Once upon a time, an ogre came to Castle Gargamel.
He hammered on its walls and gate with his fists. He roared. He shouted.
Montechristien Gargamel snored.
“Wake him up!” said little Elisabet. She was cowering in a shadow. “Wake him up! The ogre’ll eat us!”
Manfred, hesitantly, shook Gargamel’s shoulder.
Gargamel snored. Then he choked. He went into a coughing fit that lasted several minutes. Finally, it subsided, and Gargamel lay back again.
“. . . I think he’s sick,” Manfred said.
“Oh no,” said Elisabet.
Manfred glanced at her briefly. “Maybe he’s dead,” he added. “We could feed him to the ogre!”
“No!” Elisabet said. Then she glared at Manfred. “You fix.”
But Tomas was looking at Manfred. His expression was kind of speculative.
“I bet you could beat up an ogre,” he said.
“I’m nine,” Manfred said, but he did puff his chest out a bit.
“Ridiculous,” said Violet, the oldest. “Nobody’s going to go out and fight the ogre.”
“It’s not ridiculous,” Manfred said. He was standing next to Gargamel’s window. He squeezed one of the stone blocks lining its edge and cracked the stone.
There was a horrible crunch as the ogre broke one of the bars of the castle gate.
“Um,” Elisabet said.
Then Manfred straightened. He said, “Let me.”
And Tomas girded him in pieces of an armor suit. It was heavy. It was rusty. It was far too big. Manfred clanked and wobbled as he walked.
But he went out, and the ogre swung at him, and Manfred caught the club.
“Hey!” the ogre protested.
“Uff,” Manfred muttered.
Then Manfred hit the beast and hit the beast until the ogre vomited up blood and, reeling, staggered back into the jungle.
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 second installment of the story of that time.
The night is cold. There is a wind.
The children huddle in their rooms.
Outside their room in the castle halls there is a flickering red and black light. There are terrible noises. It is fearsome. A shadow walks the halls of Castle Gargamel, and its fingers are like claws.
“It’s calling,” whispers Violet.
“It wants us,” Manfred says.
Manfred is nine years old, and on each of his shoulders there is a spirit that only he can see. One is evil, or so he thinks. One is good.
It is Manfred’s devil that is telling him what the shadow wants.
“Put simply,” it proposes, “you are to kill Gargamel.”
“Why should I do that?” Manfred asks.
“You are a bully,” Manfred’s devil says. Its voice is blunt. “I am not speaking simply of the extraordinary strength that qualifies you for the role. You like dominance. You need control. And it gives you satisfaction to smite those with whom you disagree. In this castle, if you seize it, is adequate power for you to establish your authority over anyone who disagrees and work your will on land and people both.”
“I’m nine,” Manfred protests.
“You’re old enough,” says Manfred’s devil. “And you will not have this opportunity again. Kill Gargamel, and you will have your dreams.”
Manfred looks to his angel, who is unaccustomedly silent.
“Won’t you speak?” he asks.
“I want to call it a sin,” the angel says, “but it’s Gargamel. How bad can it be to kill Gargamel?”
“I mean—” Manfred says. “What it said about me—”
“I’m helpless against the truth,” the angel sighs.
Manfred rocks in his place. His eyes are closed. Then he opens them with a start; and neither his angel or his devil are there.
“Go after her,” Francescu says.
Francescu is a weedy and a frail boy, though older than Manfred by nearly a year. He is tugging at Manfred’s sleeve.
Manfred looks around. Violet is gone.
“She’ll die,” Francescu says. “It’ll eat her or turn her evil or something. She’ll be alone.”
Manfred shakes his head. He just keeps shaking it.
“I can’t,” he says.
It is all he can do not to answer the shadow’s call.
An Unclean Legacy
Three weeks before Manfred’s tenth birthday, his father comes and sits down on his bed.
“I will give you a treasure,” says Montechristien Gargamel.
“What?” Manfred asks.
“You may name it,” says Gargamel. “And if it is a thing that may be found on land, or in the sea, or anywhere under the stars, then I shall make it yours.”
“Wow,” Manfred says.
Gargamel does not smile. Sometimes Manfred thinks he can’t; that his father doesn’t have the facial muscles for anything but a crooked sneer.
“I am alone with myself,” Manfred says.
“I want something to help me know what to do.”
“Ha,” laughs Gargamel. “Ha ha ha. You don’t know what to do.”
It’s a cracked and horrid laugh.
“No, father,” says Manfred, hurt and angry.
So Gargamel stands. He pats Manfred on the head.
“I will give you Santrieste,” he says. “He will guide you.”
But Manfred’s angel only frowns.
Why isn’t the angel happy?
What is the power of Castle Gargamel?
Tune in tomorrow for an Unclean Legacy exclusive: Glorious Unicorn Santrieste!