'Pirates of the Caribbean' belongs to Disney

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Meredith Norrington shaded her eyes to peer up the gently-sloped bridle trail, glad to see it was clear all the way to the ridge crest. She loved full-speed riding best of all. "Yah!" she barked, spurring the bay gelding. Her mount surged forward, hooves beating the thrumming rhythm of a gallop, trees and grass blurring past.

It was a rare treat, being able to indulge in recreational activities immediately after a Mission. In any place reached by Timenet, even ordinary sightseeing posed some risk- just bumping into someone, or drawing their eye, might possibly distract them at a 'crux' moment, when their attention needed to be on something belonging to their own era.

But this job (specifically: stealing an ill-informed poison pen letter from a postal box before the recipient read it and severed all communications with the repentant sender, which would've had repercussions well beyond that relationship) had been accomplished in her 'residential time', where everything she did was part of the normal progression. Like any person for whom this was 'natural time', Meredith could make decisions here with no regard for "bloody hypersensitive-diva timelines" (as Jack had been known to call them.) So she'd decided to go trail riding; one of the few pleasures unavailable on steep-sided Capri. This particular region contained a landmark of special interest to her.

The ground leveled off as she crested the ridge. Mare allowed the horse to slow to a trot, then a walk. The overhead blueness expanded to either side as they left the trees behind, emerging onto a grassy overlook. "Whoah, Peregrine!" The bay horse halted, breathing loudly through flared nostrils.

Mare kept tight hold on the reins as she grazed down the further side of the ridge, into the river valley below. A beautiful old farming estate filled much of it, but her focus was on the old manor house, nestled in a shining loop of river. Pale, rectangular, as large and imposing as she remembered. She observed, with unholy glee, that the place was much deteriorated- grimy facade, windows boarded up, decorative features falling askew. And the front yard's 'Six Angels' fountain had crumbled altogether- certainly a more honest presentation!

"If you're looking for the Manor Ghost, twilight's the best time."

Mare whipped head around, chagrined- she ought to've noticed somebody else was up here. The speaker was a friendly-looking blond man, maybe forty, thick-waisted but fit. Wearing olive-green hiking clothes, with a sun hat and spiked walking stick.

Mrs. Norrington answered politely. "I wasn't, actually. I've never heard of a Manor Ghost."

"Also known as the 'Bloody Bride'. Lots of folk come up here hoping to get a gander at her. Especially around sunset." He pointed his stick towards the manor's large front entrance, tracing a line from there to the riverbank. "Pretty young woman, in a white bridal gown all spattered with blood. Running from the house to the river. Supposed to be a redhead." The man eyed Mare's copper tresses.

Mare pressed her lips, as she frequently did when taking a speaker's measure. This one seemed harmless- just an outgoing fellow happy to acquaint a visitor with a local legend.

She loosened the reins to let Peregrine take a bit of grass. "And what does this ghost do?"

"Just rushes to the water and disappears. Supposed to be the bride of the Manor Lord- much older bloke- who murdered him on their wedding night. Stabbed him a dozen times, right in their bridal bed, then fled to the river and flung herself in to drown. A couple gamekeepers witnessed it. The drowning, that is. Or they may have been gardeners. 'Happened centuries ago, and folk've been seeing her ghost ever since. At least a few times every year, always on that stretch between the front door and the river. Our kids like to dare each other to cross that path after dark."

"Uh-huh. Have you ever seen this ghost?"

The storyteller seemed gratified by her interest. "No, but I know folk who have. Or say they have. My mate Bert, for one, and he's not the sort prone to flights of fancy. Swears he was stone-cold sober at the time."

"Why do you suppose the ghost keep appearing?"

"There's more than one explanation. One's that each time she jumps in, a bit of the blood washes off. When the gown's pure white again she'll be fit to enter Heaven, but that's going to take a while. Another has it, her husband turned out to be a violent brute she had to kill in self-defense, so now she's warning other young women not to judge a suitor by the weight of his bankroll."

"That warning wouldn't've done her much good, if she had no choice about marrying the bastard." Mare gave the manor a ferocious glare.

The hiker chuckled. "There's different explanations for that, too. Most oft-told one is that the bride was a foolish naif who eloped against her family's wishes. Problems started when she saw her husband undressed for the first time- hadn't realized 'til then what a decrepit old codger he was. Decided she didn't care to consummate the marriage, so she tricked him into laying down with his eyes shut, and attacked him with a wall decoration. But when she stood back and saw what a bloody mess she'd made of him, the probable consequences dawned on her. She rushed out in blind panic and fell into the river.

"Another version's closer to what you said. Her father was in deep debt to the Lord, and used his daughter for payment. But she a was headstrong gal who refused to get into bed with him. Her husband pulled out a dagger to threaten her, they struggled and she managed to turn it- he might have lurched onto it, or she may have struck. She knew his family's retaliation would be terrible either way, so she killed herself to escape it.

"A third version says the girl was an innocent peasant girl stolen from her home by a lecherous landowner. She knifed him out of sheer desperation, defending her honor. But, pure-hearted maid that she was, she couldn't live with the guilt of having his blood on her hands. There's a couple other endings, but those are the favorites."

"Uh-huh. Do you have an opinion about which is the true one?"

The hiker shrugged. "This many years after, there's probably no way to know. Could be there's some truth in all of them. Or that they're all way off- maybe the whole tale's just a drunkard's yarn. But everyone hereabouts has heard, and told, at least one version. It's even been included in a published collection of local folk tales. You can buy that at the bookstore in town. I mention it because you're interested, not because my brother-in-law owns the store."

"Thank you- I'll keep that in mind." Peregrine snorted, flapping his jet-colored mane.

"Glad to oblige, Miss. Well... I need to be getting home to dinner. You happen to see the ghost, let someone in town know. Good day to you!" The hiker tipped his hat and strode away, taking another downhill route to the village.

Mare turned a thoughtful gaze back on the storied manor. The late-afternoon sun was casting diagonal shadows across the aged facade, making it resemble a frowning continence. But she'd long since outgrown any fear of the place.

There was rustling from a nearby copse and a man emerged- shortish, with a stout wooden cane and a familiar gray hat. The gelding whinnied as he approached. His expression- almost amused, for Murphy- left no doubt that he'd overheard the whole conversation. "What did you think of that, Meredith?"

Mare tilted her head. "Considering how much time has passed, it's strikingly accurate. Though of course I wasn't still in my wedding gown. And I didn't have that much blood on me- certainly not enough to be seen from a distance... I do wonder how arsenic, plus one head blow, turned into a dozen stab wounds?"

"Dramatic embellishment."

"Furthermore, I certainly wouldn't've committed suicide in penance for ridding the world of that." She gave Murphy a searching look. "Do you happen to know anything about these reported ghost sightings?"

"I know we're not responsible; we don't stand to gain anything. But I don't think extraordinary explanation is needed, Mare. Once engaged, human imaginations require very little reinforcement."

Mare grinned. "No argument there."

Peregrine was stomping a foreleg, shaking his bit. The air temperature was beginning to drop and he was impatient for his warm stable and feed bag. "Well. I guess I'd better start back while it's still light." Meredith reined her mount around. The animal turned willingly, black tail swishing.

"I'll meet you in town," stated Murphy.

Mare answered over her shoulder. "Make it the bookstore- I want to get a copy of that book. Lysee likes ghost stories, and this one's family history!"

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FINIS