Chapter~One

WinShire Castle

The Beginning
 

WinShire Castle, foreboding and forsaken, sits isolated on a desolate hillside, deserted by the Lord of the castle and for a few centuries unoccupied by the living. As an ancient curse reigned over the castle, it soon proved too strong to keep at bay, and thus, the proprietors gave up and moved out of the majestic structure leaving it to the ghosts. Tragedy accounted for the curse, a tragedy that kept a stranglehold on anyone that tried to make the castle home.

The castle was the dominant feature in the surrounding, barren landscape, overlooking the small village of Rockwell. The residents of the village gave the castle a wide berth except for the men who were paid to keep the weeds, vines, and debris removed from the adjacent grounds.

An ancient cobblestone path led up to the moat that surrounded the castle, which was dried up and overgrown. The portcullis, which is a drop down iron grate arched over the drawbridge and was kept elevated, as there was no longer a need for a secured entry. The wars, which needed these fortifications, had faded into the past.

This day was gray and overcast, typical for merry ole England an island nation, on the edge of Europe. England had a long and colorful past. That in itself was a novelty, for the colors were often bloody. There were many wars that tore the country apart and left scars not only on its landscape, but also on its residents, both past, and present.

A new workweek, early May and a new beginning for Sandy Gaspar, as she drove her car up the main highway, then turned left onto the cobblestone path. This causeway was not well-traveled and was a recent addition, a few hundred years ago, and was the only access to the castle’s gate. She stopped the vehicle and peered through her windshield with the wipers gently slapping at the few raindrops that started falling.

Sandy was beginning her career as an agent for a real estate company, Mottmeyer Estate Agents of the UK. Sandy, age twenty-one, was newly graduated from college, where she majored in Real Estate Management and minored in Marketing. She was tall and slender, with shoulder-length auburn hair and pale green hazel eyes. She had delicate features, narrow nose, pouty full lips and a slight dimple in her chin all set in a perfectly oval face.

Sandy left her home with most of her belongings packed into the boot and backseat of her slightly used car. Saying goodbye to her family, she struck out on her own to begin her new career. Sandy wanted freedom and independent and so she had moved over five hundred miles from her hometown to a city less than fifty miles southeast of London, Mottmeyer. She had been fortunate in securing a job so soon out of college. While gazing at the castle, lightning flashed, followed immediately by a thunderclap. Sandy jumped from the surprising intensity of the unexpected thunderstorm! An unexplainable apprehension came over her!

This assignment was Sandy’s first project. She gladly accepted it but soon learned that others had refused it, Sandy as the novice, was expected to take the least desirable assignments. Seniority had its benefits. When she asked a few of the agents, why this particular job was so unsavory that the others had turned it down, they told her that the castle was haunted. The owners of the castle had abandoned it hundreds of years ago which made a great deal of work to have it ready for the market. There was speculation that the owners would demolish the castle if it did not sell. They then would sell the land, which would not sell for as much.

Of course, Sandy knew that the many castles in England often were reported as haunted, and this was acceptable for the tourist trade, but she had never given much credit to any of the stories. If ghosts were one of the reasons, the mission was unwanted, then glad she was to have it and looked forward to this opportunity. The commission on this sale was a might higher due to the enormous size of the property. If she achieved her goal, it would be a credit on her resume.

Sandy snapped a few pictures of the castle through the dense rain. She set the wipers on high and waited a few second before shifting the gears into ‘Drive’ to begin the tedious approach up the hill on the slippery stones. There was Castle WinShire’s lone entrance, the drawbridge. She paused briefly, then proceeded across and through the portcullis.

Lord William WinShire received his lands from King Henry VIII just a few short months before the King died in 1547. That was the sole history mentioned in the description of the castle in the documents given to her. She had the blueprints of the castle’s interior and the grounds. The present owners were nobility who resided in London; they retained the titles of Lord and Lady WinShire.

It was a bit rough with a thump, thump of the thick planks as she unhurriedly drove across the bridge over the dried up moat and through the portcullis. Now she faced the inner wall, here a rough dirt path continued up to the oak doors of the inner stonewall. She sat in her car, engine running, lights on, and wipers swishing, waiting in hopes that the rain would let up. She had about two hundred more feet to drive, and so she inched forward right up to the entry gate, a pair of elaborately carved oak doors with iron handles. These doors were never locked unless an attack was underway, and then they were barricaded from the inside should the outer wall be breached.

Sandy had her umbrella with her but with the windswept rain, she could still get soaked. She finally decided that it was best to get on with it. She had to assess the interior for possible renovations and cleaning. The exterior also needed modernizing. She received four weeks to conduct this inspection and assessment, which meant bringing in different contractors. She gathered her tools together, retrieved her umbrella from her tote, and opened the car door.

As Sandy stepped out into the slashing rain, her foot landed in a puddle. She sidestepped the puddles and pressed on, not wasting time as she ran up to the oak doors. Her caprice pants got wet but otherwise she remained dry. She shoved open one of the heavy doors and observed, “Well, that was easier than I expected.”

The rain lessened; Sandy surveyed the Bailey, an enormous inner courtyard, one of three for this castle. She took a few photographs before proceeding through the overgrown but manageable Bailey. There would have been gardens here as a castle had to be self-supporting should an extended mêlée take place. The outer walls of the Bailey were used for shops. The rain slowed to a drizzle. Directly ahead was the castle’s Keep, the main living quarters for the family. She snapped a few photographs of the Keep through the drizzle and hoped for good results.

Sandy approached the Keep. When you think of castles, consider them as fortresses not just a place of luxury and beauty. A castle’s design was for protection, defense, and much thought went into its location, layout, and function. The Lord of the castle often gave protection within its walls to the peasants who lived in the surrounding countryside and who paid taxes for his protection.

Using the master key, she twisted it in the keyhole. She pushed the door open, which squeaked from years of disuse. The Portal was a narrow hall leading directly into the receiving chamber. It was darker in this short hall, unlit torches from previous centuries still set in alternating slots along the granite wall. The castle owners never modified the castle to bring it up to twentieth plus-century standards. There it sat as it had for centuries.

Sandy entered the chamber through an arched doorway. It brightened up considerably due to the tall glass windows, which were behind and above her. This receiving room had exits leading to other areas of the Keep. To her right was a large arch that opens directly into the Great Hall. The Lord of the castle entertained guests and held meetings and took his main meals here. The Dais was a raised platform upon which sat a huge table. The great hall was adjacent to the kitchens and the quarters for the servants at the most further right side of this space.

Along another wall, a narrow stairwell circled counter-clockwise up one floor to the bedchambers of the Lord’s family, known as the Solar. Its placement was to confuse the enemy should the seize get this far.

Sandy was looking at her floor plans for she did not wish to get lost in the enormous Keep. The left side of the receiving hall was hung tapestries that concealed various exits to other areas of the castle.

Sandy entered the Great Hall and placed her tote and umbrella on top of the dust cloth that covered the trestle table. For now, she would leave things as they were. She took a few snapshots of the Great Hall. Then she spoke into her digital recorder.

“I’ve taken a few pictures. As can be seen, all furnishings are covered and thus should be dust free and clean. I do not see many webs and the floors are kept nicely as well. In here a general cleaning is all I would recommend as this part seems to be in good condition.”

“Who art thou? Why art thou here?” A deep masculine voice severely startled Sandy, as she thought herself alone in the castle!

Sandy jumped and stifled a cry as she quickly looked around to see who spoke but saw no one! Her heartbeat increased, but she recovered enough to respond, “Who’s there?”

Her question received no answer. Sandy grew anxious; she was supposed to be alone, here, at WinShire Castle.

“It’s just the strangeness of a new place making me hear things,” she spoke softly. “Probably echoes, with these high ceilings and thick walls.”

She looked about the Great Hall but remained motionless. Her search revealed nothing; not a thing was out of place that she could tell.

“And then there’s the rain and the wind…” she rationalized.

Upon her arrival, there had been a storm beginning, remembering this caused her to relax a bit and to continue with her evaluations. She renewed photographing and taking verbal notes. The storm clouds moved out allowing the sun to break through the murky windows, brightening the Keep. Shadows crept across the floor as the sun progressed across the sky.

Before Sandy knew it, the noon hour was upon her. The castle grew warm; shimmering flecks of dust drifted gracefully in the rays of light. Everything was silent and still. Hunger pangs brought awareness to the time of day, so Sandy decided to take a break from this strangeness and go into the small village for a lunch pause.

Without difficulty, Sandy left the castle’s grounds and in minutes entered the small village known as Rockwell. It was a small, quaint English town, many centuries old, but still no larger than it had been in its earlier history. It was mostly an agricultural community, nestled at the foot of WinShire Castle. The castle was the focus point and on a moonlit night, it overshadowed the town like a menacing beast. It gave visitors the chills whenever they saw it. People avoided the Castle WinShire, especially after dark.

The streets had been updated and paved but were still narrow and not much else had changed. Old style lamps lined one side of the street, and small shrubbery grew here and there giving a touch of green in an otherwise gray and brown landscape. She eyed a sign hanging over a storefront advertising it as the local pub. She parked in the parking lot situated between two buildings.

Sandy walked into the dark Bar and searched for a seat. As she was looking around the room, the patrons, all men, were studying her. Seems she was the only female customer there. A waitress of about thirty-five years old approached her. She had pulled back her blond hair from her face and secured it in a hairnet, “This way, Miss. We’re a mite busy, but I think we can find you a seat.” Amanda spoke with a Cockney brawl, most common for this area so close to London.

Seconds later, Sandy sat in a side booth, and the waitress handed her a menu then said, “G’ noon, Miss. I’m your server, Amanda. Check the menu, and I’ll be back to take your order.”

Amanda returned; Sandy ordered and soon a steaming bowl of ham and pea soup with a chunk of crusty bread and a small pot of tea was in front of her. As she ate, she went over her notes when she realized that the waitress was standing at her table.

“You need anything else, Miss?” Amanda asked.

Sandy shook her head and replied, “No, I’m fine, thank you.”

“You’re fresh to these parts,” Amanda inquired with a tilt of her head.

The pair became involved in a short discussion where Sandy revealed her assignment.

“Ah, blimey that, Miss,” the waitress chuckled. “That ole castle be haunted, you know.”

“So, I’ve been told,” said Sandy. “I don’t put much credit to ‘ghosts.' But it is why I have this assignment; the other agents didn’t want it.”

“Well, folks ‘round these parts knows a thing or two and they daren’t stepped onto the castle’s grounds after dark.”

Oh! That’s just superstitious nonsense,” declared Sandy rolling her eyes.

No, Miss. Tis not. Tis why the Lord and Lady of the castle have not lived there for more than a hundred years.”

“I know… it’s haunted…”

“Yeah, that be the truth!”

Then the waitress told Sandy the folklore surrounding the castle: The tragedy happened at the conclusion of the sixteenth century. The young Lord and solitary heir of WinShire Castle had just taken a new bride. On their wedding night and during the nuptial celebrations, the castle came under seize by marauding peasants.

This was part of a sporadic and small peasants’ revolt; a recurrence of the first Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. That first Revolt was an uprising of peasants all across England that occurred after the tragedy of the Black Death in the 1340s. This was also fired by the economic and political tensions generated by the high taxes resulting from the conflict with France during the Hundred Year War and instability in the local leadership of London. The final trigger for the revolt was the intervention of a royal official, John Bampton, in Essex on May 30, 1381. Unpaid poll taxes were being collected and the inability of the peasants to pay these taxes resulted in unrest and sometimes violent protsts.

The revolt was widespread across much of the southeastern part of England, which included this small town of Rockwell and the Castle WinShire. Even during the fifteenth century, ever since the first revolt, peasants had on occasion renewed their demands but these small skirmishes usually were localized and sporadic over the years. This particular uprising was due to the demand by the Landlord to pay a higher percentage of the crops raised. This did not set well with the tenants, and they refused and then demanded an audience. They were given no heed, and so a local uprising sprouted.

It was early May of 1569; the peasants overran the castle while it was in celebration of the new marriage. The peasants breached the outer defensives, and gained entrance to the Great Hall and attacked the Lord of the Castle, Lord Richard. His bride tried to intervene, she was severely beaten, and the couple left to die in each other’s arms. The legend has it that the Lord vowed that no one would find happiness within the walls of WinShire Castle, placing the No Heirs’ Curse upon the Castle.

The Castle passed into the hands of cousins of Lord WinShire, when the death left no heirs. Through the centuries, Castle WinShire was a dark place where the inhabitants were plagued with mysterious deaths, accidents, illness, and untimely young deaths. There were never any heirs in a direct line from Lord Richard, and more and more distance cousins inherited the castle. No happiness existed in this cursed castle! The ‘No Heirs Curse’ of WinShire Castle was now well known. The Lord and Lady abandoned the castle to live in London. Only then were they able to produce direct heirs, and their descendants continued. No one could live in the castle, not if they wanted successors. However, as obligated, they maintained the castle but even that dwindled to just the upkeep of the grounds, and the interior was prepared to thwart inside maintenance. It had been for sale now, for nearly fifty years.

“That’s why the castle’s been abandoned,” continued the waitress. “Oh, there were descendants that tried to live there but none remained for long. They finally gave up and left it altogether.”

Now this tale had Sandy’s attention, “Why didn’t they want to live there?”

“Well,” the waitress related, “there’s reports of sounds … like screams … Moans! The night of the wedding celebration is reenacted once a year on the anniversary of the massacre. Paranormal investigators think that the newlyweds aren’t together and are searching for each other. Their separation from each other results from the curse that they placed upon the castle. They are cursed to wander the castle forever alone.”

“I find this a fascinating story, like many told in England. But I lay no store in fables, and especially not curses or ghosts,” stated Sandy with arrogance. “Is there a place nearby where I might rent a flat for a few weeks?”

“Why indeed, Miss,” replied Amanda. “But you mark my words well and tis a warning to you that you do not find yourself on the castle grounds after sunset. And tis not wise to be there alone!”

“Thank you, I’ve no plans to be there after dark, but as it is only me, I have no choice but to assess it on my own. But thanks for the warning,” said Sandy.

“Just wanted to be sure you know what is what,” stipulated the waitress. “You can find flats for rents at the Rockwell Inn, they rent single units by the night or week, whichever and they’re right reasonable. Plus, it’s the only inn in town. Here, I’ll write down the directions for you. Township’s small, but it does have a few roundabouts that can lead you wrong if you aren’t careful.”

Sandy thanked her, took the slip of paper with the needed information and continued reviewing and adding to her notes as she completed her noon meal.