© 2007 By C. J. Wells
Disclaimers: See Chapter One. The 3rd Battalion‚ 1st Massachusetts Regimental Calvary was a real Union Army infantry unit. Frances Clalin‚ Jennie Hodgers and Sarah Edmonds were all real women who fought and/or spied for the Union Army during the Civil War. Harriet "Moses" Tubman (1820-1913) was an African-American historical icon who was a famous "conductor" in the Underground Railroad and was credited with personally aiding in the harsh passage to freedom of approximately 300 slaves. All other characters named are mine.
FROM ASTERIA TO AETHERIA
Gisela of Naissus (1522)
By Angela Delia
From across the Steppes the warrior came;
A raven haired beauty bearing an Avar’s name.
With her female wiles and her fury oh so stark‚
For her German foes‚ her wrath would leave its mark.
Village after village were destined to fall at her hands.
Determined farmers fought to keep their unembellished lands.
But‚ sadly for them‚ they did not possess her battle skill.
To conquer the Balkans‚ be it her definitive will.
Yet‚ on the eve of her third year as fate would have;
Upon the village that Attila himself once broke and beat‚
The warrior rode in with her army of Avars and Slavs.
Tired Gothic farmers‚ parched from the summer heat‚
Chose to run rather than face a certain defeat.
"Round up the lot of them‚" the warrior hath cried.
The men and boys marshaled‚ the women and elders tied.
There Gisela of Naissus stood among the older girls‚
The most beautiful young woman in the warrior’s entire world.
Her golden hair like sunshine‚ her eyes gleam clear and bright;
Gisela destined to change the warrior’s heart from dimness to light.
Gisela and the warrior fueled their bond for six whole days;
To laugh‚ to embrace‚ to share‚ to learn each other’s foreign ways.
A passionate kiss to share before Gisela will flee the fight‚
The warrior will cry‚ her love gone in an unbounded night.
* * * *
It was almost 11:00 a.m. Monday morning before Rejeanne realized that she had forgotten to contact her place of employment as to why she had not yet shown up for work. Grabbing her cell phone‚ she speed-dialed the newspaper. The receptionist‚ Doris Marks‚ answered the phone. "Hey Doris‚" Rejeanne said. "Uh‚ I won’t be in today."
"Are you okay?" the voice on the other end of the receiver asked.
"I have a hangover. See you tomorrow‚" Rejeanne replied just before hanging up.
Lindsay gave her a perturbed look. "Why tell your job that you have a hangover?" she asked.
"What other reason could I give when I’m calling in so late?"
"But you told me that you’ve never even been drunk enough to experience a hangover."
"Yeah‚ but Doris the receptionist doesn’t know that."
Bobby’s Pancake House was a literal hub for downtown Dell Valley at mid-morning and one of Rejeanne’s favorite establishments. Upon entering the popular restaurant‚ she and Lindsay were the immediate attention of most of the patrons.
"Hey Ruthie‚ how long is the wait?" Rejeanne asked the waitress who approached them.
"Only about five minutes‚ Jeannie‚" the waitress replied before casting her eyes upon the daunting Lindsay.
"That’s cool‚" Rejeanne said before turning her attention to her lover. "Have you ever eaten here before?"
Lindsay’s haughty tone was not lost on Rejeanne. "Are you okay with being seen with me in public?" she whispered to Lindsay after the waitress departed.
"That’s not it‚ sweetheart‚" Lindsay replied. "I just don’t like being stared at like some freak of nature."
"Well‚ you are the richest chick in town‚ Lin‚" Rejeanne said‚ "you’re here‚ and not with Martin or some Dell Valley big-shot‚ and this place isn’t exactly Wolfgang Puck’s."
Lindsay looked down at her love and smiled. "Well‚ as long as the food here is edible."
"It is‚" Rejeanne replied as another waitress approached them to take them to their seats.
After settling in their booth‚ Lindsay perused the menu before her. "Any suggestions?" she asked Rejeanne.
"You just have to order ‘Bobby’s Big Breakfast‚’" Rejeanne replied. "Three eggs‚ made to order‚ your choice of four slices of bacon or a slab of ham‚ and four of the best pancakes in Wisconsin."
"I won’t eat all of that."
"That’s why God invented the doggie bag‚ Lin‚" Rejeanne said.
After giving their food orders‚ the two women regarded each other. "Can I ask you something‚ Lin?"
"Can you remember any specific instances of Xena’s life?"
Lindsay considered. "No‚ not really‚" she replied. "It’s strange‚ but I seem to know things‚ like certain names‚ certain places‚ certain things about both Xena and Gabrielle‚ but I don’t have any visual recollection of Xena’s battles‚ her day-to-day life or her childhood. I know that she had some significant injuries‚ but I don’t know how she got them. And I only know how she died because I read about it in my tenth-grade history class. How about you?"
"Same thing‚ Lin‚" Rejeanne said. "It’s so weird. I can tell you Gabrielle’s sister’s name‚ but I couldn’t tell you what her favorite food was or if she had a favorite‚ I dunno‚ toga or something. Thankfully‚ I don’t have any images or recollection of Xena beating her either."
"Oh‚ thank God for that‚" Lindsay exclaimed as she took Rejeanne’s hand in hers. "I don’t either. Just the knowledge that it happened makes me sick to my stomach."
"What about the other lives?" Rejeanne asked. "Any memories or images?"
"Nothing‚" Lindsay answered. "You?"
"Nothing‚" Rejeanne said. "Do you think that they knew about their prior lives?"
"How could they?" Lindsay asked. "Do you think Palaemon and Mia came to them in dreams as well?"
"Probably not‚" Rejeanne said. "Nothing to congratulate them for. But Angela did write that poem about Gisela. She was essentially writing about herself‚ or at least‚ her soul."
"But the poem was written more from Valentina’s point of view‚ Jeannie‚" Lindsay remarked. "At least that’s how I read it."
"Perhaps‚" Rejeanne said. "And speaking of Valentina‚ she probably jumped through some major hoops to get those scrolls. Coincidences or part of this fate and reincarnation thing?"
"I don’t know‚" Lindsay said. "You told me when we first met that you wrote poetry. Are their any poems about Renaissance or Civil War era women among your work?"
"Nope‚" Rejeanne said. "I did write this one poem that was published in my college newspaper‚ however."
"Really?" inquired Lindsay.
"Yeah‚" replied Rejeanne. "It was called ‘Love Junkie.’"
Lindsay chucked. "What‚ were you chronicling your penchant for pot smoking?"
"Ha-ha‚ very funny‚ but no‚" Rejeanne responded sardonically. "It was a poem about a sex addict."
"Who do you know that is a sex addict?"
"My dad‚" Rejeanne said. "But the character in the poem was a woman."
"Is there anything about that poem that has any bearing on our conversation?" Lindsay asked.
"What would that be?"
"The name of the character in my poem was Bronwyn."
* * * *
As Rejeanne stared blankly at her laptop monitor‚ Lindsay stood at the living room window‚ looking out at the license plate on her vehicle.
"Conqueror‚" she whispered to herself as she shook her head in disbelief. Turning toward Rejeanne‚ she approached the smaller woman and sat beside her.
"Having any luck?" she asked Rejeanne as she placed her hands on her lover’s shoulders and began gently massaging them.
"No‚" Rejeanne replied. "I’m getting sick of looking at this fucking monitor. I haven’t found squat on a Margaret Needham or a Bronwyn Forbes that lived in the 1860s."
"Have you tried searching one of those family ancestry sites?" Lindsay asked.
"You have to buy a membership to utilize those sites‚" Rejeanne remarked.
"I’ll grab a credit card‚" Lindsay said as she stood and padded over to her coat to retrieve her wallet. Returning to her place next to Rejeanne‚ she placed the credit card down on the coffee table and took Rejeanne’s hands in hers.
"Jeannie‚" she started‚ "I want to tell you something. I don’t love you just because someone or something pre-determined it. I don’t love you just because Xena loved Gabrielle. I love you because you’re you. You’re funny‚ you’re smart‚ you’re sexy‚ you’re talented‚ you have a heart of gold‚ you’re caring‚ compassionate and you possess such inner strength. When I first laid eyes on you at the fundraiser‚ I felt something euphoric. I… I feel so wonderful when I’m around you. I enjoy every bit of you. No one else could have ever forced me to face the lie of my marriage. No one else could have gotten me to listen to forty minutes of rap music. Hell‚ I’m tempted to go out and vote for a Democrat because of you. The bottom line is‚ I‚ uh‚ you‚ uh‚ oh‚ hell‚ this is so ‘Jerry Maguire’ cliché‚ but you do complete me."
"You had me at hello‚" Rejeanne responded‚ sending both women into a fit of laughter.
* * * *
"Any luck now?’ Lindsay asked Rejeanne as she brought her a hot mug of cocoa.
"Well‚ there are several Needham families in South Carolina‚" Rejeanne responded‚ "but I think that I may have found something."
Lindsay began caressing Rejeanne’s neck. "Great‚" she replied. "What did you find?"
"Well‚ there’s this guy from Asheville‚ North Carolina‚" Rejeanne started‚ "Carl Hillman is his name and he was able to trace his family roots to a Richard Carl Needham‚ his great-great-great grandfather. This Richard fellow was the youngest son of a rich Charleston-based land developer and slave owner named Cleave Whitt Needham." Both women closed in on the laptop monitor as Rejeanne pointed at the writing. According to this tree‚ Cleave had four children. Richard was born in 1824. His only sister‚ Margaret‚ was born in 1831."
"Palaemon said that Maggie was 29 when she met Bronny‚" Lindsay said. "That was in 1860. Doing the math‚ I’d say that this is probably the same Margaret."
"Then I’m going to do a search engine on Cleave‚" Rejeanne said. "If he was rich‚ there has to be something published about him somewhere."
"Okay‚" Lindsay responded.
Rejeanne turned to her lover and regarded her. "I just realized something‚" she said.
"Well‚ I don’t know about Xena’s dad‚ but Valentina’s dad was a Khan‚ Marcella’s dad was a wealthy Florentine‚ Maggie’s dad was a rich land developer‚ and your dad’s loaded."
"Do you think that they hated their fathers as well?" Lindsay smirked.
"I don’t know‚ but they all defied them."
"How do you figure?"
"Well‚" Rejeanne started‚ "Valentina refused to return her army to Xerxes when he ordered her to do so‚ Marcella turned her back on her daddy’s Catholic church and Maggie spied on the rebs and freed slaves. Pappy Cleave probably wasn’t too thrilled. And you‚ my dear‚ are in love with a Motown-reared‚ Bill-and-Hillary-loving dyke. If that ain’t defiance‚ I don’t know what is."
"God‚ I love you‚" Lindsay said as she took Rejeanne in an embrace.
"On the other hand‚" Rejeanne continued‚ "Me and my entire reincarnated lineage were sired by shit-rakin’ farmers."
"You said that you’re dad’s a mechanic‚" Lindsay stated.
"My dad was born on a farm‚ raised on a farm‚ and learned to fix farm equipment on a farm‚" Rejeanne replied. "He may live in Milwaukee now‚ but he’s not an auto mechanic. He does engine repairs on Kubota M-Series farm tractors."
"Oh‚" Lindsay replied. "But we really don’t know if Angela Delia’s father was a farmer."
"I bet he was."
"And Bronwyn Forbes?"
"I’m hoping that we’re about to find out‚ Lin."
Margaret Needham and Bronwyn Forbes
From a Massachusetts historical museum website:
Although Frances Clalin‚ Jennie Hodgers and Sarah Edmonds were all heroic women who fought as men the Union Army‚ they were also natives of Northern states‚ and thus‚ their loyalties were unbridled. On the other hand‚ Maggie "Stretch" Needham‚ who likewise donned the uniform and directed her bayonet against many a Confederate soldier‚ was the daughter of a prominent Charleston‚ South Carolina land and slave owner. Born in 1831‚ Margaret Lucille Needham’s childhood was typical of any daughter of a southern slave owner. Reared more by her slave "mammy" than her own mother‚ young Maggie often witnessed the brutality that her father and three older brothers inflicted upon the slaves on their plantation. As a youngster‚ she accepted this cruelty as a normal course of her father’s interpretation of God’s will‚ that being the superiority of the white race and the need to subjugate the people of African origin.
Often described as a breathtakingly beautiful woman‚ the tall‚ sky-blue-eyed Maggie could have had her pick of blue-blooded southern gentlemen. Unlike most women of her era‚ however‚ Maggie chose education over marriage and children. In 1858‚ she was one of the earliest graduates of the newly founded Columbia College‚ a women’s liberal arts institution located in Columbia‚ South Carolina. Returning to Charleston‚ it was her goal to assist her brothers in the family’s lumber business. However‚ two things would change the course of her life forever. In April of 1860‚ she witnessed her older brother Maxwell stab to death the only daughter of the black nanny who raised her. The young woman was murdered simply because she recoiled at Maxwell’s sexual advances.
Approximately a month after this incident‚ Maggie met a group of abolitionist Quakers from Boston. After years of seeing firsthand the viciousness of slavery‚ finally having the sin of that brutality articulated to her by the Quakers was the last straw for Maggie. Befriending the Quakers‚ she made the first of several trips north to Philadelphia‚ Providence and eventually to Boston‚ where‚ after the war began‚ she was recruited to serve as a spy for the 3rd Battalion‚ 1st Massachusetts Regimental Calvary. For a time‚ she even donned the uniform and fought alongside her Battalion brothers. At 5’ 10" in height‚ she was taller than the majority of the men in her unit‚ thus making it plausible for her to tie her brunette tresses in a ponytail and pass as a man. It was with the 1st Massachusetts where she was given the nickname‚ "Stretch."
In addition to her many exploits as a Union spy‚ some historians credit Needham with working alongside the irreverent Harriet Tubman for the Underground Railroad. Although this claim cannot be substantiated‚ in 1993‚ British Quaker historian Jonathan Taylor Lunt‚ in the publication Quaker Faith and Practice claimed‚ "Among the American Friends who assisted in the efforts of the Underground Railroad was the Methodist Maggie Needham‚ who may have never become a Convinced Friend‚ but whose dedication to her Quaker comrades in the eradication of slavery was unconditional." Needham left the United States after the war and spent most of the latter years of her life in Europe. She died in Birmingham‚ England in 1918.
From a British Religious Society of Friends website:
Friend Historian Jonathan Taylor Lunt has written extensively on the exploits of the 19th Century American Quakers who aided in bringing hundreds of slaves to freedom in that country. Most notable of this group of Friends were two families‚ the Littleton brothers and the Forbes family.
***Wilmer Henry Forbes (1781-1853) was a Weighty Friend in the Society. He was a dedicated member of the western Philadelphia Quakers and traveled to Meetings from his 30-acre Haverford farm. *** He married Bernice (nee Carter) in 1807. They had three sons‚ Henry George in 1809‚ Carter Wilmer in 1812 and Geoff Earlham in 1813. Bernice died in 1817.
*** Much to the surprise of the western Philadelphia Friends‚ Wilmer married the former Rosemary Gibbons in 1837‚ twenty years after the death of his first wife. He was 56. She was 24‚ the same age as his youngest son‚ Geoff. Rosemary became a Convinced Friend shortly before the marriage and gave birth to a daughter‚ Bronwyn Renell in 1838.
*** When Wilmer died in 1853‚ Rosemary returned to her native Boston with the then 15-year-old Bronwyn. A year later‚ Geoff and his wife and children joined his step-mother and half-sister in Boston. By 1958‚ the Forbes family was actively involved with the Boston abolitionist movement.
***Throughout most of the years of the Civil War in America‚ Geoff Forbes‚ his half-sister Bronwyn‚ and his sons‚ Wilmer and James were devoted allies of the legendary Harriet Tubman‚ and worked extensively in her efforts to keep the Underground Railroad going throughout the war years.
***It was Bronwyn’s power of persuasion that influenced South Carolina-born Methodist Maggie "Stretch" Needham to abandon her pro-slavery existence and adopt the philosophy of the abolitionists. The two women became inseparable friends. *** Although everyone in her inner circle referred to Maggie as "Stretch" Needham‚ to Bronwyn‚ she was simply Maggie. In turn‚ Maggie dubbed Bronwyn "Bronny."
***Sometime after the war‚ Maggie returned to her Charleston home. Bronwyn accompanied her‚ but for only about six months. When Bronwyn returned to Boston‚ she announced that her friendship with Maggie Needham had dissolved. When she offered no explanation as to why their intense friendship had ended‚ the Boston Friends were concerned that Needham was perhaps returning to her prior way of life and was embracing the growing racist movement in the southern states brought about by the notorious Ku Klux Klan‚ but their concerns were eventually tempered when it was discovered that Needham left South Carolina for good in 1867. She lived for a time with a small band of Friends in northern Pennsylvania before sailing to Europe. She died here in England in 1918 during the ravishing Spanish influenza outbreak. She was 87.
***In 1868‚ Bronwyn married Union Army veteran Mitchell Morrison of Providence‚ Rhode Island after a brief courtship. Relocating to Providence‚ she was well received by the Providence Friends. However‚ Bronwyn’s marriage to Morrison was volatile‚ short-lived and produced no children. They divorced in 1870. The dissolution of her friendship with Maggie Needham and her failed marriage to Mitchell Morrison had a catastrophic effect on Bronwyn. For the next several years‚ she wandered in an out of doomed relationships and spent the last year of her life in a consumption sanitarium in upstate New York. Although she had contracted tuberculosis during her marriage to Morrison‚ it did not kill her. In 1879‚ at the age of 41‚ Bronwyn died from syphilis.
Lindsay turned to Rejeanne‚ who was clenching her stomach. "God‚ Jeannie‚" she said. "I didn’t know. Palaemon only told me how Marcella died. Regarding Maggie and Bronny‚ he only told me that they died bitter and alone."
Rejeanne began crying. Lindsay took her lover in her arms. "Ah‚ honey‚" she continued. "I know it’s sad‚ but their lives were theirs. When and how they died will have no bearing on our mortality."
"That’s not why I’m crying‚" Rejeanne said as she lifted her head and looked into Lindsay’s eyes. "My poem…"
"The one about the sex addict?"
"Oh my God‚ did the character in your poem die of syphilis too?"
"No‚ she contracted the AIDS virus."
"Man‚ I think you’re right‚" Lindsay said as she tenderly caressed Rejeanne’s back. "This reincarnation thing is mighty strong. Is that what’s bothering you?"
"Not exactly‚ Lin‚" Rejeanne replied. "I guess I just feel sad for these women and how they were denied so much. They each had a story to tell‚ yet they were unable to do so. It’s almost as if the earlier souls were reaching out to the later souls‚ you know?"
"Yeah‚ I know."
"The Bronwyn of my college poem was contemporary‚" Rejeanne remarked. "The poem takes place in 1999 when I wrote it‚ but there are some distinct parallels. My character doesn’t die or contract tuberculosis‚ but her sex addiction was the result of being tormented by unrequited love."
"All of the women were tormented by unrequited love to one extent or another‚ Jeannie‚" Lindsay stated. "It begs the question of what really killed them. Their various ailments or their broken hearts?"
"I don’t know."
"I don’t either‚" said Lindsay. "But I’m determined not to end up the same way."
* * * *
Nightfall appeared over the Wisconsin landscape. Rejeanne and Lindsay had been searching for their past souls online off and on for twelve solid hours when the combination of fatigue and frustration began to take its toll on them both. After learning the fate of Bronwyn Forbes‚ the two lovers were unsuccessful in obtaining anymore information pertaining to either the past lives or the location of the scrolls. In addition‚ both women were in great anticipation of what their Tuesday morning was going to bring them. For Rejeanne‚ her main concern was how her relationship with Lindsay was going to shape her status at the newspaper. Would her supervisor expect her to use the relationship to gain deeper access to the skeletons in the Alasdair family’s closet?
For Lindsay‚ her declaration of love to Rejeanne was bound to have more profound consequences on her status in the family business and her personal relationships. As she began to ponder all that awaited her‚ she looked over at her beloved‚ who was shutting down her laptop.
"I’m fried‚" Rejeanne announced to Lindsay as she stood up to stretch. "I need a beer."
Rejeanne headed for the kitchen. "Hey‚ Lin‚ you want something?"
"I’ll drink whatever you’re having."
"Sure thing‚" Rejeanne replied. As she turned to head toward the kitchen‚ Lindsay’s voice stopped her.
"Jeannie‚" Lindsay called out‚ "Is it alright if we go to my place tonight? I need some fresh clothes and I have some pressing matters to deal with concerning Martin."
"Yeah‚ sure‚" Rejeanne replied. "I’ll pack an overnight bag."
Rejeanne padded into the kitchen and stepped up to her refrigerator. She grabbed the door handle to open it when something gripped her attention.
"Oh‚ hell no‚" she said. "Hell no!"
Lindsay heard her from the living room‚ and concerned‚ immediately dashed into the kitchen. "What’s the matter?" she asked as she observed Rejeanne stare wide-eyed at the refrigerator door.
"Look‚ Lindsay‚" Rejeanne said‚ pointing to the picture of her and her ex-girlfriend Jo Clark.
Lindsay looked carefully at the photo for only a moment when it struck her as well. "Rejeanne‚" she said. "Your ex-girlfriend is Bahri."
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER THIRTEEN
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