Bent and hunched and frail is Montechristien Gargamel. His hair is gray. In a mere few days, he will be dead; and no longer can he keep the power of Castle Gargamel out of his children’s hands.
“They are like maggots,” says Gargamel.
He holds his spyglass to one eye. He stares off into the woods with it.
He is watching for their arrival.
“Maggots, gathering to the body of the dead.”
His daughter Violet is with him already. She has been with him since the omens began.
“Are they here?” Violet asks.
Violet looks out into the woods. She has no spyglass. She can see nothing.
“If I did not need them—” mutters Gargamel darkly.
He sighs. He shakes his head. Then he nods.
“They are coming,” he says. “Each and every last. I will be in the tower. Keep them from killing one another, Violet. Keep them alive, until the Devil comes.”
Violet squares her shoulders. She lifts her chin. She grits her teeth.
“I will,” she promises.
“Huh,” snorts Gargamel. The subtext is “Good luck!”
The old man half-stomps, half-shuffles off.
An Unclean Legacy
“The Fallen Knight”
The first of the six is riding from the forest now. His armor is white save for the arms of it. Those are stained crimson. His face is austere. He rides a beast that is both like a horse and like a serpent. Its head is scaled and its ears are flat. He carries a spear with a wrought iron head. His name is Manfred.
Violet descends from the battlements of the castle. She walks down the winding steps. She reaches the gate.
The tops of the trees are shifting and moving in an irregular fashion. This catches Violet’s attention as Manfred rides closer.
Violet lifts a finger. “Ah—”
The second of the six is in the trees. She is colored as the shadows of the autumn, seven shades of dark that shift among themselves. She is not human in appearance, but rather amorphous, with twelve great long limbs that lengthen and shorten as she moves. She has no face. Her name is Elisabet.
Manfred sees her reflection in Violet’s eyes.
Two of Elisabet’s limbs rush past Manfred. They anchor in the ground with an audible “thoock” noise. They begin to pull her closer.
Three of her limbs still cling to trees in the forest behind them. The trees bend down, like apostles bowing before their God.
Seven limbs rush for Manfred, falling towards him in that very fashion that shadows stretch at night.
And . . .
Once upon a time, there was a glorious and noble knight named Manfred. He wore white armor and he rode a unicorn. He wrestled evil and often he would win; but never would he kill.
He did not kill because of an oath that bound him. It was an oath inviolate by sorcery. It was an enchantment woven into the brassards that he wore and that he could not remove. It was an oath that made him safe.
And sometimes he would tell the women who swooned for him, “I do not wish it so. For it is one thing to be a man who will not kill, and another to be a man who can not. And my arms are far too heavy in our bed.” But what is done is done. What is true is true. He could not kill.
One day, Manfred left the world for a time, and worked great and horrid magics there. Now the oath is gone and the unicorn has abandoned him and Manfred has learned to kill.
Manfred is broad but he is quick.
As Elisabet plunges towards him, as Violet lifts her finger in dismay, Manfred raises his spear and sweeps it around. He tangles it in the shadows and the shadows with it. He slams it forward into the ground, dragging Elisabet along, and as she thumps into the earth Elisabet yelps loudly. Tiny stars and birds spin around the lump that is her head.
“Ninjas,” curses Manfred.
“!” says Elisabet, angrily. Her forward tendrils relax their grip. The trees behind Manfred draw straight. They pull Elisabet back, yanking Manfred and his spear into the air with her. The horse-snake rears and screams. Elisabet wraps around Manfred, drowning him in black.
Violet has time to say just one thing, but it is fortunately well-spoken.
“Father would just resurrect him, you know.”
There is an outraged spluttering sound from Elisabet. Her grip grows slack and Manfred becomes visible through the shadow.
“But he is—”
Manfred sets his palms against the shadow and extends his arms. The crimson brassards glow red. Elisabet decoheses and Manfred falls to the forest floor.
He stands up, creakily. He dusts himself off. He picks up his spear.
Manfred looks up.
Elisabet is still sputtering. “Look at him,” she says. “And his horse!”
“It is our father’s wish,” says Violet, “to have seven living children when he dies.”
Elisabet sulkily gathers herself into the shape of a black-clad woman. Her skin and eyes become visible as her ninjutsu fades.
“Fine,” she says.
“Fine,” Violet agrees.
“You’ll regret it,” Elisabet says, “when he kills everybody and takes father’s power.”
Manfred walks back towards the castle. After a moment, Elisabet hurries after him. When Manfred reaches his steed and takes its reins in his hand, he stops for a moment. He turns. He asks Elisabet, in the low thunder of his voice, “Is that, then, what you would have me do?”
And Elisabet flushes, and her face works through many emotions, and she looks very young.
“And won’t you?” she says.
Manfred tugs on the reins of his horse-snake. He walks forward towards the castle.
Is Elisabet really a ninja?
Was Manfred actually a knight?
Was his unicorn named something cool or was it one of those stupid ‘Pennyflowers’-type names?
Tune in tomorrow for an Unclean Legacy flashback that you can’t afford to miss: “Manfred’s Day!”