10-The End: Julian

1096

The first year was the hardest. Julian did not even look at the sketchbook he’d been given. He knew what it was full of; memories. Memories that were too fresh, by far, to be leafing through as his host made their slow way across the country. He ran his fingers over the braid of hair at his wrist, unconsciously, as he rode his horse towards their destination. Only Sir Charles, a loyal Widower himself, understood the distance in Julian’s eyes. Their Lord was not looking ahead to the future, he was looking back. All the way to his home, and his Wife and the Son he had to leave behind.


As they crossed out of Europe, Julian took his first look at the sketchbook. In the first few pages he learned the hard lesson that he had been avoiding. That only he would last forever in that place. That everything and everyone he loved there was doomed to fade away, and disappear, like dust in the wind. Only Alexander would remain, and this was the light, the hope that Julian held close to his heart. Aurora might not have been born of Substance, but she was now, in every breath her Son took, every beat of his heart, was a step towards her own symbolic immortality. Julian hoped that it was enough for his Son; he already knew that it would never be enough for him.


It was Sir Charles’ quiet wisdom that brought Julian back to where he was, and what he was doing. As the most senior Knight of the Host of Huntingdon, Charles Waterford was Julian’s Second, his Knight-Commander. They had yet to engage in their first battle, but everyone knew it was coming, especially after they had joined the other mustered Armies of Europe. The Knight told him simply, “These men did not answer the Call of Rome; they answered the Call of the Earl of Huntingdon. Is he still here?”

Julian then went among his men, thanking them for coming, in groups and personally, and gave a speech that was not Saint Crispin’s Day, but that spoke of getting their task done so they might all return home to their Families. When the time came to enter formation, Julian refused to subdivide his men. The Host of Huntingdon would fight together, or not at all. True to his reputation, the Earl of Huntingdon led his men into one of the earliest battles of the Crusade, he did not follow, but charged with them from the front of the formation. On the way to the Holy Land, he had ordered his men to exchange heavy armor for lighter leather, chain, or scale. He had even lightened the barding on their horses, exchanging heavy cavalry for a more effective light cavalry. Though they were better armed than any light cavalry from Europe, and with the addition of shorter recurve bows, along with the longbow, the Earl and his Host were terribly effective.


Reports of their victories drifted back over the following year, though only sparsely. Usually carried by men that had suffered an injury, and been sent home by Julian himself, or one of his Knights. The Earl of Huntingdon was earning new names; one tale referred to him as The Hawk or the White Hawk, another said the Hagarenes referred to him as Ashraf Shahin – Honorable Hawk.

By the beginning of the next year, news slowed to a trickle, if any word was received at all.


1098

Julian was there at the Siege of Antioch when Kerbogha of Mosul attacked. He had already witnessed the slaughter of the citizens of Antioch, when the Crusaders gained entranced by bribery, and was already beginning to think this war would never end. He helped defeat the armies of Kerbogha, finally solidifying the Church’s hold on Antioch, taking no reward or title for himself, and claiming only what his Host needed to continue to fight. He was disgusted by the politics of it all, and the false zeal that fueled the land-grabbing crusade.

He knew that Jerusalem was next, and that his clemency, a trait for which he was known by both enemy and ally, would be too small to change the course of what was to come. It would be a bloody slaughter, and there was nothing that he could do about it. Forced to march with the Crusaders, he ordered his men to do only what was necessary, but not a Huntingdon boot was to enter the Holy City until it was already firmly in the grasp of the Church. Julian had come to value his men, and these people, these Shadows. It was the love of his Wife that kept him from calling a Shadow of himself to die in Jerusalem, so that the horrid masquerade could be complete. Instead, Julian simply disappeared in the madness of battle, leaving one world for another.

Leaving his heart behind in Huntingdon.


1100 – Amber

Upon his return to Amber, Julian found a measure of solace in the Great Forest of Arden. He disappeared into it; literally and figuratively. Julian did not call on his Brothers, nor did he stop to pay respects to the King, or to enter the Castle. In truth, it was a year before anyone even began to suspect he was home, and even then it was Benedict that noticed it first, with Caine not far behind in the deduction. Arden had a new hunter and protector, and word had begun to spread from the scattered inner settlements that were in Amber and in Arden’s Shadows, to the villages closer to the edge, and eventually into the City of Amber itself. Incidents of banditry dropped markedly, and certain roads through Arden were considered safer than they ever had been before. Reports of a man in white armor firing arrows at brigands, or lancing beasts , had begun to circulate.

He was, whether he chose to admit it or not, in mourning. His Wife still lived, and yet he could not touch her, could not run his fingers through her wild curls, kiss her skin, enjoy the subtlety of her scent, or make love to her surrounded by the stars. Arden, like Sherwood, was an old tree forest, with mighty sweeping oaks, and conifers taller than any minaret he’d seen. Julian saw Aurora in the meadows, heard her voice in the brooks and rills, and felt her touch on the wind. It was his only way of being away from her, but still feeling close to her. He knew that he could not go back, just as he knew that she would wither, and fade, and pass on. When such pragmatism became too much to bear, he thought often of Alexander, and that comforted him in those long, lonely nights.


1112

Julian stood before his Brother in the middle of a camp of Rangers. It was a small band of men Julian had assembled over the past few years to help defend Arden, its people, and its roads. It was not an effort he had intended to make, it had simply happened, and now there was talk of making him the Warder of Arden. Julian dismissed it, however, as he doubted that any of his half-Brothers would be pleased by the idea of Julian, an attentive student of Benedict, having his own standing force in Amber.

He was a man content. Arden and his work there filled his days, and he did not need anything else. He had made a home there, and in it something of a shrine to everything he had left behind; On a table, under a likeness of the Unicorn rested the Sketchbook, the ribbons that bore his Wife and Son’s name, and the braid of hair that had grown to worn to wear without losing it. It had been broken in a fight, and Julian had ruined that man for the rest of his life, before retrieving the pieces. Julian had buried his feelings under pragmatism and carefully built a keep of white stone about his heart, it made him seem icy to his kin; a cold, calculating hunter that would just as soon hunt any of them, as well as the game and beasts that were already his prey. Only one knew the totality of his pain, because only one understood it.

Gerard laid a large hand on his little Brother’s shoulder, “When do you want to leave?”

“Now.” Julian replied, “While I have the nerve, while I am hopeful that my Son doesn’t hate me for abandoning him and his Mother.”

Gerard sighed, “It is the way of things, Julian. Caine and I did not tell you, because you were always one to learn the hard lessons for yourself, in your own way.”

Julian nodded mutely.

“Knowing now what her fate would be, would you choose otherwise?”

“No.”

Gerard nodded, “This new Julian does not fool me, Brother.”

Julian met Gerard’s eyes, and for the first time, the Elder saw the ice and hardness that had grown in his youngest sibling, and he quietly mourned the inevitable loss of innocence that all Amberites suffered, endured, and were changed by. Gerard did not know whether to be sympathetic, or to be saddened by the realization.

“The Julian that you knew before I walked the Pattern died in Jerusalem.”

Gerard decided that he was sad.


Two riders approached Huntingdon Keep. Even at a distance, the men on the wall could tell that one was quite a large fellow, on an equally large horse that still somehow seemed too small. In time, they rode up the causeway, and stopped to call out to the watchmen.

“Hail to Huntingdon! We are armsman seeking employ. If there is no such here, then we beg a night’s hospitality. The road has been long, and not easy.” Julian hoped that his Son had kept up his traditions, and was pleased when the drawbridge was lowered, and a young man met them just inside the gate.

“Welcome to Huntingdon, Friends. Our Lord asks that you stay the night, and that you allow us to tend your horses.” The young fellow smiled.

Julian let the mask slip, “John?”

“No, that is my Father’s name, I am Julian, his Son.” The young man smiled, green eyes merry under a mop of blonde hair. “Did you know my Father once?”

“No.” Julian said quickly and swallowed the lump in his throat. “I have heard of him.”

The young man smiled, shifted the quiver on his back, and found stablehands to tend the horses, and guided the two men into the hall where meals were already being set for them. “You know my name. What names shall I give my Lord?”

“He will see us?” Julian asked, Gerard looming silently behind him.

“I’m sure he will. We have a need for skilled men. So many were lost in the Crusade, and of those that returned, many can no longer serve.” Julian the younger explained.

“Tell him Sir Robert Loxley, and Sir John Little. We were knighted on the march.”

Julian the Younger nodded, “Aye. Many were.” And walked off with proud confidence.


After their meal, they were brought to the Earl’s Study, a room Julian remembered fondly. He wondered what changes Alexander might have made. He was always so smart, so quick, and Julian had worried that he would not have enough books to satisfy his Son’s blossoming intellect. When he entered the room, he was surprised to see that it was largely unchanged, save a concession to the Church; a plain wooden crucifix. He was also surprised to see that the man behind the desk was not his son, a fact he could discern even with the Earl’s back to Julian.

When the door closed, and before Gerard could restrain him, Julian all but pounced upon the bald man and turned him around. Julian’s pale blue eyes met John Strongbow’s green, and before recognition set in, the Prince of Amber whispered. “You’re not my Son.”

John was startled, aged, but still hearty. He had a dagger drawn and his hand upon Julian’s neck before he looked hard into those blue eyes. John stared at Julian’s clean shaven face, clearly repainting his beard and his once long dark hair. Tears welled up in the old man’s eyes, and despite years being the Earl of Huntingdon he sprang forward and hugged Julian with a cry of, “Master!”

Julian hugged the man that he barely recognized through the burden of years, and stepped back, his hands upon the other’s shoulders. It did not matter why or how John could be so accepting of his return, only one question was important. “Where is Alexander?”

“Oh, Master.” John seemed to shrink. His shoulders stooped, and there was no stopping or hiding the tears now. “Come with me.”

Julian was stricken.

Gerard could see that he paled, and in a voice hoarse with his own emotion over a nephew he had never met, “Come away with me, Julian. There is nothing for us here. Nothing you need to see.”

“I have to see.” Julian replied tightly, his eyes on John. Gerard could only nod; it was a very Julian thing to say and to do.


The Earl of Huntingdon, John Strongbow, now forty-two years of age, led his Master to the mausoleum his Wife had erected. He opened it with the only key that existed, and quietly led Julian inside. Out of habit, he took up station just behind and to the right of Julian, as he always had. Gerard took note of Julian’s shadow, unsurprised by the loyalty his Brother inspired in men. The big Prince stood quietly near the door.

Julian whispered, “What happened?”

“The Countess believed you had passed. It was the year Ten-Ninety-Eight. She knew it, and because she believed it, so did we. We knew that she had the Sight, m’Lord. We knew that she loved you deeply. If she thought you gone from this world, none of us would say neigh.” John answered quietly, “She carried on as you would have wanted her too. You would have been proud of her. She raised her Son well. I helped where I could, I stood for Alexander when he was Young, so that the fools could see a man’s face and know that Huntingdon was still yours, my Lady’s and my young Lord’s.” John cracked and gripped Julian’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Master, I swore to protect them but I couldn’t. I failed you. I do not deserve this title, I told the Countess as much but she insisted. I–“

“John, please.” Julian patted the man’s hand on his shoulder, and quietly urged him to continue. “Go on.”

John sniffed, and nodded, “In Alexander’s Seventeenth year, a sickness struck everywhere. Huntingdon was not alone, and the Countess did everything she could to help the sick. Your son — I’m sorry, Master – the sickness took him. With it went my Countess’ light. Two years later, she left to search for your body. I believe she went into Sherwood to – pass her last days in peace.” He opened his mouth to continue, but Julian raised a hand to stop him.

“Leave me.” Julian commanded. “Continue, Earl of Huntingdon, and know that your Master is very proud of you. After today, you will never see me again.”

John nodded, wiped his face, stood straight, and the Earl of Huntingdon left the tomb.

Gerard started to speak, and was struck silent by a glance from his Brother, and he too left the tomb. Julian closed the iron gate, and hung his cloak from it. What Gerard heard next broke his heart, and forced the Eldest Rilgan to walk away from the mausoleum.

An hour passed, two, three. Dawn came, and with its break, Julian left the tomb. Only Gerard stood waiting. He wasted no time, and drew out one of the Trumps. When the contact was made, Gerard quietly said to Caine, “Our Brother needs us.”

Julian and Gerard disappeared in a shimmer of rainbows. Julian would never be the same again.


TOCAurora's Story Continues 1200-1445

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