“What now?” Henry breathed. His hands rested on the edge of the dining table.
Meg struggled to conceal the anguish and disappointment on her face. Deep down in my gut, I knew it wasn’t disappointment in me, I had tried my best. But I felt it all the same. Their hope was pinned solely on me and I had let them down.
“You must not think like that,” Elizabeth soothed, and I snapped my head up. There was nothing but sympathy written on her face.
“You read minds too?”
Elizabeth laughed. “I read faces.”
“And yet the question still remains, what now?” repeated Henry.
Something played on my mind. It was the only thing I had not completed of the day. I wasn’t sure if I would ever muster enough bravery to say it, so I blurted it out.
“What if my blood needs to be spilt?”
“I beg your pardon?” said Meg.
“Kate’s blood sealed the curse, so my thinking is, maybe my blood will unseal it.” Every set of eyes looking at me were wide and unblinking. “Obviously doing what she did on her last day didn’t help. So maybe something drastic is needed, or the day needs to be completed. Every part of it.”
“Anne, you must not put yourself in harm’s way.”
“Elizabeth is right,” said Henry. “I will not allow you to do that.”
“I’m not talking suicide, perhaps just a little cut it all that is needed. But I think if I mirror what Kate did on that day, then we might still stand a chance. But I need to know everything now. Anything no matter how small or insignificant you think it might be. The time for secrets has passed and we are running out of time.”
“Where to start?” Meg breathed.
“Well, what about the dreams and the visions? I’ve had them for as long as I can remember but never knew why. Why me at all?”
Eleanor spoke this time. Her voice carrying from next to the fireplace where she huddled near the heat. “We don’t specifically know why you. John appeared to me in Yorkshire on the day you died. He told me that one day you would come again, and that I was to wait for you. The dreams were John trying to reach to you, speak to you but Matilda was showing you your memories. Kate’s memories. She got you into quite a lot of trouble when you were children and you loved her all the more for it.”
“How do you know that?”
“Do you still not know me? I admit, I looked very different the last time you saw me.”
Since being here, her hair had thickened and the deep, carved lines of age had filled out. Pink coloured her cheeks replacing the pallid grey tones. She did seem familiar now and to Kate, certainly someone other than Phoebe’s grandmother.
But it was in her eyes that I glimpsed the past. My past. The same blue eyes I saw when I looked in the mirror and at Henry. The same eyes that had belonged to a girl dancing in a fire-lit room with flushed cheeks and a hearty smile.
“Who am I?” she asked.
I did know her. “You’re Eleanor Farthing, Kate’s sister.”
Eleanor was overcome with happiness. “Yes! Yes, I am your sister. The curse affected me differently because I was not in the manor at the time. I was married to Lord Bretton and living in the North. Not so far away from where you came to me at Wakefield. I did not die like the others but was still thrust into my own form of purgatory. My curse was to live forever, charged with finding the girl who would end it all.” She came towards me with ease now and slipped her hands in mine. “But I am weary now, so very weary. It is difficult to watch your children go before you, then your grandchildren and then their children.”
There was an internal struggle emerging within me. New feelings flooded my body, a strong bond with a woman who the new me called sister but Anne had always thought fondly of as a grandmother.
“What about Phoebe and Nell?”
“My line continued through my children and my children’s children, each new generation born with the knowledge of the curse and their duty in helping me to find you. Phoebe is one of my direct descendants.”
“She was only my friend because of who she thought I was,” I whispered sadly.
“No, no!” cried Eleanor. “She was your true friend, which is why she was so keen to help you home.”
“And you have lived all these years just waiting for me to come? What if I never came?” I asked.
Meg took a deep breath. “I always knew you would come. My faith drove me on. But to say that Robin and I have lived is cruelty in itself. Neither of us have lived, existed yes, but not lived. To live would be to inhale the sweet spring air or to know some release from the hell and torture of forever walking these halls. Please forgive my honesty my lord.”
Henry waved his hand in the air dismissively.
“A hell, my dear, in which your misery imprisoned us all in.” Meg averted her eyes for a brief moment.
“You had to come, to release us. We are so tired let us sleep, Kate. Please.”
“I agreed to help you break the curse but I’m still Anne.”
Centuries worth of anger and impatience appeared to be building up in Meg. “Why do you think it is, that you are the only one plagued by these visions? Because it is you Kate. You’ve come back to right the wrongs of the past. Do you not remember? Not remember your lord father, Matilda or even me? You were born Kathryn Anne Farthing on April eighth, 1455. I was there, present at your birth waiting on your mother, Anne. It was a difficult birth and your mother nearly perished as a result. She never did fully recover and died that winter.”
“I do remember and then I don’t. I can’t tell what’s real or not anymore,” I listened to every word that Meg said. It was like it was happening to someone else and I was watching through a window. Yorkshire was now a million miles away.
“You are here to free us,” said Meg. “From the beginning of the war your father was fiercely loyal to the Yorkist campaign as we all were. That’s how you met John.”
“I do not want his name mentioned anymore in this house.”
“Oh, enough Henry. Do you not see? John is Anne’s key to unlocking the past,” scolded Elizabeth.
I would never be able to tell what Henry felt upon hearing John’s name. But for me that name drove a sword through my heart and I couldn’t deny the feelings the mere mention of his name stirred within me. Every part of my body and soul recognised him. Kate yearned for him.
“Do you wish to remember your life as Kate?” Eleanor asked.
Did I wish to remember? Would it mean saying goodbye to Anne or would I be constantly flitting between two sets of memories? “Yes, I wish to remember.”
“Then here, take this,” Eleanor said. Her withered hands took one of mine and turned it so that my palm faced upwards. In the centre, she placed an oval pendant the size of the middle of a daffodil which she had taken from around her own neck.
As soon as the warm metal touched my hand, it sparked another vision though this one was different. I was watching myself, which created the strangest feeling in the pit of my stomach. I also noticed that we were not at Burnley or at least any of the rooms I had been in. It was more of a room that would be found in an inn or public house.
My other self, Kate I assumed gazed out onto a dark street. There was little light inside the room except the beam of the moon which sat fat and round in the sky.
A man entered the room and closed the door behind him. The racing of my heart and fluttering in my stomach signalled the arrival of Sir John Neville.
His breathing appeared slow, deep and heavy. It seemed to be the only thing about him that was controlled because his eyes danced with fire. He leant back against the door for support. Droplets of water from the downpour outside raced down his neck; he shivered. The transparent liquid had also noticeably darkened and flattened the hair that framed his strong face.
The electricity was so apparent in the room I could taste the energy on my tongue. I noticed how John’s gaze did not leave Kate though she still had her back to him.
“It appears that fate would have us continually thrown together,” John said as light-heartedly as he could muster.
Kate turned to face him slowly, tears stinging her eyes. She too looked as if she had dived head first into a lake. Snake-like strands of hair stuck to her face, and she folded her arms as the chill took hold. Her bottom lip quivered, and I believed it was only in part due to the cold setting in his bones.
“Then fate is cruel,” she whispered back to him.
“Then ’tis better sweet Kate to say be it God’s will for there is none that would question the Lord’s plans for us,” his voice was low, and desperation rang out like a bell but was dismayed at Kate’s bitter laugh.
I found the gesture heart- rendering cruel.
“You speak of God’s will John but since when has our Lord condoned the act of adultery? For your brother George has not heard of it as he preaches to me when he visits.” She perched on the side of the bed her head heavy in her hands still facing John. Her sigh was troubled.
“Ha! Adultery indeed! I know Henry has withdrawn his consent for our marriage, but I swear I will have you as my wife. As soon as the matter is dealt with. We commit no sin, Kate.”
“As our confessor,” she continued. “He begs us not to continue with these fanciful notions, for heaven knows there is no good in them.”
“Dear heart, you are not making sense! How can you cast our love down as nought but fanciful notions?”
“I am betrothed, John.”
There it was. His face fell and nausea writhed in my stomach. He slumped to the ground, his back still against the door barring entrance to anyone should they try it, his knees were up with his hands balancing on them.
I wanted to cry out, scream at them both, anything. Anything to give them more time for as I knew now their time together would be limited.
“Henry arranged the match not two weeks passed. Your brother was in attendance.”
“What does it matter?”
He smashed the wall to the side of him with his fist. His knuckles had reddened, and a large dent lay in the wall.
“It matters Kate. Who?”
“Sir Ralph Croft.”
“Sir Ralph Croft and who is he indeed?”
“He is a younger son of Lord Richard Croft. I believe he is one of the king’s advisors, they have land here and along the Welsh borders.”
A glimmer of recognition sparked in his face. “Ah yes. I do know. But he is not a match for you, my love. The boy is wet and inane. He will dampen your fire and imprison your spirit. And what of love? Forget George and his righteous preaching Kate, they matter not between you and me. But it won’t stop. You are the last thought on my mind before I sleep and the first when I wake and the dreams…”
“Don’t! Please,” begged Kate almost sobbing now as fresh tears spilt out onto her already wet cheeks.
Within seconds, John had scrambled to his feet and was across the room and had gathered Kate’s shaking body in his arms. She rested her head on his chest. She closed her eyes, and I imagined for a fleeting moment that she allowed herself to enjoy the warmth evaporating from him and the comforting security of his arms.
“What is to become of us?” she asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” he smoothed her hair with his hand. “The only thing I am sure of now is my love for you.”
Silence passed between them only briefly.
“Then God help us,” Kate said before John brought his mouth down on hers, which melted the last feelings of resistance left within her. That night was theirs.
The scene faded, and I was back in the dining room at Burnley. My knees buckled beneath me and I saw Henry rush to my side. My body had already hit the floor, but he prevented the same fate happening to my head.
“Careful, Anne,” said Henry.
I put my hand up to his face. “Henry?” Kate had awoken inside of me.
“Now do you remember?” asked Eleanor.
Salt tears trickled down my cheeks, Kate’s tears. “I remember.” I sat on the floor with Henry beside me and opened my palm to reveal the locket once more. “Have you had this all this time?” I asked in a small voice, allowing tears to flow.
“You had it in your hand when we found you, my dear. You were missing from the victory celebrations and because you were so broken-hearted when you returned, I wanted to make sure that… well, I was too late,” Meg offered a sympathetic smile.
“I have something else to show you, this was also found when you took your life.”
Meg came and handed over an aged piece of vellum.
“What is it?” I asked turning it over in my hand. I didn’t dare open it in case the paper disintegrated in my hand. The familiarity it brought to my awakening senses was strange.
“It is yours, child. It lay on your pillow, tear-stained when we found you, it is the note John gave to young Thomas Somers to give to you when the battle was over. He knew he would not be coming back to you but to break your heart on that last night was more than he could bear.”
“Would you like us to leave you alone for a moment?” asked Elizabeth.
“Is that wise?” asked Henry.
“Please. I will be fine. I would like to read this on my own.”
“As you wish but do nothing hasty without speaking to us again first.”
I didn’t need to say anymore and solemnly they left with Henry holding out an arm to Eleanor. The room rested in almost mournful silence. The note trembled in my hand and my head ached. Kate’s memories were flooding my mind. They didn’t drown Anne but allowed her to coexist in muddled confusion. I was Anne but now if someone called me Kate I would not be as hasty to correct them.
Finally, I unfolded the note and dared myself to read its contents.
My dear heart,
I can bare this no longer my love. To be with you forever would be sweeter than the smell of the rose, whatever colour it may be. One day our life together can begin but it cannot be tomorrow. I hate myself for my profound cowardice in not telling you this last night, our last night, for no words will ever again pass between us in this mortal life. I shall await your sweet grace in heaven.
I will love you always,
Marquis of Montagu
April Fourteenth, 1471
As always, in few words, John had stolen my breath away much like he had my heart. I didn’t feel like seeing the others just yet, the only person I wanted was John and for that to be possible, I needed to break the curse.