07-The Center Cannot Hold: 1091

Aurora had never known such joy; could not contemplate anything better then the time following the birth of their son. As good as it had been before, it seemed to have increased tenfold with Alex's arrival. If this was what being trapped in this Room could be like, she wouldn't mind so much. She knew it was not the case, however. A part of her had been noting with dread the passing of the years, but she had been far too happy to consciously mark their passing too often.

Alexander was a bright and happy child who looked more and more his father's son as the weeks and months marched by. He wasn't pampered, nor was he spoiled; but none could say that the boy with the dark curly hair wanted for anything. The very idea of a wet nurse or nanny was given all the consideration it was due; which was to say very close to none. Aurora was a very hands on parent, and it showed in Alex's confidence and near fearlessness.

It was enough to give a person gray hair.

She noticed it first in one of Beth's grand-daughters; a woman supposedly younger then Aurora whose mahogany tresses were streaked with silver and face showing laugh lines and crow's feet. Aurora could explain her slow aging to her diet and the care she took with her skin for only so long before she started stirring suspicions, and as much as she smiled and laughed her face should be showing some signs of the years.

So it was that she found herself staring sadly at her reflection as she cast the spell to start the slow process that would take her from this place, the man who would forever hold her heart, and their son - but it would only be for a short while with Alex. Her children would have long, if mortal, lives. She could come back for him.

Then she locked herself in her lab and cried for the rest of the afternoon over what she was going to be leaving behind.

Julian adored his Family. He loved his Wife, and together they raised their Son as they saw fit. The conventions of the day were not for the Nobles of Huntingdon. Julian took advantage of Alexander's youthful mind, and started in on Languages and Reading and Writing early. He also got him a pony that was bred to size, and as promised, made a bow that the boy could use and practice with. It was clear to everyone in Huntingdon that their Earl had two lights in his life, the first was his Lady Wife, the second was his precocious Lordling Son. All were well loved by the staff, and even the people, as no one could imagine their Earl and Countess raising a cad. With the Son of Julian Longbow holding the land, everyone felt assured of their prosperity and the continuing generosity and protection of Huntingdon.

He noticed how others aged, and how Beth's step slowed year after year. He knew that eventually the years would begin to stack up like books in his Library, and he would no longer be able to dwell there. He could not pretend to be his own son, nor did Julian feel right about revealing his immortality to his wife, who would surely wither and pass on. Julian would not be able to handle the resentment he had been warned to expect, not from her lovely eyes, or from her prefect lips. Nor was he certain that he had the courage to watch her grow old, or the time — the Church would eventually hear of the immortal man, and then what? Julian had ignored all of that, however, he would not let pragmatism dim the brightness of his happiness or adoration for his wife and son.

Every day became more precious to Aurora after the acceptance of her too near future. She was determined not to let her own despair pollute what she had left. Perhaps that was why the visions suddenly hit her so hard, so frequently. She woke up in a cold sweat after one night of seeing scene after scene of her lost siblings, and she knew as sure as the sun would rise that they were in this same world. She would never be alone, but she knew lonely was another matter.

The visions left Aurora unsettled, wary, protective. But it wasn't until she had one of her son that she woke up with a scream of "NO!" in the middle of the night and was out of bed in a flash, in a panicked run as soon as her feet hit the floor. Heedless of her nudity, she flung open the door and raced down the hall to Alex's room.

When Aurora cried out, Julian sprang from the bed almost instantly, nude as the day he as born. He immediately realized there were no threats, but when Aurora dashed out of the room, he gave chase, snatching up his sword from the stand by the door, and calling for the guards. He chased after his Wife, who made straight for their son's room. Julian's face became stony as he ran, and he skidded to halt near his wife, who was already by Alexander's bed. Julian was about to ask what was wrong, or even what had happened, when they burst suddenly into the room through the door that belonged to the adjoining room they used as Alexander's play room and classroom. It was also where the Nanny slept; the Nanny didn't have to do much but fetch one of the boy's parents if he cried or asked for them, but both Parents appreciated the added security. Julian knew that Alice would have raised a fuss, and the men that entered did not look compromising.

Julian did not even scowl. A sure sign that he had passed straight through angry, and into dangerously pragmatic. In an icy cool even voice, Julian asked, "Is this how you repay our hospitality. By attempting to kidnap our son."

There were four men, all of them armed, though only one held a truncheon in his hand. They were members of the performing troupe that they had given a meal and a bed to earlier that very night. Alexander had even enjoyed the performance of the acrobats and the fellow that used an old trick to 'breathe' fire. There could be no other reason to be in their Son's room at that hour, and both the Earl and the Countess knew that the ransom of Nobles was simply lucrative business for some. The men looked as surprised to see the Lord and Lady of the House, as Julian was to see them when they had burst in.

"Aurora, take him out of here." Seemingly unaware of his nakedness, Julian raised his sword.

"Of course, beloved." A pale Aurora scooped up Alexander blanket and all. He was still not awake, though the noise had roused him and he was blinking sleepily. "Do not take too long in making them an example." She gave the four a look of loathing, shushed Alex's mumblings and swept out of the room.

Her maid met her in the hall with a robe, but the Countess refused to put down her son to put it on, leaving the woman to drape it over Aurora's shaking shoulders. "I am fine," she said stiffly. "Send the guard to check on Alice."

The alarm raised, the halls were no longer dark or empty. Aurora had seen her husband fight; he could easily handle four itinerant entertainers, though his guard would be in there soon enough if he needed assistance. Her first concern was Alex, who was again stirring in her arms.

Arriving back in the master suite, Aurora was too shaken to even put Alex down. She sat silently on the lounging couch in front of the fire and held him close as she lulled him back to sleep with whispered words and a softly crooned lullaby. Julian's wife had never had a blood-thirsty thought in her life until that moment; she hoped he killed them all - slowly and painfully.

Julian knew Aurora would do as he asked, even as the four men began to spread out. Idiots. He could tell by the way they moved they were not a coordinated team, at least not in battle. He might have had minor reason for concern if their efforts were more in concert. They were simply trying to surround him, and the fact that they were doing so, and that he was naked, was giving them a false sense of confidence.

"This ain't the tourney field, m'Lord." The one with the truncheon taunted

"Aye, m'Lord, no armor 'tween you an a sharp blade." Said another, drawing a short stabbing sword.

"Ye've got money a'plenty, all we wanna do is share." Two long knives for this one.

"First we'll cut you, then we'll make yer wife our whore." Another truncheon.

"Aye!" The first one crowed, "Won't need the kid when we've got you to ransom."

Julian eyed each man in turn, his eyes rising briefly to a mural he and Aurora had painted onto the wall after she whitewashed it. He would not turn his Son's room into a slaughter house. He turned his blade around and tossed it at the feet of one of the men with a club. "I would use that if I were you."

John, Julian's squire rushed into the room carrying a shield and his Lord's tabard, but was frozen at the door by the look on his Lord's face. He turned around to stop the guards, and watched the fight unfold. It would take a full day for the veteran squire to properly describe it, but nothing would erase the sick sound of bones breaking from his mind for the rest of his life.

The men attacked, and Julian defended himself and more. The Earl of Huntingdon killed the men with his bare hands, but death was not immediate. Julian did not just kill them he — dismantled them. The men at arms, most of them battle hardened under Julian's command, were pale when they covered and carried the bodies out. The Earl had caskets made for each man, and had them displayed while open, on the road that led to the main gate of the Keep. In several languages, a sign read, 'Kidnappers'. The very vivid example, as well as the story of the event, spread like wildfire. It was the only attempt to kidnap the Heir of Huntingdon.

The Beginning of the End

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