Cara stealthily entered the shabby healer's hut, her footsteps soft against the packed-dirt floor, and gently pulled the wooden door closed behind her. The tight space was partially illuminated by the light of the full moon filtering through a single window. The hut contained a bed, a chair, and a table scattered with various herbs, liquids, and utensils. One leg of the table was shorter than the rest and was propped up on a brick. The tabletop seemed to sag under the weight of a large stone mortar and pestle.
Cara lowered herself to one knee by the bed and glanced over the sleeping form of the Mother Confessor. Satisfied by the gentle rise and fall of steady breathing, she lifted the blanket to check the bandage covering the long, stitched gash just below Kahlan's ribs. There was no blood seeping through the gauze, so Cara lowered the blanket and pretended not to notice the way Kahlan's pale skin, with its smattering of freckles, seemed to glow in the moonlight. She made her way around the foot of the bed to sit in the chair on the opposite side, where she could face the door and window, keeping watch. Her overworked body seemed glad to rest, but she kept herself alert, not allowing her eyelids to droop.
The night was quiet, coloured only by the sound of the breeze and a lone cricket. Cara's eyes fell back onto Kahlan, for lack of anything else to look at. She pondered the Confessor's injured left side, remembering how she'd wrapped her right arm around Caleb and tried to use her left to block an attack. Cara had initially thought Kahlan foolish for not using her more dominant arm to defend herself. But she knew that was a fundamental difference between the two of them; a Mord-Sith's first thought was of the battle, of winning. Kahlan's first instinct had been to protect and comfort the wailing five year-old. Still, Cara mused, she might've avoided the blow to the head if she'd been able to block with her right arm. What was done, was done, though, and Cara was only glad the damage had not been more severe. She turned her mind to Lord Rahl and the wizard, mentally mapping out the route she and Kahlan would have to take to get to the agreed rendezvous in two days' time.
Less than an hour had passed when Cara was pulled from her thoughts. Kahlan stirred in her sleep, but was jolted awake with a moan of pain when she half rolled onto her injured side. Cara firmly pushed Kahlan flat onto her back and Kahlan gasped in fright at the touch, but then relaxed in recognition of the gloved hand. She looked over Cara's body, quickly discerning that the stoic woman was uninjured.
"What happened? Where are we?"
"Healer's hut," came the curt reply. "You're hurt."
Kahlan tried to nod, but winced in pain. She recalled seeing a sword pommel headed for her face before she'd blacked out. She also remembered –
"Caleb? Is he okay? Was he hurt, did he get home?"
Cara held up a hand to stop the stream of questions. "The kid is fine. I delivered him right to his front door, just as you'd promised him we would. His parents' farm is just over half a day's walk from here." Cara left out the fact that the boy had been exhausted from the ordeal he'd endured since being kidnapped a week earlier, but had been eager to see his mother, and that she'd allowed him to ride on her shoulders most of the way. Mord-Sith do not carry children on their shoulders. She'd made an exception, though, since they'd lacked a horse.
Kahlan let out a sigh of relief and smiled. "Thank you, Cara. For looking out for him. And me."
Cara shifted uncomfortably and nodded. "He told his parents all about you. 'The nice lady in white'. His mother said I am to bring you to see her as soon as you've recovered. This village is small, no one had a horse to lend or sell. But Caleb's father allowed me to take one of his for the trip back here. Payment, he said, for bringing his son home. If we head out in the morning, we should be able to catch up with Richard in time. We can ride slow to avoid aggravating your injuries and still cover more ground than if we were to walk."
"It will be nice to finally see Richard and Zedd again, but we will go and see Caleb and his mother before we leave, as she asked. And we will pay his father for the horse."
Kahlan used the careful but forceful tone of voice that she reserved for presenting Cara with the kinder or more compassionate course of action in any given situation. It was a voice that said her word was final, whether the Mord-Sith liked it or not. Cara fought the urge to roll her eyes, too tired to argue, but still made her exasperation known with folded arms and a loud sigh.
Kahlan's lip quirked. She looked over Cara again, paying more attention this time to her face and her body language. She knew the woman would never admit it, but it was evident that she was exhausted. They'd been travelling for almost two days without rest when Kalan was hurt, and then Cara had spent the afternoon bringing Kahlan to the village before taking Caleb to his parents.
"Cara, have you rested?" A green-eyed glare was her response. She pushed on. "When did you get back?"
Cara knew Kahlan's questions would only continue until she was satisfied. "About an hour ago."
"You should get some sleep before morning. We've got a lot of ground to cover."
Kahlan huffed in frustration. "You may be a Mord-Sith, but you've been travelling with Richard, Zedd and I for almost six months now…I may not be able to read you yet, but I can tell when you're struggling to keep yourself upright."
Kahlan shifted herself as carefully as she could manage, making a space in the bed on her good side. She kept the blanket wrapped around herself to cover her bare torso, but patted the thin mattress in invitation. Cara looked at her with a blank expression, refusing to dignify the suggestion with a response.
"Please, Cara." Almost a whisper. "Don't be so stubborn. We're in a small village, the night is quiet; you don't need to stand watch. I'll rest better knowing that you're resting too."
Cara glanced at the bed longingly. She really was tired.
When one heartbeat too many passed without any movement, Kahlan was dismayed that Cara's pride had appeared to take precedence over basic needs, as usual. But Cara suddenly moved from the chair to lay herself stiffly on the edge of the bed, consciously leaving space between their bodies and avoiding Kahlan's eyes. Kahlan was afraid to say anything, lest Cara should change her mind, but the Confessor couldn't help but reach out to touch Cara's hand gently.
Cara's heart missed a beat at the nudge against her hand, and she felt a tingle up her arm when long fingers wrapped around her own. She could feel the heat of Kahlan's skin through her leather glove. She looked down at their joined hands, frowning. She didn't notice Kahlan watching her; she was lost in thought.
Kahlan waited a moment before whispering, "what are you thinking?"
Green eyes snapped up to meet blue. No response was forthcoming, and Cara's expression betrayed nothing. So Kahlan continued.
"Whenever I reach out to touch you, you frown at the contact with a faraway look in your eyes. At first I'd thought it was because you were afraid I might confess you. But we've long since moved past that day when I entered the Con Dar. I know you don't like being touched, but you don't shrug me off anymore, or roll your eyes. You just frown, then look away."
Silence. Kahlan closed her eyes, listening to the breeze rustling through the trees. She resigned herself to not getting anything out of Cara tonight, but took heart in the fact that the gloved hand still rested comfortably in her own. She felt as though she was about to slip back into sleep when Cara began to speak.
"I think of your father." Cara's voice came out as a nervous rasp, so she cleared her throat and tried again, in a clear, indifferent monotone. Her gaze remained fixed to the ceiling of the hut. "I think of what you told me of him. How he would bind your hands, not allowing you and your sister to comfort one another."
Kahlan absently squeezed the blonde's hand. "I think of that sometimes, too. I've wondered whether I crave contact now because it was something I was always denied."
Cara nodded, but kept her gaze at the ceiling. "The only touch a Mord-Sith is taught to give or receive is one of pain."
Cara frowned in contemplation once more, and Kahlan allowed the silence to linger.
There isn't much that a Mord-Sith fears, Cara thought. A Confessor's touch, perhaps; the wrath of her Lord Rahl; and bringing dishonour to herself and her sisters. That's it. Cara felt that she herself had even less to fear. She'd inspired compassion in the Mother Confessor herself, even after having killed her sister. She travelled with the new Lord Rahl and disobeyed his orders at whim, to no consequence. And she'd lost her braid and honour at the hands of her sisters of the Agiel. There isn't really anything left for me to fear in this world.
She glanced at Kahlan from the corner of her eye; the Confessor's face was turned towards the window, the moonlight falling across her lips and casting her eyes in shadow. No, nothing frightened Cara. Nothing except the tingle up her arm and the flutter in her abdomen at Kahlan's every touch. Kahlan seemed to awaken emotion in Cara. Emotion that she could not name. That frightened her more than anything. What was a Mord-Sith doing sharing a bed with the Mother Confessor? Holding her hand? Having….feelings? Cara suddenly felt a flush of panic rise up in her chest, and she fought with herself to push it back down and keep her breathing even. She jerked her hand from Kahlan's as though she'd been burned.
Kahlan's eyes found Cara's, reflecting confusion and…was that hurt? Cara broke the shared gaze and declared that she was feeling restless and needed to take a walk.
"Try to get some more rest. We'll have to leave early to see Caleb."
Kahlan was bewildered by the sudden change in Cara. She'd felt that she was finally getting through to the Mord-Sith, especially knowing that Cara had taken it upon herself to see Caleb home safely (after she'd initially suggested they kill the bandits who'd kidnapped him and then leave the young child to fend for himself). In less than a minute Kahlan had gone from sharing a bed and a real conversation with Cara, to watching the lithe woman disappear into the night without so much as a backward glance. She was of half a mind to force herself out of bed and chase the blonde out the door to demand an explanation. But she knew that even if she was well and capable of such a thing, Cara would only be annoyed and wanting some space.
Kahlan sighed into the empty room, and lifted her shoulder in a small shrug. She knew that there was no need to worry about Cara – she'd be back first thing in the morning. They would have at least another two days to travel before reaching Richard and Zedd, and they'd be sharing a single horse at least part of the way...Kahlan doubted Cara would be likely to open up like that again any time soon, but she would try to push some of Cara's buttons anyway.
I'll get close to her somehow, Kahlan thought. Even if it takes me another six months.