Montechristien is dying.
In the halls of Castle Gargamel Violet and Tomas meet. Tomas is whistling tunelessly as he walks. He’s happy. But the happiness fades from his face when he sees Violet down the hall.
“Tomas,” Violet says.
“Have you seen father?”
“In passing,” Tomas says. “He looked me over. He hugged me. It was disturbing and it made my skin crawl. Then I shivered, like this.”
Violet laughs a little. “He is strange,” she concedes.
“I did not want to come back,” Tomas says. “But I am glad that I could see him again.”
“Are we so bad, then?”
“You saved me, Violet,” Tomas says. “You went out there when I would have broken and been damned. You fought for all of us. So I will not despise you. But I will still tell you that this is a house of sin and that father raised us for the Pit. He’s taught black sorceries—”
“And white,” Violet says.
Tomas looks pained. “You say that,” he says. “But there is no good sorcery. For listen: it is possible to use magic to heal, to nourish, to lead people to virtue, but simply to practice sorcery is to open oneself up to the insinuations of the beast.”
“Because it is a temptation,” Tomas says, “for any sorcerer, to start thinking of the Lord as one power among many—one purpose among many, each equivalent. You come intimately to know the desires of the fallen and the elder races, the spirits, the animals, and even the angels, who are inadequate in themselves, like men, to express truly the spirit of the Lord. And you say, ‘These things are not so bad. They are not enemies. They are simply other.’
“The day I quit our family’s ways,” Tomas says, “I summoned up an agapic lepidote; and she hung in the air and she was beautiful and around her rose the fragrance of every thing that is good; and she said, ‘Tomas, you are not whole.’ And she reached for me to fix that flaw, and if I had allowed it then, I would have forgotten Heaven.”
“I see,” Violet says.
She studies Tomas. He grows uncomfortable.
“How many bones are in a finger, anyway?” Tomas asks.
“Two,” Violet says. “In a stub.”
“And is the other one still whole?”
Violet frowns at him uneasily. There is distrust in her, but it is not on behalf of Francescu’s life. “You’re not talking like yourself,” she says.
“There is an inheritance to resolve,” Tomas says. “It is much on my mind—”
Violet’s face drains of blood.
“Tomas,” she cries with sudden dread, “what have you done?”
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-fifth installment of the story of that time.
It is, perhaps, ten years before Montechristien’s death.
Sophie is fighting the Devil.
She has seen the color of his power, and the color of his power is red. She has answered it in a fashion unique in the history of the world: she has manifested in herself that red power and used it against him. She has flung the Devil backwards through seven trees and deep into a hill; but the Devil is smiling, smiling still.
The red roars in her soul.
“I understand you,” Sophie says.
And she does.
The Devil drags himself to his feet. He walks over to her—one of his legs is broken, but he doesn’t seem to mind—and he squats down, with one fist under his chin. He says, “Oh?”
“A man suffers damnation,” Sophie says. “He says, ‘I am in eternal torment.’ But that is simply that man. What matters the perspective of a man? In the severance of humanity from happiness there is a beauty in the world.”
The Devil smiles.
“Children die,” Sophie says. Her eyes are white with horror. “They die in droves. And they say, ‘I did not want to die at this juncture.’ But what matters the perspective of a child? The world hungers for the deaths of children or it would not mount them up so readily.”
“That’s so,” the Devil agrees.
“We do not tell stories of paradise,” Sophie says.
“Everywhere there is horrible suffering but a world without that suffering is the world of paintings, the world of grass, the world of those who cannot look up and bear witness to the truth.”
“Yes,” the Devil says. “And that is why Montechristien Gargamel must die.”
An Unclean Legacy
Sophie peers at him. The red is a thunder in her ears. It is tinting the world she sees.
“When humans strive against God,” the Devil says, “and God strikes them down, it is the most perfect of all symmetries. But there, you see, there, still, Montechristien stands.”
Sophie looks around. She has loved the trees, but she does not love them now; they are hideous in the peace of them. There is a robin nesting in the branches thirty trees away. It’s horrible in the mindless service of its life. And all around in the forest and the lands beyond the forest are sleeping children who day by day forsake their grace; and adults pointlessly alive; and kings and bishops who callous, jest at scars.
And it is with a peculiarly sickening sensation that she realizes that nowhere in the world she sees is any sense of higher meaning, or of love; that she is staring on a world of not-yet corpses jerked about by the transient pulse of life; that there is no power to lift her up from utter despair save the Devil’s choice of prizing one’s own damnation.
“I hate him too,” she says meekly.
It is insane to her that with his soul in Hell Montechristien should still stagger through the castle halls and make the motions of life; that he should snore and wear his nightcap and try, however grumpily and falteringly, to raise the children of his blood. It is laughable and hateful because there is no hope for him. It is as appalling as children laughing and puppies barking on a field covered in wartime dead; as appalling as men and women, forced to cannibalism to survive, who sip their comrade soup and jest about its flavor; as horrid as everyone in the long years of the world who has stretched and smiled at the morning while the diseased cough up their blood in agony and the monsters rape children and the victims gasp for breath in the torture chambers of the rich.
Sophie can taste the hate. She can taste the red hate in her mouth for the damned and still walking Montechristien Gargamel.
“Good,” says the Devil. “Then our business is done.”
He turns away from her, and she sees the shadow of his back, and she thinks: how sad.
But somewhere Christine is smirking.
If my sister knew what I had become, she would laugh with joy.
And that is not acceptable.
So Sophie lifts her chin. She stares out at the horrid meaningless world. She shoulders the crippling emptiness. And through the weave of red that clouds her sight, she says, “Don’t turn your back on me.”
She’s drawing a dead gold power into her now. It’s the only thing comparable to the red realm that she knows.
The Devil turns.
There are patterns of red and gold twining across Sophie now. The red is living, though full of hate. The gold is dead metal power.
It is the death of the blue essentials that moves in her now. It is the unforgivable crime of Montechristien Gargamel. It is, as the history of Montechristien Gargamel has shown, the stuff of miracles.
“Oh,” says the Devil.
Sophie’s claw tears through his chest and out the other side. There is a terrible gush of red.
The Devil reels.
“This isn’t smurfy,” the Devil says, at a loss for curses more fitting. “This isn’t smurfy at all.”
And Sophie wrenches out her hand, and steps forward to rend him further, and he steps back. First they take one step, then another, then he is turning and running, and she is loping after him. And as they run she is dying, because as she sheds the red power in her she replaces it with gold.
The Devil howls and raises fire and he is gone. The world is empty of him.
Sophie stumbles to a stop.
Then she falls stiff and painfully to the ground.
And that is where she would have died, and given up the world without regret, save that the Devil had made her a bargain; and the red in her twisted, and, so that she might live, showed her under the pattern of gold a single strand of blue.
It is power and life enough to save her.
Ten years later, Sophie stands in the tower of Montechristien Gargamel, pierced through by Manfred’s spear.
Four of seven children stand at risk of death, and Montechristien himself is dying. Driven away once by sorcery, once by bargain, and once by grit, the Devil comes again to Castle Gargamel. Who will live? Who will die? And how will the family Gargamel dispose of their unclean legacy?
Tune in tomorrow.