L’Ergot Bleu, Part III.


Story Martin Marks     Illustration Jim Gaylord

Read Part I §  Read Part II

IT TOOK TWENTY SMURFS to carry the giant lead weight attached to Brainy’s foot and Papa Smurf’s stretcher out to the drawbridge outside of Gargamel’s castle. Harmony Smurf started tapping out a drum roll on his drums. Several of the Smurfs ran forward, but those who did were immediately placed in shackles and marched back to the village, to await trial for High Smurf Treason, a new legal term amongst the villagers. After some loud bangs, the front door to the castle slammed open. The villagers watched as Gargamel, his bald head glistening in the sun and his potato-sack overshirt swaying in the breeze, went over to examine the package at the end of the drawbridge. The villagers ran and hid in the bushes, waiting. There was a tiny yelling, almost indiscernible from the whistle of the breeze through the forest. A giant smile erupted across Gargamel’s face as he lifted the weight up, brought it into his castle, and shut the door.

“But we’ll never know for certain if they’re dead,” Poet Smurf said to Smurfette.

“The only way we’ll know if they’re truly gone,” Smurfette said, “is if their spells stop working and everything returns to normal. In the meantime, I’m the Papa.”

In Gargamel’s laboratory, Brainy and Papa begged for mercy, saying that they’d deliver up the rest of the village if they were spared. “I’ll do anything!” Papa Smurf screamed. “Anything!”

“I’ve learned my lesson from countless years of trying to catch you Smurfs,” Gargamel said in his shrill voice. Gargamel, as vassal lord for the neighboring town, was a vicious landowner, wealthy enough until the wars started to the North and government tithing plundered his entire stock of gold. In his old age, Gargamel had grown fixated on the idea that the only thing that could restore his wealth and his food supply, for both him and his cat Azrael, was an indefinite supply of the little blue creatures that lived by his castle. “Two Smurfs in the hand is worth more than five-hundred in the bush.” He continued sharpening his meat cleaver.

“But the two of us for the entire Smurf village?” Brainy asked. “Surely you can’t turn an offer like that down.” He then started to recite the various mathematical and numerological statistics in Gargamel’s favor.

Gargamel thought for a moment. He thought of the years of struggle against the British troops, the seasons spent trying to find the Smurf village, what luck it would be to get the entire village, how much gold an entire village of Smurfs would provide in exchange for these two measly Smurf underlings. Then, he thought again. “Nah. Now hold still.”

Gargamel held Brainy Smurf down with his left thumb, pushing firmly against Brainy’s squishy blue body. Brainy tried to mumble a last minute plea, but it was no good. With two rapid chops at either side, Brainy’s arms and legs had been severed. Brainy screamed till his jaw dislocated, his blue blood sputtering and spilling out onto the walnut chopping board, his abdomen thrashing up and down. Papa Smurf turned away, unable to take the Brainy’s screams. For the first time he was helpless. He threw up over the edge of his stretcher.

In the meantime, Gargamel took Brainy’s limbs, dredged them in egg, dusted them with flour, and threw them into his deep-fryer cauldron. Within minutes he was nibbling on a heavenly feast of gently-browned Smurf limbs. Brainy’s abdomen still wiggled around limply, his eyes rolled to the back of their sockets, opening and closing every once in a while. Papa Smurf tried to escape on his one good leg, crawling off the edge of the cutting board and attempting to make his way across Gargamel’s worn table. But Azrael the cat jumped up in the nick of time, and with her paw, slashed Papa Smurf’s back. Cut down, Papa Smurf hobbled for a moment. “Oh my Smurf,” he muttered to himself before collapsing in a heap next to what was left of Brainy’s semi-conscious body.

Gragamel sprinkled the two bodies with a alchemical formula of his own invention, and watched as Papa Smurf and Brainy’s flesh bubbled and burned, Papa Smurf’s high-pitched screams and Brainy’s death-sighs resonating through the tower laboratory. In a small puff of blue smoke, their little bodies were reduced to puddles of gold. Gargamel rubbed the edge of his potato-sack body suit and stroked the remaining whiskers on his chin. There was a giddy sensation in his stomach. No, it wasn’t the sensation of being full with Smurf limbs. It was something else. He picked up the little puddles of gold, melted and no longer resembling their Smurf ingredients. He’d go out and buy himself a nice new potato sack to wear around the house, as well as a new collar for Azrael. For the first time in a long while, Gargamel felt young again.

§

Under Papa Smurfette’s rule, scouting parties were sent out into the forbidden forest to search for Brainy’s crows. Most of them never came back, picked off by the squirrels and rabbits that inhabited the black darkness of the woodland. But Smurfette blamed Brainy’s spells for their disappearance, and ordered more trials to be held, more Smurfs to be sent to Gargamel’s. Anybody who defied her and said that they wouldn’t go on the expeditions met the same fate as Brainy and Papa Smurf, namely, getting bound to a lead weight and tossed onto Gargamel’s drawbridge.

Gargamel got fatter and fatter, his pockets dripping with the wealth of all the Smurfs he had turned to gold. He set up a little prison on the edge of his laboratory, Azrael guarding it at all hours of the day, though with no Papa Smurf to save them, the Smurfs were hardly in any condition to escape. And so, Gargamel feasted on minced blue Smurf tartare, Smurf l’orange, Smurf aux vin, Smurf-liver foie gras, Smurf thermidor, all topped off with a wonderful dessert of Smurf Suzette. His favorite dish, by far, was the Smurf thermidor. Having selected the plumpest Smurf out of his little cage, he’d tie their hands with a bit of twine and throw them in the pot of boiling water. Within a few minutes, he’d have a delicious bon-bon of steaming, succulent Smurf flesh. It went excellently with butter sauce.

After sucking on the marrow of their spinal chords, he’d toss the bones into the corner for Azrael to chew on. And so the limbs of Smurfs, the skull and spinal chord of Dreamy Smurf, the bodies of Handy Smurf and Harmony Smurf lay in a pile at the side of the lab.

But terror had overtaken what was left of the Smurf village. In the rampage to catch those Smurfs who still followed Brainy and Papa Smurf, a mob of Smurfette’s followers imprisoned those accused of Smurf High Treason in toadstools at the far end of the village. Those who protested the confiscation of their abodes were locked up. Smurfette ordered Slouchy and Farmer Smurf to go one by one to each of the houses and throw lit torches into them. The air that night was dry with the first taste of autumn, and the fire soon spread out of hand. Screams and crackles pierced the night sky, the light of the blazing bonfire attracting animals for miles around. Those who managed to escape the fires were either picked off by the remaining Sentry Smurfs, or else carried mid air by ravens seeking an evening meal.

The next day, the remaining Smurfs gathered in the village. The crisp evening air carried on into the daytime and everyone shivered as they watched finches picking at the littered remains of the dead Smurfs, still in their burned out houses. Above the charred husks of the toadstools, the leaves had started to turn orange and yellow, filtering the sunlight in a cacophony of sharp, dappled color. Hefty Smurf’s skin tickled so much that he threw up. Smurfette, her hair completely sheared down to her blue scalp, made her way to the village square, guarded by two of the Sentry Smurfs.

To the left of the village square, the winter harvest lay spilled out across the ground. Poet Smurf, the last Smurf who knew how to cook, had been killed in the previous night’s fire, his drafts for the interim government’s commission for the “Epic of Smurfette” serving as extra kindling. As the villagers awaited Smurfette’s address to the people of the village, they went over to the grain heap and started gnawing at the kernels of wheat and rye. Because of the terror, some hadn’t eaten in over two days. Some tried to eat the walls of their toadstools, but they just ended up sicker than the rest of the villagers. Waiting in the square, they bit into the grains, trying to get any morsel of taste.

“The loyal and true of the village!” Smurfette said, her hair shorn off for fear of the ravens that had previously attacked her. “The hour is near, when we will finally be rid of the influences of Brainy Smurf.”

“Brainy Smurf?” Hefty started up. “We’re tired of this. Our homes have been destroyed, we have no food, no shelter, and you’re still on about Brainy, who’s been dead for weeks?”

A murmur ran through the crowd. The Sentry Smurfs put their pikes to the ready, eyeing each other nervously. “It seems like Hefty here is a nonbeliever! A follower of Brainy!” Smurfette said in her high pitched voice.

But by then, the crowd had started to circle in. They remembered the days of plenty, when Papa Smurf led their village with an even hand, when Smurfette had her long lustrous hair, inspiring love and compassion in each of the male villagers. But with her hair cut down to her scalp, her magical powers seemed to have vanished, to have disappeared in the same puff of smoke that still crackled from the charred remains of toadstools that very morning. They circled in, yelling complaints against Smurfette, spitting at her face, tearing at her clothes. One of the Sentry Smurfs managed to spear Hefty through the shoulder with his pike, but then, the rest of the villagers fell upon the guards and Smurfette.

Tying a length of rope around her arms, they proceeded to the Smurf well. “Brainy!” she yelled. “They’re all under the spell of Brainy!” But at that point, it was of little use. Several of the villagers helped Hefty lower Papa Smurfette and her guards down the well. Their screams echoed up into the still morning air, overpowering the sound of the crackling wood and the moaning half-dead who lay waiting for the finches and crows to finish them off. With the last of Smurfette’s followers either thrown or lowered down into the well, Hefty ordered several of the Smurfs to fetch a large rock from nearby. They tore the toadstool lid from the top of the well, removed the supports, and lowered the large stone onto the lid, sealing off any means of escape. For the next several days, those standing by the well could hear the dulled echo of cries for help. By the fourth day, no sounds came up at all.

But by then the situation had gotten even worse. Only twenty or so Smurfs remained, each scattered across the village, their blue skin sagging against their bodies. Hefty Smurf clutched at his shoulder and tried to think of anything but the low aching pain. With one hand, he managed to crawl over to the ruined site of Papa Smurf’s old house. Some of the roof still had its red and yellow polka dots, but the walls and the entire left side of the toadstool lay in charred ruin. Hefty leaned himself up against the blackened wall, sitting back and watching as the leaves gently drifted to the ground on a pillow of breeze. He looked towards the overturned granary, where Cook had been killed not several weeks before, Papa Smurf injured and then dragged by Smurfette and her followers out to Gargamel’s. The morning dew had soaked the ground all the way through, and a light film of fungus started to grow from the pile. Hefty laughed, though the laughing caused Hefty’s shoulder to throb. He breathed deeply a number of times, letting the cold autumn air soak into his little Smurf lungs, watching as the sunlight maintained its piercing hazy glow through the dark forest and up into the matting of red and orange autumn leaves. Hefty fell asleep to thoughts of the great Smurf feast, the Smurfing songs and dances that he was only moments away from joining. Life, just then, had taken on this deep weight, this feverish and consuming force that fell heavy on his soul. To Smurf or not to Smurf. That was the question.

There was a low rumbling on the horizon. What few villagers were left, their limbs shaking from the cold, their white clothes dirtied and cut, and their caps torn and stained, instinctively moved to the center of the village. The rumbling grew closer. Those who could stand peered with squinted eyes. Dust began to tremble in clouds up against the sky. But most already knew their fate. They had heard the sound before, though at that time they had Papa Smurf to protect them. It was the most dreaded sound to any Smurfs’ ears. Horses.

§

In a hastily arranged defense of the area against the British troops, a regiment of the French cavalry rode through the dark forest at the edge of the Vassal Lord Gargamel’s holdings, in what the French hoped would be a surprise attack of the British archers. During the middle of the night, the officers of the French cavalry had seen the glimpses of what they thought was a fire coming from the middle of the woods. But, at last having arrived at the source, the charred remains of the fire merely looked as though a stray bolt lightning bolt had struck a clearing in the forest. And so they rode through, barely stopping to examine the site, the horses tore up the large toadstools as they proceeded along.

Though the French led a far superior force on the battlefield, the British archers quickly repulsed the attacking troops, and advanced rapidly through the region. Within the month, English forces arrived at Gargamel’s castle. Trebuchets and catapults assaulted the castle day and night, and despite Gargamel’s efforts at concocting bombs and transformation elixirs, the siege lasted less than three hours. In the end, a hasty trial was arranged, Gargamel put on a stake surrounded by timber and straw collected from the outlying forest. By most accounts, it was a slow death, the straw still wet from the cold autumn rain that had started up. His body crackled and twisted in the flames, then collapsing down, then disappearing altogether.

The English archers decided to use the deceased lord’s pet cat for target practice. The old ginger tabby was able to run through the first shower of arrows. But a second volley struck him in his hind thigh. One of the English archers, stinking from the freshly plummeted wine from Gargamel’s cellar, tossed the injured cat up into the air, and then took a mace and spiked him as he was landing. The troops moved out and the cat’s body was left by a boulder, the arrow still sticking out of its hind quarter.

As winter came and led into spring, field mice and low-flying buzzards picked the bones clean. Springtime led to summer, summer led to winter, and winter led to spring again. The springtime thaw, carrying chunks of ice and rock through little streams, started its work. By the time wild grass started to grow again, the verbena and wheat and oak trees were in full bloom, chunks of the cat’s bones became indistinguishable from the soil and rocks. On vacation, some centuries later, a child happened upon the arrowhead while exploring a field. He marveled at it for a while, rubbed down the copper, and put it in his pocket. When he got home, he retrieved a small, leather-lined box that his father had given him for his birthday. He keeps the arrowhead in that leather-lined box to this day.

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