The Ghost and the Rose

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Chapter 18

I retreated to the place that had been my sanctuary during my time at Burnley, my room. It sounded right now even referring to it as ‘my room’. I sat myself down on the edge of the bed facing the window wall.

I kept looking behind me as though I expected someone to be stood there, watching me. But there was no-one. Something wasn’t right. It must have been the Kate part of me who knew this room as well as her own face that knew something was amiss. There was an uneasy squirming in my gut I couldn’t control.

Then, as though another force had possessed me, I flew around the room, my hands on everything. I flung open coffers, throwing their contents all over the floor and ran my hand down the silken drapes tied at each post of the bed. Nothing. I ran my fingers on top of and on the underside of the table.

All of a sudden, rivers of ice solidified the liquid blood in my veins. I turned to the table at the side of the bed. The table upon which the statue of the St George had once stood proud.

My throat bobbed. I needed the St George back or more accurately, Kate needed the St George back. I didn’t know why, and I couldn’t shake the strange feeling I had about it. Out of all the objects I had come into contact with that was the one that caused the most violent reaction. Sweat coated my palms and hairline at the sheer thought of seeing it again. But I knew I must. The St George held a dark secret, and I wanted to know it too.

I found Meg in the kitchen with Jennet. The girl who could be no older than myself looked horrified when I walked in.

“I need the St George,” my words rushed out.

“The St George?” Meg repeated. “Are you sure because the last time…”

“I’m sure. There’s something about it and the very thought of it is filling me with dread but I know it must be done.”

“Very well, Jennet, continue preparing the meat. In a matter of hours, we shall have ravenous soldiers descending on Burnley. The more they can stuff in their mouths, the less we will have to listen to. Come with me, Anne.”

She led me to the room where the child Kathryn had taking me to see the portraits.

“This is where we take things we do not wish to see again,” a solemn quality coated her voice. “My lord had banished it here after he had studied it in vain. He tried so hard to discover why it affected you so.”

And there it was, just sat on the stone floor. My limbs trembled, and I struggled to even make my way towards it.

“I will stay with you.”

I forced my way over and made my fingertips graze the horse’s head. The black clouds gathered, and lightning struck my head again and again. There was red everywhere, thick and dripping and a face appeared. I could not make it out at first but then yes, there it was again. Rich. There was no question about it. It was his face.

I cried out in agony and clutched my hair at the temples. When it had subdued, Meg was at my side.

“Oh, my dear, sweet child,” she put her hand on my forehead. “How you suffer!”

I felt the heat rising in my face and my stomach turned. There was nothing I could do. Meg rubbed my back as I bent over, throwing up what I had eaten for supper.

“What did you see?” she asked concern filling her voice.

“I saw blood and Rich.”

I allowed myself to fall to the floor and scrambled into the corner. My head felt like it was being split in two. I recognised him as Rich from the library, but Kate’s memories were whispering another name. One I had heard many times. “Ralph Croft,” I gasped. “Rich is Ralph Croft.”

Meg nodded. “I thought you knew. Did he not tell you who he was? The curse did not affect him the same because he did not share Farthing blood and did not reside at Burnley. He entered purgatory like we all did but he could come and go from the house to the town as he pleased.”

“Why do you think he did not tell me?” I asked.

“I do not have the answers to that. The person you need to speak to is Ralph Croft. Would you like me to send for him, my lady?”

“Yes please. I think he has more to do with this than he has let on. I think a talk is long overdue.”

***

He walked in, a sheepish look on his face. “I am not used to being summoned to such a great house.”

Meg had sent Robin with a message to Rich inviting him to Burnley. When he arrived, she ushered him into the library where I was waiting. I had recovered from the episode with the St George though it took all my efforts to stop the room from spinning. But I needed to know why I saw his face in my vision and more importantly why it was associated with blood.

“I would think not,” I snapped. “Considering Henry burnt it down five hundred years ago. I wonder why is it you are able to come here? You can see them too, Henry, Meg and Robin. Why do you think that is?”

He took a seat in a chair opposite. A smirk slithered onto his face. “So, you know who I am. By God it took you long enough.”

“You could have just told me.”

“Ah but sweet Anne, that is not playing the game. You know then we are betrothed?”

“I know that you are betrothed to Kate, yes but that is not why I asked you here. I need to know why I see your face and blood when I touch the St George?”

“Still trying to break the curse then I see.”

“Do you not want the curse broken? You will have peace after all these years.”

“You need to stop this,” Rich spat dodging my question. “Why can you not see that what is done, is done, what has passed, has passed. Nothing can be changed!”

“Look, I know this must be difficult for you, but Kate wanted to be with John. She loved him and if breaking the curse is a means for them to be reunited, then so be it.”

His eyebrows drew together, and his nostrils flared. “If you succeed in breaking the curse, then he might come.”

This Rich seemed to be a world away from the man I met at the library in town. Perhaps that was because he wasn’t Rich at all but Sir Ralph Croft, and him I did not know at all.

“That’s the point, isn’t it? If I succeed, then all of this will be over. Meg, Robin and Henry will not have to suffer anymore. You will not have to suffer anymore.”

He leapt forward and grabbed my wrist, twisting the skin until it burned.

“Ow!”

“Come with me and I’ll show you just how dead Kathryn is.”

He led me from the library, through the Banqueting Hall, down the steps into the lower courtyard towards a door situated in the top corner and into part of the house I had not been in before. Pushing the arched doorway, he forced me inside. I jumped when he slammed the door closed behind us.

The air was thick with dust and weighed heavily on my chest. It was gloomy at first but just a little ahead, a sparkling moonbeam had dust particles dancing within it. I edged forward.

Rounding a stone pillar that connected high stone arches, I realised we were in a chapel. A circular stone font stood low on the ground next to high-sided oak pews, which lined either side of a flag-stoned aisle. An altar sat at the end of the aisle below a dirt-coated stained-glass window, which almost filled the whole of the wall and only allowed fragmented beams of light through. Faded frescoes of ships, figures and even skeletons adorned the walls.

“Go on,” Rich urged, placing a hand on my lower back to push me forward.

“Why are we here?” I tried to keep my voice steady.

“To show you this.” He guided me to where a white figure lay atop of a rectangular bed. I could tell it was a girl straight away from the way her carved hair fell in stationary curls across a hard pillow. Even the folds of her dress looked as if they flowed over the edge of the bed. Her head tilted away from me, so I could not see her face.

I ran my hand along the edge.

“It’s cold.”

“It will be. It is the finest marble Lady Elizabeth could get her hands on at such short notice. She believed a beautiful effigy of Kathryn would help Henry with his grief. Give him a place to go to remember her. However, his guilt was too much, and he was not to have peace.”

I continued around the perimeter of the effigy until her face emerged from the shadows. Her heavy eyelids were closed, sleeping and her crossed hands clutched a rose to her chest. The features were unmistakable. It was my face lying there in marble slumber.

I backed away. “I don’t need to see this; I know she’s dead.”

“Do you indeed?” he glared. “Because if you did, I believe you would give up this curious belief you can break the curse and unite yourself with Montagu! It is finished, over!”

“You’re jealous!” I shouted, which felt wrong in this holy place.

“And you are a child,” he sneered. “Listen! Here lies Kathryn Anne Farthing, wronged sister of Lord Henry Farthing, always missed, never forgotten. Born April eighth, 1455, died April fourteenth, 1471. She’s gone and there is nothing to be done!” He slammed his fists down either side of Kathryn’s marble head.

“You’re scaring me.”

His chest heaved and hands formed fists.

“Good. If you are afraid, then you may heed my advice. Leave the dead be.”

I shook my head, mustering every ounce of bravery I could find. “I can’t do that. I need to try.”

His mouth contorted into a sneer. “He got to you too? So, you wish to do everything in your power to make sure the star-crossed lovers spend eternity together? I’m going to make sure that does not happen. I’ve been trying since the beginning to make sure that will not happen.”

My eyes flashed to the door. I could make it. Without another thought I dashed towards it, dodging the stone font just in time. I made it to the door and as my hand reached out for the black metal handle, I felt a thud at the top of my head, pain began to spread and then I was falling towards the hard, grey surface of the floor.

It was then I remembered.

I remembered stumbling, as though drunk, back to Burnley when John failed to meet me and made my way through the servant’s entrance at the back of the house. With trembling hands, I pushed open the heavy door and stepped inside. I was bathed in orange light and Meg was there just as I had hoped. Other servants were busy cleaning away mountain high piles of plates and cups. Dark red water filled bowls while wet and soiled cloths littered the sideboards.

When they laid their eyes on me, they ceased their activity, staring unabashed. I did not care for their scrutiny and could only imagine their thoughts as they took in my red, swollen eyes and visible slug-trails marking my mud-splattered face. Yet I had come too far now.

“He did not come,” I breathed as I leaned back against the door for support.

“Out! Out all of you!” Meg screamed slamming down whatever she had in her hand. When they made no move to go, Meg ushered them out of the room. “I’ll teach you to ignore an order!” She turned back to me and there was an instant softening of her features. “My poor child.”

Meg opened her arms, and I ran into them gladly. I sobbed into her shoulder with no worry of who might hear me. Meg smoothed my hair with her hand and let me cry. Once I had calmed a little and gained my breath, I could tell Meg what had happened. In between choked sobs, I told her how I had waited hours from the early noon for John to come, reassuring myself as each one passed that he had been delayed or had duties he had to complete. But still he did not come. Finally, when I had given up all hope I felt the vibrations of a galloping horse upon the ground and my heart lifted with joy when I saw the figure on a chestnut brown mare, her dark coat shimmering with sweat.

As he neared, I saw that it was Tom. My heart had broken. John’s squire dismounted and presented me with a note from John written after he had left me the previous evening. Young Tom’s eyes mirrored my own as he relayed the news that Lord Montagu was dead and that it was at the hands of my brother.

Meg listened to every word, but grief twisted my thoughts into something ugly. I believed her to think me foolish, nothing more than a silly girl dreaming of a life with the handsome Neville and now my dream was nought but ashes at my feet.

Suddenly, I broke free of Meg’s comforting. “I must find Henry; I must know if it is true what Tom said.”

“My dear, that is not a good idea. Your brother, though he is fresh from victory, he is exhausted and half-drunk from the celebrations. Let what you must ask wait, until the morrow when his head will be clear and able to deliver the truth. Sir Ralph Croft is here too, for the victory feast.”

I removed the crimson cloak from my shoulders and handed it to Meg. At times, the manor housed a ghost of a chill, but my face was on fire and I could no longer feel the cold. “Sir Ralph Croft! What is he to me? No, it cannot wait. I’m sorry but it must be done now I must know the truth.”

My heartbeat raced through my veins as I made my way to the solar. A few candles lit the room, stranded on the table next to several empty bottles and a goblet. Henry stood with his back to me looking out of the vast windows. I didn’t say anything. What do you say when you wish to accuse your brother who had always loved and protected you of murdering the man you loved?

Disturbed by my footsteps upon the stone slabs, Henry turned. The fairness of his hair was tainted with tangled mud and blood while his battered helmet lay at his feet, hauntingly reminiscent of the many heads that had fallen at St. Albans, Blore Heath and all the other battles that had been forced by the war.

“You have returned then? I did not doubt you would,” his thinly set lips twisted into a half smile almost mocking before falling again.

Grief and anger swelled inside me. “Apparently, I have you to thank for it,” I spat.

“So, you know then? I will not make an apology if that is what you seek, sister. Men die on battlefields; John is no different from the hundreds or even thousands who have given their lives for their cause whether it be for York or Lancaster. If God wills it…”

“Do not speak of God’s will Henry. You deliberately sought John out to kill him and it was because of me. You could not even lie so proud you are of what you have done.”

“Proud? Nay Kate, I am not proud but what I did was done for you and for you alone. How could I let this continue? You were betrothed to another and still chased Montagu like a common whore.”

“He was mine first! We were to be wed!”

“He showed where his true loyalties lie! T’was a sin, you know and yet you continued still with irrational notions of love. You would have been shamed, would have shamed us your family and called a slut and a harlot by anyone with the ability to speak. Is that what you wanted? I’m sure it is not what you wanted for John.” He took a few steps towards me but for everyone I backed off one towards the door. “Kate, you mustn’t be like this, do not hate me, please. Don’t you see there was no other way? That I had to protect you?”

I became aware of another presence in the room and Meg stepped up to the side of me placing a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Be everything all right my Lord?” she asked.

Henry replied with a stern nod.

“No Meg, everything’s not alright,” I shook off the warm gesture. “I do hate you Henry and I will hate you for all eternity. I pray to God that you do not sleep for the rest of your days in remorse for what you have done. You do not only have John’s blood on your hands but mine too.” Every word was spat with pure venom. I took my last lingering look at my brother catching the twitching candle flames dance behind him. Storming from the solar took away the last strands of strength I had remaining.

I was still within earshot when I heard Henry’s voice. “Do you believe there was intent in those words? Should I follow her?”

I heard Meg crossing the floor. At this time, she would be taking a wick from the folds of her gown to steal a flame from the candle so that she could light all the others around the room. “Nay my Lord she is grieving. You know more than most what comments can pass between people in a heated conversation. Give her time and all shall be well, you’ll see.”

And they had seen. All of them a thread intricately woven into the dark curse that I sealed with the blood spilt by my suicide. The softening glow of the candles placed in my bedroom was contradictory to the harshness of the situation and yet the limited light added a veil of comfort as it dulled the world outside.

It was deadly quiet; I had never known it so. However, with many of the servants attending to the wounded in the village, the house was very much abandoned. Just like I needed it.

Lowering myself onto the edge of my bed, I trailed my hand across the embroidered sheets. They were old, very old and every so often my fingers hit rougher patches where they had been repaired many times over the years.

Fleetingly, I thought of John’s body lying on the morning dew-dampened ground gradually cooling in the brisk April air. The last time I touched him, he had burned. Heat had raced through his body and coloured his face with all the vibrancy of the main hall fire when lit. I blinked away the tears.

I removed the locket he had given me as a gift from around my neck and clutched it in my hand.

Then, as my fingertips skimmed under the pillows, the cold sting of metal scorched my skin. Taking a firm hold, I pulled the foreign object out. The polished silver of the blade glinted in the candlelight soon followed by the jet-black sword hilt. It really was beautifully designed, for a weapon. I could not recall whether I had gasped the first time though its very presence in my room was my own doing. It felt familiar as I held the hilt within my grasp turning it this way and that. There was a lightness to it that I did not recall from last time. But there were to be no more thoughts now. The time had come. Turning my wrists over, I clenched my eyes tight, but something fought within in me. John would not have wanted this for me. I did not want this for me. Then something hit the back of my head. I remembered hearing a loud clatter on the floor as the blade slipped effortlessly from my fingers.

***

When I awoke, I was upon my bed back in the manor. I tried lifting my head, but it throbbed. A groan escaped my lips as I slumped back down.

“I wouldn’t try to move if I were you.”

I looked in the direction of the voice to find Rich sat on the window seat. “I’m assuming you had another vision. That’s how it works, is it not? The touch of an object or the result of an action triggers something deep in your subconscious, something familiar.” His green eyes I had found so warm and inviting, had taken on a different appearance. They were now dark and unrecognisable.

I raised myself up on my elbows. “How would you know that?”

“I did not. Not for sure anyway but I knew if that was the case then a blow to the head would work for you.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You don’t remember?” The corner of his mouth flickered. “Of course not, you would not have seen.”

“Seen what?” I snapped back. “I don’t control what I see, most of them are just dreams or visions. Headaches! Mind splitting headaches that normally only show flashes, like a jigsaw piece, which is only a fraction of the whole picture.” A fire raged inside me, one that until now, I didn’t even know existed.

“Eloquent,” he grinned. “I don’t recall you being so… poetic.”

He said nothing else. The dim candlelight gave his face a menacing air.

“Are you going to tell me what you’re on about? How did you know hitting me on the head would trigger a vision?” For something so natural, breathing was becoming a difficult chore for me.

“Because that is how I killed you.”

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