Half-way between sleep and awake, an icy wave engulfed my body. The whole length of me shivered as I lay upon something hard and unforgiving.
A light pressure touched my shoulder, and I jumped.
“Anne?” Meg’s voice. “Wake up, Anne.”
I peeled one eye open to find Meg doubled over me. Her cheeks coloured, and she struggled for breath. “Have you any idea how long we have been looking for you?”
I sat up wincing at the ache which invaded my sides. “Where is John?”
Her eyes widened. “John was here?”
I nodded. I was on the bench where he had left me and yet I was in the pyjamas I had worn to bed with the emerald cape drawn over me.
“Have you been out here all night?” she gasped.
I rubbed the ache in the back of my neck. “Yes, I think so. I was having a dream or a vision or something. It was a feast; the king was there and Matilda.”
Meg stood back, and her hand went to her heart. There were tears forming in the old woman’s eyes. “You have seen Matilda?”
“Yes, and we were dancing. John and Kate had just become engaged.” I looked around me, withered and blackened leaves now made up the hedge surrounding the bench. I looked to the house. The grey bricks formed a shadow behind the mist, nothing more. No welcoming glows danced in the windows; no laughter carried itself on the air to us. The house had died along with its inhabitants.
“So, you know.”
Meg took a step back. “Look at you,” she scolded. “You are frozen to the bone. Let’s get you back to the house so you can be warmed up. A nice hot bath is in order I believe,” she held onto one of my hands and draped the other around my shoulders. I sunk into the heat radiating from her body, draining it for comfort. I didn’t think ghosts were meant to have body heat but then I’d never met one before.
We started walking down the steps into the lower tier of the garden where we would cross and enter a side door into the house. Just then, a large form darted from the doorway and across the lawn.
“Meg!” Robin bellowed.
“Good Lord Robin,” Meg said. “What is it?”
Robin stopped in his tracks and looked to me. There was a gleeful look in his eyes like a child on Christmas morning when they first see their pile of presents.
“My lady,” he bowed low. “We are so glad to have found you safe and well.”
“Yes, she is fine or will be when I get Jennet to fill her bath. But what is wrong?”
He grinned so wide it nearly filled his face. “Nothing is wrong, but you must come quickly and you too Mistress Anne. We are needed in the Main Hall. Now.”
Robin rushed us into the Hall, “Come, come.”
The tiered gardens brought us in at a higher level in the house. We looked down from a balcony, the same balcony that Matilda and I stood on in my dream. Henry stood in the middle with a woman who floated on a sea of silken gold. She wore a matching headdress that shimmered, covering most of her deep chestnut hair.
Meg had frozen beside me. “All is not yet lost,” she whispered. She let me go and wrapped her arms around Robin in a warm embrace. “It is happening Robin, can you feel it?”
Below, Henry’s hands were cupping the woman’s face. The intensity in his face was almost frightening.
“Elizabeth,” the name barely escaped Henry’s lips. I walked down the first few steps, my eyes never leaving them but then I stopped myself. I didn’t want to interrupt such a perfect moment. His face shone with wet tears.
“And you, you wonderful girl,” Meg put her arm around me. “This is all because of you.”
They seemed to look at each other for a long time as if they were taking in every line, every blemish and every pigment of colouring that marked their faces. Elizabeth smiled up at him; the corners of her full red lips reached her eyes and illuminated her young face. Henry reached up to the top of her head and in one swift movement removed the headdress and dropped it on the ground to reveal a cascade of thick brown hair. And then they embraced like they hadn’t touched one another in a hundred years. I was mesmerised.
Eventually, Henry let Elizabeth go, he stroked her hair a few times and closed his eyes to kiss her forehead.
Elizabeth broke away. “There is something else.”
“What more can you give me?” he whispered in the gentlest tone I had ever heard from a man except John.
Meg had taken to wiping her tears away on her skirts as the three of us went unnoticed at the top of the staircase. I may as well be a ghost myself.
Thuds echoed in the halls below accompanied by the happy laughter of children. Rufus and Mille bounded into the hall with a furious amount of energy followed by two small boys who were chasing them. When they saw Henry, they stopped dead in their tracks. After eyeing him carefully with large blue eyes framed by long, blonde hair, their faces broke out into huge grins.
I remembered now part of the book I had read at the library. What is certain, is that Henry claimed the lives of his beloved wife Elizabeth, their two children and most of their servants.
“Father!” they cried, running into Henry’s arms as he knelt on the floor.
“They have been away,” I whispered to Meg.
She licked her dry lips. “Yes. For a long time.” She didn’t even look at me.
“My lady Aunt!” one of the boys cried, and I realised they were looking at me.
Henry turned too and for once, he didn’t look like he hated me. Elizabeth took a couple of steps towards the bottom of the staircase and held her hand out. “Come Kate. Come and join your family.”
“Go on,” Meg hissed and pushed me forward.
I took each step slowly, one at a time. When I reached the bottom step, she came up close, towering over me by about five inches. She kissed me on the cheek and took both of my hands in hers and then uttered only two words. “Welcome home.”
Hours later, I wandered around the Manor, unsure if the aim was to lose myself or find myself.
All the hallways had grown increasingly darker as the night set in. My stomach rolled when I thought how close the fourteenth now was. Every so often, a powerful smell of burning wood would lodge in my throat whilst black, charred patches appeared to damage the walls before repairing themselves again. Not so long ago, I would have thought my mind was playing tricks on me but now, now I knew different.
I entered a part of the house I had not been in before. A long corridor mirrored the gallery I found my bedroom on. But this was grander. Here, gold edged the frames, the furnishings were thicker, warmer, the colours vibrant.
“Anne!” a voice called out as I walked past an open door. I backtracked a few steps and peered inside. A gentle, angelic light filled the room.
Elizabeth sat by the large mullioned window with her chair angled inwards. Layers of her gown flowed around her like a lake swallowing the chair she was sat on. She worked some sort of needlework, stabbing the needle into the off-white linen with one hand and pulled at coloured thread with the other.
I hovered awkwardly around the open doorway.
“It is Anne, isn’t it?” she smiled through her eyes.
I nodded, not saying a word.
“Please, come in.”
I hesitated before settling on a chair opposite her with the breath-taking view of the valley and the river snaking across the land between us.
“I thought you would have been with Henry,” I said.
A content sigh escaped her lips. “The boys wanted time with their father. I believe they have gone for a long walk.”
“I don’t mean to be rude but why have you asked me in here?”
“You appear a little distracted and you have lost colour in your cheeks.”
I was a little taken aback. “I don’t seem to be able to sleep here. Having said that, I’ve never slept well.” I shuffled in my chair and wondered if there was an ulterior motive to Elizabeth asking me into the room.
The older woman continued to study me with clear eyes. “You must find this all very peculiar,” she said with certainty.
“I’m sorry, all what?”
“Everything. My sudden return and that of the boys, of course. I take it you were not expecting us? I could tell from the look on your face you were not. In truth, how did you take it?” Elizabeth’s voice took on a light bounce as if she found our conversation amusing.
“I’m not sure I could explain it,” I tucked my unwashed hair behind my ears to give my uncomfortable hands something to do.
“I should have stayed like Meg and Robin did but for the boys’ sake I chose not to follow Henry into purgatory,” she became downcast. Elizabeth bit her lip. “It was all very sad and happened in such a blur. Taking the boys away from their father is the most difficult thing I have ever had to do.”
Then a series of loud bangs rang out shaking the house to its foundations. Both of us jumped and Elizabeth lost her train of thought. A blob of darkened blood oozed from her finger from when she had pricked it with the needle.
“It is not long ’til the battle.”
“Do we have anything to do or prepare for?”
A look of horror spread across Elizabeth’s face. “Women have no place on the battlefield. We must stay here where we are safe and pray that the Lord grants us victory.” She turned to look out of the window; she seemed far away. “Of course, I wished John had survived, for your sake if not for his own.”
I jolted. I did not want to think about John dead.
Elizabeth licked her full lips. “I mean no ill will,” she said placing her needlework and thread down on a side table. “But surely you know by now you are not this Anne of Yorkshire. I know this house resonates deep inside you as do its people. Look at me, Kate. Do you truly not know me? We were once close friends you and I,” her voice was thick and desperate.
“Everyone asks if I know them. I’m not sure what I think anymore. I didn’t think ghosts existed until I came here, or curses for that matter. I have no idea if I am Anne or Kate, but I do know I am going to do everything I can to break this curse,” I lowered my voice. “John believes I can do it.”
“Do you know how to?”
My head dropped into my hands; my fingertips rubbed circles into my temples. “No. John is the only one who has said anything. When I first met him, he told me I must forgive, then be wary of Ralph Croft and finally that I must let Kate live.”
“Well there you are,” she threw her hands up.
“Have I missed something?”
“Tell me, what have you interpreted John’s words to mean?”
I sank backwards in the chair. “That I must forgive someone, that I must be wary of Ralph Croft though I have never met him and I’m not sure about the last part.” I thought for a moment. How could Kate live again? Then, it came to me. Since I had been here, people had called me Kate, again and again. They thought of me as her.
“Perhaps he meant that Kate could live again through me.”
Elizabeth’s face beamed. That encouraged me.
“Do you think if I become Kate, so to speak, then we would have a chance? In letting her live again, maybe I need to live tomorrow as her, do exactly what she did on that day.”
“Not everything exactly as she did.”
It took me a while to work out what she meant. “Oh. No, not that. Do you think that would work? I don’t have any other ideas.”
“I believe you are the best hope we have, and I know you will have the support of everyone at Burnley.”
“Right,” I breathed. “If the battle begins soon, I’d better get ready.”
“Rest first,” Elizabeth said. “It all began when Kate went to meet John, which was hours after the battle. We have time to prepare.”
I got up to leave but paused in the doorway. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome Kate,” she said and returned to her needlework.
Meg sent for Jennet and I waited on the window seat as the younger of the two women filled the bath.
I felt Meg approach me and stop before her shadow fell. “Are you troubled, Anne?” Meg said. Deep lines formed across her brow.
“Yes and no,” I answered truthfully. “In my vision, John told me that Kate had to live again, I’ve just spoken to Elizabeth and I think we have come up with a plan to break the curse. We thought maybe the curse could be broken if we repeated the events of the fourteenth. Exactly as it happened. To become Kate as much as I can. I’m already experiencing her memories, so it should not be too hard.”
“I agree,” Meg said nodding. “What do you require of me?”
“Do you still have her clothes and any personal items of hers?” I asked. “I think it might help.”
“Yes. I shall see what I can do. This bedroom is as Kathryn left it, all except the St George statue.”
“Not that,” I snapped. “Please not that but everything else you have of hers. We must be ready for the fourteenth.”
“As you wish,” she bowed low and left.
The water in the bath was lukewarm at best but I stayed there until my deep wrinkles covered my fingers.
Seeing Henry and Elizabeth made me yearn for the family I had never known and for the one who had taken me in so kindly and made me theirs. My thoughts flickered to them and what they would be doing right now. No doubt Aunt Lily would be fussing over someone, making them something to eat or possibly running errands. I could see Uncle Richard now, sat on the sofa, slippers covering his feet and a newspaper in his hands. And here I was, alone.
It was only when the water began to chill my bones I decided to get out. I grabbed the robe from the side that Meg had left me and returned to my room.
Another girl who I had not seen before, knelt on the floor filling the bottom of the fire with small logs of wood.
“Alice is just lighting your fire,” said Meg.
“Alice? There seems to be new people appearing around here every day.”
Meg’s face lit up. “I will leave you to ponder that on your own. Come, I have things to show you.” She led me to one of the large wooden chests and lifted the heavy lid.
It was packed tight full of gowns, undergarments and hennins. Colours of red, blue and green stood out. There was even a black one.
“Are they all hers?”
“My lord indulged her greatly,” said Meg. “At times I believe too much.”
I ran my hand over the materials. Soft velvet turned to smooth silk and light linen.
“There is one more gown I would like you to see. I have laid it out on your bed.”
A velvet gown of deep red lay on the bed. It was edged in shimmering gold and its skirts were full.
“This is the gown Kate wore on that day,” Meg’s voice dropped to a whisper.
I stared at it, overwhelmed with a feeling of familiarity. “Then tomorrow I will wear it.”
“And Kate shall return to Burnley.”