Once upon a time, a terrible spinach-spider troubled the forest near Manfred’s cottage.
Rachel went out to gather water. This was a mistake. The spinach-spider leapt out from the shadows. It knocked her down. It loomed over her, its fangs dripping a peculiar assortment of vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates against her face.
“I’ve eaten tougher things than you,” Rachel said, bravely.
She waited for the Saraman destiny to kick in. She waited for it to kneel before her. But the spinach-spider was not truly evil, and so it saw her as its prey.
It chittered a horrible chitter and leaned down over her face.
There was the clattering of hooves.
Rachel turned her head to one side. The spinach-spider looked as well.
“Manfred!” Rachel said.
“Charge!” cried Manfred, to Santrieste.
But Santrieste, having cantered into the clearing where Rachel and the spinach-spider were, stopped in his advance.
He shook his head. He whinnied.
This is the natural order of life, Manfred, said Santrieste. It is bloody and cruel. But let it be.
“Charge, fuck it,” repeated Manfred.
But Santrieste stood still.
Rachel cast her eyes around frantically. She found an evil bee. She seized it from the flowers and flung it at the spinach-spider’s face. It buzzed about. It stung the spinach-spider once and then died. This is actually a pretty heroic accounting for an evil bee.
Manfred, still cursing, flung himself down from the saddle. He charged the beast himself. Its fangs came down at Rachel. Manfred caught one fang in his hand. He squeezed it until the juice of the spinach gurgled back into the spider’s stomach and the spider squealed and danced in pain. Its stinger stabbed down at Rachel’s unprotected leg; Manfred caught it in his other hand.
“Well,” said Manfred.
The spinach-spider chittered horribly. You will regret this indignity! is how Manfred interpreted its intention.
“You underestimate me, monster of the woods,” said Manfred.
With a great heave, he lifted the spider into the air and flung it sideways fifteen feet. It landed with a startled squelch and rose to its eight feet.
It danced one, two, three steps in anger.
Then it scurried into the forest and was gone.
Manfred reached down a hand for Rachel, who blushed prettily as she took it and rose to stand.
“I do not think it will trouble humankind again,” said Manfred.
If you sleep with her, said Santrieste, I will leave you.
Manfred looked over his shoulder at the unicorn.
“You do understand, Santrieste,” he said, “that I am not a virgin?”
This startled a giggle from Rachel, in turn causing Manfred to blush.
The unicorn spoke only with its eyes: Nevertheless.
“Well . . . well, fine,” said Manfred.
He stared at the unicorn.
“Is he criticizing your sexual prowess?” Rachel asks.
“I understand that it’s a big thing with stallions.”
Not unicorn stallions, said Santrieste, looking away. Also, you are an evil thing and will destroy my Manfred, so please, next time this happens, die.
“Aww,” said Rachel. “He’s blushing.”
After a moment, Manfred forces out a, “Yes. Yes, he is.”
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 sixteenth installment of the story of that time.
Sophie wakes. It is the morning after Manfred’s encounter with the Devil on the road.
Manfred is sitting, half-asleep, by a dying campfire.
For a long moment, Sophie just stays there, smiling, staring at her brother Manfred who has wrestled the Devil to the ground.
“Hi,” she says.
And Manfred looks up, and says, hesitant and scared, “Was I in time?”
Sophie stares at him.
Slowly, the smile fades from her face. It is replaced by a lonely mouth and bitter eyes.
“Yes,” she says. “Yes, you were in time.”
“Good,” Manfred says, and the fear flows out of him with those words and he smiles at her and he does not seem to see what’s in her face.
He stirs the fire.
“It is no wonder,” he says, “that you have become so swift. I am in awe.”
“Yes,” Sophie says.
Then she shrugs.
“The shadow gets stronger as the years go by. At first it was just Uncle Baltasar’s bumbling corpse chasing me around the halls.”
She mimes a staggering corpse with one hand and a running girl with the other. Manfred laughs.
“Hey,” Manfred says.
“Dad won’t even talk me about Rachel,” Manfred says. “And Santrieste will leave me if we . . . if we . . .”
“I wanted your advice,” he says.
“Don’t care,” says Sophie.
“Listen,” says Sophie, and her face grows hot as she speaks. “You don’t have to care what they think. You don’t have to care what anybody thinks. If you can find some shelter in her arms, Manfred, then you should take it and shout praise for that opportunity to Heaven. If you can find real love with her that isn’t a sorcerous binding, then I say, do it now and don’t count the consequences. Find something that is yours and real and take it and never let it go. Do you think Montechristien and Santrieste are your friends?”
And she would be crying, if she did not shift in the instant before each tear into a shape that had no ducts.
“. . . You’re right,” Manfred says. “Thank you.”
Sophie is a lark, a raven, a jay, a robin, an eagle, and she is flying away.
An Unclean Legacy
That night, Rachel stands up to leave Manfred’s cottage as the sun nears setting.
“You don’t have to go,” Manfred says.
And there is a terrible angry thrashing from the stable near his house.
Rachel stares at Manfred for a long time.
“Truly?” she asks.
“Truly,” he says.
And she steps into his arms. And he embraces her with the warm strength of him and the cold white metal of the brassards on him. And as they fall into his bed the room seems strangely hot to him, and there is a pounding on the cottage-stable wall. And it seems to him that the cares and burdens of life as Manfred Gargamel are falling from him; that the long years of bondage to principles not his own and the ancient fear of the Devil that walked in Castle Gargamel and the roads outside his home are passing from him. And in the moment of his completion he says her name, “Rachel,” and she says, “I will free you, Manfred,” and it is as if he is at last abandoned by the nagging voices of his devil and his angel and his curses and his blessings and in her arms is shelter, warmth, and peace.
It fades to darkness.
The darkness fades to cold.
Manfred is haled away from world and sound and banished from the lands of spinach-spiders and of men.
That’s not good, is it? But we won’t have the final part of Manfred’s backstory for a little while.
Instead, it’s time for a heartwarming Unclean Legacy holiday special: “How Elisabet Saved Christmas!”