“Bloody hell, I was just about to send a search party for you. Again!” Phoebe scolded as I left the tent. She sat cross-legged on the grass. “And my arse is damp now!”
I laughed and held out my hand to help her up. “Sorry, I didn’t realise how long I’d been.” I straightened my jacket whilst she eyed me suspiciously.
“You’re looking a little flustered,” the corner of her mouth flickered, and it was back to how we once were, best friends and not separated by a five hundred-year-old curse.
“So, I’m meant to be the reincarnation of Lady Kathryn Farthing and you brought me here to break a five-hundred-year-old curse.”
“In a nutshell, yes. But you didn’t hear that from me.”
I gave a troubled sigh. “Let’s get back, shall we?”
The corner of her mouth flickered, hope igniting in her eyes. “You’re going to stay and help us?” We started on our way back to Burnley.
“There are people depending on me, I feel I should do what I can.”
“Did you find out everything you wanted to know?”
I shook my head. “But I think John told me what I needed to know.”
We continued on our path, the bare minimum passing between us. We neared the area where we needed to divert from this path and snake up towards Burnley.
“Look who it is,” said Phoebe, her tone unfriendly.
Looking up, I saw Rich approaching. He had his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his brown suede jacket, which hugged a ribbed navy jumper.
“Rich! What are you doing here?”
“I was about to call at Burnley to see how you are. But I think that has been answered. Much better I see.” He flashed a grin in our direction.
“I am feeling much better. Thank you.”
“Are you feeling well enough to allow me to take you on that tour of Barnet?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Phoebe interjected, whilst my mouth hung open like a fish. She gave me a knowing look. “Anne is still recovering from her knock on the head.”
“Is that so?” he knew it was an excuse. “In that case, let me walk you back to Burnley. At least then I know you’re safe.”
“That’s kind of you,” I said. “Thank you.”
The three of us started on our way back to the manor.
“How much do you know about the history of Barnet?” I asked Rich.
“Erm, well a little. My family has lived in Barnet for generations and I work in the library. I’ve learnt a lot there.”
“Do you know anything about John Neville from the 1400s? Ouch!” Phoebe gave me a sharp jab in the ribs.
“Ssshhh!” she hissed.
“The John Neville? The one that died at the Battle of Barnet?”
“Yes, that one!” I cried, ignoring Phoebe.
He gave a shallow shrug. “Not much apart from his death. I know he was from a noble northern family and from what I’ve read he was a bit of a trouble causer. He would threaten the tenants of his rivals, the Percies. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason. I heard his name when Henry was talking about the battle. That’s all.”
“Absolute coward if you ask me. Switching sides like he did.”
“You seem to know more than you’re letting on,” questioned Phoebe.
He laughed. “It’s amazing how much you remember when you begin talking about something.”
“Isn’t it just?” Phoebe answered curtly.
We crossed the boundary into Burnley’s land and started up the hill.
“I can look into him if you like.”
I thought about Rich’s offer. Did I want to know more? There may be things about John that I didn’t want to know. I had learnt enough in school to tell me that the times were harsh. Maybe he’d done cruel things himself. “That’s ok. I don’t need to know anymore.”
“Well here we are,” said Rich as we reached Burnley’s gatehouse. “Delivered safely like I promised. I will ask you again, can I show you around Barnet soon? Certainly, before you leave.”
“Same answer as before,” I said. “Yes, you can.”
“Good,” he replied. “I’ll see you soon then.” He smiled, forming a solitary figure as he walked away from us.
“What is wrong with you?” I asked Phoebe.
She shrugged. “I don’t know, I can’t put my finger on it but something about him is off. I do not trust him.”
“He helped me when I fell and has been kind enough to check on me.”
“Just be careful, Anne. We don’t know what your presence here has stirred up.”
Upon returning to Burnley, I decided I wanted to be on my own for a while. Phoebe said she understood, and that she needed to check on Nell and Eleanor, anyway. Meg brought more of the stew and bread up to my room and this time, I wolfed it down like I had never had a meal in my life. I thought I would react differently to them now I knew they were dead, but I was shocked to find I was fine. In fact, it felt like there were fewer secrets between us. What had affected me more than I could ever explain was the loss of Aunt Lily and even though I knew she was back up in Yorkshire fussing over Lorna and running after Uncle Richard, I grieved for her, my heart heavy and laboured. She may not have been a blood relation, but she was all I had ever known, and I missed her.
To give my mind a rest, I read a little more of Sir Tristram until the darkness came, and the candlelight dwindled. Then I crawled into bed.
In the stark blackness of the night, I awoke suddenly with thunder pounding in my chest. I rubbed the sticky sleep from my eyes. As the back of my hand brushed past my hair, I noticed it was drenched where it clung to my skin, my face cold and clammy. I turned on my side lifting my knees up to my chest hoping that the closeness would provide some sort of comfort. But none was to be found. The blood-soaked images of my recurring dreams continued to flash like lightning during a storm before my mind invading every inch of my soul as a glove would smother a hand.
As usual, silver armour-clad knights clashed together. The haunting battle cries and heart-rending moans of the wounded and dying filled the room around me. I clenched my eyes tight trying to block them all out.
“Kate,” came a low hiss.
My heart jerked and my eyes broke open. A light shimmered in the room. With dream creeping into every limb, I turned until I laid flat on my back.
There was a tall girl with thick ebony hair braided at one side holding a stubby, burning candle. She was so close to the edge of the bed I could smell the hot wax dripping down the stem. She wore a white nightgown that fell much too short just below her knees as if it was for someone shorter than herself.
“Who the hell are you?” Every syllable trembled.
“Who am I? What game are we playing Kate?” the girl laughed as she placed the candle down on the bedside table illuminating my face like a beacon.
I followed her with my gaze. “I’m not Kate, I’m Anne,” I said through gritted teeth. This spiel was becoming tedious now.
The girl laughed again. “Your name is Anne? Then I shall not be Matilda but Elizabeth, yes, in this game I shall be Elizabeth. But come with me my dear Anne for I have something wonderful to show you.”
“What do you want to show me?”
A sudden light ignited in her eyes and the corners of her mouth curled. “Why tell you when I can show you?” she said and grabbed my hand to pull me from the bed. “Here, you will need this,” Matilda threw a cloak in my direction. “ ’Tis a cold night and we don’t want you to catch another fever.”
“I haven’t had a fever.” I protested. Nonetheless, I did as I was told and pulled the emerald green garment over my own long, white nightgown I knew I hadn’t worn to bed. Like a poor limp creature with no mind of its own, I allowed Matilda to lead me from the room.
Catching a glimpse of myself in a darkened mirror in the passage outside, I saw that the main features of my face were the same except smaller. They demonstrated a subtle change in my age making me older somehow. My golden hair had reclaimed the length and bouncy spiral curls of my childhood. I looked very much like the child who had led me to the portraits.
“Come quickly,” urged Matilda in a low voice looking around her cautiously to make sure no one had heard or seen us.
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” and with that, the other girl grabbed hold of my hand and dragged me all the way. She made sure we were careful to take quiet steps.
A coldness, much harsher than normal, flooded the hallways. It bit and nipped at my exposed flesh causing goose bumps to rise on my skin. Matilda put a finger to her lips as she prised open the door leading to the main hall. There were people in there, I could hear the muffled sounds of their voices failing to penetrate the door.
Matilda peered through the gap before opening it as slowly as she could. She gestured for me to follow as she slipped through.
With the door now open, booming roars rang out from the Great Hall, not angry but proud and passionate. Matilda led us out onto the gallery above the hall, stooping low, careful not to be seen. Most of the gallery was cast in darkness so we could hide amongst the shadows watching simply as spectators upon the scene below. I knelt holding onto the spindles for support and saw the hall filled with soldiers, medieval looking soldiers all wearing different colours and images on their chests.
“What’s going on?” I asked but Matilda clamped a hand over my mouth and hissed for me to be quiet in a low voice. I could not workout if I was dreaming, sleeping walking or ghosts like Henry and Meg. Ever since we had arrived here, I had struggled to separate what was real and what was not.
“That’s what I wanted to show you,” Matilda said whispering. I followed her eyes to a tall man bearing a sword at his side. He had a handsome face I noted, with clear eyes and healthy colouring to his face. Then I looked at him again, squinting my eyes to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was.
I felt myself smile. My mouth had become dry. I stared at him unmoving. “What is he doing here?” I registered the spider web lines that broke away from his eyes and the dark circles of bruises beneath them. “John. But I got the impression that Henry hates him.”
Matilda cast me a sideward glance, smiling through her eyes as she did so. “Yes, your John, but what gave you the silly notion that Henry hates him?”
I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. “My John? Why do I care whether he is here or not?” I cared. More than I should.
Matilda laughed as loud as she dared. “Oh please Kate. Sorry Anne, do not pretend your regard for him has lessened any since your last meeting for I know your secrets all too well cousin.” Her attention returned to the bustling chaos of the hall below. “He was in the north, but the King asked John to personally escort him to meet your father. The King wanted to thank my Lord Uncle for his devout loyalty. Though I believe there to be another reason for his visit.”
She looked at me with eyes bright. “I believe John has petitioned the King to accompany him here today, so he has support when he asks for your hand.”
“Ask for my hand?” My mouth fell open.
“Yes, I believe John will ask your father for permission to marry you.”
I turned back towards the men on the floor below and fought to hear his voice. When he spoke, he demonstrated such kindness, patience and surety. He managed to cool the tempers of some of those gathered there. Every now and again he would glance up to where Matilda and I had sunk down low, hidden beneath the shadows. It was like he could hear the hammering of my heart.
One of the men clasped his arm around John’s shoulders.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“He is our king,” she explained. “King Edward IV. He is just as handsome as everyone said he was.”
“As always, my loyal John, you are right,” Edward nodded agreeing with his own statement. “I do believe you are right, come, let us drink and for tonight at least not be strived with what the wicked bitch of Anjou has in store for us. Do you agree, Warwick?”
“I do!” the other voice boomed.
Warwick. That was one of the words written on the paper I saw on John’s table. It didn’t mean a place but a name.
“Just imagine, you will be the wife and sister-in-law of Earls! Earl Warwick the Kingmaker too! Countess Kathryn has a lovely sound to it. I do hope you will remember that I am your favourite cousin.”
“Warwick is John’s brother?”
“You know he is.”
Then my head began to whirl, and the ground swayed from under me. It spun so fast I held onto to the spindles of the gallery rail just to stay up.
“Are you well, Kate?” I heard Matilda’s voice, but it was distant. “Perhaps this has been a little too much excitement for you. Come, let me return you to your room.”
I leaned forward to grab another spindle, my eyes clenched tight, but the increased weight on the thin, turned wood made it break with a crack. I heard myself gasp and my body lurched forward. Matilda grabbed hold of my nightgown just in time to stop me following the spindle that now lay in pieces on the stone slabs below.
Even though my eyes were closed, I knew everyone was now looking in our direction. I opened my eyes to see the colours of the whole room run like paint before it all came together in a big smudge and morphed into another scene.