First is breakfast. Denmark is getting better at it, even if the food remains simple: porridge, bread, honey, tea. At least it's not burnt anymore. Greenland eats his slowly, Iceland sneaks extra honey with his. Faeroes wolfs hers down, the climbs onto Denmark's lap. She's the only one not shy to do so. He isn't able to finish his breakfast because he has to help her with her hair, braiding it and then tying it on her request into loops. He's getting better at this too, the braids almost smooth.
Then the children are told to dress as Denmark finishes his breakfast. He's slower lately, and when the territories have dressed they aren't called back with chores. Greenland points out that they should probably study bible or something, but no one wants to, so they play instead. Downstairs, Denmark limps to the parlor with the rest of his breakfast and sprawls on the sofa. There are letters to read, most of them from his government. He pens replies on the back of a book. He has a study but lounging is easier on him.
There is a missive from the king, which of course he reads first. Included is a list of some sort of tax thing, which Denmark skims and then ignores. If it's important he's sure someone will tell him later. He can hear the soft thuds of footsteps above him as the colonies play. At last he finishes his tea and opens the last letter. Unlike the rest it is largely unmarked. No seals, no calligraphy, just his address in Norway's plain handwriting, each letter pointed and narrow. The contents are just as sharp. Thanks for the last letter, questions about Iceland's wellbeing, reminders to feed Greenland, and then a bland paragraph on the weather in Stockholm, all written on the back of the last letter Denmark had sent. He reads both sides, then takes a fresh sheet of paper and begins his response.
Upstairs, Greenland and Faeroes have contests to see who can jump the farthest from the bed. Iceland, who has lately begun to consider himself too mature for such games, watches while pretending to read. He wonders what his brother is doing right now. Faeroes and Greenland are his siblings too, but they're different. Iceland is pretty sure he wouldn't miss them if they went to live with Sweden. At least they'd write him more, not send messages to Den for him to pass along.
What Iceland doesn't realize is that the long, rambling messages Denmark gives the colonies from Norway are mostly products of Denmark's own imagination. Norway always enquires after them, but rarely bothers with sentimentality. Denmark at least recognizes that kids need that stuff, and storytelling has always been one of his talents. At this at least he's the better parent.
When Denmark is finished with his letter to Norway—a page and a half of cramped gossip and news from home—he has to get up to seal it in his office. He still limps. When he's sealed the letter and addressed it, he tosses it on the pile of other outgoing mail and sits down heavy in the desk chair. He looks out the window. It's a fine June day. The manor is walled by hedges, flower gardens and lawns on the inside, a small kitchen garden in the back, along with a small stable and the chickens. He has a staff of eight, most of them working outside, under strict orders to be as unobtrusive as possible. Denmark could have more servants but doesn't really want them. He can cook and clean for himself, at least a little.
The land surrounding the manor is farmland, mostly grains, and while he can't see them from his chair he can picture it well enough. Farmers and farmhands at work. The fields about knee high. Sheep put out to graze. Deer in the woods a few kilometers away. He closes his eyes. And then he can really see it.
Upstairs, they are arguing over whether or not to go play outside. Greenland, who tires easily in the heat, is against it. Faeroes is for. Iceland tells her to compromise and be considerate of Greenland. She tells them both to go along with her because she's the only girl. Greenland isn't very good at sticking up for himself and wavers.
Iceland wants to go outside, but he also doesn't want Faeroes to get her way. Faeroes senses weakness and suggests they ask Den for permission. Even biased authority is authority, and her brothers have no choice but to accept. They troop downstairs and find Den dozing in the study, and wake him without mercy. He's groggy, but when he hears about going outside, he brightens: better yet, he says, we can have a picnic! An outing! Even the boys are interested by this. Lately, none of them have been traveling farther than the hedges.
Now there is lunch to make and pack. One of the maids is cleaning up the kitchen, and is shooed away, then called back to help. Faeroes as a girl is learning to cook, but a servant's help will make things a lot easier. And more edible. Greenland and Iceland are sent to find baskets and a blanket to sit upon, as well as prepare the mare for the trip. Denmark sits in the kitchen and gives instructions to everyone. Leading Daisy out of her stall, Greenland wonders if Denmark is even up to a walk. That's probably why they need a horse, Iceland decides: so Den will have less to carry. The groom helps them with the mare, smiling at their excitement.
Faeroes boils eggs and toasts bread while the maid prepares the rest of lunch. Denmark is recruited to fetch some of the cherry wine from the cellar, and does so painstakingly, grumbling. In the end he makes the butler do it, and passes him the letters that need delivering while he's at it.
An hour later, the family is ready to go. As well as lunch, clothes need to be changed, and Denmark has trouble locating his boots. At last they set off down the manor's drive, Daisy reined with the packs of lunch on her back. Iceland leads her although she's an old, calm mare and could likely follow them on her own: Denmark balances himself with a hand on her side. Greenland runs along in front of them on the road, and Faeroes dawdles, picking flowers. They head west, in the opposite direction of the city. This way there are just farms and grass. After a while, they start talking about where to stop: beach? Too far. The fields? Too much like home. The forest? Iceland realizes they're walking slower and slower, and Denmark's limp is getting more pronounced. The next pasture they pass, Iceland suggests stopping at.
Remember to find a spot without sheep shit, Denmark says. He leads Daisy as the colonies run off to do just that, judging each potential spot with seriousness and arguing. Under a tree? On this rise? Near the sheep? Far from the sheep? Faeroes finds a brook and finds it darling, but the boys refuse due to the bugs swarming around it. Greenland deliberates and chooses for them: a spot of grass with exactly no special features of any kind. It wins because there is nothing to praise or complain about. Denmark leads the mare over and they set up their picnic.
Bread and cheeses, cold meat and butter in a tin, half a meat pie, smoked fish and cress, cucumber and cherry wine, watered down for the children. There are plates and glasses and silverware. They spread napkins in their laps and eat slow. Daisy wanders off to graze. Birds dive after insects, and they speculate on the odds of seeing a rabbit.
Denmark relaxes when he's sitting back down, lounging on the grass. He eats fast and then lies on his back, drinking wine in the sunshine and talks about ships. About buildings. About beams and nails and wood. Then he falls asleep.
The children take turns trying his undiluted wine, but a sip each is enough of a taste. They eat and talk about their homes, their islands: far and also close. Then they go harass the sheep in the field, running at them screaming and laughing when the animals flee. They try hunting rabbits and birds, but have no luck, then decide to ask Den for a hunting dog, mostly as a pet. Greenland gets tired and goes back to Den for a nap, the heat too much for him. Faeroes follows and decides to make flower chains.
Now Iceland is alone. Harassing sheep isn't fun by himself. He stands in the grass and looks around. In his stillness, animals begin to move. A mouse runs by his feet. He sees a hawk overhead. But he still feels alone.
There is a stand of trees nearby, and he goes to them, climbs the one that looks tallest. It's slow going and he is scratched by twigs up and down. When he finally gets to the top, he balances gingerly. Denmark's land is flat. Even from a tree he can see a good way. The manor and a few other buildings. Fields. The forest. In the far distance, the dark blue line of the ocean. He can see far. But not far enough to see Norway.
When Denmark wakes up, the sun is much lower and the day is starting to cool. Greenland, Faeroes, and Iceland are curled up beside him on the blanket, and they're all wearing flower crowns. He feels something warm and tight and painful, because he's happy, and because someone is missing. Greenland's arm is draped over Faeroes. Her hair has come mostly undone. Iceland has curled into a ball, his flower chain draped over his nose, petals almost in his mouth. He loves them all, he thinks. And: they are his.
He wants to stay like this, but it's getting dark and the bugs are starting to bite. So he wakes them up, and they have to look quite a bit for the horse.
By the time they arrive home it is time for supper, which has been prepared by the servants tonight. They eat and talk about where to go on their next outing while Daisy is groomed and put away, and then the territories are at last told to read from their bibles before bed. The butler tells Denmark he sent out the letters and gives him the mail: government news and a letters from Russia (diplomatic talks) and Netherlands (trade). He reads them at the dining room table while eating his dessert and drinking coffee, then shouts at the kids to go to bed.
Faeroes has recently become old enough to need her own room, but Greenland and Iceland still share. He checks in on all three, tucks them in over various protests, and takes their candles with him when he leaves.
Downstairs he dismisses his staff for the night: half of them live here but the other four nearby. He flops down on the sofa again, writing letters and drinking brandy, and falls asleep.
In the morning he has a stiff neck as he makes breakfast.