24 March 1294
Mom patted the chair next to her. “No trouble at all—or at least, not more than you already knew about.”
“So why are you all looking at me?”
Anna wadded up a piece of paper and threw it at his chest. It bounced off and hit the floor. “Because you walked into the room, silly.”
He pulled out the chair his mother had indicated and sat. “I don’t believe you.”
There was a pause as the various members of David’s family—Dad, Mom, Anna, Math, Bronwen, and Ieuan—looked at each other, silently communicating in some fashion that resulted in Mom turning to speak to him again. “You’re right. We were talking about you.”
“Specifically, you becoming King of Scots,” Anna said.
“I knew it.” David slapped his hand on the table. “The answer is no. Besides, any idea of me claiming that throne is premature. While its current occupant has invaded England with an army, at the moment he still wears the crown. John Balliol was elected democratically. I don’t have the power to dethrone him.”
“You do, actually,” Anna said.
David didn’t know what it was about her latest trip to Avalon that had done it, but in the few days since she’d returned, it was as if the real Anna had been unleashed. She said what she thought more than ever without worrying about anyone’s sensibilities. He was willing to bet quite a large portion of his treasury that it was she who’d called this meeting.
Mom shot her daughter a quelling look. “Regardless of what happens over the next weeks and months, Balliol incited a rebellion against you. You can’t let him keep his throne.”
Anna nodded. “Give us a chance to explain. We need you to listen to Mom.”
David’s father had been the first to push David to take England’s crown, and while he’d accepted the mantle out of a sense of desperation, he wasn’t sorry about being King of England now. Similarly, the High Kingship of Ireland had been thrust upon him by events that had careened out of control. And as his father’s eldest son, he was the heir to the Kingdom of Wales. He would accept that crown because, if it was anyone’s birthright, it was his.
Scotland was another matter entirely. It had a long tradition of choosing its own rulers, and David’s claim to sovereignty there was beyond tenuous. The fact that, according to Uncle Ted, he did have a blood descent from Avalon’s King Alexander was beside the point. This was Earth Two, so that connection meant nothing.
But because it was Anna who’d spoken, David held back a further retort. She was certainly right that something had to be done. Some had hoped that Balliol would fold his tents, apologize for conniving with wayward English barons, and fall back into Scotland from his current position at Barnard Castle, his family’s seat in the north of England. David had not been one of those optimists. Balliol would not be able to stand the resulting loss of face.
Thus, with as studious an expression as he could muster, David prepared himself to be lectured. His mother usually knew what she was talking about.
“In the past, English kings have aspired to the thrones of all four countries: Wales, England, Ireland, and Scotland, either by force of arms or by claiming the right through a fictive or mythic past.”
“Sometimes dating back to Rome,” Bronwen said, “but always including King Arthur.”
“Who was Welsh anyway,” Anna said.
The three women were on a roll, but Mom made a gesture, asking not to be interrupted. David had no doubt they’d discussed what they were talking about at length before he’d arrived.
“In Avalon’s Middle Ages, which is really the only time we care about at this point, King Edward came the closest to achieving the goal of uniting all four kingdoms. Once he conquered Wales, he allowed his barons to pursue absolute power in Ireland while he moved on to Scotland.”
“The last thing I want to do is follow in King Edward’s footsteps—”
His mom put out a hand to him. “We know that, David, and we’re not proposing anything along the lines of what Edward attempted—or any other English king, for that matter, up to and including present-day Avalon.”
“Then I really don’t understand. Why the history lesson?” David narrowed his eyes at his mother. “I thought you just suggested I become King of Scots?”
Mom gave a vigorous shake of her head. “We did. We do, but not for the reasons you think or the way you think. The kings of England who had designs on ruling all four nations rooted their right to do so in the fact that each of them was the King of England. We’re not proposing that at all.”
“In fact, quite the opposite,” Bronwen said.
David sat back in his chair. “You have completely lost me.”
He noted that Ieuan and Math weren’t looking at him—and he knew why. It wasn’t because they were as confused as he was. They agreed wholeheartedly with where the women were going with their argument and saw no reason to interfere.
Anna leaned forward. “We are proposing that you do—we do—what you’ve always done: include people instead of exclude them. King Edward conquered Wales, Ireland, and Scotland and ruled them as the English king, from England, with the idea that English culture and laws were superior to any tradition in the barbaric north and west.”
“I could never do that.”
“Of course you couldn’t. And we couldn’t support the idea—” Bronwen was practically bouncing up and down in her seat, “—which is what is so great. This is the chance we’ve been waiting for. We talked about it years ago at Rhuddlan before Anna and Meg went to Avalon.”
David took in a breath, and his heart actually beat a little faster. “You’re talking about the United States of Britain.”
“With you as High King.” Before David could protest at her choice of title, Bronwen put out a hand to him like both Mom and Anna had done. “For now.”
Mom took over again. “This wouldn’t be a situation where Wales, Ireland, and Scotland were subordinate to the English throne, and everyone had to become English, speak English, and abide by English laws. It would be a confederation, with each country having equal say, but united out of an acknowledgment that all the countries that make up Britain share a common future.”
Anna nodded vigorously. “Here’s your challenge and our dream, David: to leverage your unique position into a meaningful monarchy of the whole of Britain, one that doesn’t make everyone English, but makes room for everyone.”
David ran both hands through his hair and dropped them. “I agree with everything you’re saying. Of course I do. I want what you want. But it’s overstepping. How can we create unity out of something that will so plainly cause disunity?”
“Who’s to say it will?” Anna said, and then at David’s baleful look, modified her question. “Yes, of course not everyone is going to like it. But seeing as how you’re already King of England, High King of Ireland, and Prince of Wales, are any of the people in those countries really going to argue with what we’re proposing? If the people of Scotland accept the idea, would that be convincing enough?”
David looked around at the rest of his family. “All right, gentlemen. You need to tell me what you think. Ieuan? Or you, Math? Dad? You’ve been awfully quiet.”
Ieuan laughed. “As you’d undoubtedly guessed already, Math and I are of one mind and have been for some time. Rule Scotland as the King of England or as High King or as—” he made a dismissive gesture, “—president if you must. As long as you rule, we don’t care how or why.”
Bronwen patted her husband’s thigh. “Some people are less concerned with theory than with practice.”
“I see Bohun and Mortimer aren’t here either. Nor Lili.” David had left his wife bathing their sons.
“They don’t care about the specifics of rule either, though for different reasons. Bohun and Mortimer are Norman and know only power and the ability and willingness to wield it.” Math looked hard at David. “I have been at your side for twelve years now, and I barely comprehend what my own wife is telling me. If it weren’t she saying it—and clearly of so much importance to all of you—I would probably have dismissed it out of hand as a finer point that means nothing in the end.”
“But we have come to understand that it means everything in the end—not just to you but to all of us,” Dad said, speaking for the first time. “When you insisted that I welcome the Jews into Wales, I agreed. But it was more to show you that I respected your ability to make decisions than because I understood your reasons. I understand them now.” He looked around the table. “We all do, now.”
Then he focused again on David. “Take the throne of the High King, son. Britain—and the world—will be better for it.”
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