Warnings: character death; cardverse!AU
Characters/Pairings: America, England, China; USUK
Summary: The Queen of Spades is dead.
Notes: This is based on hakuku's cardverse AU on Tumblr. She's only posted a handful of drawings but they inspired me. You should all go look.
“The queen… is dead.”
”Arthur? Arthuuuuuuuuuuur. Arthur? Are you sure you’re alright?”
That was the beginning.
Arthur cracked open one eye, his head swimming and his limbs feeling as heavy as lead. The young man ran his fingers through his hair and squinted into the morning sun, groaning at how bright the light was so early in the morning.
“ ‘M fine… so bloody bright,” Arthur murmured. He laid his head back down and tried to locate his husband in the room…. When he saw Alfred sitting cross-legged on the bed beside him, fully dressed in breeches, waistcoat, cravat and overcoat, sword at his waist, only missing his black leather boots, all blues and silvers with a confused look on his face.
Arthur bolted upwards— and then immediately regretted it. His head felt as if someone had driven a rock through his skull, and Arthur keeled over with a whine. Alfred reached out and stroked Arthur’s back, kissing his cheek as he went.
“I’m sorry, Arthur, I didn’t mean to make you ache,” the King murmured to his Queen. “Really, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were so ill today.”
“I’m not… is it the afternoon?” Arthur mumbled, and every time he tried to sit up the world swam around him and every nerve in his brain collided and exploded. Arthur coughed harshly in the back of his throat, half-collapsing on Alfred and the young king took him in his arms, laying his cheek against Arthur’s fevered brow, holding him close.
“I was surprised to see you still asleep, I thought you were up and just were tending to some other matter,” Alfred mumbled into his ear. Arthur closed his eyes and groped at Alfred, waiting for his vertigo to subside. “When I tried to wake you this morning you were as white as snow so I thought a little more time to sleep would be alright.”
“N-no, it’s fine you woke me, I just… I don’t think…” Arthur said in a hoarse whisper before rubbing at his temples and pinching his eyes shut. “No, I’m fine, love, I just… I just have to take it easy today.”
The Ædre was beautiful that day. Hundreds of thousands of people—rich, poor, crippled, healthy, everyone—lined the banks in their finest, wearing the Royal Hues, holding candles made from wax and honey, burning orange flames against the backdrop of blue. Some stood with their bare feet in the water, basking in the Ædre’s blessed waves. The life-sustaining Ædre, the basis of the entire Kingdom of Spades, was flanked with the people it raised. To say goodbye.
Two lines of soldiers waded through the crystalline waters, soaked up to their waists with weaponry in hand, led by the Rihtlæceas, dressed all in white. The procession moved slowly but not sluggishly; instead they seemed to glide with the Ædre along the sandy shores.
Following the soldiers was a circle of palace guards, men and women who were higher in rank and closer to the Royal Family, led by a very solemn Jack of Spades. Yao held a candle in his hands and although he was in front of a group, his thoughts seemed to be pre-occupied and his eyes were trained on the flame at his fingertips. His eyes were uncharacteristically dark. Within the circle of hooded soldiers, behind Yao, was the only water-bearing vessel in the procession: a long, thin canoe, filled to the point of overflow with blue and white roses. Petals, slowly pulling away from the massive number of buds, framed the canoe as it glided, rocking against the gentle waves as only something so delicate could.
And lying perfectly still within the flowers was His Majesty, Queen Arthur of Spades, deceased.
He was having another fit. His back arched from the bed as two aides held his wrists down, Yao hurriedly tying him down so his convulsions wouldn’t thrash his limbs about. Thin ankles, small wrists, and slimming waist were all tied down to the grandiose bed with the cool pale blue sheets as his head dug back into the pillows and nearly inhuman sounds tumbled from his lips.
“He needs medication—oh, move, please,” Yao was saying huffily as he shoved his way through the aides, who were no more than confused soldiers who happened to be near the room when the convulsions began. Yao leaned over the king-sized bed, smoothing away the queen’s sweat-matted bangs, and pushed the man’s head back. Arthur’s shoulders hunched and his breathing became hoarse, blood pooling at his lips from where he bit his tongue—it was bad this time, very, very bad—
“Ah—there,” Yao murmured as he successful poured a steaming black liquid between two parched lips. Arthur coughed and gagged, his eyes opening momentarily; they were blood-shot and his pupils were so dilated they took over his brilliant green eyes entirely. Arthur tried to roll over but he was trapped, still tied down so instead he moaned and coughed and he was so… feeble, it was distressing.
“Give me a towel,” Yao instructed, holding out his arm. The guards, still shook up from the late night/early morning tussle, didn’t respond quickly enough for the Jack of Spades’ tastes. Yao snapped his head up, mane of inky black hair showering his shoulders and he narrowed his eyes, hand outstretched, his other arm holding onto the writhing Arthur. “I said towel! What, do you not understand what I’m asking of you?!” And the soldiers quickly came back down to earth and Yao was suddenly overladen with towels. By this time Arthur’s squirming had subsided, as the heavy sedative began to take effect.
“Watch for His Majesty,” Yao said, tending to Arthur’s sweating face and blood-covered chin. “I had Tino take him away for a walk so I could actually help the Queen, but they should be returning soon.” Yao tied his silken sleeves up by his shoulders and dipped the towel into a basin of cold water from the courtyard, using said towel to wipe Arthur’s pale face. He had stopped thrashing now, but his wrists were rubbed raw and his body was trembling.
“Untie his waist,” Yao ordered, and as the soldiers followed through Yao sat by Arthur’s head and gently stroked Arthur’s forehead with his thumb as the young man stared around the room in a drug-induced haze. His eyelids were heavy and dark, his cheeks sallow, lips bright red and swollen. The steaming liquid had eased his body and Arthur slid in and out of consciousness as the medicine worked to fight his infection.
“There is more medicine steeping, sir,” a medical aide said as he ran into the room, eyes wide with fear. “I-in case—for when you need—”
“Is Arthur in here still?” a voice boomed over everyone and the soldiers all stood erect as Alfred pushed his way into the room, looking frazzled with Tino in his wake. Tino seemed tired and exasperated and gave Yao a weary glance as the blonde King shimmied through the guards to stand beside the bed.
“Your Majesty—you shouldn’t be in here yet,” Yao said, and the medical aide gulped. Yao was one of the few people outside of the Royal Family to speak curtly to the King and Queen, but he had earned the right. “The medicine is still taking affect.”
“I want to see him,” Alfred said, and he leaned over the bed, placing a hand on Arthur’s forehead. Arthur looked around the room frantically as the medicine seeped through his blood stream, penetrating his muscles, sending messages of calm through his nerves.
“I’m right here, Arthur.”
Arthur looked downright angelic. His face was peaceful, if not on the thinner side, and even though he was pale his hair was parted just so and his attire was magnificent. Navy blazer with pale white cravat crested with the symbol of their kingdom; adorned in gold with rose petals touching his cheeks throughout the canoe. His hands were folded on his chest, coins placed beneath his palms so that his soul would live on forever.
Alfred walked beside the canoe-turned-coffin, his hand resting gently on top of his Queen’s. His eyes were downcast and even though he seemed to glide effortlessly through the water, every step he took was labored. His heart pounded through his throat and the suffering stillness of his people on the banks made his head hurt.
“May the souls of the weary be no longer burdened. May the souls of the suffering be no longer plagued.” The prayer was mumbled over and over and snippets of it drifted in and out of Alfred’s ears as he passed. He subconsciously rubbed Arthur’s thumb just in the way Arthur always loved it, and as they walked Alfred sent a cursory glance at Arthur’s still form, just to make sure Arthur wasn’t fooling him.
“May the souls of the weary be no longer burdened.”
There was a blockade a few yards down the river; the altar was already set. Alfred closed his eyes against the sight. He never thought he’d have to see this wretched place again so soon.
He squeezed Arthur’s hand. Arthur never squeezed back.
Arthur didn’t want to die in a fit. He didn’t want his last thoughts to be panicked and painful, surrounded by confused and mournful faces that were unsure of what to do about him. He wanted to die in peace. He wanted to leave this world the same way in which he entered; quietly. Serenely.
It had been three weeks since the first morning he had woken feeling ill. As each day ticked by Arthur knew it was coming closer and closer to the end; he could feel it in his bones. He had mentioned it to Alfred, once, and Alfred had blatantly refused to talk about it, even though they both knew it to be true.
Arthur received his wish.
In his last week he had to take the awful, pitch-black steaming liquid every night just to stay still long enough to fall asleep. It seemed every waking moment was dedicated to breathing just so, and moving in a certain way as to not hurt himself or throw his body into more convulsions. It was a pleasantly warm evening, and Arthur found he had to take twice as much of the medicine as before to get to sleep. He had been immobile for two days, but Alfred took great pride and care in tending to Arthur’s every need.
Arthur fell asleep quickly as he always did, wrapped in Alfred’s arms, his face pressed against Alfred’s neck, arms wrapped around his torso. Alfred stayed up in his night time worries but the warm air and sweet smell of impending summer lulled him into sleep and security. When Alfred awoke, much later than he had planned (Arthur always got up very early because the medicine would wear off and he’d be in pain) and the very first thing he noticed was the lack of warmth, the heavy limbs, and the deathly stillness that surrounded and threatened to suffocate him on a beautifully sunny morning.
By the time Yao arrived in the room due to Alfred’s panicked bell-ringing, Alfred still lay in his bed, his body wrapped protectively around Arthur’s cold body, face buried in his hair, trembling himself to silence. When Yao touched his shoulder he jerked away as if burned, and Yao felt his heart drop out through his stomach as the situation became known.
“Don’t touch me,” Alfred murmured. “I’m trying to wake back up.”
“May the souls of the suffering be no longer plagued.”
The somber procession reached its final destination; a pyre on a small island in the center of the lazy river. The island had formed naturally as the river had carved its way through a narrow part of the riverbed thousands of years before, and because it had survived untouched for so long, the people revered it. The grass was always thick and lush, and the few flowers that bloomed there were full of life and seemed to glow. It was a peaceful, spiritual place.
Six soldiers, all carefully chosen by Alfred days before, lined either side of the canoe and gently lifted it from its sordid waters, carrying it up the short, sandy bank to the slab of marble that lay there.
Alfred followed with Yao, who had placed his candle in a stone slot beside hundreds of others that had already been placed. Yao glanced at Alfred, and Alfred turned slightly and their eyes connected. The look of loss, and sadness, and just… emptiness in the King’s eyes made Yao’s throat go raw, and as Alfred turned away to follow the soldiers, Yao couldn’t help but notice the tremor in his steps.
The canoe was gently laid out on the pyre and they stepped away, the Rihtlæceas and Alfred approaching in their places. The crowds on the banks lowered their prayers to a murmur as they watched Alfred stand at the pyre, eyes trained on Arthur, one hand resting on the pyre. A breeze came through and lifted a few of the roses into the air, spreading them along the water.
“Our beloved Queen,” the Rihtlæceas began, “has passed.” The soldiers bowed their heads. Yao shot a worried glance towards Alfred, whose eyes remained glued to Arthur’s face. “Queen Arthur was raised on the outskirts of the Mining Town, belonging to a noble family that helped to run the mines. Although he was not betrothed to our King, they met in finishing school and quickly fell in love.
“At the Royal Coronation, I was more than pleased to hand the responsibilities of Queen to Arthur; he was intelligent, quick-witted, and fair. He had a temper that could not be rivaled, but he never used that temper against his own people. God only knows how many situations he talked this kingdom out of with his fast words and broiling anger.” There was a dry sob from the banks.
“There had not been a time of such royal bliss in the palace since the days of King Alfred’s grandparents,” the Rihtlæceas continued. “Truly, our king and queen had much love to share between them. Which is why it is with a heavy heart that we are here, gathered ‘round the Ædre which has given us so much life. Queen Arthur was taken from us by a traveling virus that he obtained during peace talks with Clubs. An epidemic that had been slowly eating away at the Clubs’ army that our Queen opened himself up to for peace. His sacrifice is beyond any that we can understand.” At that, the soldiers walked over to their forgotten candles and gathered them, flames still licking the darkening sky, and surrounded the pyre. The Rihtlæceas picked up a large wooden torch, holding it out to the soldiers’ candles until they lit the torch itself. The Rihtlæceas stepped closer to the pyre, his eyes trained on Alfred.
“It has become a tradition in our kingdom that, when one must part with their other half, they get the dignity… of a final kiss good-bye,” the Rihtlæceas said, and for the first time in his ceremony, his voice cracked. Alfred looked upon Arthur’s face, and gently pushed his ragged hair from his eyelashes. He bent down over him until his nose touched Arthur’s cheek (cool and smooth like wax, smelling of cinnamon) and he closed his eyes.
“You will always be with me,” Alfred whispered just against his skin. He placed a kiss against Arthur’s cheek, then leaning up as gently as he could, he pressed his lips against Arthur’s, his arms trembling as he did so, hoping, waiting, maybe it was all wrong—
He pulled away when he felt Yao’s hand on his shoulder. Alfred stepped back, his legs so tense they felt separate from his body.
“May the souls of the weary be no longer burdened,” the Rihtlæceas said as he raised the torch. “May the souls of the suffering be no longer plagued.” He lowered the torch into the thicket of roses and they instantly lit, sending a pleasantly burnt fragrant into the summer air. “May His Royal Majesty, Queen Arthur Kirkland, be no longer tethered to the Sovereign Kingdom of Spades.”
It wasn’t until the flames had completely consumed the pyre, so much so that the heat was so intense the soldiers had to move away and no one even realized that the sun had gone down, when Yao was thankful for his naturally sturdy stature, for he hadn’t expected to have to catch the King as he fell to his knees when the last of his beloved went up in flames.
Rihtlæceas roughly means "healer" or "doctor" in Saxon English. Ædre is the name for a river in Saxon English. (I think it's Saxon.)