The Ghost and the Rose

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Chapter 4

I woke up with a start. The dream flooded back almost drowning me and I gasped for the last breath of air.

The moonlight I recalled from last night had transformed into beams of pale gold, the faintest rays of the sun penetrating the thick mist. Propping myself up on my elbows, I appreciated the room much more in the new light of the day. Piece by piece, it slotted into place like a jigsaw.

I pictured Aunt Lily. At first, I imagined trying to describe to her the room I’d stayed in and the glee on her face as she soaked up the images I painted with my words but then my aunt’s face contorted into one of horror when I listed all the objects easy to break.

Raising my arm, I strained my eyes to bring the face of my watch into focus. “Ten to eight,” I muttered to myself.

I sank back into the soft comfort of the bed and closed my eyes but all I could see was his face. Even when the mist clouded most of him, I could make out those sharp blue eyes that pierced me so deep they must be engraved on my soul. I groaned, laying flat on my back again. With my thumb and forefinger, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. What the hell was wrong with me?

A gentle knocking on the door interrupted my thoughts, and I watched it creak open. Meg waddled in carrying a large bowl in her hands. “For you to wash, my dear,” she said with a kind smile illuminating her flushed cheeks. “We do not normally partake in breakfast,” she appeared to struggle with the word. “Although an exception has been made if you wish to join us in the main hall. I have brought you a cloth and a mixture of herbs for you to clean your teeth.” She stared at me with old, grey eyes that looked like someone had intricately painted them with watercolours. I would have sworn tears filled them.

“A wise woman, we shall follow her example. We can’t have you going hungry and my Lord is joining us today, which is quite an honour.”

“Ok. I’ll just get ready and I’ll be down.” She seemed happy with that answer and after another whimsical smile aimed in my direction, she left.

Hearing the thud of the door closing and the echo of Meg’s footsteps growing quieter, I jumped out of the bed to examine the items she had brought. I splashed the water on my face several times letting it cool my burning cheeks. Then I picked up the cloth and bundle of herbs turning them over in my hand. A strange noise escaped my throat as I discarded them back on the side, there was no way I could use them to brush my teeth. I didn’t even know what to do with them. With no other water to use, I reached into my travel bag and pulled out my toothbrush and toothpaste. I squirted a blob onto my tongue and began dry brushing.

I glimpsed myself in a nearby mirror and moaned at how awful I looked. The perturbing night mixed with the all too real violence of the dream had contributed to the purple circles under my eyes, edged with a line of red. I’d always been told I had good skin. Aunt Lily described it as a ‘delicate glow’ but now it was pasty, powder white and my cheeks flushed a gentle pink.

Thoughts of the dream returned. John had looked haunted after he had cut down that last soldier. He’d looked broken. I’d used my dream of him to replace the images I had when he had been in his final hours by the roadside. I shook my head hating that I was struggling to think of anything else. They were only dreams. Dreams that were becoming harder to dismiss. Never had I seen the faces of the knights. Not until last night.

My thoughts rolled one into the next. Again. Car. Focus on the car and hope it gets fixed quickly.

***

Leaving the room ten minutes later, I was dressed and on a mission to find the Main Hall. I crept down the Gallery keeping to the centre runner so as not to disturb anyone in the other rooms, with no idea who had slept where and it would be my luck to piss off one the family members who owned Burnley.

I rounded a corner and headed down a set of a dozen stone steps I didn’t recall from last night. Turning around, I almost expected them to have disappeared or shifted in some way. Maybe I had been so lost in following Phoebe that I had not noticed them.

I pushed on, heading down passageways I believed we had taken on the way to my room. Parts seemed familiar and in the same instance they were foreign. Somehow, I made it to the wooden screen with the arched doorway ahead which I knew led out into the courtyard. At least I now knew where I was.

Then, a man bustled through and froze as soon as he laid eyes on me. Mud coated the bottom of his black boots. Hair, the colour of snow clung to his head in thinning wisps and the lines of age spread downwards from his eyes meeting those that spread upwards from the corners of his thinly set mouth.

His eyebrows arched and then he opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. They closed again, reforming the thin line.

“I’m expected for breakfast. In the Main Hall and I’m lost,” not the most eloquent sentence I have ever formed, but it broke the awkward silence.

The man took a step forward, his head dipping slightly. All warmth left his eyes. “Is he with you?”

My blood stilled. “Who?”

But at my answer he retracted his steps and regained a countenance I could only describe as composed. “Breakfast in the Main Hall? You have done well, my lady. You are standing outside of the Hall.” He swept a hand to his right, and I took in the towering wall made of wood. A square door had been made to look like any other panel in the screen.

“The screen exists to separate the Hall from the kitchens.”

The kitchens where we had sat when we first arrived last night. I smiled at him. “Thank you for your help.”

He opened the door for me and I stepped inside. The door closed behind me and I noted that the man did not follow. Another man, much taller and younger than the other rose from his seat at one end of a long table and gave a shallow nod of his head before sitting back down again. He did not look at me.

Meg surged forward, a smiled beaming in her face and guided me to a seat at right-angles with the man who I assumed was ‘my Lord’. She carried a jug in her hand and filled his goblet with a rich, red liquid. When she had finished, she jabbed the man with her elbow causing his head to snap up.

He hissed something at her before turning his attention to me. There were those feelings of familiarity stirring within me again. I studied his face, unaware I was staring. He looked very much like me. Taller, definitely. I had not been blessed in the height department, but our colouring was the same and the shape of our eyes which even from this distance I could see flicked up at the edges. I found it alien to be looking upon someone so much like myself. I had never known my parents and no pictures of them exists as far as I know. Aunt Lily and Lorna, my only blood relatives were dark and lithe limbed.

Eventually, he spoke. “I trust you found your room to your liking…” he said inspiring a sharp look from Meg who I caught in the middle of mouthing my name.

“Anne,” he added.

“I did, thank you.” I tried to be as polite as I could although the entire air in this room was colder than the classrooms at school during winter. It was like he was a bad actor reading from a script without engaging with the person he was speaking to.

“And you slept well?”

“Very well,” I lied. Uncle Richard always made sure I had excellent manners. I raised a brow as Meg filled my goblet up with the stuff she’d put into his. With a hint of disgust, I watched as he tucked into some white bread and chewed on the variety of different meats that surrounded him. I’d never been able to eat much early in the morning. Meg served me the same bread on a huge silver platter. I took a sip from the cup and spluttered it out everywhere. “That’s wine!”

Meg’s eyes widened. “Yes, my lady it is.”

The lord stared at me in amazement.

“But it’s eight o’clock. In the morning.” Silence reigned for much longer than what I deemed comfortable. I felt like I had insulted them.

Meg cleared her throat. “Of course. Please forgive my mistake, which I shall rectify immediately. Excuse me my Lord,” she scooped up my goblet and with a curt nod of her head left the room closing the door behind her. I picked at the bread like a vulture would pick at a corpse, praying for Meg’s swift return.

“Where are Phoebe, Eleanor and Nell? Are they not having a breakfast?”

“I believe they already ate and are otherwise occupied.” He didn’t look up and continued to tuck into his morning feast.

I wondered what they were doing.

When Meg came back, I was pleased that she came with an excuse for me to leave. “Miss Phoebe asked if you would be so kind as to venture into the town and seek a garage?” She appeared to struggle with the final word.

I nodded in reply, eager for any excuse to escape. “Do either of you know where the nearest garage is?”

Something passed between Meg and the lord, something they were not sharing.

“Is there a problem?” I asked.

“For heaven’s sake girl! Be gone and leave us in peace!”

“Henry!” Meg scolded.

He stood, sending his chair flying backwards. “You dare speak to me thus?” His hands rested on the table in tight, white-knuckled fists. “They should not have come, she should not have come.”

I sank further back into my chair.

Meg pulled a face at him, then forced a smile at me as she tried to pour warmth back into the room. Redundant considering enough heat emitted from Henry’s fury. It rippled from him, from every tensed muscle as smoke might do.

“There is no problem,” Meg insisted. “If you walk west towards the village, I would imagine you would find one there.”

Henry opened his mouth as though he was about to protest but one glare from Meg and he shut up. I swallowed hard looking between the pair. Distrust bubbled inside me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but an undercurrent of unease flowed beneath us and I didn’t know how much more I could take.

“If you like, Anne, my Lord could walk you down to the road and set you on your way.”

Henry’s head snapped up, ocean blue eyes narrowed to thin slits. The way he had just spoken to me, I didn’t want him taking me anywhere.

“Were you not telling me only yesterday, my Lord, that you could do with a walk into town?”

His breaths were short and controlled; whitening lips straightened into a tight line. “I do not recall such a conversation.” A warning. He sat back down again but did not return to his breakfast.

The old woman cocked her head. “How strange for I remember it most vividly, my Lord.” She arched her eyebrows at him.

“I’m sure if you point me in the right direction then I could find the way myself.”

“Nonsense.”

“You may accompany me, Anne but I will only be able to take you to the boundary of Burnley’s land. Beyond that, I cannot go.”

“Thank you,” I muttered. I had already started forming plans in my head how I could sneak out of the Manor without him. For the rest of breakfast, an awkward silence hung in the air. I had never been a fast eater but this time I made an exception. I wolfed down that food as though I hadn’t eaten for a month. As soon as Henry saw I had finished, he excused me.

I rushed from the room breathing a sigh of relief as I leaned back on the door to the dining room feeling at ease once again. The tension rolled off my shoulders, and I felt lighter.

Then I heard their voices again, muffled by the door between us.

“You had no right,” Henry spat.

“I had every right and you know it. You got us into this. Get us out. Look at her, talk to her. At least bloody acknowledge her.”

“I did acknowledge her. I asked her if she had slept well.”

Even with the screen between us, I could hear Meg sigh. “Most eloquent, Henry. Perhaps next time you can move on to the weather and then her favourite foods and before we realise, time would have run out.”

I backed away from the screen, my throat dry and darted for the door that led out into the courtyard. My head ached, and I craved the fresh air of the outdoors. Bolting across the flag-stoned floor of the courtyard, I headed for the gatehouse we had entered through yesterday and escaped the confines of Burnley. I could breathe again.

A shying sun presented a warm if ethereal glow upon Hadley. Even now, the mist still lingered like a panel of drawn voile and allowed the faintest patch of light to shine through.

I could have sworn I heard voices in the distance, cries and shouts filling the air. Somehow, they drew me to them. A compelling urge flowed through me, a wanting to be carried on the wind towards them.

Something touched my shoulder making my whole body jolt. I spun to see Henry towering over me. It struck me at how sad he looked with the corners of his mouth downturned. Seeing him this close up also highlighted that he was much younger than the dark bruises under his eyes and pale skin would have me believe.

He spoke first, his blonde hair shifting over his shoulders as he did so. “I’m sure we agreed that I would take you so far, set you on your way so you don’t get lost.”

“You’re right, we did.” I failed to come up with a decent excuse why I had ventured out on my own. Because you were bloody rude did not seem like a good thing to say to your host.

“Then let’s go, shall we?”

Henry stormed ahead keeping a few paces in front. I nodded and followed like a scolded child, placing my hands in my pockets to protect them from the slight biting of the wind.

After a while of following Henry with my mouth shut and sick of my brown suede boots sinking into the bog-like ground, I called out to him. “What was the point of you taking me this far if you were just going to stroll ahead on your own?” There oh mighty lord. I’m not afraid of you.

Henry died in his tracks and turned to face me. All that I could of his clothes was his full-length dark brown overcoat and the heels of what I assumed to be riding boots. If I was not completely sure even this early on that Henry was the most miserable and saddest human, then I could have sworn that I saw the corners of his mouth lift into a half smile.

“Then keep up if you do not wish to walk alone,” he called back. Once again, he walked away from the house in the direction of the road leaving me standing there with colour mounting in my face.

After that, I attempted to keep up with him, mostly out of defiance. It proved to be quite a task because his strides were almost double mine. I’d made a mistake choosing my flared jeans too. They acted like a sponge by soaking up the rainwater and attracting the mud, consequences of last night’s downpour.

Henry had not uttered two sentences and since the mist obscured almost anything that could have acted as a conversation topic, I grasped at anything to break the ice.

“You have a beautiful home,” I said, thinking it best not to add the word ‘spooky’. “How old is it?”

Henry stared straight ahead. It irritated me how despondent he was. “It was built in the late 1300s and was a gift to the first Lord Farthing-”

“Your ancestor? That’s quite something keeping it in the family for all these generations.”

Henry remained unmoved. “Indeed. The house and all the land down to the stream was a gift from the King. They were rewards for the loyalty and courage shown by the Farthings in the wars with France.”

“Impressive,” I began. “It must have been quite an honour to receive such a gift in those days. Think how proud your ancestors would be if they knew it was still in the family.” I had chosen history to study at school in the hope it would end my dreams or at least help me understand them a little more. It did neither.

Henry’s shoulders drooped, his head bowing. “Perhaps such pride should be reserved for those who truly deserve it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked but before Henry answered we were interrupted by high-pitched barks and the sound of fast movement pounding the ground behind us. “What is that?” For the first time, I noted a spark ignite in Henry’s dull eyes and a smile spread across his set face.

“My dogs.” The tone of his voice had changed. Lighter than before. Life. He’d sunk to his knees before I’d had time to breathe and the two hounds bounded up to him licking him on the face and barking.

I shifted on my feet drawing their attention. They pounced on me, wagging their tails, begging me to play with them. Once I had calmed them, I found Henry’s eyes upon me, studying. It was like this, with a note of happiness that I thought he resembled me very much.

He broke his gaze, the moment lost. “This is Millie,” he said ruffling the long hair on the head of the black dog. “And this rogue,” he said stroking the tan and black coloured dog, “is…”

“Rufus,” I whispered. I took a step back.

Henry’s hands steadied on the dogs and through squinted eyes he looked to me once more. “Very good.”

“I don’t know how I knew that. It came to me like there’s nothing else in the world he could have been called. It was so... familiar.”

Henry stood, the frown returning to his face. “Come, we still have not reached the boundary and I would walk with you a little further.”

The two dogs leapt ahead chasing the odd bird that dared to land on the ground before us. We followed at our own pace and this time, Henry waited for me.

“Is the mist always this bad here?” I asked.

“For as long as I can remember it has been like this. Burnley is an isolated island cut off from the world by this barrier of mist. I’m rather surprised you found us.”

“Eleanor gave good directions and Phoebe remembered the way, so I just followed her,” I muttered. My thoughts flickered back to the events of last night and that haunting image of the man who would not leave my mind. “I wonder if you knew the man who was hurt last night. He was tall, sandy coloured hair. Maybe you knew him?” I ventured. For some reason, it felt good being able to talk about him.

“No friend of mine,” Henry spat with contempt. “I do not know anyone called John,” he added, more composed.

“I don’t think I mentioned his name.” Then my bones were nearly catapulted out of my skin by a ground-shaking bang that filled the sky. I clasped my hands over my ears. “What on Earth!” Henry grabbed the tops of my shoulders. He too was looking up at a grey cloud billowing in the sky. The dogs were barking like crazy.

“The battle, there isn’t much time left,” he declared.

“Battle? What bloody battle?”

He turned with a dark look etched upon his face. “In a few days, it will be exactly five hundred years since the cursed Battle of Barnet.”

“We learnt about that at school, what are they having? Some sort of re-enactment? I suppose your family would have been involved in the wars. Didn’t you say they were here at that time?”

“Yes, my family were very much a part of the wars. They were Yorkists from the very beginning supporting the Duke of York and then his son Edward. Like the rest of the country that war tore my family apart.”

“But it couldn’t have been that bad, you’re still here in the house that was given to your family hundreds of years ago.”

“Yes,” he replied with dull eyes. A melancholy expression clouded his face. “I’m still here. Not much further to go and then I’ll take my leave of you.” Henry pointed me towards the village while he went his own way taking Millie and Rufus with him. Henry had told me that Burnley was always being a slave to the haunting battle cries, which rang from Barnet. I could not help but make the comparison to my own life and the slave I had become to the battle cries that filled my dreams.

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