Featured Story

Cassandra and Jon

 1390

Jon died. Cassandra held him in her arms as his life slipped away. She screamed then, heart-wrenching sobs escaping from the depths of her despair. She looked with anguish at her father who wiped and sheathed his bloody sword. His rough hands grabbed Cassandra then, dragging her away from the body.

Duke Wilhelm held his daughter firmly as he growled at his guards, “Take him. Toss him in the ravine and let the crows and the wolves have him.”

He looked with contempt at Cassandra’s maid. Nan was kneeling, bruised, bloodied and distraught after Duke Wilhelm had beaten her so she would reveal the whereabouts of the two young lovers. “And get rid of her. I don’t want that treasonous scum in my sight.”

As the men tossed Jon’s body over the flanks of one of the horses and started to haul Nan to her feet, Cassandra cried out and began to beat at her father’s chest. He caught her wrists and shook her violently.

“He was never for you. You will marry Prince Edgar as arranged and that is the end of it.” His words brooked no argument and Cassandra slumped, defeated. She would never, in this life, have any control over her own destiny.

A week later Cassandra was married to Prince Edgar, a brute of a man with no love in his heart. Four years later, she died giving birth to her third son. She was little mourned. Her father and her husband would only acknowledge that she had done her duty.

 

1780

Jonathon Winston rode up to the estate house and effortlessly dismounted his black stallion. A servant took the reins and Jonathon walked towards the vegetable garden. He was hoping to see Cassie, the new girl, who worked in the kitchens. She should be there at this time of day, collecting fresh produce for the evening meal. He knew he should stay away from her, but he had spoken with her a few times now and she had captured his heart.

The first time he’d seen her, she had been collecting mushrooms in the woods. The sun had been shining through the trees, highlighting the blonde in her hair and the smoothness of her skin. When he approached her, she curtsied and kept her head bowed, but, with encouragement, she looked at him and he was instantly lost.

Something about her was so familiar, and when she spoke, it was with a grace and intelligence that made her all the more attractive.

It had been six weeks since that first meeting and he could not stop thinking about her or seeking her out. But, today, she was not in the vegetable garden. In fact, she had not been in the garden for about a week now.

Jonathon approached the old woman who was picking spinach leaves and asked about Cassie. He did his best to make the inquiry sound casual.

“I’m sorry milord, but Cassie caught the smallpox and was sent to the infirmary. Only, she died yesterday,” the old woman said, a touch of sadness to her voice.

“I see,” said Jonathon and he walked back to the house where there was little love or life, just the regimented, expected behaviour of all the inhabitants. No one would see him mourn and nobody would know how much he would miss her.

 

1927

Jack Burkholt took the collection of books to the library check-out desk. There was a new librarian today, a fair young lady with sparkling blue eyes. He knew those eyes … there was something familiar about them, something he had been looking for all his life.

Sandra, smiled at the old man and, stamping dates into the borrower’s log, she started to chat with him about his selection.

“Interesting choices,” she said. “You’ve got mystery, comedy, social comment and a bit of poetry. Are you an Agatha Christie fan?”

“A bit,” Jack replied, “but I do like to mix up my genre’s. Wodehouse did an excellent job with the first Jeeves book so I am looking forward to this one,” he added, holding up ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’ which had been published in 1923.

“Oh, there is a third book in that series,” Sandra said. “It’s out on loan at the moment, but I can put a reserve on it for you, if you’d like.”

“That would be splendid.” Jack was entranced by her enthusiasm. “Have you read ‘The Great Gatsby’?” he continued. “I found it so intriguing that I am going to read it again.”

Sandra was intrigued by the old man. She found his conversation easy and she felt as though she had always known him. When she said she had read the Gatsby novel, he asked her if she would like to discuss it over a cup of tea. She agreed instantly. Telling the other librarian she was taking a break, Sandra walked with Jack to the ‘Black Kettle Tearoom’ just down from the library.

Finding a table in the window, they ordered tea and scones and talked. There was never a lull in the conversation and their common interests were extensive and diverse. As the afternoon stretched into early evening, Jack said, “This has been a most wonderful afternoon. I do hope I have not kept you from your work. I would be delighted if you would agree to do this again sometime.”

Sandra smiled, “It would be my great pleasure.”

“Ah, splendid!” he said. “Well, the evening is drawing in and I must be on my way. As Jean Toomer said in ‘Cane’,” and here he tapped another of the books he had borrowed, “I am a reaper whose muscles set at sundown.”

He rose and walked, a little stiffly, out of the tearoom. Sandra watched him leave and felt complete and content.

At his home, Jack settled into the deep leather lounge and sighed. It had been a good day and he had met someone truly special. He closed his eyes and the long sleep overtook him. Thoughts of her lingered in his heart as his spirit left his body and waited for the time it would return to another life in another time.

 

2020

Cass and Jake laughed as they ran, holding hands, through the field where the village fair was being held. It had started to rain, those big, saturating drops that chilled your skin. Looking for shelter, they ducked into the tent of Madame Nanette, the psychic, seer or fortune-teller. Madame Nanette had the reputation of being whatever you wanted her to be and she was quite able to reveal whatever you wanted to hear.

But, today, when two giggling young people crashed into her tent, she was none of those things. She gasped at the sight of them and rising to her feet, she walked from the table with its crystal ball, towards the young woman. Madame Nanette touched Cass on the cheek, and looked intently into Cass’s eyes. Then, as recognition was confirmed, Madame Nanette bowed.

“It’s you,” she said, looking up in awe. “It really is you.”

Cass looked at the middle-aged woman with her turquoise and gold shawl, her up-swept hair and those sad, sad eyes.

“Nan?” Cass asked and part of her did not know how she knew this woman, but deep within there was a knowledge that here was a soul begging for forgiveness.

Nanette touched Cass’s cheek again and this time, memories, long hidden, forgotten for eons, flooded back.

“Cassandra, I am so sorry,” Nan said and Cass gasped, tears coming to her eyes as she recalled the fate of the woman that had been her nursemaid in that other life. Cass embraced Nan, holding her close with the deep love one has for someone cherished as a mother.

Nan looked then to Jake. “Jon,” she said. “How can I tell you the depth of my sorrow, the remorse I have always felt for what happened that day.”

Jake was confused by this exchange of emotions but when both Cass and Nan touched his arms, he was hurtled back through centuries to a field where Cassandra’s angry father had slashed Jake across the chest and he had collapsed in the arms of the woman he had loved.

“Jon? Yes,” he said. “I am Jon and you are Cassandra. How long have we been searching for one another? I remember … there was a library and I was an old man; no, no … there was a garden – you died from smallpox; or were you the beautiful young nurse during the Crimean war, … how many times have we tried to find one another?”

Nan cried at the thought and collapsed onto the cushions strewn on the floor. Cassandra and Jon knelt beside her, propping up her distressed body. They did not speak for a time as the memories of lifetimes washed over them.

Cassandra broke the silence. “My father was a brute. He knew nothing of love. He only knew how to demand obedience and everyone was too scared of him to do anything other than his bidding.”

Nan sobbed, “I betrayed you both. He was so brutal.”

“No,” said Cassandra, “my father betrayed us all. But look at us now. Our spirits were released from that horrible time and we are free to be who and what we want to be. We can choose our own destinies in this century. Now that we have found one another, we can live with love, in peace. Oh, Nan, we have been led here … it is a cliché to say love conquers all. I think truth, forgiveness, acceptance, are the heroes of the story.”

Jon spoke then, “Forgiveness does more than heal you know. Martin Luther King said ‘He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.’ Your father could not forgive because he could not love.”

After a pause, Jon added, “The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.”

Cassandra, laughed, “now you are just showing off … that’s Agatha Christie if I recall.”

“Oh, so you do remember all those years in the library.” Jon nudged her playfully and she leant closer to him, feeling his warmth and taking in his clean sandalwood scent.

Nan looked at the two of them and realised there was truth in this version of their lives and she felt a release and a joy beyond her centuries of torment. There was love here and forgiveness, and she could accept that now.

The rain had stopped. Madame Nanette closed up her tent for the day and the three of them wandered the fields with freedom. Love and joy and truth and forgiveness would be the foundation stones for the life ahead … or will that be lives!

 

 

© Susan Schrader                                                                             April 2022

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