tagRomanceHealing Across Time

Healing Across Time


"Ever wondered who you were before?"

"Were before?" Claire was puzzled. She looked up at her friend, Louise, who was sitting on the sofa reading a magazine.

"Your past lives," Louise explained. "Caroline Rattenbury is offering a past life regression workshop in Netherbury Farm buildings next Tuesday night. Do you want to go?"

"Are you going?"

"I'd like to. I took one of Caroline's shamanic soul retrieval workshops last year. She was good. What do you think?"

Claire stroked the grey cat on her knees. "It is something I've always wondered about, but I'd only fall asleep!"

Louise laughed. Claire's reputation for drifting off during meditation sessions led to regular teasing by other members of their "personal development" group.

"You work too hard, Claire. It was eight o'clock when I arrived tonight; you'd only just got in. You really should cut down."

"I know," Claire admitted, "Apart from the evenings I go out with you or Sally, there's nothing to drag me back here. Sorry, Smudge," she apologised as the cat meowed, reminding her he was always home when she returned. "I didn't mean to forget you."

"It's a date then?" Louise put down the magazine and stood up ready to leave. Claire nodded. "I'll pick you up at seven. Don't be late."

"I won't," Claire promised, showing her friend to the door. Smudge went with her, standing on the doorstep sniffing the cool night air. The scent of rain still lingered from the sudden downpour earlier. Smudge ventured a paw onto the wet step and shook it. He sniffed disparagingly before changing his mind and disappearing off down the path.

"Will he be alright out this late?"

"Oh yes, he comes and goes as he pleases. I think he goes and complains to the new people at number seven until they take pity on him. I know he goes there sometimes during the day when I'm at work, they're company for him."

"I'll see you on Tuesday then. Bye!"

Claire waved her off then went to wash up.

"Who was I before this life?" she wondered as she cleared away cups and plates. "Probably a servant, dying of tuberculosis before she was thirty -no Egyptian princess like Katy." Her friend was always boasting about her royal connections when anyone mentioned past lives. She dried the last plate and laid the table for her solitary breakfast, as she did every night.

Methodical, people called her. "Maybe I'll find out I was a totally chaotic 1920s flapper; now I'm trying to make up for it!" She smiled as she put out the kitchen light and made her way to bed.

Tuesday came quickly. Claire was unsure about the proposed workshop, but she left work early, making her way home in time to eat, feed Smudge and change into something more comfortable.

"You'd better bring a rug and a cushion," Louise advised when she came to collect her, "Sophie said there would be a crowd when she brought the tickets round."

Netherbury Farm lay on the outskirts of Little Brompton where Claire and Louise lived. The redundant farm buildings, recently converted into craft workshops, were beginning to acquire a reputation for good quality gifts. The grain store was hired out for classes or meetings. Claire and Louise made their way up the steep stone steps clutching their rugs and pillows.

"Find yourself a space," Caroline Rattenbury told them. There were people of all ages lounging on the floor talking together. Claire and Louise eventually found a vacant corner to spread out their rugs.

"Now everyone is here, we can begin." Caroline brought the group to order. "I want you to relax and imagine you are walking along a path into a beech wood."

"Does it have to be a beech wood?" Claire thought rebelliously, "I'd rather go into an oak glade any day!"

"In this beech wood, you will find a very large tree. I want you to imagine you're sitting under the tree. Feel its warm bark against your back. In a moment, I'm going to start drumming. This will be your signal to leave the beech tree and start your journey back into a past life. You can keep in touch with your physical self by listening or being aware of the drumming, but when I change the speed, it means your journey is over and you must come back. Do you understand?"

There was a chorus of "Yes" and someone dimmed the lights.

"Good, now make yourselves comfortable, take some nice deep breaths and start on your journey."

The drum began its own unending rhythm. Caroline's voice died to a forgotten whisper in the darkness. Claire closed her eyes, waiting for the swirling mists of her imagination to settle.

It was the lean time of the year. She could smell frost while hunger gnawed in her belly. Claire stood in the foothills of a mountain. She was a dark-skinned woman wearing supple leather clothes. A single black and yellow feather adorned her beaded headband. Alone, she pulled a heavy sack across her shoulders; wrapping herself round with a brightly coloured blanket. The sun was just rising as she set off along the path. Already she was far above the green valley where her journey began. Claire knew she'd been travelling a long time, sleeping on hard earth in frost filled crevices, the last of her firewood consumed in the night.

This was a special journey, seeking answers for an unspoken question. She did not know the outcome - her only certainty, the journey itself.

Pink shafts of light touched snow clad peaks; the colour warming her heart, if not her hands.

"Too far," she grumbled to her boots as they trudged wearily one foot in front of the other. She knew better than to mark out time as the sun rose on its journey through the heavens. For her there was only the path, twisting and turning its way between the trees. Huge, they were at first, hiding their green tops in shadow. Now the giants were gone leaving only shrubs clinging to crevices. Their long spines caught her clothes; drawing blood from her hands if she did not take care. Once or twice she caught sight of a shadow thrown upon the rocks, a movement on her outer vision, disappearing if she turned her head to judge its size and shape.

She murmured prayers to the passing rocks, asking for safe passage.

"I've not come to hunt," she told the wind, seeking protection from those who might see her as an easy meal. Her ears craned for stealthy footpads or breath of mountain lion. The only sounds were her own laboured breathing and pounding of blood in her ears.

As the sun began its downward path, she stopped; searching for food in her pack. Dried meat and bread took time to chew, but they stopped the pangs in her belly until it was time to sleep. She rested against a low rock, watching clouds chase each other above other mountain peaks. A sudden flicker of movement caught her attention. When she turned, a man sat watching her on the other side of the trail.

"Where has he come from?" Claire wondered. The man sat, his arms relaxed against his sides, showing he meant no harm. His face bore marks of deep weathering from many seasons.

"He's not from my people." The men of her tribe kept their faces shaved, but this man's beard was flecked with grey, his hair hanging loose past his shoulders. His clothes seemed familiar, but his deerskin was dyed green and underneath she could see a cloth shirt nestling against his skin. His eyes were shaded by the broad brimmed hat he wore. She knew enough of strangers not to seek his gaze, lest it give him power over her before she set her own protection.

"Why is he here?" She made no move to greet him, trying to make some sense of his presence. "Am I not to travel alone?" she wondered. "Have the Old Ones sent me a companion, or is this just another test I must endure?

She noticed his gaze turn to the food in her hand. Was he, too, a victim of lean times? She broke off a piece of flatbread, offering it to him with a strip of dried trail meat. He accepted her gift with subtle grace, searching her eyes with his own as he nodded his gratitude. She wondered if she should speak, but was unwilling to break the companionable silence. She retrieved her water bottle from the carry sack and offered him a drink.

She watched him take in her clothes, the soft russet tunic and long skirt decorated with beads and feathers, each one matching the black and yellow striped feather in her headband. Her weathered hands bore the markings of recent paint, a sure sign of the sanctity of her quest. She pushed stray wisps of hair from her face, swinging the two thick braids over her shoulders to reveal curved markings on her forehead as well as under her eyes.

As he swallowed the last morsel of flatbread, she scattered her crumbs on the earth, uttering a blessing for their food. She could see him straining to catch the words of her chant, rising and falling on the breeze until the very rocks picked up the echo. She could not tell where her voice began and the earth gave back. To her it was but a moment's prayer, but it affected her new companion deeply.

With a gentle flourish, he returned the water bottle and she stowed it away in her carrysack.

"I go this way," she said, pointing to the path leading up the mountain.

He nodded his agreement. "I walk with you."

She hoisted the carrysack over her shoulders, placed a large felt hat on her head and threw the blanket around herself as she began the ascent.

She climbed slowly but steadily, stopping every so often to notice a plant or a bush. Sometimes she shared the name with him or spoke about its use. He would nod gravely, as if thanking her for the information. Sometimes he would repeat the name to aid his memory for another time.

"Look!" she cried, pointing to a hawk, lazing on the final thermals of the day.

"This is a sign from my totem," he told her, his voice deep and halting, "You lead me where my courage and wisdom will be tested to the full. This hawk brings knowledge of things far away." His smile at the sight of the bird was tinged with true reverence. "I came to the mountain to pray," he said slowly, "to be one with all things."

They stood and watched the hawk for several minutes until he was just a speck within the pale sky. Then she turned, leading the way to a large rock.

"This is the place I was searching for," she told him. "Will you join me in the time between time?" She did not wait for a reply, but sat down in front of the rock, watching the beginnings of sunset. He came and sat beside her. Leaning back against the rock, they waited to be bathed with sunset rays. Colours began to dance in front of them like huge dragons in the sky, their wingtips ebbing and flowing as the hues changed. First deep reds and oranges flooded over them, making their throats ache with intensity, only to be relieved by the cooler yellows, green and brilliant blues. Then, as violet light touched the stone behind the woman, it became apparent it was not a stone at all but the entrance to a huge cave.

Now came the time of questions. Was this man someone she could trust to follow her inside the cave.

"I have a task," she began. "When I started this journey, I did not know what it would be, only I must follow the trail. When you joined me along the way, I was not sure if you were part of this task or following your own song. Now, I feel you have been sent here. I don't know if you are a witness or a helper."

He looked at her. "I don't know. Last night, I kept watch within my house, far across the sea from here. I fell asleep. When I awoke, I found myself half way up this mountain. Then I caught sight of someone climbing up the path before me, so I followed you, thinking you might know what brought me here. Now, I wonder if you called me. It would not be the first time my spirit wandered whilst I slept."

The woman pointed to the opening behind them. "I do not know why you have come here. What I do know is The Mother rests with her new born child, deep within the cave. She needs light to entice her back within the world. This is our task." She waited for a moment to see if he would say anything further. When he remained silent, she asked, "Are you cleansed? Did your healer work on your hidden wounds?"

The man looked shocked. "I bathed in the river on my way only this morning. As to my wounds, my healer says walking solves everything."

The woman snorted, her feelings clear, "That is as may be," she said. "For some the walk will suffice, for others, we shall see." Then her voice changed, her concern apparent, "May I touch you?"

"You may."

Although he gave his consent, she knew his heart chilled with fear of what she might find. She knew he shared his pain with no-one, ashamed a healer should be called to attend him. Now, months later, the wound still throbbed, no matter how many prayers he sent upwards.

How did she know? How could she see through his clothes to the raised flesh beneath? She must be a powerful woman if she could sense so much without even touching him. But now she did. She asked his permission to touch and he agreed. There was nothing to fear. She saw him release the breath he was holding and let his eyes reach hers.

She reached out her hand, pushing it gently under his arm so it rested on the soft fabric of his shirt. "The cut was deep. You are supposed to move when buffalo run at you." Her mouth twitched with the ghost of a smile.

He returned it ruefully, wondering how she knew about the goring. "My father, the chief, told me to falter before nothing."

She wrinkled her nose with disdain. "The tree stands tall and straight before the woodsman's axe, but Willow fronds bend before the wind and do not break."

"I know this." He spoke like a boy being chided. "I don't know why I held my ground when the great beast charged. For days I agonised whether I was afraid to move or merely struck by the arrow of invincibility. Those watching called me brave, fearless, but I heard other voices in the darkest nights."

"You needed to learn the wisdom of pain; it is a necessary lesson as the years turn."

"I know as much now as the world has been gracious to give me."

She stifled a gasp as her hand became warmer. "Your healer is a fool. He did not clean the wound properly—no wonder it would not heal." His only answer was an involuntary moan brought about by the discomforting pleasure of her touch. She responded by placing a finger lightly on the centre of his brow.

Hoping the opening would not cause him too much pain, she watched his face. He winced slightly, breathing in slowly to help himself relax. She waited for his outbreath before drawing her finger away from his forehead. Feeling the energy surging inside him, the prickling in her hand on his skin became painful. She noticed beads of sweat forming on his forehead.

"Tell me if it is too much."

His fingers fluttered their own protest, but he stifled them, "It is ... helpful," he murmured, "go on; I am strong."

She smiled at him, wiping his forehead tenderly with her sleeve as she removed her hand from his side. "Enough for now. Rest and drink," she said, handing him the water bottle.

He accepted gratefully, gulping the water to ease the sudden thirst her healing wrought in him.

She waited until his breathing calmed and colour returned to his cheeks.

"Will you help me make light for the Mother?"

He looked at her and smiled. "I will."

"Come." she took his hand, leading him through the entrance and deep inside the cave. When the light from outside was almost gone, she stopped beside a ledge, searching in her carrysac for a lantern which she filled with oil, then somehow lit. She made sure the man could not tell how she made the fire. One moment they were in darkness and the next the lantern filled the cave with a warm glow. She found another lamp, lit it and gave it to him, suggesting he explore further while she prepared herself.

She spread her blanket on the floor and removed her hat; untying her braids and running her fingers through the long hair so that it fell in a thick curtain down to her waist. The lamplight hid the streaks of grey, reflecting only the shining darkness of her tresses. She drew off her tunic and her long skirt, placing them carefully inside the carrysack where she would be sure to find them again. She knelt for a moment, feeling the coolness of the cave bring awareness to her naked body. She savoured the stillness around her then began her silent call to the spirits of place to help her with the rite.

She did not hear his soft footsteps as he emerged from the back of the cave. She felt his eyes on her as she knelt, eyes closed, with her palms open on her lap. She opened her eyes, catching him in their steady gaze .

"What did you find?"

"Nothing, except a bear skull and some old signs painted on the wall."

"Could you read them?"

"Not well," he answered, "they're very old, a script I did not recognise."

"Do you have anything with you to make light?" she asked him. He felt in the pouch tied to his waist.

"I have three sticks of beeswax with pressed linen wicks." He brought them out and laid them before her on the blanket.

"Were you told to bring them with you?"

He shook his head. "I always carry such provisions. My sister makes them for my travels, she has since I was a boy. Every time I go away she brings them as a gift. It would please us both if you would use them to call the Goddess forth into the world."

She saw he was moving more freely, the unhealed wound no longer troubling him.

"Now you are here, would you rather be back with your own people."

"Are you giving me the opportunity to leave before you began your rites? What will happen if I wake at home before the rite is completed? Will I disappear?"

"Do you want to leave?"

He shook his head. "What do you want me to do?"

In front of her was a small pot filled with strong smelling ointment. She motioned him to sit and he joined her on the blanket. Her eyes flickered between the contents of the pot and himself.

"I told you I did not know the nature of my journey when I started. Then I knew about the light and we have made light. Now there is something else." Her breathing was slow and measured; her words did not come easily as if she were searching for something or listening for a voice outside his hearing.

"Something for me?" The man's voice was hesitant.

"Yes." She paused, "Something you have dreamed of for many years, something to bring you closer to the Gods - a gift." She opened her eyes and looked at him.

"The Goddess has asked you to do this in her name. You are to be painted with the flying ointment and your third eye is to be opened with essence of spikenard." It seemed to her, the man's face grew paler as she spoke. "Will you accept the markings? It will feel cold at first, then you may feel dizzy, but it will soon pass as you begin to travel into the spirit world."

He shifted uneasily. "What are these markings?"

She cradled the pot within her hands as if warming it, then touched her left index finger along the surface, drawing it along the back of her right hand in a single blue line. "This is how it appears. The designs mark you as one beloved of Mother Earth. If you journey too far into the spirit world, they will know you and bring you back. It will stay with you for some time, but as you wash each day, the colour will fade until you forget you were ever marked at all. All you will have will be memories and even those may be cloudy. Each journey is different and we can never predict what will happen."

He drew himself up in front of her. "Do not mistake me. I do not fear this rite; I can live with any memory."

The woman felt a chill run down her back as he spoke, for she knew the untruth in his words. Whatever happened here this night would live with him for the rest of his life. The aching loss in his soul would weigh him down with sorrow. What was she to do? How could she ask him to continue knowing what must occur?

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