Exclusive excerpt from Eternal Secrets
From Chapter Five of 'ETERNAL SECRETS'
Rayne was making her sit on a wooden bench, but Divania was hardly aware of it. He was talking to her in a smooth calm manner, but she couldn't bring herself to pay attention to his words.
The lights were too bright and hurting her eyes. The back of her head throbbed, and she felt a painful tightening sensation behind her eyes. Her mouth was dry and her throat was parched.
Her skin felt prickly and strange to her. When a drop of icy cold rain fell on her arm, she could only stare at it, open-mouthed.
"It's starting to rain," Rayne said and then gently touched her arm. "You're freezing."
He removed his coat and put it over her shoulders. He was talking to her again, but all her thoughts were concentrated on Saul.
He knew who she was and he was alive to tell anyone.
She was being pulled up to her feet, but she took no notice of it. Her eyes looked ahead at the tower where no doubt the criminals were kept imprisoned. Saul would be kept there too for his misconduct before he would be released. Then he would come after her.
No, I'm no longer safe here...
Rayne pulled her down the street and then took a right. The rain was coming down faster now, and neither she nor Rayne cared much for it. When the tower was no longer in view, she gazed at Rayne who appeared to be shivering in the cold. She ought to have given him his coat back, but he would only assume that she hadn't forgiven him.
When he stopped in front of a large wooden door, she paused her thoughts.
Did she forgive him? Rayne had been trying to prove that she was incompetent which was perhaps why he had ordered her to go out in the dark to the docks. Maybe he had believed she would refuse and prefer to be removed from her job.
Divania glanced at Rayne who was knocking on the door again. She should be angry with him. Had he not sent her to the docks, Saul would have never seen her and all these events of the night wouldn't have come to pass.
Rayne looked at her then and she saw how terribly guilt-ridden he looked. He knew he had made a mistake and had apologized for it.
The door opened before she could decide whether she wanted to forgive him or not. Before her, was a tall lanky man with short white hair and gold-rimmed glasses. He was dressed in a white shirt and beige pants.
"It's rather late in the night," the stranger told them, studying both Rayne and Divania.
"This is an emergency," Rayne said. "She was attacked and is hurt. Could you please take a look at her?"
Divania felt her nerves tingle with shock. She stepped back and tried to wriggle her hand from Rayne's grip.
"Oh, is it?" The man looked at her pityingly. "Then do come in and let me check her for injuries."
"I am fine. I'm not hurt," she said quickly.
"Divania..." Rayne started.
"No!" Divania started to turn away but Rayne took her wrists in both hands.
"Let the doctor have a look. You may have sustained serious injuries."
"I feel no pain."
"That is because you are in shock. It happens." Rayne gently pulled her towards him and then led her inside the house.
The doctor stepped aside, watching her carefully before heading over to his desk and collecting his papers.
The interior was dimly lit, but more comfortable than gloomy. She could smell a mixture of alcohol and sweet wood in the air and stopped, filling her lungs with fresh air. Somewhere around this room, she caught a light fragrance of sandalwood.
Rayne's hand was on the small of her back as he gently pushed her to the wooden table the doctor gestured to.
Once she sat, Divania took in the red and cream walls of the room, the two large bookcases on either side of the room and the desk near the window. The room was sparsely furnished otherwise and she kept searching for the source of the sweet fragrance that had wafted to her nostrils.
The doctor pushed a wooden stool near her legs and sat down. He unbuttoned his cuffs and folded his sleeves up to his elbows. She saw a dry splatter of ink on his the side of his palm and guessed he had been writing before being interrupted by them.
Gently, the doctor pushed up her dress sleeves to examine her arms. "Where do you feel pain?"
"I feel none," she replied in haste.
"I reckon she's still startled by the attack," Rayne supplied. "Her fear must be stopping her ability to identify her injuries."
"That's not true," she spoke in defiance. "I am conscious of everything around me. I am not hurt as you believe me to be."
Rayne looked annoyed with her but didn't say anything.
"Let me be the judge of that," the doctor interjected. He pressed gently on her arm and frowned. "Your skin is cold and your pulse...I can barely feel it."
Divania made to pull her arm back, but the doctor continued to examine her arm and held on firmly. "There is blood but I don't see any cuts."
"She was hit on the back of her head," Rayne said. "She may even have suffered a concussion."
The doctor immediately stood. "You should have informed me of that before." He went to her other side and gently parted her damp hair. "There is a lot of blood." He walked over to his desk and brought out a small packet of cotton. Pulling apart a large piece, he began dabbing it over her head.
"Do you feel faint?" He asked.
"No." Divania clutched at the short white frills of her dress.
"Hmm." The doctor reached out for a small vial sitting atop a low cabinet.
It was so small that Divania hadn't even noticed it. She turned her head to look, but the doctor made a sound.
"Sit still, please."
"Is the wound deep?" Rayne asked.
He looks a little scared, Divania thought. As if he would never forgive himself if I had been gravely harmed.
"I can't say," The doctor replied. "There are no contusions...no..." He stepped back from her suddenly.
"What is it?" Rayne asked.
Divania swallowed and clutched her knees tight.
"I can't see any wounds," the doctor said slowly. "There's a lot of blood but..."
Rayne pushed past him and stood close to her, peering down at her head.
He smells like the rain, she thought idly, earthy and sweet.
When he too took a small step back, she turned her head and saw him looking down at her in shock. In the dim light, his brown eyes looked black and mystified and his lips were parted as if he wanted to ask a barrage of questions.
"I told you I wasn’t hurt," she spoke in a soft voice.
"But I saw you, I saw them hit you with a rock." Rayne pushed her hair away from the neck and put a finger on the side. "This was where he had pointed his blade. There had been a little blood." His finger traced the curve of her neck and she felt how warm his skin was on hers.
She grasped his hand then. "I didn't get hurt."
"I couldn't have imagined it." Rayne stared at her in disbelief with his fingers still on her neck.
"Perhaps the blood doesn't belong to her but her attackers," the doctor said.
Rayne pulled his hands back and looked at him. "They were injured..."
He sounded unconvinced and rightly so. Divania got up from the table and smoothed her damp dress.
"We've already taken enough of your time," she told the doctor. "I don't want to bother you anymore."
Both men looked at her as if she were a strange creature. Divania clasped her hands before her and stared back, knowing that if she averted her eyes now, they would always be suspicious of her.
"Let me pay you," Rayne said, turning to the doctor.
The doctor held up his hand. "There is no need. I've done nothing."
The doctor shook his head and then remarking on the rainy weather, opened the door for them.
Divania could feel the aged man's eyes on her, but she ignored it and followed Rayne into the cold night.
They walked in silence down the street and by the time they had left the decorated square, Divania was finding Rayne's silence, unnerving. He was thinking too much and she remembered the words her mother had told her once—a thinking man was a dangerous man.
The more Rayne would be alone with his thoughts about her, the more likely he was to land at a bizarre conclusion.
"Oh, I forgot to give you this." She reached into her pockets and brought out the small wooden box.
Rayne had stopped and turned to look at her. When she presented the box, he didn't take it from her.
"A lot of trouble for a small box."
Divania wished he would just take it from her rather than give her a strange look.
"Whatever the contents are, must be precious."
Rayne took the box from her and Divania noted how he seemed careful not to touch her. He opened up the box and let out a breath. "Saffron."
"Oh," Divania said. "I heard it is quite expensive."
Rayne nodded without looking at her and slipped the box in his pocket. "This has been a long tiring night. I suggest you head home. You are excused from your duties tonight."
"Oh," she said in a tiny voice.
"Let me walk you home."
"No!" She spoke with such vehemence that Rayne stopped again and looked at her, startled.
Divania swallowed. "There is no need."
"There is every need to do so," Rayne said angrily. "You were attacked tonight, and I assumed hurt as well. I already made the mistake of letting you go out alone, I'm not doing it again."
"It is not your fault," Divania said. They were standing in the middle of a dusty path that led to the inn. At this hour of the night, it was too quiet, but at least she found comfort in the lanterns that were lit along the street.
"You couldn't have known they had such nefarious intentions."
"Perhaps I should have had the foresight." He was looking away from her, down an empty path and even though she had initially blamed him for the events before, she felt a smidgen of pity for his guilt.
"To be honest I would prefer going back to the inn," she replied, realizing it was no use dwelling on who she ought to be angry with for her predicament. "At home, I would be unable to sleep anyway. I could use the distraction."
Rayne nodded quietly and they walked in silence. He was walking without his cane and she noted how he clutched his right thigh as he walked.
She wanted to ask him about his injury, about the battles he had engaged in and his subsequent dismissal from the army. He appeared to be a proud and patriotic man, yet he appeared forlorn.
He turned then and caught her staring at him. Divania quickly looked away, gazing at the lanterns swaying near the entrance of the inn.
They entered in silence and she saw that there were only a few men awake at this hour, who were either drinking or playing cards. Divania hastened to the kitchen to collect her mop and brushes. Work would distract from all that she had suffered tonight and most importantly, it would help her plan what she must do with Saul. If fortune favoured her, he would be released and immediately deported, but just in case things didn't work out in her favour, then she would be left with no choice but to leave this town.
Tomorrow, she would have to visit the guards and plead with them to let her see Saul. There was little chance that she would be able to convince him to retain her secret. She had no money but maybe she could ask for time to collect whatever amount he wanted.
She picked up the pail of water in one hand and the mop in another, then headed to the staircase.
Tomorrow morning, some guests were due to arrive and she had to prepare their rooms.
She walked down the corridor once she was upstairs and headed to one of the two empty rooms at the end.
Pushing the wooden door open, her eyes caught the lone painting in the room. It was a colourful impression of Picara town. From the artist's perspective, the town had silver mountains bathed in gold and foliage that never lost its verdancy.
The buildings were immaculate white without a crack in any of them and right in the middle of it, Divania made out the tracings of where the inn was supposed to be on the map. The sky was bathed in hues of yellow, orange and deep purple and upon a closer look, she spotted small birds with spreading wings.
The painting, she knew hadn't cost much when it was purchased, but perhaps the artist, who had scribbled his initials—‘FG’ in the corner—had made some name for himself and his works might now be worth something.
Terrified by the criminal thoughts that had entered her head, Divania tightly gripped the handle of her mop and put down the pail slowly on the floor before she spilled the water. No, I mustn't head down this path. She decided. Perhaps she could ask Rayne to lend her some money and pretend it was for her sick aunt.
"Divania?" He spoke so suddenly that the mop handle slipped from her fingers and clattered on the floor.
She turned around, her eyes wide, hoping Rayne hadn't guessed her intentions to steal from the inn.
When she saw him looking apologetic for startling her, she eased her shoulders and bent to pick up the mop.
"Did you need something?" She asked and chided herself for being ridiculous. Of course he didn't know about her ridiculous intention; he wasn't a mind reader.
Rayne stepped in and she saw he was walking with his cane. He limped inside and then closed the door behind him.
She felt her muscles wrench then.
"I need to talk to you. I'm afraid I won't be able to rest until I have my answers."
He seated himself on the bed and idly massaged his right thigh.
Divania clutched the mop handle with both hands. A feeling of cold dread crept up her back as she looked into his dark eyes.
He didn't speak for several minutes, just watched her, trying to make her nervous.
Divania was torn between matching his gaze or returning to her work. In the end, she decided to start working before the sun came up and she had to overstay at the inn.
"Where are you from?"
The silence in the room was shattered by his directness and she fought to stay calm.
"I've told you," she replied, not meeting his eyes and mopping the floor before realizing she was washing the same spot on the floor without water.
She inserted the mop into the bucket and then started on the corner of the room, trying to create a space between them.
"Tell me again," he demanded in an authoritative tone.
She tried to recall what she had already told him and let out a breath. "My family and I have always travelled before I came to live with my aunt."
"What of your parents?"
Divania knew he had cornered her. She had no excuse to get out of his interrogation and it would require tact to dodge around his questions.
She paused and swallowed before answering. "They are not around."
"Have they passed away?" He asked with a hint of compassion.
Divania wrung the mop and took another pause to unclench her stomach and clear her mind.
"Why am I being interrogated?" She asked, without meeting his eyes.
"I'm curious about who works for me." His reply came fast.
Divania commenced her mopping. "Oh, so I'm not allowed to be curious about my new employer?" She did look at him then. "I have known your father, Mr. Dorge, for six months, but not you."
Rayne appeared to be annoyed with her and Divania knew she ran the risk of being sacked from her job for being insolent, but it had been a long night and she was tired after everything had happened.
Rayne let out a breath and splayed his hands. "Fair enough."
"So I can ask you questions as well?" She asked quickly.
"I'll reply to those I deem answerable."
"How long have you served in the army?"
"Seven years," he replied promptly. "Where are you from?"
"I told you..."
"I'll amend that. Which was the last place you stayed in before you came here?"
Divania struggled to remember the places on the map. Obviously, she wasn't going to reveal where she really was from. "Milvalle City."
Rayne narrowed his eyes. "That's quite a distance from here and I've heard only the affluent can afford to live there."
Divania clamped down shut, horrified she had given an answer that was so close to town. The truth was that Milvalle was nothing compared to where she really hailed from. "The rich need help, of course. My turn. Are you married?"
"No," Rayne replied. "Why would you think that?"
"I saw a ring on your finger on the first day." She gestured to his hands now, where there wasn't an item of jewellery. "You are not wearing it anymore."
Rayne's jaw tightened. "That's personal."
"You are right," Divania said a little triumphantly. "I'll leave now and start work on the other room."
She hadn't finished here yet, but she wanted Rayne to know that she wasn't going to answer anymore of his questions. Turning to leave, Divania was halfway across the room when he spoke.
"I was engaged. Her name was Sara." His voice was strained as if he was trying to control an intense emotion. "Before leaving I asked her to wait for me. Upon my arrival, I learned that she hadn't and had married the very next day I left."
Divania turned slowly towards him, now understanding why he had been so angry and bitter yesterday. "I'm sorry," she said softly.
There was silence only for a minute before Rayne straightened and she saw his face harden. "When you were being harassed by those men, I saw one of them hit the back of your head with a rock. Was I mistaken?"
The mop slipped from her fingers and clattered on the floor. She made no move to pick it up, knowing her delay strategy would not work on Rayne who would be persistent until he found out the truth. He also seemed to be studying her intensely, as if he would easily guess if she was lying.
"You were not wrong," she replied. "What you saw, did happen to me."
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