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Authors: Terry Goodkind

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Epic

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BOOK: Naked Empire
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“The gifted Lord Rahl gives birth to only one gifted heir. He may have other children, but rarely are any of them ever also gifted. Still, they do have this infinitesimal spark, as does everyone else. Even they, so to speak, can see color.

“The book says, though, that there are rare offspring of a gifted Lord Rahl, like you, who are born devoid of any trace whatsoever of the gift. The book calls them pillars of Creation. Much like those born without eyes can’t perceive color, those born like you can’t perceive magic.

“But even that is imprecise, because with you it’s more than simply not perceiving magic. For someone born blind, color exists, they just aren’t able to see it. For you, though, it isn’t that you simply can’t perceive magic; for you magic does not exist—it isn’t a reality.”

“How is such a thing possible?” Jennsen asked.

“I don’t know,” Richard said. “When our ancestors created the bond of the Lord Rahl to the D’Haran people, it carried the unique ability to consistently bear a gifted heir. Magic needs balance. Maybe they had to make it work like this, have this counter of those born like you, in order for the magic they created to work; maybe they didn’t realize what would happen and inadvertently created the balance.”

Jennsen cleared her throat. “What would happen if…you know, if I were to have children?”

Richard surveyed Jennsen’s eyes for what seemed a painfully long time. “You would bear offspring like you.”

Jennsen sat forward, her hands reflecting her emotional entreaty. “Even if I marry someone with that spark of the gift? Someone able to perceive color, as you called it? Even then my child would be like me?”

“Even then and every time,” Richard said with quiet certitude. “You are a broken link in the chain of the gift. According to the book, once the line of all those born with the spark of the gift, including those with the gift as it is in me, going back thousands of years, going back forever, is broken, it is broken for all time. It cannot be restored. Once forfeited in such a marriage, no descendant of that line can ever restore the link to the gift. When these children marry, they too would be as you, breaking the chain in the line of those they marry. Their children would be the same, and so on.

“That’s why the Lord Rahl always hunted down ungifted offspring and eliminated them. You would be the genesis of something the world has never had before: those untouched by the gift. Every offspring of every descendant would end the line of the spark of the gift in everyone they married. The world, mankind, would be changed forever.

“This is the reason the book calls those like you ‘pillars of Creation.’”

The silence seemed brittle.

“And that’s what this place is called, too,” Tom said as he pointed a thumb back over his shoulder, seeming to feel the need to say something into the quiet, “the Pillars of Creation.” He looked at the faces surrounding the weak light coming from the sputtering lantern. “Seems a strange coincidence that both those like Jennsen and this place would be called the same thing.”

Richard stared off into the darkness toward that terrible place where Kahlan would have died had he made a mistake with the magic involved. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence. They are connected, somehow.”

The book—
The Pillars of Creation
—describing those born like Jennsen was written in the ancient language of High D’Haran. Few people still living understood High D’Haran. Richard had begun to learn it in order to unravel important information in other books they’d found that were from the time of the great war.

That war, extinguished three thousand years before, had somehow ignited once again, and was burning uncontrolled through the world. Kahlan feared to think of the central—if inadvertent—part she and Richard had played in making it possible.

Jennsen leaned in, as if looking for some thread of hope. “How do you think the two might be connected?”

Richard let out a tired sigh. “I don’t know, yet.”

With a finger, Jennsen rolled a pebble around in a small circle, leaving a tiny rut in the dust. “All of those things about me being a pillar of Creation, being the break in the link of the gift, makes me feel somehow…dirty.”

“Dirty?” Tom asked, looking hurt to hear her even suggest such a thing. “Jennsen, why would you feel that way?”

“Those like me are also called ‘holes in the world.’ I guess I can see why, now.”

Richard leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I know what it’s like to feel regret for how you were born, for what you have, or don’t have. I hated being born the way I was—with the gift. But I came to realize how senseless such feelings are, how completely wrong it was to think that way.”

“But it’s different with me,” she said as she pushed at the sand with a finger, erasing the little ruts she’d made with the pebble. “There are others like you—wizards or sorceresses with the gift. Everyone else can at least see colors, as you put it. I’m the only one like this.”

Richard gazed at his half sister, a beautiful, bright, ungifted half sister that any previous Lord Rahl would have murdered on the spot, and was overcome with a radiant smile. “Jennsen, I think of you as born pure. You’re like a new snowflake, different than any other, and startlingly beautiful.”

Looking up at him, Jennsen was overcome with a smile of her own. “I never thought of it that way.” Her smile withered as she thought about his words. “But still, I’d be destroying—”

“You would be creating, not destroying,” Richard said. “Magic exists. It cannot possess the ‘right’ to exist. To think so would be to ignore the true nature—the reality—of things. People, if they don’t take the lives of others, have the right to live their life. You can’t say that because you were born with red hair you supplanted the ‘right’ of brown hair to be born on your head.”

Jennsen giggled at such a concept. It was good to see the smile taking firmer hold. By the look on Tom’s face, he agreed.

“So,” Jennsen finally asked, “what about this thing we’re going to see?”

“If the thing Cara touched has been altered by someone with the gift, then since you can’t see the magic, you might see something we can’t see: what lies beneath that magic.”

Jennsen rubbed the edge of her boot heel. “And you think that will tell you something important?”

“I don’t know. It may be useful, or it may not, but I want to know what you see—with your special vision—without any suggestion from us.”

“If you’re so worried about it, why did you leave it? Aren’t you afraid someone might come across it and take it?”

“I worry about a lot of things,” Richard said.

“Even if it really is something altered by magic and she sees it for what it truly is,” Cara said, “that doesn’t mean that it still isn’t what it seems to us, or that it isn’t just as dangerous.”

Richard nodded. “At least we’ll know that much more about it. Anything we learn might help us in some way.”

Cara scowled. “I just want her to turn it back over.”

Richard gave her a look designed to keep her from saying anything else about it. Cara huffed, leaned in, and took one of Richard’s dried apricots. She scowled at him as she popped the apricot into her mouth.


As soon as supper was finished, Jennsen suggested that they pack all the food safely back in the wagon so that Betty wouldn’t help herself to it in the night. Betty was always hungry. At least, with her two kids, she now had a taste of what it was like to be badgered for food.

Kahlan thought that Friedrich should be given consideration, because of his age, so she asked him if he’d like to take first watch. First watch was easier than being awakened in the middle of the night to stand watch between stretches of sleep. He smiled his appreciation as he nodded his agreement.

After opening his and Kahlan’s bedroll, Richard doused the lantern. The night was sweltering but crystal clear so that, after Kahlan’s eyes adjusted, the sweep of stars was enough to see by, if not very well. One of the white twins thought the newly unfurled bedrolls would be a perfect place to romp. Kahlan scooped up the leggy bundle and returned it to its tail-wagging mother.

As she lay down beside Richard, Kahlan saw the dark shape of Jennsen curl up by Betty and collect the twins in the tender bed of her arms, where they quickly settled down.

Richard leaned over and gently kissed Kahlan’s lips. “I love you, you know.”

“If we’re ever alone, Lord Rahl,” Kahlan whispered back, “I’d like to have more than a quick kiss.”

He laughed softly and kissed her forehead before lying on his side, away from her. She had been expecting an intimate promise, or at least a lighthearted remark.

Kahlan curled up behind him and rested a hand on his shoulder. “Richard,” she whispered, “are you all right?”

It took him longer to answer than she would have liked. “I have a splitting headache.”

She wanted to ask what kind of headache, but she didn’t want the tiny spark of fear she harbored to gain the glow of credence by voicing it aloud.

“It’s different from the headaches I had before,” Richard said, as if in answer to her thoughts. “I suppose it’s this wicked heat on top of not having had any sleep for so long.”

“I suppose.” Kahlan bunched up the blanket she was using for a pillow to make a lump that would press against the sore spot at the base of her skull. “The heat is making my head pound, too.” She gently rubbed the back of his shoulder. “Have a good sleep, then.”

She was exhausted and aching all over, and it felt delicious to lie down. Her head felt better, too, with the soft lump of blanket pressed against the back of her neck. With her hand resting against Richard’s shoulder, feeling his slow breathing, Kahlan fell into a dead sleep.

Chapter 5

As tired as she was, it was a marvelous sensation being beside Richard and letting herself go, letting her concerns and worries go for the time being, and so effortlessly sinking into sleep.

But the sleep seemed only just started when she woke to find Cara gently shaking her shoulder.

Kahlan blinked up at the familiar silhouette standing over her. She ached to go back to sleep, to be left alone to be so wonderfully asleep again.

“My watch?” Kahlan asked.

Cara nodded. “I’ll stand it if you’d like.”

Kahlan glanced over her shoulder as she sat up, seeing that Richard was still fast asleep. “No,” she whispered. “You get some sleep. You need rest, too.”

Kahlan yawned and stretched her back. She took Cara’s elbow and pulled her a short distance away, out of earshot, and leaned close. “I think you’re right. There’s more than enough of us to stand watch and all still get enough rest. Let’s let Richard sleep till morning.”

Cara smiled her agreement before heading for her bedroll. Conspiracy designed to protect Richard suited the Mord-Sith.

Kahlan yawned and stretched again, at the same time forcing herself to shake the lingering haze of sleep from her mind, to be alert. Pulling her hair back from her face and flipping it over her shoulder, she scanned the wasteland all around, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Everything beyond their camp was as still as death. Mountains blacked out the glittering sweep of stars in a jagged line all the way around the horizon.

Kahlan took careful assessment of everyone, making sure they were all accounted for. Cara already looked comfortable. Tom slept not far from the horses. Friedrich was asleep on the other side of the horses. Jennsen was curled up beside Betty, but by her movements, the way she turned from her side to her back, didn’t look asleep. The babies had moved and now lay sprawled with their heads butted up tight against their mother.

Kahlan was always especially vigilant right at change of watch. Change of watch was a prime time for attack; she knew, for she had often initiated raids around change of watch. Those just going off watch were often tired and already thinking of other things, considering watch the duty of the next guard. Those just coming on watch were often not mentally prepared for a sudden attack. People tended to think that the enemy would not come until they were properly settled in and on the lookout. Victory favored those who were ready. Defeat stalked those who were unwary.

Kahlan made her way to a formation of rock not far from Richard. She scooted back, sitting atop a high spot in order to get a better view of the lifeless surroundings. Even in the middle of the night, the rough rock still radiated the fierce heat of the previous day.

Kahlan pulled a skein of damp hair away from her neck, wishing there were a breeze. There had been times, in winter, when she had nearly frozen to death. Try as she might, she couldn’t seem to recall what it felt like to be truly cold.

It wasn’t long after Kahlan had gotten herself situated before she saw Jennsen get up and step quietly through their camp, trying not to wake the others.

“All right if I sit with you?” she asked when she finally reached Kahlan.

“Of course.”

Jennsen pushed her bottom back up onto the rock beside Kahlan, pulled her knees up, and wrapped her arms around them, hugging them close to her body. For a time she just gazed out at the night.

“Kahlan, I’m sorry—about before.” Despite the dark, Kahlan thought she could see that the young woman looked miserable. “I didn’t mean to sound like a fool who would do something without thinking. I’d never do anything to hurt any of you.”

“I know you wouldn’t deliberately do any such thing. It’s the things you might do unwittingly that concern me.”

Jennsen nodded. “I think I understand a little better, now, about how complicated everything is and how much I really don’t know. I’ll not do anything unless you or Richard tells me to, I promise.”

Kahlan smiled and ran a hand down the back of Jennsen’s head, letting it come to rest on her shoulder. “I only told you those things because I care about you, Jennsen.” She gave the shoulder a compassionate squeeze. “I guess I’m worried for you the same way Betty worries for her innocent twins, knowing the dangers all around when they rarely do.

“You need to understand that if you go out on thin ice, it doesn’t matter if the lake was frozen over by a cold spell, or a magic spell. If you don’t know where you’re stepping, so to speak, you could fall into the cold dark arms of death. It matters not what made the ice—dead is dead. My point is that you don’t go out on that thin ice unless you have a very powerful need, because it very well could cost you your life.”

“But I’m not touched by magic. Like Richard said, I’m like someone born without eyes who can’t see color. I’m a broken link in the chain of magic. Wouldn’t that mean that I can’t accidentally get into trouble with it?”

“And if someone pushes a boulder off a cliff and it crushes you, does it matter if that boulder was sent crashing over the edge by a man with a lever, or by a sorceress wielding the gift?”

Jennsen’s voice took on a troubled tone. “I see what you mean. I guess that I never looked at it that way.”

“I’m only trying to help you because I know how easy it is to make a mistake.”

She watched Kahlan in the dark for a moment. “You know about magic. What kind of mistake could you make?”

“All kinds.”

“Like what?”

Kahlan stared off into the memories. “I once delayed for half a second in killing someone.”

“But I thought you said that it was wrong to be too rash.”

“Sometimes the most foolhardy thing you can do is to delay. She was a sorceress. By the time I acted it was already too late. Because of my mistake she captured Richard and took him away. For a year, I didn’t know what had happened to him. I thought I would never see him again, that I would die of heartache.”

Jennsen stared in astonishment. “When did you find him again?”

“Not long ago. That’s why we’re down here in the Old World—she brought him here. At least I found him. I’ve made other mistakes, and they, too, have resulted in no end of trouble. So has Richard. Like he said, we all make mistakes. If I can, I want to spare you from making a needless mistake, at least.”

Jennsen looked away. “Like believing in that man I was with yesterday—Sebastian. Because of him, my mother was murdered and I almost got you killed. I feel like such a fool.”

“You didn’t make that mistake out of carelessness, Jennsen. They deceived you, used you. More importantly, in the end you used your head and were willing to face the truth.”

Jennsen nodded.

“What should we name the twins?” she finally asked.

Kahlan didn’t think that naming the twins was a good idea, not yet anyway, but she was reluctant to say it.

“I don’t know. What names were you thinking?”

Jennsen let out a heavy breath. “It was a shock to suddenly have Betty back with me, and even more of a surprise to see that she had babies of her own. I never considered that before. I haven’t even had time to think about names.”

“You will.”

Jennsen smiled at the thought. Her smile grew, as if at the thought of something more.

“You know,” she said, “I think I understand what Richard meant about thinking of his grandfather as wizardly, even though he never saw him do magic.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I can’t see magic, so to speak, and Richard didn’t do any tonight—at least none I know of.” She laughed softly, as pleasing a laugh as Kahlan had ever heard, full of life and joy. It had a quality to it much like Richard’s, the feminine balance to Richard’s masculine laugh, two facets of the same delight.

“And yet,” Jennsen went on, “the things he said made me think of him in that way—wizardly—like he said about Zedd. When he was saying that, I knew just what he meant, just how he’d felt, because Richard has opened up the world for me, but the gift wasn’t the magic he showed me. It was him showing me life, that my life is mine, and worth living.”

Kahlan smiled to herself, at how very much that described her own feeling of what Richard had done for her, how he had brought her to cherish life and believe in it not just for others, but, most importantly, for herself.

For a time they sat together, silently watching the empty wasteland. Kahlan kept an eye on Richard as he tossed in his sleep.

With growing concern, Jennsen, too, watched Richard. “It looks like there’s something wrong with him,” she whispered as she leaned close.

“He’s having a nightmare.”

Kahlan watched, as she had so many times before, as Richard made fists in his sleep, as he struggled silently against some private terror.

“It’s scary to see him like that,” Jennsen said. “He seems so different. When he’s awake he always seems so…reasoned.”

“You can’t reason with a nightmare,” Kahlan said in quiet sorrow.

BOOK: Naked Empire
2.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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