Rhiannon walked away from the ruined Mayan temple where she and Kendal had been hiding. Her posture was rigid; if she had relaxed she would not have been able to take two steps away from the ruins and she needed some space.
A path led down through the jungle to a series of pools and waterfalls which fell into the village below. Quetzalcoatl had told her that only the locals knew of this place and so some village men had carried Kendal up through the jungle to the safety of the hidden haven. She didn’t stop walking until she reached the second pool. She lowered herself to a large flat boulder, worn smooth by the weather, at the water’s edge. As soon as she sat down she started to shake. A reaction, she supposed, not from the argument with Kendal but from the whole situation. As she sat staring out over the secret paradise she allowed herself to fall apart. Hot, scalding tears trickled down her face before dropping to her hands. She relived it all – Father Raoul’s body crumpling to the floor and cradling Philippe’s blood stained body in her arms. Seeing his blood on her hands and pooled on the floor.
“Why, God? Why did they have to die? Why?” she screamed out loud, her words echoing across the water, causing the birds to be startled and take flight.
“Why, why, why?” She rolled on to her side and brought her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around herself as grief overwhelmed her. Tremors shook her body and tears fell for many minutes but eventually, like all crying fits, it stopped in slow shuddering breaths until it subsided.
Drained, she struggled upright and focused on the placid scene, breathing in the clean air. The tears wouldn’t be the last, in fact, they were probably just the beginning, but she told herself that was good – healthy. A counsellor would say it showed a willingness to deal with her problems.
“Your tears, were they cleansing, senorita?”
She looked up at Quetzalcoatl.
“Strangely, yes. This place, it is beautifully calming. It is so untouched.”
“The Spanish, they called this place El Lugar Perfecto. And it is, no?”
“Yes, but what do your people call it?” She peered back at the ruined temple peeking out above the trees.
“These are Ixchel’s Falls.”
“She is the Mayan goddess of love. The falls and temple were built in her honor. The people of my tribe have had their unions blessed here for many years.”
“It makes sense to me that a place of such beauty and serenity should be associated with love.”
“Yes. Now tell me, how is our patient today?”
“Awake – better, the fever has broken along with his temper.”
“Yes, he is angry that I did not leave him in the jungle and get myself to safety. It was what he ordered me to. As a soldier, he’s big on orders.”
“So he realised he was sick?”
“Yes. A plan was in place to get me out of Colombia and I ignored it. I’m not a soldier, I can’t treat death like he does. I couldn’t just leave him to die. Why can’t the stubborn man accept this?”
“Maybe he will when the stubborn woman accepts that he was thinking of her,” Quetzalcoatl said with a smile.
Rhiannon went to speak but, before she could, Patecatl appeared.
“Ah, here is the doctor. Why don’t you stay here a little longer, while we go and see how the patient is?”
Rhiannon looked around the pool.
“Yes, perhaps I will.”
Porter lay mulling over the fight he’d had with Rhiannon. She was right on one score: he couldn’t have followed her, he was too weak – God, how he detested being this useless. He hated that he couldn’t go after her and apologise. The moment the words were out of his mouth he’d regretted them. They were crass. She would have known better than anybody what would happen to the villagers if they defied Cortez. And worse, he knew she’d locked up her emotions, doing what she needed, to just to get through each day. His words had no doubt been the key to their opening but it shouldn’t be happening alone. Guilt washed over him and pain burned in his stomach that had nothing to do with his injuries.
He tensed: he could hear the sounds of people approaching – talking in a strange language. Damn he was vulnerable – who the hell was it? Logically, he guessed they were villagers; they were making too much noise to be Cortez’ men. Even rationalizing that didn’t stop him looking for any kind of weapon. Stupid, really - he hadn’t the energy to lift his arms let alone defend himself.