The Ghost and the Rose

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Chapter 9

Frenzied, I raced from the room searching every room and hallway I came to, looking for that flame of red hair. I rounded the corner and went bang straight into a solid body. I couldn’t even describe what state I must have been in.

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“Good afternoon, my lady,” he offered me a curt nod of his head. “Are you quite well?” Standing there was the man who had directed me to the Main Hall for breakfast that first day.

I struggled to catch my breath; in the end I mustered a head movement I hoped would pass for a nod. “Yes, thank you…” I let the words trail off where I wanted to insert a name until I realised that I did not know his.

“Robin,” he finished for me, silver eyebrows knitting together.

“Robin,” I repeated, making sure it stuck in my head. “Got it. Well I’d better be going.”

“I hope nothing has given you a fright,” he said. It sounded cryptic as though he knew. “I know that Lord Farthing insisted that you were to stay in your room today and rest.”

I skirted round him ready to resume my search for Phoebe. “No, not at all. I was bored and decided to go for a walk and I’m just trying to find Phoebe.”

He studied me for longer than what was comfortable. “Mistress Phoebe is in the library,” he offered gently.

“Thank you,” I whispered and with speed in my steps went to find her.

I didn’t find her. She found me as I returned to my room on the Long Gallery. She must have taken in the state of my face and my frantic breathing because the smile she presented me with fell and paled instantly.

“What is it?”

“There’s something wrong with this place,” I whispered.

A teetering laugh caught in her throat. “What do you mean?”

“I had one of my episodes, you know, the ones where I get the strange visions and all I saw this time was John.”

“John?”

I nodded, more than aware how crazy I looked. “The man we found wounded on the road that first night. Anyway, when I came to, there was a girl standing in my room. I don’t know if she was real or a ghost or something else, but she was standing before me as plain as you are now.”

“Ok, Anne you need to calm down,” Phoebe latched on to the top of my arms. “Do you know how crazy this sounds?”

“She led me to a room and when I entered, she’d vanished. She was nowhere in sight, but I found something else. Paintings. Paintings of me.”

“W-w-what are you trying to say?” Phoebe’s freckles became more illuminated the whiter her skin turned.

That question got me. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to say or even what I was thinking. Nothing made sense. I breathed deep. “Come with me. Please. I’ll show you I’m not making this up. There are old portraits of me down in that room.” I searched her eyes for that spark of recognition. “Something weird is going on here, I swear.”

Phoebe swallowed hard. “Let’s go then.”

I retraced the path I had taken. It was only then, in my much calmer state I noticed rectangular patches in the wood were darker than the surrounding panels. Perhaps this is where the portraits once hung. We found the door closed even though I knew for certain I had left it open. I led Phoebe back down the staircase and followed the light emitted by the wall-torches at the end of the corridor.

I could envisage the image of the pictures in my head now as they leaned against the wall. Goodness knows how long they had been there. It was only a few moments before we were standing in front of the place where they were. Or where they should have been.

“Where are they?” Phoebe asked.

“I don’t understand,” I whispered. “They were here; I promise you Phoebe they were here, but they had the name Lady Kathryn Farthing on them.” I didn’t like the way she was looking at me. It was as if for the first time since we had known each other she didn’t believe me, she didn’t understand me and worse still, there was pity.

“Maybe, the fall did some damage. Maybe you’re confused or even concussed. I’ll speak to Meg and see if we can get a doctor to come out to you.”

“I’m not ill,” I argued. “Yes, I’ve been feeling strange since I got here, I know. But I swear I’m not crazy. Strange things are happening.”

A tapping sound echoed down the steps. “What are you two doing down here?” Meg asked. “I was just about to close the door and then you would have been trapped down here.”

“We were just going,” Phoebe said rushing her words. “Henry said Anne needs to rest and I agree with him. She’s been through a lot in a few days.” She continued to stare at me as she spoke as though terrified, I would say something embarrassing. “Would it be possible for Anne to have food taken upstairs to her, just for tonight?”

Meg smiled. “Of course. I will have that arranged immediately.”

“Don’t bother,” I snapped. “I haven’t even touched what you brought up earlier.”

“That will be all, thank you, Meg.”

As soon as Meg left, Phoebe approached me and took hold of my hand. “It is important to me that you know I do not think you are crazy. But have an early night and try to get some sleep, Anne. Everything will seem better in the morning. I promise.”

I swallowed hard and raised my hand to rub my head. The graze was still tender and now a fuzziness was stretching its way from one eye to the other.

“Maybe you’re right. I’ll go lay down and see how I feel then. Do you think I could call my aunt and uncle? Talking to them will probably help.”

“There isn’t a phone here, remember?”

My face fell.

“I’ll talk to Gran and Meg and see what we can do.”

***

The night drew in quicker than I thought it would, which was something considering my imposed confinement. Who the hell did that Lord Henry think he was? Though I felt exhausted, I did not sleep. I felt as though the whole bed was spinning with me on it. A bowl of strange looking stew remained untouched on the sideboard with the thickest slice of bread at the side I had ever seen cut. The tray from earlier in the afternoon had gone.

In my head, I went over everything that had happened that day. I couldn’t shift the sickening feeling settling in my stomach when I thought about how I’d screamed at and then ran from John. I’d be the first to admit that his intensity frightened me, the feelings he made me feel, frightened me. But I was attracted to him as a bee is drawn to the sweet nectar of a flower. I needed to see him. Perhaps he had the answers to all of this madness. First thing in the morning, I was determined to find him.

I allowed my eyes to close and decided that for now, I would forget everything and sleep.

A sound interrupted my drifting. Tap! Tap! Tap! My eyes snapped open. Throwing the covers back, I padded barefoot to the door where the sound had come from. I lifted the latch and opened the door by a few inches. My hammering heart calmed when I saw Robin’s aged face animated by the flickering light of the candle he held in his hand.

“Robin! What’s wrong? It’s quite late.”

“I know my lady and forgive me, but this was placed in my hand with the utmost urgency.” Robin handed me a thick piece of folded paper sealed by a circle of red wax. Robin bowed his head. “Goodnight.”

“Yes, Goodnight,” I called back staring at the note. I shut the door and returned the latch to its original position on the catch. With no candle lit, I walked over to the window where the faintest light from the moon was allowed to reach the house through the mist. I unfolded the paper, unprepared for what was inside.

Dearest Heart,

I fear yesterday we parted on bad terms. I am dismayed to think I may have frightened you and yet the relief I saw in your eyes when you found me in perfect health and not wounded brings hope to my heart.

Look for me soon.

Yours,

John Neville

I found myself smiling like an idiot. Phoebe and I always laughed at the silly girls at school who would fawn over all the boys. Now I was one of them. But he wasn’t a boy.

Once I had read the letter more than a dozen times, I placed it with care under my pillow and climbed back into bed. This time, after I closed my eyes, I welcomed sleep. Though I may have thought otherwise were I to know my dreams were to be once again ruined by the screams of the dead.

***

The next morning, Meg ran me a bath. I felt a pang of guilt every time Jennet, a girl who worked in the kitchens at Burnley, struggled in with a bucket of warm water, splashes leaping out with each pained step. The Manor’s only water supply led to the kitchens. This meant that Meg and Jennet had to fill it with bucket after bucket of water heated over the fire. I was glad of their effort, however, as I felt better sinking into the warming depths.

Meg left me a robe to wrap myself in, while I raided my suitcase for warm clothes I could wear as I looked for John. I decided on my bell bottoms, denim jacket and my favourite ‘God Save the Queen’ t-shirt. Aunt Lily despised it, she’d kill me if she knew I’d brought it.

I retrieved John’s letter from beneath my pillow and folded it up smaller, so it fit into the top pocket of my jacket.

I made my way out of the bedroom gallery, onto the landing and down the grand wooden staircase, which led into one of the larger open spaces in the manor. Portraits and paintings adorned the walls in such a way that little stone remained.

Henry stood there with his hands behind his back and feet slightly apart. A dark blue morning coat reached black covered thighs. Thick mud coated them, and I knew he had been awake for hours already, roaming the land he owns with Rufus and Millie.

I still had a few more steps to go, so I took each one at a time, wincing whenever one made a noise. I thought I had done well when I reached the final step and he had not yet turned around. My foot hit the floor.

“Did you sleep well?” he called out.

Damn, my stealth skills were not as good as I had thought. “Good, thank you.” A lie. “I’m feeling much better too.”

“I am glad,” he said still not looking at me. “You had the whole household worried.”

“I wanted to say thank you for the book too.”

“How did you find it?”

“Enlightening, as ever.”

“Really?” His eyebrow flicked up.

I laughed. “You don’t like the tragic romance; I take it?”

“It isn’t the romance I take issue with,” Henry said with a serious weight to his voice. “I’ve been in love, I’ve known the quickening of my own heart when she appeared in the room, I’ve felt the agony of believing I would never see her again. I’ve relished in the relief when my love was returned.”

“The betrayal of one’s king is not something that is easily forgiven. When one becomes a knight, he swears an oath, a promise. Effectively, his life belongs to his king. Granted, it is not an easy life, it demands unswerving loyalty, it can test your relationships with your kin. It means doing something because it is the right thing to do, not because it is easy. To die for your king is to have a honest and fulfilling death.”

“But Tristram and Isolde never meant to betray King Mark, their love was just too great for them to overcome. There is nothing wrong with that.”

“Then there is the choice. Love or honour.”

“Well, you said you’ve been in love. What would you have chosen?” I asked.

“There are different kinds of love and I chose honour. Honour for my king, myself and more importantly, her.”

I faltered and wondered what he meant when he said he had ‘chose’. No-one had chosen anything; we were talking about times long ago. Then I realised where we were standing. We were before a portrait of a man clad in silver armour and chain mail, not unlike the ones I saw in my dreams every night. I did a double take between the painting and the man of flesh and blood stood next to me. Hundreds of years parted them, but they could have been twins. In fact, they could be the same person. Was it him? No, surely that’s impossible. Then again, I had seen a lot of impossible things in the last few days.

The coldness of his eyes flooded the room like an arctic storm. He had the same serious, straight-set mouth that Henry did and the same dark-blonde hair, which scraped the tops of his shoulders.

“You look awfully similar,” I said. “Who is he?”

A ghost of a smile played on his lips. “Just another Lord Farthing. Perhaps in time, you will notice similarities with another.”

“Is he related to Lady Kathryn?”

He nodded. “Her brother.”

There was an uncontrollable urge in me to find out more. “Tell me about her, please.”

He cleared his throat, and I hung onto every word. He spoke about a girl who lived five hundred years ago and yet she was as real to me as Phoebe or Nell.

“She was the youngest child of Lord Edmund Farthing born during a time when civil war raged the land. He was harsh on her and would barely look at or acknowledge her most days.”

“Why? That seems cruel.”

“Her mother died giving birth to her. You see when we Farthings love, we love fiercely and her father blamed Kathryn for the death of his beloved wife. He never forgave her and so her elder brother and sister over indulged her. She was given everything and anything she wished. When her father died and her brother became Lord Farthing, she was spoilt still. He allowed her the freedom that was not afforded to other young noble women.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” I said. “She was a little spoilt.”

“It is not so bad until the time comes that something must be taken from her.”

I wasn’t sure I could work up the courage to ask the question loaded on my tongue until I heard the words tumbling out of my mouth. “Why are there no portraits of Lady Kathryn?”

He turned and looked at me. “Because he did not want to remember.”

My breathing had slowed and came in calculated breaths. “He killed her, didn’t he? It wasn’t just rumours circulating round the village, she didn’t commit suicide. He killed her.”

“How do you know about that?”

“I read it at the library whilst I was waiting for Rich.”

“Whatever you have read is a lie!” Henry pointed to the portrait which bore such a striking resemblance to himself to tell me this was him. This was the murderous brother. “He adored his sister and would never harm her. But you are right in that he brought about her death. So consumed was she with grief that she sought a way to punish her brother permanently. She took a knife, slit her wrists and laid down to die.”

“What did he do that would make her want to kill herself?” I asked.

“She blamed him for killing the man she loved.”

“Sir Ralph Croft?”

Henry scoffed in reply. “Come,” he breathed offering me his arm. “Allow me to walk you to breakfast. I fear we shall both be chastised by Meg for our lateness.”

It plagued my mind somewhat that he had avoided my question. Who had the murderous brother killed?

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