True to her word, Phoebe took me to John. She led the way across the road that ran along the bottom of Burnley’s land until the mist descended obscuring everything in sight until you were upon it.
I shivered as the cold penetrated my jacket and I nearly choked on the stench of smoke. Burning. Maybe Henry had been responsible for the destruction of Burnley after all. He set fire to the house and killed all those inside.
We walked until Phoebe gestured for us to leave the road. Though I couldn’t see much, the route rang familiar in my head. I had walked this way before. We crossed a field, and I looked for it. The white tent. Its peak rose out of the mist like a mountain summit. Red flags with white crosses flew from the canopy, flapping in the wind.
“I’ve been here before,” I whispered.
“I know,” said Phoebe. “We knew exactly where you had gone when you couldn’t remember. We knew he’d come for you sooner or later. Although, I have to admit it was a bit of a shock to see him stumbling out of the mist that first night.” She shuddered. “Scary. We underestimated what affect your presence would have.”
“Why does he need to come for me?”
“I thought you wanted to see him for answers.” She pointed towards the tent.
My heart lurched as I compelled myself forward taking in deep breaths.
“Are you coming?” I called out to Phoebe.
She shook her head sending a cascade of red curls down her back. “I’ll wait here for you.”
My hand trembled as I reached out. I took hold of one of the canvas folds and pushed it further back, bending low so I could enter. As soon as I went in, I stilled. Slimline wooden beams ran from floor to ceiling, a large table took up most of the room in the centre; what looked like maps and papers were strewn across it. Various sized wooden chests sat in one corner next to a makeshift bed, which was nothing more than a thin mattress on the floor. John lay upon it, sleeping.
I fought with the idea of leaving him to sleep to return to Burnley. Purple-black shades bruised the skin beneath his eyes. His skin was weathered, red in places, making him appear older than I believed him to be. He looked exhausted.
An outdoor smell of wood, mud and sweat crept up my nose.
I sighed. As much as I wanted answers, I could not bring myself to wake him. I stalked around the table to get a better look at the pages lying in disarray. Truthfully, I couldn’t understand most of it, but my eyes locked onto a single piece that appeared to have a forked road sketched onto the surface. At the bottom, someone had scribbled the words ‘to London’ and ‘Barnet’, at the top, ‘St Albans’ and ’Wretham Wood’. Right in the middle were other place names such as ‘Warwick’ and ‘Oxford’. I did not understand their significance because even I knew Warwick was in the Midlands, far from here, and my geographical skills could only be described as poor at best. Then I read one name, ‘Montagu’. My surname though the spelling differed but saying it here in this place, the name sounded different, felt different. I said the word aloud testing it on my lips.
I jumped from the table as though I had been burned.
John propped himself up with one hand on the mattress. I hadn’t realised he was without a shirt. The position only served to highlight the strength of his arms.
“It’s Anne, remember?”
His face fell for a moment. “And here I thought we would have dispelled with that nonsense by now. So be it. What can I do for you, Anne? Am I correct in thinking you received my letter?” He pushed himself up from the floor, grabbed a shirt that had been draped over a chair and pulled it over his head. The redness encircling his eyes from sleep did nothing to stop the blueness shining out.
I gulped. “I did, thank you.”
“Robin was always on my side.”
“I know about them,” I blurted out, my throat bobbing. “I know about you and I need answers. The others say they are bound by some sworn promise, but I hoped you could answer some of my questions.”
He pushed himself up sighing through exhaustion. “I will help you in any way I can but ultimately the curse is of your doing and only you can break it.”
“Curse? What curse?” I stammered.
“You should be further than this, how can you not yet know about the curse?” He gripped the bar running horizontal across the back of the chair.
I shrugged. “I’ve been quite ill, and no-one is telling me anything.”
His brow creased. “Come now Anne, surely you have noticed occurrences that are not easily explained.”
“I know they are dead if that’s what you’re asking, and that Burnley burned down after Kate died. But what I don’t understand is that if it did burn down, then how can we stay there? I’ve walked its halls and slept in one of its rooms. Even the townspeople know it burnt down, to them it’s nothing more than a ruin on a hill.”
“And for some, it is a gaol. A prison for their souls. On the night Kate died she put a curse on her family, which meant that they would forever endure the agony of loneliness and despair. She uttered the words, spilled her own blood and then the curse was sealed.”
“Why did she kill herself?”
He hung his head low. “Kate killed herself because I died. I died at the Battle of Barnet on the fourteenth of April 1471. In order to boost morale amongst my men, I led on foot, but the mist had caused such confusion that it was difficult to tell who was who. That was how he was able to gain the upper hand.”
“If Kate was in love with you why was she marrying Sir Ralph Croft?”
He bit his bottom lip at the mere mention of Ralph and his knuckles whitened. “Never! She never loved him. The engagement was based only on Henry’s insistence that she had a husband loyal to the Yorkist cause.”
I couldn’t stop looking at his face. There was something about it, the squareness of his jaw and days worth of growth adorning his chin that not only added to his handsomeness but made me feel safe in his company. “She couldn’t have you and was being forced to marry someone else. I understand that is terrible, but I see no logical reason why she should kill herself and then curse her whole family in the act!”
“Perhaps but her pain was real, no matter how brief. This is not out of jealousy either, but you must be wary of Ralph Croft, he is not to be trusted.”
I thought back through the people I had met at the house. “I don’t think I have met him. Are you sure the curse affected him?”
“It affected everyone present at Burnley as well as blood relatives and I know Croft would have attended Burnley following the battle.”
“But you died on the battlefield, how is it possible you are here too?”
When he smiled, his eyes did too. “I am not here because of a curse imposed in anger but a promise carved out of love.” He run the tip of his tongue across his lips, he wouldn’t stop looking at me. He took a step closer and without a thought I moved backwards.
“Are you afraid of me?” A sudden cloud dulled his eyes.
“No. I’m afraid of what you make me feel. I barely know you.”
He moved closer still, and I mirrored his steps backwards until I was against the flimsy material wall of the tent. Then he was right before me. He was so close I could feel his hot breath upon my skin. Soon, both of his hands had slinked around my waist and he had pulled me into his body.
“How can you say you barely know me? We have loved each other for five hundred years. Does this not bring any memories back?” His hands moved up to remove strands of hair that had fallen across my eyes. Then he cupped my face, lifting my chin up, so I could look straight into his eyes.
“Standing before you now,” he whispered. “I can truthfully say that I love you in this moment just as much as I had on our last earthly day together.”
When he brought his lips down on to mine, I did not fight back. I didn’t want to because in the end, he was right. I didn’t know if I was being flooded with Kate’s memories or her spirit, but I loved him and now I needed to break this curse to honour that love.