Part 6

Cynda helped Richard lay back. After a moment, his breathing evened out.

"I think he's asleep," she said.

Rubin placed a hand along Richard's cheek. Then he opened one of Richard's eyelids with a thumb, and let it drop. "Yes, he should be out until dawn."

"Good." Cynda bent over and kissed Richard on the cheek. "He seems better now, don't you think?"

"If you don't count the fact that he is out of his mind. Then he's much better." Matrim tapped the stick against his palm.

Rubin placed a hand over Cynda's, where it lay on Richard's chest atop the Keeper's mark. "Kahlan," he said with much warmth, "once he gets a good night's sleep, he'll be good as new. It's been a long day, and Richard is finally hydrated and well fed and able to sleep and dream. His mind should be back to normal in the morning."

He gave Matrim an annoyed glare. "And for the record, my grandson is not out of his mind."

Matrim huffed, hands on hips. "I see we're using our real names now."

"Only until Richard wakes up," said Zedd, handing the ointment to Kahlan. "Why don't you finish applying this, and wipe your hands afterwards or you'll fall asleep as fast as Richard."

Kahlan dipped her fingers in the jar and smoothed the ointment on the abrasions on Richard's chest that Zedd hadn't gotten to yet. "I was really worried about him," she murmured, her fingers becoming slightly numb as she scooped out more ointment. "Still am."

"I want to kill those Sisters of the Dark," said Cara. "That pointy-hatted sister has a death sentence over her head."

Zedd stood and rubbed the small of his back, looking remarkably Zedd-like despite his disguise as a stout peasant. "Spirits, I'm tired. I suggest we all get a good night's sleep. If Richard isn't himself in the morning, I'll rethink our strategy."

Kahlan turned to Zedd, alarmed. "What do you mean, 'If he isn't himself in the morning'?"

Zedd' s eyebrows furled in consternation. "I'm sure he'll be fine, my dear. I'm just trying to anticipate all contingencies."

"Lord Rahl better be himself. I do not want to find a third Seeker in less than that many months." Cara rolled her eyes. "And when will you remove this ridiculous disguise? I am not a boy. I'm surprised Richard didn't see through your sham from the moment he saw us, Wizard."

Zedd chuckled. "You're very, er, handsome, Cara." He moved to the other side of the fire and settled down on his bedroll. "A little longer as a boy won't kill you. But if you'd like, I'm sure there's a princess in the mirror that I could change you into."

Cara snorted, and Zedd chuckled as he closed his eyes. Soon he was snoring softly.

Kahlan tenderly brushed a lock of hair off Richard's forehead. After she put the ointment away, she wiped her hands on the edge of his blanket and pulled Richard's pulling shirt from her pack. She laid it over his unconscious form. It was so baggy, that it was almost like a blanket, keeping out the chill night air.

Earlier, while they'd waited for him to discover their camp, she'd washed the blood and sweat out of his shirt and let it dry on some tree branches, partly because his shirt needed to be washed and partly because she needed to keep herself busy while he roamed the wilderness, half out of his mind. When Zedd had seen what she was doing, he'd waved his hands, turning the shirt brown.

Kahlan smoothed down the shirt sleeves, pressing them against each of his arms. She longed to curl up behind him and place her arms around his waist, to nestle her chin against his neck and pull him close. She wanted to fall asleep pressed against him and wake to see his soft brown eyes looking at her. She felt a fierce need to protect him that made it hard to remember how dangerous their closeness could be for him.

Could she accidentally confess him just by sleeping alongside his body? She didn't think so, but she wondered if she'd be able to restrict herself to simple sleep. With a blush, she realized how impossible that would be.

But spirits, she was tired of this distance between them.

"Kahlan," called Cara softly.

Kahlan glanced up at her.

"He's fine now. Staying up won't help him tomorrow when you're dead tired and can't fight banelings."

Kahlan nodded as she ran her fingers through Richard's matted hair and traced his whiskered jawline. "I know. I'll go to bed soon. But I can't let another moment go by without . . ." Her voice grew hoarse, and she stopped talking for a moment. "Don't worry. It's just that . . . I'm so glad he's alive." Kahlan felt tears burn in her eyes.

Cara's mouth opened and then closed. She looked off into the distance, blinking furiously. "I understand," she said, before walking to the edge of the firelight and staring off into the forest. "You love him. It's a familiar refrain."

"I know," whispered Kahlan. "You do understand now."

Cara continued to stand with her back to the camp, and Kahlan knew she was thinking about Leo. Maybe she'd talk to her tomorrow. Maybe not. It was hard to judge how to relate to Cara at times.

Kahlan turned back to Richard and stroked his cheek, letting her fingertips linger over his full lips,. She leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth.

"Richard," she whispered. "Sleep easy. When you wake, remember everything, please. We need you. I need you."

Richard breathed in and out, his eyelids flickering with his dreams. Kahlan reluctantly crawled away and laid down on her own blanket. She didn't think she'd be able to sleep. Yet when she closed her eyes, blackness claimed her almost right away.

The next morning, Kahlan woke up to fog. It permeated their camp, the moist air giving the woods a surreal quality that muffled sounds and made it seem like they were in a small world all their own.

With a subdued clatter, Cara dumped an armful of sticks near the remains of last-night's fire. She toed Zedd in the side. "Rubin," she said softly, "it's time to get up."

"Goodness," said Zedd yawning, "I feel as weak as a newborn babe. Whose turn is it to make breakfast?"

"Yours," said Cara, "so get a move on."

Zedd "hmphed" and wiped the sleep from his eyes. As he struggled to his feet, groaning, Kahlan sat up and looked anxiously at Richard. He'd rolled onto his side during the night, facing away from them. Now his shirt lay bunched under his arms. He appeared to still be sleeping soundly.

Rising quietly to her feet, she crept to Zedd. "Should we wake him?"

Zedd shook his head. "There's no need. Let him sleep as long as he needs. We can use the rest as well. The stone can wait another day. Plus, I don't want to give him the compass until he's completely well."

"That's very logical," said Kahlan, watching Richard's shoulders rise and fall with his breath. She crossed her arms, frowning.

"Why don't you go wash up," suggested Zedd. "Breakfast won't be for a little while, and your fretting won't help anyone."

"All right, but call if anything happens."

When Zedd nodded, Kahlan grabbed a towel and worked her way through the thick fog until she found the creek. Once there, she stripped off her dress and splashed cold water over her skin. When she returned to camp, she felt slightly cleaner and much more awake.

Richard was sitting up, blinking through the fog and glancing curiously at the shirt in his lap.

"Good morning," said Zedd, looking over a pot that sat on the fire. "Breakfast won't be too long."

"Thank you," said Richard. He held up the shirt, a question in his eyes.

"It's for you," said Kahlan, walking into camp. "One of Mattrim's old shirts."

Richard pulled the shirt over his head, wincing as the material grazed the abrasions over his torso. "You're all so kind. You remind me of . . ." He paused and cleared his throat. ". . . friends."

Cara stepped forward, hands on hips. "And where are those friends now?" she asked.

Richard glanced away, swallowing.

"Richard?" asked Kahlan, her heart suddenly pounding in her chest.

Zedd leaned forward, staring at him intently.

"They're dead," said Richard, his voice cracking, "and they're banelings now. They tried to kill me yesterday."

"No," gasped Kahlan, placing a hand over her mouth.

"It's true," said Richard. He climbed to his feet, placing a hand on the Sword of Truth. As he talked, he met each of their eyes. "It's what I wanted to tell you yesterday. The Keeper has taken over the world, I need your help to defeat him. Will you help me?"

"Yes," said all three of them, exchanging worried glances.

"We'll help you, my boy," said Zedd. "We'll do everything we can."