Summary: Cardverse!AU; Queen Arthur finds himself trapped under an uncanny curse, and his only company is a child far more cursed than he.
Locked away in an abandoned house was a creature. No one knew its name or what it looked like, but the villagers that lived nearby heard the noises that crept from within the shambling house; they saw the shadows and felt the tingling of their skin as they walked by. They avoided the house for over a decade, eventually moving away and abandoning the small village in pursuit of more wholesome places within the Kingdom of Spades.
The story begins with Arthur Kirkland, who was, first and foremost, the current Ruler and Queen of the Kingdom of Spades for the better part of four years. He was a lonely man, but would never admit it, and often sought to remedy the dull beating of his heart with traveling across his beloved country.
Many citizens would say that the Queen was a rather homely, grumpy man with a knack for politics and good blood that carried strong magic. He was rather unappealing, and rumors flew in and out of little shops that perhaps that was why the Queen would not marry – no one wanted him. But there were the few romanticists, the ones that sighed and wrote lengthy poems as they daydreamed and said, “Well, maybe he’s just waiting for the right person to come along?”
On the dawn of June first, Queen Arthur set out on his yearly trip through the Kingdom, greeting his subjects and generally keeping a good name for himself in public. This year he had chosen to go somewhere he hadn’t been – somewhere that didn’t cry out to tourists and foreigners. He went south.
Most of the Kingdom had been populated and industrialized far before some of the others in the world, and it was this technological advancement that Spades prided themselves in; they were inventers and geniuses, prospering and living more and more comfortable lives with every year (of course this never came without hardship, but the people of Spades didn’t enjoy dwelling on such negative things). So when Queen Arthur went south, he found that the prosperity of the northern capitol was scarce and few between. The land was dotted with farms and homesteads, little villages that welcomed humbly and gave them their best accommodations – which normally never amounted to even the poorest accommodations in the capitol.
Queen Arthur kept his lips tight as they traveled, refusing to mention how dreadfully miserable he was actually finding himself to be on this venture. The beds weren’t soft enough, the towns were too far apart, he was beginning to get saddle-rump, and he was tired of staring at crops as they rode down dusty roads. Of course he didn’t mention any of this, but he could feel his mood becoming more and more sour with every day and surely it reflected in his expression as no one seemed willing to speak freely to him.
Today they rode for almost the entire day, leaving in the early morning from a small village of farmers. The serving waitresses in the small, rickety tavern warned him and his men to not travel to the next town directly south as it was haunted. Arthur had simply scoffed at the idea of ghosts or anything of sort and plotted his course for the town, driven by curiosity and the idea that he wanted to prove such absurd superstitions wrong.
But when they rode into the village, there wasn’t a soul around to greet them. Arthur dismounted from his horse, taking the reins into his hand as he looked about. The entire place looked like everyone had simply picked up and left one day. There were tools in the overgrown yards and Royal declarations still pinned to doors and trees from well over ten years ago. “Something is amiss,” he said carefully, pulling a yellowed parchment from a nearby tree to check the date. It was decreed twelve years ago. “You,” he pointed at one of the guards, “Check the homes. Look for anyone that may tell us what this is about.”
It was obvious the town was abandoned. Arthur waited for the guardsman to delve into each home, returning each time with a shrug of his shoulders. He was hoping that there might’ve been an obvious reason as to why such a town (and it looked like it had been rather prosperous at one point, if the design of the buildings told him anything) had been abandoned in such a hurry. “There’s no one here, your Highness.”
“I thought not.” The sun was dipping low over the wild grasses behind them, setting them ablaze in reds, oranges, and golds. “It’s far too late now to continue onwards.” His green eyes fell upon the mansion at the end of the main road, looming over the rest of the town with a darkened presence. “Pick a house, gentleman, and make yourselves as comfortable as you can.” There was a mumbled agreement between them all and Arthur moved for the mansion, tying his horse to the chipping iron fence outside and pushing his way inside. If this home had once belonged to a rich family, he hoped he would be able to find a more comfortable place to sleep than in the other more shabby homes.
The floor groaned as he walked. The home was musty and dark. It seemed as if nothing had been untouched by a cobweb or a thick layer of brown dust. Arthur’s nose scrunched in distaste, but he didn’t exactly have room to argue. It was this or sleep outside with his horse.
Carefully he made his way through the rooms, searching for a bedroom that would suit his needs for the night. Most of the numerous rooms were empty, those that did have beds, the bedding would be soiled beyond compare with moist dust and mothballs. As he walked sometimes he thought he heard noises; dull scrapes against the floor, a whispered word, it all made the hair on his neck stand on end. Nevertheless he continued onward until he found a room that looked to have once been the grand bedroom.
The bed had been pushed into a corner with a thick, lacy canopy that had caught most of the dust and weather, leaving the sheets beneath relatively clean, if not stiff. Arthur overturned the pillows, shook out the blankets and took off his boots and jacket, hanging them on a hook on door (after he wiped the dust from it of course), and attempted to settle himself into the bed. Not that he could sleep, however. The bed was far too uncomfortable and filthy for him to truly rest. Coming here had been a horrid idea and he blamed his guards for not talking him out of the idea properly.
Arthur sat up suddenly, causing dust to waft up from the blankets and into his face. He coughed and scowled as he looked around the room. The moon was already high in the sky, making the already dreary room dark and indiscernible in the dirty moonlight. He squinted and then peered down, nearly shrieking at the sight of a boy – maybe six or seven – kneeling next to his bed.
The boy blinked his eyes wide in the dim lighting. As soon as Arthur made eye contact, the boy screamed, scampering off and flinging himself into a nearby closet. “You’re not my mommy!” the boy shrieked, hiding behind a musty coat with fur sleeves.
The entire queerness of the situation brought Arthur’s tired mind to a standstill. He fought for words, his mouth opening and closing before he exclaimed, offended, “Of course I’m not your bloody mother! Do I look like a woman to you? And furthermore, what are you doing in here?”
“There’s a monster in Mommy’s bed!” The boy started to cry into his sleeve, the white wool of his nightgown gray with age.
Tired and confused, Arthur pulled himself out of the bed, ignoring the way the boy shielded his eyes. “What’s going on here?” he demanded, yanking the closet door open harshly. “I order you to tell me what’s happening, this instant!” Arthur snarled out. How disobedient could a child be? Furthermore, where did the boy even come from – or live for that matter? There was a mirror nailed to the inside of the closet door, cracked and dusty, the glass tinted a greenish hue. Arthur disregarded the boy for a moment, taking a step closer to the mirror and peering into its reflection. He saw himself, but something that was not himself. The eyes were wide, the pupils pinpoints within a circle of swirling green. The nose flattened and the smile inhumanely sharp with teeth to match.
Arthur screamed and so did the monster in the mirror. Immediately he covered his face and ducked, touching his face with trembling hands to try and assure himself that he had just seen an illusion. But he couldn’t tell; had his nose always been this narrow? Was he smiling in that moment?
A small hand touched his head. “It’s got you, too, huh?”
“What has me? What’s happening?”
The boy smiled at him, his rounded face filled with childish innocence. “The curse does.” He pointed at the window. “The night never ends. It takes… what’s inside and…” his face contorted into a thoughtful expression. “And… and it pulls it outside!”
Arthur couldn’t believe his ears. That was absolutely preposterous. A curse? Of all things? Not bloody likely. This had to be a work of his vivid imagination. It’s what he got for speaking with fae far too often as a child. “Who are you?” he asked lowly.
“Alfred Foster Jones!” the chirped. “Who are you?” And maybe it was his self-importance bubbling in his stomach, but Arthur simply could not believe that there was someone out there that did not recognize him – after a four year reign, it was simply impossible. The boy flinched back from him. “You… have bad thoughts?” he asked, gesturing towards Arthur’s hands.
Arthur looked at his hands and tried not to scream. The knuckles were turning gnarled and bent, his nails growing sharp and disgusting. “What’s happening to me?” he howled, pulling his hands from his line of sight, his entire body beginning to tremble from fright. He would like to wake up from this nightmare any moment now.
“I told you…” Alfred placed a hand on Arthur’s chest. “It takes what’s inside and puts it on the outside.”
“I’m turning into a monster.” Frantically Arthur stood, running out of the room and making his way back outside into the night air. His horse was gone. Frightened he began to search each house only to find them all empty. Where had his guardsmen gone? He couldn’t have been left in this shantytown.
Alfred stood next to him, seemingly coming from nowhere. “You know, I’m glad you’re here, even though you’re really ugly. I’ve been alone for a really long time.”
The Queen turned to face the child with rage. “I am not ugly!” Alfred giggled, patting Arthur’s hand. “And nothing about this situation is the least bit funny!”
“You just got uglier. You have wrinkles on your nose!” Alfred only smiled at Arthur’s horrified expression. “You’re really funny, and even though you yell a lot, I bet you’re nice when you want to be. I can’t believe I was ever scared of you!”
Arthur was dumbfounded by that. He stared at the child before heading back into the main road. He had to get out of here somehow. Experimentally he felt for the familiar strands of magic that made up the world, hoping to catch them and bend them to his will, but there was nothing to be had.
“There’s no magic here,” the boy said, sitting next to Arthur when the Queen fell to his knees in disbelief. “The curse eats it all. It’s a pretty big curse.”
“Alfred… I don’t suppose you know of a way to break the curse, do you?”
The boy hummed thoughtfully, crossing his legs and playing with his toes. “Yeah. There are books in the library at home, but I can’t read too good.” He frowned. “I just know that someone else breaks it for you.”
A silence engulfed them, only the sound of faraway crickets piercing the lull of the everlasting night. “I see…” He felt utterly helpless. He was trapped, without his guards, his subjects, and even worse, without the magic that had accompanied him his entire life. He felt like a husk of the man he once was.
“H-hey! Don’t cry,” the boy exclaimed, standing up and scrambling in front of Arthur. He placed his small hands on either side of Arthur’s face carefully. “Crying is for babies, right? It’ll be okay! We can be best friends and you won’t have to worry about anything ever again! … Except maybe being ugly, but that’s okay because I like you anyway.”
Arthur let out a humorless laugh. “Arthur. My name is Arthur.”
The boy paused, tilting his head as if to consider the name. “Well,” he said after a moment. “At least your name is pretty.”
Arthur didn’t know how to respond.
--- Line Here ---
It didn’t take Arthur too long to find that the curse prevented him from ever thirsting, or tiring, or becoming weak from hunger.
Alfred had shown him the entire mansion, brought him to the library and attempted to convince Arthur to play hide and seek, but when the disgruntled Queen refused, Alfred pouted and left Arthur to his own devices. Arthur was thankful for that, especially now that he felt tasked with finding a way to break this heinous curse. He had taken to wearing gloves that he had found and ignoring mirrors.
“There has to be a way to end this insanity,” Arthur was mumbling to himself after scouring the room for any text that even seemed relevant to his situation. Many of the books were family journals and heirloom novels, but there were a few with potential, and he plucked them up and made himself comfortable at the cramped desk in the corner of the study.
How long he poured over those books, Arthur didn’t know, but eventually Alfred reappeared next to his side, tugging impatiently on his sleeve. “What’re you reading? Can I see it? Arthur let me see it, too.”
Arthur tried to mask his irritation, his mouth twitching in a snarl that seemed to slowly become second nature. “I’m reading a book!” he said in exasperation when Alfred persisted.
His brows furrowed when Alfred smiled wanly at him. “You’re thinking bad thoughts again.”
Reflexively Arthur covered his face, taking a deep breath to try and calm himself. He glanced at the boy and frowned. “You can’t read, you say?” Alfred nodded sadly. “How about I teach you a few letters? It’ll help pass the time, I suppose.” But ever since he arrived, the moon had been full and unchanging. Did time even pass? He didn’t know.
So Arthur spent his time teaching the boy to read simple words and his free time pouring over the pile of books he’d picked up from the library. He was astounded by how quickly Alfred learned, as if his mind had all the capacity, but just unable to reach its potential. There were some moments when Alfred looked older – maybe ten or eleven, but at some points he was younger again. It baffled the Queen until one day he saw Alfred’s reflection in a mirror.
“W-What is that?” he asked, pointing at the green tinted mirror. He refused to notice that his ears had begun to point and his lower jaw now overlapped his upper – truly he was a bestial sight!
Alfred blinked twice before looking to see what Arthur was pointing at. In the mirror stood a young man with tousled blond hair and a square jaw. He seemed to wear the same grin that the child wore, wide and innocent, as if nothing in the world could upset him. Alfred touched the mirror. “That’s me,” he said simply. He turned large eyes to Arthur. “The boy in the mirror grew up… and I didn’t.”
“I don’t… know what to say.” Alfred merely shrugged and so did the man in the reflection. “You’re very handsome, you know.”
“Ha! I think he looks silly! Besides, who wants to be a grown up, anyway? Boring!”
Arthur sent Alfred an unamused stare. “I’m an adult, remember.”
The boy deflated slightly, but perked back up quickly. “Yeah, but you’re ugly, so I’m the only one who’s allowed to be your friend!”
“As if that’s a proper argument!” he blustered as Alfred laughed. Arthur watched the mirror as Alfred left to return to practice writing, staring as the man disappeared from the glass. He quite liked that face.
--- Line Here ---
Alfred and Arthur – much to the Queen’s chagrin – grew quite close in the indescribable amount of time, although to Arthur it felt like months, maybe longer, he was unsure.
The boy had taken to clinging to Arthur, tapping his face lightly whenever the Queen grew angry or simply stewed in spite, and holding Arthur’s larger, disfigured hand with both of his smaller ones as they walked anywhere. And Arthur would intentionally have Alfred sit at a certain desk as he read or practiced writing, simply so the Queen could stare at the boy’s reflection in the mirror across the room. There was just something about that smile that made Arthur’s heart beat faster.
They were sitting in the study; Alfred was snuggled against Arthur’s side as they read their separate books. Suddenly Alfred sat up, his finger touching the sentence he had left off at and said with a determined voice, “I want to grow up right now!”
Arthur blinked down at the boy. “Is that so? If I recall, you mentioned how being an adult would be boring,” he drawled. Alfred pouted at his book. “But what makes you want to grow so suddenly?”
“Because,” Alfred started, flushing in his rounded cheeks, “I want to be with you forever, Arthur!”
Arthur was rendered speechless for a long time. Alfred stared at him expectantly and finally Arthur stuttered out, “Bu-but we’re together right now. And I doubt we’ll be parting any time soon.”
“Ugh! You don’t understand at all, Arthur!” Alfred pushed his book angrily into Arthur’s lap and stormed away, making sure to dramatically slam the door as he left.
Carefully Arthur picked up the book Alfred had thrown aside, skimming the passage of swooping handwriting where the boy had left off.
And after defeating the fire-breathing dragon, the Prince took the Princess’ hand into his, staring into her beautiful green eyes. “I love you,” they said before sharing a single, pure kiss of true love.
Brow wrinkling, Arthur set the book aside and went to find Alfred. It was an easy task, is all he had to do was follow the crashes and bangs that came from the room down the hall. Arthur knocked on the door softly, unsurprised when the boy inside didn’t answer him. He opened the door just as it was struck by a thrown shoe and stepped inside, undeterred. “Alfred…”
“Go away! I’m busy!” he shouted at Arthur, red faced and crying. “So go away! I don’t wanna see your ugly face!”
Arthur sighed, walking into the room, stepping over toppled shelves and scattered knickknacks. Alfred was in the middle of tearing the trappings from the bed, wadding them up and throwing them at Arthur as the Queen approached. Arthur only knelt beside the boy, gingerly wrapping his arms around Alfred’s shoulders. “Tell me what’s wrong?”
Alfred struggled, but nearly as hard as Arthur would have imagined he would. “No! You never tell me what you’re thinking, so why should I tell you!”
“If you must know, I think you’re being an insufferable, snot-gobbling child right now,” Arthur bit out. He leaned back to look Alfred in the face, scowling in a way he knew was completely unattractive, but Alfred’s lip quirked in amusement. “Now it’s your turn. Tell me what put you in such a fit?”
The boy deflated, his head falling to rest on Arthur’s shoulder as his arms wrapped around Arthur’s neck. “I want to grow up so you’ll love me,” he admitted shamefully. “Because… ‘coz… I love… you.”
And when Arthur pulled away to get a better look at Alfred’s face, he saw that in his arms was no longer the curious, uneducated little boy, but a man with imploring blue eyes that shone with childishness and intelligence. He was no longer dressed in his graying sleeping gown, but in a musty suit of blue, mothballs clinging to the sleeves of his jacket and his shoes scuffed beyond recognition of what their true color may have been. Arthur was slack jawed and confused, although perhaps not as surprised as he ought to be. Alfred placed a finger under his chin, helping the Queen close his mouth with a laugh. “You know… you’re really handsome right now.”
“Wh-wha?” Arthur whipped around to look in the crooked mirror on the wall. Instead of the grotesque beast that he had slowly become, he was himself – as he was when the curse first began. “How…?
Alfred shook his head; bemused. And oh, was he handsome. Arthur didn’t know how to respond or what to say now that the reflection he always admired was real and before him. But then Alfred smiled and it was the same, goofy smile that swept away Arthur’s heart no matter if it was on the face of Alfred the child or on the man in the reflection. “Arthur is it okay that I love you?”
“Is… is it okay?” the Queen repeated, dumbfounded. “Alfred, over all this time… I… I’ve come to care a great deal for you. And… I daresay I may love you as well. You’ve done more for me than anyone has, just by being my friend despite how… much of a beast I became.”
With an unsure smile, Alfred cupped his hands around Alfred’s face as he normally would, his hands no longer small, but warm and inviting. He stopped, licking his lips nervously before leaning forward to press his lips against Arthur’s in a clumsy and inexperienced kiss.
Their ears both popped uncomfortably, as if they had just traveled to the top of a mountain in less than a second and daylight flooded into the decrepit room. Both of their eyes flew open at the suddenly strange sensation of sunlight. Alfred was the first to pull away, running to the cracked window and opening it hurriedly. “Arthur! Arthur! I think the curse broke!”
Arthur stood quickly, standing next to Alfred to peer out the window in awe. “One moment…” And for the first time in a long while, Arthur could feel the magic dancing around him, weaving effortlessly between his fingers as he sent out a distress signal that any one of magic blood could feel and recognize. Alfred watched him closely, stuffing his hands in his pockets as if he wasn’t sure what to do with them at all. “It’s really broken,” he murmured. His green eyes found Alfred’s and he smiled. “Alfred Jones, I owe you my life and eternal gratitude.”
“That’s okay, Arthur,” Alfred said, looking sheepish and happy. “I… I wasn’t lying when I said I loved you…”
“Nor was I when I said I loved you as well.”
They smiled at each other, their hands entwining as they made their way out of the old, stooping mansion together. Arthur’s smile peaked impishly. He couldn’t wait to see Alfred’s expression when he told him that he was the Queen of Spades.
--- Line Here ---
“You’re thinking ugly thoughts.” Cupped hands pat at his cheeks, and Arthur huffed, pushing the hands away. “Want to tell me what’s going on through your brain?”
Over the past year, Alfred had turned out to become an excellent man – tall and confident, and not to mention handsome. He still had his bouts of childishness, or had difficulty reading works that were far too complex for him to ever want to comprehend, but he was a good man and Arthur admired and cherished him deeply.
Alfred fell back onto their bed, beckoning for Arthur to follow. Arthur rolled his green eyes before crawling into the bed next to his husband and new King. It turned out that he had been missing for almost a year – the only reason he wasn’t replaced was because the magic that began the royal choosing never activated, despite how long many mages pondered over the occurrence. “I hate that King of Diamonds,” he grumbled out, curling next to Alfred and sighing as his love began to stroke his fingers through his hair. “Bloody impudent fool that he is.”
“You’re just mad because he made fun of your tea set.”
“He should be hanged.” Alfred snorted. “Alfred…?” When Alfred made a contented hum to indicate he was listening, Arthur continued. “Why did you ever fall in love with me in the first place?”
The young King sat up slightly to look Arthur in the face, his expression filled with a happy disbelief that made Arthur feel silly and warm all at once. “Do you want the honest answer? Or the one where I just go on and on about how perfect you are?”
“The honest answer,” Arthur said after a chuckle.
Alfred lay back on the blankets, reaching up and tracing letters into the air above his head. “It’s because, even though I was really scared at first, you were never cruel to me. Sure sometimes you said mean things, but you put up with me and all my misgivings, you know? There was something in you… You were so nice and gentle, even though you really just got uglier and uglier – I thought it was for the better. ‘Coz then who else would want you by their side, but me?”
“You’re horribly selfish.” But Arthur was smiling. “However, I think I’ll forgive you just this once.”
Their lips met in a loving kiss, their tongues slipping together languidly. “Just… this once?” Alfred breathed out between lazy kisses, pulling Arthur close to his chest. “But I want to selfishly keep you forever.”
Arthur laughed softly, letting the pads of his fingers trace the outline of Alfred’s jaw. “And so I suppose I’ll just have to keep forgiving you… forever.”