Once upon a time, young Lady Yseult strove against the Saraman Stone.
It lay in the yard behind Saraman Manor. It was long and black and heavy and wet and it had striations in it.
She set her feet in the grass and shoved against the stone.
Through two holes came the labored breathing of Cedric Saraman, founder of the house.
“I am the doom of those who would free me,” whispered Cedric’s damp voice. “I am the wickedness of the Saraman line. Know that you are giving yourself unto the darkest and most terrible of fates, and make no protest when it comes.”
“Shh!” said Yseult, furiously.
“I am the evil that lived before humanity,” whispered Cedric.
Yseult sat back. She licked two fingers. She stuffed them in the air holes of Cedric Saraman. This prompted a peculiar noise, then an ever-faster huffing.
“Shh,” confirmed Yseult.
Sir Jasper the Valiant strode casually into the yard.
“Ah,” he smiled, with his perfect teeth. “There you are, Lady.”
Then a look of dumb shock came onto his face, even as Cedric, below the stone, began to flop and flail. “You’re filthy,” he said.
Yseult leaned against the stone. She gave Jasper a tired smile. “Jasper,” she said.
“This won’t do at all,” said Jasper.
He walked up to her. Gently and kindly, he pulled her away from the stone.
“Your hair, lady,” he said.
“I like it tangled,” said Yseult.
Jasper ran his fingers through her hair. They got stuck. He tugged, while Yseult winced and made faces. Finally, he pulled them out.
“It’s less painful if it’s clean,” he said. In a voice of infinite sadness, he added, “And your dress.”
“I have thought,” said Yseult, “that when we are married, I would wear robes. And my teeth would be snaggled. And I would lure young men in from the road for savage prophecies, only to have you drive them out when they became importune. And I think that sometimes you would develop grand plans to better your lot in the world, and I would be at your side driving them with my dirty robes and my dirty mind.”
Jasper blinked at her. “No,” he said, in a helpless voice.
“Then I don’t want to marry you,” Yseult said.
She turned back to the Saraman Stone. She thrust her shoulder against it.
“That cannot be so,” said Jasper. “Have you not said that you love me, darling?”
“I observed in a neutral fashion,” Yseult said, “that you were valiant. Also, gallant, noble, and kind.”
Jasper smiled brilliantly. He embraced her. Yseult squeaked as the breath fled her lungs and her feet left the ground, causing Cedric, below, to reflect damply upon the ways of justice.
Then Jasper put Yseult down.
“We will find you a clean dress,” he said.
“And you are polite,” Yseult said. “And good of heart. And strong, certainly.”
“Then we are a match,” he said. “For you are beautiful, gentle, and innocent.”
“How do you figure?” Yseult demanded, her face wrinkling up. “All my life, I have loved nothing but the ill!”
“These are the fantasies that swim in your black blood,” said Jasper. “But they are not you. Your heart is as clean as mine.”
“No!” protested Yseult. She shoved against the stone.
“If this stone must be moved,” said Sir Jasper. “Then surely, I should do it.”
“I would welcome your help,” said Yseult.
Sir Jasper picked up Yseult by the shoulders. He put her down to one side. He threw his strength against the Saraman Stone.
That is when it creaked and moved.
That is when Cedric, that black-blooded and pale elder thing that dwelt below the Saraman lands, was freed.
He rose, his clothing silver chain; his hair clotted black; his fingers webbed: taller than a man, and stronger, and more damp.
Jasper smiled. “I know you,” he said. He saluted. “You are the ancestor of my love.”
Cedric Saraman looked from one to the other. His forehead wrinkled in a remarkable fashion as he stared at Jasper. Then he turned his eyes to fix upon Yseult.
“It is a dark fate that you have chosen,” said the elder thing. “Daughter of my house.”
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 fourteenth installment of the story of that time.
Manfred brings Rachel to Castle Gargamel.
Montechristien is asleep, in his tasseled cap and his nightgown, with curtains closed against the night.
“I think I may marry her, father,” Manfred said. “I want your blessing.”
Montechristien Gargamel rolls over in his bed and snores.
Manfred hesitates. His face grows tight.
“You’re awake,” he accuses.
He pokes Montechristien with his finger, once, twice, three times.
“Maybe he’s asleep,” says Rachel Saraman.
“He does this,” swears Manfred. He sits in a heap on the floor, his brassards clattering against the stone. “He doesn’t want me to be happy.”
“Honk, kzhhh,” snores Montechristien Gargamel.
“Leave me with him a moment?” Rachel suggests.
Manfred shrugs. He rises to his feet. He pokes his father viciously a few more times, then stomps out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
“Honk, kzhhh!” declares Montechristien Gargamel, sitting upright with a start.
An Unclean Legacy
“Hello, Lord Gargamel,” says Rachel.
Montechristien looks at her. “Oh,” he says.
He smiles, kind of creakily.
“You look like your mother,” he says fondly. “But not as human.”
“I want to free your son Manfred from his chains,” Rachel says. “I will do this whether you consent or you oppose me. But I would like your help.”
“You of all people,” he says. “Should know better. And to marry him? Rachel. Rachel. Your mother would be ashamed.”
“I have sins that I must pay for,” Rachel says.
“You could hang upside down from a tree for seven years,” says Montechristien Gargamel. “With scabies. I could arrange it. It would be an excellent spiritual purgative. It would hurt no one but yourself.”
“Old fool,” Rachel says.
“Yes,” concedes Gargamel.
He looks down. He looks up.
“Do you at least love him?” he asks.
“He is valiant,” says Rachel. “Also gallant, noble, and kind.”
“But do you love him?”
Montechristien glared at her down the length of his nose.
“Goodbye,” Rachel says. She opens the door. She walks out. She closes the door behind her.
“Bah,” says Montechristien Gargamel.
He is silent for a time.
“Bah,” he says again, in a voice of helplessness, and he pulls the covers up over his skinny legs and pulls his nightcap down over his eyes and sleeps.
What color is your nightcap?
Will Santrieste relent in his disapproval?
Tune in tomorrow for an Unclean Legacy you’ll remember forever: “Manfred on the Road!”