Manfred is two years old and sleeping in his bed.
“He is already strong enough to wrestle a bear,” Yseult says.
Montechristien says, painedly, “My bear.”
“You were not using it for anything.”
“I needed that bear,” Montechristien says. “I was going to train it to catch blue—”
Montechristien remembers that he has already caught the blue essentials. He rubs at his chin.
“Perhaps I will forgive you,” he says, clearing his throat. “If you curry well for my favor.”
Yseult sighs. She shakes her head. “Someday, I really must kill you and seize all your power, pookie. Then it will be no more currying and scraping for me—only the immaculate power of a glorious goddess-queen!”
Gargamel scratches at his nose.
“Such sinister schemes,” he says. “You will corrupt the children.”
Yseult punches him on the arm.
“It’s strange,” Montechristien says.
“He’s already twelve apples tall.”
“Hmm,” concedes Yseult.
Then she grins. “Come along,” she says. “I will make you a new bear. An evil bear! We will train it to kill Kings. Then, when a King visits—bam! Bear!”
“In a moment,” says Montechristien.
Yseult grins, spins around, and walks out.
And Gargamel stares at Manfred, and he feels large, like a man containing galaxies, and light, like a feather, and he thinks for the first time that most horrible thought: Is this what the Papa felt, when he looked upon his children?
And . . .
Once upon a time there was a man who murdered all the blue essentials and became the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Flush with that power, he drew to him a woman who loved the overblown evil of him and he sired on her six (or seven) kids. He became a legend. He became a terror. He became a living god.
Ah! Who would not envy such a man as Montechristien Gargamel? Who does not dream of rising to such heights? Though surely he was damned, his suasion was such that Emperors and Sultans must bow before him; his access to the pleasures of the world was limitless; his glory was unmeasurable! Binder of the Devil, destroyer of the blue essentials, master of every incantation and effulgence—such was the glory of Montechristien Gargamel!
There is silence for a time as Montechristien works with Elisabet in the tower. Then one by one the others shuffle in.
“Is she all right?” Violet asks.
“I don’t know,” Montechristien says.
He pokes Elisabet with his foot.
“She stabbed herself a few times and tried to scoop out her innards. So I scooped them back in and she is as you see.”
“I could apply a poultice somewhere,” Montechristien snaps.
Manfred looks down at Elisabet.
“She’s just being lazy,” he says.
An eye swims into view in Elisabet’s form. It glares at Manfred.
“That’s what ninjas do,” Manfred says. “They lay around and mope while everyone else fights the Devil.”
“1” mutters Elisabet, too weak even to capitalize the number, and then she passes out.
Montechristien sighs. “Enough.”
“I am going to die soon,” Montechristien continues, bleakly. “I want to give you something before I die. It would be traditional to give each of you a number of little gold men. This would precipitate a bloodbath. Alternately, I might offer them to the eldest, or to the eldest male. Or, as you seem to expect of me, I might pick a child based on arcane criteria, such as ‘who is left alive’ and ‘the weird old madness of Montechristien Gargamel.’ I am going to explain to you why it is not that simple.”
Violet bows her head.
“Your legacy is one hundred gold men, and the near-limitless power that goes with them,” Gargamel says. “Would you consider this a gift?”
“Yes,” Manfred says. “That is a gift. When you give someone near-limitless power, they say, ‘Thank you.’ Often, they write a card.”
“So it is,” Gargamel admits, because Manfred’s argument is irrefutable. “It is a gift. But it is also murder.”
There are one hundred little men, in square array, in the corner. They are three apples high and made of gold, down to their shapeless hats.
Gargamel points towards them.
“I killed them,” he says. “Not peacefully but brutally. Not in anger but with premeditation and after hunting them for years.”
“Blue essentials,” Tomas says.
“Yes,” Gargamel says. “Blue essentials, and not humans. But killing even the blue essentials is not done in peace. It is not a child’s story, where they are alive on one page and dead the next. I hunted them. I hunted them for years, and their fear was real, their desire to live was real, their anger at me was real. And one day after a clash of arms between two kingdoms, when the death of men and horses contaminated the water of the mushroom village, their patriarch and their strongman took ill with fever. And because of that sickness, they could not find the consciousness to fight. My blue magnet dragged them all to me, and while they screamed and while the best of them stared on with delirium-blurred eyes, I broke their necks and turned them all to gold. That is your legacy. That is what you would kill one another for.”
Violet looks down.
She clears her throat.
“Yes?” asks Montechristien.
“That’s a weight to carry,” Violet says. “But there’s uses for it.”
An Unclean Legacy
“Whoever Can Bear the Weight”
“Yes,” says Montechristien.
He looks out the window.
“I let her die,” he says, bleakly. “It was partly for Elisabet. They were entangled. Saving them both would have been hard. And she was going to Heaven anyway. It wasn’t much of a loss for her. But I could have saved her, and I let her die. Because I’d said, somewhere along the line, I’d realized, ‘it isn’t mine. This power—it’s not the power of Montechristien Gargamel. It’s just the blood on my hands.’ I wanted to destroy them.”
Violet makes an inarticulate sound of protest.
“But I couldn’t,” Montechristien says. “Because she left me you. I have been hanging on in madness. I wanted to be good. I wanted to do the right thing and destroy them. I have given up so much for the right thing, and I am still a hypocrite. But you are what I have left of her. I needed to know that if I had to I could save you. That when I’m gone, if the Devil comes for you, you’d have some power that could fight him. That your children, and your children’s children, would have some hope of getting somewhere in this world of walking corpses and pointless horror.”
And Sophie recognizes the imagery in his words and remembers in that instant that her father is long since damned.
“She was a light to me,” Montechristien says. “Even knowing that there is nothing left for me. Even knowing that this world is a trashheap and that shadow is its king. She was a light. And you were a light. Until bit by bit I saw that he’d already won you. That you aren’t any different than the rest. That you’re just more fodder for the beast of Hell. Bit by bit the glamour she left on all of you faded and I knew that there was nothing worthwhile in you and there probably never had been. But I’ll still give them to you. Because that’s what she would have wanted.”
“You don’t have to see things this way,” Sophie protests. “You don’t have to be— You could—”
“Use this unclean power to save me?” Montechristien asks.
“Yes,” Sophie hisses.
“It is all right,” says Montechristien. “I am hanging on. It is just a little longer. Soon I will be in Hell and safe from such terrible choices.”
“Damn it, Montechristien, fix yourself!”
“Shut up, Sophie,” Christine says, in a distant, fey voice.
Sophie stares at Christine.
“You’re hurting him,” Christine says.
And Sophie can’t tell, looking at Montechristien’s face, if Christine is seeing a truth that Sophie can’t or just reflexively taking the position that hurts Sophie the most; so she jerks her head and looks pointedly away.
“So,” says Gargamel, “they’re for whomever can bear the weight of them. I don’t care who. Just, someone who can stand to have their hands covered in their blood.”
There’s a silence.
“See, if I step forward,” Tomas says, “I get murdered from behind.”
What is Elisabet’s special gift?
What would Violet do with near-limitless power?
Whatever happened to Montechristien Gargamel?
On Monday: “How Elisabet Saved Mother’s Day!”
. . . oh, wait, no.