I didn’t stop running until the village formed greying shapes on the horizon behind me. Every so often, I looked back to see if anyone had followed me or worse, someone had decided to ring the police.
I was glad of the long walk back because it gave me time to clear my head. From my understanding, Burnley Manor should not exist anymore and in a few people’s minds, it didn’t. But Rich himself had said he had been there when he was younger. I stopped myself thinking, it only made my head throb.
The clip-clopping of hooves on the road ahead brought me round and with the veil of mist, I heard the horse approaching long before I saw it. Though the knight mounted upon its back took me rather by surprise. A tunic of deepest red covered the silver of his chest plate. A stonewall ran alongside the road that the horse and rider now trotted down. To be courteous, I jumped out of the way, deciding to walk on the grass verge between the road and the wall. But the large chestnut mare came to a halt right next to me. Exhuming great effort, the mysterious rider dismounted.
My pace quickened, and tension tightened across my back and shoulders.
“My lady,” came a muffled yell. The silver-clad knight stood facing me.
“Are you talking to me?” I asked, looking to see if anyone else was around.
A gust of wind blew bringing with it a stench of smoke and burning wood. It contaminated the air, turning my stomach.
“Of course my lady, whom else shall I be addressing?” The knight removed his helmet and with his gloved hand swiped raven-black hair from his eyes. The face was young but the manner of how he presented himself, his stance and his speech was of someone much older. “My Lord of Montagu, he is the reason I come before you on this day. But do not misunderstand me my lady, he is a proud man whose honour and courage surpass that of anyone else I know but he must speak with you urgently.”
“I’m sorry, you must be mistaken. I do not know the Lord of whatever you’re on about. Wait, are you part of a re-enactment thing? Do I need to do something?”
“My lady, are you quite well? My Lord John had mentioned the approaching battle had put you out of sorts, but I fear I find you worse than I had anticipated.”
“Look… wait, did you say John? As in John who was lying on the road last night?”
“I am not sure of what you speak, my lady. But I serve John Neville, Marquis of Montagu. You must not fear, he has spoken of your mutual regard and he could not have communicated to a more trustworthy man. I shall serve my good master loyally till my death and his secrets shall be as if they were mine.”
“Our mutual regard? And you want me to go with you to John? Is he all right?”
He sighed. “In a bad way I do confess, my lady, but why do we tarry when your love needs you so?” The horse scraped the ground with its hoof.
“You’re not making any sense. I really do think you have the wrong person. What do you want from me? Henry told me that if I followed this road…”
“Henry? Henry Farthing? Is he near?”
“I don’t know now, I left him quite a while ago. Do you know him?”
“Of him my lady, I know of him. His reputation precedes him and if he is near then… Come,” he declared. “We must go for if Lord Farthing catches you with me then there will be hell to pay.” He brought the horse around swiftly and guided me with him until the surging mist swallowed us.
The mild warmness of the day evaporated, and a chill set in. I tugged the sleeves down of the grey material of my jacket to cover my hands clenching them to keep them in place.
“Who are you?” “Who are you again?” I narrowed my eyes at the armour-clad man stepping to keep in line with my tortoise pace. He led the horse by its reins.
“You do not know me, Lady Kathryn?” he asked.
I stalled. “What did you call me? Lady Kathryn as in Lady Kathryn Farthing?”
The knight laughed, not cruel or mocking in any way but it disturbed me. “Yes, one and the same. Tell me Lady, are you well? You do not seem yourself.”
“Is that who I’m meant to play, this Lady Kathryn? The one murdered by her brother? I can’t, I won’t play her.” Uncontrollable shakes overwhelmed my body, and I felt feverish again.
“What murder, my lady? Are you threatened? I swear on my life I will not allow any harm to befall you whilst you are in my care. I am Thomas Sawyer, squire to John Neville, Marquis of Monatgu. We have met but a handful of times, but I swear you know me, my lady.”
“I’m sorry but I don’t think I can be any part of this.”
“Though a few more steps, my lady and we are there. Look, you can see our destination from this spot.”
He pointed to a white tent in the middle of a field; flaps forming the entryway rose and fell on the tide of the wind. I thought about Aunt Lily and what she would think if she could see me now. If she knew I had followed a stranger just because he had told me to then she would probably kill me herself. I wondered if Phoebe had started to worry about how long I had been gone.
All of that disappeared when Thomas held out a gloved hand. I took it, and gently, he guided me forward towards the tent.
Dark clouds loomed overhead threatened rain. It was the only thing visible except for the tent. The curtain of mist obscured the surrounding landscape, I couldn’t even tell where we were.
“Thomas, is that where we are going?” I asked, unsure. Something wanted me to dig my heels into the ground and run. A feeling easily overwhelmed by a hungry need to see what or who was inside that tent.
The corners of his mouth lifted knowingly as if they shared a secret between them that I too was supposed to know. “You know it is, my lady.”
Thomas, leaving the horse to feed on the grass, folded back one flap of the tent and went in. From where I stood, I could see nothing at all of the interior of the tent but heard raised voices coming from inside.
Spirited butterflies stirred in my stomach. And though the sky had darkened further, I saw only bright light as if the sun was out in full glory.
A few moments later, the white canvas opening of the tent stirred and out came not Thomas as I expected, but John. A gasp escaped my mouth. It was the perfect image of the man who I was certain had been dying in my arms last night. Except, sweat hadn’t consumed every strand of his sandy coloured hair and no blood seeped through his tunic draining all colour from his face. Though dark bruises underlined his eyes and paleness still devoured his face, I saw his features soften. Playing on his lips was the ghost of a smile whilst a soft light illuminated the deep periwinkle coloured eyes when he looked at me.
I didn’t trust myself to speak.
“Will thou not greet me, my lady?” John asked taking my hand in his. I winced at his icy touch before he bowed allowing his lips to graze the soft skin of my hand. “It feels an eternity since I last set eyes on you.”
I struggled to find any words that did not sound ridiculous. I stood there, stunned. “You’re all right,” I stared at his chest where the wound had been only yesterday.
John laughed, looking down to where my gaze landed on his tunic; he held his arms out for a moment and then padded them down his chest. “As you see Kate, I am not wounded if that is what you are thinking. Not yet anyway.”
“But I’m not Kate. I’m Anne, my name is Anne. I don’t want to be Kate, Kathryn or whatever else people want to call me today.” Like a wave washing over me, I felt my eyes filling up and my bottom lip quiver. Before I knew it, stinging tears streamed down my face. The shock, it must be the shock of last night and the rough day I’d had.
John crossed the short space that divided us and took me in his arms pressing my head against his chest whilst resting his head on my own.
“Hush now. What has brought this on?” he asked moving his hand to stroke my hair.
I raised my head and looked at him through a tear-filled haze. “I’ve never seen anyone die, I thought you were dead,” I whispered.
John laughed. “As you can see I am perfectly well.” Thomas, upon hearing the commotion, came out of the tent and stood a little to my side. “Thomas, do you know how my lady may have come across the notion I was dead?”
The younger man pulled a face of disgust. “Meaning no offence, but I wouldn’t put it past Lord Farthing to speak such lies.”
“Not at all,” I protested. “He said he didn’t know you. Are you part of this re-enactment thing?”
Thomas gave John a look that went right over my head and ignored the question. “Has a trouble recognising men that are better than he, our Lord Farthing does.”
“Enough Thomas,” reprimanded John. “Do not forget whose company you are in and in which you may cause offence when you speak of people they hold a high regard for.”
Thomas bowed curtly. “Forgive me, Lady. It appears my sharp tongue is at work again.” Thomas returned to the tent with a wounded look in his eye.
“Forgive him; take no heed of his angry tone he is only trying to protect me. He meant no offence.”
“I know.” I took a deep breath and ran my hand around my throat. Suffocating. “Why am I talking to you like I know you?”
John laughed at first before he realised I did not joke and took in the true state of my distress. “But of course you know me. Kate, you are not yourself, perhaps this war has affected you more than I thought. Come into the tent and rest a while.”
“No. You called me Kate again.”
John nodded with concern swelling in his eyes. “I called you by your name, the name by which I have always known you. Now enough of this nonsense, please Kate.”
I broke free as though flames formed his body and I feared being burnt. “My name is Anne, what is wrong with you people? I met you for the first time last night and you were dying, of that I am sure. But today here you are standing in front of me with not even a scratch on you.”
The growing wind skipped through the leaves on the trees making it sound like water running in a stream. Conflicting emotions tore me apart. Some told me that something around this place was wrong and others were feelings I’d never felt before. It felt like I belonged.
A shadow fell over John’s face. I moved back but in a matter of seconds, John had me in his arms again. He pulled me to him so that my face was barely a centimetre away from his.
“Call yourself what you will at this moment but whether you be Kate or Anne you know me, do not forget that. You knew me before yesterday as Anne and you knew me after your last day as Kate.”
I found it difficult to tear myself away from his gaze and the blaze alighting them despite the light pain entering my arms from his grip. Yet somehow I found the strength to push him away. “I am Anne! Get that into your head.”
“Kate!” John’s haunting cries echoed out across the fields after me for miles.
Once more, I was running from something that frightened me to my core. I longed for home, I longed for Aunt Lily.
The clouds unleashed a barrage of rain making the ground slick beneath my shoes. I was so eager to get away, I lost my footing and fell forward. The last thing I remembered was the ground hurtling to meet my face.