Chapter 51: Past

My earliest childhood was filled with poverty, this is true. But it was also filled with love and a lot of laughter. I would sit and play in the dirt as my mother weeded and sowed the farm’s small crops, and sometimes I would ‘help’ by tearing up dandelions as she threw them out of the way into a heap. *chuckles* Oh, those were such blessed times, my friend.

As I grew older I realised that none of the local children would speak to me. They would huddle in corners together and stare at me, whispering to each other. I tried to ignore them, but it hurt to be the focus of such childish gossip. I understand something of what both Gunther and Mortimer have gone through as children: the finger-pointing and laughter, the cruel names and taunting because you are ‘different’. And, worst of all, the backs turning when you try to make friends. Ah, children can be so cruel.

I helped Maman more around the farm as I grew, making myself useful wherever I could. A few good seasons saw us able to sell enough spare produce to buy a cow, and then another. The strange boy with the red hair became a regular curiosity in the market place as he silently handed over fruits and vegetables in exchange for copper coins. I spoke but little back then, knowing I was not wanted in that place.

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10 responses

  1. I’m just gonna snuggle young Valois….child him, teen him, all of them.
    Then I’m going to hug Sarah because she deserves one.

    I am insanely curious how Valois has his fathers essence. How all of that works.

    • They both need it desperately. It was a terribly hard life for them. By the end of this chapter I think most readers will not only have some sympathy for Valois, but also understand where his propensity for lies and little cruelties come from, too.

      The essence thing is basically explained (well, most easily, I suppose) by thinking of it as a kind of reincarnation. Athanase didn’t actually die; he was so old and powerful that–once his magic and power were fully in Valois–he simply ceased to exist in the world.

  2. A three month pregnancy or did he just insert himself into Valois’ mind after three months? Honestly, I think the Lords should have taken Athanase Fulcanelli right then and there instead giving him three months to prove he could avoid them. They are mad at Valois just because they wanted a warlock to prove them wrong. So does this mean that, in a way, he is his own father? How did the other villagers treat her after he left? Who was William Black, where did he come from, and how did he know where to find Valois? I doubt he and Valois’ father are the type of people to have actual “friends.”

    • Not a three-month pregnancy, no. I should have been more clear on that! He just channeled all of his power and self into Valois at that moment. The pregnancy then progressed normally. I just didn’t want to add any more “six months passed” kind of info in there, as Valois is narrating and it would have come across as too much exposition. (ETA: Sorry, I forgot to finish that sentence!)

      The Lords are a little like Death in the Terry Pratchett books: endlessly curious about humanity. I think this one time They were amused by this puny mortal’s claims that he could outwit Them, so They decided to play with him, fully expecting him to fail.

      Valois’s essence is that of his father. His power, too. He has worked endlessly to control the darker side that he inherited, to the point where it’s now very well-buried. And, originally, Athanase wasn’t completely cruel; he just turned that way as he grew old and bitter and terrified of dying.

      William Black was someone who was desperate for money, and was offered the commission of training Athanase’s son when he was of an age to begin, for enough money to tempt him. He was tasked with guarding the books, wand, and alchemical table, under pain of terrible spells that were bound to him. And, when Valois was ready, William Black would be led to him by one of those spells. That explains his anger: he’s bound and can’t do anything about it. So he takes Sarah as “compensation”.

      Do you mean how did the villagers treat Sarah after Valois left? I expect they were just glad to see the back of him. They regarded him as cursed; that was what all the finger-pointing and whispering was about.

  3. This chapter gave me more questions than it answered!

    How did Valois’ father even know about this spell? Why didn’t he do it earlier? Is he not dead, then? Why can’t death(s?) just kill Valois? They can destroy both of them at the same time. Where the hell did William Black come from?! Valois doesn’t seem like an evil person. He doesn’t even seem like a remotely bad one. Does his father communicate with him in some way? How does he even know all this? If his father is a part of him, why didn’t he just know all the magic already?

    I feel really bad from him growing up. Who is the man in the ring? His mother never got pregnant again? Not even from William Black? Is he carrying his father around like a ghost tumor? Does he still believe his father loved him?

    I’m so confused.

    • Given that both you and TheG have more questions than answers, it seems that I did a poor job with this chapter. I’m sorry :( I’ll answer in bullet points, in order of ease of explanation:

      Who is the man in the ring?
      The man in the ring is the Prince whom you met at the start of the story (the one who killed himself to escape from Valois). He’s not the only person in that ring, but that’s not something that will be revealed until the final couple of chapters.

      Why can’t death(s?) just kill Valois? They can destroy both of them at the same time.
      Because if they did… there would be no story? The same reason why the Lords didn’t just take Athanase there and then, as TheG suggested. Valois would have been born mortal, lived a short life, and died probably somewhere in his 40s, if he was lucky to live that long. Ergo: no story. The way I look at this is as I explained to TheG: The Lords are amused by Athanase, and they decide to give him a chance to prove them wrong. They are nothing if not intrigued to see how he would evade them.

      Where the hell did William Black come from?!
      Referring again to the answer I gave to TheG: William Black was someone who was desperate for money, and was offered the commission of training Athanase’s son when he was of an age to begin, for enough money to tempt him. He was tasked with guarding the books, wand, and alchemical table, under pain of terrible spells that were bound to him. And, when Valois was ready, William Black would be led to him by one of those spells. That explains his anger: he’s bound and can’t do anything about it. So he takes Sarah as “compensation”.

      Valois doesn’t seem like an evil person. He doesn’t even seem like a remotely bad one.
      He’s not, but he has spent centuries burying his father’s essence, building walls around it so that it can’t seep out and influence him. Sometimes he’s more successful than others. The lies, the little cruelties; all of those are shades of his father breaking through.

      Does his father communicate with him in some way?
      No. He’s not inside Valois as an actual entity; rather it’s the essence of him that is there – the latent magical ability, as well as the emotions and moods.

      How does he even know all this?
      Valois knows all of this from consultation with the Veil, which–as I’ve stated in previous chapters–keeps meticulous records. I mentioned to Late Knight in a recent comment that: “I think of them as something akin to the fabled Akashic Records, but when you access them you can only see everything that’s ever happened along your own timeline.” It’s also mentioned within the chapter: “But she didn’t tell me what had happened the day he vanished. I found that out much later, from the Veil.”

      If his father is a part of him, why didn’t he just know all the magic already?
      It was his father’s essence, power, and magical ability that flowed into Valois. He still had to learn to master it. He received the latent magical ability, but not the mastery of every spell. And, again, if he’d been instantly able–as a child–to perform all of those magical spells, then we would have lost the cruelty of his childhood that led him to be the way he is today. Thus the story would have been the less for it. Giving him the ability to perform all of those spells immediately would have changed the story completely, and it would have been too “easy”. Making a character’s life easy is a surefire way to a boring story. Valois needed that awful childhood to turn him into the character he is in the present day.

      How did Valois’ father even know about this spell? Why didn’t he do it earlier?
      I would say that, after decades of study he suspected it would work, but it was such a huge risk that he refused to use it until he had no choice. After all, it involved pouring everything of himself into an unborn child. What would be left of him if it failed or only partially worked? It was something he would only try when he had no other option.

      Is he not dead, then?
      His body vanished from the world, and his essence (I’m avoiding use of the word “soul” but that is basically what I mean) is within his son. Technically, he-as-Athanase is physically dead, but his essence is “reincarnated” (although not exactly as we know it today from Tibetan etc philosophy) as Valois.

      Is he carrying his father around like a ghost tumor?
      I’m not quite sure what you mean by that. Athanase is not any kind of physical part of Valois, with the exception of his inherited hair, eye, and skin colour. Valois’s magic is Athanase’s magic. Valois’s moods are sometimes Athanase’s moods. Valois’s cruelties and lies happen when Athanase’s cruelties and lies seep through the barriers that Valois has put up to hold them back. If he hadn’t put those up, he might have turned out as cruel and bitter as his father.

      Does he still believe his father loved him?
      No, not at all. He knows now that Athanase only loved his son for being the vessel through which he could cheat Death. That’s why Valois now never thinks of his father, except for the rare occasions like this, when he’s telling someone else about him.

      His mother never got pregnant again? Not even from William Black?
      That is one of those things I should have explained further in the chapter, but it was long enough as it was, and too much ‘splainin in first person is at high risk of author voice creeping in, with boring wads of exposition and “I found out all about this later in the Veil, but it happened because” etc. In short: Sarah was rendered barren by carrying Athanase’s child. Her womb, having carried that, refused to bear another. This was a mistake from me; I should have included this somehow in the text, although looking at it all now, I can’t see where I feasibly could. :(

      • hmmm… I see, I see!! Sorry about all the questions, it’s those darn character development questions. I find myself questioning everything now! I think you are an amazing writer! Do not take my questions as anything other than a deep (stalkerish) fascination with your story and your though process.

        In hindsight, some of my questions had pretty obvious answers that I should have figured out. Afterall, it’s not the author’s responsibility to spell out everything to a reader. What would be the fun in that! (The sibling thing was because for a minute there I was comparing Valois’s story to that of Jesus – I know… freaky!)

        My biggest confusion was the father/soul thing. But I get it now. I think it’s just hard to see because I now have to re-wrap my head around Valois’s every motivation for the things that he does. I’ve been reading with the assumption that it is he that does these things. That his motivations are his own. But that’s not true. His cruelties are because of his father. That’s information I didn’t know before and it wasn’t hinted at, so I’m having to re-see (not the right word but… oh wells!) him.

        Follow-up: Would you say that his other personas are a coping mechanism? Representing difference facets of his emotional states? The bookseller who is very much like his father. Strict to the point of cruelty, polished, urbane. And the rocker, who could be Valois the child that never was.

        And that’s all I got. ::squishy hugs:: if you’re into that sort of thing… (I am.)

        • Sorry, it was entirely my fault. I had a poor night’s sleep, woke up hormonal and in pain, and it was sort of an “Oh shit, I knew I should have explained more in that chapter!” moment when I saw the questions!

          The confusion about Valois’s motivations arises from my original plotting, over a year ago. Initially, none of what you read in this chapter would have been revealed until the final couple of chapters, so it wasn’t something I’d even planned on hinting at until much later on. However, the reveal slotted in perfectly here, and by then it was too late to go back and insert any hints about it. That’s one of the down-sides of publishing a story online as you write it, I’m afraid :-/ If I’d written the entire story first, then had a cover-to-cover edit of it, I would have spotted that as an issue right away.

          As to his personas, that’s definitely what they were, now that I think of them in the light of this chapter. He just employed them as a way to persuade Gunther to be with him. Now that he has Gunther, he’s in a far more stable state than he used to be, and he doesn’t need them any more.

          I like squishy hugs, yep ;)

  4. Thank goodness for the unconditional love Valois felt from his mother. With all the misplaced fear from the villagers and hatred from William Black, Valois could very easily have become just like his father.

    As for Black, a man who can “teach” a teenager using his fists certainly wouldn’t think twice of taking what he wanted from an unwilling woman. I’m glad the SOB got what was coming to him. I’m only sorry that Valois had to take a life at such a young age, at the cost of his own innocence. That has to change a person irrevocably.

    Some of my favorite parts were the touching scenes with Sarah and teenaged Valois and the pics of Valois practicing magic (such a cutie).

    • William Black was as cankered an old bastard as I could make him. I did wonder whether to warn for the physical violence in this chapter, but although I had Valois as a teen I was actually using his Young Adult self, so there were no images of a grown man hitting a teenager, although the inference was there. But yes, there is the killing that I’ve had Valois refer to in some of my character development memes on Tumblr. That moment is etched on his brain and he’ll never be able to erase it. Nor, in a strange way, does he want to. It’s a reminder to himself of what he is capable of when enraged, because I doubt that–had he been mortal–he could have done to William Black what he actually did. His magic lent strength to him, and William Black didn’t stand a chance.

      Sarah, bless her dear heart, was so practical in the aftermath. Protective of her beloved son, she was the one who helped him drag the body to the pit, she was the one who cleared up the blood. Those were, of course, far more practical and less squeamish times. These days the meat that we eat comes pre-packed and pre-sliced; back then Sarah would have butchered and plucked a chicken herself (hell, even my own Nan used to pluck chickens for a living, back in the 50s and 60s). Hangings, beheadings, and witch-burnings were public entertainment in those days, and every village had a pillory or set of stocks.

      It felt odd to me to see Valois stumbling with magic, his spells failing so often. I started this version of him as a complete beginner, because the present-day version of him is at level 10 magic and has the Magic Hands ability (although he does sometimes use a wand, if I’m using a save where I forgot to cheat up the LTR points to get that for him!).

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