Once and Future
Chapter One: King Born of All England

England prided himself on having a long memory, but it was difficult for him now to remember his earliest days. It was all fierce untamed aloneness then. Everything seemed larger in those days, spreading out around him into forever.

That was before he realized that his forever was limited by the seas beyond him and the others, that in his foolish, savage child's innocence he had been ignorant of the strength of those beyond his shores (still, he was never complete until they came). There are just the scattered impressions of the smell of heather, the vastness of the mountains, the depths of the forests (dragons overhead and unicorns before him in the meadows, the Fair Folk who sparkled in the air, when all the others, his brothers and sisters, could see them too).

Old man Rome was far clearer than those few scattered recollections, as if their fighting had clarified and sharpened the memories until they had the strength and focus to stay with him through the long years. Rome had tried to civilize him, had pinched his cheek hard and struck him roughly across the face when he tried to disobey and rebel or wriggle out of his grasp, beaten him when he'd tried to fight, even though Rome had said he'd liked the little country's spirit. He had confused England (who hadn't been England then, hadn't been anything like England then), but he'd given him his name—Britannia, the name he'd had first—called him a fighter. He'd forced him to bathe, too, drilled him in discipline (taught him to read and write), laughed at his scowls and attempts to fight him until finally he'd finally simply been gone, and England hadn't known if he'd felt alone again (abandoned), or pleased, proud and strong that he'd got what he'd wanted, what he'd fought for.

He wasn't entirely certain what came after that—the memories were flung scattered and confused about his mind, hazy with smoke and sparking with pain. He knew that one day he awoke to a dull, fiery agony spreading through his chest under the skin, breathing harsh and dragging with the internal turmoil raging through him. It took him long hours, young and inexperienced as he was, to finally understand that the fighting was within him. In the following days he learned many things—what fighting truly meant (learned what it was to sleep with a sword in his hand), felt his own . . . self changing with the tides of battle, weakening and losing pieces. Learned that few believed in him, even that he existed, let alone that he could be strong, learned what it was to be kicked and scoffed at and scorned as nothing. Learned that his brothers and sisters had turned their attentions inward, concern for their own affairs in the old man's absence overriding any affection they might have had for their wayward youngest brother, though Wales did stop still and play his harp sometimes to sooth England to sleep—how weak and pitiful England had become, he would think as he struggled not to cling desperately to his brother and beg him to stay, fought never to admit to the emotion, feeling himself a boy too small and young to do the man's job he faced—or when he woke later on, wheezing with pain and gasping, biting back the sobs brought on by nightmares, the ache of the fighting.

And he finally understood what it was to be alone, that what he had before was solitude rather than loneliness. He started to forget what he was, he was so torn and tattered and worn thin, to forget that he was a country, that he was something more than a ragged warrior-boy.

But then, had he ever really been a country? A province of a great empire, Britannia, that was all he had been. (He was too little, he would think, despairing, he'd never make it by himself.) Not England, not a true nation, with people who called themselves his. It was confusing, the ache inside him for that something else, something greater, his own longing to have that, to be something more, he wasn't even certain what, but something strong, like old man Rome had been. Once.

But England remembered his first king, his true king, his King Arthur, as clearly as an autumn day when the air was so clear it seemed as if he could see forever in it. Even now, even with all the long years that separated them, despite the mists of memory and time that turned truth and the reality of recollection into legend and song—a battered sword of ancient steel into the gleaming blade of magic and tales, a dark-haired dark-eyed ageless man into the wise old enchanter with the long white beard—until England wasn't sure he remembered the way it truly was any longer, he could recall that first meeting with all the clarity and constancy in a nation's ancient, fickle heart (but not he, not he, he had never been fickle, he had always striven for constancy in his own heart, whatever else. Even when he fell short).

By the time Arthur came, England had very nearly forgotten what it was like to be remembered, to remember himself. He was thin by then, so very thin, a ragged waif-like wisp of a thing ashamed even to look down at himself and see what he'd become. It wasn't even that his people suffered so greatly, just that no one thought of him any longer. Perhaps he'd just fade away, and someone new would take his place, and that hurt so much that he steeled himself and tried to think about how it would be, how much it would hurt, even though it made his eyes go wet and he would have to bite his lips to still their trembling. Because he had to be ready, didn't he? Even if it were only in his last moments, he wanted to have something to be proud of, go out like a—like a—whatever it was he wanted to be. It was strange, to hurt and suffer more than his people, and he didn't think that was how it was supposed to be, because it was about them, he was about them.

His thoughts came rambling and slow by that time, drifting all about his head and eluding his grasp so he had to struggle for them, incoherent, scattered, more impressions than thoughts now, images, almost. That shamed him, too, so he struggled not to show it, struggled to do his best, to keep fighting. (He felt so . . . so very young, confused and helpless and not completely himself yet, but someone . . . someone, one of the others, he couldn't remember who, it wasn't clear, had said most of the older ones were gone now. Or . . . going. Or they'd gone back home and weren't coming out again.)

But then there was Arthur, then there was his king, and everything was different after him. In England's heart his king for once and always, for he had never dreamed of such a king in all his short, struggling life, that such a man—a human man, one of his people, one of his people—could live, could come to be even once in all the roll of his years.

England had never expected anything like Arthur when he'd gone to the meeting of his nobles and warriors and chieftains. Even then he'd been . . . nation enough to feel when events of importance to him were to take place, and so he was at the meeting of chieftains and barons that, it was said, would decide the next king. He doubted that it truly would when naught but the clash of arms had in so long, and yet he attended all the same. It was his duty, he thought, and so he fell in with the train of one of the knights, pretending to be a young squire picked up along the road. No one questioned it, no one looked at him twice. No one even asked him his name. It was as if he were invisible but when one of the knights needed work done, and then he was "boy!" to be ordered and knocked about at the back of their hands. England wondered if they would strike him if they knew what he was, and the sardonic thought left a sharp, bitter taste in the back of his throat—not least because he doubted it would make much difference if they did. He slept on the cold hard road, shivered in the chill with little but the rags covering him for warmth, repaired leathers and harnesses and saddles and polished weapons and chopped firewood until his hands were raw and chapped. No one seemed to notice that he did not feel the cold like the other boys, how quickly his hands healed, how he never split open his knees or bled from the little injuries that bruised and bloodied the other boys, or how unfocused and bleary-eyed he was, strange and fey and often distracted.

He could hear their voices in his head, the voices of those who would rule him, raised in confrontation and in argument, and it was there, in those heavy voices who swayed him and tore at him and finally drove him, stumbling, to his knees, for he could hear nothing but their words, see nothing but the shifting visions of all the futures they envisioned for his green and fertile isle (none of them caring anything for him), that he heard talk of the sword in the stone, and remembered it with the sort of sudden clarity of a memory unknown and long buried. He wasn't sure how he knew of it, except that he was what he was, and it was in him to know of such things. And he knew—he could not have said how, but it was a certainty unshakeable as his own granite rocks and hillsides—knew that the man who pulled the sword from that stone would be his next king.

He was frightened, then. Was he to be ruled by one of these hard, rough men who thought of little but their own bits of him, was he to be torn in two and fade away into . . . the something else that would come then, come after, when he fell apart into his villages and meadows and separate lands with their own Offa's Dykes and Hadrian's Walls? He pressed his hands to his aching chest, felt his heart thudding loud and anxious under his fingers, moved his fingers up to throbbing shoulders and aching head, along sore ribs (Mercia, there, Dummonia, here, there Rheged, Wessex, Kent), and he struggled to be calm, to contain himself, when he did not even truly know what it was he feared.

For who else but one of them would have the strength to pull the sword free? And the blade of that sword could strike to his heart, could shape him and cut him as no other ever could, he felt that too.

From somewhere he found the strength to struggle back up to his feet and carry on with his work before one of the warriors could strike him for his inattention, but when their party reached London (already a city that felt familiar to him, something like home, perhaps, though he was not certain what could be a home, for one such as him), he slipped away and found the stone.

The tents of those who had come to try their strength of arm and their armies at it were pitched in the surrounding field, but they left a wide circle about the stone itself, with its gleaming blade. Fear? England wondered. Or was it respect? The thought, the possibility, left a trembling sort of sting in his eyes, in the back of his throat, and he banished it impatiently, dashing one hand across his eyes and brushing it down over his face, railing at himself for his own weakness.

The stone said, in letters emblazoned bold and deep across the surface, that whoever pulled it from the stone would be his rightful king. His. None other's, his in his entirety. Whole and strong and . . . right. He could have a king, a true ruler, of all of himself, all his own.

Who so Pulleth Out This Sword of this Stone and Anvil, is Rightwise King Born of All England.

Come now, he told himself, scoffing. It won't happen. What's the use of the hope? There are no men strong enough. Don't be such a fool, boy; it will only hurt you worse in the end.

And yet he came back, again and again, to stare at the sword in the stone. He watched as each man tried to draw it, held his breath and clenched his fists and waited—and then felt himself relax, trembling and weak and drained, when each one failed in turn.

And then they had all tried. Not a one of the men who had come to prove their claim as right-wise king of England had succeeded. England was not surprised but oh, how it hurt, the death of that only half-buried, hope, still fresh and raw and new. I knew it, he thought, furious with himself for feeling the pain so deep and keen, I told myself so; I knew better than to hope for it, any of it, what a fool I am, how could a man, just a human, pull a sword from a stone—

They would all go back to their separate bits of him soon, his people, and he would no longer have even this threadbare illusion of unity. He had no desire to help prepare the departures, the splintering of himself and his people all over again, feeling every blanket he folded slipping away from him, back into fragments, a twisting wrench behind his ribs and in his gut. Instead, he returned to the stone once more, even as he told himself it was nothing but the worst, most childish foolishness he had ever indulged himself in, that there was nothing there for him any longer but a spent hope, empty dreams of a future that would never come.

No one was there—the last day was to be spent in a mock-battle, and the warriors would be preparing while their servants struggled to put away the majority of the things for their separate journeys home. The sky was gray, and the blade of the sword looked dull and lifeless above the black stone.

England stared at it, and ached. He was not sure how long he stood there, but he suddenly the ache was all was too much for him, and he could no longer contain it, and so it came spilling up out of him. His eyes abruptly filled so that he could no longer see the promise written in stone, could see nothing but the vague shapes of the stone and sword swimming blearily before him. He could not have said why he wept, only that he could no longer hold the tears back.

He spent he did not know how long struggling to clear his eyes and his mind along with them, to force the roiling waves of unruly feeling into some semblance of order he could control, but when he finally ground his fists into his eyes and blinked the moisture back behind them so that he could see clearly once again, he had lost track of the hour entirely, and he realized with a start that he was no longer alone in the clearing surrounding the sword.

At first he did not understand what he was seeing, it was as if his mind were incapable of comprehending the sight before him, or of taking in the truth of what it meant. A young man, a boy, not too much older than how England himself appeared, stood in front of the sword, his golden hair shining despite the clouds that covered the sun. Even as England watched, he closed his hands around the hilt and pulled.

And, as easily as that, the sword came free.

England stumbled and nearly fell, sank down to his knees for his legs would no longer hold him. That boy. That boy had pulled the sword from the stone. That boy, golden-haired and strong, would be his next king.

I should speak with him, he thought next, wildly, though he had never spoken to a ruler before, not a true leader, not one who had listened. Would the boy even be able to see him? Would he believe in England at all? Or would he, too, laugh in his face?

Surely he would laugh. It was ridiculous, he'd never believe. Men did not speak to countries, after all, wasn't that what he'd heard again and again?

But he wanted to try, wanted to speak to him, and his stomach flip-flopped at the thought, sending his thoughts into a whirling jumble, tumbling about in his head. Before England could manage to force himself to stand and approach, before he had the first idea of what he might say, the boy had gone, turned and run out of the clearing with the sword in his hand.

England sat down in the still dewy grass of the early morning and gasped for breath through the shock. He felt . . . strange, confused and a little afraid, as if everything had changed and the world around him were to be something new and unfamiliar now, lightheaded. Or maybe just light. It seemed easier to move, easier than it had felt in a long time. A strange excitement thrummed under his skin. What was happening to him? He could feel his cheeks flushing with the sense of warmth, of anticipation, and had to take a deep breath, struggling to get a hold on himself. He wouldn't do anyone any good like this.

He lost track of time again—it was so hard to focus then—and the next person he saw was a small, dark-haired man with a staff in one hand who strode over to England and knelt beside him after only one glance around the clearing. England looked up into the man's sharp eyes and hawkish, ageless features, and gasped, for the man was looking right at him, and his gaze was clear. "My liege," the man said, his words tinted with the lilting accent of England's older brother Wales. "Am I correct, in thinking that you are . . . Albion, young lord?"

England blinked, and had to struggle to get enough air in his lungs to reply. "I—you—you can see me," he said, numbly, through his shock, and then cursed himself at saying something so utterly inane. "You know who I am. You . . . recognize me?" His heart was tripping itself up in its haste, beating a quick, rapid rhythm with so much force it hurt.

The man smiled, slightly, a wry, enigmatic smile. "I am an enchanter," he said. "I see many things. I see things that are and will be. I see things I think you see. I see you. My name," he added, "is Merlin."

"I am Albion," England said, uncertainly, his tongue tangling in one of his oldest names.

Merlin reached out and laid a hand on the crown of England's head, and England jumped with the warmth of it. Merlin's eyes, dark gray like storm clouds over the sea, looked into England's, and it seemed as if he looked deep into England himself. "Do not fear," Merlin said, with an earnest intensity England had not expected that caught and held him so he was unable to look away or even take a breath, unable to do anything but stare into Merlin's eyes and the passionate certainty there. "Arthur will be your king, and everything will change for you. For us, for all of us. The lords are coming now, I have arranged it. You will see."

And before England could respond, he stood and turned away.

Finally England began to think again, began to regain some power over his arms and legs, and he pulled himself to his feet and took himself to an out-of-the-way corner of the clearing from which he could see the sword and the stone, to wait, and watch, and wonder, wonder at this strange and marvelous day.

Things happened as Merlin had told him they would. First it was Arthur who came running back into the clearing, followed by an older boy and a man approaching middle years. Arthur spoke quickly to them—it seemed the older boy, Cai, was his foster brother, a knight, who had forgotten his sword and so sent Arthur, who served as his squire, for it (England felt a sudden and altogether unexpected pang of sympathy). Arthur had gotten lost and, unable to find their tent, in desperation had taken the sword from the stone and brought that instead, thinking to replace it before anyone realized it had been missed. He returned the sword to the stone at the older man's—Ector's—insistence, and then Cai tried to draw it from the rock.

Ector looked at Merlin, or so it seemed to England, who nodded, and then Ector as well tried to draw the sword, and failed, as his son had done. And then Arthur moved to draw the sword again, and England felt his breath catch in his throat as the boy's broad boyish hands dropped to the hilt and closed around it and drew it up easily from the stone, as easily as if it had been lying on the ground and he had bent to lift it.

And England could breathe once more.

He realized that they were all of them surrounded now, by all those who had come to contest their right to the throne, all those who had been at tourney, at the hue and cry that went up around them at Arthur's success. Merlin stepped forward then, and began to speak, and England saw that he was an enchanter indeed, an enchanter of words with the way he spoke to convince the barons who were out for blood, insulted and proud and furious, of Arthur's right to the throne. Many of them threatened violence, or turned and walked away, but Merlin's clever words convinced the more of them, and when Ector knelt to offer Arthur, his own foster son, his fealty, the great share of them followed suit. England felt something growing in his chest, warm and light and brave, the ragged tears in him healing, something in him knitting together, strong and whole. Not quite healed yet, but the process of it begun, so that he had strength and vitality and energy again that he hadn't realized he'd been lacking until he could feel it within him once more.

Arthur himself, the boy, looked overwhelmed and a little frightened, but determined and eager despite his obvious anxiety, energy spilling through the fear and uncertainty to crackle in the air around him and make him seem larger than he truly was, as his straightforward exuberance had earlier. He was very pale beneath his sun-bronzed tan, and had pressed his lips together so they were little but a thin line in his pallid, wide-eyed face, but his eyes were blue and clear and forthright as he looked into the face of each border lord and accepted his allegiance in a bold, level youthful tenor that spoke Latin and English both with confidence. He looked at Merlin frequently, and the enchanter spoke to him repeatedly low and private in a Celtic tongue. England could feel that they had long been close in friendship. Merlin spoke to him like a very close tutor might, and who was to say that was not precisely who he was to Arthur, though he was a great deal more than a tutor also, that much was clear.

England stayed and watched, watched Arthur's shoulders straighten under the weight of the fealty of many lords even as his eyes still search for reassurance, saw him swallowing with his fear, but he did not think that any eyes would turn to him; it was enough that he was there, a witness, that was all that was needed from him. So it was a shock indeed when Arthur turned, and his eyes lit on England and stayed there—he felt it, the touch of that gaze, like the lingering tingle in the air when lightning struck in a nearby field, and he forgot entirely how to breathe for long moments as Arthur just . . . looked at him, not turning away, not moving on with his gaze, just looking. As if he could see England. As if he were really there, and Arthur could see him. The boy's gaze was direct and curious and had the softness of sympathy and the vague warmth of the caring of a stranger in it, and England felt warm inside and cold all over and was entirely unable to even think to breathe, little shivery tingles shuddering through him until Arthur finally looked away and he could get his breath back.

But the boy had looked away only to speak to Merlin, and the enchanter smiled, a broader smile this time, and looked over at England, and his eyes seemed to share something of joy and a bit of triumph that England did not entirely understand, until Merlin turned to Arthur again and spoke. And then Arthur turned himself and was coming toward him, and England had to steel himself. He very nearly wobbled and fell, the strength leaving his legs all at once and his lungs once again deserting their function, while his heart, seemingly beset by no such similar malady, began beating at a rate twice, thrice, what it normally did. Arthur struggled to get control of himself. Think! he ordered himself frantically, think of what to say to him, you dunce! You'll be speaking to him in a moment—but all his mind had deserted him, or so it seemed, and he could think of nothing at all to say.

As it turned out, he could not have said a great deal, anyway, for Arthur did not wait to give him the chance. "Hullo," he said in English, the look in his eyes still that forthright mixture of curiosity and gentleness and candid honesty. "I mean—well met." He blushed, just a little, high color over surprisingly wide, arching cheekbones. "Merlin says you're my country. That you're . . . England, that is."

England couldn't think. His heart throbbed and twisted somewhere in his throat. My country. He blinked rapidly to clear his vision, and fought to take a deep breath. Arthur had called him by his name.

"Is it true?" Arthur asked, but his tone was genuine and inquisitive, not challenging. "You look just a boy, but I suppose I am, too. Do you feel too young sometimes?"

"Often," England said, and his voice came out sounding rough and small. He forced it louder and continued. "Yes. I am England. You are . . . Arthur?"

Arthur looked uncomfortable. "I suppose I am," he said. "Everyone's always called me Wart, but . . . ." he shrugged. "That isn't a name for a king, so I suppose . . . ."

"It isn't," England said, and smiled a little. "I prefer Arthur."

Arthur smiled back, wide and guileless and warm, and England's heart skipped a beat when he said, "Then I do, myself." He took a deep breath, and his fingers skimmed over the sword now belted at his side. "You truly are my country?" he said, and his voice sounded deeper.

"Aye," England said, but he flushed at being asked a second time. He knew all too well how little he looked it, however a country was meant to look, when he was all child's thinness and bruises and tattered rags, his eyes too big in a pinched, smudged face.

England had not seen when Merlin had joined the two of them, but with his next words Arthur looked at the enchanter, as if for confirmation, before glancing back at England. "But," he said, "you look so battered and—and worn, tired—" England reddened painfully with the shame of hearing his king say those words, his cheeks burning, and dropped his eyes, but Arthur hadn't finished, and instead of condemnation or pity in his tone there was a deep, aching sympathy. "You're still so young," he said, and reached out as if to touch England but dropped his fingers before they made contact.

"The times have not been easy of late," Merlin said, his accented voice mild and soft, "for any of us, is that not so?" His gaze where it fell on England was inscrutable, impossible to read, but it held no pity, at least, and for that England was grateful. "And it has not been so very long that this land has truly been a kingdom, let alone one at all united."

Arthur nodded slightly, uncertainly, his wide eyes traveling over England again as if studying each part of him, taking in every humiliating detail England would have preferred those eyes to miss—England's desperate thinness, the tears in his frayed tunic and trews, the rising bruises and raw, bleeding cuts he knew showed on his skin, let alone his small stature and his youth. England's face heated still further with his shame, and he looked down rather than see judgment or pity in Arthur's eyes. He knew not what to say. Arthur was to be his king, and as such had a right to look at what he was getting himself in for.

Just in case he would rather not, all the same. England swallowed at the thought.

Strong, boyish hands framed England's shoulders, surprisingly careful of his bruises, and England looked up, startled, to see neither pity nor judgment in Arthur's open, honest face. "What can I do to aid you?" Arthur asked with an earnest intensity that made England feel even warmer than he had before. He stared up into Arthur's face, at the caring sincerity in his eyes, and found his throat too thick and raw for words, even as he opened his mouth to produce them. The very question—no one had ever—

Merlin seemed to perceive something of England's difficulty, for his quick dark eyes flicked between Arthur and England before he spoke again. "What he needs—what England has needed for many years now—is a king, Arthur," he said. "A true king."

Arthur looked at Merlin, then back at England, and something in his face changed, a determination that had not been there previously hardening his features into something altogether different. All at once he looked rather a like a king, despite his youth. "A king," Arthur said, looking at Merlin, and England was startled at the echo of his own thoughts. Merlin nodded.

Arthur turned suddenly back to England. "Would you have me for a king?" Arthur asked. "With all this deciding that's gone on it seems no one's thought to ask your thought on the matter, and it appears to me that your opinion would be the most important of all. So, will you have me?"

England's voice, when he opened his mouth and forced himself to speak, desperate to say something, anything, left his lips a croaky rasp. "I—" he managed, then took a deep breath, swallowed, and tried again. "It would be my honor," he said, and was nearly surprised at the depth of feeling in his own voice.

It seemed his turn to put Arthur to the blush, for the boy's cheeks turned a deep pink that flushed upward into his ears. "It—it would?" he asked, stammering just a little and for a moment a boy again. "Truly?"

England nodded, not entirely trusting his voice. He could see Merlin smile, pride and satisfaction filling his face as he looked at Arthur and England both, and England found himself wondering how much of this moment the enchanter had planned. The thought barely registered in a mind already over-full for one day. A single day of men, one that was not even much past midday, and already all this! England could hardly comprehend it.

Arthur took a deep breath. "I never thought—" he said. "But—I will be worthy of you, England, somehow, I swear it."

England's chest ached, as if it had grown too small for his heart. "That—that is not—" he started, and stopped, feeling himself again young and lost and confused, completely out of his depth.

"I'm probably not worthy of you yet," Arthur said, "but I—it won't stay that way, I swear that, too." His hands sought out one of England's, clenched at his side in a desperate attempt to retain some control over emotion rampaging out of control, and Arthur closed both of his hands around that tight fist in a solemn clasp. "I will fight for you," Arthur said, his voice ardent and firm with that determination that had earlier so suffused his features. "Wait, no—if I'm to do this, I'll do it properly." And he knelt in the grass at England's feet without so much as a flicker of hesitation, careful to shift the sword girded at his waist so it didn't impact the ground or tangle itself in his legs, the grasp of his other hand still firm and warm around England's hand, and returned his other hand rest atop England's, and he looked up into England's face, blue eyes shining, and said again, "I will fight for you," with all the sober gravity and promise of a vow. A moment later, he bent his head and pressed his lips against the rough skin of England's hand, and England felt as if the touch of Arthur's lips seared through him like a flame, sealing the vow Arthur had just made between them in truth. England swallowed convulsively; tried again to speak and could not think of anything to say. Arthur had just knelt before him, like a warrior before his chieftain (like a lord to his king), only—

Merlin says you're my country.

Will you have me?

I will fight for you . . . .

"And so it is sworn," Merlin said, "between king and country."

"Will you accept my oath?" Arthur asked from where he still knelt, and his voice sounded eager and anxious both.

And England said, "Yes," and held out his other hand.

To be continued . . . .


Historical/Author's Notes:
Um. Where to start, even.

Well, first of all, the Matter of Britain is a vague hobby of mine, and I've been interested in post-Roman Britain for quite some time, though I made a decision not to include much historical fact in this, as the historicity of King Arthur himself is disputed, and thus I felt it set the whole piece in a rather "legendary" time frame. Technically, though, I set the fic circa 500 AD. I went for more of a "historical"/Welsh-legend-based Arthur, but I still left some of the French romances in there. I also used a lot T.H. White's The Once and Future King, mostly as references, because I figured that would have a lot of recognition from people who don't necessarily have a great deal of interest in or familiarity with the legends themselves.

1. I decided that very few countries have clear memories of their early days, and to go along with the whole "legendary age" theme, that in England's early days nearly everyone could see fairies and such-like. Everybody meaning mostly countries.

2. The Roman Baths are in . . . Bath in Britain XD. Among other places.

3. Offa's Dyke is a massive earthwork in between England and Wales. Mentioning it here is actually a giant anachronism, because it didn't exist until about the 8th century, but oh well. As for Hadrian's Wall, from Wikipeida: "Hadrian's Wall is a stone and turf fortification built by the Roman Empire across the width of what is now Northern England. Begun in AD 122, during the rule of emperor Hadrian . . . It was built to prevent raids on Roman Britain by the Pictish tribes (ancient inhabitants of Scotland) to the north, to improve economic stability and provide peaceful conditions in Britain, and to mark physically the frontier of the Empire." So . . . essentially, Rome built a wall to keep Scotland from hitting his little brother England? Or alternatively, to keep them away from each other. Hmm.

4. Merlin in this fic is in his late twenties when the story starts, while Arthur is about thirteen. I figured it made sense for Merlin to be able to see country-. . . people.

5. I spelled Kay with the older, more Welsh spelling Cai, but I left Ector Anglicized because I . . . think it sounds better?

6. Albion is one of the oldest names for Britain, meaning basically . . . white. The story goes that it comes from the White Cliffs of Dover.