The Ghost and the Rose

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Chapter 20

That night, I dreamt of John for the final time. The screams no longer pierced my soul. The glassy stares of bloodied corpses no longer haunted me.

Just like before, I saw him locked in his own private battle with another soldier clothed in the royal blue and murrey of York. This battle resonated differently with me this time because though I could not see the face of the Yorkist soldier, I knew him. I knew the strength of his blows, how he moved in his armour and the speed of his sword. The cold, arctic blue of his eyes glared through the slit in his helmet. From his youth, Henry had perfected the art of looking through someone as though they did not even exist.

Even though I didn’t want to believe Ralph, I knew he wasn’t lying. As soon as he said Henry’s name, it all made sense. Deep down, I knew all along that John’s death had been by Henry’s hand.

The rest of the battlefield was shielded from me as the eerie natural mist had mixed with the heavy smog of the cannons. It was becoming steadily worse, growing until it became a dense cloud suffocating the soldiers.

Henry and John’s ferocious actions brought quick, hard damaging blows time and time again raining down on each other’s armour. But I could see them both tiring. Their strikes were becoming less pronounced, their steps slower as they took longer to recover from the devastating effect each attack caused.

“Do thou yield yet Montagu?” Henry spat with pure contempt.

“ ’Tis not within me to yield Farthing,” John panted attempting to regain his breath quickly.

Though neither of them spoke it, they both knew that had John’s heart been truly in the battle then Henry would have long ago joined the hundreds of still bodies lying at their feet.

Again they fought, oblivious to the cries of pain escaping from the mouths of the dying and wounded that were echoing all around us. The cannons continued to fire bullets of smoke that exploded then billowed out eventually consuming the sky.

And I, just like a ghost of the dead floated on my gown of white towards them with my heart lodged firmly in my throat. I stepped over bodies and dodged the strong swing of swords as their masters attempted to hack down their opponents.

John lost his helmet and in a fleeting moment he was distracted allowing his eyes to fall upon me as I approached them. He smiled true, a smile that lit up his eyes and the well-weathered face caused by the constant exposure to the elements. Always the true soldier.

From that point on, I saw everything as though it had been slowed down. Frozen where I stood, the boiling blood in my body turned cold. My heart had stopped long before it broke.

John eventually severed the lingering look between us with sadness filling his eyes. He turned to face Henry for the last time. In his final honourable act, he clasped his sword with both hands and lifted it skyward high above his head. In John’s only moment of vulnerability, Henry struck, lodging his blade deep in his heart forcing agony to come alive in his eyes.

I heard the spine-chilling scream long before I realised it was coming from my own mouth. John had already fallen to his knees before I reached him. His sword, suddenly heavier than lead, fell from his hands and came to a final resting place on the grassy ground before him. When I reached John, he was clutching his chest in agony stemming the blood that was continuously seeping from him. It all made sense now that when I had first met him, he had stumbled out of the mist, clutching the wound in his heart.

I sank to my knees beside him and gently pulled him backwards so that I was cradling his shuddering body in my arms. My insides were weeping, but I chose not to show it and instead I calmly placed one of my own hands over his, helping him to block some of the bleeding.

“Kate,” the word struggled to escape his mouth.

“Ssshhh! Hush now,” I put a finger to his white lips. “Try not to speak. Oh God,” I cried ashamed that my vow to hold it together had lasted for a few brief moments only. I didn’t notice the white of my dress turning red as it soaked up John’s blood. The battle roared on around us, but John was no longer of consequence.

“No Kate, you must listen to me. I don’t have long.”

I sniffed loudly, “John, you can’t die, I need you. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

He smiled weakly and lifted a bloody hand to my curls. But instead, I took it and gently rocked it against my cheek.

“Please don’t leave me,” I sobbed as clear droplets streamed down my cheeks. “I don’t know what to do, tell me how to make this right.”

“You’re already making it right. You just have to realise it,” his voice was deep and his breathing shallow.

“But you died because of me. All of this is my fault.”

John shook his head with all the strength he could muster. “No Kate, you didn’t start this war. This damned war that tore the country apart pitching brother against brother, cousin against cousin, blood against blood.”

“But it is my fault you were killed. Had I not loved you, Henry would not have singled you out.”

“But you did love me and I you, there’s nothing that can change that. I wouldn’t want to change that. What I said to you the night before the battle I was wrong. I gave you hope I would meet you when I had no intentions of leaving this field alive. I’m sorry…” Suddenly he became so still and his eyes lost their warmth glazing over with a sheet of ice.

My heart faltered. “John! John!” I cried shaking him and pounding on his armour anything to bring him back to me. Then I heard a buried groan come from John and felt relief wash over me when his eyes once again came alive.

“Oh thank God,” I kissed his forehead, his nose and his cheeks in hurried frantic bursts.

“Enough Kate. You’ll suck the life I have left right from me,” he grinned weakly. He had lost a lot of blood that had slithered across the silver of his armour, the soft pink flesh of my hands and had turned the green colour of the grass a dull red.

“Don’t die John. I can’t go back to a world where you are nothing more than a memory. I need to be with you.”

He took a soft snake-like tendril of hair and entwined it around his trembling fingers. “And you will be soon. But you must lose me now and let me die but when…” the agony took him rendering him speechless for a few moments. “But when you have forgiven Henry and most importantly yourself, I shall come to you, one last time. Don’t make them suffer anymore, it is time they were allowed to be free. But you must forgive Kate. You must…”

For the second time in half a millennium I felt the pure agony and devastation of losing the only man I had ever loved. The feeling of utter helplessness revolted me as John faded away in my arms. I could do nothing more but cling to him.

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