They cut east, crossed the Kern river, then headed south along the base of the Loreine mountain range to a pass, none of them keen on crossing the mountains directly.
When they were almost across Azrith Plains, Denna let her horse fall further behind to speak to Kahlan in private. "I will do my best to keep you away from Rahl... but if he sees through my excuses, he may call you to his bed, and there will be nothing I can do," she said quietly. "I'm sorry."
Kahlan stiffened, relaxing when a gentle hand stroked her stomach, and the fact that Denna would seek to protect her from Rahl brought her joy. "Thank you, Mistress," she whispered. "I pray you will succeed in keeping me from him, but if you do not, I promise to do my best to make you proud, and not shame you to your Master Rahl."
Denna sighed, dropping her forehead against the back of Kahlan's neck and breathing deeply. "Thank you, Pet." She feared what would happen when they reached the palace. She did not show her fear on her face.
"Denna, my dear, welcome home," Darken Rahl said with a sweeping arm gesture and an insincere bow.
"My Lord, how good to see you," Denna lied smoothly, returning the bow, taking up his hand and bringing it to her lips, laying a falsely reverent kiss to his knuckles. "My travels have made me weary, I trust you won't mind if I retire to my quarters and clean up a bit." It wasn't a request.
Darken Rahl was no fool; he was under no illusion that she was asking permission. "Of course, my dear. Will you join us by dinner?"
"Perhaps." She allowed a wicked smile to crease her lips. "Thank you for the escort home." And with that, she spun and strode off.
Kahlan followed a pace behind and to the left, as she had been earlier instructed. She kept her eyes trained on the ground. Every footstep echoed in her ears like metal to a gong, she was so aware of every sound. Her heart hammered in her chest, pounding against her ribcage almost painfully. She held her breath.
Finally, they reached Denna's quarters, and she let out the breath she'd been holding as Denna shut the heavy wooden door and bolted it.
Shaking, Denna leaned her forehead against the door, closing her eyes against the onslaught of emotion that plagued her.
Kahlan wanted to say something, but didn't think she should. Instead, she lowered herself to the stone floor, kneeling at Denna's feet.
Denna stayed where she was, but dropped a hand to rest lightly on the top of Kahlan's head. "I don't want to go to dinner."
Kahlan's chest constricted. More than anything, her mistress sounded like a scared little girl. "I... could misbehave, and you'd have to punish me," she offered, unsure of what else to say. "We couldn't go to dinner, then."
The hand on Kahlan's head began stroking her hair. "No," the Mord-Sith whispered. "But thank you. Come, lay with me." She urged Kahlan to her feet and led her to the simple yet elegant bed on the other side of the room, the mattress draped with black silks. They lay down together and Denna pulled Kahlan protectively into her arms. "Spirits, I don't want to share you," she breathed, pressing her lips to Kahlan's forehead. And Creator help me, I don't want Rahl to hurt you.
Dinner was a grand affair, in honor of Denna's return to the People's Palace. There were wines and cheeses in abundance, breads and pastas, fruits and vegetables, water, juice, ale - everything one could possibly want to eat, with the exception of meat. Kahlan noticed there were no meats among the lavish expanse of hors d'ouevres, nor among the main courses. She found it curious, but didn't even let on that she'd been looking - she sat on the floor at Denna's feet with her eyes to the ground, and was given a bowl of porridge to eat while she was down there. She wished desperately that she could be alone with Denna, somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Denna made absolutely certain to show no care toward Kahlan at all. She chatted amicably with the other Mord-Sith, the D'Haran officers, and with Lord Rahl himself. When she felt she had spent an appropriate amount of time wining and dining, and after several others had already left the table, she stood with a stretch. "Please forgive my eagerness to be away, but I am tired, and my pet needs a few hours of training before bed. Thank you all for the lovely feast." She put a sparkle in her eye as she winked at Lord Rahl, then set her napkin on the table and tugged on Kahlan's hair sharply. "Get up."
"Yes, Mistress Denna," Kahlan said obediently, quick to rise to her feet and follow a pace behind Denna back to her quarters.
"Denna," Darken called out when they were to the doorway leading into the main corridor.
Denna stopped, turned, raising one eyebrow in question. "Yes, my Lord?"
"Tomorrow, I want to see how well you've trained her."
Sick to her stomach, Denna forced a wicked smirk and drawled out her answer in an almost seductive manner. "Oh yes, my Lord. You will be pleased." She set her expression to stone as she turned back to Kahlan. "Come," she barked, dragging her down the hall by the hair.
When they were again safely locked in Denna's quarters, the Mord-Sith gave an anguished cry and pulled Kahlan tightly to her, holding her pet's head at her breast.
Kahlan didn't know what to do. Her mistress's demeanor was frightening her, but she drew comfort from the tight embrace, putting her arms around Denna as well.
They stood there for what seemed ages to Kahlan, and then Denna led her to the bed. They both took off their boots, and Denna undid her braid, then they got under the blankets and Denna took Kahlan in her arms again. She feared that Rahl would know. That he would know everything, and would take Kahlan away from her. "Child," she said in a shaky voice.
"Yes, Mama?" Kahlan asked obediently.
Denna shivered and repositioned an arm so Kahlan would have access to the buttons on her leathers. "Undo my top enough to bare my breast."
Kahlan nodded and set to the task, undoing buttons until she could peel the leather back to reveal her mistress's left breast.
Denna gently guided Kahlan's mouth to her nipple, and urged her to suck. She said nothing else. She didn't want to voice her fears aloud, lest they lend weight to reality.
In the morning, after they were bathed and dressed, Denna in her leathers and Kahlan in her freshly laundered Confessor dress, they were summoned to Lord Rahl's chambers.
Denna forced her legs to hold her as she led Kahlan down one hall after another by a chain attached to her Rada'Han. When they reached Lord Rahl's chambers, she rapped once on the door, sharply, and swallowed bile as he called for her to enter. She did, and knew something was wrong immediately upon entering - the five Dragon Corps soldiers from yesterday were stood in a line to one side of the door. One of them moved to close it behind her.
"My Lord?" she asked, tilting her head to one side, keeping a white-knuckled grip on Kahlan's chain.
"Denna," Darken said, steepling his fingers together in front of his chest, looking for all the world like he was a kind, patient man. Until his brows furrowed and his lips turned down, transforming him from docile to menacing in the span of a single heartbeat. "I have received disturbing news that you do not wish to share your new pet."
Her voice nearly failed her. She called steel into herself and spoke confidently, though she felt anything but. "My Lord, her training is not finished, yet. I simply wouldn't want your fine soldiers to be disappointed."
"Don't lie to me!" he bellowed, closing the distance between them in two strides and backhanding Denna fiercely across the cheek.
She spit blood, brought the back of her hand up to wipe her mouth, and narrowed her eyes at him. She said nothing. She knew that anything she could possibly have to say would just enrage him further.
A snap of Darken's fingers and the soldiers sprung into action, two of them grabbing Denna because they knew she wouldn't struggle, and three of them grabbing Kahlan because they knew she would.
"No!" Kahlan screamed, thrashing and kicking and doing her best to incapacitate the soldiers She got in a savage bite to one of their hands, but all that got her was clouted in the jaw, and they still managed to pin her down and chain her to the bed. "What are you doing to her!" she shrieked in terror as the other two soldiers began stripping Denna in the middle of the dark, foreboding room.
Denna allowed them to strip her and chain her up, and shot a fierce glare to Kahlan. "Quiet, Pet!" She did not want Kahlan making it worse on herself.
Kahlan tried to be quiet, but when Darken Rahl leaned down and retrieved Denna's Agiel from the pile of discarded leathers, brandishing it with an evil smirk, and took it to Denna's ribcage, she started up her screaming protests again. "No! Leave her alone! It's my fault!"
"My my," Darken said, his smirk growing as he drove the Agiel into Denna's stomach, enjoying her silent grimace of pain. "You were right, weren't you? She is far from trained."
Kahlan writhed and yanked at her bonds, rattling the chains and shouting insults at Rahl each time he touched her mistress with the Agiel. "You disgusting pig! She hasn't done anything wrong! Does it make you feel like a big man to torture a chained, naked woman?"
"Shut up, Kahlan!" Denna commanded fiercely, then threw her head back and groaned as the Agiel assaulted her inner thighs and moved up between her legs.
Darken finally got a howl out of Denna when he cracked the Agiel across the front of her hips, and he laughed.
Kahlan renewed her struggles, metal clanging in her ears as she tried to rip the chains from the headboard and get to Denna.
She started to cry when Rahl began to beat Denna more severely, on her back, from her neck all the way down, and her mistress was shaking with agony, she could tell. She cried harder when he put the Agiel inside of her mistress, and when his free hand moved to undo his pants, something broke inside her.
Denna's eyes went wide when she heard the unearthly sound suddenly coming from her pet. It was feral, haunting, painful.
Everyone else dropped whatever they were holding and covered their ears.
All watched in amazement as a bolt of black lightning railed through the ceiling and struck the Rada'Han around Kahlan's throat, incinerating it in a flash of darkness.
Kahlan could feel herself losing control, even as she felt more in control than she ever had. A paradox of light and dark, swirling around her, outside and within. The horrible scream still emanating from her, she flexed her fingers, and the shackles at her wrists popped open and fell away.
The room was awash with storms of black and blue lightning, crackling and striking the floor, shaking the palace, knick-knacks and furniture alike crashing to the ground.
Kahlan stood on the bed, her eyes wild and bright, but darker than pitch, and called the underworld up to surround them in an eerie green glow.
She tossed her fist toward the petrified soldiers, loosing a bolt of lightning at each in turn, sending them through the boundary she'd created, into the world of the dead.
In the next second, piercing eyes turned on Rahl. He looked as if he might try running, but she was in front of him before he could blink, her hand around his throat, releasing her Confessor power into him with a concussive burst of air.
Darken Rahl dropped to his knees before her. "Command me, Confessor."
When Kahlan spoke, it was as if her voice came from everywhere and nowhere at once. "UNCHAIN HER."
"Yes, Confessor, of course," Rahl said and stood at once, releasing Denna from her chains.
With a grunt of pain, Denna collapsed to the floor without the support of the restraints holding her up.
Kahlan bent and lifted her mistress into her arms, carrying her to the bed. Stopping at the edge, she turned her head to look at Rahl over her shoulder. "DIE."
"Yes, Conf--ess--or," Rahl choked on the blood suddenly bubbling up from his throat, and he fell forward to the floor, bleeding from his nose, mouth, and ears, convulsing and moaning until, without ceremony, he was still.
The glassy look in the tyrant's eyes told Kahlan what she needed to know - he was dead - and she sank to the bed with Denna, slipping from the Con Dar and into unconsciousness.
When Kahlan woke, and looked around the room, things seemed the same as she'd left them. Her eyes found Denna's, and she blinked, brushing a lock of hair behind her ear to keep it out of her face. "How long was I unconscious?" she asked.
Denna shrugged indifferently. "A few minutes." She turned her face away. "Confess me, please. Get it over with."
"What?" Kahlan sat up sharply. "Confess you? Why would I confess you?"
The Mord-Sith gave a mirthless chuckle. "If you haven't noticed, your Rada'Han is off. Confess me, and you're free."
Kahlan moved to the other side of Denna, to look into her eyes again. "Do you not know what the Con Dar is?" she whispered. At the unchanged expression she received in response, she guessed that Denna did not. "It is an ancient magic called forth in times of great need, to protect one loved by a Confessor."
Denna closed her eyes. They flew open again when the implication of Kahlan's words sank in. "I told you never to love me. You said you could never love me."
"That was before I understood you, Mistress," Kahlan breathed, reaching out to touch Denna's cheek. "I didn't know that what I felt for you was love. But it must be, or the Con Dar would not have come when called. I think you love me, too, Mistress."
"Be quiet," Denna snapped half-heartedly, leaning into the touch, turning to kiss Kahlan's palm. "I love no one. But I will miss you."
"Miss me? Where am I going, Mistress?"
"Why are you still calling me that? I have nothing to hold you here. We are equally matched in strength. Without the Rada'Han, I can do nothing but watch as you leave."
The thought of leaving made Kahlan sick to her stomach. "I'm not leaving," she said resolutely.
Denna didn't dare to believe her. "Don't play with me, Kahlan. I'm not in the mood."
"I'm not leaving!" Kahlan said more insistently, with no room for misunderstanding. "Rada'Han or not, I am yours, Mistress. Forever."
Denna's lip began to quiver as she stared at Kahlan, lost in a sea of feelings. Foreign to a Mord-Sith, and overwhelming. She was starting to believe that her pet really did not plan to leave her. "When you were sick," she managed to say, her voice breaking with emotion, "and there was a chance you were dying, I-- I cried."
"Just say it, Denna," Kahlan demanded, taking her mistress's face in both hands now and leaning down until their lips were a breath apart.
"I don't know what you're--"
"Say it! Say yo--"
"I love you," Denna breathed.
Kahlan kissed her. "I love you, too," she said, just in case there was any ambiguity about that. "Let me tend your wounds, Mistress."
Denna nodded with a whimper as she tried to sit up, and ended up allowing Kahlan to carry her back to their chambers. Her pet laid her on the bed and kissed the back of her head, making her feel like a little girl. But she didn't mind, right then. "There are no balms here," she said after a moment. "Lord Rahl doesn't believe in healing. When he wakes, he will kill us both."
Kahlan blinked. Denna didn't realize. "Mistress, your Master Rahl is dead."
Denna's eyes shot open wide. "What!" she nearly shrieked.
Kahlan shrank back, her face screwed up as her palms started to sweat. "Are you angry, Mistress? I'm sorry, I thought--"
"No," Denna interrupted quickly, pushing to her knees and reaching out for Kahlan, drawing her back over. "I'm astounded. I'm in disbelief, and can scarcely dare to hope it's true, for fear that I let myself believe it and then find out you're wrong. That would be devastating."
"He is dead," Kahlan promised. "I confessed him, and he died to please me."
"I always thought he was immune to confession," Denna said, still hesitant.
"The Con Dar is more powerful than you can imagine," Kahlan whispered. "Confessors were created by wizards more powerful than Darken Rahl, or any other wizard in the New World today. He is dead, Mistress Denna, I swear to you."
Denna clutched her tightly, nearly sobbing with relief that Kahlan would not be taken from her after all. The fact that she was now free from Rahl's clutches was secondary. "Perhaps you should school me on the history of Confessors," she said with a throaty chuckle, sliding her fingers through Kahlan's hair.
A thought occurred to Kahlan, and she jumped from the bed. "We need to burn his body! There have been no banelings lately but that doesn't mean it isn't possible..."
Denna's eyes widened again and she scrambled to her feet beside Kahlan, heading for the door despite how painful it was to move. She grabbed a torch from one of the brackets in the corridor on the way, motioning for Kahlan to do the same.
Kahlan grabbed two. She wanted no room for error.
When they reached Rahl's chambers, both let out a breath that his body was still there. They took the torches to it immediately, and stood unblinking until the last piece of sizzling flesh had turned to ash. Denna spit on the floor, and then blew out her torch, letting it fall from her hand, forgotten. "I want to be away from here."
Kahlan didn't blow out her torches, but set them back in the brackets as they passed through the corridor once again, back to Denna's chambers. "Where do you want to go, Mistress?"
"I don't know. I still can't believe I'm free to do as I please."
"Haven't you always done as you pleased?" Kahlan asked, and then added quickly, "I didn't mean that insolently, Mistress."
"I have done as I pleased with the lives of others," Denna replied. "Never with my own. The concept is quite novel, and I'm afraid I'm at a loss. I only know I want to be away from here, and never return to this forsaken palace."
"And I only know I want to be wherever you are," Kahlan confessed, stepping closer, biting her lip, nervous even though they had exchanged words of love. Now that Denna was free, she might change her mind. Kahlan didn't think she could bear it, but she had to know.
"You don't have a preference of where we go to ground?"
The Confessor sighed with relief, trying not to show she had been concerned in the first place. Love or not, Mord-Sith didn't like weakness. "Well... I suppose I would like to visit Aydindril, and Zedd," she began, but when Denna stiffened she backtracked, tripping over her words. "But I-I-I mean only if-if, I mean that is just a stupid wish, I don't nee--"
Denna realized her unconscious reaction to the wizard's name was distressing her pet, and she forced her body to relax as a hand came up to stroke Kahlan's cheek. "Shhh... we will visit Aydindril," she soothed.
Kahlan's eyes went wide and filled with tears. "You would do that for me, Mistress?"
Denna shrugged indifferently, a gleam in her eye. "Only because I'll need the help of a wizard if I wish you to bear me a child."
Kahlan choked out a laugh, she couldn't help it. "Your wit is unparalleled, Mistress," she offered with a shake of her head. And then more seriously, "if Zedd tries to kill you, please don't hurt him... give me time to explain things to him, please? I know I can make him understand..."
Denna sighed, leaned her forehead against Kahlan's. "I do not think he'll understand, Pet... but I give you my word not to hurt him until after you explain things."
"Mistress," Kahlan whined, turning a masterful pout up at the Mord-Sith.
Denna laughed. "I spoil you rotten," she lamented. "All right, I won't hurt the old fool. And in return, you'll get on your hands and knees for me and beg me to spank you with my new wooden spoon."
Kahlan beamed at getting her way... and then blushed, turning her eyes to the floor. "I... I will, Mistress?"
"Yes," Denna said smoothly. "You will."
"Right now, Mistress?"
"No. When I can properly wield it."
"If there are no balms here, will you let me take you to a healer, Mistress?"
Denna scoffed. "I don't need a healer. And no healer would tend a Mord-Sith, anyway."
"I think you underestimate my sway as the Mother Confessor, Mistress. You don't have a mere beggar for a pet, you know... you have the highest moral authority of the Midlands."
"Is that so..." Denna pretended not to be impressed.
"Let me take you to Kelton, Mistress. Healer Aldin will tend you, and I can call Jason over to see you naked while the healer works, in repayment for humiliating me in front of that boy and letting him strike me."
Denna slapped Kahlan's face and the Confessor whined, regaling her with a pitiful expression that made her roll her eyes. "Oh, spirits!" She threw up her hands in mock indignance. "I told you I spoil you rotten. Will it really make you happy, to do all of that?"
"Just the healer part, Mistress," Kahlan said softly, rubbing her stinging cheek. "I don't want Jason to see you naked."
"Feeling a bit possessive of your mistress, are you?" One eyebrow lifted curiously.
Kahlan blushed again, but nodded in honesty. "A bit possessive, and a bit jealous at the thought of anyone else seeing you naked, besides Healer Aldin."
When they reached Kelton, and walked their horse to the stables, Jason came out to meet them with an excited grin. "Evenin', Mother Confessor, Mord-Sith." He had never learned Denna's name.
"Mistress Denna," Denna told him, folding her arms and raising an eyebrow.
Two young girls came running out of the house, and the littlest one marched right up to Denna and stomped on her foot, then kicked her in the shin. "You killed our Pa!"
"Kiersten!" the older one scolded, pulling her out of the way and putting her arms around a stunned Denna. "She doesn't understand," she explained quickly into Denna's ear. "Thank you, so much..." When she pulled back, her eyes were filled with tears.
Denna did not know how to react to a child hugging her, or thanking her, in such a heartfelt manner. With Jason, it had been easy, he'd made it easy... but this was a little girl. Maybe ten years old at the most.
Jason seemed to sense her discomfort, and intervened. "Abigail, get Kiersten back in the house and get washed up for supper, all right?"
Abigail frowned, obviously wanting to spend more time with their heroine, but sighed and trudged off. "All right, fine," she huffed, taking Kiersten's hand and leading her back into the house.
Jason snickered and turned back to the ladies. "Y'all will join us for supper, right?"
"Uh, no," Denna blurted out, not wanting to spend any more time around two small girls than she absolutely had to. "We have to go next door."
His face twisted with concern. "Why? What's wrong? Are y'sick again, Mother Confessor?" he asked Kahlan.
Denna shot her a look that said 'don't you dare tell this boy that I need healing'.
Kahlan's mouth opened, then shut, then opened again as she said, "that's between my mistress and myself."
Jason frowned, looked to Denna. "See, I told ya she was snooty."
"I'm not snooty!" Kahlan nearly shouted. She hated that anyone would think that of her.
"Mind your manners, both of you," Denna scolded. "Boy, go on and feed your sisters."
He sighed. "Yes Ma'am. Soon as I see to your horse."
Denna nodded and took Kahlan's arm as they made their way to the healer's.
Denna scowled menacingly as she was asked to remove her leathers. Kahlan gently reminded her that it was necessary in order to tend her wounds.
"And," the Confessor whispered in the Mord-Sith's ear, "he's already seen your ass, Mistress."
Denna scowled at Kahlan now, too, but removed her boots, and then her leathers, climbing face-down on one of the empty cots.
Healer Aldin grimaced. "Well, those I can fix without magic," he offered, despite the horrific nature of the wounds. They were much easier to heal than the lash of a snake vine. "Gamlin, bring me some baleroot and some aum leaves, and a jar of cream."
"Right away, Sir," Gamlin answered, scurrying into the back, emerging a few moments later with the requested items.
The healer looked to Kahlan, and she got the message, taking the herbs and cream from his apprentice with a smile of thanks to the younger man. "Which one goes with the cream?" she asked Aldin.
"The aum leaves," the healer replied as Gamlin came back out with a basin of water, some rags, and a mortar and pestle.
"Could I get a bowl, please?" Kahlan asked him, and he nodded vigorously and reverently, hurrying off again and coming back almost immediately with a wooden bowl. "Thank you," she said as she took it.
Denna just grumbled. "Get on with it..."
Kahlan resisted the urge to smack her bottom. Instead she busied herself mixing the aum leaves with some of the cream.
The healer peered into the bowl as he crushed the baleroot in the mortar and stirred in some water to make a paste. "That's good," he told the Mother Confessor with a nod. "After I apply the paste, you rub in the aum cream."
"What is aum cream?" Denna asked suspiciously.
"It soothes the sting," the healer informed her, beginning to apply the baleroot paste. "This is to ward off infection."
"I don't need anything for the sting," Denna snapped.
"I suppose that is between you and your slave," Healer Aldin conceded.
Denna shot up from the cot, inadvertently affording the old man quite a view, and reached for the Agiel that was not only not at her hip, but was no longer working, anyway. Old habits died hard, after all. She growled at him instead. "She is my mate."
The healer closed his eyes, out of respect for the Mother Confessor. "Between you and your mate, then," he amended, and waited until he heard her lay back down before opening his eyes and continuing with the baleroot.
Kahlan beamed, though she tried not to be obvious about it. Denna had called her 'mate', and in front of other people, no less. She leaned over to whisper something in Denna's ear that made her mistress stiffen, eyes wide.
"I'll take the aum cream," Denna changed her mind instantly.
The healer raised an eyebrow. Kahlan smirked.
Outside the window, Jason crept away before he got caught sneaking a peek at the Mord-Sith naked.
As soon as the aum cream was rubbed in, Denna's pain was gone almost completely. She marveled at the fact, and her wounds didn't even hurt when she climbed back into her leathers. "That is amazing," she whispered to Kahlan. "How does it do that?"
"I have no idea," Kahlan shrugged. "But I'm glad it does."
"Yes," Denna smirked. "And now you owe me a spar."
"Winner gets to do whatever she wants with the loser..."
"I win, automatically, because I'm the mistress," Denna purred teasingly, pulling Kahlan close and pressing their bodies together, while the healer and his apprentice looked away.
"That wasn't part of the deal," Kahlan whispered, nipping her mistress's earlobe.
"No fun," Denna sighed. "How will we decide the winner?"
"Whichever of us gets the other to say 'stop' is the winner."
"And there are no rules?"
"No rules except I can't confess you to win, of course."
"What's in it for me, again? I can do whatever I want with you, whenever I want, anyway..."
Kahlan pouted at her. "Now who's taking the fun out of it, Mistress?"
Denna couldn't help laughing. She took Kahlan's face in her hands and kissed the tip of her nose. "How did I raise such a brat?"
Denna laughed harder and popped her on the backside, ushering her toward the door. "Thanks," she called over her shoulder to the healer, and stopped in her tracks just outside, her face losing what little color it had. "I..."
Kahlan stopped, sensing Denna's distress, and turned to face her with an affectionate smile. "It's okay, Mistress. You should say thank-you when someone helps you."
"But I..." Denna stood there feeling lost, until Kahlan's hands found hers and squeezed, and she remembered how good it felt to love someone. To be human. To be a woman, not just a Mord-Sith. "Well in that case, thank you," she said quietly, pulling her hands free to put them around the Confessor. "I don't even know how to express the depths of my gratitude... for everything you have brought into my life."
Kahlan smiled, rubbed her hands up and down Denna's back. She knew how hard those things were for her mistress to say, and she knew Denna would not want to get into a back-and-forth outpouring of emotion, so she bit her lip coyly and said, "you could let me win the spar."
Denna was silent for a split-second, and then laughed. "Not a chance." Her pet always knew the perfect thing to say to make her feel good.
Neither of them held back. They bruised and bloodied each other wherever they could, using fingernails and fists and boots, knees and elbows, even their heads.
Without her Agiel, Denna found it hard to keep up. And she certainly never gained a clear advantage over Kahlan. She wasn't weak, by any means, but Kahlan was stronger. Currently, her pet had her pinned to the ground and was sitting on her hips, hands closed tightly around her wrists, holding them on either side of her head. She grunted with the effort of trying to throw the Confessor off of her, but it was useless, pinned as she was, so she lifted a knee into Kahlan's upper back, knocking her off balance.
It wasn't enough. Kahlan was able to right herself without letting Denna up. She drove an elbow into her mistress's ribs, over and over until Denna gasped for breath and finally asked her to stop.
"Yes!" she shouted in triumph, ceasing the aggression as soon as the word passed her mistress's lips, and just sitting atop her, grinning. Until she noticed Denna's mood, and her grin faded. "Mistress?"
"Get off me," Denna snapped.
Kahlan scrambled to comply, going to her knees beside Denna instead, with her head bowed. "I'm sorry, Mistress," she whispered, her eyes filling with tears. "I displeased you?"
"Yes," Denna said sourly, wiping blood from the corner of her mouth and struggling to her feet, doubled over in pain from the treatment to her ribs, and staggered a few feet away, bracing herself against a tree.
Kahlan didn't know what to do. "Mistress, I'm sorry," she said again, pleadingly.
"Shut up!" Denna thundered, sliding down and turning to sit with her back against the tree. She covered her face with her hands and blew out a shuddering breath, shaking her head and then reaching out for Kahlan. "Spirits, I'm sorry," she whispered. "Come here."
Kahlan crawled over and nearly cried with relief to be pulled into Denna's arms. "I'm sorry, Mistress."
"Stop saying that," Denna soothed her, stroking her hair.
"I thought you were angry with me," Kahlan said.
"I'm angry with myself," Denna admitted. "I should be able to beat you in a fight. But without my Agiel, I can't. That makes me feel ineffectual, and weak, and useless. And--" she choked a bit on the words, "how am I supposed to protect you?"
"Not by yelling at me and pushing me away," Kahlan said, her voice soft and hesitant, but determined.
"No, not by doing that," Denna agreed, feeling slightly ashamed of herself. "But how?"
"I can protect you, too, Mistress," Kahlan offered, snuggling closer, needing to feel their connection. "That's part of the responsibilities of a... mate," she added carefully. "They protect each other."
"You are the best mate anyone could ask for," Denna said, letting her eyes drift closed.
Typically, at this point in a conversation, Kahlan would say something funny; steer them away from talking too much about feelings. This time, she let things flow as they would. "Thank you, Mistress," she whispered. "Being thought of as your mate makes me happy."
"I want you to be happy," Denna smiled, taking a deep breath of the scent of Kahlan's hair. "You have given me my life back; made me feel what it is to truly be a woman. There are moments when the feeling slips away from me, and I forget that I am more than a Mord-Sith. In those moments, please be patient, and forgive me when they're through?"
"Of course," Kahlan breathed. "Of course, Mistress. Always."
There were many more times when Denna forgot herself, but she was always quick to remember... and Kahlan was always patient, always forgiving, and quick to use the transgressions as tiny little guilt trips to get things she wanted. Denna could always see right through her, but... she never minded. Much.