The Ghost and the Rose

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Chapter 21

I awoke from my death. There was no pain, no blood and no cuts upon my wrists or wound in my head. More importantly, I remembered.

John was gone from my side and Ralph’s body was no longer keeled on the floor. I wore my gown of red and gold damask, just like I had been on that final day. I ran my hand down the smooth fabric expecting it to encounter hot blood seeping from my wound. But there was nothing.

John’s words echoed in my mind. “When you have forgiven Henry… I shall come to you, one last time.”

I left my room and sought out Henry, my gut told me to head for the solar. I pushed the door open to find Henry standing by the window with his back to the door. He appeared quite content to be gazing out at the wall of lingering mist, just like he had that first time. He still wore his armour, all except for his helmet, which lay at his feet just as bloody, muddy and dented as the moulded sheets of metal framed around his body.

The widening of his eyes told me that my sudden intrusion of this private moment had been unexpected. For the first time, I truly noticed the similarities between us, I must have been a fool not to recognise them earlier.

“ ’Tis not possible,” he whispered, turning towards me. “How can this be?”

“I think I broke the curse,” I smiled.

The dark cloud looming over Henry dispersed and a huge sunlit grin spread across his face. “I believe you did. In truth, I had my doubts but then, you always did surprise me when I least expected it of you. We can make it right now and our five hundred years of purgatory will be nothing but a bad dream.”

“Where or rather when are we? Is it…?”

Henry nodded. “Yes, it’s April fourteenth, 1471, early morning. The battle has not long been over.”

I shut the door behind me and made my way to the edge of the room where together, my brother and I looked out into the fading shade. Standing at over six foot, he towered over me. I seemed to be regaining a sense of the comfort he once provided for me, a comfort, which had once been lost.

“Was it truly awful?”

“Yes,” Henry replied. “Whole lives diminished by the edge of a blade. They have lost everything.” I saw the tears stinging his eyes. “Those who had battled in life to prove their differences, became in death, the same. As on one Hertfordshire battlefield, the blood of Yorkists and Lancastrians seeped into the English soil, together.” He bowed his head. “So, tell me how did you break the curse? Did you need to spill your blood again?”

“I believe so but also the blood of another was needed.”

Henry raised an eyebrow.

“My words created the curse and my blood sealed it, but I was not the one who spilled my blood. I did not take my own life.”

His mouth hung open. “Who?”

“Sir Ralph Croft. He struck me on the back of the head with the statue of St George and then made it look like I had killed myself, which was easy considering I was contemplating it myself.”

I saw him form fists with his hands hanging down his side.

“I’ll kill him.”

“It is done; I think he needed to die to break the curse as it was his actions that allowed it to be brought about.”

“You did not take your own life,” he repeated, quieter this time.

“No. I was murdered by my betrothed because he knew I was in love with John and would never marry him. He had sights set on your title and lands all along.”

“Do you think you would have gone through with it?”

“I cannot say for certain but I do not believe so. I had stolen the knife from the kitchens but when I revisited the scene in my visions, there was no real intent. It was words said in anger and sealed by a brutal crime.”

“I am sorry I was not able to protect you,” he whispered.

“He charmed us all, me twice, there was only John who could see him for what he was and Phoebe.” I looked to Henry. “John is still dead, isn’t he?” I whispered.

“Yes. I make no apology for what I did. In the best possible way, it was done for you, but I want you to know he fought well, very well. In all truth…”

“There is no need Henry. I know,” I gave a half-hearted laugh. “John walked onto that battlefield today praying for death. It would have been dishonourable for him to die any other way. He needed an end, a way out and in you he found that.”

Henry laughed. “Believe me. I am under no false illusion that had John’s heart been truly in the battle then I would not be talking to you now.” Then he paused as though toying with something in his mind. “Kate, I think you should know that when his body was stripped of his armour he was found to be wearing our colours, the royal blue and murrey of York beneath his armour.”

“Loyal ’til death.” I smiled. “What is to happen now? I can still remember things as Anne, I can remember what happens in the future, cars, televisions. Everything though I know I was born Kathryn Farthing.”

“None of us will remember anything about the future; we will get to live out our lives as we should have. But I have to know,” tears filled Henry’s eyes, and his cheeks coloured. “I killed the man you love-you spoke the words yourself this very day. When you were screaming and inconsolable I understood, I had prepared myself for it.” Henry now wept openly as tear after tear rolled down streaking his muddy face. Struggling, he knelt down in front of me wincing as sharp shots of pain entered his aching body.

“Please sister,” Henry begged. “I have to know. Pleasant words can easily be exchanged between the most bitter of enemies.” He looked up at her through shaking eyes. “I have to know.”

Finally, after all the confusion and mixed emotions, I knew what I had to do. I could feel the intense colour flushing my cheeks. “I died in hatred of you once. And for my sins I cast the same hatred upon you, my family. But I can live with this hatred no longer. If my words were not true, then I could not be here now,” I sighed and took a deep breath. “With all my heart Henry, I forgive you.”

“Then there is only one more thing to do,” he smiled carefully rising from his knee. He took my warm hand in his cold one.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“You’ll see. I shall fetch your cloak and something for your feet. You’ll need them.”

The morning air was cool and fresh. My boots fought losing battles against the soft ground, sinking with every step I took as Henry dragged me with him. I panted slightly, struggling to keep up with my brother’s long, quick strides as the sudden light breeze that had whipped up played with my hair.

“Please slow down!” I begged to no avail.

“Then keep up if you do not wish to walk alone,” I heard as his words were caught on the wind and carried back to me.

I gazed out onto the horizon feeling particularly enraptured by the red, yellow and orange streaks that made up the morning sky above the half-risen sun. It cast down a majestic golden light onto the outstretched land down to our border and then beyond.

The bottom trim of my dress darkened as the material absorbed the moisture clinging to the inch-long blades of grass.

When Henry finally stopped, we were at the long Willow tree that stood by the edge of the river. I had often marvelled at its twisted bark as I’d spent hours playing around it with my siblings and cousins.

“Why have we come here?” I asked.

“You’ve righted your wrongs; it is time for me to so the same.”

I was overcome by a warmth that filled my head and trickled down to the very tips of my fingers and down to my toes. The wind began to blow harshly, whistling in my ears and whipping the skirts of my dress into a flowing frenzy like the waves on the ocean.

I was mesmerised by the scene unfolding in front of me. Henry watched too but with steady eyes and a calm composure as if he knew what was coming.

A thick grey mist circled us, consuming all we could see, even taking half of our own bodies. My breathing was slow and deep but did nothing to stop the racing of my own heart. But then, I could make out the shadow of a man emerging from the cloud. I was rooted firmly to the spot unable to move any of my limbs like blood had become ice and flesh had become stone.

I focused on Henry’s breathing setting my pulse to the rhythm until my blood and breathing calmed. The figure continued to make his way towards me in long confident strides. It was only when he had nearly reached me that I realised he was in full armour though it was fatally damaged, battered and stained with dark red mortal blood. He carried a similarly smeared sword that hung gallantly by his side. There was one part of his armour that wasn’t complete, however, as he wore no helmet upon his head, which allowed for a mane of sandy coloured hair to fly free in the wind.

He was so close now, I could almost touch him. “John,” I whispered incredulously to the wind that carried his name away. A smile reached the tips of his eyes and made them ignite with a lifetime of happiness, which should have been his over five hundred years ago.

There was no more Anne now. All that was left of her had been carried away on the breeze. Only Kate remained. I turned to my brother and saw his eyes fill.

“Go,” he said. “There’s nothing in your way now.”

I ran to him and hugged him tight. “Thank you,” I whispered. “I’ll never forget you or this, I wish you five lifetimes of happiness.” With that, Henry turned and began walking back up to the house; I noticed he only glanced back once to take one final look upon me and I him. If he missed me half as much as I had him, I would be very satisfied indeed.

“Kate.”

I turned and ran to John.

“I waited for hours, but you never came,” I whispered, tears stinging my eyes when John finally embraced me.

“I know my love and for that I am truly sorry, but I told you I would always come for you. No matter how long it took.”

Salty tears slid down my cheeks leaving visible slug trails on my skin.

“Please sweetheart, do not cry. It’s all over now. Hush, hush,” he said gently taking my face in his hands.

“Can you forgive me John for what I have done?”

“Kate, don’t,” he whispered softly but his fingers which had moved down to my arms tightened slightly. “The fault is not yours to carry.”

My head remained low in shame. “But your note. The note that Tom brought me on the day you died, I thought it was my fault you had chosen to die, that you no longer loved me as you professed, and death was your only available release.”

He smiled, wiping away my tears with his thumb. “It was always you Kate. I thought you knew that. The note I left with Tom took hours to write. My heart, my head, my loyalties were torn between my King and my brother. God how they both trusted me, relied upon me and I betrayed them both in some ways. Even after five hundred years Dickon’s face still haunts me after the night I betrayed Edward at Doncaster and knowing I had caused the pain etched upon my young cousin’s face…”

“But John, Dickon adored you even after the events of Doncaster.”

“I know and in some ways that is worse. Much worse. I burned for you Kate and knew deep in my heart that I could not live without you. I even convinced myself for a time that Croft could make you happy. But it was always you Kate, always.”

I could not help but smile now and it lifted my spirits filling me with courage so that I could finally look at him.

“I love you,” I said to him, my words choked by happy tears though I knew John was aware of the sincerity that lay within them.

“Besides ’tis I that should seek forgiveness from you, sweet Kate, for I was in such a state trying to please and be loyal to everyone that in the end I betrayed all, including myself. I wasn’t strong enough when I needed to be and therefore I failed in every way possible.”

“You need no such forgiveness my Lord, for there is nothing to forgive,” I reached up to John’s face and removed the long strands of hair from his eyes and with a finger traced the much-withered contours of his face. “You did your best, the only way you knew how in a difficult situation that was not of our making. No-one could have expected more from you.”

“No matter now. ’Tis all over dear heart, we have no need to torture ourselves with this any longer. What is done is done,” he started stepping backwards slowly where the mist still circled feet above the floor. John kept one hand on mine as he tenderly pulled me with him and I gladly followed.

“We’re free now; we are all free thanks to you. And we have eternity together.” He drew me to him close and his hot mouth found mine just before the mist once again rose upwards and consumed us both leaving nothing upon the field just as that glorious sun took the land.

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