Read Soul of the Fire Online

Authors: Terry Goodkind

Tags: #Fiction, #Epic, #Fantasy

Soul of the Fire (5 page)

BOOK: Soul of the Fire
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It was as final as death. In a way, it was death.

A person touched by a Confessor’s power was forever lost to himself. He was hers.

Unlike Richard, Kahlan knew how to use her magic. Having been named Mother Confessor was testament to her mastery of it.

Richard growled his displeasure as he snatched up his big belt with its pouches before chasing after her. He caught up and held her shirt out as they ran so she could stuff her arm in the sleeve. He was bare-chested. He hooked his belt. The only other thing he had was his knife.

They splashed through a shallow network of streams and raced through the grass, chasing the flashes of red leather. Kahlan stumbled going through a stream, but kept her feet. Richard’s hand on her back steadied her. She knew it wasn’t a good idea to run breakneck and barefoot across unfamiliar ground, but having seen blood on Cara’s face kept her from slowing.

Cara was more than their protector. She was their friend.

They crossed several ankle-deep rivulets, crashing through the grass between each. Too late to change course, she came upon a pool and jumped, scarcely making the far bank. Richard’s hand once more steadied and reassured her with its touch.

As they plunged through grass and sprinted across open streams, Kahlan saw one of the hunters angling in from the left. It wasn’t Juni.

At the same time as she realized Richard wasn’t behind her, she heard him whistle. She slid to a stop on the slick grass, putting a hand to the ground to keep her balance. Richard, not far back, stood in a stream.

He put two fingers between his teeth and whistled again, longer, louder, a piercing sound, rising in pitch, cutting across the silence of the plains. Kahlan saw Cara and the other hunter turn to the sound, and then hasten toward them.

Gulping air, trying to get her breath, Kahlan trotted back to Richard. He knelt down on one knee in the shallow water, resting a forearm over the other bent knee as he leaned toward the water.

Juni lay facedown in the stream. The water wasn’t even deep enough to cover his head.

Kahlan dropped to her knees beside Richard, pushing her wet hair back out of her eyes and catching her breath as Richard dragged the wiry hunter over onto his back. She hadn’t seen him there in the water. The covering of sticky mud and grass the hunters tied to themselves had done its intended job of hiding him. From her, anyway.

Juni looked small and frail as Richard lifted the man’s shoulders to pull him from the icy water. There was no urgency in Richard’s movements. He gently laid Juni on the grass beside the stream. Kahlan didn’t see any cuts or blood. His limbs seemed to be in place. Though she couldn’t be sure, his neck didn’t look to be broken.

Even in death, Juni had an odd, lingering look of lust in his glassy eyes.

Cara rushed up and lunged at the man, stopping short only when she saw those eyes staring up in death.

One of the hunters broke through the grass, breathing as hard as Cara. His fist gripped his bow. Fingers curled over an arrow shaft kept it in place and ready. In his other hand his thumb held a knife to his palm while his first two fingers kept the arrow nocked and tension on the string.

Juni had no weapons with him.

What has happened to Juni?”
the hunter demanded, his gaze sweeping the flat country for threat.

Kahlan shook her head.
“He must have fallen and struck his head.”

And her?”
he asked, tipping his head toward Cara.

We don’t know yet,”
Kahlan said as she watched Richard close Juni’s eyes.
“We only just found him.”

Looks like he’s been here for a while,” Cara said to Richard.

Kahlan tugged on red leather, and Cara slumped willingly to the bank, sitting back on her heels. Kahlan parted Cara’s blond hair, inspecting the wound. It didn’t look grievous.

Cara, what happened? What’s going on?”

Are you hurt badly?” Richard asked atop Kahlan’s words.

Cara lifted a dismissive hand toward Richard but didn’t object when Kahlan scooped cold water in her hand and tried to pour it over the cut to the side of her temple. Richard wrapped his fingers around a fistful of grass and tore it off. He dunked it in the water and handed it to Kahlan.

Use this.”

Cara’s face had turned from the rage of before to a chalky gray. “I’m all right.”

Kahlan wasn’t so sure. Cara looked unsteady. Kahlan patted the wet grass to the woman’s forehead before wiping away at the blood. Cara sat passively.

So what happened?” Kahlan asked.

I don’t know,” Cara said. “I was going to check on him, and here he comes right up a stream. Walking hunched over, like he was watching something. I called to him. I asked him where his weapons were while I made motions, like he had done back in the village, pretending to use a bow to show him what I meant.”

Cara shook her head in disbelief. “He ignored me. He went back to watching the water. I thought he had left his post to catch a stupid fish, but I didn’t see anything in the water.

He suddenly charged ahead, as if his fish was trying to flee.” Color rushed into Cara’s face. “I was looking to the side, checking the area. He caught me off balance, and my feet slipped out from under me. My head hit a rock. I don’t know how long it took before I regained my senses. I was wrong to trust him.”

No you weren’t,” Richard said. “We don’t know what he was chasing.”

By now, the rest of the hunters had appeared. Kahlan held up a hand, halting their tumbling questions. When they fell silent, she translated Cara’s description of what had happened. They listened dumbfounded. This was one of Chandalen’s men. Chandalen’s men didn’t leave their duty of protecting people to chase a fish.

I’m sorry, Lord Rahl,” Cara whispered. “I can’t believe he caught me off guard like that. Over a stupid fish!”

Richard put a concerned hand on her shoulder. “I’m just glad you’re all right, Cara. Maybe you’d better lie down. You don’t look so good.”

My stomach just feels upside down, that’s all. I’ll be fine after I’ve rested for a minute. How did Juni die?”

He was running and must have tripped and fallen,” Kahlan said. “I almost did that myself. He must have hit his head, like you did, and blacked out. Unfortunately, he blacked out facedown in the water, and drowned.”

Kahlan started to translate as much to the other hunters when Richard spoke. “I don’t think so.”

Kahlan paused. “It had to be.”

Look at his knees. They’re not skinned. Nor his elbows or the heels of his hands.” Richard turned Juni’s head. “No blood, no mark. If he fell and was knocked unconscious, then why doesn’t he at least have a bump on his head? The only place his mud paint is scraped off is on his nose and chin, from his face resting on the gravel of the stream bottom.”

You mean you don’t think he drowned?” Kahlan asked.

I didn’t say that. But I don’t see any sign that he fell.” Richard studied the body for a moment. “It looks like he drowned. That would be my guess, anyway. The question is, why?”

Kahlan shifted to the side, giving the hunters room to squat beside their fallen comrade, to touch him in compassion and sorrow.

The open plains suddenly seemed a very lonely place.

Cara pressed the wad of wet grass to the side of her head. “And even if he was disregarding his guard duty to chase a fish—hard to believe—why would he leave all his weapons? And how could he drown in inches of water, if he didn’t fall and hit his head?”

The hunters wept silently as their hands caressed Juni’s young face. Tenderly, Richard’s hand joined theirs. “What I’d like to know is what he was chasing. What put that look in his eyes.”


Thunder rumbled in from the grassland, echoing through the narrow passageways as Richard, Cara, and Kahlan left the building where Juni’s body had been laid out to be prepared for burial.

The building was no different from the other buildings in the Mud People’s village: thick walls of mud brick plastered over with clay, and a roof of grass thatch. Only the spirit house had a tile roof. All the windows in the village were glassless, some covered with heavy coarse cloth to keep out the weather.

With the buildings being all the same drab color, it wasn’t hard to imagine the village as lifeless ruins. Tall herbs, raised as offerings for evil spirits, grew in three pots on a short wall but lent little life to the passageway frequented mostly by the amorphous wind.

As two chickens scattered out of their way, Kahlan gathered her hair in one hand to keep the gusts from whipping it against her face. People, some in tears, rushed past, going to see the fallen hunter. It somehow made Kahlan feel worse to have to leave Juni in a place smelling of sour, wet, rotting hay.

The three of them had waited until Nissel, the old healer, had shuffled in and inspected the body. She said she didn’t think the neck was broken, nor did she see any other kind of injury from a fall. She had pronounced that Juni had drowned.

When Richard asked how that could have happened, she seemed surprised by the question, apparently believing it to be obvious.

She had declared it a death caused by evil spirits.

The Mud People believed that in addition to the ancestors’ spirits they called in a gathering, evil spirits also came from time to time to claim a life in recompense for a wrong. Death might be inflicted through sickness, an accident, or in some otherworldly manner. An uninjured man drowning in six inches of water seemed a self-evident otherworldly cause of death as far as Nissel was concerned. Chandalen and his hunters believed Nissel.

Nissel hadn’t had the time to speculate on what transgression might have angered the evil spirits. She had to rush off to a more gratifying job; her help was needed in delivering a baby.

In her official capacity as a Confessor, Kahlan had visited the Mud People a number of times, as she had visited other peoples of the Midlands. Though some lands closed their borders to everyone else, no land of the Midlands, regardless of how insular, secluded, distrustful, or powerful, dared close its borders to a Confessor. Among other things, Confessors kept justice honest—whether on not rulers wished it so.

The Confessors were advocates before the council for all those who had no other voice. Some, like the Mud People, were distrustful of outsiders and sought no voice; they simply wanted to be left alone. Kahlan saw that their wishes were respected. The Mother Confessor’s word before the council was law, and final.

Of course, that had all changed.

As with other peoples of the Midlands, Kahlan had studied not only the Mud People’s language, but their beliefs. In the Wizard’s Keep in Aydindril, there were books on the languages, governance, faiths, foods, arts, and habits of every people of the Midlands.

She knew that the Mud People often left offerings of rice cakes and nosegays of fragrant herbs before small clay figures in several of the empty buildings at the north end of the village. The buildings were left for the exclusive use of the evil spirits, which the clay figures represented.

The Mud People believed that when the evil spirits occasionally became angered and took a life, the soul of the slain went to the underworld to join the good spirits who watched over the Mud People, and thus helped keep the malevolent spirits in check. Balance between worlds was thus only enhanced, and so they believed that evil was self-limiting.

Though it was early afternoon, it felt like dusk as Kahlan, Richard, and Cara made they way across the village. Low dark clouds seemed to boil just above the roofs. Lightning struck closer, the flash illuminating the high walls of buildings. A painfully sharp crack of thunder followed almost immediately, jarring the ground.

Gusty wind smacked fat drops of rain against the back of Kahlan’s head. In a way she was glad for the rain. It would douse the fires. It wasn’t right to have celebration fires burning when a man had died. The rain would spare someone the disconcerting task of having to put out what was left of the joyful fires.

Out of respect, Richard had carried Juni the entire way back. The hunters understood; Juni had died while on guard protecting Richard and Kahlan.

Cara, however, had quickly come to a different conclusion: Juni had turned from protector to threat. The how or why wasn’t important—just that he had. She intended to be prepared the next time one of them suddenly transformed into a menace.

BOOK: Soul of the Fire
11.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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