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A Long Night
It all happened in a matter of seconds, maybe even less than that. Cara spotted the would-be assassin on the rock, heard the arrow leaving the bow, and pushed Kahlan out of the way. It took Kahlan less than an instant to respond, launching her blade from where she was sprawled on the ground to bring the man to his knees.
"He's dead," Kahlan confirmed, bending to assess the masked man. "Let's hope he was alone."
"Well done, Mother Confessor," Cara said, turning slowly to reveal the arrow plunged deep in her shoulder. "If only I had been as swift."
"Cara," Kahlan said, hurriedly standing to examine the wound.
"Just pull it out," Cara said evenly. "The faster the better."
"Pull. Or I'll do it myself." There was menace in the mord'sith's tone and Kahlan knew better than to argue.
Kahlan insisted that Cara at least be seated during the procedure and Cara grudgingly agreed. As gently as possible, Kahlan removed the arrow from Cara's flesh, trying not to do any additional damage in the process.
"It's hardly bleeding," Cara said calmly, pressing her hand to the wound. "I barely need a dressing."
"Unfortunately, that's the least of our problems," Kahlan offered, examining the extracted weapon.
"What do you mean?"
"The arrow was dipped in poison. Smell it." Kahlan held the arrow under Cara's nose for closer inspection. "It's widow's weed," Kahlan said softly.
"And?" Cara asked impatiently, "what is the antidote?"
Kahlan let out a breath. "There isn't one. The best we can do is let it run its course. You're in for a long night."
Cara rolled her eyes, but already she was beginning to feel a strange languor seeping into her limbs, a heaviness that hadn't been there before, and for a brief moment, a slim tendril of anxiety begin to wrap itself around her heart and squeeze. Just as quickly, though, she pushed it away and squared her shoulders.
"Every night takes the same amount of time to pass," she said without emotion.
"Drink this," Kahlan insisted, pressing a water skin into Cara's hands. "Water will help to move the poison through your body. Let's head back to the cave where we rested. We can make camp there tonight."
Cara rolled her eyes, but coalesced to Kahlan's will. Within an hour, they were settled close to the mouth of the cave, safely tucked away for the moment. As Kahlan retuned to camp with full water skins, she noticed that Cara leaned heavily against the stone wall, slick with sweat and breathing heavily.
"How are you?" Kahlan asked quietly, forcing herself not to stare at Cara's trembling hands.
"No worse than after a night at a tavern," Cara replied with false brightness, mopping her brow and accepting the water Kahlan offered.
By nightfall, Cara was curled into a tight ball, alternately shivering and sweating under her blanket, her stomach knotted with cramps. Her breath came in shallow pants and she struggled without success to find her center, an inner calm, to sustain her through the physical agony.
"I wish there was more I could do for you," Kahlan said, wringing out a wet cloth and pressing it to Cara's forehead.
"Don't worry Confessor. I'm not going to die," Cara said haltingly. "Though I almost wish I was."
"Hold on, Cara," Kahlan said, trying to sound confident and calm and almost succeeding.
Cara nodded, squeezing her eyes tightly shut.
Kahlan sat close to Cara throughout the night, watching her drift in and out of fitful sleep, helping her to gulp down mouthfuls of water. When Kahlan stirred to stoke their small fire she felt Cara's hand come to rest on hers.
"Where are you going?" Cara asked, barely audibly.
"Just putting wood on the fire," Kahlan said, brushing back the damp strands of hair clinging to Cara's brow. "I thought you were asleep."
Cara struggled to focus her gaze on the confessor's face. "Don't leave," she said weakly.
Kahlan squeezed Cara's hand, and reclined next to her, stretching out on the bedroll so they faced each other. "Close your eyes and try to rest. When you wake up in the morning I'll be right here."
"Don't you mean if I wake up?"
"No. I don't."
"I always thought I would die in battle. Not whimpering under a blanket like a child," Cara managed.
"You're not going to die. You said so yourself. Besides, I won't allow it."
"Fortunate for me that your power knows no bounds," Cara said, clenching her jaw against the waves of pain that wracked her body.
"Shhhhh. I've got you," Kahlan said, drawing the other woman into her embrace, gently fitting Cara against her and rubbing her hand down the length of Cara's back.
"Kahlan," Cara whispered, resting her head on the other woman's shoulder. "Don't let go."
"I promise," Kahlan vowed, leaning back far enough for Cara to look into her eyes. "You either."
The night wore on and Cara writhed in Kahlan's arms as the poison slowly worked its way through her system. Kahlan held on helplessly, whispering reassurances and praying for the morning, certain that if Cara could get through the night she would survive. Then, just as the first red streaks of dawn finally began to paint the sky, Kahlan felt Cara's restless stirrings slow and then cease in her arms.
"Cara, it's morning," Kahlan said. But there was no response.
She pressed her lips to the other woman's brow and found it cool to the touch, and fear seized her heart.
"Cara?" she asked urgently, pulling back to look at the pale mask of Cara's face.
For several endless moments, there was only silence and stillness. Then, at last, the weary sea green eyes fluttered open.
"You're still here," Cara mumbled.
"Yes. And so are you," Kahlan breathed, her eyes stinging with unshed tears.
"It would appear."
"How do you feel?"
Though she still ached all over, and felt so desperately weak that she couldn't hold up her head, Cara could tell that the worst of the ordeal was definitely over. She blinked slowly up at Kahlan, seeing the swirl of concern and fear and affection in her clear blue eyes, and smiled.
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