"Geez, Flynn! When was the last time anyone dusted in here?" spluttered Eve Baird as she waved her hands in front her face, trying to keep errant dust particles and cobwebs from getting into her nose. Flynn shrugged his shoulders carelessly.
"I have no idea," he replied. "But I do know that every single scrap of paper generated by the Library is kept in this room. Well, every single scrap of paper, papyrus, parchment and tablet, I guess I should say." He ambled along a shelf that was tightly packed with ancient scrolls, books, clay tablets, wooden boards, slates and random sheets of paper.
"And no matter what you were looking for, Charlene could tell you exactly where everything was located!" A slightly sad, wistful note entered Carsen's voice.
"And now I have to be the one to keep track of all of this?" Eve exclaimed with dismay, before Flynn could fall into a melancholy mood at the mention of the Library's former Guardian and chief accountant. The Librarian instantly perked up again.
"Yes, indeed!" he exclaimed, turning around to face her as he waved his arms broadly to indicated the cavernous, multi-roomed section of the Library that made up the Records Vault. "It's traditionally been the Tethered Guardian's duty to keep track of the Library's records!" Eve crossed her arms and gave the Librarian a sour look.
"Really?" she said cynically. "I'm only the second Tethered Guardian in the Library's history; I don't call that a tradition. I call it 'Flynn doesn't want to do it so he's dumping it on me'!" Flynn had to good sense to at least look chagrined.
"Traditions have to start somewhere, Eve!" he piped, then disappeared between the overloaded shelving before she could punch him. "Now that we've taken the places of Judson and Charlene as the Tethered Librarian and Guardian of the Library, we have to take on all of the responsibilities they had. Easy for me, because we have three additional Librarians for the day to day stuff; not so easy for you because you still have to act as their Guardian. But I think you should be able to handle the Records Vault in your downtime between missions."
Eve tried to follow Flynn's voice to wherever it was that he'd disappeared to, but she only ended up getting lost. Suddenly, she heard a sharp yelp from Flynn, followed by the sounds of crashing shelving, boxes and records.
"Flynn!" she called out, instantly concerned. "Are you all right? Where are you?"
"I'm okay!" he called back cheerily, coughing and slapping the dust off of his clothes. "Some things just fell off a shelf, no biggie!"
Baird rolled her eyes, then looked around at the seemingly endless rows of shelves, all of the crammed with records. She began to walk desultorily along the aisle she was standing it, idly looking at the various labels, faded with age, that identified each shelf's contents, all in languages she couldn't even begin to identify. She turned a corner and stopped in her tracks, having spotted one shelf that stood out from the thousands of other shelves in the Records Vault. It held only one slim scroll of dry parchment, tightly rolled and tied with a leather thong. The label on the comparatively bare shelf read simply "Caretaker".
Intrigued, Eve went over to the odd shelf and gingerly picked up the small scroll. It was only as long as her hand, and was no thicker than her thumb. Through the thick coating of dust she could just make out some dim gold lettering painted on a thin wooden tag: "GALAHAD".
Her heart began to beat quicker as her curiosity was piqued. Eve carefully blew the dust off of the fragile scroll, sneezing as the particles tickled her nose. When the dust was cleared, she was surprised to notice that the scroll was also bound with a thin gold cord, which was in turn sealed with a thick red wax disc that had the Tree of Knowledge symbol of the Library impressed into it. Baird frowned, puzzled, as she fingered the heavy round of wax. A sealed record? On Jenkins? What could there possibly be about him that needed to be sealed?
Eve shrieked and nearly jumped out of her skin as Flynn suddenly appeared at her side and put his arm over her shoulder.
"Dammit, Flynn! Don't you ever do that again!" she yelled, her heart thumping hard against her ribs. He snickered at her reaction.
"Sorry," he said, not meaning it at all. He craned his head to see what she was holding. "Whatcha got there?" With a final glare, she held out the scroll.
"Something about Jenkins," she said. "But it's sealed. Why would it be sealed?" Flynn took the thin roll of parchment from her and began to examine it more closely, and found a tiny slip of parchment poking out of one end of the scroll like a bookmark. He carefully pulled it out and held it up to inspect it.
"'Servanda Obsignata Aeternum'," he read, his voice betraying both puzzlement and interest. Eve stared at him blankly, waiting for an explanation. When it didn't come she held up her hands.
"Well?" she demanded impatiently. "What does that mean?"
"'To Be Kept Under Seal Forever', loosely translated," the distracted Librarian translated, frowning as he turned the scroll over in his hands. "And this seal—it's the Library's seal, not Judson's or Charlene's official seals, not the seal of the Library or the Guardian. Curiouser and curiouser!"
"But why would anything about Jenkins have to be sealed?" Eve asked again. "The only kinds of records I can think of that are usually kept sealed for life are adoption records—"
"Which we know isn't the case here, since everyone and his brother knows who Jenkins's parents are," interrupted Flynn.
"—and certain criminal records. Oh!" Eve continued, gasping. "You don't think Jenkins has a criminal record, do you?!" Flynn looked cock-eyed at her for a few seconds, as if actually considering the possibility.
"Nah!" he finally growled, shaking his head dismissively. "Jenkins? A criminal? Impossible!"
"Then why the sealed records?" persisted Eve. Flynn shrugged.
"I have no idea," he answered, placing the scroll back onto its shelf. "But I do know that if the Library itself has sealed this record, then we need to leave it alone." Eve whipped her head around to stare at Carsen in astonishment.
"Since when?!"she exclaimed, raising her hands in frustration. "What if it contains information that we need to know? What if he's got a skeleton in his closet that's gonna jump out some day and endanger the Library or the team?" Like a certain skeleton in your closet named Nicole Noone did, the Guardian thought to herself. "We need to know about that!" Before she'd even finished speaking, Flynn was shaking his head and holding up his hands in denial.
"No, we don't," he said, becoming serious. "This record was sealed by the Library itself, Eve; that means that the Library doesn't want anyone to know what's in there. I don't know why, but I'm sure the Library has its reasons. You and I, we just have to…trust it, that's all." He ended with a small shrug of his shoulders. Before Eve could protest further, Carsen smiled and leaned over to give his bewildered wife's cheek a quick peck, then slipped his arms around her waist.
"Now! What say you and I forget all about this one, teensy-tiny, unimportant little scroll and go put that shelf full of stuff that fell over back into order, hmm? 'Cause there's like two or threeee hundred volumes that just went everywhere when I knocked—I mean—when the shelf fell over!" Before Eve could respond, Flynn released her and dashed off, disappearing among the overcrowded shelves, yelling over his shoulder.
"Time's a-wasting, Eve! And we have plans for this evening, don't forget, so—Chop, chop!"
With one final look at the lone scroll on its shelf, Eve huffed in frustration and slapped her arms to her sides, then turned to go find Flynn.
Several weeks later, Eve pushed open the heavy wooden door that led to the Records Vault and went inside.
Today was everyone's day off. Cassandra had finally managed to talk Jenkins into going to Hawaii for a day on the beach, though he absolutely refused to wear anything that even remotely looked like a swimsuit. Jake and Ezekiel were in Sydney to visit Ezekiel's mom for her birthday, and Flynn was in Geneva at an antiquities auction. Eve had begged off on accompanying him, saying that she wasn't feeling well and just wanted to spend the day napping. As soon as everyone was through the Back Door, she turned and marched straight to the Records Vault.
She had tried to forget about the sealed scroll on Jenkins, but it just wouldn't go away. As the Library's Guardian, she was responsible for its safety and security and the safety and the safety and security of the Librarians—and she didn't like secrets. She especially didn't like them after what had happened in the alternate timeline when Flynn's first Guardian, Nicole, had turned up out of nowhere and literally destroyed their entire world. Secrets were no less than potential threats in her book.
She quickly made her way back to shelf with its lone volume. Eve picked it up and turned it over slowly in her hands, half-admiring its workmanship and half-examining it for booby-traps. She again argued with herself about whether or not she actually had a right to break the seal and read the scroll's contents. She and Jenkins had gotten off to a shaky start five years ago, but she'd quickly come to love the old immortal, and had grown very close to the brother soldier. She had come to regard him as someone she could talk to freely and could trust with her very life without a second thought. What if she now learned something about him in this record that undermined her trust in him? What if she discovered something about Jenkins that caused her to actually come to hate him?
Eve hesitated as she pondered the possible consequences of her actions. In the end, though, she decided that as the Guardian of the Library, she had more than enough security clearance for this, not to mention the duty.
She dug a small penknife from her jeans and opened the blade. After a final split-second of hesitation, she sliced the thin gold cord, letting it and the heavy wax seal fall to the grimy floor with a soft thud. Next, she cut the leather thong, then closed the knife and slipped it back into her pocket. Lastly, she reached into her jacket pocket to retrieve an artifact: The Egeria Glass.
The Egeria Glass was a simple, roughly rectangular piece of heavy, ancient glass that had been fitted with a plain handle made of solid gold. It had once belonged to the Fourth Century nun, Egeria, sometimes referred to as "the world's first tourist" because her detailed writings about her many travels. The Glass was used by her to help translate various writings she encountered where ever she went. To use it, all one had to do was to hold it over the writing one wished to read, and, regardless of the language or its age, the Glass would briefly show a true translation of the text in the user's native tongue. It also had the unique quality of being an artifact that could be used only by women.
Baird gingerly opened the delicate, dried parchment and laid it on the shelf. She took a deep breath, then leaned over the sheet of parchment. The page bore three seals that ran across the top of the scroll: The Tree of Knowledge seal of the Library; the two-edged sword seal of the Guardian—Charlene's seal. The third was the opened book seal of the Librarian—Judson. The words on the parchment were in Latin, but Eve still recognized Charlene's small, neat hand. She also recognized the name "Galahad", but nothing else.
"No going back now," she muttered to herself, then raised the slightly clouded glass to hover over the handwritten words on the page. As the spidery Latin text dissolved into English before her eyes, the current Guardian nearly dropped the fragile artifact when the words became legible.
"In Receipt for Galahad, a Former Knight of Camelot, now a Slave of the Library to Serve in the Capacity of Caretaker, Purchased with the Approval of Yehuda the Scholar, by the Guardian Charmion in Anno Domini 803 from the Viking Raider Hrolleifr, for the Total Sum of 500 Gold Pieces of Byzantium."
Eve's jaw dropped and an icy numbness filled her. Eve knew that "Yehuda the Scholar" was Judson's original name; "Charmion" must have been Charlene's. Eve's mind had barely absorbed this revelation before it quickly raced to the alarming revelation contained in the scroll's scant lines.
Jenkins had been a slave! Bought by Charlene?! She shook her head as she tried to make sense of what she'd just read. It couldn't be what it looked like, there just had to be more to the story!
Eve scooped up the scroll and the glass. She carried them from the Records Vault and into the Library. She had some serious thinking to do today.
A few days after the Guardian's secret foray into the Records Vault, Jenkins was taking a sip of tea from the cup sitting on his desk. He replaced it on its saucer, his dark brown eyes never leaving the book he was studying. He was alone in the workroom at the moment; Flynn had taken the three younger Librarians with him to the Archives to do some research on yetis and how to communicate with them. Jenkins had rolled his eyes at that, but had held his tongue. Everyone knew that a yeti's ideal way of communicating was to seize one by the throat and rip off one's head, but Mr. Carsen was one of those Librarians who had to learn things the hard way.
Jenkins was so engrossed in the text he was reading that he didn't hear Eve Baird enter the workroom. He jumped, a tiny gasp of surprise escaping him when an object suddenly plopped onto the open book in front of him from seemingly nowhere. He looked up, and was startled to see a somber-looking Guardian regarding him with hard, blue eyes. His surprise quickly turned into irritation.
"Colonel Baird?" he inquired acidly, peeved at the interruption. "Do you need help with something?" One corner of the blonde woman's mouth rose, pulling it into a smirk.
"I need help with some answers, Jenkins," she replied coolly, then nodded at the scroll lying on the book open before him. "You can start by telling me what that scroll is all about."
The scowling Caretaker opened his mouth to deliver a biting reply, at the same time dropping his eyes to see what she was talking about. The moment he saw the ancient parchment, saw the golden letters that spelled out his true name, the retort died on his tongue. The scowl melted into a look of disbelief as he stared for several seconds at the scroll.
Finally, he raised his head to stare at Eve. He regained his composure, quickly dropping a neutral expression over his features like a mask, but not before Baird saw shame race through his eyes. He sat upright in his chair and squared his shoulders, running his hand nervously over the front of his clothes.
"Where did you get this?" he asked, his voice carefully made to sound light and disinterested.
"The Records Vault." Jenkins tipped his head back slightly for a moment in sudden understanding.
"Of course," he murmured quietly. "You are the Tethered Guardian now; the Records Vault has become your responsibility." He reached out and gingerly picked up the faded scroll. Eve noted that he held onto it only by his fingertips, as though further contact with it might stain his hands. He gazed at the cracked leather for a few moments.
"'Save your receipts'," he said, musing. Eve remained silent, her arms crossed, waiting for more. Jenkins set the scroll down and looked up at her. "One thing I can say about Charlene—she always practiced what she preached." He picked up his teacup and absently sipped from it.
"I suppose you read it?" he asked, resuming his tone of studied disinterest. Baird nodded her head once.
"I did." Jenkins looked down at his desk, his eyes focusing on nothing in particular. After a couple of minutes he drew a deep, silent breath.
"I suppose that you have no intention of just letting this drop?"
"I do not."
"And you expect to hear the entire story now?" he asked. Eve nodded once again.
Jenkins continued to stare at his desk, his eyes narrowing slightly as he began to umwillingly remember details of the long ago incident for the first time in over a thousand years.
"There's not a great deal to tell, really," he said, his voice flat, as though he was telling her what he had for breakfast that morning. "I was living in Wales, in service to the king of Powys at the time, Cadell; his kingdom bordered that of the Saxons. They attempted to invade Powys one year. I rode out with the king's army, fought and killed many of the enemy. But they were too many, I was taken prisoner." He stopped for a moment. Eve noticed his body tensing and his breathing becoming shallower. She knew his story was much uglier than that, but she had to hear it.
"What happened next?" she prodded gently. He hesitated.
"As was the custom of the time, I was sold to a Saxon slaver. He, in turn, took me to the coast of East Anglia and there I was sold to a Dane. From there I was taken to what is now called Denmark." His eyes stayed locked onto the book still open on his desk, his face rigid and devoid of all expression.
"Jesus, Jenkins…!" Eve breathed in dismay. She began to fear that she was reopening a still-unhealed wound in the old Caretaker; her grandfather looked and sounded the same way the one single time he ever spoke of his experiences during the liberation of Auschwitz at the end of World War II.
"People nowadays tend to romanticize the distant past," said Jenkins. "But there was nothing romantic about it. It was cold, brutal, merciless, for kings and commoners alike."
"Jenkins, I'm sorry; if you'd rather not talk about it, I under—"
"I was finally sold to another Dane." Jenkins's dull eyes suddenly flashed with hatred, the beginnings of a sneer pulling gently at one side of his mouth. He gave a tiny nod towards the scroll in front of him.
"His name is there; I refuse to dignify his memory by speaking it aloud," the immortal said bitterly. "Raiding had made him a wealthy landowner, he needed many strong backs to work his properties. When we reached his farm, he had his men hold me down and tattoo his mark on my body, branding me like a head a cattle!" Jenkins stopped speaking for several moments, absently running his hand over the place on his right shoulder where the hated tattoo had been while he worked to regain control of his voice. When he continued, it was steady again, but Eve could still hear the repressed anger and hatred in his low, rumbling tones.
"For two years he worked me like an animal!" he spat. "I would've run away, but there was no place to go. We were literally in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the enemy. But I had no intention of staying there forever, so I bided my time. I plowed his fields, harvested his crops, tended his livestock, cut wood to warm his house in the winter. Butchered and preserved meat to feed his family. The whole time allowing me and his others slaves barely enough to keep us alive—even his hounds ate better than we did!" He glanced up and saw the question in Baird's eyes.
"No, I didn't need food," he said. "I pretended to eat a small portion of the scraps he tossed us, to avoid any suspicions, but I gave away my share to another who needed it." Eve saw a momentary softening in his expression, then it was gone.
"What was her name?" she asked quietly. Jenkins looked up, surprised, guilt now in his dark eyes.
"Aderyn," he answered simply. "She was also a slave, taken from Wales a year before me. Her name means 'bird', and she was just that—small, delicate, lively. Lovely." His face became hard again. "Far too lovely for her own good, as it turned out."
"What happened to her?" Eve asked, her heart sinking. She already had a good idea as what the answer was going to be. Jenkins snorted softly.
"What always happened to lovely young slaves in those days," he snapped harshly. "She caught the eye of her master. She didn't have the option of refusing him."
"He raped her."
"Of course he raped her!" Jenkins exploded, nearly shouting, taking Eve aback. "He took her at every opportunity! And if she dared show the least bit of resistance, he would beat her until she either submitted or lost consciousness! That...savage didn't care, he simply took her! She—" The immortal shut his mouth suddenly, squirmed in his chair agitatedly as he ran a hand over his mouth and jaw. To her dismay, Eve saw tears beginning to glisten in his eyes.
"Jenkins, I'm sorry!" she hurried to say again. "I didn't mean to pry! You don't have to say anymore if you don't want to…"
"No! I want you to hear this, Colonel," he said, calm now. "I...I've never told anyone about this before, not the entire story. I..." He paused as he tried to find the words to describe his feelings at the moment.
"I've carried this secret for a long time," he confessed, then his tone took on a mildly complaining note. "I don't know why, but ever since you lot invaded my Annex, I begin to find myself weary of keeping so many secrets!" He dropped his eyes, looking almost defeated.
Eve stepped up to the old Caretaker's high desk and reached across it to tightly grasp his large, soft hand.
"Tell me your secret, Jenkins," she invited him softly. Jenkins looked up again and directly into her blue eyes. Eve mentally braced herself.
"He killed her," he said bluntly, sitting upright and pulling his broad shoulders back. "He drank one night until he was roaring drunk. He called for Aderyn. She couldn't refuse to go. I told her to run away and hide, that I would think of a way to excuse her absence, but...she was afraid for my safety, so she went to him." Jenkins swallowed, his face like chalk in the dim lighting of the workroom.
"He…brutalized her," Jenkins whispered, his features twisting with revulsion. "I could hear her screams all the way out in the barns where we slaves slept. She begged, pleaded with him to stop…" The old immortal stopped, his eyes filling with tears and pleading of his own as he looked into Eve's horrified eyes.
"I…I had to do something, Eve! I've seen far too many women—and men—subjected to such abuse my whole life. I couldn't simply sit idly by and allow him to do that to her anymore." Her blood began to run cold with dread, and Eve squeezed his hand.
"What did you do, Jenkins?" she asked. He dropped his eyes as he turned his hand over in hers so that he could clasp it in return.
"I ran to the house," he said, his voice faint and pained. "But by the time I got there it was too late. Her cries suddenly stopped. When I burst into the main hall, she was lying limp on the floor. I could tell that her neck was broken." Jenkins no longer saw his hand grasping Baird's. All he could see now was Aderyn's broken body, half-naked and bloodied, her lifeless green eyes staring at nothing now. She had been pushed off of the table where the Dane tried to rape her and left her in a heap on the dirty floor of the hall, like so much discarded trash.
"He saw me, he was so drunk he didn't think it strange that I just suddenly appeared. He simply ordered me to take her body outside and dispose of it," Jenkins continued, his voice distant, his eyes growing cold. "For a moment I couldn't move, all I could do was stand there and stare at her. The Dane grew angry at what he thought was refusal on my part. He got to his feet and staggered toward me, cursing, yelling for me to get that 'useless whore' out of his hall." Eve said nothing, only waited silently for him to speak aloud what she knew was coming.
"He kicked her as he yelled at me and I…I snapped. I ran at him, screaming like a madman. I have no idea what I thought I was going to do to him, I just attacked him. The next thing I know, he has a battle-axe in his hands. We fought. He was so drunk, it was easy for me to take the axe away from him. Without a second thought I…I swung it. I buried it in his head." Jenkins's eyes were full of horror and self-loathing at what he'd done. Eve said nothing, only held onto his hand tightly, her heart aching for the old man.
"I carried Aderyn from the house, I buried her as best I could," he continued. "I wept over her grave and prayed for her soul. She was a fellow Celt, after all; she reminded me of home. And she was my friend. No matter how cruelly she was treated, she always had hope that we would soon be free again, that we would be able to go home again. Her hope gave me hope. When the Dane killed her, it was as though he killed hope itself." He paused for a moment, his lower lip trembling ever so slightly.
Baird stared at the Caretaker, her chest numb, blood pounding in her ears. As shocking as this revelation was, her instincts told her that she hadn't heard the worst part yet.
"Oh, Jenkins," she murmured, shaking her head slowly, her eyes never leaving him. "What happened after that?" The immortal finally dropped his gaze, fixed his eyes once again on their joined hands.
"I stole a horse and ran away," he said, his voice detached once more. "Or rather, I tried to run away. His sons found his body the next morning, discovered I was missing, put two and two together. They rode after me. They caught me, brought me back to the farmstead. There was no question but that I had to die, of course, and they were determined to make me an example to other slaves. I'd seen this punishment before, so I knew what to expect." Shame returned to his eyes as he spoke.
"They stripped me, chained me to a whipping post, and proceeded to lash me until the snow was red with my own blood. When I lost consciousness from the pain, they thought I was dead, or close enough. I was left there, hanging from the post, naked, completely exposed to the elements. And I would stay there until my corpse rotted free of its shackles. Anyone who tried to interfere or take me down before then risked meeting the same fate, so no one would intervene, not for a Celtic slave." He paused for a moment, and a sickening realization came to the Guardian.
"The scars," she said faintly. "On your back...?" Jenkins nodded without looking up.
"Yes," he confirmed. Eve felt a wave of pity for her friend wash over her, but she was careful not to let him see it. Jenkins, a true soldier, hated to be pitied.
"And that's where Charlene found you," Eve said instead.
"Yes," Jenkins replied, nodding slightly. "She was on her way from Russia back to Frankia—France. She found me two days after the beating, frozen nearly solid, but still alive, of course. She realized then that I was an immortal, no one else could've survived that long in those temperatures. She went to the sons and offered to buy me from them." He snorted softly in amusement.
"When they realized that I was indeed still alive, they assumed that I must actually be some kind of evil Briton spirit and they were more than happy be rid of me while making a profit. Charlene brought me to the Library with her, and here I've remained ever since. More or less."
"More or less?" Baird prodded. A small wry smile came to his lips.
"I was free to come and go as I saw fit, for the most part, once I'd gotten settled in and acclimated to my new circumstances."
"Thank God for that!" breathed Baird with relief. "It must've been a huge adjustment for you, Jenkins, I know it was for me—but at least you were free and safe again!" Her smile faded as she felt the old Caretaker suddenly tense up again.
"Yes, well," he murmured, dropping his gaze. "Safe, perhaps..." Baird cocked her head, her brow furrowing.
"What're you saying?" she asked slowly. Baird tightened her grip on his hand and shook it slightly. "Jenkins! What are you saying?" She saw his jaw tighten, but still he didn't answer her question.
"Jenkins!" she demanded, leaning forward. He remained silent. Baird stood upright and her shoulders dropped, but she held onto his hand.
"You were never freed," she breathed, appalled. "Charlene bought you, but she never actually freed you! She kept you in the Library as a slave!" Jenkins, his eyes still downcast, only swallowed in reply. Eve finally let go of his hand and covered her face for a moment, stunned.
"I can't believe this!" she said, dropping her hands and staring at the immortal. "I can't believe Charlene—or Judson, for that matter—would do something like that! That's...that's...disgusting!" Jenkins looked up calmly.
"To modern sensibilities, it is disgusting," he said. "But you must remember, Eve: The Library was founded in an age when slavery was simply a fact of life. It continued to be so for millennia. The Library, at one time, employed thousands of slaves. Slavery was just as common in the Ninth Century Europe."
"But slavery was outlawed in this country two centuries ago!" snapped Eve. Jenkins raised his hands in a calming gesture.
"Yes, yes," he said. "And the Library stopped using slaves long before the idea of abolition became popular in Europe and the United States."
"Wait—Charlene's not here anymore!" exclaimed Baird. "So, technically, now you are free!" Humiliation again filled the old man's eyes, and Eve's heart sank.
"No," he said quietly. "It was the Library's gold that bought me; therefore, I belong to the Library, for the rest of my life, or until It decides to draw up a formal decree of manumission." The Guardian's mouth dropped open in shock and disgust.
"But, the law...!"
"Does not apply here," Jenkins cut in gently. "The Library exists in its own dimension, remember? Man-made laws and regulations mean nothing here."
"Like HELL they don't!" Baird spat, fury in her voice. How could the Library do something as sick and twisted as this, especially to someone who has served and protected it for as long as Jenkins? "What did Cassandra say about this when you told her?"
The immortal's head snapped up, his dark eyes wide and alarmed.
"Cassandra doesn't know!" he growled, warning on his face. "And I forbid you to tell her! Do you hear me, Colonel? I absolutely forbid it!"
"Jenkins! You have to tell her about this!" protested Baird. "She has a right to know!"
"No!" he barked stubbornly, his face clouding as he stood up and hurried around his desk. "No! After what happened to us all in the other timeline with Nicole Noone, Cassandra still harbors some mistrust of the Library, and it is essential for a Librarian to trust the Library! If I tell her about this, it will only cause her to doubt and mistrust the Library even more, and I cannot allow that!"
"The Library ENSLAVED you, Jenkins!" Eve shouted angrily. "Maybe Cassandra needs to mistrust an entity that would do that!"
"The Library has done nothing to me that I do not deserve!" Jenkins bellowed back. Eve stared at him.
"You think you deserve this?" she gasped, confounded. "You think you deserve to be a slave?"
"Of course I deserve it!" Jenkins yelled, his voice cracking with emotion. "I murdered a man!"
"What?!" yelped Eve, even more confused. "You mean that Viking? Jenkins, that was not murder, you were trying to help a woman who was being raped! He attacked you, with a freaking axe!"
"He was drunk! I attacked him first! He couldn't defend himself properly, I need not have killed him!"
"What, just so he could start raping another woman? Just so he could repeat the whole cycle all over again with a fresh victim? He was a pig, Jenkins! He murdered your friend! If anyone deserved to have an axe in the head, it was him!"
"That doesn't justify what I did!" Jenkins was nearly red-faced with shouting. "I didn't have to kill him, Eve—but I wanted to! Don't you understand that?! I hated him so much that I wanted to kill him. And so I did! I sank to his level! I was no more civilized than him!" He stopped yelling and turned his back to her, dropped his head. Eve could hear him breathing hard.
"I deserved everything I received because of my actions that night—indeed, for all of the unsavory things I've done in my life," he said quietly. "I deserved that whipping, I deserved to be left exposed in the middle of winter to die. I deserved enslavement. I deserve it all!"
"Jenkins! How can you even think that?!" she asked in dismay. "What do you think was supposed to happen? A nice tidy jury trial? You honestly think that's what should've happened?"
"The Library has never mistreated me!" the immortal continued remorselessly, ignoring her sarcasm. "I have never been held here against my will, nor have I ever been physically punished for doing something incorrectly, nor for even refusing to do something. On the contrary, Colonel—the Library has been kind to me, given my life a purpose. It brought all of you into my life, brought Cassandra into my life. I have nothing to complain about where the Library is concerned."
Eve rushed past him and reached over the desk to snatch up the scroll. She whirled around and held it up between them, shook it vigorously at the immortal.
"Well, I do, Jenkins!" she hissed. "I have plenty to complain about, starting with this!" She marched past Jenkins and stopped a few feet away, throwing the ancient scroll across the workroom as hard as she could as she went.
"It doesn't matter how well the Library treats you, you're a human being, not a pet! You have rights! And Cassandra has a right to know!" she continued angrily, spinning around to face the Caretaker again. Baird took a few steps towards Jenkins, her face dark with fury.
"If the roles were reversed, if Cassandra was the one owned by the Library, you'd want to know that, wouldn't you?" she asked. "I know you wouldn't love her any less if she was a slave, but you'd want to know that about her, wouldn't you?"
"There's NO difference, Jenkins!" she yelled.
"Cassandra has done nothing to deserve enslavement!" he suddenly roared. Eve blinked and took a step back.
"I have killed, Colonel—again and again and again! The blood covering my hands will never wash off! Ever! It's bad enough that I've had to kill in wartime; does Cassandra have to know of all of the killing I've done in peacetime as well?! Does she have to know that? Does she have to live in fear that I may kill her someday? I can't do that to her!"
"You would never do that, Jenkins!" protested Eve vehemently. "You would never hurt Cassandra and we both know that, so don't even try to play that card with me! You can't keep a secret like this from her, you know it! You're just afraid!"
"Yes, I'm afraid!" he cried. "I'm afraid to tell her anything, because I'm afraid that one day I'll tell her one secret too many! One day I'll tell one too many godawful secrets and it will break her! She won't be able to bear any more and it will drive her away! And I'm sorry, Colonel, but I would rather be a slave for the rest of my life than risk driving her away! I would rather be chained naked to a post and beaten senseless every, single, day, of my life than to hurt her like that!"
Jenkins fell silent, and the two of them stood staring at each other.
"If you're afraid she'll stop loving you if you tell her things about yourself, you're wrong, Jenkins," said Eve finally, softly. "She won't! And if you're not careful you're going to set yourself up with a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because she'll sense that you're keeping things from her, she'll start to think you don't trust her, and in the end you will drive her away!" Eve paused for a moment, debating how far she should go. She decided it was time for some tough love.
"Frankly, Jenkins, I think you're just trying to use all of this 'I'm afraid of driving her away' stuff as an excuse to intentionally keep things from her—that way, you never have to deal with them or do the work you need to do to resolve those issues, and that surprises me more than anything weird magical thing I've come across in the Library, because that means you're a coward. And I never had you pegged for a coward!"
Jenkins had no answer for that, and Eve saw hurt and embarrassment in his eyes. Before he could formulate a response, she went over to her desk and grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil. Time for this Guardian to put up or shut up.
"But you know what, Jenkins? Maybe you've given up on yourself, but I haven't! Not yet, anyway!" She bent over the desk and hastily scribbled on the paper. She slowly read aloud as she wrote.
"I, Eve Baird, hereby resign from the Library, effective immediately!" The Caretaker's eyes grew round as saucers.
"What?! Colonel Baird, no!" he shouted, and rushed towards her with outstretched hands. "What in the name of all that's holy are you doing?! You can't resign!" Eve turned from the desk and took several steps into the center of the room. She looked up at the ceiling, the resignation held high in her hand as she spun slowly around in place.
"You listening to me, Ray?" she yelled up at the ornate ceiling high above. "Give Jenkins his freedom right now or I swear to God I'll sign this!"
"Have you gone mad, woman?" gasped Jenkins in horror. He tried to pull her arm down and take the resignation away from her, but she fought him off. "You can't do this! You can't put the Library in danger like this!"
"You hear me, Ray?" shouted the Guardian, ignoring the frantic Caretaker as she struggled to keep the paper out of the old man's reach. "You'll have to find a new Guardian! You'll have to try and convince her to tether to you! And chances are, once Flynn hears about this, he'll resign, too! And so will the others! Then you'll have to go through the whole mess of finding a new Librarian AND a new Guardian! Good luck getting them tethered before it's too late for you!"
Jenkins stared, open-mouthed, took a couple of shocked steps away from the raving Guardian.
"You wouldn't!" he breathed, his heart turning to ice in his chest. "You wouldn't do that! The Library would die! The entire world would be put in jeopardy! You wouldn't do that!" Eve turned to look the horrified man in the eyes.
"The hell I wouldn't!" she growled defiantly. "I'm still the Tethered Guardian, and I say that no one will be a slave in this Library—especially you! I will do whatever I have to to make that right!" She tipped her head back to glare at the ceiling.
"And Flynn will back me up!" she shouted into the void above. "You hear me, Ray? Free Jenkins or else! You have to the count of three! One...!"
"Whether I'm legally freed or not isn't important! It doesn't matter to me! I'm perfectly content with things the way they are!"
"It matters to me, Jenkins!" she shot back, still staring upward. "And I know it would matter to Cassandra, too! And Flynn, and Stone, and Jones!" She paused a moment, waiting for a response from the silent Library. Nothing.
"Three!" Eve ran over to the long central worktable and slapped the resignation onto its surface. She grabbed a nearby pen.
"COLONEL! NO!" bellowed Jenkins, panic-stricken. He rushed toward the Guardian and tried to stop her signing the resignation. "Give me that paper this instant!"
During their brief struggle, he managed to wrest the pen from her grasp before she could finish signing the disastrous document, books, papers and artifacts flying everywhere. When he reached out to take the resignation from her, Eve shoved him away, then glared at him boldly as she quickly stuffed the paper into her cleavage as she rounded the end of the worktable in search of another pen.
"Don't think that will stop me, Colonel!" rumbled Jenkins menacingly and began to follow her around the table.
"Yes!" she crowed in triumph, spying the end of a red pencil poking out from beneath a messy stack of files. She grabbed it and pulled the wad of paper from her bra. She bent over it and brought the pencil down to complete her signature.
From somewhere above them, a single sheet of new parchment, weighted down by a large, thick round of red wax, dropped and landed with a soft thud on the table in front of them. Guardian and Caretaker froze, each staring at the parchment for several seconds in surprise. Then, breaking into a grim smile of satisfaction, Eve dropped the pencil and reached out to pick up the document, quickly read its contents.
Office of Records, The Library
Portland, Oregon, the United States of America
TO ALL WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
BE IT KNOWN, that the Library, having purchased the male slave, GALAHAD OF CAMELOT, now known as Jenkins, from the Viking Hrolleifr, for the purpose of serving the Library in the capacity of Caretaker of this Library, and its Librarians, and its Guardians, and after many centuries of faithful and loyal service, this Library does hereby MANUMIT the slave named GALAHAD OF CAMELOT, with heartfelt apologies for his prolonged and unwarranted enslavement, and with equally heartfelt gratitude for his generous and patient service. This CERTIFICATE OF MANUMISSION has been granted to the aforementioned GALAHAD OF CAMELOT on this day, August 4, 2019 AD under the Seal of
At the bottom of the document, the bright red wax seal bore the imprint of the seal of the Library itself.
Eve Looked up and handed the certificate to Jenkins. He hesitantly took it from her and began to read silently. His shoulders suddenly dropped and the paper in his hands quaked gently. As he finished, one hand rose to cover his mouth, his eyes still locked onto the parchment. Eve said nothing as she watched the immortal, allowing him to absorb the document and its full meaning. After a few minutes, Jenkins closed his eyes, and Eve saw a single tear slip from beneath his eyelid to roll slowly down his cheek. He quickly brushed it away as he ran the hand covering his mouth up and over his eyes and forehead, pretending to merely smooth his hair. Eve pretended not to see the tear. Jenkins took a deep breath and looked up.
"Colonel, why did you do this?" he asked quietly. "Not that I'm ungrateful—quite the opposite—but... You put the Library, the entire world, in tremendous danger. Over something that didn't really matter..."
"It mattered to me, Jenkins!" she repeated fiercely, stepping closer to him. "To paraphrase something a stubborn old soldier once told me—there is nothing that would keep me from helping you!" Jenkins smiled knowingly as he recognized his own words, spoken to the Guardian several years ago.
"The Library should've done this ages ago, Jenkins," Baird continued earnestly, glancing at the sheet in his hand. "I've noticed a lot over the years that the Library seems to hand you the short end of the stick over and over, and that's not right. The Library takes advantage of you, and that's just not right."
"Perhaps, Eve, but to blackmail the Library...!"
"No! No 'perhaps' about it, Jenkins," she said crisply, closing the gap between them and lightly grasping the tall man's upper arms. She looked him looked at him as she spoke, her tone now soft and urgent. "I'm your Guardian, too. There was no way in hell I was gonna let this stand once I found out about it! You're an equal member of this team, of this family. And you're a good man, Jenkins; you're a soldier, not a murderer. I know how hard that is, you can't just flip a switch and not be a soldier anymore. But you know right from wrong and you act out of that knowledge. You fought for that girl, because it was the right thing to do, Jenkins. You fought for her because you knew she was worth fighting for, and that Viking got exactly was what coming to him!" Eve moved her hands up to rest on the knight's shoulders and looked directly into his eyes.
"And you're worth fighting for, too—just as much as any Librarian or Guardian. I know that's hard for you believe or accept sometimes, but it's the truth. Nothing will ever keep me from fighting for you, Jenkins, not even the Library!"
Jenkins dropped his eyes to look at the manumission certificate. He pressed his lips together and swallowed visibly, a lump rapidly forming in his throat. When he glanced up again, Eve saw gratitude—and love—in the normally unreadable dark brown eyes.
"Thank you, Eve," he whispered, dropping his head quickly in a short nod. "I can never repay you for any of this."
"You can repay me by telling Cassandra about everything," she said kindly. Jenkins opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off.
"She needs to know this about you," the Guardian insisted gently. "This is something that shouldn't be kept secret from a spouse, and I think you know that." The immortal took another deep breath and exhaled as he pulled himself up to his full height.
"I will," he acquiesced. "But...in my own time. After I've had a chance to process all of...this." He gently waved the document in his hand.
"You have my word, Colonel," Jenkins said, laying his free hand over his heart as a sign of his pledge. "I ask, though, that no one else be told of this. I'd like to be the one to tell the others, when I'm ready." Eve nodded in agreement.
"Fair enough," she said. Eve suddenly wrapped her arms around the old man and gave him a tight hug. She felt his body tense momentarily at the unexpected embrace, but he quickly relaxed. She felt his arms encircle her and he hugged her back, just as tightly.
"Thank you, Eve, for everything, you're a good friend," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "And I…I love you." Tears sprang to Baird's eyes at the surprising expression of tenderness and affection from the normally gruff old Caretaker.
"I love you, too, Galahad!" she said, her voice full of emotion. After one more tight squeeze, the hug ended.
"So! What's the first thing you're gonna do with your new-found freedom?" Eve asked as she dropped her arms and blinked away threatening tears. Jenkins stepped back, raised his head and looked wistfully into the distance, at the same time rolling up the certificate and tucking it into his breast pocket.
"I think I'll go and make some tea," he declared, then cocked his arm to offer her his elbow, his eyes now twinkling. "Would you care to join me, Colonel?"
"I'd love to!" she answered with a dramatic nod. Eve grinned as she slipped her arm into his and the pair began walking toward the kitchen.
Guardian, 1; Caretaker, 0! she said to herself, with no little pride.