Kathy thought that a spot of ghostwatching was a harmless way to spend the early hours of Sunday, but she set out quite unprepared...
A barn owl swooped silently over the castle keep.
“Are you alright?”
Kathy looked up into the dark eyes of a grey-haired man.
“Oh,” she sighed. “I lost my footing.”
“And just what are you doing, clambering over this ruin so late? Look at your torn dress! Don’t you have a nightclub to go to?”
Kathy sat up and shivered. “I wanted to hear the Minstrel Ghost.”
“Oh, did you really! Well, I should kick you straight out.” The man hesitated. “Are you on your own?”
“Yes.” She replied emphatically.
“Good. The last thing I need is an ear-ringed psychic with a cameraman on my case.” The man leaned heavily on a stick. Kathy thought that he seemed rather a frail figure to be a night-watchman. He sighed. “Why don’t you come and have a warm drink? I can hear your teeth chattering!”
“Thank you.” Kathy hauled herself to her feet. Limping behind the man with his stick, they looked a sorry pair, inching across the frosty grass, sparkling in the silver moonlight.
Once, it had been a lively courtyard. Kathy thought she could hear people “oohing” and aahing,” as if they were watching some exciting sport. Then she shivered very deeply. Was it…cock fighting…bear baiting…a public torture or execution? She could wish her psychic moments away sometimes.
When they got to the old sentry house, now the entrance kiosk, Kathy sat down and the man reached for a pot above a cosy fire.
“Do you like mulled cider?” He asked.
“Thanks!” She replied enthusiastically. “That sounds like a suitable drink for a cold night.”
The man took great care over pouring the contents of the pot into two souvenir mugs and waved one in her direction, which she took and sipped.
“So who is this Minstrel Ghost then?” The man inquired.
“You mean you work here and you haven’t heard the story?” Kathy was amazed.
“Oh, I’ve heard lots of stories. But I want to hear yours.” He smiled.
“Well, I’ve had this fascination for a long time, with the story of the Minstrel Ghost. He sang courtly love songs for the lady of the manor as minstrels of the time were supposed to do, but the lord of this castle decided that the looks that accompanied the words were too meaningful, and he had the poor chap blinded. But the shock of the torture killed the sensitive soul, so he haunts these ruins. People hear his music.”
The man laughed. “Well, how recent is that?” He nodded towards a beaten-up old guitar behind the till. “They may have heard me practising.”
“People have been hearing the music for hundreds of years, but only in the early hours of Sundays.”
“Well”, the night-watchman waved his arm dismissively. “If your ghost really was as regular as that, we would be open and making a lot of money tonight.”
“Not everyone is able to see ghosts, even when they are there!” Kathy expected him to laugh at that.
The night-watchman did not laugh. Kathy suddenly felt very uneasy. What was she doing in a deserted ruin with a stranger in the middle of the night when her friends were still dancing away somewhere?
Eventually, he shook his head. “Do you know the ghost story about a poor young duchess who was said to have thrown herself from the prison her old husband made for her at the top of the keep because she had dared to declare her love for a man beneath her status? That happened on a Sunday. Such sacrilege! Suicide was bad enough, that was a direct passage to hell…but on a holy day… she might have expected to be a long time “undead.” But in all the years I have been here, I’ve never met her ghost.” He shrugged.
”I haven’t heard that one.” Kathy thought about the cruelties considered normal in past times with a heavy heart.
The man took a long draught of the mulled cider. “Actually, there could be a connection to your chap.” Kathy looked puzzled.
The night-watchman stared at a corner of the room and spoke, loudly at first. “Say the minstrel did not quite die. Perhaps he was very ill and his hair turned white, but he was not yet a ghost. Perhaps the duchess in the keep was his true love. It was very difficult for a young woman in a gilded cage, and a blind minstrel, to know days and times, but a Sunday would have been marked. They would hear the churchbells ringing for Mass at midnight. Say he had got a message to her, that he would be beneath her window when the bells rang, if she could bear to look down on him.” His voice began to shake.
Kathy picked up the idea. “Perhaps she was desperate to see him, and not just from her window in the keep! Say she had tried to make a rope from a woollen dress so she could climb down to him, but alas……it was too weak…she fell.” Kathy felt quite excited. They were improvising a new legend here!
The night-watchman gasped before finishing the story. “She murmured with her dying breath that she would be with him again soon. He was sick with grief. And he was impatient. So somehow…he managed to hang himself with a string from his mandolin.”
Kathy glanced across at the strange guitar, which was missing a string. Her heart pounded. She wanted to run, but could only stagger to the door.
“That was very interesting.” She whispered breathlessly, “but I think I had better be going.” She paused. “Thank you, Mr……”
“Minstrel. Call me John.”
Kathy tried desperately to turn the door handle but was frozen by cold breath on her neck.
“Please don’t go yet, Lady Catherine.” His whisper caressed her ear. “I’ve been waiting a very, very long time.”