I scrambled up from the bed, staggering back against the wall. Latching onto the raised flowered surface and I traced them with my fingertips. “What did you say?”
“I killed you,” he repeated, his words range with pride. “Your beloved Henry killed John, that you now know. Stabbed him through the heart as though he were nought but game caught on a hunt.”
That last comment got me. “I know about Henry, my vision showed me but you’re lying about Kathryn. She killed herself.”
“Am I? Why on earth would I lie? I have nothing to gain from it, Lord Farthing sought the love of your life on that battlefield to prevent the family name falling into shame, whilst I stalked these halls for hours waiting for your return.”
“Thomas did see you that night. It wasn’t just a nightmare.”
“Ha! I wondered why the young child considered me so. I wasn’t aware someone else was in on my secret.”
“Kate’s death was suicide,” I stated. Images from my vision came back into my mind. He was right, I didn’t recall her cutting her wrists. No, something hit her head and then the knife fell to the floor.
“Correction. It looked like suicide. You see, I had the perfect alibi. With steel helmets encased around our heads, who could tell who was present at the battle and who was not. I made sure your brother saw my face just before the battle started. Then, I slithered my way back to Burnley and hid waiting for the opportune moment.” His eyes shone bright.
“I saw you,” he continued. “Rushing through the gallery like some pathetic lowly maid. I have to say, you have more about you this time round. I may have been persuaded to rouse a shed of affection for you.”
“You have no feelings!” I spat. “I doubt you were even born with a heart.”
“Oh, I was. It just beats more fiercely when the course of one’s actions ultimately benefit me. You were upon your bed when I entered your room. The knife held steadfast in your hand,” he shuffled forward on the seat and held out his hand as though he grasped a knife.
I wouldn’t have admitted it, but he had the stance perfect. So perfect in fact I knew he was telling the truth. The images of that night were flooding my mind, but that was one part I did not want to relive.
“Like this. You had your back to me. I was tempted to wait and see if you had the guts to do it as I wasn’t quite sure. As it were, my time was precious and my presence at your brother’s victory feast was expected. I struck you on the back of your head with the statue of the knight on the horse. The force killed you instantly.”
“The St George,” I whispered. “So that is why I had such a reaction to it that I begged Henry to remove it from my room.”
Ralph laughed. “I put it back in your room on the day I found you by the roadside. It appears the effect I have is long-lasting and far-reaching. You may discover it is also the source of your violent head pain. Apologies, I digress.”
I found it difficult to stomach just how calm and collected he was. He could have been sat with my Aunt Lily and Uncle Richard watching Coronation Street with a cup of tea. But he was speaking about a murder he had committed. My murder. It was so unnerving. It was so cold.
“I knew you were dead,” he continued. “The way your body hung limp and how your eyes glazed over like the morning mist,” he looked away for a moment and for a brief second, I believed him capable of remorse. “I never forgot those dead eyes.”
Then he snapped back. “So I arranged your body, cut your wrists with the knife you had so kindly provided, placed Montagu’s locket in your hand and as they say, the rest is history.”
“You’re evil,” I breathed.
He put a finger up to stop my words. “No. I didn’t gallop around the countryside murdering with no end. I’m sorry, you seem to be taking this personally. It wasn’t personal, you were just a means to an end.”
“What end?” I asked. “What was it all for?”
“I was your betrothed, your intended.”
“You loved her?”
“Good lord, no. Please do not make the mistake of thinking this was an act committed by a jealous husband-to-be who had just found out that his fiancée was in love with someone else. Falling in love was Montagu’s vice, not mine.”
“I’ll try not to be offended by that. So why?”
“Money, power and position. You know what it was like for a younger son. Whilst the eldest was handed everything on a plate, the youngest were left to grapple for any slight hint of fortune or recognition.”
“John was a younger son, and he did just fine.” My pulse quickened whenever I mentioned his name.
“John was happy to play soldier and follow orders like a good little lap dog.”
“The king adored him!” I argued. “He was rewarded with titles and money. The position that you crave so badly.”
“The king tolerated him for as long as was necessary and the moment Edward didn’t need him to win battles anymore then Northumberland was whipped away and returned to the Percies. That and his brother Warwick had become too troublesome to keep around.”
My eyebrows knitted together. I still didn’t understand. “That still doesn’t make sense. I, I mean Kate…”
“You still don’t understand that you are one and the same?”
I ignored him. “Kate would not have delivered you what you wanted. What was worse than a younger son? A daughter and she was the youngest even then.”
“Ah yes, but Eleanor was taken, and she was tucked far away in Yorkshire living her own life with her husband. It was never my intention to kill you. Henry and his sons were always my target. Once we were married my plan was to persuade Henry to change the will so you inherited everything upon the death of him and his children. He adored you with every fibre of his being, persuading him would have been easy. I was then going to dispatch each of them one at a time. Hence, I would become Lord Farthing, a much more prestigious title than even my father held.”
“Kate was never supposed to die?”
“Not by my hand no. Had she the nerve to go through with what she had started?” he shrugged. “Who knows? It was just that the situation dictated. You were leaving me either by running away with that great whelp or killing yourself. Both eventualities ruined my plan and my father barely acknowledged me to arrange another match. The youngest daughter of a deceased semi-important lord was the best I could hope for.”
Suddenly, Ralph leapt up from the window seat and clasped his hands together. I backed as far into the wall as I could go.
“Right,” he said cheerfully before walking over to the bed. Reaching underneath the covers, he drew out a long sword. It was highly polished and the gleaming silver caught the candlelight beautifully. “Let’s get to it.”
My mind screamed at me to stall him. “Wait! Did no-one notice the head wound? Did no-one check to make sure it was definitely suicide?”
“Of course not, stupid girl. There was a note and two slits across your wrists. That told everyone what they needed to know.”
“But you would have been covered in blood.”
He sighed, closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with his free hand. I side-stepped cautiously towards the door.
“Please stop, now you’re hurting my head. I had just been in battle. Any knight who had done his duty right would be covered head to toe in blood. Preferably not his own. Now, can we please get this over with?”
I continued edging towards the door until his eyes snapped open and I froze.
Ralph lunged at me, the silver blade aiming right for my abdomen. I ducked and rolled towards the door. I tried not to think and reached for the handle. Locked.
“Looking for this?” He dangled the key in front of me, before thrusting it into his pocket. He came for me again. I got to my feet and took a running jump onto the bed but not before an excruciating pain ripped through my side. I landed on the bed with a soft thud. My hand flew to my side as though it would stifle the pain. I gasped. Something warm and sticky coated my hands. Blood. There shouldn’t be that much.
Ralph stalked across the floor towards me, eyes glinting more than the blade lodged in his hand.
I tried to push myself backwards, across the bed to the other side but the pain crippled me. I cried out. Frustrated tears were now snaking their way out from the corners of my eyes. I clenched them tight.
“You’ve died before,” Ralph said. “You can do it again.”
He was right. I steadied my breathing and closed my eyes. “I died before, I can do it again. I died before, I can do it again. I died before, I can do it again.”
There was a weight on top of me. I braced myself.
Then, my thoughts were interrupted. It sounded like someone was fiddling with the lock. Bang! Had I dreamt it? Bang! No, there it was again. My eyes flashed open in time to see Ralph turn towards the door.
With all the strength I could muster, I kicked Ralph right where I knew it would hurt him the most. “Henry!” I cried. “Henry! I’m in here!”
Bang! The door was nearly off its hinges. Ralph had dropped the sword and was bent over double, his hands cupping his crotch.
I found his agonised cries strangely comforting. Scrambling, I pulled myself to the edge of the bed and allowed my body to plummet to the floor. I crawled as far around the bed as I could go. The person on the other side of the door was becoming more insistent.
My hand reached out for the sword, but he saw me. Ralph rushed over, raising his foot to stamp on my hand. I muffled the pain.
“No you don’t, you bitch.” He pushed the sword away with his foot and with both hands, he flipped me over onto my back. With a heavy sweeping hand, he struck my face.
Tiny stings erupted onto my cheeks like fireworks.
He leaned in close to my ear, his putrid breath stinging my eyes. “Stay dead this time.”
Just as he was about to get the sword and end my life for the second time, the door flew open, hinges hanging on by the slightest of metal threads.
Henry strode forward, a blinding light cast his figure in darkness, so I was unable to see his face. Blood covered his loose white linen shirt and black hose were tucked into mud-coated boots. He held a sword at his side, the tip pointing upwards.
But it was as he neared that I took in the familiar sandy coloured hair and the periwinkle blue of his eyes that made my heart race.
“John?” I whispered incredulously, blinking back my tears.
His chest heaved. His strong jaw was clenched tight. The linen shirt outlined how tense all the muscles were in his arms were and he stared without flinching.
“Step away from her.”
“This can’t be!” Ralph screamed. “Henry killed you! Are you a spirit or a demon sent to torture me?”
A muscle flickered in John’s cheek and he moved forward raining his sword down on Ralph. But Ralph’s speed mastered John’s abilities this time, and he had the sword in his hand ready to block John’s strike. He rose to his feet and forced John backwards.
My eyes began to close, but I refused to give in to their wishes. Not until I’d made sure John was alright.
This time, Ralph advanced and John blocked. It was clear John was the better swordsman. That had been his legacy. The soldier. The warrior.
They danced, forwards and backwards, lunging and thwarting each other attempts. Until at last, Ralph lost his footing and stumbled. John thrust his blade forward and pierced Ralph’s chest. Reaching round, John placed his hand on Ralph’s shoulder and pulled his body closer to him so that the sword punctured deeper.
I could see the dark-red stained tip protruding from his back.
Ralph’s eyes bulged and blood trickled from his mouth.
I saw John lean in to Ralph. “I am your death,” he breathed and with those words he withdrew his sword and let it fall to the floor with a clatter along with Ralph’s body.
Within seconds, he was at my side, cradling my head in his lap, just as I had done for him on my first night here. “Has he…”
I didn’t let him finish. I lifted my hand away from the wound in my side and I saw him grimace, but he smiled at me, anyway. He swept me up and placed me on the bed. I could feel the damp patch on my leg from where my wound had soaked the sheets. He lay down at my side and placed his own hand over mine.
“It is that bad,” I said.
“No,” was his instant reply. “I’ve seen worse grazes on a child.”
A half-laugh, half-cough became lodged in my throat, one of the last efforts of my fading energy. “You are a poor liar, John Neville.”
I felt him smile too.
“How is it possible you are here?”
“Have I not told you that no matter what, I would always come for you?”
“You have, but Henry killed you.”
“What is death but one more obstacle for us to overcome?”
“John, I’m really cold.”
He cradled my head to his chest. “I know dear heart, close your eyes now, for there is nothing to fear.”
“Is this it now? Is the curse over?”
“There is but one last thing to do, you must forgive him, Kate,” his voice seemed far away now though I still felt a surge within me as he placed his lips to my forehead.
All I could think about now was how exhausted I was and how much I wanted to sleep.
“Will you stay with me?” I mumbled. In the depths of my mind, I believed I heard his reply.