Read Naked Empire Online

Authors: Terry Goodkind

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Epic

Naked Empire (3 page)

BOOK: Naked Empire
6.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
Chapter 4

“Anyone hungry?” Tom called to the three women.

Richard pulled a lantern from the wagon and, after finally getting it lit with a steel and flint, set it on a shelf of rock. He passed a suspicious look among the three women as they approached, but apparently thought better of saying anything.

As Kahlan sat close at Richard’s side, Tom offered him the first chunk he sliced from a long length of sausage. When Richard declined, Kahlan accepted it. Tom sliced off another piece and passed it to Cara and then another to Friedrich.

Jennsen had gone to the wagon to search through her pack. Kahlan thought that maybe she just wanted to be alone a moment to collect herself. Kahlan knew how harsh her words had sounded, but she couldn’t allow herself to do Jennsen the disservice of coddling her with pleasing lies.

With Jennsen reassuringly close by, Betty lay down beside Rusty, Jennsen’s red roan mare. The horse and the goat were fast friends. The other horses seemed pleased by the visitor and took keen interest in her two kids, giving them a good sniff when they came close enough.

When Jennsen walked over displaying a small piece of carrot, Betty rose up in a rush. Her tail went into a blur of expectant wagging. The horses whinnied and tossed their heads, hoping not to be left out. Each in turn received a small treat and a scratch behind the ears.

Had they a fire, they could have cooked a stew, rice, or beans; griddled some bannock; or maybe have made a nice soup. Despite how hungry she was, Kahlan didn’t think she would have had the energy to cook, so she was content to settle for what was at hand. Jennsen retrieved strips of dried meat from her pack, offering them around. Richard declined this, too, instead eating hard travel biscuits, nuts, and dried fruit.

“But don’t you want any meat?” Jennsen asked as she sat down on her bedroll opposite him. “You need more than that to eat. You need something substantial.”

“I can’t eat meat. Not since the gift came to life in me.”

Jennsen’s wrinkled her nose with a puzzled look. “Why would your gift not allow you to eat meat?”

Richard leaned to the side, resting his weight on an elbow as he momentarily surveyed the sweep of stars, searching for the words to explain. “Balance, in nature,” he said at last, “is a condition resulting from the interaction of all things in existence. On a simple level, look at how predators and prey are in balance. If there were too many predators, and the prey were all eaten, then the thriving predators, too, would end up starving and dying out.

“The lack of balance would be deadly to both prey and predator; the world, for them both, would end. They exist in balance because acting in accordance with their nature results in balance. Balance is not their conscious intent.

“People are different. Without our conscious intent, we don’t necessarily achieve the balance that our survival often requires.

“We must learn to use our minds, to think, if we’re to survive. We plant crops, we hunt for fur to keep us warm, or raise sheep and gather their wool and learn how to weave it into cloth. We have to learn how to build shelter. We balance the value of one thing against another and trade goods to exchange what we’ve made for what we need that others have made or grown or built or woven or hunted.

“We balance what we need with what we know of the realities of the world. We balance what we want against our rational self-interest, not against fulfilling a momentary impulse, because we know that our long-term survival requires it. We use wood to build a fire in the hearth in order to keep from freezing on a winter night, but, despite how cold we might be when we’re building the fire, we don’t build the fire too big, knowing that to do so would risk burning our shelter down after we’re warm and asleep.”

“But people also act out of shortsighted selfishness, greed, and lust for power. They destroy lives.” Jennsen lifted her arm out toward the darkness. “Look at what the Imperial Order is doing—and succeeding at. They don’t care about weaving wool or building houses or trading goods. They slaughter people just for conquest. They take what they want.”

“And we resist them. We’ve learned to understand the value of life, so we fight to reestablish reason. We are the balance.”

Jennsen hooked some of her hair back behind an ear. “What does all this have to do with not eating meat?”

“I was told that wizards, too, must balance themselves, their gift—their power—in the things they do. I fight against those, like the Imperial Order, who would destroy life because it has no value to them, but that requires that I do the same terrible thing by destroying what is my highest value—life. Since my gift has to do with being a warrior, abstinence from eating meat is believed to be the balance for the killing I’m forced to do.”

“What happens if you eat meat?”

Kahlan knew that Richard had cause, from only the day before, to need the balance of not eating meat.

“Even the idea of eating meat nauseates me. I’ve done it when I’ve had to, but it’s something I avoid if at all possible. Magic deprived of balance has grave consequences, just like building a fire in the hearth.”

The thought occurred to Kahlan that Richard carried the Sword of Truth, and perhaps that weapon also imposed its own need for balance. Richard had been rightly named the Seeker of Truth by the First Wizard himself, Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander—Zedd, Richard’s grandfather, the man who had helped raise him, and from whom Richard had additionally inherited the gift. Richard’s gift had been passed down not only from the Rahl bloodline, but the Zorander as well. Balance indeed.

Rightly named Seekers had been carrying that very same sword for nearly three thousand years. Perhaps Richard’s understanding of the need for balance had helped him to survive the things he’d faced.

With her teeth, Jennsen tugged off a strip of dried meat as she thought it over. “So, because you have to fight and sometimes kill people, you can’t eat meat as the balance for that terrible act?”

Richard nodded as he chewed dried apricots.

“It must be dreadful to have the gift,” Jennsen said in a quiet voice. “To have something so destructive that it requires you balance it in some way.”

She looked away from Richard’s gray eyes. Kahlan knew what a difficult experience it sometimes was to meet his direct and incisive gaze.

“I used to feel that way,” he said, “when I first was named the Seeker and given the sword, and even more so later, when I learned that I had the gift. I didn’t want to have the gift, didn’t want the things the gift could do, just as I hadn’t wanted the sword because of the things in me that I thought shouldn’t ever be brought out.”

“But now you don’t mind as much, having the sword, or the gift?”

“You have a knife and have used it.” Richard leaned toward her, holding out his hands. “You have hands. Do you hate your knife, or hands?”

“Of course not. But what does that have to do with having the gift?”

“Having the gift is simply how I was born, like being born male, or female, or with blue, or brown, or green eyes—or with two hands. I don’t hate my hands because I could potentially strangle someone with them. It’s my mind that directs my hands. My hands don’t act of their own accord; to think so is to ignore the truth of what each thing is, its true nature. You have to recognize the truth of things if you’re to achieve balance—or come to truly understand anything, for that matter.”

Kahlan wondered why she didn’t require balance the way Richard did. Why was it so vital for him, but not for her? Despite how much she wanted to go to sleep, she couldn’t keep silent. “I often use my Confessor’s power for that same end—to kill—and I don’t have to keep in balance by not eating meat.”

“The Sisters of the Light claim that the veil that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead is maintained through magic. More precisely, they claim that the veil is here,” Richard said, tapping the side of his temple, “in those of us who have the gift—wizards and to a lesser extent sorceresses. They claim that balance for those of us with the gift is essential because in us, within our gift, resides the veil, making us, in essence, the guardians of the veil, the balance between worlds.

“Maybe they’re right. I have both sides of the gift: Additive and Subtractive. Maybe that makes it different for me. Maybe having both sides makes it more important than usual for me to keep my gift in balance.”

Kahlan wondered just how much of that might be true. She feared to think how extensively the balance of magic itself had been altered by her doing.

The world was unraveling, in more ways than one. But there had been no choice.

Cara dismissively waggled a piece of dried meat before them. “All this balance business is just a message from the good spirits—in that other world—telling Lord Rahl to leave such fighting to us. If he did, then he wouldn’t have to worry about balance, or what he can and can’t eat. If he would stop putting himself in mortal danger then his balance would be just fine and he could eat a whole goat.”

Jennsen’s eyebrows went up.

“You know what I mean,” Cara grumbled.

Tom leaned in. “Maybe Mistress Cara is right, Lord Rahl. You have people to protect you. You should let them do it and you could better put your abilities to the task of being the Lord Rahl.”

Richard closed his eyes and rubbed his temples with his fingertips. “If I had to wait for Cara to save me all the time, I’m afraid I’d have to do without a head.”

Cara rolled her eyes at his wisp of a smile and went back to her sausage.

Studying his face in the dim light as he sucked on a small bite of dried biscuit, Kahlan thought that Richard didn’t look well, and that it was more than simply being exhausted. The soft glow of light from the lantern lit one side of his face, leaving the rest in darkness, as if he were only half there, half in this world and half in the world of darkness, as if he were the veil between.

She leaned close and brushed back the hair that had fallen across his forehead, using the excuse to feel his brow. He felt hot, but they were all hot and sweating, so she couldn’t really tell if he had a fever, but she didn’t think so.

Her hand slipped down to cup his face, kindling his smile. She thought she could lose herself in the pleasure of just looking into his eyes. It made her heart ache with joy to see his smile. She smiled back, a smile she gave no one but him.

Kahlan had an urge to kiss him, too, but there always seemed to be people around and the kind of kiss she really wanted to give him wasn’t the kind of kiss you gave in front of others.

“It seems so hard to imagine,” Friedrich said to Richard. “I mean, the Lord Rahl himself, not knowing about the gift as he grew up.” Friedrich shook his head. “It seems so hard to believe.”

“My grandfather, Zedd, has the gift,” Richard said as he leaned back. “He wanted to help raise me away from magic, much like Jennsen—hidden away where Darken Rahl couldn’t get at me. That’s why he wanted me raised in Westland, on the other side of the boundary from magic.”

“And even your grandfather—a wizard—never let on that he was gifted?” Tom asked.

“No, not until Kahlan came to Westland. Looking back on it, I realize that there were a lot of little things that told me he was more than he seemed, but growing up I never knew. He just always seemed wizardly to me in the sense that he seemed to know about everything in the world around us. He opened up that world for me, making me want to all the time know more, but the gift wasn’t ever the magic he showed me—life was what he showed me.”

“It’s really true, then,” Friedrich said, “that Westland was set aside to be a place without magic.”

Richard smiled at the mention of his home of Westland. “It is. I grew up in the Hartland woods, right near the boundary, and I never saw magic. Except maybe for Chase.”

“Chase?” Tom asked.

“A friend of mine—a boundary warden. Fellow about your size, Tom. Whereas you serve to protect the Lord Rahl, Chase’s charge was the boundary, or rather, keeping people away from it. He told me that his job was keeping away the prey—people—so that the things that come out of the boundary wouldn’t get any stronger. He worked to maintain balance.” Richard smiled to himself. “He didn’t have the gift, but I often thought that the things that man could pull off had to be magic.”

Friedrich, too, was smiling at Richard’s story. “I lived in D’Hara all my life. When I was young those men who guarded the boundary were my heroes and I wanted to join them.”

“Why didn’t you?” Richard asked.

“When the boundary went up I was too young.” Friedrich stared off into memories, then sought to change the subject. “How much longer until we get out of this wasteland, Lord Rahl?”

Richard looked east, as if he could see off into the black of night beyond the dim circle of lantern light. “If we keep up our pace, a few more days and we’ll be out of the worst of it, I’d say. It gets rockier now as the ground continues to rise up toward the distant mountains. The traveling will be more difficult but at least as we get higher it shouldn’t be quite so hot.”

“How far to this thing that…that Cara thinks I should touch?” Jennsen asked.

Richard studied her face a moment. “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”

“But we are going there?”

“Yes.”

Jennsen picked at the strip of dried meat. “What is this thing that Cara touched, anyway? Cara and Kahlan don’t seem to want to tell me.”

“I asked them not to tell you,” Richard said.

“But why? If we’re going to see it, then why wouldn’t you want to tell me what it is?”

“Because you don’t have the gift,” Richard said. “I don’t want to influence what you see.”

Jennsen blinked. “What difference could that make?”

“I haven’t had time to translate much of it yet, but from what I gather from the book Friedrich brought me, even those who don’t have the gift, in the common sense, have at least some tiny spark of it. In that way they are able to interact with the magic in the world—much like you must be born with eyes to see color. Being born with eyes, you can see and understand a grand painting, even though you may not have the ability to create such a painting yourself.

BOOK: Naked Empire
6.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Chain of Destiny by Betty Neels
The Train to Lo Wu by Jess Row
The Impossible Clue by Sarah Rubin
Carousel by Brendan Ritchie
The Crow Road by Iain Banks
Basic Training by Julie Miller
Enduring by Harington, Donald