I now found myself in the middle of the Main Hall amongst a mass of people. A smell of smoke hung in the air and I noticed flames roaring in the fireplace. It made the air hot and heavy and there was an almost therapeutic element to the crackling.
Talking and laughter filled the room. People sat at long tables running down each side, drinking and eating. A group of men strung instruments and sang to those gathered. I strained my neck looking for anyone I recognised. I spotted King Edward, a dazzling jewel in a sea of imitating glass. He sat, the rim of his goblet never far from his mouth, booming with laughter with Henry on a table raised on a dais. Alcohol stained his cheeks.
“Kate, keep up!”
A hand grabbed mine and spun me on the spot. When I had turned full circle, I realised Matilda gripped my hand. We moved around in a circular fashion with another ring of girls around the outside of us.
“Do I need to ask what thoughts are occupying your mind?” she laughed. She wore a beautiful gown; the colour of peacock feathers and a floating veil hid her hair.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said. We turned our backs to each other, jumped and clapped before returning to the larger circle. The movements came to me as though I was possessed by another being. One who knew the routines to medieval dances. We had a mock Tudor feast in primary school but that was about the closest I’d ever experienced to this. I kept tripping over my long dress which Aunt Lily had fashioned out of a duvet cover.
I looked at all the faces around me. They were all smiling and flushed with happiness. I did not think I recognised any of the girls until one caught my eye. She stood on the opposite site of Matilda bright blonde hair peeked out from under her headdress. I knew her from somewhere, I would have sworn it, but I could not say where. She kept looking at me though, her Farthing blue eyes twinkling in the candlelight.
More girls skipped into the middle, joined hands before repeating what Matilda and I had done. After a few more rotations, the music stopped, and the girls dispersed like drops from a burst bubble. Then the players truck up again and sang a different song but this time, couples went to dance instead.
Matilda surged forward and pulled me to the side. “Are you happy?”
“In general, or do you mean something more specific?”
She cocked her head, eyebrows drawing together. “Are you happy that you are now betrothed to Sir John Neville? I know he certainly is. A smile has not left his face since your father gave his permission.”
“I thought Kate, I mean, I was betrothed to Ralph Croft?”
Matilda pulled a face. “Goodness no. He is a handsome man; I will grant you that but how many of us get to marry a person we love? I envy you Kate. You do still love John?”
“Yes,” I breathed before I had even realised what I had said. I loved John.
“Good because here he is now.” Matilda took hold of my shoulders and spun me. My legs turned to jelly, and I feared they would fold beneath me.
There he was standing before me. If this was a vision, I never wanted it to end. The blueness of his doublet highlighted the shade of his eyes; colour filled his face. I had never seen him look happier and healthier than he did right now.
“My lady,” a shadow of a smile crossed his face as he reached out to me, took my hand and brought it to his lips.
“My lord,” I replied. There was something about his demeanour that set him apart from everyone else. The way he looked at me like there was something only we knew. He came closer as close as he dared.
A shiver ran down my back and I felt eyes on me. I glanced to the top table. Henry’s stare bore into my skin. He rose steadily from his chair and I thought he was going to march his way over to us and pull me away. That was until the king put his arm out to stop him and Henry hesitated before sinking back down.
I snapped my head back to John. “Are we engaged?”
He threw his head back and laughed. “Yes, yes we are.”
I didn’t know what to say, no one had said anything about Kate being betrothed to John, only Ralph Croft.
“You’re wondering why I did not tell you when you came to see me earlier.”
“What did you say?”
He stepped closer still and took my hand without letting go. His hand was rough, but I would have stayed like that forever. “It is me, Anne. You need not be afraid.”
“How can it be you from when I know you and not the 1400s?”
I followed John’s eyes as they flashed to where Henry sat, just as I had done. “Quick! Come with me.” We dived behind a dancing couple and as they turned towards each other, we moved again. John twirled me in his arms as if we were one of them, but I knew straight away he was moving us towards the door.
I looked back at Henry who was craning his neck in every direction, scanning the room.
“We shall go to the tiered garden where we can lose ourselves.”
One last twirl and John spun us out of the door. Despite the situation, as soon as we left the hall, we burst into a fit of giggles, like children. To anyone who saw us half-dancing our way from the room, we must have looked ridiculous.
We worked our way through the hallways. We heard footsteps echoing on the stone in front of us and a man came around the corner. John pulled me into a doorway and pushed me back against the wall. He allowed his body to cover mine as the man passed us undetected. My eyes never moved from his face. He kissed me on the top of my head, then my forehead. I silently begged for him not to hear my heart pummelling my chest as I struggled to control my breathing. His lips were hot against my skin as he moved them down to the tip of my nose and finally down to my lips.
This time, my hands wrapped around his neck and I pulled him to me. My fingertips grazed the bottom of his hair. He was tentative at first, placing soft and gentle kisses on me until the hunger became too much and then his mouth crushed mine, urgent and bruising.
A numbness took over me when he pulled away.
“I’m sorry,” he panted, bowing his forehead so it could rest against mine. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” I whispered, tilting my head so I could kiss him once more, softly.
“Come, let us go to the garden away from all of these people.”
We made it to the garden with no further distractions. Outside, the air was cool and fresh. Light danced in the windows like fireflies, but John and I were together in moonlit darkness.
John led me to a low stone bench, surrounded by perfectly trimmed hedges.
My limbs were shaking.
“Are you cold?” John started to remove his overcoat, but I shook my head.
“No, I’m fine thank you.” It wasn’t the cold affecting my limbs but how close I was to him. I think I need the coolness to calm the heat rising in my body. “Why am I here? Is this a dream or a vision and how can you be here?”
“A dream I believe but on a grand scale. You have no idea how your sheer presence within those walls affects things. And yet it is also a memory of what has already been. On this night over five hundred years ago, I asked Lord Farthing’s permission to marry Kate.” He sat down next to me.
I removed the headdress from my head and sat it down on the floor. “That feels better.” I unpinned my hair and let it fall loose.
John smirked. “There will be hell to pay if you are caught with your hair down and uncovered.”
Music and voices floated across the air to us.
“Did she do this?” I asked.
“Yes, I believe she did. She hated her hair up. Kate liked to be free.”
“Why did you not tell me you were betrothed to her when I spoke to you earlier?”
He shrugged. “You did not ask and besides, I told you to look for me. I planned to come to you and help you a little. Your sudden appearance in my tent caught me off guard. So why did you seek me out and not wait for me as I had instructed?”
My teeth sunk into the flesh of my bottom lip. “I don’t know. I wanted answers, and I thought you might have given them to me. No-one else was willing and I don’t think I can do this all on my own.”
His lips flickered and cheeks reddened a little. “You wanted to see me.”
I avoided his statement. “What happened between you and Kate? If you were so in love, how come you did not marry, and she ended up betrothed to Sir Ralph Croft?”
A muscle twitched in his cheek. “They were difficult times. War ravaged the country from one end to the other. There was hardly a moment of peace. My father, my brother Richard and I had been staunch supporters of York right from the beginning. My brother stood as Edward’s right-hand man when he became king. They even called him the Kingmaker, but Richard believed the title should have come with ultimate power.”
“I don’t see how that would affect your marriage.”
“What Edward and Richard did affected everyone. They were the two most powerful men in England. Edward married a widow, Elizabeth Woodville who Richard did not approve of. Then her relations started being elevated to positions of power and Richard was pushed further and further away until eventually he cracked and joined the Lancastrian cause against Edward.”
I swallowed hard. “You were torn between your king and your brother.” The tears in his eyes glowed in the iridescent light of the moon. I slid my hand over his.
“I remained loyal for as long as I could. Then Edward took Northumberland away from me. I was created Marquis of Montagu as compensation but with no estate or revenue to support such a title. How was I to provide for you? So, I joined Richard and the Lancastrians though my heart always remained loyal to York.” He sighed deeply, and a silver tear slid down his cheek.
My heart broke. “So that is what Henry was speaking about.”
John turned to me. “What do you mean?”
“He gave me a book to read, it is actually one of my favourite stories.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“I gave you the book as a gift with a pair of entwined roses hidden in the cover. It was our secret but please forgive me, I interrupted you.”
“Well, when he asked me if I enjoyed the book he started talking about honour and loyalty. I assume Henry broke off the engagement because he believed you to be disloyal against York?”
John nodded solemnly. “And Kate was betrothed to the nearest proven Yorkist supporters, the Crofts. I tried to stay away, honestly I did, but I loved her more than I valued my life.”
He pulled me to him. “I wish you remembered more and then I could say these things to you without you scolding me that Kate is not your name.”
At this moment he could have called me anything he wanted, and I would not have cared.
“What will happen from here, I cannot say,” he said. “I may not be able to appear to you again, but I will warn you one more time, I do not believe Ralph Croft can be trusted.”
I felt a punch-like thud hit my stomach. “But I need you to help me.” I tried to stop my bottom lip wobbling.
“I have done all I can, now it is up to you.” He pulled me in tight and kissed the top of my head. Neither of us cared if we were seen. “I need you to remember that I will always come for you.”
“Please don’t ask me to return to a world where you don’t exist.”
“I exist wherever you are. I know you can break the curse,” his voice broke. “Just as I know that not even death can stop you and I being together. This is our chance and we must seize it.”
“What do I need to do?”
“Let Kate live again.”