When Christine was young, she crawled out of her crib.
She landed hard. Her arm hurt for a long time. But she made it out. She crawled down the halls of Castle Gargamel in her blue pajamas with white polka dots and feet.
Gargamel did not expect her escape. He had wards against Violet; against Francescu; and certainly against Manfred. But Tomas and the twins he had as yet ignored.
So she slipped under the viewing arcs of the glowing-eyed statues.
The great barking dog said, “Wuf! Wuf! Wuf!”
Christine gurgled, “A-heh.”
The great barking dog did not know what to do about this. It had not been briefed on baby etiquette by the sorcerer Montechristien Gargamel. So it whined and it hid.
Christine crawled into the room with the little gold men.
When Gargamel found her, she had already worked the first sorcery of her lifetime. She was crying. Sorcery makes babies need to burp, but golden eidolons—however excellent their other qualities might be—are not skilled at burping. And so no one burped her until Montechristien arrived.
In a distant village, whose coincidental associations with the ephemeral dreams of Christine’s childhood isolated it from the principality of its peers, a whirlwind of purple and abalaster fire spun. Lightning crackled. The world rent in two and a house was born.
It wasn’t just any house.
It was a house that could run and slice things up. So it ran and it sliced things up. People screamed. They ran around.
This made the house very excited.
Its sickle-limb cut and cut and cut. And houses and homes and buildings fell.
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 seventh installment of the story of that time.
Christine is ten.
She stands before her father, in her pristine white dress. It has ruffles. Her hair is combed carefully. She looks angelic.
“What?” snaps the sorcerer, Montechristien Gargamel.
“It’s my day,” Christine says. She looks eager.
He frowns irritably. “You already got your wish,” he says. “Two, if you count Sophie’s.”
Christine stares blankly at him.
Gargamel, shaking his head, changes the subject.
“On that night,” he says.
He is speaking of the night the shadow came to Castle Gargamel.
“What did it say to you?” he asks.
Christine goes pale. She works her mouth. She protests, “You said we wouldn’t have to tell you.”
“You don’t,” Gargamel says. “But I’m asking.”
Christine tries to parse this. Her mind whirls. Then, slowly, she says, “It told me that I was good when people were looking.”
“Heh,” says Gargamel.
“It said that when I was alone, I was worse. But that I was really bad when I wasn’t there at all. What did it mean by that, father?”
“Because I was thinking,” Christine says, “that it meant Sophie.”
Gargamel’s neck and shoulders tense. He says, “No. No, it doesn’t.”
“It would make sense,” Christine says.
Gargamel’s jaw tightens. He says, “You wished for a bad house.”
“Manfred gets a unicorn,” Christine protests, “and Francescu gets magic and Tomas gets to look on the face of God and I get a bad house?”
Gargamel can’t help laughing at Christine’s look of outrage.
“You’re a dear, child, and you’re trying, but every day while you sit here in smug comfort and frilly things, there’s a part of you running around in the darkness. And it’s not just the house. It’s everything you’re not paying attention to about yourself.”
Christine is staring at him.
“Ha,” laughs Gargamel. “Ha ha ha.”
There is a white glow around Christine now. It’s like a fire roaring up from the earth. She sketches the burning symbols in the air that help her think:
And through the lens of those symbols she says, tightly controlled, “You’re indulging in a practice of self-deceit, father.”
Gargamel’s nostrils flare. He sweeps away the symbols with his hand. Christine’s mind falls into confusion and guilt again.
Then she regathers her thoughts. She scowls. She shakes her head. Her eyes burn, and she draws:
Gargamel stares at that. He giggles. Then he laughs, full-bore. Christine blushes furiously, erases the symbols, and tries again:
And through that lens, she says, “You don’t act this way to the others. Only to me. You don’t like me. Why?”
And Gargamel scowls.
He says, “I won’t have you questioning me.”
“I’m ten, father,” she says.
“I can’t help you,” he says.
She sees something dark and horrible behind those words. It is unacceptable, impossible, maddening. So she hides from it. She lets the magic fade. Her thoughts are ten-year-old thoughts again.
And Gargamel says, “Every time I see you, child, I see my brother. I see his leering, mocking face. I see his smugness, his superiority. I see his soul. And I see the demons that took his ankles as he attempted the pinnacle of his magics and with their clawed hands dragged him down to Hell. That is why I cannot help you.”
Christine’s face is now absolutely white.
“I thought that there was hope for me, once, you see,” he says. “But the flesh is an inconstant shelter for the soul.”
An Unclean Legacy
The House That Runs
It’s a bad house.
It’s not haunted. It’s not spooky. It’s certainly not drab.
It’s a bad house because it doesn’t care what other houses it hurts.
That’s why Christine wakes up one day and decides she has to go out and find it. That’s why she decides to claim her legacy instead of running from it.
Manfred is the one who sees her off. He says, “Good luck.”
She hugs him. She kisses him on the cheek.
“Our shining knight,” she says.
“You give too much to appearances,” Manfred says.
Then she is gone.
Now we have seen much of Christine and Sophie and their soul; though not quite all there is to see. But what of Francescu? What of Tomas?
Tune in tomorrow for the next breathtaking chapter of An Unclean Legacy: “The Nine-Fingered Man!”