Summary: In the Kingdom of Spades, the clocks choose the rulers, but many distrust the most recent choice of Queen. Caught between the demands of love and duty, Arthur and Alfred must find a way to save Spades and themselves before it's too late. Cardverse/Cardtalia. USUK.
Rating: T for swearing, violence, drinking, implied sexy times, and minor character death.
Pairings: The main pairing is USUK. There's also background FrUK and one scene of PortUK, as well as brief mentions of other pairings. Be prepared for fluff, angst, smexiness, and more fluff.
Are you just interested in reading USUK? Skip to Chapter 4. The story should mostly make sense.
Chapter One: Blue Blood
In which two important clocks are introduced, a birthday ball is held, Arthur insults his brothers, and a young man becomes Queen.
In the Kingdom of Spades, the clocks choose the rulers. Or to be more precise, two clocks choose the rulers: the Queen's Clock, a golden and ornate timepiece placed in a position of honor in the castle's Grand Hall, and the Princess Clock, a smaller, but no less magnificent piece standing at its side. As long as the King, Queen, and Jack reigned, the three hands of the Queen's Clock would softly tick, marking the steady passage of their rule. During these times of a full royal house, the Princess Clock would choose their successors. The hands pointed to 12, until the 18th birthday of the chosen heir. On that day, at precisely midnight, the correct hand would begin to move, signaling the selection of a suitable successor. The second hand for the Jack, the minute hand for the Queen, and the hour hand for the King.
Spades, despite its small size, was a wealthy country. The tiny island nation had established territorial strongholds throughout the world, claiming lands based on its undisputed control of the sea. As a result of numerous wars with the other Kingdoms of Cards, Spades had gained and lost many lands, but consistently maintained its wealth, its power, and its naval supremacy. For as long as anyone could remember, Spades had been ruled by a King, a Queen, and a Jack. Each position controlled one aspect of ruling the country, ensuring an orderly distribution of power. The Jack managed internal finances and administration, the Queen dealt with trade and war, while the King made all final decisions and led the country.
However, even royalty are not immune to accidents. When a King, Queen, or Jack died before their time or before they resigned, their hand on the Queen's Clock stopped ticking once it reached midnight and the country began the wait for the 18th birthday of the new royal. And so it came to pass in the 8th year of the 12th King's reign that a terrible fall storm sank the royal vessel bearing the King and Queen on their return voyage from a diplomatic mission to the Kingdom of Clubs. Their hands froze at 12 on the Queen's Clock on the day they died, leaving no doubt that the two royals had drowned along with the rest of the crew. The country dutifully mourned the loss of their King and Queen, who had ably ruled during a time of peace and plenty.
In the midst of the nation's mourning, the youngest of the nobles carefully hid their thrill of excitement. The Queen's Clock did not leave royal seats open for long, even in times of peace. It was the tradition among noble families to host an 18th birthday party for their child in the elegant Grand Hall. At midnight, all of the party guests would pause to watch the clock breathlessly for a sign of movement—the birthday celebrant hoping for a hand to move and all of the younger guests hoping it would not. Although no one would be crass enough to discuss it openly, many nobles placed bets on who would be chosen. Everyone expected a new King or Queen to be selected soon.
Several months after the shipwreck, Gavan Kirkland's family hosted an extravagant party for his 18th birthday in the Grand Hall. Many bets were placed on Gavan since he was the handsome and well-educated son of a very wealthy and very old noble family with a distinguished history of military leadership. Indeed, Alice Kirkland had been Spade's 8th Queen, earning wide renown for her military brilliance. Stuart Kirkland, the eldest of the Kirkland sons, had already risen to the position of Vice Admiral within the Navy despite his relative youth.
On the eve of Gavan's birthday, the Grand Hall was brightly lit with many chandeliers as the Kirklands and their guests danced and ate, waiting impatiently for midnight. Stuart and Gavan enjoyed the attentions of young ladies drawn in by the allure of wealth and power. Even their brothers Seamus and Peter had no lack of dance partners, despite the fact that Seamus was generally considered a bit of a drunkard and Peter was only 6. The only Kirkland son not enjoying the party was Arthur Kirkland, 4th son and least loved of the Kirkland clan. Although he participated in the same military training as his brothers and performed ably—particularly in naval exercises and archery—Arthur's primary love was literature. His brothers' teased him as a momma's pet because he enjoyed gardening, embroidery, and music. They also teased him for continuing to believe in fairies, even though he was almost 17 years old.
Arthur spent the evening scowling, leaning against the wall and just waiting for the night to end. He enjoyed dancing well enough, but none of the young ladies interested him or seemed interested in him (another topic that generated teasing from his older brothers). By the end of the night, Arthur was sitting on the floor with his youngest brother curled up in his lap. Peter was his favorite sibling—not because the boy was sweet (he wasn't)—but simply because he was too young to be as cruel as Arthur's older brothers.
Stuart's red hair flashed past on the dance floor and soon Arthur could see his brother taking a smoking break near the doorway. For once, his mother had actually prevailed on her eldest son to not smoke indoors. Even surrounded by a haze of smoke he drew in a crowd of admirers who laughed at his jokes and cooed at the "charming" brogue Stuart had adopted during his training in the north of Spades. Arthur personally thought it sounded ridiculous and not at all like a proper noble's accent. He was sure that if he started to talk like a commoner people would mock him, but they loved Stuart's silly accent.
At ten minutes until midnight, a short woman with dark brown hair in two buns on her head entered the room and stood not too far from where Arthur was sitting, well out of the way of the other revelers and guests. Arthur looked up and regarded the woman with surprise.
"You're the Jack, aren't you?" Arthur asked.
"Yes, yes, aru, Chun-Yan Wang, xìnghuì, xìnghuì," the woman replied distractedly.
"Well, for your sake I hope my brother isn't chosen, he's a right pain in the arse."
Chun-Yan glanced at Arthur in surprise. "It's not my place to chose, aru," she said, shrugging. They both lapsed into silence. Chun-Yan stared into the distance, likely thinking about the finances for the country and hoping she would not have to shoulder the burdens of running the nation single-handedly for much longer. Arthur absent-mindedly patted his brother's head and wished he could just go home.
When Arthur's pocket-watched showed that it was a minute to midnight, he joined the other guests in watching the large Queen's clock. Midnight came and went, but the clock's hands refused to move. For a quarter hour, Gavan also refused to move, insisting that the other watches in the room had the wrong time and that it was not yet midnight. Then he said that perhaps the hour hand had moved and they just needed to wait a little longer. Gavan did not give up until Lord Kirkland firmly proclaimed at half-past midnight that he was leaving and Gavan could either join them in the carriage or walk home.
They rode home in chilly silence. Arthur did not smile (not a difficult task, since he smiled so rarely), but inside he was secretly pleased that for once he was not the one receiving the brunt of his father's disappointment. As glanced out the window, it occurred to Arthur that it was rather strange the Jack had smiled when she saw that Gavan had not been chosen. He would have thought she was desperate for some help running the country. Perhaps she had been inclined to believe Arthur's words about Gavan being an asshole.
On Arthur's 18th birthday, the Kirkland family did not bother to host a party. After all, Arthur had no friends to invite and no marriage prospects (his furious scowl and grouchy attitude tended to scare off even the most determined social ladder climbers). The family probably would have skipped visiting the clock altogether, but it was a long-standing tradition, and the Kirklands believed firmly in tradition. At a quarter to midnight, Arthur and his parents entered the large room and waited in silence. Arthur's brothers had declined to come, pointing out that there really was no need. At a few minutes before midnight, the Jack entered, looking much wearier since the last time Arthur had seen her over one year ago. She still looked young, despite the fact that she had ruled as Jack for over a decade, but something in her eyes seemed impossibly old and wise at the same time.
"Jack Wang," Lord Kirkland said, arching an impressively large eyebrow, "you really didn't need to come tonight."
"Lord Kirkland, I attend all celebrations, aru," Chun-Yan said with a hint of reproach. She turned towards Arthur, "Where is your little brother tonight?" she asked.
"You mean Peter?" Arthur asked, surprised the Jack had remembered their brief discussion over a year ago. Then again, people said that very little escaped this Jack's notice, which was probably the reason Spades had remained so stable for the past year and a half despite lacking two of its key rulers. "He's at home sleeping, it's a little past his bedtime."
"I have a younger brother myself, aru."
"Really? I hope he's better-behaved than Peter. Peter can be a right terror."
"You have not met Hong," replied Chun-Yan with a half smile.
"Well, looks like it's time to—" Lord Kirkland began to speak, but fell silent as he looked at the Queen's clock. The others turned to stare at the clock, where the minute hand ticked merrily, already marking two minutes past midnight.
"That's not… were there any other nobles with birthdays today?" Lord Kirkland asked, an unusual hesitancy in his voice.
Chun-Yan looked similarly stunned for a moment, but she quickly regained her composure. "The King's Clock can confirm the choice," she said, pulling a small, spade-shaped clock out of her pocket. When it hung from the golden chain, the face of the clock appeared blue, but as Chun-Yan touched it the clock cast a golden glow. Chun-Yan silently removed the chain from her belt and handed the clock to Arthur.
As soon as his hands touched the clock, Arthur saw himself standing in a gray version of the Grand Hall. The ground shook beneath him and the Hall was split down the middle by a yawning chasm. The fissure spread from the Castle into the harbor, cutting the capital city of Ace in two beneath a gray sky. Then in a flash he was on the docks staring at ships in the distance, sailing on calm blue seas under a brilliant blue sky. In the harbor, he could see two blond boys on a ship, pulling in a net full of fish. One of the boys waved, but before he could say anything, Arthur was standing in the Kirkland family home while it went up in flames.
Arthur came back to himself and realized that no one had moved. The visions had passed before his eyes between one second and the next. His parents were still staring at the King's Clock, glowing in Arthur's hands. Chun-Yan finally broke the silence. "Welcome, Queen Arthur," she said calmly.
"Would you like this back?" Arthur finally managed to say, indicating the glowing watch in his hand. Thousands of questions whirled in his, primarily 'Why me?' and 'What did I just see?', but this was the only one that came to his lips.
Chun-Yan simply shook her head and sighed. "It's yours for now."
Arthur looked up at his parents, who still seemed to be in a state of shock. "Oh honey, I'm so proud," Arthur's mom said, the first to find her voice, while Lord Kirkland stood silently. She reached out her arms for a hug and Arthur returned the embrace. "I guess we should have had a party," she mused.
"It's fine," Arthur reassured her, secretly glad that his brothers were not present. He was pretty sure at least one would have tried to murder him. He turned to Chun-Yan, "What happens now?" he asked.
"I will show you to the Queen's quarters and we make plans for the coronation in the morning." Chun-Yan inclined her head towards the door and began walking.
"Good night, mother," Arthur said. He spared one more glance at his still-silent father, before he turned on his heels and followed Chun-Yan to the inner section of the castle and his new life as the Queen of Spades.
Stuart = Scotland, Gavan = Wales, and Seamus (SHAY-mus) = Ireland.
Chun-Yan = fem!China. I decided to use Nyotalia China for a few reasons, but mostly because I found that I couldn't write an interesting Yao.
Lord Kirkland isn't a country, he's just a bit of an asshole (it runs in the family, obviously).
Xìnghuì, xìnghuì (幸会,幸会) = "pleased to meet you" or "how do you do" (formal). I'm writing the Mandarin phrases in pinyin because it looks pretty strange to have random Chinese characters in the dialogue.
EDIT: Translation improved, thanks to The Awesome Squiggle