The Lady Yseult Gargamel was pregnant with her second child.
Gargamel caressed her stomach with his long thin fingers. “Witness,” he cackled, “the terrifying power of my little gold men.”
Yseult rested her fingers on her forehead for a moment.
“Dear,” she said, carefully. “The power of your magic is beyond compare but it is not, in this case, responsible for my condition.”
Yseult walked to the window. The birds were singing outside. She held out her hand, and two strikingly-colored robins spiraled around her arm.
“It is like this,” said Yseult. “These birds—they love one another. The life in them surges up. It cries to the world: let there be more life!”
Gargamel squinted at the birds. He went to the dresser. He picked up his spyglass. He looked from one bird to another.
“I see,” he said, dubiously.
Yseult took two steps back into the room. Butterflies swirled in through the window and spun in the air around her.
“Or these butterflies,” she said, as the prelude to a longer speech.
“They’re from my butterfly tree,” observed Gargamel proudly.
Yseult hesitated. In the garden, the ten thousand wings of the butterfly tree folded, unfolded, and fluttered.
“Or . . . some other butterflies,” she said, losing her momentum. “From . . . other places.”
Yseult was blushing full on now, but still the Lady was bold.
She took the hands of Montechristien Gargamel. She looked into his eyes, and as always, the breath left him and he felt like he was floating on the sky.
“It is not the magic in us, my love,” she said. “It is the love. It is the life. It has roused itself to desire further expression. It has woven together the truth of me and the truth of you to make a child who is both of us. In this fashion though we are frail and will die, that principle of life within us will go on, driving forward and on through all the endless years.”
“And this,” said Gargamel, raptly, “is what my little gold men have done.”
Yseult, with a heroic effort unremarked upon in the sagas, suppressed an innuendo.
“It’s because of that night when we flew together, love,” she said.
Gargamel squinched up one eye. He stared at her suspiciously.
“That?” he said. “Not the magic?”
“That,” Yseult confirmed. “Not the magic.”
Gargamel gulped once.
His mind went awhirl. But then he straightened, just a little bit. He found acceptance.
Gargamel caressed his wife’s stomach with his long, thin fingers. “Witness,” he cackled, “the terrifying power of life!”
“Ha ha!” laughed Yseult.
“Ha! Ha ha ha!” laughed Gargamel.
“Ha ha ha!”
Thunder boomed in their sunlit garden, and the laughter of Yseult and Montechristien Gargamel rang out through the forest and the sky.
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 tenth installment of the story of that time.
It is not long before the night of fear.
Francescu is nine.
He stands before his father in the cracked courtyard of Castle Gargamel. There are flowers growing through the stones around his feet.
He’d asked his father why people die.
So Gargamel had dragged him out.
Gargamel says, distantly, “People die when they’re done.”
There is a death’s-head butterfly swirling lazily through the courtyard. It has colorful wings and the face of death on its back, which it uses to discourage predators.
Gargamel gestures in the butterfly’s direction. “That. It’s pretty, yes?”
“Yes,” Francescu nods.
Gargamel’s bony finger points at it. The butterfly explodes, precipitating a somewhat ironic afterlife scene to which we are not witness.
“It’s no longer useful,” Gargamel says.
“There’s a purpose for all of us,” Gargamel says. His body language is ungainly, uncomfortable. “When it’s done, we’re done.”
“But how do we know?” Francescu asks.
“For this,” says Gargamel, “your mother and I planted timing flowers. Hers are dead; mine still remain.”
Francescu looks down at the flowers in the courtyard.
“What, under the stones?”
“My gardening practices are not so rigorous as Yseult’s,” Gargamel concedes. “Still, they have sufficiently broken the stones to see the sun, so all is well. Now, we’ll use them to measure how much purpose you’ve got left.”
The flowers around Francescu begin to grow.
“See?” Gargamel says, as they rise. “That’s the surging purpose of your life. That’s what you’re for, son.”
The flowers are still rising.
“And when they stop—” Gargamel says. He waits for them to stop.
The flowers continue rising.
Gargamel backs up. He starts over. “They’re measuring how long there is before life is done with you,” he explains. “It’s different for every person. And when they stop—”
The flowers continue rising. They are all around Francescu now. He can barely breathe through the flower stalks. He begins to flail.
Gargamel looks irritable. He stomps his foot. He unleashes magic. The flowers, driven by his will, cease to grow.
“When they stop, you’re done,” Gargamel concludes.
Francescu flails his way out of the prison of green. He kneels on the ground, catching his breath. He’s mildly allergic to timing flowers, so this is hard.
It is there, with his face low to the ground, that he sees the flowers at Gargamel’s feet, and notes without understanding that they are withered, black, and dead.
An Unclean Legacy
The Marvelous Fingerbone
Francescu is ten.
He is rubbing the little finger in his left hand. He is squeezing it, holding it, getting to know it, because he intends to cut it off.
“Life is magic,” he says.
“Hm, hm,” agrees Francescu’s angel.
“It’s this . . . thing,” he says. “It’s bigger than me, and brighter, and there’s nothing that’s standing between it and the dark.”
“Hm,” says Francescu’s angel, more skeptically.
“I’m going to put it in my fingerbone,” Francescu says, “and cut it off. It’ll be the most magical, wonderful, marvelous fingerbone ever.”
The angel visualizes a really shiny fingerbone. It sighs happily. “Mm, hm,” it says.
Then it pauses. It parses.
Will Tomas break the fingerbone?
How valuable is a life?
Tune in on Monday for the Unclean Legacy adventure: “Tomas vs. Francescu: Fight!”