Title: Suit of Dissonance 1/?
Genre: Cardsverse Fantasy AU, How To Rebuild A Kingdom 101 (romance, general fantasy)
Characters/Pairings: Alfred, Arthur, Matthew, Yao | Eventual Alfred/Arthur
Summary: Alfred finds out that it's not easy ruling a kingdom. Not when your apparently-insane late father leaves it to you in a sorry state. Not when your new Queen has weird eyebrows and refuses to listen. Cardsverse!AU.
Chapter Summary: Alfred escapes his own coronation ball, and bumps into one errant Time Mage.
Notes: Multi-chaptered collab fic again! Based on our interpretation of Himaruya's Cardsverse. Comments and feedback always welcome.
The news came in the form of a young, chirpy boy.
"Mister Kirkland!" He exclaimed as he threw the doors to the small wooden cottage open. "- Sir!" He added hastily, eyes ablaze with some great excitement, "The King is dead!"
Arthur Kirkland paused for a moment, his cup of tea half-raised to his lips. It was a cool morning after a midnight shower, and the chill in the air clung to the edges of his skin - the kind of morning that called for a warm cup of tea and a nice thick book and not the kind of morning for news like this. He raised a brow. "What, the frog finally kicked the bucket? Good riddance."
He had seen the King of Diamonds just a day ago, parading the streets in his usual foppish air of glamour and decadence - a week ago he had turned yellow daisies into a shower of coins, yesterday he was sprinkling wine onto cobbled streets (a perfect waste of good wine, Arthur thought) - and though it was quite hard to believe that he was just suddenly dead in a day, Arthur Kirkland didn't really mind. Not too much anyway. The nation's stability would be a problem but the court was fairly competent, or as competent as courts could be so-
"No no! Not King Francis!" The boy let out a rather loud and exasperated sigh. "You know. The King."
Arthur stood up. "The King?" He repeated. "The King of Spades? Alphonsus? He's dead?"
"Yep! Passed away due to poor health or madness or something two days ago! The streets are bursting with the news!" He didn't seem to pay any attention to how Arthur had to put down his cup of tea. "The Time Mages are celebrating! We can go back now, sir! Go back and claim what is rightfully ours and-"
"I'm not going."
"But-" His refusal was apparently expected, judging by the immediate rebuttal. "You're one of the most powerful Time Mages and you've worked for the King before! If we're going to overthrow the current government surely-"
"I'm not going." Arthur turned back to pick up his cup of tea once more. "Getting a little too old for that."
The boy laughed at that, a genuine tittering laugh that echoed around the room (empty, except for a shelf of books and a rug on the floor). "You're really funny, sir!"
"... They're leaving aren't they." Arthur sipped his tea. The morning chill had got to it, he realised with a grimace. Outside the window he saw the rest of them, all in cloaks of dark slate blue, waiting. For him? "When?"
"Tonight. They're going to get to the new King before he's crowned."
The cloaked shadows outside barely moved. Sometimes the smaller ones would give an impatient twitch, but otherwise they were watching from under their hoods, completely silent. An awkward bunch, Arthur found himself thinking despite everything; all odd shapes and unequal sizes, and too many bent over and slightly crooked. He knew why they were here.
"Revenge." The word was raw on his tongue, a little too shaky for his own liking. "I'll see."
"You'll come with us." The boy was cheerfully reassured, repeating the words told to him by many others, no doubt. Very confident, Arthur noted, before realising that there was no reason for him to not be. That no one would expect Arthur Kirkland to do otherwise. "This is for you too, as much as it is for us."
"This ball is for you, Alfred," repeated Yao exasperatedly, for what seemed like the hundredth time that night. "You can't just leave."
Standing beside him dressed in full ceremonial robes, similar to Alfred's own but a tone darker in colour, Matthew merely rolled his eyes, muttering under his breath about duty and responsibility; and that, Alfred thought to himself, is exactly why Matthew should have become king instead.
The whole affair, in all of it's bronze-gilt and royal blue trimmings, which were apparently in season, rubbed Alfred the wrong way in every way possible.
The evening had passed in a blur and had involved too many courtly courtesies and too many names of too many lords and earls and what-nots (What was the difference between a lord and an earl anyway? They looked about the same and just about equally fat-) that Alfred could barely remember. It was encounter after encounter of polite nodding on his part and attempting to sound intelligent, then after that it was a round of formal ballroom dancing with said earl or lord's daughter. And it wasn't as if the ladies had been unattractive or anything of that sort, but Alfred hated the ball and the courtly facade he had to put on and all the formal greetings and ways of saying and doing things and the velvet draperies and golden cutlery and gobblets and the music from the orchestra and on top of that he really, really hated dancing.
He had danced with the tenth lady, a young maiden whose features were staring to meld in with the previous five - and was her name Amelia or Amanda or Ashley? - and finally, with a frozen smile on his face, excused himself. He then shut himself in one of the back rooms and refused to come out. Not even after Yao and his brother showed up because the rest of the court were wondering where the hell their new king disappeared to, or did he eat something that did not settle well with his stomach?
It was definitely not the food that was causing a problem, Alfred thought to himself glumly, shifting uncomfortably in his too-heavily starched robes, scratching the back of his neck where the tall collar with its scratchy fabric had attached itself to for the previous hour or so.
He had grown up on a healthy diet of sneaking out of the castle and being with the people, not being put above them in any way or expected to act like some royalty. He cared little enough for balls in general, especially not one that involved so much stiffling pretenses of good upbringing, or whatever else his position entailed. Alfred found the whole tradition to be utterly ridiculous, right down to Aequitas, the gold, spade-shaped pocket-watch - insignia of the King of the Spades Kingdom.
King of the Spades Kingdom, Alfred thought to himself, running his thumb along the raised gold ridge of Aequitas. The title didn't sit well with him at all.
He had always thought Matthew would be King. Alfred never liked thinking about the day when his father wouldn't be around, regardless of how much of an absentee-father he became in his later years. But when he did fall into that line of thought, Matthew taking his place as the next King seemed like the only logical option. Disregarding Matthew's slight physical weakness, Alfred failed to understand why they wouldn't have Matthew inherit the throne instead. They were twins, yes, which put them on equal standing in line to be the next King, but everything else about them screamed difference. And Alfred was pretty sure that if everyone bothered to think carefully about their differences for once they would see it his way too.
Alfred was the charming one, the golden boy, as Matthew so drily put it. He was the one who made the servants coo at him, the one who skipped classes to sneak out of palace grounds to play tag with the kids in the lower town. Matthew was the one who picked up Alfred's robes after he vacated them, sat through his classes and lay resting in his bed, reading, because the court physicians had deemed bed rest a suitable hobby.
'S not like the king has to do much running around, Alfred thought, kicking at the ground with the toe of his boot. Obviously.
As far as Alfred was concerned, the highest position he should hold in court - which was all about responsibility and duty and manners and behaving in the right way - was probably the errand boy. Or maybe a Knight, if he wanted to so flatter himself with the title.
"Alfred," sighed Yao, "I'm serious aru. You need a Queen." He fiddled with his ponytail irritably, pulling at the sleeves of his own robes. "More than a coronation ball, that is the purpose of this ball aru. You saw what happened to your father's reign when your mother-"
Matthew laid a hand on Yao's shoulder. "Yao? Maybe you could... Prepare the next group of ladies. I'll handle Alfred, god knows I'm a little more practiced at it, eh?"
Giving Matthew a sideways look (he knew of the brothers' tricks and plans, he'd watched them grow up after all), he gave both of them a cursory bow, before pushing aside the layered gauze hangings to re-enter the main hall.
Alfred held Matthew's gaze steadily. They knew how they worked, their dynamic, the very way the other brother thought.
"Al, you know this is important." No one could ever blame Matthew for not trying.
"Everything's important now," muttered Alfred, still toeing the ground.
Matthew sighed, running a hand through his hair. "You need to do this, Alfred. Just like everything else. You're King now and you can't just-"
"You can do it for me!"
Alfred held Matthew's gaze this time, determined not to be the first to look away in their little private battle of wills. Matthew looked Alfred dead in the eyes. "I can't always do everything for you, Al. Not forever. Not this," He stated, his arm sweeping over the masses of people in the main hall behind them, amassed on Alfred's behalf, to celebrate the new King of the Spades Kingdom.
Alfred knew that Matthew, too, thought such an extravagantly lavish and altogether far too joyous ball was in horribly bad taste, after their father's hurried funeral.
"Once more, Mattie," weedled Alfred. "C'mon, please? I'll owe you one. I hate this place, I hate it more than you do, you know that. You know I hate it. I hate these clothes, I hate the fact that we're up here and not down there, where all the people are. Where all our people are Mattie, and that's not even a fraction of them down there!" Alfred cried, pushing himself up from his seat. "You were always better at this whole smile-and-wave thing, you were the ones who took all the damn classes on which fork to use and which style of robes goes for which kind of event and- Mattie please?"
"Alfred, you're trying to meet your future partner here." Matthew tried. "Don't you, I don't know, kinda want to be around for that?" He tapped the un-ticking Aequitas, hanging from Alfred's right pocket. "You kinda need to be around for that too."
Alfred snorted, incredulous. "Matt, it's just a damn watch. A damn watch which doesn't work and-"
"- It's supposed to start ticking when you meet the next Queen, you know that and-"
"- AND," Alfred continued, raising his voice to be heard over Matthew's irate tone, unclipping Aequitas, waving it around in Matthew's face. "We don't even know if the damn thing works!"
Matthew huffed, shoving Alfred's offending hand away. "Of course it works, don't be stupid. It's the insignia of the King, and- And it's been used for generations, of course it works!"
"You saw how often Dad dropped it!" Alfred cried. "It might have, I dunno, gotten broken! Do you know how ridiculous it is to just sit around all night to wait for someone, who's presence or aura or whatever, would magically make this clock tick?"
"I KNOW!" Matthew shouted, in a moment of pure irritation, which shut Alfred up considerably. Matthew didn't make a habit of raising his voice often, which just gave more power to the times that he did. "I know," Matthew repeated, softer, running a hand through his hair irritably. "I think it's just as ridiculous as you but- But you have to do this Al. It's tradition. It's for the kingdom."
Alfred drew his gaze down to their shoes, both black and polished and inches apart. Guilt never sat well with him either, but it was the lesser of the two evils.
"Please Matt just- Just once more please?" He didn't look up to watch the crumble of Matthew's expression, only felt the tug at his sleeve, as Matthew pulled them behind the curtains, already unbuttoning his own coat.
God knew that they were already practiced enough at this.
Running down a poorly cobbled street in breeches, and a thin, mended coat, Alfred felt the streets echo of home far more than the palace he'd been living in his whole life.
When they were younger, Matthew would poke and laugh at him, saying that he was meant to be a carpenter's or mechanic's son, destined to roam the streets in the suspenders and shirtsleeves he loved so much. Alfred would bite his tongue over the retort, that Matthew then, must've been acutely suited to the life of royalty, hidden away in the chambers, taking bedrest and classes which technically, Alfred had a part in putting him in, whilst he crept through the thick shrubbery which lined the back of the castle, darting into the streets.
He loved everything about the lower towns. The first time he had run off, he'd skipped past the higher estates of the aristocrats, following his stomach (and his heart, as Matt was so fond of mocking) to the rich, heady smell of roasting meat and baking pies. Alfred had pulled his newsboy cap low on his head, in a poor attempt to obscure his face, before sticking a bronze coin over the counter.
"A slice of co'ish pasty, m'am, please?" He had said, in his best village accent, not daring to look up past the counter, lest the shopkeeper recognized him and sent him back. They can't do that, can they, Alfred had worried, in the short pause between his words and the reply. T-They won't tell Dad or Yao or-
"'Ere y'go, lad. Now scamper off."
Relieved, Alfred snatched the slice off, not bothering to look at the amused look on the lady's face.
He had sampled all the pies in the shop since then.
"Back again are we, Alex?" She'd fondly smile, as Alfred slipped her a few coins. "Yeap! Your pasties are as fantastic as always, m'am!" He'd say, before running off to play with the other kids around the block.
It was the childhood he never really had, Alfred would justify to himself. It's not my fault for wanting to reclaim what I didn't get, he'd think stubbornly, every time he gave Matt his coat and lesson plans for the day, before running off.
Walking down the streets, nineteen and a new King, Alfred felt his stomach tug him towards the pasty shop. The route down to the lower towns was a long one, but it didn't matter which turn he took so long as he moved in the direction of the tilt in the ground. The cobbled streets were sloped downwards, which sped up the process of reaching and made going back to the castle a particularly weary and tiring journey up. Sometimes Alfred would wonder if that had somehow contributed to his blatant dislike for the castle.
The houses in the upper town were more or less empty, Alfred noted as he brisk-walked down the slope, trying not to break into the run his twelve-year-old self was most accustomed to. Most of the residents were probably at the ball anyway. He turned at the next corner, slipping into an alleyway which he had memorized as a shortcut. The price of the shortcut, Alfred had learnt many years ago, was the terrible stench of garbage and the sewers that lingered the back alleyways of the upper town. It didn't matter all that much to him now, since it wasn't as if the lower town smelt any better.
The first thing I'd do, as King-
The thought trailed off there. Slightly shaken that for a moment he had almost eased into the single position he didn't want to take up, Alfred shook his head a few times to rid his brain of that thought. His boot squelched into something. Alfred grimaced, but pulled it out and gave his foot a pointed shake - not that it would help; he recalled the many times he had returned to the palace and caused a huge racket because the maids caught scent of what they described as rotten vegetables mashed together with dog poop, even when he had wiped his shoes before heading back - and squinted in the dark to find what was hopefully a dry patch of ground-
- only to hear something brush across the top of his head.
The thing hit the ground in front of him with a loud clunk, and several more successive clatters as it rolled. Alfred squinted again. Was that a bin-
"Tch, missed him."
"It's okay, we don't have a shortage of bins."
"Oy! What's the King doing out on the streets tonight, eh?"
Alfred held up both his hands as he turned around slowly. "W-would you believe me if I said I had a sudden craving for pasties...?" He tried, swallowing hard. He could make out the form of a small crowd - no more than ten, but not much less than that either. The advisors' reports never failed to tell the truth, and Alfred knew that the poorer citizens were upset. With the given living conditions, poor sanitation, air quality, lack of jobs and everything, he honestly didn't blame them.
But I'm trying dammit! Give me some time or-
"Cat got ya tongue, oh great King of Spades?" One girl spat at him, which Alfred flinched back from involuntarily. "Did a little rubbish put you off?" She sneered, kicking a rotten apple in his direction. "Well I'm sorry your highness, but maybe you should come over to the Lower West then, shouldn't you?"
"Or are you just mocking us," she taunted, reaching out for Alfred's shirtsleeve, "coming 'round 'ere in what must be damn rags to you, to laugh at the piss poor state your father had us live in?" She looked at him right in the eyes. "Or are you here to tell us to vacate our homes again-" Her fist trembled, anger held back by a thinning thread, as she stepped even closer yet"- Again, so that you and your sodding court can choose to-"
Alfred took a step back, hands still held in front of him. His other boot squelched into something else, but he couldn't really be bothered by that now. "No! I'm not-"
The rest of the crowd were closing in on him too, Alfred noted with slight alarm. Most of them were grown men, middle aged workers, judging from their clothes and their build. What was decidedly the most alarming part about them was really what they were holding in their hands; bins were alright, he didn't mind mud or a fair bit of bruising, but he was pretty sure that was a metal wrench in someone's hand, and in the hands of the most burly of the men he was pretty sure he saw something sharp glinting in the dimly lit alleyway.
"Should be getting rid of you before you have the chance to pull off what your father did." Someone muttered. Grunts of agreement sounded around him.
"Or worse." Someone added. "You know how royalty is. All they care about is what they can take from us-"
"We don't need anymore bloody kings!"
It was a blessing, Alfred found himself thinking - rather absurdly, he had to add - in that split second, that the first blow came from the man with the wrench rather than the man with the sharp object. If he raised his arm he could probably block it, and then maybe if he turned and ran-
Time. He thought, with a rising panic in his chest. I just need some time, and then I can fix whatever Dad put all of you through-
And that was when time stopped.
(Ironic, Alfred would think to himself many months later; it was almost as if his wish had come true.)
Well, he wasn't really sure if time had stopped, but it most certainly felt like it did. It was like one of those tapestries that decorated the corridors of the palace, where people were frozen in a moment, their poses all iconic and telling whatever the story was supposed to be. (There was a word for this, Matthew had told him about it after he had skipped that particular lesson on Appreciating Arts and all that, but he had never bothered to register it to memory, because seriously, Arts?) The man in front of him frozen in mid-roar, facial features rather funnily scrunched up in anger (it was funny, despite everything else), the wrench a few inches away from the side of Alfred's head. And his arm was a few inches away from where he needed it to be, but it refused to move.
The rest of the crowd too, were frozen, and none of them moved as a cloaked figure calmly walked through them, plucking various tools and makeshift weapons out of their hands. It took a while longer for him (it looked like a him, at least, judging from the stature to the shape of the body slightly obscured by a slate blue cloak) to wrestle the offending wrench out of the man's hand.
"I'd suggest waiting a few more weeks before you tried that, really."
The next moment, gravity and force came back into control. Alfred found himself punching the air (he had been trying really hard to move his arm just now) at the same time he was shoved off to one side. The angry man fell forward, losing his balance and landing face-first on the ground.
The confusion in the alley was eminent. Mumbles of what just happened and surprised looks at Alfred ("How did he get there?") and much looking around, the makeshift weapons that they had, all suddenly gone. The confusion even momentarily distracted everyone from the new presence in the alleyway.
Alfred stared. "What did you just-"
The cloaked figure dropped all the articles he had collected on his way there. They fell, in a strange orchestra of clangs and clunks and dull thuds. Back facing Alfred, he held up both hands.
"I am not saying he does not have any responsibility for the crimes of his father, of course. I just thought that it probably isn't too fair that he hasn't had the chance to do anything yet."
The accent - which was really the only thing Alfred could attempt to use as a means of identification - sounded local enough, with the tilt and clipped tones of what he would expect from someone of higher class. Someone from the castle? But he didn't remember any of the servants with a voice like this. Or the ability to do whatever this man just did.
"Who are you!" The girl rushed forward to help the man who had been holding the wrench. He waved her away, dusted himself off as he dragged himself up, sneering,
"Palace guard, probably. Here to collect your precious King?"
There was no answer to that from the cloaked figure. Instead, he turned around to look at Alfred, "That is, under the assumption that you are planning on doing something about this."
"O-of course, I-" He swallowed. Just a few minutes ago he had been trying to shove off Kingship to Matthew. Just a few minutes ago the only thing that he had equated with Kingship was a boring ball where he had to entertain placid aristocrats who talked about things like the latest fashion and luxury goods from the Diamond Kingdom and Could the King of Spades consider lowering the taxes as a little favour to the Earl of so-and-so?
But that wasn't it was it? Alfred steadied himself. If he wanted to change anything, do anything for these people, surely the only thing left for him to do was-
"Whatever my Father has done- I'll fix it. To make this Kingdom a better place for all the people. That's my only priority as King."
The cloaked man held his gaze for a moment, before turning back to the crowd. "You heard him."
There was an unsettled silence amongst the crowd. A few of them exchanged looks. Murmured whispers. Maybe, perhaps we should-
"Filthy lies!" It was the shrill shriek of the girl that broke the silence. "That's what your bloody father said before he decided to take away everything that we've-"
Her screams were interrupted by a roar of approval. The man on the floor had leapt up, fists bared as he barrelled towards the man in the cloak. Possibly to get past him, or maybe in an attempt to take him down first, but the next moment time had stopped again. It was only for a brief pause, maybe a few seconds, but the cloaked figure had side-stepped the attack, his hand catching the man's wrist and pulling it backwards, twisting it as he pressed it against the man's back. His other arm locked around the man's neck.
The man let out a strangled choke.
"Hey! Hey! Stop that!" Alfred did the first thing that came to mind. He grabbed the cloaked figure by the shoulder. Possibly a bad move, considering what the man was capable of doing in such a short time, but it wasn't as if he could do anything else. "Like, seriously! The guy's in pain!"
There was a slight pause. Alfred could barely make out any facial features from under the shadow of the hood, but he was pretty certain that the man had green eyes, and he was looking at him like he was out of his mind.
Another beat passed, and the cloaked figure stepped back, releasing his hold on the man, who in turn fell to his knees, coughing and gasping for air at the same time.
"You alright?" His hand was slapped away before he could touch the man on his shoulder. The rest of the crowd murmured some more as he struggled to get on his feet. Only the girl - his daughter, judging from her reaction just now - came forward to help him up. She glared at him as they walked away. The rest of the crowd followed, throwing uneasy glances over their shoulders, not at him, but at the cloaked figure this time.
Alfred licked his lips, watching their retreating forms.
"H-hey!" He called out, voice cracking pathetically to his own dismay. "I'm serious! What I said just now, I-!"
The girl and her father didn't stop; none of the villagers did.
Alfred waited for three seconds before deflating. "Whoaaa all that for a pasty... I think I'm full now." Not really caring how clean the wall behind him was, he leant back against it and tried to remember how to breathe properly.
"Uhm," He looked over to the cloaked figure, who was still there, (thank god, with how he suddenly appeared Alfred almost thought that he would just suddenly poof and disappear too) "- whoever you are, thanks I guess?"
"What the hell are you doing outside the castle without your guards?"
"Or are you blissfully ignorant about what the people in this Kingdom think of you?"
"Then just what do you think you are doing?"
"I- the ball was boring okay? I needed to breathe!"
"What are you, a ten year old?"
"Then act like one!" The cloaked figure snapped. "If you are going to be King the least you could do is to realise what it means to be in your position! Sneaking out of an important event like that without bothering to bring people along to protect you is a shoddy attempt at pretending to be an adult!"
"Who the hell are you to tell me all that!" It was more than slightly unnerving to meet a stranger who talked to you like they knew you for ages, Alfred decided. He frowned at the man, wondering if his best impression of a not-so-pleased teenager was showing in the terrible lighting conditions of the alleyway. "I mean, I don't even know you and you're talking to me like you're my-"
Mother, the word was on the tip of his tongue. He swallowed.
The cloaked figure said nothing, crossing his arms.
Alfred found himself bristling at the sheer smugness that seemed to emanate from that single gesture. He calmed down, irritably, when he realised that he had nothing in his possession which could take the other man down.
"I-I'm sorry, okay? I've snuck out of the castle all this time and there's never been a problem... A-And I know the ball's important and all that, Mattie's been all over it already- God don't I know it- but it's just stupid and all those earls or lords or whatever smell funny and they're all boring and stuck-up and- And seriously, what type of stupid tradition is waiting for a clock to tick in the presence of your One True Love or whatever else they call it anyway?"
"I believe it's less of 'One True Love' and more of a suitable partner for ruling over the-"
"I think," Alfred interrupted, pulling Aequitas out of his pocket in a flourish, "This stupid clock is broken. I mean, it's been an entire evening and it's not even tick-"
The first tick echoed around them, mockingly.
"No," the man breathed, incredulous. "That is- That is not doing what I think it is doing."
"No, of course not!" Alfred laughed. Too shakily. "I-It's not ticking at all!"
Aequitas seemed to stare at him back in the face, the golden second hand mocking him like a tutting tongue and a waving finger all at the same time.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Tada! New shiny AU! The storyline for this AU is pretty much charted out already, so all that's left to do is write it! Updates should come around once a week, so please be patient with us! Comments and feedback are always welcome. Check our Tumblr (link in our profile) for Hika's art and our drabbles. Thanks for reading!