Jenkins pulled another large, heavy volume from off its shelf and compared its title to a list on an inventory sheet. Finding it on the list, he penciled a check mark on the inventory and replaced the book. As he reached for the next book on the shelf, he felt an urgent tapping on his shoulder, heard heavy panting.
The Caretaker instantly became irritated at the interruption. He disliked working in the newly rediscovered Arthurian Room. It brought back far too many painful memories, memories he'd worked hard to lock away into the darkest recesses of his mind, much as he had done with the Arthurian Room itself. But, thanks to Franklin and his irrepressible curiosity, the room had been brought back to light again. That meant its contents had to be checked against the Library's inventory and checked to make sure everything had been catalogued properly. Jenkins had thought of assigning the onerous task to one of the Librarians, but he immediately dismissed the idea. The room and its contents would only raise questions, invasive questions. Questions he simply did not want to think about, let alone answer. So he was doing the inventory himself while the others were away on a mission. And since the others were away, there was only one possible being who could be tapping him on the shoulder now and distracting him from his work. Jenkins heaved a sigh and turned around. Excalibur.
"Can you not see that I'm busy?" he snapped testily. Excalibur yipped cheerfully and spun in the air, then darted forward to lightly tap the immortal on his shoulder again, inviting the immortal to play with him.
"Aren't you supposed to be on patrol or something equally time-consuming?" Jenkins demanded. Cal barked and flipped backward, then shot forward to tap Jenkins again.
"Go away!" he ordered churlishly, then turned back to his inventory. Jenkins heard Cal zoom off. He felt a stab of remorse at having been so harsh, but he quashed it. Excalibur brought back unhappy memories. Sometimes Jenkins wished the sword could be confined to one area of the Library; it would make it much easier for him to avoid Excalibur and the memories he carried with him. But the Librarians over the centuries consistently refused to place any restrictions on the sword. Jenkins had even taken the matter up with Judson once, but Judson steadfastly refused to limit Excalibur's movements. And so the only recourse left to the Caretaker was to studiously avoid contact with the sword as much as possible. Unfortunately, Excalibur seemed to have a great liking for Jenkins and stubbornly refused to leave him alone for very long.
Jenkins started to reach for another book, but movement in the corner of his eye stopped him. He turned to see what was going on, and was horrified to see Excalibur with King Arthur's crown hanging off the tip of his blade. Before Jenkins could react, Cal threw the crown up into the air, then raced after it, barking excitedly, catching the crown just before it crashed to the floor. It was once a favorite game that Arthur had played with Excalibur, but only in the presence of his most trusted knights and family members, lest the court be scandalized by the king's behavior.
Cal tossed the precious crown into the air again, intending to repeat the performance, but Jenkins rushed across the room and snatched it out of the air.
"WHAT on earth do you think you're doing?!" he thundered angrily, checking the crown for damage. He found none, and turned his full wrath onto the cowering Excalibur.
"This is the crown of your sovereign and master!" he bellowed, shaking the crown he now clutched in his fist as his dark eyes bored into Cal.
"How dare you treat it so shabbily?! How dare you treat his memory so disrespectfully?! How dare you disgrace his memory so?! I should melt you down for scrap metal and...!" Jenkins caught himself and stopped shouting. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths to calm himself. When he had his temper under control again, he opened his eyes. Excalibur was gone.
Alarmed, Jenkins quickly looked around the room. To his relief, he spied Excalibur at the Round Table, laying across the arms of the massive chair that once seated King Arthur. The sword was softly whimpering, stung by the knight's harsh words. Excalibur loved Galahad, almost as much as he once loved Arthur. Galahad was all Cal had left of Arthur and those happy, exciting days of Camelot. When the knight was first brought to the Library, Cal was overjoyed to see him again, and he tried hard to rekindle their friendship, but Galahad rebuffed him at every turn. The knight's heart was too hard and embittered by long centuries of grief and betrayal to be. The sword understood why Galahad behaved the way he did, why he was sometimes sharp with him now. He understood that Galahad still grieved the loss of Arthur, the loss of Camelot, that he struggled with his immortality and the inevitable heartache it brought.
But Excalibur took comfort in the fact that dour old Galahad wasn't the only stubborn creature in the Library. He knew that the old Galahad was still there, buried underneath all of that propriety and stiffness. The Librarians had already cracked his hard shell, especially Cassandra. So Excalibur waited patiently for the day when his friend would finally be open to receiving the comfort and companionship Cal's that friendship would bring. They were both more or less immortal, after all, and Cal was confident that it was only a matter of time before Galahad's hardness of heart toward him collapsed entirely. That knowledge did little to dull the pain Cal felt whenever Galahad yelled at him, though...
Jenkins watched the sword for a time, then, satisfied that Excalibur was properly chastened and going to behave himself, turned to go back to his work. Damned magic swords, always more trouble than they're worth! he grumbled sourly to himself, shaking his head. Why Arthur allowed that sword to become so attached to him, I'll never know...
The crown still in his hand, Jenkins stopped dead in his tracks. His anger drained away from the old knight as an epiphany suddenly struck him: As much as Jenkins missed and grieved for Arthur, how much more did Excalibur miss and grieve for him? He turned around to stare at the sword on the chair again; Cal was still whimpering softly, piteously. Jenkins gently set the crown on the edge of the Round Table on his way to the king's seat. He dragged the seat once occupied by Sir Bors close to Arthur's chair and sat down.
"I'm sorry, Excalibur," he said quietly. "Those things I just said... That was uncalled for." Cal whined in acknowledgement, but didn't move. Jenkins sat quietly for a few minutes, running his hand over his tie distractedly as he gathered his thoughts.
"It never occurred to me until just now that you miss him at least as much as I do," he said, his eyes fixed on the flagstone floor. "That was incredibly stupid and selfish of me, and I'm sorry for that, as well." Excalibur whined again, more loudly this time, and gave a soft yip in reply. Jenkins looked up and saw that Cal had raised himself just enough to face him directly. The immortal took a deep breath.
"We have seen so much," said Jenkins somberly. "The rise and fall of countless kingdoms; the progress of the majority of humanity from petty, bickering, superstitious creatures to people of reasonable enlightenment; the creation of so many devices and inventions." The old immortal chuckled.
"Did you ever think we would live to see the day when leeches were not the first course of treatment for an illness?" he asked, and Cal gave a bark of agreement.
"And the things they've achieved! We've seen human beings actually walk on the surface of the moon!" he whispered in awe, shaking his head slowly. "The moon, Excalibur! And with not even a trace of magic used! If only Merlin could have lived to see that!" Cal barked again. Jenkins regarded the sword, his expression melting into one of sadness.
"And we've both lost a great deal, too, haven't we?" he murmured, laying a hand on the polished surface of the Table. "You and I are the last of the fellowship of the Round Table. That tie should have bound us together much more closely, but I resisted. Seeing you brings back so many memories of Arthur, of Camelot, my brother knights-memories that I've tried so hard to forget, I just couldn't bear to be near you..."
His voice was cut short by a sudden surge of emotion as long-repressed memories flooded back to the forefront of his mind. He dropped his eyes again as he wrestled with the uncomfortable feelings. Excalibur whined with sympathy and moved from Arthur's chair to lay himself across Jenkins's lap. Incredibly, it was the first time Jenkins had ever come into physical contact with Excalibur. Excalibur was the sword of his king, after all, entrusted to him by the Lady of the Lake, and in life only Arthur had been permitted to touch it. That proscription had died with Arthur, of course, but Jenkins continued to observe it out of respect for his fallen king.
He was surprised by how reassuringly heavy Cal was. Jenkins raised his hands to place them on the sword. He hesitated, feeling a brief twinge of guilt at what he was about to do, but it quickly passed. The knight lowered his hands and slid them beneath the sword, then lifted it from his lap. The fingers of his right hand automatically wrapped themselves around the hilt of the weapon, while his left hand carefully raised the blade upward. He felt the magic and power of Excalibur flow from the hilt into his hand and arm, and from there into his entire body. He also felt something else, something that felt like—love? Was it possible that Excalibur actually loved Jenkins? To the wonder of the old immortal, it all somehow felt...right. Comforting.
Cal yipped and barked happily in response. He had long felt this bond between himself and the immortal, too, different from what he had felt with Arthur, but just as warm and fitting, and he was ecstatic that Galahad was finally open to accepting it. He gently tugged against the hand of the immortal, and somehow Jenkins understood that Cal wanted him to stand. He rose, tightly grasping the heavy sword, swinging the long, razor-sharp blade across his body to lightly cradle it in the crook of his left arm.
"I have greatly wronged you, Excalibur; please forgive me," he said. "And I intend to make everything up to you, beginning right now!" He stepped away from the Round Table and started to walk slowly towards a wall of frescoes that depicted the tournaments held upon Arthur's ascension to the throne of Britain. His eye fell on a scene of single combat with swords between a much younger Galahad and a knight named Leodegrance. He remembered that fight very clearly and chuckled softly; the bout had lasted all of five seconds before Galahad had easily he had knocked Leodegrance to the ground and then cheekily placed the tip of his sword against the panic-stricken knight's manhood. Oh, how Leodegrance had squealed at that, like a terrified piglet! The immortal raised his head as an idea came to him.
"I've seen your sparring sessions with Mr. Carsen," he said, seeming to change the subject. He dropped his white head to look at the sword that was now actually cuddling against the old knight.
"You're very gracious to hold back with him as much as you do." The sword yapped, the sound suspiciously like laughter. Jenkins smiled.
"But it occurs to me that perhaps you might like to spar with someone who can actually give you a run for your money?"
The longsword sprang out of his arms and began to wave and twirl wildly, flying to and fro as he barked and shrieked with unfettered joy. Jenkins laughed and held out his hands in a gesture of calm.
"All right! All right!" he said, feeling curiously happy with the magic sword's reaction. "Why don't you go to the training room while I go and fetch my sword. I'll meet you there in ten minutes." Excalibur barked crazily again and frantically circled the Caretaker as he made his way to the door, the inventory forgotten. The sword was so delirious with happiness that Jenkins almost couldn't get past him to leave the room. He finally had to grab hold of the exuberant weapon and hold him still until he could get out into the hallway.
He turned Excalibur loose and shooed him off to the training room, then turned to go retrieve his own sword from his rooms. His step was light, and he marveled at the equally light feeling in his heart. As he walked, he blessed his good fortune in finally realizing his foolishness, and he reflected that while immortality had caused him tremendous heartache over the years, it had also given him the time to correct many mistakes and repair many faults, especially within himself.