Read Soul of the Fire Online

Authors: Terry Goodkind

Tags: #Fiction, #Epic, #Fantasy

Soul of the Fire (3 page)

BOOK: Soul of the Fire
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Kahlan had been wrong. It hadn’t been children bothering the chickens.


Hawk?” she asked.

Richard checked the sky again. “Possibly. Maybe a weasel or a fox. Whatever it was, it was frightened off before it could devour its meal.”


Well, that should put your mind at ease. It was just some animal after a chicken.”

Cara, in her skintight, red leather outfit, had immediately spotted them and was already striding their way. Her Agiel, appearing to be no more than a thin, bloodred leather rod at most a foot in length, dangled from her wrist on a fine chain. The gruesome weapon was never more than a flick of her wrist away from Cara’s grasp.

Kahlan could read the relief in Cara’s blue eyes at seeing that her wards had not been stolen away by invisible forces beyond the spirit-house door.

Kahlan knew Cara would rather have been closer to her charges, but she had been considerate enough to give them the privacy of distance. The consideration extended to keeping others away, too. Knowing how deadly serious was Cara’s commitment to their protection, Kahlan appreciated the true depth of the gift of that distance.

Distance.

Kahlan glanced up at Richard. That was why his suspicion had been aroused. He had known it wasn’t children bothering the chickens. Cara wouldn’t have allowed children to get that close to the spirit house, that close to a door without a lock.

Before Cara could speak, Richard asked her, “Did you see what killed the chicken?”

Cara flicked her long, single blond braid back over her shoulder. “No. When I ran over to the wall by the door I must have frightened off the predator.”

All Mord-Sith wore a single braid; it was part of the uniform, lest anyone mistake who they were. Few, if any, ever made such a dangerous mistake.


Has Zedd tried to come back to see us again?” Richard asked.


No.” Cara brushed back a stray wisp of blond hair. “After he brought you the food, he told me that he wishes to see you both when you are ready.”

Richard nodded, still eyeing the shadows. “We’re not ready. We’re going first to some nearby warm springs for a bath.”

A sly smile stole onto Cara’s face. “How delightful. I will wash your back.”

Richard leaned down, putting his face closer to hers. “No, you will not wash my back. You will watch it.”

Cara’s sly smile widened. “Mmm. That sounds fun, too.”

Richard’s face turned as red as Cara’s leather.

Kahlan looked away, suppressing her own smile. She knew how much Cara enjoyed flustering Richard. Kahlan had never seen bodyguards as openly irreverent as Cara and her sister Mord-Sith. Nor better.

The Mord-Sith, an ancient sect of protectors to the Lord Rahl of D’Hara, all shared the same ruthless confidence. From adolescence, their training was beyond savage. It was merciless. It twisted them into remorseless killers.

Kahlan grew up knowing little of the mysterious land of D’Hara to the east. Richard had been born in Westland, far from D’Hara, and had known even less than she. When D’Hara had attacked the Midlands, Richard had been swept up into the fight, and in the end had killed Darken Rahl, the tyrannical leader of D’Hara.

Richard never knew Darken Rahl had raped his mother and sired him; he had grown up thinking George Cypher, the gentle man who had raised him, was his father. Zedd had kept the secret in order to protect his daughter and then his grandson. Only after Richard killed Darken Rahl had he discovered the truth.

Richard knew little of the dominion he had inherited. He had assumed the mantle of rule only because of the imminent threat of a larger war. If not stopped, the Imperial Order would enslave the world.

As the new master of D’Hara, Richard had freed the Mord-Sith from the cruel discipline of their brutal profession, only to have them exercise that freedom by choosing to be his protectors. Richard wore two Agiel on a thong around his neck as a sign of respect for the two women who had given their lives while protecting him.

Richard was an object of reverence to these women, and yet with their new Lord Rahl they did the previously unthinkable: they joked with him. They teased him. They rarely missed a chance to bait him.

The former Lord Rahl, Richard’s father, would have had them tortured to death for such a breach of discipline. Kahlan speculated that their irreverence was their way of reminding Richard that he had freed them and that they served only by choice. Perhaps their shattered childhoods simply left them with an odd sense of humor they were now free to express.

The Mord-Sith were fearless in protecting Richard—and by his orders, Kahlan—to the point of seeming to court death. They claimed to fear nothing more than dying in bed, old and toothless. Richard had vowed more than once to visit that fate upon them.

Partly because of his deep empathy with these women, for their torturous training at the hands of his ancestors, Richard could rarely bring himself to reprimand their antics, and usually remained above their jabs. His restraint only encouraged them.

The redness of this Lord Rahl’s red face when Cara said she was going to watch him take a bath betrayed his upbringing.

Richard finally schooled his exasperation and rolled his eyes. “You’re not watching, either. You can just wait here.”

Kahlan knew there was no chance of that. Cara barked a dismissive laugh as she followed them. She never gave a second thought to disregarding his direct orders if she thought they interfered with the protection of his life. Cara and her sister Mord-Sith only followed his orders if they judged them important and if they didn’t seem to put him at greater risk.

Before they had gone far, they were joined by a half-dozen hunters who materialized out of the shadows and passageways around the spirit house. Sinewy and well proportioned, the tallest of them was not as tall as Kahlan. Richard towered over them. Their bare chests and legs were cloaked with long streaks and patches of mud for better concealment. Each carried a bow hooked over his shoulder, a knife at his hip, and a handful of throwing spears.

Kahlan knew their quivers to be filled with arrows dipped in ten-step poison. These were Chandalen’s men; among the Mud People, only they routinely carried poison arrows. Chandalen’s men were not simply hunters, but protectors of the Mud People.

They all grinned when Kahlan gently slapped their faces—the customary greeting of the Mud People, a gesture of respect for their strength. She thanked them in their language for standing watch and then translated her words to Richard and Cara.


Did you know they were scattered about, guarding us?” Kahlan whispered to Richard as they started out once more.

He stole a look back over his shoulder. “I only saw four of them. I have to admit I missed two.”

There was no way he could have seen the two he missed—they had come from the far side of the spirit house. Kahlan hadn’t seen even one. She shuddered. The hunters seemed able to become invisible at will, though they were even better at it out on the grasslands. She was grateful for all those who silently watched over their safety.

Cara told them Zedd and Ann were over on the southeast side of the village, so they stayed to the west as they walked south. With Cara and the hunters in tow, they skirted most of the open area where the villagers gathered, choosing instead the alleys between the mud-brick buildings plastered over with a tan clay.

People smiled and waved in greeting, or patted their backs, or gave them the traditional gentle slaps of respect.

Children ran among the legs of the adults, chasing small leather balls, each other, or invisible game. Occasionally, chickens were the not so invisible game. They scattered in fright before the laughing, leaping, grasping young hunters.

Kahlan, with her cloak wrapped tight, couldn’t understand how the children, wearing so little, could stand the cold morning air. Almost all were at least bare-chested, the younger ones naked.

Children were watched over, but allowed to run about at will. They were rarely called to account for anything. Their later training would be intense, difficult, strict, and they would be accountable for everything.

The young children, still free to be children, were a constant, ever-present, and eager audience for anything out of the ordinary. To the Mud People children, like most children, a great many things seemed out of the ordinary. Even chickens.

As the small party cut across the southern edge of the open area in the center of the village, they were spotted by Chandalen, the leader of the fiercest hunters. He was dressed in his best buckskin. His hair, as was the custom among the Mud People, was fastidiously slicked down with sticky mud.

The coyote hide across his shoulders was a new mark of authority. Recently he had been named one of the six elders of the village. In his case, “elder” was simply a term of respect and not reflective of age.

After the slaps were exchanged, Chandalen finally grinned as he clapped Richard’s back. “You are a great friend to Chandalen,” he announced. “The Mother Confessor would surely have chosen Chandalen for her husband had you not married her. You will forever have my thanks.”

Before Kahlan had gone to Westland desperately seeking help and there met Richard, Darken Rahl had murdered all the other Confessors, leaving Kahlan the last of her kind. Until she and Richard had found a way, no Confessor ever married for love, because her touch would unintentionally destroy that love.

Before now, a Confessor chose her mate for the strength he would bring to her daughters, and then she took him with her power. Chandalen reasoned that put him at great risk of being chosen. No offense had been intended.

With a laugh, Richard said he was happy to take the job of being Kahlan’s husband. He briefly looked back at Chandalen’s men. His voice lowered as he turned more serious. “Did your men see what killed the chicken by the spirit house?”

Only Kahlan spoke the Mud People’s language, and among the Mud People, only Chandalen spoke hers. He listened carefully as his men reported a quiet night after they had taken up their posts. They were the third watch.

One of their younger guards, Juni, then mimed nocking an arrow and drawing string to cheek, quickly pointing first one direction and then another, but said that he was unable to spot the animal that had attacked the chicken in their village. He demonstrated how he’d cursed the attacker with vile names and spat with contempt at its honor, to shame it into showing itself, but to no avail. Richard nodded at Chandalen’s translation.

Chandalen hadn’t translated all of Juni’s words. He left out the man’s apology. For a hunter—one of Chandalen’s men especially—to miss such a thing right in their midst while on watch was a matter of shame. Kahlan knew Chandalen would later have more to say to Juni.

Just before they once again struck out, the Bird Man, over on one of the open pole structures, glanced their way. The leader of the six elders, and thus of the Mud People, the Bird Man had conducted the wedding ceremony.

It would be inconsiderate not to give their greetings and thanks before they left for the springs. Richard must have had the same thought, for he changed direction toward the grass-roofed platform where sat the Bird Man.

Children played nearby. Several women in red, blue, and brown dresses chatted among themselves as they strolled past. A couple of brown goats searched the ground for any food people might have dropped. They seemed to be having some limited success—when they were able to pull themselves away from the children. Some chickens pecked at the dirt, while others strutted and clucked.

Off in the clearing, the bonfires, most little more than glowing embers, still burned. People yet huddled about them, entranced by the glow or the warmth. Bonfires were a rare extravagance symbolizing a joyous celebration, or a gathering to call their spirit ancestors and make them welcome with warmth and light. Some of the people would have stayed up the whole night just to watch the spectacle of the fires. For the children, the bonfires were a source of wonder and delight.

Everyone had worn their best clothes for the celebration, and they were still dressed in their finery because the celebration officially continued until the sun set. Men wore fine hides and skins and proudly carried their prize weapons. Women wore brightly colored dresses and metal bracelets and broad smiles.

Young people were usually painfully shy, but the wedding brought their daring to the surface. The night before, giggling young women had jabbered bold questions at Kahlan. Young men had followed Richard about, satisfied to grin at him and simply be near the important goings-on.

The Bird Man was dressed in the buckskin pants and tunic he seemed always to wear, no matter the occasion. His long silver hair hung to his shoulders. A leather thong around his neck held his ever-present bone whistle, used to call birds. With his whistle he could, seemingly effortlessly, call any kind of bird desired. Most would alight on his outstretched arm and sit contentedly. Richard was always awed by such a display.

Kahlan knew the Bird Man understood and relied on signs from birds. She speculated that perhaps he called birds with his whistle to see if they would give forth some sign only he could fathom. The Bird Man was an astute reader of signs given off by people, as well. She sometimes thought he could read her mind.

Many people in the great cities of the Midlands thought of people in the wilds, like the Mud People, as savages who worshiped strange things and held ignorant beliefs. Kahlan understood the simple wisdom of these people and their ability to read subtle signs in the living things they knew so well in the world around them. Many times she had seen the Mud People foretell with a fair degree of accuracy the weather for the next few days by watching the way the grasses moved in the wind.

BOOK: Soul of the Fire
2.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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