Rich did not follow us. I brought my fingertip up to where pain pulsed in my lip. A dot of blood. Robin had said nothing further, an act I silently thanked him for, and it was as I thanked him in my head that John’s words about Robin resurfaced.
“When I went to see John, he spoke about you,” I teased, waiting to gauge his reaction but as ever, the older man’s face remained unreadable. I pressed on. “He said you were always on his side.”
His gaze stayed on the ground as we walked on towards Burnley. At first, I thought he wasn’t going to comment but then he spoke. “I was his man first and his father’s before him. I served them at Middleham in Yorkshire. My lord suggested me to Lord Farthing when a position came up here.”
“Did John give you the choice?”
“He did but once I heard the reasons why he wanted me to switch my service to the Farthings, I gladly went. I never stopped serving Sir John Neville.”
“He wanted to you watch over Kate.”
“Yes. My role became even more important when permission for your betrothal was withdrawn. I would pass notes between the two of you, sneak his gifts into the Manor so that Lord Farthing did not see. However, I failed him. I let her die.”
“How could you have known what she was going to do? How could anyone? Only Kate could make that choice, no-one else.”
He looked at me with dull-grey eyes. “We are so very glad you returned to us. Even if you do not break the curse, you have afforded us a few more days with our Kate.”
As we neared Burnley, the voices of the young floated to us on the breeze.
“Are they Henry’s children?” I asked, my eyes settling on two children, the smaller of who raced across the grass after the other.
“Yes. The eldest is Edward and then there is Thomas who is always chasing after his older brother. I am told very much like you and Henry when you were children.”
“Edward! Wait for me!
Edward ran across a stretch of grass carrying a brown ball in his hands. The wind whipped his long blonde fringe backwards. His younger and much shorter brother ran several paces behind him.
“Find something else to do Thomas!” Edward snapped stopping before us. “Lady Aunt, please tell my brother to leave me alone and find something else to do. This is my ball and I do not wish to share it!”
Thomas finally caught up to us. Still panting to catch his breath, he bowed low. “Lady Aunt.”
It was in Edward that I most saw Henry. Not just in his colouring but also how he could look at someone with such coldness in his harsh features.
“I only want to play with Edward. I mean no harm.”
“Well I do not want you to.”
Robin excused himself and headed around the back of the house towards the servants’ entrance.
I knelt down on the ground and pulled Thomas close. Inwardly, I smiled as I recalled the sibling-like bickering Lorna and I used to do. It would drive Uncle Richard wild. How could he read the newspaper with that level of noise going on?
“Now Edward, why would you not want to share your ball with your brother? A game is much more fun if there are two of you to play.”
Edward pulled a face. “I am the eldest and therefore I do not have to share my ball if I do not wish. It is my ball!”
Thomas’ shoulders shook with sadness beneath my arm.
“The answer is simple,” I said. “I shall buy Thomas a ball. One of his very own and you will not be allowed to play with it because it will be his. Surely you will not expect him to share.”
Crystal blue eyes peeked through his fringe. “But Thomas will let me play.”
“No. No I will not. You would not let me play with you, it is only fair.”
I stood up, an ache creaking through my knees and took Thomas by the hand. “Come with me Thomas. Let’s see about getting you that ball.” I waited, giving Edward time to respond.
He studied the ball as he turned it around and around in both hands. “There is no need Lady Aunt. Thomas may play with me. I have invented a new game shall I teach you both it?”
“Show Thomas how to play and you can show me another time.”
Edward ran off. Thomas tugged on the sleeve of my top.
“What is it Thomas?”
He raised his hand up and beckoned me to come closer to him.
“Has that man gone?” the youngest child whispered in my ear.
“What man? Robin?”
“The one with the red hair. I’ve seen him stalking the corridors long after dark. I saw him the night of the victory feast too. Hiding so that no-one saw him. But I did, and you vanished that night. Has he truly gone?”
“Yes. He’s gone.” It was as if his words had slapped me.
“Mistress Anne? Meg is ready for you now.” Robin reappeared in the doorway.
“Thank you, Robin. I’ll be right there,” I gave Thomas a hug. “There is nothing for you to worry about. You do know the man with the red hair who came here earlier cannot possibly be the same man you are speaking about. He may look like him but there is no way it can be. Go on, go play with your brother.” I hoped there was enough conviction in my voice to ease his worries because I certainly hadn’t succeeded in convincing myself.
“I look stupid,” I stood in front of a full-length mirror, examining the deep red and gold gown as Meg laced it at the back for me.
Meg’s face peered round my shoulder. “You look beautiful; you look like yourself once more. There, how does that feel?”
My hands brushed down the smooth material where it clung to my curves. “Fine, thank you.”
“Very well. Sit down and I shall braid your hair. I remember you as though it was only yesterday. One singular braid falling down your back. You should have had your hair covered but trying to get Lady Kathryn Farthing to wear a hennin was like asking the wind to change direction.”
I sat down as she asked and began to feel her separating strands of my hair.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Have you seen anyone here, maybe after dark that shouldn’t be?”
Meg thought before shaking her head, I caught her reflection in the mirror. “No-one that doesn’t belong.”
“That’s ok then. It was just something that Thomas said. It bothered me.”
“What has he said?”
“That he saw someone hiding on the night of the feast and that same person walks the corridors at night.”
“Nightmares. That is all. I’m sure there is nothing behind it.”
I pushed the unease to the back of my mind. There were more important things to attend to. A sick feeling crept across my stomach as I thought more about what lay in front of me. “I’m not sure if I’m ready for this,” I whispered.
“Perhaps none of us are ever truly ready and yet it is having the courage to do it anyway that gives us our worth.” She worked my hair into a loose braid. “There, we are finished.”
Looking in the mirror, I barely recognised myself. All I could see was Kate. I stood, and Meg grasped my face in her hands. “Have courage, my darling child.”
“I will try.”
Meg handed me a cloak and hood which were crafted out of the same material as the dress for me to wear.
“I thought Henry and Elizabeth would be here,” I muttered, putting the cloak on.
“They are where they need to be,” Meg reached up and kissed me lightly on my forehead. Her lips were as ice. “Godspeed, my sweet girl. All will be well, you’ll see.”
Meg had told me the first steps of Kate’s movements that day. The first was going to meet John. When Kate left Burnley on that tragic day, she fully expected it to be the beginning of the rest of her life. She believed he would either be there waiting for her or would come for her once the battle was over.
It seemed strange now I was following in her footsteps because I knew that no matter how much I wished it, John would not be there. In the next step, I would return to Burnley alone.
Meg had described in painstaking detail where to go. I would follow the river until the bridge crossed it, then I would find the road running along the bottom of the land and follow that going in the opposite direction of the town. Then she told me to walk until I came to a tree that towered all others and hung over the road forming an arch.
I sat myself down on a root which had risen from the ground. The curve as it ascended upwards fitted perfectly so I could rest my back against the thick trunk of the tree. The morning had brought a bitter cold that still clung to the day and sitting so still had allowed a chill to set in my bones making them ache. I wrapped the cloak tighter around myself.
I waited until the light started to fade. At this point, Kate’s presence became overwhelming. It was the first time I had felt her as a separate entity to myself. She clawed to the surface, her devastation gnawing at my insides. I suppressed her as much as I could, pushing her way back down so I could focus on the task at hand.
Pushing myself up, I had started on the way back to Burnley when the ground trembled under my feet, loose stones jumping off the ground. A horse approached, stopping right in front of me, steam rising from its coat. The rider removed his helmet.
“Tom!” Kate fought for control and it took everything I had to keep her in check.
With a grave expression on his face, he dismounted in one swift movement. Tears streaked the mud and gore coating his cheeks.
“My lady,” his voice broke. “My lord, the Marquis of Monatgu bid me give you this letter. I bring tidings of the worse kind.”
“John is dead,” I said simply.
Thomas nodded. “He is, my lady. Hacked down in the midst of battle by none other than Lord Farthing himself.” He knelt on the ground with difficulty. I noticed him bare his teeth in pain as he held up the letter to me and I took it within my hand. The rims of his eyes were blood-red, and they shone bright like beacons.
“Henry killed John?” Then I remembered what Henry and told me only a few days ago. She blamed him for killing the man she loved. Why had I not realised sooner?
“He did, my lady and God’s blood I could not get to him in time.”
“You served him loyally Tom, ’til the end. He could not have asked for a better squire than you.”
“I believe your words will comfort me one day, my lady. Thank you.” He took my hands and gave my fingers a light kiss. He struggled to his feet and bowed as low as he could manage. “ ’Til we meet again, lady. Bidding you good day seems inappropriate somehow.”
“ ’Till we meet again, Tom.”
I placed John’s letter within the folds of my gown and patted it down safe before starting back for Burnley. Meg had told me I was to seek her out in the servant’s entrance at the back of the house because that’s what Kate did.
I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my face and so far I had managed to choke down anguished sobs, I empathised with her now more than ever before. How alone she must have felt.
I found Meg where she said she would be, in the kitchen at the back of the house. The room buzzed with strange faces, lots of them. Cloths and bowls with dark red stains covered the table and sides. Intense heat from the open fire scorched my cheeks, stinging as it melted the cold.
The older woman acknowledged me with a curt nod. “Come, child. You must be frozen. I understand that he did not come to you?”
I shook my head. “Nothing has changed as it?”
“No but there is still time. The day is not yet done. After you came to me, you then sought Henry in the solar to question if he really did kill John.”
I nodded to show her than I understood and forced my way through the other servants. I wondered if Kate was subjected to the glares they were giving me.
Henry stood before the window. Battered armour enclosed his body. His head hung low.
“The curse is not broken,” he whispered solemnly.
“No but Meg said there is still time,” a spark of a thought flashed in my mind, but I forced it back. Tentatively, I stepped into the room. It was only a few steps, but they were enough to make me feel uncomfortable.
“Did you deliberately seek out John to kill him?”
“Not now, please. If we succeed with the curse, I will explain everything. I swear it to you.” He turned to me, sighing deep. “What else is there to try?”
“I don’t know.”
“Come,” he said. “Let us gather my lady Elizabeth, Meg and Eleanor and let’s see what is to be done.”
Henry issued the message to a servant who went to fetch them all immediately, asking them to meet us in the Banqueting Hall.
“Do you honestly not know what can be done?” he asked me as we walked.
There was one idea I had, but I wasn’t sure they were going to like it because I know I didn’t.