When Arthur’s five and a chubby blond boy with rosy cheeks and brilliant blue eyes, his nurse, a woman in her forties named Alice, often takes him outside into the garden to play a game of catch and throw with him. They use a soft, red ball, and she throws it gently, and directly at Arthur so he’ll easily catch it. Arthur, in his childish excitement, throws it back as hard as he can, often missing her by a wide margin. He giggles every time she stretches or runs to catch it. The nurse laughs too, and patiently keeps playing with him for hours until Arthur finally loses interest and wants to go back inside to colour, or to hear a story.
One day, Uther calls the nurse into his office to tell her that while he supports regular exercise, he doesn’t pay her to get her workout done on the job.
“I expect you not to let Arthur win. Make him work for it. He needs to learn that he has to work for victory. Handing it to him won’t achieve anything.”
The nurse looks shocked, and if it weren’t for the fact that she needs the money to support her own daughter and grandchild, she’d tell Uther Pendragon exactly what she thinks of his approach to parenting. As it is, she decides that it’s better to keep her job, for Arthur’s sake as well. He needs someone who loves him in this house, and who’ll fill the hole where his mother was supposed to be.
From that day on, she doesn’t throw the ball directly at Arthur anymore. After the first couple of times, during which Arthur petulantly scowls, followed by him throwing the ball deliberately far away – or as far away as an angry five year old can throw anything that’s soft and light – he finally accepts his fate. A week later, he even enjoys running after the ball almost as much as making the nurse run.
On the day before eleven year old Arthur leaves for his first term at Tintagel, a prestigious boarding school for boys, his father sits him down and explains what an honour it is to receive an education at that school. It’s where he was Arthur’s age, and he’s certain that Arthur will enjoy his time there as well.
All Arthur wants to know is if they have a footie team he can join.
Uther scowls and tells Arthur to call it by its proper name instead of succumbing to shortening and trivialisation. “It’s a bad habit that destroys the English language. Your peers and instructors at Tintagel would laugh at you, and me, if they heard you speak like this.”
Arthur apologises, and nods. He repeats the question though, using the proper word this time.
His father sighs. “They do, but I want you to try out all the sports. You may play football this year, if you take up archery as well. I will look into what athletic disciplines they offer at Tintagel, and have a specialist draw up a plan for you. I encourage the exercise, you know that, Arthur. But I insist that you perfect more than one kind. It will strengthen your body, and you will learn different techniques and tactics from every new endeavour. If you are to spend so much of your free time… playing, I’d rather it had some educational value and variety.
All Arthur says is, “Yes, Father.”
The next day he leaves for school, and by the time he returns home for the Christmas holidays, he made it on the school’s Junior Football Team, and earned his first trophy in archery. He shows it to his father, who looks at it unimpressed.
“By the end of the school year I expect you to be able to achieve more than third place, son.”
Arthur never accepts anything less than first place after that.
Arthur’s captain of the junior football team for one year and could have gone on to play with the older boys after that. He has won numerous trophies in fencing and archery during the first two years at Tintagel as well, and his instructors urge him to continue with both sports.
Arthur, however, remembering his father’s insistence that he needs to learn as much as he could, moves on to cricket, tennis and swimming at the age of 13. After winning every match and prize he could in those sports, he quits all three, to give rugby and the track team a go in the last two years before sixth form.
The day he and his team win the national junior athlete championship in every category, Uther flies out of the country on a business trip, missing every single win his son achieves.
Arthur decides then, that for sixth form, he’ll go back to football and fencing, two sports he enjoyed and missed playing ever since he felt obligated to try out something new in year nine. He’ll also take up riding again, something he hadn’t done since before he had left for Tintagel. Maybe he could try out for the polo team during his last year if he improves enough.
When he tells his father at the beginning of the summer holidays, and shows him the medals and trophies he won during the last year, Uther only nods absentmindedly and sends Arthur away to get started on his required reading for the next school year.
“I expect the highest marks for your A-levels,” he tells his son. Arthur says “Yes, Father,” and goes to study.
The day school ends and Arthur’s due to leave Tintagel, Uther picks him up personally.
He uses the opportunity to talk at length to the teachers, the principal, and other parents picking up their children. He talks to most everyone, except Arthur, about how proud he is of his son for achieving top marks in all his subjects, becoming Head Boy, and his numerous athletic achievements. He never fails to mention that he went to this school himself as a boy, and what a fine institution it is, and that he donates large sums of money every year to ensure the education of future generations.
Arthur works hard not to scoff or roll his eyes. Uther hasn’t been interested in Arthur’s accomplishments for as long as Arthur can remember, and all the donations were tied to the condition that none of the money went into scholarships for students who were less fortunate. Uther has given Arthur the lecture about pedigree often enough that Arthur knows it by heart now. ‘You may socialise beneath your station, but always remember where you belong.’ It always makes Arthur gag. His father clearly has never talked to anyone of lower social standing than him. If he did he would have to realise that not only are they real people with needs, fears, and dreams, but that a lot of them - especially those with scholarships at Tintagel - are much, much smarter than most of the Members of Parliament that Uther works with on a daily basis.
“I’m incredibly proud of him,” Uther says for the hundredth time, putting his hand on Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur smiles automatically, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.
The only thing Uther ever does notice is when Arthur isn’t the best. As soon as his son meets, or even exceeds his expectations, Arthur becomes invisible. If it hadn’t been for his own pride and stubbornness, Arthur might have flunked all his classes just to make his father take notice for once in his life.
As it is, Arthur finally gets a reaction from Uther the moment someone asks him what he intends to study after school. Arthur sees his father open his mouth to reply for him, probably saying that Arthur will of course go into politics or economics, or another subject similarly appropriate, and something inside Arthur just snaps.
“Sport science,” Arthur says quickly before his father can answer. He smiles politely and elaborates on the appeal of the subject, and his hopes to have either a professional career in coaching or playing, maybe even both.
His father stands by, dumbfounded, with poorly hidden disapproval written all across his face. Arthur ignores him and explains how fascinating it will be to study the theory behind all the sports he’s enjoyed playing over the years, and how much he owes this decision to his father, really, who always encouraged him to try new sports and to push himself to go beyond his limits.
Uther doesn’t speak to Arthur all summer, and Arthur is more than fine with that.