The Knights were gathered in a circle-like formation around the bonfire. At the center sat T.D. with Serenity and Julie on either side of her. To the left of Serenity sat her younger sister Selena who as always was at the side of her best friend Celeste while on Julie’s right were her cousin Cara, Emma O’Neil and Rose McAden.
When they noticed Kahlan and Terra’s presence all eight girls rose to their feet in unison. The gesture, as simple as it was, deeply touched and humbled Kahlan almost to tears. Light from the flames danced across the faces of her teammates as one by one they seemed to nod at her in turn. Kahlan reached down and gave Terra’s hand a squeeze of encouragement.
She led her cousin over to the navy blue fold up chair beside Celeste as she lowered herself in to the one immediately on the right, putting herself between Terra and Rose thus closing the circle. It may have been formed in traditional round robin fashion, but thetriumvirateseated at the head was unmistakable as was the fact that T.D. was the undisputed center. It wasn’t until the head captain sat back down that the rest of the Knights followed
“Hey guys.” Kahlan said and looked around the circle.
T.D. grinned, her white teeth flashing in the firelight. Her long chestnut brown hair had been tied in a low ponytail that hung daintily over one of her shoulders. “It’s good to have you back with us.”
The other girls murmured in agreement. Kahlan took notice of the change that had fallen over her teammates. Julie and Cara, who often bickered with one another, were sitting side by side while the Carey sisters seemed just as close. The sorority the team had formed over their long years together had always been tightly bonded, but now it seemed even stronger after they all had suffered the bitter taste of Tory’s loss.
Across the yard Kahlan’s eyes caught gaze of two faces watching through the kitchen window. Laila and Anna stood side by side with their heads nearly touching, their hands most likely entwined. Kahlan couldn’t help but smile when she saw them. They’d been her first fight: when some horrid boy in school had dared to make an offensive comment towards her elder sister, Kahlan had returned words with fists. It had earned her a week’s detention, but Kahlan had claimed it was worth it to see the idiot’s fat lip day after day for almost a month.
“How’s our record now?” Kahlan asked. She looked to her left. “Em have you been in net?”
Emma O’Neil nodded. She was another dark haired Barrows resident with mid-length ebony brown hair often held back by two braids. Emma was powerfully built, almost brawny, and possessed hard, chocolate brown eyes that never seemed to soften and a square set jaw. She was a smart player, not nearly as fast as Tory has been, but the best substitute the Knights could offer.
“We’ve still been winning.” T.D. answered Kahlan’s first question. “And we’re going to keep winning.”
There was so much conviction in her voice that Kahlan believed the older girl wholeheartedly. She knew undoubtedly that it had been T.D.’s strength as a leader that had always kept the team as strong as it was, and that she wouldn’t let their resolve ever break, no matter how badly it was shaken.
Kahlan thought back to a few weeks ago about what she had said at practice to Marissa Blackwater. There was just something about T.D. and the way her mere presence instilled not just loyalty and obedience, but the love of her teammates that made her the leader neither Blackwater cousins could never be. It was what set the Valhalla Knights apart from the Rams.
“Tory would be pissed to all Hell if we didn’t.” Kahlan noted. There was a sudden collective intake of breathe. Everyone seemed to be looking from Kahlan to Terra. “It’s alright.” Kahlan said, after a confirming nod from her cousin. “Tory’s gone…” She swallowed a hard lump in her throat but kept herself composed. “But that doesn’t mean we have to pretend she never existed.”
“Have the police figured out who… Ouch!” Celeste rubbed the back of her hand where Serenity had reached over and sharply slapped her.
Kahlan could almost hear Tory’s voice chuckling.
“No, odds are they won’t learn the shooter’s name. And even though nearly twenty of us heard Marissa directly threaten Tory's life, by someone else's hand notwithstanding...it didn't matter. It's technically hearsay, not credible enough for an arrest, especially since any Blackwater who was there in denying anything was said.” She stared at the flames for a few moments before adding, “And no Blackwaters seem to be taking credit. Barrows justice...the cops don't care what happens to us.”
Julie looked at Cara. “We haven’t heard much from the line…but it seems like no one overthereeven knows for sure who did it…if one of them did do it.”
“There’s only one person responsible, even if she wasn’t the one to pull the trigger. It’s Marissa Blackwater who’s going to be the one to pay.” Terra said firmly.
The others looked at Terra, shocked. They’d all grown up with loud, quick tempered Tory and had come to know Terra to be her twin’s foil and so none of them, even Kahlan expected those words to come from her mouth. Even Terra seemed to be awed by her own declaration.
‘She’s not hard like the rest of us. Keep her that way.’Tory’s words echoed through Kahlan’s mind. She reached over and laid a hand on Terra’s knee, a gentle wordless exchange passing between the cousins as it so often had between Kahlan and Tory.
The taboo on Tory’s name cleared, the Knights seemed to finally relax. Celeste passed long wooden skewers around the fire pit which was followed by a large bag of thick white marshmallows. Likewise, the Fields cousins produced two twelve packs of Bud Light that was distributed amongst the circle. The ten gathered girls drank, talked and joked amongst themselves for hours and gorged themselves on smores long after the fire faded to only dimly glowing embers.
They trooped from the far back corner of the yard in to the house, bleary eyed and exhausted. Anna and Laila both had fallen asleep on the couch, a DVD menu screen looping repeatedly, ignored. All ten girls filed down to Celeste’s refinished basement where five air mattresses had already been inflated for the occasion, plus a large couch that could fit two comfortable (three if someone scrunched up in a ball all night) were set up.
Kahlan made herself snug on the large pale green air mattress beside Terra. She slid two painkillers under her tongue and swallowed. Almost miraculously the eruption of pain that had been steadily clawing its way through the sinews of her leg was abated. Terra rested her head in the crook of Kahlan’s shoulder, her strawberry blonde hair swept like a veil across half of Terra’s face and every time she exhaled her breath would send a small lock fluttering.
“I’m not going to hurt you, am I?” Terra asked. Her voice was drowsy as she edged closer and closer in to falling asleep. She was cuddled up to Kahlan for warmth, pressed against the softness of her cousin's body like a puppy.
“Nah, my stitches are all on the other side.” Kahlan reassured her cousin. She thought of Terra’s declaration at the campfire and added, “That’s the best part of you Terra: you could never hurt anyone.”
Kahlan sat up and retrieved Tory’s lighter once more from her pocket. Everyone else seemed distracted as they got themselves ready for bed so she flicked the flint wheel a final time. The wick instantly caught, a small bright flame burned bright. Kahlan was so shocked she nearly dropped the lighter right on to the carpet. The flame was so hot that the fire was blue-green, the color of the O’Rourke eyes.
Why now did it suddenly spring back to life? Had the wheel just been jammed and her constant trying had finally just jiggled it loose again? Kahlan waited for the feeling in her stomach to come again, the rush through her body that signaled what was about to occur. But it didn’t come, and nor did the apparition that followed.
‘Terra saw you too Tory, did you know she would? Have you been visiting your twin too, making her think she was insane like me?’
But there was no response. Kahlan was as equal parts disappointed as she was relieved. Snapping the lighter closed she lay back on the air mattress down and did her best not to jostle Terra who was already softly snoring. Around the room the other girls were settling in, ready to sleep as well. Celeste and Selena had managed to claim the couch while Serenity, T.D. and Rose had both brought their own sleeping bags and were zipped up like cocoons. Everyone else claimed a one of the four remaining single person inflatable mattresses.
The little digital numbers blinking off the DVD player read that it was already almost two in the morning. A yawn escaped her throat. The weight of Terra’s head pressing against her shoulder was a comfort to Kahlan, an added reassurance that they were both alive and for tonight at least, safe.
“Goodnight Terra.” Kahlan’s voice was barely audible through the hushed silence that had descended over the room. Terra’s wayward hair was tickling her nose but she chose to ignore it. “Aisling milis.” Kahlan gently leaned in closer. “She loved you, you know.” Her voice was struggling not to crack. "She was never one to say things like that, but she did. She always said that any good she had inside of her, every shred of decency, it was thanks to you.” Tears welled in Kahlan’s eyes. She look over to where T.D. was laid out. “You're more a Storm than an O'Rourke...just like your Mum.And your sister doesn’t want you to be angry. She doesn’t want you to know how she always felt.”
For a moment Kahlan thought Terra had already fallen asleep. But suddenly she felt her cousin shift, and with a voice soft as a feather whisper, “Thank you.”