Tall elm trees line the streets of New York. Soft sunlight fell against the pavement. The smell of cow dung was barely noticeable on the sea breeze. He was going to the market to get more tea for Arthur. Alfred had heard him cursing in the kitchen when he and Mattie were playing. How "this bloody place isn't kept well stocked" and "what is he paying those witless colonists for?"
Alfred skipped over the cobblestones. He'd yelled to Arthur that he was going outside to play. He told Matthew he was running down to the market and would be right back. Alfred jumped from stone to stone.
"Don't step on the cracks or you'll break your brother's back!"
"Hi Alfred," said a voice.
The blond boy stopped and looked up and up and up. Whoa was this guy tall or what. Not even Francey-pants was this tall.
"Hi mister," he replied. "How'd ya know my name?"
"Your big brother told me. He's very mad at you for sneaking out and asked me to take you home right now."
Alfred blanched. He thought Arthur would be happy that he was getting him more tea. He looked down the lane. The market was so close. Then he looked back up at the blonde man and sighed.
"Oh ok, do you work at the house? What's your name?" The little boy asked.
"Yeah I do and I'm Lars." The man held open his hand, "Ready?"
"I'm never ready to face an angry Arthur," Alfred grumbled but put his hand in Lars's.
A tulip dropped out of Lars's other hand. Attached to it was a slip of parchment with the words thank you scrawled in large black letters.
The two blonds started to walk off. Lars started talking to him, maybe trying to make him feel better. But Alfred wasn't paying attention. He was looking down at the cracks again. He wasn't in the mood to skip over them anymore, but he did take care not to step on the cracks. He'd hate for Arthur to get a broken back.
Alfred could just make out the sound of horse hooves over Lars's chatting. That was weird. This was almost always a walking road. Alfred looked around for the horse. There was a family walking towards them, three men walking ahead of them, but no horse. The sound got closer. Alfred looked behind him.
Oh, it was a pretty black horse! The rider was pushing the horse pretty fast though. They must be in a rush to go home. He imagined he would've hurried like that after he got his tea.
"What are you looking at Alfred?" Lars asked and looked behind him too.
The rider was almost upon them when Alfred realized the rider was Arthur! Alfred's legs stopped moving. Boy did he look pissed. His eyebrows were furrowed down and his jaw was clenched. Alfred didn't think running out to the market would get him in so much trouble.
"Shit," Lars swore.
Arthur leapt down from the horse and hurled something at Lars. Yellow petals splattered against the man's chest. It was a tulip. Arthur drew his sword and pointed it up at Lars. Alfred bit his lip. The blade glinted in the fading spring light. Arthur was being scary. The little boy ground at the petals around his feet.
"Give him to me. Now." Arthur said. Alfred noticed Lars's hand was on his shoulder. He rolled his shoulder to try and remove it. It didn't budge.
"Arthur?" Alfred murmured. Why would Arthur threaten one of the housekeepers at sword point? The hand shifted and pushed the boy's back so he ended up stumbling towards Arthur. Arthur grabbed him and tucked him into his side. Alfred was so confused.
"Don't you ever touch my boy again," Arthur growled.
The ride home was awkward. Arthur was clutching at Alfred's tummy too tight, but the little boy was too scared to say anything. He also didn't understand why Arthur wasn't yelling at him. He thought for sure he was going to get the dressing down of the century the way Arthur had been going on earlier.
When they got into the foyer of the house and the door was closed, Arthur kneeled down and hugged Alfred. Confused Alfred hugged Arthur back. Arthur didn't usually give out hugs. Normally Alfred went to Matthew if he wanted a hug.
"Don't ever scare me like that again." His brother breathed and pulled back. Arthur stared at him so seriously that Alfred couldn't help but squirm. Arthur started petting his hair softly.
"Hmm?" was the distracted reply.
"You aren't mad at me for leaving the house?"
Green eyes snapped to his, "Oh no, you can bet I am upset by that. But I'm more upset by something else. Do you know what that is?"
"Umm..." Alfred thought back to the evening. He'd left the house to get tea. He'd met Lars who said he was supposed to take Arthur back home. Then Arthur had shown up.
He watched Arthur close his eyes and take a deep breath. Alfred did it too. When he opened his eyes Arthur was staring at him with a little smile.
"Alright, let me get your brother and then we are going to talk. Meet me in the kitchen."
Alfred slumped into his chair at the kitchen table. He kicked his legs as stared out the window. This day was turning out to be no fun. Arthur and Matthew appeared in the doorway. Matthew was clutching his bear a little tighter. Maybe he thought he was going to be yelled at too. The two sat down. Arthur was facing the boys.
"Now boys we have to talk about something very important. Do you know what stranger danger is?"
Both boys shook their head. Arthur sighed.
"Stranger danger is about when someone you don't know comes up to you. They may try to talk you or get you to leave with them." Arthur looked pointedly at Alfred. That hadn't happened to him though!
"Sometimes they might have an animal for you to pet or give you candy or toys to get you to go with them."
"What kind of candy?" Alfred asked.
Arthur looked at him, "Chocolate, gummies, peppermints, caramel. Alfred you aren't to take ANY of them. Do you understand?"
Alfred licked his lips... what if he just took the candy and then he ran away? That'd be ok. Then he'd totally be safe AND he'd have the candy!
"Alfred this is very important. If someone you don't know tries to give you candy you say no and run away. Do you understand me young man?"
Alfred looked at Arthur. He looked really serious. Alfred toyed with the wooden tabletop.
"Yes Arthur," he mumbled.
"Don't mumble Alfred. Now what do you do if a stranger offers you candy?"
"Say no and run away..." Alfred sighed, "But what if I really want the candy?"
"Alfred," Arthur commanded. Alfred's eyes rose from the tabletop to look at his big brother. The light was shining in the window behind him. It hurt Alfred's eyes. "If this ever happens you find me immediately and I will give you as much candy as you want. Ok?"
Alfred's eyes shone. Oh boy! He couldn't wait for a stranger to approach him with one little piece of candy. He'd say no and laugh in their faces as he ran away. Then Arthur would give him mountains of candy!
"OK!" Alfred exclaimed.
"Now if you ever feel uncomfortable with someone you are always allowed to say no. If they insist you yell for help at the top of your lungs. Do you understand?"
"Like this?" Then Alfred let out a huge screech that had Matthew covering his ears.
"Yes, just like that." Arthur smiled and looked down at his other colony.
"Matthew what will you do?" Arthur asked.
"Yell for help," Matthew whispered. Alfred swung his legs under the chair.
"And how loud do you need to be for someone to hear you?" Arthur
"Really loud." Matthew whispered.
"Good boy, can you pretend to do that for me?" Arthur asked.
Matthew blushed and hid in his bear.
"Matthew this is very important. If you can't yell for help a stranger could take you home with them and you'll never see Alfred again."
Matthew took a deep breath a let out a short, deep yell. Then he hid in his bear's fur again.
"Alright we'll practice that more." Arthur sighed.
"But Arthur I don't understand why you're telling us this! Matthew and I never go anywhere with strangers!"
Arthur just stared at him.
"Alfred who was the man that you were with this afternoon?"
"Oh him? His name is Lars. He's one of our housekeepers."
Arthur scrubbed his hands over his face.
"Alright something else we have to talk about is that strangers will lie to you. They will tell you things that aren't true. Like they have a puppy at home. Do they really have a puppy at home?"
"No," Matthew whispered.
"Right it's just a lie. Now strangers may lie about whom they really are. Like Lars, Alfred," Alfred stopped playing with his fingers to stare at Arthur, "Lars isn't a housekeeper here," Arthur said slowly.
"What?" Alfred yelped, "But he said he was!"
"Yes and he was telling a lie, just like you boys do sometimes when you tell me you've washed your hands and you haven't," Arthur explained.
"I wash my hands," Matthew grumbled.
Arthur continued on like he hadn't heard Matthew, "It's simply not true, but they say it so you will trust them and go with them."
Arthur paused and looked back and forth at both of his colonies. Alfred leaned his head against the table.
"So what do we know about strangers now? Matthew you first."
Matthew was quiet for a moment, "That strangers will lie to get you to trust them. Like they'll tell you they have a puppy at home for you to pet, but they don't."
"Very good," Arthur praised. "And Alfred?"
"That strangers are people you don't know," Alfred said.
"Good. Anything else?"
Alfred thought, "Annnd if someone comes up to you and wants you to go somewhere and you don't want to you can yell really loud for help and it's ok even if you're inside."
"Exactly," Arthur replied.
"But Arthur," Alfred puzzled, "how will I know if it's really a stranger or not? Like Lars said he was from the house, but he really wasn't."
"How about we have a secret password," Arthur thought, "and if they are a safe person to go with they'll tell it to you? Ok? Then you'll know that they've spoken with me and it's ok for you to go with them. But no one else will know."
Alfred put his chin in his hand and thought about it. If they had a secret password then the stranger would have had of spoken with Arthur so they wouldn't be a stranger even if he didn't know them.
"Yes, that's a brilliant idea!" Alfred grinned at his big brother.
"Alright so what is our secret password going to be?" Arthur asked.
"What about maple syrup?"
"Or orange crocodiles!"
"Well it has to be something you remember boys. Would you remember that if a someone you didn't know were to say it to you?"
"I don't think so..." Matthew admitted.
"What about the name of the book we're currently reading? So right now it would be Peter Pan. And then the next book it would be the name of that book." Arthur said.
Both boys agreed and so their super-secret-stranger-danger-code was set.
"Ok that's all that we need to talk about for now about strangers. Matthew you can go."
Alfred scooted his chair back to leave too.
"Did I say you could go anywhere Alfred?"
Alfred felt his stomach sink. He shook his head.
"Correct. You and I still have to discuss you sneaking out of the house young man. Come here. Pants down."
Alfred sighed. He was never leaving the house without Arthur again.
Before New York City was New York City it was New Amsterdam. So my head cannon says that the Netherlands (Lars) would lurk around the city every once and a while to see how it's doing.
The tulip is the (unofficial) national flower of the Netherlands is the tulip.