My eyes fluttered open revealing a crimson canopy above my head. I was back at Burnley, in my bed with sheets drawn up to my chin. They were a comforting weight on my body.
All light had faded from the world outside but a warm, orange glow drenched my room. It took a while for hazy objects to lose their fuzzy edges but eventually my eyes refocused and their edges sharpened.
“Anne! Thank goodness,” Phoebe breathed a sigh of relief. She was curled on a chair by my bedside like a cat, a fluffy, pink nightgown wrapped around her shoulders.
“You’ve given us all such a terrible fright,” I knew the gruff tones belonged to Eleanor. I could make out her hunched over form huddled by the window.
“What happened?” I croaked. A scratchy dryness had settled in my throat. I fought to remember, but the images failed to materialise in my head. There was the library and then…
“I found you.”
Wait. I knew that voice. He stepped forward, the orange glow illuminating his face. He allowed his lips to form a small smile.
“You were unconscious at the side of the road, as soon as I got to you, I knew you’d been hurt,” he gave a curt nod towards my head. “That’s quite a nasty graze you’ve got there.”
I brought my fingers to my temple, hissing low as my skin touched. I had ran, I remembered that now but what had I been running from?
“Ralph?” I questioned myself, unsure that it was right. No, Rich.
A strange strangled half-laugh lodged in his throat. “You met me at the library, do you remember? I was worried about you because you seemed so ill when you left the library that as soon as Mrs Hart could free me, I made my way here to make sure you were alright and there you were by the roadside.”
Phoebe leant forward and grasped my hand. “And what a good job he did. Who knows what could have happened to you?” She gave me a hard look. “We were all worried and just about to send a search party out to look for you, when he turned up with you in his arms.”
“What were you doing for so long?” Eleanor pressed.
Closing my eyes, I tried to evoke images to help me piece together what had happened before running along the bottom road that lay parallel to Burnley’s land. Nothing. I had left the library in a hurry, that I was sure but after that, nothing.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know,” my pathetic mumbles offered no answers.
“Anne needs to rest now. There’s been too many questions, I think.”
I offered Rich a grateful look as he aided Eleanor from the room.
“Sleep well, child,” the old woman said.
With a quick squeeze of my hand, Phoebe left my side. “I hope you feel better soon.” She blew the candles out one by one leaving me in silver iridescent gloom.
For once, sleep came easy. But the closing of my eyes brought a new terror, one that made me wish myself awake. This was something new. It wasn’t death upon a medieval battlefield, but it wreaked of blood and lifelessness all the same.
The dream didn’t play out as normal but instead it came in flashes, very much like the visions that plague me during the day.
There were bursts of red, not bright but more like a copper shade mixed with a tornado of other images. I recognised the turreted outline of Burnley against a clean, navy blue night sky. Then lightning struck showing me a girl with flowing, golden hair stood with her back to me, silk skirts sweeping the floor.
Out of all of them, one visualisation stayed the longest. It was a carved figurine of a knight on a horse. It seemed solid, like the whole thing would have an impressive weight to it. The dark wood gave the figurine a rich, highly polished gleam. The knight charged into battle with one arm raised high pointing his sword to the sky, whilst his other gripped onto the reins with every ounce of strength he possessed. It was beautiful. And I hated it. Its presence twisted my stomach. Fear paralysed my limbs. For some reason, I felt as though it could kill me.
I knew, even before I opened my eyes that a heaviness weighed down on my head. It pounded with every slight movement.
“What on earth are you doing down there?” Meg stood there holding a tray. Her eyes were red and swollen. Lack of colour had washed her face out more than usual. She looked down at me with large eyes as I lay on the floor in a tangled cocoon of my bed sheets. I must have been in such a deep sleep for the fall to have not woken me.
After wrestling with the sheets to free my arms, I sat up. “I must have fallen.”
Meg raised an eyebrow at me. “Well child, I can see that much for myself. Come, let’s make you comfortable.” She made her way over to the huge chest at the foot of my bed and placed the tray down. She held out her withered hands, and I took them.
I could feel the softness of her skin and the bumps caused by every raised vein. Her hands were cold too, like a midwinter’s frost.
Helping me up, she led me over to the bed and helped me lay back down. “Lord Farthing insists that you are to remain in bed. Were he to see you now, well goodness knows what would be going through his mind.”
She must have seen the look on my face.
“Just until you are feeling better,” Meg retrieved the piles of covers from the floor and covered me up with them.
I tried to sit up but found that the room wanted to spin instead. I’d never been any good on rides. When I was twelve, Lorna had taken me to the local fair that had sprung up on one of the school playing fields overnight. She took me on the waltzes. We spun so fast that the world whizzed by in a stunning blur of colours. I was fine until I stumbled down the metal steps and projectile vomited everywhere. Sure enough, I wasn’t allowed back on.
“I am feeling better,” I lied trying to keep my head straight.
Taking every measure to be careful, she pushed me back down. “Generations of Farthing babes have flourished under my care. I know when one of them is not quite themselves.”
My head floated back down to the pillow. “But I’m not a Farthing, you didn’t raise me. How do you know I’m not alright?”
Her eyes became downcast and her face took on a doleful expression.
“No, I did not. You are absolutely right,” she finished tucking me in. “I will leave this right here,” she gestured towards the tray which loitered on the chest with careful abandon. Just a selection of meats, bread and cheeses and a goblet of water, to wash it all down with.
“Thank you,” nothing appealed except the water but I thought I should be polite.
“You are welcome; I will take my leave of you now so you can rest.”
I started to like how everyone spoke around the Manor and the way words left their tongues in that archaic style.
Just then, something caught my eye, and I sat bolt upright. “What is that?”
Meg paused by the door.
“That,” I pointed to the set of drawers next to my bed.
Meg followed my finger. “That is St George,” she explained. “On his way to slay the dragon.”
The statue of the knight on the horse from my vision sat on a set of drawers beside my bed. He raised his sword into the air just like I had seen in my dream. My whole body trembled, and pain spread across the back of my head. I could feel bile burning the base of my throat.
“It has to go! Please, I don’t want it in here!”
Meg rushed over and placed comforting arms around my shoulders. “Hush now. It has always been in your room.”
“No, it was definitely not there yesterday, I swear to you it wasn’t.” Tears were falling down my cheeks leaving visible slug trails. I was hysterical now.
“What is this commotion?” Henry entered the room. His very presence demanded authority but his stooped shoulders and bowed head hinted at something deeper, perhaps something sadder. He looked furious at first, his eyes ablaze. “That noise can be heard through most of the house.”
I flung myself at Henry, grasping hold of his shirt. “Please!” I begged. “You have to get it out of here! I can’t have it near me!”
“Mistress Anne is distressed about the St George,” explained Meg, no longer sitting on the bed.
Henry placed his hands over mine. “Distressed? This girl is descending into madness. Remove the damn thing Meg and we shall see if Anne or anyone else residing at Burnley this day is to have peace!”
Meg did as instructed. I felt better as soon as she had crossed the threshold into the Long Gallery with it. The pain and nausea vanished along with its presence in my room.
I slumped to the floor and Henry followed, kneeling majestically in front of me.
My cheeks burned with shame. “I am so sorry,” I gasped. “I don’t know what came over me, I’d never even seen the statue until I dreamt about it last night.”
“You dreamt about the wooden statue of St George?”
My head bobbed. “I’m mad, right? I even remember being overcome with a feeling of hatred for it then, with no explanation for it. Why am I feeling like this?”
This was the first time I had been close enough to see Henry properly. I had not been wrong yesterday, he looked like me. In fact, his stark likeness to me was almost frightening. He was handsome, and I found it strange he looked at me with eyes, which so closely reflected my own. The gold of his hair was perhaps a shade or two darker than mine and He even had a light brown mole under one eye just like I did, except his was under the opposite one.
“I am not sure,” he said. “But I’m going to find out.”