On the occasion of Francescu’s tenth birthday, thirteen days after that night, Gargamel found Francescu hidden in an unused servant’s room. Francescu looked pale and wan and like he hadn’t eaten or slept for about two weeks, which was correct.
Gargamel knelt down by him creakily.
“If it helps,” Gargamel said, “there are no bees in the cake this year.”
Francescu shook his head.
“Did Violet die?” Francescu asked.
Gargamel reflected. “Not that I’ve noticed.”
“Did it eat her skin and bones and send her back to us as an unliving shade?”
Gargamel studied Francescu for a bit.
“I take it,” Gargamel said somberly, “that something happened recently to disturb you, child. But I am a keen judge of character, and my daughter seems to have all of her skin and bones.”
Suddenly, Gargamel sensed a cunning intellectual trap. He squinched his eyes. He drew back suspiciously. He counted to nine on his long thin fingers. He looked at Francescu. He counted to nine again.
“The same,” he added, “does not appear quite true for you.”
“Oh,” said Francescu. “Yeah.”
He looked down at his left hand. The little finger was just a stub, cut off at the handwards knuckle.
“I cut off my finger,” Francescu said. “‘Cause it’s my birthday.”
Gargamel squinted. “Eh?”
“I figured out that goodness and light and truth were helpless,” said Francescu. “So I wanted to make darkness and evil helpless too. I thought, maybe if I were immortal, that’d do the trick.”
“Ha,” laughed Gargamel. “Ha ha ha.”
Francescu squinted. “Eh?”
“You make it sound so easy,” Gargamel said.
“It’s easy to laugh when you can tie up the Devil and make butterfly trees!” Francescu protested, although in fact making butterfly trees is an ineffectual weapon against the darkness.
Gargamel scratched at his face, getting a few little flecks of dead skin on his fingers. “Such little things,” he said. He shook his head tiredly and straightened. “If you want such power as that, Francescu, you need only ask.”
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 eleventh installment of the story of that time.
Francescu gropes his way to his feet. He turns. He looks at Tomas.
Tomas is holding a fingerbone in his hand.
“Do you recognize it?” Tomas asks.
Francescu holds up his hand, as if to suggest that Tomas should toss it to him for closer examination. Tomas does not, and after a moment, Francescu shrugs.
“I don’t know how to recognize fingerbones,” Francescu admits.
Tomas frowns severely at him.
Francescu shakes his head sadly. He slumps. “What do you want, Tomas?”
“I gave up the unsainly ways of our childhood,” Tomas says. “You never did. And if you won’t commit yourself to the white and holy path, then I can’t let you inherit Gargamel’s power.”
“God is an illusion, Tomas.”
“I will hear such things from Violet,” Tomas says. “Who has, in our life, served nothing but the good. I will not hear them from you.”
“I can’t help it if you’re blind, Tomas.”
Tomas grits his teeth.
Francescu sighs. He turns around. Carefully skirting the tree that felled him, he begins to walk towards Castle Gargamel—now visible through the forest.
“It’s futile,” he says.
“You can’t stop me from doing anything I choose to do. That’s what it means, that you gave up the ways of our childhood and I did not.”
“I’m holding your life!”
Francescu shrugs. “Break it, then.”
An Unclean Legacy
Tomas vs. Francescu: Fight!
Tomas snarls. Then he tilts his head to one side. He looks cunning.
“You’re planning to stop me,” he declares.
Francescu stops in his path. There is a bit of animation in his face now. His teeth are clenching. He says, quietly, “Tomas, you are interrupting the comfortable manner in which I live my life. If you are not going to kill me in the next few seconds, I heavily recommend that you put the bone away and walk.”
“Who gave you the right to be comfortable when everyone else must suffer?”
Violet is visible on the path from Castle Gargamel now. She is wearing a dress the color of her name and she is moving all-out because she can guess what it is in Tomas’ hand.
And Francescu turns. His face is redder now. “Who gave you the right to ask?”
Tomas puts his hands on the ends of the bone. He flexes the muscles of his arms.
The wind surges. It slams Tomas back against a tree. His breath whuffs out of him. The wind pins him there. Tomas looks dazed; but he does not release the bone. After a moment’s recovery, he begins again to pull.
Seven great gold bells, larger and thicker than barrels, appear at even intervals along a semicircle in the air behind Francescu. Behind them in a world leached of its normal color there is a thing twisting and indescribable, with the head of a rooster, a body like coiled intestines or endlessly interweaving ropes, and a gopher’s feet. As Francescu gestures towards Tomas, the creature screams; the bells ring; the ground of the forest bucks and twists for miles, and a vision of emptiness sears itself into Tomas’ brain.
But Tomas does not stop. His muscles continue to contract as he exerts force against the bone.
This causes Francescu to blink. He had been planning to fill Tomas’ lungs with insects, but now he’s too curious.
“Pardon,” Francescu says, “but that stops people.”
The wind ceases. Tomas slumps to the ground. Equally puzzled by Francescu’s behavior, he too suspends his efforts.
“What,” he asks, “that false vision?”
“It’s not false,” Francescu says. “It’s the actual purposelessness of the universe. I mean, you have to do different magic to summon up a lie.”
“Oh,” Tomas says. Then he crooks a little grin. It has a lot of emotions in it but none of them are anger or despair. He adds, almost gently, “I’m sorry, brother.”
He holds up the bone in his two hands. He exerts his utmost effort.
“You idiot!” Violet is shouting.
Tomas is only listening to her with one ear. The substance of the bone is bending, ever so slightly. There are little tiny popping sounds.
“There’s more than one bone in somebody’s little finger!” Violet shouts.
“. . . Oh.”
Now we have seen something about Francescu and Tomas, and also learned an important fact about the little finger!
Tune in next time for the next breathtaking chapter of An Unclean Legacy: “The Shadow on the Road!”