So finally we find out what a wayward pine is, and it has nothing to do with M. Night Shyamalan. It's basically your average old-growth evergreen tree, which has a little space underneath where people can hide. That's… not very special. I mean, when I was a kid, I played in plenty of pine trees just like that.
For some reason, Richard apparently uses this pine as a sort of hotel room, so there's a convenient fireplace and wood.
Richard was not quite able to stand under the branches where they began growing out from the trunk. The branches were bare near the trunk, with needles on the ends, leaving a hollow interior. The lower branches dipped all the way to the ground. The tree was fire-resistant, as long as one was careful.
- Being fire-resistant is not something that depends on care. Either it's fire-resistant, or it's not.
- So in other words, this is a special fantasy tree that exists solely to make life easier for the Stu.
- What is it about bad fantasy books and Plot Convenient Trees?
Richard had waited out many a rain in a wayward pine. He always enjoyed staying in the small but cozy shelters as he traveled the Hartland.
Wait, what? Exactly how many Plot Convenience Trees does he stay in? HE HAS A HOUSE!
And how often does he travel? The previous chapters led me to believe that he normally stays pretty close to Pleasantville normally, especially since that's where his JOB is.
Before their encounter with the long-tailed gar, there had been plants and animals in the forest he had strong respect for, but there had been nothing in the woods he feared.
Then he is very stupid, and obviously not much of a guide.
"You see that giant bear tearing your husband limb from limb?"
"Well, I have a lot of respect for that bear. I'm not scared of him, though!"
"HE'S EATING MY HUSBAND ALIVE!"
"Yep, that is worthy of respect, not fear."
Kahlan is sleepy because she hasn't slept in two days-ish, which astounds Richard.
When they were running from the quad, he had barely been able to keep up with her.
It hadn't helped that he kept stopping at every wayward pine they passed.
It was her fear that pushed her on, he knew.
Yes, okay. Well, adrenaline can keep people pumped for a very long time, so it's actually LESS surprising that she's tired now. Does Richard not have a clue how these things work?
She states that she hasn't slept because it isn't smart to go to sleep in the boundary… and then doesn't tell us why. Ah, cryptic nonsense, I missed thee. Even though Richard is curious about WHY it's a bad idea, he doesn't ask her… because he's an idiot.
She nodded her head.
Oh, thank you for telling me that. Otherwise I'd've thought she was nodding her feet.
Seeing the gar has apparently turned Richard into a huge weenie; when he goes out for water, he literally freaks out every time he sees a BUG fly by.
Shadows melted and materialized as clouds passed in front of the moon. He didn't want to, but he looked up anyway. Stars winked off and back on as soft, gauzelike clouds moved silently across the sky. All except one, which did not move.
All except one… what? Star? Cloud? Confusion!
And apparently even though he's turned into a total weenie who's afraid of everything, an umoving cloud on a windy night doesn't alarm him. He just wanders back in and continues what he was doing, and never mentions the weird stuff. Then again, this seems to be a repeating issue with Richard.
He came back in, cold to the bone, and put the pot of water on the fire, balancing it on three stones.
That sounds really, really unpleasant. Boiling water inside a waterproof area?
Richard started to sit across from her, but then changed his mind and sat next to her, telling himself it was because he was so cold.
"Why are you sitting next to me?"
"Because it's so cold."
"Why are you taking your clothes off?"
"Because it's so cold!"
"Why are you taking MY clothes off?"
"See above answer."
Fortunately for Richard, Kahlen is perfectly happy to cuddle under a blanket with a man she's known for about six hours. And she's suddenly very happy to infodump him about random things, despite her whole shtick being that she won't talk about anything even remotely interesting.
- The gars are from D'Hara, not the Midlands. Why the Midlands aren't called the Eastlands is beyond me.
- There used to be a second boundary between the Midlands and D'Hara. Why? No clue.
- The second boundary collapsed last spring.
"Richard—" She paused as if afraid to tell him the rest. "—there is no longer a second boundary. The boundary between the Midlands and D'Hara is down. Since the spring."
"And now the Forces of Generic Evil are swarming all over the place! Isn't it horrifying? Richard? Are you asleep?"
No, actually Richard is shocked and horrified by this.
"Maybe my brother is more of a prophet than he knows."
"You know, when he's not molesting random women I speak to."
"Although it would be hard to make a living as a prophet by predicting events that had already taken place."
… except that nobody in the area KNOWS that that event has taken place, so… it WOULD seem like a legitimate prediction.
"When I first saw you, my thought was that you were no fool."
"Turns out I was wrong. You're a total idiot."
No, it's actually another ego-stroke for Richard. And the claim that he's not stupid is immediately undermined when he announces, "Maybe he's trying to prepare the people, get them used to the idea, so when they find out, they won't panic." Yes, the man who openly molests women at parties and declares war on FIRE is obviously doing his best for the common good. Moron.
Michael often said that information was the coin of power, and that it was not a coin to be spent frivolously. After he had become a councilor, he encouraged people to bring their information to him first. Even a farmer with a tale received an ear, and if the tale proved true, a favor.
So… he's a canny politician. Except he's also a blithering idiot who has no idea when he's losing people's support.
Goodkind doesn't seem to realize that these things don't go together. There are politicians who are fucking idiots (and usually only get votes because of gerrymandering and blind political loyalty), but they aren't also smart clever people who know how to work the system to their advantage. Usually politicians are one or the other.
Then again, Goodkind's knowledge of politics is on par with Laurell K. Hamilton's.
It also turns out that Richard has been carrying a bunch of dried veggies and FOUR FUCKING SAUSAGES that he lifted from his brother's party. Yeah, because those wouldn't have gone bad after hours of being in his pocket or anything. His excuse? A woodsman "always plans ahead and tries to know where his next meal will come from." In other words, don't invite this douche to your house, or he'll start pilfering stuff from your fridge.
"Kahlan, I won't justify the way he acted. Ever since our mother died he's been a hard person to be close to. But I know he cares about people. You have to, if you want to be a good councilor. It must be a lot of pressure. I certainly wouldn't want the responsibility. But that's all he ever wanted; to be someone important. And now that he's First Councilor, he has what he's always wanted. He should be satisfied, but he seems even less tolerant. He's always busy, and always snapping orders. He is always in a bad mood lately. Maybe when he got what he wanted, it wasn't what he thought it would be. I wish he could be more like he used to be."
"See, my brother's an asshole. But he means well. But he's a molesting jerk. But he isn't a bad guy. He's just in a bad mood. Except when he's an asshole. It's just the pressure getting to him."
I wish I could say this is Goodkind trying to inject some kind of moral greyness or complexity into his characters… but that would be bullshit, since all his antagonists are the purest evil. I think he's actually trying to make Richard seem like he expects the best of people like the annoying Jane Bennett…
But it's actually making him look really dumb and credulous, because he keeps excusing away the OBVIOUS EVILNESS of a guy he doesn't even seem to like because… no real reason.
Again, this is something that worked 1000% better in the TV series, where you can actually sympathize somewhat with Michael Cypher. Yeah, he ends up in bed with the villains, but his dislike of Richard is actually explored instead of just being "jealousy," and he actually believes that Richard has fallen in with the bad guys. The writers also gave him the opportunity to redeem himself.
Kahlen makes a random "joke" about the sausages, saving Goodkind from having a serious character-building moment and/or criticism of Richard's judgement. Instead, they have expository dialogue!
"Kahlan, I don't understand, about the boundary, I mean."
"Is it made of cheese or salami? I just HAVE to know!"
"I don't even know what the boundary is, except it's meant to keep the lands separated so there will be peace."
First of all, we later find out that there are a bunch of SMALLER countries in each of these lands, so there would still be conflict. In fact, that is part of how the bad guy came to power.
Secondly, it seems like a bad long-term plan to cut off giant swathes of land from all the others. For one thing, it seriously restricts trade.
And how large ARE these boundaries? Do they go a certain distance north and sound, then just stop? If so, you could simply go AROUND them!
I mean, yeah, it would take awhile, but it COULD be done. Or are the boundaries supposed to extend from pole to pole without a break? Because some people further south might be a bit pissed about that.
It turns out that the younger people in the Westland aren't told about the boundaries and why they were put up.
"People think I'm strange because I want to know, and I ask questions."
Where did Goodkind get this weird idea that NOBODY except his Stu asks questions, and that asking questions about obvious shit is UNUSUAL? Has he ever met a child? They ask questions CONSTANTLY. It's how we strange human creatures learn about the world.
And if you lived next to a massive supernatural barrier that had been there for only a few decades, and NOBODY explained why it was there, a LOT of the younger people would be asking why the hell it existed and where it came from. And a refusal to answer would just make them MORE curious, not LESS.
"Older people seem suspicious when I ask, and tell me it was too long ago to remember, or give some other excuse."
Because making sure young people are ignorant is a GREAT way to avoid the mistakes of the past!
It also turns out that both Cypher Sr. and Zedd used to live in the Midlands, and they also refuse to tell Richard anything. This is doubly stupid because we soon discover that he is the Chosen One…and what's more, at least one of them KNEW he was the chosen one. So… they deliberately kept the Chosen One ignorant because…?
I guess we needed the clumsy exposition.
And Kahlan is happy to give that clumsy exposition. Basically, the current situation is the fault of Panis Rahl… wait, what?
Goodkind… I'm having enough trouble reading your awful prose and clumsy characters. I do not need character names that immediately make me think of dicks.
Yeesh, I thought "Darken" was bad. Do hilariously awful names run in the Rahl family, or did nobody edit this?
"They said that back before the boundaries was a terrible time, and that there was a lot of fighting. They both told me there was nothing I needed to know except it was a dreadful time best forgotten."
Again, there are several countries in the Midlands. Are we supposed to believe that NOBODY there is now fighting over anything?!
AND HOW DO THE BOUNDARIES HELP?!
"Long ago, back in the time before our parents were born, D'Hara was just a confederation of kingdoms, as was the Midlands."
… so why aren't the Westlands? Why is it just a big generic blob with no kings or anything? And why does D'Hara have a real name, and the other two areas don't?
"The most ruthless of the D'Haran rulers was Panis Rahl."
"They suspect that the constant teasing at school was what made him so evil."
"He was avaricious. From the first day of his reign, he started swallowing up all of D'Hara for himself, one kingdom after another, many times before the ink was dry on a peace treaty."
… if he was going to conquer the kingdoms, why bother with a peace treaty?
I mean, you could theoretically try to lull them into a false sense of security with a peace treaty, then invade… but if you can easily invade them, why bother with the peace treaty?
Also, this seems like a plan with very limited possibilities, because sooner or later the unconquered kingdoms are gonna figure out that Penis Rahl + peace treaty = Invasion planned for next week.
"The Midlands is a loose confederation of free lands; free, at least, to rule as they see fit, and only so long as they live in peace with each other."
…. wait, what?!?!?!
- So the Midlands is made up of several different countries, all of whom are completely autonomous...
- … except that they're NOT autonomous, because they'll get bitchslapped if they get into a spat.
- Who's doing the bitchslapping? Clearly they're not truly "free" if they have someone lording over them if they dare to NOT be peaceful with each other.
- So who is it? Do they have a High King who gets to boss all these little kings around?
- APPARENTLY NOT, BECAUSE THERE'S NO MENTION OF IT!!!!!!!!!!!
- Also, I'd like to introduce Mr. Goodkind to a collection of free (well, most of them are… NOW) lands in our world. It's called Europe.
And you know what? When you have all these little countries sandwiched together… eventually Country A is gonna invade Country B. Then County C will join forces with B, and bitchslap A. Then Country D will be unexpectedly invaded by A, only to have A retreat because of C, and Country E will declare war on everybody… and you get the point.
That point is: countries go to war. They fight. They squabble. In a medieval society, you were lightly to fight quite a bit with the countries closest to you. Just look at France and England.
And no, these conflicts are usually not caused by evil fascist overlords on par with Hitler, only more perverted. Life is not that simple, and neither is war. War usually takes place even without Stalin or Hitler at the helm, and claiming that you need an EVIL BABY-EATING VILLAIN for there to be any conflict between countries is just stupid.
Seriously, this whole part reads like a propaganda ad for the EU.
"By the time Rahl had conquered all of D'Hara, the peoples of the Midlands had seen what he was about, and were not to be taken so easily."
Unlike the people of D'Hara, who always figured that it would be totally different when THEY signed a peace treaty.
"They knew that signing a peace treaty with him was as good as signing an invitation to invasion."
Which raises another question: how can this guy AFFORD to just plow through one kingdom after another?! I mean, where is he getting an army large enough to conquer and OCCUPY all these different countries?
Seems like Goodkind thinks that either troops (and the resources needed) can be easily grown like a chia pet, or he thinks that when you conquer a country, the entire population just goes, "Oh, you conquered us. We belong to you forever. Don't worry, we won't try to stage a coup or form a rebellion. We'll just lie here with our bellies showing."
"Instead, they chose to remain free, and joined together, through the council of the Midlands, in a common defense. Many of the free lands held no favor with each other, but they knew that if they did not fight together, they would die separately, one at a time."
… Goodkind, stop ripping off Ben Franklin. Not only was he an infinitely superior writer and political sage, but he was able to make phrases like "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately" sound snappy and cool. You… sound awkward.
"Panis Rahl threw the might of D'Hara against them. War raged for many years."
"And fortunately for him, ALL those lands he conquered just stayed conquered. They didn't try to take advantage of him focusing on the Midlands or anything. Nope, when an evil tyrant conquers a country, it just sits there and does nothing!"
But it turns out that Penis Rahl had MAAAAAAAAGIC on his side too, so he started doing some occult shit when his armies stopped being so effective. Using vile magicks, he allowed an evil sorcerer to open a portal and awaken the Ogru Jahad, but the entire plan went wrong and instead a baby demon...
Huh? Sorry, I started thinking about a different story.
"There is magic in D'Hara, too, not just in the Midlands."
Was there any suggestion that there WASN'T?
"Back then there was magic everywhere."
I don't think anyone suggested that there wasn't.
"There were no separate lands, no boundaries."
Obviously there WERE separate lands, or there would be just three countries in the world.
"Anyway, Panis Rahl was ruthless in his use of magic against the free people. He was terribly brutal."
"He kept playing Manos, The Hands of Fate over and over and over! It was horrible!"
No, instead Penis used his evil juju to… do evil things. Mostly it seems that he made people sick, since apparently Goodkind isn't very imaginative about what sorts of horrible things you could do with magic on a wide scale. I would choose horrible mutations, personally. Especially since illnesses occur in real life, so unless you turned up and announced, "This plague is my doing! It's totally me! Quiver in fear!" they might not figure out it was you.
However, he also created "shadow people," which are basically insubstantial things that make you explode like a gremlin in a microwave.
"When Panis Rahl started using the magic in that way, a great and honorable wizard joined the side of the Midlands cause."
"His name was Billy Owens. Actually, he was kind of lame."
So the great and honorable wizard who is probably Zedd handicapped Penis' power, which allowed the Midlands people to kick his ass back into D'Hara. How did he stop the shadow people?
"He conjured up battle horns for the armies. When the shadow people came, our men blew the horns and magic swept the shadow people away like smoke in the wind. It turned the course of battle to our side.
Seriously? The way to get rid of these invincible immaterial monsters that can make you split open like a dropped watermelon… is to use magical horns to BLOW THEM AWAY? Is this a Bugs Bunny cartoon?!
So then the Midlands countries ALL agreed that hey, sure Penis devastated countless countries and is a total megalomaniac monster… but they didn't feel like going in to kill him or anything. I guess that great wizard isn't that great, or they'd just ask him to do something about it. And I guess they were penny-pinching, and didn't feel like paying for a top-notch assassin to sneak in and shoot Penis in the head.
To make this stupidity even stupider, a bunch of people in the Midlands decided that the REAL problem was magic, and they were more scared of magic than Penis. Hell, they wanted absolutely nothing to do with magic ever again, because magic is always bad.
… even though the entire reason they managed to win WAS BECAUSE OF FUCKING MAGIC.
"They wanted a place to live where there would be no magic."
Send them to North Dakota.
"Westland was set aside for those people."
- Because apparently in this vast territory, there was absolutely nobody. Or did they just kill all the natives?
- And since all magic = evilnastybad, these people who HATE MAGIC decided to use magic to seal themselves off from magic. THE STUPID, IT BURNS!
- I'm sorry, I can't get past this. It is so freaking stupid. In a fantasy world where magic has ALWAYS existed, people have been using it for a long time (see WIZARDS), and people are used to the idea of magic… why would they suddenly decide ALL MAGIC IS BAD because of ONE person's usage of it?
- I mean, is this SERIOUSLY the first time in THE HISTORY OF THIS ENTIRE WORLD that somebody decided to use evil magic in warfare? BULLSHIT!
- Here's a comparison: imagine that after the American Civil War, about half of Americans weren't upset about the perceived wrongs of the North/South, but upset because iron was used in cannonballs and bullets that killed people. So they decide to form an entirely new country so they can live away from iron. YOU SEE HOW STUPID THAT IS?!?!?!??!?!?!
- And yeah, apparently even though they can easily use good magic to DEFEND THEMSELVES against the evil magic, which has been proven to work, they would rather be COMPLETELY HELPLESS by avoiding it completely. "Yeah, that whole hire-wizards-to-form-a-special-alliance-and-defend-us-from-evil-magic idea is interesting… but here's a better idea! Let's use magic, which we hate and distrust, to create giant impenetrable boundaries that will cut off trade and kill anyone who approaches them! That's the best solution!"
And you know what? It STILL doesn't explain why the older people flat out refuse to tell the younger people about the boundaries. What is so fucking hard about telling them, "There was an evil tyrant named Penis who used evil magic against us, so we walled ourselves off from the Midlands and D'Hara"? It doesn't seem like there's anything in this story that needs to be kept secret.
There are only two possible reasons for them to not tell their kids about this:
- So Kahlan can exposit.
- So we know that Richard is a speshul sparkling snowflake of speshulness because… HE ASKS OBVIOUS QUESTIONS ABOUT OBVIOUS SHIT.
Maybe it's because the older people of the Westlands were dicks, who decided that it was better to never give their children any kind of contact with the outside world, and make sure they never even had the CHOICE of living in a world with magic. In fact, the more I think about it, the more culty they seem.
And finally… this whole magical-segregation thing seems to be something Goodkind really likes, because (spoiler for later books) this isn't the last time it happens.
"The boundaries were created with the help of magic… but they themselves are not magic."
Oh, so that's the excuse that they came up with. Better than admitting that they're big ol' hypocrites.
Kahlan then exposits that the boundaries are actually a big ol' chunk of the WORLD OF THE DEAD. Yes, they actually created massive walls of the FUCKING UNDERWORLD. In OUR world. And oh yeah, they kill you if you touch them.
And YES, the boundaries coming down is depicted as being a BAD thing!
"But while you are walking the land where the boundary is, you are also walking through the underworld. It is a wasteland. Any life that touches the underworld, or is touched by it, is touching death. That is why no one can cross the boundary. If you enter it, you enter the land of the dead. No one can return from the dead."
And clearly this was the ONLY way of isolating your little cult! Nothing else would work!
I would also like to mention that this was Plan A, and it wasn't done out of desperation. It's not like Penis Rahl's army was a day away, and they had no other way to protect themselves. THIS was done with cold-blooded calculation… and they thought that the best solution was to create a GIANT DEADLY WALL OF THE UNDERWORLD.
I'm sorry, I just can't stop babbling about how STUPID that idea was. If they were cornered and desperate, I could see this being a realistic option. But… THEY WEREN'T.
… GIANT DEADLY WALL OF THE UNDERWORLD! WHO THE FUCK THINKS THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA?!?!?!?!?!
Okay, okay, I'm calm now. For the moment. I'm sure some other nugget of blinding stupidity will hit me in a minute.
Richard asks Kahlan how she got through, if the boundary immediately kills you. A reasonable question… which still doesn't make him speshul.
"With magic. The boundary was brought here with magic, so the wizards reasoned they could get me safely through with the aid and protection of magic."
Really? So, the people who hate all magic decided to seal themselves away… with a boundary… that can BE BREACHED WITH MAGIC. So the only people in the whole world who can get to them ARE THE PEOPLE THEY'RE TRYING TO AVOID.
And HOLY SHIT. It has already been established that Penis Rahl (and presumably his son too) is a magic-user. A very powerful one. So they have ensured that he might be able to get through BOTH barriers if he put his mind to it, but that the armies attacking him would NOT be able to. That is the worst plan EVER.
"They were dealing in things they didn't fully understand, dangerous things, and they weren't the ones who conjured the boundary into this world, so they weren't sure it would work. None of us knew what to expect."
Wait, so whoever made the boundaries (which is probably Zedd) didn't bother to create some kind of tactical weakness in them? There was NO WAY to shut the damn things down even temporarily, or allow EVEN ONE PERSON to go through?
That's the same brilliant approach as the generators in Highlander 2. It's never a good sign when a story reminds me of Highlander 2!
So Kahlan promptly has a mini-meltdown upon remembering her trip through the barrier. As in, she starts wailing out loud and crying because… I guess because she's a woman. Apparently when she was going through the barrier, she saw the spirits of her mother and her sister Dennee.
Somehow, he was losing her to the powerful specters of what she had seen in the underworld, as if they were pulling her back to drown her. Frantic, Richard put his hands on her shoulders and twisted her to face him.
"Kahlan, we are friends! Friendly friends with a bond of friendly friendship!"
Kahlan is apparently hallucinating about the trip through the barrier… which might be very dramatic if she were dreaming or something. But just randomly going into a trance because she REMEMBERED what happened? I'm assuming this is Goodkind's incredibly hackish, over-the-top way of trying to show how awful it was… or how much she needs a big strong man to throw herself into the arms of.
"I'm so alone… and afraid…."
"I'm surrounded by Twilight fans…"
But since Richard is a Big Strong Man, that's his cue to say, "You're not alone, I'm here with you! I won't leave you!" I can practically hear the melodramatic music swelling. But all is in vain, for the deadly flashbacks are sooooooooo intense that they have caused Kahlan to actually get cold and pale. Oh no, she's turning into a sparklepire! Quick, shove her in the fire!
And take another shot for more misogyny. Of course, anything distressing causes the poor wittle weak woman to freak out completely, probably because of a wandering womb or something like that. Can you imagine Goodkind writing Richard having this reaction to seeing his dead dad in the Boundary? Me neither.
Struggling to control his rising panic, Richard did the only thing he could think of.
… slapped her? Threw water on her? Blew a whistle in her ear?
Nah, that would be logical. Those actually might work on a person who is going catatonic from hysteria or whatever the hell is going on here.
When he had been confronted with fear in the past, he had learned to control it. There was strength in control. He did that now.
So he's going to snap her out of her potentially fatal flashback by… controlling his own fear? DA FUQ?
Maybe he could give her some of his strength.
Unless you're a Jedi, I sincerely doubt it.
So even though his Friendly Friend of Friendship is freezing to death for no real reason RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM, Richard takes a few minutes to get all zen. Then he uses the Force to magically get through to her with his choppy sentences: He spoke her name in a calm voice. "Let me help you. You are not alone. I am here with you. Let me help you. Take my strength."
"Now, I'm going to give you my strength by taking off my pants, and then…"
He keeps talking in short choppy sentences, while imagining that he's sending her his strength or whatever. No, it doesn't make any sense, and I'm pretty sure this will never be explained to us.
He pictured the white-hot light in his mind, hoping it would help her. Please, dear spirits, he prayed, let her see in. Let it help her. Let her use my strength.
Who is he even praying to? What is the cosmology of this series?!
Never mind. It makes even less sense now.
So yes, the combination of Richard's cheesy pleading and Jedi visualization causes Kahlan to snap out of it. And since she's a weak wittle woman, she immediately collapses into his arms and starts crying. You know, nothing gives me more appreciation for the television version of Kahlan like reading this dreck. She would never do this shit.
He was so afraid he had lost her to the underworld that he didn't want to let go of her either.
You have known this woman for less than 24 hours. Please stop acting like you even really know each other!
She keeps clinging to him and generally acting like a whiny little limpet, which is really making me hate the character.
Something in the way she clung to him made him realize that no one had held her and comforted her for a very long time.
Yes, everything Richard does has to have special significance to Kahlan, and of course nobody will have been nice to her in ANY WAY just so he can be the first. "Richard handed her half of a roast beef sandwich. Tears of gratitude came to her eyes, and he realized that no one had given her a sandwich before."
He didn't know anything about wizards, or magic, but no one would send Kahlan through the boundary, through the underworld, without a powerful reason.
Thank you for that incredible insight, genius. If you hadn't pointed that out, I might have assumed that the wizards sent Kahlan through just for the hell of it, because they were bored.
Pushing herself off his shoulder, she sat up, embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I should not have touched you in that manner. I was…"
"You didn't notice my hand going down your pants? Uh, never mind. Forget I said anything."
"It's all right, Kahlan. It is the first responsibility of a friend to provide a shoulder to cry on."
Take another shot for friendship.
"How do you do that?" she asked in a soft voice.
"How do you ask questions that fill my mind with pictures and make me answer, even when I have no intention to?"
- That would be the Dark Side of the Force.
- Also, he has asked plenty of questions that she didn't answer.
- And that "fill my mind with pictures"? That's called visualization. It's part of thinking. Has Kahlan never done that before?
"Zedd asks me that too. I guess it's just something I was born with. Sometimes I think it's a curse."
- HOW IS IT A CURSE?! Explain, you dipshit. Pretending that there's a downside without explaining it DOESN'T COUNT.
- And we are five chapters into this… thing. This is the first we've heard of Richard's superior question-asking ability FORCING people to answer...
- ESPECIALLY since it's already been established that he's asked many important questions AND NOT BEEN ANSWERED. EVER.
- Also… Richard has the lamest superpower ever. He asks questions, and people see pictures in their heads and sometimes answer.
- I'm pretty sure the X-Men would laugh him out of the building.
"I'm sorry, Kahlan, for asking you what you saw there. It was a thoughtless thing to do. Sometimes my common sense doesn't keep up with my curiosity."
Yes, it was a thoughtless thing to do. However, "common sense" does not suggest that merely remembering a somewhat traumatic event will immediately make you go into a catatonic state.
"You being pulled back into the underworld, though, that shouldn't have happened, should it?"
Kahlan strokes Richard's ego for the 400th time this chapter by talking about how she was in the darkness, but "I saw a light. Something you did brought me back." The cliches, they choke me. Richard's response to this? "Maybe just that you weren't alone."
Allow me to express my feelings about that.
Seriously, enough about being alone, having a friend and all that shit. It's just reinforcing how shallow their relationship is.
Kahlan gave a weak shrug. "Maybe."
"I only have one spoon. We can share it." He took a spoonful of soup and blew on it before tasting it. "Not my best work, but it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick." That had the desired effect: she smiled. He gave her the spoon.
"If I'm to help you to stay ahead of the next quad, to stay alive, I need answers. And I don't think we have much time."
She nodded. "I understand. It's all right."
He let her eat some soup before he went on. "So what happened after the boundaries went up? What about the great wizard?"
Before handing him the spoon she took a piece of sausage. "One more thing happened before they went up. While the great wizard was holding the magic at bay, Panis Rahl took a final revenge. He sent a quad out of D'Hara…. They killed the wizard's wife, and his daughter."
Richard stared at her. "What did the wizard do to Rahl?"
"He held Rahl's magic back and held him in D'Hara until just as the boundary was going up. At that very moment he sent a ball of wizard's fire through it, letting it touch death, to give it the power of both worlds. Then the boundaries were there."
Richard had never heard of wizard's fire, but he didn't think it required an explanation. "So what happened to Panis Rahl?"
"Well, the boundaries were there, so no one can say for sure, but I don't think anyone would have traded their lot for that of Panis Rahl."
Richard gave her the spoon, and she ate some more while he tried to imagine the righteous wrath of a wizard. After a few bites she gave back the spoon and continued.
"At first everything was fine, but then the council of the Midlands started taking actions the great wizard said were corrupt. Something to do with the magic. He found out the council had reneged on agreements about how the power of magic was to be controlled. He told them that their greed and the things they were doing would lead to worse horrors than those put down in the wars. They thought they knew better than he how the magic should be managed. They made a political appointment of a very important position that was a wizard's and a wizard's alone to fill. He was furious, he told them the position was one for which only a wizard could find the right person, and the appointment only a wizard's to make. The great wizard had trained other wizards, but in their greed, these others sided with the council. He was enraged. He said his wife and daughter had died for nothing. As punishment, the great wizard told them he would do the worst thing possible to them; he would leave them to suffer the consequence of their actions."
Richard smiled. That sounded like something Zedd would say.
"He said that if they knew so well how things were to be done, they did not need him. He refused to help them further, and vanished. But as he left, he cast a wizard's web…"
"What's that, a wizard's web?"
"It is a spell a wizard casts. As he left, he cast a wizard's web over everyone, making them forget his name, even what he looked like. So that is why no one knows what his name is or who he is."
Kahlan tossed a stick in the fire, staring off into her thoughts. He went back to eating soup while he waited for her go on with the story. After a few minutes, she did.
"At the beginning of last winter, the movement started."
He backed the spoonful of soup away from his mouth as he looked up. "What movement?"
"The Darken Rahl movement. It seemed to spring up out of nowhere. All of a sudden crowds of people in the bigger cities were chanting his name, calling him 'Father Rahl,' calling him the greatest man of peace that ever lived. The strange thing is, he is the son of Panis Rahl, from D'Hara, on the other side of the boundary, so how did anyone even know anything about him?" She paused, allowing him to ponder the significance of this.
"Anyway, then the gars started coming over the boundary. They killed a lot of people before everyone learned to stay inside at night."
"But how did they get across the boundary?"
"It was weakening, only no one knew it. As it weakened, it faded from the top first, so the gars could fly over. In the spring it faded completely away. Then the People's Peace Army, Darken Rahl's army, marched right into the bigger cities. Instead of fighting him, crowds of Midlanders threw flowers at them wherever they went. People who didn't throw flowers were hung."
Richard stared wide-eyed. "The army killed them?"
She looked at him hard. "No. The flower throwers did. Said they were a threat to peace, so they killed them. The People's Peace Army never had to lift a finger. The movement said that proved Darken Rahl only wanted peace, since his army didn't kill the dissenters. After a time, the army stepped in and stopped the killing. Instead, the dissenters were sent to the schools of enlightenment to learn about the greatness of Father Rahl, about what a man of peace he is."
"And did they learn at these schools of enlightenment how great Darken Rahl is?"
"No one is as fanatical as a convert. Most just sit around all day, chanting his name."
"So the Midlands didn't fight back?"
"Darken Rahl went before the council and asked them to join him in an alliance of peace. Those who did were held up as champions of harmony. Those who did not were held up as traitors, and publicly executed on the spot by Darken Rahl himself."
She held up her hand and closed her eyes. "Darken Rahl has a curved knife he keeps at his belt. He takes great pleasure in using it. Please, Richard, do not ask me to tell you what he did to those men. My stomach cannot bear its recounting."
"I was going to ask how the wizards reacted to all this."
"Oh. Well, it started to open their eyes.
"Rahl then outlawed the use of all magic and declared anyone using it an insurrectionist. You must understand that in the Midlands magic is a part of many people, many creatures. It would be like saying you are a criminal for having two arms and two legs, and must have them cut them off. Then he outlawed fire."
His eyes came up from the soup. "Fire? Why?"
"Darken Rahl does not explain his orders. But wizards use fire. Even so he does not fear wizards. He has more power than his father ever did, more than any wizard. His followers give all kinds of reasons, the main one being that it was used against Darken Rahl's father, so fire is a sign of disrespect to the house of Rahl."
"That's why you wanted to sit in front of a fire."
She nodded "To have a fire in the wrong place in the Midlands, without the approval of Darken Rahl or his followers, is to invite death." She pushed at the dirt with a stick. "Maybe in Westland, too. Your brother seems close to outlawing fire. Maybe…"
He cut her off. "Our mother was burned to death in a fire." His tone was a hot warning. "That's why Michael is concerned about fire. That's the only reason. And he never said anything about outlawing it, only that he wanted to do something so others wouldn't be hurt like she was. There's nothing wrong with wanting people not to be hurt."
She looked up at him from under her eyebrows. "He didn't seem to care about hurting you."
Richard let his anger die as he took a deep breath. "I know it seemed that way, but you don't understand him. That's just his way. I know it isn't his intention to hurt me." Richard pulled his knees up and folded his arms across them. "After our mother died, Michael spent more and more time with his friends. He would make friends with anyone he thought was important. Some of them were pompous and arrogant. Father didn't like some of Michael's friends, and told him so. They would argue about it.
"One time Father came home with a vase that had these little figures sculpted around the top, like they were dancing on the rim. He was proud of it. He said it was old, and he thought he could get a gold piece for it. Michael said he could get more. They argued, and finally Father let Michael take the vase to sell. Michael came back and threw four gold pieces on the table. My father just stared at them for the longest time. Then he said, in a real quiet voice, that the vase wasn't worth four gold pieces, and wanted to know what Michael had told the people. Michael said he told them what they wanted to hear. Father reached out to pick up the four coins, and Michael slapped his hand over them. He picked up three and said only one was for my father, because one was all he expected to get. Then he said, 'That is the value of my friends, George.'
"That was the first time Michael called him 'George.' My father never let him sell anything for him again.
"But do you know what Michael did with the money? The next time my father left on a trip, he paid off most of the family debts. He didn't even buy anything for himself.
"Sometimes Michael is crude in the way he does things, like today when he told everyone about our mother, and pointed at me, but I know… I know that he has everyone's best interests at heart. He doesn't want anyone hurt by fire. That's all, he just doesn't want anyone to go through what we did. He is only trying to do what is best for everyone."
Kahlan didn't look up. She pushed at the dirt a moment more and then tossed the stick in the fire. "I'm sorry, Richard. I shouldn't be so suspicious. I know how much it hurts to lose your mother. I'm sure you're right." Finally, she looked up. "Forgive me?"
Richard smiled and gave her a nod. "Of course. I guess if I had been through all you have, I would be quick to think the worst, too. I'm sorry I jumped on you. If you will forgive my tone, I'll let you finish the soup."
She nodded her agreement with a smile as he handed her the last of the soup.
He wanted to hear the rest of her story, but he waited and watched her eat for a while before he asked, "So have the D'Haran forces conquered all of the Midlands?"
"The Midlands is a big place; the People's Peace Army occupies only a few of the larger cities. People in many areas ignore the alliance. Rahl does not really care. He considers it a petty problem. His attention has been diverted to something else. The wizards found out his real goal was the magic the great wizard had warned the council about, the magic they had mishandled for their own avarice. With the magic Darken Rahl seeks, he will be master of all, without having to fight anyone.
"Five of the wizards realized they had been wrong, that the great wizard was right after all. They sought to gain redemption in his eyes, and save the Midlands, and Westland, from what will happen if Darken Rahl gains the magic he seeks. So they searched for the great wizard, but Rahl hunts him also."
"You said five wizards. How many are there?"
"There were seven: the great wizard and his six students. The old one has vanished; one of the others sold his services to a queen, a very dishonorable thing for a wizard to do." She paused, considering that a moment. "And as I told you before, the five others are dead. Before they died they had the whole of the Midlands searched, but the great one was not to be found. He is not in the Midlands."
"So they believed him to be in Westland?"
Kahlan dropped the spoon in the empty pot. "Yes. He is here."
"And they thought this great wizard could stop Darken Rahl, even though they could not?" Something was wrong with this story, and Richard wasn't sure he wanted to know what was coming next.
"No," she said after a pause, "he does not have the power to go against Darken Rahl either. What they wanted, what we need to save and keep us all from what will be, is for the great wizard to make the appointment only he can make."
By the care with which she was choosing her words, he knew she was dancing around secrets he was not to ask about, so he didn't, and instead asked, "Why didn't they come after him themselves, and ask him to do it?"
"Because they feared he would say no, and they did not have the power to force him."
"Five wizards did not have the power of this one?"
She shook her head with a sad smile. "They were his students, ones who wanted to be wizards. They were not born wizards, born with the gift. The great one was born to a father who was a wizard and a mother who was a sorceress. It is in his blood, not just his head. They could never be the wizard he is. They simply did not have the power to make him do what they wanted." She fell silent.
"And…" He didn't say anything else. With his silence he let her know his next question, and that he would have the answer to it.
At last, she gave him the answer in a soft whisper.
"And so they sent me, because I do."
The fire crackled and hissed. He could feel the tension in her, and he knew she had gone as far with that answer as she would on the subject, so he remained still to let her feel safe. Without looking over, he put his hand on her forearm, and she put her other hand over his.
"How are you to know this wizard?"
"I only know I must find him, and soon, or we are all lost."
Richard thought in silence. "Zedd will help us," he said at last. "He's a cloud reader. Finding lost people is what a cloud reader does."
Kahlan gave him a suspicious look. "That sounds like magic. There is not supposed to be any magic in Westland."
"He says it's not; that anyone can learn. He's always trying to teach me. He mocks me whenever I say it looks like it will rain. His eyes get real big and he says, 'Magic! You must have magic, my boy, to read the clouds and know the future so.' "
Kahlan laughed. It was a good sound to hear. He didn't want to press her further even though the weave of her story had many loose threads; there was much she wasn't telling him. At least he knew more than he did before. The important thing was to find the wizard and then get away; another quad would be coming for her. They would have to go west while the wizard did whatever it was he had to do.
She opened her waist pouch and pulled something out. Untying a string, she laid back the folds of a waxed cloth that held a tan substance. Dipping her finger in it, she turned to him. "This will help the fly bites heal. Turn your head."
The ointment soothed the sting. He recognized the fragrances of some of the plants and herbs it was made from. Zedd had taught him to make a similar ointment, but with aum, that would take pain from flesh wounds. When finished with him, she put some on herself. He held out his sore red hand.
"Here, put some on this, too."
"Richard! What have you done?"
"I was stuck by a thorn, this morning."
She dabbed the ointment carefully on his wound. "I have never seen a thorn do this."
"It was a big thorn. I'm sure I'll be better by morning."
The ointment didn't help the pain as much as he had hoped, but he told her that it did, not wanting to worry her. His hand was nothing compared to the things she had to worry about. He watched as she retied the string around the little package and replaced it in her waist pouch. Her forehead was creased in thought.
"Richard, are you afraid of magic?"
He thought carefully before answering. "I was always fascinated by it; it sounded exciting. But now I know there is magic to fear. But I would guess it's like people: some you stay clear of and some you are fortunate to know."
Kahlan smiled, apparently satisfied with his answer. "Richard, before I can sleep, there is something I must tend to. It is a creature of magic. If you would not be afraid, I will let you see it. The opportunity is a rare one. Few have ever seen it, and few ever will. But you must promise me you will leave and take a walk when I ask, and not ask me any more questions when you return. I am very tired and must sleep."
Richard smiled at the honor. "Promise."
Opening her waist pouch once more, Kahlan withdrew a small round bottle with a stopper. Blue and silver lines spiraled around the fat part. There was light inside.
Her green eyes came to his. "The creature is a night wisp. Her name is Shar. A night wisp cannot be seen in the day, only at night. Shar is part of the magic that helped me cross the boundary; she was my guide. Without her, I would have been lost."
Kahlan's eyes filled with tears, but her voice remained steady and calm. "Tonight, she dies. She can live no longer away from her home place and the others of her kind, and she does not have the strength to cross the boundary again. Shar has sacrificed her life to help me because if Darken Rahl succeeds, all her kind, among others, will perish."
Pulling the stopper free, Kahlan placed the little bottle in the flat of her palm and held it out between them.
A tiny flare of light lifted clear of the bottle, floating up into the cool, dim air of the wayward pine, giving everything a silvery cast. The light softened as the wisp came to a stop in the air between them, hovering. Richard was astonished. His mouth hung open as he watched, transfixed.
"Good evening, Richard Cypher," it said in a tiny little voice.
"Good evening to you, Shar." His own voice was not much more than a whisper.
"Thank you for helping Kahlan today. In so doing you are also helping my kind. If you ever need the help of the night wisps, say my name and they will help you, for no enemy may know it."
"Thank you, Shar, but the Midlands are the last place I would want to go. I'll help Kahlan find the wizard, but then I must take us west and get us safely away from those who would kill us."
The night wisp seemed to turn in the air for a time, considering. The silvery light felt warm and safe on his face.
"If that is what you wish, then you must do so," Shar said. Richard felt relieved. The tiny point of light spun in the air before them again.
Shar spun to a stop. "But know this; Darken Rahl hunts you both. He will not rest. He will not stop. If you run, he will find you. There is no doubt of that. You have no defense against him. He will kill you both. Soon."
Richard's mouth was so dry he could hardly swallow. At least the gar would have been quick, he thought, and then it would be over. "Shar, isn't there a way for us to escape?"
The light spun again, making flashes on his face and the branches of the wayward pine.
Shar stopped again. "If your back is to him, your eyes will not be. He will get you. He enjoys it."
Richard stared. "But… is there nothing we can do?"
The tiny point of light spun again, coming closer to him this time before stopping. "Better question, Richard Cypher. The answer you want is within yourself. You must seek it. You must seek it or he will kill you both. Soon."
"How soon?" His voice turned harder; he couldn't help himself. The light backed away a little as it spun. He would not let this opportunity go without finding out at least something he could hold on to.
The night wisp stopped. "The first day of winter, Richard Cypher. When the sun is in the sky. If Darken Rahl does not kill you before then, and if he is not stopped, then on the first day of winter when the sun is in the sky, my kind will all die. You both will die. He will enjoy it."
Richard tried to decide the best way to question a spinning point of light. "Shar, Kahlan is trying to save the others of your kind. I am trying to help her. You are giving your life to help her. If we fail, everyone dies, you just said so. Please, is there anything you can tell me to help us against Darken Rahl?"
The light spun and went in a little circle around the inside of the wayward pine, bringing light to the areas it went near. It stopped again in front of him.
"Already told you the answer. It is in you. Seek it or die. Sorry, Richard Cypher. Want to help. Don't know the answer. Just that it is in you. Sorry sorry."
Richard nodded, running his fingers through his hair. He didn't know who was more frustrated, Shar or himself. Glancing over, he saw Kahlan sitting calmly, watching the night wisp. Shar spun and waited.
"All right, can you tell me why he's trying to kill me? Is it because I help Kahlan, or is there another reason?"
Shar came close. "Other reasons? Secrets?"
"What!" Richard jumped to his feet. The night wisp followed him up.
"Don't know why. Sorry. Just that he will."
"What's the wizard's name?"
"Good question, Richard Cypher. Sorry. Don't know."
Richard sat back down and put his face in his hands. Shar spun, throwing off shafts of light, and flew in slow circles around his head. Somehow he knew she was trying to comfort him, and that she was near her end. She was dying, and she was trying to comfort him. He tried to swallow back the lump in his throat, so he could talk.
"Shar, thank you for helping Kahlan. My life, as short as it seems it will be, has already been made longer because she saved me from doing something foolish today. My life is also better for knowing her. Thank you for helping bring my friend safely through the boundary." His vision turned watery.
The night wisp floated to him and touched against his forehead. Her voice seemed to be as much in his head as in his ears.
"I am sorry, Richard Cypher. I do not know the answers that would save you. If I did, please believe I would give them eagerly. But I know the good in you. I believe in you. I do know that you have within you what you must to succeed. There will be times when you doubt yourself. Do not give up. Remember then that I believe in you, that I know you can accomplish what you must. You are a rare person, Richard Cypher. Believe in yourself. And protect Kahlan."
He realized his eyes were closed. Tears were running down freely, and the lump in his throat kept catching his breath.
"There are no gars about. Please let me be alone with Kahlan now. My time comes."
Richard nodded. "Good-bye, Shar. It has been my deep honor to have known you."
He left without looking at either of them.
After he was gone, the night wisp floated to Kahlan and addressed her properly.
"Mother Confessor, my time passes soon. Why have you not told him what you are?"
Kahlan's shoulders were slumped, and her hands nested in her lap as she stared into the fire. "Shar, I cannot, not yet."
"Confessor Kahlan, that is not fair. Richard Cypher is your friend."
Tears began rolling down her face. "Don't you see? That is why I cannot tell him. If I tell him, he will no longer be my friend, will no longer care for me. You cannot know what it is like to be a Confessor, to have everyone fear you. He looks into my eyes, Shar. Not many have ever dared that. No one could ever look into me the way he does. His eyes make me feel safe. He makes my heart smile."
"Others might tell him before you do, Confessor Kahlan. That would be worse."
She looked up at the night wisp, her eyes wet. "I will tell him before that happens."
"You play a dangerous game, Confessor Kahlan," Shar warned. "He could fall in love with you first. Then your telling would hurt him unforgivably."
"I won't let that happen."
"You will choose him?"
The night wisp spun back at the sound of Kahlan's shriek, then slowly came back by her face. "Confessor Kahlan, you are the last of your kind. Darken Rahl has killed all the others. Even your sister, Dennee. You are the Mother Confessor. You must choose a mate."
"I could not do that to someone I cared for. No Confessor would," she sobbed.
"Sorry, Mother Confessor. It is for you to choose."
Kahlan pulled her legs up, wrapped her arms around them, and rested her forehead against her knees. Her shoulders heaved as she cried, her thick hair cascading down to encircle her. Shar flew slowly around her head, throwing off shafts of silvery light, comforting her companion. She continued to circle until Kahlan's weeping slowed and finally stopped. When it did, Shar returned to hover in front of her.
"Hard to be Mother Confessor. Sorry."
"Hard," Kahlan agreed.
"Much on your shoulders."
"Much," Kahlan agreed again.
The night wisp landed lightly on the woman's shoulder and rested there quietly while Kahlan watched the fire glow with small slow flames. After a time the night wisp rose from her shoulder and floated to a spot in the air in front of her.
"Wish to stay with you more. Good times. Wish to stay with Richard Cypher. Asks good questions. But I cannot hold on longer. Sorry. I die."
"You have my word, Shar, that I will give my own life, if necessary, to stop Darken Rahl. To save your kind and the others."
"I believe in you, Confessor Kahlan. Help Richard." Shar came closer. "Please. Before I die. Touch me?"
Kahlan pushed herself away from the wisp until her back was against the trunk of the tree. "No… please… no," she implored, shaking her head. "Don't ask me to do that." Her eyes filled with tears again. She put her trembling fingers to her lips, trying to hold back the crying.
Shar came forward. "Please, Mother Confessor. I feel such pain of aloneness away from the others. I will never share their company again. It hurts so. I pass now. Please. Use your power. Touch me and let me drink in the sweet agony. Let me die with the taste of love. I have forfeited my life to help you. I have asked nothing else of you. Please?"
Shar's light was growing dimmer, fainter. Kahlan, crying, held her left hand over her mouth. At last, she reached out with her right hand, until her trembling fingers touched the wisp.
All about there was thunder but no sound. The violent impact to the air jolted the wayward pine, causing a rain of dead needles, some flaring when they touched the fire. Shar's dim silvery color changed to a pink glow, growing in intensity.
Shar's voice was faint. "Thank you, Kahlan. Good-bye, my love."
The spark of light and life faded and was gone.
After the thunder without sound, Richard waited for a time before he returned to her. Kahlan sat with her arms around her legs and her chin resting on her knees as she stared into the fire.
"Shar?" he asked.
"She is gone," came the answer in a distant voice.
He nodded and, taking her arm, led her to the mat of dry grass and laid her down. She went without resistance or comment. He put the blanket over her and piled on some of the dry grass to help keep her warm through the night, then burrowed himself into it next to her. Kahlan turned on her side, away from him, and pushed her shoulders back against him the way a child would put its back to a parent when peril approached. He sensed it, too. Something was coming for them. Something deadly.
Already, she was asleep. He knew he should feel cold, but he didn't. His hand throbbed. He felt warm. Richard lay there, thinking about the thunder without sound. He wondered what she would do to make the great wizard do what she wanted. The idea frightened him. Before he could worry more he, too, was asleep.