An Unclean Legacy: “Manfred on the Road”

It was in Manfred’s home, laying on his couch as he carved apples at his table, that Sophie first realized that her father was damned.

“His soul’s already in Hell,” she said.

“Eh?”

“That’s what it means,” she said. “To be a twin. Baltasar had their soul. He made a mistake. The demons took him down to Hell, and their soul with him. So he’s already suffering the torments of the damned, and when he dies, they’ll get worse. That’s why Daddy had to tie up the Devil, I think.”

Manfred pondered that.

“He should tie up the Devil again,” Manfred said. “And also wrench his soul back from Hell, cleanse it with the power of the little gold men, and send it up to Heaven.”

“Huh,” said Sophie, thinking about that. “. . . Yes. I wish he would.”

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 fifteenth installment of the story of that time.

Sophie runs.

She has left Manfred’s cottage for the night. It is after dark. The shadow is on the road. It is heading in her direction, blindly questing towards Manfred’s home.

In a blur of bounding shapes Sophie darts into the trees. When she passes the shadow she is barely hitting her stride. She lands beside the road as a greyhound, lean and long, and she runs.

It does not see her. She is silent as she passes. But it smells her. And it turns.

Sophie, it says.

The shadow is in the shape of Baltasar Gargamel, her uncle, but it moves unnaturally and its eyes are red and black.

“No time,” mutters Sophie, in moments of human shape between each bound.

You are beautiful, says the shadow. You will serve me.

The voice is like honey and ice cream to her. It is beautiful and it is sweet. And the shadow reaches its claw after her, stretching across the yards between them.

Sophie is a gnat. She whirls between its fingers and away.

Dead Baltasar lifts his arms against the moonlight and eight shadow-limbs weave a web to catch the gnat.

Sophie is a hare. She tears through the web and runs, her back legs pounding.

Dead Baltasar drops to his hands and knees. He takes on the aspect of the hound. He is chasing her, his fingers clawed, his head extended, baying in the fashion that the Devil bays.

“You should stay,” Manfred said. He looked out at the setting sun. “If you head home now, you’ll meet the shadow on the road.

“No worries,” Sophie said.

Sophie is a horse; a stag; a gazelle; an antelope; a tiger. She shifts with each footstep, finding the shape best suited to that moment of the road. She is gaining on the shadow.

Then the aspect of the Devil burns around dead Baltasar, and he grows great and fiery, and he tromps after her on great elephantine legs, and the forest shakes and shudders with the pounding of his feet.

Sophie, you have no soul, but I can see your heart, and it is worthy of me.

“You won’t catch me tonight,” Sophie says.

She is the lightning, arcing madly forward from tree to tree.

“What if you meet the shadow?” Manfred asked.

“Then I will run and run and run,” Sophie said, “until the dawn.”

To take form as lightning is tiring and dizzying, so she does not move forward quite so quickly or for quite so long as she would like. She falls from that shape and rises again and she is a hummingbird, an eagle, a falcon, flying upwards towards the clouds and the moon.

Behind her there is the terrible swarming sound of bees.

“I do not like you taking such a risk,” Manfred said.

“I am used to it,” Sophie said.

“But if it should catch you—” Manfred said.

“Yes?”

“Then it would taint you,” Manfred said. “It would work its miasma into your flesh and bone. You’d be lost to us.”

Sophie is a thrashing cloud-runner. She is a winged unicorn, its skin as black as pitch. She is a spreading murder of crows.

Dead Baltasar, mounted on an iron pestle, is gaining on her.

“Damn it,” Sophie mutters. “I’m distracted tonight.”

“I could resist,” Sophie protested. “I could stay clean.”

But Manfred thought back to the night of the shadow, and the temptations that he has overcome only by virtue of the shackles on his arms, and he shook his head. “No. You couldn’t. No one could.”

Then Sophie is tumbling down as a spear of sunlight to the earth. She realizes her mistake too late. The bracken below her is Devil-twisted. It is raising its claws as she falls to snatch her. She changes into an owl and tries to pull herself up but she is falling far too fast.

This will be one of those nights, Sophie realizes bleakly, when she is caught before the dawn.

An Unclean Legacy


Manfred on the Road

Manfred’s dreams are tormented by lust and confusion and the desire for Rachel Saraman. He wakes convulsively, in the middle of the night, sweating, tired, and hot.

In his mind an intention forms.

So he puts on his armor, clean and white. He looks back at Santrieste’s stable, but he does not wake the unicorn.

He walks out onto the road.

The sin of Gargamel is moving on the road that night, as every night. It is painting the sky red and black with the light of it.

And Manfred walks.

“Where do you go, this night, with your armor and your binding?” Manfred’s devil asks.

And Manfred walks.

“Turn back,” says Manfred’s devil.

But he does not.

“I need to talk to Sophie,” he says. “I need her advice.”

And on the road he meets dead Baltasar, and Sophie whimpering quietly amidst the heath. And Manfred looks slowly from one to the other, processing what he sees.

“Where do you go this night,” he asks the shadow, “with your corpse-like flesh and the evil in your eyes? Why do you walk these roads and bring trouble to my family and to me?”

I hunt her, says the Devil. From the sunset to the dawn.

And Manfred looks at Sophie. And suddenly his eyes blur with tears.

“Is that why you are about?” he asks.

And, hoarsely, “For how long?”

Each night, the shadow says, For seven years and seven days.

“Not tonight,” says Manfred.

And he steps forward and seizes dead Baltasar in his arms. And as the Devil struggles Manfred drags him down onto the road and holds him fast.

And fingers of shadow wrap around Manfred’s throat. They are cold. They are choking the life from him.

With every strength that Manfred possesses he squeezes Baltasar’s corpse. The bones of it crack. The flesh of it turns pustulent and black. In the hollow eyes of it Manfred sees the shadow’s rage, and fire burns him.

But he does not let go.

Spider-arms wrap around Manfred. They draw tight. They convulse, as if to break a lesser man’s back. But Manfred only says, “Uff!” and still he holds.

Sophie is unconscious now. She lays there sprawled with drool dangling from her mouth.

And Manfred frees one arm with his weight upon the body of dead Baltasar and he uses his fingers to burst its carbuncle eyes. And he tears from the Devil’s shoulders the spider-limbs of shadow that Baltasar’s arms cast forth. And there in the twisted flesh of dead Baltasar Manfred can see at last the Devil’s heart, that even the magic of Montechristien Gargamel was not strong enough to crush; and he reaches his hand into the hollow of the creature’s chest and lays his fingers upon it.

But there is a magic binding upon him, and even the Devil is not without his innocence.

So Manfred does not kill.

He holds the Devil there instead, bloody and tired and short of breath, until the dawn.

Will the shadow succeed in tainting Sophie?

Will Manfred marry Rachel?

Manfred’s history approaches its terrible conclusion tomorrow in “Abandoned!”

9 thoughts on “An Unclean Legacy: “Manfred on the Road”

  1. This is really an especially sad entry to read through an interpretation concerned with reactions to abuse, especially when Manfred realizes that it’s been each night, for seven years. Sophie has “chosen” the role of sacrificing herself to protect the others. Manfred’s own unknowing form of protectiveness is another source of pain, as he thinks that if Sophie is caught, she’ll somehow be tainted and lost — but since this has been happening for seven years, Sophie has been caught and is not lost, and is no more tainted now that Manfred has some idea of what’s going on then she was when he didn’t.

    I think that this illuminates a lot of the problems that Iphigenia’s been having, why she’s so attached to the idea that she was intended to be a sacrifice, and why she may be feeling that she shouldn’t rejoin Jane. (Actually, I don’t know whether in the literalized Hitherby form of what’s going on it’s possible for Iphigenia to rejoin Jane, but based on the Mrs. Schiff / Andhaka interaction it seems possible).

  2. And there in the twisted flesh of dead Baltasar Manfred can see at last the Devil’s heart, that even the magic of Montechristien Gargamel was not strong enough to crush; and he reaches his hand into the hollow of the creature’s chest and lays his fingers upon it.

    But there is a magic binding upon him, and even the Devil is not without his innocence.

    *takes breath* In many ways, I like the shorter Hitherbys better, but the advantage of the Epic is that it bears a fearsome momentum of drama.

    … is no more tainted now that Manfred has some idea of what’s going on then she was when he didn’t.

    It’s sad when you realize that the thing you were trying hard to prevent, has already happened, over and over. And that what you saw as purity was merely your own blindness. And that all your talk of evil consequences, was a dagger through their already bleeding heart. And that instead of being a strong shield to protect their weakness, they were a bloody maimed shield protecting your fragile innocence.

  3. If recent legends are anything to go by, Jane and Martin have been thinking a lot about decisions and unintended consequences. It’s an element that’s present in all the multi-part legends that Rebecca has done lately.

    In “Dhiyampati and the Pluto Project”, the souls of several people are damned simply because the Four Regions Company’s contracts were poorly worded. In the Lethal Magnet School stories, many unfortunate decisions result from Vladamir’s creation of the Sorting Hat, eventually leading to the end of the world. And now we have An Unclean Legacy, the longest legend yet, which bears many similarities with the Lethal Magnet School saga. Both involve people making decisions not about who they want to be, but what they want to be, leading inevitably to unhappiness.

    It seems obvious that Jane and Martin are exploring the idea of important decisions with unintended consequences in these legends. It must be something very important to them, since it has inspired their most ambitious works yet. If I look at the stories, the common thread seems to be: “unintended consequences suck.” Or, to elaborate; people frequently make very important decisions without a good understanding of their implications. When they do, it almost always leads to tragedy. Quite often, they are unaware of the gravity of their decision, or even that they are making a decision at all. This is an indisputable fact; something you can see every day in real life. I think that the point of these legends is to point out that this is unfair and unjust, a feature of the world that Jane and Martin would probably change if they could. That is; Choice is meaningless when it does not result in the outcome you desire.

  4. Cariset: yes. I somehow suspect that a lot of this story is going to be about each of the siblings thinking that they were protecting the others in some way, and none of them really succeeding because they didn’t have the ability to talk about what was going on with each other. Manfred’s particular route seems to be involved with his early success with the ogre, and his abilities, and perhaps his inclination to be a bully which he imperfectly resists, but he has a particular kind of … blindness, perhaps? that may constitute a sort of Greek tragic flaw.

    Sparrowhawk, I’d add to your list of “important decisions with unintended consequences in these legends” the decision to set off the Origins Bomb for no better purpose than to confirm an (as it turned out partially false) religious belief. But the whole concept of choice is difficult in this context. Again looking at this from an abuse interpretation, what happens when you have no good choices? It’s a common theme for people to tell people who have suffered from abuse that they had no choice, as if this is reassuring. But many of the people in this series — Sophie, Rachel, perhaps Yseult — seem to want to insist that although their choices were restricted with none of them good, they made their own within the range that was available to them, and that they survived in the way that they did is now part of their identity, not to be taken from them with a mistaken belief that saying that they had no choice would be comforting. At least that’s how I see it.

  5. I think it’s dangerous and unnecessary to view all of Hitherby Dragons in the context of a metaphor for child abuse. The Stories and Histories; the main storyline of the lines of Lia and Amiel, is explicitly about the problem of suffering as expressed by the victims of abuse. The Legends, however, are a bit more complex than that. They are supposed to be the work of Jane and Martin, characters from the main storyline. Though they may be products of RSB’s imagination, they have distinct personalities all their own. Thus, their writings take a slightly different tack from Rebecca’s.

    In these legends, I think the Monster’s inspiration is indirect. The Monster messes with others’ choices. His very existance results from the perversion of Amiel’s promise by her descendant Aegisthus. This inspires Jane, a questing sort of girl, to ask questions about the meaning of choice. Recent legends all point out a single fact: even if your choice is entirely your own, its results will often not be what you intend because forces beyond your control or knowledge will affect it. I think this interests Jane and Martin because they realize that the world is by its very nature unjust, and they would like to make it more just if they can. (And it’s quite possible that they can.)

    In An Unclean Legacy, the theme seems to be people’s relations with those they care about in the face of great, impersonal forces. Montechristien Gargamel may or may not be a Monster analogue. There are certain similarities, like binding gods to his service. But his changing his childrens’ nature seems to be more a feature of the world itself than his design. After all, he always asks his children what gift they wanted for their birthday. Also, this world is a battleground of a spiritual war between “good” and “evil” in the style of Jack-Chick-style Christian fundamentalists, with little relation to human morality. It seems that the children of Gargamel couldn’t choose not to participate in this conflict. It just seems to me that the world of this Legend is more monstrous than anything that Gargamel did. That’s why I think it’s about the inherent injustice of the world itself, not just abuse. (I probably could have said it more succiently, and with fewer words, if I were less tired.)

  6. I think it’s dangerous and unnecessary to view all of Hitherby Dragons in the context of a metaphor for child abuse.

    Um, I don’t quite get “dangerous and unnecessary”. I mean, I’d understand if you just thought I was wrong, or that I was going on too much. (Rebecca, please do Email me if you’d rather I posted less, or about something else, or not at all.) But I thought that part of Essay Without Shame was that this aspect is a lot of what Hitherby is about, and I took it to be implied that we should talk about it, well, without shame.

    I do know that Hitherby isn’t just an extended metaphor for anything, I wrote about that in the comments here. But that context is the context that I see; I’m not trying to keep anyone else from seeing anything different. For me, it’s part of what makes Hitherby really good.

  7. Manfred’s particular route seems to be involved with his early success with the ogre, and his abilities, and perhaps his inclination to be a bully which he imperfectly resists, but he has a particular kind of … blindness, perhaps? that may constitute a sort of Greek tragic flaw.

    Manfred reminds me, very much, in a certain way, of Thor. There is power in him, and there is good in him, but there is not much of a connection between them…

  8. I should probably apologise for that “dangerous and unnecessary” comment. It’s dangerous and unnecessary for me to comment on hitherby when I’m too tired to form a coherent thought. :o In any case,now that I’m more alert, I can boil down my argument to a few simple sentances:

    When analyzing Stories and Histories, I ask “what is Rebecca trying to say?” When analyzing Legends, I more frequently ask “what is Jane and/or Martin trying to say?” You also have to ask the first question of Legends, of course, but the framework of the meta-narrative adds another wrinkle to the fabric of the story.

  9. I understand, Sparrowhawk, but Jane was/is a child who was abused. If you take Legends to be about “What is Jane trying to say?” that element is still there. (I think it’s really more “What is Jane thinking about?”, by the way.) This theme may not be part of all of Hitherby, but in this storyline, with children being unprotected from a shadow/uncle that attacks Sophie nightly for seven years, I think it’s pretty explicitly there.

    I don’t mean to say that this is only a kind of working-through of personal history for Jane as she writes Legends. She wants to help everyone, and I’d say that this is sort of her lens for thinking about the problem of pain in general. It’s like, let’s say that something really bad has happened to you, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it or change it because it’s in the past. How do you construct a version of that history that is coherent, true, and tolerable, and thereby gives you a solid foundation to go on from? (Maybe “tolerable” isn’t the right word, since Martin seems to want to use past pain to make people better. I think that tolerable would be OK, though.) Given where Hitherby is going, I think it’s heading to some kind of religious synthesis. And that is a lot of what this series of legends seems to be about.

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