Kahlan strapped on her shoulder pads with the same solemnity as she would have armor. Next she firmly clamped the elbow pads around the middle of her arms before pulling on her thick shin pads. Her black hockey pants slid over those, then the thick woolen black and crimson socks. Kahlan shimmied herself in to her Valhalla Knights jersey before taking a seat on the locker room bench to squeeze her feet in to her hockey skates.
Her eyelids were heavy, limbs barely awake at eight thirty in the morning. She’d downed a large iced coffee from Dunkin on the way to practice, but it yet to kick in and serve its purpose. Ever conscious of the phantom throb in her knee, Kahlan reached down and gently trailed the tips of her fingers over the dark nylon material. After five months the wound had long since healed in to a pale scar that spider webbed over the skin of her right knee.
She reached around and braided back her hair, bit down on her mouth guard and tucked her helmet under her arm as she made her way towards the ice. Her first handful of laps was at a lazier pace, pushing her legs just hard enough to get the blood flowing. And then she picked up speed: for the next half hour Kahlan pushed herself to go faster and stronger until the collar of her jersey was drenched with sweat.
Next she tipped over an egg crate that she had filled with dozens of rubber pucks. If there was one thing Kahlan was proud of, it was the power she could put behind her hits. There was nothing more satisfying then the explosion as she sent puck after puck crashing in to the back of the net, the tremor that rang through the air of the otherwise silent rink.
“You’re getting a lot more accurate.” Tory glided across the ice, graceful and lithe like a beam of light. She circled in front of Kahlan and smirked. “Though I probably could have blocked all those.” She winked.
“Probably.” Kahlan admitted. “No matter how hard I train…” She fired another slap shot in to the upper right corner of the net. “I don’t think I’ll ever be as fast as you.” Kahlan paused and looked her cousin up and down. “Especially not now.”
Tory’s form seemed to shimmer is the low lighting. “I wasn’t called the Tasmanian devil for nothing cousin.” She noted and kicked a nearby puck across the ice. Tory’s eyes followed the puck as it skidded to a stop. “Do you know the worst part is Kahlan?”
“Not being able to stuff yourself with fast food?”
“Funny.” Tory said dryly. “No…it’s that I don’t even get to know who killed me.” She frowned. “You’d think…I don’t know, that maybe once you’re gone you’d at least get that little bit of closure.”
“It’s like Terra said: in the end it doesn’t matter who actually pulled the trigger…Marissa Blackwater is the one I hold responsible for this.”
“Oh dear cousin, I’d hate to be your enemy.” Tory shivered. “I know I should be upset that my death is the cause for all this hatred…all this vengeance eating away at your soul…and I am. I’m sorry that I am the cause, but I wouldn’t be honest with you if I told you I didn’t want you to avenge me.” Tory’s form seemed to darken. “If it was you or Terra, I’d rip her throat out myself.”
“Mydear cousin…would if I could; I have something far worse planned.” Kahlan sent the last spun spinning wildly upwards towards the glass paneling that lined the walls of the rink, separating stands from ice, crowd from players. “Death spare me over.” Her teeth gritted against the mouth guard violently. “And I’ll see it done.”
Tory reached out and touched Kahlan’s bare cheek. The tips of her fingers felt freezing to Kahlan; like a trail of frostbite followed wherever Tory’s fingers brushed. She leaned in rested her forehead against Kahlan’s, ash blonde hair settling against inky black. “Thank you.”
“You’re my best friend.” Kahlan told her. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to give you peace.” Her eyes misted. “Even if it means you leave me.” She fiddled with the hockey stick clasped in her gloved hands and cast her gaze around the empty rink. “Do you remember the first time we ever skated here?” She asked. “Our mothers wanted us to learn the basics of skating.”
“But we had as much grace as an elephant.”
“But we had a lot of speed.”
“A whole lot of power too.”
“And we weren’t that bad a pair of skaters.”
“Not that bad?” Tory grinned like a fool. She reached up and tucked her long hair back behind her ears. Her bright eyes shimmered. “We were naturals.”
“Our fathers said we were born to play hockey.”
“And our mother’s were furious!”
The pair leaned against one another as they laughed. Kahlan laughed so hard that her side began to stitch. But hers was the only voice that bounced off the walls. Kahlan’s lips pressed together in to a tight smile as she nodded. “They were, weren’t they?” Kahlan gave a happy sigh.
Tory sat down on the ice, unbothered by the wet cold. “Who would’ve thought…” She ran her hand across the glassy surface forlornly. “I always thought I’d teach my kid to skate.” She said. Her voice started to break. “I really wanted that, to get to watch a little small version of me crashing in to the boards with a little version of you picking her back up,taobh le taobh.” She wiped her eyes. “Goideadh i bhfad.”
“Bhí sé a aisíoc.” Kahlan promised. “I’ve told you already: This isn’t over. We have a score to settle.”
“The lion and the kelpie.” Tory mused.
“I’m only half a lion.” Kahlan playfully tapped Tory with the end of her hockey stick. “The McDara sigil is an oak tree.”
“That wouldn’t make a very good battle.” Tory snickered. “But now all I can picture are the Ents from Lord of the Rings throwing black horses around.”
Kahlan skated around Tory and rounded up the rouge pucks she had sent bouncing off the walls. She had to get moving: she had physical therapy for her leg and hip that still weren’t up to par, at least not by her standards they won’t.
“I have to go.” She said reluctantly. But when Kahlan turned around she was greeted by only empty space. “I’m crazy.” She said aloud, maybe for the thousandth time in the last five months. “At least I’m in good company.”
Kahlan finished cleaning the ice and stripped off her equipment. She stunk of sweat, the neckline of her jersey positively drenched in it. Twisting the tabs for the locker room shower, the hot water instantly caused the room to fill with a heavy mist of steam. Kahlan shucked off the rest of her clothes and stepped under the scalding spray, letting the hot water relax the tenseness in the muscles of her shoulders.
The now-healed injuries Kahlan had sustained the day Tory had died by her side, hadn’t been the only changes to the McDara girl’s body. There was hardly any softness left to Kahlan’s limbs, but instead had been replaced over nearly half a year of hard training by rock hard muscle. As slender as she still was, there was no doubting the new lethalness Kahlan had developed: her skating was faster, her hits harder and she was slowly making strides to becoming as formidable as Serenity was on defense.
Rolling her shoulders, feeling the now too familiar popping sensation in the right one, Kahlan shuddered as her upper body loosened. She raked her fingers through the soaking wet locks of long black hair, massaging her scalp while running the sweet smelling lather of shampoo evenly through the stands. Once thoroughly clean she toweled off and changed back in to civilian clothing, tossing everything in to her large duffle bag and adjusting it over her shoulder.
As she reached for the handle the door to the locker room suddenly swung open. Kahlan jumped back a bit in surprise and took a small step to the side to make room. She heard a gasp, followed by a poorly disguised strangled groan that caused her to look up.
Kahlan’s eyes instantly hardened like jagged aquamarine stones cut fresh from the mountainside. It took all her self control to keep every carnal instinct she possessed somewhere inside her erupted all at once. Carynn Blackwater stared at her for a moment, her eyes wide, mouth formed in to a startled little ‘o’.
“Excuse me.” Kahlan muttered and tried to step around Carynn.
They hadn’t spoken since that day in March…when Carynn had stood by her cousin’s side and witnessed Marissa issue the threat that a week later was followed by Tory dying in the ICU. Recovering from her small shock, Carynn moved out of her way. The air was thick with tension, an unspoken danger hovering in the space between the girls, threatening to strike like a bolt of lightning if even so much as their clothing accidently brushed.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” Carynn suddenly asked. “That night, I know you saw me. I thought you were going to kill me, but you didn’t even flinch.” She laughed sourly, almost sadly. “I was on your side…I was ‘fair game’. You had every right, every opportunity.”
Kahlan thought for a moment, her back still facing Carynn as she made her way towards the exit door. Cautiously she turned. When she spoke her voice was level, calm. “Because Blackwater, what would be the fun in killing you with no one else to see?”
Carynn sucked in a harsh breath. Her eyes searched the McDara girl’s face but found no sign of jest or threat: only promise.
“We were friends once.” Carynn reminded her.
“A long time ago.” Kahlan agreed. “But then you decided you couldn’t be both, that and a Blackwater.” Kahlan resumed her pace and headed out the door. “We’ve both made our choices.”
When Kahlan pulled in to Aria’s driveway after meeting with her physical therapist, it was her brother-in-law Murphy who answered the front door. He was wearing a pair of faded pale blue jeans and a plain white t-shirt with his feet bare. Murphy’s dark brown hair was cropped short and his face was starting to show a dark shade of stumble around his chin and midway up his cheeks.
“Hey!” Murphy greeted Kahlan warmly and nearly lifted her right off the ground as he wrapped her arms around her and gave her a fond, tight squeeze. “Good to see you Kay!” He set her back down. “Aria is in the living room lying down.”
Aria was resting in one of the large beige recliners in the living room, hands resting across her ballooned stomach. With her due date less than a month away, most everyone wouldn’t let Aria lift so much as a finger. “Don’t you dare get up.” Kahlan teased when Aria sat forward to greet her. She placed a quick kiss on Aria’s forehead and knelt down beside the recliner and placed her hands on her sister’s belly. “Good morning little one.” She cooed. “I’ll see you soon.”
“I only have a few more weeks left.” Aria agreed and rubbed her stomach lovingly. “How was physical therapy this morning?” She asked. “Was he angry that you were skating this morning?”
“I didn’t tell him.” Kahlan admitted and stood back up. “Besides, I’m just skating and shooting.” She plopped down on the couch.
“You’re definitely not the little beanpole you were last time I saw you.” Murphy commented as he rounded the corner with two steaming mugs of tea. He gave one to Aria and offered the second to Kahlan. “I hardly recognized you last week when I saw you for the first time.” He took a seat on the couch next to Kahlan. “I wouldn’t want to tangle with you on the ice.”
From the recliner Aria shifted uncomfortably as the baby delivered a series of sharp kicks. Kahlan wouldn’t have been surprised if her nephew decided he was going to arrive a week or two early. Still, despite suffering the occasional discomfort, Kahlan thought that this was the happiest she had ever seen her eldest sister.
“Have you decided on a name yet?” Kahlan pressed.
Murphy and Aria exchanged glances. “I think it’s safe to tell Kahlan.” Her sister said. “But only if you promise us that you won’t let any of the others know; not even Laila and Arella.”
Kahlan leaned forward eagerly. “I won’t breathe a word of it, not even to Nym.” Her chest tightened with excitement. ‘Well…’ She thought. ‘Someone else will know…but she can’t say anything.’
Aria grinned and gave her stomach another affectionate pat. “We decided to call him Arthur.” She said at last. “Arthur O’Connor.”
The sound of finally hearing her nephew’s name brought more joy to Kahlan than she thought it would. There was something solemn in it, something definite about knowing his name: Arthur. For the last eight months it hadn’t seemed real to her that soon another would soon the already large McDara clan. And five months ago, it had seemed impossible that life could ever be good again.
“Arthur.” Kahlan tested the name out loud. With her right thumb she slowly drew circles around her left wrist. There was fresh ink there, the outline of the Celtic triskele barely the size of a silver dollar. Long had she toyed with the idea of getting the triquetra design, but in the end knew that it was Tory’s symbol, not hers. "It's perfect."
Aria grinned and then looked at Murphy who gave another nod. "Listen Kay, I have something we both want to ask you. A big favor actually." She leaned foreward as much as her belly allowed and rested her fingers on her sister's hand. "Will you be his godmother?"
Kahlan nodded. "I'd be honored."