Guest blogger Julie Mannina discusses her novel about past and present lives, Rhamanta, in this ongoing series of essays on writing by guest bloggers. Read more about Julie on her blog http://juliemannina.wordpress.com/.
As a child welfare attorney, I see compelling stories every day. Several years ago, I decided to try to record those stories that really moved me. But at one point, I realized the timing wasn’t right. Carrie (Art of Storytelling coach Caroline Allen) encouraged me to think of an idea for a fictional novel. I immediately thought of an experience I had in my twenties in which I formed a friendship with someone who told me that she was clairvoyant – meaning she could see and hear spirits. She told me a story about myself in a former life. I had been a poor, isolated girl in Medieval Wales who fell in love with a boy from an upper class home and watched him go off to war, never to return, and was never able to find true happiness. It was then my job, in this life, to figure out how to move beyond. True or not, the experience stayed with me, moved me and taught me a lot about myself. It also formed the inspiration for the novel Rhamanta (working title).
The novel tells the story of Elizabeth, daughter of a widowed farmer in Medieval Wales, and Veronica, a modern day young woman trying to navigate her own challenges. The following gives you a glimpse of the book. It’s in three sections; the first is the story of Elizabeth’s birth, the second regards Elizabeth as a young girl, and the third looks at Veronica’s introduction to her soul’s past.
They said it was a good match. Anne was young and strong, and Dewydd lived alone on a farm, which was abundant but very isolated. He would be a good provider, but Marged worried about her beautiful, vibrant younger sister with such a cold, serious man. She vowed that after they were married, she would make the trip to visit Anne as often as she could, even though it was five days’ journey on foot.
On her first visit, Marged arrived at the cabin to find a stranger in place of her sister. The light was gone from Anne’s eyes, and she moved slowly and carefully, like an old woman. She talked only of how much Dewydd wanted a son, and how he grew impatient. When Marged saw the bruises, she felt nauseous, and she was even more worried about her sister, but all she could do was pray. But as she began the journey home the next day, she turned to see her little sister standing on the cabin steps, sobbing, and it took every ounce of self-discipline she had to keep walking.
When several months passed and Marged learned through travelers that her sister was with child, she left to join her as soon as she could, afraid of what she might find. With great relief, she found that Anne was healthy, due to deliver very soon, and the light in her eyes had returned. Anne said she was certain she would have a son because she was using all the herbs advised by the midwife, and she had faith that God would answer her prayers. Their son would be handsome and gallant, and her husband would be so proud. Marged, praying that everything Anne said was true, agreed to stay until the baby was born.
Two days later, in the middle of the night, Marged woke to her sister’s cries. As she ran over to Anne’s bed, she could see blood on the sheets before she saw anything else. Anne was lying on her side, curled up, holding her belly, and writhing in pain. “There is something wrong!” she groaned through gritted teeth.
“Dewydd! Where are you?” Marged yelled, just before he re-entered the cabin, adjusting his pants as he walked. She stood and rushed to keep him from coming in, but he pushed past her, his eyes wide with horror.
Despite Marged’s pleading, he knelt by the bed. “What’s wrong? What’s happening?” he asked, over and over again. Anne answered each time, crying, “I don’t know. Something’s wrong”
“Dewydd, you are not supposed to be here!” Marged exclaimed. “You must go to get the midwife. I will stay with Anne. Hurry!”
He looked at her with wide eyes, like a frightened and confused child. Until all at once, his eyes seemed to come back into focus. “Right.” He gathered his coat and ran out the door.
Marged sat with her sister for several hours, waiting, watching her grow increasingly pale and weak, and praying she would survive. By the time Dewydd returned with the midwife, Anne was spent, lying completely still on the bloody sheets.
The midwife surveyed the situation, looking at the amount of blood that had seeped into the bedcovers and pressing on Anne’s belly, which caused her to yell in pain. “I’m not sure what I can do for her now,” she said. “The baby is not moving. She appears to be too weak to push, but the baby must come out. We need to pray.”
Ignoring Dewydd, who was standing in the far corner of the room, Marged and the midwife joined hands and started to bow their heads. With her eyes still open, Marged looked down at her little sister, who appeared as if she had been bathed in sweat and blood and continued to moan and writhe in pain.
When the moaning grew louder, Marged broke away to kneel by her sister and hold her hand. “Can she push?” she asked. “There has to be something we can do!”
The midwife answered without opening her eyes. “If she pushes, it may cause the baby to be born, but she will suffer great consequences. It is in God’s hands now.”
Anne spoke. “You talk about me as if I am not here. I will not allow harm to my son!” She sat up and began to bear down.
“No, sister! There will be more babies!” Marged yelled, looking over at Dewydd, silently imploring him to say something. But Anne ignored her screams and continued to push until they caught sight of the small head.
Acting quickly, the midwife descended upon Anne and worked to pull the baby out. But as they caught a glimpse of its entire body and heard its first cry, Marged saw that Anne laid still, eyes closed.
Marged fell to her knees in front of her sister, “Annie? Annie? Your child is born, Annie.”
Anne opened her eyes, smiled faintly and held out her arms. The midwife placed the baby in them, and Anne said, “My son. My son,” as tears streamed down her cheeks.
The midwife answered, “Actually, Misses, it’s a girl.”
Anne nodded, cradling the baby in her arms as she closed her eyes again, smiling. But when Marged took the baby a few moments later, believing Anne to be asleep, her sister’s arms dropped like a rag doll.
“Anne!” she yelled as she took her hand. “Oh Annie, no!”
Marged began sobbing, and Dewydd walked over silently, his face stern and pale as he looked at his daughter. “Her name is Elizabeth,” he said, heavily, as he turned his back and walked out the door.
Elizabeth never knew how her mother died. She lived with her father, just the two of them, in a dark, damp, one-room cabin at the edge of the forest. At age thirteen, she tried her best to maintain her father’s household, but their minimal possessions were not always in their proper place, and the floors were not always clean. Father often told her she would need to improve if she ever wanted to marry.
From the front door of the cabin, as far as the eye could see, lay a rolling blanket of soft, lush, green grass, which was often crowned with a fine mist, especially in the morning. The beginning of a dense forest rose in the distance, but Elizabeth never had the chance to walk under its branches. When she daydreamed, she tried to imagine life on the other side of the forest, picturing a grand, beautiful village, where there was plenty of food, little work to do, and other girls to talk to.
Until one day in the village, she noticed a handsome, well-dressed boy staring at her. He looked like he was around her age, or maybe a little bit older. Father taught her to be wary of men, even young ones, so she fled before he could approach. But as the days went by, she continued to picture him in her mind.
One evening, while she waited for her father to return from the field, she heard faint voices outside the cabin. They never had visitors, and she wondered who it could be, so she opened the door and peered outside. Two horsemen were walking through the field next to the cabin, talking. She tried to hurry back inside without being noticed, but before she could close the door, one of them looked up and saw her in the threshold. Without hesitation, he turned his horse and began galloping toward her, yelling “Wait! Come back!”
She quickly closed the door and leaned her back against it, breathing heavily and bracing herself for the attempts of an intruder to gain entrance. After several minutes of silence, she gathered enough courage to peek through the cracked wooden door. On the other side, she saw the boy from the village, pulling at the reigns of a sleek, muscular black horse. Surprised, she took in a quick breath, and it was loud enough to be heard on the other side of the door.
“Please. Don’t be afraid,” he said, his eyes scanning the tall, wooden surface. “I’ve been looking for you since I saw you in the village, and I truly just want to make your acquaintance. I mean you no harm.”
“I don’t know you,” Elizabeth responded through the door, feeling her heart pounding in her chest. “What do you want with me? My father will be returning any minute, and he will not want you here.”
“My name is Frederick,” he answered. “From Bangor. And I’m sorry if I scared you. I don’t want anything from you, really. I just saw you in the village, and, well, you were so beautiful….”
No one had ever talked to her like this. She desperately wanted to open the door, to see this boy who called her beautiful, but fear held her back. “Go away,” she said, leaning even harder against the door.
“Please come out,” he pleaded. “I just want to talk with you. And I would love to take you for a ride on my horse – if you would let me.”
“Where would we go?”
“Wherever you wish,” he answered. The sound of his voice encircled her like a warm blanket, and she found herself wanting to trust him. Without hesitating to contemplate her actions, she pushed the door open and scanned the field for any sign of Father returning. Seeing none, she disregarded his stern, disapproving voice in her head and joined Frederick for a ride. They galloped through the field, her long dark hair blowing in the wind, and for the first time in her life, Elizabeth felt free.
Veronica followed her roommate, Randy, onto the patio outside the raging party, despite her aversion to hanging out in subzero temperatures with bare legs. She didn’t want to miss out on the party, but she recognized the look on Randy’s face. It was the same expression she wore when she channeled Veronica’s grandfather a month earlier. Randy was psychic and she had seen a ghost.
When the door sealed, the sudden quiet felt like a drink of fresh water, and the air was crisp and clean, with enough clouds rolling away to reveal numerous bright stars in the dark blue sky. Veronica brushed the snow off the ledge and leaned against the wooden fence, shivering in her mini skirt.
“So what’s going on?” Veronica asked.
Randy turned. Her face was pale and devoid of expression. “Who’s Frederick?”
Veronica felt a sudden surge of intense emotion. She didn’t know anyone named Frederick, but she felt like she did. “I don’t know!” She started to cry, overwhelmed by confusion and grief.
“You’ve never known anyone named Frederick? Are you sure? An older family member, maybe?”
She scanned her memory. Nothing. But she still felt a strange, inexplicable mixture of joy and sorrow.
“Well, whoever he is, he wants to talk to you.” Randy squinted at the air above Veronica’s head as if she was trying to locate a small speck of dust. After several, very long seconds, she said, “He says you were his love in a former life. In Wales.” Her eyes refocused on Veronica. “He left you to go to war and promised to come back, but he never did.”
Veronica stood quietly. What should have been an overwhelming amount of information just felt like something she already knew. Like a memory.
“What was my name?” she asked.
Randy smiled. “He says ‘you know.’”
A name came into her head. “Elizabeth,” she said without hesitation. She smiled. She had always liked that name.
Randy looked around in the night air as if she was looking for something. “He is just saying that he wants you to be happy. He says he’s been trying to help you find someone to take care of you this time.”
At age twenty-three, Veronica had already dated a lot of men, but no one for very long, and no one she wanted to remember. She thought Tom was “the one” until she found out he was engaged to someone else. Jack was gorgeous and talented, but he was oddly preoccupied with gazing at himself in the mirror and telling her she was fat, almost at the same time. And then there was Bradley, whose creative brilliance and affection, she discovered, was fueled primarily by marijuana.
“Tell him he’s done a lousy job so far,” she said, laughing.
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