Once upon a time, the Devil came to Castle Gargamel and Violet walked out to meet him in the halls.
“Hello,” she said.
She was 11 years old. She was wearing striped pajamas, slippers, and a nightcap.
Dead old Baltasar turned to look at her. The shadow moved in him. He hissed at her.
“You’re keeping the children awake,” Violet said. “You’re scaring everybody. What do you want?”
Suddenly he was upon her. The grave-stench of him was in her face. He was pushing her back against the wall. And he said: Montechristien.
But Violet was not frightened.
“He can’t even hear you,” she said. “He’s still asleep in his rooms, and when you loom in the halls shrieking your terrors, he snores, like this: honk, kzhhh!”
You will give him to me.
I will take you instead. I will carry you off to the furthest corners of the world and there visit terrors and indignities upon you.
And Violet sagged in relief and laughed, a bright clear laugh.
Dead old Baltasar loomed in. He hissed softly and the smell of him was horrid.
“No,” Violet said smugly. “You won’t.”
Baltasar’s black eyes narrowed. Then, suddenly, he withdrew. He turned away. He stared down the hall.
It does not matter, he said. I will enter his rooms. I will pluck him up. I will destroy him. Then you will have no father and the children will tear their hair and pluck out their own eyes in sorrow.
“If you could do that,” said Violet, “then you would have.”
Then I will eat Francescu, it said, and be satisfied thereby.
Violet stepped into its path, and then winced, visibly, because now it knew what she feared.
Dead old Baltasar reached out with his shadow arms. He lifted her up and held her against the wall. He walked past her towards the children’s rooms.
“Wait,” said Violet.
“We’ll make a deal,” Violet said.
Give me Montechristien.
“No,” Violet said flatly.
There was a moment’s silence.
“Give me fifty years,” Violet said.
They stood there, still, Violet pinned by shadow.
I will give you twenty years, the shadow said, for one of the little gold men.
Twenty years, and I will kill none of you in that time.
“I can’t—they’re father’s—”
They are stolen lives. Did you think that they were crafted? They were made from living men.
Violet looked sickened.
I need only one, said the sin of Montechristien Gargamel.
Violet was silent.
The shadow dropped her. It moved on.
“Wait!” Violet screamed.
And she cut her thumb and pledged with the shadow, and the shadow left Castle Gargamel for a time.
In a time of wizards and kings, one name stood above the rest. He was Montechristien Gargamel.
He seized from the mushroom village one hundred of the blue essentials and transformed them into gold. From that time on his power was limitless. He broke the world and repaired it again. He dispensed terrible destinies and powers as if they were the most ordinary of gifts. And as the time of his death approached his children came to his Castle to dispose of the matter of their legacy.
Violet, his eldest and most dear, who had betrayed him before she was even half-grown.
Francescu, the deathless sorcerer, who had turned his back on the affairs of the world.
Manfred, the fallen knight, whose strength was legend and whose spear was magic’s bane.
Tomas the cruel, who had looked in his tenth year upon the face of God.
Christine, the mad sorceress, who wandered the world in her living house.
Sophie the skinchanger, soulless and Devil-tainted, and once the one Montechristien loved best.
Elisabet, the Devil’s child, a creature as much of shadow as of life.
In the hour of the end, each turned their hands against each other, and the halls of Castle Gargamel ran with blood. This is the twenty-second installment of the story of that time.
Sometime in her twenty-first year, Violet wakes with a start. There is a dampness and a darkness in her room.
A hand comes down over her mouth.
Its fingers are webbed and pale. She bites at the palm but due to the construction of the human mouth does not succeed.
“My name is Samael Saraman,” says the man in her room. “I have come to pay suit to you and bind our houses together in matrimony. But as I have heard that you grind up your suitors into a fine mist and expel them over Castle Gargamel, I do not wish to pay you court by conventional means.”
His fingers press against her neck. They form a magical seal. Violet finds herself unable to move.
Samael scoops her up. He walks to her window. He whistles.
There is a creature below. It is like a horse. It is like a serpent. It eddies its way up the wall and out Samael steps onto its arching neck.
“We will be wed by morning,” Samael says.
An Unclean Legacy
The beast descends the wall and Samael takes her away to the ruined cathedral by the Castle. There are squamous guards beside the door. There is a priest rousted from his bed by cold white fingers in the night.
Samael’s hand touches Violet’s neck. She is free to move.
“You are in error,” Violet says.
In Castle Gargamel there is a great threshing machine. It is in an isolated chamber and the blades spin lightly this way and that even when it is unpowered.
“Begin,” says Samael to the priest.
Above the threshing machine the Castle is open to the sky. Below it, there is a hole in the Castle’s stone floor.
“It’s a really bad error,” Violet says.
The priest looks uncomfortably between them. “I don’t—I don’t know—”
“It’s all right,” Violet says to the priest. She smiles.
Samael looks sideways at her.
“It is necessary,” Samael says.
So the priest begins to recite from the wedding ceremony. He stumbles his way through; until the guards bring Violet a ring of nickel and iron.
“Alas,” says Violet, as Samael puts the ring onto her finger.
In Castle Gargamel, the threshing machine spins to life. Pedals in a nearby room begin to pump, without feet on them. Levers lower themselves. The blades turn faster and faster.
“I can’t get married,” Violet says. “I can’t get swept away. I have to take very special precautions if I even want to have sex.”
Samael looks oddly at her.
“Pronounce us man and wife,” he says, to the priest.
The priest says: “I—”
There are long creeping tendrils of eldritch power on the ground. They seize Samael’s legs. He looks down. He looks up.
The tendrils pull.
Samael is whisked away. He is dragged, and his hands come down nail to the ground to fight it, into Castle Gargamel. He thumps past the great barking dog and under the eyes of the watching statues. He passes Montechristien Gargamel, staggering through the Castle in his nightcap to find a midnight snack. Montechristien stares at him.
Samael is of the cold folk, and he does not scream.
The threshing machine reaches its fastest pitch as he enters that room. Samael is flung up among its spinning blades. They cut him into a fine black mist.
A series of great levers yank themselves downwards. There is a puff of wind from the hole in the floor below the threshing machine. The mist that is Samael flies up and out and hangs over Castle Gargamel in great clouds. He disperses; and the crops and livestock fare poorly that year in the lands around.
“Mom always told me,” Violet says, “that someday I’d find a man who would sweep me away. But back then, these horrible brats were always coming to the castle to woo me or Francescu, and . . . well, when my tenth birthday came around, I really hated boys.”
Does the autothreshing of suitors really count as a birthday present?
Who got the better deal: the shadow or Violet?
Tune in on Monday for the next exciting installment of An Unclean Legacy: “Francescu’s Angel!”