The grandfather clock ticked from behind him as the quiet of the British spring afternoon filled the entire nation. Of course it was raining, but there was no sign of it in his drawing room as Arthur listened to the sound of the clock mix with the rain and the crackle of the fire in his grate. He was laid out on the chaise in his parlor with a forgotten book laying face-down on his chest while he stared with his arm bent behind his head into the flickering fire before him. He had spent similar afternoons like this many times in his entire lifetime, where he was now easily could have been over three hundred years or longer in the past, but it was not, it was here, in the present, as the world moved ahead into third millennium.
If he wasn’t careful, he was going to find himself slipping through the fabric of time and relive his youth. He was trying to avoid the thoughts of the past, the history that he had survived and had helped shape the future and the present.
If Arthur was honest with himself, he was bored. The book he had selected from his vast library wasn’t holding his attention and he hadn’t seen any fairies lately to speak to in his garden either. He felt the stirring to go out and conquer something, but that really wasn’t the way to go about things anymore. He hadn’t done that for a while and it really hadn’t gone so well the last time he’d tried it either. Arthur didn’t even have the next meeting of the nations to look forward to for another week or two, either.
He sighed and turned on his side to face away from the fire and looked out the window where raindrops slid down the glass of the window as the steady stream of rain fell from the sky. The book slipped off of his chest and dropped to the plush carpet underneath the chaise. He wasn’t arsed to do it, but he could have welcomed the blanket that was resting in the corner of the sofa across the room to cover himself. The fire would suffice, he decided and exhaled slowly.
Lethargy came to him then, and an afternoon was well on its way to seizing control of his senses. Despite Arthur’s best intentions, he could not stop his dreams for letting him relive his youth and days of glory, no matter how much he wished he could.
It was hard to remember those days, dark as they had been, when Arthur had been just an ankle biter and Britannia had found him in the cold of Rome’s fading shadow. Arthur didn’t remember much of those days, but he could recall the cold because it always seemed endless, but he could remember the kindness in his mother’s embrace as she had held him close to her heart.
When Arthur had been old enough to walk on his own, Britannia had left him in the care of his older brother Allistor. Arthur had thought the Scotsman had a funny accent and told him as much. Allistor had just raised his eyebrow, bushy as they were much like Arthur’s own, and had taken him into the forest to hunt their dinner. It was still cold outside, and they needed to find food and a place for the night so that they could build a fire and get some rest.
Arthur hadn’t seen his mother much after that, but he had had Allistor (when he wasn’t drinking or being antagonistic towards Arthur) and soon he had two other brothers as well, Ireland and Wales, and Arthur thought this was what family was for. Sure, they may have fought a lot and tried to take over some land (Arthur was just as guilty as the others in that regard, if not more so he could admit, reluctantly), but they had one another’s back and Arthur looked at those days with Allistor along with their brother Wales, in the woods of their land with great joy.
It wouldn’t be long before that joy faded into bittersweetness when he was greeted with a wall of stones or arrows whenever he went round to visit the other two. Arthur sighed whenever he had to go visit one of them. He really shouldn’t be hated so much by his own family.
When England grew up and entered his teenage years, he rebelled. Being at home wasn’t doing it for him anymore, he wanted to see beyond the realm of the British Isles and he wanted to see everything. Encouraged by his Queen, the wonderful Bess, England, and therefore Arthur, stretched his arms and reached out across the sea. He was trying to beat all the other countries to the strange new land called ‘the New World’. France and Spain had already started to colonize parts of it and Arthur wanted his share.
When he first set foot on the soft-sanded beach, Arthur couldn’t believe what he saw. Gone were the rock-laden frigid-water seaside that he had known his life at home in England. Here there were miles upon endless miles of open beach that stretched as far as he could see in either northerly or southerly direction. Giant emerald-leaved trees stood just off the shore beyond the dunes with their sea-grass moving in the breeze. So much land, so much space, a vast wilderness and Arthur wanted it all for his own. He had the vice of greed and he could hardly blame himself as he bent forward and grasped a handful of the smooth sand in his fist and rose with it. This New World would be his and his alone.
He was tired of Scotland arguing with him and trying to free himself of the ‘chains’ he claimed England had put him in. He was tired of listening to Wales grumble under his breath about the same thing. Don’t even get him started on his feelings about Ireland. Couldn’t they see that he was doing his very best for them all? He was trying to protect them, give them a home where they could all be prosperous and safe. By broadening his, and therefore their, horizons, he was insuring future prosperity and growth for them all. If only they could settle down and understand that!
But he had never been the oldest brother. Arthur had had to fight for his voice amongst his brothers. Arthur had to elbow and shoulder his way to the top of the order by, technically yes, conquering his brothers. It was all for their own good, he said. All for the greater good. Still, his actions had not endeared him to his kin and Arthur greatly needed to find something bountiful for them all that they would enjoy also.
The New World, this new land, could do just that he thought.
He first saw the boy in a field. He was ignoring France’s quest for him and Arthur paused when he realized this is who they had been looking for. Arthur had seen many a colony in his life and he would see more before his days were through, he knew that, but there was something special about this potential colony, something that he hadn’t felt for quite a while. Youth, abundance, unbridled desire for the pursuit of joy. It stirred something in Arthur’s chest and he reached a hand forward to invite the young America as he would be called to join him in his family.
At the time Arthur would not realize that he had sealed his own fate the moment the boy took his hand with a delighted giggle and a small tug to pull him through the fields of Virginia towards the sea.
The clock chimed seven times, stirring Arthur from his sleep after the fifth bell. He shivered, having grown cold due to the absence of the fire being replenished with fresh wood. The rain had not stopped, nor had it intensified, just remained the same steady constant he had always known. Arthur felt groggy, his head swimming with pressure from having stayed in the same awkward angle for hours on end. He yawned and wanted to go back to sleep now that the clock was done making so much bloody noise.
He sighed as he recalled effortlessly the weight inside of his heart that had before been buried under the surface. He had dreamt, then.
Arthur shifted onto his back and looked at the ceiling of his parlor. Little had changed in the design since its creation in the seventeenth century, when he had risked his own civil war and come out ahead, somehow. He had not looked fondly on those days at home and had eagerly looked abroad to soothe his troubled mind.
He felt nausea stir in his abdomen as the memories rose once again like the waves do in a storm.
He remembered returning from one awful meeting in Parliament to the colony that he had favored above the others. He had stepped off the dock in the Massachusetts colony and had been greeted by a boy, older than he had left him, but still younger than a teenager. He was surprised at how fast America was growing, but he was too relieved to see him. Arthur was touched that the boy greeted him.
“You knew I was coming?” Arthur asked after the boy took his hand and led him through the new but still teeming port of Boston in the provincial colony. The blond-haired boy nodded his head, bright blue eyes shining with happiness that his friend, his brother, had returned.
“I was on Nantucket, looking for lobster again. I saw your ship coming so I swam back to meet you.” He replied cheerfully, skipping through the populated streets of the new capital of the colony.
Arthur looked the boy over. “You don’t appear as if you’ve been out swimming, Alfred.”
Alfred giggled. “Your ships are so slow! I had plenty of time to swim back, dry off and change to wait here for you!”
Alfred stopped then and stood on top of a box that a grocer had left in the street. Even standing on the box, he barely came to Arthur’s chest but he still tried to appear as though he was taller than Arthur, standing on his tiptoes and stretching as much as he could in his young body.
He really had gotten bigger, Arthur noticed. Had he grown so quickly when he was young? No. He hadn’t grown to be Alfred’s size until he’d tried to beat France out of his country; he had succeeded, of course, but it had taken a long while to do even that. Alfred was an anomaly and Arthur could only wonder what Alfred would get up to in his adulthood.
“I’m so glad you’re back. I want to show you something. Actually, I have lots of things to show you since you’ve been gone. You wouldn’t believe what I saw when I was in Georgia the other day! But that’s not the point. I wanted to show you—”
Arthur held up his hand and the boy stopped after a moment when he noticed England’s frown.
Alfred suddenly grew sheepish, his shoe scuffing the wood on the crate on which he was perched. His eyes lowered to the cobblestone street while he mumbled and glanced up at Arthur shyly.
“I wanted to go to the beach, so I was in the Carolinas.” Alfred shrugged and lowered his eyes again.
“And then?” Arthur asked when it appeared the young Colony wasn’t going to expand on the strange new word he had uttered a moment before. Alfred shrugged.
“Well, after I was done at the beach, I was just wandering around when I noticed this trail. So I followed it.” Alfred shrugged. “It’s a good bit of land down there, Arthur.” Alfred looked up hopefully, as if the fact that it was good land would be enough to forgive his trespasses. “I thought Georgia was a good name. Isn’t your King named George?”
Arthur sighed and then felt bad for doing so when Alfred looked disappointed and he lowered his head entirely. His shoulders slumped and Arthur couldn’t stand seeing the usually-chipper boy this disheartened. He lifted Alfred’s chin with two fingers and looked into the boy’s bright blue eyes.
“Yes, the king of Great Britain is called George. And I’m sure he would be flattered by naming that ‘bit of land’ as you call it after himself. I know I am proud of you for thinking of us that way.” Alfred’s lips twitched with a smile but he still looked anxious about what else Arthur would say. “I’m very much aware how good the land is down there, Alfred. But at this time it is not ours. Please don’t go back there again, at least not until I have secured it for us.”
Alfred nodded slowly but still chewed his lip. “Will that take you a long time?”
Arthur felt his pride rising as he saw the British flag flying over the harbor. He looked back to Alfred and love of his country shone bright in his eyes.
“Not if I have anything to say about it. Antonio won’t know what what hit him.” Arthur grinned with mischief in every bit of his expression when he thought of the Spanish nation. Delighting in his caregiver’s happiness, Alfred perked up again and took Arthur’s hand.
“Can we go see what I wanted to show you now?” Arthur nodded and helped Alfred hop off the wooden box.
They walked hand in hand down the road and out of Boston into the countryside of the Massachusetts colony. They were headed north, Arthur noticed as they kept walking. They had been going for hours and after a while Arthur asked where it was they were headed to. He did have things he needed to do in town after all.
“You’ll see.” Alfred had chirped as he scrambled over a few rocks on the coast. Arthur had suppressed a few grumbles of his own. He was pleased to see Alfred, even if he was spending the first few hours after his long voyage across the Atlantic climbing over rocks and fallen trees while they traipsed along the coastline.
Finally they stopped, much to Arthur’s relief, next to a stream. It didn’t look anything special but Alfred turned to face his brother.
“We’re almost there but it’s a surprise and worth it, Arthur. But I want you to close your eyes.”
Arthur’s eyebrow rose. He was about to protest rather strongly on the subject, but Alfred’s pleading look and protruding lower lip stopped him before he could. He sighed, defeat in his expression, before he closed his eyes.
“Very well. Just don’t let me fall on something.”
Alfred took his hand and his voice was far more serious than any child’s ever should be. “I would never let you fall, Arthur. I love you and I don’t want you hurt.”
Arthur had to swallow quite stiffly at those words as the young America led him over the ground again. The boy was more careful this time as he led the much older nation across the landscape and eventually they stopped. Arthur used his senses to determine the fact that there were at least on or nearby the coast, the smell of salty sea air was too great to deny any other location. There was a breeze that was kissing his cheeks and ruffling his hair.
“Okay, Arthur. You can look now!”
Words failed him when Arthur opened his eyes.
He had never seen such vibrant color over so great a landscape before. The orange of the leaves in the trees were the color of fire. There was not much green left and the colors burned from darkest red to the brightest, fiercest yellow. The colors stretched across the hills and mountains and further into the wilds beyond while also moving to the edges of the cliffs that would give way to the rocky coast of the sea below.
“Do you like it?” Alfred had asked, shifting nervously.
Arthur could not speak. He simply moved closer to the boy and wrapped his arms around the young colony and held him close. He was grateful to the boy for this precious gift, for the pleasure of his company, and for the relief he so desperately needed after the squabbling of kings and queens at home.
A simple ‘yes’ to answer the boy’s question would have been a gross injustice for how much he adored the scenery. Instead of speaking, Arthur just held the boy close until Alfred could contain himself no longer and started skipping down the rocky coast to look for oysters.
Arthur watched him do so before his eyes returned to the abundant colors that were before him. He loved America; the land, the spirit, the vastness of it all; he loved the wilderness and the mystery that lurked in those hills and plains. Perhaps fairies had visited this land too?
But what Arthur loved most of all about this strange new world, his most precious and treasured colony, was the sense of freedom he found on its shores…
That feeling of freedom, England recalled, had been his undoing. That love he had felt, that concern, that desire, it had all been his weakness. Arthur stood and went to look out of the window. The darkness had crept up on the world outside and the light was fading fast. He turned away and left the room with the dying fire inside of it. He went around and prepared his evening meal of tea and scones (that were a bit burned on the inside also, but he stomached them easily enough) and sat at his kitchen table. He could still hear the clock from the parlor continuing on its steady tick-tock rhythm and he sighed.
So it was going to be one of those nights, was it? One spent lost in the memories of the past that he couldn’t forget, no matter how much he wanted to? He was better than this. He was England for Christ’s sake. He had lived for over a thousand years! He had had most of the world in his possession at one time or another! Why was this one colony so damn special? What hold did America have over him, even now?
Deep in his heart, Arthur knew what it was. Arthur wondered how he could have ever thought that something so large, so vast as America could have ever standed being kept in the steel cage that Britain had tried to keep him in. How foolish he had been. How naive. Now America was greater than he had been and it hurt, it ached more than anything Arthur could stand. Yet he was so proud for what Alfred had become.
Alfred had become that last outpost of freedom that Arthur had wanted to be all of his life. But he had grown older, weary of the world and ever-so tired of all the pressures of maintaing such a large empire. He still was capable of it, but with America’s independence, the others had questioned his rule also. Slowly, Arthur had released the control he had over the countries in his care and had returned them to their own sovereignty. He hadn’t always been thrilled about the idea and hadn’t let them go without a fight, but he had in the end for most of them. Now the territories he kept in his possession wanted to be there, liked having a strong brother to watch out for their interest.
But hadn’t America once felt that way too?
“I don’t like it when you do things like this.” Alfred said suddenly into the quiet and Arthur’s hand briefly stilled in the teenager’s hair. He was growing so fast, too fast. He resumed petting the colony’s hair, a favorite past time of the great Empire, and he continued to lay against one of America’s trees while they were resting in the forest that Alfred called the Smokies. “Why can’t you just trust me on my own?”
Arthur sighed but he didn’t move. He wasn’t interested in having this conversation again. They’d had it many times before and he wasn’t wanting to do it again on such a wonderful spring day. However, it seemed Alfred did not have such restrictions. He shifted in his brother’s—were they still that? It felt like so much more rested between them now—arms and turned to face Arthur, his blue eyes shining brightly with passion.
“You can’t keep doing this to us, Arthur. My people aren’t handling it well at all!”
“Your people?” Arthur asked quietly, emerald eyes hardening as they watched Alfred. “Do we not serve the same king?”
Alfred sighed, while running a hand through his hair, making it stand even more on end. “Of course we do, but we feel as though we’re being treated as second class citizens! Are we not the same, Arthur?”
He stared at the older nation, his brother, his friend, his sole admiration in this world and he looked at him with imploring eyes. His breath lodged in his chest as he watched Arthur rolls his eyes and scoff at him. Hurt buried itself deep inside of his young heart.
“Of course we are. You are a colony, I am England. I take care of you. You are all, for the most part, British citizens and we are here to protect you, even from yourselves.”
Arthur added the last part and it was Alfred’s turn to narrow his eyes.
“‘All men have equal rights to liberty, to their property, and to the protection of the laws.’ You cannot differentiate one from the other, nor deny one to the populace of a colony for the benefit of your nation!”
Arthur froze at the first part of Alfred’s words, so shocked he was that he almost missed the rest of what he said. He began to turn red with rage as he sat up and stood in front of his teenage colony. When had he grown so? When had he gotten so big?
“These are not your words,” Arthur mumbled, voice growing louder as he repeated himself, “these are not your words!” He hauled Alfred up from the ground and stared at the young colony with ferocity in his expression. “Who taught you these things? Who let you think this way?”
Alfred pulled back, no longer afraid of Arthur’s grasp on him after the insult he had just received. “I can read you know! I can learn! I’m not stupid, though you would like me to be!”
Arthur shook his head, fury boiling inside of him. He recognized those words, had heard the whispers of them from across the Channel himself. The words were of a man called Voltaire, words that inspired revolutionary ideals in his own France, never mind the colonies of Britain. Arthur’s rage climbed off the charts.
“And what property do you have?” Arthur asked coldly, eyes harder than Alfred had ever seen them. “What property do you have that does not belong to the British crown? To me!”
Alfred’s hands clenched into fists. He had been taxed, invaded, and outright challenged by the British crown for years now. He had had enough, his people had had enough! He shook his head, trying desperately to keep his temper into check and he took a few steps back from Arthur.
“So you think I’m stupid, then?” Alfred asked, looking at Arthur with the strength of a thousand men’s voices crying out for justice. His voice grew louder. “You think I don’t know my place? You really think we are second-class citizens because we live here and not on your precious island?”
The venom of a hundred, of a thousand, injustices crept into his words and his eyes blazed with fury. Arthur had never seen him like this before. He needed to know his place. He needed to be reminded of just who he was and who he was not.
“You would be nothing if not for me, don’t you ever forget that. You need me and my country to keep you safe. You couldn’t do it on your own! Do you think France would assist you? Do you think France can keep you from falling apart? France wants this land! It’s why he’s been teaching you words you cannot possibly understand the true grasp of. Don’t think I don’t know whose words those are, don’t think I don’t know what French game you are playing with me, Alfred!”
Arthur’s eyes were cold, frigid like a Scottish winter. His tone was no warmer. His chest heaved with breath he dared to take after speaking his mind. The red of his uniform, of his red coat wearing uniform, was bright in the spring’s sunshine. Alfred stood where he was and felt the end beginning in front of them. Arthur had not listened to him this time, nor had he the other times. He was ignoring what America needed.
“You won’t let me be free—”
“Damn your freedom!” Arthur shouted into the clearing that they were. “Damn you, and damn me for having allowed France anywhere near you! Damn, damn, damn!”
Alfred nodded and then he swallowed hard. He knew what he was about to do, though he could not possibly predict the outcome of it. He was hurt, his people were hurt. All for one reason. Arthur, the British crown, and the English ideology that America was submissive towards their noble rulers.
“I love you Arthur. Please don’t make me do this.” He whispered, earning a head-tilt from Arthur. Still, the other nation remained silent and glared at his colony. America swallowed hard before he spoke again. “Then let me speak plainly in the words of an Englishman.” Alfred started and looked at Arthur. A the mention of an Englishman, Arthur became passive enough to allow it. “‘I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense. Wherefore, since nothing but blows will do, for God's sake let us come to a final separation.’”
Alfred watched Arthur at those words. The entire nation of England appeared frozen stiff with rage. It was prudent, then, Alfred thought, that he make his escape. He took a few steps back, looking at Arthur with sad, disappointed eyes.
“Just let me be free, Arthur. Please?” He was begging, but he didn’t want to fight his brother, his lover. He wanted to avoid it at every cost. Arthur was giving him no choice.
England moved closer across the space of physical distance that separated them, for nothing could have truly crossed the chasm of philosophical and emotional distance that now divided them. He leaned close to Alfred, close enough that America could feel the cold breath of his ancestors on his neck. Blazing with malicious fury, Arthur spoke.
“You will never be free from me. So help me, Alfred you have sealed your own fate and now I will have to destroy you. Damn you, why couldn’t you have just let it stay as it was? Now I will have to ruin you.”
Alfred looked at his now former-caregiver’s face at his words. So sure that England would win, Arthur did not even bother to look remorseful for it. He only looked as if he had accepted the fate. It infuriated Alfred all the more. He wasn’t a weakling, he wasn’t pathetic. He could fight against Arthur. He could win. He would win. He would have to, there wouldn’t be any alternative except a traitor’s death if he didn’t.
“You won’t ruin me, Arthur. I will not give you the consent to do so.” Alfred stepped back. “One day we will meet again on a battlefield; I hope neither of us will have to destroy the other because I want us to be friends again.”
Arthur shook his head. “You will be ruined at my hands. There will be nothing of you left.”
America’s shoulders tensed and he glared at England. “You will not win, this, Arthur.”
Arthur glanced at the paper that he had left on the table from earlier in the day. His jaw twitched when he saw the headline. ’Scottish Vote Comes Too Close To Predict in Days Leading Up to Election’. He was stressed, tired, and he couldn’t rest. He had to keep his brother in the United Kingdom. To divide them all now, well, he couldn’t think of the ramifications of it. He hadn’t lost a country as close to him as a brother could be since Ireland, and America before him. Arthur rubbed the bridge of his nose while the clock continued to carry on in the background.
Time ticked on, as it had always done and always would. It was driving Arthur mad. Perhaps he had lived too long. Maybe he needed a vacation. Maybe some fresh mountain air or a nice stream to fish in would soothe his addled nerves. The only problem with his theory, however, was that England had no mountains of significant height the way he wanted and he had fished all the streams many times over.
He knew where he could go. He had wanted to return many times before, scour the land the way he had wanted to do but had never really gotten much chance to do so. Something had always been in the way and he had thought he had had the time to do so. He thought there would be so much time to do all the things in America he had wanted to do, like explore the vast territories, the expansive plains, and the mountains beyond the horizons that surely must be out there. He hadn’t had time. And now it wasn’t his place to so pervasively look around at Alfred’s country. At least, not without invitation to do so. And he had not had an invitation since before America was a country.
Time would keep him company, time would pass and he would know then if he had lost another brother to the unpredictability of so-called freedom and independence. Time would tell him the answers that logic and theory could not. Time would heal all wounds, though he was still waiting for some scars to be stitched up, particularly those that rested in his heart.