A/N: Just a brief warning, there are scenes of mild violence, mild gore and death in this chapter.
There were four kingdoms in the known world.
The Kingdom of Clubs was a cold, barren land to the north. It was filled with harsh landscapes, large, snowy mountains and hard, untameable people. It had a reputation for being a warrior nation, full of the bravest and the best fighters, who were said to train for battle for years on end in the freezing wilderness of their homeland. They were the largest kingdom and by far the poorest, relying on trade for mercenaries in exchange for the essential goods that would not grow easily in the treacherous region. That was not to say they were not without resources entirely, for their mountains contained vast treasure troves of minerals and the Clubs were skilled at extracting them. Many of their old mines were then made into dwelling places to shelter from the freezing blizzards that plagued the kingdom. One such mine was so vast it became a city and was the winter capitol of the kingdom Lollock. In the summer, the royal court moved south to a city called Reylock which stood tall and proud next to the banks of the River Faelli. The south of the kingdom was taken up by this vast river, which snaked its way from the mountains down to the coast to the east and formed the boarder to the Kingdom of Hearts. Most of the towns and cities were dotted along the banks of the river, where fertile flood plains and slightly milder climes provided a more sustainable existence for the citizens.
The Kingdom of Hearts feared their northern neighbours, for they were a far more peaceful kingdom. Despite having a large surface area for their kingdom, their populace was comparatively small and most towns and trade were centred on the sea. Bright, colourful fishing villages and towns were spread out across the coast, with only rural farming communities tending to live in the dusty, cold steppe plains to the west and even they used the rivers to bring their produce to the coastal populations. The kingdom thrived on its seafaring and nobody knew how to navigate the waves as well as the Hearts. Boats were so commonplace throughout the kingdom that the capital city Halayia was found on a coastal island and could only be reached by a twenty-minute sailing ride. Their trade with the other kingdoms made them prosperous and content and they held a close relationship with Clubs, often providing them with the resources they lacked in exchange for the armies that Hearts could never successfully muster. To the south of their kingdom was a vast, evergreen forest, which stretched from coast to coast and marked the end of the steppe topography that took up so much of their kingdom. It also marked the boarders with the remaining two kingdoms.
The Kingdom of Diamonds was to the south and east of the Kingdom of Hearts and stretched along the coast. Diamonds was widely regarded as the most beautiful of the kingdoms because its scenery was simply breath-taking. The coast was lined with vast, golden sandy beaches which stretched to dunes inland and then wide, fertile plains, speckled with copses of woodland. Going further west, there were vast, glittering, crystal-clear lakes and gentle, rolling hills, covered with lush, thick grass and small, rural, peaceful farming communities. Further west, the forest dipped south, forming the border between Hearts and Spades. To the south of the kingdom was a breath-taking mountain range, whose snow-capped peaks reached to the heavens. Beyond that boundary were the wild peoples of the south and who knew what, for few who ventured into the wild mountains returned alive to tell the tale and most who did refused to tell anyway, although whispered rumours of deep magic were commonplace. The people of Diamonds were rich in resources, rich in happiness and loved all things beautiful and bountiful. They housed many immigrants from other kingdoms and were by far the most diverse and open-minded kingdom. They had no trademark passions, being competent at fighting, sea fairing and able to rely on their own resources. One thing they did have was history, being the oldest of the kingdoms and the libraries in the capitol city Diamonds were renowned for their vast stores of information.
Finally, there was the Kingdom of Spades. The smallest, youngest and in some ways most troubled of the kingdoms. Spades was once a part of Diamonds, but split from Diamonds due to a Royale blood feud, five centuries back. Since then, they had to strive to make their mark on the world when many of the other kingdoms hardly took them seriously. Their landscape was flat, fertile and mildly arid, being the warmest of the kingdoms. Settlements were scattered throughout the kingdom with little logic, although tended to cluster in the centre rather than near the forests or mountains that surrounded the land. Their boundaries stretched from the vast mountains to the south and west to the forest to the north and east, making them quite an isolated kingdom. The people of Spades were hard and more akin to Clubs than their Diamond ancestors. Most of all they were an intelligent people and were always technologically ahead of the other kingdoms, so that their towns, cities and infrastructure were almost otherworldly. Indeed, rumours whispered that the royals stole magic from the dark peoples south of the mountains to fuel their impressive advances. Rumour or not, no other kingdom used magic to select its royalty and the workings of the clock of Spades had inspired many great tales and legends.
Each kingdom had three royals. A Jack who was the chief advisor to both royals, counsels and officials and who kept an implicit understanding of both national and international affairs. They tended to be clever individuals, selected from noble families for their loyalty and intelligence. Nobody ever commented on how a certain ditzy Feliciano Vargas ended up as the Jack of Hearts. The Queens were figures of trade, diplomacy and war and handled most internal affairs in the kingdom. They tended to be strong, passionate personalities, who put their own kingdom before anything. In Clubs and Hearts, they were selected by the council and other royals from the noble families, whereas in Diamonds they were selected solely by the King. In Spades the clock magic selected all three of the royals. Finally, the kings came from deep bloodlines of royalty in three of the four kingdoms. The Kings were the highest figures of authority in the kingdoms and took overall charge of state affairs, the other royals and the councils. They had the final say in every affair and nobody could override their authority. It was a system that worked and every kingdom lived in relative peace, bar the odd, half-hearted scuffle or lively debate over borders or trade. They were in a golden age and no true war had taken place in many years. Generally, life was good for the known world.
The current monarchy of Spades was good and generous. King Andrew, Queen Ennella and Jack Joan where known for their gracious attitudes, their just decisions and their fair policies. They got on well with commoners, council members, their families and the other royals alike. Few people had an ill word to say about them and those who did tended to be the sought who had ill words to say about everyone bar themselves. The King and Queen had ruled Spades some twenty-three and twenty-four years respectively and the young Jack just two. The old monarchy having died of ill health and old age. They had led their people to a happy time of peace and plenty and loved their people almost as much as they loved one another. The King and Queen had been lovers before they had been monarchs and were overjoyed to marry and become royalty. Although it was not common for royals to marry, it bought great joy to the people when they did. The Jack was the Queen's second cousin and was more like a sister than a colleague to them both. The King and Queen even had two children, Crown Princes who were greatly loved by their people. The Jack was betrothed to a high-ranking, if young, noble from Diamonds who she loved dearly. All was well in Spades and the Future looked bright.
The palace of Spades was indescribably refined in its extravagance and elegance. On a bright sunny day, the grand, white, limestone walls stood gleaming, tall and proud. Each wall was inlaid it swirling patterns with many dark, blue sapphires that glistened in the sunlight and made the palace look like it was caught in an eternal blue fire. A large moat encircled thick walls that stretched five men high, which in turn surrounded grand turrets which were so tall they seemed to shake hands with the sky itself. Four, huge, solid oak, engraved doors formed the intimidating entry points to the palace, reached solely by four single bridges over an expansive, glittering moat (four bridges one for each gate that matched each compass point). The structures of the gates were both incredibly grand and also fashioned to formulate an almost impenetrable defence for those inside, with manned guard towers and extra subtle booby traps mingling with the beauty of the whirling, carved engravings.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the palace was the way how such a huge, towering structure was comprised of elements that were incredibly refined on the most minute scales. For example, the windows of the palace were each comprised of stained glass. Every window was uniquely designed to tell a story of the history of the Kingdom of Spades but none strayed from the dark blue colour scheme. Even the window ledges were decorated to an extraordinary length with little spade symbols so that the whole palace was a mark of patriotism, opulence and wealth. This level of detail was found across every inch of the expansive structure so that the phrase "no stone was left unturned" could be applied quite literally to the impressive fortress. The palace was a statement of power, highlighting the might of Spades, whilst retaining the practicality of defence and functionality that was required of it. It was the heart of the Spadian capital, Blue-Rose City and towered over the sprawling metropolis with a regal grace.
Despite the sheer beauty of the architecture, it was widely accepted that it was not the crowning glory of the palace. Indeed, the palace gardens of Spades were internationally renowned for their beauty and diversity of species and were widely regarded as the best and most beautiful thing about the Spadian city. Every season bought a new feel to the garden. In winter, the evergreens created a lush smell, while holly leaves made rich garlands throughout the palace. In spring, bright blossoms cascaded throughout the orchards and the rich, intoxicating smell of cherry blossoms wafted throughout the whole palace and into the town below. In the summer, gaudy flowers in multicoloured beds made the gardens delicate and beautiful; while lush plants and trees stretched their branches, and created cool shade from the hot sun. Autumn left intoxicating fruit in the orchards and soft hues across the grounds as the red, yellow and orange leaves fell into grand piles and carpeted the pathways with rich colours. Throughout the year, the blue roses of Spades bloomed constantly. The roses were large with each bloom reaching a good ten centimetres in diameter and each rose bush containing a dozen or more roses. The bushes had no thorns and reached a good six feet in height. They were only found in the innermost sanctum of the palace, being a sacred plant and were only allowed to be seen by the Spadian royals and the few, carefully chosen gardeners.
One such gardener was Arthur Kirkland. A waif of a fifteen-year-old, the petite lad had always had a close affinity with nature. His huge, forest green eyes had a timeless quality to them, as though they were crafted in the dark forests of the north themselves. His hair was a messy blonde and always had a faint hint of twigs, muck or leaves in it - a sign of too much time in the vast palace grounds. Often, he would walk barefoot and there was a hint of wild eccentricity about the young man. Occasionally, he would be caught talking to himself and he certainly spent more time with his beloved plants than with other people. However, all the other servants and their royal masters forgave his odd habits for his results - there was no plant that Arthur could not keep alive, healthy and beautiful and because of this he was allowed the honour of tending the Spade roses. It was rumoured that they had never bloomed more beautifully than they had under Arthur's tender care.
It was a bright, autumn morning and Arthur was in the sanctum. The sacred area was surrounded by bright stone walls and a single, wicker entry gate. It was a secluded spot and the very heart of the kingdom. Arthur loved it. There were no people, only flowers of such intoxicating and pure beauty and scent that he could never get used to being in their presence. He adored each and every rose and checked them over with great reverence every single morning. Arthur always feared that someone would come and steal a rose in the dead of night and he could not bear the thought of the damage that would cause to the remaining rose bushes. Picking up his watering can, he took the time to water each bush carefully in turn. The autumn rains kept the roses moist, but it had been a dryer season than usual and Arthur took no chances over the delicate, precious flowers.
He was so engrossed in his task that he failed to notice the gate open and a rosy cheeked teenager come running into the space until the boy came bowling over and crashed straight into the unsuspecting Arthur. Arthur let out a cry as he tumbled to the ground with a thump, sending his watering can flying and falling heavily onto his side. He looked up to find he was being squashed down by a grinning blonde boy. Green eyes met sapphire blue and for a moment time seemed to stand still as the two made eye contact for the first time. A strange feeling overcame Arthur and some part of him knew that these few seconds of eye contact would change his life forever. It was a strange, surreal moment and over almost before it began as the boy suddenly blushed and jumped quickly up to his feet.
"Well that didn't go to plan!" He proclaimed loudly, his shrill, childish and loud voice echoing in the stillness of the sanctum. Reaching down, he offered a hand to Arthur who ignored it, staring at the child in shock, completely unsure how to process the odd turn of events. The boy suddenly tilted his head and frowned, "I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"No... I am quite alright." Replied Arthur, his quiet, soft spoken voice a contrast to the boys. He cringed shyly, unused to conversations and slowly stood up, keeping well away from the other and close to the flowers he had been tending moments before.
"Oh...well that's good then!" The boy said awkwardly, before beaming a bright grin at Arthur, flashing dazzling white teeth at him. "My name is Alfred, Crown Prince Alfred F. Jones. Nice to meetcha!" He held out his hand to Arthur who stared at it for a while before reluctantly shaking it. Alfred could not help but notice that Arthur's fingers were shaking uncontrollably and the elder pulled away from the contact as soon as he could justifiably get away with.
"Arthur Kirkland." He replied simply, his gaze now at Alfred's feet. Arthur was a solitary boy and not given to converse to strangers for any great length of time. That did not mean to say he refused to be polite or he could not converse at length at all, it was simply that it was rare he did so. Not to mention he had never quite been able to trust anyone in the last four years that he had been living in the Spadian capitol.
"Arthur Kirkland? Ain't you the gardener?" Asked Alfred as he suddenly seemed to take stock of where he was, his blue eyes glancing around the garden with a merry twinkle. To Arthur, his eyes seemed to match the colours of the roses and were almost as dazzling in their unique beauty. The young man blushed a little at the thought, unsure where it came from.
"I am, yes."
"In which case..." Alfred abruptly trailed off and stepped over to Arthur, the teenager moving to fling his arms around Arthur in a sudden hug. The boy beamed a happy smile as he did so, taking great joy in his own gesture. "I've heard a bit about you from Father...and well...I always thought you needed a hug." He explained, his sweet innocence rather endearing.
Despite being two years younger than Arthur, Alfred already stood as tall as his elder and was considerably broader in shoulder. He was a good looking young man and was somewhat mature in form for his young age, muscular and tall, although still having a bit of youthful pudge. He was covered with a mop of thick, straw coloured hair with a small, unruly cowlick at the front. But the thing that made him the most attractive was his almost perpetual smile, on soft, rosy lips, which lit up his whole face and reflected deep within his large eyes, so that you could not help but feel more cheerful when you looked into his blue orbs. He dressed in simple clothing, brown scruffy trousers and a loose blue shirt with brown leather boots, his clothes belaying the wealth that he had at his disposal. The other feature of note was his glasses, which framed his face simply and made him look older and more mature than his personality or reputation would account for.
Arthur blushed bright red as the boy wrapped his arms around him, awkwardly looking at the floor as he completely froze up. Quietly he pondered how many years it had been since someone had last hugged him and was unable to come up with a suitable answer in his head. Unsure what to say or do, he simply stood there awkwardly, arms by his sides, neither pulling away nor returning the hug, until eventually Alfred pulled away and grinned at him merrily.
"You're just as shy as Father said." Alfred gazed at him for a time and Arthur felt as though the boy was looking into Arthur's very soul. Abruptly, he bounced up and down in excitement, "I know what! We should be friends!" He grinned, his joy unbridled, "Father is always saying I need more friends other than Matty, but they can't just let me go out and about because 'it's terribly not safe' and you're always in the palace and you're not much older than me so can we be friends. Please, please, please, please!" Alfred gave Arthur something of a puppy dog, pleading look as the other stared at him in unnerving silence.
"It is terribly unsafe." Was his eventual reply.
"It is terribly unsafe. The grammatically correct way of wording it." Arthur allowed him a small ghost of a smile as he spoke. "I won't stop you coming to talk to me, but I don't just become friends with someone overnight." The reserved, young gentleman replied in an uncommitted fashion as he moved to pick up the watering can again.
"Okay! I'll come talk to you again soon and we are going to like be the best friends ever." Gabbled the boy as he beamed another smile at Arthur. "Anyway, I should probably go and find Matty because he will be looking for me. See you soon Arthur!"
And with that, he waved enthusiastically and then he was off, disappearing through the small gate as quickly and abruptly as he came. Arthur rolled his eyes and tutted at his exuberance as he returned to his work, however he could not help but smile more than he had smiled in some time.
Several weeks later, Alfred returned to the inner sanctum. He quietly let himself in through the gate and bounced inside before looking around for Arthur. There was no sign of the other. Alfred let out a sigh, the first time he had managed to sneak off to find his new friend and he was not even there. Typical! Still, convinced he should show Arthur that he kept his promises, Alfred left a small pouch filled with sweets for the other, hoping that Arthur would realise that they were from him. Beaming with pride at his ingenuity the teenager ran off to find his brother again.
Arthur enjoyed the sweets immensely although he never worked out how they got into his garden.
Life returned to its normal, gentle rhythms for Arthur, after the strange encounter and the young man thought little of it as he concentrated on coaxing life and beauty into his beloved flowers. Autumn days passed slowly. The leaves turned many hues of gold and red and dropped down from the trees. The people gathered the harvests and prepared the abundance of food to see them through the winter. Traders set out to make their final journeys of the seasons. Arthur spent his time working hard, stealing scones from the palace kitchens and occasionally sneaking into the palace library to read. Although the servants and the royal family itself had a vague idea he did this, none bothered to stop him from this little pleasure, as he never let it get in the way of his work and he treated each book with the same reverence as he treated his gardens.
Meanwhile, Arthur would fill his head with epic tales of acts of courage and cunning from past Kings and Queens from across the four kingdoms. Of daring heroes who lit up dark times of war and created new eras of peace through their great and noble deeds of bravery. He read poetry that described the gardens and palace of Spades shifting throughout the seasons and told of human emotions such as love and loss. The pages told him great stories of myth and legend that were passed down by from Father to Son by word of mouth and eventually cast forever to paper. He read books about the era of the founding of Spades and all that entailed for the fledgling kingdom and the known world beyond. Most of all he read books that told tales of magic and mythology; of fairy queens and mighty dragons, of mischievous nymphs and sensual mermaids, of magic clocks and the royalty of Spades and the rumours of dark deeds from the magical kingdoms south of the mountains. Every tale filled his mind with awe and wonder and he locked away the secrets of the words in the dark recesses of his memory, only bringing them to light when he was safe and alone and could let his imagination run wild.
It was well after dark on a late autumn night and Arthur was sat in the library. The only light in the room was from the small fire in the fireplace and no candles were lit in the room. He was reading a history book that documented the founding of the Kingdom of Clubs. It told of how Arrabella the Beautiful broke the heart of the King of Diamonds and fled far north in her anguish, whereby she found a great land with a hard people and made them her own. Through her knowledge from Diamonds they learned many things and they made her their King, uniting their harsh lands under her great banner. Arthur had always enjoyed the tale of romance, heartbreak and unity and relished in the sense of peace that the words brought.
That was, until his peace was disturbed as a certain, familiar crown prince crept into the room. Arthur watched as Alfred snuck through the shadows and over to one of the far shelves before the youngster looked carefully through the volumes. He spent some time deliberating over the books before eventually selecting one which he slowly tugged down from the shelf. This simple action led to a cloud of dust to billow down on him and he sneezed uncontrollably causing Arthur to let out a small giggle. Alfred jumped a mile and turned quickly to face the other with wide, frightened eyes which relaxed upon seeing who it was.
"Woah! I thought you might be a ghost!" He exclaimed loudly, hugging his choice of book tightly to his chest.
"Not quite." Replied Arthur with a slight smirk lilting across his lips as the soft firelight danced over his pale features.
"What are you doing here? Are you even allowed to be here? It's so dark..." The nervous boy trailed off as he gazed expectantly at the other. Arthur paused, unused to sustained conversation and suddenly coming over shy as he sank into his chair a little.
"I am just reading, I have little other time to read other than in the dark." He paused again, "I suppose whether I am allowed to be here or not is up to you Crown Prince Alfred." Arthur stated humbly, his green eyes boring into the gentle blue as he expectantly waited for an answer.
Alfred hummed a moment before stepping closer, "I don't see why not! Long as you don't break anything, although I can't see why you would. I always thought the libraries should be more open access anyway but apparently it's bad form to teach servants to read." Alfred rolled his eyes as he spoke before frowning abruptly, "How do you know how to read?" He asked curiously, gazing at the other with deep intent.
"I wasn't always a servant." Arthur replied simply, clearly unwilling to say more and Alfred did not pry.
"What are you reading?"
"A history book from Clubs," Arthur explained, surprised at how easy it was to converse with the stranger, "it tells of the founding of Clubs." He held up the volume for Alfred to see.
The other came closer until he was almost leaning over the seated Arthur. Alfred tilted his head a little to read the title A History of Clubs: Volume I before abruptly bursting into fits of raucous giggles as he held out his own book for Arthur to see. Arthur blinked at him in confusion before a slow smile spread over his own features as he read out loud.
"A History of Clubs: Volume IV." He giggled loudly himself, joining in with Alfred's laughter, "Well goodness me!"
"It's fate that we must be friends!" Alfred exclaimed before moving to sit down beside Arthur abruptly. "Read to me?"
"Well…I'm not sure…" He hesitated.
"Go on, I'm sure you have a lovely voice." Alfred beamed at him, "Please?"
"I…I guess I could."
"Yay! You're the best Artie!" Alfred settled down comfortably, shuffling in his seat for a moment before beaming a smile at his newfound friend.
Arthur blushed a bright red, nodded slowly and silently pondered the last time anyone had been so kind and gentle with him. He could not recall. Slowly, he opened the book and nervously he began to read, his voice soon finding its natural rhythm and his tones became methodical and rich, easy to listen to and soothing.
"Arrabella found greater love for the lands beyond the river than any land she had hence seen..."
As the golden rays of early dawn slid softly through the stained-glass windows of the library, the King quietly came to find his troublesome eldest son. Quietly, he opened the great, oaken door of the library and gazed around before letting out a small gasp. There, sat by the fire was Alfred, hugging a large book to himself and sleeping peacefully with a light snore. His head was resting on the gardener's shoulder and the King was shocked to see young Arthur rest his head on the other, his large brows furrowed a little from a dream and his green eyes softly closed. On Arthur's lap rested another large book, opened about half way through and clearly in the process of being read. The soft light played across the two boy's golden hair, making them look like they both had angelic halos.
The King had never seen either child at greater peace with the world than in that moment and he sighed softly to himself, closing the door and exiting the room. For the rest of the day, the man was distracted from his many duties and lost in thoughts of his beloved son and the strange boy who had turned up at the palace in the dead of the night four winters ago.
Soft autumn turned to harsh winter and the air grew cold and bitter, albeit the country remained warmer than any other. Arthur and Alfred met up several times, both in the gardens and the library and their budding friendship blossomed. Although reserved, Arthur found himself opening up to Alfred a little and could comfortably hold a conversation with the younger, albeit the topics remained neutral. How was your day? What is your favourite book? How are the gardens today? They both had the knack for conversing without ever saying much at all and it suited Arthur well. It was nice having a friend and they both revelled in each other's company.
On this particular day it was raining, grey clouds overcast the normally bright blue sky and the palace looked dark and foreboding because of it. Nonetheless, the two friends were sat in one of the palace gardens on a wooden bench, ignoring the rain and sharing a large cake that Alfred has stolen from the kitchens - it seemed they both had the joy of stealing sweet treats in common as well. They were chatting away contentedly about their favourite monarchs from Spades.
"The Sixth King Naomi Blackburn was my favourite royal. I mean she single handed stopped the entire army of Clubs and Hearts combined without any other royals and she was six months pregnant too." Alfred gabbled enthusiastically, "She was so cool! Even when the other royals came she was so supreme."
"She was a good King but she wasn't my favourite." Arthur momentarily paused for thought, taking a bite of sponge cake before replying once he had swallowed, "I always thought the first King Henry was my favourite. It must have taken a lot of courage to break from Diamonds and form your own kingdom. Especially when his own brother had been murdered by his Father. The revolution must have been a difficult decision." He mused, eyeing his companion.
"Well, I always thought it would have been harder for the Diamonds royals. Especially Henry's sister Holly, she had to stay in Diamonds. I mean they gave some autonomy to the region and tried to make it fairer for them, but they still were betrayed in the end." Alfred's understanding of history and politics always took Arthur by surprise for one so young, but he supposed it was what the youngster was used to and both enjoyed books more than most scholars.
"To found a successful kingdom must have taken a lot of courage, it could have gone wro..." he trailed off abruptly and turned to see a young boy staring at them in the rain.
He looked about ten and looked a lot like Alfred. His hair was a soft blonde colour and his eyes were blue with bright purple flecks. Tall for his age, he almost reached Arthur's height, although he still had a little childish chubbiness to him. Arthur did not doubt for a moment that the quiet child was "Matty" Alfred's younger brother. The child blushed sweetly and shifted on his feet when he realised he was being noticed. Alfred looked up and beamed at him before getting up and running over to hug his brother enthusiastically.
"Matty! How are you little bro?"
"I came to find you, Mummy wondered where you were." He replied in a soft voice, squirming under the show of affection.
"Well here I am!" He grinned and pulled away from his brother, taking him by his hand and leading him to the bench before offering him a piece of cake which the boy started eating happily. "Matty, this is Arthur, Arthur this is Matthew my little bro." Alfred wafted his hand around enthusiastically as he introduced them both.
"Hello." Arthur said shyly, sinking back into the bench a little, as Matthew waved in return, his mouth full of cake.
The rain continued to pour, plastering their hair to their heads and drenching their clothes thoroughly. The gardens had a strange freshness in the rain and the smell of rain and evergreens surrounded them. Arthur had always liked the rain and being a gardener, he had little escape from it a lot of the time. The two royals however, found themselves starting to get somewhat cold as the wind changed direction and drove through their sodden clothes. Both were shivering a little and Arthur noticed, his large brows furrowing into a slight frown because of it.
"You two should probably go inside before you get ill." Arthur said simply, taking a little responsibility over his younger peers. "Especially if your Mother is looking for you Alfred." He spoke pragmatically, with a small smile.
"I guess. Why was Mum looking for me?" Alfred looked at his brother.
"Mummy was stressed, she wanted to know where you were. She's been so worried lately." The child fretted before taking his brother's hand. "Come on Alfie, it's cold."
Alfred sighed and squeezed Matthew's hand, "I'll see you soon Arthur, okay?"
Arthur nodded and waved, watching as the two trotted off. He began to swing his bare feet backwards and forwards, unable to stop smiling. It seemed as though Alfred had an amazing ability to bring smiles to the green-eyed boy.
It was now the dead of winter and ice fingers of cold stabbed through the palace, however Arthur was warm and cosy in his little room. The boy had had a long day of hard work and had spent an enjoyable evening teaching Alfred to play chess in the library. He had a small room in the servant's quarters, a private space with a shared bathroom and servant's kitchen. Inside his room was a small fireplace, a bed with a thick mattress, soft pillows and duvet, a small chest of drawers and a couple of wooden shelves. Arthur had a few possessions - some clothing, candles, firewood, a couple of books he had saved up for and some gardening equipment. He wanted for little, being well fed by the palace and kept warm and safe. Spades had always had strong principles when it came to looking after its lower classes and it left both servants and masters content for it.
Arthur was quietly sat on his bed, lost in his own thoughts and drinking a cup of water, content after a long day and relishing in the peace of his own company and half asleep already. It was late and he was planning on settling down for the night soon. Languidly, he popped his cup down on the side and stood up to stretch, moving towards his drawers ready to change in his night clothes. He never made it that far.
At the sound of a loud thump, crash and scream coming from upstairs, he paused what he was doing to stand quiet and listen. More thumps. Another crash. Worst of all more screams. The boy let out an uncontrollable shiver as it wrenched down his spine, he felt a little sick. Turning to his shelf he grabbed a candle and a pair of pruning shears – one could never underestimate the effectiveness of gardening tools as a peasant's weapon of choice. Armed, he nervously went to his bedroom door and placed an ear to it. He could hear the faint sounds of people running around, screaming, the sounds of armed boots and clashing swords. Slowly, he opened the door and stepped out into the unknown.
Servants scurried around like mice, all with twisted expressions of panic and hopelessness. The acrid smell of burning tainted the air and Arthur was almost certain some part of the palace was on fire. He glanced right, his green-eyed gaze falling on the end of the corridor where a Spadian guard was being overwhelmed by two masked figures. They were taller and broader than most Spadians and both were covered in scars and whirling, black tattoos along their bare arms. They wore dark leather armour and both wielded scimitars with impressive and frightening skill. The guard was being overcome and his brave spear would not hold out much longer against the pair.
Overcome with a sudden sense of purpose, Arthur blew out the candle and dropped it on the ground before charging down the corridor, his bare feet barely making a sound on the cold stone. He held his shears in two hands and charged at one of the dark-clad men, whose back was turned away from the youngster. Arthur thrust the sheers with all the force he could muster, deep into the man's unprotected arm. Quickly, the guard took the opportunity to slam the metal tip of his spear straight into the enemies' stomach, piercing his armour and ending his life almost instantaneously, leaving him more evenly matched in terms of opponents. With renewed vigour, he dropped the spear and pulled out his short-sword, attacking the remaining man with sudden energy in order to protect the fifteen-year-old. He drove the other back, despite fierce resistant and the two parried one another's blows for a few moments before the guard feigned a blow to the right and actually struck left, slamming his blade into the gap between the man's leather armoured torso and his mask. Blood trickled lightly down the invader's neck and he collapsed, dead, to the ground.
The guard turned to Arthur, "That was a very dangerous thing you did, but you just saved my life and for that I am grateful." He gabbled somewhat, the adrenaline obviously coursing through the guard's veins and Arthur could see him shaking a little.
"Do you know who they are?" Arthur asked, trying to keep calm despite the overwhelming sense of terror that haunted his insides.
"No idea and I don't know how they breached our defences either, but you should get out of here. The whole palace is in chaos and as lucky as you are, I don't want to see you killed." The guard gestured to the other end of the corridor, now deserted as all the servants had fled while the pair battled. "There's a passage down that way that'll take you outside, you stand a much better chance out there than inside."
"What about you?"
"My job is to guard the palace, I've got to keep the royal family safe."
Arthur's expression morphed into one of abject horror, "The royal family…Alfred!" He suddenly charged past the guard and up towards the stairs leading to the main palace. The idea of Alfred being taken prisoner – or worse – seemed abominable and it suddenly seemed imperative to find Alfred and preferably Matthew as well and get them to safety. Nothing else mattered, not even his own safety. Arthur almost felt out of control of his own feet as he ran through gilded corridors and dodged past dangerous battles. Fire licked at tapestries and black-clad men danced with death as they tried to take out the mighty guards of Spades. Arthur tried not to count how many bodies he ran past. Civilians, guards and attackers all one in death. Surprisingly, he did not even stop to help the injured, his feet not letting him. It was as though some instinct drove him forwards to find the royal family and he could not have resisted even if he tried.
He found the royal family.
They were hidden in the library. Arthur choked back a sob at what he saw. His beloved happy place was on fire, the chess board was in flames, books and furniture were burning and the stained-glass windows had smashed to smithereens from the wall of heat in the room. Fragments of broken blue-tinted glass were scattered along the carpet, although the stains of blood were what really drew the eye. The Queen of Spades lay on the floor soaked in her own blood, a stark wound across her stomach, pale and beautiful in death. Behind her prone form lay her youngest son, Matthew, who sported a nasty looking wound to the head, although Arthur could not tell whether the youngster was dead or alive. In front of them slumped the King, still alive and holding a sword, although Arthur could tell his life force was already close to exiting the world, his wounds were numerous, bloody and deep. To his left was Alfred, the boy very much alive, although pale from a deep looking wound to his leg. In front of them stood the Jack of Spades, a young woman who was the Queen's second cousin. She had lost a hand in the battle and was looking close to falling, despite her valiant attempts to keep fighting. Blood loss slowly overwhelming her. The girl was battle one of the seven living dark-clad men who had stormed the library. Two guards lay dead to the left and one guard was battling them. Ten of the dark-clad attackers lay strewn dead across the floor.
The situation looked hopeless.
The dying King seemed to spot Arthur and his eyes went very wide when they made eye contact, as though he had worked out something that had long been puzzling him. "Protect my children." He mouthed to the boy and Arthur nodded once to show he understood.
Arthur went cold despite the powerful heat in the room, he felt like all time had slowed to a standstill and he suddenly stepped forth, holding his hands up. It was an odd sensation, he felt chilled to the bone despite the red-hot fire all around him. He felt young, but timelessly old as well, as though he would never die. Arthur felt as though his entire life had been leading to this moment and he had never felt so important and so small against the forces of the world. Suddenly a vivid blue light sprang up from his raised palms and shot across the room, smashing the remaining bookcases in a show of raw, unleashed power. Arthur did not question it. Somehow, he always knew he had had this power within him, somehow his world made sense. A sudden image of broken, beloved bodies haunted with a flash across his mind. Never again. He closed his eyes.
"Great God's of the mighty blue skies, protect your people of Spade's through me, your devoted vassal." Arthur hardly knew what he was saying, but his voice had never sounded louder and more domineering, deep, timeless tones reverberating around the room as the words came forth. He raised his hands up towards the heavens.
By now, the other people in the room had reacted to the obvious magic that the child displayed. The attackers had stopped attacking to stare in wonder and fear. The guard had moved to prop up the Jack, who was gawping but near collapsing herself. Alfred looked utterly shocked at his friend and the King just smiled to himself. He had always known. Ever since the strange child had turned up and told his story, he had always known deep inside where Arthur was truly from.
Arthur's power was growing and growing and the blue light was getting brighter and brighter so that the onlookers had to shield their eyes. Abruptly, Arthur opened his eyes, which danced with what could only be described as strange, unnatural green flames. He looked straight ahead of himself and spoke one word of command in a deep, unnatural voice, far removed from his normal tones.
Raw power shot from his hands and went straight through the hearts of the dark-clad attackers, every one of which screamed as they imploded into nothing more than a dot. Dead in seconds. The others winced as the power reflected around the room, although it simply passed through Arthur's allies and disappeared away through the castle. More screams were heard and it soon became apparent from the change in background noises, that Arthur had not only taken out the attackers in one room but likely in all of the rooms.
The flames were still in his eyes as he looked down at the dying family before him. Shifting his arms around, he moved them so his palms faced outwards in front of him. More blue power surged forwards and surrounded the Queen, King, Jack, both the children, the remaining guard and Arthur himself. It felt warm and charged, like the touch of a tender embrace from an attractive lover. The power seemed to intensify once more and Alfred let out a small whimper of terror at what it might mean.
Everything went dark for several moments. Their vision became clear after a second and they found themselves in the same relative positions they were in but in an entirely different place – the moated East gate outside the Spadian palace. It was difficult to process for all of them, the abrupt teleporting shift from one place to another confused their already fragile minds.
Alfred turned his gaze to look back at the palace, to see fire creeping through the insides, people running around aimlessly and terror dominating all. He felt himself shaking from pain, although he was not sure whether it was pain from his injured leg or from his shaken, broken mind. Gaining some sense of reality, he crawled, painfully over to his Mother and brother and pulled Matthew away from his Mother. He took a moment to check the child over and was relieved to find he was still breathing – maybe some of his family might survive the night after all. He was thirteen but not stupid. His Mother was dead, his Father would soon join her and he would be surprised in the Jack would survive her injuries for long. Alfred shuddered, unsure how he was able to be so clinical and cold about the situation, but he decided not to question it for now. Doubtless reality and grief would hit later and he was not looking forward to that point. He turned his gaze to Arthur, the one who had rescued him and doubtless saved his life. The boy was a deathly pale, shaking uncontrollably and swaying dangerously. There was no more blue light on his hands and his eyes had returned to their normal forest green. It seemed his unnatural power had passed from him.
"Where am I…?" Arthur mumbled, almost incoherently, before his knees buckled and the boy collapsed to the floor, completely stone-cold unconscious. Alfred quickly concluded that the other had used up too much of that strange power and it had shaken him to his core. He did not dare question where that power had come from or what it could possibly be.
Leaving a brief kiss on Matthew's bruised forehead, Alfred crawled over to his dying Father and moved to hold the man's hand. Alfred could not recall his Father ever looking so frail and it shook him to his core. He failed to notice the sparkling tears that trickled down his cheeks until the other moved to wipe them away with a tender gesture of love.
"Don't cry, Alfred. Your Mum and I love you dearly and always will. We'll always be with you." He reached over and pressed his hand against the boy's heart, "Right there, we will always be with you." The king reached inside his pocket and pulled out a large, ornate pocket watch. The beautiful object was made of gold and glinted in the moonlight. Carved on the outside were small, intricate spade symbols.
"The clock of Spades!" Alfred said in an awed voice.
"Take it, keep it safe and find the next royals. I know you can do it." The King pressed the clock into his son's hand and smiled softly as the child grasped it. Leaning over, he kissed his son on the temple, whispered a last, faint, "I love you," before he fell back and closed his eyes, falling into a deep and eternal sleep.
Numb all over, Alfred opened the watch and stared down at it. He was not sure whether it was the pain, the stress of the night's events or just pure hallucinations that made the clock hands move. The large hand pointed straight towards him, the minute hand pointed towards the unconscious Arthur and the second hand pointed off towards the Jack, who was now seated on the ground. Strange. Feeling the pain start to overwhelm him, he lay back and closed his eyes. His sense numbed, he almost failed to hear the guard's sharp intake of breath and exclamation.
"My goodness, long live King Alfred and Queen…serving boy?"
"Arthur, his name is Arthur." The Jack's pained voice said, "I'm sure they will make good royals. I just hope my successor lives longer than me."
There was the sound of footsteps drawing nearer and the guard dashing off to greet them.
"Bring medical help immediately! The King and Queen are dead, the Jack is wounded but we have found the new King and Queen already and they are both injured too."
"Who is the new King and Queen?"
"King Alfred and Queen Arthur."
A/N: Thanks for reading! Please feel free to review my first chapter. I am hoping to update soon. I do not own Hetalia.