Written for St. George's day (23.04.10) which is the national holiday of England.
He didn't quite know when the boy had started following him. He had appeared without a word, tagging along behind him at a distance, somehow keeping up with him through steady marches, and wild horseback rides.
The child was scruffy, and unkempt, his movements speaking of a feral wildness, his tiny body wrapped in threadbare cloths cutting a lonely figure against the horizon. The men had thought him a starving orphan, driven to desperation, picking at the crumbs left beside the skeletons of their campfires. When they had tried to chase him away, they had returned calling him Godless, had whispered of him being possessed by the Devil himself, swearing that no child of God would stare so unafraid into the eyes of a war band.
He himself had never been sure. The child unnerved him. The sight of him caused a nagging sensation in the back of his mind. He knew that he should know this child, somehow, he should know him, and yet he was afraid to dare to turn and face the thought directly, knowing that it would burn him in a way akin to staring at the sun.
On quiet nights, he would slip away from the men, finding himself in peaceful little clearings, hillsides, and riverbanks painted in milky hues by the light of the moon, and stars. The child would always be there, watching him, intent expression upon his face, wide eyes shadowed by the jagged cut of his hair. Every time, despite his age, despite his intellect, despite his position in the world; he would always be the one to walk away first.
He knew somehow, had always known, that this child was not possessed by any demon; but neither was he a starving beggar child. It was a certainty so strong, so buried within him, sinking even into his bones, but beyond that, any further thoughts on the boy remained strangely elusive, slipping through his grasp like sand.
He was not surprised when he found himself staring at the boy as he sat alone upon a broken wall, looking out across the city that he had retaken, and restored.
He stood closer than he ever had before.
'Are you glad to see the Danes gone?' Talking had been surprisingly easy, the sound of his own voice startling him with how easy it had come.
The boy stared at him, eyes distant, gaze flitting minutely as if he were listening to many voices all at once.
After a minute, he shrugged.
The boy stepped closer wordlessly, without hesitation. He hoisted himself up onto the wall next to him, all the time maintaining a cautious distance.
He watched the boy silently. He was a clever man, perhaps the cleverest among his kinsmen, and his people. He knew. He always had known. Somehow, sitting upon a wall, overlooking the healing city that the Roman invaders had named Londinium, he knew instinctively that the time was right.
'What is your name?'
The boy looked at him, eyes once again shifting almost imperceptivity. When he finally spoke, his voice was like water in a river, shifting, and changing, implacable, and familiar, his words all at once foreign, and understandable.
'I do not know.'
'Do you know who I am?' He asked. He already knew the answer, knew why the boy had been following me.
He nodded. 'You're tired of being broken, aren't you?'
For the first time, the boy looked hesitant. He refrained from the urge to stroke the boy's matted hair, knowing somehow that something of great importance was occurring.
'I… have never been whole.'
'And do you want that?' he asked, genuinely interested in hearing any answer that the boy might provide.
The boy considered the question deeply, before once again shrugging. This time, however, he looked frail. Every bit the little boy that he appeared to be.
'I think that I do,' he said finally.
Somehow, the world was shifting around them. Something was happening. His heart was in his throat, but he did not rush. Fate had led him here. God had led him here, but the moment was fragile; as fragile as the broken, nameless little boy in front of him.
'If you chose me, I will lead our people. I will give you a name.'
At those words, the boy's gaze shifted back towards him, staring at him wordlessly. Under that intent gaze, he felt as if his very soul was being touched, the wisdom, and age, and weariness, and fragility, and hope reflected in those eyes so far beyond what any human being could ever hope to fathom.
And then, for a moment, the green eyes of the boy who appeared to be a feral little beggar child flickered with such an utterly staggering amount of strength that his breath caught in his throat. All at once he was overwhelmed with both terror, and love for this child, and he found himself shuddering at the sound of distant chimes in his mind, echoes of a future that he would not see, but would, in a small way, be responsible for. It was almost too much. The roaring in his head made him dizzy, the awareness of the phenomenal importance of his fate nearly made him weep, and then all at once there was a distant click, and he was once again sitting quietly on a broken wall beside a scruffy little boy.
'Yes,' the boy said.
He smiled peacefully. The boy stared back at him with an unguarded, naked expression of hope.
He took a deep breath.
'Henceforth, I am Ælfræd, King of the Angelcyn, and you, dear child, in time, shall be our land.'
'What is my name?'
Ælfræd smiled serenely. The boy was already sounding stronger, and less fragmented.
Something in the way that the boy smiled told him that the world had just changed forever.
My headcanon suggests that England gave America the 'human' name "Alfred" out of respect for this man, passing the name of the closest thing that he had to a father to the closest thing that he had to a son.
I probably should have written something about football haha...