places. When we returned,  we
all  told each other what we had seen, what we had heard. All those who came
back  told of the same  thing, told of hearing of one called Lord  Rahl, and
his wife, the Mother Confessor, who fought the Imperial Order.
     "Then,  we learned where the Wise One was being kept safe, as were most
of  our greatest speakers.  It was in our greatest city, a  place  where the
Order had not yet come. The  Order  was busy with  other places  and so they
were in no hurry. My people were going nowhere--they had nowhere to go.
     "The men who were with me wanted me to  be their speaker, to go to talk
with these  great speakers, to convince them that  we must do  something  to
stop the Imperial Order and cast them out of Bandakar.
     "I journeyed to the great city, a place I  had never been before, and I
was inspired at seeing  a place that such a great culture as ours had built.
A  culture  about  to  be  destroyed,  if I could  not  convince these great
speakers and the Wise One to think of something to do to stop the Order.
     "I spoke before them with great  urgency. I told them of all the  Order
had done. I told them of  the men I had in hiding, waiting for word  of what
they were to do.
     "The great speakers  said  that  I cannot  know the true  nature of the
Order from what I and a few men had seen--that the Imperial Order was a vast
nation and we  saw only a  tiny speck of their people.  They said  that  men
cannot  do such cruel acts  as I  described because it  would cause  them to
shrink back  in  horror before  they could  complete them. To prove it, they
suggested that I try to skin one of them. I admitted that I could not, but I
told them that I had seen the men of the Order do this.
     "The speakers scorned my insistence that it  was real. They said I must
always keep in mind that reality is not  for us to know. They  said that the
men  of the  Imperial  Order were  probably frightened that  we might  be  a
violent  people, and simply wanted to test our  resolve by tricking  us into
believing that the  things I described  were real so that they could see how
we reacted--if peace was really our way, or if we would attack them.
     "The great speakers said, then, that  I could  not know if I really saw
all the things I said,  and that even  if I did, I  could not judge if  they
were for the  bad, or  the good--that  I was not  the person  to  judge  the
reasons of men I did not know, that to  do so would be to believe that I was
above  them,  and to put  myself  above them would  be an act of  prejudiced
     "I could only think  of all  the things I had seen, of the  men with me
who all agreed  that we must convince the great speakers  to act to preserve
our empire.  I  could  only  see  in my mind the face of Luchan. And then, I
thought of Marilee in the hands of this man.  I thought of the sacrifice she
had made, and how her life was cast away into this horror for nothing.
     "I  stood  up before  the great speakers  and screamed  that they  were
     Cara snorted  a laugh.  "Seems you can tell what's  real, when  you put
your mind to it."
     Richard shot her a withering glare.
     Owen glanced  up and blinked. His thoughts  had been  so distant as  he
told his story that he hadn't really heard her. He looked up at Richard.
     "That was when they banished me," he said.
     "But the boundary seal had failed," Richard said. "You had already come
and gone through the  pass.  How  could they enforce  a banishment with  the
boundary down?"
     Owen  waved  dismissively.  "They  do  not  need  the  wall  of  death.
Banishment  is in a way  a sentence of death--the death of  the person as  a
citizen of Bandakar.  My name would be known throughout the empire, at least
what  was left of it, and every person would shun me. I would be turned away
from every door. I was  one of  the banished. No one  would want to have any
contact with me. I was  now an outcast. It  does not matter that they  could
not put me beyond the barrier; they put me beyond my people. That was worse.
     "I went back to my men in the hills to collect my things and confess to
them that I had been banished. I was going to go out beyond our homeland, as
I had been commanded by the will of our people through our great speakers.
     "But  my men,  those in the hills, they would not  see me go. They said
that the  banishment was wrong. These men  had  seen the things I  had seen.
They had  wives, mothers, daughters, sisters  who had been taken away.  They
all had seen their  friends murdered, seen the men skinned alive and left to
suffer in agony as  they died,  seen the races come to  circle over them  as
they  hung on  those poles. They said that since all our eyes had seen these
things, then these things must be true, must be real.
     "They all said that we had gone into the hills because we love our land
and want to restore the peace we once had. They said that the great speakers
were the ones whose eyes did not  see and they were condemning our people to
murder at  the hands of savage  men and those of our  people who lived  to a
cruel  life under  the  rule of the Imperial  Order,  to be used as breeding
stock or as slaves.
     "I  was  shocked  that   these  men  would  not  reject  me  for  being
banished--that they wanted me to stay with them.
     "It was then that we decided that we would be the ones to do something,
to  come  up with the plan we always wanted the speakers  to decide.  When I
asked what would be our plan, everyone said the same thing.
     "They all said that we must get Lord  Rahl to come and give us freedom.
They all spoke with one voice.
     "We decided, then, what we would do. Some men said that one such as the
Lord Rahl would come to cast out the Order when we asked.
     Others thought you might not  be willing, since  you  are unenlightened
and not of our ways, not of our people. When we considered that possibility,
we decided that we must have a way to insure you would have to come,  should
you refuse us.
     "Since I was  banished, I  said that it was  upon me  to do this thing.
Except to live in the  hills with my men,  I  could have  no life  among our
people  unless we cast out the Imperial Order and  our ways were restored to
us. I told the men that I did not know where I could find the Lord Rahl, but
that I would not give up until I did so.
     "First,  though,  one of the men, an  older man who had spent  his life
working with herbs and cures, made me the poison  I put into your waterskin.
He made  me the antidote  as well. He told me how the poison worked, and how
it could be counteracted,  since none of us wished to consider that it would
come to murder, even of an unenlightened man."
     By the sidelong  look Richard gave her, Kahlan knew  that he wanted her
to hold  her tongue, and knew that  she was having difficulty doing  so. She
redoubled her effort.
     "I was worried about how I would find you," Owen said  to Richard, "but
I  knew I had to.  Before I could go in search of you, though, I had to hide
the rest of the antidote, as was our plan.
     "While in a city  where the Order had won the  people to their  side, I
heard some people  at a market say  that  it was a great honor that the very
man who had come to their city was the most important man among all those of
the Imperial Order in Bandakar. The thought  struck me  that this man  might
know something of the man the Order hated most--Lord Rahl.
     "I stayed  in the city for several days, watching the  place where this
man was said  to be. I watched the  soldiers come and go. I  saw  that  they
sometimes took people in with them, and then later the people came back out.
     "One day  I saw  people  come  back  out  and they did not appear to be
harmed, so  I made my way close to them to hear what they might say. I heard
them talk that they had seen the great man himself. I could not hear much of
what they said of their visit inside, but none said that they were hurt.
     "And then I saw the soldiers come out,  and I suspected that they might
be going to get more people to take them in to see this great man, so I went
before them into  a central gathering square. I waited,  then, near the open
isles between the public benches. The soldiers rushed  in and gathered  up a
small crowd of people and I was swept up with the others.
     "I was terrified of  what  would happen to me, but I thought this might
be my only  chance to  go in  the building with this important man, my  only
chance to see what he looked like, to see the place where he was so I  could
know where  to sneak back  and listen, as I had learned to do when living in
the hills with my men. I had resolved to do this to see if I could learn any
information on Lord  Rahl. Still, I was  trembling with worry when they took
us all into the building and down halls and up stairs to the top floor.
     "I feared that I was being led to the slaughter and wanted to  run, but
I thought, then, of my  men back  in the  hills, depending on me to find the
Lord Rahl and get him to come to Bandakar and give us freedom.
     "We were taken through a heavy door into a dim room that filled me with
fear because  it stank of blood. The windows on two walls  of the stark room
were closed  off by shutters.  I saw that across the  room there was a table
with  a  broad bowl and,  nearby,  a row  of fat,  sharpened  wooden  stakes
standing nearly as  tall as my  chest. They were stained dark with blood and
     "Two women and a man with us fainted. Out of anger, the soldiers kicked
them in the heads. When the people did not  rise,  the soldiers dragged them
away by their arms. I saw blood trails smear along the floor behind  them. I
didn't  want to have my head caved  in by the boot of one of  these gruesome
men, so I resolved not to faint.
     "A man swept into the room, suddenly, like a chill wind. I had not ever
been afraid of any man, even Luchan, like I was afraid of this  man.  He was
dressed in layer upon  layer  of  cloth strips  that flowed out behind as he
moved. His jet black hair was swept back and smoothed with oils that made it
glisten.  His nose seemed to stick out even more than  it would have, had he
not  slicked  back his hair. His  small black  eyes were rimmed in red. When
those beady eyes fixed on me, I had to remind myself that I had vowed not to
     "He peered at each person in turn as he slowly walked past us, as if he
were picking out a turnip for dinner. It  was  then,  as  his knobby fingers
came out from his odd clothes to point in  a waving manner at one person and
then  another until  he  had pointed  out five people, that I  saw  that his
fingernails were all painted as black as his hair.
     "His hand waved, dismissing the  rest of us. The soldiers moved between
the five  people this man had pointed out  and the rest of  us. They started
pushing us toward the door, but just then, before we could be ushered out, a
commander with a nose that had been flattened  to the side, as if from being
broken repeatedly, came in and said  that the messenger had arrived. The man
with the black hair ran his black nails back through his black hair and told
the commander to tell the  messenger to wait, that  by morning he would have
the latest information.
     "I was  then led out and down  the  stairs along with the rest  of  the
people.  We  were  taken  outside and  told to go  away,  that our  services
wouldn't be needed. The soldiers  laughed when they  said this. I left  with
the others, so as not to make the men angry. The people all whispered  about
having seen the  great man himself. I could  think only  of what the  latest
information might be.
     "Later, after dark, I  sneaked back, and in the rear of  the building I
discovered, behind a gate through a high wooden fence, a narrow alleyway. In
the  dark, I entered the alley and  hid  myself inside a doorway entrance to
the back hall of  the  building. There were passageways beyond,  and, in the
candlelight, I recognized one passage as the place I had been earlier.
     "It was late and there was no one in the halls. I moved deeper into the
passageways.  Rooms and recesses  lined each side of the hall, but with  the
late hour no  one came  out. I sneaked up  the  stairs and crept to the  big
thick door to the room where I had been taken.
     "It was there, in that dark  hall before the big door, that I heard the
most horrifying cries I have ever heard. People were begging and weeping for
their lives,  crying for mercy. One  woman pleaded  endlessly  to be put  to
death to end her suffering.
     "I thought I would  vomit, or faint, but one  thought kept me still and
hidden, kept me from running as fast as my legs would carry me. That was the
thought that this  was the  fate of all my people if I did  not help them by
bringing Lord Rahl.
     "I  stayed  there all night, in a dark recess in a hall across from the
big door, listening to those poor people in unimaginable agony. I don't know
what  the man  was doing  to them, but I thought I would  die  of sorrow for
their  slow suffering.  The whole  of the  night, the  moans of agony  never
     "I shivered in my hiding place, weeping, and told myself that it wasn't
real,  that I shouldn't  be  afraid of  what was  not  real. I  imagined the
people's pain, but  told myself that I was putting my imagination on  top of
my senses--the very thing I had been taught was wrong. I put  my thoughts to
Marilee,  the times we had  been together, and ignored  the sounds that were
not real. I could not know what was real, what these sounds really were.
     "Early  in  the  morning the commander I  had seen before  returned.  I
peeked carefully out from  my dark hiding place. The man with the black hair
came to the door. I knew  it was him  because when  his arm came out of  the
room to hand the man a scrolled paper, I saw his black fingernails.
     "The man with the black hair said to the  commander with the flattened,
crooked nose, he called him 'Najari,' that he had found them. That's what he
said--'them.'  Then  he  said,  'They've made  it  to the  east edge of  the
wasteland and are  now heading north.' He told the man to give the messenger
the orders right away. Najari  said, 'Shouldn't be long, then, Nicholas, and
you will have them and we'll have the power to name our price.' "

     Richard spun around. "Nicholas? You heard him say that name?"
     Owen blinked in surprise. "Yes. I'm sure of it. He said Nicholas."
     Kahlan felt a weary  hopelessness  settle over her,  like the cold, wet
     Richard gestured urgently. "Go on."
     "Well, I wasn't sure that  they were talking about you--about the  Lord
Rahl and the Mother Confessor--when  the commander said 'them,'  but  by the
grim excitement in their voices  I had the  impression that it was so. Their
voices  reminded  me of the  first time  the Order  came,  at the way Luchan
smiled at me in a way I had never seen before, like he might eat me.
     "I thought that this information was  my  best chance to find you. So I
started out at once."
     Borne on  a  light gust,  drizzle  replaced the  morning  mist.  Kahlan
realized that she was shivering with the cold.
     Richard pointed at the man sitting on the ground not far away,  the man
with  the notch  in his right ear,  the man Kahlan had touched. Some of  the
storm within Richard boiled to the surface.
     "There  is the  man  the orders from Nicholas were sent to.  He brought
with him those men you saw at our  last camp. Had we not defended ourselves,
had we put our  own sincere hatred of violence  above the nature of reality,
we would be as lost as Marilee."
     Owen stared at the man. "What is his name?"
     "I don't know  and it  doesn't matter to me in the least. He fought for
the Imperial Order--fought to  uphold a view of  all life, including his, as
unimportant, interchangeable, expendable in the mindless pursuit of an ideal
that holds individual lives as worthless in themselves--a tenet that demands
sacrifice to others until you are nothing.
     "He fights for the dream of everybody to be nobody and nothing.
     "The beliefs  of the Order  hold that you had no right to love Marilee,
that  everyone is the same and  so your duty should be to marry someone  who
could best use your help. In that way, through selfless sacrifice, you would
properly serve your fellow  man. Despite how  you struggle not to see what's
before  your  eyes,  Owen, I think somewhere beneath all  your  regurgitated
teachings,  you  know that  that  is  the  greatest  horror  brought by  the
Order--not  their  brutality,  but their ideas.  It is  their  beliefs  that
sanction brutality, and yours that invite it.
     "He  didn't value his own life, who  he was; why should I care what his
name was. I give him what was his greatest ambition: nothingness."
     When Richard saw Kahlan shivering in the cold drizzle, he withdrew  his
hot glare from Owen and retrieved her cloak from her pack in the wagon. With
the utmost gentleness and care, he wrapped  it around  her shoulders. By the
look on his face, he seemed to have had all he  could  take of listening  to
     Kahlan seized his hand, holding it to her cheek for a moment. There was
some small good in the story they had heard from Owen.
     "This  means that the gift isn't  killing you, Richard," she said  in a
confidential tone. "It was the poison."
     She was relieved that they hadn't  run out of time to get  him help, as
she  had  so  feared on  that  brief, eternal  wagon  ride  when  he'd  been
     "I  had  the  headaches  before  I  ran  into  Owen.  I still  have the
headaches. The sword's magic as well faltered before I was poisoned."
     "But at least this  now gives  us  more  time to find the  solutions to
those problems."
     He  ran his fingers back through his  hair.  "I'm afraid  we have worse
problems, now, and not the time you think."
     "Worse problems?"
     Richard nodded. "You know the empire Owen comes from? Ban-dakar?  Guess
what 'Bandakar' means."
     Kahlan glanced at Owen sitting hunched on the crate and all by himself.
She  shook  her head as her gaze returned to  Richard's gray eyes,  troubled
more by the suppressed rage in his voice than anything else.
     "I don't know, what?"
     "In High D'Haran it's a name.  It means  'the banished.' Remember  from
the book, The Pillars of Creation, when I was telling you what it said about
how they decided to send all the  pristinely ungifted people away to the Old
World--to banish them? Remember that  I said no one ever knew what became of
     "We just found out.
     "The world is now naked before the people of the Bandakaran Empire."
     Kahlan frowned. "How can you  know for certain that he is  a descendant
of those people?"
     "Look at him. He's blond and looks more like full-blooded D'Harans than
he does  the people down  here in the Old  World.  More importantly, though,
he's not affected by magic."
     "But that could be just him."
     Richard leaned in closer. "In a  closed  place  like  he comes  from, a
place shut off from the rest of the  world for  thousands of years, even one
pillar of  Creation would  have  spread that ungifted  trait throughout  the
entire population by now.
     "But there wasn't just one; they were all ungifted. For that, they were
banished to  the  Old  World,  and in the  Old World, where  they  tried  to
establish  a new life, they  were again  all collected  and banished to that
place beyond those  mountains--a  place they were told was for the bandakar,
the banished."
     "How did the people in  the Old World find out about them? How did they
keep them all  together,  without a  single one  surviving  to spread  their
ungifted  trait to the general population, and how did they manage  to  then
put them all in that place--banish them?"
     "Good questions, all, but right now not the important ones.
     "Owen," Richard called as he  turned back to the others, "I want you to
stay  right there, please, while the rest of  us  decide  what  will  be our
single voice about what we must do."
     Owen brightened at  a method of  doing things with  which he identified
and  felt  comfortable.  He  didn't  seem  to detect,  as  did  Kahlan,  the
undercurrent of sarcasm in Richard's voice.
     "You," Richard  said to the man Kahlan had touched, "go sit beside  him
and see that he waits there with you."
     While the man scurried to do as he was told, Richard tilted his head in
gesture to the rest of them, calling them away with him. "We need to talk."
     Friedrich, Tom, Jennsen,  Cara, and  Kahlan followed  Richard away from
Owen and the man. Richard leaned back against the chafing  rail of the wagon
and folded his arms  as they all gathered close around  him. He took time to
appraise each face looking at him.
     "We have  big problems,"  Richard began, "and not just from the  poison
Owen gave me. Owen isn't gifted. He's like you, Jennsen. Magic doesn't touch
him." His gaze remained locked on Jennsen's. "The rest of his people are the
same as he, as you."
     Jennsen's jaw  fell open  in astonishment. She  looked confused,  as if
unable to  reconcile it all  in her mind. Friedrich and Tom looked nearly as
startled. Cara's brow drew down in a dark frown.
     "Richard,"  Jennsen finally said, "that just can't be. There's too many
of  them. There's no way that  they can all be half brothers and sisters  of
     "They aren't half brothers  and sisters," Richard said. "They're a line
of people  descended from the House of  Rahl--people like you.  I don't have
time right now to explain all of it to you, but remember how I told you that
you  would  bear  children  who were  like you,  and  they  would pass  that
pristinely  ungifted trait on  to all future generations? Well, back a  long
time ago, there  were people like that  spreading in D'Hara. The people back
then gathered up all  these ungifted people and sent them to  the Old World.
The  people down  here then  sealed them away beyond those mountains, there.
The name of their empire, Bandakar, means 'the banished.' "
     Jennsen's big blue eyes filled with tears. She was one of those people,
people so hated that they had been banished from  the  rest of the people in
their own land and sent into exile.
     Kahlan put an arm around her shoulders. "Remember how you said that you
felt  alone  in the  world?" Kahlan smiled warmly. "You  don't  have to feel
alone anymore. There are people like you."
     Kahlan didn't think her words seemed to help much, but Jennsen welcomed
the comfort of the embrace.
     Jennsen abruptly looked back up at Richard.  "That can't be  true. They
had a  boundary that kept them locked  in that place. If they were  like  me
they wouldn't be affected by a boundary of  magic. They  could have come out
of there any  time they  wished. Over all this time, at least  some of  them
would have come out into the  rest of  the world-- the magic of the boundary
couldn't have held them back."
     "I don't think  that's true," Richard said. "Remember when you saw  the
sand flowing sideways in that warning beacon that Sabar brought us? That was
magic, and you saw it."
     "That's right,"  Kahlan said. "If she's a pillar  of Creation, then how
is such a thing possible?"
     "That's  right,"  Jennsen agreed.  "How could  that  be,  if I'm  truly
ungifted?" Her  eyebrows went up. "Richard--maybe it's not true  after  all.
Maybe  I have  a bit of the spark of  the gift--maybe  I'm not really, truly
     Richard smiled. "Jennsen, you're as pure  as a  snowflake. You saw that
magic for a reason. Nicci wrote us in her letter that the warning beacon was
linked to  the  wizard who  created it--linked to him in the underworld. The
underworld is  the world of the dead. That means that the statue  functioned
partly  through Subtractive Magic--magic  having to  do with the underworld.
You may be immune  to magic, but you are not immune to death. Gifted or not,
you're still linked to life, and thus death.
     "That's why you saw  some of the magic of the statue--the part relating
to the advancement of death.
     "The boundary was a place in this world where death itself existed.
     To go into  that boundary was to  enter the world of  the  dead. No one
returns from  the dead. If any  pristinely ungifted person in  Bandakar  had
gone into the boundary, they would have  died. That was how they were sealed
     "But they could banish people through  the boundary," Jennsen  pressed.
"That would have to mean that the boundary didn't really affect them."
     Richard was shaking his head even as she was protesting. "No. They were
touched by death, the same as anyone.  But there was a way left  through the
boundary--much like the  one that  once divided the  three lands of  the New
World. I got through that boundary without being touched by  it. There was a
pass through it, a special, hidden place to get through  the  boundary. This
one was the same."
     Jennsen wrinkled  her  nose.  "That makes no sense, then.  If that  was
true, and it  wasn't  hidden  from them--since they all knew of this passage
through  the boundary--then why couldn't they all just leave if they  wanted
to? How could it  seal the rest of  them in,  if  they  could  send banished
people through?"
     Richard sighed, wiping a hand across his face. It looked to Kahlan like
he wished she hadn't asked that question.
     "You know  the area we passed  a while back?"  Richard asked her. "That
place where nothing grew?"
     Jennsen nodded. "I remember."
     "Well, Sabar said he came through another one, a little to the north of
     "That's  right,"  Kahlan  said. "And  it ran toward  the center of  the
wasteland,  toward the Pillars of Creation--just like the  one  we saw. They
had to be roughly parallel."
     Richard was  nodding to what she  was beginning  to  suspect. "And they
were to either side of the notch into Bandakar. They weren't very far apart.
We're in that place right now, between those two boundaries."
     Friedrich  leaned in. "But Lord  Rahl, that would mean that if  someone
was  banished  from  the  Bandakaran  Empire,  when  they emerged  from that
boundary they would  find themselves trapped between the  walls of these two
boundaries out here, and there wasn't much room between them. A person would
have nowhere to go but..."
     Friedrich covered his mouth as  he  turned west,  looking off  into the
     "The Pillars of Creation," Richard finished with quiet finality.
     "But, but,"  Jennsen stammered,  "are  you saying that someone made  it
that  way? Made these  two boundaries deliberately  to force  anyone who was
sent  out of  the Bandakaran Empire  to go into that  place--the  Pillars of
Creation? Why?"
     Richard looked into her eyes for a long moment. "To kill them."
     Jennsen  swallowed.  "You  mean,  whoever banished these  people wanted
anyone they in turn sent out, anyone they exiled, to die?"
     "Yes," Richard said.
     Kahlan pulled her cloak  tighter around herself. It had been hot for so
long she could hardly believe that the weather had so suddenly turned cold.
     Richard swiped a lock of wet hair back off his  forehead as he went on.
"From what Adie  told  me  once, boundaries have to  have a pass  to  create
balance on both sides, to equalize  the  life  on both sides. I suspect that
those down  here in the Old World who banished  these people wanted  to give
them  a  way to  get rid of  criminals  and  so  told the  people about  the
existence of  the pass. But they didn't want such people to be loosed on the
rest  of  the  world. Criminals or not, they were ungifted. They couldn't be
allowed to run free."
     Kahlan  immediately saw  the problem  with his theory.  "But all  three
boundaries would have had to have a pass," she said. "Even if the other  two
passes,  in the remaining  two boundaries, were  secret, that still left the
possibility that anyone exiled and sent through the notch might  find one of
them and  so not try to escape through  the  Pillars of Creation  where they
would die.  That  left  the chance that they might still escape into the Old
     "If  there  really were three  boundaries,  such might  be  the  case,"
Richard said. "But I don't think there were  three. I think there really was
only one."
     "Now you're not making any sense," Cara complained. "You said there was
the one going  north and south blocking the pass, and then  there were these
two parallel ones out here, going east  and west,  to funnel anyone who came
out  of  the  empire  through that first  boundary,  toward  the  Pillars of
Creation where they would die."
     Kahlan had to agree. It seemed that there might be a chance for someone
to escape through one of the other two.
     "I don't think there were three boundaries," Richard repeated. "I think
there was only one. That one boundary wasn't straight--it was bent in half."
He  held two fingers  up, side by side. "The bottom of the bend  went across
the pass." He pointed at  the  web between the two  fingers. "The  two  legs
extended out here, parallel, going off to where they ended at the Pillars."
     Jennsen could only ask "Why?"
     "It  seems to me, by  how elaborate the whole design was, that the ones
who sealed those people  in wanted to  give them  a way to rid themselves of
dangerous people,  possibly knowing  from  what  they  had  learned of their
beliefs that they would  balk  at executing anyone. When  these  people were
banished here to the Old World, they may have already had at  least the core
of the same  beliefs they  hold  now.  Those beliefs  leave them  completely
vulnerable  to  those who are  evil. Protecting  their way of  life, without
executing  criminals, meant  they had  to  cast  such  people  out  of their
community or be destroyed by them.
     "The banishment away from  D'Hara and the New World, across the barrier
into the Old World, must have terrified them. They stuck together as a means
of survival, a common bond.
     "Those down here in the Old World  who  put  them behind that  boundary
must have used those people's fear of persecution to  convince them that the
boundary was  meant to protect them, to keep others from harming them.  They
must have convinced those  people that, since they were special, they needed
such  protection.  That,  along with  their well-established need  to  stick
together, had to have reinforced in them a terrible fear of being put out of
their protected place. Banishment had a special terror to those people.
     "They must have  felt the anguish of being rejected by the rest of  the
peoples of the world because they were ungifted, but, together as they were,
they also felt safe behind the boundary.
     "Now that the seal is off, we have big problems."
     Jennsen folded her arms. "Now  that there's more than one of  us-- more
than one snowflake--you're having worries about a snowstorm?"
     Richard fixed her with a reproachful  look. "Why do you think the Order
came in and took some of their people?"
     "Apparently," Jennsen said, "to breed more children like them. To breed
precious magic out of the race of man."
     Richard ignored the heat in her words. "No, I mean why would they  take
     "Same reason,"  Jennsen said. "To mate with regular women and give them
ungifted children."
     Richard drew in a patient breath and let it out slowly. "What  did Owen
say? The men were taken to see the women and told that if they didn't follow
orders those women would be skinned alive."
     Jennsen hesitated. "What orders?"
     Richard leaned toward her. "What  orders, indeed.  Think about  it," he
said, looking around at the rest of them. "What orders? What would they want
ungifted men for? What is it they would want ungifted men to do?"
     Kahlan gasped. "The Keep!"
     "Exactly." Richard's unsettling gaze  met each of them in turn. "Like I
said, we  have big problems. Zedd is  protecting the Keep. With his  ability
and  the  magic of  that  place he can no  doubt  single-handedly  hold  off
Jagang's entire army.
     "But how is that skinny old man going to resist even one young ungifted
man who is untouched by magic and comes up and grabs him by the throat?"
     Jennsen's  hand came  away  from  her  mouth.  "You're right,  Richard.
Jagang, too, has that book--The Pillars of Creation. He knows how those like
me aren't touched by magic. He tried to use me in that  very way. That's why
he worked so hard to convince me that you were trying to  kill me--so that I
would think my only chance was to kill you first. He knew I was ungifted and
couldn't be stopped by magic."
     "And, Jagang is from the Old World," Richard  added. "In all likelihood
he would have known something about the empire beyond that boundary. For all
we know, in  the Old World Bandakar might  be legendary, while  those in the
New  World,  beyond the great barrier for  three thousand years, would never
have known what happened to those people.
     "Now, the  Order  has been  taking men from there and  threatening them
with  the brutal murder  of  their  defenseless  women--women who are  loved
ones--if those men don't follow orders. I think  those orders are to assault
the Wizard's Keep and capture it for the Imperial Order."
     Kahlan's  legs shook. If  the  Keep fell, they  would lose the one real
advantage,  however  limited, they had. With the  Keep  in the hands of  the
Order,  all those ancient  and deadly things of magic would be  available to
Jagang. There was no telling what he might unleash. There were things in the
Keep that could kill them  all, Jagang  included. He had already proven with
the plague he'd unleashed that he was willing to kill any number to have his
way,  that he was  willing to use any weapon, even if such weapons decimated
his own people as well.
     Even if Jagang did nothing with the Keep, just him having control of it
denied the  D'Haran Empire  the possibility of finding something there  that
could help them. That was, in addition to protecting the Keep, what Zedd was
doing while he was there--trying  to find something that would help them win
the war, or at least find  a  way to put the Imperial  Order back  behind  a
barrier of some kind and confine them to the Old World.
     Without  the  Keep,  their cause  would likely be hopeless.  Resistance
would  be nothing  more than delaying the  inevitable.  Without  the Keep on
their side, all resistance to Jagang would eventually be crushed. His troops
would pour  into  every  part of the New World.  There  would be no stopping
     With trembling fingers Kahlan clutched her cloak closed. She knew  what
awaited  her people, what  it  was like when  the Imperial Order invaded and
overpowered places. She had  been with the army for nearly a  year, fighting
against  them. They were like a pack of  wild dogs.  There was no peace with
such  animals after you. They would  be satisfied only when they could  tear
you apart.
     Kahlan  had been  to  cities, like Ebinissia, that had  been overrun by
Imperial Order soldiers. In a wild binge of  savagery that went on for days,
they  had  tortured,  raped,  and murdered every person trapped in the city,
finally leaving it a wasteland of human corpses. None, no matter  their age,
had been spared.
     That was what the people of the New World had to look forward to.
     With enemy troops overrunning all of the New World, any trade that  was
not  already  disrupted  would  be  brought  to  a  standstill.  Nearly  all
businesses  would fail. The livelihood of  countless  people would  be lost.
Food would quickly become scarce, and  then  simply unavailable at any cost.
People would  have  no  means of  supporting themselves and  their families.
People would lose everything for which they had worked a lifetime.
     Cities,  even  before  the  troops arrived,  would be  in a destructive
panic.  When the enemy troops arrived,  most people  would be burned  out of
their homes, driven from their cities and their land. Jagang would steal all
supplies  of food  for  his troops and  give  conquered land to his  favored
elite. The true  owners of that land would perish, or become slaves  working
their  own  farms.  Those  who  escaped  before  the  invading  horde  would
desperately cling to life, living like animals in wild areas.
     Most  of the  population would  be in flight, running  for their lives.
Hundreds of thousands  would  be out in the  elements without shelter. There
would be little food, and no ability to prepare for winter. When the weather
turned harsh, they would perish in droves.
     As civilization crumbled and starvation  became the norm, disease would
sweep across the land, catching up those on the run. Families would collapse
as those  they  depended  on suffered agonizingly slow and  painful  deaths.
Children and the  weak would be alone, to be preyed upon as a source of food
for the starving.
     Kahlan knew what such widespread disease was like. She knew what it was
to watch people dying by the thousands. She had seen it happen  in Aydindril
when  the plague was there. She saw scores stricken without warning. She had
watched the old, the young--such good people-- contract something they could
not fight, watched them suffer in misery for days before they died.
     Richard  had  been stricken with that  plague.  Unlike  everyone  else,
though, he  had gotten it knowingly. Taking the plague deliberately had been
the price  to get back to her. He had traded  his  life  just to be with her
again before he died.
     That had been a time beyond horror.
     Kahlan knew, firsthand,  savage  desperation. It was then  that she had
taken the  only  chance available to her to save his life. It  was then that
she had loosed the chimes. That act had  saved  Richard's life.  She  hadn't
known at the time that it would also be a catalyst that would set unforeseen
events into motion.
     Because of  her desperate act, the boundary to this empire had lost its
power and failed. Because of her, all magic might eventually fail.
     Now, because  of that  boundary  failing, the Wizard's Keep, their last
bastion to work a solution against the Order, was in terrible jeopardy.
     Kahlan felt as if it was all her fault.
     The  world was  on the brink of destruction.  Civilization stood at the
threshold  of obliteration  in  the  name of the Order's mindless idea  of a
greater  good. The Order demanded sacrifice  to that greater good; what they
were  determined  to  sacrifice  was  reason,  and, therefore,  civilization
itself. Madness  had cast its shadow across  the world and would  have  them
     They now stood in the edge of the shadow  of a  dark age. They were all
on the eve of the end times.
     Kahlan couldn't say that,  though. She couldn't tell them how she felt.
She dared not reveal her despair.
     "Richard, we simply can't  allow the Order to capture the Keep." Kahlan
could hardly believe how calm and determined her voice sounded. She wondered
if anyone else would believe that she thought they still stood a chance. "We
have to stop them."
     "I agree," Richard said.
     He sounded determined, too. She wondered if he saw in her eyes the true
depths of her despair.
     "First,"  he  said, "the easy part: Nicci and Victor.  We  have to tell
them that we can't come now.  Victor needs to know what we would say to him.
He will need to know that  we agree with his plans--that he must proceed and
that he can't  wait for us. We've talked with him; he knows what to do. Now,
he must do it, and Priska must know that he has to help.
     "Nicci  needs to  know where  we're going. She  needs to know  that  we
believe we've discovered  the cause  of the warning beacon. She has  to know
where we are."
     He left unsaid that she had to come to help him  if he  couldn't get to
her because his gift was killing him.
     "She needs  to know, too," Richard said, "that we only had  a chance to
read part of her warning about what Jagang was doing with the Sisters of the
Dark in creating weapons out of people."
     Everyone's eyes widened. They hadn't read the letter.
     "Well,"  Kahlan  said, "with all the other problems we have,  at  least
that's one we won't have to deal with for now."
     "We have that much on our side," Richard agreed. He gestured to the man
watching,  the man  waiting for  Kahlan to command him. "We'll  send him  to
Victor and Nicci so they will know everything."
     "And then what?" Cara asked.
     "I want Kahlan to command him that when he's finished with carrying out
that part of his  orders, he's then to  go north and find the Imperial Order
army.  I  want  him  to pretend to  be one  of  them to  get close enough to
assassinate Emperor Jagang."
     Kahlan knew  how implausible such  a scheme was.  By the  way  everyone
stared in astonishment, they had a good idea, too.
     "Jagang has layers of men to  protect him from assassination," Jenn-sen
said. "He's always surrounded by special guards. Regular soldiers can't even
get close to him."
     "Do you really think  he has  any chance at  all to  accomplish such  a
thing?" Kahlan asked.
     "No," Richard admitted. "The Order will most likely kill him before  he
can get to Jagang. But he will be driven by the need to fulfill your orders.
He will be single-minded. I  expect he  will be  killed in the effort, but I
also suspect he will at least make a good attempt of it. I want Jagang to at
least lose some sleep knowing that any of his men might be assassins. I want
him to worry  that  he  will never know who might be trying  to kill  him. I
don't want him ever to be able to sleep soundly. I want him to be haunted by
nightmares  of  what might be coming next, of who  among  his  men  might be
waiting for an opening."
     Kahlan nodded her agreement. Richard  appraised the  grim faces waiting
for the rest of what he had to say.
     "Now, to the most important  part of what must be  done. It's  vital we
get to the Keep and warn Zedd. We can't delay.  Jagang is ahead of us in all
this--he's been planning and acting and we never realized what he was up to.
We don't know how  soon those ungifted men might be sent north. We haven't a
moment to lose."
     "Lord Rahl," Cara reminded him, "you have to get to the antidote before
time runs out. You can't go running off  to  the Keep to ... Oh, no. Now you
just wait a minute--you're not sending me to the Keep again. I'm not leaving
you at a time like this, at  a time when you're next to defenseless. I won't
hear of it and I won't go."
     Richard laid a hand on her shoulder. "Cara,  I'm  not sending  you, but
thanks for offering."
     Cara folded her arms and shot him a fiery scowl.
     "We can't take the wagon up into Bandakar--there's no road--"
     "Lord Rahl," Tom interrupted, "without magic  you'll need all the steel
you have." He sounded only slightly less emphatic than Cara had.
     Richard smiled. "I know,  Tom, and I agree.  It's Friedrich who I think
must  go."  Richard turned to Friedrich. "You can take  the wagon.  An older
man, by himself, will raise less suspicion than would any of the rest of us.
They won't  see you as a threat. You will  be able  to make better time with
the wagon and without  having to  worry that  the Order might snatch you and
put you in the army. Will you do it, Friedrich?"
     Friedrich scratched his stubble. A smile came to his weathered face. "I
guess I'm at last being called upon to be a boundary warden, of sorts."
     Richard smiled with  him.  "Friedrich,  the boundary has failed. As the
Lord  Rahl, I  appoint you  to the post of boundary warden and ask that  you
immediately undertake  to warn  others of the  danger come  from out of that
     Friedrich's smile departed as he put a fist to his heart  in salute and
solemn pledge.

     Somewhere back in a distant room, where his body waited, Nicholas heard
an insistent noise. He  was absorbed in the  task at hand, so he ignored the
sound. The  light was  fading,  and although light helped  to  see, darkness
would not hinder eyes such as he used.
     Again,  he heard the noise.  Indignant that the sound kept calling him,
kept annoying him, kept demanding his attention, he returned to his body.
     Someone was banging a fist on the door.
     Nicholas rose from the  floor, where his  body sat cross-legged, taking
his body with him. It was  always, at  first, disorienting  to have to be in
his  body again, to be so limited, so confined.  It felt awkward to  have to
move it about, to  use his own muscles, to breathe, to see, to hear with his
own senses.
     The knock came  again. Irate at  the interruption, Nicholas went not to
the  door but to the windows, and threw  the shutters closed. He cast a hand
out, igniting the torch, and  finally stalked to the door. Layered strips of
cloth  covering his robes flowed out behind, like  a  heavy  mantle of black
     "What is it!" He threw open the heavy door and peered out.
     Najari stood just outside,  in the hall,  his  weight on  one foot, his
thumbs hooked  behind his belt. His muscular  shoulders nearly  touched  the
walls to each  side. Nicholas saw, then,  the huddled crowd behind the  man.
Najari's crooked  nose, flattened to the left in some of the numerous brawls
his  temper got him  into,  cast an  oddly shaped shadow  across his  cheek.
Anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in a brawl with Najari  usually
suffered far worse than a mere broken nose.
     Najari waggled a thumb over  his shoulder. "You asked  for some guests,
     Nicholas  raked his  nails back  through  his hair, feeling  the silken
smooth pleasure of oils  gliding against his palm. He  rolled his shoulders,
ruffling away his pique.
     Nicholas  had been so  absorbed in what he had been doing that  he  had
forgotten that he had requested that Najari bring him some bodies.
     "Very good, Najari. Bring them in, then. Let's have a look at them."
     Nicholas watched  as the commander  led the  gaggle of  people into the
flickering  torchlight.  Soldiers in the  rear herded the stragglers through
the door  and into the  large room.  Heads swiveled around,  looking  at the
strange, stark  surroundings, at the wooden  walls, the torches in brackets,
the  plank flooring, the lack of furniture other than a  stout table.  Noses
twitched at the sharp smell of blood.
     Nicholas  watched  carefully as  people  spotted the  sharpened  stakes
standing  in a line  along the wall  to  their  right,  stakes as  thick  as
Najari's wrists.
     Nicholas studied the people, watching for the telltales of fear as they
spread out along the wall beside the door. Eyes flitted  about, worried, and
at  the same time  eager to take  it  all in so they  could report  to their
friends  what they  had seen inside. Nicholas  knew that he was an object of
great curiosity.
     A rare being.
     A Slide.
     No one knew what his name meant. This day, some would learn.
     Nicholas glided  past  the undulating mob. They  were a curious people,
these odd, ungifted creatures, curious like mockingbirds, but  not nearly so
bold. Because  they were  without any spark whatsoever of the gift, Nicholas
had  to handle them in special ways  in  order for  them to be of any use to
him. It was a bother, but it had its rewards.
     Some necks craned in his wake, trying to better see the rare man.
     He  ran his nails through his hair again just  to  feel  the oils slide
against his  hand.  As  he leaned  close to  some of  the  people he passed,
observing individuals in the  gathering,  one of the women before him closed
her eyes, turning her face away. Nicholas lifted a hand toward her, flicking
out  a  finger.  He glanced  to Najari to be sure he saw which  one had been
     Najari's gaze flicked from the woman up  to Nicholas; he had  noted the
     A man  back  against  the  wall  stood stiff,  his  eyes wide. Nicholas
flicked a  finger at  him. Another man  twisted his lips in  an odd  manner.
Nicholas glanced down and saw that  the man,  in a state of wild fright, had
wet himself. Nicholas's  finger flitted out again.  Three selected. Nicholas
walked on.
     A thin whine escaped the throat of a woman  in the  front, right before
him.  He smiled  at  her.  She  peered  up, trembling,  unable to  take  her
wide-eyed  gaze from him, from his red-rimmed black eyes, unable to halt the
puling sound escaping her  throat. She had never seen  one  so human ... yet
not. Nicholas tapped her shoulder with a long-nailed finger. He would reward
her unspoken revulsion with service to a greater good. His.
     Jagang had  sought  to create  something  ... unusual, for  himself.  A
bauble of flesh and blood. A magical trinket crafted from a wizard. A lapdog
... with teeth.
     His Excellency had gotten what he wanted, and more. Oh, so much more.
     Nicholas  would enjoy seeing how the  emperor  liked  having  a  puppet
without strings, a specially crafted  creation  with a mind of  its own, and
talents to fulfill his wishes.
     A  man  at  the  rear,  against  the  wall,  appeared  to  be  somewhat
uninterested, as if impatient for the exhibition to  be  over so he could go
back to his own  affairs. While none of  these people could be said to think
of themselves  as  important individuals  with  consequential sway over  any
meaningful aspects of life in  their  empire, a few  occasionally  exhibited
tendencies, even if inconsistent, toward self-interest. Nicholas flicked his
finger for the fifth time.  The  man would soon  have  reason  to  be highly
interested in  the proceedings, and he would find that he was no better than
anyone else. He would be going nowhere--at least not in body.
     Everyone stared in silence as Nicholas chuckled alone at his own joke.
     His  amusement ended.  Nicholas  tipped his head toward the  door in  a
single nod. The soldiers jumped into action.
     "All right,"  Najari growled,  "move along. Move! Get  going. Out, out,
     The feet of  the crowd shuffled  urgently through the door  as ordered.
Some  people cast  worried glances  back over  their  shoulders at  the five
Najari  had cut  out  of  the flock. Those  five  were shoved back when they
sought to stay with the rest. A stiff finger to  the chest backed them up as
effectively as would a club or a sword.
     "Don't cause any  trouble,"  Najari  warned,  "or  you  will be  making
trouble for the others."
     The five remaining huddled close to one another, rocking nervously side
to side like a covey of quail before a bird dog.
     When the soldiers had driven the rest of  the people out, Najari closed
the door and stood before it, hands clasped behind his back.
     Nicholas  returned  to the  windows,  opening the  shutters on the west
wall. The sun was down, leaving a red slash across the sky.
     Soon they would be on the wing, on the hunt.
     Nicholas would be with them.
     Casting  an  arm back  without  needing  to turn to look, he doused the
torch. The flickering light was  a distraction during this cusp of time, the
transient twilight  that was so fragile, so brief. He would  need the light,
but, at  the moment,  he wanted  only  to see the sky, to see the  glorious,
unbounded sky.
     "Are we going  to be able to leave  soon?" one of the people asked in a
timid squeak.
     Nicholas  turned and peered at  them.  Najari's eyes revealed which one
had  spoken. Nicholas  followed  his  commander's  gaze. It was  one  of the
men--the one who had been impatient to leave, of course.
     "Go?" Nicholas asked as he swept in close to the man. "You wish to go?"
     The man stood with his back bent, leaning away from Nicholas.
     "Well, sir, I was only wondering when we would be going."
     Nicholas stooped  in even  more, peering  deeply into  the  man's eyes.
"Wonder in silence," he hissed.
     Returning  to the windows,  Nicholas rested his  hands on the sill, his
weight  on  his  arms, as he breathed in deeply  the  gathering night  while
taking in the sweep of crimson sky.
     Soon, he would be there, be free.
     Soon, he would soar as no one else but he could.
     Impulsively, he sought them.
     Eyes bulging with  the effort, he  cast his  senses  where none but his
could go.
     "There!" he screeched, throwing his arm out, pointing a long black nail
at what none but he could see. "There! One has taken to wing."
     Nicholas  spun around,  strips of cloth  lifting, floating  up. Panting
through a rush of fluttering  excitement, he  gazed at the eyes  staring  at
him.  They could  not  know. They  could  not  understand  one  such  as he,
understand what  he felt, what he needed. He hungered to  be on the hunt, to
be with them, ever since he had imagined such a use for his ability.
     He had  reveled  in  the experience,  dedicating  himself to it  as  he
learned his new abilities. He  had been off with those glorious creatures as
often  as  he could  afford  the  time,  ever  since  he  had  come here and
discovered them.
     How ironic it now seemed that he had resisted. How odd that he once had
feared  what those gruesome women, those  Sisters of the Dark, had conspired
to do to him ... what they had done to him.
     His duty, they had called it.
     Their  vile  magic had  cut like a red-hot  blade through  him.  He had
thought his eyes might burst from his head from  the  pain that  had  seared
through  him. Tied  spread-eagled to stakes  in  the ground in the center of
their wicked circle, he had dreaded what they were going to do to him.
     He had feared it.
     Nicholas smiled.
     Hated it, even.
     He had  been  afraid because of the  pain, the pain of  what  they were
doing to  him,  and the  even greater  pain  of not knowing  what  more they
intended to  do to him. His duty, they had called it, to a greater good. His
ability bore responsibilities, they had insisted.
     He watched through glazed eyes as  Najari bound the  hands of the  five
people behind each of their backs.
     "Thank you, Najari," he said when the man had finished.
     Najari approached.  "The  men will have  them by now, Nicholas.  I told
them  to  send  enough  men  to  insure that they would not escape."  Najari
grinned  at the prospect. "There's no need to worry.  They should all be  on
their way back to us."
     Nicholas narrowed his eyes. "We will see. We will see."
     He wanted  to see  it himself.  With his  own  vision--even if  his own
vision was through another's eyes.
     Najari  yawned  on his  way  to  the  door.  "See  you tomorrow,  then,
     Nicholas opened  his  mouth wide,  mimicking  the  yawn, even though he
didn't  yawn. It  felt  good to stretch  his  jaws wide. Sometimes  he  felt
trapped inside himself and he wanted out.
     Nicholas  closed  the  door  behind  Najari  and  bolted it. It  was  a
perfunctory act,  done  more  to  add  to  the aura  of peril  than  out  of
necessity.  Even  with their hands tied behind  their  backs,  these  people
could, together, probably overpower  him--knock him  down  and kick  in  his
head,  if  nothing else. But for  that, they would have to think,  to decide
what they ought to do and why, to commit to act. Easier not to think. Easier
not to act. Easier to do as you are told.
     Easier to die than to live.
     Living took effort. Struggle. Pain.
     Nicholas hated it.
     "Hate to live,  live to hate," he said  to  the  silent, ghostly  white
faces watching him.
     Out the window the streaks of clouds had gone dark gray as the touch of
the  sun  passed beyond them  and night crept in to embrace them.  Soon,  he
would be among them.
     He turned back from the window, taking in the faces watching him. Soon,
they would all be out there, among them.

     Nicholas seized one of  the nameless men. Powered by muscles crafted of
the Sisters' dark art, he hoisted the man into the air. The man cried out in
surprise  at being lifted so easily. He struggled hesitantly  against muscle
he  would not be able to resist were he even  to put  daring into it.  These
people were immune to magic, or Nicholas would have used his power to easily
lift them aloft. Absent  the necessary spark of the  gift, they  had  to  be
     It  made little difference to Nicholas. How they got  to the stakes was
unimportant. What happened to them once there was all that mattered.
     As the man in his arms cried out in terror, Nicholas carried him across
the room. The other people  withdrew into a far corner. They always went  to
the far corner, like chickens about to be dinner.
     Nicholas, his arms around  the man's chest, lifted him high in the air,
judging the distance and angle as he raced ahead.
     The man's eyes  went wide, his mouth  did likewise. He gasped with  the
shock, then grunted as Nicholas, hugging the man tight  in  his arms,  drove
him down onto the stake.
     The  man's  breath  came in  short sharp gasps  as the  sharpened stake
penetrated  up through his  insides. He went  still  in  Nicholas's powerful
arms, fearing to move, fearing to believe what was happening to him, fearing
to know it was true ... trying to deny to himself that it could be true.
     Nicholas straightened to his full height before the man. The man's back
was  as straight and stiff as a  board as he sat  impaled  on the  sharpened
stake. His eyebrows pushed his sweat-beaded brow up in furrows as he writhed
in slow agony, his legs trying to touch the ground that was too far away.
     Into  that  confusion of sensation, Nicholas reached out with his mind,
at the same time clawing his hands before the man with the effort as he slid
his own being, his own spirit, into  the core of  this living creature, slid
into this man's open mind, into the cavernous  cracks between his abrupt and
disconnected thoughts, there  to feel  his agony  and fright.  There to take
control. Once he  had  slipped his own  mind in there with this man,  seeped
through his consciousness, Nicholas drew his essence out and into himself.
     With a  staggering  fusion of destructive and creative  power  dealt by
those women that day, Nicholas had been born into a new being, part him, and
yet more. He had become what no man had ever been before--what others wished
to make of him, what others wished him to be.
     What had been  unleashed  in him by those Sisters all  linked  in their
ability  to  harness powers they could  never  have touched alone and should
never have invoked together, they instilled in him.  They engendered in  him
powers few could ever have imagined: the power to  slide into another living
person's thoughts, and withdraw their spirit.
     He drew his closed fists back toward his own abdomen with the effort of
drawing with him the spirit of this  man on the cusp of life and death, drew
onward the marrow of this  man's soul. Nicholas felt  the slick heat of this
other  spirit slide  into his,  the hot rush of sensation at feeling himself
filled with another spirit.
     Nicholas left the body there, impaled on  the first stake, as he rushed
to the  windows, his  head  spinning  with  the first  intoxicating  wave of
excitement at the journey  only now just begun, at what was to come, at what
power he would control.
     He opened  his mouth wide  again in  a yawn that was not a  yawn, but a
call carrying more than just his silent voice.
     His eyes swam with wavering images. He gasped in the first scent of the
forests out beyond, where his intent had been cast.
     He rushed back and seized a woman. She begged as she wept, begged to be
spared as he bore her to her stake.
     "But this is  nothing," he told  her. "Nothing compared to what I  have
endured. Oh, you cannot imagine what I have endured."
     He had  been staked naked to  the ground, in the center of a circle  of
those smug women. He had been  nothing to  them. He  had not  been a  man, a
wizard.  He had been  nothing  but  the raw  material, the  flesh  and blood
innervated by  the gift, that they needed for  what they wanted,  that  they
used in yet another of their trials, all to be twisted by their tinkering at
     He had the ability, so duty required he sacrifice it.
     Nicholas had been  the first  to live  through their tests, not because
they took  care--not because  they cared--but because they  had learned what
didn't work, and so avoided their past errors.
     "Scream, my dear. Scream all you want. It will help you no more than it
helped me."
     "Why!" she screamed. "Why!"
     "Oh, but I must, if I am to have your spirit to soar on the wings of my
distant friends. You will go on a glorious journey, you and I."
     "Please!" she wailed. "Dear Creator, no!"
     "Oh, yes, dear  Creator," he mocked. "Come and  save her--like you came
and saved me."
     Her wailing  did her  no good. His  hadn't either. She had no idea  how
immeasurably worse his agony had been than hers would be. Unlike her, he had
been condemned to live.
     "Hate to live, live to hate," he murmured in a comforting whisper. "You
will have the glory and the reward that is death."
     He drove  her down onto the stake. He reckoned her not  far enough onto
the stake,  and shoved her down another six inches, until he judged it  deep
enough within her, deep enough to produce the necessary pain and terror, but
not deep enough to lance anything inside that  would kill her right off. She
thrashed, trying  desperately, hands helpless behind  her  back, to  somehow
remove herself.
     He was only  dimly aware of her cries, her worthless words. She thought
they might somehow make a difference.
     Pain  was his goal. Their complaints of  it only confirmed that he  was
achieving his goal.
     Nicholas stood  before  the  woman, hands  clawed, as he  slid  his own
spirit  through her sundered thoughts  and into the  core of her being. With
mental strength far superior to his physical strength, he  pulled  her back.
He gasped as he felt her spirit slide into his.
     For now, he slipped those spirits out of tortured, dying  bodies  while
those spirits existed in  the netherworld between the worldly form they knew
was lost to them, but still alive, and the world of the dead already calling
them in from beyond. Life could no longer hold them, but death could not yet
have them. In that time of spiritual transition, they were his, and he could
use those spirits for things only he could imagine.
     And he had not yet really even begun to imagine.
     Such ability as he  possessed was not something that could be taught by
another--there was no other but  he. He was still learning the extent of his
powers,  the things he could do  with  the spirit  of another. He  had  only
scratched the surface.
     Emperor Jagang had sought to  create something akin to himself, a dream
walker,  a  brother,  of sorts. One who  could enter another's mind.  He had
gotten far  more than  he could  have ever  have  imagined. Nicholas  didn't
simply  slide into another's  thoughts, as Jagang did;  he  could slide into
their very soul, and draw their spirit back into himself.
     The Sisters hadn't  counted on  that aberration of their tinkering with
his ability.
     Rushing  to the window, his mouth pulled open as wide as it would go in
a  yawn  that wasn't  a  yawn. The room  swam behind him. It was only partly
there, now. Now, he was beginning to see  other places. Glorious places. See
them with new vision, with spirits no longer bound to their paltry bodies.
     He rushed to the third person, no longer aware even if they were man or
woman. Their soul was all that mattered--their spirit.
     He drove them  onto a stake with urgent effort, slid into them and drew
their spirit into his, shuddering with the power of it entering him.
     He rushed  to the window again, opening wide his mouth  again, twisting
his  head side  to  side  again  with  the  thrill of it, the slick, silken,
sliding ecstasy of it... the loss of physical orientation, the exaltation of
being above his corporeal existence,  the former bounds of his  mere worldly
form--carried aloft not  simply with  his own efforts, but by the spirits of
others that he had freed from their bodies.
     What a glorious thing it was.
     It was almost like the joy he imagined death would be.
     He seized the  fourth weeping person and with delirious expectation ran
with them across the room,  to the stakes,  to the fourth  stake, and  drove
them screaming onto it.
     As he  lurched  back from  them,  he thrust himself into  their  wildly
racing, confused, swirling thoughts, and took what was there for the taking.
He took their spirit into himself.
     When  he  controlled  a  person's  spirit,  he  controlled  their  very
existence. He  became life and death  for them. He was  their savior,  their
     He was in  many ways like those spirits  he took, trapped  in a worldly
form,  hating to  live,  to endure  the  pain  and agony that  was life, yet
fearing to die even while longing for the promise of its sweet embrace.
     With four spirits swirling through him, Nicholas staggered to the fifth
person, cowering in the corner.
     "Please!" the  man  wailed, trying to ward what he would  not commit to
warding. "Please, don't!"
     The  thought  occurred  to  Nicholas  that  the  stakes  were  really a
hindrance; using them required  him to carry people around like woolly sheep
to have their souls sheared. Yes, he was still learning what he could do and
how to control what he did, but to have to use the stakes was limiting. When
he thought about it,  it was actually insulting that a wizard of his ability
would have to use so crude a device.
     What he really wanted to do was to slide into another's spirit and take
it without any warning--without needing to bring people to the stakes.
     When  he was  fully able to do that--to simply walk  up to another, say
"Good day," and  slide  like the thrust of a dagger  into the heart of their
spirit, there to draw it into his--then he would  be invincible. When he was
able to do that, then no one could challenge  him.  No one would  be able to
deny him anything.
     As the man  shrank  down before him, Nicholas, before he fully realized
what it was he was doing, driven by an angry need, by hatred, thrust out his
hand as  he  thrust  his own  mind into  this man, into the  spaces  between
     The man stiffened, just as those on the stakes stiffened, when Nicholas
had impaled them with his ability.
     He drew back his closed fist toward his middle as he drew in this man's
spirit. He gasped with  the heat of  it, with  the  silky slick feel  of  it
sliding into him.
     They  stared  at  each other, each in shock, each considering what this
meant for them.
     The  man slumped back  against  the  wall,  sliding down, in soundless,
silent, terrible empty agony.
     Nicholas  realized that he had just done what he had never done before.
He had just taken a soul by his will alone.
     He had just freed himself to take what he wanted, when he wanted, where
he wanted.

     Nicholas, his vision a blur, staggered to the window.
     All five were his, now.
     This time, as his mouth opened wide, a cry at last came forth, a cry of
the five spirits joining his as he drew  them together into one force guided
by his will alone.  Their  worldly agony was a distant concern to them. Five
spirits gazed out of the windows along with him, five spirits now waiting to
soar out into the night, to where he chose to send them.
     Those Sisters  had not known what they unleashed that night. They could
not have known  the power they  fused into him, the ability they burned into
     They had achieved what none had achieved for  thousands of years--  the
altering  of  a wizard  into something  more, honing him  into  a  weapon of
specific intent.  They  had  imbued  him with  power  beyond that of  anyone
living. They had given him dominion over the spirits of others.
     Most had escaped, but he had killed five of them.
     The five were enough. After he  had  slid  into  their souls and pulled
their spirits back into his that night, he had appropriated their Han, their
force of life, their power, for himself.
     It was only fitting, as their Han was not natural to them, but was male
Han they had stolen from  young  wizards--a birthright they had sucked  from
those to whom it belonged in order to give themselves abilities they had not
been  born  with, could  not be born  with. Yet more  nameless  people  with
ability to be sacrificed to those who needed it, or simply wanted it.
     Nicholas had taken it all back from their trembling  bodies,  pulled it
out of them as he had clawed  their living insides open. They had been sorry
that  they  had  done  Jagang's  bidding, that they  had  twisted  him  into
something Creation never intended.
     Not only had they made him into a Slide, they had given up their Han to
him, and made him that much more powerful for it.
     After each of those five women had died, the world had gone darker than
dark for an instant when the Keeper had come and taken them to his realm.
     The Sisters had destroyed him that day, and they had created him.
     He had a lifetime to explore and discover what he could do with his new
     And, to be  sure, Jagang would grant him payment for that night. Jagang
would  pay, but he would  pay  gladly, for Nicholas would give him something
none but Nicholas the Slide could give him.
     Nicholas would be rewarded with things enough to repay him for what had
been done to him.... He hadn't decided,  yet, what that reward would be, but
it would be worthy of him.
     He would use  his ability to hold sway over  lives--important lives. He
no longer needed to cart people to the stakes. He  knew how  to take what he
wanted, now.
     Now he  knew how to slip into  their  minds at the time of his choosing
and take their souls.
     He would trade those lives for  what he would have  in  power,  wealth,
splendor. It would have to be something appropriate....
     He would be an emperor.
     It would have to be  more than  this petty empire of sheep,  though. He
would  frolic in rule. He would have his every whim  fulfilled,  once he was
given dominion  over... over  something important. He  hadn't  decided  just
what, yet. It  was an important decision, what he would  have as his reward.
No need to rush it. It would come to him.
     He  turned from  the  window,  the five  spirits  swirling within  his,
soaring through him.
     It was time to use what he had pulled together.
     Time to get down to business, if he was to have what he wanted.
     He would  get  closer, this  time.  He  was frustrated from  not  being
closer, from not seeing  better. It was dark, now. He would get closer, this
time, under cover of the darkness.
     Nicholas took the broad bowl from the table and placed it  on the floor
before  the five  who still  owned the  spirits within  him. They writhed in
otherworldly  agony,  even the man not on a stake, an agony of both body and
     Nicholas sat  cross-legged  on the  floor before the bowl. Hands on his
knees, he threw his head back, eyes closed, as he gathered the power within,
the power created by those wicked women, those wonderful wicked women.
     They had considered him a pathetic  wizard of little  worth  except  as
flesh and blood and gift to toy with--a sacrifice to a greater need.
     When he had time, he would go after the rest of them.
     With  a more immediate  task  at hand, Nicholas dismissed those Sisters
from his mind.
     Tonight,  he would not  merely watch  through other  eyes.  Tonight, he
would again go with the spirits he cast.
     Tonight,  he would not  merely watch through other eyes.  Tonight,  his
spirit would travel to them.
     Nicholas opened his mouth as wide as it would go, his head rocking from
side to side. The  joined spirits within  released a part of themselves into
the bowl,  whirling  in a  silken, silvery swirl lit with  the soft  glow of
their  link to the life behind him, placekeepers for their journey, a stitch
in the world holding the knot in the thread of their travels.
     His spirit,  too,  let slip a small portion to remain with his body, to
drift in the bowl with the others.
     Fragments of  the five spirits revolved with the fragment of his, their
light of life glowing softly  in this safe  place as he prepared to journey.
He cast his own spirit away, then, leaving behind the husk of a body sitting
on the floor behind him as he fled out into the dark sky, borne on the wings
of his invested power.
     No wizard before had ever  been able to do as he, to leave his body and
have his spirit soar to where his mind would send him. He raced through  the
night, fast as thought, to find what he hunted.
     He felt the rush of air flowing over feathers. As quick as that, he had
raced away through the night and  was with  them, pulling  the five  spirits
along with him.
     He  summoned the  dark  forms  into  a circle  with  him, and, as  they
gathered around,  cast the five spirits into them.  His mouth was still open
in  a yawn  that was  not a yawn that back  in a room  somewhere distant let
forth a cry to match the five.
     As they  circled, he felt the rush of  air  beneath  their wings,  felt
their  feathers working  the wind to direct them as effortlessly as  his own
thought directed not only his spirit but the other five as well.
     He sent those five  racing through the night, to the place where he had
sent the  men.  They  raced over hills, turning to scan the open country, to
look out over the barren land. The cloak of darkness felt cool, encasing him
in obscure black night, obscure black feathers.
     He caught the  scent of  carrion, sharp,  cloying,  tantalizing, as the
five  spiraled  down  toward the ground. Through their eyes that  saw in the
darkness Nicholas  saw then the scene below, a place littered with the dead.
Others  of their kind  had  gathered to  feed  in a  frenzy of  ripping  and
     No. This was wrong. He didn't see them.
     He had to find them.
     He willed his charges up from the  gory feast, to search. Nicholas felt
a pang of urgency. This was his  future that had slipped away from  him--his
treasure slipping through his grasp. He had to find them. Had to.
     He spurred his charges onward.
     This way, that way, over there. Look, look, look. Find them, find them.
Look. Must find them. Look.
     This was not supposed to  be. There had been enough  men. No one  could
escape that many experienced men. Not when they came by stealth and attacked
with  surprise. They  had  been selected for their  talents. They knew their
     Their bodies  lay sprawled  all  about. Beak  and  claw ripped at them.
Screeches of excitement. Hunger.
     No. Must find them.
     Up, up, up. Find them. He had to find them.
     He  had suffered the agony  of a new birth in  those dark woods,  those
terrible woods,  with those terrible  women.  He would  have  his reward. He
would not be denied. Not now. Not after all that.
     Find them. Look, look, look. Find them.
     On powerful wings, he  soared into the night. With eyes that saw in the
dark, he  searched. With creatures that could  catch  the scent  of  prey at
great distance, he tried for a whiff of them.
     Through the night they went, hunting. Hunting.
     There, there he  saw their wagon. He recognized their wagon. Their  big
horses. He had seen it before--seen them with it before. His minions circled
in close on nearly  silent wings, dropping  in closer  to see what  Nicholas
     Not  there. They weren't  there. A  trick. It  had to  be  a  trick.  A
diversion. Not there. They had sent the wagon away to trick him, to send him
off their trail.
     With  wings  powered  by  anger, he soared  up, up,  up  to  search the
countryside.  Hunt, hunt. Find them. He  flew with his five in an ever wider
pattern  to  search  the ground beneath the night. They flew  on, searching,
searching. His hunger was their hunger. Hunt for them. Hunt.
     The  wings grew weary as he drove them onward. He had  to find them. He
would  not  allow rest. Not allow failure.  He hunted in  expanding  swaths,
searching, hunting, hunting.
     There, among the trees, he saw movement.
     It was only just dark.  They wouldn't see  their  pursuers--not  in the
dark--but he  could see them. He  forced the five down, circling,  circling,
forced them in close. He would not fail this  time to see them, to get close
enough. Circling, holding him there, circling, watching, circling, watching,
seeing them there.
     It  was her! The Mother Confessor! He saw others. The one with red hair
and her small four-legged friend. Others, too. He must be there, too. Had to
be there, too. He would be there, too, as the small group moved west.
     West.  They moved  west. They had traveled to the west  of where he had
seen them last.
     Nicholas laughed. They were coming  west. The captors sent for them all
lay dead, but here they came anyway. They were coming west.
     Toward where he waited.
     He would have them.
     He would have Lord Rahl and the Mother Confessor.
     Jagang would have them.
     It came to him, then--his reward. What  he would have in return for the
prizes he would deliver.
     He would have the rule of D'Hara in return for these two paltry people.
Jagang would reward him with the  rule of D'Hara, if he wanted those two. He
would not dare  deny Nicholas the Slide what he wanted. Not when he had what
Jagang  wanted most, more than  any other prize. Jagang would pay any  price
for these two.
     Pain. A scream. Shock, terror, confusion raged through him. He felt the
wind, the  wind that carried  him so  effortlessly, now ripping at him  like
fists snatching at feathers as he tumbled in helpless pain.
     One of the five falling at blinding speed smacked the ground.
     Nicholas screamed. One of the five spirits had been lost with its host.
Back somewhere  distant, in some far-off room with wooden walls and shutters
and bloody stakes, back, back, back in another place he had almost forgotten
existed, back, back, back far away, a spirit was ripped from his control.
     One of  the five back  there had died at the  same instant the race had
crashed to the ground.
     Scream  of  hot  pain. Another tumbled out  of control. Another  spirit
escaped his grasp into the waiting arms of death.
     Nicholas struggled to see in the confusion, forcing the remaining three
to hold his vision in place so he could see. Hunt, hunt, hunt. Where was he?
Where was he? Where? He saw the others. Where was Lord Rahl?
     A third scream.
     Where was he? Nicholas fought to hold his vision despite the hot agony,
the bewildering plummet.
     Pain ripped through a fourth.
     Before he could  gather his senses, hold them together, force them with
the power of his will to do  his bidding, two  more spirits were yanked away
into the void of the underworld.
     Where was he?
     Talons at the ready, Nicholas searched.
     There! There!
     With violent effort, he forced the race over into a dive. There he was!
There he  was! Up high. Higher than the rest. Somehow up high. Up on a ledge
of rock above the rest. He wasn't down there with them. He was up high.
     Dive for him. Dive down for him.
     There he was, bow drawn.
     Ripping  pain tore through  the last race. The ground rushed up at him.
Nicholas cried out. He tried frantically to  stop the spinning. He  felt the
race slam into the rock at frightening speed. But only for an instant.
     With a gasp, Nicholas drew a desperate breath. His head  spun  with the
burning torture  of  the abrupt return, an uncontrolled return  not  of  his
     He blinked, his mouth open wide in an  attempt to let out a cry, but no
sound came.  His eyes bulged with the effort, but no cry  came. He was back.
Whether or not he wanted to be, he was back.
     He looked around at the room. He  was back, that was  the reason no cry
came. No screech of a race joined his own. They were dead. All five.
     Nicholas turned to the four impaled on stakes behind him. All four were
slumped.  The fifth man lay  slouched in the far  corner. All five  limp and
still. All five dead. Their spirits gone.
     The room was as silent as a crypt. The bowl before him glowed only with
the fragment of his own spirit. He drew it back in.
     He sat in the stillness  for a long time, waiting for his  head to stop
spinning. It had been a shock to  be in a creature as it was killed--to have
a spirit of a person in him as they died. As five of them died. It had  been
a surprise.
     Lord  Rahl  was a surprising man. Nicholas hadn't  thought,  back  that
first  time, that he would  be  able to get all  five. He had thought it was
luck. A second time was not luck. Lord Rahl was a surprising man.
     Nicholas could  cast  his spirit  out again if he wanted, seek out  new
eyes, but his head  hurt  and he didn't feel  up to it;  besides, it  didn't
matter. Lord Rahl was  coming  west.  He  was  coming to the great empire of
     Nicholas owned Bandakar.
     The people here revered him.
     Nicholas smiled. Lord Rahl  was  coming. He would be  surprised at  the
kind of man he found when he arrived. Lord Rahl probably thought he knew all
manner of men.
     He did not know Nicholas the Slide.
     Nicholas the Slide, who would be emperor  of D'Hara when he gave Jagang
the prizes  he  sought most: the dead body of Lord Rahl, and the living body
of the Mother Confessor.
     Jagang would have them both for himself.
     And in return, Nicholas would have their empire.

     Ann heard the  distant echo of footsteps  coming down  the long, empty,
dark corridor outside the far door to her forgotten vault under the People's
Palace, the seat of power in D'Hara. She was no longer sure if it was day or
night. She'd lost track of time as she sat in the silent darkness. She saved
the lamp for times when they brought food, or the  times she wrote  to Verna
in the journey book.  Or the times  she  felt so  alone  that she needed the
company of a small flame, if nothing else.
     In this place, within this  spell of a palace for those  born Rahl, her
power was so diminished that it was all she could do to light that lamp.
     She feared to use the little lamp too often  and  run out of  oil;  she
didn't know if they would give her more. She didn't want to run out and only
then find they would give her no  more. She didn't want not to have at least
the possibility of that small flame, that small gift of light.
     In the dark she  could do nothing but consider her life and all she had
worked so  hard to accomplish. For centuries she  had led the Sisters of the
Light in their effort  to see the Creator's  light triumph in the world, and
see the Keeper of the underworld kept where he belonged,  in his own  realm,
the world of the  dead. For centuries  she had waited in  dread of  the time
that prophecy said was now upon them.
     For five hundred  years she had waited for the birth of the one who had
the chance to succeed in leading them  in the struggle to  see the Creator's
gift,  magic,  survive against those who would  cast that  light out  of the
world. For five hundred years she had worked to insure that he would  have a
chance to do what he must if he was to have a chance to stop the forces that
would extinguish magic.
     Prophecy said that only Richard had the chance to preserve their cause,
to keep the enemy  from succeeding in casting a gray pall over mankind,  the
only one with a chance  to prevent the gift from dying out. Prophecy did not
say that he would prevail; prophecy said only that Richard was  the only one
to have  a chance  to  bring  them victory.  Without Richard,  all  hope was
lost--that much was sure. For this reason, Ann had been devoted to him  long
before he was born, before he rose up to become their leader.
     Kahlan saw  all  of Ann's  efforts  as meddling, as  tinkering with the
lives of others.  Kahlan believed that Ann's efforts were in fact the  cause
of the very thing she feared most. Ann hated that she sometimes thought that
maybe  Kahlan was right. Maybe it was meant to be that Richard would be born
and  by his free will alone would  choose to do those things that would lead
them  to victory in their battle to keep the gift among  men. Zedd certainly
believed that  it was only  by Richard's mind,  by his  free will,  but  his
conscious intent, that he could lead them.
     Maybe it was true, and Ann, in trying to direct those things that could
not be and should  not  be directed, had  brought them  all to the  brink of
     The footsteps were coming closer.  Maybe it  was  time  to eat and they
were bringing dinner. She wasn't hungry.
     When they  brought her food,  they put it on the end of a long pole and
then threaded  that pole  through the little opening in the outer door,  all
the way across the outer  shielded room, through the opening  in the second,
inner door, and finally in to Ann. Nathan would risk no chance for escape by
having her guards have to open her cell door merely to give her food.
     They passed in a  variety of  breads, meats, and  vegetables along with
waterskins. Although  the food was  good, she found  no  satisfaction in it.
Even the finest fare could never be satisfying eaten in a dungeon.
     At times, as Prelate, she had felt as  if  she were a  prisoner of  her
post. She had rarely gone  to the dining hall where the Sisters of the Light
had eaten--especially in the later years. It put everyone on edge having the
Prelate among them at  dinner. Besides, done too often it  took the edge off
their anxiety, their discomposure, around authority.
     Ann believed that  a  certain distance,  a certain worried respect, was
necessary in order to maintain discipline. In a place that had been  spelled
so that  time  slowed for those living there, it  was  important to maintain
discipline. Ann appeared to be in her seventies, but with her  aging process
slowed dramatically while living under the spell that had covered the Palace
of the Prophets, she had lived close to a thousand years.
     Of course, a lot of  good her discipline had done her.  Under her watch
as  Prelate  the  Sisters of  the  Dark had infested  her flock. There  were
hundreds  of Sisters, and  there was no telling  just  how  many of them had
taken dark  oaths to the Keeper.  The  lure of  his  promises were obviously
effective.  Such promises were an  illusion, but try to tell  that to one so
pledged.  Immortality was seductive to women  who watched everyone they knew
outside the palace grow old and die while they remained young.
     Sisters who had  children  saw those children sent out of the palace to
be raised where they could have a  normal life, saw those  children grow old
and  die, saw their grandchildren grow old and die. To a woman  who saw such
things,  saw  the constant withering and  death  of those she knew while she
herself all the time seemed to  remain young, attractive, and desirable, the
offer of immortality grew increasingly tempting when her own petals began to
     Growing old was  a final  stage,  the end of a life. Growing old in the
Palace  of the  Prophets was  a  very  long ordeal. Ann  had  been  old  for
centuries. Being young for a very long time  was a wonderful experience, but
being old  for a very long time was not--at  least  it was not for some. For
Ann, it was life itself that was wonderful, not so much her age, and all she
had learned. But not everyone felt that way.
     Now that the palace had  been destroyed, they would all age at the same
rate as everyone else. What had only a short time ago been a future of maybe
another hundred years  of life for Ann was suddenly perhaps no  more  than a
blink of a decade--certainly not much more.
     But she  doubted she would live all that long in such a dank hole, away
from light and life.
     Somehow, it didn't seem as if she and Nathan were close  to a  thousand
years  old. She didn't  know what it felt  like  to age  at the normal  rate
outside the  spell, but  she believed she felt little different  than  those
outside  the palace  felt  as they aged. She  believed that  the  spell that
slowed  their aging  also  altered their  perception of  time--to a  degree,
     The  footsteps  were  getting  closer.  Ann wasn't  looking  forward to
another  meal  in this place. She was  beginning  to wish they would let her
starve and get it over with. Let her die.
     What  good had her life  been? When  she  really thought about it, what
good had she really  accomplished?  The Creator  knew how she tried to guide
Richard  in what needed  to  be done,  but in the end  it seemed that it was
Richard's  choice  to act as he did, in most cases against what she  thought
needed to be done, that turned out to be correct. Had she not tried to guide
events,  bring  him to the  Palace of the  Prophets  in the Old World, maybe
nothing would have  changed and that would have been  the way he was to save
them all--by not  having to  act and letting Jagang and  the Imperial  Order
eventually wither and die in the Old  World, unable to spread their virulent
beliefs beyond. Maybe she'd brought it all to ruin with her efforts alone.
     She heard the door at the  end  of  the  passageway to her  cell scrape
open. She decided that she wouldn't eat. She wouldn't eat again until Nathan
came to speak with her, as she had requested.
     Sometimes,  with the food, they sent in  wine. Nathan sent it in to vex
her,  she  was sure  of  that. From his  confinement in  the  Palace of  the
Prophets,  Nathan  had sometimes  requested wine. Ann  always saw the report
when such a request was made; she declined every such request.
     Wizards were  dangerous  enough,  prophets--who were  wizards with  the
talent  of  prophecy--were  potentially vastly  more  dangerous, and drunken
prophets were the most dangerous of all.  Prophecy given out willy-nilly was
an invitation to calamity. Even simple prophecy escaping the confines of the
stone walls of the Palace of the Prophets had started wars.
     Nathan  had sometimes  requested the company  of women. Ann hated those
requests  the most, because she sometimes granted them. She felt she had to.
Nathan had  little of  life, confined as he was to  his apartments, his only
real crime being the nature of  his birth, his abilities.  The palace  could
easily afford the price of a woman to sometimes visit him.
     He made a mockery of that, often enough--giving out prophecy  that sent
the  woman  fleeing  before  they could  speak with  her, before  they could
silence her.
     Those  without the  proper  training  were  not meant to see  prophecy.
Prophecy  was easily misinterpreted by those without an understanding of its
intricacies. To divulge prophecy to the  uninitiated was  like casting  fire
into dry grass.
     Prophecy is not meant for the unenlightened.
     At the thought of the prophet being loose, Ann's stomach tightened into
a knot.  Even so, she had sometimes secretly taken Nathan out herself, to go
on important journeys  with her--mostly journeys having to do  with  guiding
some aspect  of Richard's life,  or,  more accurately, trying to insure that
Richard  would be born  and have a life. Besides being trouble on  two feet,
Nathan was also a remarkable prophet who  did  have a  sincere  interest  in
seeing  their side triumph.  After all, he saw in prophecy the  alternative,
and when Nathan saw prophecy, he saw it in all its terrible truth.
     Nathan always  wore  a Rada'Han--a  collar--that  enabled  her,  or any
Sister, to  control  him, so taking him  on  those journeys wasn't  actually
putting the world at risk of the man. He had to do as she said, go where she
said. Whenever she  had  taken  him out  on a mission with  her, he was  not
really free, since he wore a Rada'Han and she could thus control him.
     Now he was without a Rada'Han. He was truly free.
     Ann  didn't  want  any supper. She  resolved to  turn it away when they
passed  the pole  in  to  her. Let Nathan fret that  she  might refuse  food
altogether and die while under his fickle control. Ann folded her arms.
     Let him  have that on his conscience. That would bring  the man down to
see her.
     Ann heard the footsteps  come to a halt outside  the  far door. Muffled
voices  drifted in to her. Had she ready  access to her Han, she would  have
been  able  to concentrate  her hearing  toward those voices and easily hear
their words. She sighed. Even that  ability was useless to her here, in this
place,  under the  power invoked by the  spell form  of the  layout  of  the
palace. It would hardly make sense to create such elaborate plans to curtail
another's magic and allow them to hear secrets whispered inside the walls.
     The outer door squealed in protest as it was pulled open. This was new.
No one had opened the outer door since the day they shut her in the place.
     Ann rushed to the door to her small  room, to the faint square of light
that was  the opening in the  iron  door.  She grabbed hold of  the bars and
pulled  her face up close, trying to see who was out  there, what  they were
     Light  blinded her.  She staggered back a few steps, rubbing  her eyes.
She was so used to the dark that  the harsh lantern light felt  as if it had
burned her vision with blazing light.
     Ann  backed away from the door  when she heard a  key clattering in the
lock.  The bolt threw back with a reverberating clang. The door grated open.
Cool air, fresher than the stale air she was used  to  breathing, poured in.
Yellow light flooded around the room as the lantern was thrust into the room
at the end of an arm encased in red leather. Mord-Sith.

     Ann squinted in the harsh glare as the  Mord-Sith stepped over the sill
and ducked in through the doorway into the room. Unaccustomed to the lantern
light, Ann at first could only discern the red leather outfit  and the blond
braid. She didn't like to contemplate why one of the Lord Rahl's elite corps
of torturers  would be  coming  down  to the dungeon to  see  her. She  knew
Richard. She could  not  imagine  that he would  allow such  a  practice  to
continue. But Richard wasn't here. Nathan seemed to be in charge.
     Squinting,  Ann at last realized that  it  was the  woman  she had seen
before: Nyda.
     Nyda, appraising Ann with a  cool gaze, said nothing as she stepped  to
the  side. Another person  was following  her in.  A  long leg wearing brown
trousers stepped over the sill, followed by a bent torso folding through the
opening. Rising up to full height, Ann saw with sudden surprise who it was.
     "Ann!" Nathan held his arms open wide, as  if expecting a hug. "How are
you? Nyda gave me your message. They are treating you well, I trust?"
     Ann stood  her ground  and scowled  at  the  grinning  face. "I'm still
alive, no thanks to you, Nathan."
     She  of  course  remembered how tall  Nathan  was,  how  broad were his
shoulders. Now, standing before her, the top of his  full  head of long gray
hair nearly  touching the stone chisel marks in the ceiling, he  looked even
taller than she  remembered. His shoulders, filling up  so much of the small
room, looked even broader.  He  wore  high  boots  over  his trousers  and a
ruffled  white shirt beneath an open vest. An elegant  green velvet cape was
attached  at  his right  shoulder.  At  his left hip a sword  in an  elegant
scabbard glimmered in the lamplight.
     His face, his handsome face, so  expressive,  so unlike any other, made
Ann's heart feel buoyant.
     Nathan grinned as  no one but  a Rahl could  grin, a grin like  joy and
hunger  and power all  balled together.  He looked like he needed to sweep a
damsel into his powerful arms and kiss her without her permission.
     He  waved a  hand casually around at  her  accommodations. "But you are
safe in here, my dear. No  one can harm you while under our care. No one can
bother you. You have fine food--even wine now and again. What more could you
     Fists at her  side,  Ann  stormed forward at  a pace  that  brought the
Mord-Sith's Agiel  up into her fist, even though she  stayed where she  was.
Nathan held his ground, held his smile, as he watched her come.
     "What more could I want!" Ann screamed. "What more could I want? I want
to be let out! That's what more I could want!"
     Nathan's small, knowing smile cut her to her core. "Indeed," he said, a
single word of quiet indictment.
     Standing  in the stony silence of the dungeon, she  could only stare up
at  him, unable  to bring forth an argument that he would not throw back  at
     Ann turned a glare on the Mord-Sith. "What message did you give him?"
     "Nyda said that you wanted to see me," Nathan answered in her place. He
spread his  arms. "Here I am, as requested. What is it you wanted to see  me
about, my dear?"
     "Don't  patronize  me, Nathan. You know very well  what I wanted to see
you about. You  know why I'm here, in D'Hara--why I've come  to the People's
     Nathan clasped  his  hands behind  his back. His smile had finally lost
its usefulness.
     "Nyda," he said, turning to the woman, "would you  leave us  alone  for
now. There's a good girl."
     Nyda  appraised Ann with a brief glance. No more was needed; Ann was no
threat to Nathan. He was a wizard--no doubt he had told her that he  was the
greatest  wizard of all time--and was within the ancestral home of the House
of Rahl. He had no need to fear this one old sorceress--not anymore, anyway.
     Nyda  gave  Nathan a if-you-need-me-I'll-be-right-outside  kind of look
before contorting her perfect  limbs through  the doorway with fluid  grace,
the way a cat went effortlessly through a hedge.
     Nathan stood in the center  of the cell, hands still clasped behind his
upright back, waiting for Ann to say something.
     Ann went  to her pack, sitting on  the far end of the stone bench  that
had  been  her bed,  her  table, her chair. She flipped back  the  flap  and
reached  inside, feeling around.  Her fingers found  the  cold metal  of the
object she sought. Ann drew it out and stood over it, her shadow hiding it.
     Finally, she turned. "Nathan, I have something for you."
     She lifted  out a Rada'Han  she  had intended to  put around his  neck.
Right then, she  didn't quite  know how she had thought she could accomplish
such a  feat. She would  have, though, had she put her mind to it;  she  was
Annalina  Aldurren, Prelate of the Sisters of the Light. Or,  at  least, she
once  had been.  She  had given that job to  Verna  before feigning  her and
Nathan's death.
     "You want me to put that collar around my neck?" Nathan asked in a calm
voice. "That's what you expect?"
     Ann shook her head. "No, Nathan. I  want to give this to you. I've been
doing a lot of thinking while I've been  down here.  Thinking about how  I'd
probably never leave my place of confinement."
     "What  a coincidence," Nathan said.  "I used to  spend a  great deal of
time thinking that very same thought."
     "Yes," Ann  said,  nodding.  "I expect you  did."  She  handed him  the
Rada'Han. "Here. Take this. I never want to see one of these again.
     While I did  what I thought best, I hated every minute of it, Nathan. I
hated to do it to you, especially. I've come to think that  my life has been
a misguided mess. I'm sorry I ever put you behind those shields and kept you
a prisoner. If I could live my life over again, I'd not do it the same way.
     "I expect no leniency; I showed you none."
     "No," Nathan said. "You didn't."
     His  azure eyes seemed to be looking right into  her. He had a  way  of
doing that. Richard had inherited that same penetrating Rahl gaze.
     "So, you are sorry you kept me a prisoner all  my life. Do you know why
it was wrong, Ann? Are you even aware of the irony?"
     Almost  against  her  better  judgment,  she heard  herself ask,  "What
     "Well," he said as he shrugged, "what is it we're fighting for?"
     "Nathan, you know very well what we're fighting for."
     "Yes, I do. But  do you? Tell me, then, what it is we're struggling  to
protect, to preserve, to insure remains alive?"
     "The Creator's  gift  of  magic,  of course. We  fight to  see  that it
continues to exist  in the world. We struggle for those who are born with it
to live, for them to learn to use their ability to its full extent. We fight
for each to have and to celebrate their unique ability."
     "I think that's kind of ironic,  don't you? The very thing you think is
worth fighting  for is  what you feared. The  Imperial Order proclaims  that
it's not in the best interest  of mankind for a gifted individual to possess
magic, so that unique  ability must  be  stripped away from them. They claim
that,  since all do not have this ability  in identical and  equal  measure,
it's dangerous for some to have it--that man must cast aside the belief that
a  man's life is his  own to live. That those who were born  with magic must
therefore be expunged  from the world in  order  to  make the world a better
place for those who don't have such ability.
     "And yet,  you  worked under  that  very  premise,  acted on those same
wicked beliefs. You locked me away because of my ability. You saw  what I am
able to do, that others cannot do, as an evil birthright  that  could not be
allowed to be among mankind.
     "And yet, you work to preserve that very thing which you fear in me--my
unique ability--in  others.  You  work to allow everyone born with  magic to
have the inalienable right to their  own life, to be the  best of what  they
can be  with their own ability  .. . and yet you locked  me away  to deny me
that very same right."
     "Just because I  want the Creator's wolves to run free to hunt, as they
were intended, doesn't mean that I want to be their dinner."
     Nathan leaned toward her. "I am not a  wolf. I  am  a human being.  You
tried, convicted,  and sentenced me to life  in your prison for  being who I
was born, for what you feared I might do, simply because  I had the ability.
You then soothed your own inner  conflict by making that prison plush in  an
attempt to convince yourself that  you were kind--  all the while professing
to believe that we must fight to allow future people to be who they are.
     "You  qualified your prison as right because it was lavish, in order to
mask from  yourself  the nature of  what you  were advocating. Look  around,
Ann." He swept  his  arm out at the stone. "This is what you were advocating
for those you decided did not have the right to their  own life. You decided
the same as the  Order, based on an  ability you  did not like. You  decided
that some, because  of their greater potential,  must  be sacrificed to  the
good of those less than they. No matter how you decorated your dungeon, this
is what it looks like from the inside."
     Ann gathered her thoughts,  as well as her voice,  before she spoke. "I
thought I had  come to understand something like that while I  sat all alone
down here, but  I realize now  that I hadn't, really. All those years I felt
bad for locking you away, but I never really examined my rationale for doing
     "You're right, Nathan. I  believed  you  held the  potential for  great
harm. I should have helped you to understand what was right so you could act
rationally, rather  than  expect the worst from  you and lock  you away. I'm
sorry, Nathan."
     He put his hands on his hips. "Do you really mean it, Ann?"
     She nodded, unable to  look up at him, as her  eyes filled with  tears.
She always expected  honesty from everyone else, but she had not been honest
with herself. "Yes, Nathan, I really do."
     Confession over, she went to her bench and slumped down. "Thank you for
coming, Nathan. I'll not trouble you to come down here again. I will take my
just punishment without complaint. If you don't mind,
     I  think I'd like to be alone right now to pray and consider the weight
on my heart."
     "You can do  that later.  Now get up off your bottom, on your feet, and
pick up your things. We have matters to attend to and we have to get going."
     Ann looked up with a frown. "What?"
     "We have important things to do. Come on, woman. We're wasting time. We
need to get going. We're on the same side in this struggle,  Ann. We need to
act like it  and work together toward preserving our causes." He leaned down
toward her. "Unless you've decided to retire to sit around the  rest of your
life. If not, then let's be on our way. We have trouble."
     Ann hopped down from the stone bench. "Trouble? What sort of trouble."
     "Prophecy trouble."
     "Prophecy?  There  is  trouble  with a  prophecy?  What  trouble?  What
     Fists on his nips,  Nathan fixed her  with a scowl. "I can't  tell  you
about such things. Prophecy is not meant for the unenlightened."
     Ann pursed her lips, about to launch into  scolding him up one side and
down the other, when she caught the smile working at the edges of his mouth.
It caught her up in a smile of her own.
     "What's  happened?" she  asked in  the tone of voice friends used  when
they had decided that past wrongs  were  recognized and matters now set on a
correct path.
     "Ann, you'll not believe it when  I tell you," Nathan complained. "It's
that boy, again."
     "What  other  boy do you know who  can get  in the kind of trouble only
Richard can get into."
     "Well, I no longer think of Richard as a boy."
     Nathan sighed. "I  suppose  not,  but it's hard  when you're my  age to
think of one so young as a man."
     "He's a man," Ann assured him.
     "Yes, I guess he is." Nathan grinned. "And, he's a Rahl."
     "What sort of trouble has Richard gotten himself into this time?"
     Nathan's good humor evaporated. "He's walked off the edge of prophecy."
     Ann screwed up her face. "What are you talking about? What's he done?"
     "I'm  telling  you, Ann, that boy  has  walked  right  off the edge  of
prophecy itself--walked right  off into  a place in prophecy where  prophecy
itself doesn't exist."
     Ann recognized that Nathan was sincerely troubled, but he was making no
sense.  In part, that was why some people were  afraid of him. He often gave
people the  impression he was talking  gibberish when  he  was talking about
things  that no one  but  he could even understand. Sometimes no one  but  a
prophet could truly understand  completely what  he  grasped. With his eyes,
the eyes of a prophet, he could see things that no one else could.
     She had  spent  a lifetime  working with prophecy,  though, and  so she
could understand, perhaps better than most, at least  some of his mind, some
of what he could grasp.
     "How  can you know of such a prophecy, Nathan, if it  doesn't  exist? I
don't understand. Explain it to me."
     "There are  libraries  here, at the People's Palace,  that contain some
valuable books of prophecy that I've never had a chance to see before. While
I  had  reason  to suspect  that such prophecies  might  exist, I was  never
certain they actually did, or what  they might say. I've been  studying them
since I've been here and I've come  across links to  other known prophecy we
had down  in the vaults at the  Palace  of  the  Prophets. These prophecies,
here, fill in some important gaps in those we already know about.
     "Most  importantly, I found an altogether new  branch  of prophecy I've
never seen  before that explains  why  and how I've  been  blind  to some of
what's  been going  on. From studying the forks and  inversions off of  this
branch, I've discovered that Richard has taken a series of links that follow
down a particular pathway of prophecy  that  leads to oblivion, to something
that, as far as I can tell, doesn't even exist."
     One hand on a hip, the other tracing invisible lines in the air, Nathan
paced  the  small  room  as he talked. "This new link alludes to things I've
never seen before,  branches that I've always known must  be there, but were
missing. These branches are exceedingly dangerous prophecies that have  been
kept  here, in secret. I can  see why.  Even I, had I seen them  years  ago,
might  have  misinterpreted them. These new branches refer to voids  of some
sort.  Since  they  are   voids,  their  nature  can't  be  known;   such  a
contradiction can't exist.
     "Richard has gone into this area of void, where prophecy can't see him,
can't help him, and worse, can't help us. But more than not  seeing him with
prophecy, it's as if where he is and what he is doing do not exist.
     "Richard  is dealing in something that is capable of ending  everything
we know."
     Ann knew  that  Nathan would not  exaggerate about  something  of  this
nature. While she was in the dark about precisely what he was talking about,
the essence of it gave her the cold sweats.
     "What can we do about it?"
     Nathan threw up his arms. "We have  to go in there and get him. We have
to bring him back into the world that exists."
     "You mean, the world that prophecy says exists."
     Nathan's scowl  was  back.  "That's what I said,  isn't it?  We have to
somehow get him back on the thread of prophecy where he shows up."
     Ann cleared her throat. "Or?"
     Nathan snatched  up the lamp, then her pack. "Or, he will  cease  to be
part of viable lines of prophecy, never to be involved with matters  of this
world again."
     "You mean, if we don't get him back from wherever his is, he will die?"
     Nathan  gave her a curious look. "Have I been talking to the  walls? Of
course  he will  die!  If that boy isn't  in  prophecy, if he breaks all the
links to  prophecy where  he plays a role, then he  voids all those lines of
prophecy where he exists.  If he does that, then they become false  prophecy
and those branches with  word of him will  never come  to  pass. None of the
other  links  contain any reference  to him--because in  the origin of those
links, he dies, first."
     "And what happens on those links that don't contain him?"
     Nathan took  up her  hand as he pulled her  toward the  door. "On those
links, a shadow falls over everyone. Everyone  who lives, anyway. It will be
a very long and very dark age."
     "Wait," Ann said, pulling him to a halt.
     She returned to the stone bench and placed the Rada'Han in  the center.
"I don't have the power to destroy  this. I think  maybe it should be locked
     Nathan nodded his approval.  "We will lock the  doors and  instruct the
guards that it is to remain in here, behind the shields, for all time."
     Ann held a warning  finger up before him. "Don't get the idea that just
because you're not wearing a collar I will tolerate misbehavior."
     Nathan's grin returned.  He  didn't come right out and agree. Before he
went through the door, he turned back to her.
     "By the way, have you been talking to Verna through your journey book?"
     "Yes, a little. She's with the army and pretty busy, right now. They're
defending the passes into D'Hara. Jagang has begun his siege."
     "Well,  from  what  I've  been able  to gather from military commanders
here, at the palace, the passes are formidable and will hold for a while, at
least." He leaned toward her. "You have to  send a  message to  her, though.
Tell her that when an empty wagon rolls into their line, to let it through."
     Ann made a face. "What does that mean?"
     "Prophecy is not meant for the unenlightened. Just tell her."
     "All right," Ann  said with breathless difficulty as Nathan  pulled her
through the  tight doorway. "But  I'd best not tell her  you're the  one who
said it, or she will  likely ignore the advice. She thinks  you're daft, you
     "She just never got a chance to come to know me very well, that's all."
He glanced back. "What with me being unjustly locked away, and all."
     Ann  wanted  to  say  that perhaps Verna knew Nathan  all too well, but
decided better of it right then.  As Nathan started to turn toward the outer
door, Ann snatched his sleeve.
     "Nathan, what else about this prophecy you found aren't you telling me?
This prophecy where Richard disappears into oblivion."
     She knew Nathan well enough to know  by  his agitation  that he  hadn't
told  her everything, that he  thought  he  was being gallant by sparing her
worry. With a sober expression, he gazed into her eyes for a time  before he
finally spoke.
     "There is a Slide on that fork of prophecy."
     Ann frowned as  she turned her eyes up in thought. "A  Slide. A Slide,"
she muttered to herself, trying to recall the  name. It sounded familiar. "A
Slide . .  ." She snapped  her fingers. "A Slide." Her eyes went wide. "Dear
     "I don't think the Creator had anything to do with this."
     Ann  impatiently  waved in protest. "That can't  be.  There  has  to be
something  wrong  with this new  prophecy you found. It has to be defective.
Slides were created in the great war. There couldn't be a Slide on this link
of prophecy--don't you see? The  prophecy must be out of phase and long  ago
expired." Ann chewed her lower lip as her mind raced.
     "It isn't out of phase. Don't you think that was my first thought, too?
You think me an amateur at this? I  worked  through the chronology a hundred
times.  I  ran every chart  and calculation  I  ever  learned--even  some  I
invented for the task. They all came out with the same root. Every link came
out in order. The prophecy  is in phase, chronology, and all its aspects are
     "Then  it's  a  false  link,"  Ann  insisted.   "Slides  were  conjured
creatures. They were sterile. They couldn't reproduce."
     "I'm telling you,"  Nathan growled, "there is a Slide on this fork with
Richard and it's a viable prophetic link."
     "They couldn't have survived to be here." Ann was sure of what  she was
saying. Nathan  knew  more about  prophecy than  she, there was no doubt  of
that,  but  this was  one area where she knew exactly what  she  was talking
about--this  was  her  area of expertise.  "Slides  weren't  able  to  beget
     He was giving her one of those looks she didn't like. "I'm telling you,
a Slide walks the world again."
     Ann tsked. "Nathan, soul stealers can't reproduce."
     "The prophecy says he wasn't born, but born again a Slide."
     Ann's flesh began to  tingle.  She stared at  him a time before finding
her  voice. "For three thousand years there have  been no wizards  born with
both sides of the gift but Richard. There is no way anyone ..."
     Ann paused.  He was watching her, watching her finally realize what had
to be. "Dear Creator," she whispered.
     "I told you, the  Creator had nothing to do  with this. The Sisters  of
the Dark mothered him."
     Shaken to her core, Ann could think of nothing to say.
     There was no worse news she could have heard.
     There was no defense against a Slide.
     Every soul was naked to a Slide's attack.
     Outside the  second  door, Nyda waited in the hall, her face as grim as
ever, but  not as grim as  Ann's. The  hall was dark  but for the dim  light
coming from  the still flames of a few candles. No breath of  wind ever made
it this deep  into the palace. The only color among the dark rock soaking up
that small bit of light was the blood red of Nyda's red leather.
     Being pulled  along  by the  hand, feeling a jumble  of  emotions,  Ann
leaned toward the woman and vented a pent-up fiery scowl. "You told him what
I said to tell him, didn't you?"
     "Of course," Nyda  answered  as she fell  into step behind the  two  of
     Turning halfway around, Ann shook a finger at the Mord-Sith. "I'll make
you sorry you told him."
     Nyda smiled. "Oh, I don't think so."
     Ann rolled her eyes  and turned back to  Nathan. "By the  way, what are
you doing wearing a sword? You, of all people--a wizard. Why are you wearing
a sword?"
     Nathan looked hurt. "Why, Nyda thinks I look dashing with a sword."
     Ann fixed her eyes on the dark passageway ahead. "I just bet she does."

     Standing at the edge of a  narrow  rim  of rock, Richard looked down on
the ragged gray wisps of  clouds below.  Out in the  open, the cool damp air
that drifted over him carried the aromas of balsam  trees, moss, wet leaves,
and saturated  soil. He  inhaled  deeply the fragrant reminders of home. The
rock, mostly granite, cracked and weather-worn into pillowed  blocks, looked
much the  same as that  in his Hartland woods. The mountains,  however, were
far larger. The slope rising up behind him was dizzying.
     To the west  before him, far below,  lay  a vast  stretch  of fractured
ground and  ever-rising  rugged  hills carpeted in forests. To his  left and
right, because he knew what he was  looking for, he could  just make out the
strip of ground, devoid  of trees, where the boundary had  been. Farther off
to the west  rose up the lesser mountains,  mostly barren, that bordered the
wasteland. That wasteland, and the place called the Pillars of Creation, was
no longer visible. Richard was happy to have left it far behind.
     The  sky  was empty of black-tipped races--for the moment, anyway.  The
huge birds most  likely  knew  that Richard, Kahlan, Cara, Jennsen, Tom, and
Owen were heading west.
     Richard had shot  the last  five races as they  had begun gathering  in
their circling  behavior, surprising them by being  high up the side of  the
mountain  above the  others in  his group, closer to where  the  races flew.
After killing the races, Richard had led  the rest of his small company into
denser woods.  He didn't  think that the races they'd  been seeing up  until
then had spotted them since. Now that they were traveling through forests of
towering trees Richard thought that, if  he  was careful, they might be able
to lose their watchers.
     If this man,  Nicholas,  had seen them through the eyes  of those  five
races, then  he  knew they had  been headed  west.  But, now that they  were
hidden,  he couldn't assume that they  would continue west. If Richard could
disappear  from  where  the birds would look for him, and  failed to  appear
where they would expect  him,  then Nicholas might  have second thoughts. He
might realize they could  have  changed direction and gone north,  or south.
Nicholas  might  then begin to  realize that  they  had used that  period of
confusion to run away somewhere else, to flee him.
     It was possible that Richard could keep them hidden  under the cover of
the  trees  and in  so doing  keep  Nicholas from  discovering them. Richard
didn't  want  the man  to know  where they'd gone, or to have any idea where
they were at any given time. It was hardly a certainty that he could deceive
Nicholas in this way, but Richard intended to try.
     Shielding his eyes with the flat of his hand, Richard  scanned the rise
of dense forest before them in order to get the lay of the land fixed in his
mind before he  headed back in  under the thick vegetation where the  others
waited. The trailers of clouds below were but the  tattered castoffs  of the
churning blanket of gloom above them. The mountainside ascended sharply into
that wet overcast.
     As Richard  evaluated the rock, the slope,  and the trees,  he  finally
found what  he sought. He  studied the ascent of  the mountain one last time
before scanning the sky again to make sure it was clear. Seeing no races--or
any other birds, for  that matter--he headed in to  where the others waited.
He knew that  just because he  didn't  see any birds  didn't mean  that they
weren't there watching  him.  There could be  a few dozen  races sitting  in
trees  where  he would likely never spot them.  But, for the  moment, he was
still where they would expect him, so he wasn't greatly concerned.
     He was about to do what they would not expect.
     Richard climbed back up  the slick bank of moss, leaves, and wet roots.
If he fell, he would have only the one chance to grab the  small ledge where
he'd been standing before he would tumble out into the  clear air and a drop
of several thousand feet. The thought of that  drop made him hold tighter to
the roots to help him climb, and made him test  carefully every score in the
rock where he placed his boot before committing his weight to it.
     At the top of the bank  he ducked under overhanging branches of scrawny
mountain maple that grew in  the understory of hardwoods  leaning out beside
the towering pines in an effort to capture the light. Leaves  of the ash and
birch  rising  above the mountain maple  collected the drixzle, until  their
leaves had as much as they could hold and released it to patter down in  fat
drops  that  slapped the lower  leaves above  Richard's head.  When  a light
breeze caught those upper  leaves, they released their load to  rain down in
sudden but brief torrents.
     Stooping  under low-spreading branches  of fir  trees, Richard followed
his track back through thickets of huckleberry into the more open ground  of
the  hushed  woods beneath  the  thick  canopy of  ancient  evergreens. Pine
needles had been  woven by the wind into sprawling mats that  cushioned  his
steps. Spiraling webs hung by spiders to catch the small bugs that zigzagged
all about had instead netted  the mist and were now  dotted with  shimmering
drops of water, like jeweled necklaces on display.
     Back in  the sheltering cover of rock  and the  thick  growth  of young
spruce,  Kahlan stood when she saw  Richard coming. When she stood, everyone
else then saw him, and came to their feet  as well.  Richard ducked in under
the wispy green branches.
     "Did you see any  races, Lord Rahl?"  Owen asked, clearly nervous about
the predators.
     "No," Richard  told  him  as he picked up his pack and slung  it over a
shoulder. He slipped his other arm beneath the second strap as he pulled the
pack up onto his back. "That doesn't mean they didn't see me, though."
     Richard hooked his bow over the back of his left shoulder, along with a
     "Well,"  Owen said, wringing his hands,  "we can still hope  they won't
know where we are."
     Richard paused to look at the man. "Hope is not a strategy."
     As the rest  of them all started collecting their things from the brief
break, hooking gear on belts and shouldering packs, Richard drew Cara by the
arm out of the cover of small trees and pulled her close.
     "See that rise through there?" he asked as he held  her near him so she
could see where he was pointing. "With  the strip of open ground that passes
in front of the young oak with the broken dead limb hanging down?"
     Cara nodded.  "Just after  where the ground rises  and goes  over  that
trickle of water running down the face of the rock, staining it green?"
     "That's the spot. I want  you to follow up over that area, then cut  to
the  right, taking that cleft  up--that  one  there beyond the split  in the
rock, there--and see  if you can scout a trail up to the next shelf up above
these trees here."
     Cara nodded. "Where will you be?"
     "I'm going to take the rest of us  up to the first  break in the slope.
We'll  be  there. Come  back  and tell  us  if  you  find  a  way  over  the
     Cara hoisted  up  her pack onto  her back and  then picked up the stout
staff Richard had cut for her.
     "I didn't know that Mord-Sith could cut trails," Tom said.
     "Mord-Sith can't," Cara said. "I, Cara, can. Lord Rahl taught me."
     As she vanished  into the  trees, Richard  watched her walk.  She moved
gracefully, disturbing little as she made her  way into the trackless woods.
She moved with  an economy  of effort that would conserve her energy. It had
not always been  so;  she  had learned  well the lessons he  had given  her.
Richard was pleased  to see that the  lessons had stuck and his  efforts had
not been wasted.
     Owen came forward, looking agitated. "But Lord Rahl,  we can't  go that
way."  He  waggled a hand back over his shoulder. "The trail goes that  way.
That is  the only way up  and through the pass. There lies the way down, and
with it the way back up,  now that the boundary is gone. It's not  easy, but
it's the only way."
     "It's the only  way you know of. By how  well  that  trail looks  to be
traveled, I think it's the only way Nicholas knows of as well. It appears to
be the way the Order troops move in and out of Bandakar.
     "If we go that way  the  races will be watching. If, on the other hand,
we  don't show up, then/he won't know where we  went. I want to keep it that
way from now on. I'm tired of playing mouse to his owl."
     Richard  let  Kahlan  lead  them up  through the woods,  following  the
natural route of  the land when  the way  ahead was reasonably evident. When
she was  in doubt she  would glance back at him for direction. Richard would
look where she was to go, or nod in the direction he wanted her to take, or,
in a few cases, he needed to give her instruction.
     By  the lay  of  the land, Richard  was pretty  sure that there was  an
ancient trail up through the mountain pass. That pass, that from afar looked
like  a  notch in the wall of mountains, was in reality  no mere notch but a
broad area twisting as it rose back up between the mountains. Richard didn't
think that the path that the Bandakar people used to  banish  people through
the boundary was  the only way through that pass. With the boundary in place
it may well have been, but the boundary was no longer there.
     From what he'd seen so far, Richard  suspected that there once had been
a  route  that  in ancient times had  been the main way in and out. Here and
there  he was able to  discern depressions that he believed were remnants of
that ancient, abandoned route.
     While it was always possible that  the old  passage had been  abandoned
for good reason,  such as a landslide that  made it impassable, he wanted to
know  if  that once  traveled way was still usable. It  would, at the least,
since it was in a different part of  the mountains than the known path, take
them away from where the races were likely to be looking for them.
     Jennsen walked  up close beside Richard when the way  through  towering
pines was open enough. She tugged Betty along by her rope,  keeping her from
stopping to sample plants along the way.
     "Sooner or  later the  races will  find us,  don't you think?"  Jennsen
asked. "I mean, if we don't show up where they expect to find us, then don't
you think they will search until  they do find us? You were the one who said
that from the sky they could cover great distances and search us out."
     "Maybe," Richard said. "But  it will be hard to spot us in the woods if
we  use our heads and stay hidden.  In  forests they can't  search nearly as
much area as they could in the same amount of time  out in the wasteland. In
open ground they could spot us miles away. Here, they  will have a hard time
of it unless they're really close and we are careless.
     "By the time  we don't  show up where the known  trail makes it up into
Bandakar, they will have a vast area  they  suddenly will need to search and
they won't have any idea which direction to look. That compounds the problem
for them in finding us.
     "I don't think that the viewing Nicholas gets through their eyes can be
very good, or he wouldn't need to gather the races now and  again to circle.
If we can stay out of sight  long enough,  then we'll be among the people up
in  Bandakar and then Nicholas, through the  eyes of the races, will  have a
hard, if not impossible, time picking us out from others."
     Jennsen  thought it over as they entered a stand  of birch. Betty  went
the wrong  way around a tree and Jennsen had to stop  to untangle  her rope.
They all hunched their  shoulders against the wet when a breeze brought down
a soaking shower.
     "Richard,"  Jennsen  asked  in a  voice barely  above  a whisper as she
caught back up with him, "what are you going to do when we get there?"
     "I'm going to get the antidote so I don't die."
     "I know  that." Jennsen pulled a sodden  ringlet of red  hair back from
her face. "What I mean is, what are you going to do about Owen's people?"
     Each breath he drew brought a slight stitch of pain deep  in his lungs.
"I'm not sure, yet, just what I can do."
     Jennsen walked in silence for a moment. "But you will try to help them,
won't you?"
     Richard glanced over at his  sister.  "Jennsen, they're  threatening to
kill me. They've proven that it isn't an empty threat."
     She  shrugged uncomfortably.  "I  know,  but  they're  desperate."  She
glanced  ahead to  make sure that Owen wouldn't hear. "They didn't know what
else to  do  to  save themselves.  They aren't like you. They  never  fought
anyone before."
     Richard  took a deep breath,  the pain  pulling  tight across his chest
when he did so. "You'd never fought anyone before, either. When  you thought
I was trying to  kill you,  as  our father had, and you believed  that I was
responsible for your mother's death,  what did you do? I don't mean were you
correct about me, but  what did you do in response to what you believed  was
     "I resolved that if  I wanted to live I would have to  kill you  before
you killed me."
     "Exactly.  You didn't  poison someone and tell  them to do  it  or they
would die. You decided that your life was worth  living and that no one else
had the right to take it from you.
     "When  you are  willing  to meekly sacrifice your ultimate value,  your
life, the only  one you will ever have, to any thug who on a whim decides to
take it  from you, then you can't be helped.  You  may be able to be rescued
for one day, but the next day another will come and you will again willingly
prostrate yourself before him. You have placed the value of the life of your
killer above your own.
     "When you grant to anyone  who  demands  it the right of  life or death
over you, you have already become  a willing  slave in search of any butcher
who will have you."
     She walked  in  silence for  a  time, thinking  about  what  he'd said.
Richard  noticed  that she moved through the woods as he  had taught Cara to
move. She was nearly as at home in the woods as he was.
     "Richard." Jennsen swallowed. "I don't want those people to be hurt any
more. They've already suffered enough."
     "Tell that to Kahlan if I die from their poison."
     When  they reached the meeting place,  Cara  wasn't there yet. They all
were ready for a  brief rest.  The spot, a break in the slope  back  against
granite that  rose up steeply to the next projection in  the  mountain,  was
protected  high  overhead  by huge pines and closer down by brush. After  so
long out in the heat of the desert,  none of them were yet accustomed to the
wet chill. While they spread out to find rocks  for seats  so they  wouldn't
have to sit in  the wet leaf litter, Betty happily sampled  the tasty weeds.
Owen sat to the far side, away from Betty.
     Kahlan sat close  to Richard  on a small  lump  of  rock.  "How are you
doing? You look like you have a headache."
     "Nothing to be done about it for now," he said.
     Kahlan leaned closer. The warmth of her felt good against his side.
     "Richard," she whispered, "remember Nicci's letter?"
     "What about it?"
     "Well, we assumed that  this boundary into Bandakar being down  was the
reason for the first warning beacon. Maybe we're wrong."
     "What makes you think so?"
     "No second beacon." She pointed with her chin off to the northwest. "We
saw the first way back down there. We're a lot closer to the place where the
boundary was and we haven't spotted a second beacon."
     "Just  as well,"  he said. "That was  where the races were  waiting for
     He remembered well when they found the  little statue.  The races  were
perched  in  trees all around. Richard  hadn't known  what they were  at the
time, other than  they were large birds he'd  never seen before. The instant
Cara picked up  the statue, the black-tipped races had all suddenly taken to
wing. There had been hundreds.
     "Yes,"  Kahlan said, "but without the  second  beacon, maybe this isn't
the problem that we thought caused the first."
     "You're assuming  that the  second  beacon will be for me--that I'm the
one it will be meant for and so we would have  seen it. Nicci  said that the
second beacon is for the  one who  has the  power  to fix the breach  in the
seal. Maybe that's not me."
     Looking at first startled by the idea, Kahlan thought it over. "I'm not
sure if I'd be pleased about  that or not." She leaned  tighter against  him
and hooked  an arm around his  thigh. "But no matter who  is meant to be the
one  who  can seal  the breach again,  the one who's supposed to restore the
boundary, I don't think they will be able to do so."
     Richard ran his fingers back through his wet hair.  "Well,  if I'm  the
one this dead wizard once believed could restore the boundary, he's wrong. I
don't know how to do such a thing."
     "But don't  you  see, Richard? Even if you did know how, I don't  think
you could."
     Richard looked  at  her  out  of  the  corner  of  his eye. "Jumping to
conclusions and letting your imagination get carried away, again?"
     "Richard, face  it,  the boundary failed because  of what I did. That's
why the warning beacon was  for me--because I caused  the  seal to fail. You
aren't going to try to deny that, are you?"
     "No, but we have a lot to learn before we know what's really going on."
     "I freed the chimes," she said.  "It's not going to  do  us any good to
try to hide from that fact."
     Kahlan had used ancient  magic to  save  his life.  She  had  freed the
chimes in order to heal him. She'd had no time to spare; he would have  died
within moments if she had not acted.
     Moreover, she'd had no idea that the chimes  would unleash  destruction
upon the world. She  hadn't known they had been created three thousand years
before from underworld powers as a weapon designed to consume magic. She had
been told only that she must use them to save Richard's life.
     Richard knew what  it felt like to be convinced  of  the  facts  behind
events and to have no one believe him. He knew she was now feeling that same
     "You're  right  that we can't hide from it--if it is a  fact. But right
now  we don't know that it is.  For one thing, the chimes have been banished
back to the underworld."
     "And  what  about  what Zedd told us, about  how  once the  destructive
cascade of magic begins--which it did--then there is no telling if it can be
stopped even  if  the chimes are banished. There is no experience in such an
event upon which to base predictions."
     Richard didn't  have  an  answer  for her, and  was  at a  disadvantage
because he didn't have her education in  magic.  He was saved from having to
speculate when Cara came in through a tight patch of young balsam trees. She
pulled her pack off her shoulders  and let it slip to the ground as she  sat
on a rock facing Richard.
     "You were right. We  can get through  there.  It looks to me like I can
see a way to continue on up from the ledge."
     "Good," Richard said  as he  stood.  "Let's  get  going. The clouds are
getting darker. I think we need to find a place to stop for the night."
     "I spotted  a place under the  ledge, Lord Rahl. I think it might  be a
dry place to stay."
     "Good." Richard hoisted her pack. "I'll carry this for you for a while,
let you have a break."
     Cara nodded  her appreciation, falling into  line as they moved through
the tight trees and immediately had  to start to climb up the steeply rising
ground. There was enough exposed  rock and roots to  provide good steps  and
handholds. Where some of those steps  were tall, Richard stretched  down  to
give Kahlan a hand.
     Tom  helped Jennsen and passed  Betty up a  few times,  even though the
goat was better at scrambling  up over rock than  they were. Richard thought
he  was  doing it more for Jennsen's  peace of  mind than  Betty's.  Jennsen
finally told Tom that Betty could climb on her own.
     Betty  proved  her  right,  bleating  down  at Tom  after  effortlessly
clambering up a particularly trying spot.
     "Why don't you help me up, then," Tom said to the goat.
     Jennsen smiled  along with Richard and Kahlan. Owen  just watched as he
skirted the other way around the rock. He was afraid of Betty. Cara  finally
asked for her pack back,  having entertained long enough the possibility  of
being considered frail.
     Shortly after the rain started,  they found  the low slit of an opening
under a prominent ledge, just as Cara had said they would. It wasn't a cave,
but a spot where a  slab from the face of the mountain above had broken  off
and fallen  over. Boulders on the ground held the slab up enough to create a
pocket  beneath. It  wasn't  large, but  Richard thought they would all  fit
under it for the night.
     The  ground was  dirty, scattered with collected leaf litter and forest
debris of bark,  moss, and  a  lot of bugs.  Tom  and  Richard used branches
they'd cut to quickly  sweep the  place out. They then laid down a clean bed
of evergreen boughs to keep them up off the water that did run in.
     The rain  was starting to come down  harder,  so they all squatted down
and hurried to move in under the rock. It wasn't a comfortable-looking spot,
being too low for them to stand in, but it was fairly dry.
     Richard dared not let them  have  a fire,  now  that they  had left the
regular  trail, lest  the  smoke be  spotted by the races.  They  had a cold
supper of meats, leftover  bannock, and dried goods. They were all exhausted
from  climbing  all day, and while they  ate engaged in only a  bit of small
talk.  Betty was  the  only  one  with enough room to stand. She  pushed  up
against Richard until she got his attention and a rub.
     As  darkness slowly  enveloped  the  woods, they  watched the rain fall
outside  their  cozy  shelter, listening  to  the  soft  sound, all no doubt
wondering  what lay ahead in a strange empire that had been  sealed away for
three thousand years. Troops from the Imperial Order would be there, too.
     As Richard sat watching out into the dark rain, listening to the sounds
of  the occasional  animal in the  distance,  Kahlan cuddled up  beside him,
laying her head on his lap. Betty went deeper  into the shelter and lay down
with Jennsen.
     Kahlan, under the comfort of his hand resting tenderly on her shoulder,
was  asleep  in  moments. As weary as  he was from the day's  hard  journey,
Richard wasn't sleepy.
     His head hurt and the poison deep within him made each breath catch. He
wondered  what would strike him down first,  the  power of his gift that was
giving him the headaches, or Owen's poison.
     He wondered, too, just  how he was going to satisfy the demands of Owen
and his  men to  free their  empire  so that he could have the antidote. The
five of  them, he, Kahlan, Cara, Jennsen,  and Tom,  hardly seemed the  army
needed to drive the Order out of Bandakar.
     If he  didn't, and  if he couldn't get  to  the antidote, his life  was
coming to a close. This very well could be his final journey.
     It seemed like he had just gotten back together with Kahlan after being
separated from  her for half  his life.  He wanted to be with her. He wanted
the two of them to be able to be alone.
     If he didn't  think  of something, all they had in each other, all they
had  ahead  of  them,  was just  about  over.  And  that  was  without  even
considering the headaches of the gift.
     Or the Imperial Order capturing the Wizard's Keep.

     Richard gripped the edge of the rock at the face of the opening to help
pull himself up  and out from the dark  hole in  the abrupt rise  of granite
before them. Once out, he brushed the sharp little granules of rock from his
hands as he turned to the others.
     "It goes through. It isn't easy, but it goes through."
     He saw a dubious look  on Tom's face, and  a  look  of consternation on
Owen's.  Betty,  her floppy ears perked ahead in what Richard  thought could
only be a goat frown, peered down into the narrow chasm and bleated.
     "But I don't think we can," Owen complained. "What if..."
     "We get stuck?" Richard asked.
     Owen nodded.
     "Well, you  have  an  advantage  over Tom  and me," Richard  said as he
picked up his pack  from nearby to the side where he'd  left it. "You're not
quite as big. If I made it through and back, then you can make it, Owen."
     Owen waved  a  hand up the steep ascent to his  right. "But  what about
that way? Couldn't we just go around?"
     "I don't  like  going into  dark,  narrow  places  like this,  either,"
Richard said. "But if we go around that way we have to go out on the ledges.
     You  heard what Cara  said; it's narrow  and dangerous. If it  were the
only way it would be another matter, but it's not.
     "The races could spot  us out there.  Worse, if they wanted, they could
attack  us and we could easily fall or be forced over the edge. I don't like
going  in places like this, but I don't think I'd like to be out there on  a
windblown ledge no wider than the sole of my boot, with  a fall of thousands
of feet straight down if I make  one slip, and then have one of  those races
suddenly show up  to rip into me  with  their talons or those sharp beaks of
theirs. Would you prefer that?"
     Owen licked his lips as he bent at the waist and looked into the narrow
passageway. "Well, I guess you're right."
     "Richard," Kahlan asked in a whisper as the rest of them started taking
off their packs so they could more easily fit through, "if this was a trail,
as you suspect, why isn't there a better way through?"
     "I  think that sometime only in the last few  thousand years  this huge
section  of the mountain broke away and slid  down, coming to  rest  at this
angle, leaving a  narrow  passageway beneath  it."  He  pointed up. "See  up
there? I  think this  entire portion down here used to be  up there. I think
it's now sitting right where the trail used to be."
     "And there's no other way but this cave or the ledges?"
     "I'm not saying that. I believe  there's other old routes, but we would
have  to backtrack for most of a day  to take the  last fork I saw, and then
there isn't any guarantee with that one, either. If you really want, though,
we can go back and try."
     Kahlan shook  her head. "We  can't afford to lose  any time. We need to
get to the antidote."
     Richard  nodded. He didn't know how he was supposed to  rid  an  entire
empire of the Imperial Order so they could get to the antidote, but he had a
few ideas. He needed to get the antidote; he saw no reason he had to play by
Owen's rules--or the Order's.
     Kahlan gave  the narrow, dark tunnel another  look. "You're  sure there
aren't any snakes in there?"
     "I didn't see any."
     Tom handed Richard his sword. "I'll go last," he said. "If you  make it
through, I can."
     Richard nodded as he laid the baldric  over his shoulder. He turned the
scabbard  at his  hip in order  to  clear  the rock and then started  in. He
hugged  his pack to his  abdomen as he crouched  to  make it into  the small
space. The  slab  of rock above him lay at  an  angle, so that  he  couldn't
remain  upright,  but  had to  twist sideways and back  as he went into  the
darkness.  The farther  in  he  went, the darker  it  became. As  the others
followed him into  the narrow passage, it blocked  much of the light, making
it even darker.
     The rains of  recent  days had  finally  ended, but runnels and  runoff
continued  to flow from the mountain. Their wading through ankle-deep  water
standing  in  the  bottom  of the  cavern  sent  echoes  through the  narrow
confines.  The waves  in the water played gloomy light along  the wet walls,
providing at least some illumination.
     The thought  occurred to him that if he  was a snake, this would make a
good  spot to  call home. The  thought also occurred to him  that if Kahlan,
right behind him, happened upon a snake  in such cramped quarters, she would
not be pleased with him in the least for taking her in.
     Things  that were frightening outside were different  when you couldn't
maneuver, couldn't run. Panic always seemed to lurk in tight places.
     As it became darker, Richard had to feel his way  along the cold stone.
In places where water seeped down  the rock,  the  walls were slimy. In some
spots there was  mud,  in other  places  dry rock to walk on.  Most  of  it,
though,  was wet muck. Spongy leaves had collected  in some of the irregular
low places.
     By the  smell,  it  was  obvious that  some  animal  had died  and  was
decomposing  somewhere in the sodden grotto.  He heard moans and  complaints
from behind when the rest of  them encountered the stench. Betty bleated her
unhappiness. Jennsen's echoing whisper told the goat to be quiet.
     Even the  displeasure of the smell  was forgotten  as they worked their
way  under the  immense curtain of rock draped over where  the trail used to
be. This wasn't a true cave,  like underground caves Richard had encountered
before. It was only a narrow crack under what  was, in essence,  a big rock.
There  were no chambers and different routes to  worry about; there was only
one narrow void under  the rock, so lighting their way wasn't  critical.  He
knew, too, that it wasn't all that long. It only felt that way in the dark.
     Richard reached the spot where the way ahead abruptly started  up at  a
steep angle. Feeling the walls all around to find places to grab, he started
the difficult climb. In places he had to wedge his back against one wall and
use  his feet against the opposite wall to brace himself while grappling for
any ledge or crack in the rock he could find to help pull himself up. He had
to balance his pack in his  lap as he went, and  keep his sword from getting
wedged. It was slow going.
     Richard finally  reached the  high table where  the rock from above had
first  come down.  The hollow left under the mountain of rock was  basically
horizontal, rather than vertical, as it had been. Rock rested along the edge
of most  of the shelf, but there was one place with ample room  for  them to
make it through, over the edge and then  in under the slab  above them. Once
up  onto the flat, he leaned over as far  as he could, extending a hand down
to help Kahlan.
     He  heard  the grunts of effort from below  Kahlan  as the  rest of the
small company worked their way up the precipitous passage.
     From his place  atop the table of rock, Richard could finally see light
ahead and  light above. He had scouted  the  route and  knew that  they were
close  to being out the other side, but first they had to make it across the
shelf  of  rock  where  the  slab  left  little  room  above  them.  It  was
uncomfortably confining.
     Richard didn't like  such places.  He knew, though, that  there was  no
other way  through.  This was the place he worried  most  about. Tight as it
was, it was fortunately close to the end.
     "We have to  crawl on our bellies from here," he told Kahlan.  "Hold my
ankle. Have everyone behind do the same."
     Kahlan peered ahead toward the light coming from the opening. The glare
of that light made it difficult to  see  to  the sides. "Richard, it doesn't
look big enough. It's just a crack."
     Richard pushed his pack out onto the rock. "There's a way. We'll be out
     Kahlan let out a deep breath. "All right. The sooner the better."
     "Listen to me," he called back into the darkness. "We're almost out."
     "If you  make  us  walk  through any more rotting animals, I'll clobber
you," Jennsen called up to him. Everyone laughed.
     "No more of that," Richard said. "But there is a difficult spot  ahead.
I've  been through it, so I know we  can all make it. But you have to listen
to me and  do  as I say. Crawl on your stomach,  pushing your  pack ahead of
you.  Hold the ankle  of  the person  in front  of  you. That way you'll all
follow in the right place.
     "You'll see the light ahead of you. You can't go toward the light. That
isn't the way out. The ceiling drops down too low and the slope of  the rock
starts pitching down to the  left. If  you slip down  in there it gets  even
tighter;  you'll not be able to get out. We have to go around the low  place
in the ceiling. We have to go around on the right side, where it's dark, but
not as low. Does everyone understand?"
     Agreement echoed up from the darkness.
     "Richard," Jennsen  called  in a small  voice, "I don't  like being  in
here. I want out."
     Her voice carried a thread of panic.
     "I don't either," he told her. "But I've been through and out the other
side.  I made it through  and back. You'll be fine. Just follow  me and  you
won't have a problem."
     Her voice drifted up to him from the darkness. "I want to go back."
     Richard couldn't let her go  back.  The ledges, where they were exposed
to the races, were too dangerous.
     "Here," Kahlan told her, "you come ahead of me. Take  hold of Richard's
ankle and you'll be out before the rest of us."
     "I'll see that Betty watches you go through and follows," Tom offered.
     That  seemed  to  break the impasse. Jennsen moved up to the  ledge and
handed her  pack up. Richard,  lying on his stomach in the low slit  of  the
shelf, took her hand to help her up.
     When she saw in the light how low and tight it was, that Richard had to
lie on his stomach, she started to tremble. When Richard helped pull her up,
and her face came up close to him, he could see her tears in the dim light.
     Her wide blue eyes took in the way ahead, how low it was.
     Please, Richard, I'm afraid. I don't want to go in under there."
     He  nodded.  "I know, but  it's not far. I won't let you stay  in here.
I'll  see that you get  out."  He cupped a hand  to the side of her face. "I
     "How do I know you'll keep your promise?"
     Richard smiled. "Wizards always keep their promises."
     "You said you don't know much about being a wizard."
     "But I know how to keep promises."
     She at last agreed and let him help her the rest of the way up. When he
pulled  her all the  way  up onto  the shelf  of the  mountainside,  and she
actually felt  how the roof of rock didn't allow her any  room to get up and
that she had to lie flat just to fit, and  worse, that the roof of rock  was
only scant inches above her back, she started to shiver with terror.
     "I  know how you feel," he told her. "I do, Jennsen.  I hate this, too,
but we have no choice. It's not dangerous if you just follow me  through the
place where there's  room. Just  follow me and we'll be out before you  know
     "What if it comes  down  and crushes us? Or what  if it comes down just
enough to pin us so we can't move or breathe?"
     "It won't,"  he  insisted. "It's been here  for ages. It isn't going to
come down. It's not."
     She  nodded but he  didn't know if she really heard him.  She  began to
whimper as he turned himself around so he could lead her out.
     "Take my ankle," he called  back to her. "Here, push your pack up to me
and I'll  take care  of it  for  you. Then you'll  only have  to worry about
holding on to my ankle and following behind."
     "What if it gets  too tight  and  I can't  breathe? Richard, what  if I
can't breathe?"
     Richard  kept his voice calm and confident. "I'm bigger than you, so if
I fit, you will."
     She  only nodded as she shivered. He extended his  hand back and had to
tell  her again to  pass her pack forward before she  did as he  instructed.
Once  he  had  her  pack, he tied  the straps to his and pushed them both on
ahead. She  seized his ankle as if it  were the only thing keeping  her from
falling into the arms of the Keeper of the underworld.
     He  didn't complain, though, about how hard  she held him; he  knew her
     Richard pushed the packs out ahead and started inching his way forward.
He  tried not to think  about  the rough ceiling of rock  only  a hand-width
above his back. He knew it would become ftarrower before  they got  out. The
shelf of rock sloped  upward to the right slightly, into the dark. The light
was to the left, and down.
     It  looked like the easiest way  out  was  to  go  straight  toward the
opening. It wasn't far. They had  to go, instead, up into the  darkness  and
around the narrowing  of the cleft  in order to get around to  a place where
they could  fit through. Forcing himself to go up,  into  the  dark where it
felt tighter and  more  closed in,  rather  than  toward the  light  of  the
opening, felt wrong, but he had already scouted  the route  and he knew that
his feelings were wrong about this.
     As he moved deeper into the  darkness, going around the impassable area
in the center  of  the  chamber, he reached the spot  where  the rock  above
lowered.  Advancing in farther, it came down until  it  pressed against  his
back. He knew it wasn't far, not more than  a dozen feet, but, without being
able to take a full breath, the cramped passage was daunting.
     Richard pushed the packs ahead as he wriggled and wormed his way along.
He had to push with the toes of  his boots and, with his fingers finding any
purchase available, pull  his chest through, force himself to  make  headway
into the dark, away from the light.
     Jennsen's  fingers had an  iron grip on  his ankle. That  was fine with
Richard, because he could then help pull her through with him.  He wanted to
be able  to  help  pull  her through  when she  reached  the spot that would
compress her chest.
     And then she suddenly let go of his ankle.

     Off behind him, Richard could  hear Jennsen  scrambling away. "Jennsen?
What's going on? What are you doing?" She was crying out, whining in terror,
as she bolted toward the light at the opening.
     "Jennsen!" Richard called  to her.  "Don't go that  way! Stay with me!"
Wedged  in  as he was,  he couldn't easily  turn to see. He  forced  himself
ahead, crabbing sideways, trying to spot her. Jennsen was clambering  toward
the light, ignoring  him as he called to  her. Kahlan  wormed her way up  to
him. "What's she doing?" "She's trying to get out. She sees the opening, the
light, and won't listen."
     Richard shoved the packs  and frantically worked his way ahead,  moving
into the  area beyond the tight spot, to where it  was open enough  that  he
could at last get a full breath and almost get up on his hands and knees.
     Jennsen screamed. Richard could  see  her  clawing  frantically  at the
rock, but she wasn't making any headway. In a frenzy of effort, she tried to
push herself forward, but, instead,  she'd slipped sideways farther down the
slope, wedging herself in tighter.
     Each  exaggerated,  panting  breath  as  she  strained  and   stretched
ratcheted her in deeper.
     Richard  called to her, trying to  get her to listen, to do as he said.
In her desperation, she wasn't  responding to any of his  instructions.  She
saw the opening, wanted out, and would not listen to him.
     Fast  as he could,  Richard  scrambled through the  darkness and around
toward the opening, guiding Kahlan, Owen, Cara, and Tom through the only way
he knew they could make it. Kahlan held tight to his ankle and he could hear
by the panting of effort that the rest of them were all following in a  line
behind her.
     Jennsen  screamed in  terror. She struggled madly, but  couldn't  move.
Wedged in as she was, with rock compressing her rib cage top and  bottom, it
was becoming difficult for her to breathe.
     "Jennsen! Take a slow breath! Slow  down!" Richard called  to her as he
scurried around toward the opening. "Breathe slow! Breathe!"
     Richard finally reached the opening. He emerged from the dark crevasse,
squinting  in the sudden  light. On  his knees, he leaned in and helped pull
Kahlan  out.  Betty scrambled out,  somehow having  passed  the  rest of the
people. As Owen  and then Cara clambered out of the opening, Richard  pulled
the baldric over his head and handed his sword to Kahlan.
     Tom called out that he was going back in to try to reach Jennsen.
     As  soon  as  the rest  were  safely out,  Richard  dove back into  the
fissure.  Headfirst, on his hands and knees, he scuttled into  the dark.  He
could see that Tom, from his angle of approach, had no chance to get to her.
     "Tom, I'll get her."
     "I can reach her,"  the man said even as  he was getting himself wedged
     "No you can't," Richard said in a stern tone.  "Wishing won't  make  it
so.  You'll just  get yourself stuck. Listen to me. Back out,  now, or  your
weight will help  push you downhill and get  you stuck so hard that we won't
be able to get you out. Back up, now, while you're still able to. Go. Let me
get her."
     Tom watched Richard moving around behind him, and  then,  making a face
that showed how unhappy  he was to be  doing  it, he started pushing himself
back up into the darkness, where  there was a few precious inches' more room
that would let him make it back out.
     Richard worked his way through the  tight spot and  then moved down the
slope so that he wouldn't be facing downhill as he tried to help Jennsen and
possibly wedge himself in  tighter than he wanted. If  he wasn't careful, he
would  do  the same  thing Tom had been about  to do. Down in  the darkness,
Jennsen cried in panic.
     Richard, flat on his belly, wiggled  and snaked his way deeper, all the
while moving to his left, down  the pitch  in the  shelf of rock.  "Jennsen,
breathe. I'm coming. It's all right."
     "Richard! Please don't leave me here! Richard!"
     Richard spoke in a calm, quiet voice as he moved around behind her down
into the tighter part of the cave.  "I'm not going  to leave  you. You'll be
fine. Just wait for me."
     "Richard! I can't move!" She grunted with effort. "I can't breathe! The
ceiling  is  coming  down! It's  moving--I  can feel  it coming  down.  It's
squeezing me! Please help me! Richard--please don't leave me!"
     "You're fine, Jennsen.  The ceiling  isn't  moving.  You're just stuck.
I'll have you out in a minute."
     Even  as he worked his way into  the low  spot, trying to get up  close
behind her,  she was  still  struggling to move forward, making  it  worse--
there  was  no  way she  could go  forward and  make it  out.  As  she  kept
struggling, though, she was slowly slipping deeper down the  slope  and with
every  frantic  breath  wedging  herself  in  tighter.  He  could  hear  how
desperately she was  trying to breathe, to draw each shallow breath  against
the immovable compression of rock.
     Finally  all the way  back  around  behind her, Richard started pushing
himself in  the way  she'd  gone. She  had  gone into a narrow  channel that
closed down  on the  uphill  side of her, so there could be  no  moving  her
sideways up the slope; he had  to get her to back up  the way she'd gone in.
He had to get her to go away from the light and back into what she feared.
     The roof of  rock scraped against his back, making it difficult to draw
a  full  breath. He  had  to take  shallow breaths  as he moved  deeper. The
farther he went, he could not even breathe that deeply.
     The need  for air, for a deep breath, made the pain of  the poison feel
like knives  twisting in  his ribs. Arms stretched forward, Richard used his
boots to  force himself in deeper, trying to ignore  his own rising sense of
panic. He reasoned  with himself  that there  were others who knew  where he
was, that he wasn't alone. With the powerful feeling that a mountain of rock
was crushing him,  reasoning with himself was difficult, especially when the
shallow split of rock he was pressed into hardly  let him get any air as  it
was and he was desperately working  himself deeper trying to reach  Jennsen.
He knew that he had to help pull her out of where she was stuck or she would
die there.
     "Richard,"  she  cried,  "it  hurts. I can't breathe. I'm  stuck.  Dear
spirits, I can't breathe. Please, Richard, I'm scared."
     Richard stretched,  trying  to reach her ankle. It was too far away. He
had to turn his head sideways to advance. Both ears scraped against rock. He
wiggled, inching  in tighter even though his better judgment was telling him
that he was already in trouble.
     "Jennsen, please, I  need you to help me. I need you to push back. Push
back with your hands. Push back toward me."
     "No! I have to get out! I'm almost there!"
     "No, you're not almost there. You can't make  it that way. You have  to
trust me. Jennsen, you've got to push back so I can reach you."
     "No! Please! I want out! I want out!"
     "I'll get you out, I promise. Just push back so I can reach you."
     With her  blocking the light  he couldn't  tell  if she was doing as he
instructed  or not. He squirmed in  another inch, then another. His head was
almost stuck. He couldn't imagine how she had gotten in as far as she had.
     "Jennsen, push back." His voice was strained. He couldn't get enough of
a breath to talk and to breathe, too.
     His  fingers stretched  forward,  reaching,  stretching,  reaching. His
lungs burned for air. He  just wanted to take  a deep breath. He desperately
needed  a  breath. Not  being  able to draw one was  not only  painful,  but
frightening. His heartbeat pounded in his ears.
     As high as they  were in the mountains, the air was already thin and it
was difficult to get enough  air the way  it was.  Limited to taking shallow
breaths was making him light-headed. If he didn't get back to where he could
breathe  soon, the two of  them were going to  be  forever in  this terrible
     The tips of Richard's fingers caught the edge of the  sole of Jennsen's
boot. He couldn't get a good grip on her foot, though.
     "Push back," he whispered into the dark. It was all he could do to keep
his own panic in check. "Jennsen, do as I say. Push back. Do it."
     Jennsen's boot moved back  into his hand. He snatched  it in  a tighter
grip and immediately worked his way back a few inches. Pulling with  all his
might, he  strained to drag her back with him. Try as he might, she wouldn't
budge. She was either stuck tight, or was fighting to go forward.
     "Push back,"  he whispered  again.  "Use your hands, Jennsen. Push back
toward me. Push."
     She  was  sobbing and crying  something  he  couldn't make out. Richard
wedged his boots, top and bottom, in the tight cleft  and  then  pulled with
all his might. His arm shook with the effort. He  managed to draw her back a
few inches.
     He wiggled  himself  back  an  equal distance and  pulled  again.  With
agonizing effort,  he  slowly, painstakingly, started drawing her out of the
dead end she had fled into in a panicked attempt to get out.
     At times, she tried to squirm back toward the  light. Richard, the rock
compressing him tight, kept a firm hold of her boot and muscled her back yet
more, not allowing her to take back any of the distance he gained.
     He couldn't straighten his head. That made it more difficult to use his
muscles  to  move  the  both of them. With  his head lying on the right,  he
reached back  with  his  left arm  and gripped a  small lip  of rock  in the
ceiling, using it to  help  haul  them  back.  With his right arm, stretched
forward and holding her by the boot, he drew her back inch by inch.
     As  he reached  back again for another handhold, Richard  saw something
not  far to his  left, down  the slope, wedged  where the  rock narrowed. At
first he  thought  it was  a rock. As he struggled to draw  Jennsen back, he
stared at  the thing  also stuck in the rock. He  reached  to the  side  and
touched it. It was smooth and didn't feel at all like the granite.
     As he began to make good progress backward he stretched to the side and
managed to get his fingers around the  thing. He  pulled it to his side  and
continued to wiggle back.
     With great relief, he was finally  back far enough to where he was able
to get enough air. He lay still for a time, just catching his breath. Almost
as much as air, though, he wanted out.
     While he talked to Jennsen, distracting her  with instructions she only
intermittently followed, he began forcing her  back and to  the right, where
there was more room. Finally, he managed to move up beside her and seize her
wrist. Once  he had  her, he started moving her back up the slope, into  the
darkness, into the tight place that he knew was the only true way out.
     With him up beside her, she was  a little  more  cooperative.  All  the
while, he  kept reassuring  her. "This is the way, Jennsen. This is the way.
I'll not leave you. I'll get you out. This is the way. Just come with me and
we'll be out in a few minutes."
     When  they worked their way up  into the dark,  tight  spot, she  began
struggling again, trying again to scramble for the light of the opening, but
he was  blocking her way. He stayed  close at her side  as he kept them both
moving  forward. She  seemed to find strength in his constant assurances and
his firm  grip  on her wrist. He  was not about to let her get away from him
     When they pushed through to the place where the roof rose up a bit, she
started weeping with expectant  joy. He knew the feeling.  Once  the ceiling
rose up  a foot or two, he hurried  as  fast as he could  to get  her to the
opening, to the light.
     The others were waiting right  at the entrance to  help pull  them out.
Richard held the thing he'd  retrieved under his left arm as  he helped push
Jennsen  out  first. She  rushed  into Tom's waiting arms,  but  only  until
Richard crawled out and got to his  feet. Then, crying with relief,  Jennsen
fled into his arms, clinging to him for dear life.
     "I'm  so sorry," she  said over and over as  she cried. "I'm so  sorry,
Richard. I was so afraid."
     "I know," he comforted as he held her.
     He'd been in a similar situation before where he thought he might never
get himself out of  such a terrifying place, so he did understand. In such a
stressful circumstance, where  you feared you were about to die, it was easy
to be overpowered by the blind need to escape--to live.
     "I feel so confused."
     "I don't like such tight places, either," he said. "I understand."
     "But  I don't understand. I've never been  afraid  of places like that.
Ever since I  was very  young I've hid  in tight  little places. Such places
always made me feel safe because no one could find me or get to me. When you
spend your life running and hiding from someone like  Darken Rahl, you  come
to appreciate small, dark, concealed places.
     "I don't  know what came over  me. It was  the strangest thing. It  was
like these thoughts that I wouldn't get out, that I couldn't breathe, that I
would die, just started coming  into my head. Feelings I've never had before
just started to seep into me. They just seemed  to  overwhelm me. I've never
done anything like that before."
     "Do you still feel these strange feelings?"
     "Yes," she said  as she  wept, "but they're starting  to fade, now that
I'm out, now that it's over."
     Everyone else had moved off a ways to give her  the time she needed  to
set  herself  straight. They sat not far off  waiting on  an old  log turned
silver in the weather.
     Richard didn't try to rush her.  He just held her and let her  know she
was safe.
     "I'm so sorry, Richard. I feel like such a fool."
     "No need. It's over, now."
     "You kept your promise," she said through her tears.
     Richard smiled, happy that he had.
     Owen, his face tense with  worry, looked like he  couldn't help himself
from asking a question. "But Jennsen?" he asked as he  stepped forward. "Why
didn't you do magic to help yourself?"
     "I can't do magic any more than you can."
     He  rubbed his palms on his hips.  "You could if you let yourself.  You
are one who is able to touch magic."
     "Other  people might be able to do magic, but I can't. I don't have any
ability for it."
     "What others think is  magic  is  only themselves tricking their senses
and  only blinds them  to real magic. Our eyes blind us,  our senses deceive
us--as  I explained before. Only those who have never seen magic, only those
who have  never used, sensed, perceived it,  only those who do not have  any
ability or faculty  for it,  can actually understand  it and therefore  only
they can be true  practitioners of real magic. Magic  must be based entirely
on faith, if it is to be real. You must believe, and then you truly can see.
You are one who can do magic."
     Richard and Jennsen stared at the man.
     "Richard," Kahlan said in an odd voice  before he could say anything to
Owen. "What's that."
     Richard blinked at her. "What?"
     She pointed. "That, there, under your arm. What is it?"
     "Oh," he said. "Something I found wedged in the rock near Jennsen, back
in where she was stuck. In the dark, I couldn't tell what  it was other than
that it wasn't rock."
     He pulled it out to have a look.
     It was a statue.
     A statue in his likeness, wearing his war wizard's outfit. The cape was
fixed in place as it swirled  to the side of the legs, making the base wider
than the waist.
     The  lower  portion of  the  figure was  a translucent amber color, and
through it could  be seen a falling  trickle of sand that  had nearly filled
the bottom half.
     The  statue was  not  all amber, though, as Kahlan's had been. Near the
middle,  obscuring  the  narrowing  where the  sand  dribbled  through,  the
translucent amber of the  bottom  began darkening. The higher up the figure,
the darker it became.
     The top--the shoulders and head--were as black as a night stone.
     A night stone was an underworld  thing, and Richard  remembered all too
well what that wicked object had looked like. The top  of  the statue looked
to be made of the same sinister material, all glossy and smooth and so black
that it looked as if it might suck the light right out of the day.
     Richard's heart sank at seeing himself represented in such a way,  as a
talisman touched by death.
     "She made  it," Owen  said, shaking an accusatorial finger  at  Jennsen
still sheltered under Richard's right  arm. "She made it with  magic. I told
you she could. She spun it of evil magic back in that cave when  she  wasn't
thinking.  The magic took over  and  came out of her, then,  when she wasn't
thinking about how she couldn't do magic."
     Owen didn't have  any idea what  he was  talking about.  This was not a
statue Jennsen made.
     This  was the  second warning  beacon, meant to warn the one  who could
seal the breach.
     "Lord Rahl..."
     Richard looked up. It was Cara's voice.
     She  was standing  off a ways, her  back to them, looking up at a small
spot of sky off  through the trees.  Jennsen turned  in his arms to see what
had put  the  odd tone in Cara's voice. Holding his sister close, he stepped
up behind Cara and peered up through the trees where she was looking.
     Through a thin area in the canopy of  pine, he could see the rim of the
mountain pass above them. Silhouetted against iron gray clouds stealing past
was something man-made.
     It looked like a huge statue sitting atop the pass.

     Icy  wind tore at Richard's and Kahlan's  clothes as they huddled close
together at the edge of a  thick stand  of  spruce trees. Low, ragged clouds
raced by as if to escape the colossal,  dark, swirling clouds building above
them. Fat flakes  of snow danced in the cold gusts. Richard's ears burned in
the numbing cold.
     "What do you think?" Kahlan asked.
     Richard shook  his head. "I don't  know." He  glanced behind them, back
into  the shelter of the trees.  "Owen,  are you sure you don't know what it
is? You don't have any idea at all?"
     The  roiling  clouds made an ominous backdrop  for  the imposing statue
sitting up on the ridge.
     "No, Lord Rahl. I've never been here before; none  of us ever  traveled
this  route. I  don't know what it could be. Unless ..  ." His words trailed
off into the moan of the wind.
     "Unless what?"
     Owen shrank back, twisting  the button on his coat as he glanced to the
Mord-Sith on one side of him  and Tom and Jennsen on  the other. "There is a
foretelling--from the  ones who gave us our name and protected us by sealing
the  pass. It  is  taught that when they gave our empire its name, they also
told us that one day a savior would come to us."
     Richard wanted to ask the man just what exactly it was he  thought they
needed saving from--if they had lived in such an enlightened  culture  where
they were safe  from the  unenlightened "savages" of the rest of the  world.
Instead,  he  asked  a simpler  question he  thought  Owen might be able  to
     "So you think that maybe that's a statue of him, your savior?"
     Owen fidgeted,  his shoulders finally working into a shrug. "He is  not
just a savior. The foretelling also says that he will destroy us."
     Richard  frowned at the man, hoping this was not going to be another of
his convoluted beliefs. "This savior of yours  is going to destroy you. That
makes no sense."
     Owen was quick to agree. "I know. No one understands it."
     "Maybe it's meant  to say that someone will come to  save your people,"
Jennsen suggested, "but he will fail and so only end  up  destroying them in
the attempt."
     "Maybe."  Owen's  face  twisted  with  the  displeasure  of  having  to
contemplate such an outcome.
     "Maybe,"  Cara suggested in a grim tone, "it means this man will  come,
and after seeing your people, decide  they aren't worth saving"-- she leaned
toward Owen--"and decide to destroy them instead."
     Owen, as he stared up at Cara, seemed  to be considering her words as a
real possibility, rather than the sarcasm Richard knew them to be.
     "I  don't think  that  is the  meaning,"  Owen  finally told  her after
earnest  consideration. He turned  back  to Richard. "The foretelling, as it
has been taught to us, you see, says, first, that  a man  will come who will
destroy us. It  then  goes on  to say that he is  the one who will  save us.
'Your destroyer  will come and he will redeem you,' "  Owen quoted. "That is
how we have been taught the words,  how they were told to my people when  we
were put here, beyond this pass."
     "  'Your  destroyer will  come  and  he  will  redeem  you,' "  Richard
repeated.  He  took  a patient  breath.  "Whatever it  originally  said  has
probably  been  confused  and all jumbled  up  as  it's been passed down. It
probably no longer resembles the original saying."
     Rather than disagree, as Richard expected, Owen nodded. "Some  believe,
as  you say, that over the  time since we were protected and given our name,
maybe the true words have been lost, or confused. Others believe that it has
been passed down intact and must have important  meaning. Some  believe that
the foretelling was meant to say only that a  savior will come. Others think
it means only that a destroyer will come."
     "And what do you believe?" Richard asked.
     Owen twiddled  the button on his coat until  Richard  thought it  might
come off. "I  believe that the foretelling is meant to say  that a destroyer
will come--and I believe that he  is this  man Nicholas, of  the Order-- and
then that a savior will  come and save us.  I believe  that man is you, Lord
Rahl. Nicholas is our destroyer. You are our savior."
     Richard  knew from the book  that  prophecy didn't function  with these
people, with pillars of Creation.
     "What your people think  is a foretelling," Richard said, "is  probably
nothing more than an old adage that people have gotten mixed up."
     Owen  held his ground, if  hesitantly.  "We are taught  that  this is a
foretelling. We are taught  that those who named us told us this foretelling
and that they wanted it passed down so all might know of it."
     Richard sighed,  the wind pulling out  a long cloud of his  breath. "So
you think that up there is a statue of me, put  there thousands of years ago
by the ones who protected you behind the boundary? How would they know, long
before I was born, what I would look like in order to make a statue of me?"
     "The true reality knows everything that will be," Owen said by rote. He
forced a  half  smile as  he shrugged again. "After all, it made that little
statue that you found look like you."
     Unhappy to  be reminded of  that, Richard turned away from the man. The
small figure had been made  to look like him by magic tied to the  boundary,
and, possibly, to a dead wizard in the underworld.
     Richard scanned the sky, the rocky slopes all around, the tree line. He
didn't see any sign of life. The statue--they still couldn't  quite make out
what it was--sat distant up a treeless, rocky rise. It was yet quite a climb
up to that rim of the pass, to that statue.
     Richard was not going  to like it if it  did  indeed turn out to  be  a
statue of him beneath the gathering gloom.
     He  already didn't like it one bit that  the second warning beacon  was
meant for  him. It bound him to a responsibility, a duty,  he neither wanted
nor could accomplish.
     He had no  idea how to  restore  the  seal  on Bandakar. Zedd  had once
created boundaries that were probably similar to the  one that had been down
here in the Old World, but even Zedd had used constructed magic he had found
in the Keep.  Such constructed  spells had  been created  by ancient wizards
with  vast  power and knowledge of such things. Zedd had told him that there
were no more such spells.
     Richard certainly  had no  idea  how to  call  forth a spell that could
create such a boundary. More to the point, he didn't see how it would do any
good even if he knew how. What had really been  freed from Bandakar when the
boundary failed  was the  trait  of  being born without  any  trace  of  the
gift--that  was why they had all  been banished here in the first place. The
Imperial Order was already breeding  women  from Bandakar  in order to breed
the gift out of mankind. There was no telling how far that trait had already
spread. Breeding the women, as it sounded  like they were doing, now,  would
gain them more children  who were pristinely ungifted, children who would be
indoctrinated in the teachings of the Order.
     When  they started  using the  men  for  breeding, the  number of  such
children  would vastly increase. A woman could have  a child every year.  In
the  same  time,  a man could  sire  a great number  of children bearing his
pristinely ungifted trait.
     Despite the Order's creed of self-sacrifice, they had not yet, it would
seem,  been  willing to sacrifice their women to such an undertaking. Raping
the women  in Bandakar and proclaiming it  for the  good of mankind was fine
with the men of the Order.  For the men  ruling the Imperial Order  to  give
over their own women to be bred, however, was quite another matter.
     Richard had no  doubt that they eventually would start using their  own
women to this purpose, but that would come later. In the meantime, the Order
would  probably soon start using  all the women captured and held  as slaves
for this purpose, breeding them to men from Bandakar. The  Order's  conquest
of  the New World would provide  them  with plenty  more women  for breeding
     Whereas  in  ancient times those  in the  New World tried to  limit the
trait from spreading in man, the Imperial Order would do whatever they could
to accelerate it.
     "Richard," Kahlan asked in a low voice, so the others farther  back  in
the trees wouldn't hear, "what do you think it means that the second warning
beacon, the one for you, is turning black like the night stone? Do you think
it means to show you the time you have left to get the antidote?"
     Since he had only just found it, he hadn't given it much thought.  Even
so, he could interpret it only  as a dire warning. The night stone was  tied
to the spirits of the dead--to the underworld.
     It could be, as Kahlan suggested, that the darkening was  meant to show
him how the poison was taking him, and that he was running out of time.  For
a number of reasons, though, he didn't believe that was the explanation.
     "I don't know for sure," he finally told her, "but I don't think it's a
warning about the poison. I think that  the way the statue is  turning black
is meant to represent, materially, how the gift is  failing in me,  how it's
slowly beginning to kill me,  how the underworld, the world of  the dead, is
slowly enshrouding me."
     Kahlan's hand slipped  up on  his arm,  a gesture of comfort as well as
worry. "That was my thought, too. I was hoping you would  argue  against it.
This means that the  gift  might  be more of a problem than the  poison--if,
after all, this dead wizard used the beacon to warn you about it."
     Richard wondered if the statue up on the ridge  of  the pass would hold
any answers. He certainly didn't have any. To make it up there and see, they
would have to leave the shelter of the forest and travel out in the open.
     Richard turned and signaled the others forward.
     "I  don't think the races would be expecting us  here," he said as they
gathered around him. "If  we really did manage  to lose them they won't know
where we went, what direction, so they won't know  to  look for us,  here. I
think  we can  make it  up there without the races,  and therefore Nicholas,
     "Besides,"  Tom said,  "with  those  low  clouds  hugging most  of  the
mountains, they may not be able to search."
     "Maybe," Richard said.
     It was getting late. In the distant mountains a wolf howled. On another
slope across  a deep cleft in the mountains, a second wolf  answered.  There
would be more than two.
     Betty's ears perked toward  the howls as she crowded against Jenn-sen's
     "What if Nicholas uses something else?" Jennsen asked.
     Cara  gripped the  blond braid lying over the front of  her shoulder as
she scanned the woods to the sides. "Something else?"
     Jennsen pulled  her cloak tighter around herself as the  wind tried  to
lift it open. "Well, if he can look through a race's eyes, then maybe he can
look through the eyes of something else."
     "You mean a wolf?" Cara asked. "You think that wolf you heard might  be
     "I don't know," Jennsen admitted.
     "For that matter," Richard said, "if he can look through the black eyes
of the races,  maybe  he could  just as  easily look  through the eyes of  a
     Tom swiped his windblown blond hair back from his forehead as he cast a
wary glance at the sky. "Why do you  think he always seems to use the races,
     "Probably  because  they're  better able  to  cover  great  distances,"
Richard  said.  "After all,  he'd have  a  lot of trouble  finding us with a
     "More than that,  though, I  think he likes  the imagery of being  with
such  creatures,  likes  thinking of  himself  as  being part  of a powerful
predator. He is, after all, hunting us."
     "So  you think we only have  to worry about the  races,  then?" Jennsen
     "I think he would prefer to watch through the races, but that isn't his
end, only the means," Richard said. "He's after Kahlan and me. Since getting
us is his end, I think he will turn to whatever means he must, if necessary.
He  very well might look through even the eyes of  a mouse if it  would help
him get us."
     "If his end is having  you," Cara said, "then Owen is  helping his ends
by bringing you right to him."
     Richard couldn't argue with that. For the moment, though, he had  to go
along  with Owen's wishes.  Soon enough,  Richard  intended  to start  doing
things his own way.
     "For now,"  Richard  said,  "he's still trying to find us,  so I expect
that he will stick to the races, since they can cover  great distances. But,
since  I've killed  races  with  arrows,  he  must realize that we  at least
suspect someone is watching us through their eyes. As  we get closer to him,
I  see no reason that in  the future  he might not use something else so  we
won't know he's watching us."
     Kahlan looked to be alarmed by the idea. "You mean,  something  like  a
wolf, or, or ... I don't know, maybe an owl?"
     "Owl,  pigeon, sparrow. If I had to guess, then I'd guess that at least
until he finds us he will use a bird."
     Kahlan huddled close beside him, using his body to block the wind. They
were  up high enough  in  the  mountains  that they were just  beginning  to
encounter  snow. From what Richard had seen  of the Old  World, it generally
appeared too warm for snow. For there to be snow this time of year it  could
only be in the most imposing of mountains.
     Richard gestured to the icy flakes swirling in the  air. "Owen, does it
get cold in winter in Bandakar? Do you get snow?"
     "Winds  come down from  the  north,  following  down  our  side  of the
mountains, I believe. In winter it gets cold. Every  couple of years, we get
a bit of snow, but it  does not  last long. Usually  in the  winter it rains
more. I do not understand why it snows here, now, when it is summer."
     "Because  of the elevation," Richard answered  idly  as he studied  the
rising slopes to each side.
     Higher yet, the  snowpack was thick, and in places, where the wind blew
drifts  into  overhangs,  it  would be  treacherous. Trying  to  cross  such
precipitous, snow-covered slopes would  be perilous,  at best.  Fortunately,
they were nearing the highest point they would have to climb to make it over
the  pass, so they wouldn't  have to traverse heavy snow. The bitterly  cold
wind, though, was making them all miserable.
     "I want to know what that thing is," Richard finally said, gesturing up
at the statue on the  rise. He looked  around at the others to see if anyone
objected. No one did. "And, I want to know why it's there."
     "Do you think we should wait for dark?" Cara asked. "Darkness will hide
us better."
     Richard shook his head.  "The races must be able to see pretty  well in
the dark--after all, that's when they hunt. If given a choice, I'd rather be
in the open during the daylight, when I can see them coming."
     Richard  hooked his bow under  his leg and bent it enough to attach the
bowstring. He drew an  arrow from  the leather quiver over his shoulder  and
nocked it, holding it at rest against the bow with his left hand. He scanned
the sky, checking the clouds, and looking for  any  sign  of  the  races. He
wasn't entirely  sure about the  shadows  among  the trees, but  the sky was
clear of races.
     "I  think we'd better be on  our way." Richard's gaze swept across  all
their  faces, first, making sure  they  were  paying attention. "Walk on the
rocks if at all possible. I  don't  want to leave a trail behind in the snow
that Nicholas could spot through the eyes of the races."
     Nodding  their understanding, they all  followed after him,  in  single
file,  out onto the rocks. Owen, in  front of  the ever-watchful  Mord-Sith,
kept a wary eye toward the sky. Jennsen and Betty watched  the  woods to the
sides. In  the  strong gusts, they  all  hunched  against the wind  and  the
stinging bite  of icy crystals  hitting their  faces. In the thin air it was
tiring climbing up the steep incline. Richard's legs burned with the effort.
His lungs burned with the poison.
     By the look of the  sheer walls of rock rising up into broken clouds to
either side, Richard didn't see any way, other than the  pass, for people to
make  it  over the imposing  mountains, at  least, not  without a journey of
tremendous difficulty,  hardship, and  probably  a great loss of life.  Even
then, he wasn't really certain that it was even possible.
     In  places, as they trudged up the edge of the steep rise, he could see
back through gaps  in the rock walls of the mountains, under the dark bottom
of clouds, to sunlight beyond the pass.
     None of them spoke as they climbed. From time to time they had to pause
to catch their breath. They all kept an eye to the churning sky.
     Richard  spotted a few  small birds in the distance, but nothing of any
     As they approached the top, following a zigzagging course so they could
more easily make it up without having to scale rock faces of jutting ledges,
Richard caught glimpses of the statue sitting on a massive base of granite.
     From the high vantage point in the pass, he could now see that the rock
on either side of the rise fell away in precipitous drops. The gorge  at the
bottom of either side dead-ended at vertical climbs of what would have to be
thousands of feet. Whatever routes might have  branched off lower down, they
would have to converge before going up this rise; by the lay of the land, it
became  clear  to him that  this was the  only  way  to make it through this
entire section of the pass.
     He  realized  that anyone approaching Bandakar by this route would have
to climb this ridge in the  rise, and they  would unavoidably come upon  the
     As  he mounted the final cut between the snow-dusted  boulders standing
twice his height, Richard  was able at last  to take  in the  entire  statue
guarding the pass.
     And guarding the pass it was. This was a sentinel.
     The  noble  figure sitting  atop a  vast  stone  base was  seated as he
watchfully guarded the pass. In one hand the figure casually held a sword at
the  ready,  its  point resting  on  the ground. He appeared  to  be wearing
leather armor, with his cape resting over his lap. The  vigilant pose of the
sentinel gave  it  a resolute presence. The  clear impression  was that this
figure was set to ward what was beyond.
     The stone was worn by centuries of weather, but  that weathering failed
to wear  away the power of  the carving. This figure was carved, and  it was
placed, with great purpose. That it was out in the middle of nowhere, at the
summit of a  mountain pass no longer traveled and a trail possibly abandoned
after this was set here, made it, to Richard, all the more arresting.
     He had  carved stone,  and he knew what had gone into this.  It was not
what he  would call fine work,  but it was powerfully executed. Just looking
at it gave him goose bumps.
     "At least it doesn't look like you," Kahlan said.
     At least there was that.
     But this thing being there all alone for what very well might have been
thousands of years was worrisome.
     "What  I'd  like to  know," Richard  said  to  her, "is why this second
beacon was down there, down the hill, in that cave, and not up here."
     Kahlan shared a telling look with him. "If Jennsen hadn't done what she
did, you would never have found it."
     Richard walked around the  base of  the statue,  searching--for what he
didn't  know. Almost  as soon as he started looking, he saw, on the front of
the  base, on the top of one of the decorative moldings, an odd void in  the
snow. It  looked as  if  something had been sitting there and had  then been
taken away. It was a track, of sorts, a telltale.
     Richard thought the barren spot looked  familiar. He pulled the warning
beacon  from  his pack  and  checked the shape  of  the  bottom. His thought
confirmed, he placed the figure of himself in the void in the snow collected
on the rim of the base. It was a perfect fit.
     The little figure had been here, with this statue.
     "How do you  think  it came to be down  in the  cave?" Cara asked in  a
suspicious voice.
     "Maybe it fell," Jennsen offered. "It's pretty windy up here. Maybe the
wind blew it off and it tumbled down the hill."
     "And  just managed to roll through the woods without being stopped by a
tree, and then, neat as can be," Richard  said, "roll right  into  the small
opening of the cave, and then just happened to come to be  stuck in the rock
right near where you, by coincidence, ended up stuck. Stuck, I might add, in
a terrifying place you aren't terrified of."
     Jennsen blinked in wonder. "When you put it like that. . ."
     Standing at the crown of the pass, in front of the  statue  right where
the warning beacon would  have  rested, and now again rested, Richard  could
see that the spot  held a  commanding view of the approach to Bandakar.  The
mountains  blocking  off  the  view  to either  side were as  formidable  as
anything he'd ever seen. The  rise  where  the sentinel  sat overlooked  the
approach  into  the  pass back between those towering, snowcapped  peaks. As
high as they were, they were still only at the foothills of those mountains.
     The statue  was not looking ahead, as might be expected of  a guardian,
but  rather, its unflinching gaze  was fixed a little to the  right. Richard
thought  that was a bit odd. He wondered if maybe it was meant  to show this
sentinel keeping a vigilant eye on everything, on every potential threat.
     Standing as he was, directly in front of the statue's base, in front of
where the warning beacon sat, Richard looked to  the right, in the direction
the man in the statue was looking.
     He could see the approach of the pass up through the mountains. Farther
out,  in the distance, he  could see  vast forests to  the  west, and beyond
that, the low, barren mountains they had crossed.
     And, he could see a gap in those mountains.
     The  eyes  of the man in  the  statue were resolutely fixed  upon  what
Richard now saw.
     "Dear spirits," he whispered.
     "What is it?" Kahlan asked. "What do you see?"
     "The Pillars of Creation."

     Kahlan, standing  beside Richard, squinted into the distance.  From the
base of the statue  they had  a commanding  view of the approaches  from the
west. It seemed  as if she could see half a world away. But she couldn't see
what he saw.
     "I can't see the Pillars of Creation," she said.
     Richard leaned  close, having her sight down  his arm where he pointed.
"There. That darker depression in the expanse of flat ground."
     Richard's eyes were better at seeing distant things than were hers.  It
was all rather hazy-looking, being so far away.
     "You  can  recognize where it lies by the landmarks, there"--he pointed
off to the right, and then a little  to  the left--"and there. Those  darker
mountains  in the distance  that are a little  higher than the  rest have  a
unique shape. They serve as good reference points so you can find things."
     "Now that you  point them out,  I  can see the  land where  we traveled
from. I recognize those mountains."
     It seemed amazing,  looking  back on where they'd  been, how high  they
were. She could see, spread out into the distance, the vast wasteland beyond
the barren mountain range  and, even if she couldn't make out the details of
the dreadful place, she could see the darker  depression in the valley. That
depression she knew to be the Pillars of Creation.
     "Owen," Richard asked, "how far is this pass from your men--the men who
were hiding with you in the hills?"
     Owen looked baffled by the question.  "But Lord Rahl, I have never been
up  this portion of the pass  before. I have never seen this statue. I  have
never been anywhere close  to here before. It  would be impossible for me to
tell such a thing."
     "Not impossible,"  Richard said. "If  you  know what your home is like,
you should be able  to recognize landmarks around it--just as I was able  to
look out to the west and see the route we traveled to  get here. Look around
at those mountains back through the pass and see if you recognize anything."
     Owen,  looking skeptical,  walked  the rest of  the  way  up behind the
statue and peered off to the east. He stood in the wind for a time, staring.
He pointed at a mountain in the distance, through the pass.
     "I think I know that place." He sounded  astonished. "I know the  shape
of that mountain. It looks a little  different from  this spot, but I  think
it's the same place I know."  He shielded his eyes from the gusts of wind as
he gazed to the east. He pointed again. "And that  place! I know that place,
     He rushed back to Richard. "You were right, Lord Rahl. I can see places
I know." He stared off then as he whispered to himself. "I can tell where my
home is, even though I've not been here. Just by seeing places I know."
     Kahlan had never seen anyone so astounded by something so simple.
     "So," Richard finally prompted, "how far do you think your men are from
     Owen looked back  over his  shoulder.  "Through that  low  place,  then
around that slope  coming from the right..." He turned back to  Richard. "We
have been hiding in the land near where the seal on our  empire used to  be,
where no one ever goes because it is near the place where death stalks, near
the  pass. I  would  guess  maybe a full day's steady  walk  from here."  He
suddenly turned  hesitant. "But I am wrong  to be confident of what my  eyes
tell me. I  may just be  seeing  what my mind wants me to see. It may not be
     Richard folded his arms and leaned back against the granite base of the
statue as he gazed out toward the Pillars of Creation, ignoring
     Owen's doubt. Knowing Richard as  she did, Kahlan imagined that he must
be considering his options.
     Standing beside him, she was  about to lean  back  against the stone of
the statue's base,  but  instead paused  to  first  brush the snow  off from
beside where  the warning  beacon rested. As she brushed the snow  away, she
saw that there were words carved in the top of the decorative molding.
     "Richard . .. look at this."
     He turned to see what she saw, and then started hurriedly brushing away
more of the snow. The others crowded around, trying to see what was  written
in the stone of  the statue's base. Cara, on the  other side of Richard, ran
her hand all the way to the end to clean off the entire ledge.
     Kahlan couldn't read it.  It was in another  language  she didn't know,
but thought she recognized.
     "High D'Haran?" Cara asked.
     Richard nodded his confirmation as he  studied the words. "This must be
a very old dialect," he said,  half to himself as  he scrutinized it, trying
to figure it  out. "It's not just an old dialect, but one with which I'm not
familiar. Maybe because this is so distant a place."
     "What  does  it say?"  Jennsen  wanted  to  know as  she  peered around
Richard, between him and Kahlan. "Can you translate it?"
     "It's difficult to work  it out," Richard mumbled.  He  swiped his hair
back  with one hand as  he  ran the  fingers  of his  other lightly over the
     He finally straightened and glanced up at Owen, standing to the side of
the base, watching.
     Everyone waited while Richard looked  down at the words again. "I'm not
sure,"  he finally  said. "The  phraseology is odd.  . .." He looked  up  at
Kahlan. "I  can't  be  sure.  I've not seen  High D'Haran  written this  way
before. I feel like I should know what it says, but I can't quite get it."
     Kahlan didn't know if  he really couldn't be sure, or if he didn't want
to speak the translation in front of the others.
     "Well, maybe if you think it over for  a while, it might  come to you,"
she  offered, trying  to give him a way of putting it off for the time being
if he wanted to.
     Richard didn't take her offer. Instead, he tapped a finger to the words
on the left of the warning  beacon. "This part is a little more clear to me.
I think it  says something like Tear any breach  of this seal to the  empire
beyond ...' "
     He  wiped a hand  across  his mouth  as he considered  the  rest of the
words. "I'm not so sure about the rest of it," he finally said. "It seems to
say, 'for beyond is evil: those who cannot see.' "
     "Of course," Jennsen muttered in angry comprehension.
     Richard raked his fingers back through his hair. "I'm not at all sure I
have  it right. Something  about it still doesn't make sense. I'm not sure I
have it right."
     "You  have  it perfectly  right," Jennsen  said. "Those  who cannot see
magic.  This was placed by the gifted who  sealed those people away from the
rest of the world because of how they were born." Her fiery eyes filled with
tears. "Fear any  breach of this seal  to  the empire beyond, for  beyond is
evil--those who cannot see magic. That's what it means, those who cannot see
     No one argued with  her. The only sound was the rush of the wind across
the open ground.
     Richard spoke softly to her. "I'm not sure that's it, Jenn."
     She folded her arms and turned away, glaring out  toward the Pillars of
     Kahlan  could understand how she felt. Kahlan knew what it  was like to
be  shunned  by almost everyone except  those who  were like you. Confessors
were  thought of  as monsters by many people. Given the chance,  Kahlan  was
sure  that much of the rest of humanity would  be happy to seal her away for
being a Confessor.
     But  just  because she could understand how  Jennsen  felt, that didn't
mean Kahlan thought the  young woman was right. Jennsen's anger at those who
banished  these people was justified, but her anger at Richard and  the rest
of  them for having the same spark of the gift,  which made them in that way
the same, was not.
     Richard turned his attention to Owen. "How many men do you have waiting
in the hills for you to return?"
     "Not quite a hundred."
     Richard sighed in disappointment. "Well,  if that's all you have,  then
that's all you have. We'll have to see to getting more later.
     "For now, I want you to go get those men. Bring them here, to me. We'll
wait here for you to return. This will be our base from where we work a plan
to get the Order out  of Bandakar. We'll set up a  camp down there, in those
trees, where it's well protected."
     Owen looked down the  incline  to where Richard pointed,  and then  off
toward his homeland.  His  confused frown  returned  to Richard. "But,  Lord
Rahl, it is you who must give us freedom. Why  not  just come with me to the
men, if you want to see them?"
     "Because  I  think this will be a safer place than where they  are now,
where the Order probably knows they're hiding."
     "But the Order does not know that  there are men  hiding, or where they
     "You're deluding yourselves. The men in  the Order are brutal, but they
aren't stupid."
     "If they really know where  the men are, then why hasn't the Order come
to call them in?"
     "They will," Richard  said. "When  it suits them,  they will. Your  men
aren't a threat, so  the  men  of the Order are in  no hurry  to expend  any
effort  to capture  them. Sooner  or later  they will, though,  because they
won't want anyone to think they can escape the Order's rule.
     "I want your  men away from there, to a place they've not been: here. I
want the  Order to think they're gone, to  think  they've run away, so  they
won't go after them."
     "Well," Owen said, thinking it over, "I guess that would be all right."
     Tom  stood  watch  near  the  far  corner of the  statue's base, giving
Jennsen room to be alone. She looked  angry and he looked like he thought it
best just to leave her be. Tom looked  as if he felt guilty  for having been
born with  the spark of  the gift that  allowed him to see magic,  that same
spark possessed by those who had banished people like Jennsen.
     "Tom," Richard said, "I want you to go with Owen."
     Jennsen's arms came unfolded as  she turned toward Richard. "Why do you
want him to go?" She suddenly sounded a lot less angry.
     "That's right," Owen said. "Why should he go?"
     "Because," Richard said, "I want to make sure that you and your men get
back here. I need the antidote, remember? The more men I have back here with
me who know where it is, the  better. I want them safely away from the Order
for now. With blond hair and blue eyes, Tom will fit in with your people. If
you run into  any soldiers from  the Order they  will think he's one of you.
Tom will make sure you all get back here."
     "But it could be dangerous," Jennsen objected.
     Richard fixed her in his challenging stare. He didn't say  anything. He
simply waited to see if she would dare to attempt to justify her objections.
Finally, she broke eye contact and looked away.
     "I guess it makes sense, though," she finally admitted.
     Richard turned his attention back to Tom. "I want you to see if you can
bring back some  supplies. And I'd like  to  use your hatchet  while  you're
gone, if that's all right."
     Tom nodded  and  pulled his  hatchet from  his pack. As Richard stepped
closer to take the  axe, he started  ticking off a list of things he  wanted
the  man  to  look  for--specific  tools,  yew  wood, hide glue, packthread,
leather, and a list of other things Kahlan couldn't hear.
     Tom hooked his thumbs behind his belt. "All right. I doubt I'll find it
all right  off.  Do you  want  me to  search out what I can't  find before I
     "No. I need it all, but I need  those  men back  here  more. Get what's
readily available and then get  back  here with Owen and his men  as soon as
     "I'll get what I can. When do you want us to leave?"
     "Now. We don't have a moment to lose."
     "Now?" Owen sounded incredulous. "It will be dark in an hour or two."
     "Those couple of hours may be hours I need," Richard said. "Don't waste
     Kahlan thought that he meant because of  the poison,  but he could have
had the gift in mind. She could see  how much pain he  was in because of the
headache caused by the gift. She ached to hold him, to comfort  him, to make
him better, but she couldn't  make it all just go away; they had to find the
solutions. She  glanced at  the small figure of Richard standing on the base
of the statue. Half of that figure was as dark as a night stone, as dark and
dead as the deepest part of the underworld itself.
     Tom swung  his  pack  up over his shoulder. "Take care  of them for me,
will you, Cara?" he asked with a wink. She smiled her  agreement. "I'll  see
you  all in a few days,  then." He waved his farewell, his gaze lingering on
Jennsen, before shepherding  Owen around the  statue  and  toward the  man's
     Cara  folded her arms and leveled a look at  Jennsen. "You're a fool if
you don't go kiss him a good journey."
     Jennsen hesitated, her eyes turning toward Richard.
     "I've learned not to argue with Cara," Richard said.
     Jennsen smiled and ran over the ridge to catch Tom before he was  gone.
Betty, at the end of a long rope, scampered to follow after.
     Richard  stuffed  the  small figure  of himself into  his  pack  before
picking up his bow from where it leaned against the statue. "We'd better get
down into the trees and set up a camp."
     Richard, Kahlan,  and Cara started down the rise  toward the concealing
safety of  the huge pines. They had been long enough out in the open, as far
as Kahlan  was concerned. It was only a matter of time before the races came
in search of them--before Nicholas came looking for them.
     As cold as it was up in the pass, Kahlan knew  they didn't dare build a
fire; the races could spot the smoke and then find them. They needed instead
to build  a snug shelter. Kahlan wished  they could find  a wayward pine  to
protect and hide them for the night, but she had  not seen any of those down
in the Old World and wishing wasn't going to grow one.
     As she stepped carefully  on dry  patches of rock, avoiding the snow so
as not to leave tracks, she checked the dark clouds.  It was always possible
that it might  warm just a little and  that the precipitation could  turn to
rain. Even if it didn't, it still would be a miserably cold night.
     Jennsen,  Betty following behind,  returned, catching up  with them  as
they zigzagged down through the steep notches of ledge. The wind was getting
colder, the snow a little heavier.
     When they  reached  a  flatter  spot,  Jennsen  caught  Richard's  arm.
"Richard, I'm sorry. I don't mean to be angry  with you.  I know  you didn't
banish those people. I know it's not  your fault." She gathered up the slack
on Betty's rope, looping it into  coils. "It just makes  me angry that those
people were treated like that. I'm like them, and so it makes me angry."
     "The way they were treated should make  you angry," Richard said as  he
started away, "but not because you share an attribute with them."
     Taken aback by  his words,  even  looking a little hurt, Jennsen didn't
move. "What do you mean?"
     Richard  paused and turned back to her. "That's how the  Imperial Order
thinks.  That's  how   Owen's  people  think.  It's  a  belief  in  granting
disembodied prestige,  or the mantle of guilt, to all  those who share  some
specific trait or attribute.
     "The Imperial Order would like  you to believe  that your virtue,  your
ultimate value, or  even your wickedness, arises entirely from being born  a
member  of  a  given  group,  that free will  itself is either  impotent  or
nonexistent.  They  want  you   to  believe  that   all  people  are  merely
interchangeable   members   of   groups   that   share  fixed,   preordained
characteristics, and  they  are predestined  to live  through  a  collective
identity,  the  group will, unable to rise on individual merit because there
can be no such thing as independent, individual merit, only group merit.
     "They  believe that people can only rise above  their station  in  life
when  selected  to be  awarded recognition because  their  group  is  due an
indulgence, and  so a  representative,  a stand-in  for the  group,  must be
selected to be awarded the badge of self-worth. Only the reflected light off
this badge, they believe, can bring the radiance  of self-worth to others of
their group.
     "But those granted this badge live with the  uneasy knowledge that it's
only  an illusion of  competence.  It never brings any  sincere self-respect
because you  can't fool yourself. Ultimately, because it is counterfeit, the
sham of esteem granted  because  of a connection with  a group  can  only be
propped up by force.
     "This belittling of mankind, the  Order's  condemnation of everyone and
everything human, is their transcendent judgment of man's inadequacy.
     "When you direct your anger at me for  having  a trait borne by someone
else, you  pronounce me guilty for  their crimes. That's  what happens  when
people say  I'm a monster  because our father was a  monster. If  you admire
someone  simply  because  you  believe  their group is deserving,  then  you
embrace the same corrupt ethics.
     "The Imperial Order says  that no individual should have  the right  to
achieve something on his own, to accomplish what someone else cannot, and so
magic must be stripped from mankind. They say that accomplishment is corrupt
because it  is rooted in the evil  of self-interest, therefore the fruits of
that accomplishment  are  tainted by its evil.  This is why they preach that
any  gain must be sacrificed to those who have not earned it. They hold that
only through such sacrifice can those fruits be purified and made good.
     "We believe,  on  the  other hand, that your own individual life is the
value and its own end, and what you achieve is yours.
     "Only you can achieve self-worth for yourself. Any group offering it to
you, or demanding it of you, comes bearing chains of slavery."
     Jennsen stared at him for a long moment. A  smile finally overcame her.
"That's why, then, I always wanted to be accepted for who I was, for myself,
and always thought it unfair to be persecuted because of how I was born?"
     "That's  why,"  Richard  said. "If  you  want to be proud  of  yourself
because of what you accomplish, then don't allow yourself to be  chained  to
some  group, and don't  in turn chain other  individuals  to  one.  Let your
judgment of individuals be earned.
     "This means  I should  not  be hated  because my father was  evil,  nor
should I be admired because my grandfather is good. I have the right to live
my own life, for my own benefit. You are Jennsen Rahl, and your life is what
you, alone, make of it."
     They made  the rest of the way down  the hill in silence. Jennsen still
had a faraway look as she thought about what Richard had said.
     When  they  reached the trees,  Kahlan was relieved to get in under the
sheltering limbs of the ancient pines and even more so when they entered the
secluded protection of the lower, thicker balsam trees.  They made their way
through dense thickets  into the quiet  solitude of  the towering trees, and
farther down  the  slope, to  a place where an outcropping of  rock  offered
protection from the elements. It would  be easier to construct  a shelter in
such a place by leaning boughs against it in order to make a relatively warm
     Richard used Tom's hatchet to cut some stout poles from  young pines in
the  understory which  he placed against the  rock wall. While he lashed the
poles together with wiry lengths of  pine roots he pulled  up from the mossy
ground,  Kahlan,  Jennsen, and  Cara started  collecting  boughs to make dry
bedding and to cover over the shelter.
     "Richard," Jennsen asked as she dragged a bundle of balsam close to the
shelter, "how  do you think  you are going  to rid  Bandakar of the Imperial
     Richard laid a  heavy bough up high  on the poles and  tied it in place
with  a length  of the wiry pine root. "I don't know that  I can. My primary
concern is to get to the antidote."
     Jennsen looked a bit  surprised.  "But aren't you going  to help  those
     He glanced back over his shoulder at  her. "They poisoned me. No matter
how you dress it up, they're willing to  murder  me if  I don't do  as  they
wish--if I don't do their dirty work for them. They think we're savages, and
they're above us.  They don't think our lives are worth  as much--because we
are not members of their group. My first responsibility is  to my own  life,
to getting that antidote."
     "I see what you mean." Jennsen handed  him another balsam bough. "But I
still think that if we  eliminate the Order there, and  this Nicholas, we'll
be helping ourselves."
     Richard smiled. "I can agree  with that, and we're going to do  what we
can. But to  truly help them,  I need to convince Owen and his men that they
must help themselves."
     Cara snorted a derisive laugh. "That will be a good trick, teaching the
lambs to become the wolves."
     Kahlan agreed. She  thought that convincing Owen  and his men to defend
themselves would be more difficult than the five of them ridding Bandakar of
the Imperial Order by themselves. She wondered what Richard had in mind.
     "Well," Jennsen said,  "since  we're all in this, all going to face the
Order  up  in  Bandakar,  don't  you  think that  I  have  a  right  to know
everything? To know  what you two are always making eyes at each other about
and whispering about?"
     Richard stared at Jennsen a moment before he looked back at Kahlan.
     Kahlan  laid her bundle of branches  down near  the shelter.  "I  think
she's right."
     Richard looked unhappy about it, but  finally  nodded and set down  the
balsam bough he was holding. "Almost two years ago, Jagang managed to find a
way to use magic to start a plague. The plague itself was not magic; it  was
just  the plague. It swept  through cities  killing  people  by  the tens of
thousands. Since  the firestorm had  been  started with a spark of  magic, I
found a way to stop the plague, using magic."
     Kahlan did not believe that such a nightmare could be reduced to such a
simple statement and  even begin  to  adequately convey the horror  they had
gone  through.  But  by the  look on Jennsen's  face, she at least grasped a
little bit of the terror that had gripped the land.
     "In  order for Richard to return from the place where he  had  to go to
stop the plague," Kahlan said,  leaving out terrible portions of the  story,
"he had to take  the infection of plague. Had  he  not, he would have lived,
but lived alone for the rest of his life  and died alone without ever seeing
me or  anyone else again. He took  the plague into himself so  that he could
come back and tell me he loved me."
     Jennsen stared, wide-eyed. "Didn't you know he loved you?"
     Kahlan smiled a small  bitter smile. "Don't you think your mother would
come back from the world of the dead to tell you she loves you, even  though
you know she does?"
     "Yes, I suppose she  would. But why  would you  have to become infected
just to return? And return from where?"
     "It was a place, called the Temple of the  Winds, that was partially in
the underworld." Richard gestured up the pass. "Something like that boundary
was part  of the  world of the dead but  was still here, in this  world. You
might say  that  the  Temple of the  Winds  was something like  that. It was
hidden within  the underworld. Because  I  had to cross a boundary of sorts,
through the  underworld, the  spirits set a  price for me to  return  to the
world of life."
     "Spirits? You saw spirits there?" Jennsen asked.  When Richard  nodded,
she asked, "Why would they set such a price?"
     "The spirit who set the price of my return was Darken Rahl."
     Jennsen's jaw dropped.
     "When  we found Lord Rahl," Cara said,  "he was almost dead. The Mother
Confessor went on a dangerous journey  through the sliph, all alone, to find
what  would cure him. She succeeded in bringing it  back, but Lord Rahl  was
moments away from death."
     "I used the magic I recovered," Kahlan said. "It was something that had
the power  to reverse the plague that the magic had given him. The  magic  I
invoked to do this was the three chimes."
     "Three chimes?" Jennsen asked. "What are they?"
     "The chimes  are underworld magic. Summoning their  assistance keeps  a
person from crossing over into the world of the dead.
     "Unfortunately, or  perhaps  fortunately,  at the  time I  didn't  know
anything else about the chimes. It turns  out  that they were created during
the  great war  to end magic.  The chimes  are  beings of sorts, but without
souls. They come from the underworld. They annul magic in this world."
     Jennsen looked confused. "But how can they accomplish such a thing?"
     "I don't know how they work, exactly. But their presence in this world,
since they are part of  the world of the  dead,  begins  the destruction  of
     "Can't  you get  rid of the chimes?  Can't  you find a way to send them
     "I already did  that," Richard said. "But while they were here, in this
world, magic began to fail."
     "Apparently,"  Kahlan  said, "what I began that  day when I called  the
chimes into the world  of life began  a cascade of events  that continues to
progress, even though the chimes have been sent back to the underworld."
     "We don't know that," Richard said, more to Kahlan than to Jennsen.
     "Richard is right," Kahlan told Jennsen, "we don't know  it  for  sure,
but we have  good  reason  to believe  it's true. This boundary locking away
Bandakar  failed. The timing would suggest that it  failed not  long after I
freed the chimes. One of those mistakes I told you about, before. Remember?"
     Jennsen, staring  at Kahlan, finally nodded.  "But  you didn't do it to
hurt people.  You didn't know it would  happen.  You  didn't  know how  this
boundary  would  fail,  how the  Order  would  go  in there and  abuse those
     "Doesn't really  make any difference, does it? I  did it.  I caused it.
Because of me, magic  may  be  failing. I accomplished  what  the  Order  is
working so hard to bring about. As a result of what I did, all those  people
in Bandakar died, and others are now out in the world where they  will  once
again do as they did in ancient times--they will begin breeding the gift out
of mankind.
     "We stand  at  the brink of the end times of magic, all because  of me,
because of what I did."
     Jennsen stood frozen.  "And so you regret what you caused? That you may
have done something that will end magic?"
     Kahlan felt Richard's arm around her waist. "I only know a  world  with
magic," she finally said. "I became  the Mother  Confessor--in part--to help
protect people with magic who are unable to protect themselves. I, too, am a
creature  of magic--it's  inextricably  bound into  me.  I  know  profoundly
beautiful  things  of magic  that I love;  they are a  part  of the world of
     "So you fear you may have caused the end of what you love most."
     "Not love most." Kahlan smiled. "I became the  Mother Confessor because
I believe in laws that protect all people, give all individuals the right to
their own  life.  I  would  not want  an  artist's  ability to sculpt to  be
stopped,  or a  singer's voice to be  silenced,  or a  person's mind  to  be
stilled. Nor do  I want people's ability to achieve what they can with magic
to be stripped from them.
     "Magic itself is not the central issue, not what this is about. I  want
all the flowers,  in all their variety, to have a chance  to  bloom. You are
beautiful, too, Jennsen. I would not choose to lose you, either. Each person
has a right  to life. The  idea  that  there must be a  choice  of one  over
another is counter to what we believe."
     Jennsen smiled at Kahlan's hand on her cheek. "Well, I guess that  in a
world without magic, I could be queen."
     On her way by with balsam  boughs, Cara said, "Queens, too, must bow to
the Mother Confessor. Don't forget it."

     Light flooded  in as  the  lid  of the box suddenly  lifted. The  rusty
hinges groaned in protest of  every  inch the lid rose. Zedd squinted at the
abrupt,  blinding light of day.  Beefy arms  flipped the hinged lid back. If
there had  been  any  slack in the  chain  around his neck,  Zedd would have
jumped at the  booming bang when the heavy cover flopped back, showering him
in dirt and rusty grit.
     Between the  bright light  and  the dust swirling through the air, Zedd
could  hardly see. It didn't help,  either, that the short chain around  his
neck was  bolted to the center  of the floor of the box, leaving only enough
slack for him to be able to lift his head  a few inches. With his arms bound
in iron behind his back, he could do little more than lie on the floor.
     While Zedd was forced to lie there on  his side, his neck near the iron
bolt, he at least could breathe in the sudden rush  of  cooler air. The heat
in  the  box  had been  sweltering.  On a couple of occasions, when they had
stopped  at night, they had given him a cup of water. It had not been nearly
enough. He and Adie had been fed precious little, but it was water he needed
more than food. Zedd felt like he might die of thirst. He could hardly think
of anything but water.
     He  had lost  track  of the number of days  he had  been chained to the
floor of the box, but he was somewhat surprised to find himself still alive.
The box had been bouncing around in the back of a wagon over the course of a
long, rough, but swift journey. He could only assume that he was being taken
to Emperor Jagang. He  was also sure that he would  be sorry if he was still
alive at the end of the journey.
     There had  been times, in the stifling  heat of the  box,  when  he had
expected  that he would  soon fade into  unconsciousness and die. There were
times when he longed to  die. He was sure  that  falling  into such a  fatal
sleep  would be  far preferable to  what  was in  store  for him. He  had no
choice,  though;  the  control  the  Sister  exerted  through  the  Rada'Han
prevented him from  strangling himself  to death with the chain,  and it was
pretty hard, he had discovered, to will himself to die.
     Zedd, his head still held to the floor of the box by the stub of chain,
tried to peer up, but he could see only sky. He heard another lid bang open.
He coughed as another cloud of dust drifted  over him. When he  heard Adie's
cough, he  didn't know if he was  relieved  to know that she, too, was still
alive, or sorry that  she was,  knowing  what she,  like he,  would  have to
     Zedd was, in a way, ready for the torture he knew he would be subjected
to.  He was a wizard and had passed tests  of pain. He  feared such torture,
but he would  endure it  until  it finally  ended his life. In  his weakened
condition, he expected that it wouldn't take all that long. In a way, such a
time under torture was like an old acquaintance come back to haunt him.
     But he feared the torture of Adie far more than his own. He hated above
all  else the torture of others. He hated to think of her coming  under such
     The wagon shuddered as the front of  the  other box dropped open. A cry
escaped Adie's throat when a man struck her.
     "Move, you stupid old woman, so I can get at the lock!"
     Zedd could hear Adie's shoes scraping  the wooden crate as, hands bound
behind her  back, she tried to comply. By  the sounds of fists on flesh, the
man wasn't happy  with her efforts. Zedd closed his  eyes, wishing he  could
close his ears as well.
     The front of Zedd's confining box crashed open, letting  in more  light
and dust. A shadow fell across him as a man approached. Because his face was
pinned to the floor by the chain, Zedd couldn't see the man.
     A big hand  reached  in, fitting a  key to the lock. Zedd kept his head
stretched as far away as possible to give the man  all the room available to
let him  do his work. Such effort earned Zedd a heavy punch  in  the side of
his head. The blow left his ears ringing.
     The lock finally  sprang open. The  man's  big fist seized Zedd  by the
hair and dragged him, like  a sack of grain, out of  the  box and toward the
rear of the wagon. Zedd pressed  his lips together, to keep  from crying out
as his bones bumped over protruding wooden runners in  the wagon bed. At the
back edge of the wagon he was summarily  dumped off the  back  to  slam down
onto the ground.
     Ears ringing, head spinning, Zedd tried to sit  up when  he was kicked,
knowing it was a  command. He spat out  dirt. With his hands tied behind his
back  he was  having  difficulty  complying. After  three kicks, a  big  man
grabbed him by the hair and lifted him upright.
     Zedd's  heart sank to see that  they  sat among an  army  of astounding
size. The  dark mass of humanity  blighted the  land as far as he could see.
So, it would seem, they had arrived.
     Out of the  corner of his eye,  he  saw Adie sitting in the dirt beside
him, her head hanging. She had a livid bruise on her cheek.  She didn't look
up when a shadow fell across her.
     A woman in a long drab skirt moved in before them, distracting him from
his appraisal of the  enemy forces. Zedd recognized the brown wool dress. It
was the Sister of the Dark who had  put the collar  around  their  necks. He
didn't know  her name; she'd never offered it. In fact, she hadn't spoken to
them since they were chained in their boxes. She  stood over them, now, like
the strict governess of incorrigible children.
     The  ring through her lower lip, marking her as a slave, in Zedd's mind
irrevocably tarnished her air of authority.
     The  ground was covered  with horse manure, most, but not all,  old and
dried. Out  beyond the Sister, horses stood picketed  seemingly without  any
order among the  soldiers. Horses that looked like they  might belong to the
cavalry were well kept. Workhorses were not so healthy. Among the horses and
men, wagons and stacks of supplies dotted the late-day landscape.
     The place had the  foul  stink of shallow latrines, horses, manure, and
the filthy smell of crowded human habitation failing to meet common sanitary
needs. Zedd blinked when  acrid woodsmoke  from one of the thousands of cook
fires drifted across him, burning his eyes.
     The  air  was also thick  with mosquitoes, gnats, and  flies. The flies
were the worst. The mosquito bites would itch later, but the flies stung the
instant they bit, and with his arms bound behind his back, there wasn't much
he could do about  it other than shake his head to  try to  keep them out of
his eyes and nose.
     The two  soldiers who had freed  Zedd and Adie from  their boxes  stood
patiently to the  sides. Beyond the woman's skirts a vast encampment  spread
out as  far  as the eye could see. There were men everywhere, men engaged in
work, at  rest, and at recreation.  They  were  dressed in  every variety of
clothing,  from leather armor, chain mail, and studded belts to hides, dirty
tunics, and trousers  in  the process of rotting into rags. Most of the  men
were  unshaven,  and  all were  as  filthy as  feral recluses living  in mad
seclusion.  The mass encampment generated a constant din of yells, whistles,
men  hollering  and laughing, the jangle and rattle  of metal,  the ring  of
hammers or rhythm of saws, and,  piercing through it all, the occasional cry
of someone in agonizing pain.
     Tents by  the thousands, tents  of all sorts, like  leaves after  a big
wind,  lay littering  the  gently  rolling  landscape at  the  foothills  of
towering mountains to the east. Many a tent was decorated with loot; gingham
curtains hung at an entrance, a small chair or table sat before a tent, here
and there an  item of women's personal clothing flew as a  flag of conquest.
Wagons and horses and  gear were all jammed together among the rabble in  no
seeming  plan.  The ground had been churned to a fine dust  by the masses in
this mock city devoid of skeletal order.
     The place was a nightmare of humanity reduced to the  savagery of a mob
on the  loose,  the  scope of  their goals no more than the impulse  of  the
moment. Though their leaders had ends, these men did not.
     "His Excellency has requested you both," the Sister said down to them.
     Neither Zedd nor Adie said anything. The men hauled them  both to their
feet. A sharp shove started  them moving behind the Sister after she marched
away. Zedd noticed, then, that there were more soldiers, close to  a  dozen,
escorting them.
     The wagon had delivered them to the end of a road, of sorts, that ran a
winding course  through the sprawling encampment. The end of the road, where
wagons sat in a row, appeared to be the entrance  to an inner camp, probably
a command  area. The regular soldiers outside a ring of heavily armed guards
ate, played dice, gambled, bartered loot, joked, talked,  and  drank as they
watched the prisoners being escorted.
     The thought occurred to Zedd that if he called out, proclaiming that he
was  the one  who  was responsible for  the light  spell that had killed  or
wounded so many of their chums, maybe the men would riot, set upon them, and
kill them before Jagang had a chance to do his worst.
     Zedd  opened  his mouth to try out his plan, but  saw the Sister glance
back over her shoulder. He discovered that  his voice was muted  through her
control of the collar around his neck. There would be no speaking unless she
allowed it.
     Following the Sister, they  walked past the standing  row  of wagons in
front of the one that had brought them. There were well over a dozen freight
wagons all lined up before the cordoned-off area with the larger tents. None
of the wagons were empty, but all were loaded with crates.
     With sinking realization, Zedd understood. These were wagons with goods
looted  from  the  Wizard's Keep.  These were all  wagons that had  made the
journey with them. They were all  full of the things those  ungifted men, at
the Sister's orders,  had taken out  of the Keep. Zedd feared to think  what
priceless items of profound danger sat in these crates. There were things in
the Keep  that became hazardous to  anyone  should they  be removed from the
shields that guarded them. There were rare items that, if removed from their
protective environment, such as darkness, for even a brief time, would cease
to be viable.
     Guards in layered  hides, mail, leather, and  armed with pikes set with
long  steel points flanked by sharpened winged  blades, huge crescent  axes,
swords,  and spiked maces prowled the  restricted area.  These grim soldiers
were bigger  and  more menacing-looking than the  regular  men  out  in  the
camp--and those were fearsome enough.  While  the special  guards patrolled,
ever watchful, the unconcerned regular soldiers just  outside  the perimeter
carried on with their business.
     The guards led the Sister, Zedd,  and Adie through an opening in a line
of  spiked  barricades. Beyond were the smaller of  the special tents.  Most
were round  and the  same size.  Zedd thought that these were  probably  the
tents of the staff the emperor would keep close, his attendants and personal
slaves. Zedd  wondered if the Sisters  were  all held  within  the emperor's
     Up ahead, the palatial vision of the grand tents of an emperor and  his
entourage  rose  up in  the late-afternoon light. No  doubt  some  of  these
comfortable  tents  set about the center compound,  within the ring of tents
for  servants and attendants, were accommodations for high-ranking officers,
officials, and the emperor's most trusted advisors.
     Zedd wished he had a light spell and the ability to ignite it. He could
probably decapitate the Imperial Order right then and there.
     But he knew  that such confusion and turmoil would only be  a temporary
setback for the Imperial Order. They would provide  another brute to enforce
their message. It would take more than killing Jagang to end  the  threat of
the Order. He wasn't even  sure anymore just what it would  take to free the
world of the oppression and tyranny of the Imperial Order.
     Despite  the seductively  simplistic notions  held by most people,  the
Emperor Jagang was not the driving force of this invasion. The driving force
was a vicious ideology. To exist, it could not permit successful lives to be
lived in sight of the suffering masses  produced as a  result of the beliefs
and dictates of the Imperial Order. The freedom and resulting success of the
people living in the New World put the lie to all the Order preached. It was
blasphemy to succeed on your  own; since the Order  taught that it could not
be done, it could only be sinful.  Sin had to be eliminated for  the greater
good. Therefore, the freedom of the New World had to be crushed.
     "These the  ones?" a guard  with  short-cropped  hair asked.  The rings
hanging from his nose  and ears reminded  Zedd of a prized pig decorated for
the summer fair. Of course, prized pigs would have been washed and clean and
would have smelled better.
     "Yes," the Sister said. "Both of them, as instructed."
     With deliberate  care  the man's  dark-eyed gaze took in  Adie and then
Zedd. By his scowl, he apparently  thought  himself a righteous man  who was
displeased with what he saw: evil. After noting the collars they both  wore,
showing  that they would  be no danger  to the emperor, he stepped aside and
lifted a thumb, directing  them through a second barricade beyond  the tents
of the  attendants,  servants, and  slaves.  The  guard's glare followed the
sinners on their way to meet their proper fate.
     Other men,  from inside  the inner compound, swept in to surround them.
Zedd saw that these men  wore more  orderly  outfits. They  were  layered in
similar leather and mail, wearing heavy leather  weapon belts, their  chests
crisscrossed  with  studded  straps.  There was  a  uniformity  to  them,  a
sameness,  that showed these were special guards.  The weapons hung on those
wide belts were better made, and they carried more of them. By  the way they
moved, Zedd knew  that these were not typical men rounded up to be soldiers,
but trained men with highly developed talents for warfare.
     These were the emperor's elite bodyguards.
     Zedd looked longingly at the nearly full water  bucket set out for  the
men standing guard in the heat.  It wouldn't do, if you  were an emperor, to
have your  elite guards falling  over from lack  of water. Knowing  what the
response  was likely  to be, Zedd didn't ask for a drink. A sidelong  glance
showed Adie licking her cracked lips, but she, too, remained silent.
     Up  a  slight rise sat by far the largest  and grandest  of  the tents,
among the impressive  but  lesser quarters  of  the  emperor's retinue.  The
emperor's tent appeared more a traveling palace,  actually, than a  tent. It
boasted a tri-peaked  roof pierced by high  poles bearing colorful standards
and flags. Brightly  embroidered panels adorned the exterior walls.  Red and
yellow  banners  flapped  lazily  in  the  hot,  late-day  air. Tassels  and
streamers  all around it made  it look  like  a central gathering tent at  a
     A guard flanking a doorway  met Zedd's  gaze before he lifted aside the
lambskin covered with shields of  gold and  hammered  medallions of  silver,
allowing them entrance. One of the other guards stiff-armed Zedd's shoulder,
nearly  knocking him sprawling. Zedd  staggered through the doorway into the
dimly lit interior, Adie stumbling in after him.
     Inside, the raucous noise of the encampment was muted by layers of rich
carpets placed haphazardly.  Hundreds of silk and brocade pillows lined  the
edge of  the  floor. Colorfully  decorated  hangings  divided  up  the murky
interior space and covered the outer walls. Openings overhead, screened with
gauzy material,  let  in little light but did allow some air to move through
the quiet gloom of the grand  tent. It was  so dim, in  fact, that lamps and
candles were needed.
     In the middle of the room, toward the back, sat an ornate  chair draped
with rich, red silks. If this was Emperor Jagang's throne, he was not in it.
     While  guards surrounded  Zedd  and  Adie,  keeping them restricted  in
place, one of the men went off behind the fabric walls from where a glow  of
light came.  The  guards standing close around  Zedd stank of  sweat.  Their
shoes were caked with manure. For all the sumptuous surroundings doing their
best to  simulate  a reverent  aura, a  sacred setting,  an abiding barnyard
stench permeated the place. The horse manure and human sweat of  the men who
had entered the tent with Zedd and Adie were only making it worse.
     The  man who  had  gone behind  the  walls poked  his  head  back  out,
signaling  the  Sister  forward.  He  whispered to her  and  then she,  too,
disappeared behind the walls.
     Zedd stole a  look  at Adie. Her completely white eyes stared ahead. He
shifted  his weight as an excuse  to lean toward her and  stealthily touched
her shoulder with his, a message of comfort where there  could be none.  She
returned  a  slight  push; message received, and  appreciated.  He longed to
embrace her, but knew he probably never would again.
     Muffled words could be heard, but the heavy wall hangings muted them so
that Zedd couldn't understand any of it. Had he access to his gift, he would
have been able to hear it all, but the collar cut him off from his  ability.
Even so,  the nature  of  the Sister's  report,  the words, were  short  and
     Those slaves working in the tent at brushing carpets, or polishing fine
vases, or waxing cabinets paid  no attention to  the people  the  guards had
brought in, but the sudden, low  tone  of menace that came  from  beyond the
wall caused them all to put  markedly more  attention into their work. While
no doubt prisoners were  brought  before the emperor often enough, Zedd  was
sure  that it would not be wise  for those working in the grand tent to  pay
any notice to the emperor's business.
     From beyond the walls composed of woven scenes also came the warm smell
of food.  The variety of scents Zedd was able to detect was astonishing. The
stink of  the place, though,  tended  to  make the fragrant aromas of meats,
olive oil, garlic, onions, and spices somewhat repugnant.
     The Sister stepped out  from behind the  wall of colorful hangings. The
ring through her lower lip stood out in stark relief against her ashen skin.
She gave a slight nod to the men to either side of the prisoners.
     Powerful fingers gripping their arms, Zedd and Adie were ushered toward
the opening and the glow of light beyond.

     Dragged to an  abrupt  halt, Zedd, at last, stood  shackled before  the
intent glower of the dream walker himself, Emperor Jagang.
     Enthroned in an ornately carved high-backed chair behind a grand dining
table,  Jagang leaned on both elbows, a goose leg spanning his fingers as he
chewed. Points of  candlelight reflecting  off  the sides of his shaved head
danced as  the tendons all the way up through his  temples  rippled with his
chewing. A thin mustache, growing down from the  corners of his mouth and at
the center under his lower lip, moved rhythmically in time with his  jaw, as
did the fine chain connected to gold loops in his ear and nose. Greasy goose
fat covering his meaty, ringed fingers glistened  in the candlelight and ran
down his bare arms.
     From his place behind  his table, Jagang casually  studied  his  latest
     Despite the candles set about  the table and on stands to either  side,
the inside of the tent had the murky feel of a dungeon.
     To each  side of  him on the broad table  sat plates of  food, goblets,
bottles, candles, bowls, and, here and there, books and scrolls. There being
no room for all of the silver platters among the multitude, some of them had
to be strategically balanced  atop small decorated pillars. There  looked to
be enough food for a small army.
     For all the  Order's  talk of  sacrifice for the betterment of  mankind
being their noble  cause, Zedd knew that  such  abundance  at  the emperor's
table was  meant to send a contradictory message, even when there was no one
but the emperor himself to see it.
     Slaves  stood  lined  up along the  wall  behind  Jagang,  some holding
additional platters, some  in stiff  poses, all  awaiting command.  Some  of
those   in  back   were  young  men--young  wizards,  from   what  Zedd  had
heard--dressed  in  loose-fitting white trousers  and nothing else. This was
where  wizards in training at the Palace of the Prophets had ended up, along
with the captured Sisters who had been their teachers. All were now captives
of  the  dream walker.  The  most  accomplished  of  men, men with  enormous
potential, were used as houseboys to perform menial tasks. This, too,  was a
message sent by the emperor  of the Imperial Order to show everyone that the
best  and the brightest were  to be used to clean chamber pots, while brutes
ruled them.
     The  younger  women,  Sisters  of  both the Dark and  the  Light,  Zedd
assumed,  wore outfits that  ran from  neck to wrist to  ankle, but were  so
transparent that the women  might as  well have  been naked. This, too,  was
meant to show that Emperor  Jagang thought little of these women's  talents,
and valued  them only for  his pleasure.  The older,  less  attractive women
standing off to the sides wore drab clothes. These were probably Sisters who
served the emperor in other menial ways.
     Jagang delighted  in having under his control, as  slaves, some  of the
most gifted people in the world. It suited the nature of the Order to demean
those with ability, rather than to celebrate them.
     Jagang watched Zedd taking in the house slaves,  but showed no emotion.
The  dream walker's bull neck  made him  look almost  other  than human. The
muscles of his chest, as well as his massive shoulders, were displayed by an
open, sleeveless lamb's-wool  vest.  He was as powerful  and brawny a man as
Zedd had seen, an intimidating presence even at rest.
     As Zedd and Adie  stood mute, Jagang's  teeth tore off another chunk of
meat from the goose leg. In the tense silence, he watched them as he chewed,
as if deciding what he might do with his newest plunder.
     More than anything, it was his inky black  eyes,  devoid of any pupils,
irises, or whites,  that threatened to halt  the blood  in Zedd's veins. The
last time he had  seen  those eyes,  Zedd  had not been  shackled, but  that
ungifted  girl  had prevented Zedd from finishing the man. That was going to
turn  out  to be the  missed opportunity that Zedd  would most  regret.  His
chance to kill  Jagang had slipped through his ringers that day, not because
of the vast power of all the skilled Sisters and troops arrayed against him,
but all because of a single ungifted girl.
     Those black eyes, the eyes of a  mature  dream walker, glistened in the
candlelight. Across their  dark voids, dim shapes shifted, like  clouds on a
moonless night.
     The  directness of the dream walker's gaze was as obvious as was Adie's
when she looked  at  Zedd with  her pure white eyes. Under Ja-gang's  direct
glare,  Zedd  had  to remind himself to relax his muscles,  and remember  to
     The thing about those eyes that most terrified him, though, was what he
saw  in them: a keen, calculating mind. Zedd had fought against  Jagang long
enough to  have come to understand that one underestimated this man at great
     "Jagang the Just," the Sister said, holding an introductory hand out to
the nightmare before them. "Excellency,  this  is  Zeddicus  Zu'l Zo-rander,
First Wizard, and a sorceress by the name of Adie."
     "I know who they are," Jagang said in a deep voice as heavy with threat
as with distaste.
     He leaned back, hanging one arm over  the back of the chair and one leg
over a carved arm. He gestured with the goose leg.
     "Richard Rani's grandfather, as I hear told."
     Zedd said nothing.
     Jagang  tossed  the partially  eaten leg on a  platter and picked  up a
knife. With one hand  he sawed a chunk of  red meat  off a roast and stabbed
it. Elbow on the table, he  waved  the knife as he spoke. Red juice ran down
the blade.
     "Probably not the way you had hoped to meet me."
     He laughed at his own joke, a deep, resonating sound alive with menace.
     With his teeth, Jagang  drew the chunk of meat off the knife and chewed
as  he watched  them, as if  unable to  decide  on a wealth  of delightfully
terrible options parading through his thoughts.
     He  washed the meat  down with a gulp from a jeweled silver goblet, his
gaze  never leaving  them. "I can't tell you how pleased I am that  you have
come to visit me."
     His grin was like death itself. "Alive."
     He rolled his wrist, circling the knife. "We have a lot to talk about."
His laugh died out, but the grin remained. "Well, you do, anyway. I'll  be a
good host and listen."
     Zedd and Adie remained silent as Jagang's black-eyed gaze went from one
to the other.
     "Not so talkative, just yet? Well, no matter. You will be babbling soon
     Zedd didn't waste the effort telling Jagang that torture would gain him
nothing.  Jagang  would not believe any such boast,  and even  if he did, it
would hardly stay his wish to see it done.
     Jagang  fingered  a few grapes from a bowl. "You are a resourceful man,
Wizard Zorander." He  popped  several grapes in  his  mouth and chewed as he
spoke. "All alone there in  Aydindril, with an  army  surrounding  you,  you
managed to gull me into  thinking  I had trapped Richard Rahl and the Mother
Confessor. Quite a trick. I must give you credit where credit is due.
     "And the light spell you ignited among my men, that was remarkable." He
put another grape  in his mouth.  "Do you have any idea how many hundreds of
thousands of them were caught up in your wizardry?"
     Zedd  could see the corded  muscles  in the man's hairy arm draped over
the back of the  chair stand out as he flexed the fist.  He relaxed the hand
then and leaned forward, using his thumb to gouge out a long chunk of ham.
     He waved the meat as he went on. "It's that kind of magic I need you to
do for me,  good wizard.  I  understand, from the stupid bitches  I have who
call  themselves  the  Sisters  of the Light,  or the Sisters of  the  Dark,
depending on who they've decided can offer  better favors in the  afterlife,
that  you probably didn't conjure that little bit of magic on your own, but,
rather,  you  used  a  constructed spell from  the Wizard's Keep and  simply
ignited it among my men with some  kind of trick,  or trigger--probably some
small curiosity that one of them picked up and in  the act of having a look,
they set it off."
     Zedd was  somewhat alarmed that Jagang had been  able to learn so much.
The  emperor took  a big bite off the end of the piece of ham as  he watched
them. His indulgent look was beginning to wear thin.
     "So, since  you can't do  such marvelous magic yourself, I've had a few
items brought from the Keep so you can tell me how they work, what they  do.
I'm  sure  there  must be  a great  number of  intriguing  items  among  the
inventory. I'd like  to have some  of those conjured spells so they can blow
open a few of the passes into D'Hara for us. It would save  me some time and
trouble. I'm sure you can understand my eagerness to be into D'Hara and have
this petty resistance finally over with."
     Zedd heaved a deep breath and finally spoke. "For most of those  items,
you could torture me to the end of time and I still wouldn't be able to tell
you anything because I don't have  any knowledge of them. Unlike you, I know
my own limits. I simply don't know what  such a spell  might look like. Even
if I did, that doesn't mean I would know how  to work it. I was simply lucky
with that one I used."
     "Maybe,  maybe, but you do know about some of the items. You are, after
all, as I hear  told, First Wizard; it is  your Keep. To claim ignorance  of
the things in it is hardly credible. Despite your claim of luck, you managed
to know enough about that constructed light web to ignite  it among  my men,
so you obviously have knowledge about the most powerful of the items."
     "You don't know the first thing about magic," Zedd snapped. "You have a
head full of grand ideas and you think all you have to do is command they be
done. Well, they can't. You're a fool who doesn't know the first thing about
real magic or its limits."
     An eyebrow lifted over one of Jagang's inky  eyes. "Oh, I think  I know
more than you might think, wizard. You see, I love to  read, and  I, well, I
have the advantage of perusing some of the most remarkably gifted minds  you
can imagine. I  probably know a great deal more about magic than you give me
credit for."
     "I give you credit for bold self-delusion."
     "Self-delusion?"  He spread his arms.  "Can you create a Slide,  Wizard
     Zedd froze. Jagang  had heard the name;  that was all. The man liked to
read. He'd read that name somewhere.
     "Of course not, and neither can anyone else alive today."
     "You can't create such a  being, Wizard Zorander. But you have  no idea
how much I  know about magic.  You see, I've learned to bring  lost  talents
back to life--arts that have long been believed to be dead and vanished."
     "I  give you the grandiosity of your dreaming,  Jagang, but dreaming is
easy. Your dreams can't be made real just because  you dream them and decide
that you wish them to come alive."
     "Sister Tahirah, here, knows the truth of it." Jagang gestured with his
knife. "Tell him, darlin. Tell him what  I can dream and what I can bring to
     The woman  hesitantly  stepped  forward  several paces. "It  is as  His
Excellency says."  She looked  away from Zedd's frown to  fuss with her wiry
gray hair. "With His Excellency's brilliant direction, we were able to bring
back some of the old knowledge. With  the expert guidance of our emperor, we
were able to invest in a  wizard  named Nicholas an  ability not seen in the
world  for three  thousand  years. It is one  of  His Excellency's  greatest
achievements. I can personally assure you that it is as His Excellency says;
a Slide  again walks the  world.  It is no  fancy, Wizard Zorander,  but the
     "The spirits help me," she  added under her breath, "I was there to see
the Slide born into the world."
     "You created a Slide?" Fists still bound behind his back, Zedd  took an
angry stride  toward  the Sister. "Are  you out of  your  mind,  woman!" She
retreated to the  back wall. Zedd turned his fury  on Jagang. "Slides were a
catastrophe! They can't be controlled! You would have to be crazy to  create
     Jagang  smiled.  "Jealous, wizard?  Jealous  that  you  are  unable  to
accomplish such a thing, can't create such a weapon against me,  while I can
create one to take Richard Rahl and his wife from you?"
     "A Slide has powers you couldn't possibly control."
     "A Slide is  no danger to  a  dream  walker. My ability is quicker than
his. I am his better."
     "It  doesn't matter how  quick  you are--it isn't about being quick!  A
Slide can't be controlled and he isn't going to do what you want!"
     "I seem to be controlling him just fine." Jagang leaned in on an elbow.
"You think magic is necessary to control those you would master, but I don't
need magic. Not with Nicholas nor with mankind.
     "You seem to be obsessed with control,  I am not.  I  managed to find a
people those like you didn't want  to walk  freely among their fellow man, a
people cast out by the gifted, a people reviled for not having  any spark of
your precious gift of magic--a  people hated  and banished because your kind
wasn't able to control them. That was their crime: being outside the control
of your magic."
     Jagang's  fist slammed  the table.  The  slaves  all  jumped  with  the
     "This is how  your kind wants mankind's  future to be;  your kind wants
only those with a spark of the gift to be allowed to walk free. This, so you
can use  your gift to control  them! Like that collar around your neck, your
lust is to collar all of mankind with magic.
     "I  found those outcast ungifted people and have brought them back into
the fold of their fellow man. Much  to your disapproval and the  loathing of
your kind, they can't be touched by your vile magic."
     Zedd couldn't imagine where Jagang  had found such people.  "And so now
you have a Slide to control them for you."
     "Your kind condemned and banished them; we have welcomed them among us.
In  fact, we wish to model man himself after  them. Our cause  is theirs  by
their very nature--purity of mankind without any taint of magic. In this way
the world will be one and at last at peace.
     "I  have the advantage  over you,  wizard; I  have right on  my side. I
don't need magic to win; you do. I have  mankind's  best future  in mind and
have set our irreversible course.
     "With  the help of these people, I  took your Keep. With their  help, I
have recovered invaluable treasures  from within. You couldn't do a thing to
stop them, now could you? Man will now set his own course, without the curse
of magic darkening his struggle.
     "I  now have a Slide to  help  us to that noble end. He is working with
those people for the benefit of our cause. In doing so, Nicholas has already
proved invaluable.
     "What's  more, that  Slide, which  your  kind could  never control, has
vowed to deliver to me the  two I  want most:  your grandson and his wife. I
have  great things planned  for them--well, for  her, anyway." His red-faced
rage melted into a grin. "For him, not so great things."
     Zedd could  hardly contain his  own rage.  Were it not for  the  collar
stifling his gift, he would have reduced the entire place to ash by now.
     "Once this Nicholas becomes adept at what he can do, you will find that
he will want revenge of his own, and a price you may find far too high."
     Jagang  spread  his arms. "There, you  are wrong, wizard. I  can afford
whatever Nicholas wants for Lord  Rahl and the Mother Confessor. There is no
such thing as a price too high.
     "You may think me greedy  and selfish, but you would be  wrong. While I
enjoy  the spoils,  I  most relish  the role  I play in bringing heathens to
heel.  It  is the end  that  truly concerns  me, and in  the end I will have
mankind bow as they should to our just cause and the Creator's ways."
     Jagang seemed to have spent his flash of intensity. He  leaned back and
scooped walnuts from a silver bowl.
     "Zedd be wrong,"  Adie finally  spoke  up. "You have  shown us that you
know what you be doing. You will  be able  to  control your Slide just fine.
May I suggest you keep him close, to aid you in your efforts."
     Jagang  smiled  at her. "You, too,  my dried-up old sorceress, will  be
telling me all you know about what is in those crates."
     "Bah," Adie scoffed. "You be a  fool  with  worthless treasures. I hope
you pull a muscle carrying them with you everywhere."
     "Adie's  right," Zedd put in. "You are an incompetent  oaf who  is only
going to--"
     "Oh, come, come, you two.  Do you think you will throw me into a fit of
rage  and I'll  slaughter the  both of you on  the  spot?"  His  wicked grin
returned. "Spare you the proper justice of what is to come?"
     Zedd and Adie fell silent.
     "When I was a boy," Jagang said in a quieter tone as he stared off into
the distance, "I  was  nothing. A  street  tough in  Altur'Rang. A  bully. A
thief. My life was empty. My future was the next meal.
     "One day, I  saw  a man coming down the street. He looked like he might
have  some  money and I  wanted it. It was  getting dark. I came up silently
behind him,  intending to  bash in his head,  but just then  he  turned  and
looked me in the eye.
     "His smile stopped me in my tracks. It wasn't a kindly smile, or a weak
smile, but the kind of  smile a man gives  you when he knows he can kill you
where you stand if it pleases him.
     "He  pulled a coin from  his pocket and  flipped  it to  me, and  then,
without a word, turned and went on his way.
     "A few weeks later, in the middle of the night, I woke up  in an alley,
where I slept under old blankets and crates, and I saw a shadowy form out by
the street. I knew  it was him  before he flipped me the coin and moved  off
into the darkness.
     "The next time I  saw him, he was sitting  on a stone bench at the edge
of  an old  square  that  some  of  the less  fortunate  men  of  Altur'Rang
frequented. Like me, no  one would give these men a chance in life. People's
greed had  sucked the life out  of these men. I used to go there  to look at
them, to  tell myself I didn't want to grow up to be like them, but I knew I
would, a nobody, human refuse waiting to pass into the shadow of oblivion in
the afterlife. A soul without worth.
     "I sat down on the bench beside the man and asked him why he'd given me
money. Instead of  giving me some answer that most people would give a  boy,
he told me about  mankind's grand purpose, the meaning of  life, and how  we
are here only as a brief stop on  the way to what  the Creator has  in store
for us--if we are strong enough to rise to the challenge.
     "I'd never heard such a thing. I told him that I didn't think that such
things mattered  in my life because I  was only a thief. He said that I  was
only striking  back  from  the  injustice of my lot  in  life. He  said that
mankind was evil for making me the way  I was and only through sacrifice and
helping  those  like me could man hope to be redeemed in  the  afterlife. He
opened my mind to man's sinful ways.
     "Before he  left,  he turned back  and  asked me  if  I  knew  how long
eternity was. I said no.  He said  that our miserable time in this world was
but a blink before we entered the next world. That really made me think, for
the first time, about our greater purpose.
     "Over the next months, Brother Narev  took  the time to  talk to me, to
tell me about  Creation  and  eternity. He gave  me a  vision  of a possible
better  future where  before  I had  none. He taught me  about sacrifice and
redemption.  I  thought I  was  doomed to an eternity  of darkness  until he
showed me the light.
     "He took me in, in return for helping him with life's chores.
     "For me,  Brother Narev was a teacher, a priest, an advisor, a means to
salvation"--Jagang's gaze rose  to Zedd--"and a grandfather, all rolled into
     "He  gave me the fire of  what mankind can and should be. He  showed me
the  true  sin of selfish greed and the  dark void  of  where  it would lead
mankind. Over time, he made me the  fist  of his vision. He was the  soul; I
was the bone and muscle.
     "Brother Narev allowed  me  the honor of  igniting  the  revolution. He
placed  me at  the  fore of  the  rise of  mankind over  the  oppression  of
sinfulness.  We are  the  new hope for the future of man, and  Brother Narev
himself allowed me to be the one to carry his vision in the cleansing flames
of mankind's redemption."
     Jagang  leaned  back in his  chair, fixing  Zedd with as grim a look as
Zedd had ever seen.
     "And then this spring, while carrying Brother  Narev's noble  challenge
to mankind,  to those who had never had  a chance to see the vision  of what
man can be,  of the future  without the blight  of magic  and oppression and
greed  and groveling to  be better  than others, I  came to Aydindril... and
what do I find?
     "Brother Narev's head  on a pike, with a note,  'Compliments of Richard
     "The man I admired most in the world, the man who brought to us all the
hallowed dream of  mankind's  true purpose in  this  life as  charged by the
Creator himself, was dead, his head stuck on a pike by your grandson.
     "If ever there  was a  greater  blasphemy, a greater  crime against the
whole of mankind, I don't know of it."
     Sullen shapes shifted across Jagang's black eyes. "Richard Rahl will be
dealt justice. He will  suffer such a blow, before I send him to the Keeper.
I just  wanted  you to  know your fate,  old man.  Your grandson  will  know
something of that kind of pain, and the additional torment of knowing that I
have his bride and will make her pay dearly for her own crimes."  A ghost of
the grin returned. "After he has paid this price, then I will kill him."
     Zedd  yawned.  "Nice  story.  You  left  out all  the  parts  where you
slaughter innocent people by the  tens of  thousands because they don't want
to live under your vile rule or Narev's sick, twisted vision.
     "On second thought, don't bother  with the sorry excuses. Just  cut off
my head, put it on a pike, and be done with it."
     Jagang's smile returned in its  full glory. "Not as easily as that, old
man. First you have some talking to do."

     Ah, yes," Zedd said. "The torture. I almost forgot."
     With two fingers Jagang  signaled a woman to the side. The older Sister
standing  wringing  her  hands  flinched  at  seeing  his  gaze  on her  and
immediately rushed off  behind a  curtain of  wall hangings. Zedd could hear
her whispering urgent  instructions to people beyond, and then the thump  of
feet rushing across the carpets and out of the tent.
     Jagang went back to his leisurely meal while Zedd and Adie stood before
him,  starving,  dying of  thirst.  The dream walker  finally set  his knife
across a plate. Seeing this, the  slaves  sprang  into action, clearing away
the variety of dishes, most  having been tasted, but that hardly made a dent
in them. In a matter of moments the entire table was emptied of the food and
drink, leaving only the books, the scrolls, the candles, and the silver bowl
of walnuts.
     Sister Tahirah, the Sister who had captured  Zedd and Adie at the Keep,
stood to the side, her hands clasped before her as she watched them. Despite
her obvious  fear  of  Jagang, and  her  servile  fawning over the man,  the
knowing  smirk at Zedd and Adie betrayed the pleasure she  was deriving from
what was to come.
     When half a  dozen  grisly men  entered  the room and  stood off to the
side, Zedd began to understand what it was that pleased Sister Tahirah.
     They were unkempt, brawny, and as merciless-looking as any men Zedd had
ever  seen.  Their  hair  was  wildly tangled  and greasy.  Their  hands and
forearms  were  spattered with sooty  smears,  their fingernails  ragged and
foul. Their filthy clothes were stained dark with dried blood from the labor
of their profession.
     These men worked at torture.
     Zedd looked away from the Sister's steady gaze. She hoped  to see fear,
panic, or perhaps sobbing.
     Then  a group of men and  women  were  ushered into the dim room in the
emperor's tent. They  looked to be  farmers or humble working folk, probably
picked up  by patrols.  The men  embraced  their wives as  children  huddled
around the women's skirts  like  chicks around hens. The people were  herded
over to the side of the room, opposite the line of torturers.
     Zedd's  eyes suddenly turned to Jagang. The dream walker's  black  eyes
were watching him as he chewed a walnut.
     "Emperor,"  said the Sister who had brought the families in, "these are
some  of the  local people, people from the  countryside, as you requested."
She  held  an introductory hand  out.  "Good  people,  this is  our  revered
emperor,  Jagang the Just. He  brings the light of the Imperial Order to the
world, guided by the  Creator's  wisdom, that we might all lead better lives
and find salvation with the Creator in the afterlife."
     Jagang surveyed the cluster of Midlanders as they awkwardly  bowed  and
     Zedd felt sick at  seeing  the timid terror on their faces.  They would
have  had to walk through the encampment of Order soldiers. They would  have
seen the size of the force that had overrun their homeland.
     Jagang lifted his arm toward Zedd. "Perhaps you know this  man? This is
First  Wizard  Zorander.  He is one  who has ruled you  with his command  of
magic. As you can  see, he is now shackled before us. We have freed you from
the wicked rule of this man and those like him."
     The people's eyes darted between Zedd and Jagang,  unsure of their role
in the emperor's tent, or what they were supposed to do. They finally bobbed
their heads, mumbling their thanks for their liberation.
     "The gifted, like these two, could  have  used  their ability  to  help
mankind. Instead,  they  used  it for  themselves.  Where they  should  have
sacrificed for those in need, they were selfish. It is criminal to behave as
they have, live as they have, with all they have. It makes me angry to think
of all they  could do for those in need, those like you poor people, were it
not  for  their  selfish ways. People suffer  and die  without the help they
could have had, without the help  these  people could have  given, were they
not so self-centered.
     "This wizard and  his sorceress are here  because they have refused  to
help  us  free the  rest of the people of the  New World by  telling  us the
function   of  the  vile  things  of  magic  we  have  captured  along  with
them--things of  magic they  scheme  to use to  slaughter  untold numbers of
people. This  selfish  wizard and sorceress do  this out of  spite that they
could not have their way."
     All the wide eyes turned to Zedd and Adie.
     "I  could tell  you people  of  the vast numbers of  deaths this man is
responsible for, but I fear you would be unable to fathom it. I can tell you
that I simply cannot allow this man to be responsible for tens of  thousands
more deaths."
     Jagang smiled at the children then and gestured with both hands, urging
them to come to him. The children, a dozen or so, from six or seven to maybe
twelve, clung  to their  parents. Jagang's gaze rose to those parents  as he
again motioned  the  children  to come to him. The  parents  understood  and
reluctantly urged their children to do as the emperor bid of them.
     The clump of innocence  haltingly approached Jagang's outstretched arms
and  wide  grin. He embraced them woodenly as  they shuffled in close around
him. He tousled the blond hair of a boy, and then the straight sandy hair of
a girl. Several of the younger ones peered pleadingly back at parents before
cringing at  Jagang's  meaty hand  on  their backs, his  jovial pat on their
     Silent terror hung thick in the air.
     It was as frightening a sight as Zedd had ever witnessed.
     "Well, now," the smiling emperor said, "let me get to the reason I have
called upon you people."
     His powerful arms gathered the children before him. As a Sister blocked
a boy wanting to return to his parents, Jagang put his huge hands on a young
girl's waist and set her upon  his  knee. The girl's  wide eyes stared up at
the  smiling face, the bald head,  but mostly at the  nightmare void of  the
dream walker's inky eyes.
     Jagang looked from the girl back  to the parents.  "You see, the wizard
and sorceress have  refused to offer their  help.  In order  to save a great
many lives, I must have  their cooperation. They must answer honestly all my
questions. They refuse. I'm hoping you good people can convince them to tell
us what  we need  to know in order to save the lives of a great many people,
and free a great many more from the oppression of their magic."
     Jagang  looked  toward the  row of men  standing  silently  against the
opposite wall. With a single tilt of his head, he commanded them forward.
     "What are  you doing?"  a woman  asked,  even as  her  husband tried to
restrain her. "What do you intend?"
     "What I intend,"  Jagang  told the crowd of parents, "is  for you  good
people to  convince the wizard and the sorceress  to talk.  I'm going to put
you in a tent alone with them so that you can persuade them to do their duty
to mankind--persuade them to cooperate with us."
     As  the  men began  seizing  the children,  they  finally  burst out in
frightened crying.  The parents, seeing their red-faced  children bawling in
terror, cried  out themselves and rushed forward to retrieve them.  The  big
men, each holding one or two little arms in a fist, shoved the parents back.
     The parents fell to hysterical screaming for the children to be freed.
     "I'm sorry,  but I can't do  that," Jagang said over  the wails of  the
children. He tilted his head again and the men started carting the twisting,
screaming children out of the tent. The parents were wailing as well, trying
to reach in past  big filthy arms to touch what was to them most precious in
the world.
     The parents were bewildered and horrified, fearing to cross a line that
would bring wrath down on their children, yet not  wanting them to be carted
away. Against their urgent pleading, the children were swiftly whisked away.
     As  the  children were  taken out, the  Sisters immediately blocked the
doorway behind them, keeping the  parents from  following. The  tent fell to
     With the single word "silence" from Jagang, and his fist on the  table,
everyone fell silent.
     "Now," Jagang said, "these two  prisoners are going to be confined to a
tent. All of you are going to be in there, alone, with  them. There  will be
no guards, no watchers."
     "But what about our  children?" a woman in tears begged, caring nothing
about Zedd and Adie.
     Jagang pulled a squat candle toward him on the table. "This will be the
tent with these two, and you  good  people." He circled a  finger around the
candle. "All  around  this tent with you and the  criminals, there  will  be
other tents close."
     Everyone stared at his ringed finger  going round and round the candle.
"Your  children will  be close  by, in  these  tents."  Jagang scooped  up a
handful of walnuts  from the silver bowl. He  dribbled  some onto the  table
around the candle and put the rest into his mouth.
     The room  was silent as they all stared at him, watching  him chew  the
walnuts, afraid to ask a question, afraid to hear what he might say next.
     Finally  a  woman could  no longer hold her tongue.  "Why will  they be
there, in those tents?"
     Jagang's black eyes took  them all in before he spoke, making sure none
would miss what he had to tell them.
     "Those  men  who  took your children to those tents  will be  torturing
     The  parents' eyes widened. Blood drained from their  faces. One  woman
fainted. Several  others bent to  her.  Sister  Tahirah squatted beside  the
woman and  touched a hand to  the woman's forehead. The woman's eyes  popped
open. The Sister told the women to get her to her feet.
     When Jagang was satisfied that  he had everyone's attention, he circled
a  finger around  the candle again, over the walnuts  around it. "The  tents
will  be  close  around so  you  can  all clearly hear your  children  being
tortured, to be sure that  you understand that  they will not be spared  the
worst those men can do."
     The  parents stood frozen, staring,  seemingly  unable  to believe  the
reality of what they were hearing.
     "Every few hours, I will come to  see if you good people have convinced
the wizard and the  sorceress  to tell  us what we need to know. If you have
not succeeded, then I will go off to other business and when I have the time
I will return again to check if these two have decided to talk.
     "Just  be  sure that this wizard and sorceress  do  not  die while  you
convince  them  to be reasonable. If they die, then  they can't  answer  our
questions.  Only  when  and  if they answer questions will  the  children be
     Jagang turned his nightmare  eyes on Zedd. "My men have a great deal of
experience at torturing people. When  you hear  the  screams coming from the
tents  all around,  you  will  have no doubt as to  their  skill,  or  their
determination. I think you should know that they can keep their guests alive
under torture for days, but they  cannot  work  miracles. People, especially
such young, tender  souls, cannot  survive  indefinitely.  But, should these
children die before  you agree to cooperate,  there are plenty more families
with children who can take their place."
     Zedd could  not halt the tears  that ran down his face to drip  off his
chin as Sister Tahirah took his arm and pulled  him toward  the doorway. The
crowd of parents  fell on him, clawing at his  clothes, screaming and crying
for him to do as the emperor asked.
     Zedd  dug  in his heels  and struggled  to  a  stop  before  the table.
Desperate  hands clutched  at his  robes.  As  he  looked  around  at  their
tear-stained faces, meeting the eyes of each, they fell silent.
     "I hope you people can now understand the  nature of what it is  we are
fighting. I am so  sorry, but I cannot dull the pain of this darkest hour of
your lives. If I were to do as this man wants, countless more children would
be subjected to this tyrant's brutality. I know that you will not be able to
weigh this against the precious lives of your children, but I must. Pray the
good spirits take them quickly, and take them to a place of eternal peace."
     Zedd could not  say more  to them, to their desperate  gazes. He turned
his watery eyes to  Jagang. "This will not work, Jagang. I know you will  do
it anyway, but it will not work."
     Behind the  heavy table, Jagang slowly  rose. "Children in this land of
yours are plentiful. How many are you prepared to sacrifice before you allow
mankind to be free? How long  are you willing to  persist in  your  stubborn
refusal to allow them to have a  future free from suffering, want,  and your
uninspired morals?"
     The heavy gold and silver chains around his neck, the looted medallions
and ornaments resting against his  muscled  chest, and the rings of kings on
his fingers all sparkled in the candlelight.
     Zedd  felt  the numb weight of a hopeless future under  the yoke of the
monstrous ideals of this man and his ilk.
     "You cannot win in this, wizard. Like all those who fight on  your side
to oppress mankind, to allow the common people to be left to cruel fate, you
are not even willing to sacrifice for the sake of the lives of children. You
are brave with words, but you have a cold soul and a  weak heart. You  don't
have the will to do what must be done to prevail. I do."
     Jagang tilted  his head and the Sister shoved Zedd toward the door. The
screaming, crying,  begging crowd of people  closed in around Zedd and Adie,
clawing and pawing at them in wild desperation.
     In  the distance,  Zedd  could  hear  the horrifying  screams of  their
terrified children

     They aren't far," Richard said as  he stepped back  in among the trees.
He  stood  silently  watching  as  Kahlan straightened the shoulders of  her
     The  dress showed no  ill effects  from  its long confinement  in their
packs. The  almost white, satiny smooth fabric  glistened in the eerie light
of the churning overcast. The flowing lines of the dress, cut square at  the
neck, bore  no lace or frills, nothing to distract from its simple elegance.
The sight of Kahlan in that dress still took his breath away.
     She looked  out through the trees  when they heard  Cara's whistle. The
warning  signal Richard  had  taught  Cara was the  plaintive,  high,  clear
whistle  of  a common wood pewee, although Cara didn't know  that's what  it
was. When he'd first told Cara  that he wanted to teach her a pewee birdcall
as a warning signal, she said she wasn't going to learn the call of any bird
named a pewee. Richard gave  in and told her that he would instead teach her
the call of the small, fierce, short-tailed pine hawk, but only if she would
be willing  to work  hard at getting it  right, since it was more difficult.
Satisfied  to have her  way, Cara had agreed and readily learned the  simple
whistle. She  was good at it  and  used it  often as a signal. Richard never
told her that there was no  such thing as a short-tailed pine hawk, or  that
hawks didn't make whistles like that.
     Out through the screen of  branches, the  dark form of the statue stood
guard  over an area of  the  pass  that  for  thousands  of  years had  been
deserted.  Richard  wondered again why the people back  then would have  put
such a statue in a pass no one  was likely to ever  again visit.  He thought
about the  ancient society that  had  placed  it, and at what they must have
thought, sealing  people away  for the crime of not having  a  spark  of the
     Richard brushed  pine needles  off  the back of  the sleeve of Kahlan's
dress. "Here, hold still; let me look at you."
     Kahlan turned back, arms at her sides, as he smoothed the fabric at her
upper arms. Her unafraid green eyes,  beneath eyebrows that had the graceful
arch of  a raptor's wings in flight, met  his  gaze. Her features seemed  to
have only  grown more exquisite since he had  first  met her.  Her look, her
pose, the way  she gazed at him as if she could see  into his soul, struck a
chord in him. Clearly evident in her eyes was the intelligence that had from
the first so captivated him.
     "Why are you looking at me like that?"
     Despite  everything,  he couldn't hold back  his smile. "Standing there
like  that,  in  that dress, your long hair so beautiful,  the  green of the
trees behind you... it just  suddenly reminded me  of the  first time  I saw
     Her special smile, the smile  she gave no one but him, spread radiantly
through  her bewitching eyes. She put her wrists on his shoulders and locked
her fingers behind his neck, pulling him into a kiss.
     As it always did, her  kiss so completely consumed him with his need of
her that he momentarily  lost  track  of the  world.  She  melted  into  his
embrace.  For  that moment  there was no  Imperial  Order, no  Bandakar,  no
D'Haran Empire,  no Sword  of Truth, no chimes,  no  gift turning  its power
against  him,  no  poison,  no warning  beacons,  no  black-tipped races, no
Jagang,  no  Nicholas,  no Sisters of  the Dark. Her  kiss  made  him forget
everything but her.  In  that moment there was nothing but  the two of them.
Kahlan made his life complete; her kiss reaffirmed that bond.
     She pulled back, gazing up  into his eyes again. "Seems like you've had
nothing but trouble ever since that day you found me."
     Richard smiled. "My life  is  what I've had since that day I found you.
When I found you, I found my life."
     Holding her face in both hands, he kissed her again.
     Betty nudged his leg and bleated.
     "You two about ready?" Jennsen called down the hill.  "They'll be here,
soon. Didn't you hear Cara's whistle?"
     "We heard," Kahlan called up to Jennsen. "We'll be right there."
     Turning back,  she  smiled as  she looked him up and  down. "Well, Lord
Rahl, you  certainly don't  look the way you did the first  time I saw you."
She  straightened the tooled  leather  baldric  lying over  the black  tunic
banded in gold. "But you look exactly the same,  too. Your eyes are the same
as I  saw that day." She cocked her head as she smiled  up at him.  "I don't
see the headache of the gift in your eyes."
     "It's  been  gone  for  a  while,  but after  that  kiss,  it would  be
impossible to have a headache."
     "Well, if it comes back," she said with intimate promise, "just tell me
and I'll see what I can do to make it go away."
     Richard ran his fingers through her hair  and  gazed one last time into
her eyes before  slipping his arm around her  waist.  Together  they  walked
through the cathedral of trees that was their cover off to the side near the
crown of the ridge, and out toward the open slope. Between the trunks of the
pines,  he could see Jennsen  running  down the  hill, leaping from rock  to
rock, avoiding the patches of snow. She  rushed in to  meet them just within
the small cluster of trees.
     "I spotted them," she said, breathlessly. "I could see them down in the
gorge on the far side. They'll be up here soon." A grin brightened her face.
"I saw Tom leading them."
     Jennsen took in the sight of  both of them,  then--Kahlan in the  white
dress of the Mother Confessor and Richard in the outfit he had in part found
in the Keep that  had once been  worn by  war  wizards.  By the surprise  on
Jennsen's face, he thought she might curtsy.
     "Wow," she said.  "That sure is some dress."  She looked Richard up and
down again. "You two look like you should rule the world."
     "Well," Richard said, "let's hope Owen's people think so."
     Cara pushed a spruce bough  aside as she ducked  in under the limbs  of
trees.  Dressed again in  her  skintight red leather outfit, she  looked  as
intimidating as  she had the first  time Richard had seen her in  the  grand
halls of the People's Palace in D'Hara.
     "Lord Rahl once confided in  me that  he intended to  rule the  world,"
Cara said, having heard Jennsen's pronouncement.
     "Really?" Jennsen asked.
     Richard  sighed at her awe. "Ruling the world has proven more difficult
than I thought it would be."
     "If you  would  listen  more  to the Mother Confessor  and to me," Cara
advised, "you would have an easier time of it."
     Richard ignored Cara's cockiness. "Would you get everything together? I
want to be up there with Kahlan before Tom arrives with Owen and his men."
     Cara nodded and started  collecting  the things they'd been working  so
hard to make,  stacking some and taking a count  of  others.  Richard laid a
hand on Jennsen's shoulder.
     "Tie Betty  up  so that she'll stay here  for now.  All right? We don't
need her in the way."
     "I'll see to it,"  Jennsen said as  she fussed with ringlets of her red
hair. "I'll make sure she won't be able to bother us or wander off."
     It was plainly evident how  eager she was to see  Tom again. "You  look
beautiful," Richard assured  her. Her grin returned to overpower the anxious
     Betty's tail was a blur as she peered up at them, eager to  go wherever
the rest  of them were going. "Come on," Jennsen said to her friend, "you're
staying here for a while."
     Jennsen  snatched Betty's rope,  holding  her  back,  as Richard,  with
Kahlan close at his  side, made his way  out past the last  of the trees and
onto the open ledge. Somber clouds hung low  against the face of surrounding
mountains. With  the  towering snowcapped peaks hidden  by the low,  ominous
clouds, Richard thought it felt like they were near the roof of the world.
     The wind down at the ground had died, leaving the trees motionless and,
by contrast, making the  boiling movement of the  cloud  masses seem  almost
alive. The flurries  of the day before had ended and then the sun had made a
brief appearance to  shrink the patches of snow on the pass. He didn't think
there was much chance of seeing the sun this day.
     The towering stone sentinel waited  at  the top of  the trail, watching
forever over  the  pass and  out  toward  the Pillars of Creation.  As  they
approached it, Richard  scanned the surrounding sky but saw  only some small
birds--flycatchers  and white-breasted nuthatches--flitting among the nearby
stand of spruce  trees. He  was relieved that the races had remained  absent
ever since they had taken this ancient trail up through the pass.
     The first night  up  in  the pass,  farther back down the slope  in the
heavier forests, they had worked hard to build a snug shelter, just managing
to get  it done as darkness had  settled into the vast woods. Early the next
day,  Richard  had cleared snow  off the statue and all around the ledges of
the base.
     He had discovered more writing.
     He  now knew more about this man whose statue had been  placed there in
the  pass. Another  small flurry  had  since dusted  snow over the  writing,
burying again the long-dead words.
     Kahlan  placed  a comforting  hand  on  his  back. "They  will  listen,
Richard. They will listen to you."
     With every breath, pain pulled at him from deep inside. It was  getting
worse. "They'd better, or I'll have no  chance  to get  the antidote to this
     He  knew he couldn't do it alone. Even if he knew how  to call upon his
gift and  command its magic, he  still would not be  able to wave a hand  or
perform  some grand feat of conjuring that would cast the Imperial Order out
of the Bandakaran Empire. He knew that such  things were beyond the scope of
even the most powerful magic. Magic,  properly used, properly conceived, was
a tool, much like his sword, employed to accomplish a goal.
     Magic was not what  would save him. Magic was not a panacea. If  he was
to succeed, he had to use his head to come up with a way to prevail.
     He no  longer knew if he could even depend on the magic of the Sword of
Truth. Nor did  he know how  long he had before his own gift might kill him.
At times, it felt as if his gift and the poison were in a race  to see which
could do him in first.
     Richard led Kahlan the rest of the way up and around to the back of the
statue, to a small prominence of rock at the very top  of the  pass where he
wanted to wait for the men. From  that spot they could  see through the gaps
in the mountains and back into Bandakar. Out at the edge of the  level area,
Richard spotted Tom down below leading the men through the  trees and up the
switchback trail.
     Tom peered up as he  ascended the trail and spotted Richard and Kahlan.
He saw how they were dressed, where  they stood, and gave  no familiar wave,
realizing that doing so would be inappropriate. Through breaks in the trees,
Richard could see men following Tom's gaze up above them.
     Richard  lifted his sword a  few inches, checking that it  was clear in
its scabbard. Overhead, the dark, towering clouds all around seemed  to have
gathered, as  if  they were all crowding into  the confines  of the  pass to
     Standing tall as he gazed off to the unknown land beyond, to an unknown
empire, Richard took Kahlan's hand.
     Hand  in hand, they silently awaited what would be  the beginning of  a
challenge that would change forever the nature of the world, or would be the
end of his chance at life.

     As  the  men  following Tom emerged from the trees  below and into  the
open, Richard was dismayed to see that their numbers were far less than Owen
said had been hiding with him in the hills. Rubbing the furrows on his  brow
with  his  fingertips, Richard stepped back up to  the short  plateau  where
Kahlan waited.
     Her own brow drew down with concern. "What's wrong?"
     "I doubt they brought fifty men."
     Kahlan took up  his hand  again, her voice coming in  gentle assurance.
"That's fifty more than we had."
     Cara came up behind them, dropping her load  off to the side.  She took
up  station  behind Richard  to his left, on the  opposite side from Kahlan.
Richard met  her grim gaze. He wondered how the woman always managed to look
as  if she fully expected everything to happen  just  as  she  wished  it to
happen, and that was the end of it.
     Tom stepped up over  the  edge of the  rock,  the men following. He was
sweating from the  exertion of the climb,  but a tight smile warmed his face
when he saw Jennsen just coming up  the other side of the rise. She returned
the brief smile and then stood in the shadows beside the base of the statue,
back out of the way.
     When the unkempt band of men caught sight of Richard in his black pants
and boots, black tunic trimmed in a band of gold around the edge, the  broad
leather  belt, the  leather-padded  silver wristbands with  ancient  symbols
circling  them,  and  the  gleaming  silver-and-gold-wrought scabbard,  they
seemed to lose their courage. When they saw Kahlan standing beside him, they
cowered back toward the edge, bowing hesitantly, not knowing what they  were
supposed to do.
     "Come on,  then," Tom told them, prompting them all to come up onto the
expanse of flat rock in front of Richard and Kahlan.
     Owen whispered to the men as he moved among them,  urging  them to come
forward as Tom was gesturing. They  complied  timidly, shuffling in a little
closer, but  still  leaving  a wide  safety  margin  between themselves  and
     As the men all gazed about, unsure as to what they were supposed to  do
next, Cara stepped forward and held an arm out toward Richard.
     "I present Lord Rahl," she said in a clear tone  that rang out over the
men gathered at the top of the pass, "the Seeker of Truth and wielder of the
Sword of Truth, the bringer of death, the Master  of the D'Haran Empire, and
husband to the Mother Confessor herself."
     If the men had looked timid and unsure before, Cara's introduction made
them all  the more  so. When  they  looked from  Richard and  Kahlan back to
Cara's penetrating blue eyes, seeing her waiting, they all went to a knee in
a bow before Richard.
     When Cara  stepped deliberately to  the  fore,  in  front of  the  men,
turned, and went to  her knees,  Tom got the message and did  the same. Both
bent forward and touched their foreheads to the ground.
     In the  silent, late-morning air, the men waited, still  unsure what it
was they were to do.
     "Master Rahl, guide us," Cara said  in  a clear voice  so the men could
all hear her. She waited.
     Tom looked back over his shoulder at all the blond-headed men watching.
When  Tom  frowned  with  displeasure,  the  men understood  that  they were
expected to follow the  lead. They all finally went to both knees  and bowed
forward, imitating  Tom and Cara, until  their foreheads  touched  the  cold
     "Master Rahl, guide us," Cara  began again,  never lifting her forehead
from the ground.
     This time, led by Tom, the men all repeated the words after her.
     "Master Rahl, guide us," they said with a decided lack of unity.
     "Master Rahl,  teach us,"  Cara  said  when they  all  had finished the
beginning of  the oath.  They  followed her lead again, but still hesitantly
and without much coordination.
     "Master Rahl, protect us," Cara said.
     The men repeated the words, their voices coming a little more in union.
     "In your light we thrive."
     The men mumbled the words after her.
     "In your mercy we are sheltered."
     They repeated the line.
     "In your wisdom we are humbled."
     Again they spoke the words after her.
     "We live only to serve."
     When they finished repeating the words,  she spoke  the last line  in a
clear voice: "Our lives are yours."
     Cara rose up on her knees when they finished and glared back at the men
all still bowed forward but  peeking up at her.  "Those are the words of the
devotion  to the  Lord Rahl. You  will  now  speak it together with me three
times, as is proper in the field."
     Cara again put her forehead to the ground at Richard's feet.
     "Master Rahl, guide us. Master Rahl, teach us. Master Rahl, protect us.
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."
     Richard and Kahlan stood above  the people as they spoke the second and
third devotion. This was no empty show put on by Cara for the benefit of the
men; this was the devotion as  it had been spoken for thousands of years and
Cara meant every word of it.
     "You may rise now," she told the men.
     The  men  cautiously returned to their feet, hunched  in worry, waiting
silently. Richard met all their eyes before he began.
     "I am Richard  Rahl.  I am  the man you men decided  to poison so as to
enslave me and thus force me to do your bidding.
     "What you  have  done  is a crime. While  you  may believe that you can
justify  your  action  as  proper,  or  think  of it  as merely  a  means of
persuasion, nothing  can give you  the right to threaten or take the life of
another  who  has  done  you  no  harm nor  intended none. That, along  with
torture, rape, and murder, is the means by which the Imperial Order rules."
     "But  we  meant you no harm," one of the men called out  in horror that
Richard would  accuse them of such  a  ghastly  crime. Other men spoke up in
agreement that Richard had it all wrong.
     "You think I  am a  savage,"  Richard  said  in a  tone  of  voice that
silenced them and put them back a step. "You think yourselves better than me
and so that somehow makes it all right to do this to me--and to try to do it
to  the Mother  Confessor--because you want  something  and,  like  petulant
children, you expect us to give it to you.
     "The alternative  you give me is death. The task you demand  of  me  is
difficult  beyond your imagination, making my death from your poison  a very
real possibility, and likely. That is the reality of it.
     "I already came close to dying  from your  poison. At the last possible
instant  I was granted a temporary stay of my execution when one of you gave
me a provisional antidote.  My  friends and loved ones  believed I would die
that night. You were the cause of it. You men  consciously decided to poison
me, thereby accepting the fact that you might be killing me."
     "No,"  a  man insisted, his  hands  clasped in supplication,  "we never
intended to harm you."
     "If there was not a credible threat to my life, then  why would I do as
you  wish? If you truly mean me no harm and  are not committed to killing me
if I don't go along with you, then prove it and give me the antidote so that
I can have my life back. It's my life, not yours."
     This time no one spoke up.
     "No? So you see, then, it is as I say.  You men are committed to either
murder or enslavement. The only choice I have in it is which of those two it
will be. I will  hear no more of your feelings about what you intended. Your
feelings do  not absolve you of your very real deeds. Your actions, not your
feelings, speak the truth of your intent."
     Richard clasped his hands behind his back as he paced slowly before the
men. "Now, I could do as you people are  fond of doing, and tell myself that
I can't  know if  any  of it  is true. I could do as  you would  do, declare
myself inadequate  to the  task of knowing  what's real and refuse  to  face
     "But  I  am the Seeker  of Truth  because  I do  not try  to  hide from
reality.  The choice to live demands that the truth be faced. I intend to do
that. I intend to live.
     "You men must today decide what you will do, what will be the future of
your lives and the lives of the ones you love. You are going to have to deal
with reality, the same as I must, if you are to have a chance at life. Today
you will have to face a  great deal of the  truth, if you  are  to have that
which you seek."
     Richard gestured to Owen. "I thought  you said there were more men than
this. Where are the rest?"
     Owen took a step forward. "Lord Rahl, to prevent violence, they  turned
themselves over to the men of the Order."
     Richard stared at the man. "Owen, after  all you've  told me, after all
those  men have seen  from the Order, how could they possibly believe such a
     "But how are we  to know  that this time it will not stop the violence?
We can't know the nature of reality or--"
     "I told you before, with me  you  will confine yourself to what is, and
not repeat meaningless phrases you  have memorized. If you have real facts I
want to hear them. I'm not interested in meaningless nonsense."
     Owen pulled his small pack off  his  back. He fished around  inside and
came up with a small canvas  pouch. Tears welled  up in his eyes as he gazed
at it.
     "The men of the Order  found out that there were men hiding out  in the
hills. One of those  men  hiding with  us has three daughters.  In order  to
prevent a cycle of  violence, someone in our town told  the men of the Order
which girls were his daughters.
     "Every day the men  of the Order tied a rope to a finger of each one of
these  three girls. One  man  held the girl while another pulled on the rope
until her finger tore off. The men of the Order  told a man from our town to
go to the hills and give the three fingers to our men. Every day he came."
     Owen handed the bag to Richard. "These are the fingers from each of his
     "The man  who brought  them to our men  was in a daze. They said  he no
longer seemed human. He talked in a dead voice. He repeated what he had been
bidden  to  say. He  had decided  that  since nothing was real, he would see
nothing and do as he was told.
     "He said that the  men of the Order told him  that some  of the  people
from our town had given the names  of the men in the hills and that they had
the  children of those  other  men, as  well.  They said that unless the men
returned  and  gave themselves up,  they  would  do  the same to  the  other
     "A little more than half the men hiding in the hills could not stand to
think of themselves being the cause  of such violence, and so they went back
to our town and gave themselves over to the men of the Order."
     "Why are you giving me this?" Richard asked.
     "Because," Owen said, his voice filled with  tears,  "I  wanted  you to
know why  our men had no choice but to turn  themselves  in. They  could not
stand to think of their  loved ones suffering such terrible agony because of
     Richard looked out at the mournful  men watching him. He felt his anger
boiling up inside, but he kept it in check as he spoke.
     "I can understand what those men were trying to do by giving themselves
up. I can't fault them for it. It  won't help, but I couldn't fault them for
desperately wanting to spare their loved ones from harm."
     Despite his  rage, Richard  spoke in a  soft voice. "I'm sorry that you
and  your  people are suffering such brutality at the hands of the  Imperial
Order. But understand this: it is real, and  the Order is the  cause  of it.
Those men of yours, if they did as the Order commanded or if they failed to,
were not the cause of violence. The  responsibility for  causing violence is
entirely the Order's.  You did not go out and attack them. They came to you,
they attacked you, they enslave and torture and murder you."
     Most of the men stood in slumped poses, staring at the ground.
     "Do any of the rest of you have children?"
     A number of the men nodded or mumbled that they did.
     Richard  ran his  hand back through  his hair. "Why haven't the rest of
you turned yourselves in, then?  Why are you here and not trying to stop the
suffering in the same way the others did?"
     The men looked at  one another, some seeming confused  by  the question
while others appearing unable to put their reasons into words. Their sorrow,
their distress, even  their hesitant resolve, were  evident on  their faces,
but they could not come up  with words to explain why  they  would not  turn
themselves in.
     Richard held up  the small  canvas bag with the gruesome  treasure, not
allowing them to avoid the issue. "You all knew about this. Why did  you not
return as well?"
     Finally one man spoke up. "I sneaked to the fields at sunset and talked
to a man working  the  crops, and asked what happened to  those men  who had
returned. He said that many  of their children had already  been taken away.
Others had died. All the men who had come in from the hills  had been  taken
away.  None were allowed to return to their homes,  to  their families. What
good would it do for us to go back?"
     "What  good, indeed," Richard murmured.  This was  the  first sign that
they grasped the true nature of the situation.
     "You have to stop the Order," Owen said. "You must give us our freedom.
Why have you made us make this journey?"
     Richard's initial spark of confidence dimmed. While they might have  in
part grasped  the truth of their troubles, they certainly weren't facing the
nature of any real  solution.  They simply wanted to  be saved.  They  still
expected someone to do it for them: Richard.
     The  men all looked relieved that Owen had  at last asked the question;
they were apparently too timid to ask it themselves. As they waited, some of
the  men couldn't help stealing  glances at  Jennsen, standing to the  rear.
Most of the men also appeared troubled by the statue looming behind Richard.
They could  only see the back of it and didn't really know what it was meant
to be.
     "Because,"  Richard finally  told them, "in order for  me  to do as you
want,  it's  important that you all come to understand  everything involved.
You expect me  to simply do this for you.  I can't. You are going to have to
help me in this or  you and all of  your loved ones are lost. If  we are  to
succeed, then you men must help the rest  of your people  come to understand
the things I have to tell you.
     "You  have gone this far,  you have suffered this much,  you have  made
this  much  of  a commitment.  You realize  that if you  do the same as your
friends have been trying to do, if you  apply those same useless  solutions,
you, too, will be enslaved or murdered. You are running out  of options. You
all  have  made  a  decision  to  at  least try to  succeed,  to  try to rid
yourselves of the brutes killing and enslaving your people.
     "You men here are their last chance .. . their only chance.
     "You must now hear the rest of what I have to tell you and then make up
your minds as to what will be your future."
     The  haggard,  ragtag  men, all dressed  in worn and dirty clothes, all
looking like they'd had a very difficult time of living in the hills, either
spoke up or nodded that they would hear him out. Some even looked as if they
might be relieved  by how directly and honestly he spoke to them. A few even
looked hungry for what he might say.

     Three years  ago from the coming autumn," Richard began, "I  lived in a
place called Hartland. I was a woods guide. I had a peaceful life in a place
I loved among those I loved. I knew very little about the  places beyond  my
home. In  some  ways I was like  you people before the Order  came, so I can
understand some of what you felt about how things changed.
     "Like you, I lived beyond a  boundary that protected  us from those who
would do us harm."
     The  men  broke  out in excited  whispering,  apparently  surprised and
pleased that  they could relate to him in this way, that they had  something
so basic in common with him.
     "What happened, then?" one of the men asked.
     Richard couldn't  help  himself; he  couldn't hold  back the smile that
overwhelmed him.
     "One  day,  in  my  woods"--he held his hand out  to the  side--"Kahlan
showed up. Like you, her people were in desperate  trouble. She needed help.
Rather than  poison me, though, she told  me her story  and  how trouble was
coming our way. Much like you, the boundary protecting her people had failed
and a tyrant had invaded her  homeland. She also came bearing a warning that
this man  would  soon come to  my homeland, too, and  conquer  my people, my
friends, my loved ones."
     All the faces turned toward Kahlan. The men stared openly, as if seeing
her  for  the first  time. It  looked to  be  astonishing  to them that this
statuesque  woman  before  them  could  be  a  savage, as  they  thought  of
outsiders, and have the same kind of trouble they'd had. Richard was leaving
out vast chunks of the story, but  he  wanted to keep it simple enough to be
clear to these men.
     "I  was named the Seeker of Truth and given  this sword to  help me  in
this  important  struggle." Richard lifted the hilt clear of the scabbard by
half the  length  of the blade, letting the men  all see the polished steel.
Many grimaced at seeing such a weapon.
     "Together,  side by side, Kahlan and  I  struggled  to stop the man who
sought  to enslave or destroy us all. In  a strange land, she was  my guide,
not only helping me to fight against those who would kill us, but helping me
to come  to understand  the wider world  I had  never before considered. She
opened my eyes to what was out there, beyond the boundary that had protected
me and my people. She helped me to see the approaching shadow of tyranny and
know the true stakes involved--life itself.
     "She made  me live up to the  challenge. Had she not,  I  would not  be
alive today, and a great many more people would be dead or enslaved."
     Richard had  to  turn away, then, at the flood of painful  memories, at
the thought of all those lost in the struggle. At the victories so hard won.
     He put his hand to the statue for support as he remembered the gruesome
murder of George Cypher, the man who had raised him, the man who, until that
struggle, Richard had  always believed was  his father. The pain  of it,  so
distant and far away,  came rushing back again. He remembered the  horror of
that time, of suddenly realizing  that he would never again  see the  man he
dearly loved. He had forgotten until that moment how much he missed him.
     Richard gathered his composure and turned back to the men. "In the end,
and  only with Kahlan's help,  I  won the struggle against that tyrant I had
never known existed until the day she had come into my woods and warned me.
     "That man was Darken Rahl, my father, a man I had never known."
     The  men  stared  in  disbelief.  "You  never knew?"  one asked  in  an
astonished voice.
     Richard shook his head. "It's a  very long story. Maybe another time  I
will tell you men  all of it. For now, I  must tell  you the important parts
that are relevant to you and those you love back there in your homes."
     Richard looked at the ground before him, thinking, as he paced in front
of the disorderly knot of men.
     "When I killed Darken Rahl, I did it to keep him from killing me and my
loved ones.  He  had tortured and  murdered countless people and that  alone
earned him death, but I had to kill him or he would have killed me. I didn't
know at the time  that he was my real father or that in killing him, since I
was his heir, I would become the new Lord Rahl.
     "Had he known who I was, he might not  have been trying to kill me, but
he didn't know. I had  information he wanted; he intended to torture it  out
of me and then kill me. I killed him first.
     "Since  that time, I have come to learn  a great deal.  What  I learned
connects us"--Richard gestured  to the men  and then placed  the hand on his
own chest  as he met  their gazes--"in ways you  must come to understand, as
well, if you are to succeed in this new struggle.
     "The land where  I grew  up, Kahlan's land, and the land of D'Hara, all
make up the New World. As you have learned, this vast land down here outside
where you  grew  up is  called the Old World.  After I became Lord Rahl, the
barrier protecting us from the Old World failed,  much as your own  boundary
failed. When it did,  Emperor Jagang of the Imperial Order, down here in the
Old World, used the opportunity to invade the New World, my home, much as he
invaded  your home.  We've been fighting  him  and his  troops for  over two
years,  trying  to  defeat them or  at  least to drive them back to the  Old
     "The barrier that  failed had protected  us from the Order, or men like
them,  for  around  three  thousand  years,  longer,  even,  than  you  were
protected. Before that barrier  was  placed at  the end of a great  war, the
enemy  at  the  time, from the  Old World, had used  magic to create  people
called dream walkers."
     The men fell to whispering. They  had heard the  name, but they  didn't
really understand it and speculated on what it could mean.
     "Dream walkers," Richard explained, when they had quieted, "could enter
a person's mind in order to control them. There was no defense. Once a dream
walker took  over  your  mind,  you became  his slave, unable to  resist his
commands. The people back then were desperate.
     "A man named Alric  Rahl, my ancestor, came up  with a  way  to protect
people's minds from  being  taken over by the dream walkers. He was not only
the Lord Rahl who  ruled D'Hara at the time, but he was also a great wizard.
Through his ability he created a bond that when spoken earnestly or given in
a  more  simple form with  heartfelt sincerity, protected  people from dream
walkers entering  their  minds. Alric  Rahl's  link  of magic to his people,
through this bond, protected them.
     "The  devotion you men all gave is the formal declaration of that bond.
It  has  been  given  by the D'Haran people  to  their  Lord Rahl  for three
thousand years."
     Some of the  men  in front  stepped  forward, their  faces etched  with
anxiety. "Are we protected, then, from the dream walkers, Lord Rahl, because
we  gave this oath? Are we protected from  the  dream  walkers entering  our
minds and taking us?"
     Richard shook his  head. "You and  your people need no  protection. You
are already protected in another way."
     Relief  swept through  the crowd of men. Some  gripped the shoulder  of
another, or placed a hand in relief on a friend's back.  They  looked as  if
they feared  that dream walkers were stalking  them, and they had  just been
spared at the last instant.
     "But how is it that we can be protected?" Owen asked.
     Richard  took a  deep breath, letting it out slowly.  "Well, that's the
part  that in a way connects  us. You see,  as I  understand it, magic needs
balance in order to function."
     There were knowing nods all around, as if these pristinely ungifted men
all had an intimate understanding of magic.
     "When Alric Rahl used magic to create this bond in order to protect his
people," Richard went on, "there needed to always be a Lord Rahl to complete
the bond,  to  maintain its power. Not all  wizards bear children  who  also
possess this  gifted ability, so part of what Alric Rahl did when he created
this bond was to make it so that the Lord Rahl would always bear one son who
had magic, who had the gift, and could complete this bond with the people of
D'Hara. In this way they would always be protected."
     Richard  held up a finger to make his point as he swept  his  gaze over
the crowd  of  men.  "What they  didn't know at the time was that this magic
inadvertently created its own balance. While the Lord Rahl always produced a
gifted heir--a wizard like  him--it was  only discovered later that he  also
occasionally produced offspring who were entirely without any magic."
     Richard could see by the  blank looks that the men didn't grasp what he
was  telling them. He imagined that  for people living  such isolated lives,
his story must seem rather confusing, if not  far-fetched. He remembered his
own  confusion about magic  before the boundary had come down  and he'd  met
Kahlan. He  hadn't  been raised around magic  and he still didn't understand
most of it himself. He'd been  born  with both sides of the gift, and yet he
didn't know how to control it.
     "You see," he said,  "only  some people have magic--are gifted, as it's
called. But all people are born with at least a very tiny spark of the gift,
even  though they can't manipulate  magic.  Until  just  recently,  everyone
thought of  these people as ungifted. You see? The gifted, like  wizards and
sorceresses, can manipulate magic, and the rest of the people can't, so they
were believed to be ungifted.
     "But  it  turns  out  that  this  isn't  accurate,  since there  is  an
infinitesimal spark of  the gift  in everyone born. This  tiny spark of  the
gift is actually what  allows people to interact with the magic in the world
around  them,  that  is,  with   things  and  creatures  that  have  magical
properties,  and  with  people  who  are  gifted  in  a  more  comprehensive
sense--those who do have the ability to manipulate magic."
     "Some  people in Bandakar have magic,  too," a  man said.  "True magic.
Only those who have never seen--"
     "No," Richard said, cutting him  off. He didn't want them  losing track
of his account. "Owen told me about what you people believe is magic. That's
not magic, that's mysticism.  That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking
about  real  magic that produces real results in the real world. Forget what
you've been  taught about magic, about how faith supposedly creates what you
believe  in and that  is real magic. It's  not real. It's just  the fanciful
illusion of magic in people's imaginations."
     "But  it is real,"  someone  said in a respectful but firm voice. "More
real than what you see and feel."
     Richard  turned a harsh look on the men. "If it's so real, then why did
you have to use a known  poison on me that was mixed by a man who had worked
his whole life with herbs? Because you know what's real, that's why; when it
was vital to  your self-interest, to your lives, you  resorted to dealing in
reality, to what you know really works."
     Richard pointed back at Kahlan.  "The  Mother Confessor has real magic.
It's no fanciful  curse  put  on someone and when they  die ten years  later
people  believe the  curse was  the cause.  She  has real magic  that is  in
elemental  ways linked  to death,  so  it  affects even  you.  She can touch
someone, with this  real magic, and in an instant they will be dead. Not ten
years from now--right now, on the spot."
     Richard stood resolutely in front of the men, gazing from  eye to  eye.
"If someone doesn't believe that is real magic, then let's  have a test. Let
them perform their faith-based magic and put a spell on me--to kill me right
here and now.  After they've done  that, then they will come forward  and be
touched  by the  Mother  Confessor's very real, lethal  power. Then everyone
else will be able to  see  the  results and judge for themselves." He looked
from face to face. "Anyone willing to take  up the test? Any magicians among
all you ungifted people willing to try it?"
     When the men remained silent, no one moving, Richard went on.
     "So, it would  seem that you men  do have some  understanding of what's
real and what isn't. Keep that in mind. Learn from it.
     "Now, I told you how the  Lord Rahl always  bore a son with magic so he
could pass on the rule of D'Hara and his gifted ability in order to make the
bond work.  But, as I said, the bond that Alric Rahl created may have had an
unintended consequence.
     "Only later was it discovered  that the  Lord Rahl, possibly as a means
of balance, also sometimes produced offspring that were entirely without any
magic--not  just ungifted  in the way most people are, but unlike any people
ever  born before: they were  pristinely ungifted. These pristinely ungifted
people had absolutely no spark of the gift whatsoever.
     "Because of  that,  because  they  were pristinely ungifted,  they were
unable to interact with the real magic in  the world. They were unable to be
touched by magic at  all. For  them,  magic might as well  not exist because
they were not born  with the ability to see it  or to interact with it.  You
might say they were like a bird that could not fly. They looked like a bird,
they had feathers, they ate bugs, but they couldn't fly.
     "Back then in that  time, three  thousand years ago, after the bond had
been created to  protect people from dream walkers  in the war, the  wizards
finally succeeded in placing  a barrier between the Old and  the New  World.
Because those in the Old World could no longer come to the New World to wage
war, the great war ended. Peace finally came.
     "The people  of  the  New  World discovered,  though,  that they  had a
problem. These pristinely ungifted  offspring  of  the Lord Rahl passed this
trait on to their children. Every offspring of a marriage with at least  one
of   these   pristinely   ungifted   partners   bears   pristinely  ungifted
children--always, every time. As  these offspring married  and  had children
and then grandchildren and then great-grandchildren,  as there were more and
more of them, that pristinely ungifted trait began spreading throughout  the
     "People, at the time, were  frightened because they  depended on magic.
Magic was part of their world. Magic was what had  saved them from the dream
walkers. Magic  had created  the  barrier that protected them from the horde
from the Old World. Magic had ended the war. Magic healed people, found lost
children, produced beautiful creations of art that inspired and brought joy.
Magic could help guide people in the course of future events.
     "Some towns  grew up  around  a gifted  person who could serve people's
needs. Many gifted  people earned a living performing such services. In some
things,  magic  gave  people control over nature and  thus made the lives of
everyone better. Things  accomplished  with  the aid  of magic improved  the
living  conditions  of  nearly everyone.  Magic was  a  force of  individual
creation  and  thus individual accomplishment. Nearly everyone derived  some
benefit from it.
     "This is not to say that magic was or is indispensable, but that it was
a useful aid,  a tool. Magic was like their right arm. Yet it's the  mind of
man,  not  his  magic, that  is indispensable--much like you  could  survive
without  your right arm,  but  you couldn't survive without  your  mind. But
magic had become intertwined in the lives of everyone, so many believed that
it was absolutely indispensable.
     "The people came to  feel that this new threat--the pristinely ungifted
trait spreading  through the population--would be the end of everything they
knew, everything that  they thought was important,  that it would be the end
of their most vital protection--magic."
     Richard gazed out  at all the faces,  waiting to make sure that the men
had grasped the essence of the story, that they understood how desperate the
people must have been, and why.
     "So, what did the  people do about these new pristinely ungifted people
among them?" a man in the back asked.
     In a quiet tone, Richard said, "Something terrible."
     He pulled the  book from a leather pouch on his belt and held it up for
all the men to  see as  he  again paced before them.  The clouds, laden with
storms of snow, rolled silently through  the  frigid valley pass, bound  for
the peaks above them.
     "This book  is called The Pillars of  Creation. That's what the wizards
back  then  called these pristinely ungifted people--pillars  of  Creation--
because they had the power,  with this trait that they passed along to their
offspring, to alter  the very nature of mankind. They were the foundation of
an entirely new kind of people--people without any connection to magic.
     "I only just a short time ago came across this book. It's meant for the
Lord  Rahl,  and  others, so  that  they will  know  about these  pristinely
ungifted people who are  unaffected by  magic. The book tells the history of
how these people came about--through those born to the Lord Rahl--along with
the  history of  what was discovered  about them. It  also reveals  what the
people  back  then, thousands  of  years ago,  did  about  these pillars  of
     Men rubbed their arms in  the cold air as  Richard slowly  paced before
them. They all looked caught up in the story.
     "So," Owen asked, "what did they do?"
     Richard came to a stop and stood watching their eyes before he spoke.
     "They banished them."
     Astonished whispering  broke  out among the  men. They were stunned  to
hear the final solution. These people understood banishment, they understood
it all too well,  and they could sympathize with these banished people of so
long ago.
     "That's terrible," a man in front said, shaking his head.
     Another frowned and held up a hand. "Weren't these pillars of  Creation
related to some of the other people? Weren't they part  of the towns? Didn't
the people feel sorrow at banishing these ungifted people?"
     Richard  nodded.  "Yes. They were friends  and  family. Those  banished
people were intimately intertwined in the lives of nearly everyone. The book
tells  how  heavy hearted the  people  felt at the  decision  that had  been
reached about these pristinely ungifted people.  It  must have been an awful
time, a dreadful choice that no one  liked, but  those in charge at the time
decided that in order for them to  preserve  their way  of life, to preserve
magic and all  it meant to them,  to preserve that  attribute of man, rather
than value the lives of individuals for  who  they were, they  had to banish
these pristinely ungifted people.
     "What's  more, they  also decreed that all future offspring of the Lord
Rahl,  except his gifted heir, should be put to  death  to  insure  that  no
pillar of Creation ever again came among them."
     This time there was no whispering. The men looked saddened by the story
of these mysterious people and the  terrible  solution of  how to deal  with
them. Heads hung as the men  thought about  what it must have been like back
in such a grim time.
     Finally, a man's head came up. His brow twitched.  He finally asked the
question Richard expected to be asked, the question he had been waiting for.
     "But where were these pillars of Creation  banished to? Where were they
     Richard watched  the  men  as  other eyes turned up,  curious about the
historic mystery, waiting for him to go on.
     "These people were not affected by magic," Richard reminded  them. "And
the barrier holding back the Old World was a barrier created of magic."
     "They sent them through the barrier!" a man guessed aloud.
     Richard nodded. "Many wizards had died  and given their power into that
barrier so that their  people would be protected from those in the Old World
who wanted to rule them and  to end magic. That was a large part of what the
war  had  been fought over--those in the  Old World had  wanted to eradicate
magic from mankind.
     "So, those  people  in the  New World  sent  these pristinely  ungifted
people,  these  people  without  any magic,  through the barrier  to the Old
     "They  never knew what  became of  them, those friends and  family  and
loved  ones they had banished, because they had been sent  beyond  a barrier
that none of them could cross. It was thought that they would  establish new
lives, would make a new beginning.  But, because the barrier  was there, and
it was enemy territory beyond, the people  of the New World never knew  what
became of those banished people.
     "Finally, a  few years  ago, that barrier  came down. If these banished
people had made a life for themselves in the Old World, they  would have had
children and  spread their  pristinely ungifted  attribute"-- Richard lifted
his arms  in a shrug--"but  there is no trace of them. The people down  here
are just the  same as the people up in  the New World--some born  gifted but
all  born  with  at least that tiny spark  of the  gift that enables them to
interact with magic.
     "Those people from ancient times seemed just to have vanished."
     "So now we know," Owen reasoned as he stared off in  thought, "that all
those  people sent to the Old World  so long ago  tragically  died out... or
maybe were killed."
     "I had thought as much myself,"  Richard said. He  turned and faced the
men, waiting until all eyes were on him before going on.
     "But then I found them. I found those long-lost people."
     Excited  whispering  broke out  again. The men appeared inspired by the
prospect of such people surviving against all odds.
     "Where are they, then, Lord Rahl," a man asked, "these people with whom
you share ancestry? These people who had to endure such cruel banishment and
     Richard leveled  a cutting gaze at  the men. "Come with  me, and I will
tell you what became of these people."
     Richard led them around the statue, to the front, where, for the  first
time, they could see  the  full view of the sentinel  in stone. The men were
awestruck at finally seeing the statue from the front. They talked excitedly
among themselves about how real it looked, about how  they could clearly see
the stalwart features of the man's face.
     By the utter  shock in their  voices  and by  what the men were saying,
Richard got the distinct impression that they'd never seen  a statue before,
at least no statue as monumental as this one. It appeared that for these men
the statue must  be something akin to a manifestation of magic, rather than,
as Richard knew it to be, a manifestation of man's ability.
     Richard  placed a hand  on  the  cold stone  of the base.  "This  is an
ancient statue  of  an Old World wizard named  Kaja-Rang.  It was carved, in
part, as a tribute to the man because he was a great and powerful wizard."
     Owen lifted a hand to  interrupt. "But  I thought the people in the Old
World wanted to be  without magic? Why would  they  have a great wizard--and
why, especially, would they pay a tribute to such a man of magic?"
     Richard smiled at Owen catching the contradiction. "People don't always
act  in  a consistent  manner.  What's  more,  the more  irrational are your
beliefs, the more glaring the inconsistencies. You men, for example, try  to
gloss over  incongruities in  your  behavior  by  applying your  convictions
selectively. You claim that nothing is real, or that we cannot know the true
nature of reality, and yet you  fear what the Order does to you--you believe
firmly enough in the reality of what they're doing that you want it to stop.
     "If nothing were real, then you would have  no reason to want  to  stop
the Imperial  Order. In fact, it's counter to your professed beliefs  to try
to stop  them,  or  to even feel  that  their  presence is  real,  much less
detrimental, since you assert that man is inadequate at the  task of knowing
     "Yet you grasp  the reality of what's happening at the hands of the men
of  the Order, and know  very  well that it's abhorrent,  so you selectively
suspend the precepts  of your  beliefs in order to send Owen to poison me in
an attempt to get me to rid you of your very real problem."
     Some  of  the  men looked  confused  by what Richard  said while others
looked to  be embarrassed. A  few looked astonished. None  looked willing to
challenge him, so they let him go on without interrupting.
     "The people  in  the Old World  were the same way--they still are. They
claimed they didn't want  magic,  and yet when faced with that reality, they
didn't want to do without it. The  Imperial Order is like this. They've come
to  the New World claiming to  be  a  champion  of freeing mankind of magic,
proclaiming themselves to be noble for holding such a goal, and yet they use
magic  in  the pursuit of this professed  goal. They  contend  that magic is
evil, and yet they embrace it.
     "Their leader, Emperor Jagang, uses those with magic to help accomplish
his ends, among  which, he claims,  is the eradication of magic. Jagang is a
dream walker descended from those dream walkers of so long ago.  His ability
as a dream walker  is magic, yet he does not disqualify himself from leading
his empire. Even though he has magic, which he claims makes  people unfit to
have any say in the future, he calls himself Jagang the Just.
     "Despite what they declare they  believe, their goal is to rule people,
plain and simple. They  seek power but  dress it up in noble-sounding robes.
Every tyrant thinks he is different. They are all the same. They all rule by
brute force."
     Owen was  frowning, trying to grasp it all. "So, those in the Old World
did not  live by their word, by what they  claimed they believed. They lived
in  conflict. They  preached  that man  was better  without magic,  but they
continued to want to use magic."
     "That's right."
     Owen gestured up  at  the  statue.  "What of this man,  then? Why is he
here, if he is against what they preached?"
     Dark clouds roiled above the towering  statue. The still air hung cold,
heavy, and damp. It felt  as  if a storm were  holding  back its  onslaught,
waiting to hear the rest.
     "This man is here because he fought to save the people of the Old World
from something they feared more than magic itself," Richard said.
     He gazed  up at the resolute face  with its eyes  fixed forever on  the
place called the Pillars of Creation.
     "This  man,"  Richard said in a quiet  voice, "this wizard,  Kaja-Rang,
collected  all  of  those  pristinely  ungifted  people,  those  pillars  of
Creation, who had been banished down here from the New World, along with any
people who while they lived here had joined  with them, and he sent them all
     Richard pointed off into the distance behind the statue.
     "He put all those people in that place, protected by the mountains  all
around, and then he  placed  a boundary of  death  before  them, across this
pass, so that they could never again  come out to be among the  rest  of the
people of the world.
     "Kaja-Rang  gave  these  people  their  name: the  Bandakar.  The name,
bandakar,  is from a  very old language  called High D'Haran. It  means 'the
banished.' This man, Kaja-Rang,  is the one who sealed them in and saved his
people from the pristinely ungifted, from those without magic."
     "You,"  Richard  said  to  the men before him, "are  the descendants of
those banished people. You are  the descendants of Alric Rahl, of the people
sent into  exile in the Old  World.  You are all descendants of the House of
Rahl.  Your ancestors  and mine  are  the same  men.  You  are  the banished
     The top of the pass before the statue of Kaja-Rang was dead silent. The
men stared in shock.
     And then pandemonium broke out. Richard made no effort to stop them, to
bring them to be quiet. Rather, he stood close beside Kahlan as he  let them
take it in. He wanted to give them the time they needed to come to grasp the
enormity of what he had told them.
     Arms  in the air,  some men cried  out with the outrage at  what they'd
heard, others wailed with the horror of the story, some wept in sorrow, many
argued,  a few  protested various  points  that  others answered,  while yet
others repeated key elements to one another almost  as if to hear the  words
again so they could test them, agreeing finally  that it  might very well be
     But through it all, they all slowly began to grasp the enormity of what
they'd  heard. They  all began  to hear  the  ring of  truth in  the  story.
Chattering  like  magpies, all talking  at once,  they expressed  disbelief,
outrage, wonder, and even  fear, as they  came to the heady comprehension of
who they really were.
     At the whispered  urging  of some  among the group, after having gotten
over the initial shock, the men  all quieted  and  at  last turned  back  to
Richard, hungry to know more.
     "You are this gifted  man, the favored  heir, the Lord Rahl, and we are
the ones banished by your kind," one of the men said, expressing what looked
to be a common fear, the unspoken question of what this would mean for them.
     "That's right,"  Richard said. "I am the Lord Rahl, the  leader of  the
D'Haran  Empire, and you are the descendants  of the pillars of Creation who
were banished. I am gifted as have been my ancestors, every Lord Rahl before
me. You are ungifted as were your ancestors."
     Standing before the statue of Kaja-Rang, the man who had banished them,
Richard looked out at all the tense faces.
     "That banishment was a grievous wrong. It was immoral. As Lord  Rahl, I
denounce the banishment and declare it  forever ended. You are no longer the
Empire of  Bandakar, the banished ones, you are now once again, as you  once
were, D'Harans, if you choose to be."
     Every man seemed to hold his breath, waiting to see if he  meant it, or
would add more, or if he might even recant it.
     Richard put his arm around Kahlan's waist as he calmly gazed out at all
the hopeful expressions.
     Richard smiled. "Welcome home."
     And then  they were all falling  at  his feet,  kissing  his boots, his
pants, his hands,  and, for those  who couldn't crowd  in  close enough, the
ground before him. In  short  order,  they were  kissing the hem of Kahlan's
     They had found a relation, and were in turn welcoming him among them.

     As the men crowded around  their feet, openly offering  their gratitude
for ending their sentence  of banishment, Richard  shared a sidelong  glance
with Kahlan. Cara looked decidedly  displeased  by  the  display  but didn't
     Trying to bring a halt to the tearful tribute, Richard gestured for the
men to get up. "There is much more to tell you. Listen to me, now."
     The smiling, tearful men drew  back, hands  clasped while gazing at him
as  if  he were a  long-lost brother. There  were a few older men  among the
crowd and  some of  middle age, but most  ranged from young, like Owen, to a
little older, like Richard. They were all men who  had been through terrible
     The most difficult part still lay ahead; Richard had to make them  face
up to what was to come.
     Looking over  at Jennsen, standing  alone off  to the side, he gestured
for her to come forward.
     Jennsen emerged from the shadows of the statue, catching  the attention
of all eyes  as she made  her  way  toward Richard. The men  all watched her
coming into the light. She  looked  so beautiful that  Richard couldn't help
smiling as she stepped across  the rocks. Pulling on a red ringlet, she cast
a shy glance at the men.
     When Richard held an arm out, she sought  protection under the  shelter
of  that arm  as she gazed  nervously out at men who were  like her  in  one
important way.
     "This  is  my  sister,  Jennsen  Rahl,"  Richard  said.  "She was  born
pris-tinely ungifted, just like all of you. Our father tried to kill her, as
has been done for thousands of years with ungifted offspring."
     "And you?" a man asked, still skeptical. "You will not reject her?"
     Richard hugged  Jennsen with  the  one  arm. "For  what? For what crime
should I reject her? Because she was born a woman, instead of a man like me?
Because  she isn't as tall as me? Because she has  red hair, instead of hair
like mine?  Because  her  eyes  are  blue  and not gray? ... Because  she is
     The men  shifted their weight  to the other foot or folded  their arms.
Some, after all he had already said, averted their eyes, looking embarrassed
to have even asked the question.
     "She's beautiful, smart, and  uses  her  head. She, too, fights for her
right  to live, and does so through  reasoned  means.  She  is  as  you men,
pristinely ungifted.  Because she shares  an understanding  of  the value of
life, I embrace her."
     Richard heard the bleat and turned.  Betty, her rope  trailing  behind,
trotted  up the rise. Jennsen rolled  her eyes as Betty came  close, peering
up, her tail wagging in a blur.
     Jennsen  snatched up the  rope,  inspecting the end. Richard  could see
that it had been chewed through.
     "Betty," she  scolded, shaking the  end of the rope  at the unrepentant
goat, "what did you do?"
     Betty bleated her answer, clearly proud of herself.
     Jennsen heaved a sigh as she shrugged an apology at Richard.
     The men had  all taken several steps back, murmuring their dread to one
     "I'm not a witch," Jennsen told them in a heated tone.  "Just because I
have red hair that doesn't mean I'm a witch."
     The men looked thoroughly unconvinced.
     "I've had dealings with a very real witch woman," Richard told them. "I
can assure you, red hair is no mark of a witch. It just isn't true."
     "It is true," one of the men insisted.  He pointed  at Betty. "There is
her attendant spirit."
     Richard's brow wrinkled. "Attendant spirit?"
     "That's right," another told him.  "A  witch always has a familiar with
her. She called her attendant spirit and it came to her."
     "Called her?" Jennsen brandished the frayed end of the rope at the men.
"I tied her to a tree and she chewed through her rope."
     Another man shook his finger at her. "You called her with magic and she
     Fists at her sides, Jennsen  took a step  toward the  men. They took  a
collective step back.
     "You men all had family and friends--a  community of  people.  I had no
friends and could  have  none because  my  mother and  I  had to run from my
father  my whole life to keep from being caught. He would  have tortured and
murdered me  had he  caught me--the  same as he would have done with  you. I
could have no childhood friends,  so my mother gave me Betty. Betty was just
newborn; we grew up together. Betty chewed  through her rope because I'm the
only family she's ever known and she simply wanted to be close to me.
     "I was banished  from  everyone  for my crime of birth, just  like your
ancestors. You all know the injustice of  such banishment and  you  know its
pain. And now you foolish men would banish me from your acceptance because I
have red hair and a goat as a pet? You are spineless cowards and hypocrites!
     "First you poison  the only person in the world brave enough to end our
banishment  from  the rest of mankind  and  now  you fear  me  and reject me
because of silly superstitions. If I did have magic,  I'd burn you all  to a
cinder for your cruel attitudes!"
     Richard  put a hand on her shoulder and drew her back. "It will be  all
right," he whispered to her. "Just let me talk to them."
     "You tell  us that you're  a wizard," an older man  in the back  called
out, "and  then you expect us to  believe it's so--on faith--because you say
it is,  while you claim that we should  not hold to our beliefs, such as our
fear that she could  be a witch with her familiar, because it's held only on
     "That's right," another said. "You claim your belief is  in real magic,
while you dismiss our belief. A lot of what you say makes sense, but I don't
agree with all of it."
     There could be no partial agreement. To reject part of the truth was to
reject it all. Richard considered his options, how he could  convince people
without magic, who could not see magic, that real magic existed.  From their
perspective, he  seemed guilty  of the same error  he  was telling them they
were making. How could he demonstrate a rainbow of color to the blind?
     "You have a point," Richard said. "Give me a moment and I will show you
the reality of the magic I talk about."
     He  motioned Cara  closer. "Get me  the warning  beacon," he  said in a
confidential tone.
     Cara immediately took  off down the hill.  He saw that  Jennsen's angry
blue eyes were filled with tears but she didn't cry. Kahlan  pulled her back
farther as Richard addressed the men.
     "There is more I must tell  you--some things you  need to understand. I
have ended  the banishment,  but that does  not mean that  I unconditionally
accept you back as one of our people."
     "But you said that we were welcomed home," Owen said.
     "I'm stating the  obvious--that you  have a right to your own life. Out
of goodwill I  welcome  you all to  be part of D'Hara if you  wish-- part of
what D'Hara  now stands for. But by welcoming you back,  that  does not mean
that I welcome people unconditionally.
     "All men should be free to live their own lives,  but make  no mistake,
there is a vast difference between that freedom and anarchy.
     "If we triumph in our struggle,  you are welcome to be free people of a
D'Haran Empire which holds a belief in specific values. For example, you can
think whatever  you wish and  try to  persuade  others of the value of  your
beliefs, but  you cannot  act  on a view  that those  who fight to gain that
freedom are savages or criminals, even though you expect to enjoy the fruits
of their struggle. At minimum, they  have earned your respect and gratitude.
Their lives are no less than yours and are not expendable for  your benefit.
That is slavery."
     "But  you have savage  ways and engage  in violence for a  land we have
never even seen," one of the younger men said. He pointed an arm back toward
Bandakar.  "The only land we have ever  known is here and we unconditionally
reject your love of violence."
     "Land?" Richard spread  his arms.  "We do  not fight for  land.  We are
loyal to an ideal--an ideal of liberty wherever man lives.  We do not  guard
territory,  bleed  for  a piece  of  dirt. We  don't fight because  we  love
violence. We fight  for our freedom as individuals to live our own lives, to
pursue our own survival, our own happiness.
     "Your  unconditional rejection of  violence  makes  you smugly think of
yourselves  as noble, as enlightened, but in reality it is nothing less than
abject moral capitulation to evil. Unconditional rejection of  self-defense,
because you think  it's a  supposed  surrender to  violence, leaves  you  no
resort but begging for mercy or offering appeasement.
     "Evil grants no mercy, and to attempt to  appease  it  is  nothing more
than a  piecemeal  surrender to it. Surrender  to evil is slavery  at  best,
death at  worst.  Thus, your unconditional rejection  of violence is  really
nothing more than embracing death as preferable to life.
     "You will achieve what you embrace.
     "The right,  the absolute necessity, of vengeance  against  anyone  who
initiates force  against you is  fundamental to survival. The morality of  a
people's self-defense is in its defense of each individual's right  to life.
It's an intolerance of violence, made real  by an unwavering willingness  to
crush  any  who   would  launch  violence  against  you.  The  unconditional
determination to destroy  any  who would initiate force against  you  is  an
exaltation of the value of life. Refusing to surrender your life to any thug
or tyrant who lays claim to it is in fact embracing life itself.
     "If you are  unwilling to defend your right to your own lives, then you
are merely like mice trying to  argue  with  owls.  You think their ways are
wrong. They think you are dinner.
     "The  Imperial  Order  preaches that mankind is corrupt  and  evil, and
therefore  life is of little  value. Their actions  certainly bear this out.
They  moralize  that you can only win  salvation and happiness in some other
world, and then only by sacrificing your life in this one.
     "Generosity is fine, if it's by  your free choice, but a belief in  the
primacy of  self-sacrifice  as a  moral requisite is nothing  less  than the
sanctioning of  slavery. Those who tell you that it  is  your responsibility
and  duty  to  sacrifice are trying to  blind you  to the  chains  they  are
slipping around your neck.
     "As  D'Harans,  you will  not  be required  to sacrifice  your life  to
another,  and by  the same token  you cannot  demand  that others  sacrifice
themselves to you. You may believe as you  wish, you may even feel that  you
cannot take up arms and  fight directly  for our survival, but you must help
support  our cause and  you may not contribute materially  or spiritually to
the destruction of our values and therefore our lives-- that is treason  and
will be treated as such.
     "The Imperial Order has  violently invaded innocent  lands, like yours.
They  have enslaved, tortured,  raped,  and murdered in order to seize rule.
They have done no less in the New World. They have  forfeited their right to
be heard. There  is no moral  dilemma involved,  no ethical question open to
debate; they must be ground into dust."
     A  man stepped forward. "But common decency in dealing  with our fellow
man requkes that we must show them mercy for their misguided ways."
     "There  is no greater  value than life--and that's  what you  partially
recognize  by  your  confused  notion  of granting mercy.  Their  conscious,
deliberate act of murder takes the irreplaceable value of life from another.
A murderer,  by his own choice to kill,  forfeits the right to his own life.
Mercy for  such  evil is nothing short of excusing it and thus allowing evil
to  prevail--it  codifies  the taking  of  innocent life  by not  making the
murderer forfeit their own guilty life.
     "Mercy grants  value to the life  of a killer, while, at the same time,
it strips away the value  of the life of the  innocent  victim. It makes the
life of a  killer more  important than the life of an innocent. It is thus a
trade of the good to the evil. It is the victory of death over life."
     "So," Owen  wondered aloud,  "because the Order has attacked your  land
and  murdered its  people, you intend to try to kill every living person  in
the Old World?"
     "No. The  Order is evil and from the Old World. That does not mean that
the people of the Old World are evil simply because they happen to have been
born  on a patch  of  ground ruled by evil men.  Some actively support these
rulers and therefore embrace evil, but not everyone does. Many of the people
in the Old World are also the victims  of the rule of the Imperial Order and
suffer greatly under its brutality. Many struggle against this evil rule. As
we  speak,  many risk  their lives to  rid  themselves of these evil men. We
fight for the same thing: liberty.
     "Where those  who seek liberty  were born  is irrelevant. We believe in
the value of the individual's life. That means that where someone lives does
not make them evil--it's their beliefs and actions that matter.
     "But make  no mistake--many people  are  an active part of the Imperial
Order and its murderous ways. Actions must have consequences. The Order must
be eradicated."
     "Surely, you would allow some compromise," one of the older men said.
     "If, hoping  to appease it,  you willingly compromise with  unrepentant
evil, you only allow such evil to sink its  fangs into you; from that day on
its venom will course through your veins until it finally kills you."
     "But that's  too  harsh  a sentiment," the man said. "It's  just  being
stubborn and  obstructing a constructive  path.  There  is  always  room for
     Richard tapped his thumb against his chest. "You men decided to give me
poison. That poison will kill me; that  makes it evil. How would you suggest
I compromise with poison?"
     No one had an answer.
     "In trade  between willing  parties who share moral values and who deal
fairly and honestly with one another, compromise  over something like  price
is legitimate. In matters of morality or truth, there can be no compromise.
     "Compromising  with  murderers,  which  is  precisely   what  you   are
suggesting, grants  them moral  equivalence where none can rightfully exist.
Moral equivalence says that you  are  no better than  they; therefore, their
belief--that they should be able to torture, rape,  or murder you--  is just
as morally valid as your view--that you have the right to live free of their
violence. Moral compromise  rejects the concept of right and wrong.  It says
that everyone is equal, all desires are equally valid, all action is equally
valid, so everyone should compromise to get along.
     "Where could you  compromise  with those  who torture, rape, and murder
people? In the number of days a week you will  be tortured? In the number of
men to be allowed to rape your loved ones? In how many of your family are to
be murdered?
     "No moral  equivalence exists in that  situation,  nor can it exist, so
there can be no compromise, only suicide.
     "To even suggest compromise  can exist  with such  men  is  to sanction
     Most of the men appeared shocked and startled to hear  someone speaking
to them in such  a straightforward manner. They seemed to be losing interest
in  their  supply of  empty  adages.  Some of the men looked  to be moved by
Richard's words. A few  even looked inspired by their clarity; he could  see
it in their eyes, as if they were seeing things for the first time.
     Cara came  up behind Richard and handed him the warning beacon. Richard
wasn't sure, but it seemed as if the inky black had taken  over more of  the
surface  of the  small figure than the  last time he'd seen it. Inside,  the
sand continued to trickle down onto the accumulated pile in the bottom.
     "Kaja-Rang placed the boundary across this pass to seal your people in.
He is the one  who  named  you. He knew your  people shunned violence and he
feared  you might end up being prey to criminals. He is the one who gave you
a way  to banish them  from your land so that you could continue to have the
kind of  life  you  wanted. He told  your people of the  passage through the
boundary so  that you could rid  yourselves of criminals if you  rallied the
     Owen looked troubled. "If this great wizard, Kaja-Rang, didn't want our
people among the population of the Old World because we would mix  with them
and spread  our pristinely ungifted  trait, as you call  it, then what about
the criminals we  banish? Sending those  men out into the world  would cause
the thing they feared. Making this pass through the boundary and telling our
ancestors about it would seem to defeat the whole purpose of the boundary."
     Richard  smiled. "Very  good,  Owen. You  are  beginning  to  think for
     Owen smiled. Richard gestured up at the statue of Kaja-Rang.
     "You  see where  he's  looking?  It's  a place  called  the  Pillars of
Creation. It's a deathly  hot place where  nothing  lives--a land stalked by
death. The  boundary that Kaja-Rang placed  had sides  to it.  When you sent
people out of  your  land, through the  boundary,  the walls of death to the
sides prevented those banished people from escaping into the world at large.
They had only one way they could go: the Pillars of Creation.
     "Even with  water and  supplies,  and knowing where you  must go to get
past it, trying to go through the valley known as the Pillars of Creation is
almost certain death. Without water and supplies,  without knowing the land,
without  knowing how  to travel it and where you  must go to escape  such  a
place, those you banished faced certain death."
     The men stared, wide-eyed. "Then, when we banished a  criminal, we were
actually executing them," one of the men said.
     "That's right."
     "This Kaja-Rang tricked us, then," the man added. "Tricked us into what
was actually the killing of those men."
     "You think  that  a  terrible trick?"  Richard  asked. "You people were
deliberately  setting  known  criminals  loose  on  the  world  to  prey  on
unsuspecting  people.  You  were  knowingly setting  free  violent  men, and
condemning unsuspecting  people outside your land to be victims of violence.
Rather than put murderers to death, you were,  as far  as you knew-- had you
given it any thought--knowingly assisting  them  in going on to kill others.
In the blind attempt to avoid violence at all cost, you actually  championed
     "You told  yourselves  that those other people  didn't  matter, because
they weren't enlightened, like  you, that you  were better than they because
you were above violence, that  you unconditionally rejected violence. If you
even thought about it, you considered these people beyond the boundary to be
savages,  their lives  unimportant.  For all  intents and purposes, you were
sacrificing their innocent lives for the lives of those  men  you knew to be
     "What Kaja-Rang was doing, besides keeping the pristinely ungifted from
being  at  large in the  world, was executing those  criminals you  banished
before they could harm other people. You think yourselves noble in rejecting
violence, but your actions would have fostered it. Only Kaja-Rang's  actions
prevented it."
     "Dear Creator. It  is  far worse than  that." Owen  sank  down, sitting
heavily. "Far worse than you even realize."
     Other men, too, looked to be  stricken with  horror. Some had  to lower
themselves to  the ground  as Owen had. Others, their  faces in their hands,
turned away, or walked off a few paces.
     "What do you mean?" Richard asked.
     Owen looked up,  his face ashen. "The story I told you  about our  land
... about our town and the other great cities? How in  my town  we all lived
together and were happy with our lives?" Richard nodded. "Not all were."
     Kahlan crossed her arms and leaned toward Owen. "What do  you mean, not
all were?"
     Owen lifted his hands in a helpless gesture. "Some wanted more than our
simple joyful life. Some people ... well, they wanted to change things. They
said they  wanted to make things better. They wanted to improve our life, to
build places for themselves, even though this is against our ways."
     "Owen is right," an older man said in a grim  tone. "In my time  I have
seen a great many of these people who were unable to endure what some called
the chafing principles of our empire."
     "And what happened when people wanted  to  make these changes, or could
not endure the principles of your empire?" Richard asked.
     Owen looked to each side, to the  other  dispirited  faces.  "The great
speakers  renounced  their  ideas. The Wise One  said  they would only bring
strife among us. Their hopes for new ways were  turned  aside and  they were
denounced."  Owen  swallowed.  "So these people  decided  they  would  leave
Bandakar. They went out of our land, taking the path through  the opening in
the boundary, to  find  a  new life  for themselves. Not a  single  one ever
returned to us."
     Richard wiped a hand across his face. "Then they died looking for their
new life, a better life than what you had to offer."
     "But you  don't  understand." Owen rose to his feet. "We are like those
people." He swept his  arm back  at his men. "We have refused to go back and
give ourselves over to the men of the Order, even though we know that people
are being tortured  because we hide.  We know it will not stop the Order, so
we don't go back.
     "We have gone  against the wishes of  our great speakers,  and the Wise
One, to try to save our people. We have been denounced for what we choose to
do. We have gone out of the pass to  seek information,  to find a way to rid
ourselves of the Imperial  Order. Do you see?  We are much the same as those
others throughout our history. Like those others,  we chose to leave and try
to change things rather than to endure the way things were."
     "Then perhaps you are beginning to see," Richard said, "that everything
you were taught showed you only how to embrace  death, not life. Perhaps you
see  that what you called the  teaching  of enlightenment was  no  more than
blinders pulled over your eyes."
     Richard put his hand on Owen's shoulder. He gazed down at the statue of
himself in his other hand and then looked around at the tense faces.
     "You  men are the  ones left after all the rest have failed  the tests.
You  alone got this far. You  alone have started to use your minds to try to
find  a solution for  you and your loved ones.  You have much more to learn,
but you have  at least started to make some  of the right choices. You  must
not stop now; you must meet with courage what I will call upon you to do, if
you are to truly have a chance to save your loved ones."
     For the first time they looked at  least a little proud. They had  been
recognized, not  for how well they repeated meaningless sayings, but for the
decisions they reached on their own.
     Jennsen was frowning in thought. "Richard, why couldn't people get back
in through the  passage  out through the boundary?  If they wanted to go off
and have a new life but then discovered that  they would have to  go through
the  Pillars  of  Creation,  why wouldn't  they  go back,  at least  to  get
supplies, to get what they needed so they could make it through?"
     "That's right,"  Kahlan said.  "George Cypher went through the boundary
at Kings'  Port and then returned. Adie said that the boundary had to have a
passage, a vent, like where these people banished criminals, so why couldn't
people come back in? There was a pass out, so why did they never return?"
     The men nodded, curious to hear why no one ever came back.
     "From the first, I've wondered the same thing." Richard rubbed a  thumb
along the glossy  black surface of the statue of himself. "I  think that the
boundaries in the Midlands had to have an  opening through them because they
were so big--so  long. This boundary,  here, is nothing compared to those; I
doubt that the same kind of vent would be needed.
     "Because it was  just one bent section of a boundary and not very long,
I suspect that Kaja-Rang was able to put in a pass that allowed criminals to
be banished through it, but would not allow passage back in. After all, if a
criminal  was  banished and  found  he  couldn't  escape,  he would  return.
Kaja-Rang wouldn't have wanted that to happen."
     "How could such a thing work?" Jennsen asked.
     Richard rested his  left hand on the hilt of his sword. "Certain snakes
can swallow prey much larger than themselves. Their teeth are angled back so
that  as the prey  is devoured, it's impossible  for it to come back out, to
escape. I suppose that the pass through the boundary could have been somehow
like that--only able to be traversed in one direction."
     "Do you think such a thing is possible?" Jennsen asked.
     "There is precedent for such safeguards," Kahlan said.
     Richard nodded his agreement.  "The great  barrier between the  New and
the  Old  World  had  defenses  to  allow  certain  people,  under  specific
conditions, one passage  through  and  back, but  not two."  He  pointed the
warning  beacon  up at  the statue.  "A wizard of Kaja-Rang's ability  would
surely have known  how to craft  a pass through  the  boundary that  did not
allow any  return. After all, he  called it up  out of the underworld itself
and it remained viable for nearly three thousand years."
     "So then anyone who went out of this boundary died," Owen said.
     Richard  nodded.  "I'm  afraid  so. Kaja-Rang  appeared  to  have  made
elaborate plans that functioned  as he intended for all this time.  He  even
made contingencies should the boundary fail."
     "That's  something I  don't  understand," a  young  man said. "If  this
wizard was so great, and his magic was so powerful that he could make a wall
of  death to keep us separated from the world for three thousand years, then
how could it possibly fail? In the last two years it simply went away. Why?"
     "I believe it was because of me," Kahlan said.
     She took  a  step closer to the men. Richard didn't try to stop her. At
this point,  it wouldn't do to  appear as if he were withholding information
from them.
     "A couple of years ago,  in  a desperate act to save  Richard's life, I
inadvertently called  forth  underworld power that  I believe may  be slowly
destroying magic in our world. Richard banished this evil  magic, but it had
been  here  in  the  world  of  life  for a  time,  so  the effects  may  be
     Worried  looks passed among the  men. This woman before  them  had just
admitted that because of  something she'd done, their protection had failed.
Because of her, horrifying violence and brutality had befallen them. Because
of her, their way of life had ended.

     You still have not shown us your magic," one of the men finally said.
     Richard's hand  slipped  away from the  small  of  Kahlan's  back as he
stepped toward the men.
     "Kaja-Rang  devised  a facet  to his magic, linked to  the boundary  he
placed  here,  to help  protect  it." Richard  held up  the  small figure of
himself for all the men to see. "This was sent to  warn me that the boundary
to your land had failed."
     "Why is the top part of it that strange black?" asked a man standing in
the front.
     "I believe that  it's an indication of how I'm running out of time, how
I may be dying."
     Worried  whispering  swept through the group of men. Richard held  up a
hand, urging them to listen to him as he went on.
     "This sand inside--can you all see this sand?"
     Stretching their necks, they all tried to get a  look, but not all were
close enough, so Richard walked among  them, holding up  the  statue so that
they could all see that it looked like him, and see the sand falling inside.
     "This is not really sand," he told them. "It's magic."
     Owen's face twisted  with skepticism.  "But  you said  we couldn't  see
     "You  are all pristinely ungifted and aren't touched  by  magic, so you
can't  see regular magic. The  boundary, however, still  prevented you  from
going out into the world, didn't it? Why do you suppose that was so?"
     "It  was a wall of death," an older man spoke up, seeming to think that
it was self-evident.
     "But how could it harm people who are not affected by magic? Going into
the boundary itself meant death for you the same as anyone else. Why?
     "Because the boundary  is  a  place in this  world where the underworld
also existed. The underworld is the world of the  dead. You may be ungifted,
but you are mortal; since you are linked to life, so, too, are you linked to
     Richard again held the statue up.  "This magic, as well, is tied to the
underworld.  Since  you  are  all  mortal,  you  have a  connection  to  the
underworld, to the Keeper's power, to death. That's why you can see the sand
that shows how my time trickles away."
     "I  don't  see  anything magical  about  sand  trickling  down,"  a man
grumbled. "Just because you say it's magic, or that it's your life trickling
away, that doesn't seem to prove anything."
     Richard turned the statue sideways.  The  sand continued  to flow,  but
     Gasps and astonished whispering broke out among the men as they watched
the sand flowing laterally.
     They crowded in close  like  curious  children  to  see  the statue  as
Richard held it up, on its  side, so  they could see magic. Some reached out
and tentatively touched the inky black surface as Richard held the figure of
himself out for them to inspect. Others leaned close, peering in  to see the
sand  flowing  askew   in  the  lower  part,  where  the  figure  was  still
     The men spoke of what a wonder it  was, but they weren't sure about his
explanation of underworld magic.
     "But we all see this," one of the men said. "This doesn't show us  that
we're  really different from you or  anyone else, as you say  we  are.  This
shows us only that we are all able to see this magic, the same as you. Maybe
we aren't this pristinely ungifted people you seem to think we are."
     Richard  thought about it a  moment, thought about what he could do  to
show them the true aspects of magic.  Even though  he was  gifted, he didn't
know a great deal about controlling his own gift, except that it was in part
powered by anger  linked to need. He couldn't simply demonstrate some bit of
magic the  way  Zedd could,  and  besides,  even  if  he could do  something
magical, they wouldn't be able to see it.
     Out  of the corner of  his eye, Richard saw Cara standing with her arms
folded. An idea came to him.
     "The bond  between  the Lord Rahl and his people  is  a bond of magic,"
Richard said.  "That same  magic powers other things, besides the protection
that the bond affords against the dream walker."
     Richard gestured for  Cara  to come  forward. "In addition  to being my
friend, Cara is also a Mord-Sith. For thousands of years Mord-Sith have been
fierce protectors of the Lord Rahl." Richard  lifted Cara's arm for  the men
to see the  red rod hanging from  the fine gold chain at her wrist. "This is
an Agiel, the weapon of  a Mord-Sith. The Agiel is powered  by a Mord-Sith's
connection to the Lord Rahl--to me."
     "But  it  has  no blade on it," a man said as  he looked closely at the
Agiel swinging on the end of the gold chain. "It has nothing of any use as a
     "Take a  closer look at it," Richard suggested as he held Cara's  elbow
and  guided her forward, among  the  men.  "Look at  it closely  to  satisfy
yourself  that what this man has observed,  that it has no blade, that it is
nothing more than this slender rod, is true."
     The men leaned in close as Cara walked among them, holding her arm  up,
letting the men touch and  inspect her  Agiel as it  dangled from its chain.
When they had  all had a look, inspecting the  length of it, looking  at the
end, hefting it to see that it wasn't heavy and couldn't really be used as a
club, Richard  told Cara to touch it to the men. The  Agiel spun up into her
fist. Men flinched  back at the  grim look on her  face as she  came at them
with the thing that Richard had told them was a weapon.
     Cara touched her Agiel to Owen's shoulder.
     "She touched me with this red rod before," he assured his men. "It does
     Cara pressed the Agiel to  every  man close enough  for her to reach. A
few cringed back, fearful of being harmed, even though it had harmed none of
their fellows. Many of the men, though, felt the touch of her Agiel and were
satisfied that there was no ill effect.
     Richard rolled up his sleeve. "Now, I will show you that this really is
a powerful weapon of magic."
     He held his arm out to Cara. "Draw blood," he said in a calm voice that
did not betray what he really thought of being touched by an Agiel.
     Cara stared at him. "Lord Rahl, I don't--"
     "Do it," Richard commanded as he held his arm out.
     "Here," Tom said,  thrusting his  bared  arm in front of her. "Do it to
me, instead."
     Cara immediately saw this as a preferable test.
     "No!" Jennsen objected, but too late.
     Tom  cried out as  Cara  touched  the end  of her Agiel to his arm.  He
staggered back  a step, a trickle  of  blood  running down  his arm. The men
stared, unsure what they were seeing.
     "It must be a trick of some kind," one suggested.
     As Jennsen comforted Tom, Richard held his arm out again.
     "Show them," he  told Cara. "Show them what a  Mord-Sith's Agiel can do
with magic alone."
     Cara looked into his eyes. "Lord Rahl..."
     "Do it. Show  them, so they understand."  He turned to the men. "Gather
around closer  so you can see that it does its terrible task with no visible
means. Watch closely so that you can all see that it's magic alone doing its
grisly work."
     Richard clenched his fist as he held the inside  of his arm up  for her
to touch. "Do it so that they  can clearly see what it will do; otherwise it
will be for nothing. Don't make me do this for nothing."
     Cara pressed her lips  tight with the displeasure of  his command.  She
looked once  more  at the resolve in his eyes. When she did, he could see in
her blue eyes the pain it gave her to hold the Agiel. He clenched his  teeth
and  nodded that  he  was  ready.  With  an iron visage, she laid  the Agiel
against the inside of his forearm.
     It felt like lightning hit him.
     The  touch  of  the Agiel was out  of all proportion  to what it  would
appear it should feel like. The thunderous jolt of pain shot up his arm. The
shock of it slammed into his shoulder. It  felt like the bones in his entire
arm  shattered. Teeth gritted, he held his trembling arm  out as Cara slowly
dragged  the Agiel down toward  his wrist. Blood-filled blisters rose in its
wake. Blood gushed down his arm.
     Richard held his breath, kept his abdominal muscles  tight,  as he went
to  one knee, not  because  he intended to, but because he  couldn't  remain
standing under  the  weight of  pain  as he held his arm up for Cara as  she
pressed the  Agiel to  it. The men gasped as they  watched,  shocked  at the
blood, the obvious pain. They whispered their astonishment.
     Cara withdrew  the weapon. Richard  released the  rigid tension  in his
muscles, bending forward as he panted, trying to catch his breath, trying to
remain upright. Blood dripped off his fingers.
     Kahlan was  there beside  him with a small scarf  Jennsen pulled from a
pocket. "Are you out of your mind?"  she hissed heatedly as  she wrapped his
bleeding arm.
     "Thanks," he  said  in response to her care, not wanting to address her
     He couldn't make his fingers stop trembling. Cara had held little back.
He was sure that she hadn't broken any bones, but it  felt as if she had. He
could feel tears of pain running down his face.
     When Kahlan finished, Cara put a hand  under his arm and helped him  to
his  feet. "The Mother  Confessor  is right,"  she growled under her breath.
"You are out of your mind."
     Richard  didn't  argue the  need of  what  he'd had her do, but instead
turned  to  the men. He held  his arm out.  A wet crimson stain slowly  grew
along the length of the scarf bandage.
     "There is powerful  magic for you. You can't see the magic, but you can
see the results. That  magic  can kill,  should Cara  wish it." The men cast
worried  glances her way, viewing her with newfound respect.  "But it  could
not harm you  men  because you have no ability to  interact with such magic.
Only those born with the spark of the gift can feel the touch of an Agiel."
     The mood had changed. The sight of blood had sobered everyone.
     Richard paced slowly before the men. "I've  given you  the truth in all
that I've told you. I've kept nothing  important or  relevant  from you, nor
will I.  I've told you  who I  am, who  you are, and how we've come to  this
point.  If there is anything you wish to know,  I will give you my  truthful
     When  Richard paused, the men looked around  at one another, seeing  if
anyone would ask a question. No one did.
     "The time has come," Richard  said, "for you men to  decide your future
and the  future of your loved ones. Today is the day  upon which that future
     Richard gestured toward  Owen.  "I know that Owen had a woman he loved,
Marilee, who  was taken  away  by the  Order.  I know  that  each of you has
suffered great  loss at the hands of the men of the Imperial Order.  I don't
know all your names, yet, or the names of the loved ones taken from you, but
please believe me when I tell you that I know such pain.
     "While I understand how you came to the point where you thought you had
no options but to poison me, it wasn't right for you to have done  so." Many
men looked away from Richard's gaze, casting their own  downward. "I'm going
to give you a chance to set the proper course  for yourselves and your loved
     He  let  them consider this  a moment  before going  on. "You men  have
passed  many tests to make it this far, to have survived this long in such a
brutal situation as you have all faced, but now you must make a choice."
     Richard  rested a hand on the hilt of his sword. "I want to  know where
you've hidden the antidote to the poison you've given me."
     Worried looks spread through the crowd. Men glanced to the side, trying
to judge the feelings of their fellows, trying to see what they would do.
     Owen, too, tried to  gauge the reaction of his friends, but being  just
as uncertain as he, they offered no firm  indication of  what they wanted to
do. Finally he licked his lips and timidly asked a question.
     "If we say that  we will tell you where the antidote is, will you agree
to first give us your word that you will help us?"
     Richard resumed  his measured pacing. The men  nervously waited for his
answer  as  they watched  blood  drip off  his  fingers, leaving a trail  of
crimson drops on the stone.
     "No," Richard  said. "I will not allow you to link two separate issues.
It was  wrong  to  poison  me. This  is your chance  to reverse that  wrong.
Linking it to any concession perpetuates the fallacy that  it can somehow be
justified.  Telling me where you've  hidden the  antidote is the only proper
thing for you to do, now, and must be without condition. This is the day you
must decide how you  will live your future. Until you give me your decision,
I will tell you nothing more."
     Some  of  the men  looked on the verge of panic,  some  on the verge of
tears.  Owen prodded them all back, away  from Richard, so that  they  could
discuss it among themselves.
     "No,"  Richard  said,  his pacing  coming to a  halt. The  men all fell
silent  and turned  back toward  him. "I don't want any of  you coming to  a
decision because of what another  says. I want each of  you to give me  your
own personal decision."
     The men stared. A number spoke up all at once, wanting to know  what he
     "I  want  to  know,  without any  preconditions,  what each  individual
chooses to do--to free me of the poison, or to use it as a threat on my life
to gain my cooperation. I want to know each man's choice."
     "But we must reach a consensus," one man said.
     "For what purpose?" Richard asked.
     "In order for  our  decision  to be correct," he  explained. "No proper
decision  about the right course of action in any important situation can be
made without a consensus."
     "You are attempting to give moral authority to mob rule," Richard said.
     "But  a  consensus points to  the proper  moral  judgment," another man
insisted, "because it is the will of the people."
     "I see," Richard said. "So what you're saying is that if all of you men
decide  to rape my sister, here,  then it's a  moral act because  you have a
consensus to rape her, and  if I oppose you,  I'm immoral for standing alone
and failing to have a consensus behind me.  That  about  the way you men see
     The men shrank back in confused revulsion. One spoke up.
     "Well... no, not exactly--"
     "Right and  wrong  are  not the product of  consensus,"  Richard  said,
cutting him  off. "You are trying  to make a  virtue  of mob rule.  Rational
moral choices are based on the value of life, not a consensus.  A  consensus
can't make the sun rise at midnight, nor can it change a wrong into a right,
or the other way around. If something is wrong, it matters not if a thousand
other  men are  for it; you must still oppose it.  If something is  just, no
amount of popular outcry should stay you from your course.
     "I'll not hear any more of this empty gibberish about a consensus.  You
are not a flock of geese; you are men. I will know the mind of each of you."
He gestured to the ground at their feet. "Everyone, pick up two pebbles."
     Richard watched as the  bewildered  men  hesitantly bent  and  did  his
     "Now," Richard  said, "you  will  put either one  or both  pebbles in a
closed fist.  Each of you will  come  up to me, to the man you poisoned, and
you will open your  fist  so  that  I can  see your decision but the  others
     "One pebble will mean no,  you will not  tell me where the antidote  is
located  unless I  first  pledge to try to free  your people. Two pebbles in
your one fist will mean yes, you agree to tell me, without any precondition,
where to find the antidote to the poison you've given me."
     "But what will happen if we agree to tell you?"  one of the  men asked.
"Will you still give us our freedom?"
     Richard shrugged. "After each of you has given me your answer, you will
all  find out  mine. If you tell me the location of the antidote, I may help
you, or once I'm free of your poison, I may  leave  you and return to taking
care of my own urgent problems. You will only find out after you've given me
your answer.
     "Now, turn away from  your friends and put either  one  pebble in  your
fist for no or two pebbles  to agree to reveal the  location  of the poison.
When you've  finished, come forward one at a time and open your hand to show
me your own individual decision."
     The men milled around, casting sidelong glances at one  another, but as
he'd instructed, they refrained from discussing the matter. Each man finally
set about privately slipping pebbles into his fist.
     As  the men were  occupied,  Cara  and  Kahlan  moved  in  close around
Richard. It  looked like the two of  them  had been reaching conclusions  of
their own.
     Cara seized his arm. "Are you crazy?" she whispered in an angry tone.
     "You've both already asked me that today."
     "Lord Rahl,  need  I remind you that you once before called for  a vote
and it  only got you into trouble? You said you would not  do such a foolish
thing again."
     "Cara is right," Kahlan argued in a low voice so the men couldn't hear.
     "This time is different."
     "It's not different," Cara snapped. "It's trouble."
     "It's different,"  he insisted.  "I've told  them what's right and why;
now they must decide if they will choose to do the right thing or not."
     "You're allowing others  to decide your  future," Kahlan said.  "You're
placing your fate in their hands."
     Richard let  out a deep breath as he gazed into Kahlan's green eyes and
then the  icy blue eyes of the Mord-Sith. "I have to do this.  Now, let them
come up and show me their decision."
     Cara stormed off to stand back by the  statue of Kaja-Rang. Kahlan gave
his arm  a squeeze, offering her silent support, accepting his decision even
if she didn't understand his reasons. A brief smile of  appreciation was all
he could manage before she turned and walked back to stand by Cara, Jennsen,
and Tom.
     Richard turned away, not wanting to let Kahlan see how much pain he was
in. The ache from the  poison was slowly creeping  back  up his chest. Every
breath hurt. His arm still trembled with the lingering ache of being touched
by an Agiel. The worst, though, was the headache. He wondered  if Cara could
see it in his eyes. After all, the business of Mord-Sith was pain.
     He  knew he couldn't wait until after helping  these men  fight off the
Order before getting the antidote  to the poison. He  had no idea how to rid
their empire of the Imperial  Order. He couldn't even rid his own  empire of
the invaders.
     Worse, though, he could feel that  he was running out of time. His gift
was giving him the headaches  and, if not attended to, would eventually kill
him, but worse, it was weakening  him, allowing  the  poison to work faster.
With each passing  day he was having  more  and more difficulty working past
the poison.
     If he could get these men to agree to do this, to tell him where they'd
hidden the antidote, then he might be able to recover it in time.
     If not, then his chance to live was as good as over.

     The men milled around the top of the pass, some staring  off into their
own thoughts, some gazing  up at  the  statue of Kaja-Rang, the man  who had
banished  their  people.  Some  of  the  men  snatched   glimpses  at  their
companions. Richard could see that they were aching to ask friends what they
would do, but they kept to Richard's orders and didn't speak.
     Finally, when Richard stepped  up before  them, one of  the younger men
came forward. He had been one of the men eager to hear Richard's words. He'd
looked as if he had listened carefully and considered the things Richard had
told them. Richard knew that if this man  said no,  then there was no chance
that any of the others would agree.
     When  the  young, blond-headed man opened his fist, two pebbles  lay in
his palm.  Richard let out an inner  sigh that  at  least one of the men had
actually chosen to do the right thing.
     Another  man  came forward and  opened  his fist,  showing two  pebbles
sitting in his  palm. Richard  nodded in acknowledgment, without showing any
reaction,  and let him move aside.  The  rest  of the men had lined up. Each
stepped  forward  in turn and silently  opened his hand. Each showed him two
pebbles, showing that he would recant their death threat, and then moved off
so that the next man could show his choice.
     Owen  was the  last in line. He looked up at  Richard, pressed his lips
tight, and  then thrust out his hand. "You have done us no harm," he said as
he opened his fist. There in his palm lay two pebbles.
     "I don't know what  will happen to us, now," Owen said, "but I can  see
that we must not cause you harm because we are desperate for your help."
     Richard nodded. "Thank you." The sincerity in  his voice brought smiles
to many  of the  faces  watching. "You have  all  showed  two  pebbles.  I'm
encouraged that you've all chosen to do the right thing. We  now have common
ground upon which to find a future course."
     The  men looked around one  another in  surprise.  They each cheerfully
gathered in  close to their friends, talking excitedly to one another  about
how they had all made  the same decision. They looked gleeful that they were
united in their decision. Richard moved back to where Kahlan, Cara, Jennsen,
and Tom stood.
     "Satisfied?" he asked Kahlan and Cara.
     Cara folded her arms. "What would you have  done had they all chosen to
keep the antidote's location a secret until after you helped them?"
     Richard shrugged. "I'd be no better off than I was, but no  worse  off,
either. I'd have to help them, but at least  I  would  know that I  dare not
trust any of them."
     Kahlan still didn't look pleased. "And what if most of them  would have
said yes, but some stuck to their ways and said no?"
     Richard looked into her resolute green eyes. "Then, after the ones  who
agreed  had  told  me where to  find the antidote, I would have had  to kill
those who said no."
     Understanding the seriousness of  his explanation,  Kahlan nodded. Cara
smiled her satisfaction. Jennsen looked shocked.
     "If any would  have said no," he explained to Jennsen, "then they would
have been choosing to  continue to enslave me, to hold  a sentence  of death
over my head in order to manipulate my life to get what they wanted from me.
I  would never be  able to trust them in what I must ask the rest of them to
do.  I couldn't trust our lives to such treachery. But, now, that's one less
problem we have to worry about."
     Richard turned to the waiting  men. "Each of you has decided to  return
my life to me."
     The faces watching  him turned  serious as they  waited to hear what he
would do now. Richard gazed down at the small figure of himself, at the sand
trickling down, at the  eerie black surface  that had already descended over
the top of the statue,  like the underworld itself slowly claiming his life.
His fingers left smears of blood across the surface of the figure.
     The clouds had lowered in around them, thickening so that the afternoon
light seemed more like the gloom of dusk.
     Richard lowered the statue and looked back up at the  men. "We  will do
our best to see if we can help you get rid of the Order."
     A cheer rose into the thin, cold  air. The  men hooted their excitement
as  well as their  relief. He hadn't yet seen any  of them  smile quite this
broadly  before.  Those smiles, more than  anything, revealed  the depth  of
their  wish to be free  of the men  of the Order.  Richard wondered how they
would feel about it when he finally told them their part.
     He knew  that as  long as Nicholas  the Slide was able to seek them out
through  the eyes of  the races, he  would remain a threat  that would haunt
them  wherever they went  and endangered  all  of their work to get the  Old
World to rise up  and overthrow the  Imperial Order. More than that, though,
Nicholas  would  be  able to direct killers  to find  them. The  thought  of
Nicholas seeing Kahlan and knowing where to find her gave Richard chills. He
had to eliminate Nicholas.  It was possible that in doing so, in eliminating
their  leader, he  would  also help these people drive the Order  from their
     Richard gestured for the men to gather in closer. "First, before we get
to  the matter  of  freeing your  people, you need  to show me where  you've
hidden the poison."
     Owen  squatted  down and selected  a  stone from  nearby.  With it,  he
scratched a chalky  oval on the face  of a flat spot in the  rock. "Say that
this  line is the  mountains surrounding  Bandakar." He set the stone at the
end of the oval closest to Richard.  "Then this  is the pass  into our land,
where we are now."
     He  plucked  three   pebbles  from  the  ground.  "This  is  our  town,
With-erton, where we lived," he said as he set the first pebble down not far
from the rock that represented the pass. "There is antidote there."
     "And this  is where  all of you men were hiding?"  Richard  asked as he
circled   a  finger  over  the  first  pebble.  "In  the  hills  surrounding
     "Mostly to  the south,"  Owen said, pointing to the area. He placed the
second pebble  near the  middle of the oval. "Here there is  another vial of
antidote,  in this city, here, called Hawton."  He placed the  third  pebble
near  the  edge  of  the  oval.  "Here is the  third  vial,  in  this  city,
     "So then," Richard summed  up, "I just need to go to one of those three
places and recover the antidote. Since your town is the smallest, that would
probably be our best chance."
     Some of the men shook their heads; others looked away.
     Owen, looking troubled, touched  each of the three pebbles. "I'm sorry,
Lord Rahl, but one of  these is not  enough. Too much time has  passed. Even
two will  be insufficient  by now. The man who made the poison  said that if
too much time passed, all four would be necessary to insure a remedy.
     "He  said that  if you did  not immediately  take  the first antidote I
brought,  then it  would only halt the poison for a while. He said that then
the other three  vials would all be needed.  He said that  in this case, the
poison would possibly go through  three states. If you are to be free of the
poison,  you must drink all of the  three remaining antidotes. If you don't,
you will die."
     "Three states? What does that mean?"
     "The first  state will be pain in your chest.  The second state will be
dizziness that makes standing difficult."  Owen  looked away from  Richard's
gaze. "In  the  third  state the poison  makes you blind." He looked up  and
touched a  hand  to  Richard's  arm, as if to dispel his worry.  "But taking
three vials of the antidote will cure you, make you well."
     Richard wiped a weary hand across his  brow. The pain in his chest told
him that he was in the poison's first state.
     "How much time do I have?"
     Owen looked  down as he  straightened  his sleeve.  "I'm not sure, Lord
Rahl. We  have already taken a lot of time traveling this far  since you had
that first vial. I think we have no time to lose."
     "How much time?" Richard asked in as calm a voice as he could manage.
     Owen swallowed. "To be truthful, Lord Rahl,  I'm surprised that you are
able to  stand the pain from the first state of the poison. From what I  was
told, the pain would grow as time passed."
     Richard simply nodded. He didn't look up at Kahlan.
     With soldiers of the  Imperial Order occupying Bandakar,  getting in to
recover the antidote from one place sounded difficult enough, but retrieving
it from all three places sounded beyond difficult.
     "Well, since time is short, I have  a better idea," Richard said. "Make
me  more of the antidote.  Then we  won't have to  worry  about getting what
you've  hidden and we can simply worry  about how best to take on the men of
the Order."
     Owen shrugged one shoulder. "We can't."
     "Why  not?"  Richard  leaned in.  "You  made it  before--you  made  the
antidote that you hid. Make it again."
     Owen shrank back. "We can't."
     Richard took a patient breath. "Why not?"
     Owen  pointed  off at  the  small bag  he'd brought,  now lying  to the
side--the  bag containing the fingers  of  three girls. "The father of those
girls was the man  who made the poison and made the antidote. He is the only
one among us  who knew how to make such complex things with herbs. We  don't
know how--we don't even know many of the ingredients he used.
     "There may be others in  the cities who could make an antidote, but  we
don't know who they are, or if  they are still alive. With men  of the Order
in those places we wouldn't even be  able to  find these people.  Even if we
could, we don't know what was used to make up  the poison, so they would not
know how to make an antidote. The only chance you have to live is to recover
the three vials of antidote."
     Richard's  head  was  hurting so much that he didn't know if  he  could
stand much longer. With only three vials  in existence, and all three needed
if he was to live, he had to get to them before anything happened to any one
of them. Someone could find one and throw  it out. They could be moved. They
could be broken, the  antidote  draining away  into the ground.  With  every
breath, he felt  stitches of pain pull inside his chest. Panic gnawed at the
edges of his thoughts.
     When Kahlan  rested her  hand  on his shoulder, Richard laid a grateful
hand over hers.
     "We will help you get the antidote, Lord Rahl," one of the men said.
     Another nodded. "That's right. We will help you get it."
     The men all spoke up, then, saying that they  would all help to get the
antidote so that Richard could rid himself of the poison.
     "Most of us have  been to  at  least  two of these places,"  Owen said.
"Some of  us  have been  to  all  three. I hid  the antidote, but I told the
others the places, so we all know where it is. We know where  we have to get
in to recover it. We will tell you, too."
     "Then that's  what we'll  do." Richard squatted down as he  studied the
stone map. "Where is Nicholas?"
     Owen leaned in  and tapped the pebble in the center. "Here, in Haw-ton,
is this man Nicholas."
     Richard looked up at Owen. "Don't tell me. You hid the antidote in  the
building where you saw Nicholas."
     Owen shrugged  self-consciously. "At the  time, it seemed  like a  good
idea. Now, I wish I had thought better of it."
     Standing  behind  Richard,  Cara  rolled  her  eyes  in  disgust.  "I'm
surprised you didn't hand it to Nicholas and ask  him  to  hold on to it for
     Appearing  eager  to  change  the subject,  Owen pointed at  the pebble
representing Northwick. "In this city is where the Wise One is hiding. Maybe
we can get help from the great speakers. Maybe the Wise One will give us his
blessing and then people will  help us in our effort to rid our  land of the
Imperial Order."
     After all he'd learned  about the  people who lived beyond the boundary
in Bandakar, Richard didn't think he could count on any meaningful help from
them; they wanted to be free  of marauding  brutes, but condemned their only
real means to be free.  These men had at least  proven a degree  of resolve.
These men would have to work to change other people's attitudes, but Richard
had his doubts that they would garner much immediate help.
     In order to  accomplish what you men rightfully  want--to eradicate the
Order,  or at  least make them leave your  homes--you  are going to  have to
help. Kahlan, Cara, Jennsen, Tom, and I  aren't  going to be  able to  do it
alone. If it's to work, you men must help us."
     "What is  it you wish us  to  do?" Owen asked. "We already said we will
take you to these places where the antidote is hidden. What more can we do?"
     "You are going to have to help us kill the men of the Order."
     Instantly, heated  protests erupted.  All of  the men  talked at  once,
shaking  his  head,  warding the  notion with his  hands.  Although  Richard
couldn't  make  out all their words, their feelings  about what he said were
obvious enough.  What  words  he did  hear were  all  objections  that  they
couldn't kill.
     Richard rose  up. "You know what  these  men  have done," he said in  a
powerful  voice that brought them  to silence. "You ran away so you wouldn't
also be killed. You know how your people  are being treated. You know what's
being done to your loved ones in captivity."
     "But we can't harm another," Owen whined. "We can't."
     "It's not our way," another man added.
     "You banished criminals through the boundary," Richard  said. "How  did
you make them go through if they refused?"
     "If we had to," one of  the older men  said, "a number of us would hold
him, so  that he could harm no one. We  would tie  his hands and bear him to
the boundary. We would tell such a banished  man  that he must go out of our
land.  If he still refused, we would carry him  to a long steep place in the
rock where we would  lay him down  and push him feet first  so that he would
slide down the rock  and go beyond.  Once  we did this, they weren't able to
     Richard  wondered  at  the lengths these people went to not to harm the
worst animals among them. He wondered how many had to  suffer  or die at the
hands  of such criminals  before  the people  of Bandakar  were sufficiently
motivated to take what were to them extreme measures.
     "We understand  much of  what  you have told us,"  Owen said,  "but  we
cannot do what you ask. We would be  doing wrong. We have been raised not to
harm another."
     Richard snatched up the bag with the girls' fingers and shook it at the
men. "Every  one  of  your loved ones  back there is thinking of nothing but
being saved. Can any of you even imagine their terror? I know what it's like
to  be  tortured, to feel  helpless and alone, to feel  like you will  never
escape. In such a situation you want  nothing more than  for it to stop. You
would do anything for it to stop."
     "That's  why we needed you," an older  man said. "You must do this. You
must rid us of the Order."
     "I  told you, I  can't do it  alone."  With  an arm wrapped in a bloody
bandage, Richard gestured  emphatically.  "Surrendering your will  to men of
the Order who would do  such things  as this solves nothing. It  simply adds
more victims. The men of the Order are evil; you must fight back."
     "But if only you would talk to  those men like  you talked  to us, they
would see their misguided ways. They would change, then."
     "No, they won't. Life doesn't matter to them. They've made their choice
to torture, rape, and kill.  Our  only chance to survive, our only chance to
have a future is to destroy them."
     "We can't harm another person," one of the men said.
     "It's wrong to harm another," Owen agreed.
     "It's always  immoral  to  hurt, much  less  kill, another  person,"  a
middle-aged man said to  the mumbled agreement of his fellows. "Those who do
wrong are obviously in  pain and need our understanding,  not our hate. Hate
will only invite  hate. Violence will only  begin a cycle  of  violence that
never solves anything."
     Richard felt as if the ground he had gained with these men was slipping
away from him. He was about to run his fingers back through his hair when he
saw  that they  were covered  in blood. He dropped his  arm and  shifted his
     "You poisoned  me  to get me to kill these  men. By  that  act,  you've
already proven that  you accept the reality that it's sometimes necessary to
kill in order to save innocent  lives--that's  why you wanted me.  You can't
hold a belief that it's wrong to harm another and at the same time coerce me
to do it for you. That's simply killing by proxy."
     "We need our freedom," one of them said. "We thought that maybe because
of your command as a ruler you could convince these men, for fear of you, to
leave us be."
     "That's  why you have to help me.  You just said it--for fear of me.You
must  help me in  this  so that the threat, the fear, is  credible. If  they
don't believe the threat is real then why would they leave your land?"
     One of the others folded his arms. "We thought you might rid  us of the
Order  without  violence, without killing, but  it is up  to  you to do such
killing if that is your way.  We cannot kill. From  our very beginning,  our
ancestors have taught us that killing is wrong. You must do this."
     Another, nodding his agreement, said, "It's your duty to help those who
cannot bring themselves to do what you can do."
     Duty. The polite name put to the chains of servitude.
     Richard turned  away,  closing  his  eyes  as  he squeezed his  temples
between fingers and thumb. He'd thought that he was beginning to get through
to  these  men.  He'd  thought he would  be  able  to get them to think  for
themselves--in   their   own   best   interest--rather  than   to   function
spontaneously according to the rote dictates of their indoctrination.
     He could hardly believe that after  all he'd told them, these men would
still  rather have  their  loved ones endure torture and brutal murder  than
harm  the  men  committing  the crimes.  By refusing to face the  nature  of
reality, these men were willingly giving the good over to evil, life over to
     He realized  then that it was  even more basic than  that. In  the most
fundamental  sense,  they were willfully choosing  to reject the reality  of
     Deep inside him, every breath pulled  a stitch  of pain. He had  to get
the antidote. He was running out of time.
     But that alone would  not solve his  problems; his gift was killing him
just as surely as the poison. He  felt so sick from the pounding pain of his
headache that he thought he  might throw up. Even the magic of his sword was
failing him.
     Richard feared the  poison, but in a  more central way,  he feared  the
encroaching death from within, from his gift. The poison, as dangerous as it
was, had a clearly defined cause and cure. With his gift, he felt lost.
     Richard looked back into Kahlan's troubled  eyes. He could see that she
had  no  solution  to  offer. She stood  in  a weary pose, her  arm  hanging
straight with the weight of the warning beacon that seemed to  tell him only
that he was dying, but offered no answers. Its whole reason for being was to
call him to a proclaimed duty to help  replace the  boundary, as if his life
was not his  own, but belonged to anyone who laid  claim  to it by shackling
him with a declaration of duty.
     That concept--duty--was  no less a poison than that which these men had
given him ... a call to sacrifice himself.
     Richard took the small statue from Kahlan's hand and stared down at it.
The inky black had already enveloped half the length of the figure. His life
was being consumed. The sand continued to trickle away. His time was running
     The  stone figure of  Kaja-Rang, the long-dead wizard who  had summoned
him with the warning beacon and charged him with an impossible  task, loomed
over him as if in silent rebuke.
     Behind  him, the  men  huddled close,  affirming to  one another  their
beliefs, their ways, their responsibility to their  ancient ideals, that the
men of the  Order were acting as they were because they  were  misguided and
could  still  be  reformed.  They spoke  of  the Wise One and all  the great
speakers who had  committed  them to the path of peace and nonviolence. They
all reaffirmed the belief that they  must follow the path that had been laid
down  for  them from the  very beginning  by  their  land's founders,  their
ancestors,  who had given them their customs,  their beliefs,  their values,
their way of living.
     Trying to elevate these men to  understand what was right and necessary
seemed as difficult as trying to lift them by a  slender thread. That thread
had broken.
     Richard  felt trapped by  the deluded  convictions of  these people, by
their poison, by the headaches, by Nicholas hunting them, and by a long-dead
wizard  who had  reached out from the underworld to try to  enslave him to a
long-dead duty.
     Anger  welling  up  inside  him, Richard  cocked his arm and heaved the
warning beacon at the statue of Kaja-Rang.
     The men  ducked  as  the small figure shot by just  over their heads to
shatter against the stone base of the statue. Amber fragments and inky black
shards flew in every direction. The sand from inside  splattered in a  stain
across the front of the granite pedestal.
     The cowering men fell silent. Overhead, wisps  trailing from the sullen
clouds drifted  by, almost  close  enough  to reach up and touch. A few  icy
flakes of snow floated along in the still air. All around, a frigid fog  had
moved  in to envelop the surrounding  mountains, leaving the top of the pass
with  the stone sentinel seeming isolated and  otherworldly, as if this were
all there was to existence. Richard stood in the dead quiet at the center of
everyone's attention.
     The words  written in High D'Haran on the  statue's base echoed through
Richard's mind.
     Fear any breach  of  this seal  to the empire beyond...  for beyond  is
evil: those who cannot see.
     The High D'Haran words streamed again and again  through  his mind. The
translation of those words just didn't feel right.
     "Dear  spirits,"  Richard  whispered in  sudden  realization. "I had it
wrong. That's not what it says."

     Khalan felt as if her heart were  being crushed by the ordeal these men
were putting Richard through. Just when she'd  thought he had gotten them to
understand the  truth of what was needed, it seemed to  have slipped away as
the men reverted to their willful blindness.
     Richard,  though, seemed  almost  to  have  forgotten the men. He stood
staring at where the warning beacon had shattered against the statue. Kahlan
stepped closer to him and whispered.
     "What do you mean, you  had it wrong, and that's not what it says? What
are you talking about?"
     "The translation," he said in what sounded like startled comprehension.
He stood  motionless, facing the towering statue of Kaja-Rang. "Remember how
I told you that it was an odd way to phrase what it said?"
     Kahlan glanced to the statue and then back to Richard. "Yes."
     "It wasn't odd at all; I just had it wrong. I was trying to make it say
what I thought  it would say--that those beyond couldn't see magic-- instead
of  just  seeing  what was before me. What  I told you before isn't  what it
     When his voice trailed off,  Kahlan reached up and  gripped  his arm to
draw his attention. "What do you mean, that's not what it says?"
     Richard gestured toward the statue. "I  see what I did  wrong  with the
phrasal sequence, why I was having trouble with it. I told you I wasn't sure
of the translation. I was  right to have doubts.  It  doesn't say, 'Fear any
breach  of this seal  to the empire beyond... for beyond is evil: those  who
cannot see.' "
     Jennsen leaned in close beside Kahlan. "Are you sure?"
     Richard looked back at the statue, his voice distant. "I am now."
     Kahlan pulled  on his  arm, making  him look  at her. "So  what does it
     His  gray eyes met her gaze briefly before turning to the  eyes  of the
statue  of  Kaja-Rang staring out  at the Pillars of Creation,  at his final
safeguard  protecting the world from these people. Instead of answering her,
he started away.
     The men parted as Richard strode toward the statue. Kahlan stayed close
on his heels, Cara  following in her wake. Jennsen  gathered up Betty's rope
and pulled her along. The men,  already backing  out of the way for Richard,
kept a wary eye on the goat  and her  mistress  as  they passed.  Tom stayed
where he was, keeping a careful but unobtrusive watch over all the men.
     At  the statue,  Richard  swiped  the  dusting of snow off  the  ledge,
revealing again  the words carved in  High D'Haran.  Kahlan watched his eyes
moving along  the line of words, reading  them to himself. He  had a kind of
excitement  in  his movements that told her he was racing after an important
     For the  moment, she  could  also see  that his  headache was gone. She
couldn't understand the way it ebbed from time to time, but she was relieved
to see strength  in  the way he moved. Hands spread on the stone, leaning on
his arms, he looked up from the words.  Without the  headache,  there was  a
vibrant clarity in his gray eyes.
     "Part of this story has been puzzling," he said.  "I understand now. It
doesn't say, 'Fear  any breach  of this  seal  to  the empire  beyond... for
beyond is evil: those who cannot see.' "
     Jennsen's  nose wrinkled. "It  doesn't? You  mean it wasn't meant to be
about these pristinely ungifted people?"
     "Oh,  it was about them,  all right, but not  in that respect." Richard
tapped  a finger to the carved words. "It doesn't say 'for beyond  is  evil:
those who cannot see,'  but something  profoundly different. It  says, 'Fear
any breach of this seal to the empire beyond . . .  for beyond are those who
cannot see evil.' "
     Kahlan's brow drew down. "... those who cannot see evil."
     Richard  lifted his bandaged  arm  up toward the  figure towering  over
them. "That's what Kaja-Rang feared most--not those who couldn't  see magic,
but those who could not see evil. That's his warning to the world." He aimed
a thumb back over his shoulder, indicating the men behind them. "That's what
this is all about."
     Kahlan was taken aback, and a little perplexed. "Do you think  it might
be  that  because  these people can't see  magic  they also  can't recognize
evil," she asked, "or that because of the way  they're different they simply
don't have the ability to conceive of evil, in much the same way  they can't
conceive of objective magic as having nothing to do with mysticism?"
     "That might  in part  be  what Kaja-Rang thought," Richard said. "But I
     "Are you so sure?" Jennsen asked.
     Before Kahlan could make him explain, Richard turned to the men. "Here,
in  stone, Kaja-Rang  left a  warning for  the world. Kaja-Rang's warning is
about those who cannot  see  evil. Your ancestors were banished from the New
World because they were pristinely  ungifted.  But  this man,  this powerful
wizard, Kaja-Rang,  feared them for something  else: their ideas. He  feared
them because  they refused to  see evil. That's what made your ancestors  so
dangerous to the people of the Old World."
     "How could that be?" a man asked.
     "Thrown together  and  banished to a strange place, the Old World, your
ancestors must have clung desperately to one another. They were so afraid of
rejection, of banishment, that they avoided rejecting  one of their own.  It
developed into  a strong belief that no  matter what, they should try not to
condemn anyone. For this  reason, they rejected the concept of evil for fear
they would  have to judge someone. Judging  someone as evil meant they would
have to face the problem of removing them from their midst.
     "In  their  flight  from  reality, they  justified  their  practices by
settling on  the fanciful notion that nothing is real and so no one can know
the nature  of reality. That  way, they wouldn't have to  admit that someone
was evil. Better to deny  the existence  of evil than  have to eliminate the
evildoer  in their midst. Better  to turn a blind eye to the problem, ignore
it, and hope it went away.
     "If  they  admitted the reality of evil, then eliminating  the evildoer
was the only proper action, so,  by extension, since they had been banished,
they thought that they must have been banished because they were evil. Their
solution  was to simply discard the entire concept of evil. An entire belief
structure developed around this core.
     "Kaja-Rang may have thought that because they were pristinely un-gifted
and  couldn't see magic, they also couldn't see evil, but what he feared was
the  infection  of  their  beliefs spreading  to  others. Thinking  requires
effort;  these people offered  beliefs that needed  no  thought,  but merely
adopting some noble-sounding phrases. It was, in fact, an arrogant dismissal
of  the  power  of  man's mind--an  illusion  of  wisdom  that  spurned  the
requirement of any  authentic effort  to understand the world around them or
the   nuisance   of   validation.   Such  simplistic  solutions,   such   as
unconditionally  rejecting all violence, are  especially  seductive  to  the
undeveloped minds of the young, many of whom would have eagerly adopted such
disordered reasoning as a talisman of enlightenment.
     "When they began fanatically espousing these empty tenets to others, it
probably set off the alarm for Kaja-Rang.
     "With the spread of such ideas, with the kind of rabid hold it has over
some people, such as it has over you men, Kaja-Rang and his people  saw how,
if  such  beliefs ran free, it  would eventually  bring  anarchy and ruin by
sanctioning evil  to stalk  among their  people, just as it  leaves  you men
defenseless against the evil of the Imperial Order now come among you.
     "Kaja-Rang saw such beliefs  for what they were: embracing death rather
than  life.  The regression  from true enlightenment into  the  illusion  of
insight spawned disorder, becoming a threat to all of the Old World, raising
the specter of a descent into darkness."
     Richard  tapped  his finger  on the  top of the ledge.  "There is other
writing up here, around the base, that suggests as much, and what became the
eventual solution.
     "Kaja-Rang had those who believed these  teachings collected, not  only
all the pristinely ungifted banished from the New World,  but also the rabid
believers who had fallen under their delusional philosophy, and banished the
whole lot of them.
     "The  first banishment, from the New World down to the Old, was unjust.
The second  banishment, from the Old World to the land beyond here, had been
     Jennsen, twiddling the frayed end of Betty's rope, looked  dubious. "Do
you  really think  there  were others banished  along  with  those  who were
pristinely  ungifted? That  would mean  there were a great  many people. How
could Kaja-Rang have made all these people go along? Didn't they resist? How
did Kaja-Rang make them all go? Was it a bloody banishment?"
     The men  were nodding  to her questions, apparently  wondering the same
     "I  don't believe  that  High D'Haran  was  a common language among the
people, not down  here, anyway. I suspect that it was  a dying language only
used among certain learned people, such as wizards." Richard gestured to the
land beyond. "Kaja-Rang  named these people Bandakar--the banished. I  don't
think the people knew what it meant. Their empire was not called the Pillars
of Creation, or some name referring only  to the ungifted. The  writing here
suggests  that it was  because it was  not only  the pristinely ungifted who
were  banished,  but  all those who believed  as  they  did.  They  all were
Bandakar: the banished.
     "They  thought  of  themselves,  of  their  beliefs,  as   enlightened.
Kaja-Rang played on that, flattering them, telling them that this  place had
been set  aside to protect them from  a world not  ready to accept them.  He
made  them feel  that, in  many ways, they were being put  here because they
were better than  anyone else.  Not given to reasoned thinking, these people
were easily beguiled  in this fashion and duped into  cooperating with their
own banishment. According to what's hinted at in the writing here around the
statue's base, they went happily into  their promised land. Once confined to
this  place, marriage  and  subsequent  generations  spread  the  pristinely
ungifted trait throughout the entire population of Bandakar."
     "And Kaja-Rang really believed they were such a terrible  threat to the
rest  of the people  of the Old  World?" Jennsen asked. Again,  men  nodded,
apparently  in  satisfaction  that  she  had  asked  the  question.  Kah-lan
suspected that Jennsen might have asked the question on behalf of the men.
     Richard gestured up at the statue of Kaja-Rang. "Look at him. What's he
doing? He's  symbolically  standing watch over the  boundary he placed here.
He's guarding this pass, watching over a seal keeping back what lies beyond.
In his eternal vigilance his hand holds a sword, ever at the ready, to  show
the magnitude of the danger.
     "The people of the Old World felt such gratitude to this  important man
that  they  built  this monument  to honor what  he had  done  for  them  in
protecting them from beliefs they knew would have  imperiled  their society.
The threat was no trifling matter.
     "Kaja-Rang watches over this boundary even in  death. From the world of
the dead he sent me a warning that the seal had been breached."
     Richard waited in the tense silence until all the  men  looked back  at
him before he quietly concluded.
     "Kaja-Rang  banished your ancestors not only because they couldn't  see
magic, but, more importantly, because they couldn't see evil."
     In restless disquiet,  the men glanced about  at their companions. "But
what you call  evil is just a way of expressing an inner pain,"  one of them
said, more as a plea than as an argument.
     "That's  right,"  another told  Richard.  "Saying  someone  is evil  is
prejudiced  thinking. It's a  way  of belittling someone already in pain for
some reason. Such  people must be embraced and taught to shed their fears of
their fellow man and then they will not strike out in violent ways."
     Richard swept his glare across all the watching faces. He pointed up at
the statue.
     "Kaja-Rang  feared  you  because you  are  dangerous  to  everyone--not
because you are ungifted, but because  you embrace evil with your teachings.
In  so doing, in  trying  to  be  kind,  to  be  unselfish,  in trying to be
nonjudgmental, you allow evil to become far more powerful than it  otherwise
would. You refuse to see evil, and so you welcome it among you. You allow it
to  exist. You give it power  over you. You  are a people who have  welcomed
death and refused to denounce it. "You  are an empire naked to the shadow of
     After a moment of thick silence, one of the older men finally spoke up.
"This belief in evil, as you call it,  is a very intolerant attitude and  is
far too simplistic a judgment. It's nothing less than an unfair condemnation
of your fellow man. None of us, not even you, can judge another."
     Kahlan knew that Richard had  a great deal of patience, but very little
tolerance. He  had been very  patient with these men; she  could see that he
had reached  the end of  his tolerance.  She half  expected him  to draw his
     He walked among the men, his raptor glare moving individuals back as he
passed. "Your people think  of themselves as enlightened, as above violence.
You are  not  enlightened; you are merely slaves awaiting  a master, victims
awaiting killers. They have finally come for you."
     Richard snatched up the small bag and stood before the last man who had
spoken. "Open your hand."
     The man glanced to those at his sides.  Finally, he held his hand  out,
palm up.
     Richard reached into the bag  and then placed a small finger, its flesh
withered and stained with dried blood, in the man's hand.
     The man  obviously didn't want the little finger sitting in the palm of
his  hand, but  after he looked  up into Richard's withering glower, he said
nothing and made no attempt to rid himself of the gory trophy.
     Richard walked  among the men, ordering random men to open their hands.
Kahlan recognized the ones he selected as men who had objected to the things
he was trying to do to help them. He placed a  finger in  each upturned hand
until the bag was empty.
     "What you hold in  your hand is the result of evil," Richard said. "You
men all know the truth of it. You all knew evil  was loose in your land. You
all wanted that to change. You all wanted to be rid of evil.
     You all wanted to live. You all wanted your loved ones to live.
     "You all had hoped to do it without having to face the truth.
     "I have tried to explain things to you so that you could understand the
true nature of the battle we all face."
     Richard straightened the baldric over his shoulder.
     "I am done explaining.
     "You wanted  me  brought to your land. You have accomplished your goal.
Now, you are going to  decide if you will follow through  with what you know
to be right."
     Richard again stood before them, his back straight, his chin held high,
his scabbard  gleaming in the gloomy light, his black tunic  trimmed in gold
standing  out  in sharp  contrast against the  fog-shrouded mountains behind
him. He looked like nothing so much as the Lord Rahl. He was as commanding a
figure as Kahlan had ever seen.
     After Richard and Kahlan's beginning so  long ago, when they had struck
out from  those secluded woods of  his, Richard had turned  the world upside
down. From the beginning, he had always been at the heart of their struggle,
and  was now  the  ruler  of an empire--even  if  that endangered empire was
largely a mystery to him, as was his gift.
     His cause, though, was crystal clear.
     Together,  Kahlan and Richard were at the  center of the storm of a war
that had engulfed their world. It had now engulfed these men and their land.
     Many people saw Richard as their only salvation. Richard seemed forever
trying to prove them wrong. For many others, though, he  was the single most
hated man alive. For them, Richard sought to give them cause; he told people
that their life was their own. The  Imperial Order wanted  him dead for that
more than for any blow he had dealt them.
     "This is  the way things  are going to  be," Richard finally said  in a
voice of quiet authority.
     "You will  surrender your land and  your loyalty to the D'Haran Empire,
or you  will be the subjects of the Imperial Order. Those  are your only two
choices. There are no others. Like it or not, you must choose. If you refuse
to  make a choice, events  will decide for you and you will likely end up in
the hands of the Imperial Order. Make no mistake, they are evil hands.
     "With the Order,  if  you are  not  murdered,  you will  be slaves  and
treated as such. I think  you know  very well what  that entails. Your lives
will have no value to them except as slaves, called upon to help them spread
their evil.
     "As  part of the D'Haran Empire,  your lives will  be  your own. I will
expect you to rise up and live them as the  individuals you are, not as some
speck of dirt in a pit of filth you have dug yourselves into.
     "The seal to your hiding place, to the Bandakaran Empire, has failed. I
don't know how to repair it, nor would I if I could. There is no more Empire
of Bandakar.
     "There is no way to allow you to be  who  you were  and to protect you.
Maybe  the Order  can  be  thrown  out  of  your land,  but  they cannot  be
effortlessly kept out, for it is their ideas that have come to destroy you.
     "So choose.  Slaves or  free  men. Life as  either will not  be easy. I
think you  know what life as slaves will be like. As free men you  will have
to struggle, work, and think, but you will have the rewards that brings, and
those rewards will be yours and no one else's.
     "Freedom must be won, but then it has to be guarded lest those like the
Order come again to  enslave  those  wishing  for  someone else to do  their
     "I am the  Lord Rahl. I intend  to go get  the  antidote to  the poison
you've  given  me. If you men  choose to  be  part of this struggle,  to rid
yourselves and your loved ones of evil, then I will help you.
     "If you choose not  to stand with us, then you may  go back and let the
Order  do with you what  they  will, or you can  run. If  you run,  you  may
survive for a time, as you have been doing, but, because that is not the way
you wish to live,  you  will die as frightened animals, never  having  lived
what life has to offer.
     "So choose,  but if you choose to stand with me  against evil, then you
will  have to  relinquish your self-imposed  blindness and open your eyes to
look around at life. You  will have to see the reality  of the  world around
you. There is good and bad in  the world. You will have to use your minds to
judge which is which so that you can seek the good and reject the bad.
     "If you choose to stand with me, I will do my best to answer any honest
question and try to teach you how  to triumph against the  men  of the Order
and those like them. But I will not suffer your mindless teachings that  are
nothing more than a calculated rejection of life.
     "Take a  look at  the bloody fingers you or your friends hold. Look  at
what was done to children by evil men. You should hate such men who would do
this. If you don't, or can't, then you have no  business being with those of
us who embrace life.
     "I want each of  you to think about those children, about their terror,
their pain, their wish not to be hurt. Think of what it was like for them to
be alone and  in the hands  of evil men. You should rightfully  hate the men
who would do such  things. Hold tight to that righteous hatred, for that  is
the hatred of evil.
     "I intend to recover the antidote so that I can live. In the process, I
also intend to kill as many of those evil men as I can. If I go alone, I may
succeed in getting the  antidote, but alone I will not succeed in liberating
your homes from the Imperial Order.
     "If you  choose to go with me, to help me in this struggle, we may have
a chance.
     "I don't  know what I  face there, so I can't honestly tell you that we
have a good chance. I can  only tell you that if  you  don't help  me,  then
there is likely no chance."
     Richard held up a finger. "Make no  mistake. If  you choose to join  us
and we take up this struggle, some of  us  will probably die. If we do  not,
all of us will die, not necessarily  in body, but in spirit. Under such rule
as the Order has shown you, no one lives, even though their bodies might for
a time  endure the misery of life as  slaves. Under  the  Order,  every soul
withers and dies."
     The men were  silent as Richard paused to meet their gazes. Most  could
not look away, while some seemed shamed and so they stared at the ground.
     "If  you choose to side with me  in this  struggle," Richard said  with
deliberate  care, "you  will be called upon to  kill men of  the Order, evil
men. If you once thought that I enjoyed killing, let me assure  you that you
are very wrong. I hate it. I do  it to defend life. I would never expect you
to  relish  killing.  It is a necessity to do it,  not to  enjoy doing it. I
expect you to relish life and do what is necessary to preserve it."
     Richard  picked  up one of the items, lying off to the side,  that they
had made while waiting for Tom  and Owen to bring the men up  into the pass.
It looked  like little more  than a stout stick. It was  in fact made of oak
limbs. It was rounded at the back to fit the hand, narrow at  a point in the
middle, and pointed at the other end.
     "You  men  don't have weapons. While we waited for you to arrive, we've
made some." He waggled his fingers, requesting Tom to come forward. "The men
of  the  Order  won't  recognize  these  as weapons,  at first,  anyway.  If
questioned,  you  should  tell them that they're  used to  make holes in the
ground to plant crops."
     With his left hand, Richard seized Tom's shirt at his shoulder, to hold
him, and demonstrated  the weapon's use by slowly  showing  how it  would be
thrust upward, toward  a man's middle just under his ribs, to stab him. Some
faces among the men twisted with revulsion.
     "This can  most easily be driven up into a man's soft part, up in under
his  ribs," Richard  told them.  "Once  you  thrust it in, give  it a  quick
sideways twist to break  it off at the narrow point. That way, the man won't
be able to pull it  out. With such a thing lodged in  his insides, if he can
even stand, he won't want to be running  after you or trying to wrestle you.
You'll be better able to get away."
     One  of the men lifted a  hand. "But a piece of  wood like that will be
wet and wouldn't break. Many of the wood fibers will just bend over, leaving
the handle end attached."
     Richard tossed the  weapon to the man.  After  he caught  it, he  said,
"Look at the  middle, where it's cut to a narrow neck.  You'll see that it's
been held  over a fire and  dried for  that very reason.  Notice the pointed
end, too. You'll see that  it's been cut and split  into four sections, with
the points bent open,  like  a  flower bud, so  that as it's thrust  into an
enemy it has a good chance to break open, the four sides  going in different
directions to do more damage. With that one thrust, it will be like stabbing
him four times.
     "When  you snap it off  in  him,  he won't be able to fight you because
every  move  he  makes  will  wrench those  long  oak splinters  through his
vulnerable  insides.  If  it  doesn't  hit  something  vital  and  kill  him
immediately, he's certainly likely  to die within the day. While he's dying,
he'll be screaming in agony and fear. I want such evil men to know that  the
pain and death  they inflict on others  will  be coming for them. That  fear
will cause them  to begin to think of running. It will make them lose sleep,
wear them down, so that when we do get to them they'll be easier to kill."
     Richard picked up another item. "This is a small crossbow." He held
     it high for the men to see  as he pointed outi ts features."As you  can
see, the bowstring is locked back on this nut. A stout bolt  is laid in this
groove, here. Pulling this lever rotates the  nut, releasing the  string and
firing  the bolt. It isn't fancy, and  you men aren't experienced  at  using
such weapons, but at close, range you don't have to be all that good a shot.
"I've started  a number of  crossbows and have  a whole pile of  stocks  and
parts made. With the items that you men brought back, we can
     finish making them. They're rather 0rude, and, as I said, they won't be
good at much of a distance, but they are small and you can hide them
     under a cloak.  No matter how big and strong the enemy is, the smallest
of you can kill him. Not even his chain-mail armor will protect against
     such a weapon fired at close range. I cah promise you that they will be
very deadly."
     Richard showed the  men hardwood clubs they would stud with nails. Such
weapons could  also be concealed. He  showed them a simple cord with a small
wooden handle at each end trjat was  used to strangle a man from behind when
stealth was paramount.
     "As  we  take these men, we'll  be able to get  other  weapons--knives,
axes, maces, swords."
     "But, Lord Rahl,"  Owen said, looking beside himself with worry,  "even
if we were to agree to join you in this,  we are not fighters. These men  of
the Order are brutes who are experienced  at such things. We would stand  no
chance against them."
     The others voiced their worried agreement. Richard shook his head as he
held up his hands for them to be quiet.
     "Look  at  those  fingers you  hold. Ask yourselves  what  chance those
little girls had against such  men. Ask yourselves what chance your mothers,
your sisters,  your  wives, your  daughters  have. You are the only hope for
these people. You are the only hope for yourselves.
     "Most  likely, you  men  would not  stand a  chance against  such  men,
either. But I have no intention of  fighting them as you're thinking. That's
a good way to get killed." Richard pointed at  one of the younger men. "What
is it we want? The reason you came to get me?"
     The man looked confused. "To get rid of the men of the Order?"
     "Yes," Richard said.  "That's right. You want  to be rid of  murderers.
The last thing you want is to fight them."
     The man gestured at the weapons  Richard had  shown  them.  "But  these
things ..."
     "These men are murderers. Our task is to execute them. We want to avoid
fights. If we fight them, we risk being hurt or killed. I am not saying that
we won't have to fight them, but that isn't  our  goal.  There will be times
when  there may  be limited  numbers of them and we can  be  sure that  with
surprise  we can take them out before a fight has a chance to erupt. Keep in
mind that these men have been conditioned to none of  your people putting up
any  resistance. We  hope to kill them before it occurs  to  them to draw  a
     "But if we don't have to face them, all the better. Our goal is to kill
them. To kill every one of them we can. Kill them when they sleep, when they
are looking the other way, when they are eating, when they are talking, when
they are drinking, when they are out for a stroll.
     "They are evil. We must kill them, not fight them."
     Owen threw up his hands. "But, Lord Rahl, if  we were to start  killing
them, they would take revenge on all the people they have."
     Richard watched the men, waiting until he was sure everyone  was paying
     "You have just recognized the reality that they are evil. You're right;
they  will  probably  start  killing captives  as a way to  convince you  to
surrender.  But they are killing them now. Over time, if  left to do as they
will, the killing  they do will be on a vast scale. The faster we kill them,
the  sooner it's  over and the sooner the murder will stop. Some people will
lose their lives because of what we do,  but in doing it,  we  will free all
the rest. If we  do nothing, then we  condemn those innocent  people  to the
mercy of  evil and evil grants no  mercy. As  I've  said  before, you  can't
negotiate with evil. You must destroy it."
     A man cleared his throat. "Lord Rahl,  some  of  our  people have sided
with the  men  of the Order--believed their words. They will not  want us to
harm the men of the Order."
     Richard let out a heavy breath. He turned away for a moment, gazing off
into the gloom, before turning his attention once more to the men. "I've had
to kill  people I knew my whole life because they sided with the Order, much
the same  as you are saying. They came  to believe the  men of the  Imperial
Order, and because I was opposed to the Order, they tried to kill me. It's a
terrible  thing  to  have  to kill someone  like  that, someone  you know. I
believe the alternative is worse."
     "The alternative?" the man asked.
     "Yes, letting them murder me. That's the alternative:  losing your life
and losing the  cause for which  you  fight--the lives of  your loved ones."
Richard's expression had turned grave. "If some of  your people have  joined
with the Order, or work to  protect  them, then it may be that you could end
up facing them.  It  will be  their life, or yours.  It  could even mean the
lives of the rest of us. If they side with evil, then we must not allow them
to stop us from eliminating evil.
     "This is part of  what you must weigh in  your decision to  join  us or
not. If you take up this struggle, you must accept that you may have to kill
people you know. You must weigh this in the choice you will make."
     The  men no longer seemed  shocked by his words.  They looked solemn as
they listened.
     Kahlan  saw small birds flitting past, looking to roost  for the night.
The sky, the icy fog, was getting darker. She scanned the sky, ever watchful
for black-tipped  races. With  the  weather  in  the pass  so  dreadful, she
doubted  they would be  around. The  fog, at least,  was comforting for that
     Richard  looked exhausted. She knew  how hard it was for her to breathe
in the high, thin air, so it  had to be far worse for him; she  feared  how,
because  of  the poison, the thin  air robbed Richard of  his strength. They
needed to be down out of the high pass.
     "I have told  you the truth and all  I can for now,"  Richard told  the
men. "Your future is now up to each of you."
     He quietly asked Cara, Jennsen, and Tom to collect their things. He put
a gentle hand on Kahlan's back as he turned to the men and gestured down the
     "We're going back down to our camp in those woods. You  men decide what
you will do. If you are  with us, then come down there in the protection  of
the trees, where the races won't be able to spot us when the  weather lifts.
We will need to finish making the weapons you will carry.
     "If any of you choose not to join  us, then you're  on your own. I plan
not to be here, at this camp, for long. If  the Order captures you they will
likely torture you and I don't want  to  be anywhere nearby when you  scream
your lungs out as you reveal where our camp was."
     The forlorn men stood huddled in a group.
     "Lord Rahl," Owen asked, "you mean we must choose now?"
     "I've  told you  all I can. How  much longer  can those being tortured,
raped, and murdered wait for you? If  you wish  to join us  and  be part  of
life, then come down to our camp. If you choose not to be  on our side, then
I wish you luck. But please don't try to follow us or I'll have to kill you.
I was once a woods guide; I will know if any of you follow us."
     One  of  the  men,  the one who had been the first  to show Richard two
pebbles  to say that he would  reveal the location of the  antidote, stepped
forward, away from the rest of the men.
     "Lord  Rahl, my name is Anson." Tears filled his blue  eyes.  "I wanted
you to know that, to know who I am. I am Anson."
     Richard nodded. "All right, Anson."
     "Thank  you for opening my eyes.  I've always  had some of the thoughts
that you explained. Now I understand why, and I understand the darkness kept
over my  eyes. I don't want to live like that anymore. I don't want  to live
by words that don't mean anything  and  I don't want the men of the Order to
control my life.
     "My parents  were murdered. I saw my father's body hanging from a pole.
He never hurt anyone. He did nothing to deserve such a murder. My sister was
taken.  I know what  those men are  doing to  her.  I can't sleep  at  night
thinking about it, thinking about her terror.
     "I want  to fight back.  I want to kill these  evil men. They've earned
death. I want to grind them into dust, as you have said.
     "I choose to join with you and fight to gain my freedom. I want to live
free. I want those I love to live free."
     Kahlan was stunned  to  hear  one  of them say such  things, especially
without first consulting with the rest of the men. She  had watched the eyes
of  the other  men  as Anson spoke.  They  all listened keenly to everything
Anson said.
     Richard  smiled  as  he  placed  a hand  on the  young man's  shoulder.
"Welcome to D'Hara, Anson.  Welcome  home. We can use your help." He pointed
off at  Cara  and Tom picking up the weapons they'd brought to show the men.
"Why don't you help them take those things back down to our camp."
     Anson  grinned  his  agreement.  The  soft-spoken  young man  had broad
shoulders and a thickly  muscled neck. He was genial, but looked determined.
If  she  were in the  Imperial  Order,  Kahlan would  not want to see such a
powerfully built man coming after her.
     Anson eagerly  tried to take  the load from  Cara's arms.  She wouldn't
relinquish it, so he picked up  the rest of the things and followed Tom down
the hill. Jennsen went along, too, pulling Betty behind by her rope, tugging
for the first few steps because Betty wanted them  to stay with  Richard and
     The other men watched as Anson started  down the  hill  with Cara, Tom,
and  Jennsen.  They then  moved off to the side, away from the statue, while
they whispered among themselves, deciding what they would do.
     Richard glanced  at the  figure  of  Kaja-Rang before starting down the
hill. Something seemed to catch his eye.
     "What's the matter?" Kahlan asked.
     Richard  pointed. "That writing. On the face of the pedestal, below his
     Kahlan knew there had been no writing in that spot  before, and she was
still too far away to really tell  if she could see writing in  the  flecked
granite. She glanced back to see  the others making their way down the hill,
but instead followed Richard when he started toward the statue. The men were
still off to the side, busily engaged in their discussion.
     She could see the  spot on  the face of the pedestal where the  warning
beacon had shattered. The sand from inside the statue representing
     Richard was still splattered across the face of the pedestal.
     As they got closer,  she could hardly believe what she was beginning to
see. It looked as if the sand had eroded the  stone to reveal lettering. The
words had not been there before; that much she was sure of.
     Kahlan knew a number  of  languages, but she didn't know  this one. She
recognized it, though. It was High D'Haran.
     She hugged her arms to herself in the chill wind  that had come up. The
somber  clouds  stirred  restlessly.  She  peered  around  at  the  imposing
mountains, many hidden  by a  dark shroud  of fog. Swirling curtains of snow
obscured other slopes in the distance. Through a small, brief opening in the
wretched weather, the valley she could  see off through the pass offered the
promise of green and warmth.
     And the Imperial Order.
     Kahlan, close beside Richard, wished he  would put a  warm  arm  around
her.  She watched as  he stared  at the  faint letters in the  stone. He was
being far too quiet for her peace of mind.
     "Richard," she whispered, leaning close to him, "what does it say?"
     Transfixed, he ran his fingers  slowly,  lightly over the letters,  his
lips soundlessly pronouncing the High D'Haran words.
     "Wizard's  Eighth  Rule,"  Richard  whispered  in  translation.  "Taiga

     Following behind the messenger,  Verna stepped aside as a tight pack of
horses  raced  by. Their bellies were caked with mud, their nostrils  flared
with excitement. The eyes of  the  cavalry  soldiers bent over their withers
showed grim  determination. With the constant  level of  activity of  recent
weeks, she  had to maintain  a  careful vigil whenever she  stepped out of a
tent lest  she  be run down by  one  thing  or  another. If it wasn't horses
charging through camp, it was men at a run.
     "Just up ahead," the messenger said over his shoulder.
     Verna nodded to  his  young  face as he glanced  back. He  was a polite
young man. His curly blond hair and his mannerly behavior combined to remind
her of Warren. She was defenseless against the wave of pain that cut through
her with the memory of Warren being gone, at the emptiness of each day.
     She  couldn't remember this messenger's  name. There were so many young
men; it was hard to recall  all their names. Though  she tried her best, she
couldn't keep track of them. At least for a while now they hadn't been dying
at a  terrifying rate. As harsh  as the  winters  were  up  in  D'Hara, such
weather had at least been a respite from the battles of the previous summer,
from  the constant  fighting and dying.  With  summer  again upon them,  she
didn't think  that the relative quiet was going to last much  longer.For now
the  passes held  against  the Imperial  Order. In such narrow  and confined
places, the enemy's weight of numbers  didn't mean  so much. If only one man
would fit through a narrow hole in a stone wall, it meant little  that there
were a hundred waiting behind him  to  go  through, or a thousand. Defending
against one man,  as it were, was not the impossible task that it was trying
to fight the onslaught of Jagang's entire force.
     When she heard the distant thunder, felt it rolling through the ground,
she glanced  up at the sky.  The sun had not made an appearance in two days.
She didn't like the looks  of  the clouds building against the slopes of the
mountains. It looked like they could be in for a nasty storm.
     The  sound might not  have  been  thunder. It was possible that  it was
magic  the  enemy  hammered against  the  shields  across  the passes.  Such
battering would do them no good, but it made for uneasy sleeping, so, if for
no other reason, they kept at it.
     Some  of the  men and the officers passing in the  other direction gave
her  a nod in greeting, or a smile, or a small  wave. Verna  didn't see  any
Sisters of the Light. Many would  be at  the passes, tending shields, making
sure  none of the Imperial Order soldiers could get through. Zedd had taught
them to  consider  every possibility,  no  matter how outlandish, and  guard
against it. Day  and night Verna ran every one  of those places through  her
mind, trying to think if there  was  anything they  had overlooked, anything
they had missed, that might allow the enemy forces to flood in upon them.
     If that happened, if they broke through, then there was nothing to stop
their advance into D'Hara except the defending  army, and the defending army
was no  match  for  the numbers  on the other side of  those  mountains. She
couldn't think of any chink in their armor, but she worried  constantly that
there might be one.
     It  seemed  that  the final battle might be on  them at any moment. And
where was Richard?
     Prophecy said  that  he was  vital in the  battle  to decide the future
course of mankind. With it appearing that they very well could be one battle
from the end of it all, of freedom's final spark, the Lord Rahl ran the very
real risk  of missing  the moment  of  his greatest need. She  could  hardly
believe that for centuries Prophecy foretold of the one who would lead them,
and when  the time finally  arrives, he's off  somewhere else.  Lot of  good
Prophecy was doing them.
     Verna knew Richard's heart. She knew Kahlan's heart. It wasn't right to
doubt  either  of  them,  but Verna  was  the one staring  into the  eyes of
Jagang's horde and Richard was nowhere to be found.
     From what little information Verna had  gleaned  from Ann's messages in
the  journey book,  there was trouble  afoot.  Verna could  detect  in Ann's
writings that  the  woman  was  greatly troubled  by something. Whatever the
cause, Ann and Nathan were  racing  south,  back down through the Old World.
Ann avoided explaining,  possibly not wanting  to  burden them with anything
else, so Verna didn't press.  She had enough  trouble  conceiving of why Ann
would have joined with the prophet rather than  collaring him. Ann said only
that a journey book was not a good place to explain such things.
     Despite the good  work  the man sometimes  did, Verna considered Nathan
dangerous in  the  extreme. A thunderstorm brought  life-giving rain, but if
you were the  one struck by its lightning, it  didn't do you much  good. For
Ann and Nathan to join forces, as it were, must be indicative of the trouble
they were all in.
     Verna had to remind herself that not everything was going against them,
not everything  was  hopeless  and  dismal.  Jagang's  army had, after  all,
suffered a stunning blow  at the hands of Zedd and  Adie, losing  staggering
numbers of soldiers in  an instant and suffering vast numbers of casualties.
As a result  the Imperial Order had turned away from Aydindril,  leaving the
Wizard's Keep untouched. Despite the dream walker's covetous hands, the Keep
remained out of his reach.
     Zedd and Adie had the defense of  the Keep well in hand, so it was  not
all trouble and strife; there  were valuable  assets  on  the  side  of  the
D'Haran  Empire. The  Keep might yet prove decisive in helping  to stop  the
Imperial Order. Verna missed that old wizard, his advice, his wisdom, though
she would never admit it aloud. In that  old man she could see where Richard
got many of his best qualities.
     Verna halted when she saw  Rikka striding across in front of her. Verna
snatched the Mord-Sith's arm.
     "What is it, Prelate?" Rikka asked.
     "Have you heard what this is about?"
     Rikka gave her a blank look. "What what's about?"
     The messenger stopped on the other side of the intersection of informal
roads. Horses trotted past  in both directions, one pulling a cart  of water
barrels.  Fully armed men  crossed on the side road.  The encampment, one of
several, surrounded by a defensive berm, had evolved into a  city  of sorts,
with byways through its midst for men, horses, and wagons.
     "Something is going on," Verna said.
     "Sorry, I haven't heard anything."
     "Are you busy?"
     "Nothing urgent."
     Verna took a good grip on Rikka's arm and started her walking. "General
Meiffert sent for me. Maybe you'd best come along. That way if he wants you,
too, we won't have to send someone looking for you."
     Rikka  shrugged.  "Fine  by  me."  The  Mord-Sith's  expression  turned
suspicious. "Do you have any idea what's wrong?"
     As Verna  kept an eye on  the  messenger  ahead  of her weaving his way
among  men, tents, wagons,  horses, and repair stations, she glanced over at
Rikka.  "Nothing that I know of." Verna's expression contorted a bit  as she
tried to put her queazy mood into words. "Did you ever wake up and just feel
like there was something  wrong, but you couldn't explain why it seemed like
it was going to be a bad day?"
     "If  it's to be a bad day, I  see to that it's someone  else's, and I'm
the cause of it."
     Verna smiled to herself. "Too bad you're  not gifted.  You would make a
good Sister of the Light."
     "I would rather be Mord-Sith and be able to protect Lord Rahl."
     The  messenger  stopped  at the  side  of the camp road.  "Back  there,
Prelate. General Meiffert said to bring you to that tent by the trees."
     Verna  thanked the  young man and made her way  across the soft ground,
Rikka at her side. The tent was away from the main activity of the camp,  in
a  quieter area where officers often met with scouts just back from patrols.
Verna's mind raced, trying  to  imagine what news scouts could  have brought
back. There was no alarm, so the passes still held.  If there  was  trouble,
there would be  a flurry  of activity in the  camp,  but it seemed about the
same as any other day.
     Guards  saw Verna  coming  and ducked  into  the  tent to announce  her
arrival. Almost immediately, the general stepped out of the tent  and rushed
to meet her. His blue  eyes reflected  iron determination.  The  man's face,
though, was ashen.
     "I saw Rikka," Verna explained as General Meiffert dipped his head in a
hurried greeting.  "I thought I  ought to bring her just in  case you needed
her, too."
     The tall,  blond-headed D'Haran  glanced briefly at Rikka. "Yes, that's
fine. Come in, please, both of you."
     Verna snatched  his sleeve.  "What's this  about? What's  going on?  Is
something wrong?"
     The  general's eyes  moved to Rikka  and back  to Verna.  "We've had  a
message from Jagang."
     Rikka leaned in, her voice taking on an edge. "How did a messenger from
Jagang get through without someone killing them?"
     It was standard practice that no one came through for any reason.  They
didn't want so much as a mouse making it through. There was no telling if it
might be some kind of trick.
     "It  was  a small wagon, pulled by  a single horse." He tilted his head
toward  Verna.  "The  men  thought the  wagon  was  empty.  Remembering your
instructions, they let it through."
     Verna was somewhat surprised  that Ann's warning to let  an empty wagon
through had been so correct. "A wagon came of its own accord? An empty wagon
drove itself in?"
     "Not  exactly. The  men who saw it thought  it  was  empty.  The  horse
appears to be a workhorse that is used to walking roads, so it plodded along
the road as it had been trained." General Meiffert pressed his lips together
at the confusion on Verna's face and then turned  away from the  tent. "Come
on, and I'll show you."
     He  led them to  the third tent down the line and held the flap  aside.
Verna ducked in, followed by Rikka and the general. On a bench inside sat  a
young novice, Holly, with her  arm around a very  frightened-looking girl no
more than ten years old.
     "I asked  Holly  to stay  with  her,"  General  Meiffert  whispered. "I
thought it might make her less nervous than a soldier standing over her."
     "Of course," Verna  said. "Very wise of you. She's  the one who brought
the message, then?"
     The young general nodded. "She was sitting in the back of the wagon, so
the men seeing it coming at first thought it was empty."
     Verna now understood why such a messenger got through. Soldiers weren't
nearly so likely to kill a child, and the Sisters  could  test her to insure
she was no threat. Verna wondered if  Zedd would have something to say about
that; threat often came in surprising packages. Verna approached the pair on
the bench, smiling as she bent down.
     "I'm Verna. Are you all right, young lady?" The girl nodded. "Would you
like something to eat?"
     Trembling slightly as her  big brown eyes took in the people looking at
her, she nodded again.
     "Prelate," Holly said, "Valery already went to get her something."
     "I see," Verna  said,  holding the smile in  place. She  knelt down and
gently  patted  the  girl's hands in her lap to reassure her.  "Do  you live
around here?"
     The girl's big brown  eyes blinked, trying to judge the  danger of  the
adult before her. She  calmed just a little at Verna's smile and kind touch.
"A bit of travel to the north, ma'am."
     "And someone sent you to see us?"
     The big brown eyes filled with tears,  but she  didn't cry. "My parents
are back there, down over the pass. The soldiers there have them. As guests,
they said. Men came and took us  to their  army. We've had to stay there for
the last few weeks. Today they told me to take a letter over the pass to the
people here. They said that if I did as I was told, they would let my mother
and father and me go home."
     Verna again patted the girl's small hands. "I see. Well, that's good of
you to help your parents."
     "I just want to go home."
     "And you shall, child." Verna straightened. "We'll get  you  some food,
dear, so you have a full tummy before you go back to your parents."
     The girl stood and  curtsied. "Thank you  for your  kindness. May  I go
back after I eat, then?"
     "Certainly,"  Verna  said. "I'll just go  read  the  letter you brought
while you have a nice meal, and then you can return to your parents."
     As she sat back  up  on  the  bench,  squirming her  bottom back beside
Holly, she couldn't help keeping a wary eye on the Mord-Sith.
     Trying not to  show any apprehension, Verna smiled  her good-bye to the
girl  before leading the others out  of the tent. She couldn't  even imagine
what Jagang was up to.
     "What's  in  the letter?"  Verna asked as they  hurried to the  command
     General Meiffert paused outside the  tent, his thumb burnishing a brass
button on his coat as he met Verna's gaze. "I'd just as soon you read it for
yourself, Prelate. Some  of it is plain enough. Some of it, well, some of it
I'm hoping you can explain to me."
     Stepping  into the tent,  Verna saw Captain  Zimmer waiting off  to the
side.  The  square-jawed man was  absent  his usual  infectious  smile.  The
captain was in  charge  of the D'Haran special forces, a  group of men whose
job  it  was  to go out and spend their days and nights  sneaking  around in
enemy territory killing as many of the enemy as possible. There seemed to be
an endless supply. The captain seemed determined to use up the supply.
     The men in Captain Zimmer's corps were very good at what they did. They
collected  strings of  ears they took from the  enemies  they killed. Kahlan
used to always ask  to  see their  collection  whenever they  returned.  The
captain and his men dearly missed her.
     They  all  glanced  up  at a  flash of lightning. The storm was getting
closer. After a moment's pause, the ground shook with  the rolling rumble of
     General  Meiffert  retrieved  a small folded paper from  the table  and
handed it to Verna.
     "This is what the girl brought."
     Looking briefly  to the two men's grim expressions, Verna unfolded  the
paper and read the neat script.
     /  have  Wizard Zorander and  a  sorceress named Adie. I  now  hold the
Wizard's Keep in Aydindril and all it  contains. My Slide  will soon present
me with Lord Rahl and the Mother Confessor.
     Your cause is  lost.  If you surrender now and open  the passes, I will
spare your men. If you do not, I will put every one of them to death.
     Signed, Jagang the Just.
     The arm holding the paper in her trembling fingers lowered.
     "Dear Creator," Verna whispered. She felt dizzy.
     Rikka  snatched the  paper from her hand  and stood  facing away as she
read it. She cursed under her breath.
     "We have to go get him," Rikka said. "We have to get Zedd and Adie away
from Jagang."
     Captain Zimmer  shook  his head. "There  is no  way we could accomplish
such a thing."
     Rikka's  face  went  red with rage.  "He's saved my life before! Yours,
too! We have to get him out of there!"
     In contrast to Rikka's anger, Verna spoke softly. "We all feel the same
about him.  Zedd  has  probably  saved all  of our  lives  more  than  once.
Unfortunately, Jagang will do all the worse to him for it."
     Rikka shook the  message before their faces. "So we are  just going  to
let him die there? Let Jagang kill him? We sneak in, or something!"
     Captain Zimmer rested the heel of his hand on a long knife at his belt.
"Mistress Rikka, if  I told  you  that I had a  man hidden somewhere in this
camp, in one of the hundreds of thousands  of tents, and no one would bother
you or ask  you  any questions, but would  allow  you to  freely  go about a
search, how long do you think it would take you to find such a hidden man?"
     "But they won't  be in  just any tent,"  Rikka said. "Look at us, here.
This message came. Did it go to just any random tent in  the whole camp? No,
it went to a place where such things are handled."
     "I've been to the Imperial Order encampment  too  many times to count,"
Captain  Zimmer  said  as  he  cast his arm out  toward the enemy  over  the
mountains to the west. "You can't even  imagine how big their camp  is. They
have millions of men there.
     "Their encampment is a quagmire of cutthroats.  It's a place  of chaos.
That disorder allows us to slip in, kill some of them, and get out fast. You
don't want to be there very long. They recognize outsiders, especially blond
     "Moreover,  there are  layers of  different kinds  of men. Most of  the
soldiers  are little more than a mob  of thugs that Jagang turns  loose from
time to time. None of them  are allowed beyond  a certain point within their
own camp. The men guarding the areas with higher security  are not nearly so
stupid and lazy as the common soldiers.
     "The men  in  those protected areas  aren't  as  numerous as the common
soldiers, but they are trained professionals. They are alert, vigilant,  and
deadly. If  you could somehow manage to  get  through the sea of misfits  to
reach the island at  the core where the torture and command tents are, those
professional soldiers would have you on the end of a pike in no time.
     "Even they are not all  the  same. The outer ring of this core, besides
having these professionals guarding it, is where the Sisters are.  They both
live  there and use magic to watch  for intruders.  Beyond  them are further
rings,  starting  with the  elite guards,  and then,  finally, the emperor's
personal guards. These are men who have been fighting with Jagang for years.
They kill  anyone,  even the  elite guard officers, if they  become  at  all
suspicious  of them. If they even  hear  word  of someone saying disparaging
things about the emperor, they hunt them down  and have them tortured. After
being tortured, if they live through it, they are then put to death.
     "I'm not saying that  my men and I would be unwilling to risk our lives
trying to  get Zedd  out of there; I'm saying that we would  be  giving  our
lives up for nothing."
     The mood in the tent could not have been more hopeless.
     The general  gestured with the  paper when Rikka  handed  it back. "Any
idea what a Slide is, Prelate?"
     Verna met his blue-eyed gaze. "A soul stealer."
     The general frowned. "A what?"
     "In the great war--three thousand  years ago--the wizards of that  time
created  weapons  out of  people. Dream walkers,  like Jagang, were one such
weapon. The best way I can explain it to you is that a Slide is in some ways
like  a dream walker.  A dream walker  can enter a  person's  mind and seize
control of them.  A Slide, I believe, is something like that, only he seizes
your spirit, your soul."
     Rikka made a face. "Why?"
     Verna lifted her hands in frustration. "I don't really know. To control
their victim, perhaps.
     Altering gifted  people was an ancient practice. They sometimes changed
gifted people with magic to suit a specific purpose. With Sub-tractive Magic
they took away traits they didn't want, and then they used Additive Magic to
add to or enhance a trait they did want. What they created were monsters.
     "I'm not really well versed in the subject. When I became Prelate I had
access to books I had never seen before. That's where I saw the reference to
Slides. They were  used  to slip into another  person's  being and steal the
essence of who they where--their spirit, their soul.
     "Altering people in such a way as to create these Slides is a long-dead
art.  I'm afraid  that  I  don't  know a  great deal about the subject. I do
remember reading that the ones called Slides were exceedingly dangerous."
     "Long-dead art,"  the  general muttered. He looked like he was making a
great effort  to  restrain himself. "Those  wizards  of that time made  such
weapons  as Slides, but how  could Jagang? He's  no wizard. Could it be that
he's lying?"
     Verna thought about the question a moment. "He has gifted  people under
his direct  control. Some  are able to use  underworld  magic. As  I said, I
don't know  a great deal about it, but I suppose it's  possible that he  was
able to do it."
     "How?" the general demanded. "How could Jagang do such things? He's not
even a wizard."
     Verna clasped  her  hands before herself. "He has  Sisters of the Light
and  the Dark. In theory,  I  suppose  he has what he needs. He is a man who
studies history. I know from personal experience that he puts great value in
books.  He has an  extensive  and  quite  valuable collection.  Nathan,  the
prophet, was very concerned about this very thing, and destroyed a number of
important volumes before they could fall into Jagang's possession.
     "Still, the  emperor possesses a  great  many others--in fact, he has a
huge  collection.  Now  that he has  captured the  Keep,  he  has  access to
important libraries.  Those books are dangerous, or  they wouldn't have been
sealed away in the Wizard's Keep in the first place."
     "And now Jagang has control of them." General  Meiffert ran his fingers
back through his hair. He gripped the back of the chair set before the small
table and  leaned his  weight on  his arms. "Do you think he really has Zedd
and Adie?"
     The question was a plea for some thread of hope. Verna swallowed as she
carefully considered the  question. She  answered  in  an honest  voice, not
wanting to  be the founder of a false  faith.  Since she'd read  the message
from Jagang, she, herself, had been searching for that same thread of hope.
     "I don't think  he's a man  who would find any satisfaction in bragging
about  something he hadn't actually accomplished. I think he must be telling
us the truth and wants to gloat over his accomplishment."
     The general released his grip on the chair  and turned as he considered
Verna's words. Finally, he asked a question worse yet.
     "Do you  think he's telling the truth that this Slide has Lord Rahl and
the Mother Confessor? Do you think this terrible creation, this Slide,  will
soon deliver the two of them to Jagang?"
     Verna wondered if this  was the  reason  for Ann  and Nathan's headlong
rush  down  through the Old World. Verna knew that  Richard  and Kahlan were
down there, somewhere. There  could be  no  more urgent reason for  Ann  and
Nathan to race south. Was it possible that  this  Slide had already captured
them,  or  captured  their souls?  Verna's heart  sank. She wondered if  Ann
already knew that the Slide had  Richard, and that was why she wasn't saying
much about her mission.
     "I don't know," Verna finally answered.
     "I think Jagang just made a mistake," Captain Zimmer said.
     Verna lifted an eyebrow. "Such as?"
     "He  has just betrayed  to us how much  trouble he's  having  with  the
passes.  He's just  told  us  how well our  defenses  are  working  and  how
desperate  he is. If he doesn't get through this season, his whole army will
have to sit out another winter. He wants us to let him through.
     "D'Haran winters are hard, especially on men  such as his, men not used
to the conditions. I  saw  with my own eyes good indications of how many men
he lost last winter. Hundreds of thousands of men died from disease."
     "He  has  plenty  of men,"  General Meiffert said.  "He  can afford the
losses. He has a steady supply of new troops  to replace the  ones who  died
from the fevers and sickness last winter."
     "So, you think the captain is wrong?" Verna asked.
     "No, I agree that  Jagang would like  very much to get it over with;  I
just  don't think he  cares how  many of  his men die. I think he's eager to
rule the world. Patient as he generally is, he sees the  end  at  hand,  the
goal within his grasp. We're the only thing standing in his way, keeping his
prize from falling to him. His men, too, are impatient for the plunder.
     "His choice to split the New World first by driving up to Aydindril has
left him close  to his goal, but in some ways, even more distant from it. If
he can't make  it through the  passes, he may decide to pick up his army and
make a  long  march back south again, to the Kern River valley, to  where he
can  then come  over  and up into D'Hara. Once  his  army  takes to the open
ground down south, there's no way for us to stop them.
     "If he can't break through the passes now, it means a long  march and a
long  delay, but he will still have us  in the end.  He would rather have us
now and is willing to offer the lives of our men to close a deal."
     Verna stared off. "It's a grave mistake to try to appease evil."
     "I agree," General Meiffert said.  "Once we opened the passes, he would
slaughter every last man."
     The mood in the tent was as gloomy as the sky outside.
     "I think we should  send him  back  a letter," Rikka said. "I  think we
should tell  him that we don't believe him that he has  Zedd and Adie. If he
expects  us  to believe  him, he should  prove  it; he should send us  their
     Captain Zimmer smiled at the suggestion.
     The general  tapped a  finger on  the table as he thought  it over. "If
it's as  you say, Prelate, and  Jagang really does have them,  then  there's
nothing  we can  do  about  it.  He  will kill them.  After what Zedd did to
Jagang's force  back in Aydindril, to say nothing of all the havoc he caused
the Imperial Order last summer when the Mother Confessor was with us, I know
it won't be an easy death, but he will kill them in the end."
     "Then you agree that nothing else can be done," Verna said.
     General  Meiffert wiped a hand across his  face.  "I hate admitting it,
but  I'm  afraid they're  lost. I  don't think we  should  give  Jagang  the
satisfaction of knowing how we truly feel about it."
     Verna's head spun at the thought of Zedd and Adie being put to torture,
of  them  being in the hands of  Jagang and his  Sisters  of  the Dark.  She
quailed  at the thought of the D'Haran forces  losing Zedd. There simply was
no one with his experience and knowledge. There was no one who could replace
     "We write Jagang a letter, then," Verna said, "and tell Jagang we don't
believe he has Zedd and Adie."
     "The  only thing we  can do,"  Rikka said, "is to  deny  Jagang what he
wants most. What he wants is for us to give up."
     General  Meiffert pulled out the chair at the table,  inviting Verna to
sit and write the letter. "If Jagang is  angered by  such a  letter, he just
might  send  us their heads. If  he  did, that  would  spare  them  terrible
suffering.  That's the only thing we can do for them--the  best  we could do
for them."
     Verna took stock of the  grim faces and saw only resolve at what had to
be done. She sat in the chair the general held  for her, wiggled the stopper
out  of the ink bottle, and then took a piece of paper from a small stack in
a box to the side.
     She  dipped the pen and  stared at  the paper for  a  moment, trying to
decide  how  to phrase the letter. She tried to  imagine  what Kahlan  would
write. As it came to her, she bent over the table and began writing.
     / don't  believe  you are competent enough to capture Wizard Zoran-der.
If you were, you would send us his head to prove it. Don't bother me anymore
with  your  whining for us  to open  the  passes for you because you are too
inept to do it yourself.
     Reading over Verna's shoulder, Rikka said, "I like it."
     Verna looked up at the others. "How should I sign it?"
     "What would make  Jagang  the  most  angry--or worried?" Captain Zimmer
     Verna tapped the back of the pen  against her chin as she thought. Then
it came to her. She put pen to paper.
     Signed, the Mother Confessor.

     Richard scanned  the  site off in the broad, green valley, watching for
any sign of troops. He looked over at Owen.
     "That's Witherton?"
     Hands pressed  against the rich forest  floor  at  the  crown of  a low
ridge, Owen  pulled himself closer to the edge. He stretched his neck to see
over the rise and finally nodded before pulling back.
     Richard had thought it would be bigger. "I don't see any soldiers."
     Owen crawled back away from the edge. In the shadowed cover among ferns
and low scrub, he  stood and  brushed the moist crumbles  of leaves from his
shirt and trousers.
     "The men  of the  Order  mostly  stay  inside the  town.  They  have no
interest  in  helping to do the work. They eat our  food and gamble with the
things they have  taken from our people. When they do these things  they are
interested in little else." His face heated to red. "At night, they used  to
collect some of our women." Since the reason was obvious enough, Owen didn't
put  words to it. "In the  daytime they sometimes  come out  to check on our
people who  work in the  fields,  or watch to see that they  come back in at
     If the soldiers had once camped  outside the city walls, they no longer
did.  Apparently,  they preferred the more comfortable accommodations within
the town. They had learned that these people would offer no resistance; they
could be  cowed and controlled by words alone. The men of the Imperial Order
were safe sleeping among them.
     The wall around Witherton  blocked much of Richard's view of the place.
Other than through the open gates, there wasn't much to see.  The  wall  was
constructed of  upright posts not a  great deal  taller than the height of a
man. The posts,  a variety of sizes no bigger around than a hand-width, were
bound tightly together, top and  bottom,  with rope.  The  wavy wall  snaked
around the town, leaned in or out in places. There was no bulwark, or even a
trench  before  the wall. Other than  keeping  out  grazing deer or maybe  a
roaming bear, the walls certainly didn't look strong enough  to withstand an
attack from the Imperial Order soldiers.
     The soldiers had no doubt made  a point of using the gate into the town
for  reasons  other than the strength of the wall.  Opening  the  gates  for
soldiers of the Imperial Order had been a symbolic sign of submission.
     Broad swaths of the valley were clear of trees, leaving fields of grain
to  grow  alongside row  crops in communal gardens. Tree limbs  knitted into
fencing  kept in cows. There,  the  wild grasses were  chewed low.  Chickens
roamed freely near coops. A few sheep grazed on the coarse grass.
     The smells of rich  soil, wildflowers,  and grasses carried  on a light
breeze into the woods  where Richard watched. It  was a great relief to have
finally descended from the pass. It had been getting difficult to breathe in
the  thin air up  on the high slopes. It was considerably warmer,  too, down
out of the lofty mountain pass, although he still felt cold.
     Richard checked the sweep of open valley one last time and  then he and
Owen made  their way back  into the dense tangle of woods toward  where  the
others waited.  The trees were  mostly hardwoods, maple and  oak, along with
patches  of birch, but there were also stands  of towering evergreens. Birds
chirped  from  the  dense foliage.  A  squirrel up  on  the limb  of a  pine
chattered at them  as they passed. The  deep shade  below  the  thick forest
crown was interrupted only occasionally by mottled sunlight.
     Some of the men, swatting at bugs, stood  in a rush  when  Richard  led
Owen into  the  secluded forest opening. Richard  was glad  to  stand in the
warmth of sunlight slanting in at a low angle.
     It appeared that the open area in the dense woods had been created when
a huge old maple  had been hit by lightning. The maple split and fell in two
directions, taking other trees down with it. Kahlan hopped down off her seat
on  the trunk of the fallen  monarch. Betty, her  tail  wagging in  a  blur,
greeted  Richard,  eagerly  looking  for  attention,  or  a  treat.  Richard
scratched behind her ears, the goat's favorite form of attention.
     More  of the men came into the open from behind upturned roots that had
been  turned silver by years  of exposure to the elements. A crop of spruce,
none more than chest high, had sprung up in the sunny  spot created when the
old maple had died such a  sudden and  violent death. Spread  among  Kahlan,
Cara, Jennsen, and Tom were the rest of the men--his army.
     Back  up in the pass, Ansons  saying that he  wanted  to  help rid  his
people of  the Imperial Order soldiers seemed to have galvanized the rest of
the  men,  and  the balance had finally  tipped.  Once it had, a lifetime of
darkness and doubt gave way to a hunger  to live in the light  of truth. The
men  all  declared,  in  a breathtaking moment  of determination,  that they
wanted to  join with Richard to be part of the D'Haran Empire and  fight the
soldiers of the Imperial Order to gain their freedom.
     They had all decided  that the men of the Order were evil  and deserved
death, even if they themselves had to do the killing.
     When Tom glanced  down to  see Betty going  back to browsing on  weeds,
Richard noticed  that  the  man's  brow was  beaded with  sweat. Cara fanned
herself with  a handful of big  leaves from  a  mountain maple. Richard  was
about to  ask them how they could be  sweating when it  was  such a cool day
when he realized that  it was the poison making him cold. With icy dread, he
recalled how the  last time he had gotten cold, the poison had nearly killed
him that awful night.
     Anson and another man, John, took off  their packs. They were  the ones
planning to  slip in among the field-workers returning to town at nightfall.
Once they sneaked into town, the two men planned to recover the antidote.
     "I  think I'd better go with  you," Richard  said to Anson. "John,  why
don't you wait here with the others."
     John looked surprised.  "If you wish,  Lord Rahl, but there  is no need
for you to go."
     It wasn't supposed to be a foray  that would  result  in  any violence,
only the recovery of the antidote. The attack on the Imperial Order soldiers
was to be after the antidote had been safely recovered and they had assessed
the situation, the number of men, and the layout.
     "John is right," Cara said. "They can do it."
     Richard was having difficulty breathing. He  had to make  an effort not
to cough.
     "I know. I just think I had better have a look myself."
     Cara and Kahlan cast sidelong glances at each other.
     "But if you go in there with Anson," Jennsen said, "you can't take your
     "I'm not going to start a war. I just want to get a good look around at
the place."
     Kahlan stepped closer. "The two of them can scout the town and give you
a report. You can rest--they will only be gone a few hours."
     "I know, but I don't think I want to wait that long."
     By the way she appraised his  eyes, he thought she must  be able to see
how much  pain he was  in. She didn't  argue the  point  further but instead
nodded her agreement.
     Richard pulled the baldric and sword belt off over his head. He slipped
it all over Kahlan's head, laying the baldric across her shoulder.
     "Here. I pronounce you Seeker of Truth."
     She accepted the sword and the honor by planting her fists on her hips.
"Now  don't you go starting  anything  while you're in there. That's not the
plan. You and Anson will be alone. You wait until we're all together."
     "I  know. I just need to get the antidote and then  we'll be back in no
     Beside  getting the  antidote, Richard wanted to see  the enemy forces,
how they were placed,  and the layout of the town. Having the men draw a map
in the dirt  was one thing,  seeing  it for himself  was  another; these men
didn't know how to evaluate threat points.
     One of the  men took off  his light coat, something a number of the men
wore, and held it out to Richard. "Here, Lord Rahl,  wear this. It will make
you look more like one of us."
     With a  nod of thanks, Richard drew the  coat on. He had changed out of
his war wizard's outfit into traveling clothes, so he didn't think he  would
look out  of place with the way the men from  the town of Witherton  looked.
The man was nearly Richard's size, so the coat fit well  enough. It also hid
his belt knife.
     Jennsen shook  her  head.  "I don't know, Richard. You just  don't look
like one of them. You still look like Lord Rahl."
     "What  are you talking about?"  Richard held out his arms, looking down
at himself. "What's wrong with the way I look?"
     "Don't stand up so straight," she said.
     "Hunch your shoulders and hang your head a little," Kahlan offered.
     Richard took their advice seriously;  he  hadn't thought  about it, but
the men  did tend to  hunch  a  lot. He didn't want to stand out.  He had to
blend in if he didn't want to raise the suspicions of the soldiers.  He bent
over a little.
     "How's that?"
     Jennsen screwed up her mouth. "Not much different."
     "But I'm bending down."
     "Lord Rahl," Cara said in a soft  voice as  she gave  him a  meaningful
look, "you remember how it was to walk behind Denna, when she held the chain
to the collar around your neck. Make yourself like that."
     Richard blinked at  her. The mental image of his time as a captive of a
Mord-Sith  hit  him like  a  slap.  He  pressed his lips  tight,  not saying
anything, and conceded with a single nod. The  memory of that  forsaken time
was depressing enough  that he would have no trouble using it to  fall  into
the role.
     "We had better be on our way," Anson said. "Now that the sun is falling
behind  the  mountains,  darkness  comes quickly." He hesitated, then  spoke
again. "Lord  Rahl,  the  men  of the Order will  not know you--I  mean they
probably will not realize you aren't from our  town. But  our  people do not
carry weapons;  if they see that knife, they will know you are not from  our
town, and they will send up an alarm."
     Richard lifted open the coat, looking  at the knife. "You're right." He
loosened his belt and removed the sheath holding the knife. He handed it  to
Cara for safekeeping.
     Richard cupped a hand quickly to the  side of Kahlan's face as a way of
saying his good-bye. She seized the hand in both of hers and pressed a quick
kiss  to the  backs of his fingers. Her hands  looked so small  and delicate
holding  his.  He  sometimes  kidded her that  he  didn't see how  she could
possibly get anything  done with such  small hands. Her  answer was that her
hands were  a  normal  size  and  perfectly adequate, and  his  were  simply
     The  men  all  noticed Kahlan's gesture  of affection. Richard was  not
embarrassed that they did. He wanted them to know that other people were the
same as they in important,  human  ways.  This was what  they  were fighting
for--the  chance to be human, to love and  cherish loved ones, to live their
lives as they wanted.
     The light faded quickly as Richard and Anson made their way through the
woods running beside fields of  wild  grasses. Richard wanted to work around
to where the forest came in closer to the men out weeding in the gardens and
tending to animals. With the nearby mountains to the west being so high, the
sun vanished behind them earlier than what would normally be sunset, leaving
the sky a swath of deep bluish green and the valley in an odd golden gloom.
     By the time  he and Anson had reached the place  where they would leave
the woods,  it was still  a little  too light, so they  waited a short while
until  Richard felt the murky light in the fields  was  dim  enough  to hide
them. The town was some  distance away and  since  Richard couldn't make out
any men outside the gates, he reasoned that if  soldiers were watching, then
they couldn't see him, either.
     As they moved quickly through the field of  wild grass, staying low and
out of sight, Anson pointed. "There, those men going back to town, we should
follow them."
     Richard  spoke quietly  back  over his  shoulder. "All right, but don't
forget, we don't want to catch up with them or they might  recognize you and
make a fuss. Let them stay a good distance ahead of us."
     When they reached the  town walls, Richard  saw that  the gates were no
more than two sections of the picket walls. A couple of posts no bigger than
Richard's wrist had been  tied sideways  to stiffen two sections of wall and
make them into gates.  The ropes that tied the posts together served as  the
hinges. The sections were  simply lifted  and swung around to open or  close
them. It was far from a secure fortification.
     In the  murky  light of twilight, the two  guards  milling  around just
inside the gates  and  watching workers  return couldn't really see much  of
Richard and Anson. To the guards, they would appear to be two more  workers.
The Order understood the value of workers; they needed slaves to do the work
so that the soldiers might eat.
     Richard hunched  his  shoulders and hung  his  head  as  he  walked. He
remembered those  terrible  times as  a captive when, wearing  a collar,  he
walked behind Denna, devoid of all hope of ever  again being  free. Thinking
of that inhuman time, he shuffled through  the open gates. The guards didn't
pay him any attention.
     Just as they were nearly past  the guards, the closest one reached  out
and snatched Anson's sleeve, spinning him back around.
     "I want some eggs," the young  soldier said. "Give me some  of the eggs
you collected."
     Anson stood wide-eyed, not knowing what to do. It seemed ludicrous that
these  two  young men were allowed  to  serve their cause by being  bullies.
Richard stepped  up beside Anson  and spoke quickly, remembering to  bow his
head so that he wouldn't loom over the man.
     "We have no eggs,  sir. We were  weeding the bean fields. I'm sorry. We
will bring you eggs tomorrow, if it pleases you."
     Richard glanced up just as the guard backhanded him,  knocking him flat
on his back. He instantly  took a firm  grip on his anger. Wiping blood from
his mouth, he decided to stay where he was.
     "He's  right," Anson  said,  drawing  the guard's  attention.  "We were
weeding beans. If you wish it, we will bring you some eggs tomorrow--as many
as you want."
     The  guard  grunted  a  curse at  them and  swaggered  off, taking  his
companion  with  him. They headed for a  nearby  long, low  structure with a
torch lashed  to a pole outside a  low door. In the flickering light of that
torch, Richard couldn't make out what the place was, but it appeared to be a
building dug  partway into  the ground so that the eaves were  at eye level.
After the two soldiers  were a  safe distance away, Anson  offered Richard a
hand to help him up. Richard didn't think  he'd been hit that  hard, but his
head was spinning.
     As  they started  out, faces back in doorways  and  around dark corners
peeked  out  to watch them. When Richard looked their way, the people ducked
back in.
     "They know you are not from here," Anson whispered.
     Richard didn't trust that one of those people wouldn't call the guards.
"Let's hurry up and get what we came here for."
     Anson nodded and hurriedly  led Richard down  a narrow street with what
looked like little more than huts huddled together to each side. The  single
torch burning outside the long building where the soldiers had gone provided
little light  down the street. The town, at least what Richard could see  of
it in the dark, was a pretty shabby-looking place. In fact, he wouldn't call
it a  town so  much as  a village.  Many of  the  structures  appeared to be
housing for livestock, not people.  Only rarely were there any lights coming
from any of the squat buildings and the light he did see looked like it came
from candles, not lamps.
     At the end  of  the street, Richard followed Anson through a small side
door into a larger building.  The cows  inside mooed at the intrusion. Sheep
rustled in their pens. A few goats in other pens bleated.  Richard and Anson
paused to let the  animals settle down before making their way  through  the
barn to  a  ladder at the side. Richard followed Anson as he climbed quickly
to a small hayloft.
     At the end of  the loft, Anson reached up over a low rafter to where it
tied  into  the  wall  behind  a  cross brace. "Here it  is,"  he said as he
grimaced, stretching his arm up into the hiding place.
     He came out with a small, square-sided bottle and handed it to Richard.
"This is the antidote. Hurry and drink it, and then let's get out of here."
     The large door banged  open. Even though it was dark outside, the torch
down the street provided just enough light to  silhouette the broad shape of
a man standing in the doorway. By his demeanor, he had to be a soldier.
     Richard pulled the stopper from the bottle. The antidote had the slight
aroma  of cinnamon. He quickly downed it,  hardly noticing its sweet,  spicy
taste. He never took his eyes off the man in the doorway.
     "Who's in here?" the man bellowed.
     "Sir,"  Richard  called  down,  "I'm  just getting  some  hay  for  the
     "In the dark? What are you up to? Get down here right now."
     Richard put a hand  against Anson's chest and pushed him back  into the
darkness. "Yes, sir. I'm  coming,"  Richard  called  to  the  soldier as  he
hurried down the ladder.
     At the bottom of the  ladder, he turned and  saw  the man coming toward
him.  Richard  reached for his knife  under the  coat  he was  wearing, only
remembering then  that  he didn't  have his  knife.  The  soldier  was still
silhouetted against the open  barn door. Richard was in the darkness and the
man probably wouldn't be  able to see  him.  He silently moved away from the
     As  the  soldier passed near  him,  Richard stepped in  behind  him and
reached  to  his side, seizing the knife sheathed  behind the axe hanging on
his belt. Richard gingerly drew the knife just as the man stopped and looked
up the ladder to the hayloft.
     As he was looking up, Richard  snatched a fistful of hair with one hand
and reached around with the other, slicing deep through the soldier's throat
before  he realized what was  happening.  Richard  held the man  tight as he
struggled, a wet gurgling the only sound coming from  him.  He reached back,
frantically grabbing at Richard for a moment before his movements lost their
energy and he went limp.
     "Anson," Richard whispered up the ladder as he let  the man slip to the
ground, "come on. Let's go."
     Anson  hurried  down  the  ladder, coming to a  halt as he  reached the
bottom and  turned around to see the dark shape of the dead man sprawled  on
the ground.
     "What happened?"
     Richard  looked up from  his work at undoing the weapon belt around the
dead weight of the soldier. "I killed him."
     Richard handed the knife, in  its  sheath,  to Anson. "Here you go. Now
you have a real weapon--a long knife."
     Richard rolled the dead soldier over to pull the  belt the  rest of the
way  out  from  under  the man. As he tugged  it free,  he heard a noise and
turned just in time to see another soldier running in toward them.
     Anson slammed  the long  knife  hilt-deep into the man's chest. The man
staggered back. Richard shot to his feet, bringing the weapon belt with him.
The soldier gasped for breath as he clutched at the knife handle. He dropped
heavily to his knees. One hand clawed  at  the air  above  him as he swayed.
Pulling a final gasp, he toppled to his side.
     Anson stood  staring at the man lying in a heap, the knife jutting from
his chest. He bent, then, and pulled his new knife free.
     "Are you all right?" Richard whispered when Anson stood.
     Anson  nodded. "I  recognize  this man.  We called  him the  weasel. He
deserved to die."
     Richard gently  clapped Anson on  the back  of the  shoulder. "You  did
well. Now, let's get out of here."
     As they made  their way back up the street, Richard asked Anson to wait
while  he checked down alleyways  and between  low buildings, searching  for
soldiers.  As  a guide, Richard often scouted  at night. In the darkness, he
was in his element.
     The town was a lot  smaller than he had expected. It was also much less
organized than he thought it would be, with  no  apparent order to where the
simple structures had been built. The streets through the haphazard town, if
they could be called streets,  were in most cases little more than footpaths
between clusters  of small, single-room buildings. He saw  a  few handcarts,
but  nothing  more elaborate. There was  only one  road  through  the  town,
leading back to the barn where they had recovered the  antidote and run into
the two soldiers, that was wide  enough  to accommodate a wagon. His  search
didn't turn up any patrolling soldiers.
     "Do you know if  all the men of the Order stay together?" Richard asked
when he returned to Anson, waiting in the shadows.
     "At night they go inside. They  sleep in our place, by  where  we  came
     "You mean that low building where the first two soldiers went?"
     "That's right. That's where most people used to gather  at  night,  but
now the men of the Order use it for themselves."
     Richard frowned at the man. "You mean you all slept together?"
     Anson sounded mildly surprised by the question.  "Yes. We were together
whenever  possible.  Many people had a house where they could work, eat, and
keep belongings, but they rarely slept in them. We usually all  slept in the
sleeping houses where we gathered to talk about the day. Everyone wanted  to
be together.  Sometimes people would  sleep in another place,  but mostly we
sleep  there  together  so  we  can  all feel  safe--much like  we all slept
together at night as we made our way down out of the pass with the statue."
     "And everyone just... lay down together?"
     Anson diverted  his  eyes. "Couples  often slept apart  from others  by
being with one another under a single blanket, but they were  still together
with our people.  In the dark, though, no one could see  them .  .. together
under a blanket."
     Richard had trouble imagining  such a way of  life. "The whole town fit
in that sleeping building? There was enough room?"
     "No,  there  were  too  many of us to all  sleep in one sleeping house.
There are two." Anson pointed. "There is another on  the far side of the one
you saw."
     "Let's go have a look, then."
     They moved quickly back toward the  town gates, such  as they were, and
toward the sleeping houses.  The  dark street was empty. Richard  didn't see
anyone on the paths between buildings. What people were left in the town had
apparently gone to sleep or were afraid to come out in the darkness.
     A door  in one of the  small homes opened a crack, as if someone inside
were peering out. The door opened wider and a thin figure  dashed out toward
     "Anson!" came the whispered voice.
     It was a  boy, in his  early  teens. He fell to his knees  and clutched
Anson's arm, kissing his hand in joy to see him.
     "Anson, I am so happy that you  are home! We've missed you so  much. We
feared for you--feared that you were murdered."
     Anson grabbed the boy by his shirt and hauled him to his feet. "Bernie,
I'm well and I'm happy to see you well, but you must go back in now. The men
will see you. If they catch you outside ..."
     "Oh, please,  Anson,  come  sleep at  our  house.  We're  so  alone and
     "Just me and my grandfather, now. Please come in and be with us."
     "I can't right now. Maybe another time."
     The boy  peered  up at  Richard, then, and  when he  saw that he didn't
recognize him shrank back.
     "This  is a  friend of mine, Bernie--from another town." Anson squatted
down beside the boy.  "Please,  Bernie,  I will return, but you must go back
inside  and stay there  tonight. Don't come out.  We  fear  there  might  be
trouble. Stay inside. Tell your grandfather my words, will you now?"
     Bernie finally agreed and ran back into the dark doorway.  Richard  was
eager to  get  out of  the  town before  anyone else came out to  pay  their
respects. If he and Anson weren't careful, they would end up attracting  the
attention of the soldiers.
     They moved quickly  the rest of  the way up the street, using buildings
for cover. Pressing up  against the  side of one at the  head of the street,
Richard peered around the corner at the squat daub-and-wattle sleeping house
where the guards had gone. The door  was open, letting soft light spill  out
across the ground.
     "In there?" Richard whispered. "You all slept in there?"
     "Yes. That is one of the sleeping houses, and beyond it the other one."
     Richard thought about it for a moment. "What did you sleep on?"
     "Hay. We put  blankets over  it, usually. We changed the hay  often  to
keep it fresh, but these men do not bother. They sleep like animals in dusty
old hay."
     Richard looked out through the open gates at the fields. He looked back
at the sleeping house.
     "And now the soldiers all sleep in there?"
     "Yes. They  took the  place from us.  They  said  it  was to  be  their
barracks.  Now our  people--the ones still alive--must  sleep wherever  they
     Richard made Anson stay put while he slipped through  the  shadows, out
of the light of the torch, to survey the area beyond the first building. The
second long  structure also had soldiers inside laughing  and talking. There
were  more men  than were needed to  guard such a small place, but Witherton
was the gateway into Bandakar--and the gateway out.
     "Come on," Richard  said as he came up beside Anson, "let's get back to
the others. I have an idea."
     As they made their way to the gate, Richard looked up, as he often did,
to check the starry sky  for any sign  of black-tipped races. He saw instead
that the  pole to each side of the gate held a body hanging  by  the ankles.
When Anson saw them, he paused, held frozen by the horror of the sight.
     Richard  laid  a hand on the man's  shoulder and leaned close. "Are you
all right?"
     Anson shook his head.  "No. But I will be better when the men  who come
to us and do such things are dead."

     Richard didn't  know  if  the antidote  was supposed  to make  him feel
better, but if it was,  it hadn't yet done its  work.  As they crept through
the pitch-black fields, his chest hurt with every breath  he took. He paused
and closed  his eyes briefly against the pain  of the headache caused by his
gift.  He  wanted nothing more than to  lie  down, but there was no time for
that. Everyone started  out once more when he did, quietly  making their way
through the fields outside of Witherton.
     It felt good, at least, to have his sword back, even if  he dreaded the
thought of having to draw it  for fear of  finding its magic  was no  longer
there for him. Once they recovered the other two bottles of the antidote and
he  was rid of the poison, then maybe they could  make it back to  Nicci  so
that she could help him deal with his gift.
     He tried not to worry if a sorceress could help a wizard once  his gift
had gone out of control, as his had.  Nicci had vast experience.  As soon as
he reached her, she could help him.  Even if she couldn't  help him, he felt
confident that she would at least know what he had to do in order to get the
help  he needed. After all, she was once  a Sister of the Light; the purpose
of the Sisters of the Light had been to help those with the gift to learn to
control it.
     "I think I see the outer wall," Kahlan said in a quiet voice.
     "Yes, that's the place." Richard pointed. "There's the gate. See it?"
     "I think so," she whispered back.
     It  was  a dark night,  with  no  moon.  While the  others  were having
difficulty seeing much of anything as  they made their way through the dark,
Richard was glad for the conditions. The starlight was enough for him to see
by,  but he  didn't  think it  was enough to give the  soldiers  any help in
seeing them.
     As they crept closer, the  sleeping house  came into  view through  the
open gate. The torch still burned outside the door to the building where the
soldiers slept. Richard signaled everyone to  gather  around close. They all
crouched low. He  grabbed  the shoulder of  Anson's shirt and pulled  him up
closer yet, then did the same with Owen.
     Both now carried battle-axes. Anson also carried the knife he'd earned.
The rest of the men carried the weapons they had helped finish making.
     When Richard and Anson had returned  to  the forest clearing, Anson had
told  the  waiting men everything that  had  happened. When he said  that he
killed the man called the weasel, Richard held his breath, not sure  exactly
how the men would react to hearing that one of their own had actually killed
a man.  There was a brief moment of astonished silence, and then spontaneous
joy at the accomplishment.
     Every man wanted to shake Anson's hand to congratulate him, to tell him
how proud they were.  At that  moment, any lingering doubts Richard harbored
had vanished.  He had allowed the men  to  celebrate briefly while he waited
for the night to darken, and then they  had started making their way through
the fields.
     This was the night that Witherton gained its freedom.
     Richard looked around at all the dark shapes. "All right, now, remember
all the things we've told you. You must stay quiet and hold the gates steady
while Anson and  Owen cut the rope where they hinge.  Be careful  not to let
the gates fall once the ropes are cut."
     In the dim starlight Richard could just make out the men nodding to his
instructions. Richard carefully  checked the sky, looking  for  any  sign of
black-tipped races. He  didn't see any. It had been a long time since they'd
seen any races.
     It seemed that the trick of  taking  to  the forests  just before  they
changed their expected route and being careful to stay out of sight from the
sky had worked. It was possible that they had succeeded in slipping out from
under Nicholas the  Slide's  surveillance. If  they really had  escaped  his
observation, then he wouldn't know where to begin looking for them.
     Richard briefly squeezed Kahlan's hand and then started for the opening
in the town wall. Cara crouched close at his other side. Tom was bringing up
the rear,  along with Jennsen,  making  sure  there  were no surprises  from
     They had  left Betty not only tied up, but confined  to a makeshift pen
to  be sure  she didn't follow  after  them and  give them away at the wrong
moment. The goat had been unusually distraught to be  left  behind, but with
lives  at stake they couldn't risk Jennsen's goat causing trouble. She would
be happy enough after they returned.
     When they reached the fields close to  the town gates, Richard motioned
for everyone  to get down and stay where  they were. Along with Tom, Richard
moved up  to the gates, taking cover in  the shadow of the wall. There was a
soldier just  inside  the gate, pacing slowly in his lonely nighttime sentry
duty. He  wasn't being very careful, or he would not  be doing such  duty in
the light of the torch.
     As the soldier turned to walk away from them, Tom slipped up behind the
man and swiftly silenced him. As Tom dragged the dead  man through the gates
to hide him  in the darkness outside the wall, Richard moved  in through the
gates, staying in the shadows  and  away from the torch burning  outside the
sleeping house. The door to the  sleeping  house stood open, but no light or
sound came from inside. This late, the men were bound to be asleep.
     He moved past  the first long building to  the  second, and there  came
upon  another guard. Quickly, silently, Richard seized the man and  cut  his
throat, holding  him  tight  as he  struggled.  When he finally  went  limp,
Richard  laid him in the darkness  at the head of the second sleeping house,
around the corner from the torchlight.
     In the  distance, the men had already swarmed  over the  gates, holding
them up while Anson  and Owen worked quickly at cutting the ropes that acted
as hinges. In moments, both sections  of gate were freed. Richard could hear
the soft grunts of effort as the heavy gates were manhandled  around  by the
two gangs of men.
     Jennsen handed  Richard his bow, the string already  strung. She handed
him one of the special arrows, holding the rest at the ready for him. Kahlan
slipped up  to the  torch on  the  pole  outside the  first building and lit
several small torches, handing each of them off to the men. She kept one for
     Richard  nocked the arrow and then  glanced around at the faces seeming
to float before  him  in the  wavering torchlight. In answer to the unspoken
question, they all nodded that they were ready. He checked the men balancing
the two gates and saw their nod. The bow in one hand, with  his fist holding
the arrow  in  place, Richard  gave hand  signals to the  men, starting them
     What had been a slow, careful  approach  from the woods  into the  town
suddenly transformed into a headlong rush.
     Richard held  the head of  the arrow nocked in his bow in the  flame of
the torch Kahlan held out for him. As soon as it caught, he ran to  the open
door of  the  sleeping house,  leaned into the darkness, and fired the arrow
toward the back.
     As the blazing  arrow flew the length of the building,  it  illuminated
row upon  row of men sleeping on the bed  of straw.  The arrow landed at the
far end,  spilling flame  across  the  straw.  A  few  heads lifted  at  the
confusing sight. Jennsen handed Richard another. He immediately drew  string
to cheek and the arrow shot toward the middle of the interior.
     As Richard pulled back from the doorway, two men with torches, dripping
flaming drops  of pitch, heaved them just inside. They hissed as  they  flew
through  the  air,  landing amid  the  sleeping  men, bouncing and  tumbling
through the straw, igniting a wall of flame.
     In  a  matter of  only a few  heartbeats since the  attack started, the
first sleeping house was set afire  from one end to  the other. The  largest
blaze, by design, was the fire spread by the pitch-laden torches, at the end
of the building nearest the door. Confused cries came from inside,  muted by
the thick walls. The sleeping soldiers scrambled to their feet.
     Richard checked that the men with the heavy  gates were coming; then he
ran  around the sleeping house to the  second  building. Jennsen,  following
close  behind, handed him an arrow, the flames  around its  head wrapped  in
oil-soaked cloth making a whooshing sound as she ran.
     One  of his  men  pulled the torch from  the stand outside the building
where the  guard Richard killed had  been  patrolling. Richard leaned in the
doorway only  to see  a big  man charging  at him  out of the dark interior.
Richard pressed his back against the doorjamb and kicked the man squarely in
the chest, driving him back.
     Richard drew the bowstring back and shot the flaming arrow off into the
interior.  As it  lit the  interior in its flight through  the building,  he
could  see  that some of  the men had been  awakened  and  were  getting up.
Turning to take the second flaming arrow  from Jennsen, he saw smoke pouring
up from the first  building. As  soon as  he drew string to cheek and loosed
the second arrow, he leaned away and men heaved the torches in.
     One torch fell back out of the doorway. It had bounced off the chest of
a man rushing for the doorway  to see what was happening. The pitch from the
torch caught his greasy  beard  afire. He let out  a  bloodcurdling  scream.
Richard kicked him back inside. In an instant, men by the dozens were racing
for the  door,  not  only  to  escape the burning building, but to meet  the
attack. Richard saw the flash of weapons being drawn.
     He sprang back from  the doorway  as the men carrying the heavy section
of gate rushed in. They turned the gate  sideways and rammed it in under the
eaves, but  before they could bring the  bottom down to wedge it against the
ground,  the weight of bellowing men inside crashed into the section of gate
and drove it back. The men carrying it fell back,  the  weight knocking them
from their feet, the gate landing atop them.
     Suddenly, men were  pouring from the doorway. Richard's men were  ready
and fell  on  them, driving the wooden  weapons into their soft underbellies
and snapping the handles off  as man after man spilled  out  of the doorway.
Standing to  the  side  of the door, others used their maces to  bash in the
skulls of soldiers  who emerged. When  one soldier came out  with his  sword
raised, the man to the side clubbed his arm as another rushed in and drove a
wooden stake in up under his ribs. The more men who fell at the doorway, the
more those trying to get out were slowed and could be dispatched.
     The soldiers were so stunned to see these  people fighting that in some
cases they fought  back only ineffectually.  As  a  soldier  leaped over the
bodies  in the  doorway and lifted a sword, a  man jumped  on  his  back and
seized his arm  while  another stabbed  him. Another, crying orders, charged
Jennsen, only to  have the  bolt  of a crossbow fired into his  face.  A few
soldiers escaped the burning building and managed to slip past Richard's men
only  to meet Cara's Agiel.  Their screams,  worse  than the cries of men on
fire, briefly brought the gaze of every man, from both sides of the battle.
     Fallen  knives and swords were scooped up  by the men of the  town  and
turned on the men from  the Imperial Order. Richard fired an arrow  into the
center of  the chest of a man emerging from the smoke that rolled out of the
doorway. As he was falling, a second  arrow felled  the man behind  him.  As
more men rushed  out, they fell over those piled around the doorway and were
hacked to death with  commandeered  axes or stabbed with confiscated swords.
Since they could emerge  only one at  a  time, the soldiers couldn't mount a
coordinated attack, but those waiting could.
     As Richard's men fought back those struggling to get out of the doorway
of  the burning building, other men  rushed  to help lift the gate so  those
under it could get  up and get control of it.  Once the gate was lifted, the
men swung it around and,  with a cry of joint effort, ran with it toward the
building.  They drove the  top up  under  the  eaves,  first,  but when they
brought the bottom edge down, the bodies piled in the doorway prevented them
from getting the bottom down so they could wedge it in place.
     Richard called out orders. Some of his  men rushed in and seized an arm
or a  leg of  a dead  man and dragged  the  body  aside so the  others could
finally  bring the bottom of the gate down against the building to close off
the opening.
     One  man from inside  squeezed through just before they had the gate in
place. The weight of  the door pinned him  against the building. Owen leaned
in  and with a sword  he'd picked up  decisively stabbed the man through the
     As men inside pounded  at the gate covering the doorway and threw their
weight against it, men on the outside piled  around to push it down and hold
it in place. Other men fell to their knees and  drove stakes into the ground
to lock  the  gate section  in  place,  trapping the soldiers inside.Behind,
streamers of flame leaked out from under the eaves of the first building and
leaped up into the night sky. The roof of  the building ignited all at once,
explosively  engulfing  the  entire  sleeping house in  sparks  and  flames.
Screams of men being burned alive ripped the night.
     The waves of heat coming off the massive fire as the first building was
consumed by  the  flames  began to carry the heavy aroma of cooking meat. It
reminded Richard that, for the killing he did, his gift demanded the balance
of not eating meat. After all  the killing of this night, since his gift was
already spinning out of control,  he would have to  be  even more careful to
avoid eating any meat.
     His  head  was  already  hurting so  much that  he  was having  trouble
focusing his vision; he couldn't afford to  do anything that  would  further
unbalance  his  gift.  If he was not  careful,  the  poison wouldn't get the
chance to be the first to kill him.
     Heavy  black smoke  billowed  out from  around the  edges  of  the gate
covering  the doorway of the second sleeping house. Screams  and pleas  came
from  inside. The  men  of  the town moved  back,  watching, as  smoke began
rolling up from under its eaves. The battle seemed to have ended  as quickly
as it had started.
     No one spoke as they stood in the harsh glare from  the roaring  fires.
Flames ate  through the second  building. With a loud whoosh it was engulfed
in fire.
     The heat drove everyone back away from the two sleeping houses. As they
moved back from the  burning buildings, they encountered  the  rest  of  the
people  of  the  town,  all  gathered in the  shadows, watching  in  stunned
     One of the older men took a step forward. "Speaker Owen,  what is this?
You have committed violence?"
     Owen  stepped away from the men he was with to stand before the  people
of his town. He held an arm back, pointing toward Richard.
     "This is Lord Rahl, of the D'Haran Empire. I went in search of  him  to
help us be  free. We have  much to tell you, but for now you must know  that
tonight, for the first time in many seasons, our town is free.
     "Yes, we have helped Lord Rahl to kill the evil men who have terrorized
us. We  have  avenged  the deaths  of  our  loved ones. We will no longer be
victims. We will be free!"
     Standing silently, the people seemed able only to stare  at  him.  Many
looked confused. Some looked quietly jubilant, but most just looked stunned.
     The boy, Bernie, ran up to Anson, peering up in astonishment.  "An-son,
you and our other people have freed us? Truly?"
     "Yes." He laid a hand on Bernie's shoulder. "Our town is now free."
     "Thank  you."  He broke into  a grin  as  he turned back to  the town's
people. "We are free of the murderers!"
     A sudden, spontaneous cheer rose into the night, drowning out the sound
of the crackling flames.  The people rushed  in around men they had not seen
for months, touching them, hugging them, all asking questions of the men.
     Richard took Kahlan's hand as he stepped  back out of  the way, joining
Cara, Jennsen, and Tom. These people who were so against violence, who lived
their whole life avoiding the  truth of what their  beliefs caused, were now
basking  in the tearful  joy of what it really meant to be freed from terror
and violence.
     People  slowly left  their men to come and  look  at Richard  and those
standing with him. He and Kahlan  smiled at their obvious joy. They gathered
in close before him, smiling, staring, as if Richard and those with him were
some strange creatures from afar.
     Bernie had attached himself to Anson's arm.  Others had the rest of the
men firmly embraced. One  by one, though, the  men  started pulling away  so
that they could stand behind Richard and Kahlan.
     "We are so happy that you are home, now," people were telling  the men.
"We have you back, at last."
     "Now we are all together again," Bernie said.
     "We can't stay," Anson told him.
     Everyone in the crowd fell silent.
     Bernie, like many of the others, looked heartbroken. "What?"
     Buzzing, worried whispers spread through the crowd. Everyone was shaken
by the news that the men were not home to stay.
     Owen  lifted  a  hand so they would  listen. When they went  silent, he
     "The people of Bandakar are still under the cruel power of the men from
the  Order. Just  as you have become free tonight,  so must the rest of  the
people of Bandakar be free.
     "Lord  Rahl  and his  wife, the Mother Confessor, as well as his friend
and  protector  Cara,  his  sister  Jennsen,  and  Tom, another  friend  and
protector, have all agreed to help  us. They  cannot do it alone. We must be
part of  it, for this is  our land,  but more importantly,  our  people, our
loved ones."
     "Owen, you must not engage in violence,"  an older man said. In view of
their sudden freedom, it was not  an  emphatic statement. It seemed to be an
objection more out of obligation than anything else. "You have begun a cycle
of violence. Such a thing is wrong."
     "We  will  speak  with you  before  we go,  so  that you might  come to
understand, as we have, why we must do this to be truly free of violence and
brutality. Lord Rahl has shown us that a cycle of violence is not the result
of fighting back for  your  own  life, but is the result of a shrinking back
from doing what is necessary to crush those who would kill you. If you do as
you must in  duty to yourself and your  loved ones,  then you will eradicate
the enemy so completely that they can no longer do you any harm. Then, there
is no cycle of violence, but an end to violence. Then, and  only  then, will
true peace and freedom take root."
     "Such actions can never accomplish  anything but to start violence," an
old man objected.
     "Look  around," Anson said. "The  violence has not  begun  tonight, but
ended. Violence has been crushed, as it should be, by crushing evil men  who
bring it upon us."
     People nodded to one another, the heady relief of being suddenly  freed
from  the grip of the terror  brought by the soldiers of  the Imperial Order
plainly overcoming  their objections.  Joy  had  taken over  from  fear. The
reality of having their lives returned had opened their eyes.
     "But you  must  understand, as we  have come to understand," Owen said,
"that nothing can  ever again be the way it  once was. Those ways are in the
     Richard noticed that the men weren't slouching anymore. They stood with
their heads held high.
     "We  have chosen to live,"  Owen told his people. "In so doing, we have
found true freedom."
     "I think we all have," the old man in the crowd said.

     Zedd  frowned with the effort  of  concentrating  on what it was Sister
Tahirah had placed on the table before  him. He looked up at her, at the way
her scowl pinched in around her humped nose.
     "Well?" she demanded.
     Zedd looked down, squinting at  the  thing before him. It looked like a
leather-covered ball  painted with faded blue and  pink zigzagged lines  all
around it.
     What was it about it that seemed so familiar, yet so distant?
     He blinked, trying to  better focus his eyes.  His neck ached something
fierce.  A  father,  hearing  his young  son in the next tent  screaming  in
appalling agony, had grabbed Zedd by the hair and yanked him away from other
parents who, pulling and pawing at him, made desperate demands of their own.
Because of the torn muscles in his neck, it was painful to hold up his head.
Compared to the torture he'd heard, though, it was nothing.
     The dim  interior of the tent, lit by several lamps hanging from poles,
felt  as if  it were  detached from the ground and swirling around him.  The
foul  place stank. The  heat  and  humidity  only  made  the smell,  and the
spinning, worse. Zedd felt as if he might pass out.
     It had been so long since he'd slept that he couldn't even remember the
last time he had  actually lain down. The only sleep he got was when he fell
asleep in the chair while Sister Tahirah  was seeing to another object being
unloaded from the wagons, or when she went to bed and the next Sister hadn't
yet  arrived  to take the next stint  in  their laborious cataloging of  the
items brought from the  Keep. The catnaps he got  were rarely longer  than a
few precious minutes at  a time.  The guards had orders not  to allow him or
Adie to lie down.
     At least the screams of the children had ended. At least, as long as he
cooperated, those  cries of pain had stopped. At  least, as long as he  went
along, the parents had hope.
     A  violent  crack  of  pain suddenly hammered  the side  of  his  head,
knocking him back. The chair toppled over,  spilling him to the ground. With
his arms bound behind  his back, he couldn't do anything  to  break the fall
and  he hit hard. Zedd's ears rang,  not  only from the  fall,  but with the
aftermath of  the blow of  the Sister's power  delivered through the  collar
around his neck.
     He hated that wicked instrument  of  control. The Sisters  were not shy
about exercising  that control. Because the collar locked  him away from the
use  of his  own  gift, he could  not  use  his ability to  defend  himself.
Instead, they used his power against him.
     It took little or no provocation to send  one of the Sisters into a fit
of violence. Many of these women had once been  kindly people devoting their
lives to helping others. Jagang had enslaved them to a different cause.  Now
they  did  his bidding. Though they might  have  once been gentle, they were
now, he knew, trying  to keep one step  ahead of the discipline Jagang meted
out  to them.  That discipline could be excruciating  beyond endurance.  The
Sisters were expected to get results; Jagang  would not be interested in the
excuse that Zedd was being difficult.
     Zedd saw that Adie, too, had been knocked to the ground. Any punishment
he received, she, too, endured. He felt more agony for her than for himself.
     Soldiers standing to the side moved in to right the chair and lift Zedd
into it. With his arms bound behind his back, he couldn't get up by himself.
They sat him down hard enough to drive a grunt from his lungs.
     "Well?" Sister Tahirah demanded. "What is it?"
     Zedd once again  leaned in, staring down at the round object sitting by
itself in the center of the table. The faint blue and pink  lines zigzagging
all around it stirred deep feelings. He thought he should know this thing.
     "It's . . . it's . . ."
     "It's  what!" Sister  Tahirah slammed the book against the  edge of the
table, causing the round object to bounce up and roll a few inches before it
came  to  a stop closer to  Zedd. She tucked  the book under one arm  as she
leaned with the other on the table. She bent down toward him.
     "What is it? What does it do?"
     "I... I can't remember."
     "Would you like  me to bring in some  children," the Sister said in the
soft,  sweet tone of a  very bitter threat, "and show you their little faces
before they are taken to the tent next to us to be tortured?"
     "I'm so tired," he said. "I'm trying to remember, but I'm so tired."
     "Maybe while the children are screaming  you  would like to  explain to
their parents that you are tired and just can't quite seem to remember."
     Children. Parents.
     Zedd  suddenly  remembered what the object was. Painful memories welled
up. He felt a tear run down his cheek.
     "Dear spirits," he whispered. "Where did you find this?"
     "What is it?"
     "Where did you find it?" Zedd repeated.
     Huffing  impatiently, the Sister straightened. She opened the  book and
made a  noisy  show of  turning heatedly through  the  pages.  Finally,  she
stopped and tapped a finger in the open book.
     "It says here that it was found hidden in an open recess in the back of
a black  six-drawer  chest in  a  corridor. There was a  tapestry  of  three
prancing white horses hanging above the chest."
     She lowered the book. "Now, what is it?"
     Zedd swallowed. "A ball."
     The Sister glared. "I know it's a ball, you  old fool.  What is it for?
What does it do? What is its purpose?"
     Staring  at the ball no bigger  than his fist, Zedd remembered. "It's a
ball for children to play with. Its purpose is to bring them pleasure."
     He  remembered  this  ball,  brightly  colored  back  then,  frequently
bouncing down  the halls of the  Wizard's Keep,  his  daughter giggling  and
chasing after it. He had  given  it to her for  doing well in  her  studies.
Sometimes she would  roll it down the halls,  urging it along with a switch,
as if she were walking a pet. Her favorite thing to  do was to  bounce it on
the floor  so that it would  come up  against a wall,  after which  it would
bounce to another wall at an intersection of stone hallways. In that way she
made it  bounce around a corner. She would  watch  which hall it  went down,
left or right, then chase after it.
     One  day she came  to  him  in tears.  He  asked  her  to  tell him her
troubles. She crawled  up in his  lap  and  told him that  her ball had gone
somewhere and gotten itself lost. She wanted him to get it unlost. Zedd told
her  that  if  she  looked,  she  would  likely  find  it.  She  spent  days
despondently wandering the halls of the Keep, searching for it. She couldn't
find it.
     Finally, starting out  one  morning at sunrise, Zedd made the long walk
down to  the city of Aydindril, to the  market  on  Stentor Street. That was
where he had first come across a stand where they sold such  toys  and found
the ball with the zigzagged lines. There he bought her another one--not just
like it, but instead one  with pink and green stars. He deliberately chose a
ball unlike  the  one she'd lost because he didn't  want  her to think  that
wishes could  be miraculously  fulfilled, but he did want  her to know  that
there were solutions that could solve problems.
     He remembered  his daughter hugging  his legs, thanking him for the new
ball, telling him that he was the best father in all  the world and that she
would be ever so much more careful  with the new ball and never  lose it. He
had smiled  as he watched her put a  little hand to her heart  and recite  a
little-girl oath she had invented on the spot.
     She  treasured the ball  with the  pink and  green  stars. Since it was
small, it was one  of the few things  she had  been able to  take  with her,
after she was grown, when  she and Zedd  ran  away to Westland, after Darken
Rahl had raped her.
     When  Richard had been  young, he  had  played  with  that  ball.  Zedd
remembered  the  smile on his  daughter's face as she watched  her own child
play with  that  precious ball. Zedd  could  see in her beautiful  eyes  the
memories of her own childhood as she watched Richard play. She had kept that
ball her whole life, kept it until she died.
     This ball before him  was the  very  same one his daughter had lost. It
must have bounced up behind the chest and fallen  into a recess in the back,
where it had been for all those long years.
     Zedd leaned forward, resting his forehead on  the dusty ball surrounded
with  faded blue and pink zigzagged lines, the ball which her little fingers
had once held, and wept.
     Sister  Tahirah seized a fistful of his hair and pulled him upright. "I
don't believe you're telling me  the truth.  It's an object of magic. I want
to know what it is and what it does." Holding his head back, she glared into
his eyes. "You know that I will not hesitate to do what is necessary to make
you cooperate. His Excellency accepts no excuses for failure."
     Zedd  stared up at her, blinking  away his  tears. "It's a ball, a toy.
That's all it is."
     With  a  sneer,  she  released  him. "The  great  and  powerful  Wizard
Zorander." She shook her head. "To think that we once feared you. You are  a
pathetic old man, your courage  crushed  by nothing more than the  cry  of a
child." She sighed. "I must say,  your reputation far exceeds the reality of
your mettle."
     The Sister scooped  up  the ball,  turning  it  in  her  fingers as she
inspected  it. She huffed  with disgust  and tossed it aside, as if it  were
worthless. Zedd watched the ball  bounce and roll  across the ground, coming
to rest at the side of the tent, against the bench where Adie sat. He looked
up into her completely white eyes to see her watching him. Zedd turned away,
waiting while the Sister made notes in her book.
     "All right,"  she finally said, "let's go  have a look at what  they've
unloaded in the next tent."
     The soldiers lifted him from the chair before he had a chance to try to
do it  himself. His  shoulders ached from  his wrists being bound behind his
back and from being lifted by his arms. Adie, too, was  lifted  to her feet.
The book  snapped closed. Sister Tahirah's wiry gray hair whipped  around as
she turned and led them out of the tent.
     Because the Sisters knew how dangerous items of magic from the Wizard's
Keep  could  be,  especially  if  the  wrong combination of  magic  were  to
accidentally be allowed to  combine  or touch, they  were cautious enough to
bring the items, one at a time, out of each individual, protected,  shielded
crate in the wagons. Zedd knew  that  there were things in the Keep that, by
themselves, were not  dangerous, but  became so in  the  presence  of  other
things that,  by themselves, were also not  dangerous. Sometimes it was only
the combination of specific items that created a desired outcome.
     The Sisters had vast experience  in the most  esoteric  things of magic
and so they at  least understood the  principles involved. They  treated the
cargo with the care due  such potentially hazardous goods.  Once each object
was  uncrated, they placed it, by itself,  in  a tent to await  examination.
They took Zedd and Adie from tent to  tent so  that Zedd could identify each
treasure, tell them what it was, explain how it worked.
     They had been at it for days--how many, Zedd couldn't remember. Despite
his best efforts, the endless days and nights had all begun to melt together
in his mind.
     Zedd did all he could to stall, but there was only so much he could do.
These women  knew magic. They  would  not  easily be fooled by  any invented
explanation.  They  had  made  very  clear  the  consequences  of  any  such
     And, Zedd didn't  know  how  much they  knew.  At  times  they  feigned
ignorance of something  which they actually  understood  quite well, just to
see if he was telling the truth.
     Fortunately,  as   of  yet,  they  had  uncovered   nothing  that   was
extravagantly  dangerous.  Most  of   the   items  from  the   crates   were
simple-looking objects, but were actually  for a narrowly focused purpose--a
pole that  could remotely judge the  depth  of  water  in a  well,  an  iron
decoration  shaped like a fan of leaves that prevented  words from  carrying
beyond an open door where it was placed, a large looking glass that revealed
when a person entered another room. While possibly useful to Emperor Jagang,
such items were not  all that valuable or dangerous; they were not  going to
help him to conquer and rule the world.
     What dangerous things the Sisters had  uncrated and  shown him were not
really anything  that a Sister couldn't  easily produce with a spell of  her
own.  The most  dangerous item had been a constructed spell held  within  an
ornate  vase  that,  under specific conditions, such  as when  the vase  was
filled with water, created a temperature inversion that  produced a blast of
flame. Zedd was not betraying his cause or putting innocent lives at risk by
revealing how the  spell worked;  any Sister worth her salt could  reproduce
the  same effect.  The purpose of  the spell was protective; had it  touched
other stolen  items,  which, because  they  were stolen,  was a reversal  of
intended ownership that such a  spell recognized, it would have  ignited and
destroyed those items, keeping them from covetous hands.
     None of  the things so far discovered  would do Jagang  any real  good.
There were things in the Keep, though, that could cause him harm. There were
spells there, such as the constructed spell in the vase, that recognized the
nature of the person  invoking their magic. Opened by the right person, such
as Zedd, those things would do nothing,  but, opened by a  thief, they would
create calamity.
     The  Keep had thousands of  rooms.  The looting  of  it had  netted the
Imperial  Order  a  caravan  of  cargo wagons,  but  even  that  much hardly
scratched the surface of the contents of the Keep.
     So far, Zedd had not seen any plums.
     He didn't  know if he would live to see any. The ride in the box  after
his  capture had been  brutal. He was still  not recovered from the injuries
inflicted after meeting Jagang. Guards let the parents do what they would to
convince Zedd and Adie to  give in,  but they wouldn't allow  the parents to
get so carried away that  they  killed such prize prisoners. The parents had
known that they weren't to kill them, but in  the  heat of such raw passion,
Zedd knew that such orders  were easy  to forget. Zedd  yearned for them  to
kill him and end it. The emperor, though, needed them alive,  so the  guards
stood careful watch.
     After  the first  few  horrifying hours of  listening to children being
subjected   to  crippling   torture,  of  being  among  their  parents,  who
understandably  demanded, quite  forcefully, that he  cooperate and tell the
emperor what  he wanted to know, Zedd had given  in--not for the sake of the
parents so much as to stop those brutal men from what they were doing to the
     He had  figured that he had nothing to  lose,  really, by giving in. It
stopped the torture of the children for  the time  being. The Keep was vast;
the things they brought were only a tiny portion of them. Zedd reasoned that
the caravan  of wagons probably didn't hold  anything of  any real  value to
Jagang. It would take quite a while to catalog everything--it could be weeks
more before  they  reached the  last  item. There was no purpose in allowing
children to endure  torture when there might not be anything useful for Zedd
to betray to Jagang.
     Once, when they were  alone while the Sister had  gone  to check on the
preparations  in the next tent, Adie had  asked what  he would  do  if  they
presented  him  with something that  would materially help Jagang win.  Zedd
hadn't had a chance to answer; the  soldiers had  come in then and taken the
two of them to the Sister in the next tent.
     He was hoping to  drag  out the process  for as long  as  possible.  He
hadn't counted on how they would keep at it day and night.
     It sometimes  took quite a  while for the Sisters to get out  the  next
treasure  and have  it ready.  They were understandably cautious and took no
chances. Those  strange men  without any  trace of  the gift who helped them
might not be harmed if any errant item of magic were to accidentally be  set
in motion, but everyone else certainly was vulnerable. Careful as they were,
there were enough people working at the preparations that Zedd and Adie were
not allowed to sleep for long before they were taken off to unravel the next
puzzle for them.
     As he  and Adie were dragged through  the dark camp to  the next  tent,
Zedd's legs would hardly hold him. Seeing his daughter's  long-lost ball had
sapped much of his remaining strength. He had never felt so old, so  feeble.
He feared that his will to go on was flagging.
     He didn't know how much longer he could keep his sanity.
     He wasn't  at all sure that he  actually still possessed it. The  world
seemed to  have turned into a crazy place. At times the whole  thing  seemed
dreamlike. What he knew and what he didn't know sometimes seemed to have all
twisted together into a knot of confusion.
     As  he was marched through  the dark camp,  through  the humid heat, he
began to imagine  that he saw things--mostly people--from his past. He began
to doubt that he really had seen that ball. He wondered if, like some of the
other things he was seeing, he had imagined it as well. Could it maybe  have
been a simple ball, and he only thought that it was the one his daughter had
lost?  Had he imagined the  zigzagged colors around it? He  was beginning to
question himself over every little thing.
     Looking up at  all the people  in the crowded encampment, he thought he
saw his long-dead wife, Erilyn, in the faces of the  women held nearby under
guard. They  were mothers,  their worst nightmares ready to come  to life if
Zedd  didn't  cooperate.  His  gaze  passed  over  children  clutching their
mother's skirts, or their father's legs. They looked  at him. his wavy white
hair in disarray, probably thinking he was some crazy man. Maybe he was.
     The torches lit the sprawling camp with a kind of flickering light that
made everything  seem imaginary. The campfires, spread as  far as  he  could
see,  looked like a  star field lying across the ground, as if the world had
turned upside down.
     "Wait," the Sister said to the guards.
     Zedd  was jerked to a halt as  the Sister  ducked inside the tent. Adie
cried out as  the man holding  her wrenched her arm  in the act of  stopping
     Zedd swayed on  his feet, wondering if  he might pass  out.  The  whole
nighttime camp wavered in his vision.
     As he  looked  at  one of  the  girls  held captive across the way,  he
stared,  astonished, thinking  he  recognized  her.  Zedd looked  up at  the
emperor's elite guard in  the distance  holding the child. Zedd blinked  his
blurred  vision. The guard, in  leather and mail armor, with a  belt full of
weapons,  looked  like a man Zedd  used  to know.  Zedd turned  away  at the
memory, only  to see a Sister,  making her way among the tents not far away,
who  also looked like  someone else he  knew. He looked  around at  soldiers
going about their business.  Elite soldiers guarding the  emperor's compound
looked like men he thought he remembered.
     Zedd truly was  terrified,  then. He was sure  that  he  was losing his
mind. He couldn't possibly be seeing the people he thought he saw.
     His mind was all he had. He  didn't  want to  be some babbling old  man
sitting by the side of a road begging.
     He knew that people sometimes became irrational--lost their mind-- when
they  got old or  were pressed past their endurance. He had known people who
had snapped, who  had gone insane, and saw things that weren't really there.
That's what he was doing. He was having visions of people from  his past who
weren't  really there. That  was  a sure sign of  insanity--seeing your past
come to life, thinking you were back with long-lost loved ones.
     His mind was the most important thing he had.
     Now he was losing that, too.
     He was losing his sanity.

     Nicholas heard an annoying noise back in another place.
     A disturbance of some sort, back where his body waited.
     He ignored it, watching the streets, watching the buildings  go by. The
sun had just set. People, wary people, moved past. Color. Sound. Activity.
     It  was a  dingy  place,  with buildings crowded  close.  Watch, watch.
Alleyways were  dark and narrow. Strangers stared. The street smelled.  None
of the buildings were more than two stories;  he  was  sure of it. Most were
not even that.
     Again, he heard the noise back where  his body waited. It was forceful,
calling his attention.
     He ignored the thump, thump,  thump back somewhere else as he  watched,
trying to see where  they were going.  What's  this? Watch, watch, watch. He
thought he knew,  but he wasn't positive. Look,  look. He wanted to be sure.
He wanted to watch.
     He so enjoyed watching.
     More noise. Obnoxious, demanding, thumping noise.
     Nicholas felt his body  around  him  as  he  slammed back to  where  it
waited,  sitting cross-legged  on the  wooden  floor.  He  opened  his eyes,
blinking, trying to see in the  dim room. Slivers of  dusk leaking in around
the edges of the closed shutters lent only somber light to the room.
     He  stood, wavering  on  his  feet for  a  moment, not yet used to  the
strange feeling of being back in his own body. He started walking across the
room,  looking down, watching as he lifted each foot  out ahead, shifted his
weight with every step. He had been gone so much lately, day and night, that
he was not used to having to do such things on his own. He had been so often
in another place, another body, that he had difficulty adjusting to his own.
     Someone  was banging on the door, yelling for  him to open it. Nicholas
was furious at the uninvited caller, at such a rude intrusion.
     With  wobbly  gait, he made  his  way to the door. It felt so confining
being  back in his own body. It moved in  such an odd manner.  He rolled his
shoulders, resisting the urge to bend  forward. He  pulled and stretched his
neck one way, then the other.
     It  was bothersome  to  have  to  move himself  about,  to use his  own
muscles,  to  feel himself breathe, to  see, hear, smell, feel with  his own
     The door  was barred by a heavy bolt to prevent unwelcome callers  from
entering while he was off  to  other places. It  wouldn't do to have someone
messing with his body while he wasn't there using it himself. Wouldn't do at
     Someone pounding on  the other side of the door  bellowed his  name and
demanded to be let in. Nicholas lifted the heavy bolt and heaved it over. He
threw open the thick door.
     A  young soldier stood  just  outside  in  the  hall. A common,  grubby
soldier. A nobody.
     Nicholas stared in stunned fury at the lowly man who would just walk up
the  stairs  to the  room  everyone  knew  was  off-limits and pound on  the
forbidden door. Where was Najari's flat, crooked nose when he needed it? Why
wasn't someone guarding the door?
     A broken bone jutted from the back of the bloody fist the  man had been
hammering against the door.
     Nicholas  craned  his neck, peering past the soldier out into the dimly
lit hall, and saw the bodies of guards sprawled in pools of blood.
     Nicholas ran his fingernails  back  through  his hair,  shivering  with
delight  at the  silken  smooth feel  of oils gliding  against his  palm. He
rolled his shoulders with the pleasure of the sensation.
     Opening his eyes, he fixed his  gaze on  the wide-eyed,  common soldier
whom he was about to  kill. The man was dressed like  many  of the  Imperial
Order soldiers,  at least the better-outfitted soldiers,  with leather chest
armor, a sleeve of protective mail on his right arm, and a number of leather
straps and belts holding a variety of weapons from a  short  sword to a mace
with a  spiked  metal  head  to  knives.  Despite how  deadly  all his  gear
appeared, the expression on his face was one of startled terror.
     Nicholas puzzled  for  a  moment  at what  such a meaningless man could
possibly have to say that would be worth his life.
     "What is it, you insipid fool?"
     The man lifted an arm, then the hand, then a single finger in a  manner
that reminded Nicholas of  nothing so  much as a puppet  having  its strings
pulled. The  finger tipped to one side, then the other, then back again, the
way someone might waggle a finger in admonition.
     "Ah,  ah, ah." The finger twitched side to side  again. "Be  polite. Be
awfully polite."
     The soldier, his eyes  wide, seemed surprised by his own haughty words.
The voice sounded too deep--too mature--to belong to this young man.
     The voice, in fact, sounded dangerous in the extreme.
     "What is this?" Nicholas frowned at the soldier. "What's this about?"
     The man started into  the room, his  legs  moving in  a  most peculiar,
stilted manner. In some ways  it reminded Nicholas of how  it must look when
he used his own  legs  after not  being  in his body for a  long  spell.  He
stepped aside as the man walked woodenly into the center of the dim room and
turned. Blood dripped from the hand that had been pounding against the door,
but the man, his eyes still wide with fear, seemed not to notice what had to
be painful injuries.
     His voice,  though,  came  out  anything but afraid.  "Where are  they,
     Nicholas approached the man and cocked his head. "They?"
     "You promised them to me, Nicholas. I  don't like  it when people don't
keep their word. Where are they?"
     Nicholas drew his brow down even farther, leaned in even more. "Who?"
     "Richard  Rahl  and  the  Mother  Confessor!"  the  soldier bellowed in
unrestrained rage.
     Nicholas backed away a few  paces. He understood, now. He had heard the
stories, heard that the man could  do such things. Now he was  seeing it for
     This was Emperor Jagang, the dream walker himself.
     "Remarkable," Nicholas drawled. He approached the soldier who was not a
soldier and tapped a finger against the side of the man's head. "That you in
there,  Your  Excellency?" He  tapped  the man's  temple again. "That's you,
isn't it, Excellency."
     "Where are they, Nicholas?" It was as dangerous-sounding a question  as
Nicholas had ever heard.
     "I told you that you would have them, and you shall."
     "I think you're  lying to me, Nicholas," the  voice growled.  "I  don't
think you have them, as you promised you would."
     Nicholas flipped a hand dismissively as  he  strolled off a few  paces.
"Oh, foo. I have them by a string."
     "I think otherwise. I have reason to believe that they aren't down here
at all. I have reason to believe that the Mother Confessor herself is far to
the north . .. with her army."
     Nicholas frowned  as he approached the man,  leaning  in close, peering
into the eyes. "Do you completely lose your  senses  when  you go  cavorting
into another man's mind like that?"
     "Are you saying it isn't so?"
     Nicholas was losing patience. "I was just watching them when you barged
in  here to  pester me.  They  were  both  there--Lord Rahl and  the  Mother
     "Are you sure?" came the deep gravelly voice out of the young soldier's
     Nicholas planted his fists on his hips. "Are  you  questioning me?  How
dare you! I am Nicholas the Slide. I will not be questioned by anyone!"
     The soldier took an aggressive step forward.
     Nicholas held his ground and lifted a  finger in  warning. "If you want
them, then you had better be awfully careful."
     The soldier watched  with wide  eyes,  but Nicholas  could  see more in
those eyes: menace.
     "Talk, then, before I lose my patience."
     Nicholas screwed his mouth up in annoyance. "Whoever told you that they
were  to the  north,  that the Mother Confessor is with  their  army, either
doesn't  know what they're  talking about or  is  lying to you.  I've kept a
careful eye on them."
     "But have you seen them lately?"
     The room  was  growing dark. Nicholas  cast  a  hand  toward the table,
sending a  small spark  of his gift into three candles  there, setting their
wicks to flame.
     "I  told you, I was just watching them. They are in a city not far from
here. Soon,  they will be coming here, to me, and then I will have them. You
don't have long to wait."
     "What makes you think they're coming to you?"
     "I  know  everything they do." Nicholas held his arms aloft,  his black
robes  slipping up to his elbows, gesturing expansively as he walked  around
the man, speaking of what he alone knew.  "I  watch them. I have  seen  them
lying together at night,  the Mother Confessor tenderly holding  her husband
in her arms, holding his head to her shoulder, comforting his terrible pain.
It's quite touching, actually."
     "His pain?"
     "Yes,  his pain. They are in Northwick right now, a city not far to the
north of here.  When  they  are finished  there, if  they live through their
visit, then they will be coming here, to me."
     Jagang in  the soldier looked around, taking in the freshly dead bodies
lying against the wall. His attention returned to Nicholas.
     "I asked, what makes you think so?"
     Nicholas looked over his shoulder and lifted an eyebrow at the emperor.
"Well,  you  see, these  fool  people  here--the  pillars of Creation who so
fascinate  you--have poisoned the  poor  Lord Rahl. They  did  it  to try to
insure his help in getting rid of us."
     "Poisoned him? Are you sure?"
     Nicholas  smiled at the note of  interest he detected in  the emperor's
voice. "Oh, yes,  quite sure. The poor man is in  a  great  deal of pain. He
needs an antidote."
     "Then he will do what he must to  get such an antidote. Richard Rahl is
a surprisingly resourceful man."
     Nicholas leaned his backside against the table and folded his arms. "He
may  be resourceful, but he's  now in a great deal of trouble.  You  see, he
needs two more doses of  the antidote. One  of them is in North-wick. That's
why he went there."
     "You would be surprised at what that man can accomplish." It would have
been  impossible to miss  the  bristling anger in the emperor's voice.  "You
would be a fool to underestimate him, Nicholas."
     "Oh,  but  I  never underestimate anyone, Excellency." Nicholas  smiled
meaningfully at the emperor watching  him through  another man's  eyes. "You
see,  I'm  reasonably sure that Richard Rahl  will retrieve  the antidote in
Northwick. In fact, I am counting on it. We shall see. I was watching him as
you came in, watching what would happen. You spoiled it.
     "But even if he  obtains the  antidote in Northwick, he will still need
to get the last  dose.  The antidote in Northwick  alone will not spare  his
     "Where's this other dose of his antidote?"
     Nicholas reached in  a pocket and showed  the  emperor the square-sided
bottle, along with a satisfied smile.
     "I have it."
     The man with an emperor inside him smiled. "He may come to take it from
you, Nicholas. But, more likely, he  will have someone else make him more of
the antidote so that he won't even have to bother coming here."
     "Oh, I don't think so. You see, Excellency, I  am  quite thorough in my
work. This poison that Lord Rahl took is complex, but not nearly as  complex
as t