…hey everyone. I'm very sorry for the long delay, things got messy this year and I didn't have the motivation to write for a long time. This was my final year in university and it got ridiculously complicated. Or maybe it got complicated because I couldn't muster any enthusiasm for the course. I just wanted to end the year so that I would have the degree. I did finish it and even though my exam results weren't very good, I applied for a postgraduate in Celtic Studies and I got an offer against all expectations. I was over the moon when I got the offer, especially after I was warned that I might not get it. But then… parents divorcing, financial troubles, no hope for a definitive job at the end of my postgraduate course… I had to cancel the offer. It crushed me to do this. I'm trying to see if I can defer it to the next year. But for now, reality has forced me to change career paths completely. I'm trying to see if I can become an archivist, though the education system in Switzerland is nothing short of ridiculously complicated. In a cocktail of sadness, disappointment and stress, I started writing again.
So here is the new chapter, an extra long (55 pages) chapter for everyone who has been hoping for the next update. I wanted to thank you all for your continued interest and fondness in my story, even if my updates have become infuriatingly slow. It means so much to me that people continue to enjoy this story so much, despite all the flaws it has. If I could hug you all through the screen, I would. Thank you so much everyone who has written reviews, you've given me the strength to continue despite everything. Just thank you so much everyone, the story would have never managed to get this far!
Also there is a reason why I've decided to upload the chapter today. Guess what date it is? :) Today, five years ago, I posted the very first chapter of Behind the Mask. Huh, five years already? It's been ongoing for so long, I'm amazed with the people who have stuck with the story for so long. I wonder if there is still someone from five years ago who saw the first chapter being uploaded and has been following it since? Idk, it would be amazing but I suppose it would be more realistic that those from five years ago have since moved on to other things. Still, it means the world to me that people continue to discover the story and share with me their thoughts on it. I do have to apologise for my earlier chapters, I see now how awful and rigid my writing was back them.
BIG WARNING IN THIS CHAPTER: In a flashback towards the end of the chapter, there will be a violent scene. I was worried that it was too violent but I had my best friend Gwynenshire check the scene out and she feels that it's okay, just needs a warning. The scene involves the fatal wounding of a character. One of mine, not a canon one… and no, not anyone you've met before. ;) I hope the scene isn't too violent.
Also there are a few scenes portraying verbal and physical abuse, they're all in flashbacks. I felt it would be fair to warn you of them as well.
Happy reading everyone!
England frowned at the name Normandy, it didn't ring any immediate bells but he had a strong feeling that she was someone he must have known rather well. Gathering from his gut instinct, their familiarity wasn't a comforting one.
Deciding not to press the matter further, England nodded his understanding and opened the door wider to allow Denmark and Normandy to walk past him into the house.
Once England had closed the door after them, he heard Wales walking down the stairs quickly.
"Ah that's great, thank you for taking the time to come here Normandy and Nor-," Wales was saying before he cut himself off when he reached the bottom of the steps and realized who stood in front of him. "…Denmark?"
Denmark grinned and explained, "Hej Wales, I know you were expecting Norway. He is coming, just a bit later. He had a sudden meeting with his prime minister and he asked me to come along."
"How come?" Wales inquired with a small frown, looking a bit confused.
"I suppose he thinks I might have a few things to tell England?" Denmark said with a small shrug.
"Why are they here Wales?" England questioned, staring suspiciously at Wales. Wales had made no mention that anyone was coming over today but by the sounds of it, this had been completely planned. They weren't making any effort of masking that. But why were they here? What had they come to tell him?
Wales smiled brightly at England and said, "I asked them to come here to discuss a part of your early history. Normandy and Norway were both present in a significant event that affected you on a historical and cultural level. I thought it would be a good idea to regain your memories of this event with them around so that you can talk it out." He stared at Denmark briefly before shrugging his shoulders and added, "It's a shame Norway isn't here now but hopefully he can make it later… for now it would be perhaps a good start to get to know each other better?"
England looked from Normandy to Denmark, feeling uncertain. He repressed an internal shudder at the sight of Normandy, his instincts were telling him to avoid the female avatar as much as possible. England thought his instinctive dislike of Normandy strange, he had absolutely no memories of her. So why would he have such a bad feeling about her? What had happened between them?
When he turned to Denmark, a small smile crawled on England's face. He hadn't recovered many memories of the Dane, but he could recall the recent chalk-incident from a World meeting.
"Well I already recognize Denmark from the World meetings, I briefly interacted with him a few months back," England said, sending the Dane a knowing smile.
"Oh, how so?" Wales asked, looking genuinely curious.
"Well," England paused for a moment, becoming pensive. He stared at Denmark as he said, "You know that the truth will come out one way or another Denmark, we might as well tell him." Denmark glanced from England to Wales uncertainly, clearly not wanting to reveal the truth. His shoulders eventually slumped and he nodded. England turned to Wales and admitted, "He gave me the chalk."
"Chalk?" Wales questioned with a frown, confused by England's words. Understanding soon dawned upon him and the Welsh nation turned to stare at Denmark with disapproving eyes. "That explains a lot."
A nervous grin spread across the Dane's face. "I swear Wales, I didn't expect England to remember a spell like that. I just wanted him to have something he could play with so that he wouldn't be bored out of his mind."
"What in the world are you nations talking about?" Normandy asked with a sigh, seeming very puzzled by the discussion. She turned to look at England expectantly, hoping for an answer.
However England averted his gaze, not feeling comfortable maintaining direct eye contact with her. The awful coiling sensation in his stomach was not letting up, it was as if her mere presence was managing to make him feel ill.
Wales answered, "It's a bit of a long and chaotic story. To summarise, England somehow managed to remember a Welsh spell and with the use of chalk, he accidently transformed a large group of nations into cats. I had not known until now who had given him the chalk." The Welshman sent Denmark a pointed look.
"You can't exactly blame me, it was one of your spells England used to turn nations into cats," Denmark pointed out, confidence coming back to him. "So maybe I should be asking why in the world you've designed such a spell. Transformation spells aren't the easiest to design and yours is oddly specific about what kind of cat you turn into based on your nationality. Why is that?"
The Welsh nation coughed loudly and turned away from Denmark, hastily suggesting, "Perhaps we should all go to the living room instead of staying out in the hallway. It's a bit cramped and it'd be more comfortable to sit down. I'll… go get some tea. You three already go inside." Wales walked away quickly further down the hallway and disappeared into the kitchen.
"Nice save there Wales," Denmark said loudly, earning himself total silence from Wales. He chuckled to himself and winked at England. "But let's do as he says, the hallway is not the best place for long discussions."
Denmark took off his coat and hung it on the coat stand before making his way to the living room. England was about to follow after him when he felt eyes on him. He slowed down and looked over his shoulder, noticing that Normandy was regarding him thoughtfully.
Uncomfortable being alone with her, England hurried up and went into the living room. Denmark was already settled on the couch so England made his way towards an armchair so that he could face the Dane.
Wales walked in a short while later with two steaming mugs. He handed one mug to England and just as he was going to hand the other to Denmark, the Dane quickly held his hand up and said, "Ah thank you Wales but I don't drink tea-"
"I made you coffee," Wales cut him off, a sneaky smile on his face. "You don't think I would remember your drinking habits? I remember such details." Denmark sent him back a thankful grin as he accepted the mug. Wales turned to Normandy just as she was walking in and asked, "Would you like some coffee Normandy?"
She shook her head and replied, "Maybe later, I'm alright for now. Merci for the offer." She made her way towards the couch and sat beside Denmark, a small frown on her face. England couldn't decide if she looked angry or contrite. Normandy quickly straightened up and adopted a neutral expression.
"Aren't you staying with us, Wales?" Denmark inquired, noticing the lack of a third mug for Wales himself.
"I have a few things to finish off, I will be with you shortly," Wales answered, giving England an encouraging smile before stepping out of the living room.
England turned his attention back to Normandy and Denmark, suddenly feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable. He took a sip from his tea but didn't feel comforted by the taste as he normally would be. England got up to place his mug on the coffee table before sitting back down on the armchair. His bad feelings over Normandy were not dissipating anytime soon and England found himself at a loss for words.
"So… should we introduce ourselves?" Denmark asked, drinking from his mug a bit before placing it on the coffee table as well. He looked from Normandy to England, expression expectant. When Normandy shrugged her shoulders, he turned to England and said, "Well you've seen me at the World meetings so you can probably guess that I'm a nation. I'm a Scandinavian country from the north of Europe. I'm neighbours with Germany, Norway and Sweden. Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Finland are my brothers, together we're called the Nordics."
England nodded his understanding, recognizing the names of the other nations Denmark had mentioned. He frowned slightly when the words "Scandinavian" and "Nordics" rang a bell for him. He said, "…you were also a Viking once."
Denmark blinked with surprise, scratching his head awkwardly as he replied, "Ah… how did you know?"
"I remember some nightmares… well technically memories, involving them and I think you were among them," England explained with a small sad smile. The memories hadn't been nice, he had seen Vikings pillaging and attacking his people. It had frightened him to see the dragon-headed longships coming into view at the horizon, sending coastal villages into panicked hysteria. Now and again England thought he had spotted a young Denmark during those attacks.
Denmark smiled sheepishly. "Aah yes, from about the late 8th to the 9th century, my people and Norway's people raided your lands very often. Later from then until the 11th century, we tried to invade and settle down in your lands… I was often fighting with your Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Wessex especially hated my guts."
That honestly didn't surprise England at all, given how much hostility would have existed between the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons. He had seen fleeting memories of his lands during the Viking Age, but he wished he had clearer memories of his Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and how they had dealt with the raids and invasions.
Denmark, seeming uncertain and eager to change the subject, turned to Normandy and said, "How about you introduce yourself Normandy?"
Normandy shifted slightly, seeming a bit hesitant. She began, "I'm… a geographical region of France. I face the English Channel and your coast. Technically I represent two administrative regions, since 1956, but I will be merged back into one region in 2016. Before being a region I used to be an independent duchy. My people were known as Normans back then. I was founded when the French king Charles the Simple gave land to the Vikings to appease them. So my ancestry is strongly Scandinavian… I think that would make me a distant cousin of Denmark."
England listened intently and nodded stiffly. He honestly didn't know what to say to Normandy's introduction. It was interesting perhaps that she was distantly related to Denmark, but England had absolutely no idea what significance she had to his history. There was definitely something, they were here to discuss it but Wales had been wonderfully vague on the subject. England admitted after a while, "I'm sorry if I'm not talking a lot but Wales honestly told me nothing about you coming, so I have no idea what this is about. What historical event am I meant to remember?"
"What meaning does 1066 have for you?" Denmark inquired carefully.
"Nothing," England answered, suddenly feeling self-conscious about his ignorance. "It should, shouldn't it?"
"Very much so," Denmark replied, nodding solemnly. "That's the year you were invaded and successfully conquered for the first and final time."
England just stared blankly at the two avatars.
"Not ringing any bells? Well I don't know how to trigger memories and I don't know how much we should tell you…" Denmark trailed off, looking at Normandy for some support.
Normandy questioned, "Do you have any questions for us, England? Maybe something in the discussion could trigger your memories of this event."
England only answered her with silence.
Almost two tense minutes went by before Normandy spoke again.
"You don't want to talk to me, do you?" Normandy asked calmly, clasping her hands tightly together as she stared directly into England's eyes. England bit his lower lip anxiously and averted his gaze, not wishing to grant her an answer.
An uncomfortable silence fell on the three avatars, no one certain on what they should say. England was finding it increasingly difficult to hide his discomfort and aloofness from Normandy and the French region was clearly bothered by his behaviour.
"Alright," Normandy finally broke the silence. She smiled as she said, "I think I am up for some coffee after all. You two could start talking and getting to know each other better." The French region stood up from the couch and sauntered out of the living room, closing the door quietly behind her.
Once she was gone, England felt himself relax. He exhaled heavily and the tension left his shoulders.
Denmark was looking at England with sympathetic eyes and he asked, "She still frightens you, huh?"
Shaking his head in confusion, England replied, "It's strange, I have no recent memories of her and I still haven't regained the older memories I have of her… and yet I can't help but have this awful feeling in my gut. It's like it was twisting itself inside out."
The Danish nation nodded his understanding and he said, "Your subconscious hasn't forgotten, it's trying to warn you."
England asked, "What did she do for me to feel like this in her presence?"
The other nation shifted uncomfortably at the question, he clearly knew the answer but he seemed uncertain about revealing it to England. Just as England began to frown and was starting to consider demanding the answer from the Dane, Denmark answered uncomfortably, "Well the Normans were violent against your people and… you know, a lot of nations end up reflecting their people's violence. Keeping that in mind, Normandy was brutal in her treatment of you when she invaded your lands."
The English nation frowned at Denmark's answer, it really didn't tell him a lot but he could guess that Normandy must have been really harsh if England felt so uncomfortable in her presence. Somehow though, he wanted to know more. "What did she do?"
"She… well she was cruel to you," Denmark mumbled, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't know the specific details because neither of you ever spoke about it. But I do know that she believed you were too soft and docile at the time and she decided she needed to fix that. And well… you weren't the same after that. You were angrier and more aggressive."
Becoming thoughtful, England focussed his gaze on the cooling mugs on the table. Without looking up, he asked uncertainly, "Were… were you similar to Normandy?"
A long pause followed England's question and he started regretting having asked at all. He almost wished he hadn't needed to ask such a sensitive question but given what he had heard about Normandy so far, England needed to know.
"Well… we share a few similarities," Denmark admitted hesitantly, quickly adding, "But I never hurt you. I might have spooked you a few times but that's about it."
"But then why did Norway ask you to come?" England questioned, feeling thoroughly puzzled as he looked at Denmark.
The Danish nation shrugged and said, "Beats me. As I said, Norway thinks that I could say things that might be relevant to you."
"Like what?" England asked.
"I… really don't know."
Silence fell upon the two nations again, though this time it wasn't as tense as it was uncertain. England found it odd that Denmark had agreed to come along despite not knowing what he should say. England inquired, "You mentioned something earlier that made me curious… was I different in personality before Normandy conquered me?"
"To a certain degree, you were calmer and more hesitant. You kept your grumpiness, not even Normandy could rid you of that! But one change I noticed was that your temper had gotten worse, you were more easily provoked than before," Denmark paused for a moment, becoming thoughtful. He continued a bit more uncertainly, "I also think you started having tensions with your brothers after the Norman invasion."
"Really?" England straightened up in his seat, interest piqued.
Denmark nodded. "Yeah, things were rather okay between you and your brothers before Normandy came to your lands. Some good trading relations, positive cultural exchanges… after that, there was some tension but it only got worse when you started trying to impose your ways on them."
England shifted uncomfortably at that, feeling suddenly guilty. He'd done some reading on the history of the British Isles, specifically focussing on the 18th, 19th and 20th century. From the last century alone, England had become painfully aware about how much of an ass his past self must have been. Granted a lot of it was his government's doing and his brothers' people suffered from it, but England feared that he himself hadn't been sympathetic towards his brothers' plights.
"Why do you look so troubled?" Denmark asked, looking confused by England's expression.
"I just feel absolutely awful over how I've treated my brothers in the past. And if there used to be a time where I used to get along with them… that's just making me feel ten times worse. It just seems like… like my…," England trailed off, losing the courage to finish the sentence.
"…like your existence caused them more pain than good?" Denmark finished tentatively, causing England to look at him in shock and surprise.
He stuttered, "H-how d-d-did you-"
"I also have brothers," Denmark said as he smiled fondly, scratching the back of his head. His expression grew sadder as he added, "And from our bunch, I became the tyrannical one. Like you and your brothers have the United Kingdom, we had the Kalmar Union. It was meant to unite the Nordic nations together. Sounded good in theory but in practice…"
"It didn't work out," England said, nodding his understanding.
Denmark chuckled weakly, "Let's just say the power went to my head. With time I cared more about keeping my brothers together and under control, rather than ensuring their well-being. It got to the point that Norway told me that I was not the Denmark he had grown up with."
England winced at that, that particular comment must have really hurt. "That was a really harsh thing to say."
"Aah but it was a rebuff I needed to get. It was one of the few warnings I got before I crashed," Denmark sighed, leaning forward and clasping his hands together. His eyes were downcast and pensive for a few minutes, before he looked up at England again. "How do you fall from power without hitting the ground? That's a question I never managed to answer. All I know is that when Sweden left with Finland, Norway was taken away and the Kalmar Union fell, I found out I was completely worthless in the eyes of the stronger European nation. I wasn't in a good place."
Silence fell upon the two Germanic nations. England had no idea how to respond to Denmark's comment. He was surprised that Denmark related with England and his actions towards his siblings at all. He hadn't really considered that anyone else would have been in a similar position. England didn't know if he should be comforted by the fact that he wasn't the only nation who had been tyrannical to their siblings in the past.
England ventured almost fearfully, "When you say that… did you… try?"
The Dane blinked as he tried to understand the meaning of England's question. Understanding appeared in his eyes and he replied uncomfortably, "I was tempted, sometimes I was very tempted. But I didn't think nations could commit suicide and succeed, so I didn't get far. Anything I did my body immediately healed. I gave up and tried to keep Norway and Iceland in mind, I told myself that I couldn't leave them." Looking briefly thoughtful, a small laugh bubbled forth from Denmark. He smiled crookedly at England as he said, "You know when I think about it, I think you also crashed. Just your crash was a lot slower and more silent, it passed off to most as just the typical brooding of an ex-empire. Since I kind of went through the same thing as you, maybe I should have noticed the signs. Maybe I should have seen what you were going through. Maybe I could have warned your brothers before you…"
"What's the point of considering all the "maybes" though?" England pointed out, frowning a bit. "It happened and no one saw it coming. Or at least no one expected me to go this far. There's no sense in considering what could have been done and what could have been changed. It turned out this way and all we can do is move on with life."
"That's a very good point England," Denmark said with a wide smile and seemed so happy at England's words that it almost looked like he had expected them to come from him. "And it's a point I want you to follow in other areas. Just like you see your suicide as something that happened and nothing could be done to avoid it, think like that about your existence and your misdeeds towards other nations."
England felt confused by Denmark's reasoning. He shook his head and said, "I'm not sure I follow."
"You curse your existence and past actions because of the damage and pain it caused others. Instead of doing that, accept that you did these things and go on with life. There's nothing you can do to rewrite history and you can't wish yourself out of existence. Forgive yourself and focus on leading the rest of your existence doing good, for others and yourself," Denmark explained, looking at England expectantly.
Understanding dawned on England and he felt thoroughly surprised by how Denmark had put it. When England looked back at the other nation, he could see that the Dane was wearing a satisfied grin and had crossed his arms over his chest. Slightly curious, England asked, "You were trying to get me to say something along those lines, no?"
Denmark laughed at that and he answered brightly, "And it worked, didn't it? Look England, I know it's not easy to accept your bad past actions. I struggled a long time to accept mine. But believe me when I say that to get better, you need to forgive yourself. I can't take back the words and punches I threw at my brothers, but my best bet is to make amends and be a better person today. Time heals all wounds. Of course there will be scars, but they too fade away eventually."
England got up from the armchair and made his way over to Denmark. The Dane looked briefly confused by England's intentions but before he could question him, England wrapped his arms around Denmark's neck and hugged him. England said gratefully, "Thank you so much for your help Denmark, you gave me a lot to think about."
"Ah it was so little," Denmark responded with a grin, returning the hug by one of his own. "Just a fellow nation helping out another who is going through a rough spot. I just hope it will help you as it helped me."
Wales was leaning his back against the wall, listening closely to England's and Denmark's voices coming from the living room. Satisfied that nothing was going to go awry between them, Wales pushed himself away from the wall and walked carefully towards the kitchen, making sure to avoid the squeaky floorboards.
When he entered the kitchen, he was met with mirthful eyes and an ever-widening smile from Normandy. She had finished her coffee a while ago and was now simply sitting at the table, staring at Wales.
"What is it?" Wales asked after a few seconds of discomfort on his side, not understanding why Normandy was smiling at him like that.
The French region closed her eyes and shook her head, laughing lightly, "You've not changed one bit Wales, you're still the same nosy boy I met all those centuries ago."
His cheeks colouring red, Wales quickly protested, "That is not true at all, I'm not nosy!" When Normandy shot him a glance of disbelief, he added self-consciously, "At least not as much as I used to. I wasn't eavesdropping on their conversation."
"Then what were you doing there during all this time?" Normandy asked, raising an eyebrow at Wales.
Wales explained hesitantly, "I was… listening to their voices. I wanted to make sure that England was alright. Denmark was someone I was not expecting to receive today and I was worried that he might accidently trigger earlier memories in England, ones involving his Vikings."
"Oh by the sounds of it, England has already regained some of those memories. Denmark didn't manage to trigger any new memories," Normandy explained. "Wales, you don't need to justify your actions. I can't prove or disprove your intentions."
Both avatars were silent for a moment before Wales asked carefully, "So is there any reason you haven't returned to the living room?"
Normandy focussed on her empty mug and avoided Wales' eyes. She seemed uncomfortable as she said, "Although you say England is completely amnesiac and has no memories of me… he wasn't comfortable in my presence. I tried my best but he would not talk to me. I had to get out of the room, I didn't know how to react otherwise. It seems like he got along with Denmark a lot better once I left."
"Perhaps that's due to England's lands… they remember you. And in turn, they're warning England's subconscious that you're not good news for him. It might explain his behaviour," Wales proposed, not certain if that was what had happened but it was the most plausible explanation he could think of.
The French region frowned. "Has this happened to anyone else England interacted with?" When Wales shook his head, she burst out in frustration, "Then why me?! Why would England's lands do this with me but not for any other nation that has hurt England? Not even Denmark or Norway? France…?
Wales sighed quietly and reminded, "Normandy, you can't forget that you conquered England. Your conquest was extremely traumatic to him. Not only did you have an enormous impact on his history and culture, but you deeply affected him on an emotional and psychological level."
"Was I really that bad? Not even a memory loss was able to stop making him uncomfortable in my presence?" Normandy questioned, looking genuinely bothered by that fact.
"Why does England's behaviour towards you concern you so much? I didn't have the impression that you cared about how he felt about you?" Wales asked with a quirked eyebrow. It was strange to him to see Normandy upset, she and England had avoided each other completely in the last few centuries. Why did England's behaviour bother her now when it didn't before?
Normandy abruptly stood up and took her mug to the sink. As she let the water run to clean her mug, she kept her back turned to Wales. She said hesitantly, "Suppose that I've wanted to mend things between us for a while? Suppose I wanted to use England's memory loss as a chance to rebuild some kind of functioning relationship, to start off new? I know he would have resented me once the memories returned but I was hoping… that I could still mend this relationship."
"But why do you wish to mend this?" Wales inquired, feeling puzzled by Normandy's revelation. It certainly explained though why she had agreed to come, after Wales had worried that she would refuse due to her shared hostile silence with England.
"I regret my past actions. I wish to show that I'm not the same Normandy as back then," Normandy turned the tap off and sighed, looking defeated. "I don't want bad blood to continue to exist between us."
Wales shook his head, chuckling uncertainly. He pointed out, "You know it's difficult to mend a relationship that has been damaged to this extent. England does not owe you forgiveness or a chance to repair this relationship."
Normandy turned to face Wales and leaned her back against the sink. She pouted slightly as she said, "It's been nine centuries since the conquest. In a few decades, it will be a millennium."
"That's beside the point," Wales replied, frowning in disapproval. "England is not obligated to forgive you, no matter how many centuries pass. You agreed to come here to help trigger his memories of the Norman conquest. What England wants to do next when he remembers is up to him."
Normandy sighed as she asked, "You're not very sympathetic to my cause, are you?"
"Well England was not the only one who was affected by your invasion. I may not have been conquered immediately like him, but you lay about the foundation that was to cause my kingdoms to collapse and eventually cost me my independence," Wales answered matter-of-factly.
"I see that the art of keeping grudges runs in the family," Normandy said with a roll of her eyes, a knowing smile appearing on her face.
Wales stood up to put his empty mug in the sink as well. Normandy moved to the side to allow him access to the sink. As he cleaned his mug, Wales clarified, "I wouldn't call it a grudge, simply justified wariness. You had an enormous impact on the combined history of the British Isles countries and none of us will be foolish enough to forget." He pulled back and regarded Normandy carefully.
Normandy leaned against the kitchen counter and crossed her arms. She questioned after a moment, "So how do you expect Norway and I to trigger the memories of that event? Have you ever managed to deliberately trigger England's memory?" When Wales shrugged his shoulders, she demanded in frustration, "Then how are we meant to know better?!"
"I'm just following what I've seen happen over these past few months. Whenever England is with someone, often important memories relating to them are triggered. So with England meeting you and Norway together… I thought it would be enough to trigger the memory," Wales explained, feeling self-conscious again. It was clear to him now that he hadn't planned this through entirely and was relying on unpredictable factors. How was he going to make this work?
Normandy became thoughtful, her face brightening up as an idea struck her. "Hmmm, I think I might have a plan on how to trigger it."
"Oh? Do share."
"Hmm, I think not."
"It must remain a secret between me and Norway. I'll inform him when he arrives."
"And why won't you tell me?"
"To preserve its shock effect."
"In other words… you don't want to tell me because you know I will not agree and will try to oppose the plan," Wales concluded, staring at the French avatar suspiciously.
"You summed it up," Normandy answered with a cheeky grin.
The Welshman frowned. "Normandy, I can't allow you to go ahead with your plan if you will not share it with me."
Normandy promised, "I will not hurt him in any way. Trust me, this will trigger England's memory for certain."
"I don't know," Wales muttered hesitantly, crossing his arms tightly over his chest.
"Just trust me, merde!" Normandy exclaimed, sounding exasperated. She unfolded her arms and strode to the window, her back turned to Wales. She took a moment to calm herself down and then turned to face Wales. She sighed, "I know that's a big request to make to you, but you asked me to come and help with triggering this memory. I have an idea on how to go about it."
"I suppose…," Wales murmured uncertainly, looking troubled. "I just don't know what to expect from you and I don't want to make England go through more grief than he needs to."
Normandy suddenly perked up, "Oh, someone is coming."
Signals of an approaching nation now caught Wales' attention as well. As he wasn't directly connected to England's lands, he didn't know who it was. He mused, "I feel them too, it might be Norway."
The French region beamed at Wales and began walking out of the kitchen, towards the front door. As she left, she instructed, "You go to the living room and talk to Denmark and England, keep them occupied." Wales watched her go quietly, feeling very conflicted. On one hand he wanted England to remember this memory because it was important but on the other hand, he was nervous over what Normandy had in store.
With heavy footsteps, Wales made his way to the living room. He opened up the door and saw that England and Denmark were sitting on the couch, chatting away.
England was the first to notice him. He looked at Wales and said brightly, "Hey Wales, you were gone for a while."
"Yeah, I was talking to Normandy," Wales explained, trying his best to look like nothing was amiss.
"Oh," England paused, looking briefly conflicted. He then asked, "Where is she?"
"She went to get something from her coat," Wales lied easily, starting to feel guilty. Maybe he should stop this, before it was too late.
"Hmm, I think she should join us again," Denmark proposed. He glanced at England and added, "If you're alright with that."
England looked down at his hands, his expression uncertain and troubled.
"You know, we don't need to try and trigger this memory if you don't want to. I apologise if I didn't make you aware of my plans at first, I know it must be sudden and unsettling for you. We can do this another day where you feel more prepared," Wales suggested, a nervous smile creeping on his face.
"No," England said firmly, looking up at Wales with a frown. He got off the couch and walked towards his brother, shaking his head. "I need to remember this. I will need to regain all my memories eventually, the nice and the ugly ones. I'm ready to face whatever this event has to offer." Wales looked down at England, still very uncertain of whether he should trust England's judgement or call the whole thing off.
"Stand aside Wales!" Normandy suddenly barked, appearing at the doorway of the living room with Norway beside her.
"What the-" Wales began as he backed away. What were the two avatars going to do now?
Both Norway and Normandy strode into the room, flanking England. They both carried black umbrellas in their right hands.
"You have nowhere to run to foolish boy. Big brother Wessex isn't here to protect you anymore," Normandy snarled menacingly, raising the umbrella as if it was a sword.
England looked at the region in complete confusion and terror. He backed away but tripped over the rug, falling backwards and bumping his head on the floor. He opened his eyes wide and clouds appeared in them, signifying that he had been pulled into a memory.
Wales stared at Normandy in horror and after a long minute of tense silence, he blurted out, "That was horrific!"
Normandy shrugged nonchalantly. "We wanted to trigger the memory of a traumatic invasion. Nothing about this was going to be nice. It was a necessary evil."
"Surely there must have been a better way to go about it," Wales protested, looking at England in dismay. He regretted it, he regretted having allowed Normandy to set her plan in motion. He should have insisted that she fill him in on her plan. He wished there had been a less harsh way to trigger England's memory.
Normandy rolled her eyes and stated, "Wales, at worst we frightened him. We caused him no physical harm, apart from that little bump that he did to himself… and I would be really surprised if that hurt him. I doubt we traumatised him with our jump scare."
"Maybe there was a better way to trigger this memory, Wales, but you did not suggest it," Norway pointed out calmly.
"I don't know how to trigger these memories any better. They're too sporadic and don't follow a pattern. I'm surprised you even managed to trigger the correct memory like this," Wales said defensively, feeling self-conscious. He regarded England worriedly and added, "Provided you triggered the right one."
"What other memory could we have triggered? I thought we were rather clear what memory we wanted England to remember," Normandy stated with a frown.
"You never know with memories, they don't behave in a manner that you'd expect," Wales explained as he went to pick up England's limp body. Holding the child avatar in his arms, Wales sighed, "I hope England will not suffer too much from re-experiencing this event. I wish this hadn't been necessary."
England was falling into a dark abyss. No matter how much he struggled, he couldn't get rid of the awful falling sensation. He simply couldn't seem to find some kind of footing to hold onto.
His heart was still beating wildly over what Normandy and Norway had done. No, that wasn't entirely true. It wasn't their actions or presence that had triggered the memory, England was highly doubtful of it.
No, it was Normandy's words that had frightened England. At the same time, he felt like the words had punched holes into his chest. It ached, as if he was being reminded of an ancient grief.
He understood that Normandy had purposefully chosen to say those words and adopt such a threatening stance to trigger his memories. On one hand he wanted to admire her ingenuity, but on the other hand he was furious at the lack of warning. Even a simple "we're going to try to trigger a memory" would have sufficed.
England stared down at the abyss, wondering how long he would have to fall.
"You shall not have the throne!" A voice suddenly boomed.
Looking around to find the source of the voice, England spotted a foggy figure emerge from the shadows. The figure looked ten times bigger than England and they weren't looking at him, instead their glaring was directed at a patch of darkness.
The details of the shadowy figure became more defined and he turned into a familiar blond child that England had seen a few times in his memories.
Out of the shadows two more shadowy figures appeared. They quickly morphed into younger child versions of Norway and Normandy, both frowning disapprovingly at the defensive Saxon kingdom.
"The throne comes by right to me, King Harald's claim to it is certain," Norway pointed out quietly, his cold eyes narrowed.
Normandy snapped impatiently, "Nobody gives a damn about your king's claim. My Duke William is the rightful heir to the throne, he has familial relations to King Edward the Confessor. The deceased king promised the throne to him!"
"Both your claims are invalid, neither Norman duke nor Norwegian king will sit on the throne." Wessex spat, glowering at the two other avatars.
"But your king was childless!" Normandy exclaimed in exasperation, "The throne has to go to a relative and my duke is a proper candidate."
"Your duke's claim of relation is flimsy at best!" Wessex countered harshly. "You know, we've had it up to here with you foreigners believing you can rule us Anglo-Saxons without our say. Harold will be crowned king of England and for once, neither of you will have a say on the matter."
"You know you run the risk of pulling England into another war? Are you so eager to see your lands soaked in blood again?" Norway questioned, frowning darkly.
"I made a promise to England that I will not allow a foreign ruler on the English throne again. I intend to keep this promise," Wessex stated tensely, glowering at the Norwegian nation. He all of a sudden shoved the Nordic kingdom away from him, snarling, "You've had your fun with my siblings and I. You've caused enough damage, you and your idiotic Dane. Leave us be!"
Norway staggered away, looking briefly surprised by the action. His expression darkened and he muttered something under his breath tonelessly, though he didn't speak loud enough for England to understand what he was saying. The Norse avatar turned around and stalked away, disappearing silently into the darkness.
"You will come to regret it Wessex, do not take us so lightly. My people are far more advanced in terms of military than yours, I wonder how you intend to deal with an invasion from me. You might find yourself overwhelmed," Normandy warned, beginning to walk away from Wessex. She turned to regard him, her eyes calculating. She smirked dangerously as she said, "And unlike with the Vikings, you will not get a second chance from me."
"I'm ready to take the risk. You do not frighten me," Wessex growled lowly, turning to walk away from the Norman avatar.
"Good," Normandy replied, her smirk widening into a twisted grin. She suddenly focussed on England, declaring gleefully, "Be prepared for what is to come, England. Wessex won't be always there to protect you. Once he is gone, you will have nowhere to run. You will be mine."
England opened his eyes and found himself in an army, surrounded by English soldiers. Wessex was in front of him and was instructing him to remain behind the kingdom at all costs. The soldiers at the front had their shields out, forming a shield wall around the front of the army. Men were snarling and shouting, daring the invaders located downhill to approach. Although England couldn't see them properly, he could sense the looming presence of the Norman army. England gulped and tried his best to look calm, but Wessex was somehow still aware of England's anxiety.
"Stop fretting, England. We'll surely win," Wessex said confidently, turning to give England a brief pat on the head with a wide smile on his face. "It's going to be alright England."
A distant shout sounded from downhill and suddenly the English army was drawn into a hushed silence. Small whistling sounds caused England to look up and see a fleet of arrows flying over the shield wall, most arrows missing the army.
The battle had started.
The Norman archers attempted a couple of times to penetrate the formation but the English army's location on the hill made it difficult for any of the archers to aim properly. The dense formation remained when the Norman spearmen ran up the hill and attempted to force openings in the shield wall. The Normans were instead met with an onslaught of axes, stones and spears from the Englishmen behind the shields. Wessex joined in with the soldiers and attacked any Norman foolish enough to approach.
The thundering hooves of the Norman cavalry approached the shield wall at an alarming pace, causing England to close his eyes tightly as he waited for the bone-crushing impact. But the wall held firmly, the horses snorting and rearing as the cavalrymen urged them on.
All of a sudden, the cavalry and infantry started retreating and rather swiftly at that. England felt that the whole Norman force was retreating, leading him to wonder what was causing the retreat.
Confused shouts rang through the ranks, England's people likewise were wondering what the general retreat was all about. A murmured rumour spread out among the men and England started hearing claims that the Duke of Normandy had fallen.
"Is it true?" England asked Wessex, tugging the other's sleeve.
Wessex looked sceptical and shook his head. "I don't know… I don't think so. I haven't seen him leading an attack so I highly doubt he has been killed."
But these feelings of doubt did not seem to occur to the humans around England. In effect, a wave of excitement washed over the soldiers and some of them started shouting about chasing down the now apparently leaderless Normans.
A number of English soldiers broke away from the shield wall and began to pursue the fleeing Normans, shouting and waving their weapons.
"They can't do that, can they?" England blurted out, watching the soldiers in shock. "King Harold ordered us to stay in formation at all times. Whose orders are they following?"
"Gyrth! Leofwine!" A human voice shouted hoarsely over the din of the army. England whipped his head to the left and saw his king Harold from among his men. He was calling out to his two younger brothers. England turned to look at the running soldiers and saw that the brothers were leading the pursuit.
"Oi bastards, get back here," Wessex barked angrily, giving chase after the unruly soldiers. England started following Wessex but a shout from the Norman army drew his attention.
William rode on his horse through the Norman forces, shouting at his men that he was still alive. The Normans regrouped and turned around, facing the pursuing English soldiers. They attacked and cut down the nearest English soldiers, causing some of the errant soldiers to stop in their tracks and flee back to the main army, rejoining the shield wall. Others had distanced themselves too far and were forced to rally on a hillock further down, facing the oncoming invaders with determined expressions.
The Normans overwhelmed and slaughtered them without a second's notice.
England briefly saw Harold's grief-stricken face before the king seemingly shook it off, barking at his men to maintain their positions. Neither of Harold's brothers had returned to the shield wall. He hadn't seen Wessex come back either but he had perhaps joined the shield wall further down the line. England could sense the other's presence. Wessex was alright.
The small avatar was soon drowned in the bustling of the soldiers as they scrambled to strengthen the wall again. A gruff-looking soldier nudged England towards his shield and said, "Ye stay here whelp. Ye don't want to be riddled with arrows, do ye?"
England shook his head wordlessly and stood behind the shield, placing his hands against the cold surface to keep the shield up.
Both armies continued fighting each other into the early afternoon, after which a temporary lull followed as the English and Norman forces settled down to rest and eat. England used this time to track Wessex down and was able to find him eventually. Wessex was sitting on the ground tending to a minor injury his left arm had sustained, cursing quietly under his breath as he wrapped strips of torn-of cloth around the wound.
"Wessex, are you alright? You're hurt!" England exclaimed worriedly, running up to Wessex and inspecting the crude bandages.
"Ah just a scratch, nothing for you to get worried over," Wessex replied with a short breathy laugh, ruffling England's hair as he stood up. He wriggled his arm out of England's grasp, hiding it out of sight behind his back. "Just give me a few minutes and I will be as good as new."
"If you say so," England said uncertainly, puzzled by Wessex's behaviour. He was usually proud when he would sustain injuries, he always showed them off to England so that he could watch how an avatar healed. It wasn't like him to hide his injuries in bandages and keeping them out of England's sight. To change subject, England asked, "Where is King Harold?"
Wessex looked around him, trying to spot the English king. He shrugged and replied, "I think he wants to be on his own, he said he needed some time to collect his thoughts."
"He's grieving, isn't he?" England suggested quietly, remembering what had happened earlier during the battle.
"… he did just lose his two younger brothers," Wessex said uncomfortably, grimacing a bit. "First it was Sweyn and just days ago that traitorous Tostig… and now Gyrth and Leofwine are gone. That leaves Harold with one last brother, Wulfnoth."
"Who continues to remain in the clutches of those Normans," England added with a sad sigh. "It must be awful, losing so many brothers. I don't want our king to be sad."
"Don't worry, he's a strong king. He will not let you down. Harold will not allow the sacrifices of his brothers go to waste," Wessex declared firmly, grinning widely. He patted England's head. A distant shout got the attention of both avatars. The army seemed to wake up again, soldiers getting up on their feet and gathering their weapons and shields. Wessex grew serious and commented, "Seems like the battle will be starting again. Take your position England, the battle is going in our favour. If we remain in our formation, the Normans will tire themselves out. We'll have them exactly where we want them to be."
However Wessex had underestimated the crafty nature of the Normans, most particularly the Duke of Normandy.
The cavalry was the first to launch an attack on the England's army. They attacked with more confidence, horses pushing and kicking against the shields in an attempt to fragment and disperse the defence.
Under the strict words of the king, the English kept the defence intact and jabbed their spears and swords at the horses. Multiple horses were wounded and killed, causing the cavalry to suddenly fall back. The Normans looked between each other and turned tail, galloping downhill.
The English soldiers looked between each other in confusion, having not expected the Normans to retreat again. Angry shouts filled the air and several groups of soldiers broke away from the wall to give chase to the fleeing Normans.
Wessex cursed angrily, looking around as if searching for someone. "Who's the arsehole who is giving out those orders? If this continues, breaks in the lines will appear. We have to keep the defence intact!" He turned to look at England and he sternly said, "Stay here England, hold the line as long as possible. Don't allow the Normans to break down our wall."
England nodded his understanding and Wessex took off running, chasing down the English soldiers and snapping at them to return to the shield wall. He was however soon engaged in fighting as the fleeing Normans turned on the pursuing English and launched a vicious attack, a mix of cavalry and infantry rushing forward and engulfing the scattered English soldiers.
The few survivors managed to fall back and return to the shield wall, Wessex included. However England was worried to see that Wessex has sustained a shoulder injury. The wound…. was not healing. Perhaps it was just the distance that made England not see the healing process but by the way that the Anglo-Saxon kingdom held his arm, it did seem to imply that the wound was not healing as quickly as it usually would.
Normans approached the shield wall again, the cavalry leading the attack. As they clanged and clattered against the wall, the English soldiers stabbed and hacked at the invaders and their horses. The confrontation lasted only a few minutes, with casualties on the Norman side but barely on the English side.
After a few minutes, the Normans once again retreated and began fleeing down the hill. As before, English soldiers broke away from the shield wall in hot pursuit of the Normans, cutting down any Norman infantry who was not quick enough.
England stared in shock as his people disregarded the king's orders once again. Why were they disobeying orders? Or was someone countering the orders of the king and encouraging the soldiers to chase after the fleeing Normans?
And why were the Normans fleeing again? Were they as cowardly as his people tended to claim?
They were… they were feigning flight. That's how it looked like, the Normans were not fleeing out of cowardice. It was a calculated move, drawing the English into pursuits to scatter the defence and weaken the overall strength of the army.
As if to confirm England's suspicion, the Normans turned around and attacked the English soldiers, overwhelming most of them. It was an efficient tactic and most of the English soldiers had not yet caught on that the Normans were purposefully luring them to their death by pretending to be cowards.
The line did not collapse, despite the best efforts of the Normans. But the Englishmen were not as tightly packed together as before. The shield wall was being thinned out by the Normans, many English soldiers too confused, wounded or exhausted to attempt to regroup into a more secure formation. At this stage they were leaving themselves exposed and vulnerable to attacks.
England heard a shout from the Norman ranks and his heart sank as he heard the dreadful whistling sound again. He looked up to behold a volley of arrows falling towards his army. He gasped and let out of cry, unable to form a coherent sentence in his mind. Only a few soldiers heard his cry and looked up. Fewer managed to dodge the rain of arrows.
Humans began crumbling left and right, some shouting in pain while others were deathly silent. But despite everything, the shield wall held.
The battle continued to rage on throughout the whole afternoon and although the Normans attempted to repeat their feigned flight strategy, the English soldiers no longer fell for it. The information that it was a deliberate tactic to draw them out had reached all ranks by now. The assaults of the Normans on the shield wall continued.
The Norman archers had approached the shield wall to be able to attack from a closer range. As they launched another volley of arrows, England and his soldiers dove for cover under the shields. Pained cries rang clear among the soldiers, making England's heart sink. Even though the shield wall had remained intact, they were starting to lose too many men.
Looking up briefly, England barely managed to dodge another cascade of arrows.
Suddenly the land beneath England's feet seemingly lurched and he stumbled forwards, almost falling to his knees.
He steadied himself warily, raising his head to see what had happened that would cause him so much dizziness. His lands rarely reacted like this, it unsettled him. England spotted Wessex struggling back to his feet, having been hit by the same feeling.
England stared further away and saw among the fallen humans King Harold swaying unsteadily to his feet. The human looked so haggard, England didn't recognize him at first.
"Harold!" Wessex shouted hoarsely.
The human barely reacted to the shout, turning his head to look at Wessex. An arrow was sticking out of his eye socket. England gasped and grew deeply worried.
Shouts drew the attention of the king away from the avatars and towards the cavalry who were bearing down on the increasingly weakening wall. Several horsemen surged forward and cut their way through the lines.
Harold and his men barely had time to respond before they were engulfed by a storm of galloping hooves and bloodied swords. The king disappeared from England's view.
"HAROLD!" Wessex screamed in desperation, running towards the injured king.
A few seconds later England no longer needed to see Harold to know that he was dead.
An audible snap resounded inside his mind as his king's life was snuffed out. England fell to his knees with a gasp, unable to stop the tears from streaming down his face. It burned, it felt like the heated blade of a sword had just slashed through his chest.
Wessex was on his knees as well, his shoulders shaking. England could not see if he was crying or supressing his anguish.
News of Harold's death spread among England's people like wildfire. Everything broke down. The shield wall collapsed as the leaderless English panicked and began fleeing. The Normans chased after them and began massacring the fleeing troops. The soldiers of the royal household were the only ones to gather around the broken body of their king and hold their grounds as the Norman army bore down on them. Their determination to fight to the end did them little good.
A short distance away, a Norman rider separated from the cavalry and turned their horse around, as if to survey the state of the battlefield. They were notably smaller than the other Normans, barely even qualifying as a teenager. They turned their head to regard the two Anglo-Saxon avatars and England was suddenly struck by hostile signals.
They weren't human, they were an avatar just like them! An avatar England had only briefly interacted with before.
Her presence in the battle was no surprise, obviously she would have been part of the invasion force. But her close proximity to Wessex and him frightened England. She was a vicious avatar and England could still clearly remember the tense interactions between Wessex and her.
Even from a distance, England could see as a savage grin spread across her blood-spattered face. She urged her horse to a canter and started making her way towards Wessex.
The Anglo-Saxon kingdom did not seem to realize that she was coming towards him. Fear filled England's heart as Normandy spurred her horse on, sword tightly gripped in her hand.
"Wessex! Wessex, look out!" England shouted, standing up hurriedly and running towards his brother. Wessex didn't react to England's shout.
England's legs were burning as he pushed himself to run faster, to reach Wessex as quickly as possible. However Normandy was faster on horseback. England wouldn't be able to reach Wessex in time. He stopped running and took a deep breath.
That seemed to snap Wessex out of his trance. He glanced over his shoulder at England and then in front of him, finally seeing Normandy. He quickly clambered back to his feet and steadied himself, brandishing his sword.
Normandy charged forward with her sword raised. Just as she brought it down, Wessex dodged the attack and attempted to counterattack. His sword hit the horse's flank as it passed him, causing the horse to squeal in pain.
Cursing loudly, Normandy pulled the reins and made her horse turn around. She stopped her horse and after surveying the damage to the flank, she looked up to glare at Wessex.
"I will teach you to injure my horse, you cur," Normandy spat angrily, jumping down from the horse.
"Get out of my lands, you have no right to the throne," Wessex shot back, walking towards her with his sword ready.
A cruel smile spread across Normandy's face as she said, "You will find that I do, now that the false king has been deposed." She charged forwards and slashed at Wessex's face.
Wessex parried the blow and sidestepped Normandy. He lunged for her side but was knocked back by a kick to the stomach.
Just as Normandy aimed for Wessex's chest, the Anglo-Saxon swung his sword and blocked her blow.
Blade against blade clanged and slid together as both fighters tested each other's strengths.
Steel screeched as Wessex twisted his sword around in a clockwise fashion, almost knocking Normandy's sword out of her hand.
Both avatars fell back, breathing heavily.
Normandy shouted as she lunged for Wessex again.
England watched the fight in enthrallment, holding his breath each time Wessex dodged an attack. Normandy and Wessex were very skilled sword fighters. However Wessex was a few centuries older, so England hoped his experience would be superior to Normandy's.
However what Normandy lacked in experience, she more than made up in ferocity.
Blood splattered on the ground as Normandy's blade ate through fabric and found flesh.
Wessex gritted his teeth as he stumbled back, clutching his arm.
Seemingly shrugging the pain off, he swung his blade towards Normandy's throat only to be blocked by the fierce Norman fighter.
Suddenly arms wrapped under England's arms and started pulling him away. England was startled out of his trance and glanced upwards, trying to see who had dared to grab him.
"Hah, I've finally found you, Eyebrows. I was looking for you since the start of the battle," the French teen said breathlessly, looking exhausted and not in the best of shapes. However England held no sympathy for him. The frog bastard had fought alongside Normandy.
"Unhand me frog," England warned tensely, trying to wriggle out of France's grasp. He almost managed to pull away before the French avatar grabbed his wrist.
"Ah ah ah, you're coming with me back to the camp," France laughed lightly as he tightened his grip on England. "Your king has fallen, you've been conquered. You belong to Normandy now."
"Not yet, my people haven't had their last word. It'll take more than that to make me an underling," England growled furiously, increasing his struggles. He shouted, "Let me go or I will bite off your nose!"
Wessex halted in his movements and quickly glanced over his shoulder, becoming aware what was going on behind him. The split-second of inattention was all that Normandy needed.
She lunged at Wessex with her sword raised.
"WESSEX!" England screamed.
Wessex turned to face Normandy.
The sword swung down.
England's world became numb, all sounds and colours muted.
He saw the fountain of blood.
He saw Wessex stagger and crumble in front of Normandy.
He heard France's shout of triumph.
The small kingdom stared up at France and saw that he was distracted. He continued to maintain a firm grip on England's wrist however.
In sheer desperation, England leapt up and sank his teeth into France's cheek.
France yelped in pain and released his wrist.
The little Anglo-Saxon hit the ground running, ignoring France's angry shouts. His mind was filled with blind unadulterated panic. The only thought he could conjure up was getting away, running as far as possible from Normandy and France.
England closed his eyes and nation-hopped away, not knowing where to go and not caring one bit. He just had to get away from the battlefield. The invading avatars would be too tired to follow and they were on unknown lands, they wouldn't be able to orient themselves properly for now.
The landscape morphed and changed, bringing England to a small field away from the carnage and blood-soaked battlefield of Senlac Hill. Feelings of guilt crept into England's consciousness, he had fled like a coward and left Wessex at the mercy of the Normans.
Was Wessex still alive?
England could feel him, it was very faint but it was still there.
Stopping in his tracks, England wondered if he should return and try to save Wessex. He had enough energy to transport both Wessex and himself to a safe place, far away from Normandy.
It was a foolish idea and Wessex would be furious at him for taking such a risk. He was winded and his limbs were shaking from effort of trying to keep standing. England was reaching his limit.
But he had to… save…
A violent jolt ran through England's body. He stumbled and fell to the ground, struggling to fill his lungs with air. It felt like the lands had been yanked from beneath his feet. His head wouldn't stop spinning.
England clapped a hand over his mouth, the spinning sensation making him feel nauseous. His gut twisted in knots as he made sense of what had just happened.
Tears started streaming down his face as the realization sunk in.
He was too late. Wessex was gone. Normandy had not spared the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. With Wessex's death, England had inherited his lands. England was fully connected to the lands and people.
Grief tore through his chest and England let out a wail of anguish to the darkening skies.
"So the representation of the kingdom Wessex has truly fallen?" Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, asked England.
England nodded slowly, suppressing a hiccup. He had to pull himself together, he couldn't break down in tears again. Not in front of the Witenagemot, he had to show that he was an avatar capable of representing them and the rest of the people.
"This does not bode well, not at all," Ealdred, the Archbishop of York, sighed with a shake of his head.
The other members murmured in agreement amongst each other, almost everyone looking panicked or concerned. England stood at the centre of the gathering, feeling extremely self-conscious and small.
Stigand frowned as he said, "King Harold was a fool, he rushed into this battle far too quickly with not enough men. He should have taken the time to gather more forces before confronting the Normans."
"This could have been avoided had he not declined our offer to gather our forces together," Earl Morcar of Northumbria muttered quietly, mostly to himself.
His brother, Earl Edwin of Mercia, stared at Morcar in disapproval and spoke loudly, "No matter, King Harold is dead and the representation of Wessex has fallen along with him. It is a great loss."
Stigand's attention wandered back to England and he questioned the small avatar sharply, "I thought your kind could not be killed easily, isn't that so? Why then did Wessex fall? I don't understand how your kind functions."
England looked at the archbishop and explained shakily, "By human hand, an avatar is nigh impossible to kill. However between two avatars, death is far more likely but it takes more effort. I think that's especially the case when one avatar has been weakened by previous fights and has been relying too much on his energy to repair all the damage caused to the body. That's what I think happened to Wessex."
"You think or you know?!" Morcar snapped impatiently. "I've known you for many years, surely you must know your kind by now. If you knew this information for certain, how could you allow Wessex to fall victim to the Normans?"
"I couldn't know that Wessex was at the ends of his strength. I'm only a few centuries old, a lot of things about my kind confuse me still. I wish I knew more things for certain but I don't," England stammered, looking down at his feet as he tried blinking back his tears.
A new voice called out, "Is this really what the members of the Witenagemot want to be doing as the Normans approach a leaderless London? Bullying a young child for not knowing everything about his kind?" The other men turned around to see who was interrupting their meeting. A teenage boy walked down among the men, coming to stand beside England. England looked up and recognized the teen as Edgar the Ætheling, a relative of the late King Edward the Confessor, the predecessor of King Harold. New murmurs sprang up among the powerful men.
Stigand pointed out, "With all due respect, when I was just a boy he already looked like this. Years have passed since and it doesn't seem he has changed at all. We would expect him to have a better understanding on his kind, he has lived for many more years than all of us combined."
Edgar wrinkled his nose in distaste and admonished, "You are imposing on him the expectation that he grow and mature at the rate of a human. He is not human. The representation of Wessex was younger than the representation England by many centuries, however that did not stop Wessex from looking and acting like an older brother for England."
Morcar stared at England angrily and declared, "Then there must be something broken with this representation. He shouldn't look so young and inexperienced. Why is he not growing?" The earl earned himself several murmured agreements from the members of the Witenagemot.
England resisted the temptation to look at his feet again, though he felt sorely tempted to just leave in tears. He couldn't help that he was small. He couldn't help that he was not growing. They were asking questions about his state and growth which England himself barely understood.
Edgar glared at the members of the gathering until all whispers had died down. He explained slowly, "He represents something bigger and more ancient than Wessex did. He is the heart and soul of the kingdom of England. It hasn't been very long since all of England has been unified under one crown, has it? But you would rather blame a creature that simply reflects the state of these lands? Is it easier to do that than to look to our forefathers for answers about why it took so long for unification to be possible?"
"I don't mean to interrupt but we are in the middle of an invasion. It would be prudent to proclaim a new king while we still have time to gather forces and repel the Normans. We cannot let them reach London," England stated hurriedly, hating how small and broken his voice sounded. But a voice of reason needed to be present, a new king had to be elected if they wanted to defeat the Norman invasion.
All members of the Witenagemot looked between each other, as if silently discussing and debating potential candidates. One by one they turned to look at Edgar the Ætheling, as if their decision had been made.
Edgar blinked in surprise, staring at the Witenagemot incredulously. He pointed at himself as he questioned, "You're electing me?"
"It seems to be the best choice, you are the most suitable candidate. You are Edward the Confessor's grand-nephew, you are the rightful heir to the throne," Ealdred said calmly, standing up. A few of the other men did the same as well.
The teen narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the archbishop. After a moment of tense silence, he said, "Strange, not even a year prior none of you would support my claim to the throne. You stated that I was too young to ascend to the throne and that I was too inexperienced to be a proper military leader. What has changed for you to name me your king now?"
"The war we feared broke out and the king most capable of protecting this kingdom has been lost to us," Edwin explained, seeming a bit exasperated. Standing up, he continued, "Our criticisms as to why we wouldn't elect you as our king earlier this year still stand, but at this point we are out of options. With the Normans approaching, we need to choose a leader quickly to gather our forces again."
"So what is your decision?" Stigand questioned, the last member to stand up.
Edgar frowned at the standing Witenagemot members, clearly not trusting their words. He turned his attention to England, a small smile appearing on his face. He crouched down so that he was closer to England's eye level. "I know this is normally done in a ceremony with many witnesses and long-winded speeches, but we don't have the time for these formalities. England, I promise you that as your king, I will do my utmost to protect you from the Normans and repel them from these lands. I will lead you and your people through these difficult times and bring you to a brighter future." Edgar reached his hand towards England and asked, "Do you accept me as your king?"
England was staring at his newly-proclaimed king, relieved but also scared of what would happen next. Was there enough time to gather a force to repel the Normans? Would there be only more bloodshed and death? Would the Witenagemot fully support Edgar the Ætheling after having shown so many reservations about him just a few months earlier? He had no other option but to see what would happen next. England reached out and grasped Edgar's offered hand, dimly aware of how clammy the human's hand felt. He nodded and said, "I do. Lead me well, Edgar the Ætheling."
"I shall," Edgar promised, bowing his head solemnly.
England was sitting in Edgar's bedroom, silently awaiting the return of his king. He had gone to the Witenagemot meeting a while ago and he had expressively requested that England stay behind in his room. Edgar claimed it was a safety measure but England wasn't so sure… he didn't understand why he had to be kept out of the meeting. Something very dire must have occurred if Edgar didn't feel comfortable with allowing England to attend the meeting.
He only had to wait half an hour to find out what had happened.
The small nation heard someone walking up the stairs and coming towards the room, cursing under their breath. Suddenly Edgar kicked the door open.
"I knew it, I knew I should have never bothered to trust those bastards!" Edgar spat angrily, striding into the room and almost knocking over a chair in his rage. He paced around the room like a caged lion, seething with rage.
England hesitated in attracting his attention, he'd never seen Edgar this angry before. He looked absolutely livid. But he needed to know what had happened… England had a sinking feeling of what it must be. The Normans continued to advance, England could feel them encroach more and more on his lands. "What happened Edgar?"
"Those arse-breath'd scoundrels! They're surrendering to the Normans!" Edgar shouted, hitting his fist on the table. He growled, "First Stigand surrendered and now the rest are following suit. They didn't even attempt to form a proper military response! Now the Normans are marching on London and there's nothing more to be done." Edgar grew quiet and his shoulders slumped in defeat. He crouched low and covered his face "We've lost the fight."
"No…," England whispered, shaking his head. It couldn't be over, it just couldn't be. He jumped off the chair and made his way over to his king, trying all his best to suppress his fear.
"I'm sorry England," Edgar apologized, not daring to make eye contact with England. "I failed you as your king. The Witenagemot are finishing their meeting, they will come and take me to Berkhamsted to submit to the new king then."
"I don't want to lose another king, they can't take you to the Normans. You will be killed," England protested, fighting hard to restrain his tears. He grasped Edgar's sleeve so that he could get his king to look at him. England pleaded tearfully, "Please don't let them take you, I don't want you to be killed!"
A bitter smile stretched across Edgar's face and he shook his head. "England, I doubt they will kill me. I'm uncrowned and have only lasted less than two months as a ruler of these lands… in their eyes I'm probably no better than a whelp. The worst I can imagine them doing is dragging me to their forsaken lands to the Norman court and keep me as a hostage."
"What will happen to me then?" England asked, feeling completely lost and scared. What would he do if the Normans took Edgar? He would be on his own and faced with a new king from another land.
"The Witenagemot did not mention anything about you…" Edgar trailed off, becoming thoughtful. "Wait, that's right. They haven't said anything about you! You don't need to submit to the Normans as they have not ordered you to do so. You can flee England!" Edgar straightened up and excitedly grabbed England by his waist, raising him into the air.
"But where? I have nowhere to go," England pointed out, wriggling uncomfortably in Edgar's grasp. The human lowered England slightly and carried him more securely against his chest. Edgar furrowed his eyebrows in concentration as he tried to come up with an answer for England.
"You can go northwards to Scotland. There's a representation of that kingdom, correct?" When England nodded hesitantly, Edgar asked, "Do you know the representation well enough? Could you trust them?"
England thought back to his earliest memories of Scotland. They'd started out on a rough foot but Scotland had over time calmed down somewhat and had allowed England to catch a few glimpses of his kinder side. England replied uncertainly, "I know Scotland but it has been a while since I've interacted with him. He's a brother of mine… well, distant brother. We're not very close."
"But a brother nonetheless," Edgar stated, smiling encouragingly at England. He instructed, "England, you must go to him and seek asylum in the Scottish court. Stay with him and you'll be out of reach of the Normans. They won't be able to get to you without starting a war with Scotland."
"But how do I leave?" England questioned, frowning at his king. "There are guards everywhere in the castle, they would see me. The Witenagemot would know of my departure before I even made 20 paces outside."
Edgar became briefly thoughtful, racking his mind for an answer. He then suggested, "You can disappear, can't you? I've seen you and Wessex travel in such a manner before."
"Well… it's not exactly disappearing, but I know what you're referring to," England replied. "However I need to be outside to do this, I can't do it inside buildings."
The young king looked around the room, becoming pensive. He put England down and walked to his bed, grabbing three blankets and tying them together. He then went up to the window, opening it and peeking out cautiously. Edgar then threw part of the "rope" outside and held onto the other part. He turned his head to look at England and said, "It's not the best escape route but it's quick and you'll avoid gaining the attention of the guards."
England walked up to the window, studying the makeshift rope with a wary eye. He wasn't sure if it was going to hold him and he knew it wasn't long enough either. Edgar picked the small kingdom up with his free hand and placed him on the window sill to give him a better look. It was a fairly long way down and the rope was, as expected, not long enough to reach the bottom. The king's bedroom was situated on the outside wall of the castle and overlooked the unusually quiet streets of London.
"So, what do you think?" Edgar asked brightly, patting England's back.
"Hmm, it's a bit further down than the rope will reach," England said, feeling still a bit uncertain. He shook his head and adopted an expression of determination. "I think I should be able to do it. It might be a bit rough towards the end but it's nothing I can't handle."
"Fantastic!" Edgar exclaimed, looking relieved. "I think you should leave as soon as possible, I don't know when the bastards downstairs will conclude their meeting."
England looked at Edgar, feeling worried for his king and himself. Was Edgar encouraging him to go rogue? But then again, Edgar was still his king so he was just obeying an order. England bit his lower lip anxiously, feeling very nervous of what he was about to do. "Are you sure about this?"
His king nodded solemnly. "As long as you stay free, the people will keep the hope alive that the enemy will be repelled one day. You're a beacon of hope to them. If you remain free… the spirit of the people will remain undaunted."
Thinking Edgar's words over, England found himself agreeing. As much as he feared the potential repercussions for doing this, on the other hand he had no intention to submit to the Normans and the new king. If his king could survive and later escape from the Norman court, they could encourage the people to a new rebellion and expulse the Normans. The war wasn't lost yet. England started climbing out of the window, grasping the rope tightly. He looked up at his king and asked, "Will I ever see you again?"
"I don't know. Maybe, maybe not," Edgar replied with a shrug. "For me, the importance is that you remain free from Normandy's grasp. Stay low, respond to a human name only, stay hidden as long as you can. Be safe."
Smiling and struggling to keep back his tears, England hugged Edgar with all his might. "Please stay safe as well!"
"Go now, before they come for me," Edgar said hurriedly. England nodded and looking briefly behind him to check the distance, he held onto the rope and began climbing down. When he reached the end of the rope, he looked down at the ground to calculate how far the fall was.
He then let go of the rope, narrowing his eyes as the ground rushed up towards him. England steeled himself for the impact and started imagining Scotland's borders, preparing himself to nation-hop away the moment he touched the ground.
England next found himself standing next to Scotland on a windswept hill. The wind was howling its lonely song and both avatars stood silently, waiting. England glanced beside him at the teenage Scotland, noticing his brother's dark scowl and unhappy demeanour. England felt overwhelmed by dread and he looked down at his feet, trying to fight back his tears.
"Please don't send me back," England whispered, somehow wishing the wind would steal his voice and hide away the fact that his words were filled with fear. When he didn't hear anything from Scotland, he looked up and saw that the Scot had grown rigid. His eyes looked conflicted. "Please Scotland, let me stay with you," England pleaded, holding onto Scotland's cloak.
"That is no longer an option, England," Scotland said with a sigh, the young teen trying to pry England's hands off his cloak. England tightened his hold on the cloak, refusing to be pried off. Scotland sighed again and crouched down, placing a hand on England's shoulder. "I wish you had the option to stay longer but we've run out of time. My people will be paying too high a price if you do not go back home."
"IT'S NOT HOME!" England snapped before bursting into angry tears, burying his face into Scotland's cloak. The cloak had been such an item of comfort, it was warm and carried Scotland's scent. It had calmed England down so often but now however much he pressed his face against the material, it gave him no solace. "I can't go back, she'll kill me for sure."
"She can't kill you," Scotland tried comforting, sounding at loss of what else he should say.
"She killed Wessex," England pointed out tearfully, looking at the Scot. "How can you be sure she won't do the same to me?"
"Because I won't let her," Scotland said simply, giving England a small smile.
England frowned and muttered, "But you're letting her take me…"
"England, there are times where you have to choose what is best for your people. I don't like doing this but you can no longer stay with me, no matter how often you ask. You've not set foot on your lands in the last three years, this isn't something you can do long term. You can choose to follow your king instead, wherever he went off to," Scotland suggested, attempting to sound encouraging.
"He went to Flanders to gather support and attack Normandy directly," England explained before he shuddered. "I don't want to go there, the Flanders siblings were there with Normandy when she invaded. I want nothing to do with them."
"Some of their people were offered lands, it wasn't an offer they could turn down in good conscience," Scotland reasoned.
England frowned. "It doesn't matter, they're not friends. Neither is that bastard France, I'm a fool for having once imagined that a friendship was possible with him."
"You don't have to be friends with them. You only need to tolerate them. They were present in the battle because the Normans had hired some of their people to fight in the army. They were just trying to be there for the people from their countries, it wasn't a personal attack on you," Scotland pointed out, abruptly looking into the distance. He straightened up and said hesitantly, "… she's coming, I can sense her."
Panic overtook England's senses and he felt sorely tempted to turn around and flee. He turned back to Scotland and started pleading, "Please let's go, I don't want to meet her. We don't have to meet her, she doesn't have any proof that I'm here with you. We can just say that I fled with my king, yes? Please, please let's leave. I don't want to be here."
"Is that what I conquered? A whimpering pup?" Normandy exclaimed, suddenly appearing in front of Scotland and England with her cloak billowing wildly in the wind. She frowned disapprovingly at England. "I see Wessex has been too soft on you. I'll need to rectify that." She grabbed England's wrist and started pulling him towards her. England stared back at Scotland with wide eyes, too scared to make a sound, and dug his heels in the ground to resist. Normandy glowered at the small avatar and yanked him, causing England to let out a cry of protest as he was pulled to her side.
Scotland raised an arm towards England and regret clouded his eyes. He glared at Normandy and warned, "Do not harm my brother, or else-"
"Or else what? You really think you're in a position to threaten me? You're in a delicate enough situation as it is," Normandy laughed harshly, tightening her grip on England's wrist. The small Brit winced.
"I was not threatening you, I'm simply giving you a fair warning. I will not tolerate you abusing my brother," Scotland pointed out, attempting to sound nonchalant. He crossed his arms tightly over his chest, regarding the Norman avatar with barely-concealed contempt.
Normandy snorted in disbelief and shook her head. "Look Scot, just because my people can appreciate your political stability doesn't mean you may speak out of turn. You cannot give me orders on what I can or cannot do with England. I can kill him if it so pleases me and you'll have no say on the matter."
"It is not wise to burn bridges Normandy. Do not mistake my king's actions as tame compliance," Scotland growled, narrowing his eyes hatefully.
Normandy smirked, unperturbed by Scotland's growing anger. "In any case, no true harm will come to your brother," Normandy stated dismissively. She looked down at England and when he dared to make eye contact, a vicious grin spread across her face. "As long as he knows to obey me."
"Come on England, fight properly!" Normandy snapped as she lunged for him, her sword raised over her head.
England dove out of the way and tried to attack Normandy's side, however he found himself being blocked. He fell back, panting harshly. The smaller avatar looked for another opening, glaring at the Norman girl.
"Quicker England, you must be quicker! At the pace you're moving, you can hardly hope to survive on the battlefield!" Normandy shouted in exasperation. The Norman duchy launched another attack and aimed for England's chest. England narrowly avoided the attack but in his attempt to counterattack, he stumbled.
He felt Normandy's sword nick him in the shoulder but he managed to scramble away to avoid the worst of the attack. But just as he managed to struggle back to his feet, Normandy kicked him in the chin and sent him sprawling to the ground. His sword clattered beside him.
"That'ssss cheating!" England complained with a pained groan, tasting a metallic tang in his mouth. He got on his hands and knees, spitting out blood and two teeth. He stared at them mutely, wondering how many more of his teeth Normandy wanted to knock out.
"There's no honour in war. All that counts is the end result!" Normandy laughed out loud, striding over to the fallen avatar. She grabbed England by his throat and roughly hoisted him back onto his feet. She shoved his sword back into England's hand. "And I said nothing about training being over, little snot. Continue fighting!"
"I don't want to anymore!" England spat, throwing his sword down on the ground.
Normandy stared at the English avatar for only a brief second before slapping him with her gauntlet. England fell to the ground again, holding his bleeding nose as he tried to blink back his tears. Normandy came to stand over him and raised her sword. England raised and crossed his arms over his face to protect himself.
England let out a loud shriek as Normandy stabbed the tip of her sword into his shoulder. She regarded the smaller avatar calmly, not perturbed in any way by his pain. "Strange," she mused, "remind me England, who is in charge here? You or me?"
"Y-you," England stuttered, trying to ignore the pain as best as he could.
"More clearly," Normandy demanded, pushing the blade deeper.
"You, it's you!" England screamed, reaching over with his free hand to try and pull the sword out. He was stopped in his attempt when Normandy reached down and grabbed him by the throat, tightening her hold on him in warning.
"Yes, so it is up to me to decide when the training is over," Normandy pointed out darkly, tightening her grip to almost a chokehold. "Know your place England, because I am not willing to keep reminding you every single time." She released England's throat and removed her sword from England's wound.
England gasped for air and gripped his shoulder in pain. He winced as he felt his body starting to repair the damage that Normandy had inflicted. He looked up at her with all the hatred and anger he could muster. He whispered, "…why don't you just kill me?"
"And why should I?" Normandy questioned, arching an eyebrow at the injured avatar.
"Just kill me, like you killed Wessex!" England shouted.
Normandy stared at England in mild surprise before bursting out into laughter. "Wessex was a worthless has-been kingdom at the end of his strength, his time to die had come. You however…," Normandy paused, leaning down to stare closely at England, "you're different England. I can feel it and so can you."
"So… so what?" England asked defensively, grimacing as he felt his two missing teeth growing back in.
"You have potential England, one that hasn't been completely uncovered," Normandy explained, grasping England under his arms and pulling him up to his feet. She poked his shoulder and declared, "Look how quickly your wound has healed, it's almost impossible to see that you were injured. You heal extremely quickly for an avatar."
England swatted her hand away and covered the sore area of his shoulder, the wound may have closed but it wasn't completely finished healing yet. He pointed out, "Yes but... why are you always hurting me?"
Normandy frowned and grabbed England by his shoulders, tightening her grip to a bruising pressure. She said, "Because you are still complaining. You are too docile. Hasn't Wessex ever told you anything about no pain, no gain?"
Wincing at the pressure, England protested, "This seems excessively gratuitous-"
"No, you just need to harden yourself. You could be as strong as your brothers, if not stronger," Normandy interjected harshly, narrowing her eyes at England. She growled, "If there's one thing I hate more than anything else, it's wasted potential."
"Who is this?" England asked warily, staring down at a young toddler avatar. He was barely old enough to stand on his feet. He had blonde hair like England but bore harsh blue eyes, much too reminiscent of a certain Norman avatar. The toddler turned his head to look at England, a rather bored expression on his face.
"That is your new brother," Normandy explained, looking both confused but rather prideful at the same time. "He appeared on the border between you and your strange Welsh brother, in the earldoms my boss set up. People have started to call the area Welsh Marches or the March of Wales, so you call him Marches." She bent down and tentatively petted Marches' head, the newborn avatar turning to stare at her curiously.
After a few seconds, a toothy smile appeared on his face and he reached out for Normandy's long hair. She stood up and took a step back, looking quite puzzled by the toddler's actions.
"But when did he appear? I haven't felt him at all," England questioned, apprehensiveness turning to silent amusement when Marches crawled closer to Normandy and grasped her cloak. Normandy's discomfort was oddly satisfying to behold, she had no idea how to behave around the toddler.
"Of course you can't feel him, he is a newborn avatar. The only reason why I found him is because one of my lords called my attention to his presence," Normandy said, sighing in exasperation as her attempts to shake Marches off her cloak proved futile. She became thoughtful and mused, "However he must be growing very quickly if his birth was recent… that's a very good sign."
England frowned, feeling that Normandy was up to something that England would definitely not like. "How so?"
"He is going to be your intermediary," Normandy stated with a laugh, crouching down to Marches' eye level and gaining his attention. She pointed at England and instructed Marches, "England is not allowed to talk to Wales. If England wants to talk to him, he has to give you the message and you pass it on to Wales, understood?"
Marches stared at Normandy for a moment before smiling widely and nodding. Much to the surprise of the two older avatars, he repeated, "Under-stood."
"What?! Why do I need an intermediary?" England exclaimed, a tinge of anger appearing in his voice. He felt his throat clamp up and he fought back tears. First Scotland had been prohibited from seeing England and now Wales? England had hoped his quiet brother would escape Normandy's attention…
"I don't trust you on your own. I can't have you and Wales planning a rebellion behind my back. So Marches here will keep track of any communication between you two and he will report back to me if you breach any of my rules," Normandy explained simply, managing to successfully pull her cloak from Marches' grip.
"Can't… can't I at least talk to Wales directly with Marches present?" England inquired half-heartedly, knowing full well that he had no chance of arguing against Normandy. She would punish him for back talking.
Normandy seemed to contemplate the option before shaking her head with a mocking laugh. "First prove to me that I can trust you. For now Marches will be the communication you have with Wales. That is final."
The newborn avatar was staring at England with an unreadable expression. When Marches heard Normandy's laugh, an impish smile appeared on the toddler's face. However the smile seemed to foreshadow something else, something infinitely more wicked. Marches' blue eyes darkened with malice.
England felt he wasn't going to like this new "brother" much.
"Well, well, what do we have here?"
Before England could recognize who had spotted him, he was hit in the stomach. He let out a wheeze and crumbled to his knees, covering his stomach. He was then smacked in the head. Feeling dizzy, England looked up and managed, with some time, to make out the familiar condescending smirk of Marches.
"You're not allowed to cross the border, idiot. Have you forgotten?" Marches questioned gleefully. The region had grown quite a bit, though he was still a bit shorter than England. But he was catching up and he was already packing quite a punch. Marches said after a moment, "You know, I thought you would know Normandy's rules by now. Are you that daft?"
"I just wanted to see Wales," England explained quietly, looking down at the ground. "I wasn't even going to talk to him… I just need to see him. It's been so long…"
Marches shook his head and he snickered, "As I said, Normandy's rules. Normandy says I'm allowed to hurt you however much I see fit anytime I see you try to break one of her rules. Then I can report you to her, so that you will be punished even more." At that, Marches laughed loudly and his eyes brightened with excitement.
"Marches please," England pleaded, hating that he was having to adopt such a tone towards the cruel avatar. He stood up and tried to reason, "Can't you understand that I just want to see my brother?"
"I don't care, it's against the rules," Marches pointed out and shrugged, uncaring to England's plight. "Normandy told you, I'm your intermediary. Anything you want to tell Wales, you must tell it to me. There are no other options."
"But you-" England began before stopping himself, certain that he was going to get the Marcher angry at him.
"I what?" Marches demanded, taking one step closer and narrowing his eyes at England.
England cast his glance aside, trying his best to avoid Marches' eyes. He finished uncertainly, "I don't think you're relaying my messages to Wales."
"What makes you think that?" Marches questioned, frowning at England.
"Why don't I ever hear a message back from him?" England countered, meeting Marches' gaze.
A smirk appeared on Marches' face and he drawled, "That's because Wales has no message to give. I've relayed all your sappy and silly messages to him and he didn't give me any messages to relay back to you."
"That can't be," England whispered, shaking his head as he backed away.
"But it is," Marches insisted, beginning to follow after England. "I keep telling you, your brothers don't care about you. They're embarrassed by how weak and soft you are. They can't bear the thought that you actually call yourself their brother. They're strong, brave, cunning and excellent fighters. What are you next to them, Softsword?"
"They do care about me!" England protested. "I may not be strong o-or brave but… I'm not worthless. They care about me, regardless of my flaws!"
"Then why haven't they tried to visit you?"
"You've… Normandy has forbidden them."
"No, you're forbidden to go and visit them. But they can come and visit you, there's nothing in Normandy's terms that stops them. But strangely enough, none have made an attempt to visit you. No messages, nothing. It's like they've… forgotten you."
"No!" England shouted, shaking his head viciously. "Lies, it's not true! It can't be."
"Oh but it is," Marches said with a dark smile. "Why would they care about the brother that has always been a liability? So weak, so docile… how long did Normandy need to conquer you? Four years? It's laughable. Who would want to be associated with a failure like you?"
Tears were beginning to blur England's vision and though he opened his mouth to reject Marches' words, they were starting to sink in. It made sense, didn't it? Why would his brothers care about him? That's why they wouldn't visit him. He didn't matter.
Marches suddenly shoved England, hard enough for the other to tumble back and land on his back. The Marcher region then climbed on England and sat on his chest. "Now for that punishment."
"Please Marches, you don't have to do this," England begged, raising his arms to swat the younger avatar away. "I learnt my lesson, I won't try to cross the border ever again. You don't need to punish me."
"Oh but I can. And I want to," Marches replied, his smile splitting into a twisted grin. He paused for a second and then informed, "Just to refresh your memory on this as well: you're not allowed to hit me back. If you do, I'll report it to Normandy and her punishment on you will be twice as bad, if not more."
England let out a sigh in defeat, letting his arms drop to the ground limply. He could do nothing else but endure.
"Now what should I break this time?" Marches wondered out loud, balling his hands into fists.
Next thing England knew, he was hitting the ground hard. He coughed out the dust in his mouth and felt a metallic tang in his mouth. He opened his eyes and regretted his decision. Normandy was standing over him with hands on hips, judging him sharply. An older Marches appeared next to the Norman, grinning gleefully. He looked about England's age now. Marches was holding a blunt training sword, which he was currently pointing at England's face.
"Get up England," Normandy ordered harshly.
England struggled back to his feet unsteadily, spitting out blood coming from his split lip. His ears were ringing loudly and the pounding headache wasn't making things any easier.
Why did Marches always aim for his head?
"I don't understand how you still allow yourself to be bested by an avatar who is just a few decades old," Normandy said with a disappointed frown. "I thought you would learn from Marches' tactics, rather than repeat the same mistakes."
Marches smirked as he snidely remarked, "Well it seems like little Softsword is a shoddy fighter after all. Ah well, we do say that mutts aren't destined to be war dogs."
England bristled at the nickname, hating that Marches almost exclusively referred to him by it now.
"I would be able to fight Marches properly if I received the same education he gets from the Norman lords," England muttered lowly, glancing at Normandy briefly before looking away. He quelled the wave of anger that threatened to surge forwards. He continued tonelessly, "All I ever get are the beatings, how am I meant to learn from Marches if all he does is knock me down?"
Normandy snorted loudly as she stared at England incredulously. "Well you can't learn if you don't have the desire to fight back," She paused, frowning at England. She demanded, "Do you want to fight?"
England opened his mouth to answer but stopped himself when he realized he didn't know. He didn't like fighting. Not in the way Normandy and Marches did. They fought to dominate others. England had always fought for his own survival. England shook his head uncertainly, not trusting himself to meet Normandy's gaze.
The Norman duchy was regarding England quietly, a disappointed grimace appearing on her face. She sighed, "Well since you don't want to be a fighter, you might as well content yourself with being the punching bag of stronger kingdoms. That's what your value is ultimately going to amount to."
"May I continue to practice on Softsword then?" Marches asked brightly, looking far too pleased by his request. Normandy smiled at him fondly and nodded.
England was suddenly filled with seething rage. He was sick and tired of being treated like an object, sick of being shoved around and beaten. He wasn't going to stand for it any longer. He was no punching bag!
"No," England replied lowly, glaring at Marches.
"No what?" Normandy questioned, staring at England with a raised eyebrow.
Balling his fists tightly, England stared squarely at Normandy and snapped, "I will not be a punching bag! I refuse to let Marches continue to treat me as such."
"Oh but I just gave him the permission to do so. What will you do about it?" Normandy pointed out, a hint of a sly smile pulling at the corner of her mouth.
"I will make Marches regret it," England said firmly, turning his attention to the Marcher region.
"Ha, as if you could," Marches laughed out loud, lunging forward with his sword.
England dodged the attacked and grabbed Marches' forearm, pulling it upwards and twisting it around until there was a resounding snap.
Marches fell back with a howl of pain, clutching his broken arm. The sword clattered to the floor. England stared at Marches calmly, a sense of smug satisfaction coming over him. It somehow made him feel happy at seeing the conceited brat being at the receiving end of pain for once.
However a small thought stopped England from smiling. Marches was Normandy's brother. Normandy was quite protective of him and had lashed out at anyone who didn't treat her brother with the degree of respect expected of an avatar of his status. And now England had just broken his arm…
True enough, Marches had started to shout and scream until he was red-faced, throwing all kinds of verbal abuse in English, French and even sprinkles of Welsh here and there. He yelled, "He's a filthy and worthless Saxon, he's not allowed to lay a hand on me like that! He must be punished for his crime! Punish him sister! "
Uncharacteristically Normandy seemed unfazed by what had just occurred and seemed to not care about Marches' plight. In effect, she was looking down at him in a condescending manner, seemingly amused by his temper tantrum.
"You were too eager in your attack. You didn't prepare to defend yourself in the event that England struck back. What you have received from him is what you fully deserve for your incompetence. Honestly I thought you were a better fighter than this. Now leave us," Normandy commanded, walking towards England so that her back was turned to Marches.
Marches stopped talking instantly and stared at her in shock. Soon a look of hurt filled his eyes and England wondered if he wasn't on the verge of tears. However Marches restrained his tears as he struggled haphazardly back to his feet, gripping his injured arm. He stared at Normandy for a few seconds before turning around, walking away silently.
Normandy was staring at England thoughtfully, a genuine smile appearing on her face. She said happily, "England, this is exactly what I've been looking in you. This is what will make you strong."
"My rage?" England questioned. He frowned and shook his head quickly. "No, rage is bad. You're emotional and lose sight of rationality. It has led too many to their doom."
"I was not talking about your rage," Normandy sighed as she tapped England's forehead. "I was talking about power, your desire to assert yourself. Take control of the reins and don't let anyone ever take them from you without a fight."
England thought her words over, uncertain about why Normandy wanted him to be assertive. He pointed out resentfully, "You always said you would punish me if I disobeyed you."
Normandy quirked an eyebrow at England and said, "I still would. Marches would have hurt you as well and look what you've done to stop him. England, how can you expect anyone to respect you if you allow yourself to be pushed over like wheat?"
"But I'm not like wheat-," England began protesting before being cut off.
"That's it, be assertive. Take control of your environment. Let the others around you know that you're the one in control. Always believe in your power!" Normandy exclaimed, grasping England's shoulders firmly. Her eyes were bright as she added excitedly, "When others come to believe it as well, you'll rule it all."
When England came back to, he became aware that he was lying on the couch. He could hear avatars talking quietly between each other not far from him. The first thing England noticed about himself when he opened his eyes was that his eyes ached and he had a headache. He must have cried, it would explain why he felt like this.
He shifted carefully and let out an involuntary groan as his headache intensified seemingly tenfold. The voices of the other avatars grew hushed and suddenly Wales and Denmark appeared by England's side.
"England, are you okay?" Wales asked anxiously, reaching out to feel England's forehead.
"You were out for a long time England, we were really becoming worried," Denmark admitted, a smile of relief on his face.
England remained silent, still trying to recover from the load of memories he had just remembered. It weighed too heavily on him, England felt overwhelmed by the amount. He pulled himself into a sitting position, ignoring his headache and Wales' attempt to push him back into a lying position.
Normandy and Norway stood a little further from the couch, though England didn't know if they were staying back purposefully or not. England found himself focussing on the French avatar, his dislike and apprehension of her finally clicking into place as his memories justified these negative feelings.
His throat feeling thick like sandpaper, England rasped, "You… you…"
The other avatars looked between each other, looking puzzled by what England was trying to say. Normandy realized that England was probably referring to her and she shifted uncomfortably.
She raised her head and stared at England warily. Normandy inquired, "I what?"
"You… were horrific," England concluded quietly, covering his face as his headache grew worse. He let out a small whimper.
"Not the most earth-shattering of revelations, I have to admit," Normandy said with a small sigh.
"Wait England, I have something for the headache," Wales said hurriedly. England looked up from his hands and saw a glass of water and a pill being offered to him. He gladly accepted them and gulped the pill down quickly.
England gave the empty glass back to Wales and then went to rest his aching head against the soft couch. He murmured, "My mind hurts."
"No pills for that unfortunately," Denmark pointed out, looking at England sympathetically.
"Is it normal for him to be this groggy?" Norway asked Wales, maintaining a neutral gaze but somehow managing to look concerned at the same time.
"Depends on how many memories he recovers," Wales answered. "Judging by how long he was in this state, he must have recovered many memories. I imagine it must be overwhelming for him."
"You don't say…," England sighed, rubbing his forehead as the pill started taking effect. As his headache started dissipating, England asked, "Did I cry a lot?"
"A fair bit," Denmark admitted sadly. "We knew it was inevitable because of what you were remembering but it wasn't easy watching you cry and knowing we couldn't do anything."
"How do you think it must be for me then, experiencing it all first-hand again?" England pointed out with a sad sigh, rubbing his eyes though they were long dry. He focussed on the couch for a moment, becoming thoughtful. More than anything he wanted to have answers from someone in particular. He looked up at Normandy and asked, "Normandy, will you come with me to the garden?"
Normandy looked shocked that she was being addressed again. She questioned in confusion, "Why?"
"I want to speak with you," England explained simply, sliding off the couch and standing up. He shot Wales and the others a pointed look and added, "Privately."
"Alright, let's go," Normandy agreed after a moment, standing aside to allow England to walk past her. She shot the other avatars a puzzled expression and received an encouraging nod from Wales.
After both avatars had put their shoes on, they made their way through the kitchen to go out through the back door leading into the garden. England walked towards the garden bench, followed closely by Normandy. It hadn't rained in the last few days so thankfully the bench wasn't damp to sit on.
When both nations were on the bench, England turned his head to look at Normandy and said, "First I'd like to apologize for how I behaved earlier. I shouldn't have acted like that and I don't have a proper excuse for my behaviour. I was just getting a very uncertain and uncomfortable feeling about you and I couldn't express it." After a moment of thoughtfulness, he added, "However I can't say my feelings about you were unfounded."
Normandy shrugged her shoulders and said, "I suppose it was foolish of me to expect that your lands would have forgotten me."
Both nation and region were silent for a few minutes, awkwardly avoiding each other's gaze. England wasn't so sure how to react towards Normandy anymore, especially after he had been overwhelmed by all the negative memories of her. Why had she attempted to be nice to him when she knew of how twisted and awful their history was?
Taking a deep breath, England asked, "Why?"
"Why what?" Normandy responded, staring at England carefully.
"Why were you so harsh to me back then?" England questioned, returning Normandy's gaze evenly.
"That's how everyone was acting during that time," Normandy answered evasively, shifting uneasily. She looked away from England and focussed her attention on the grass.
"That doesn't hold up to scrutiny," England said with a frown.
"How so?" Normandy questioned, keeping her eyes fixated resolutely on the greenery of the garden.
"Because you wouldn't be trying to set things right if it was normal behaviour for back then. And I know not everyone was as violent as you were. I've seen that from my memories," England reasoned, knowing that Normandy was hiding something.
Normandy looked uncomfortable and after a moment, glanced back at England with a tired expression. "What do you want me to say?"
"The truth," England replied, "I want to understand why you were so fierce."
"…I had to be," Normandy murmured reluctantly after a minute. "If I didn't, my people wouldn't have been able to take me seriously. No other avatar would have taken me seriously if my people didn't fully trust me to represent them."
"But why?" England urged, frowning in confusion at her answer.
Looking deeply conflicted, Normandy finally sighed in defeat and answered, "It was held against me that I was born the "wrong" gender. My earliest dukes were not happy when they discovered this, they asked me how my knights were meant to trust and feel loyalty towards a gender that was not meant to fight. But I wanted to fight, it was in my blood. I trained hard, I became violent and difficult to defeat. Even the most stubborn of my people eventually came to trust me as the true representation of their identity and culture. At some point in my growth, I believed that being forceful was the only way to function for an avatar."
"That's horrible," England commented, feeling saddened that Normandy had faced such hostility over her gender.
"That's how it was for me," Normandy said with a shrug. She then stared at England and added, "Then there was you. A timid little brat, always hiding behind the cloak of his brother. I took one look at you and I hated what I saw. You were too soft, too reliant… too trusting."
"Why couldn't I have those traits?" England inquired, puzzled that Normandy had named those traits with a distasteful look on her face.
Normandy wrinkled her nose and crossed her arms tightly over her chest. She explained, "It was suicide to be so soft at the time, especially when you're an avatar representing a fairly large land. I had thought the Viking raids would have hardened you but it seems like your Anglo-Saxon siblings took the brunt of their violence. They protected you."
"You don't think I suffered from those Viking attacks? You think it didn't hurt to watch my other siblings suffer as they tried to protect me?" England demanded, feeling a little insulted at Normandy's perception of him. He said in a softer tone, "I never asked them to protect me, they did that of their own volition.
"They shouldn't have protected you!" Normandy exclaimed, unfolding her arms and balling her fists in frustration. She took a moment to calm herself down, looking slightly embarrassed by her outburst. She continued, "Very few avatars had that privilege growing up. Those that were protected turned out too soft and were easily killed off. I had no one to protect me when I was born. I was born as a result of a foolish French king who wanted the Vikings to stop attacking his lands. France and the other French avatars wanted nothing to do with me. I was alone from the start so I couldn't rely on anyone. It made me train myself to be a better fighter and grow stronger."
"But how come-" England began before being cut off.
The French region interjected, "Looking at you made me feel ill, you had barely grown in the centuries you had already been around. You preferred to hide away from danger and rely on your siblings to protect you. You regarded Wales as your brother, you even regarded Scotland and Ireland as distant brothers. Why?! Their ways were strange and different from yours, they used to frighten you. But you came to trust them! It sickened me."
"You… envied me," England said slowly, surprised by his own conclusion. However it made sense logically, it seemed to explain Normandy's behaviour. The French region was envious!
Looking a bit taken aback, Normandy frowned and shook her head. She quickly denied, "No, why would I have been jealous of you? What makes you believe that?"
"You were lonely, you had no siblings to turn to. And here I was on the other side of the sea, surrounded by siblings who cared for me. You were born on your own and faced with hostile avatars, you had no other choice but to harden your heart and become harsh. You grew up too quickly," England explained, pausing for a moment. He said, "You resented me for having what you had been denied. I think you decided that I didn't deserve to have what you wanted, siblings. If you couldn't have anything nice, neither could I."
Normandy opened her mouth before hesitating, a troubled look on her face. She said quietly, "I… I hadn't thought to look at it that way…"
"But you weren't on your own." England pointed out. "What about Marches?"
"Ah Marches… what a little brat," Normandy sighed, a small fond smile appearing on her face. "You two never got along."
"It's a bit hard to get along with someone who likes hurting others," England replied, frowning as images of the little Marcher boy appeared in his mind. His malicious grin haunted England.
Normandy winced as she said, "Marches… well he liked belittling those around him. Particularly you, but he did it to almost everyone."
"I call that bullying," England muttered under his breath.
Normandy smiled sheepishly and admitted, "He did have an inflated sense of superiority, I admit that I wasn't the best mentor for him. I didn't rein him in often enough and I allowed him to behave in this manner. Even the Norman lords struggled to keep him under control." She grew thoughtful and mused, "I never understood Marches' behaviour. I gave him everything an avatar, or even a human, could ask for. I provided him with the best education, the best swords, the best castle, the best cooks, the best servants… any need he had, I delivered. He was pampered beyond belief and yet he always acted like there was something missing."
"I think he wanted you to see him as your sibling," England proposed. Normandy stood up from the bench all of a sudden and took a few steps forward, her back to England. He looked at her in concern, wondering if he shouldn't have said that.
A few seconds passed in silence. Normandy looked up at the sky and spoke in a slightly wobbly voice, "I always suspected but… I didn't know how to give him that. I could give him everything else, but I didn't know how to react to someone who wanted to be regarded as my sibling. "She finally turned to look at England, her eyes slightly watery.
England glanced down at his hands, feeling a pang of guilt for having wandered into such a sensitive topic for Normandy. He said quietly, "That would also explain Marches' nastiness then… I remember that we argued very often, especially on the subject of my siblings. He kept trying to convince me that none of them cared about me."
The French region closed her eyes and shook her head. An errant tear escaped from the corners of her eyes as she exclaimed, "That was my doing!" She approached England and kneeled on the grass, clasping England's hands within her own to make him look at her.
England stared at her in shock, words failing him. "Come again?"
Normandy took in a shaky breath. She explained, "Marches was a buffer region created to limit any interactions that would happen between the English and the Welsh. The official reason given was to protect you from a Welsh invasion but in truth it was to stop you and Wales from interacting. I instructed Marches to report back any unauthorized communication between you two to me. For you two to communicate, you had to do it through Marches. I told Marches to never relay any of these messages and to lie when necessary."
"W-why?" England managed to stammer, feeling too bewildered to form a coherent thought in his mind.
"To make you stop relying on others. I thought by estranging you from your siblings, you would grow tougher and become stronger. It worked in a sense, you became angrier and more willing to use violence to get your point across. You became a strong nation… but it was through isolation that you became like this," Normandy replied.
England pulled his hands out of Normandy's grasp and stared at her in dismay. He demanded, "So you decided to strain my relationship with my brothers just so that I could stop being soft?!"
"Yes…," Normandy said quietly, looking down at the ground. "I'm sorry England. I can't apologise for what my people did and for the invasion, that was beyond my power. But I'm sorry for how I treated you. I'm so sorry for isolating and estranging you from your brothers. I know it's not enough, I just… wanted to let you know how sorry I am."
A wave of anger took over England. He glared at Normandy and said tensely, "You… you're the root of it. There were already some problems but you made it worse. You damaged the interactions between my brothers and me. Just because I didn't fit your perception of a strong avatar?!" When Normandy made no attempt to refute his claims, England snapped, "You're right, saying "sorry" would not be enough. No matter how many times you said it and meant it. It's going to take a long time for me to forgive you for everything, especially the things you just admitted to me. Did my past self know of this?"
"No," Normandy said, still not looking up at England, "I never revealed this to you or anyone else. I've been carrying this secret for many centuries."
"Why?" England demanded, trying hard to get a control of his anger. He could see that Normandy was regretful of her actions… but he couldn't help it.
"You wouldn't speak to me. Neither you nor South Italy have spoken to me in a long time. The silence between us hasn't been broken until now," Normandy explained, finally daring herself to meet England in the eye again.
England was about to say something else in his anger but then he realized that it was pointless. What was done was done. No point in trying to verbally beat Normandy up for a thing she had done centuries ago. England instead decided to divert his anger by asking, "You invaded South Italy too?"
"Yes but not in one successful conquest like with you. With him it was over decades of battles and small-scale conquests. There's a lot of bad blood between him and me… almost as bad as between us," Normandy said, a small smile appearing on her face.
Taking a deep breath and exhaling loudly, England commented, "Wales was not lying when he said that your conquest of me had a very strong impact on the history of the British Isles." He felt his anger dissipating somewhat, it wasn't entirely gone but he was managing to think more clearly again. He became thoughtful for a moment before inquiring, "What became of Marches?"
"I never found out completely, your brother Wales gave me an idea of what probably happened but he didn't want to reveal more than that. I can't blame him, he deeply resented me as did your other brothers. I don't think I want to know now either way, I know Marches didn't meet a good end and I regret that I wasn't there for him," Normandy answered, sighing heavily.
"Why did my brothers resent you so much?" England questioned, suspecting a part of the answer already but still curious to hear what Normandy had to say. He added, "You know you can stand up or sit on the bench, you don't need to stay kneeling on the ground."
Normandy nodded quietly, standing up and brushing herself off. She did not however sit down next to England, seeming to prefer standing. She mulled her thoughts over for a moment before replying, "To start off, they all were angered at my treatment of you. But they also have deeply personal reasons for resenting me. I started invading Wales, a process you would complete two centuries later. I helped you to invade Ireland and gain a foothold on him. Scotland is the only one who never suffered a true invasion from me, instead my people travelled to his lands and settled in his Lowlands. They intermarried with his people there and displaced the native culture, changing how Scotland's Lowlands and Highlands interacted with each other and in turn, changing Scotland."
"You really changed everything, didn't you?" England mused, more to himself than to Normandy. He looked up at the French avatar and said, "You said before you couldn't apologise for your people. But don't you ever feel slightly responsible for their actions? You represent them, after all."
"Yes but can I control their actions? Could I have stopped the invasion by talking to my boss and convincing him not to claim the English throne? How much control are we allowed to have to have over our people?" Normandy asked rhetorically. "As you said, we represent out people. But we are not their conscience, it is not our responsibility to mother and educate them. We merely reflect them, like mirrors."
"Mirrors?" England frowned.
Normandy shrugged as she said, "I don't know what else we could be. We are not entirely human but we've managed to mimic them almost in all aspects. We are not gods, but we are stronger than an average human and some of us are able to use magic native to their cultures. We only live as long as the culture we're attached to persists. If it changes, we change along with it. What else are we, other than mirrors that reflect back the best and worst of humanity?"
"I suppose that is a way to look at it," England admitted, surprised by the idea of nations being metaphorical mirrors of humanity.
Both avatars were silent for a moment, England feeling at a loss of what else he could say. Normandy looked at England pensively before saying, "Wales told me a bit of some things you have come to believe about your past self. I just wanted to tell you this… don't carry the misdeeds of your people on your shoulders. You'd be carrying millions and millions of them over a span of almost two millenniums. You have enough carrying your own past mistakes and actions."
"Maybe you're right," England said evasively, looking past Normandy and at the house. Wales, Denmark and Norway were in the kitchen at the window, watching silently. Of course they would be checking on Normandy and England.
"I know I am," Normandy stated confidently, turning her head to glance behind her to see what England was looking at. "Ah oui, they've been watching us since the start."
England sighed, "I wish Wales wasn't so paranoid, it gets tiring sometimes."
"He's being a big brother to you, in his own way. He's just afraid of you being hurt… probably doesn't help that he is a bit of a control freak though," Normandy laughed lightly as she turned to regard England again. "Is there anything else you would like to know or discuss?"
"I think I've had enough for one day," England admitted, becoming aware of the tiredness that was creeping into his bones. After all these memories and an emotionally-taxing discussion, he doubted he could take on more. England stood up from the bench and asked, "Should we head back then?"
"We might as well," Normandy said, beginning to walk back towards the house.
"Yes?" Normandy paused, looking down at England.
England hesitated slightly, weighing his words carefully. "I may have not forgiven you," England began, staring at Normandy, "but thank you for telling me this. I'm grateful that you were honest with me."
Normandy seemed surprised for a moment, having not expected England's words. A smile appeared on her face and she nodded. England returned the smile and both avatars made their way back into the house, a centuries-old enmity between them crumbling to ashes.
A few hours passed and night had fallen. The visiting avatars took that as a cue to return to their homes. All things considered with what memories England had been made to remember, the rest of the afternoon had turned out fairly well.
The tension had more or less disappeared from among the nations, what with England and Normandy being on speaking terms. The conversations had remained light after England's discussion with Normandy, no one seemed to want to open up another sensitive subject. Norway and Denmark talked about their Viking days, sharing with England some of the adventures they'd had. Wales had chipped in some of his memories of when he lived during the medieval times, Normandy occasionally talking about the earliest times of her duchy.
Norway had been the first to leave, followed shortly by Denmark. Both had meetings early in the morning so they needed to go home. Denmark had hugged England and wished him the best of luck while Norway had nodded at him and said he hoped he would be able to meet England soon to talk more. Normandy left a little while later, giving England a small smile before wishing the two British avatars good night.
With the front door closing on the last departing avatar, England exhaled softly. He turned around and walked to the living room, deep in thought. Wales followed after England, looking apprehensive.
"England?" Wales asked, coming to a stop beside the small Brit. "You're annoyed with me, aren't you?"
The younger nation blinked in surprise and looked up at Wales. "How did you guess?"
"I know you, with or without amnesia," Wales pointed out with a crooked smile.
England took a deep breath before admitting, "Well yes I am a bit, I would have preferred that you had given me some kind of warning before. This was completely unexpected and it could have gone wrong in so many ways."
Grimacing a bit, Wales nodded as he said, "I know, I should have told you… I don't know why I didn't, I think I was afraid you would want to know which historical event I wanted to remind you of and I didn't want you to accidentally trigger the memory before you could talk to Normandy and Norway."
"I think I would have preferred being frustrated over what historical event you wanted to remind me of, rather than have it just suddenly sprung on me," England remarked, arching a thick eyebrow at his Welsh brother.
Wales shifted uneasily and apologised, "I'm sorry, I didn't think it through enough."
"It's alright, just…," England paused, thinking over what he wanted to say. He stared seriously at Wales as he continued, "this was maybe okay when I wasn't able to talk much and I wasn't able to understand what I needed to remember. At this stage though, I don't want to be treated as a child who doesn't know better. I want to be treated as an equal."
"Fair point," Wales conceded shrewdly. "I hope you're alright."
"Don't worry, I'm fine. Just exhausted and shaken by everything," England answered before sighing tiredly, "I think I will go lie down for a while."
"That might be for the best, you've had a rough day," Wales agreed.
England gave Wales a small smile before making his way out of the living room, going quickly up the stairs to the bedroom.
Once England had returned to his room, he headed for his bed but stopped in his tracks. There was one question that had been plaguing him. One Normandy hadn't managed to answer and he didn't know how much Wales knew. Nor how much Wales would be willing to reveal.
What had happened to Marches?
He had to figure it out himself. He had the memory hidden somewhere in his mind, he had to have some sort of idea what had become of Marches. Maybe the answer was somewhere in his history books?
The English avatar went towards his desk littered with history book and sat down, examining them closely. One by one, he flipped through the pages of each book to look for the answer. It had to be there somewhere, one of these books had to have the answer.
He picked up a large and promising book. England went immediately into its index and scanned for any word that would directly relate to Marches. He found a couple page numbers relating to Marches and went to check them all out, eventually settling on one page that drew his attention in particular.
It was on 16th century England, discussing the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542 and the changes that entailed these parliamentary measures. Unfortunately there was not much on Marches. The only thing the book told England for certain was that Marches as a region was dissolved during this time, the Marcher lords having their jurisdiction abolished.
England frowned. Although this told him what had become of the physical region, it didn't say what had happened to the representation of it. He belatedly considered how odd it would be for a history book to contain such information. Books could not help him further.
Sighing, England rolled the question of Marches' end in his mind over and over, puzzled by the fact that his mind was being so stubborn in giving up this piece of information. The book had told him what had officially happened to the region, but annoyingly enough that information alone was not enough to trigger even a clue about what had happened to the little brat from his memories.
Inhaling slowly, England closed his eyes and frowned in concentration. The answer had to be somewhere in his mind.
What had happened?
Do you really want to know? The dark voice asked, malice uncharacteristically absent in its tone.
"Leave me be," England said through gritted teeth, shaking his head. The dark voice said nothing in reply, much to England's relief and surprise. England attempted to call up a vague image of Marches' appearance in his mind. He whispered under his breath, "What became of you?"
The mental image of Marches stared at England silently, a condescending smile appearing on his face. He turned around and started walking away, eventually fading back into the darkness of England's mind.
England scowled angrily and tried mentally to reach into the darkness to yank Marches back into focus. However when he did that, a sudden wave of dizziness hit England and he felt his head lurch forward violently.
The world went black before his eyes.
He could hear Wales and Marches arguing in the courtyard. England sighed as he stood up from his chair, going to the window of his room to look down at the approaching teenage avatars.
Why were they coming to his castle? England hadn't summoned either of them, nor had anyone else to his knowledge. Their loud voices were becoming grating to his ears.
England stared at them in distaste before leaving his room quickly, running down the stairs until he was in the large hall. The teen avatar stopped to take a deep breath and then looked around. Some of his servants were present, cleaning up the hall.
With a dark frown, England silently gestured with his hand at them to vacate the hall immediately. The humans looked between each other in confusion. However as they became aware of the approaching arguing voices from the large hall doors, they quickly scattered and left the hall through smaller doors that led to the rest of the castle.
The heavy oak doors burst open as Marches marched his way into the hall, shouting angrily, "There you are, you English arse!"
Wales followed the Marcher avatar closely, looking deeply exasperated. He stared at England and sighed in frustration, "I tried stopping him, but he wouldn't listen to reason."
England barely regarded Wales, he instead focussed on the fuming Marcher. He said coolly, "Yes I'm here Marches, what do you want?"
"How dare your king treat my lords in this manner? How can he dissolve me after all the centuries I've been here?!" Marches demanded loudly, pacing around like a caged animal.
"You've become useless to his eyes. Wales will be annexed to me today, your function as a buffer region between us has become redundant. King Henry has no need for a region like you anymore," England explained slowly, allowing a condescending smirk to spread across his face.
This infuriated Marches and he strode up to England, grabbing the English nation by the front of his shirt and shaking him. "Is that the thanks I get after all the years of protecting you from the Welsh threat?!"
"What a terrifying threat that turned out to be," England snorted, prying Marches' hands off of his shirt. Wales sent him a peeved look. England rolled his eyes and asked, "What other invented purpose do you want to dig up to prove your so-called "usefulness"?"
Marches yelled, "I deserve to exist more than you do!"
"I existed before you did, poor fool. Normandy created you… where is she?" England wondered out loud in a mocking voice, tapping his chin to feign deep thought. He snickered as he replied, "Oh yes, she's gone back home and abandoned you. She couldn't care less what became of you."
"No, she trusts me to fend for myself. She always had faith in me," Marches said as he shook his head, looking the tiniest bit unsure of his words for a split-second. He shrugged off the doubt and glowered at England lividly.
Raising a thick eyebrow, England questioned, "Then when was the last time you saw her?"
"Look, she knows that she doesn't need to be here to constantly hold my hand, as Wessex did with you," Marches snapped, starting to walk around England. After a moment, a malicious glint appeared in his eyes. "Shows just how incompetent he was, seeing how soft you turned out."
"Leave my dead brother out of this," England growled warningly, narrowing his eyes. He began walking in the other direction, both avatars circling each other as they considered who would be the first to attack. Wales backed away from the two avatars, apparently not in the mood of getting entangled into whatever fight was about to break out.
Marches laughed bitterly, "Why? The dead don't hear and one shouldn't take offense to the truth. Isn't that so, Softsword?"
"Cease with the petty names, they're not going to change anything. You have yet to bring up one point why you should continue to exist," England said curtly, slowly reaching at his hip for his sword.
"At least I know how to fight, I don't need to hide behind anyone's legs to feel safe," Marches sneered, beginning to pull his sword out of the scabbard. "I am no craven, unlike you."
That did it for England. The thin line of patience had snapped in two. He pulled his sword out and brandished it at Marches, glaring hatefully at the obsolete region. He exclaimed, "Oh you just love to think that I'm cowardly by nature, don't you? Craven little England, what a laughing stock he is!"
A dark smile on his lips, Marches pulled out his sword as well and brandished it at England. He asked, "Well what proof do you have to the contrary?"
"I have seen more years than you would ever have the courage to count. I've had to fight for my right to exist, something you never struggled with. You had the privilege to be born protected and trained properly by knights, you never had to earn your right to exist," England spat angrily, beginning to walk around Marches again.
"So what, Softsword?" Marches demanded impatiently, mirroring the other's movements in the other direction.
England lost it and ran towards Marches, swinging his sword. Marches blocked the blow, his smile turning into a feral grin.
Falling back, England snarled, "Did you see these lands when the Romans roamed and had my people under complete control? Did you feel the Vikings as they pillaged these lands in search of riches and slaves?!"
The furious English nation quickly launched a second attack, Marches expertly countering it and then aiming for England's throat.
However this time England didn't fall back as he usually did, instead he dodged the attack and swung at Marches' face.
This forced the Marcher avatar to jump back to avoid the blow. England lunged and slashed at Marches' shoulder.
Marches barely managed to parry the attack, stumbling back again. Rage and hatred coursing through his blood, England angrily shouted, "Have you experienced these lands when your goddamned Normans arrived and slaughtered my people like pigs?!"
England swung his sword at Marches' legs, causing Marches to back away further. England demanded darkly, "Have you ever felt terror at the idea of an impending invasion? Have you watched your people's blood soak the ground?!" This time he aimed for Marches' heart, the Marcher bringing up his sword to block the attack again.
Both swords screeched against each other as both avatars tested their strengths. England twisted his sword around in a clockwise fashion, knocking Marches' sword clean out of his hand. The sword clattered to the ground several paces away.
"WHAT HARDSHIPS HAVE YOU EVER FACED?!" England screamed at Marches, pointing the sword at Marches' face. The younger avatar backed away in alarm.
"Well if you weren't such a helpless runt…," Marches started to say, patting his body in search of his dagger. He trailed off and paled, realizing he didn't have it on him.
"Normandy never loved you," England spat, hitting Marches where he knew hurt the most.
A look of true hurt appeared in Marches' eyes. He blinked back tears and hissed, "Wessex died by your hands-"
England leapt forward with an enraged screech and plunged his blade into Marches' chest. The force of England's attack pushed Marches backwards, causing him to fall on his back.
Eyes widened, pallid face, and mouth opened in a silent scream, Marches was staring mutely at England's sword. It looked like the pain of being stabbed hadn't fully registered yet or his body was doing a good job of shielding him from the overwhelming pain.
Still shaking from rage and hatred, England narrowed his eyes dangerously. He couldn't have Marches not feel pain from being stabbed. England shoved the blade deeper and twisted it around.
Now the pain registered.
Marches shrieked in pain, making the most inhumane sound England had ever heard. He grabbed the blade with both hands and tried to push it out, cutting his hands in the process. He started wriggling and kicking helplessly at England's legs. He kept wailing, the sounds bouncing off the castle walls in endless chilling echoes.
A crazed grin appeared on England's face. Gripped by morbid curiosity, he pushed the sword deeper, increasing the pressure when his blade was met with resistance. An obstructing rib creaked and whined against the force until it snapped.
The younger avatar's face was soaked with tears and he had almost screamed himself hoarse as England's blade went through his body. The tip of the sword emerged on the other side, pinning Marches to the stone floor.
All the while England twisted his sword around in the wound a few times, gleefully listening to Marches' screams and whimpers. He couldn't stop himself, it was as if Marches' pained sounds were hypnotizing him.
Feeling experimental, England placed his foot on Marches' chest right next to his sword. He pressed down on the rib cage, wondering if he could shatter it completely.
Realizing what England was planning on doing, Marches began pleading in broken words and sobs. England paid him no heed. Marches had never listened to England's pleas before, why should England do it for him now? Ribs creaked as England started pressing his foot on Marches' chest in earnest.
Snapping out of his morbid trance, England looked up and saw Wales standing a few paces away. The elder avatar was staring at England and there was a mixture of genuine fear and panic in his eyes.
Wales quickly evaded England's probing stare and looked down at the ground. He said in a soft tone, "You've made your point to Marches. He does not have for long."
Glancing down at the Marcher avatar, England noted that the other's body was making no attempt at repairing the damage his sword had done. Not even remotely. Blood was flowing freely on the stone floor, pooling around the younger avatar's body.
Marches was truly forsaken.
Smirking cruelly, England gripped his sword's hilt tightly between his two hands and pulled. As the weapon was pulled out of Marches' chest, blood spilled out of the gaping wound and tinged Marches' clothes in deep red.
A small noise, almost like a whimper, escaped from Marches' throat. He didn't move at first, looking at England in pain and in pure terror. He opened his mouth and a sickening gurgle was heard coming from inside. He turned on his side and threw up blood.
As Marches was finished coughing up the last droplets, England demanded impatiently, "Well what are you waiting for? You're dying, go back to where you came from. Or," England paused as he bent down and grabbed Marches' hair, hauling him up so that he was on his knees. He held his bloodied sword against Marches' throat and sneered, "should I do unto you what Normandy did unto my brother?"
Marches' eyes widened and he started begging faintly, "No please England, please don't, please d-don't. I will leave, please."
"You're in luck Marches, I'm not Normandy. She didn't give any chance to Wessex to leave and die at his birthplace. She showed him no hint of humanity," England said lowly, pressing the blade against Marches' throat. "I'm being gracious, aren't I?"
"Yes, yes, y-you are very g-gracious England. I am eternally g-grateful for your generosity. I will take my leave now," Marches rasped, closing his eyes tightly.
England was satisfied with the answer and pulled his sword away, releasing Marches. The Marcher's eyes shot open and he struggled to his feet. He staggered away, watching for any move England might make. He bent over and wheezed, pressing his hands on the wound in attempts to stop the bleeding.
With the amount of blood Marches had already lost, it was a surprise to England he hadn't passed out yet. Judging by his pale face and his giddy and unfocussed movements though, it was certain he wouldn't survive the day.
Without sparing England another glance, Marches straightened up and turned towards the hall doors, swaying slightly. He stumbled away, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Marches slipped through the open doors and was gone.
England turned his attention to Wales, glaring at him angrily. He didn't know what he was angrier about: the fact Wales had called him brother or that England had reacted to it. Wales had barely ever referred to England as a brother in the last few centuries, almost to a point that England believed they no longer were to consider each other brothers.
But the outburst had made England aware of one thing: the brotherly bond was still there, he could feel it now. And it made him furious to know this, after having assumed for so long that he was on his own. He felt betrayed.
Sliding his bloodied sword back into its scabbard, England strode over to Wales. Wales was staring at him neutrally, having managed to get his emotions under check again.
England grabbed Wales by the front of his shirt and pulled him close, growling warningly, "Never call me that again when in the company of others. I was under the impression we weren't brothers any longer."
"The bond is still there England, I never broke it," Wales replied calmly, seemingly unfazed by England's anger. Both nations stared at each other deeply in the eyes, silence weighing heavily upon them.
"Why now? Why did you call me brother?" England demanded, hating how his voice wobbled slightly. He released Wales' shirt and took a step back.
"To call you to reason. You were going too far with Marches," Wales explained, regarding England carefully.
"Too far? Not far enough, I say!" England exclaimed with a loud sarcastic laugh. "I could have tortured that bastard for hours and it still wouldn't have been enough."
"Look, I'm in complete agreement with you that Marches was a snotty self-centred shithead who enjoyed bullying everyone around him and was never punished for it," Wales reasoned, "but your way of handling him was disproportionally violent, you…," Wales paused, his eyes looking troubled. "I saw you lose your humanity. It's not good for you to disconnect from your humanity like that."
"Don't make me laugh," England drawled, a hint of bitterness seeping into his voice. "You're only interested in making me weak again. You want me to be a coward, like I used to be. You only ever liked the little England who was timid and never raised his voice above a certain level. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
Wales frowned and tensely replied, "Well at least little England had a good head on his shoulders. I don't want you to be exactly how you used to be, I just want your rationality to be more present."
"Admit it, you wanted to hurt Marches as much as I did," England pointed out, a cruel smile on his face.
The older avatar stared at England in shock and shook his head. "That's untrue and completely beside the point. I want you to understand that this excessive kind of violence will not lead you to a good place."
"It's none of your concern, dear "brother". I defeated Marches once and for all and our lands will be completely merged in a few hours. Soon we will be officially and legally one kingdom. As my subordinate, you are in no position to tell me how I should or shouldn't act. You have no power," England said harshly, jabbing a finger at Wales' chest. "You better accept that because I will not tolerate your insolence."
"I apologise for my impudence…,"Wales said quietly, looking down at his feet.
England relaxed, satisfied to see that Wales was not attempting to resist him as certain other "brothers" of his had done. He reached forward and grasped Wales' forearm, saying smugly, "Now come, we need to go and be present for the signing of this Act. Wouldn't want to miss this big event now, wouldn't we?"
Day had bled out into night when England woke up to the feeling of a lurch in his lands. He sat up in his bed and tried getting out. But a wave of dizziness hit him hard and he fell on the stone floor. He tried clambering to his feet but the world seemed to violently spin around him. He started gasping for air as an unknown pressure bore down on his lungs, leaving him breathless.
He stayed on the ground for a minute, hoping the dizziness would fade soon. His lungs started filling with air again as the pressure disappeared and his surroundings finally seemed to stabilize. England warily got on his feet and stood up, careful that he wouldn't be hit by another wave. He didn't know where these feelings had come from… he had a suspicion but he couldn't be sure as he wasn't familiar with this kind of feeling.
However he could assume one thing: something had fundamentally changed in him.
As he realized that, a euphoric feeling began to seep into his mind. He took a deep breath and his senses grew sharper, the euphoria beginning to wash over him.
This was strange, but very nice. He needed to find out what was causing him to feel like this. He walked towards his door and opened it, striding out into the dark and silent hallway.
He wasn't surprised to find that Wales was out of the guest room, almost awaiting England's arrival. The Welsh avatar stood in the darkness, staring off into the distance. He had a thoughtful expression on his face.
England walked up to Wales and asked tonelessly, "Is he gone?"
"Yes, it seems he finally succumbed to his wounds," Wales said, nodding solemnly.
"I hope the bastard suffered all the way," England sneered.
He stared at Wales and felt the connection of their lands, becoming aware of how much he could feel his brother's lands. The assimilation of their lands had really brought their connections closer, even more so since the parasitic boundary that was Marches had been removed from the equation. England could feel Wales' lands and was filled with a stronger sense of euphoria at how amplified his senses felt as a result of the extended territories. He understood now why other personifications were so attracted to expanding their territories. It felt… delicious.
England reached out and grasped Wales' wrist, inhaling slowly as the physical contact allowed him to feel more of Wales' lands. "I… own you," England said quietly, a twisted smile spreading across his face. The thought excited him. He was in complete control of another personification and he could do as he pleased with no consequences. Wales was his subordinate.
"So it would seem," Wales murmured reluctantly, looking sorely tempted to pull his hand out of England's grasp. Knowing this, England tightened his grasp to a bruising pressure. Wales winced in response and said, "Please England, I'm not going anywhere."
England hissed, "You can't because you belong to me. You have nowhere to run off to. If you try to run, I will hurt you."
"This is not necessary," Wales protested, trying to pull his hand out of England's grasp.
The English nation exhaled loudly in frustration and snapped, "It is, because you still don't take me seriously! You are my subordinate, you listen and obey to my orders from now on. You will live with me and go nowhere else unless I tell you so. Your continued existence depends solely on me now." He tightened his grasp until he was sure that he was on the verge of breaking Wales' wrist. He growled, "Remember brother, "Wales shall be, stand and continue for ever from henceforth incorporated, united and annexed to the Realm of England." Are we clear?"
"…Yes," Wales mumbled lowly, avoiding England's eye contact. His wrist remained limply in England's grasp. England's grin only grew wider at the Welshman's submission.
"Good," England stated, leaning forward and bumping his forehead against Wales' forehead. England inhaled deeply, his euphoria-addled mind singing at the increased contact with the annexed avatar.
Things were finally going his way.
England woke up with a jolt, breathing harshly. He felt completely disoriented and it took him a few seconds to remember that he was in his room, at his desk. Noticing that his hands were shaking badly, he could only stare at them in mute horror. Tears pricked at his eyes and a broken sob escaped his throat. He jumped when a comforting hand was placed on his shoulder. He looked up and saw Wales.
"What did you see England?" Wales asked gently, staring at England closely with concerned eyes. He briefly glanced next to England and saw the open history books.
Flashbacks of the gore and sick enjoyment returned to England and with eyes brimming with tears, England choked out, "I saw M-marches… I saw Marches and I… I… killed… oh God why, he was in pain and I-I-I…"
"Shhhhh," Wales shushed and pulled England into a tight hug. "No more, I know what you remembered. Why were you looking to remember this?"
"I-I wanted… just… to know, what b-became of him," England hiccupped, digging his nails into Wales' sides. He immediately released the Welshman's sides and pulled back, staring at his older brother with wide eyes. "I was th-threatening you… I wanted t-to scare you… m-make you s-submit…"
Wales blinked for a moment and then sighed, "You remembered that too? Your mind is not giving you a break today, is it?" When he noticed that England was beginning to cry in earnest, he tried to calm the smaller nation down. "No need to fret England, it happened over 5 centuries ago. It's forgotten, I'm not holding anything against you from that time-"
Anger suddenly taking hold of England, he pushed Wales away from him and jumped out of his chair. He whirled around to face Wales and shouted, "How the hell can you be so d-damn forgiving of me Wales?! How can you even stand to still accept me as your b-brother after all I've done to you?"
Straightening up, Wales walked over to England and looked down at him. He sat down cross-legged and said calmly, "England, keeping long grudges isn't exactly my way of being. At some point, they do more harm than any good. There are things you have done or said that have caused me much more grief than the instance you just remembered." He quickly held up a hand when England opened his mouth to demand what those things were. "Listen to me England. I just felt uneasy during that memory. I didn't believe you were going to hurt me. You were drunk on power, you had just killed someone you hated without facing any consequences for it and you experienced the first real expansion of your territories through my annexation."
"I was… drunk?" England asked, feeling confusion. He rubbed his eyes to wipe away any errant tears.
"On power," Wales added, smiling sadly. "A few decades after Marches' death, your first empire began to develop. I don't know myself how it feels like but according to Scotland, when you expand your territories, you feel intoxicated by power. You're all of sudden connected to more land than before, your senses are heightened and you feel powerful. It's apparently an addicting feeling. It explains why avatars who became empires went mad for power and territories."
England sighed heavily as he sat down, pulling his knees up to his chest. He was annoyed when he felt slight tremors run down his spine and arms. He was still very shaken by the previous memories. He looked at Wales and inquired hesitantly, "Why did I… feel pleasure… torturing Marches? It was as if his pain… I don't know, it felt sick. I feel sick thinking about it. But I didn't at the time."
"Marches was a constant living reminder that you had been invaded by Normandy. He was a bully, hurting you physically and verbally whenever he could. Later he became more cautious but that didn't stop him from trying to provoke you any chance he had," Wales paused, becoming thoughtful. "When he was dissolved, he should have kept out of your way. But he was so furious that your king had the so-called "audacity" to dissolve him and take away the jurisdiction of the Marcher lords… I doubt he was thinking straight. I'm not sure what result he was expecting to get from provoking you into a fight, he perhaps hoped he could convince your king that by defeating you that he deserved to exist. I don't know, I can only assume what he was trying to achieve."
"But is it because of my hatred that I had no qualms in hurting him?" England wondered out loud, feeling queasy at the thought. Marches' screams still reverberated in his mind.
Wales shrugged as he said, "That is a probability. I think there was also the knowledge that he had become useless as a representation, so there would be no consequences if you harmed him. It played a big part in you getting back at him, and consequently at Normandy, for all the grief and pain both had put you through. The sad reality is that sometimes the victim becomes the bully."
The small Brit grimaced, feeling a spike of anger at himself. He demanded hollowly, "But why? I was down there, I should have known better than to follow in his footsteps."
"Power is unfortunately very addictive. Especially to those that have been denied it for a long time and were hurt by those who abused power. When the tables turn and suddenly the powerless are given all the power, few can resist the temptation to avenge their suffering in one way or another. Once they have a taste for power, even fewer can stomach to let it go," Wales explained, sending England a small sympathetic smile. England regarded the Welsh avatar silently, feeling uneasy about what the other had told him about power. He felt his past self must have been addicted to it.
"Power is toxic," England said with a dark frown. "I don't want to have any of it."
"It can be used for good, you only need to keep sight of your moral values and use it wisely," Wales pointed out logically. Both nations were silent for a few minutes, each deep in their thoughts. Wales stood up and walked over England, offering his hand to him. He ordered, "Now off to bed with you, young man."
"But it's not even that late? Why are you sending me to bed as if I was a child?" England protested. Despite himself, he grasped Wales' hand and allowed himself to be pulled into standing.
Starting to nudge England towards his bed, Wales chided, "You've had a rather taxing day already, you need to rest and recover your strengths as you said you would. I don't want you to search for memories tonight, you look exhausted as it is." He eventually managed to make England go into his bed and started tucking him in.
"Oh I'm sure my nightmares will happily remind me of something, one way or another…," England muttered under his breath, feeling resentful. "Unless my dreams decide to show me that same memory with Marches again…"
"Let's change the subject please," Wales suggested, looking uncomfortable. "So… what would you like to do for the next few days?" He sat on the side of England's bed, staring at the younger nation curiously.
"I think I want to continue reading and relearn my history from the books. Along the way I hope to regain some memories from doing that. I haven't thought further than that," England admitted, shifting to make himself more comfortable.
"Are there any nations you would want to meet at some point? You could then work with those you have good relations with, it could be helpful," Wales proposed helpfully.
"Hmm," England grew thoughtful, thinking over all the nations he knew. "There are a couple of nations I would like to meet, some of them were really nice. I heard I had a lot of history with Portugal, so perhaps him? Or France, I have a lot of history with him but it's not overly positive… Norway said he hoped to see me soon so maybe I should meet him at some point. I think I would like to meet America again, I'm starting to miss him. Canada too, it's been a while-" England cut himself off, noticing a sudden tension in the air. Wales wasn't looking at him, he was staring off in the distance. His shoulders had become rigid. England grew worried and asked, "What is it Wales?"
A minute passed in absolute silence, Wales' unwavering gaze fixated on the far wall. He was absolutely still, his even breathing being the only indication that he hadn't frozen completely. England was concerned, had he said something wrong? Thankfully after a minute, Wales finally sighed loudly and the tension left his shoulders.
"England," Wales began slowly, turning his head to look the small Brit. His eyes appeared calm but restrained, as if he was quelling down his emotions. "I don't think you should be associating with America as much as you do."
Most people caught on very quickly why Normandy was there last chapter. Kudos to you guys! A few people also caught on that it should be Normandy and Norway, not Normandy and Denmark. But in the end, Denmark did have a good reason to be present too, don't you think? The scene with England and Denmark was inspired by Masterliful, who wrote almost two years ago a PM to me suggesting why Denmark could get along very well with England. The argument was very well developed and I was very surprised by the number of similarities both countries shared. So I decided to write it out.
Now Normandy is a bit of an odd character to me, since as a duchy I imagine her as being very vicious and nowadays she is rather calm. (though she has some emotional outbursts now and again) I don't know how realistic it is to say that England and South Italy have refused to talk to her in centuries since her conquest of them, though seeing as they're nations and she's a region, I didn't feel that it was too farfetched? About two-three years ago, I had to write an essay on how much impact did Normandy have on the British Isles and let me tell you, it was massive. The Normans seem to have changed almost everything, the British Isles would be very different today if the Normans had never invaded. I also came across some books that explained that it was the Norman conquest of England that led to the birth of the fierce English patriotism that we've seen in the British Empire and hasn't completely disappeared today yet. To me, at least, it seems that English patriotism would have not become this aggressive if the Normans had not invaded. Maybe it would have still developed but the Normans had a definitive influence on the origins of this patriotism. Also England wasn't without fault before the Normans, obviously. But from the looks of it, his relations with the other countries was relatively functional and… positive? To a certain extent? The relations noticeably went downhill after the Normans invaded England.
So with all that I've read about the Norman impact on the British Isles… it was difficult not to make the character Normandy have an enormous impact on England and his relationship with his brothers. And having her put in place a rather elaborate system to isolate England and develop him into an aggressive kingdom. You might wonder why she wanted to help him to become strong? Well on one hand, she wanted to impose her views on England as she was deeply envious of the fact that he had siblings whereas she had no one. On the other hand, she did want to create a legacy. She wanted to be able to pull back and tell others "look at this kingdom, it's all my training and hard work that made him into the powerful kingdom he is today." Of course over the years she came to realize what awful things she had done and she regretted her actions. Her main priority in coming was to make England aware of the full truth so that she could finally free herself from the crippling guilt. She wanted to make him aware of how deliberate her attempts were in making England a fierce and violent avatar. It will take a long while for England to forgive her but the scene between these two did end on a positive note because they had taken the first time towards healing. They were no longer refusing to talk to each other. I hope I didn't make it seem that England was too forgiving, he still hasn't forgiven her. I also hope I didn't make Normandy to preachy, she was actually talking a lot more before so some scenes including modern Normandy had to be reworked several times because I didn't like her dialogue.
Apparently King Harold had several brothers. I don't know why I never asked myself about his family too much. But I should have because it turned out to be very interesting. And by the end of the Battle of Hastings, there was only one brother left, Wulfnoth, who had been given as a hostage to the Normans years before. And Wulfnoth spent all his life being a hostage, ouch. Sweyn was the eldest brother but he died from unrelated circumstances, before all the mess of 1066. Tostig on the other hand is said to have been the one who encouraged the Norwegian King Harald to come forward to claim the English throne. So really, that's why Norway was involved in an invasion in 1066. Norway ultimately doesn't feature extensively in the chapter because the invasion failed and he didn't have a big impact on the Norman conquest. Some people suggest that the Norwegian invasion tired the English soldiers out, which is why they lost at the Battle of Hastings but apparently that doesn't seem to have been the case. Also for anyone wondering… yes Battle of Hastings wasn't always known as that. Hastings is not that near to the battlefield, there were other settlements closer to the battlefield than Hastings. 40 years after the battle, the name Battle of Hastings became the norm. Why? I honestly don't know. Directly after the battle though, people were calling it by other names, one of them being Battle of Senlac Hill. Because the armies fought on this hill… so it made sense for England to refer to the battle as that.
I hope my interpretation of the Battle of Hastings wasn't too boring and too deeply inaccurate. There are different variations on how the battle went, I just picked one version and ran with that. There are so many disagreements over how King Harold died, some say he was killed by an arrow and others say he was cut down by Norman knights. I decided to use both the arrow and the knights because at this point, how can you even verify which source is telling the truth? One source went as far as to say that William killed Harold but everyone else seems to agree that this is too farfetched. Also one note on the Witenagemot: some people like to think there was one Witenagemot in all of England. That is not true, this view comes from the Victorians who wanted to romanticize the notion that England had one government even back then. However there were multiple local Witenagemots across England, the one you saw was the one from Wessex. That's why it was so daunting for them to hear that not only had their King Harold perished, but the representation of Wessex had fallen as well. The people I presented in the Witenagemot are historical figures, I really wasn't sure on how to name and introduce them properly. I just wanted to give faces to some of the members. Stigand is a rather interesting character. He was excommunicated five times by successive popes because he was Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Winchester at the same time, which is a big no-no for the Church. (they don't approve of pluralism)
However a historical figure that I thought was extremely fascinating is Edgar the Ætheling. For anyone wondering, he was just 15 years old when he succeeded King Harold and attempted to fight against the invading Normans for about two months before being submitted by the Witan to William. I put Edgar into a sympathetic light because I think he would have related with England very well. Edgar's story is actually pretty cool, I have to wonder why we don't talk about him more. We always talk about King Harold being the last king of Anglo-Saxon England… and yes, he was the last official one. But Edgar was king for a short time before the Normans took over completely. And he has such an interesting life, I really recommend his story. These author notes would get too long if I tried to tell you his story. But seriously, it's really entertaining to read about him. One cool fact about him is that after he was taken hostage by the Normans, he was released again and he fled to Scotland with his family. His sister Margaret would then marry the king of Scotland and one of their daughters would later marry William the Conqueror's son… interesting to see how the English royal blood managed to find its way back to the throne.
And now Marches… yeah I think I might have confused you with how I characterized this character. He's an absolute asshole but he got one of the more brutal scenes of the story. I hope it was visible to see that Marches turned out to be so twisted and cruel because he was given so much power from an early start and he was never reined in by anyone. Normandy allowed him to do what he wanted and she gave him absolute power over England. For a small child wanting to do anything to please someone they wanted to be loved by, the power went to Marches' head and he went mad. It stunted his ability to feel empathy and his child-like cruelty turned him into a horrid little monster. I think it's obvious to understand why England grew to hate Marches so much. Over time, when the Normans began to be assimilated and the English started regaining their powers, Marches didn't bully England as much. But he still tried to provoke him as often as he could. So England had no regrets in hurting Marches as much as he could, when he had the chance. (I hope the scene wasn't too graphic)
For anyone wondering why Wales was so forgiving of England for how he acted in the last flashback… well, England was basically high. Wales understood that if he kept low and behaved in the manner England wanted him to, no harm would come to him. It was an uneasy experience for Wales, but he later understood from Scotland that England was just completely drunk/high on power. So it wasn't a big deal for Wales. However there's another storm brewing in the distance. One note I should add before I forget: Softsword is an actual insult from back then. It was given to King John of England (1166-1216) to refer to how shoddy of a fighter he was, now that's one king that wasn't talked of very positively.
Hope you enjoyed the chapter! See you (hopefully) soon!