Once upon a time, they say, Gargamel the sorcerer bound the Devil between five peaks.
The people of that mountainous region were not well-pleased. Once-fertile land lay now permanently in shadow under the Devil’s back. His thrashing brought earthquakes. His cords and tail cut scores across the land.
The locals were human.
They built a new city on the Devil’s rich stomach. They used his bonds as bridges. They learned to tune out his tempting whispers, his ear-piercing wails, his threats and his promises.
Life went on.
Then Santrieste the unicorn came.
He was beautiful, was Santrieste. His eyes were the color of smoked glass. His mane was wild and his heart was clean.
His feet clicked and clacked on the stone as he walked along the mountain ledges.
“Free me,” said the Devil.
Santrieste twisted his head. He eyed the Devil. His nostrils flared, as if to say: Why should I do that, enemy of the world?
“It is not right,” said the Devil, “that any being should be thus chained.”
The unicorn hesitated. These words struck him as terribly just, and it was not in his nature to flee from the truth. He lowered his head. He whuffed.
There is a price for all such acts, he said. Why should I pay it?
And the Devil’s answer was cold and clean and it cut the unicorn’s soul down to the bone: “Because you are here, and because you can.”
So Santrieste reached the bond on the Devil’s left arm, and with one stroke of his horn he cut it away.
We do not know how Montechristien Gargamel came into his power. His origins are a mystery. How such an ungainly, strange, and immoral man could rise so swiftly to prominence puzzles even the greatest scholars of our time. Of his life once established in Castle Gargamel, however, certain facts are known.
He took to wife the Lady Yseult Gargamel, one of the great beauties of his day; and though many a rival pressed for evidence that he’d bewitched or stolen her, none was ever found. They had and loved six children of their flesh, until the seventh, Elisabet, killed Yseult with the complications of her birth. Each of these children was a prodigy, possessed of astonishing talents. When at last Montechristien stumbled towards the grave, the talents of his children turned against their siblings, every hand against the other, until at last they could dispose of the matter of their legacy.
This is the third installment of the story of that time.
It is Manfred’s tenth birthday.
The children stand in the old cathedral by Castle Gargamel.
Manfred strives to look solemn as Tomas sets new armor on him, piece by piece. Yet when the sunlight bursts through the broken roof and gets into his eyes, he loses his composure. He casts his still-naked arm before his eyes and he looks down. There he sees Elisabet, who is seven, staring up at him in awe, and he cannot resist a tease.
“Ninjas don’t get to wear armor, you know.”
Elisabet, in her capacity as a ninja, really wants to say something. She really wants to tongue-lash him. But this is Manfred’s day. So she doesn’t. Instead she turns as red as a beet as she keeps all the words she’d like to say inside.
“Hee hee,” says Manfred. Then Tomas cinches him with the padding straps. Manfred’s eyes bug out. He sticks out his tongue at Tomas, retracts it, and reassumes the saintly demeanor in which he was becoming armored.
“You’ll have to make an oath,” Tomas says.
He is looking in a book. It is an old book of spells.
“An oath?” Manfred says.
“Something to tell the world who you are,” Tomas says.
“I will not shed innocent blood,” Manfred says. And there is a shine to him as he speaks.
“So be it,” says Tomas.
He affixes the white brassards to Manfred’s arms. They glow with the seals of saints and demons as they close.
“The rest you may remove,” Tomas says. “But these shall never leave you, nor let you break your oath.”
And Manfred lowers his eyes.
“Oh!” cries Elisabet, and looks south towards the door; for there, in the entrance to the cathedral, walking gently and clickily on the broken stone, there is the unicorn. He has come in answer to the ritual that Tomas has worked; in response to the summoning magic of Montechristien Gargamel; and in payment for a debt.
He is the most beautiful thing that Manfred has ever seen.
The unicorn ignores Elisabet, save for a sidelong glance and gentle whicker. He walks past Tomas without a glance. He pushes with his great head (but not his horn) against Manfred’s side.
“He’s mine?” Manfred asks. His heart is in his throat. His voice is yet unbroken.
Tomas looks in the book again. He skims it for any contraindications.
“He’s yours,” Tomas concludes, and he slams the book shut.
Looking into the unicorn’s eyes, Manfred knows his name.
“Santrieste,” Manfred says.
And Manfred swings up onto the unicorn’s back, and he rides out into the lands of fable; and the unicorn is swift and Manfred’s heart leaps seven times with glee; and he casts an exultant glance upwards to the angel that sits on his right shoulder, proud of what he has chosen to become.
The angel is frowning.
“What?” Manfred says. He laughs. “I’ve won!”
“There is no virtue in you now,” says Manfred’s angel. “Only chains.”
An Unclean Legacy
Glorious Unicorn Santrieste
It does not sink in for Manfred for some time what he has done.
It is more than eight months later that Tomas, in a fit of rage, shoves Manfred from his chair. Manfred rises.
Manfred is thinking: I must not hit him. Tomas is fragile. His nose will explode. It’s funny but it’s bad when someone’s nose explodes.
And then it is with a strange sick feeling that Manfred realizes that he has no choice. He has given himself to a unicorn, bound himself soul to soul to something holy, and he is bound forever by his oath.
“It doesn’t matter what I decide,” says Manfred.
Tomas looks blankly at him.
Manfred walks out. He goes to the stable. He finds Santrieste. He stares at the unicorn, face to face.
The unicorn tosses his head.
Shall we ride?
That’s what Manfred thinks the unicorn is saying. He’s a ten year old boy, and not the Devil, so his grasp of equine is not perfect.
It’s sunny out, indicates Santrieste.
“How could you?” Manfred asks.
There is a pause.
“How could you?”
And now Manfred is crying.
Tears blind him.
He does not see the reaction of the glorious magical beautiful unicorn Santrieste, which is, quite simply, Huh?
Thus we have seen the truth of Manfred before his fall; and something of him after. But he is not the only troubled heir returning to Castle Gargamel.
Tune in tomorrow for the next breathtaking chapter of An Unclean Legacy: “The Soulless Girl!”