Authors Note: This is an original short story of mine that I originally posted on r/NoSleep back in December. My handle on Reddit is TheBeastOfCanada.
For context, my family business is a little shadowy. I don't want to say too much other that I've been adopted into this family, that while never threatened or harmed me, can be seen from the outside as eccentric.
My family got involved with something in the shadows for, sometime now and the line of work we are involved observation, study, investigation, and sometimes extermination otherworldly phenomena. I won't name names or even initials. But our job entails monitoring certain sites and by the looks of things, some information has been leaked.
No matter, so long as people don't actually believe what's happening, we cannot interfere with your lives. But by the looks of things, enough have slipped through our fingers that we stopped minding whistleblowers.
The following is a story we kept under wraps, relating directly to the family that took me in. A hidden jem we kept under wraps for some time. It is taken from a tablet translated from ancient Gaelic, and in some places Scandinavian. It's actual date is unknown but it’s believed to have originated from a feudal time period. Estimations are the ninth century.
“Her Name is Grace” by Mac Luaithre.
If you are reading this letter, you probably heard the stories of the Red Maiden. If not, then let me give you the real story of a lady who was wronged in such a way, she taught the people around her a very important lesson; Hell’s fury is nothing to the scorn of a woman.
“She is the deathless.” They say.
“She breathes by taking the breath of life from the living.”
“She has become what God has forsaken, and it is his believers who pay the price with her blood.” They will tell you.
“She is a walking plague, a punishment against us for our faults and failings.”
Call me biased, but I prefer thinking of who Grace was in favour of what she became. Because she changed my life for the better.
First I am going to tell you what others said of her, as someone who knew her in life. People would tell of how she was an angel living among unworthy mortals, known for her beauty and kindness, like that of a rose. Many saw her as a prize to be won, and if you asked me, that would only devalue her.
There were rumors that when she was a small child, she wandered from her families’ home one night and into the woods. She returned the next morning saying she received a blessing from "The Lady of the Lake". Although some say it was the Morrigan she encountered. Whoever it was, she said the woman told Grace of a gift she has received and destiny she would fulfill. Some of our elders couldn't decide is if she was someone to be feared or revered, but over time her supposed encounter with this being was dismissed as the active imaginations of a child.
Whatever you believe of her, she lived her life as if she was blessed by a goddess. She wore a smile like a dress, always had this air of curiosity and cleverness about her. She would always think of others before herself - often getting into trouble her father when she proved too charitable for his liking. But he dared not strike her, but at worst would neglect her. People were to cautious or afraid to say or do anything to hurt or anger her. As she grew into an older child, people generally didn't pay her any mind, but should she get their attention they would get overwhelmed by her. Perhaps they considered themselves too unworthy to be in her presence. This was a sinful world; how could it stand the presence of purity?
It came to the shock of many, especially her family that she gave her heart to someone considered unworthy. I became a friend of hers when I was a child. I had little to nothing to my name in terms of land or titles. That is unless you considered the demeaning nickname “The Son of Ashes” a title. I was a sickly lad who many didn’t think would survive infancy. I wasn't even worthy of being servant, only a peasant living off of whatever I had. The only home I had this miserable fucking hut that would provide me little warmth. Just barley enough to live in, and I was barley smart enough to learn how to roast a kill. I was clever enough to set traps and kill a subdued hare, but not enough to properly cook it.
When I met Grace, she was a few years older and wiser than I. It was raining and I lost the keys to my shack. She spotted me hiding under a tree and approaches me with a meal she refused to eat. The words she said will stick to me forever "Food is something I want but can have any time. It's also something you need far more than I do, as I think it's something you have to fight for."
We met like this for three days and nights before her mother noticed how thin and frail Grace was becoming. During the day, Grace and I sought high and low for my keys. As it turns out, they where stolen by a crow seeking to complete its nest. I would say to her "Do you think this bird will be needing it?"
"Of course not," she answered "This forest is full of twigs and sticks. I think he wants it because it's pretty."
"It may shine, but it's not gold." I say back to her.
There also came a day when Grace would decide to show me how to hunt. By dumb luck, we managed to capture a red deer in a trap. With else nothing to put it down with, we had to use a hatchet. Then out of mercy, we had to use it on it's fawn. We took the deer’s body to celebrate a hunting victory. Because I couldn't cook for shit, we ate some of the meat raw.
The taste of blood stuck with us both.
As we grew older, we ventured in and out of the woods together. Spending more time there than our own homes. Her father grew more possessive. I remember one early morning, where he burst through the trees as whilst I was swimming in the river "Where is she?! Where is Gracie?" he would bellow "I swear if you sully her boy-!" I immediately pointed out that Grace was gardening with her mother that day. I also didn't have the heart to tell her father that he was out in his undergarments early in the morning. There was a reason why Grace's father became paranoid. This was a country that put its value in one’s strength and wealth over what made them human, so of course her father would never accept someone like me as a suitor.
In other cases, I wouldn’t have blamed Grace’s father, but his suitable suitor for Grace was none other than our very own Chieftain, who was everything Grace wasn’t. In his sixty years of life, he was a cruel man, and just the man the people put their value in. He knew what power he had, and used that power to hurt those beneath him. Said to be the son of Belial, anyone who’d whisper about it behind his back would have their tongues removed, and anyone who has the guts to tell him to his face had those very guts spilled onto the ground. Perhaps there was a time he was innocent, but our elders spoke of when he was a lad where he’d have rats, and crows fight for his amusement.
But the Chieftain had wealth, land and titles, and that was what was important to Grace’s father. Among his titles was the Bird of Death, and the Abhartach, due to his thin weak frame, despite being a man of power. The Chieftain was a man who won his prizes through conquest when he was a younger man, and his days in battle have come to pass decades ago, they aroused something in him that couldn't be satisfied.
Grace’s father married her off to the Chieftain when she came of age, despite her fears and protests, and they were not unfounded. Grace was the sixteenth wife the Chieftain took in his life. He would play his usual twisted games with them - cut something here, remove something there - before often feeding him to the rats when his wives became broken and he would deem them worthless. Just the year before, a farmer couldn’t pay his taxes, so the Chieftain tied him to a tree, and took his head and daughter as compensation. After he had his fun with her, he annulled the marriage and made the poor girl a prostitute mutilating her in ways I dare not speak, so that that she could never again find pleasure in life.
The Chieftain wanted Grace for the same reason others saw value in her; her purity and innocence was just another prize for him. While Grace’s father enjoyed his new wealth, her husband enjoyed his new toy, locking her in a tower and only entering to feed her or cut her. He would just break the skin, drawing blood form her cheek, forehead, neck, fingers and watch as he slowly marred the image of purity she was.
Many where too scared to stand up to the Chieftain, and her father found her less worth than the thirty pieces of silver he sold her for. They say she was waiting for her friend or true love to save her, but he never did. Depending on who you asked, Grace either threw herself from her tower, or starved herself, but the constant was that after seven months of torture, death freed her.
At the time of her funeral, the Chieftain took another wife, which he wasted no time presenting. Grace’s father walked up to him and asked "The hill, and the silver...I can still keep it?"
"You give me your next daughter when she comes of age, I will double your pay." The Chieftain answered.
Unfortunately for our people, things didn’t stay that way. It may be a miracle from Heaven or Hell, but she awoke from her grave a year later. Her thirst for retribution for her lost innocence was rivaled only by her thirst for blood. There were legends that if you give the dead an improper burial, they tend to awaken as something not human anymore. These legends were true, but not quite the full story.
After asking around, speaking to anyone who was there to see, I learned the truth of the matter.
What happened to her father was, she set his new home ablaze, dragging him into the fields, as he watched the lands he betrayed her for were reduced to ashes. She would take the rest of her mortified family to bare witness to her return.
"Mercy! I beg you!" He shouted and screamed. "Grace, I know whatever you are now, there is still the daughter I raised in there."
"You are correct." She answers as she placed him on the ground.
"Gracie," he'd say "Whatever fate has befallen you, there is nothing that I have done to warrant this." he would try to stand up "Now, as your father, I demand of you to-"
Grace grabbed hold of his neck and lifted him from the ground "So I was something for you to trade?" She demanded.
"I did what I did for the sake of this family!"
Grace mockingly mimics what he said before she answers "You sold blood for silver, and now that you lost it, it's only fair that you only pay for more of your blood." And with that, she drained the blood and the breath from him, took his head and threw it into the flames. Only her mother, two sisters and brother were spared.
Next she paid the Chieftain a visit, while he was playing his twisted games with his new wife, in the same tower he locked Grace in. When he saw what became of Grace, he marvelled at the monster that stood before him. “By the stars, I’ve done it! I took what made you you, and made you something far more beautiful!”
“If you believe flattery will grant you mercy, you are as foolish as you are cruel.” She answered him. She drained the blood from his throat, but spared his wife, who suffered enough. Grace handed the girl the Chieftain’s gold and had her escorted off the lands.
"It is best you leave this place. Don't you ever look back." Grace advised the girl.
"What about what I'll leave behind?" The girl would ask.
"Nothing but bad memories. If you stayed here, you'd either die or worse; end up like me." As Grace left the Chieftain’s tower behind for good, she never looked back. But because he didn’t burn his body, he too awoke as something else.
Sadly, for our people, her initial revenge wasn’t enough. Everything she once was, was all but forgotten and her hunger unsatisfied. She began to hunt and with each hunt, came more bodies and more walking corpses for those she didn’t dispose of. One truth about these stories, she became a plague upon the land she walked on. By the time the Chieftain awoke, he too had the same blood lust, but due to his previous status, he was seen as a risen savior. A warrior who would slay this monster, a title he wore proud, so long as his people provided him with virgins and infants every month to satisfy his new desires.
I failed her in one life, but in death, I never would again. Despite me being a lowly peasant, she saw worth in me, and she was the first and only person my whole life who treated me like I had value. And looking back, I may have been the only one to see her actual worth. She wasn’t a prize to be won, she was the only family I had. Her worth was someone I’d burn the world for.
I did promise I would save her from the Chieftain, but that was easier said than done. After their wedding, I planned to kill him while he was tax collecting, but there was little I could do with a knife, and he overpowered me and tied me to a tree.
“She always said that your wealth was in your heart. This makes make me curious… did you hide gold in your heart?” The Chieftain sarcastically asked me before he plunged my knife into my heart, and sawed his way through it.
I later learned I was tossed into the sea, but by dumb luck remained untouched as I washed to the shores of a new land. Because I wasn’t properly disposed of, I too awoke a year later. My time spent there, I learned they had a similar legend regarding the dead. They were called “The Draugr” and as the draugr, I had more power than I had as a mortal. All I needed to get by was the blood of the living. All I had on my mind was a hunger for blood, revenge and wealth. I could take in death what I couldn’t take in life, and make a name for myself, now unchallenged.
It took time, hunting and killing of my own, learning the ways of the berserker, but I grew a sizeable following until I was a chieftain in my own right. I would turn those who would follow me. I took the weak and made them strong. My new clan was built on the blood, wealth and land we stole from mortals. We became the reason the draugr were feared. We became barbaric, but such is the way of life in this world.
Kill, or die, such is the way of the world I lived and died in. I chose survival.
I remember how the mortals who lived under us became so fearful, some would offer their children. They must have been desperate, as they where breaking some taboos, but we took them anyways. I thought they would help replenish our ranks, although I later discovered from married persons and couples we'd take in, that we were capable of making children of our own. Still we could have used greater numbers. After all, their children were sickly, and expected to die. I wanted to prove them wrong.
Word spread across the lands that Grace lived again, now in the form and name of the Maiden of Blood. How she led a deathless army of her own, warring with both mortals and her former husbands own army.
I was finally something of worth to her, and now was my time to prove it. I brought my armada to my former homeland, and after I searched and asked around for information, I waited at her grave site for her to find me.
One night she approached me. We were almost scared to look at each other. I must have been quite a sight with the armour and furs I wore. My disheveled features didn't do my lanky form any good. But she was still beautiful. Yes, she was pale from death and the scars that formed on her, but I could still see the woman she was before. We didn't say anything for a moment, but she broke the silence
“You look lost.”
“I’ve been lost for a long time. Looking for the keys to my hut.” I’d answer.
“I see…and have you found what you’re looking for?” She walks up to me.
“I think so…maybe I lost them in the sea.” I joke.
“You were not there for me.” She says confrontationally.
“And that is my greatest regret."
“My…” she hesitates to say the next word before she says something else “He told me you didn’t care.”
“Did you believe him?” I ask.
“I don’t know what I had to believe in.”
“Believe in this.” I remove my furs to show the pretty scar the Chieftain gave me. She places her hand where my heart should be.
"He ruined you too.” She says.
“Too ? You are not ruined.”
“Am I not ? I became something else, something I never would have without him.”
“You are no more a monster than I. We are victims, Grace." I tell her.
"Are we ? I wanted justice, and all I have done was spread more misery Mac," She circles me as she explains "With what we've done, are we entitled to justice?"
"What is it you believe?" I ask her.
"I don't know what to believe anymore." Grace answered me.
"I believe we are only what the world made us." I answer her.
She nods "This world is barbaric, cruel. It takes the innocent and twists it. But we became stronger for it." she tells me.
"If the world is so cruel, I think that entitles us to justice. We awoke this way for a reason. And I believe your heart knows why."
"Maybe this was the gift that woman talked about. That Lady in the Lake. Maybe this is my destiny." She looks around her "If the world has made us into this, maybe we were to make this world into this as well."
"Us ?" I ask her.
"We lost each other once. We can't let that happen again."
I don’t know how many days or weeks we spent together, but despite the darkness, bloodshed, and the deathless armies that followed us, we found something we lost years ago. It was like we were both children again; a time were we could be innocent and not these creatures of darkness. Of course, the war on our doorstep was constant reminder of the truth.
We even found the keys, turns out they were hidden underneath my huts steps. We lived together in her families former home, taking with us only the children mortals offered us, speaking of our time apart, planning for our future.
Then came the Black Winter, named as such for the black ashes covered the snow, and the smoke and crows filled the sky. The dead followed their masters. And the living had the choose what master to live under. It was always fear that drove the living. Whilst we slept were taken by surprise by our hut catching fire, and overpowered by the Chieftain’s followers after we barley managed to rescue our wards.
They took us to his castle and chambers, whilst he hosted a macabre, carnal masquerade, in which the men that served under him indulged in the women he’d take. The sight was ghastly beyond words; bodies were used in ways they should never be. We were stripped of armor, weapons and clothes, and bound in chains.
He smiled when we were brought to him “Quite a beautiful sight. Behold gentlemen; it appears love is the strongest power in this world! This must be preserved eternally.” He sarcastically says, tossing aside one of his sacrifices “You two have been a knife in my heart for some time now, and it appear not even death can put an end to it. So here’s what is going to happen, you two are going to be buried together. We will put you in two separate boxes, just beside each other but surrounded by stone. So close, and yet so far.”
He walks up to us “Or...one of you could put the other out of their misery. See if death can put an end to this for good? What say you?” He takes a sword and places it between us.
Grace and I look at each other, before she reaches for the sword. And just as we heard a great sound marching and chanting from outside the castle, Grace brought the sword into her former husband’s tally nackle, and brought him to his knees.
We heard fighting break out inside and outside the castle. As we fought him, everything turned into a blur, and a fire consumed the castle. We later learned that our armies converged on us out of loyalty. And the living converged to burn their masters. The fighting stopped as the castle collapsed into flames. To the living’s disappointment, the fire didn’t destroy either of us. Grace pulled me from the rubble, and the first thing I saw was the Chieftain impaled by his own sword, and crushed among the rubble.
He was still groaning and breathing. Another thing we saw together was the mortified mortals staring at us. If the fire couldn’t destroy us, what could? Many of them dropped to their knees in fear and awe. It is clear that this war of the dead has found its victors. And these people had found new masters.
Our fist order was to make the Chieftain pay, with everything he was. We stripped him from his wealth, his land and titles. We even took the clothes from his back, and bound him in chains. With no titles or power to his name, we cast him into the sea, were he would be washed to a world that doesn’t know or care for his name.
It soon occurred too me, we haven’t spoke each others names in so long, Grace was called by her people “The Red Maiden”. Our names were forgotten in time, but I wanted to make sure who she is never was. Hence why I write this letter.
There came a time when we hosted a wedding of our own, and brought forth anyone who lived beneath us, for better or worse. We made our vows to each other to prove to the world what the true value of love was.
This was world which only saw worth in one’s titles and power. It was the first night spring, and the last of the smoke haven’t even cleared. She approached me in the most beautiful red dress I ever laid eyes on. We stood before the sea, preparing a deathless armada for further ventures.
“You are there for me now?” She asks.
“Until the end of eternity.” I nod to her.
She smiles at me “And what you have to offer?”
“If necessary, the world.”
“Would you burn it for me?” She asks.
"Would you douse the flames?” I ask her.
She nods at me, her smile never faltering “With blood.”
I do not know or care if you'd believe this family history of ours. Frankly if there's little evidence, than we are doing our jobs right.
If you are probably wondering why isn't the world a total undead cesspool, and to that I can only answer, "look to the shadows". Like I said, I can't name names or reveal too much, but you may be asking why I am sharing the story in the first place ? If it's so secretive or delicate information. Fact of the matter is, the organization doesn't care what you hear, so long as no one believes you right ? We've been monitoring this site among other for so long, and notice thing slipping through the cracks from time to time. And once an a blue moon, we have to step in to clean things up.
For generations my family considered themselves protectors, saviors even. Regardless if how they go about it. While the exact details are murky on how we got here, fact remains the family that adopted me always tell me this exact story as to where they came from. And given what I've seen of them, I have no reason to doubt them.