An Unclean Legacy: “And As For Montechristien Gargamel”

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


“Finale”

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.”

Violet frowns.

“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.”

He hesitates.

“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.

27 thoughts on “An Unclean Legacy: “And As For Montechristien Gargamel”

  1. A short silence follows, as has followed every monologue of Elisabet’s since her tenth birthday.

    Interesting choice for a gift, that, not having anyone interrupt you when you’re monologing. Good one, though.

    Other than that… hmm.

    This ending seems a bit anticlimactic, but that’s largely a function of the high quality overall of the Unclean Legacy. No doubt my slight disappointment is largely due to regret that Unclean Legacy is over.

    Hmm. *rereads*

    Yes, I like this entry.

    -Eric

  2. I’m not sure which version you actually read, since it was still in editing when you commented. ^_^ It’s only the last third that’s likely to have changed while you were reading, though, and it’ll only matter if you know the story I changed the references to. ^_^

    Rebecca

  3. Anyway! That’s it. I might return to these characters at some point, but only if I feel inspired.

    I feel muse-blessed; some of the last-minute edits on the last few entries, I feel, improve things greatly overall.

    It is worth note that this was originally conceived as a single episode, which was pretty much “some kids show up, fight a bit, and then figure out that no one should profit from the legacy, so whoosh, into the threshing machine, gold mist, miracles.”

    It turned out a little longer than that, mostly because I wound up liking the kids in question.

    I think I’m going to claim that this is basically “Half Lion in Winter, half the story of Smurfette”, although in all honesty it borrows a lot from the Chronicles of Amber, other Smurf episodes, Naruto, Narnia, and my life.

    Yseult appears to be her own; I had nothing to do with her being so cool.

    Random note: Elisabet is called “Devil’s child” because, once damned, the substance of Baltasar/Gargamel’s capacity for fatherhood was tainted in such a fashion as to make this a suitable term. I have no idea what DNA testing would show, if it would recognize her as alive at all. Elisabet wasn’t faking being a good person, but that’s pretty much all Yseult’s influence—both in terms of inheritance and the way Yseult’s last wishes affected Montechristien’s behavior in Elisabet’s formative years.

    The ages when the shadow came—

    Violet was 11 and a half, Francescu almost 10, Manfred had just turned 9, Tomas was 8, Christine and Sophie were 7, and Elisabet was 5 and a half.

    Yes, that *is* really impressive on Yseult’s part, in more ways than one. Magic may have been involved.

    Rebecca

  4. Wow. Yeah. The only possible ending, and totally obvious in retrospect, but I didn’t actually see it coming.

    I should go re-read the whole thing.

    I might return to these characters at some point, but only if I feel inspired.

    I hope you do!

  5. “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.”

    No matter how dark the themes of any particular Hitherby are, there’s always at least one line that makes me giggle.

    And that’s quite an achievement in the case of this legend. Poor Gargamel. :(

  6. Yes, that *is* really impressive on Yseult’s part, in more ways than one. Magic may have been involved.

    Behold the awesome power of life!

    -Eric

  7. It’s a bit late to ask this, but… I’ve been mentally translating ‘Santrieste’ as ‘without sadness’ or ‘no regrets’– you know, ‘adhering to an inflexible moral code means never having to say you’re sorry’. Is that the right translation?
    Oh yes, and I should mention that I really liked this sequence.

  8. Good ending.

    I particularly liked the way that Elisabet wished for not just uninterruptable dramatic monologues, but uninterruptable *anime-style* dramatic monologues. At least that’s what I associate their style and winter effects with. It seems to fit with her being a sort-of-ahistorical-ninja.

    The major unanswered questions in the series are still those about Yseult, I think. The name is really the same name as Isolde, of Tristan and Isolde, the famous medieval love story about the wrong people drinking the love potion. But she’s the anti-Isolde; no magic needed. Maybe a prequel one of these days might help us understand just why she, as Adamiani wrote, seems to replicate Ink’s desire. The whole early part of her life feels like something that was introduced and then not really done in the same detail as the childrens’ backstory. Given that she seems to have had a child almost every year that she and Gargamel were together, I’d guess that they met about a year before Violet was born, which didn’t actually give them as long a time together as I’d thought, only 7 years or so.

    I was going to suggest a short prequel, if you felt inspired, but maybe not. Given that we still haven’t seen a representative of the purple realm of life, and that the only purple children’s-pop-culture representation who might fit is (OK, I’ll write the hated name) Barney, perhaps better not.

    It was a good touch to have Violet declare her love for the statues and have her gift/curse carry them off to be threshed, rather than just have her throw them in or something. It makes it more of a metaphor about the futility of falling in love with power as such.

    (Edited to fix spelling errors.)

  9. Impressive. Things have come to their conclusion, one which I’ll be honest and say I didn’t expect.

    A happy ending, I suppose. Well done, well done indeed.

  10. Oh yeah, there was one more question since my list of questions. In the room in the castle with the blood gutter (presumably under the threshing machine?), when Manfred is getting up:

    Manfred hits the ground with one fist. The stone floor cracks. There is a faint white light rising from below. Violet startles back.

    What was that faint light about? I always thought there was something under there that was collecting the blood somehow.

  11. One) First, and most importantly, me to offer a well-earned round of applause. This was really very good.
    Two) Allow me to suggest that this skip the queue and be offered as a monthbook (should you plan on doing any more monthbooks)– its about the right size, and largely self contained. I know I’d order a copy.
    Three) I would certainly be happy to see you revisit these characters. I rather expect you’ll see a few Unclean outtakes when next you convene the Qwik Kid’s Club.
    Four) The longer format works for you.
    Five) The repeated introduction was a really nifty device for structuring the episodes and uniting the series as a whole. I don’t think anyone commented on this earlier, and it really needed to be said.
    Six)

    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.

    This, combined with your comment on Unclean Legacy as “The Story of Smurfette” prompts me to ask: how many apples tall is Violet?

    Seven) Thanks for clearing that up about Elisabet. Her actual, biological parentage is relevant to questions of Montechristian and Yseult’s relationship, as well as Montechristian’s relationship to Elisabet later on.
    Eight) Though I am on the record as expressing trepidation about the smurf content of the piece early on, I think, for the most part, it worked well. It was out there in the open so (with the exception of the Violet thing I’m still processing) it didn’t feel like a twist. Instead, it (along with Elisabet Saves Christmas and the nonlinear structure of the story) added a deeply postmodern feel to Unclean Legacy that made it feel essentially Hitherby, rather than pure high fantasy.
    Nine) That said: why smurfs?
    Ten) So what were the spoilery alternate titles you’d considered?
    Eleven)) I was worried about smurfs affecting this story, instead, Unclean Legacy has utterly recontextualized the smurfs in my brain. I may never look upon them the same way again. Worse than the Smurf Communism meme, in that regard.
    Twelve) Like Eric, I felt the ending was a little anticlimactic. Metal Fatigue is right, it probably the only way it could have ended– but still, I felt strangely empty. I think some of it has to do with the Threshing Machine wish having been added so late, and so comically (“I really, really hated boys”)– it felt like a really minor setting element until suddenly becoming central to the resolution of the whole affair.

  12. Adamiani, Smurf reimaging has been a common theme of late. I forget whether someone’s already mentioned it, but this year there was a UNICEF fund-raising short in which the Smurf village is bombed horribly.

    This, combined with your comment on Unclean Legacy as “The Story of Smurfette” prompts me to ask: how many apples tall is Violet?

    Yeah, I was wondering why her hair appeared limned by gold to Gargamel at the end. After all, gold is the color of miracles, but it’s also dead. Then I realized it was probably a reference to how Smurfette’s hair changed from black to blonde when she (who in the original was created by Gargamel alchemically) was remade by Papa Smurf. Maybe in this universe, Violet is going to repopulate the blue realm through recruitment in some fashion — perhaps of her siblings, since they appear to have interlocking roles already, and are going to be looking for something to do. In which case I don’t think anyone is going to be taking blue essentials from village #2.

    I think some of it has to do with the Threshing Machine wish having been added so late, and so comically (“I really, really hated boys”)– it felt like a really minor setting element until suddenly becoming central to the resolution of the whole affair.

    I think Violet’s wish may have other meanings in the larger continuity. Violet’s wish is the equivalent of the children of Chessicky County (from Essay Without Shame) with the electrified barbed wire fences built into their skin. Which is a great idea if you need your boundaries defended. Violet’s wish is why she is able to face down night-prowling uncle Baltasar. But what happens when you get older and would sometimes, when you want to, rather be able to lower those boundaries? I think that there is a suggestion of turning defenses to new uses.

  13. Four) The longer format works for you.

    Yup!

    Sadly, like everything else I’ve ever tried to free up time (whether for other projects, for rest, or, in this case, for revising and finishing the Boedromion sequence), it wound up taking more time than just writing daily entries would. ^_^

    Five) The repeated introduction was a really nifty device for structuring the episodes and uniting the series as a whole. I don’t think anyone commented on this earlier, and it really needed to be said.

    *giggle* In my head, it’s the credits sequence. You get to see a lot of action shots of everybody during the narration.

    (Of course, that makes it weird that sometimes you’d have a legend^2 about one of the characters instead, but hey.)

    how many apples tall is Violet?

    Google will not translate heights into apples. It’s sad! About 22, I think.

    She’s inspired by Smurfette, not literally Smurfette ^_^

    Nine) That said: why smurfs?

    It introduced a clear reason why the power was unclean and why it’s bad to profit from it early on, while reducing people’s tendency to actually think about that—about just how icky it really is to murder one hundred peaceful people for power—until I highlighted it near the end.

    The original concept for An Unclean Legacy focused a lot more on—hm. On the kids slowly noticing, “Hey, we don’t have to be tainted by this blood money (well, blood power).” On the beauty of the guilt—not really Montechristien’s, which is immutable, but theirs as his heirs—dissipating into a mist that brought miracles to the world.

    In the final form, I wouldn’t say that that’s the point to the story, so much as the capstone. Instead of finding a way out of their thicket of misunderstandings, they mostly just kind of make a start. And at least Sophie got to cry on somebody, even if it’ll be at least another twenty years before she and Christine make peace. ^_^

    Ten) So what were the spoilery alternate titles you’d considered?

    I don’t remember for sure. One or two would have been about destroying the little gold men, and one let the cat out of the bag early about the fact that almost none of the vitriol flying about was based on facts.

    Twelve) Like Eric, I felt the ending was a little anticlimactic. Metal Fatigue is right, it probably the only way it could have ended– but still, I felt strangely empty. I think some of it has to do with the Threshing Machine wish having been added so late, and so comically (“I really, really hated boys”)– it felt like a really minor setting element until suddenly becoming central to the resolution of the whole affair.

    It proved really hard to introduce. I hinted at it lamely in the “next time!” section of A Soulless Girl, but never had time to put in its intro scene until I’d already done Grinding Samael.

    Rebecca

  14. That’s about right. ^_^

    I personally translate it as “without sorrow.”

    Rebecca

    For some reason, this aspect of Santrieste, and also the effect of the code on Manfred determining his actions, they remind me a bit of one of your Numina, from Outcastes.

    Iurka, I think it was, the one who had set aside uncertainty and confusion to lead a life utterly determined?

    -Eric

  15. This whole section was fantastic, Rebecca. If this goes as a separate book, put me down for a copy! :)

    Out of all of the kids…I think I liked Violet the best. She was definitely her mother’s daughter. And Yseult was my favorite-non-kid. She’s just so…so…_cool_. (And that’s a weak word for it.)

    I hope that we will see more of the Gargamels in the future. I would like to hear more of the courting days. And How Elizabet Saved Mother’s Day!

    (also, Naruto’s in there too? I’d guess with Elizabet…)

  16. I’ll put in my own vote for an ‘Unclean Legacy’ book. I’d buy it in a heartbeat. This is my favorite legend series of all time (though Rainbow Noir comes close). I love the fact that Gargamel comes to realize that his murders were wrong when the ethics of the world around him seems to imply that they were perfectly fine because (a) the murderer had no soul and (b) the murderees had no souls.

    Both Sophie and Gargamel eventually find a moral bearing in a world that leaves them adrift while guiding everyone else. The perfect irony is that Gargamel is damned not for what he comes to realize as his own wrongdoing, but rather for the ‘sin’ of his brother. He accepts hell as his due, but the reason that he accepts it isn’t the reason why he is sent there.

    Thank you Rebecca! This was a great read and very thought provoking.

  17. I also have to add one other thing. The devil was brilliant. This is the best depiction of what the devil might be like that I have ever read, hands down. I could actually see the point of view that he represented. He makes sense as a character rather than as a foil for the protagonists or a force of nature. Thanks again, Rebecca!

  18. A wonderful series! (Though the smurfs were never part of my childhood. I’ve mainly read about them through Hitherby.)

    One thing:

    with the breaking of the eidolons the power of blue over red passes away

    Where does this leave Sophie?

  19. A wonderful series! (Though the smurfs were never part of my childhood. I’ve mainly read about them through Hitherby.)

    One thing:

    with the breaking of the eidolons the power of blue over red passes away

    Where does this leave Sophie?

    It is my belief that the blue was less malign an infestation, and that once she evicted the red she was able to return to her normal substance.

    Perhaps I am wrong, in which case things become troublesome.

    Rebecca

  20. [quote=”Rebecca Borgstrom”“>

    It introduced a clear reason why the power was unclean and why it’s bad to profit from it early on, while reducing people’s tendency to actually think about that—about just how icky it really is to murder one hundred peaceful people for power—until I highlighted it near the end.

    It appears that I am rather late to realize how closely this paralells the enchancelment rites in Nobilis!

  21. Boy, I’d sure have thought that with this:

    Manfred, the fallen knight, whose strength was legend

    running across my vision every day for the last few weeks, I’d have figured this:

    it borrows a lot from the Chronicles of Amber

    out before now… *hangs head*

  22. *giggle* In my head, it’s the credits sequence. You get to see a lot of action shots of everybody during the narration.

    This is more or less how I saw it, too!

    Out of curiosity, what images would you select?

    I’m thinking Thomas brandishing the fingerbone (his other action sequences are all “wordy”).Francescu casting something grotesquely impressive (presumably from the Tomas duel), Elisabet either fighting the centipede or morphing to shadowform (though to be honest any shot of Elisabet in her true form should be reasonably impressive), Manfred breaking his chains… Christine is a harder call– either gets the glowing swear word or incinerating the door. Possibly riding around on the house?

    But I write mainly to ask: what action shot would Violet get?

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