An Unclean Legacy: “Deathless”

Once upon a time, Francescu found a nest of angels under Castle Gargamel.

He was seven years old and bright with love for his life. He wore a jury-rigged hard hat with a candle strapped to it. He dragged a woefully heavy mining pick with his hand.

He was exploring the catacombs under the Castle.

“This was formed by natural geological processes,” he said, “I bet.”

He lay his hand against the dungeon wall. It was moist with dripping water and dark with ancient blood.

“You can see how the natural striations of rock produce incredibly detailed formations,” he said.

He walked to a rusty iron table. He lay down in front of it. He crawled forward under it, on his stomach.

“Amazing,” he said.

Then he saw the spider on his hand.

“Ack!” cried Francescu. “Yick!”

He flung the spider away. He crawled forward, hurriedly, to the light on the far side of the table. He stood up, brusquely. He shook himself off.

There were more webs. There were more spiders. Strange darkness-dwelling insects scurried on the walls.

“Ick,” sighed Francescu.

He walked forward carefully. He opened a peculiar naturally-occurring iron door. It was blocked by something on the other side. He decided to squeeze through the narrow opening, arm-first.

That’s when he broke open the angel nest.

“Sticky,” he said, in vague confusion. He pulled back an arm wet with ichor.

There was the furious fluttering and flapping of angelic and demonic wings. Suddenly Francescu’s eyes widened. He jumped back as a storm of angels and demons flurried through the door and out towards the dungeon stairs.

“Gah!” he said.

Francescu fell over backwards. The mining pick skittered across the floor. The candle guttered out.

“It’s wrong to break open angel nests,” observed the angel on Francescu’s right shoulder. Its voice was beautiful and sanctimonious both.

“Yeah,” agreed the demon on Francescu’s left shoulder, and kicked him.

“Mommy,” whimpered Francescu, in the darkness, but the Lady Yseult Gargamel was dead.

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 ninth installment of the story of that time.

The night is cold. The wind is howling. There is a light sprinkling of rain.

To the west there is red and black against the sky.

“It’s the Devil,” says Francescu, with the razor intuition of a child nearly ten.

He is standing on the battlements of Castle Gargamel. He is looking off to the west. He is damp from the rain.

On each of Francescu’s shoulders is a spirit that only he can see. One, he thinks, is good, and the other evil, although he’s never entirely sure which one is which.

“But I thought,” Francescu says, “That father tied the Devil up.”

The angel on his right shoulder shelters its eyes with a hand. It looks out worriedly to the west.

“Some unicorn has freed him,” the angel opines.

“Unicorns are pure and good,” Francescu insists, jutting up his nose.

“They’re elder creatures,” observes Francescu’s demon.

Francescu looks at it.

“Their interests and morality,” clarifies the demon, “are not those of men.”

“I guess,” says Francescu.

He sighs.

“Well,” Francescu concludes. “It’s all right.”

Francescu’s angel suffers a mild consternation. “The Devil is freed to torment the world and he’s coming this way. Are you sure that’s all right?”

“Evil falls to good,” Francescu says.

Thunder rolls in the distance. Francescu’s demon startles, then blushes and checks to make sure the angel didn’t notice.

“Evil falls to good?” asks Francescu’s angel.

“Yes,” Francescu says, sternly. “It is like this. The shadow can threaten us, it can trouble us, but if we hold to our principles and our courage, then it can’t ever win. There are always noble knights like Manfred, great good sorcerers like father, and innocent hearts like Sophie and Christine. These are our candles against the darkness that is the Devil’s power; our saints and heroes burn deathless and they will not still before the dawn.”

“That’s very eloquent,” says Francescu’s angel, somewhat impressed.

“One learns a certain sophistication of moral philosophy,” Francescu says, “listening to angels and demons nattering at one all the time.”

“Ouch,” mutters Francescu’s demon. It’s just had both its means and its ends zung.

“Still . . .” Francescu’s angel says. “I mean, when the Devil reaches the Castle, will shiny metaphors actually help?”

Francescu frowns.

The Devil is getting closer, and Francescu is getting a little more nervous.

“I’m going to go stand near Manfred,” Francescu says.

And he does.

An Unclean Legacy


The children huddle in their rooms, listening to the Devil’s whispers in the halls.

Christine and Sophie shout at one another. Francescu watches them, watches with wide eyes as the hate flares up.

He grabs Christine. He holds her from behind to keep her from physically attacking Sophie. He tries to stop bad things from happening. But the hate keeps getting worse.

I am death, is the whisper resounding through the halls.

Red and black radiance skitters and shivers beyond the children’s door.

“Christine, stop it,” pleads Francescu, but his voice doesn’t get above a whisper.

I am everything wrong that visits upon this world.

The words of the Devil are pressing onto Francescu’s heart like burning irons. They are shaking out of the air and falling on him like rain. They are hurting him.

I am the falling of the light into the darkness.

And Violet stands up, as sharply as the slamming of a book. She says, “That’s enough.”

The air is still, heavy, waiting.

“But you’re just Violet,” Francescu tries to say.

He can’t make himself talk.

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

“You’ll get killed,” Francescu tries to say. “The horrible things will happen to you. You’re just Violet. You’re not like them. You’re like me.

hsssaaa, hisses the distant Devil’s voice.

The paralysis breaks from Francescu. He flings himself on Manfred. He tugs on Manfred’s sleeve. “Go after her,” he pleads.

But Manfred does not go.

Time passes.

I win, says the Devil.

There are horrible noises in the distance, and Francescu understands that knights are false.

Are angel nests more like beehives or wasp’s nests?

Are ninjas a deathless good, like knights, or are they more like bookbinders?

Tune in tomorrow for an Unclean Legacy expose: “The Marvelous Fingerbone!”

7 thoughts on “An Unclean Legacy: “Deathless”

  1. OK, a third retelling of this particular incident… the fourth if you count Santrieste freeing the devil. It’s a bit like Unclean Legacy: Rashomon… one wonders how many perspectives we’ll get to see this from.

    I note also that the devil claims victory, where previously I’d thought the outcome far more ambiguous.

    Another unanswered question: do ALL the children have angels and demons on their shoulders? Is it inherent to them, or to some of them, is it a property of this cosmology, or is it merely a metaphorical device?

  2. My impression was that those of the children who have angels and devils on their shoulders have them because Francescu accidentally broke into this nest and they fly through the castle. (Note that the nest seems to have formed in an old torture room; the problems of conscience for the children are connected to the unclean legacy of the family.) He’s one of the older children, and this incident happened when he was seven, so the children who have them might be those that had been born at that time.

    The children are Violet, who significantly seems to be a normal person, without the wild talents (and limitations) of the others — the fixed dharma of the magical Hitherby entity — and three opposed pairs. Two of those pairs look like classic D&D oppositions: fighter vs thief, mage vs cleric. I still think that the core of this metaphor (and yes, I know that something about Smurfs is a bit weighed down by proposing a central metaphor for it, but bear with me) is about how people see each other as “heroes, villains, or trash to be killed”, as roles, and that part of the unclean legacy of the title may refer to the way in which certain childhood fantasies, both games and TV shows, contribute to the formation of this way of looking at real people.

  3. the children who have them might be those that had been born at that time.

    That would have to be all of them, since Yseult was dead at the time.

  4. Oh, right, I missed that. If some of the children don’t have them, perhaps they only settled on the children who were old enough at the time to be concerned with morality.

  5. The children are Violet, who significantly seems to be a normal person, without the wild talents (and limitations) of the others — the fixed dharma of the magical Hitherby entity —

    Woah, there! We know really little about Violet. We know “all the children were prodigies,” we know she walked out to confront the devil, we know she is with Gargamel since the omens (of his death) began. Much as it would make poetic sense to have a “normal” person as a contrast to the wunderkinder, I’m not sure that’s Violet. Yseult, maybe?

  6. Perhaps she’s a prodigy in her ability to deal with people; she’s always being the go-between, saying the right thing at the right time. That would give her an unusual talent that isn’t quite magical. Of course I’m guessing, but I base this guess on the way that Francescu said that Violet wasn’t like the others, she was like him. Francescu in this scene is nearly ten, which means that he probably hasn’t gotten his tenth-birthday gift yet. In a previous Hitherby, Christine said that he got magic as his gift, so perhaps he was fairly normal until then.

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