Quetzalcoatl watched as Kendal held out his hand to assist Senorita Rhiannon over the stones by the upper falls. Did they realise, he wondered, that Ixchel was working her magic? The two weeks of Kendal’s recovery were almost complete. His wounds had healed well and his strength returned daily. He would soon be well enough to leave. The young couple might deny it, but they had grown close during these past days, closer than hostage and rescuer should have become and closer, no doubt, than Kendal would have intended. It was Ixchel’s doing, of that Quetzalcoatl was certain; she had a way of sowing the seeds of attraction and fanning the flames, so to speak.
At times, he’d heard laughter as he approached the ruins, carefree as if they had both forgotten the terrible events that had brought them to Ixchel’s temple. The laughter stopped when they saw him and he sensed they felt guilty as if he’d caught them doing something they shouldn’t.
“You are back in familiar territory, are you not, senor?” Quetzalcoatl said as Kendal walked towards him.
“I don’t understand?”
“Being the protector; you are like our god, Nohochacyum, watching over her and protecting her from evil.”
“Is that what I’m doing? I thought I was just helping her over some slippery rocks.”
“So you were, but your eyes watch her all the time. Despite your protests, you care about her.”
“Of course I care. Her father expects her back in one piece.”
“So it is just a job to you, protecting Senorita Rhiannon?”
“Yes, it’s just my job.”
“Oh, senor, your tongue may lie but your eyes – no, they never could. Ixchel, she will have noticed.”
“Rhiannon is the one intrigued by your goddess.”
“You should not dismiss her so easily.”
“Oh, I don’t. As a soldier who has served all over the world, I have a healthy respect for local customs and beliefs.”
“Ah, so it is love you dismiss.”
“Well, I’ve not had much luck in that department. We are going to cook the fish that we just caught. Will you stay and share our food?”
“That is most kind but the villagers will expect me back.”
“They will be eager for an update on my condition. I think that, in another day or two, I will be well enough to leave.”
“That is what I thought. I will make plans to help you get down to the coast.”
“Thank you, I have no way to repay you for what you have done for us.”
“We need no payments – the gods, they will look kindly on us. That is all the payment we need.”
He wasn’t worried – not really. It wasn’t the first time that she’d walked to the falls to freshen up after they’d eaten. It was just tonight, he sensed, she’d - if not run away - at least put some distance between them. The evening could not have been more perfect if they’d eaten in a five star hotel. She’d looked beautiful in the firelight. He’d liked to have told her. Maybe he had. What had Quetzalcoatl said? He couldn’t lie with his eyes? Had she been able to see the attraction he felt but couldn’t speak?
He stood and wandered around the temple. In the dim light, he could barely make out the hieroglyphics carved in the stone. Was Nohochacyum there, taunting him for allowing Rhiannon out of his sight? Had she been longer than she normally was? He couldn’t deny he cared about her. He’d rescued other women but she was different, probably because she had stayed with him when he’d been ill instead of going to safety. His feelings were all tangled up with that selfless act. Unable to settle, he set off towards the falls. He’d reassure himself she was alright and then return to the temple.
He needed his torch to light the path to the falls but he switched it off as he approached the pools. The moon was full and the grotto was bathed in an incandescent light. But it wasn’t the beauty of the night that took his breath away –it was Rhiannon. She was stood in the centre of the water – naked – illuminated by the heavens. In that moment he understood how great painters and sculptors often made their muses their lovers. She was bathing, using what looked like a sponge to cleanse her skin. He watched transfixed as she extended her arm and trailed the sponge over the outer curve of her breast and down her side, powerless to move even though he knew he should.