An Unclean Legacy: “The Blessing Beyond Price”

Christine and Sophie were born together, twins, taking breath in the same hour; and of the two of them, it is Christine who had the soul.

“It’s not fair,” Sophie said, to Gargamel, when she was seven.

The old man turned away from his machine. He looked at her. “I’d be surprised if it was.”

“The soul thing, I mean.”

“Ha,” laughed Gargamel. “Ha ha ha.”

Sophie sulked. “You’re mean.”

“Dear child,” said Gargamel, “it is a blessing beyond price. Look: you may do as you like, and suffer no damnation. It will not matter what you have chosen, so long as Christine is saved. In all the world, only twins like you and I may know no consequence.”

Then Sophie brightened. “You’re a twin?” she said.

But her brightness did not last even long enough for Gargamel to finish nodding.

Sophie shook her head vigorously.

“Father Gargamel,” she said, “What if I live my life doing only good and Godly things, and Christine dies with sin upon our soul; won’t I then be damned?”

Gargamel moved to his chair. Creakily, he sat down and pulled her onto his knee. He leaned in. He breathed, “There’s no point in you doing such things, child. But for her? She’ll serve the Lord in terror of the pit, and in the end choose good.”

“But what if she doesn’t?”

“Then that is a mysterious way,” he said. “Such as those the Lord possesses, and of which I have spoken before.”

He hugged her.

“Hollow child,” he said. “Fear not. I will shepherd you all with my every breath.”

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 fifth installment of the story of that time.

The night is cold. The wind has stilled.

The children huddle in their rooms.

Outside the room in the castle halls there is a flickering red and black light. The air is thick and dead with the silence of it. It is fearsome.

The sin of Montechristien Gargamel visits itself upon his keep.

“It’s calling,” says Violet.

“It wants us,” says Manfred.

Sophie has no idea what they are talking about.

“It wants somebody,” Christine says. “Maybe it’s not us. Maybe it’s . . . someone else.”

“It’s like it knows me,” whines Tomas.

And there are nods and sick grimaces around the room, but Sophie cannot nod. She hugs herself instead. She says, “I can’t hear anything.”

Christine looks at her and her face is a mask of sudden, absolute hatred.

Sophie stares at Christine without comprehension. She does not understand why her words should seem to anyone like a crime.

And Christine says, viciously, “Maybe it wants you.”

“It doesn’t!” Sophie protests.

“A little soulless child to be its host,” Christine explains.

“No!” Sophie says. “No, it doesn’t!”

But Christine is very angry. She is angry and she is loud. “Go out there! Go! Maybe it’ll take you and go away. Why do you care? It’s not like anything can hurt you.”

And Sophie, her mind blank against the betrayal of it, does the only thing she can. She goes cool. She tosses her head. She stares at Christine and says, very clearly, “Maybe the midwife got the soul thing backwards.”

Christine’s face goes white. She is standing. She is lunging towards Sophie; but Francescu has taken her arms and holds her back.

Violet stands up.

“That’s enough,” she says.

Sophie refocuses away from Christine, confused. “What?”

“I’m going out,” Violet says.

She walks to the door. She opens it. She goes out.

She does not sleep in the children’s room again.

An Unclean Legacy


The Blessing Beyond Price

Sophie is almost ten.

She is in an unused maid’s room, exiled there without her supper. She has bruises on her face and limbs, but Christine’s bruises are worse.

Violet knocks on Sophie’s door. She lets herself in. She stands there, diffidently.

“Father says you can have your gift now,” Violet says.

“Now?”

Violet shrugs.

Sophie looks blankly at the wall.

“You could learn transformations,” Violet suggests. “Or how to fly.”

“I can do those things already,” Sophie says.

Violet processes this information. Then she shakes her head a bit, confused. She walks over to a chair. She sits down.

“What do you want, then?”

“I want her not to look at me and say, ‘I bet Sophie did it. She’s the evil one. Why wouldn’t she lie about it? She can’t be damned.'”

Sophie sneers, illustratively, as she says these things.

“I can tell him that,” Violet says. “But I think I know what he’ll say.”

Sophie looks at Violet.

“‘I’m not going to use the little gold men just to settle a children’s quarrel,'” Violet says.

“It’s not fair,” Sophie says. “It’s not like he’s all chummy with his twin.”

Violet shrugs.

Sophie looks small. Her armor cracks, and an old unhappiness leaks out. “I want to be worth tempting,” she says.

“Huh?”

“Tell him that,” Sophie says. Her eyes are fever-bright now. “I don’t even matter enough for the Devil to talk to me. I want that to change. I want to be someone worth tempting.”

An old sin weighs on Violet’s heart.

She doesn’t protest.

“Okay,” Violet agrees, and that’s what she says to Montechristien Gargamel.

But what was Violet’s sin?

And does good fencing make good siblings?

Tune in Monday for the glorious Unclean Legacy adventure: “Inconstant Shelter!”

8 thoughts on “An Unclean Legacy: “The Blessing Beyond Price”

  1. Hah, yes, it works on the next level, too! Manfred was within the moral order, but was restricted to one side of it. His choices mattered, but he didn’t have full agency. But Sophie was placed outside the moral order. She had full agency, but her choices didn’t matter! Either way, it seems that there’s a desire to be able to take sides, to pick between salvation and damnation. Manfred couldn’t choose sides, but Sophie is wanted by neither side.

    The cosmology here seems rather non-antinomian.

  2. Manfred was able to change his fate (twice, in fact); it seems likely that Sophie can as well.

    Of course, when Manfred did it, the results were pretty bad both times.

  3. But Luc, we don’t know yet that the results were actually bad both times. (This is probably one of those things that I’m going to write only to have Monday’s entry show it to be wrong, but oh well.) So far all that we know about Manfred after the removal of his oath is that he worked great and horrid magics to remove it, he learned how to kill, his unicorn abandoned him, and that he has a lot of anti-paladin signifiers (described as a fallen knight, crimson brassards, horse-snake). When Elisabet attacks him with intent to kill, he doesn’t actually kill her in self defense.

  4. Also, it may be relevant whether you’re changing your fate to a subset or a superset of what it used to be. Manfred seems to have reduced his choices to a subset of his original choices, and now (as rpuchalsky points out), either he’s gone back up to his original set, or has merely switched to a different subset of his original choices.

    Most hitherby entities seem to have reduced their choices similarly. And as with Manfred, there appears to be a tradeoff in that they gain power at the same time. (Specialization, perhaps?)

    Martin is the only one, at least that comes to my mind, who has actually increased the choices available to him. (Or perhaps that’s just an artifact of our limited viewpoint.) And he seems to have gained in power at the same time. It’s almost like he’s discovered some kind of dharma-based perpetual-motion machine…

  5. Another version of Violet and the shadow here (or, rather, “the sin of Montecristien Gargamel”)

    If it was just Violet, it’d be over already!

    Which is odd because, in absence of a story telling us about her directly (like we have for Manfried and Sophie), she’s at the side in all of them (and at Gargamel’s side in the end), and rapidly shaping up to be the most intriguing…

    Ah, do we have names and relative ages for all 7 yet? We know Elisabet is the youngest, then the twins (Sophie and Christine), then Manfried, then Francescu. We know there’s nearly a year between each of them there, with Tomas as an indeterminate amount older, and Violet as the eldest. Have I got that right?

  6. Unless I have screwed up, Tomas is the fourth born, and all your data is correct.

    (Yes, Yseult was quite busy.)

    Rebecca

  7. I’m not going to use the little gold men just to settle a children’s quarrel….

    AHA!

    Perhaps it’s Montechristien’s twin who struggles with the little blue men?

  8. I’m not going to use the little gold men just to settle a children’s quarrel….

    AHA!

    Perhaps it’s Montechristien’s twin who struggles with the little blue men?

    *sigh*
    Unless I am mistaken, when you collect six smurfs you can turn them into gold. I seem to recall that this was part of Cartoon-Gargamel’s motivation. No, we’re still well on track for Smurfage.

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