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Wizard's First Rule
By Terry Goodkind

IT WAS AN ODD-LOOKING vine. Dusky variegated leaves hunkered against a stem that wound
in a stranglehold around the smooth trunk of a balsam fir. Sap drooled down the wounded bark, and
dry limbs slumped, making it look as if the tree were trying to voice a moan into the cool, damp
morning air. Pods stuck out from the vine here and there along its length, almost seeming to look
warily about for witnesses.
It was the smell that first had caught his attention, a smell like the decomposition of something that
had been wholly unsavory even in life. Richard combed his fingers through his thick hair as his
mind lifted out of the fog of despair, coming into focus upon seeing the vine. He scanned for
others, but saw none. Everything else looked normal. The maples of the upper Ven Forest were
already tinged with crimson, proudly showing off their new mantle in the light breeze. With nights
getting colder, it wouldn't be long before their cousins down in the Hartland Woods joined them.
The oaks, being the last to surrender to the season, still stoically wore their dark green coats.
Having spent most of his life in the woods, Richard knew all the plants-if not by name, by sight.
From when Richard was very small, his friend Zedd had taken him along, hunting for special herbs.
He had shown Richard which ones to look for, where they grew and why, and put names to
everything they saw. Many times they just talked, the old man always treating him as an equal,
asking as much as he answered Zedd had sparked Richard's hunger to learn, to know.
This vine, though, he had seen only once before, and not in the woods. He had found a sprig of it at
his father's house, in the blue clay jar Richard had made when he was a boy. His father had been a
trader and had traveled often, looking for the chance exotic or rare item. People of means had often
sought him out, interested in what he might have turned up. It seemed to be the looking, more than
the finding, that he had liked, as he had al; ways been happy to part with his latest discovery so he
could be off after the next.
From a young age, Richard had liked to spend time with Zedd while his father was away. Richard's
brother, Michael, was a few years older, and having no interest in the woods, or in Zedd's rambling
lectures, preferred to spend his time with people of means. About five years before, Richard had
moved away to live on his own, but he often stopped by his father's home, unlike Michael, who was
always busy and rarely had time to visit. Whenever his father went away, he would leave Richard a
message in the blue jar telling him the latest news, some gossip, or of some sight he had seen.
On the day three weeks before when Michael had come to tell him their father had been murdered,
Richard had gone to his father's house, despite his brother's insistence that there was no reason to
go, nothing he could do. Richard had long since passed the age when he did as his brother said.
Wanting to spare him, the people there didn't let him see the body. But still, he saw the big,

sickening splashes and puddles of blood, brown and dry across the plank floor. When Richard came
close, voices fell silent, except to offer sympathy, which only deepened the riving pain. Yet he had
heard them talking, in hushed tones, of the stories and the wild rumors of things come out of the
Of magic.
Richard was shocked at the way his father's small home had been torn apart, as if a storm had been
turned loose inside. Only a few things were left untouched. The blue message jar still sat on the
shelf, and inside he found the sprig of vine. It was still in his pocket now. What his father meant
him to know from it, he couldn't guess.
Grief and depression overwhelmed him, and even though he still had his brother, he felt abandoned.
That he was grown into manhood offered him no sanctuary from the forlorn feeling of being
orphaned and alone in the world, a feeling he had known before, when his mother died while he
was still young. Even though his father had often been away, sometimes for weeks, Richard had
always known he was somewhere, and would be back. Now he would never be back.
Michael wouldn't let him have anything to do with the search for the killer. He said he had the best
trackers in the army looking and he wanted Richard to stay out of it, for his own good. So Richard
simply didn't show the vine to Michael, and went off alone every day, searching for it. For three
weeks he walked the trails of the Hartland Woods, every trail, even the ones few others knew of,
but he never saw it.
Finally, against his better judgment, he gave in to the whispers in his mind, and went to the upper
Ven Forest, close to the boundary. The whispers haunted him with the feeling that he somehow
knew something of why his father had been murdered. They teased him, tantalized him with
thoughts just out of reach, and laughed at him for not seeing it. Richard lectured himself that it was
his grief playing tricks, not something real.
He had thought that when he found the vine it would give him some sort of answer. Now that he
had, he didn't know what to think. The whispers had stopped teasing him, but now they brooded.
He knew it was just his own mind thinking, and he told himself to stop trying to give the whispers a
life of their own. Zedd had taught him better than that.
Richard looked up at the big fir tree in its agony of death. He thought again of his father's death.
The vine had been there. Now the vine was killing this tree; it couldn't be anything good. Though
he couldn't do anything for his father, he didn't have to let the vine preside over another death.
Gripping it firmly, he pulled, and with powerful muscles ripped the sinewy tendrils away from the
That's when the vine bit him.
One of the pods struck out and hit the back of his left hand, causing him to jump back in pain and
surprise. Inspecting the small wound, he found something like a thorn embedded in the meat of the
gash. The matter was decided. The vine was trouble. He reached for his knife to dig out the thorn,

but the knife wasn't there. At first surprised, he realized why and reprimanded himself for allowing
his depression to cause him to forget something as basic as taking his knife with him into the
woods. Using his fingernails, he tried to pull out the thorn. To his rising concern, the thorn, as if
alive, wriggled itself in deeper. He dragged his thumbnail across the wound, trying to snag the
thorn out. The more he dug, the deeper it went. A hot wave of nausea swept through him as he tore
at the wound, making it bigger, so he stopped. The thorn had disappeared into the oozing blood.
Looking about, Richard spotted the purplish red autumn leaves of a small nannyberry tree, laden
with its crop of dark blue berries. Beneath the tree, nestled in the crook of a root, he found what he
sought: an aum plant. Relieved, he carefully snapped off the tender stem near its base, and gently
squeezed the sticky, clear liquid onto the bite. He smiled as he mentally thanked old Zedd for
teaching him how the aum plant made wounds heal faster. The soft fuzzy leaves always made
Richard think of Zedd. The juice of the aum numbed the sting, but not his worry over being unable
to remove the thorn. He could feel it wriggling still deeper into his flesh.
Richard squatted down and poked a hole in the ground with his finger, placed the aum in it, and
fixed moss about the stem so it might regrow itself.
The sounds of the forest fell dead still. Richard looked up, flinching as a dark shadow swept over
the ground, leaping across limbs and leaves. There was a rushing, whistling sound in the air
overhead. The size of the shadow was frightening. Birds burst from cover in the trees, giving alarm
calls as they scattered in all directions. Richard peered up, searching through the gaps in the canopy
of green and gold, trying to see the shadow's source. For an instant, he saw something big. Big, and
red. He couldn't imagine what it could be, but the memory of the rumors and stories of things
coming out of the boundary flooded back into his mind, making him go cold to the bone.
The vine was trouble, he thought again; this thing in the sky could be no less. He remembered what
people always said, "Trouble sires three children," and knew immediately that he didn't want to
meet the third child.
Discounting his fears, he started running. Just idle talk of superstitious people, he told himself. He
tried to think of what could be that big, that big and red. It was impossible; there was nothing that
flew that was that large. Maybe it was a cloud, or a trick of the light. But he couldn't fool himself: it
was no cloud.
Looking up as he ran, trying for another glimpse, he headed for the path that skirted the hillside.
Richard knew that the ground dropped off sharply on the other side of the trail, and he would be
able to get an unobstructed view of the sky. Tree branches wet with rain from the night before
slapped at his face as he ran through the forest, jumping fallen trees and small rocky streams. Brush
snatched at his pant legs. Dappled swatches of sunlight teased him -to look up but denied him the
view he needed. His breath was fast, ragged, sweat ran cold against his face, and he could feel his
heart pounding as he ran carelessly down the hillside. At last he stumbled out of the trees onto the
path, almost falling.
Searching the sky, he spotted the thing, far away and too small for him to tell what it was, but he
thought it had wings. He squinted against the blue brightness of the sky, shielded his eyes with his

hand, trying to see for sure if there were wings moving. It slipped behind a hill and was gone. He
hadn't even been able to tell if it really was red.
Winded, Richard slumped down on a granite boulder at the side of the trail, absently snapping off
dead twigs from a sapling beside him while he stared down at Trunt Lake below. Maybe he should
go tell Michael what had happened, tell him about the vine and the red thing in the sky. He knew
Michael would laugh at the last part. He had laughed at the same stories himself.
No, Michael would only be angry with him for being up near the boundary, and for going against
his orders to stay out of the search for the murderer. He knew his brother cared about him or he
wouldn't always be nagging him. Now that he was grown, he could laugh off his brother's constant
instructions, though he still had to endure the looks of displeasure.
Richard snapped off another twig and in frustration threw it at a flat rock. He decided he shouldn't
feel singled out. After all, Michael was always telling everyone what to do, even their father.
He pushed aside his harsh judgments of his brother; today was a big day for Michael. Today he was
accepting the position of First Councilor. He would be in charge of everything now, not just the
town of Hartland anymore, but all the towns and villages of Westland, even the country people.
Responsible for everything and everyone. Michael deserved Richard's support, he needed it;
Michael had lost a father, too.
That afternoon there was to be a ceremony and big celebration at Michael's house. Important people
were going to be there, come from the farthest reaches of Westland. Richard was supposed to be
there, too., At least there would be plenty of good food. He realized he was famished:
While he sat and thought, he scanned the opposite side of Trunt Lake, far below. From this height
the clear water revealed alternating patches of rocky bottom and green weed around the deep holes.
At the edge of the water, Hawkers Trail knitted in and out of the trees, in some places open to view,
in some places hidden. Richard had been on that part of the trail many times. In the spring it was
wet and soggy down by the lake, but this late in the year it would be dry. In areas farther north and
south, as the trail wound its way through the high Ven Forests, it passed uncomfortably close to the
boundary. Because of that, most travelers avoided it, choosing instead the trails of the Hartland
Woods. Richard was a woods guide, and led travelers safely through the Hartland forests. Most
were traveling dignitaries wanting the prestige of a local guide more than they wanted direction.
His eyes locked on something. There was movement. Unsure what it had been, he stared hard at the
spot on the far side of the lake. When he saw it again, on the path, where it passed behind a thin
veil of trees, there was no doubt; it was a person. Maybe it was his friend Chase. Who else but a
boundary warden would be wandering around up here?
He hopped down off the rock, tossing the twigs aside, and took a few steps forward. The figure
followed the path into the open, at the edge of the lake. It wasn't Chase; it was a woman, a woman
in a dress. What woman would be walking around this far out in the Ven Forest, in a dress? Richard
watched her making her way along the lakeshore, disappearing and reappearing with the path. She
didn't seem to be in a hurry, but she wasn't strolling slowly either. Rather, she moved at the

measured pace of an experienced traveler. That made sense; no one lived anywhere near Trunt
Other movement snatched his attention. Richard's eyes searched the shade and shadows. Behind
her, there were others. Three, no, four men, in hooded forest cloaks, following her, but hanging
back some distance. They moved with stealth, from tree to rock to tree. Looking. Waiting. Moving.
Richard straightened, his eyes wide, his attention riveted.
They were stalking her.
He knew immediately: this was the third child of trouble

AT FIRST, RICHARD STOOD frozen, not knowing what to do. He couldn't be sure the four men
really were stalking the woman, at least not until it was too late. What business was it of his
anyway? And besides, he didn't even have his knife with him. What chance did one man with no
weapon have against four? He watched the woman making her way along the path. He watched the
men follow.
What chance did the woman have?
He crouched, muscles tight and hard. His heart raced as he tried to think of what he could do. The
morning sun was hot on his face, his breathing was shallow. Richard knew there was a small cutoff
from Hawkers Trail somewhere ahead of the woman. Hurriedly, he tried to remember exactly
where. The main fork to her left continued around the lake and up the hill to his left, to where he
stood and watched. If she stayed on the main trail he could wait for her, then tell her about the men.
Then what? Besides, that was too long. The men would be on her before then. An idea began to
take shape. He sprang up and started running down the trail
If he could reach her before the men caught her, and before the cutoff, he could take her up the
right fork. That trail led up out of the trees onto open ledges, away from the boundary, and toward
the town of Hartland, toward help. If they were quick, he could hide their tracks. The men wouldn't
know that the two of them had taken the side trail. They would think she was still on the main trail,
at least for a while, long enough to fool them and lead her to safety.
Still winded from the earlier run, Richard panted in labored breaths, running down the trail as fast
as he could go. The path had quickly turned back in to the trees, so at least he didn't have to worry
about the men being able to see him. Shafts of sunlight flashed by as he raced along. Old pine trees
lined the path, leaving a soft mat of needles to cushion his footfalls.
After a time, driving himself headlong down the path, he started looking for the side trail. He
couldn't be sure how far he had gone; the forest offered no view for a fix, and he didn't remember
exactly where the cutoff was. It was small and would be easy to miss. With every bend bringing
new hope that this would be the place he found the cutoff, he pushed himself on. He tried to think
of what he would say to the woman when he finally reached her. His mind raced as fast as his legs.

She might think he was with her pursuers, or be frightened by him, or not believe him. He wouldn't
have much time to convince her to go with him, that he wanted to help.
Coming over the top of a small rise, he looked anew for the fork, but didn't see it and kept running.
Now his breath came in ragged gasps. He knew that if he didn't reach the split before she did, they
would be trapped, and their only options would be to outrun the men, or to fight. He was too
winded for either. That thought drove him on harder. Sweat ran down his back, making his shirt
stick to his skin. The coolness of the morning had turned to choking heat, though he knew it was
only his exertion that made it seem that way. The forest passed in a blur to each side as he ran.
Just before a sharp bend to the right, he came at last to the cutoff, almost missing it. He made a
quick search for tracks to --if she had been there and taken the small path. There were none. Relief
washed over him. He dropped to his knees and sat back on his heels in exhaustion, trying to catch
his breath. The first part had worked. He had beaten her here. Now he had to make her believe him
before it was too late.
Holding his right hand over a painful stitch in his side and still trying to catch his breath, he started
to worry that he was going to look silly. What if it was just a girl and her brothers playing a game?
He would be the fool. Everyone but him would have a good laugh.
He looked down at the bite on the back of his hand.-It was red and throbbed painfully. He
remembered the thing in the sky. He thought about the way she had been walking, with a sense of
purpose, not like a child at play. It was a woman, not a girl. He remembered the cold fear he had
felt when he saw the four men. Four men warily shadowing a woman: the third strange thing to
happen this morning. The third child of trouble. No-he shook his head-this was no game, he knew
what he had seen. It was no game. They were stalking her.
Richard came partway to his feet. Waves of heat rolled from his body. Bent over at the waist with
his hands braced on his knees, he took a few deep breaths before straightening to his full height.
His eyes fell on the young woman as she came around the bend in front of him. His breath caught
for an instant. Her brown hair was full, lush, and long, complementing the contours of her body.
She was tall, almost as tall as he, and about the same age. The dress she wore was like none he had
ever seen: almost white, cut square at the neck, interrupted only by a small, tan leather waist pouch.
The weave of the fabric was fine and smooth, almost glistening, and bore none of the lace or frills
he was used to seeing, no prints or colors to distract from the way it caressed her form. The dress
was elegant in its simplicity. She halted, and long graceful folds regally trailing her gathered about
her legs.
Richard approached and stopped three strides away so as not to appear a threat. She stood straight
and still, her arms at her side. Her eyebrows had the graceful arch of a raptor's wings in flight. Her
green eyes came unafraid to his. The connection was so intense that it threatened to drain his sense
of self. He felt that he had always known her, that she had always been a part of him, . that her
needs were his needs. She held him with her gaze as surely as a grip of iron would, searching his
eyes as if searching his soul, seeking an answer to something. I am here to help you, he said in his
mind. He meant it more than any thought he had ever had.

The intensity of her gaze relaxed, loosening its hold on him. In her eyes he saw something that
attracted him more than anything else. Intelligence. He saw it flaring there, burning in her, and
through it all he felt an overriding sense of her integrity. Richard felt safe.
A warning flashed in his mind, making him remember why he was there, that time was dear.
"I was up there"-he pointed toward the hill he had been on "and I saw you." She looked where he
pointed. He looked, too, and realized he was pointing to a tangle of tree limbs. They couldn't see
the hill, because the trees blocked the view. He dropped his arm dumbly, trying to ignore the
miscue. Her eyes returned to his, waiting.
Richard started over, keeping his voice low. "I was up there on a hill, above the lake. I saw you
walking on the path by the shore. There are some men following you."
She betrayed no emotion, but continued to hold his gaze. "How many?"
He thought her question strange, but answered it. "Four."
The color drained from her face.
She turned her head, surveying the woods behind her, scanning the shadows briefly, then looked
back to him once more, her green eyes searching his.
"Do you choose to help me?" Except for her color, her exquisite features gave no hint as to her
Before his mind could form a thought, he heard himself say, "Yes."
Her countenance softened. "What would you have us do?"
"There's a small trail that turns off here. If we take it, and they stay on this one, we can be away."
"And if they don't? If they follow our trail?"
"I'll hide our tracks." He was shaking his head, trying to reassure her. "They won't follow. Look,
there's no time . . . ."
"If they do?" she cut him off. "Then what is your plan?" He studied her face a moment. "Are they
very dangerous?"
She stiffened. "Very."
The way she spoke the word made him have to force himself to breathe again. For an instant, he
saw a look of blind terror pass across her eyes.

Richard ran his fingers through his hair. "Well, the small trail is narrow and sheer. They won't be
able to surround us."
"Do you have a weapon?" '
He answered by shaking his head no, too angry with himself for forgetting his knife to voice it out
She nodded. "Let's be quick then."
-|---They didn't talk once the decision had been made, not wanting to give away their location. Richard
hurriedly concealed their tracks and motioned her to go first so he would be between her and the
men. She didn't hesitate. The folds of her dress flowed behind as she moved quickly at his
direction. The lush, young evergreens of the Ven pressed tight at their sides, making the path a
narrow, dark, green, walled route cut through the brush and branches. They could see nothing
around them. Richard checked behind as they went, though he couldn't see far. At least what he
could see was clear. She went swiftly without any encouragement from him.
After a time, the ground started rising and becoming rockier, and the trees thinned, offering a more
open view. The trail twisted along deeply shaded cuts in the terrain and across leafstrewn ravines.
Dry leaves scattered at their passing. Pines and spruce gave way to hardwood trees, mostly white
birch, and as the limbs swayed overhead, little patches of sunlight danced on the forest floor. The
birches' white trunks with black spots made it look as if hundreds of eyes were watching the two
pass. Other than the raucous racket of some ravens, it was a very quiet, peaceful place.
At the base of a granite wall that the path followed, he motioned to her, putting a finger over his
lips, letting her know they had to step carefully to avoid making sounds that would echo him, . that
her needs were his needs. She held him with her gaze as surely as a grip of iron would, searching
his eyes as if searching his soul, seeking an answer to something. I am here to help you, he said in
his mind. He meant it more than any thought he had ever had.
The intensity of her gaze relaxed, loosening its hold on him. In her eyes he saw something that
attracted him more than anything else. Intelligence. He saw it flaring there, burning in her, and
through it all he felt an overriding sense of her integrity. Richard felt safe.
A warning flashed in his mind, making him remember why he was there, that time was dear.
"I was up there"-he pointed toward the hill he had been on "and I saw you." She looked where he
pointed. He looked, too, and realized he was pointing to a tangle of tree limbs. They couldn't see
the hill, because the trees blocked the view. He dropped his arm dumbly, trying to ignore the
miscue. Her eyes returned to his, waiting.
Richard started over, keeping his voice low. "I was up there on a hill, above the lake. I saw you
walking on the path by the shore. There are some men following you."

She betrayed no emotion, but continued to hold his gaze. "How many?"
He thought her question strange, but answered it. "Four."
The color drained from her face.
She turned her head, surveying the woods behind her, scanning the shadows briefly, then looked
back to him once more, her green eyes searching his.
"Do you choose to help me?" Except for her color, her exquisite features gave no hint as to her
Before his mind could form a thought, he heard himself say, "Yes."
Her countenance softened. "What would you have us do?"
"There's a small trail that turns off here. If we take it, and they stay on this one, we can be away."
"And if they don't? If they follow our trail?"
"I'll hide our tracks." He was shaking his head, trying to reassure her. "They won't follow. Look,
there's no time . . . ."
"If they do?" she cut him off. "Then what is your plan?"
to hide. He saw nothing, and started to feel better. They weren't being followed; the men were
nowhere to be seen, and were probably miles down Hawkers Trail by now. The farther from the
boundary and the closer to town they got, the better he felt. His plan had worked.
Seeing no sign that they were being followed, Richard wished they could stop for a rest, as his hand
was throbbing, but she gave no sign that she needed or wanted a break. She kept pushing on. as if
the men were right on their heels. Richard remembered the look on her face when he had asked if
they were dangerous, and quickly rejected any thought of stopping.
As morning wore on, the day became warm for this late in the year. The sky was a bright, clear
blue, with only a few white, wispy clouds drifting by. One of the clouds had taken on the
undulating form of a snake, with its head down and tail up. Because it was so unusual, Richard
remembered seeing the same cloud earlier in the day-or was it yesterday? He would have to
remember to mention it to Zedd the next time he saw him. Zedd was a cloud reader, and if Richard
failed to report his sighting he would have to endure an hour-long lecture on the significance of
clouds. Zedd was probably watching it this very moment, fretting over whether or not Richard was
paying attention.
The path took them to the south face of small Blunt Mountain, where it crossed a sheer cliff face
for which the mountain was named. Crossing the cliff near midheight, the trail offered a panoramic

view of the southern Ven Forest and, to their left, in cloud and mist, almost hidden behind the cliff
wall, the high, rugged peaks belonging to the boundary. Richard saw brown, dying trees standing
out against the carpet of green. Up closer to the boundary the dead trees were thick. It was the vine,
he realized.
The two of them advanced quickly across the cliff trail. They were so clearly in the open, with no
chance to hide, that anyone could spot them easily, but across the cliff the trail would begin to head
down into the Hartland Woods and then into town. Even if the men did figure out their mistake and
follow, Richard and the woman had a safe lead.
As it neared the far side of the cliff face, the path started to broaden from its treacherous, narrow
width to a space wide enough for two to walk side by side. Richard trailed his right hand along the
rock wall for reassurance while looking over the side to the boulder fields several hundred feet
below. He turned and checked behind. Still clear.
As he turned back, she froze in midstride, the folds of her dress swirling around her legs.
In the trail ahead, that only a moment earlier had been empty, stood two of the men. Richard was
bigger than most men; these men were much bigger than him. Their dark green hooded cloaks
shaded their faces but couldn't conceal their heavily muscled bulk. Richard's mind raced, trying to
conceive of how the men could have gotten ahead of them.
Richard and the woman spun, prepared to run. From the rock above, two ropes dropped down. The
other two men plummeted to the path, landing on their feet with heavy thuds, blocking any retreat.
They were as big as the first two. Buckles and leather straps beneath their cloaks held an arsenal of
weapons that glinted in the sunlight.
Richard wheeled back to the first two. They calmly pushed their hoods back. Each had thick blond
hair and a thick neck; their faces were rugged, handsome.
"You may pass, boy. Our business is with the girl." The man's voice was deep, almost friendly.
Nonetheless, the threat was as sharp as a blade. He removed his leather gloves and tucked them in
his belt as he spoke, not bothering to look at Richard. He obviously didn't consider Richard an
obstacle. He appeared to be the one in charge, as the other three waited silently while he spoke.
Richard had never been in a situation like this before. He never allowed himself to lose his temper,
and could usually turn scowls to smiles with his easy manner. If talk didn't work, he was quick
enough and strong enough to stop threats before anyone was hurt, and if need be he would simply
walk away. He knew these men weren't interested in talking, and they clearly weren't afraid of him.
He wished he could walk away now.
Richard glanced to her green eyes and saw the visage of a proud woman beseeching his help.
He leaned closer, and kept his voice low, but firm. "I won't leave you." Relief washed over her

She gave a slight nod as she settled her hand lightly on his forearm. "Keep between them, don't let
them all come at me at once," she whispered. "And be sure you aren't touching me when they
come." Her hand tightened on his arm and her eyes held his, waiting for confirmation that he
understood her instructions. He nodded his agreement. "May the good spirits be with us," she said.
She let her hands drop to her sides, turning to the two behind them, her face dead calm, devoid of
"Be on your way, boy." The leader's voice was harder. His fierce blue eyes glared. He gritted his
teeth. "Last time offered." . j'
Richard swallowed hard.
He tried to sound sure of himself. "We will both be passing." He heart felt as if it were coming up
into his throat.
"Not this day," the leader said with finality. He pulled free a wicked-looking curved knife.
The man to his side pulled a short sword clear of the scabbard . strapped across his back. With a
depraved grin, he drew it across the inside of his muscled forearm, staining the blade red. From
behind, Richard could hear the ring of steel being drawn. He was paralyzed with fear. This was all
happening too fast. They had no chance. None.
For a brief moment no one moved. Richard flinched when the four gave the howling battle cries of
men prepared to die in mortal combat. They charged in a frightening rush. The one with the short
sword swung it high, coming at Richard. He could hear one of the men behind him grab the woman
as the man with the sword raced toward him.
And then, just before the man reached him, there was a hard impact to the air, like a clap of thunder
with no sound. The violence of it made every joint in his body cry out in sharp pain. Dust lifted
around them, spreading outward in a ring.
The man with the sword felt the pain of it, too, and for an instant his attention was diverted past
Richard, to the woman. As he came crashing forward, Richard fell back against the wall and with
both feet hit the man square in the chest as hard as he could. It knocked him clear of the path, into
midair. The man's eyes went wide in surprise as he dropped backward to the rocks below, the
sword still held over his head in both hands.
To Richard's shock, he saw one of the other two men from behind him falling through space, too,
his chest ripped and bloody. Before Richard could give it a thought, the leader with the curved
knife charged past, intent on the woman. He hammered the heel of his free hand into the center of
Richard's chest. The jolt knocked the wind out of him and flung him hard against the wall,
smacking his head against the rock. As he fought to remain conscious, his only thought was that he
had to stop the man from getting to her.

Summoning strength he didn't know he. had, Richard snatched the leader by his husky wrist and
spun him around. The knife came around in an arc toward him. The blade flashed in the sunlight.
There was a savage hunger in the man's blue eyes. Richard had never been so afraid in his life.
In that instant he knew he was about to die.
Seemingly from out of nowhere, the last man, with a short sword covered in gore, smashed into the
leader, driving his sword through the other's gut, slamming the wind out of him. The collision was
so fierce it carried both over the side of the cliff. All the way down the last man howled in a cry of
rage that ended only when they met the boulders below.
Richard stood stunned, staring over the edge. Reluctantly he turned to the woman, afraid to look,
terrified he would see her gashed open and lifeless. Instead, she was sitting on the ground, leaning
against the cliff wall, looking drained but unhurt. Her face had a faraway look. It was all over so
fast he couldn't understand what had happened or how. Richard and the woman were alone in the
sudden silence.
He slumped down beside her on rock warm from the sun. He had a powerful headache from having
his head whacked on the wall. Richard could see she was all right, so he didn't ask. He felt too
overwhelmed to talk and could sense the same in her. She noticed blood on the back of her hand
and wiped it off on the wall, adding it to the red splatters already there. Richard thought he might
throw up.
He couldn't believe they were alive. It didn't seem possible. What was the thunder without sound?
And the pain he felt when it had happened? He had never felt anything like it before. He shuddered
recalling it. Whatever it was, she had something to do with it, and it had saved his life. Something
unearthly had occurred, and he wasn't at all sure he wanted to know what it was.
She leaned her head back against the rock, rolling it to the side, toward him. "I don't even know
your name. I wanted to ask before, but I was afraid to talk." She vaguely indicated the dropoff. "I
was so frightened of them .... I didn't want them to find us."
He thought maybe she was about to cry and looked over at her. She wasn't, but he felt that he
might. He nodded his understanding of what she said about the men.
"My name is Richard Cypher."
Her green eyes studied his as he looked at her. The light breeze carried wisps of hair across her
She smiled. "There are not many who would have stood with me." He found her voice as attractive
as the rest of her. It matched the spark of intelligence in her eyes. It almost took his breath away.
"You are a very rare person, Richard Cypher."
To his intense displeasure Richard felt his face flush. She looked away, pulling the strands of hair
off her face, and pretended not to notice his blushing.

"I am . . ." She sounded as if she was going to say something she then thought better of. She turned
back to him. "I am Kahlan. My family name is Amnell."
He looked into her eyes a long moment. "You too are a very rare person, Kahlan Amnell. There are
not many who would have stood as you did."
She did not blush, but smiled again. It was an odd sort of smile, a special smile, not showing any
teeth. Her lips were pressed together, as one would do when taking another into one's confidence.
Her eyes sparkled. It was a smile of sharing.
Richard reached behind, felt the painful lump on the back of his head, and checked his fingers for
blood. There was none, though he thought that by all rights there should have been. He looked back
at her, again wondering what had happened, wondering what she had done, and how she had done
it. There was that thunder with no sound, and he had knocked one of the men off the cliff; one of
the two behind him had killed the other instead of her, and then killed the leader and himself.
"Well, Kahlan, my friend, can you tell me how it is that we are alive and those four men are not?"
She looked at him, in surprise. "Do you mean that?"
"Mean what?" She hesitated. " `Friend.' "
Richard shrugged. "Sure. You just said I stood with you. That's the kind of thing a friend does, isn't
it?" He gave her a smile.
Kahlan turned away. "I don't know." She fingered the sleeve of her dress as she looked down. "I
have never had a friend before. Except maybe my sister . . . ."
He felt the pain in her voice. "Well, you have one now," he said in his most cheerful tone. "After
all, we just went through something pretty frightening together. We helped each other, and we
survived." .
She simply nodded. Richard looked out over the Ven, the forests where he was so at home.
Sunlight made the green of the trees vibrant, lush. His eyes were drawn to the left, to spots of
brown, the dead and dying trees that stood out among their healthy neighbors. Until that morning,
when he found the vine and it bit him, he had had no idea that the vine was up by the boundary,
spreading through the woods. He rarely went up into the Ven, that close to the boundary. Other
people wouldn't go within miles of it. Others went closer, if they traveled on Hawkers Trail, or to
hunt, but none went too close. The boundary was death. It was said that to go into the boundary was
not only to die but to forfeit your soul. The boundary wardens made sure people stayed away.
He gave her a sideways glance. "So what about the other part? The part about us being alive. How
did that happen?"
Kahlan didn't meet his gaze. "I think the good spirits protected us."

Richard didn't believe a word of it. But as much as he wanted to know the answers, it was against
his nature to force someone to tell something she didn't want to. His father had raised him to
respect another person's right to keep his own secrets. In her own time she would tell him her
secrets, if she wanted to, but he would not try to force her.
Everyone had secrets; he certainly had his own. In fact, with his father's murder and. with today's
events he felt those secrets stirring unpleasantly in the back of his mind.
"Kahlan," he said, trying to make his voice sound reassuring, "being a friend means you don't have
to tell me anything you don't want to, and I'll still be your friend."
She didn't look at him, but nodded her agreement.
Richard got to his feet. His head hurt, his hand hurt, and now he realized his chest hurt where the
man had hit him. To top it off he remembered he was hungry. Michael! He had forgotten about his
brother's party. He looked at the sun and knew he was going to be late. He hoped he wouldn't miss
Michael's speech. He would take Kahlan, tell Michael about the men, and get some protection for
He held out his hand to help her up. She stared at it in surprise. He continued to hold it out for her.
She gazed up into his eyes, and took the hand.
Richard smiled. "Never had a friend give you a hand up before?"
She averted her eyes. "No."
Richard could tell she felt uncomfortable, so he changed the subject.
"When's the last time you had something to eat?"
"Two days ago," she said without emotion.
His eyebrows went up. "Then you must be even more hungry than I am. I'll take you to my
brother." He peered over the edge of the cliff. "We'll have to tell him about the bodies. He'll know
what to do." He turned again to her. "Kahlan, do you know who those men were?"
Her green eyes turned hard. "They are called a quad. They are, well, they are like assassins. They
are sent to kill . . ." She caught herself again. "They kill people." Her face regained the calm
countenance it had when he first saw her. "I think that maybe the fewer people who know about
me, the safer I will be."
Richard was startled; he had never heard of anything like this. He ran his fingers through his hair,
trying to think. Dark, shadowy thoughts started to swirl again. For some reason, he was terrified of
what she might say, but had to ask.

He looked hard into her eyes, expecting the truth this time. "Kahlan, where did the quad come
She studied his face a moment. "They must have tracked me out of the Midlands, and through the
Richard's skin went cold, and prickles bumped up along his arms in a wave that rolled up to the
back of his neck, making the fine hairs there stand stiffly out. An anger deep within him awakened
and his secrets stirred.
She had to be lying. No one could cross the boundary.
No one.
No one could go into or come out of the Midlands. The boundary had sealed it away since before
he was born.
The Midlands was a land of magic

Michael's HOUSE WAS a massive structure of white stone, set back quite a distance from the road.
Slate roofs in a variety of angles and rakes came together in complicated junctures topped with a
leaded-glass peak that let light into the central hall. The walkway to the house was shaded from the
bright afternoon sun by towering white oaks as it passed through sweeping stretches of lawn before
coming to formal gardens laid in symmetrical patterns to each side. The gardens were in full bloom.
Since it was so late in the year, Richard knew the flowers had to have been raised in greenhouses
just for the occasion.
People in fine clothes strolled the lawns and gardens, making Richard feel suddenly out of place.
He knew he must look a mess in his dirty, sweat-stained forest garb, but he hadn't wanted to waste
the time going out of his way to his house to get cleaned up. Besides, he was in a dark mood and
didn't much care how he looked. He had more important things on his mind.
Kahlan, on the other hand, didn't look so out of place. The unusual but striking dress she wore
belied the fact that she, too, had just walked out of the woods. Considering how much blood there
had been up on Blunt Cliff, he was surprised that she didn't have any on her. She had somehow
managed to stay clear while the men killed each other.
When she had seen how upset he had become when she had told him she had come through the
boundary from the Midlands, she had fallen silent on the subject. Richard needed time to think
about it, and hadn't pressed. Instead she asked him about Westland, what the people were like and
where he lived. He told her about his house in the woods, how he liked living away from town, and
that he was a guide for travelers through the Hartland Woods on their way to or from the town

"Does your house have a fireplace?" she had asked.
"It does."
"Do you use it?"
"Yes, I cook on it all the time," he had told her. "Why?"
She had merely shrugged as she looked off to the countryside. "I just miss sitting in front of a fire,
that's all."
As unsettling as the day's events had been, on top of his grief, it felt good to have someone to talk
to, even if she did dance around her secrets.
"Invitation, sir?" someone called in a deep voice from the shade beside the entry.
Invitation? Richard spun around to see who had addressed him and was met by a mischievous grin.
Richard broke into a grin of his own. It was his friend Chase. He clasped hands with the boundary
warden in a warm greeting.
Chase was a big man, clean-shaven, with a head of light brown hair that showed no sign of
receding but instead gave way to age by going gray at the sides. Heavy brows shaded intense brown
eyes that stole slowly about, even as he talked, and saw everything. This habit often gave people
the impression-a seriously mistaken impression-that he wasn't paying attention. Despite his size,
Chase was, Richard knew, frighteningly quick when there was need. Chase wore a brace of knives
to one side of his belt, and a six-bladed battle mace to the other. The hilt of a short sword stood
above his right shoulder, and a crossbow with a full complement of barbed, steel-tipped bolts hung
from a leather strap on his left
Richard lifted an eyebrow. "Looks like you plan on getting your share of the food."
The grin left Chase's face. "Not here as a guest." His gaze settled on Kahlan.
Richard felt the awkwardness. He took Kahlan's arm and drew her forward. She came easily,
"Chase, this is my friend, Kahlan." He gave her a smile. "This is Dell Brandstone. Everyone calls
him Chase. He's an old friend of mine. We're safe with him." He turned back to Chase. "You can
trust her, too."
She looked at the big man and gave him a smile and nod of acknowledgment.
Chase nodded once to her, the matter settled, Richard's word being all the reassurance he needed.
His eyes scanned the crowd, lingering on various people, checking their interest in the three of

them. He pulled them both away from the sunlit openness of the steps and into the shade off to the
"Your brother called in all the boundary wardens." He paused, taking another look around. "To be
his personal guards."
"What! That doesn't make any sense!" Richard was incredulous. "He has the Home Guard, and the
army. What does he need a few boundary wardens for?"
Chase rested his left hand on one of the knife handles: "What, indeed." His face gave no hint of
emotion. It rarely did. "Could be he just wants us around for effect. People are afraid of the
wardens. You've been away to the woods since your father was killed, not that I'm saying I
wouldn't do the same if I were you. All I'm saying is you haven't been around. Strange things have
been going on, Richard. People coming and going in the night. Michael calls them `concerned
citizens.' He's been talking some nonsense about plots against the government. He has the wardens
all over the grounds."
Richard looked around, but didn't see any. He knew that didn't mean anything. If a boundary
warden didn't want to be seen, he could be standing on your foot and you wouldn't be able to find
Chase drummed his fingers on a knife handle as he watched Richard's eyes scan about. "My boys
are out there, take my word." "Well, how do you know Michael isn't right, what with the father of
the new First Councilor being murdered and all?"
Chase gave his finest look of disgust. "I know every little slime in Westland. There's no plot. Might
be a bit of fun to be had if there were, but I think I'm just part of the decoration. Michael said I
should `stay visible.' " His expression sharpened. "And about your father's murder, well, George
Cypher and I go way back, way back to before when you were born, back to before the boundary.
He was a good man. I was proud to call him friend." Anger heated in his eyes. "I've twisted a few
fingers." He shifted his weight, taking another look around before bringing his fierce expression
back to Richard. "Twisted hard. Hard enough to cause their owners to spit out their own mother's
name if it had been the right one. No one knows a thing, and believe me, if they did they would
have been happy to have shortened our conversation. First time I've ever chased anyone and not
been able to get even a whiff." He folded his arms, and his grin came back as he eyed Richard up
and down. "Speaking of slime, what have you been about? You look like one of my customers."
Richard glanced to Kahlan, and then back to Chase. "We were up in the high Ven." Richard
lowered his voice. "We were attacked by four men."
Chase raised an eyebrow. "Anyone I would know?"
Richard shook his head.
Chase frowned. "So where did these four fellows go after they jumped you?"

"You know the trail across Blunt Cliff?"
"Of course."
"They're on the rocks at the bottom. We're going to have to have a talk."
Chase unfolded his arms and stared at the two of them. "I'll have a look." His eyebrows knitted
together. "How'd you manage it?"
Richard exchanged a quick glance with Kahlan and looked back to the boundary warden. "I think
the good spirits protected us."
Chase shot them each a suspicious glare. "That so? Well, better not to tell Michael about this right
now. I don't think he believes in good spirits." He studied both their faces. "And if you think there's
a need, you two come stay at my place. You'll be safe enough there."
Richard thought about all of Chase's children and knew he didn't want to endanger them, but he
didn't want to argue the point either, so he just nodded.
"We better get in there. Michael is sure to be missing me."
"One more thing," Chase said. "Zedd wants to see you. He's in a big fret about something. Says it's
real important."
Richard looked up over his shoulder and saw the same strange snakelike cloud. "I think I need to
see him, too." He turned and started to leave.
"Richard," Chase said with a look that would have withered anyone else, "tell me what were you
doing in the high Ven."
Richard didn't shy away. "Same as you. Trying to get a whiff."
Chase's hard face softened, and a hint of his smile came back. "Get one?"
Richard nodded as he held up his red, sore left hand. "And it bites." .
The two turned and melted into the crowd entering the house, moving through the entry, across
white marble floors, to the elegant central meeting hall. Marble walls and columns glowed with a
cold eerie cast where the sunlight streaming in from above touched them. Richard had always
preferred the warmth of wood, but Michael had maintained that anyone could go out and make
what they wanted from wood, but if you wanted marble, you had to hire a lot of people who lived
in wood houses to do the work for you. Richard remembered a time before their mother died, when
he and . Michael played in the dirt, building houses and forts with sticks. Michael had helped him
then. He wanted so much for Michael to help him now.

People Richard recognized greeted him, getting only a wooden smile or quick handshake. Since
Kahlan was from a strange land, Richard was a little surprised to see how comfortable she was
around all the important people. It had already occurred to him that she, too, must be someone
important. Gangs of assassins didn't hunt down unimportant people.
Richard found it difficult to smile at everyone. If the rumors about things coming out of the
boundary were true, then all of Westland was in danger. Country people in the outlying areas of the
Hartland were already terrified to go out at night and had recounted stories to him of people being
found partly eaten. He had told them it was just that they had died of some natural cause, and wild
animals had found the bodies. Happened all the time. They said it was beasts from the sky. He had
passed it off as superstitious nonsense.
Until now.
Even with all the people around, Richard felt overwhelmingly lonely. He was confused and didn't
know what to do about it. He didn't know who to turn to. Kahlan was the only one who made him
feel better, but at the same time she frightened him. The encounter on the cliff frightened him. He
wanted to take her and leave.
Zedd might know what to do. He used to live in the Midlands before the boundary, though he
would never talk about it. And then there was the unsettling feeling he had that all of this had
something to do with his father's death, and his father's death had something to do with his own
secrets, the secrets his father had placed upon him and him alone.
Kahlan laid a hand on his arm. "Richard, I'm sorry. I didn't know . . . about your father. I'm sorry."
With the frightening events of the day he had almost forgotten about it until Chase had brought it
up.. Almost. He gave a little shrug. "Thanks." He waited a moment as a woman in a blue silk dress
with ruffles of white lace at the neck, cuffs, and down the front walked past. He looked down at the
floor as she moved by so he wouldn't have to return her smile if she gave him one. "It was three
weeks ago." He told Kahlan a little of what had happened. She listened sympathetically.
"I'm sorry, Richard. Perhaps you would rather be alone."
He forced himself to smile. "No, it's all right. I've been alone enough. It helps to have a friend to
talk to."
She gave him a small smile and a nod, and they moved on through the crowd. Richard wondered
where Michael was. It seemed odd that he wasn't out yet.
Even though he had lost his appetite, he knew Kahlan hadn't eaten in two days. With all the
tempting food around, he decided she must have remarkable self-control. The delicious smells were
starting to change his mind about his appetite.
He leaned closer to her. "Hungry?"

He guided her over to a long table with food piled in tiers. There were large steaming platters of
sausages and meats, boiled potatoes, dried fish of several kinds, grilled fish, chicken, turkey,
mounds of raw vegetables sliced into strips, big tureens of cabbage and sausage soup, onion soup,
and spice soup, platters of breads, cheeses, fruits, pies, and cakes, and casks of wine and ale.
Servants were constantly coming and going to keep the platters full.
Kahlan scrutinized them. "Some of the serving girls have long hair. That is allowed?"
Richard looked around, a little bewildered. "Yes. Anyone can have any 'kind of hair they want.
Look." He held his arm close to his chest and pointed as he leaned toward her. "Those women over
there are councilors, some have short hair, some have long. Whatever they want." He looked at her
out of the corner of his eye. "Do people tell you to cut your hair?"
She lifted an eyebrow to him. "No. No one has ever asked me to cut my hair. It is simply that where
I come from, the length of a woman's hair has a certain social significance."
"Does that mean that you are someone of considerable standing?" He took the edge off the question
with a playful smile. "Seeing as how you have such long, beautiful hair, I mean."
She gave him back a small smile, devoid of joy. "Some think so. I could only expect that after this
morning, the thought had entered your mind. We all can be only what we are, nothing more, or
"Well, if I ask anything a friend shouldn't, just kick me."
Her smile brightened into the same tight-lipped one she had given him before. The smile of sharing.
It made him grin.
He turned to the food and found one of his favorites, small ribs with a spice sauce, put a few on a
small white plate, and handed it to her.
"Try these first. They're my most treasured."
Kahlan held the dish at arm's length, eyeing it suspiciously. "What creature's meat is this?" "It's
pork," he said, a little surprised. "You know, from a pig. Try it, it's the best thing here, I promise."
She relaxed, brought the plate close, and ate the meat. He ate a half dozen himself, savoring every
He put some sausages on their plates. "Here, have some. of these, too."
Her suspicion flared anew. "What are they made of?"

"Pork and beef, some spices, I don't know what kinds. Why? There some kinds of things you don't
"Some kinds," she said noncommittally before eating a sausage. "May I have some spice soup,
He ladled the soup into a fine white bowl with a gold rim and traded it for her plate. She took the
bowl in both hands and tried it.
A smile came to her face. "It's good, just like I make. I don't think our two homelands are as
different as you fear."
As she drank the remainder of the soup, Richard, feeling better about what she said, picked up a
thick slice of bread, put strips of chicken meat on it, and, when she finished the soup, exchanged
the bread for her bowl. She took the bread with chicken and started moving to the side of the room
while she ate. He set the soup bowl down and followed behind, shaking an occasional hand. Their
owners cast a critical eye at the way he was dressed. When she reached a deserted spot near a
column, she turned to face him.
"Please get me a piece of cheese?"
"Sure. What kind?"
She scanned the throng. "Any kind."
Richard worked his way back through the crowd to the food table and picked up two pieces of
cheese, eating one along his way back to Kahlan. She took the cheese when he handed it to her, but
instead of eating it, she let her arm slip to her side, and let the cheese fall to the floor, as if she had
forgotten she was holding it.
"Wrong kind?"
Her tone was distant. "I hate cheese." She was staring past him to a spot across the room.
Richard frowned. "Then why did you ask for it?" There was a hint of irritation in his voice
"Keep looking at me," she said, her eyes returning to his. "There are two men behind you, across
the room. They have been watching us. I wanted to know if it was me or you they were watching.
When I sent you for the food they watched you go and come back. They paid no attention to me. It
is you they are watching."
Richard put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to see for himself. He scanned over the heads
of the crowd, to the far side of the room. "They're just two of Michael's aides. They know me.
They're probably wondering where I've been and why I look such a mess." He looked into her eyes
and spoke softly so that no one would hear. "It's all right, Kahlan, relax. Those men from this
morning are dead. You're safe now."

She shook her head. "More will follow. I should not be with you. I do not want to endanger your
life any more than I already have. You are my friend."
"There is no way another quad could track you now, not once you have come here, to Hartland. It's
impossible." He knew enough about tracking to feel confident that he was telling her the truth.
Kahlan hooked a finger in the neck of his shirt and drew his face close. There was a flash of angry
intolerance in her green eyes.
Her voice came in a slow, harsh whisper. "When I left my homeland, five wizards cast spells over
my tracks so none could know where I went, or follow, and then they killed themselves so they
could not be made to talk!" Her teeth were gritted in anger, and her eyes were wet. She was starting
to tremble.
Wizards! Richard went rigid. At last, he let out his breath and took her hand gently from his shirt,
holding it in both of his, his voice barely audible over the din. "I'm sorry."
"Richard, I am scared to death!" She was trembling more now. "If you hadn't been there today, you
don't know what would have happened to me. The dying would have been the best of it. You don't
know about those men." She shook uncontrollably, giving herself over to her fear.
He felt goose bumps on his arms. He eased her back behind the column where they couldn't be
observed. "I'm sorry, Kahlan. I don't know what any of this is about. You know at least some of it,
but I'm in the dark. I'm scared, too. Today on the cliff ... I've never been that afraid. And I didn't
really do much of anything that would have saved us." Seeing her need was giving him the courage
to reassure her.
"What you did," she said struggling to get the words out, "was enough to make a difference. It was
enough to save us. No matter how little you think it was, it was enough. If you hadn't helped me . . .
I don't want my being here to bring you to harm."
He squeezed her hand tighter. "It won't. I have a friend, Zedd. He may be able to tell us what we
can do to keep you safe. He's a-little strange, but he's the smartest man I know. If there's anyone
who would know what to do, it's Zedd. If you can be tracked anywhere, then there is no place for
you to run; they will find you. Let me take you to Zedd. As soon as Michael gives his speech we
will go to my house. You can sit in front of the fire, and in the morning I'll take you to Zedd." He
smiled, and pointed with his chin to a window near them. "Look over there."
She turned to see Chase outside a tall, round-topped window. The boundary warden glanced back
over his shoulder and gave her a wink and a heartening grin before resuming his scan of the area.
"To Chase, a quad would be just a bit of fun. While he was taking care of them, he'd be telling you
a story about some real trouble. He's been watching out for you since we told him of the men."
- That brought a small smile, but it quickly faded.

"There is more to it. I thought I was going to be safe by coming to Westland. I should have been.
Richard, I came across the boundary only with the help of magic." She was still shaking but starting
to regain control of herself, taking strength from him. "I do not know how those men came across.
They should not have been able to. They should not have even known I left the Midlands.
Somehow, the rules have changed."
"We'll deal with that tomorrow. For now, you are safe. Be- sides, it would take another quad days
to get here, wouldn't it?
That will give us time to make plans."
She gave a nod. "Thank you, Richard Cypher. My friend. But know that if I bring danger to you, I
will leave before it can harm you." She took her hand back and wiped the bottom lids of her eyes.
"I am still hungry. Could we have more?"
Richard smiled. "Sure, what would you like?"
"Some more of your little treasures?"
They went back to the food and ate while they waited for Michael. Richard felt better, not about the
things she told him, but because at least he knew a little more, and because he had made her feel
safe. Somehow he would find the answer to her problem, and he would know what was going on
with the boundary. As much as he feared the answers, he would know them.
Whispers rippled through the crowd as heads turned to the far side of the room. It was Michael.
Richard took Kahlan's hand and moved to the side of the room, closer to his brother, so they could
As Michael stepped up onto a platform, Richard realized why it had taken him so long to come out.
He had been waiting for the sunlight to fall on that spot, so he could stand in the light and be lit in
its glory for all to see.
Not only was he shorter than Richard, but heavier and softer. Sunlight lit his mop of unruly hair.
His upper lip proudly displayed a mustache. He wore baggy white trousers, and his white tunic with
bloused sleeves was cinched at the waist by a gold belt. Standing there in the sunlight, Michael
positively gleamed, casting the same cold, eerie glow the marble did when struck by the sun. He
stood out in stark relief against the shadowed background.
Richard held up his hand to catch his attention. Michael saw the hand and smiled at his brother,
holding his eyes for a moment as he began speaking, before shifting his gaze to the crowd.
"Ladies and gentlemen, today I accepted the position of First Councilor of Westland." A roar went
up from the room. Michael listened without moving, then thrust his arms suddenly into the air,
calling for silence. He waited until every last cough died out. "The councilors from all of Westland
selected me to lead us in these times of challenge because I have the courage and vision to take us

into a new era. Too long we have lived looking to the past and not to the future! Too long we have
chased old ghosts and been blind to new callings! Too long we have listened to those who would
seek to drag us into war and ignored those who would guide us on a path to peace!" .
The crowd went wild. Richard was dumbfounded. What was Michael talking about? What war?
There was no one to have a war with!
Michael held up his hands again and, not waiting for quiet this time, went on. "I will not stand by
while the Westland is put into peril by these traitors!" His face was red and angry. The crowd
roared again, this time with fists jabbing the air. They chanted Michael's name. Richard and Kahlan
looked at each other.
"Concerned citizens have come forward to identify these cowards, these traitors. At this very
moment, as we join our hearts here today in a common goal, the boundary wardens protect us while
the army is rounding up these conspirators who plot against the government. They are not the
common criminals you might think, but respected men in high authority!"
Murmurs swept across the assembly. Richard was stunned. Could it be true? A conspiracy? His
brother hadn't gotten where he was by not knowing what was going on. Men in high authority. That
would certainly explain why Chase didn't know anything about it.
Michael stood in the shaft of sunlight, waiting for the whispering to die down. When he began
again his voice was low and warm.
"But that is past history. Today we look to our new course. One reason I was chosen as First
Councilor is because being a Hartlander, I have lived my life in the shadow of the boundary, a
shadow that has shaded all our lives. But that is looking to the past. The light of a new day always
chases the shadows of the night away, and shows us that the shape of our fears is only the ghost of
our own minds.
"We must look forward to a day when the boundary will no longer be there, for nothing lasts
forever, does it? And when that day comes we must be ready to extend a hand of friendship and not
a sword, as some would have us do. That only leads to the futility of war and needless dying.
"Should we be wasting our resources, preparing to do battle with a people we have been long
separated from, a people who were the ancestors to many of us here? Should we be ready to do
violence to our brothers and sisters simply because we don't know them? What a waste! Our
resources should be spent eliminating the real suffering around us. When the time comes, maybe
not in our lifetime, but it will come, we should be ready to welcome our long-separated brothers
and sisters. We must not join only the two lands, but all three! For someday, just as the boundary
between Westland and the Midlands will fade away, so too will the second boundary between the
Midlands and D' Hara, and all three lands shall be one! We can look to a day when we can share the
joy of reunion, if we have the heart! And that joy will spread from here, today, in Hartland!
"This is why I have moved to stop those who would plunge us into war with our brothers and
sisters merely because someday the boundaries will fade away. This does not mean we don't need

the army, for we can never know what real threats lie in our path to peace, but we know there is no
need to invent them!"
Michael swept his hand out over the crowd. "We in this room are the future. It is your
responsibility as councilors of Westland to carry the word throughout the country! Take our
message of peace to the good people. They will see the truth in your hearts. Please help me. I want
our children and our grandchildren to be the beneficiaries of what we lay down here today. I want
us to set a course for peace to carry us into the future, so when the time comes, future generations
will benefit and thank us."
Michael stood with his head bowed and both his fists held tightly to his chest. The sunlight glowed
about him. The audience was so moved that they stood in absolute silence. Richard saw men in
tears, and women weeping openly. All eyes were on Michael, who stood still as stone.
Richard was stunned. He had never heard his brother speak with such conviction or eloquence. It
all seemed to make such sense. After all, here he stood with a woman from across the boundary,
from the Midlands, and she was already his friend.
But then, four others had tried to kill him. No, not exactly, he thought; they wanted to kill her; he
was just in the way. They had offered to let him go, and it was his decision to stand and fight. He
had always been fearful of those from across the boundary, but now he was friends with one, just as
Michael said.
He was starting to see his bother in a new light. People had been moved by Michael's words in a
way Richard had never witnessed. Michael was pleading for peace and friendship with other
peoples. What could be wrong with that?
Why did he feel so uneasy?
"And now, to the other part," Michael continued, "to the real suffering around us. While we have
worried about the boundaries that have not harmed a single one of us, many of our families, friends,
and neighbors have suffered, and died. Tragic and needless deaths, in accidents with fire. Yes, that
is what I said. Fire."
People mumbled in confusion. Michael was starting to lose his bond with the crowd. He seemed to
expect it; he looked from face to face, letting the confusion build, and then dramatically he thrust
his hand out, his finger pointing.
At Richard.
"There!" he screamed. Everyone turned as one. Hundreds of yes looked at Richard. "There stands
my beloved brother!" Richard tried to shrink. "My beloved brother who shares with me"-he
pounded a fist to his chest "the tragedy of losing our own mother to fire! Fire took our mother from
us when we were young, and left us to grow up alone, without her love and care, without her
guidance. It was not some imagined enemy from across a boundary that took her, but an enemy of

fire! She couldn't be there to comfort us when we hurt, when we cried in the night. And the thing
that wounds the most is that it didn't have to be."
Tears, glistening in the sunlight, ran down Michael's cheeks. "I am sorry, friends, please forgive
me." He wiped the tears with a handkerchief he had handy. "It's just that only this morning I heard
of another fire that took a fine young mother and father, and left their daughter an orphan. It
brought my own pain back to me and I couldn't remain silent." Everyone was now solidly back
with him. Their tears flowed freely. A woman put her arm around Richard's shoulder as he stood
numb. She whispered how sorry she was.
"I wonder how many of you have shared the pain my brother and I live with every day. Please,
those of you who have a loved one, or a friend, who has been hurt, or even killed, by fire, please,
hold up your hands." Quite a few hands went up, and there was wailing from some in the crowd
"There, my friends," he said hoarsely, spreading his arms wide, "there is the suffering among us.
We need look no further than this room."
Richard tried to swallow the lump in his throat as the memory of that horror came back to him. A
man who had imagined their father had cheated him lost his temper and knocked a lamp off the
table as Richard and his brother slept in the back bedroom. While the man dragged his father
outside, beating him, his mother pulled Richard and his brother from the burning house, then ran
back inside to save something, they never knew what, and was burned alive. Her screams brought
the man to his senses, and he and their father tried to save her, but couldn't. Filled with guilt and
revulsion at what he had caused, the man ran off crying and yelling that he was sorry.
That, his father had told them a thousand times, was the result of a man losing his temper. Michael
shrugged it off; Richard took it to heart. It had instilled in him a dread of his own anger, and
whenever it threatened to come out, he choked it off.
Michael was wrong. Fire had not killed their mother; anger had.
Arms hanging limply at his side, head bowed, Michael spoke softly again. "What can we do about
the danger to our families from fire?" He shook his head sadly. "I do not know, my friends.
"But, I am forming a commission on the problem, and I urge any concerned citizen to come
forward with suggestions. My door always stands open. Together we can do something. Together
we will do something.
"And now my friends, please excuse me, and allow me to go comfort my brother, as I am afraid
bringing out our personal tragedy was a surprise to him, and I must ask his forgiveness."
He hopped down off the stand, the crowd parting to let him through. A few hands reached out to
touch him as he passed. He ignored them.
Richard stood and glared as his brother strode to him. The crowd moved away. Only Kahlan stayed
at his side, her fingers lightly touching his arm. People went back to the food and began talking

excitedly among themselves, about themselves, and forgot him. Richard stood tall and choked off
his anger
Smiling, Michael slapped Richard on the shoulder. "Great speech!" he congratulated himself.
"What did you think?"
Richard looked down at the patterns on the marble floor. "Why did you bring her death into it?
Why did you have to tell everyone about it? Why did you use her like that?"
Michael put an arm around Richard's shoulder. "I know it hurts, and I am sorry, but it's for a greater
good. Did you see the tears in their eyes? The things I've started are going to take us all to a better
life, and help Westland grow to prominence. I believe what I said; we have to look to the challenge
of the future with excitement, not fear."
"And what did you mean about the boundaries?"
"Things are changing, Richard. I have to stay ahead of them." The smile was gone. "That's all I
meant. The boundaries won't last forever. I don't think they were ever meant to. We all have to be
ready to face up to that."
Richard changed the subject. "What have you found out about Father's murder? Have the trackers
picked up anything?"
Michael took his arm back. "Grow up, Richard. George was an old fool. He was always picking up
things that didn't belong to him. He probably got caught with something that belonged to the wrong
person. A person with a bad temper, and a big knife."
"That's not true! And you know it!" Richard hated the way Michael called their father "George."
"lie never stole anything in his life!"
"Just because the person you take it from is long dead, that doesn't mean you have any right to it.
Someone else obviously wanted it back."
"How do you know all this?" Richard demanded. "What have you found out?"
"Nothing! It's common sense. The house was torn apart! Someone was looking for something. They
didn't find it, George wouldn't tell them where it was, they killed him. That's all there is to it. The
trackers said there were no tracks. We'll probably never know who did it." Michael glared. "You
had better learn to live with that fact."
Richard let out a deep breath. It made sense; someone was looking for something. He shouldn't be
angry with Michael be- cause he couldn't find out who. Michael had tried. Richard wondered how
there could be no tracks.
"I'm sorry. Maybe you're right, Michael." Another thought struck him. "So, it didn't have anything
to do with this conspiracy? It wasn't those men trying to get to you?"

Michael waved his hand. "No, no, no. It had nothing to do with that. That problem has been taken
care of. Don't worry about me, I'm safe, everything is all right."
Richard nodded. Michael's face turned to a look of annoyance.
"So, little brother, how come you're such a mess? Couldn't you at least clean yourself up? It's not
like you didn't have notice. You have known about this party for weeks."
Before he could answer, Kahlan spoke up. Richard had forgotten she was still standing next to him.
"Please forgive your brother, it was not his fault. He came to guide me into Hartland and I was late
in coming. I pray he is not dishonored in your eyes because of me."
Michael's eyes glided down the length of her before returning to her face. "And you are?"
Her back stiffened as she stood tall. "I am Kahlan Amnell."
Michael gave a slight smile and a small bow of his head. "So, you are not my brother's escort, as I
thought. And where have you traveled from?"
"It is a small place, far away. I am sure you would not know of it."
Michael didn't challenge the answer, but turned to his brother instead. "You will stay the night?"
"No. I have to go see Zedd. He's been looking for me."
Michael's smile melted. "You should find better friends. No good can come of spending your time
with that contrary old man." He turned back to Kahlan. "You, my dear, will be my guest tonight."
"I have other arrangements," she said warily.
Michael reached around her with both arms, cupped both hands to her bottom and pulled the lower
half of her body hard against him. His leg pressed between her thighs.
"Change them." His smile was as cold as a winter night.
"Remove. Your. Hands." Her voice was hard and dangerous. Each stared into the other's eyes
Richard was dumbfounded. He couldn't believe what his brother was doing. "Michael! Stop it!"
They both ignored him and continued to confront one another, faces close, eyes locked together.
Richard stood next to them, feeling helpless. He could sense that both wanted him to stay out of it.
His body tensed, muscles hard, ready to disregard the feeling.
"You feel good," Michael whispered. "I think I could fall in love with you."

Kahlan's breathing was slow and restrained. "You do not know the half of it." Her voice was even
and controlled. "Now, remove your hands."
When he did not, she slowly placed the fingernail of her first finger on his chest, just below the
hollow at the base of his neck. As they glared at each other, she slowly, ever so slowly, began to
drag her nail downward, ripping his flesh open. Blood ran down skin in rivulets. For a brief
moment, Michael didn't move, but then his eyes could not disguise the pain. He flung open his arms
and staggered back a step.
Without looking back, Kahlan stormed out of the house.
Richard gave his brother an angry glare he could not suppress, and followed her out

RICHARD RAN DOWN THE walkway to catch up with her. Kahlan's dress and long hair flowed
behind as she marched along in the late-afternoon sunlight. When she reached a tree, she stopped
and waited. For the second time that day, she wiped blood off her hand.
As he touched her shoulder, she turned, her calm face showing no emotion.
"Kahlan, I'm sorry . ...
She cut him off. "Do not apologize. What your brother did, he was not doing to me, he was doing
to you."
"To me? What do you mean?"
"Your brother is jealous of you." Her face softened. "He is not stupid, Richard. He knew I was with
you and he was jealous."
Richard took her arm and started walking down the road, away from Michael's house. He was
furious with Michael, and at the same time he was ashamed of his anger. He felt as if he were
letting his father down.
"That's no excuse. He's First Councilor; he has all anyone could want. I'm sorry I didn't put a stop
to it." "I did not want you to. It was for me to do. What he wants is whatever you have. If you had
stopped him, having me would be a contest he would have to win. This way he has no more interest
in me. Besides, what he did to you, about your mother, was worse. Would you have wanted me to
have stepped in on your behalf?"
Richard put his eyes back to the road. He choked off his anger. "No, that was not for you to do."
As they walked, the houses became smaller, closer together, but remained clean and well kept.
Some of their owners were out taking advantage of the good weather to make repairs before winter.

The air was clean and crisp, and Richard knew by the dryness of it that it would be a cold night; the
right kind of night for a fire of birch logs, fragrant but not too hot. The white-fenced yards gave
way to larger garden plots in front of small cottages set farther back from the road. As he walked,
Richard plucked an oak leaf from a branch hanging close to the road.
"You seem to know a lot about people. You're very perceptive, I mean about why they do what
they do."
She shrugged. "I guess."
He tore little pieces off the leaf. "Is that why they hunt you?"
She looked over as they walked, and when his eyes came to her, she answered. "They hunt me
because they fear truth. One reason I trust you is because you do not."
He smiled at the compliment. He liked the answer, even though he wasn't sure what it meant. "You
aren't about to kick me, are you?"
A grin came to her face. "You are getting close." She thought a moment, the smile fading, and went
on. "I am sorry, Richard, but for now you must trust me. The more I tell you, the greater the danger,
to both of us. Still friends?"
"Still friends." He threw the skeleton of the leaf away. "But someday you will tell me all of it?"
She nodded. "If I can, I promise I will."
"Good," he said cheerfully. "After all, I am a `seeker of truth.' "
Kahlan jerked to a halt, grabbed his shirtsleeve, and spun him to face her wide eyes.
"Why did you say that?" she demanded
"What? You mean `seeker of truth'? That's what Zedd calls me. Ever since I was little. He says I
always insist on knowing the truth of things, so he calls me `seeker of truth.' " He was surprised by
her agitation. His eyes narrowed. "Why?"
She started walking again. "Never mind."
Somehow, he seemed to have broached a sensitive subject. His need to know the answers started to
shoulder its way around in his mind. They hunted her because they feared truth, he thought, and she
became upset when he said he was a "seeker of truth." Maybe she had become upset, he decided,
because it made her fear for him, too.
"Can you at least tell me who `they' are? Those who hunt you?"

She continued to watch the road as she walked next to him. He didn't know if she was going to
answer him, but at last she did.
"They are the followers of a very wicked man. His name is Darken Rahl. Please do not ask me any
more for now; I do not wish to think of him."
Darken Rahl. So, now he knew the name.
The late-afternoon sun was behind the hills of the Hartland Woods, allowing the air to cool as they
passed through gently rolling hills of hardwood forest. They didn't talk. He didn't care to talk
anyway, as his hand was hurting and he was feeling a little dizzy. A bath and a warm bed were
what he wanted. Better to give her the bed, he thought; he would sleep in his favorite chair, the one
with the squeak. That sounded good, too; it had been a long day and he ached.
By a stand of birch he turned her up the small trail that would lead past his house. He watched her
walking in front of him on the narrow path, picking spiderwebs off her face and arms as she broke
the strands strung across their way.
Richard was eager to get home. Along with his knife and the other things he had forgotten to take
along, there was something else he had to have, a very important thing his father had given him.
His father had made him the guardian of a secret, made him the keeper of a secret book, and had
given Richard something to keep always, as proof to the true owner of the book, that it was not
stolen, but rescued for safekeeping. It was a triangular shaped tooth, three fingers wide. Richard
had strung a leather thong to it so he could wear it around his neck, but like his knife and backpack
he had stupidly left the house without it. He was impatient to have it back around his neck; without
it, he couldn't prove his father wasn't a thief.
Higher up, after an open area of bare rock, the maples, oaks, and birches began to give way to
spruce. The forest floor lost its green for a quiet, brown mat of needles. As they walked along, an
uneasy feeling began to itch at him. He gently took Kahlan's sleeve between his thumb and
forefinger, pulling her back.
"Let me go first," he said quietly. She looked at him and obeyed without question. For the next half
hour he slowed the pace, studying the ground and inspecting every branch close to the trail. Richard
stopped at the base of the last ridge before his house and squatted them down beside a patch of
"What's wrong?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Maybe nothing," he whispered, "but someone has been up the trail this
afternoon." He picked up a flattened pinecone, looking at it for a short time before tossing it away.
"How do you know?"

"Spiderwebs." He looked up the hill. "There aren't any spiderwebs across the trail. Someone has
been up the trail and broken them. The spiders haven't had time to string more, so there aren't any."
"Does anyone else live up this trail?"
"No. It could be just a traveler, passing through. But this trail isn't used much."
Kahlan frowned, perplexed. "When I was walking in front, there were spiderwebs all over. I was
picking them off my face every ten steps."
"That's what I'm talking about," he whispered. "No one had been up that part of the trail all day, but
since the open place we came through, there haven't been any more."
"How could that be?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. Either someone came out of the woods back by the clearing, and
then went up the trail, a very hard way to travel"-he looked her in the eyes-"or they dropped in out
of the sky. My house is over this hill. Let's keep our eyes sharp."
Richard carefully led the two of them up the rise, both scanning the woods as they went. He wanted
to run in the other direction, take them away from there, but he couldn't. He wasn't running away
without the tooth his father had given him for safekeeping.
At the top of the rise they crouched behind a big pine and looked down on his house. Windows
were broken, and the door, which he always locked, stood open. His possessions were scattered
about on the ground.
Richard stood. "It's been ransacked, just like my father's house."
She grabbed a fistful of his shirt and hauled him back down.
"Richard!" she whispered angrily. "Your father may have come home just like this. Maybe he went
in just like you are about to do, and they were waiting for him."
She was right, of course. He ran his forgers through his hair, thinking. He looked back toward the
house. Its back sat hard up against the woods with its door facing the clearing. Since it was the only
door, anyone inside would expect him to come running in that way. That's where they would wait,
if they were inside.
"All right," he whispered back, "but there's something inside I have to get. I'm not leaving without
it. We can sneak around the back, I'll get it, and then we will be away from here."
Richard would have preferred not to take her, but he didn't want to leave her waiting on the trail,
alone. They made their way through the woods, through the tangle of brush, skirting the house,
giving it a wide berth. When he reached the place where he would have to approach the back of the

house, he motioned her to wait. She didn't like the idea, but he would take no argument. If there
was anyone in there, he didn't want them getting her as well
Leaving Kahlan under a spruce tree, Richard started cautiously toward the house, following a
serpentine route to stay on the areas of soft needles instead of treading on dry leaves. When he
finally saw the back bedroom window, he stood frozen, listening. He heard no sound. Carefully, his
heart pounding, he took slow crouched steps. There was movement at his feet. A snake wriggled
past his foot. fie waited for it to pass.
At the weathered back of his house, he gently put his hand on the bare wooden frame of the
window and raised his head high enough to look inside. Most of the glass was broken out, and he
could see that his bedroom was a mess. The bedding was slashed open. Prized books were torn
apart and their pages strewn about the floor. To the far side of the room the door to the front room
was opened partway, but not enough to see beyond. Without a wedge under it, that was the spot the
door always swung to on its own.
Slowly, he put his head in the window and looked down at his bed. Below the window was the
bottom bedpost, and hanging from it were his pack and the leather thong with the tooth, right where
he had left them. He brought his arm up and started to reach through the window.
There was a squeak from the front room, a squeak he knew well. He went cold with fright. It was
the squeak his chair made. He had never fixed the squeak because it seemed a part of the chair's
personality, and he couldn't bring himself to alter it. Soundlessly, he dropped back down. There
could be no doubt: someone was in the front room, sitting in his chair, waiting for him.
Something caught his eye, making him look to the right. A squirrel sat on a rotting stump watching
him. Please, he thought desperately to himself, please don't start chattering at me to leave your
territory. The squirrel. watched him for a long moment, then jumped off the stump to a tree,
scurried up, and was gone.
Richard let out his breath, and raised himself back up to look in the window again. The door still
stood as it had before. Quickly he reached inside and carefully lifted the pack and leather thong
with the tooth off the bedpost, listening wide-eyed all the time for the slightest sound from beyond
the door. His knife was on a small table on the other side of the bed. There was no chance of
retrieving it. He lifted the pack through the window, being careful not to let it bump against any of
the remaining shards of broken glass.
With his booty in hand, Richard moved quickly but silently back the way he had come, resisting a
strong urge to break into a run. He looked over his shoulder as he went to be sure no one followed.
He put his head through the loop of leather and tucked the tooth into his shirt. He never let anyone
see the tooth; it was only for the keeper of the secret book to see.
Kahlan waited where he had left her. When she saw him, she sprang to her feet. He crossed his lips
with his finger to let her know to keep silent. Slinging the pack over his left shoulder, he put his
other hand gently on her back to move her along. Not wanting to go - back the way they had come,
he guided her through the woods to where the trail continued above his house. Spiderwebs strung

across the trail glistened in the last rays of the setting sun and they both breathed out in relief. This
trail was longer and much more arduous, but it led where he was going. To Zedd.
The old man's house was too far to reach before dark and the trail was too treacherous to travel at
night, but he wanted to put as much distance as he could between them and whomever waited back
at his house. While there was light, they would keep moving.
Coldly, he wondered if whoever was in his house could be the same person who had murdered his
father. His house was torn up just like his father's had been. Could they have been waiting for him
as they had waited for his father? Could it be the same person? Richard wished he could have
confronted him, or at least seen who it was, but something inside him had strongly warned him to
get away.
He gave himself a mental shake. He was letting his imagination have too free a rein. Of course
something inside had warned him of danger, warned him to get away. He had already gotten away
with his life when he shouldn't have once this day. It was foolish to trust in luck once; twice was
arrogance of the worst kind. It was best to walk away.
Still, he wished he could have seen who it was, been sure there was no connection. Why would
someone tear his house apart, as his father's had been torn apart? What if it was the same person?
He wanted to know who had killed his father. He burned to know.
Even though he had not been allowed to see his father's body at his house, he had wanted to know
how he was killed. Chase had told him, very gently, but he had told him. His father's belly had been
cut open and his guts had been spread out all over the floor. How could anyone do that? Why
would anyone do that? It made him sick and light-headed to think of it again. Richard swallowed
back the lump in his throat.
"Well?" Her voice jolted him out of his thoughts.
"What? Well, what?"
"Well, did you get whatever it was you went to get?"
"So what was it?"
"What was it? It was my backpack. I had to get my backpack."
She turned to face him with both hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. "Richard Cypher, you
expect me to believe you risked your life to get your backpack?"
"Kahlan, you are coming close to getting kicked." He couldn't manage a smile.

Her head was cocked to the side, and she continued to give him a sideways look, but his remark
had taken the fire out of her. "Fair enough, my friend," she said gently, "fair enough."
He could tell Kahlan was a person who was used to getting answers when she asked a question.
-|---As the light faded and colors muted into grayness, Richard started thinking of places to spend the
night. He knew of several wayward pines along the way that he had used on many occasions. There
was one at the edge of a clearing, just off the trail ahead. He could see the tall tree standing out
against the fading pinks of the sky, standing above all the other trees. He led Kahlan off the trail
toward it
The tooth hanging around his neck nagged at him. His secrets nagged at him. He wished his father
had never made him the keeper of the secret book. A thought that had occurred to him back at his
house, but he had ignored, forced itself to the front of his mind. The books at his house looked like
they had been torn apart in a rage. Maybe because none was the right book. What if it was the
secret book they were looking for? But that was impossible; no one but the true owner even knew
of the book.
And his father . .. and himself . . . and the thing the tooth came from. The thought was too
farfetched to consider, so he decided he wouldn't. He tried very hard not to.
Fear, from what had happened on Blunt Cliff and from what had been waiting for him at his house,
seemed to have sapped his strength. His feet felt almost too heavy to lift as he trudged across the
mossy ground. Just before he went through the brush into the clearing he stopped to swat a fly that
was biting his neck.
Kahlan grabbed his wrist in midswat.
Her other hand clamped over his mouth.
He went rigid.
Looking into his eyes, she shook her head, then released his wrist, putting the hand behind his head
while continuing to keep her other hand over his mouth. By the expression on her face he knew she
was terrified he would make a sound. She slowly lowered him to the ground, and by his
cooperation he let her know he would obey.
Her eyes held him as hard as her hands. Continuing to watch his eyes, she put her face so close to
his he could feel the warmth of her breath on his cheek.
"Listen to me." Her whisper was so low he had to concentrate to hear her. "Do exactly as I say."
The expression on her face made him afraid to blink. "Do not move. No matter what happens do
not move. Or we are dead." She waited. He gave a small nod. "Let the flies bite. Or we are dead."
She waited again. He gave another small nod.

With a flick of her eyes she indicated for him to look across the clearing. He slowly moved his head
just a little so he could see. There was nothing. She kept her hand over his mouth. He heard a few
grunts, like those of a wild boar.
Then he saw it.
He flinched involuntarily. She clamped her hand harder against his mouth.
From across the clearing, fading evening light reflected in two glowing green eyes as their gaze
swept in his direction. It stood on two feet, like a man, and was about a head taller than him. He
guessed it weighed three times as much. Flies bit his neck, but he tried to ignore them.
He looked back to her eyes. She had not looked at the beast; she knew what waited across the
clearing. Instead she continued to watch him, waiting to see if he would react in a way that would
betray them. He nodded again to reassure her. Only then did she remove her hand from his mouth
and put it over his wrist, holding it to the ground. Trickles of blood ran across her neck as she lay
motionless on the soft moss, letting the flies bite. He could feel each sharp sting as they bit his
neck. Grunts cane short and low, and both turned their heads slightly to see.
With astonishing speed, it charged into the center of the clearing, moving in a shuffling, sideways
motion. It grunted as it came. Glowing green eyes searched, while its long tail slowly swished the
air. The beat cocked its head to the side and pricked its short, rounded ears ahead, listening. Fur
covered the great body everywhere except its chest and stomach, which were covered with a
smooth, glossy, pinkish skin that rippled with corded muscles underneath. Flies buzzed around
something smeared over the taut skin. Throwing back its head, the beast opened its mouth, hissing
into the cold night air. Richard could see the hot breath turning to vapor between teeth as big as his
To keep from shrieking in terror, Richard concentrated on the pain of the biting flies. They could
not sneak away, or run; the thing was that close and, he knew, that fast.
A scream erupted from the ground right in front of them, making Richard flinch. Instantly the beast
charged toward the two of them in a sideways run. Kahlan's fingers dug into his wrist, but
otherwise she didn't move. Richard was paralyzed as he saw it pounce.
A rabbit, its ears covered with flies, bolted right in front of them, screaming again, and was swept
up and torn in half in a blink. The front half went down in one swallow. The beast stood right over
them and tore at the insides of the rabbit, taking some of the gore and smearing it on its pinkskinned chest and stomach. The flies, even the ones biting Richard's and Kahlan's necks, returned
to the creature to feast. The rest of the rabbit was taken by each hind leg, ripped in half, and eaten.
When done, the beast cocked its head again, listening. The two of them were right underneath it,
both holding their breath. Richard wanted to scream.

Large wings spread from its back. Against the failing light, Richard could see the veins pulsing
through the thin membranes that were its wings. The beast took one last look around and skittered
sideways across the clearing. It straightened, hopped twice, and flew off, disappearing in the
direction of the boundary. The flies were gone with it.
Both flopped onto their backs, breathing fast, exhausted by the level of fright. Richard thought of
the country people who had told him of things from the sky that ate people. He hadn't believed
them. He believed them now.
Something in his pack was poking him in the back, and when he could stand it no longer, he rolled
onto his side, propping himself up on one elbow. He was drenched in sweat, and it now felt like ice
in the cold evening air. Kahlan still lay on her back with her eyes closed, breathing rapidly. A few
strands of her hair stuck to her face, but most of it flowed out over the ground.
Sweat covered her, too; around her neck it was tinted red. He felt 1
an overwhelming sense of sadness for her, for the terrors in her life. He wished she didn't have to
face the monsters she seemed
to know all too well.
"Kahlan, what was that thing?"
She sat up, taking a deep breath as she looked down at him.
Her hand came up and hooked some of her hair behind her ear;;
the rest fell forward over her shoulders.
"It was a long-tailed gar."
Reaching out, she picked up one of the biting flies by its wings. Somehow it must have gotten
caught in a fold of his shirt and was smashed when he flopped onto his back.
"This is a blood fly. Gars use them to hunt. The flies flush out the quarry, the gar grabs it. They
smear some on themselves, for the flies. We are very lucky." She held the blood fly right in front of
his nose to make her point. "Long-tailed gars are stupid. If it had been a short-tailed gar, we would
be dead right now. Shorttail gars are bigger, and a lot smarter." She paused to make sure she had his
full attention. "They count their flies."
He was frightened, exhausted, confused, and in pain. He wanted this nightmare to end. With a
moan of frustration he sagged back down onto his back, not caring anymore about whatever it was
that was poking him.
"Kahlan, I'm your friend. After those men attacked us, and you didn't want to tell me more about
what is going on, I didn't press you." His eyes were closed. He couldn't bear the scrutiny of her

eyes. "Now someone is after me, too. For all I know, it could be the same person who murdered my
father. It's not just you anymore; I can't go home either. I think I have a right to know at least some
of what's going on. I'm your friend, not your enemy.
"Once, when I was little, I got a fever and almost died. Zedd found a root that saved me. Until
today, that was the only time I've ever been close to death. Today I was close three times. What do
I . . ."
Her fingertips touched his lips to silence him.
"You're right. I will answer your questions. Except about me. For now, I cannot."
He sat up and looked at her. She was starting to shake with cold. Shrugging the straps of the pack
off his shoulders, he pulled a blanket out and wrapped it around her.
"You promised me a fire," she said as she shivered. "Is it a promise you intend to keep?"
He couldn't help but to laugh as he got to his feet. "Sure. There's a wayward pine right over there on
the other side of the clearing. Or if you want there are others up the trail a little way."
She looked up and give him a worried frown.
"Right," he smiled, "we'll find another wayward pine up the trail."
"What is a wayward pine?" she asked

RICHARD HELD BACK THE boughs of the tree. "This is a wayward pine," he announced.
"Friend to any traveler."
It was dark inside. Kahlan held the boughs aside so he could see by the moonlight to strike steel to
flint and start a fire. Clouds scudded across the moon, and they could see their breath in the cold
air. Richard had stayed here before on trips to and from Zedd's, and had made a small fire pit of
stones. There was dry wood and to the far side a stack of dry grass he had used for bedding. Since
he didn't have his knife he was thankful he had left a supply of tinder. The fire was quickly started,
filling the interior of the tree's skirt with flickering light.
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. The smoke from the small fire curled up the center, near the trunk. The needles grew so
thick that even in a good rain it remained dry inside. 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.

Now he was especially glad for its concealing shelter. 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.
Kahlan sat herself down cross-legged in front of the fire. She was still shivering and kept the
blanket over her head formed into a hood, and held tightly up around her chin.
"I never heard of wayward pines before. I am not used to staying