[Author's Note: I have changed the prologue a little bit. It might seem a bit out of place now but as you get into the story you will see what it is about and how it is important and the epilogue will wrap it up. Also this first chapter of Anne's story might seem a little strange because it is when Anne is aged four too.]
The dreams had always been with me, in some way, but it wasn't until I was about four that I realised they were more than just dreams, more than just made up characters in a child's overactive imagination and that there was a purpose for my getting the dreams.
I woke up one hot afternoon in a panic with the words "Someone has killed the princes" on my lips.
My startled nanny dropped her needlework.
"Anne, what in heaven's name are yer talking about?" She demanded.
"Two princes. They were locked up and killed. Two innocent little boys." I said, sitting up in the bed.
"When?" She asked, looking out the window onto the marshland as if she expected to see some kind of messenger riding hard with news of dead boys.
"Not now. Yeats ago." I said impatiently.
"How many years?" My nanny asked.
I shrugged. Time was an abstract notion for a child. "Much much older than Granmama even." I said. Though this seemed hard because I thought Granmama was ancient. She had no teeth left and yellow skin and yellow fingers with nails that looked like claws and she smelt funny- like the attic did when it was shut up for months on end against the cold Welsh weather.
My big brother told me she was a witch and that the King had tried to execute her for witchcraft but no matter what he tried she just wouldn't die and eventually he got sick of trying and banished her to the wilds of Wales where she has lived ever since. Once I asked her why she didn't have a wart on her nose and had promptly received my own banishment to the nursery for two whole days.
"It was just a bad dream. I'm sure the princes are just fine." My nanny said, picking up her needlework again.
I shook my head, frustrated. "No, they died Nanny." I said slowly, like the way she sometimes spoke to me when I asked her too many questions or put too many demands on her time or tried to run and play cowboys and Indians with my brothers rather than do things that little girls should do.
Nanny sighed. "Okay Anne." She said.
"You don't believe me." I said, disappointed.
"Yer had a bad dream." Nanny said.
"No. It was real. And the princes want me to find out what happened to them!" I said, angry that she didn't seem to believe me or understand that this was real and important.
"I'm guessing yer not going to go back to sleep are yer?" Nanny asked, putting her needlework aside with a sigh. There I was: ruining her plans yet again. Really I was most annoying.
"I can't. The princes have asked me to avenge them. As crowned princes, one of whom should have been ordained as King of England and taken the holy oil on his breast in the shape of a cross by the bishop, it is a great injustice to their souls and to that of their dead father and the people of England, it needs to be solved." I said.
A strange look crossed Nanny's face. "Anne- how do yer know words like avenge? And how do yer know when someone is sworn in as King of England that they make vows and have holy oil put on their chest in a the sign of the cross?" She asked me, looking quite pale all of a sudden.
"The princes told me." I said, shaking my head. For a grown up Nanny was rather silly sometimes.
To my surprise Nanny crossed herself. "Come on, lets go outside. I feel rather cold all of a sudden." She said.
My attention was instantly diverted. "Can we play cowboys and Indians? You can be an Indian and I will be a cowboy. But when I shoot you you have to die not just say it's a fake gun Anne so you haven't really shot me okay?" I asked.
"Sure." Nanny said but she sounded distracted.
I forgot all about the conversation until that night when Mama came to the nursery. We did not see much of Mama in the nursery so when she came in we thought it was a great treat and then when she took me on her knee and asked the other kids to leave so we could talk I felt quite important. They did so with some bad grace and the smug smiles I shot in their direction as they were ushered out by Nanny probably did not help matters.
Mama was very beautiful and she always smelt like lavender. She spent much of her time in the capital while we remained in Wales with Papa and the servants. Papa was a bit older than Mama and my eldest sister Bridie said that Papa idolised Mama and thought he was the luckiest man in the whole wide world and he would not begrudge her a single thing in life- even if she wanted to spend much of her time in the city and if she felt like she needed to go to other countries on holidays regularly for her nerves.
Mama stroked my hair absently and I felt a bit like our cat Betsy might feel as she often sat on my lap and preened as I stroked her soft fur. "Anne, I heard you had a strange dream today." Mama said.
I felt annoyed that Nanny had told Mama but then realised that if she had not I would not be snuggled into Mama's lap now, with her familiar lavender smell in my nose. I moved back a bit and rested my head against her soft skin. "It wasn't a dream Mama. It really happened." I said.
"Well Anne sometimes a dream feels like it really happened." Mama said, with a gentle reprimand in her words but not in her tone.
"It did!" I said, frustrated tears coming to my eyes but I blinked them back. I was a big girl now and should not cry. That was what Nanny said anyway.
"Have you been in any history lessons with the big kids?" Mama asked.
"No. I'm not allowed until I'm five remember? But that is a silly rule. All my brothers and sisters get to go and the boys get to go to the big school with Rhys and Joseph when they are a bit bigger but us girls don't get to go and that is stupid too." I said.
"Anne." Mama chided me.
"But sometimes they teach me things- how to write my name and read a bit and numbers." I told her.
"They haven't taught you anything about history?" Mama asked, sounding sceptical.
"What's history? Is it a story that belongs to a man?" I asked, sounding out the words "his" and "story" in my mind.
Mama laughed, that tinkling laugh that made everyone want to smile and laugh too. "Not quite but some might argue you are correct. It's about things that happened in the past. Important things and some not so important." She explained.
"Oh." I said.
"So you have never heard about the two little boys locked up in the tower?" Mama asked.
"Yes. In my dream today. I think I have dreamed about them before but I couldn't remember them. But now I am a big girl I can remember things." I explained.
"Tell me about the boys." Mama said.
"Princes Mama. They wouldn't like being called just boys. They were sons of the King. A mean man put them in a castle saying it was to keep them safe but they weren't safe. The oldest was meant to be ordained as King of England like his father had been and to have a coronation where everyone would dress up and he would get a big crown put on his head and a sceptre in his hand and take the oil on his chest to be anointed by the bishop and it would be his formal investiture as monarch. He was meant to promise to serve the people of England and have a great big feast after his coronation and to rule England with the help of an advisor like one of his uncles. But it didn't happen. Because someone killed them. And they want me to find out who did it and tell the whole world so that everyone knows their story and how they died and who did it. They want people to know so they will be avenged." I explained, twisting around in Mama's lap a little to look up into her face.
And what I saw on her face surprised me- she looked scared.
Like I was the time my big brother told me there was a ghost in the attic and locked me up there for hours and hours. At least it felt like hours and hours. And the time we were playing hide and seek and nobody found me because I had somehow locked myself into the basement and wasn't found until the cook came down to get something from the cold area where we stored meat.
"Mama?" I asked, worried.
"Anne, listen to me, you can't tell people about the dreams. Not a single person, not a single word, not ever." Mama said so vehemently I began to get scared and my lip trembled and tears welled up in my eyes and spilled over.
"Don't cry sweetie. Mama isn't mad at you." Mama said, gently wiping the tears from my cheeks.
But for some reason her gentle tone made me cry harder and I buried my head in her chest crying, while she stroked my back.
We didn't speak again until I had finished my fit of crying and Mama had used her handkerchief to wipe my face and I blew my nose. I tried to hand the handkerchief back to Mama but she looked disgusted and told me to keep it so I stuffed it up my sleeve. It smelt like Mama too.
"I'm sorry to scare you Anne but it is very important you tell nobody." Mama said.
"But the princes said I had to. They said it was very important because the people need to know." I protested.
"I am sure they did but Anne I am your Mama and the boss of you and I am telling you that you cannot tell anyone about the dreams. Not even Nanny or your brothers and sisters or your Papa." Mama said firmly.
"Then who can I tell? I have to tell someone Mama." I said.
Mama hesitated then said, "You may tell me I suppose. But just me. Nobody else. Especially not your Grandmama. She...she won't understand. She never did."
The last part of her words made no sense but I sensed she did not want me to ask about it, so I didn't. Instead I asked, "You believe me then Mama?"
Again she hesitated. "Yes, Anne, I do. But I am probably the only one who would. You see I remember when my own Grandmama spoke to me of dreams she had. Some women in our family seem to have a sort of...gift. We can dream and see things, learn things. It often skips a generation or two. But this is our secret okay sweetie? You and I can talk of it but you must not talk about it with anyone else. People don't understand this. Perhaps, like your Grandmama, they don't want to understand it. Many, many years ago these dreams would have been considered witchcraft and you would have been executed for it. Thankfully the age of enlightenment has changed that but that does not mean people would understand or believe. You would not be safe to live a normal life if anyone else knew Anne. They may exploit it, they may lock you up in a lunatic asylum, they may do many things." Mama explained.
"I understand Mama. I won't speak a word of the dreams, or the Princes, or the gift." I said. And somehow I did understand. It wasn't plausible or possible that a girl of four could truly understand the implications but somehow I did. Perhaps it was the gift. Perhaps it was just having seen the fear in Mama's eyes.
"Good girl." Mama said, sounding incredibly relieved.
"But can I just ask a question?" I asked.
"You just did." Mama said. At my confused look she nodded, "go ahead."
"Did you have the dreams?" I asked.
Mama hesitated yet again. Her eyes slid away and there was a contemplative look on her face. Her eyes returned to mine and I could read nothing in her face- it was blank. Like my brothers and sisters when they played card games. I was not good at card games. If I had good cards I smiled and looked happy and if I had bad ones I looked glum and annoyed.
"No, I did not." Mama said.
I wasn't sure if she was telling me the truth or not but I didn't think it really mattered. Not then anyway.