It was a night not unlike tonight when I first heard tell of the Dearg-Due. The moon was full. The stars were young. The air was crisp, cool, and laced with the smell of autumn leaves, rain-kissed fields, and the many other scents of a late October night. The moon, though bright, was hidden behind a thin veil of clouds dimming my visibility, and—combined with the evening fog that filtered in among the trees—it made the whole world seem to be only that space which I could see. The dirt road on which I trod was a narrow lane that passed outside of a city whose name I no longer remember. A waist-high stone wall ran along one side separating the road from the fields around it, and on the other side a thickly grown hedge of blackthorn kept watch over my shoulder. The night was solemn and quiet. The only sounds were those of my own feet upon the road and the distant grumble of the sleepless ocean. That, and the humming.
At first, I thought I had begun to hum. So softly did it rise to my hearing that I imagined it could only be coming from my own throat. But then the tapping of a stick against stone accompanied it, and I became quite certain that I was no longer alone.
The realization was not initially a frightening one. I am at the best of times a sociable fellow and not at all against sharing the road with a fellow traveler. The uneasiness came when I was unable to see the person who belonged to the noise even though they sounded to be right upon me.
“Hello!” I called out.
Before my voice had time to reach the fog that was settling ever closer around me, a figure came into view sitting upon the stone wall not more than a few feet before me. He was dressed warmly in jacket, sweater, and pants with a cap upon his head. A beard of mild grey adorned his face, and he carried with him a walking staff that he was idly tapping against the wall between his low-hanging feet. Both the humming and the tapping ceased as he saw me. A beckoning wave and a gentle pat upon the wall beside him invited me to join him in his respite. An invitation that I accepted.
Pleasantries were exchanged in amiable tones, and then his voice changed from warm to warning as he asked what I was doing out alone on a night such as tonight.
“It is not a night to be out and about,” he told me. And that unless I was sure of myself and my standing before God, it would be better to head swiftly home where the worst I could find was an empty fridge and a cold bed. For, said he, this was the type of night when unmarked graves release their occupants to cling once more to the dream of life and walk again the paths of the living.
I shivered. Though whether from his words or the sudden breeze that whistled past my ear, I couldn’t say. I asked him for clarification, and in return he asked me if I had ever heard of the Dearg-Due. I told him I had not.
Smiling a crooked smile that was a few teeth short of full, he leaned in close and told me the following tale:
Once, long ago, in a village that can no longer be found in all of Ireland even should you spend your whole life looking, there lived a young woman of extraordinary beauty. Not beauty of only the physical type—though she possessed no small amount of that as anyone with eyes could have told you—but beauty that reached her very soul. She was kind and honest. Caring and smart. She’d no sooner learn of the need of another than she’d find a way to fulfill it. Her eyes were always focused outward and reflected a light from within that warmed anyone who met her gaze. Her name was Mollie.
Her family was modest, consisting of only her father and herself—her mother having passed on some years ago. And more besides, she had Patrick.
Mollie and Patrick were in love and had been upon first meeting some years ago. They were both now of an age to be married, and all that remained was for Patrick to gain the blessing of Mollie’s father. A boon her father was certain to grant.
The village was ruled over by a man who lived aloof in a grand castle with high stone walls and rising towers. The lord of the castle had been married twice before and had outlived both his wives. He lived in wealth and power, being both shrewd and cunning. Yet, despite his large standing compared to other men, he still lacked the one thing he’d always wanted: an heir.
It happened that one day the lord was passing through the village and came across Mollie. He was instantly enamored by her beauty and filled with a fervent lust to possess her. Caring not for anything else about her and seeing only the potential within her to bear him a handsome heir, he immediately sought out who she was and went to arrange things with her father.
Mollie’s father had never been a man of means. He had struggled his whole life to provide the most meager of livings for himself and his daughter, and he saw no way of ever offering her more. There was only the opportunity for her to continue to struggle—even if happily so—with Patrick. It was to his great astonishment then when the lord of the castle arrived on his doorstep and offered him a great sum of money in exchange for his daughter. Perhaps, her father saw the lord’s arrival as an unexpected blessing and opportunity for his daughter to obtain all the things this life had to offer. Perhaps he believed she could grow to love the lord who surely must be a good man. Or, perhaps, and sadly so, he was overcome with greed and saw only the chance for himself to have the life he’d worked so hard never to obtain. Whatever the reason the result was the same: Mollie’s father sold her without ever telling Mollie what he had done.
Before she knew what had happened, Mollie was taken to live in the castle and separated from all that she knew and loved, including Patrick.
Life in the castle was misery. The lord was cruel and unkind. He kept Mollie locked in a tower without permission to leave or receive visitors, her only companion a maid. The lord would often visit her at first, speaking in harsh and demanding tones, and when Mollie refused him the service of a wife, he would beat her and leave her soiled in blood and tears. Mollie’s only source of comfort was her maid who would bring her news of the village and the world beyond the castle walls. It was from her that Mollie learned what her father had done in selling her to the lord. That news shattered Mollie’s already broken heart. Her father now lived in wealth and comfort—only thinking of his daughter on lonely bitter nights when there was no drink to dull his guilt.
At first Mollie retained hope that Patrick would find a way to come for her and steal her out of the clutches of the vile lord. She would watch out the window of her tower, waiting for any sign of his coming. But none ever came. Still, she waited. For months and then years, she waited, unable to escape on her own due to the watchful eye of her captor. She knew Patrick still loved her and was surely seeking a way to reunite them.
The atrocities of the lord in the treatment of his wife were no secret to the villagers, to Patrick, or to Mollie’s father. For the same maid who brought news of the village to Mollie, brought news of Mollie to the village. But they merely bowed their heads and averted their eyes, never looking up to meet the pleading gaze that fell from the tallest tower. Then, one day, the maid brought Mollie news that pierced her soul: Patrick was to be wed. Her name no longer even a whisper on his lips. Her plight a chain that he had cast off and left to others to take up. But no one did.
She was betrayed and utterly alone.
Broken in both heart and soul, Mollie ceased to eat. Her mind was torn up by thoughts of those who had betrayed her: Of the lord and his cruel hands, of her father and his greed, of the villagers who looked away, and of Patrick who had once professed his love but then left her to her fate when love asked too much of him.
One final night, her body withered and weak, Mollie looked out the window upon the village that had forgotten her and cried, her voice wailing out into the night carried on the wind and causing every heart below her to shudder. Then, losing her strength, she fell. Tumbling out the tower window to the ground far below.
In the morning the villagers found her body, now as broken without as it was within. They carried her to a hill outside the village and buried her. In shame, they left the grave unmarked not wanting a reminder of how they had failed a young woman who had once so cared for them.
That is where our story should end, but alas for Mollie, or, perhaps, alas for those involved, it is not.
The next night was a full moon that hid itself behind a veil of clouds. Peering out uneasily from time to time at the village far below. The lord of the castle was walking through his lonesome halls when a voice called out to him. It drifted in through the windows and caressed along his skin. It was a voice he knew. It was the voice of Mollie. Startled, he paused and looked around. Then, out of the shadows stepped a familiar form.
Mollie. Her skin had gone pale and cold as the wind. The hair falling straight past her shoulders had all the color of a moonbeam. Her eyes were void of warmth and light, and her lips were red as blood. She smiled, an empty and forlorn expression, and beckoned him close. She opened her arms wide for an embrace, inviting him in as she had never done before. The lord obliged and she held him tightly. He screamed as she drained him of his blood. She left his corpse broken, discarded, and forgotten on the floor of the lonely hall.
Not yet sated, Mollie moved on. She found her father on his deathbed, an empty bottle not far from his hand. His eyes blinked away confusion as he saw his daughter standing over him, reaching out to him with a gentle hand. Tears stained his cheeks. It was a sight he had seen many times as she called out to him for help in his dreams. Mollie took from him the life he’d always wanted to give her; his blood passing quickly between her lips.
From outside his home, Patrick heard a once familiar voice calling his name. Rushing from his bed and leaving his sleeping wife behind, he went outside. There he found Mollie, freed at last from her prison and waiting for him with open arms. He ran to her, and they embraced.
“Why did you leave me?” she asked. Her voice full of sorrow.
“I’m sorry, Mollie. There was nothing I could do. But we can be together now, as we should have been before.”
Mollie pulled him closer, holding him tight and whispered in his ear. “You would leave another, then, as easily as you left me?”
His reply never came as Mollie drained him, too, of the disloyalty that ran within his veins.
And on and on it went until the village was no more.
When the night ended Mollie returned to her unmarked grave—the location of which is never certain—and there she awaits a night not unlike tonight when the moon is full and hides itself behind a veil of clouds. On such a night the Dearg-Due rises once again exacting her vengeance on all who are unfaithful, greedy, or cruel. If you turn your back to those in need, are unfaithful to those you love, or abusive to those in your care then the Dearg-Due is waiting for you.
The man finished his story and together we sat in silence. A shiver worked its way down my spine as the voices of my past called out to me. Surely, I had never been cruel or unfaithful, but had someone in need ever called out to me and I refused to answer? The thought kept me ensnared and I vowed to do better. I spoke my oath aloud and in embarrassment I turned to the old storyteller to explain, only to find that he was gone. I swiftly made it home that night and now I offer you the same advice that was offered to me: If ever you find yourself out on a night not unlike tonight, when the moon is full and hides behind a veil of clouds, then unless you are sure of yourself and your standing with God, it is best to hurry home. Otherwise, she may be waiting for you.
“Yeah… I’m not responsible for this one. It’s getting late… I think I’ll just head home.”