Roughly forty minutes later they skidded to a stop outside the healer's building, and Denna leapt down, charging inside and to her pet's side. There seemed to be no change. Kahlan was still unconscious, and writhing in discomfort. She barely heard the door open and close behind her; was not aware of the two sets of footsteps following her inside, until a hand closed around the scruff of her neck and hauled her backward.
"You and I have some unfinished business, little lady, and Wizard Klaven sure doesn't need you in here while he works. You're comin' with me."
"Unhand me!" she shouted, struggling mightily, but he dragged her out the door and down to the stables, withstanding her pounding fists and kicking boots. "You are signing your death warrant!" she hissed.
"You watch your mouth, you nasty little thing. There's no cause for you to be so rude, especially when people're helpin' you."
She fought him tooth and nail, frustrated because her Agiel was useless against him, and while she was strong, she was no match for his brute strength, and he ended up tanning her hide just like he'd promised; she didn't think she would want to sit for several hours, if not days.
The first chance she got, she snatched up a knife and slit his throat, letting out a long, satisfied sigh. Magic might not have worked against him, but steel certainly did.
Nursing her pride, she slipped back into the healer's establishment just as the wizard appeared to be finishing his work. "How is she?" she demanded hotly.
Klaven stepped back and slid his hands into the opposite sleeves of his robes, as wizards often did. He looked weak on his feet. "I drew the fever out of her. She will live."
The healer helped the wizard to an empty cot while he recovered his strength - to heal a person of sickness, a wizard had to take the sickness into himself for a time.
Kahlan's eyes fluttered open, and the first thing she saw was Denna's bright blue eyes smiling down at her. The second thing she noticed was blood all over Denna's leathers. The third thing she noticed was strange surroundings. "W..." she tried to speak but her throat was parched, and the sound came out raspy and choked.
"Get her some water," Denna snapped to no one in particular.
A few seconds later, Gamlin, the apprentice, was holding a waterskin to Kahlan's lips, helping her drink.
The water felt so good on her dry throat that Kahlan moaned in appreciation. As her head became clearer, she noticed more things. A throbbing, white-hot pain in her back. Healer Aldin. They must be in Kelton. "How... did we get here?" she asked quietly, reaching for Denna's hand. She needed something to anchor her at the moment.
Denna sat at her side and took her outstretched hand, squeezing it affectionately. "I borrowed a horse and rode you here... you were in a fever, and unconscious."
"Are we in Kelton?" Kahlan's voice was still cracked, but becoming more solid the more water she drank.
"Yes," Denna nodded, her thumb rubbing absently over the back of Kahlan's hand. "But we need to leave as soon as you're able," she whispered urgently.
As the wizard recovered, he too became more aware of his surroundings. "Where did that blood come from?" he asked, accusation clear in his words.
"Wizard Klaven?" Kahlan asked, pushing herself carefully to a sitting position. The room swam a bit, and her head ached, but she was well enough to travel. "Did you heal me?"
"I did," he said gruffly. "And now I want to know where that blood on your Mord-Sith came from. Her leather was clean when Stamuel took her to the stables."
Hackles rising, Denna straightened and turned to face him. "He beat me, so I slit his throat," she growled, ignoring the stunned gasps from everyone in the room besides herself and the wizard. "Pet, are you able to travel?"
"Yes, Mistress," Kahlan whispered, having stiffened at the news of her mistress being mistreated like that.
Eyes darting wildly about, scanning for any hint of danger, Denna pulled Kahlan to her feet. "Stay behind me and back toward the door," she instructed quietly, and then more loudly, to the room at large, she said in warning, "do not try to stop me, or suffer the same fate." She knew the wizard would not attempt to use his magic against her - he wasn't stupid. But more than one flying knife at a time, she would have difficulty deflecting.
"Mother Confessor!" Klaven said disapprovingly, rising to his feet but making no move toward them. "You would allow yourself to be in servitude to this murderous bitch?"
Kahlan's eyes narrowed. "Do not speak of that which you do not understand," she said slowly, pointedly, with just as much disapproval in her voice as he. "Thank you for healing me, but do not presume to know what I would or would not allow."
"I told you, he beat me!" Denna snarled at the wizard, for some reason concerned that he believe her. That Kahlan believe her. "His death was not unprovoked!"
"You lie like the vile creature you were created to be," the wizard snarled back. "If you can prove your allegations, we will let you leave without pursuit."
No one expected Denna to be able to prove it.
Without pause, she turned and undid her belt, then lowered her pants, unmindful of the shocked murmurs around the room.
"Mistress!" Kahlan cried softly, dropping to her knees and reaching out toward her mistress's reddened and bruising skin.
"Not now," Denna told her, and pulled her pants into place again, turning back to the wizard. "I assume that is sufficient proof? You will not pursue us?"
Wizard Klaven had nothing to say, with his jaw slackened as it was, so Denna took that as a yes. She urged Kahlan to her feet and pulled her out the door, heading for the stables to borrow another horse.
They found Stamuel's son kicking at his father's body. Kahlan held her breath. "Jason?" she asked softly.
The boy looked up with a grin. "D'jou do this?" he asked, giving the body another kick.
The Confessor bit her lip and shook her head.
"I did," Denna spoke up, standing taller, daring the boy to object.
He bowed to her. "Thank y'Ma'am. It's 'bout time somebody did."
Denna was a bit awestruck, and simply gave him a terse nod.
"What do you mean?" Kahlan asked, ever curious.
"Well, Mother Confessor," Jason said, scratching his head with one fingertip, just above his left ear. His short, tousled hair moved up and down with the action. "Folks all thought he was so great, but they ain't live with 'im. He was a short-tempered bastard if there ever was one. Beat on m'little sisters all the time. Ain't nobody believed me when I tole'm." He turned to Denna. "Thank y'again, Ma'am. If there's anything I c'n get for ya, y'just name it."
"As a matter of fact," Denna said, her expression slowly sliding from disbelief to a sly smirk. "We could use a horse with some tack, saddlebags, and a wooden spoon."
"A wooden spoon? What'cha need that for?" Jason asked, brow scrunched up.
"Discipline," Denna said smoothly.
Kahlan was blushing so hard now, there was no way Jason wouldn't know who was to be disciplined.
The boy's face lit up and he let out a low whistle. "Yes Ma'am," he said, giving her another bow as he went off to collect the items, a smile so bright on his face that it showed his dimples.
"Mistress," Kahlan whined softly when they were alone, moving close to Denna and hiding her face in her mistress's neck.
Denna chuckled and held Kahlan to her, kissing the side of her head. "You gave me quite a scare, there, Confessor," she murmured into tangled dark hair.
"I'm sorry, Mistress, I--"
"Shh, not now, child," Denna scolded gently. "You have something grave to answer for, but not now." The day had been harrowing, and all Denna wanted to do was get back to the wayward pine and sleep in the soft bed of leaves in the cozy, personalized sanctuary.
Jason returned with a horse on lead, already saddled, with spacious saddlebags. He draped the reins over a post and tied them off, then went back inside to fetch the other item the lady requested. When he came back out, he paused, standing in front of them, clutching the spoon in his fist. "Y'know, Ma'am... one time, the Mother Confessor came through town, and she stole a flagon of ale from my pa."
Denna's eyebrows lifted. "Is that so?" she said, her smirk returning as she put her hands on Kahlan's shoulders and turned her around, then bent to lift the Confessor's dress until her backside was exposed to the cool evening air... and to the teenaged boy wielding a wooden spoon.
Absolutely mortified, Kahlan couldn't even find words to explain that action, and merely gave a cry of anguish, pressing her face further into her mistress's neck. She could not believe this was happening.
"One smack," Denna said, holding up a finger. "One, boy, I mean it."
"Yes Ma'am," Jason said, an eager smile on his face that reached all the way to his sparkling eyes. "No offense, Mother Confessor, but you always were kinda snooty." He took careful aim, tongue poking out between his teeth as he concentrated, and finally let her have a good hard smack in the middle of her bottom with the spoon.
Kahlan shrieked miserably at the swat, tempted to stomp her foot in childish protest, but she refrained. She wanted to tell him she wasn't snooty, that she had simply been bound by duty, and had not had the luxury of being friendly at the time. And, the flagon of ale was the only thing available to disinfect a gaping leg wound of a beggar who'd been shot through with an arrow.
Denna let Kahlan's dress drop and held her hand out for the spoon. Jason laid it carefully across her palm, still grinning. "Don't spare the rod now, Ma'am," he said.
"I assure you, my child is not spoiled," Denna said, her eyes shining as she grinned back at him.
Kahlan was sure she was going to die at any moment. And her back hurt. And she still had a little headache.
"Thank the young man for his discipline, Pet," Denna purred, kissing the shell of Kahlan's ear, "and then we must be on our way."
At that, she gasped in horror. "Mistress, please," she begged in a whisper. "I'm sorry."
Denna gripped her by the hair and forced their eyes to meet. The frown on her face melted away her pet's resistance, and Kahlan slumped her shoulders, turning around, clearly not looking at the boy.
"Thank you, Jason, for the discipline," she said hollowly but respectfully, her cheeks flaming as hot as they ever had.
"Why, you're welcome, Mother Confessor," Jason said with a nod.
Denna eyed the boy's obvious excitement. "Get," she said, inclining her head toward the door. "Before you're next."
"Ma'am," he said, bowing to her once again and scurrying into his home, which ironically enough, had been made safe by a Mord-Sith.
Kahlan rode behind Denna, to keep her healing wounds from rubbing against stiff leather.
No longer in a hurry, they rode at a leisurely pace, in companionable silence, and reached the wayward pine in the middle of the night.
"Go inside and start a fire," Denna instructed once their boots hit the ground, and Kahlan nodded, moving to obey. The Mord-Sith set about tending the horse, taking off her saddle and blanket, tossing the saddlebags toward the entrance to the pine. She removed the bridle, leaving the halter on with the lead rope tied to a tree branch, low enough to let the mare graze.
Even at the slower pace, the beast was still sweaty, and Denna found a brush in the saddlebags, scratching the mare's nose as she brushed her.
That done, she joined Kahlan inside, going straight for the bed and all but collapsing down onto the soft leaves. "Come here," she said, her voice already thickening with the thought of sleep.
"Yes, Mistress," Kahlan said softly, crawling over and lying with Denna, sighing at the comforting feeling of being in her arms. "I'm so sorry I made you worry," she started, but Denna shushed her with a kiss.
"I don't want to talk about it right now, I want to sleep."
"Of course, Mistress. Good night."
Thankfully, they both slept through the night without incident... if one did not count Denna's nightmare, from which she woke screaming and was soothed back to sleep by Kahlan's gentle singing. Denna did not count it.
In the morning, she woke to the smell of cooking meat, and as if on cue, her stomach growled. "Kahlan?" she asked groggily, feeling the empty spot beside her.
"Yes, Mistress?" Kahlan moved to her side, kneeling down.
"Just checking," Denna murmured. "What are you cooking?"
"I caught a pheasant, Mistress, and picked some more berries."
Denna sighed contently and slowly sat up with a yawn and a stretch, flinching slightly at the weight on her backside. "Is the bird almost ready?"
"No, Mistress, I only just set it over the fire. It has a half hour to go, at least. Are you hungry, would you like me to pick you some extra berries while the meat is cooking?"
"Thank you, that is thoughtful of you, Pet, but no. I can wait."
A moment of silence passed between them and Denna sighed, getting to her feet and pacing the small shelter.
"Why did you bring me a snake vine?" she asked, deliberately not looking at Kahlan.
Kahlan remained on her knees and lowered her eyes to the ground. "It was all I could find, Mistress."
"And you didn't think to tell me it was a snake vine?"
"You wanted to whip me, Mistress. I wished for you to have what you wanted. I feared that you would be disappointed if I told you it was a snake vine." She gave a brief pause, and then, "it hurts to have you disappointed with me, Mistress Denna."
"But it was a snake vine!" Denna continued her harried pacing. "Surely you aren't stupid, Kahlan. You knew what would happen. You were purposely deceitful, thereby putting yourself in mortal danger! Had you misplaced your senses!"
Kahlan fidgeted, shifting her weight from one knee to the other, brushing her hair back over her shoulder and maintaining her downward gaze. "I thought it would be innocuous without its buds," she admitted. "I was foolish, Mistress. Please forgive me."
"Do you realize," Denna said, finally stopping in front of Kahlan and forcing her to look up at her with an insistent finger beneath her chin, "that you nearly died?"
"I didn't think--"
"Answer my question!" She slapped Kahlan's face.
Tears stinging her eyes, Kahlan nodded in answer. "Yes, Mistress, I do realize."
"Do you realize... that you committed the very offense you chastised me for committing yesterday?"
Kahlan's jaw worked as she tried to compute that fact, and her stomach twisted nervously as it became clear. "Oh," she confessed, closing her eyes and taking a slow breath in through her nose. "I had not realized that until just now, Mistress." She had been so distraught over Denna's comments the previous day... how her Mistress had said the world would be better off without her... And now, she had put the world in a position to be without her.
"Do you realize that I almost lost you!" Denna shouted, her lip quivering with the effort to force down emotion. She grabbed Kahlan by the hair and squeezed until the Confessor cried out. "The one thing in this world I care about, and you see fit to risk taking it from me to avoid disappointment? How DARE you!" she screamed.
One thing stood out glaringly to Kahlan - Denna had just admitted to caring about her. She thought she might lose her breath with the joy that revelation brought her. No matter what punishment she had to endure, it would be worth it, for those nine words. She had never expected to hear them. Never expected them to be true, let alone spoken aloud. "I beg your forgiveness, Mistress," she whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks as she stared up at her captor, her liberator, her... mate. "I will never be so foolish again, to gamble with my life before seeking your approval to do so. Please, punish me severely, so my pain may mark this lesson."
Denna eyed her suspiciously, but ended up deciding she was sincere, and melted a bit under the heartfelt pleas for punishment and forgiveness. "No," she said at last. "Your punishment will be that there is none. You will live with the guilt of hur--of disappointing me, of knowing you have done wrong and will not be punished to absolve your sins."
Once upon a time, Kahlan would have burst into hysterical laughter at that, finding it incredibly desirable - but once upon a time, Denna would have known that and never offered such a thing. Now, the Confessor wilted, her tears dissolving into sobs at the lack of penance. At this point in their dynamic, it was the worst thing Denna could have done to her. "Please!" she begged, clutching at Denna's thighs. "Use your Agiel, Mistress, please... Or, or the wooden spoon... spank me for being naughty, like a bad little girl, please, Mistress!"
Denna had not expected quite such a desperate reaction, and her chest tightened as she questioned her decision. "Do you really want to be punished, Pet?" she breathed, her heart rate picking up speed and her breath catching at the alternative she was about to offer.
"Yes," Kahlan sobbed. "Yes, Mistress, please..."
Denna drew her Agiel, holding it in front of Kahlan's eyes, to make sure her meaning was absolutely clear. "If you truly are repentant, and wish to appease me, then you will lie back, now, and spread your legs for my Agiel."
Kahlan's breath left her, squeezed out of her lungs by an unseen vise. She did not know if she could take the pain, but she knew in her heart that without a punishment, she would never forgive herself for hurting Denna. She forced air into her lungs, wiping her tears away as she lay on the ground, her entire body shaking almost violently, and spread her legs.
Denna moved over her on all fours, then used the hand with the Agiel to raise Kahlan's dress, bunching the hem up around her hips. "As vehemently opposed as you are to losing me, I am equally as opposed to losing you," she said, running the tip of the Agiel lightly up Kahlan's thigh.
Kahlan had been punished there before, and while it hurt, she knew what to expect, and gritted her teeth against the pain. "Yes, Mistress," she ground out.
Denna poised the Agiel between Kahlan's legs, and with one smooth thrust, seated it fully inside her.
For a split second there was nothing, a void of expectations, and then Kahlan's mouth opened, a scream ripped from her throat the like of which Denna had never heard from her. But she didn't try to squirm away. The Agiel shrieked in Denna's ears, its angry thrumming radiating up her arm as she held it inside her pet.
Kahlan screamed, and clutched fistfuls of dirt, feeling everything. Everything the Agiel had to offer, from the inside out. She felt as though she were being torn apart. Every muscle crackled with jolts of electricity, making them tighten and stretch and burn until she silently begged for unconsciousness.
Denna withdrew the Agiel just before the point it would render Kahlan barren, and shoved it back into its holster. "Do you feel punished, Pet?" she asked bitterly.
Kahlan was still screaming, but as Denna's question pierced her wails, she slowly came to realize that the Agiel was gone, even though the pain remained. It began to fade, but not quickly enough for her liking. "Y-y-yes, Mistress," she sobbed, feeling blood seep out of her now that the Agiel no longer blocked its path of retreat. As the pain subsided, she worried about the blood. She didn't know why it mattered; it wasn't like she would have children, anyway. Not in the life she now had. Maybe once upon a time, she would have been given the gift of bearing a child to Richard, had they ever found a way around her power, but no, not in this life. Her tears came to a stop, her mood forlorn; she tried to stop wishing for a life that could have been. The guilt at thinking of a life without her mistress began to eat at her, and she closed her eyes.
Denna ripped off a piece of Kahlan's borrowed dress and gently wiped away the blood, then tossed the rag into the fire. She knew what Kahlan was thinking. The Confessor was never good at hiding her thoughts; Denna could always read her face like a book. "You are still fertile." At Kahlan's surprised expression, she offered, "I may one day desire a son."
Kahlan gasped. "Mistress, any child I bear would be a Confessor."
Denna laughed. "Even in Remedial Wizards and Confessors, they teach that."
Kahlan was aware that Denna was making a joke, but she could not find it in her to think it funny. "Mistress, all male Confessors must be killed at birth. I cannot bear you a son, the world would fall to ruin. He would confess you as soon as he was able, and it would kill you."
Denna frowned. "Why?" She had not been taught the dangers of male Confessors. She supposed, now that she thought about it, the subject had never been relevant. Male Confessors were rare in the extreme.
"They lack the compassion necessary to temper their ambition, and use their power freely and unscrupulously."
"That could be to my advantage," Denna said with a smirk, but the look on Kahlan's face sobered her. "All right. A daughter, then," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Tears came to Kahlan's eyes again. "You would wish a daughter, with me?" she asked, her voice so soft she could barely hear her own question.
"I said I may," Denna corrected her, "not that I do."
Kahlan swallowed past the lump in her throat and nodded. "Yes, Mistress."
Denna faltered, and upon noticing that Kahlan's dress was still bunched around her waist, she tenderly lowered it to cover her legs, and stroked a hand over her pet's knees. "Kahlan, I--" She stopped, shook her head, turned her face away.
Kahlan didn't say anything, just waited... but she loved it so much when Denna called her 'Kahlan'.
"Let's go to Westland," Denna continued suddenly, turning back to gauge Kahlan's reaction. "Westland is far away from--" This time she stopped talking because she heard approaching hoofbeats, and jumped to her feet. "Stay behind me," she ordered, moving to the entrance of their pine and sticking her head out.
As if Darken Rahl had read her mind, he had apparently sent the Dragon Corps after them. The timing was uncanny. She scanned the faces for any she knew among the half dozen riders, sat tall in their saddles, wearing the crest of Rahl on their burgundy uniforms. She knew none of them.
The one in charge, evidently, put fist to heart in salute. "Mistress Denna, we have been sent by Master Rahl to escort you and your new slave to the People's Palace."
A sense of impending doom twisting her gut, Denna merely put on a false smile and nodded, returning the salute. "We will be with you as soon as we pack my things." She ducked back into the pine, her hands shaking as she moved to Kahlan and gripped the side of her face, kissing her, a sob almost escaping. "We must go to the People's Palace," she said, though she knew Kahlan had heard the conversation. "Put on the Confessor dress, it's cold outside, and I've ripped the one you're wearing. You can leave it behind."
Kahlan nodded, worried more because of Denna's reaction to the news than because she was potentially going to meet Darken Rahl. Or other Mord-Sith.
"I can't let you have your daggers," Denna said almost as an afterthought, and pulled them from Kahlan's boots, hooking them behind her belt.
Kahlan nodded again and changed quickly, leaving the purple dress on the ground. "Do you want the green dress, Mistress?"
"No," Denna shook her head. "Just bring my spoon. You may put it in the saddlebags when we get outside. Don't look at any of the men... and don't speak unless I ask you a direct question, is that clear?"
"Yes, Mistress," Kahlan said, her anxiety increasing with every word out of Denna's mouth.
"Walk a pace behind me and to my left," Denna instructed further as she pushed her way out of the pine once more, heading for their horse to tack her up.
Kahlan stood behind with her eyes on the ground while her mistress saddled their horse, and then she dropped the spoon into the saddlebag when Denna held it open.
The Mord-Sith was about to help Kahlan up onto the horse when she heard the thud of boots hitting dirt and turned. One of the men approached them.
"That's a right pretty slave you've got there," he said, leering at Kahlan in a way Denna decidedly did not like. "I think I'd like to enjoy her a bit before we set off." He reached out to heft one of Kahlan's breasts in his palm, lips splitting into a lecherous grin showing rotten teeth.
Denna's Agiel slammed into his chest before he knew what hit him, and he slumped to the ground, dead.
Eyes wild, she glanced around at the other men, her chest heaving with rage. "Do any of you want to touch my property!" she thundered, her voice echoing in the frigid air, startling a bird from its nest overhead.
The forest was silent, and all five remaining members of the elite Dragon Corps of D'Hara shook their heads mutely.
Kahlan stood, stunned, frankly amazed that Denna had just killed a man for simply touching her. Strangely, it warmed her chest. It made her want to move closer, to embrace her mistress, kiss her, but Kahlan knew better. Not now.
"Even the commander of the First File does not take liberties with the property of a Mord-Sith," Denna snarled, looking at each of the men in turn. "I hope I have made myself clear." She turned and helped Kahlan onto the horse, then swung up into the saddle behind her. She slowed her horse to ride at the back of the group, not trusting any of them to be behind her.