In the corner of the room are one hundred golden men: one hundred golden corpses, stolen from the world by Montechristien Gargamel.
They were the blue essentials.
They’d lived in peace in their mushroom village, despite a power in them that could shake the world; a power only surpassed, in truth, by God.
They had not used it.
They could have been mighty angels, commanders of the hosts of Heaven, but they had agreed instead to follow in their Papa’s footsteps, to live their lives as fallible, pitiable beings in their mushroom homes. In the end they chose that weakness even over life itself. Now they are dead and made of malleable gold, their power a gift to whoever can bear the weight of it—the weight of blood on the hands of Gargamel who slew them.
“See, if I step forward to claim them,” Tomas says, “I get murdered from behind.”
“That’s what it means,” murmurs Francescu, “that you gave up the ways of our childhood, and I did not.”
Sophie and Christine are watching one another, carefully, while avoiding any overt glances.
“I would do poorly,” Manfred says.
He sighs and lowers his head, releasing an old ambition.
And now and again, her siblings look to Violet, whom they have always thought the likeliest of all to claim them, to use them wisely, honestly, and well.
“You . . . do know that I’d make myself an all-powerful goddess-queen, right?” Violet asks.
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, whose suitors and lovers and seducers are yanked from her and threshed by the machine in Gargamel’s tower.
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 final installment of the story of that time.
“Eh?” Montechristien says.
“Well,” says Violet, “it’s not— I mean, it’s not that I’m greedy. It’s just, why not? I mean, you have limitless power, it seems like you should make yourself an all-powerful goddess-queen. Unless you’re a boy, in which case some slight modifications to the formula are acceptable.”
“I see,” Montechristien says.
“I can pretend that I’ll be good and just use them for special occasions until you’re dead,” Violet says.
“Heh,” snorts Montechristien Gargamel.
Softly, Elisabet says, “Thresh them.”
Violet looks to her. “Hey,” she says brightly. “You’re awake.”
“Would you really just take them?” Elisabet asks.
“Someone has to,” Violet replies.
Elisabet is half-sitting now, insofar as a protoplasmic shadow-creature can half-sit. She is desolate and alone.
Her protoplasm blows in the wind.
“Is that what the family Gargamel is?” Elisabet asks. “Is it so impossible for us to escape our legacy?”
Snow falls gently around her.
“Are we nothing but killers, brutal men and women, who will live up not to the greatness of Montechristien Gargamel but to his shame? Is there no hope that we may find a narrow and difficult path away from the sins and crimes attendant on our births?”
Elisabet bows her head. She squeezes her eye shut.
“In these final days,” she says, “every hand has turned against every other; and even I have striven pointlessly to kill. Is that who we are? Is that the family Gargamel?”
The snow is lessening now. Elisabet’s shoulders sag.
She says, “It is unclean.”
A short silence follows, as has followed every monologue of Elisabet’s since her tenth birthday.
“It’s not even winter,” Manfred mocks.
An Unclean Legacy
Elisabet blushes furiously. She throws a shuriken at Manfred. He catches and crushes it with one hand.
“Bastard,” she says.
Sophie says, “She’s right.”
“You’d wind up killing us, Violet,” Sophie says.
And there’s a terrible truth to that, not the kind of truth that’s certain but the kind of truth that’s scarily possible, and Violet flushes and jerks her head away.
“Fine,” Violet says. “We can thresh them instead of making me a goddess-queen.”
And Tomas comes to the strange realization that everyone is staring at him, staring at him on the assumption that he is the least likely to consent; and his nostrils flare and he looks down and he says, “There are worse outcomes.”
“Six of them, apparently. So, fine.”
“No,” Montechristien says. He is weak. There is a burden that has been on him for more than twenty years, and it is lifting, but he shakes his head to deny himself its peace. “No. Someone must take them. It is decided.”
And Violet walks forward to the little golden men and gathers them in her arms; and she makes herself defenseless in her heart; and she says, softly, to one and all of them, and with infinite regret:
“Come away with me; for I could love you, I could love you dear.”
And for a moment, the haze of his damnation lifts and Montechristien sees in Violet what the Papa would have seen: a girl wicked and broken, made not by clean blue alchemy but by Gargamel and Yseult; but more, a girl who despite the sinfulness of her origin was capable of redemption, glory, and even a place among the blue; and for a moment, to Montechristien, the limning on Violet’s black hair is gold.
“I could love you—”
There is a churning in the tower. There is a spinning. Tendrils of power seize the little golden men and whisk them all away.
The blades of the threshing machine whine with the fury of their turning.
And coming to her senses, suddenly; desiring to save the gold men, suddenly—Violet shouts, “Wait!”
But it is too late.
Driven by the power given unto Violet by Gargamel, the golden men rise upwards among the blades and the blades shear through them, once, twice, ten thousand times and more.
A series of great levers yank themselves downwards.
“. . .,” sighs Violet.
A great and driving wind blows upwards from the hole in the floor below the threshing machine.
Driven by that wind, the remains of the little gold men rise.
They are a mist now. They are a shimmering golden vapor that rises and hangs over Castle Gargamel in great brooding clouds. And from it the wind cuts away grains of sparkly dust to fall onto the world below: onto the grave of Rachel Saraman, onto the web of the spinach-spider, onto the gallows of poor Meagle and the paths that Santrieste ran; and in every place it lands—from then to now, for the wind still carries bits of it—there are miracles upon the earth.
It is beautiful.
It is magical.
It is something eternal and good.
And as for Montechristien Gargamel, he is damned; and with the breaking of the eidolons the power of blue over red passes away; and his years come down on him like the hammer of the Heavens, and his mortal vessel passes away and into dust and no more does the murderer Gargamel mock the Devil by walking upon the Earth.