chapter fourteen

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Chapter Fourteen

The little man spoke rapidly as he examined Kendal. The dialect was one Rhiannon didn’t understand but the hands that moved over the SAS man’s abdomen and flank seemed confident which was reassuring. What was he – a shaman, medicine man, witch doctor? It didn’t matter what he was called, he was Kendal’s best chance.

Leave me, he’d said – carry on alone. It was easy for him to issue that order but impossible for her to follow it. She managed fifteen paces before she turned back. How she’d moved him after he collapsed she’d never know but she had managed to drag his prostrate body so that he was sheltered. It was as though she had been suddenly gifted with superhuman strength. Equally amazing was that she’d had the presence of mind to mark the trail so she could lead help back to him. She’d used the knife he’d killed the guard with to carve notches in the trees. To begin with, her hands had shook at the memory of his calmly cleaning the blood from its blade but before long she’d pushed the image aside as she walked on through the rain forest.

Above all though, she’d been lucky. Half an hour after she walked away from him, she’d stumbled into the village. Native children had run to greet her, their smiles wide and their eyes shining with curiosity. Chattering, in the same language as the man now tending Kendal, they’d taken her hand and led her to the village headman. Fortune had been with her again – the headman spoke Spanish. She’d explained that her companion had collapsed and he’d sent some men to carry Kendal back to the village while another villager went to fetch the medicine man.

It was the headman’s voice that brought her out of her thoughts.

“Senorita, your friend, he is very sick. He has been shot twice.”

“Twice!”

“Yes, here and here.” He pointed to the entry holes. “But, there is only one exit hole.”

“So there is a bullet still inside causing the problem?”

“Well, yes and no. The bullet is still in there but Patecatl believes a piece of cloth from the shirt has ripped off and entered the abdomen. That is what’s causing the infection. But tell me, you knew he’d been shot? Does it also follow that you know by whom?”

Rhiannon studied the old man. What had he said his name was? Quetzalcoatl? If she told him the truth, would he turn them out, abandon them to their fate? She thought about being evasive but if the villagers sheltered them it was possible that it could lead to repercussions for them, especially if Cortez found out. She couldn’t lie and place the village in danger. Any decision to help them had to be based on the truth.

“Senor Kendal is a British soldier. He was sent to rescue me. I’m a British aid worker and I was kidnapped from a village I was working in. I witnessed the murder of a young priest and child. The men worked for a drug lord – Sebastian Cortez.” Rhiannon watched the man closely. Did the name scare him, she wondered?

“A dangerous man to have as enemy, senorita.”

“You are right, of course, and I’m not unaware of the danger that our presence poses to the village.”

Quetzalcoatl nodded. “And not just from Cortez. If this soldier dies, will the British hold the village responsible?”

Rhiannon didn’t even want to think of that.

“No, I would make them understand.”

The old man closed his eyes and thought for a moment or two.

“I will have to speak to the village elders; this is not a decision I can make alone.”

“I understand.”

One of the women stepped forward with a slight bow and held out a bowl.

“In the meantime, eat.”

Rhiannon looked at the bowl of steaming food, about to refuse – she wasn’t hungry in the slightest.

“Senorita Rhiannon, whether we agree to help or not, you will be no use to the senor if you collapse.”

“No, you’re right, and thank you, it smells delicious.” Rhiannon smiled at the woman.

“Good. Now, I will leave you. I must talk to the other men.” Quetzalcoatl stood slowly.

“Whatever you decide, I thank you for your kindness,” Rhiannon said as she lowered her head in a slight bow of acknowledgement.

********

They let them stay. Night had fallen but Rhiannon couldn’t sleep. Kendal was still seriously ill. His skin remained the colour of putty but was less clammy and he was not so deathly quiet. Now he mumbled and occasionally thrashed about – was that good or bad? She wasn’t sure.

The medicine man, Patecatl, had removed the bullet and cloth from the wound. She’d been worried at first, but, despite the crudeness of the instruments and primitive surroundings, Patecatl seemed competent. When she asked about antiseptics and anaesthetics, he had just smiled and Quetzalcoatl had explained that not all the drugs that came out of Columbia were bad.

She’d held Kendal’s hand during the operation. It was nothing and yet everything; a small gesture that let him know she was there and, at a time when she was not needed, it gave her a role, a purpose. It hadn’t taken long to remove the bullet and cloth and once they were, a group of men had moved Kendal away from the village to a place of safety. Patecatl had stayed for a while, checking his patient was stable. Satisfied he’d come through the operation successfully, he’d left an hour ago, saying he would return at first light.

And so here she was, completely alone with him, unable to sleep, scared that if she did she’d wake to find him dead. She softly placed a hand over his brow: hot. She dipped a cloth into a bucket of cool water and gently bathed his heated skin, concentrating on his brow, chest and arms. Slowly and repeatedly she ran the damp cloth down from his shoulder to his fingertips, before turning his hand palm up and repeating the process from hand to shoulder, all the time murmuring soothing words 0f comfort.

A lock of dark hair had fallen over his brow, black as a raven’s wing. She soothed it back, noticing that his long, sooty eye lashes fanned out against the dark circles beneath his closed eyes. Once again she was struck by the familiarity of his bone structure but, try as she might, she couldn’t think why that was.

As his body cooled under her ministrations, his mumbling became more coherent; the names he spoke could be made out even if they meant nothing to her. At times he seemed tormented by them – As’ad, Steve, Katie – thrashing about wildly, only calming under her touch. It frightened her to see him so disturbed.

For three days he drifted in a semi-conscious state, hovering between peace and delirium – plagued by nightmares. It was on the third day that she finally realised why he seemed so familiar. She was lying at his side dozing when he’d woken her, thrashing around. As she had done every time he’d been distressed, she moved to calm him down. This time it was different though. His eyes flew open. She’d never witnessed such pain and despair.

“Have to tell Alex… make her see that I didn’t do it.”

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