OKAY SO i guess i am writing some kind of fucking fanfiction about playing cards. The main character is as horrible and awkward as I am, because let’s face it, I have no conception of how to even pretend to be confident in order to write about it. If you like this, you might want to read the rest, or at least what I’ve posted of it so far.
Marianne had a serious problem with taking responsibility for her actions. Not that she had any trouble admitting to having done things, when caught – it was that she had difficulty explaining why exactly she had done it. She couldn’t really say that it had seemed like a good idea at the time, because it usually hadn’t. It was more that it occurred to her sometimes that it was possible for something to be done, and then she would do it. Like climbing into the royal hedge maze of the Kingdom of Hearts.
As Eight of Clubs, she would normally be expected to join the international hunting party. The men of the Hearts and Diamonds, the women of the Spades, and all of the Clubs always joined in for the noble tradition of chasing animals with sharp objects in between betrothal arrangements. But Marianna couldn’t join, for the same reason she couldn’t hunt back home, and so her options were limited. She had no desire to embroider with the ladies of the Diamonds, nor meditate with the men of the Spades. The Hearts were presumably watching the hunt, claiming no desire to participate despite their obvious bloodlust. Marianne found the Hearts unnerving, the same way that everyone who wasn’t a Heart tended to. With luck, she wouldn’t have to marry one.
The hedge was proving surprisingly easy to climb, and she began to wonder if anyone else had tried it. Perhaps that was the origin of all the stories of the man-eating hedge, loyal to the crown – a ruse to hide the uselessness of the official gate. If it hadn’t been for the stories, and if the hedge maze hadn’t been forbidden, she never would have bothered trying to climb it. Probably.
Once inside the maze, she was astonished and a little pleased by how isolated she felt. The hedges were high enough, and muffled enough sound, that the bustling castle beyond was easily forgotten. If the other stories were true – if indeed she would be doomed to wander forever without the assistance of a Heart – she might not mind so terribly. She’d prefer the quiet to the hustle and bustle of the marriage mart.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t long before the monotony began to bore even Marianne’s sensibilities. In retrospect, she should have brought a book. The problem with a well-tended hedge is that it tends to be a very uniform green, in this case one that matched the well-tended grass. She was a black and brown smudge in a sea of green, and not only was it tedious, it was making her a bit dizzy.
Only a Heart, she decided, would make such a silly thing as a hedge maze. Too impractical for a Club or a Spade, not impractical enough for a Diamond. There wasn’t even really a game to it – either one memorized the path from entrance to center, or one became lost. It was not as though there were any clues or landmarks. Did any of the Hearts even use this thing? Perhaps the Ace, for his infamous trysts. Her cousin Briana had been quite saddened when it became clear he’d be betrothed to the Ace of Diamonds. While no one had expected much to come of their raucous affair, to hear Briana tell it, they’d been quite evenly matched. Even now, she might be flirting with the man on the hunting grounds, betrothals be damned.
Except she wasn’t, Marianne realized as she turned a corner, because the Ace of Hearts was in the maze. Twenty feet away, walking in her direction. How she recognized him without having seen him before was questionable – perhaps the circlet in his fiery hair, or the understated finery of his dress – but there was no doubt in her mind that this was the Ace. If she’d had the sense to backtrack, he might not have seen her, lost as he was in thought. Instead she had frozen, as though he were a dragon unable to see that which did not move. As he was not a giant lizard, he saw her, and he froze in response.
They spent a long moment staring at each other, but it was the Ace who collected himself first. Marianne intended to curtsy as he approached, to minimize the amount of offense she had caused, but to her horror she found herself backing up instead. The part of her brain that caused her to climb hedges now had her taking a small step back for his every stride forward, until her back was buried in a hedge and one of the most powerful men on the continent was towering over her.
He was taller than a Heart was supposed to be – taller even than Briana, an appropriately statuesque Club – but she might have been able to control herself if he’d simply been taller than she. Everyone had always been taller than Marianne. The problem was the long red hair, and those red eyes – like he was filled with fire. It would certainly explain why his skin was so bright. He bent down so that his face was level with hers, and when he opened his mouth to speak, the sight of his teeth – why do Hearts have such sharp teeth, why – made her heart stop.
“You’re a Club.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes.” If her eyes had been any wider they’d have taken up the whole of her face, her voice a squeak.
“Do you know where you are?” Some part of her recognized that his voice would have been attractive, perhaps even soothing, if she had not been irrationally terrified. A warm, low sort of a thing.
“Yes.” Shit. Even as she said it, Marianne could not fathom why she didn’t lie. She could have pretended to be scatterbrained. He might have believed it; it wasn’t entirely false. One did not get into these sorts of situations without being at least a little scatterbrained. Indeed, scatterbrained was a great way to describe the way her mind had gone completely blank at the sight of him, as if her thoughts were cockroaches exposed to the light.
“How did you get in here?” In her state, it was impossible to tell if he was interrogating her, or simply curious.
“I climbed?” That was probably not the answer he was looking for, and she was completely horrified by the sound of her own voice. When had it gotten so high and wobbly? Marianne was sure she sounded nothing like that, wished she could explain to the Ace that this was not what she was like.
“Why?” At this, she could only open her mouth to respond before realizing she had nothing to say – trying until she realized she probably resembled a fish. Now she was truly convinced he was made of flame, for there could be no other explanation for why her face felt so hot. He smelled like burnt incense and mead, and she wished desperately that he’d stop looking into her face with those bright red eyes.
When he realized an answer was not forthcoming, he took a step back and stood upright; he was towering again, but at least this way she could stare vacantly through his chest instead of having to look in his eyes. She did not notice while doing so that he was looking her over. “You’re quite small for a Club.” When she remained mute, he added, “and pale, for that matter. I imagine the one is related to the other?” She gave a quick and tiny nod. Marianne wasn’t trying to be enigmatic – it was no secret that she was not stout enough to participate in the activities of a proper Club woman. It was simply that all the thoughts she might normally form into words had left her.
The warm feeling in the pit of her stomach wasn’t helping matters. It was the dresses fault, as far as she was concerned. Clubs were so accustomed to the frozen climate of their homeland that the more temperate land of the Hearts required a change in wardrobe. Rather than the layers she was used to – or even the layers worn by the Hearts themselves – she wore little more than a thin black dress and a single layer of undergarments. It was scandalous, was what it was. She could hardly be blamed for reacting to the presence of a known rake in close proximity with so little clothing to protect herself. To say nothing of the numerous intimate details her cousin had not hesitated to share.
Without warning, he took her hands in his gloved ones, turning them palm-side up for examination. She could tell now that she was blushing – it seemed that even with a Heart, her soft hands were a source of shame. Marianne noticed after a moment that his gaze had moved back to her face, and she immediately attempted to quash any fancies about where his warm leather gloves might feel more welcome. Heaven forbid he divine her thoughts from the look on her face. He seemed distracted by the fact that she was mauling her own lower lip, and so she stopped, hoping she had not somehow caused offense.
“Clubs also don’t usually turn that shade of red,” he observed after a moment. “You’re sure that you’re a Club?”
“Eight of Clubs, my Lord,” she clarified in a slightly defensive tone of squeak, before realizing her error. The Ace caught it, as well, and his eyebrows shot up.
“Are you a Club, or am I your Lord?” Marianne thought he was probably teasing her now, but it was so hard to tell, what with all the… feelings going on. He still hadn’t let go of her hands.
“You could be my Lord,” she backpedaled, adding hastily at his expression, “if I married a Heart.” Her voice was still shaky, but at least she was managing sentences now. That was progress.
“They brought an Eight all the way out here to marry!” he marveled, and she hoped it wasn’t obvious that the observation stung. “They couldn’t let you marry back home, odd little Club?”
“I am not a good fit,” she mumbled, her humiliation complete. She’d have been better off embroidering with the Diamonds – but no, their barbs would be more pointed.
“Ah – I suppose Clubs are a bit too practical to consider a wife who cannot hunt or fight or bear many large children.” This statement did little to help her blushing problem. “But did they consider,” he mused, bending down to look her in the eye again – and still holding her hands, her fingertips brushing against his chest in the most distracting way, “that you are absolutely adorable?”
They had not. Nor had she. Given her previous reaction to this man, Marianne’s being rendered speechless was practically a given. Yet, instead, she blurted the words, “you’re a rake.” At which point her mouth clamped shut with the speed and ferocity of her own dismay. This, this was why it was a good thing she was home alone so often while everyone else was hunting. She was simply not fit to interact with other human beings.
The Ace’s only response to this was to toss his head back and laugh, the sort of boisterous laughter more befitting a Club than a Heart. Of course, it was no wonder Hearts generally didn’t make such a scene, with teeth like that. The wide mouth full of white daggers made it hard to appreciate the throaty sound emerging from it.
“You must be a Club,” he said finally, pulling her away from the hedge by her captive hands, “for there is no other people in the world so tactless.” It took her a moment to realize he was leading her along, apparently confident in his ability to navigate the maze backwards.
“Where are you taking me?”
“To the center of the maze, of course.”