King, Queen, Jack, Ace
"This game's so stupid, Morgana," Arthur said. Lady Morgana had received a deck of cards – very rare in Albion, and very expensive – for her birthday. She'd taught Arthur and their two servants the only game she knew. Hearts.
"You just say that because you keep losing," she said, a small smile on her face. "Besides, no one's making you play."
"It's your turn, sire," said Gwen, trying to avoid conflict.
Arthur moaned and put down a king of clubs. This happened to Arthur a lot – he would put down a card that would make him lose.
But, occasionally, he won.
Morgana put down the queen of spades. Arthur moaned again. The queen of spades was thirteen points, and Arthur was already behind – or ahead, as it were. Merlin was still confused by the scoring systems.
"Don't look at me," she said, as Arthur glared at her. "It was my last card."
Morgana's hair was as dark as the queen's, her skin as pale as the white of the card, her lips as red as hearts. It seemed to Merlin that she was very like the queen of spades – normally her favor decided the loser of the game. But not always.
Gwen hesitated before placing a jack of diamonds on the pile, although it was her last card. The maid always seemed so unsure of her choice of cards.
"You know, Uther would kill us if he knew we were playing with these," Merlin said. Uther had banned playing cards from the kingdom, for fear that they could disguise the tarot deck.
"Throw us in the dungeon, more like," replied Gwen, gently laughing. "Or maybe the stocks again?"
Merlin smiled. Gwen wasn't as striking as Morgana, or as bold as Arthur. She was ordinary. But that ordinariness might save her, someday.
Merlin threw the ace of hearts in, nonchalantly. He ignored Arthur's glare. Each of the four checked the cards they had won. Merlin looked at Gwen and Morgana's cards – nothing to penalize them. Merlin didn't have any hearts, either.
"Arthur," Merlin said, slowly. "Did you get all of the point cards?"
Arthur quickly counted and grinned. That was the curious thing about hearts – the difference between winning and losing could be one card.
Merlin knew that he was the ace of the group. On one side, he was harmless. On the other?
He was the most dangerous of them all.