“He doesn’t remember who he is?” Hector questions.
Greybeard sighs. “It seemed a good way to end his story.” The librarian’s contorted face demands further explanation. Wiping his blackened quill clean on a stained shirt, the old man begins walking toward the bookshelf. Reaching his stick-thin arm to the highest shelf, he stretches himself, just hooking one of his twigish fingers over the top of a large leather book’s spine.
Slowly, it slides out from between the other prestigious volumes, ‘til it falls, its massive pages fluttering open like a dove’s flapping wings. Landing on the old man’s chest, the book nearly throws Greybeard to the floor. Swaying under the weight of the massive article, he staggers backward before finally gaining his balance.
He carries the red leather book to the center of the room, stopping at the head of a long table. The tome hits the tabletop with a thud. Following after this wizened figure, Hector comes up behind Greybeard. Gazing over the old man’s shoulder, he reads: The Fall of Azeltop.
The cover depicts a medieval styled image of seven mounted knights with their lances pointing upward at a tower, as if intending to tilt at the young figure standing upon the parapet. He had a small crown, and Hector rightly judges him to be a prince. Behind the prince a large figure, standing hunched in the shadows, arches his back toward the troubled child, looking over his shoulder with an overdramatized expression of contempt. The prince himself gazes into heaven, holding both hands over his head as if reaching up to the sun above.
“Read the subtitle,” Greybeard wheezes.
Hector finds no subtitle, but spots the illustration’s label: The Betrayal of the House of Windermere.
“Our friend Johnny can never go back to his world,” Greybeard intones.
Hector studies the picture again. Slowly he sees it. Though the style is simple, the manner of the hunched figure, the trim of the beard, all of it possesses a familiar look. The clothing, that’s what really marks him. Hector remembers the wearied, battered soldier who one day barged into their dwelling, shouting curses, his brandished steel shining in the flickering flames of the candles. He dressed exactly like that, this villain was their very own Johnny.
“The Fall of Azeltop,” the old man recalls, “chronicles the final battle in a very long war. The king dies, leaving his inexperienced son to reign. The child acts churlishly, insulting the lord of the castle wherein he found sanctuary from his pursuers. The situation comes to a head when the lord of the castle refuses to fight for the king.” here Greybeard stops, gazing upon the picture.
“What happens?” Hector prompts.
“They kill the prince, and banish the lord.” Curling his fists, Greybeard taps a swollen knuckle upon the splintering wood of the table. “Every world is connected to the Intraworld. When they banished him, they compelled him to the boarder of their lands.”
Throwing back the cover and flipping through a few pages, the old man flattens the book’s spine so the image spanning the two pages could be clearly studied. Setting his finger upon the map and touching an undetailed expanse to the west, he waits for Hector to read: The World of the Black Monsters.
“Even on the top shelf, the shadows are invading,” sighs the old man.
Feeling he almost understood, Hector decides one more protest of his complete ignorance would avail him of the full story. Putting on the most confused façade he could manage, the librarian turns toward the old man. He plays it up, letting the glance work upon Greybeard, before delivering the final calculated question.
“Why doesn’t he remember anything?” he spouts suddenly.
Fearing his whole explanation a crumbling sandcastle, the old man redoubles his efforts. Furiously turning the pages, Greybeard comes to the book’s title page, and begins gesticulating at the small subtitle. Hector reads: “The Fall of Azeltop, A Tragedy.”
“Johnny, our Johnny, is a tragic character, a man flawed and doomed to fall. Inconstant, he’s cursed, so that as long as he remembers his sin he cannot escape his banishment and must return, must always forfeit comfort and fellowship, to reenter the Intraworld. I’m trying to give him a chance, to let him rest.” The old man’s panting voice fails him, and he falls back into a chair.
“And you think if he forgets,” Hector says, carefully mulling over his words, “he can overcome his fatal flaw?”
“Maybe, maybe,” Greybeard mumbles. “Maybe.”