An Unclean Legacy: “Whoever Can Bear the Weight”

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.”

Yseult shrugs.

“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.

“Hm?”

“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.”

“That’s it?”

“I could apply a poultice somewhere,” Montechristien snaps.

Violet frowns.

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.

It’s “Finale.”

17 thoughts on “An Unclean Legacy: “Whoever Can Bear the Weight”

  1. “Damn it, … fix yourself!”

    “Why can’t I fix you?”

    I laughed at the “Mother’s Day” joke.

  2. for whomever can bear the weight

    See, I’ve never been quite clear on that rule. Is it “whom” because it’s the object of the preposition “for,” or “who” because it’s the subject of the dependent clause?

    “Whom” sucks.

    And…wow. The tension is unbearable.

  3. The problem is that Gargamel has got the wrong kind of power. (Well, that’s one of the problems.) Doing at all well with any kind of unilateral power that significantly exceeds the kind of power that other people have — well, history (which includes political examples, if not magical ones) doesn’t present many good models.

    But where Montechristien really goes wrong is with:

    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.

    As I mentioned before, this is logically contradictory. If people are worthless, then who cares if the world is a trashheap? If M.G. really felt that way, he wouldn’t care who the power goes to after he’s dead, and he wouldn’t be bothered by how he perceives the world to be. Since he is bothered, he must really recognize that people are innately worthwhile even if they don’t always do the kinds of things he thinks they should do.

    Anyways, the sibling rivalry in this case does seem a bit excessive, but the time to start worrying about that was about 15 years ago. They don’t seem to be doing that badly, considering that the classic literary model for this situation is that the siblings kill each other until one is left (usually written ironically so that it happens that none are left).

  4. 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!”

    I like Yseult. It’s a shame that, due to the nature of the Unclean Legacy stories, we didn’t see her all that often when she was just randomly happy.

    -Eric

  5. “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.”

    Oy.
    OK. Characters insistantly hurling themselves headlong into The Pit is now officially a major Hitherby motif.

    I note that Ink’s reasons for seeking Hell appear (to me) to be a synthesis of the reasons that drive Yseult (the quest for self definition) and Montechristian (shame and guilt).

  6. I love the little scenes with Yseult and Gargamel. (They remind me very much about myself and Eric. :D We’re just less evil. Usually. Some of the time.) She just has this…happiness about her. A smile to her life. Even when she was dying.

    A probably stupid question but..how can there be 100 little golden men if Violet took one?

  7. A probably stupid question but..how can there be 100 little golden men if Violet took one?

    Violet took the eldest—Papa.

    I think Montechristien vaguely expected events to unfold as they did, returning the hundredth golden man, but if they hadn’t, well, 99 is an acceptable legacy.

    Rebecca

  8. As I mentioned before, this is logically contradictory. If people are worthless, then who cares if the world is a trashheap? If M.G. really felt that way, he wouldn’t care who the power goes to after he’s dead, and he wouldn’t be bothered by how he perceives the world to be. Since he is bothered, he must really recognize that people are innately worthwhile even if they don’t always do the kinds of things he thinks they should do.

    This is an interesting argument, and likely consistent with the ethics (meta-ethic?) of Hitherby as a whole, but it seems to me that your argument rests on the proposition that people are what matter about the world. In the pseudo-Christian theistic ontology of Unclean Legacy, this need not be the case.

    I think this is, in some ways Tomas’ position– clearly he cares about questions of good and evil, but he doesn’t seem too deeply concerned with what happens to people. I suspect this goes some way towards explaining why he comes off as such a jerk.

  9. it seems to me that your argument rests on the proposition that people are what matter about the world. In the pseudo-Christian theistic ontology of Unclean Legacy, this need not be the case.

    Well, yes, things change if you really do have knowledge that God exists, and that good is whatever he wants. Within the “Unclean Legacy” universe, it is entirely possible that Tomas is right. See the early Hitherby, Martin Visits Liz. But since Montechristien Gargamel has already had that source of meaning rejected for him (since he was born soulless), yet still apparently has a late-developing conscience, it suggests a form of solution more appropriate to our universe, where we don’t have two-bit sorcerors summoning up angels as a casual proof of concept. (Note: I’m not saying that Tomas is necessarily right within the Unclean Legacy universe. It’s just possible that he’s right. Within our own universe, I think it’s pretty much impossible that people like him are right.)

    I have an old poem, Curbside (if you scroll up the thread a bit), that sort of talks about these issues (the title was intended to have associations with curbside trash pickup).

    And for anyone following the original argument, I wasn’t intending to denigrate the natural non-peopled world. It’s just that people usually arrive at the everything-is-meaningless-and-or-horrible position by considering what happens to people, both naturally and by the actions of other people.

  10. You know, Gargamel’s bit about the world being a trashheap, and the fate of the blue essentials, left me thinking about something but for a while I couldn’t quite tell what. I finally realized it’s from the song “25th Floor” on Patti Smith’s intensely religious album _Easter_, which I quote part of the lyrics from below:

    “stoned in space. zeus. christ. it has always been rock and so it is and so it shall be.
    Within the context of neo rock we must open up our eyes and seize and rend the veil of smoke which man calls order.
    Pollution is a necessary result of the inability of man to reform and transform waste.
    the transformation of waste
    the transformation of waste
    the transformation of waste
    the transformation of waste is perhaps the oldest pre-occupation of man. man being the chosen alloy,
    He must be reconnected—via shit, at all cost. inherent with(in) us is the dream of the task of the alchemist to create from the clay of man.
    And to re-create from excretion of man pure and then soft and then solid gold.”

  11. it seems to me that your argument rests on the proposition that people are what matter about the world. In the pseudo-Christian theistic ontology of Unclean Legacy, this need not be the case.

    Well, yes, things change if you really do have knowledge that God exists, and that good is whatever he wants. Within the “Unclean Legacy” universe, it is entirely possible that Tomas is right.

    One of the issues raised by “Good is whatever God wants.” is what that actually means.

    Jane spends a lot of time thinking about the actual information content in sentences like that. Tomas’ discussion of the problem with sorcery reiterates why that sentence has less information than you’d think, but I’m not sure if I’m clear enough on it myself to do a Hitherby that cuts down to the core of what the information in that sentence *is*.

    In practice, I think “God is good” may actually be closer in content to “God is three but also one” than to “Sid is good.”

    Rebecca

  12. Is it wrong that, despite being interested in the resolution, I really do want to see How Elizabet Saved Mother’s Day?

    -Eric

  13. Well, yes, things change if you really do have knowledge that God exists, and that good is whatever he wants.

    Might it not be possible that Montechristian has developed a system of ethics that both does not depend on a deity as a source of morality, and also does not require that actions benifit others in order to be good? For instance, some form of classical virtue ethics might fit the bill.

    In other words, Montechristian might care about the disposition of the little gold men, not because that might save or damn him, not because God might approve or disapprove, not because it would help or harm his children, but simply because he’s trying to live his life in the most virtuous way he can, and to hell (literally) with what anyone else thinks?

    *shrug*

  14. Yay! A chance to apply the knowledge I’ve gained this semester in ethics class! Instead of working on my term paper! Or sleeping!

    In practice, I think “God is good” may actually be closer in content to “God is three but also one” than to “Sid is good.”

    This is of course one of the two classic problems with Divine Command ethics (the epistemological problem being the other). Either good and evil are defined by the whim of the Supreme Being, in which case God might say “Thou shalt eat babies on Fridays” and lo! eating babies on Fridays would be Good!, or else good and evil are independent of the Supreme Being, and God is not in fact omnipotent.

    From C. F. Henry, Christian Personal Ethics:

    [T”>he nature of God must not be regarded as necessarily good in the sense that it gains its goodness independently of his will, nor that his good nature determines his will so that the will bows to the good by a sort of pantheistic inevitability. The good is what God wills, and what he freely wills. The good is what the Creator-Lord does and commands. He is the creator of the moral law, and defines its very nature.

    At the same time no suggestion is conveyed that the good is arbitrary or a matter of Divine “caprice.” . . . It is the constancy of God’s will in its ethical affirmations and claims that supplies the durable basis for moral distinctions.

    In other words, God not only tells us what’s good, he constructs the moral underpinnings of the universe so that it really is good–but there’s nothing arbitrary about it, because he never changes his mind once he’s made it up. Most philosophers do not find this reasoning to be sound; to me, there seems to be an equivocation on “arbitrary.” Furthermore, it provides no explanation for ethical dilemmas except the fallibility of human understanding of God’s will.

    Might it not be possible that Montechristian has developed a system of ethics that both does not depend on a deity as a source of morality, and also does not require that actions benefit others in order to be good? For instance, some form of classical virtue ethics might fit the bill.

    Any deontological ethics would fit that description, in fact: Kantianism, W. D. Ross’s “prima facie duties,” etc.

  15. Might it not be possible that Montechristian has developed a system of ethics that both does not depend on a deity as a source of morality, and also does not require that actions benefit others in order to be good? For instance, some form of classical virtue ethics might fit the bill.

    And Metal Fatigue mentions other forms of ethics as well. It’s possible, I suppose, but I don’t think so, because of what he talks about. All of that would be irrelevant if his ethics were really so self-contained, and given the emotional force behind it, I don’t think it is irrelevant.

  16. I think that should be “alternatively”. I only mention because it’s the only incorrect word usage I’ve seen in the entire story, so it sort of stands out.

    Thanks for providing such a delightful way of procrastinating from doing productive work!

    rnd

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