"What, Cara, are you suggesting that we go to look for the Golden Branch just the two of us?"
"Yes I am", Cara smiled. "Of course if you want."
"Oh come on", Kahlan laughed and poked Cara with her elbow.
After all that had happened at the Valley of Oblivion, how Kahlan saw Cara so sincere in the sanctuary, Kahlan felt she was just so much closer to this extraordinary woman. She couldn't just now say no to an adventure that Cara suggested. Kahlan had a tingling sensation of teaming up with a living, rough diamond, with her sharp edges and constant sense of unexpected things, dangerous, precious things. Cara had so well surprised her during the Box adventure, she had really taken the lead there. Now a new journey, unknown path, uncovered areas on the map, with this blonde-haired warrior? She looked at Cara. She couldn't find any reason to say no.
"Okay, I accept it Cara." Kahlan said calmly. "Let's do it."
It took a little bit of convincing to turn Zedd's and Richard's heads, but Cara had indeed a strong argument that a big group would draw too much attention. It would be easier for them to disguise and mingle with the local people if they were just two travellers, vagabonds looking for shelter, or something other they would invent if needed.
The two pairs parted their ways after they reached the Triple Point at Ashdar's at the North Border. Zedd and Richard turned towards east while Cara and Kahlan continued onwards north, with the destination of a small town Ceany. The forest become denser and the landscape was of a more unexpected character, a bit harsher.
"This forest, it starts to look different. Thank you Kahlan for accepting the journey with me."
"No need to thank me, Cara. You wanted we go just the two of us, no problem, I'm happy, I trust you. I think you knew I would accept."
"Yes I knew. You are special, you know. I didn't think I would meet someone like you."
"No… oh, not that special, really. Well, Mother Confessor yeah, but apart from that I'm just an ordinary woman."
"Yes ordinary, but I feel your strength and sense of responsibility, your goodness. It makes you special." Cara gave a quick kiss on Kahlan's cheek and took her hand on her own while they walked.
Cara's words had so many times been more than Kahlan expected. It was like things were getting cooler and more interesting all the time. She thought about the effects of the Box of Times, their journey so far, remembered Richard's dream of the kaleidoscope. Kahlan felt there were so many paths to explore, they just multiplied, after all that had happened. She even felt that her five senses got an extra level of refinement, she started to feel she wanted to go deeper, see, hear and feel beyond appearances. And it was interesting to her that she didn't know Cara's past so well. Cara was not a talkative person on those things.
"You really speak beautifully to me Cara."
"Thank you Kahlan. But as I have warned you, I hope you like how I am. I have many sides. I'm both good and bad. But going to be around you for a long time."
Kahlan pulled Cara closer, couldn't hold back longer and kissed Cara sweet and deep.
"You are just wonderful as good and bad", Kahlan whispered. "Yes please, very long time."
"Of course." Cara smiled back. "You are wonderful too. I love you so much."
"And damn gorgeous", Kahlan laughed.
"Hey, you know it's not so easy to flatter a Mord-Sith! But I like your try", Cara teased and pressed herself closer to Kahlan.
"I know, I know, I'm trying hard."
They resumed walking and continued for hours. It was tiring but the walk helped them to warm up for what awaited and to adapt to a new environment.
"We will soon arrive in Ceany", Cara said. "I know some people there and we can ask for more information about the Golden Branch. We'll get supplies and perhaps we can change your clothes too, Kahlan. That white dress may draw too much attention."
"Oh, I see, hah, but how about you? Your Mord-Sith look doesn't draw attention?"
"Well, I don't really want to change myself or get out of this dress. It's part of me, and it's better that I am what I am."
"To be honest... I adore the look, Cara. Apart from thinking of you as a Mord-Sith, I can also imagine other things. Let's say... a knight, a knight ready to save a princess, ha ha."
"That sounds cool, hah, no prob there, not at all. And who knows what you have inside. Hidden things? Or a princess that needs saving?"
"Oh, me a princess, ha ha. But that's a nice little task to you Cara", Kahlan smiled teasing, thinking about how it would be to actually be a princess, or a queen. "You can find it out."
At first sight the Ceany looked small, but the town extended to its surroundings quite some way. The houses alternated with green areas and dense forests and it was eventually difficult to grasp the town's full extent. The houses continued one after the other with continuous little variation. After finding their way to one of the small centers, Cara managed to locate a person that she knew. It was a blacksmith who was finishing his working day. They went to grab a dinner together and the blacksmith started to tell more about the Golden Branch.
"The Golden Branch has been for centuries guarded by selected groups of trusted people. But the most recently", the blacksmith made a signifying break, "the rumour says it has been guarded by the Deviants."
"Deviants...really? It's a long time ago I last heard about them", Cara raised her eyebrows and smiled a little. "Do they exist? Okay, that's big news." Big news if true, Cara thought. She couldn't really believe it.
"But then the Stone Witch, you remember her? it is said that the Stone Witch stole the Branch from the Deviants. She is going to dry it", the blacksmith continued.
"Damn, that doesn't sound good. Not good at all." Cara shook her head. If she didn't believe yet in the existence of Deviants, she certainly knew about the Golden Branch. It was known even in the People's Palace.
"Who are the Deviants, Cara? And who is the Stone Witch?" Kahlan hadn't heard about these names before.
"I will explain to you in a bit, Kahlan. But Blacksmith, what do you suggest we do?"
"I think you should go first to try to find the Deviants, if you can. Then see how things turn out. But be careful. The Stone Witch may have informants at the town and in this region. Don't draw too much attention to yourselves. Please be careful."
"Ok, thanks for this information." Cara held the Carpenter's arm as a sign of friendship. "Thank you that I can trust you."
"My pleasure Cara. And hey, you can stay over night at our place if you wish. And one more thing. It may be that the Deviants find you before you find them."
They were grateful for the blacksmith and his wife for their hospitality. The blacksmith's wife was a silent, friendly woman who arranged a guest room for them and offered a small bottle of wine.
Cara started to tell to Kahlan about these new names and what was going on. She explained that the Golden Branch was a special branch which had survived over centuries. It contained certain principal atomic information not found easily elsewhere. The buds of this branch were used as seeds for new generations of slightly mutated trees, everytime with unexpected, usually positive changes. The mutations were crucial for the diversity of the new tree generations. The branch was indestructible in its physical form, but if it was left to dry, then the information in the form of new buds would not be retrievable any more.
"The upper back...oh there." Cara's hands felt good on Kahlan's sore muscles while she listened to Cara's voice. Kahlan was tired after the day's long walk and was happy to just relax, listen and enjoy Cara's massage.
Cara told about the Stone Witch, who was a powerful but strange witch in this region. Her weird obsession was to study and speed up alchemically the fossilization of plants, as many as she could. Usually she didn't make any harm, but apparently now she had gotten the Golden Branch in her possession. She had a palace made of granite, especially black granite, and had an unknown amount of guardians or servants. The blacksmith had estimated that they would have less than two weeks to return the Branch to its keepers, otherwise it would dry up fatally.
"I follow you so far Cara. But what about the group you called the Deviants?"
"This is the most curious part. They are told to be actually Mord-Siths, but their existence is not sure. If they exist, I may… I may know some of them." The movement of Cara's hands stopped and for a short moment her mind wandered back to her time at People's Palace and the temple.
"Mord-Siths?" Kahlan turned to her side and looked at Cara. "I thought that there are no Mord-Siths in this part of the world, and especially no Mord-Siths that live disconnected from the others?"
"There were rebellious Mord-Siths during my training time. The girls talked about them and I saw some of them just disappear. We believed that they managed to escape from the school at the end of the training period, without Darken Rahl finding them. Actually it is very much of a rumour. I have never seen them afterwards and we don't know if this society, or how we want to call them, exists."
"Wow, it's getting quite interesting. Did you ever consider escaping with them?"
"Yes", Cara made a break. "I did have thoughts of escaping, it's true. But it felt impossible at that time, we were under constant surveillance. But there were times, however, when I really considered it. I will tell you later."
"I love your soft touch Cara."
Cara kissed her as thanks and came under the blanket next to Kahlan. They slept well, but at dawn Cara dreamed about Rose Red, Portia and some of her other friends that she remembered had disappeared from the Palace. She spoke to them in the dream. Rose Red reached out to her, looked as young as at that time, but her eyes in an unexplainable way wiser. The dream took place in some kind of a temple, vaguely similar to the one she knew too well, the one outside People's Palace. The new temple mixed in her dream with the old temple she knew, the old temple with its winding roads in the garden and orchideas around its main port, with the horrible cries and the sweetest adventures in the Dragon Valley. Cara wondered in her dream whether this new temple would be the place where the Deviants live now. Then the dream changed and she saw Rose Red and Portia on the narrow roads of Ceany. The dream ended, she woke up and saw again Kahlan's tranquil face.