Once and Always Champion (1/7), an Alice in Wonderland fic
Title: Once and Always Champion
Main Characters and/or pairings: Alice/ Tarrant
Genre: Adventure/ Romance, AU
Summary: When Alice returns to Underland through the Looking Glass, she realizes how tricky a fellow Time can be.
Author's Notes (if any): THANK YOU to creepylicious for the awesome artwork and soundtrack! A big huge thank you to my Scottish guru azure_horizon who answered countless questions with the utmost patience. Without her, Tarrant would be speaking like a surfer dude. Seriously. An enormous, extra huge thank you (and a future package of cinnamon rolls, LOL) goes to manniness who has been my cheerleader, beta, and English to Outlandish translator. Without her, the ending would have been rubbish. You, as always, rock! There are some Outlandish words created by the talented manniness that can be found here.
Alice looked up from her tea cup to Tarrant. A smile danced on her lips as she watched him stir in his seat, nearly unable to control his excitement. “What is it?” she asked.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you.” At her frown, he quickly added, “At least, not yet.”
Alice was intrigued, which, she suspected, was the purpose of his announcement. “Well,” she said before taking a sip of her tea, “when can you tell me?”
His triumphant grin confirmed her thoughts. He was trying to stir up her curiosity!
“We have to go there first,” he replied, smiling.
Without wasting another moment, he led her outside of his workshop, through the courtyard and beyond the castle gates. He finally stopped several hundred yards from the front of the castle. “Yes, yes, here we are,” he said, seeming pleased with himself.
“It’s High Winter’s Night,” he stated.
Alice overheard the queen talking about it earlier that morning, but she was unaware of what significance it had in Underland. “What’s that?” she asked, looking around the empty field for any clues.
His eyes lit up as they often did when he explained an unfamiliar aspect about Underland to Alice. “It’s th' shortest day o’ th' year. Tae keep th' citizens o’ Underland from missin' th' sun tay much, th' constellations give us a gift every High Winter’s Nicht,” he explained, taking a seat on the ground.
Alice joined him, her hand brushing his. She was about to pull away when she felt his hand covering her own. She smiled at him before he started speaking.
“For years, I would come out on High Winter’s Night and watch them alone,” he confessed quietly.
“What about Mally and Thackery?” she asked.
“It would interfere with the preparations for the Tea of the High Winter’s Night,” he answered.
“It’s alrigh’,” he said when she flashed him a sympathetic smile. “I’m glad I’m able tae share this wi' ye now.” He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out his long-broken pocket watch. “It’s gonnae start soon,” he declared after a quick glance at the time.
A blur of movement coming from the sky stole Alice’s attention. The constellation was moving!
The constellation transformed from a seemingly random arrangement of stars to a life-like image of a warrior woman, walking across the vast Underland sky. On the other side, a Bandersnatch ran around wildly, knocking the stars around.
“That’s Eyvn, the first tamer of the Bandersnatch,” he whispered as they watched the powerful woman climb on the wild beast. They soared across the sky as the woman finally managed to slow the Bandersnatch, controlling it as they rode across the horizon.
“Tarrant, this is…breathtaking,” she whispered. Alice leaned back on her hands as she sat on the lush grass and willed her eyes to turn from the majestic display in the sky to the man seated next to her.
“Aye, it is quite callouryin’,” he agreed.
Together they watched another dozen constellations come to life and, every time, Tarrant gave her a brief background of each one. When Azul, the Keeper of Light faded back into the stars, she turned to him.
“Thank you, Tarrant, for sharing this with me,” she said sincerely.
He turned to her with the Smile that only was for her. “It was my pleasure,” he replied softly.
She leaned forward, softly touching her lips to his. “Can we do this next year?”
“Every year,” he answered.
Alice felt another smile stretch her lips. They sat in silence for a few seconds before a loud roar caught her attention. “Is this part of the High Winter’s Night festivities?” she asked, confused.
A panicked look settled over Tarrant’s face. “No, I haven’t heard that terrible sound since...” he trailed off as the source of the heart-racing clamor came into view.
“How is this possible?” Alice said as they watched the frightful beast circling around the castle in the moonlight. She stood up and started making her way back to the castle.
Tarrant stood up, but remained frozen in fear. “Ah hae nae idea,” he admitted, his eyes turning orange. “Ye slew, smote, struck, slaughtered--”
“Tarrant!” Alice interrupted, desperate to keep him from slipping into the Madness. “I need to get the Vorpal Sword from inside the castle.”
He nodded his head, barely keeping his insanity at bay. She grabbed his hand, anchoring him. “Together, Tarrant.”
He squeezed her hand back as the first stream of fire shot from the Jabberwocky’s mouth. She could hear the screams of the confused people inside the castle. Help, they cried, looking for their Champion.
Alice and Tarrant hid themselves from the Jabberwocky’s view as they scrambled through the castle gates. Powerless, they watched as the beast swung its powerful tail and knocked over one of the towers, showering the once-safe courtyards with debris.
“We have to hurry,” Alice hissed.
Getting into the castle was going to be more difficult than she thought. The queen’s servants were fleeing the castle while the queen’s guards were running around aimlessly trying to defend their home from an enemy they could not defeat. She watched as the Tweedles waddled by quickly, trying to escape. Only when they left through the gates did Alice allow herself to not worry about the boys.
The Jabberwocky was wasting no time in destroying the castle. Between his purple fire of destruction and the strength in his tail, the castle would not stand for long. Debris from another crumbling tower fell in the courtyard, causing the people to scatter.
Despite the screams and sounds of chaos, Alice was able to make out a strong voice.
“Hatter!” cried Mally.
He stopped his journey to the armory and turned to his friend. “Come along, Mally,” he shouted, taking off his hat and holding it down on the ground so she could climb onto it. “Alice is going to save us.”
Alice closed her eyes briefly as the weight of his words settled on her.
Again, it was up to her to save Underland.
Again, it was up to her not to fail.
She watched the determined dormouse weave through rushing feet, when, suddenly, the Jabberwocky knocked over an enormous portion of the keep. Stones came crashing down around them.
Alice ducked under one of the still-standing eaves. “Mally! Tarrant! Hurry!” she yelled.
But it was too late.
A huge piece of shattered rock landed directly in front of Tarrant and crushed everything in its path.
“NO!” Alice cried, running to Tarrant.
He faced her, his face streaked with blood and grime. “Mally?” he called softly.
There was no movement under the masonry.
Alice swallowed the bile making its way up her throat. Despite the crushing devastation running through her, she knew that if she didn’t get to the armory and find the Vorpal Sword all of those who lived in Underland would suffer Mally’s fate.
“She’s dead?” he lisped to Alice. Before she could reply, he roared, “SHE’S DEAD! MURDERED! MASSACRED! ”
Alice’s heart broke at his devastation. There was no way he would be able to control his Madness now, Alice knew. “Tarrant, we must go.”
“Ye slew the Jabberwocky! This cannae b’happenin’,” he said adamantly, not hearing her. “This isnae real. It’s all a dream, delusion, de--”
“Tarrant!” she called. “We need to get the Vorpal Sword.”
He shook his head as he frantically tried to pull himself from the rubble. “Ah cannae. Ma hands are stuck. Ye must go on without me,” he said, shamed.
She knelt down, desperate to free him. She felt another wave of nausea wash over her as she saw his arms, crushed and mangled under the rock. There was no way she could save him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered as a tear from his now grey eyes fell on his face.
“I can’t do this alone!” she yelled as she watched the life drain out of his eyes.
“But, Alice, you are alone,” said a voice from behind her.
She turned to the source and gasped. Mirana, once the epitome of beauty and perfection, was bruised, cut and covered in blood.
“You are on a path of solitude that cannot be changed,” she continued. “You had a choice, Alice, and now you must accept the consequences.”
Alice faintly registered a loud crash as the last of the castle fell.
Then everything went black
With a gasp and shiver, Alice woke up in her narrow her small bed in her small cabin on the large trading ship. She ran outside her room and made her way to the ship’s edge before the remains of the previous night’s dinner went into the water.
“That’s the third one you’ve had in two weeks.”
Alice turned back to the voice, wiping her mouth. It was William, the ship’s head chef. Unlike most of the other crew, he had accepted Alice’s presence on the Wonder. Still, she ignored his unspoken offer to share what was bothering her.
“I’ll be fine.” She pasted her most reassuring smile on her face.
When Alice first started having the nightmare, she attributed it to missing her friends after being away for so long. But now, after having the same dream three times was convinced someone--or something-- was trying to tell her something very Important.
For the past two weeks, she looked for Absolem floating in the sky, but it was in vain; there was no sign of her Underlandian friend.
William didn’t comment on her obvious lie and changed subjects. “We’ll be pulling into port in the next couple of hours. Fredward has the contracts ready for you. Then, it‘s back to England.” There was no mistaking the gladness in his voice.
They only had a few merchants--and several dozen trade agreements, Alice added--to deal with before they could begin the last leg of their journey home. Then, she could finally return to Underland.
“Yes,” she agreed with a smile. “It will be wonderful to finally return home.”
As expected, the ship docked two hours later. When Alice stepped off the Wonder, a flash of blue caught her eye.
It was Absolem! Instead of flying towards her, however, he was moving in the opposite direction. She waved her hand towards him, but he paid her no attention. Alice watched helplessly until she could no longer see him floating in the sky.
She turned her attention back to the men waiting for her at the end of the dock. But instead of trade agreements, a single telegraph was handed to her.
Mother extremely ill STOP Return to London immediately STOP
Alice rushed to book passage on the fastest ship sailing for her London, ignoring her commitments to the trading company.
On the return journey home, Alice dreamed no more.
It rained on the day of Helen Kingsleigh’s funeral.
Alice stood rigidly as her mother’s casket was lowered into the ground, next to where her father had been buried years before. She looked out of the corner of her eye at Margaret who was standing under an umbrella that Lowell held.
Alice, who had decided not to carry an umbrella, shifted slightly, letting the gentle rain fall on her face. It made things seem more real, she thought as goosebumps covered her arms.
The priest said one final prayer as the coffin was finally lowered, ending the service. Alice walked to the edge and peered down, saying goodbye to her mother.
“We didn’t know if you were going to make it back in time.” There was no mistaking the disapproval in her sister’s voice.
“I left port as soon as I got the message,” replied Alice. She pulled back slightly from her mother’s final rest place. “Did she suffer terribly?”
A flash of sadness passed over Margaret’s face. She grabbed Alice’s arm and pulled her away from the crowd paying their respect to their mother. “Towards…the end, she began to have delusions from her fever. It got to the point where she would start wandering around the house in a daze. It was…difficult to watch.”
She drew a long breath. “But, as far as everyone else knows, she didn’t suffer at all. Her last days were spent in peace. I haven’t even spoken the truth to Lowell. If word got out that Mother became mad in her last days, it would be the end of the good Kingsleigh name.”
Alice bristled at her sister’s subtle dig. She knew that most of London would never support her, but she would have hoped now, after so long, her sister would show some kind of understanding of the choice she made to walk a different path.
“Tell me, Alice, do you know anything about a looking glass from when you were a child?” she asked hesitantly.
Alice shook her head. “Should I?”
“When she was ill, Mother spoke of you and a mirr--” She stopped herself and shook her head. “It doesn’t matter anyway. It was all a hallucination, I’m sure.” She began making her way back to the group of people. “What are you going to do now, Alice? Go on another adventure?”
That was, if fact, Alice’s plan, but surely she couldn’t tell her sister that!
“I’m…not sure,” she finally said.
She saw the exasperated look on Margaret’s face and could almost read her sister’s thoughts. If Alice had just accepted Hamish’s proposal, she wouldn’t have to worry about the well-being of her sister. “You don’t have to worry, Margaret,” Alice replied. “I won’t become a burden to you.”
“Alice…” she started. Then she shook her head, dismissing her words. Instead she said, “The servants are still tending to the house. You can stay there until you figure out what you want to do.”
Somehow Alice had never expected her return to London to work out this way.
She had imagined seeing her mother, alive, she added somberly, and sister. She had imagined assuring them she was fine but telling them that she had other business to attend to. Then she would have found a way to return to the Ascot estate, and the rabbit hole, to return to Underland.
Instead, she found herself standing in the middle of the house she grew up in, completely alone.
“You are on a path of solitude that cannot be changed.”
She suppressed the urge to shudder. Had her dream version of Mirana been trying to warn her about her future?
Pushing aside the disquieting thoughts, she walked into her mother’s bedroom. A fine layer of dust had settled over everything in the room, a testimony to how long her mother had been ill. The maids had offered to clean but Alice had turned down their proposal. She needed to see what it looked like when her mother had passed.
As she walked by the dresser, the scent of her mother’s perfume hit her. For the first time since she received the telegram, Alice finally allowed herself to question her actions. Had it been a mistake to go off to sea for such a long time? Would it have been better for her to remain, miserable in the constraints of London society, but able to spend time with her mother?
With a sigh, she pushed aside that line of thinking. There was no reason to second-guess herself now. Time, she knew, was a stubborn fellow. There was no use in trying to get him back once he was gone.
She looked at her mother’s bed, the last place she had been alive. A single tear slid down her face. At least, she thought, Margaret had been with her. As she turned, she noticed something sticking out slightly from under her mother’s pillow.
She lifted lifted it and saw a letter.
Addressed to her.
With the curiosity that only an Alice could have, she opened the envelope, wondering what her mother wanted to say to her from beyond the grave. As she pulled out the piece of paper, she noted, with a pang of sadness, the shaky, yet distinguishable handwriting of her mother.
I am sorry that I did not get to tell you this in person, for I fear that you might think me mad after you read this. First of all, please understand that your father and I did what we thought was right to protect you.
Years ago, you were playing with your kittens in the main parlor room. As he was often fond of doing, your father watched as you began imagining one of your fanciful stories. That afternoon, for some reason, I was with him and, for several minutes, we watched you play when you did the most peculiar thing.
One moment you were talking to one of Dinah’s kittens and the next you were on the chair, trying to reach the mantle. You climbed onto the mantle and tried to push your way through the looking glass. To your father’s and my utter astonishment, your hand started to slip through to the other side! Your father rushed across the room and pulled you away before you could go any further.
In fear that we might lose you, we hid the mirror in your father’s study behind the large bookcase. We never spoke about that day again, but over the years, I have ventured into his study and touched the front of the looking glass with no ill effects so many times that I had convinced myself that what we saw was some kind of illusion.
But recently, Alice, I have begun to have the strangest vision. Sometimes when the nurses and your sister are busy and I am alone, I see a blue butterfly fluttering about the room. He is always trying to tell me something, but I can never hear the words that he is saying.
One day, when he flew out of the room, I followed him and he led me to the looking glass. It was then that I knew I had to tell you what your father and I had done so many years ago.
Perhaps this is all a delusion caused by my fever. I know that is what your sister believes. Still, I feel that I must tell you about the looking glass before my time on this earth is over.
Forgive me, Alice, for not telling you sooner.
Alice folded up the letter with a slight frown. She didn’t remember any such mirror or trying to climb through any looking glass when she was a child. And had her hand started going through the surface, she would have certainly remembered that!
“Just like you would have never forgotten Underland, right?” she muttered.
It would have been easy for her to dismiss her mother’s letter as a sad reminder of how much the illness had made her mother suffer, but when she mentioned Absolem, Alice knew something Strange was going on.
Without waiting another moment, Alice made her way to her father’s study. The scents of tobacco and leather, smells that always reminded her of her father, greeted her as she entered the seldom-used room.
She stepped inside and walked to the desk in the center of the room. How many times had she been in here, listening to her father’s grand ideas? Hundreds, she assumed. Yet, she thought as she slowly approached the large bookcase, there was one thing that was too fantastic for even him to share with her.
Her curiosity encouraged her to take the final steps to the bookcase.
Unable to see behind it, Alice reached her hand out, grasping for anything that was tucked away from sight. Almost instantly, she felt the corner of the mirror brush her fingertips. Her pulse sped up.
Could her mother’s words be true?
Carefully, she slid the looking glass out from its hiding place and leaned it against the front of the bookcase. The scrolling looked oddly familiar to her, almost…Mamorealian, she thought. But that wasn’t possible.
Her reflection caught her attention. Her once pale skin was now a golden bronze after her months at sea. Her hair has been trimmed to her shoulders after she quickly learned that a trading vessel was no place for long hair that needed to be constantly tended to. The pale blue dress she now wore made her brown eyes stand out even more than usual.
She smiled at herself briefly before collecting her Muchness and lifted her hand, touching the front of the glass. For a moment, it seemed like nothing was going to happen, but then, suddenly, her hand began sinking through the mirror.
Astonished, she pulled her hand out and scooted several feet away from the looking glass. Alice eyed her hand carefully; it had been more difficult for her to pull her hand out of the glass than she had thought it would be.
Questions raced through her mind. Should she go through? Was this her way back to her friends? What if the mirror led her to a world more Impossible than Underland?
She thought back to her mother’s letter. Had her father interfered with Fate somehow? Should she have gone through the looking glass when she was a child? Would that have allowed her to remember Underland sooner?
A flurry of movement in the mirror’s reflection ceased her thoughts. Absolem was flying behind her! She whipped around quickly, needing her friend’s advice. When she looked back, however, nothing was there. Confused, she faced the mirror again and saw him impatiently flapping his wings.
Despite the strong pull to leap into the looking glass, she knew, as she had told the Hatter years ago, there were things she needed to do. Unlike then, however, most of her affairs had been put into order.
There was, in fact, only one thing left to do.
She went to her old room and pulled out a letter that she had written to her sister when she was traveling back to London. In it, Alice explained, she would be leaving London, most likely permanently. She knew once she heard about her mother’s fate, that there was nothing keeping her in England anymore.
It was for the best, Alice told herself as she walked back into her father’s study. She set the letter on the middle of his desk, propping it up against the large book.
She drew in a long breath and touched the glass, noting her hand slipped in more easily this time. As she was about to go into the mirror, she looked back at the empty study and whispered, “Fairfarren.”
Then she slid through completely.
fic: alice in wonderland, fic: once and always champion
Once and Always Champion (2/7), an Alice in Wonderland fic
The trip through the other side of the mirror was decidedly less dramatic than falling through a rabbit’s hole, Alice decided as she appeared on the opposite side of the looking glass. There was no dramatic drop, or painful crash for that matter. One second she was in her home in London, the next she wasn’t.
She stood up and looked around the room. At first, it looked identical to her father’s study. Yet, after she looked more closely, she noticed it was in fact slightly different.
Before she started her investigation, she spun around and faced the mirror. Slowly, she brought her hand up and pressed the glass.
It appeared that if she every wanted to return home, Alice would have to find another way to go back there. She only hoped it wouldn’t include slaying another Jabberwocky.
Book titles such as London Labour and the London Poor and Man’s Place in Nature had been replaced with How to Tame Talkative Shrubs and Red v. White: An Intricate Study. The large map of the world had been substituted with, what Alice assumed, was a map of Underland. The leather bound copy of her father’s trade agreements had been replaced with The Underlandian Book of Prophesy.
Curious, Alice walked over to the open book and began reading the poem on the page. “The Prophesy of the Jabberwocky.” As Alice scanned the page, she recognized the words; they were the same ones spoken to her by the Hatter when she returned to Underland.
She closed the book with a loud snap, glad that particular prophesy had already been fulfilled.
“You shouldn’t be going around slapping books like that! If you’re not careful, you’ll break their spine,” chided the desk clock on the shelf.
Intrigued, Alice made her way to it. She had seen several clocks in Underland, but none of them had spoken to her! “You can talk,” she muttered, mostly to herself.
“Of course I can talk! I’ve got a face, don’t I?” he questioned with a sneer.
Alice didn’t answer right away. Her mind was still adjusting to the backwards way of Underland. “I suppose you do,” she finally said.
“Overlanders!” he huffed. “They never have any imagination!”
Ignoring his jab, Alice said, “Perhaps you can help me. Do you know the way to the White Queen’s castle in Mamoreal?”
“Nope, can’t help you there,” the clock replied. “Since I’ve never been moved, I don’t know what’s beyond these four walls.” A few seconds ticked by. “But there are some pesky boys who are always making a racket outside. Maybe you can get them to help you find your castle.” The clock paused thoughtfully.
“Or at least get them away from my window,” he muttered.
The Tweedles were near!
“Are they outside now?”
The clock paused for a second. “I don’t hear them, but they always come around this time of day.”
She felt herself relax. They would be able to take her to Mamoreal and reunite her with the others. “Thank you,” she said sincerely.
She opened the door and was surprised that on the other side was not a hallway, as she expected, but an enormous outdoor garden. As she stepped outside, Alice was instantly overwhelmed with the colors and sights that surrounded her. She saw the many wonders of Underland surrounding her--rocking-horse and bread-and-butter flies--but didn’t see the Tweedles anywhere.
Carefully she started down the garden path, looking for the two of them. “Tweedles!” she called loudly.
“Of all the appalling manners!” one of the flowers near her foot complained.
“It’s bad enough that she has to yell and wake up the seedlings, but then she comes in our beautiful garden and wears that absolutely dreadful color,” chimed in the Marigold.
Alice looked down at her blue-grey dress as she knelt down to the flower bed. “What’s wrong with the color?” she wondered.
“It’s incredibly drab,” explained the Lily. “It’s the middle of winter, child. If you want Spring to come, you need to wear bright colors! Even the weeds know that.”
The rest of the flowers laughed.
Alice frowned. She wanted to leave them, and their rudeness, but she knew they might know where the Tweedles were. “If you help me find my friends, then I will leave your garden,” she offered.
“Hurry up and tell us who you are looking for! You’re blocking the sun!” replied the Rose.
“Two brothers,” she said, looking at the flowers. “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.”
The Rose pointed a leaf towards the front gate. “Have you tried looking Over There?”
Alice shook her head. “No, I haven’t.”
“Well, it’s the best place to look when something’s not Right Here,” laughed the Lily.
“You’d think she’d know that!” giggled the Daisy.
Eager to get away from the pretentious flowers, Alice quickly excused herself and left the garden. The path led her to the large white gate which opened to a wide road. As she walked through the entrance, she heard a marvelous thing.
The sound of bickering.
“We have to go this way.”
“No, we have to go the opposite way,” argued another, identical voice.
“If we do that then we’ll go back to where we was.”
“Better than where we haven’t been.”
Before they could continue, Alice stepped up to them with a smile on her face. “Tweedles!” she greeted, relieved to see their familiar faces.
They both opened their mouths to speak at the same time, then turned to face each other. “She was talkin’ to me.”
“No, she was speakin’ to me! She was lookin’ right at me!”
She smiled at them patiently. “I was talking to both of you,” she told them. “It’s so good to see you again.”
Their eyes narrowed simultaneously. “Who are you?” they asked in unison.
“It’s me, Alice.”
They turned to each other and shrugged. “What’s an Alice?” Tweedledum asked his brother.
“You know,” Tweedledee said, giving him a shove, “the little girl that caused all kinds of trouble a while ago.”
“But,” Tweedledum said, nodding towards her, “she ain’t a little girl.”
“So then she isn’t an Alice.”
They nodded in chorus. “That’s logic,” the brothers said together.
Alice pushed aside the desire to cross her arms in frustration. “Now isn’t the time to joke, Tweedles,” she chided gently.
“We’re not joking.”
“Contrariwise, if we were, it wouldn’t be much of a joke since no one is laughing,” added Tweedledum.
Uneasiness settled over Alice. They seemed to be quite serious.
No, she decided with a good dose of Muchness, they had to be playing some kind of trick on her. Maybe they were teasing with her because she had been away for so long. “You know me,” she insisted. “I’m the Queen’s Champion.”
They tensed. “Which queen?”
“The White Queen, of course,” answered Alice, trying not to sound offended at their question.
They both relaxed before a confused look settled on their faces. “Queen Mirana doesn’t have a Champion, does she?”
“Of course not or else we’d know about it.”
“And since we don’t, that means you ain’t a Champion,” replied Tweedledee.
“But I am!” Alice contended. “I followed the rabbit down the hole and he brought me back to Underland so I could become the Champion. Don‘t you remember?”
“Thackery found her?” asked Tweedledum, baffled.
“No,” Tweedledee said, giving his brother another shove. “He can’t find his own toes! She’s talkin’ about McTwisp.”
Tweedledum turned back to face Alice. “Seein’ as he hasn’t left Underland since the tart trial…”
“You ain’t a Champion,” finished Tweedledee.
Alice wondered what was going on. She realized that their adamancy was genuine; they truly had no idea she was the Queen’s Champion. But, she knew, there was one in Underland who always recognized who she was, even when she didn’t know herself.
“Can you take me to see the Hatter?” she asked.
“You’re wantin’ a hat?”
“No,” she shook her head. “I just need to talk with him.”
They eyed her for a second. “You want to go today?”
“Yes,” she answered slowly, wondering why they were hesitating.
“No one is crazy enough to go to Witzend today,” Tweedledum said. “Not even people thinkin’ they’re the Queen’s Champion.”
“But, seein’ as she wants to go, she must be mad,” evaluated Tweedledee.
“I’m not mad,” Alice replied. She looked at them curiously. “Why wouldn’t I want to go to Witzend today?”
“It’s Horunvendush Eve. The Hightopp clan is getting ready for the Tylwyth.”
Alice’s eyes widened at their words. Suddenly, their conversation made perfect sense. Somehow, she had traveled back through time. It was no wonder why the Tweedles didn’t understand what she was talking about!
“I must see the Hatter now!” she pressed.
“But you’re not even an Outlander, are you?”
“Of course she’s not! She hasn’t spoken one word of Outlandish since she got here!”
“But Tarrant doesn’t always--”
Knowing her patience, along with her time to get to the Hatter, was short, Alice interrupted their bickering. “We need to go now. Which way is it?”
The Tweedles pointed in opposite directions.
When the Tweedles finally agreed on which direction to go--straight down the middle--Alice allowed herself some time to think about the most curious turn of events. Somehow, Time had allowed her to return to Underland before her time as Champion. Perhaps, she hoped, she could spare Underland the brutality it suffered under the Red Queen’s wicked rule.
After all, she thought, it was her role as Champion to protect the land, wasn’t it?
It took no effort for Alice to recall the horrific tale the Hatter told her about Horunvendush Day. His entire clan had been murdered. The land he considered to be his home had been destroyed. The Vorpal Sword had been taken by Stayne. The White Queen had been banished to Mamoreal.
No, she thought determinedly, that would not happen again.
She wondered briefly how, if at all, her nightmare played into this new turn of events. Was Underland trying to prepare her for another battle with the Jabberwocky? She shuddered as the images of a dying Hatter and bloodied Mirana played in her mind.
That would not happen, Alice vowed.
As they continued walking, Alice half-listened as the brothers continued on about how crazy she had to be to intrude during the Tylwyth. Nearly an hour passed before the edge of Witzend came into view.
The Tweedles stopped as the path entered into the darkened forest in front of them. The brothers turned to Alice. “You’d have to be mad to go in there,” Tweedledee said.
“Contrariwise, if you’re not mad, then you’ll be best stayin’ out here.”
“And what if I’m half-mad?” she asked, her eyes twinkling at the memory of her conversation with Tarrant from years ago.
They frowned, unable to come up with an answer. Finally, Tweedledum spoke. “Best of luck, Alice.”
“You’re not coming in?”
“We’re not mad.”
“Precisely,” agreed Tweedledee. “Fairfarren, Alice.”
“Fairfarren, Tweedles,” she said. Well, she thought as she walked from the brothers, at least they were finally able to agree on something before they separated.
Soon after she started down the windy, forested road, Alice found herself wishing for some kind of light. The large, not particularly friendly-looking, trees did their best to block the sunlight. Despite the increasing darkness, Alice pushed herself forward, knowing she needed to find Tarrant quickly.
As she continued making her way down the path, she wondered how, exactly she would break the news to Tarrant. What if he didn’t remember her? Instantly, she dismissed the idea. Tarrant would always know who she was.
Finally, she saw a dim light appearing from a clearing ahead of her. She hastened her step, eager to find the opening out of the woods and locate her friend.
When she crossed into the large clearing, Alice was flabbergasted. The fields that were scorched by the Jabberwocky’s flame were bright and vibrant. Adults and children were busy moving back and forth, preparing different festivities for the upcoming celebration. The flowers, who Alice noted were much kinder to the Outlanders, were helping guide those carrying large barrels to the enormous tent to the side of the village. The sound of singing, laughter and good-natured conversation filled the air.
Finding Tarrant was going to be difficult, Alice noted. Every person, man and woman, adult and child, had a unique top hat on their head. She looked around for Tarrant's vibrant, orange hair, but before she could find him, a voice, and a very familiar one at that, cut through the air.
“It’s ye!” the Hatter yelled from across the field, sounding annoyed.
Alice frowned. She remembered his voice being much more welcoming the first time she had returned to Underland. Perhaps he was busy with the preparations for the Tylwyth and was in a hurry, she reasoned, knowing his poor relationship with Time.
She watched as he crossed the field, mindful not to interfere with any of the activities going on, to stand in front of her, scowling. “I’d know ye anywhere,” he continued.
No, Alice corrected, there was something beyond annoyance in his features. He seemed genuinely upset.
“Hatter, it’s me Alice.”
“I ken who ye are. Ye ur th‘ little boy who interrupted ma tea party then rudely left in th’ middle o’ it,” he said distastefully, his eyes turning a slight yellow. He took a step back and considered her for a moment. “At least ye got a haircut.”
When she had been at sea, Alice had imagined her reunion with Tarrant more times than she was comfortable admitting, but never once did she consider the idea he would be openly hostile to her when she returned to Underland. His rancor towards her stung.
“Nigh, unless ye ur a Hightopp, ye need tae be g'ang back tae where ye came frae,” he said, his voice cold. Without waiting for her to say anything, he turned away from her.
No! She had to tell him what was going to happen!
Alice grabbed his arm before he could leave. “I’m not going anywhere.”
That caused him to turn around. To her surprise, there was a glimpse of a smile on his face. “Ye huvnae lost yer Muchness, Ah see.”
She relaxed slightly, releasing her hold. “Actually, you helped me find it.” At his befuddled look, she shook her head. “Never mind.” Now that the moment had come, Alice was confounded as to how, exactly, she should tell him about his Fate.
“Perhaps you can tell me why you are here,” he prompted, his lisp entering into the conversation.
She looked around at all the people walking by them. How she wished she could speak to Tarrant without so many people around!
“Is there anywhere we can talk in private?” she asked.
A strange look passed over his face. “Aye, we can speak in ma workshop.”
She followed the Hatter across the field. The gazes of most of the Hightopps followed her.
Once they got to the slightly crooked-looking building, they stepped inside. Numerous hats, bolts of fabric and every other kind of notion Alice had ever seen, and a few she hadn’t, cluttered the room. How could the Hatter work like this?
“You have something you need to tell me?” he asked.
“You and your entire clan are in danger if you stay here,” she blurted out.
As she saw his eyes turn orange, she wondered if, perhaps, there was a better way for her to have told him the news.
“An’ why would ‘at be?”
There was no other option; she had to tell him the complete truth.
“The Red Queen is planning to unleash the Jabberwocky against your village and steal the Vorpal Sword,” she explained.
He took a step towards her. “And what do you know about th’ Bluddy Behg Hid’s plans?” he demanded.
“Only what you told me!” she countered, refusing to be intimidated by his anger.
“I’ve never tauld ye anythin’ abit a Jabberwock!” he shot back.
She drew a deep breath, calming herself. “I know this will sound mad, but I’ve been to the future. It was then that you told me what happened to your village.”
Tarrant sneered. “I ken Time quite well an’ he never shows es-self before he’s ready tae b’seen,” argued the Hatter.
“Perhaps Time got confused when I stepped through the looking glass,” offered Alice helplessly. “But believe me, Hatter,” she said, boldly taking a step towards him and placing a hand on his shoulder. “You, your clan and the White Queen will be in danger if you don’t leave here.”
He studied her for a second. “An’ when did I tell ye these things?”
Alice dropped her hand, glad he was giving her a chance to explain herself. “When you were taking me to Mamoreal so I could become the Queen’s Champion.”
“The Queen’s Champion,” he repeated slowly, as if to test the validity of her words.
“Yes,” she said, nodding, “so I could defeat the Jabberwocky.” She noticed the disbelief on his face as she spoke. “Please, Tarrant, I need you to trust me.”
His gaze shifted to her sharply. “And I suppose I told ye ma name too.”
Alice shifted uncomfortably. While she had no doubt the Hatter she knew wouldn’t have minded her using his name, the truth was, he never did get around to formally introducing himself. “Well, no. I heard Chess call you that,” she admitted.
“Chess, eh?” he asked. The distain was unable to be missed.
“Yes,” she replied. “I don’t know how or why, but Time is giving me a chance to save you and your family from suffering their terrible Fate.”
He seemed to be considering her claims when finally he drew in a long breath. “Well, far be it for me to distrust a Champion of Mamoreal.” He glanced out the front door to the crowd of Hightopps out in the field. “But I’m afraid the others won’t be likely to trust you unless I talk with them first.”
He believed her!
Now everyone would be safe from the Jabberwocky and Mirana would remain queen. “Thank you, Hatter.”
He considered her for a moment, his expression oddly unreadable. “Make yourself comfortable. It may take a while.” He exited the shop and closed the door.
Before she could ask him why he had bothered to do so, Alice heard the sound of a key twisting in a lock on the other side of the door.
Alice was trapped.
“Ye dinnae look like a no-good slithy, bealin’ rath,” came a small voice from outside the small window.
Alice walked up to the little opening, which was barely big enough to admit a determined cat, and saw a young girl, probably no older than eight, with long brown hair and an intricate black top hat.
“Who called me that?” she asked despite already knowing the answer.
“Ma uncle,” the girl replied. “He says yoo’re madder than onie hatter he’s ever met an’ that’s sayin’ somethin’!”
“I’m not mad,” insisted Alice, resisting the urge to huff. “I wish he would trust me.”
The little girl crawled up on top of a large crate outside the house, bringing herself up to eye-level with Alice. She looked at her. “That’s yer problem,” she said after she considered Alice for a second. “Ye need a hat!”
“What?” asked Alice, puzzled.
The girl put a hand on her hip. “Ye can’t expect a Hightopp to trust someone without a hat, can ye?” She grinned brightly. “I’ll be right back.”
The little girl ran away before Alice could reply. She tried to keep track of where the little girl was going, but found the task impossible. The Weeping Willow just outside the hat workshop window, which had, thankfully, stopped crying, effectively blocked her from seeing anything going on.
Several long minutes passed before Alice heard the little footsteps approaching. “Here,” the little girl said, thrusting a hat through the open window. “Try it on!”
Alice studied the top hat before placing it on her head. It was a beautiful combination of blue and silver. Like the Hatter’s hat, it had a large ribbon tied around it above the brim, but, unlike Tarrant’s, her ribbon was an iridescent white. Four hat pins, each with their own charm--a diamond, a heart, a spade and a club--were nestled on one side of the hat. On the other side was a stunning silver flower that seemed to glow.
Alice slowly placed it on top of her head. “It’s beautiful.”
The little girl grinned, her eyes turning a vibrant green. “It’s a Hannahlyn Hightopp original,” she said proudly.
“You made this?” Alice asked, amazed.
Hannahlyn nodded. “Uncle Tarrant says it’s th’ best First Hat he’s ever seen, but Ah think he’s jist sayin’ ‘at.”
“I agree with him. It’s lovely,” Alice said sincerely. She studied the girl for a second. She didn’t want to involve such a little child, but she needed to do what she could to get everyone out of Witzend. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“As lang as it’s nae a riddle. Uncle Tarrant is iye askin’ those,” Hannahlyn replied, making a face.
Alice smiled as she thought about his unanswerable riddle concerning a raven and a writing desk, before she turned serious. “Do you know if the Tylwyth is still going on as planned?” she asked, not wanting to scare the child.
Hannahlyn shrugged her shoulders. “Ah don’t ken. The grown-ups ur talkin’ tae each other…probably abit ye.” She looked at Alice curiously. “Is it true yoo’re th’ queen’s champion?”
“Yes…or at least I will be when the time comes,” Alice answered.
Hannahlyn laughed. “Ma pa is iye sayin how tricky time can be. He can never b’found when ye need him an’ when ye want him tae pass, he’s iye wantin tae stay around.”
Her jovialness grieved Alice. She couldn’t--wouldn’t--let something happen to this charming girl or any of the others.
“Hannahlyn, you must talk to your uncle. Maybe you could tell him that I am not mad,” she pleaded, pushing aside the feelings of guilt produced by using the child.
Hannahlyn eyed her strangely for a moment. “He’ll ken whit Ah think abit ye soon enaw,” she said as her eyes turned blue.
A faint voice called from outside.
“Ah hae tae be gawg, Champion,” she said. She looked at the top of Alice’s head. “Don’t lose ‘at,” she instructed.
Alice reached up and touched the gift softly. “I won’t.”
“Then you’ll be jist fine,” she grinned before she hopped off the crate. She turned back to Alice. “Fairfarren, Champion.”
“Fairfarren,” she returned softly.
Then Alice was alone once more.
“We need tae warn th’ Queen, an’,” Willymson added pointedly, “cancel th’ Tylwyth.”
“I agree. Keepin’ the lass locked in th’ workshop isn’t gonnae to keep th’ Bluddy Behg Hid frae sendin’ th’ Jabberwock,” chimed in Lachlan, nodding his head.
“We shood hae known th’ Bluddy Behg Hid was up tae somethin‘. She’s been worse since she killed th’ king!” added Gilmat, slamming his fist on a table.
“I say we stay ‘ere an’ fight! No Jabberwock stands a chance against th’ Hightopps!” crowed Bonnibelle from the corner of the room.
“But, we have younglins here,” reminded Eideard “We need tae leave Witzend.”
“What if this Alice lass is lying abit th’ whole thing?” Tavia asked.
“Then Tarrant wouldn’t hae told us abit ‘er,” replied Tavish plainly. “He knew ‘er when she was a lass, ‘member?”
Tarrant listened to the debate--along with the dozen or so voices in his head--wishing that that Alice hadn’t stepped foot in Witzend. He should have known that little girl was going to be trouble when the tart trial had ended the way it had years ago.
“It’s up tae Tarrant. He’s in charge o' th’ festival,” Beathas said.
Eideard nodded. “Aye, it is,” he replied, looked at Tarrant. “What ur we gonnae dae?”
The question caused him to focus. The weight of being the Eldest Son pressed upon him.
He looked around his kinsmen, their eyes all a dangerous yellow and answered. “I’ll fin’ Queen Mirana an’ tell ‘er th’ Tylwyth has bin…postponed. Th’ rest ay ya need tae leave Witzend.”
“What abit Alice?”
“She can stay haur ‘til th’ Bluddy Behg Hid sends someone tae gie ‘er,” Tarrant replied, his eyes flashing orange.
“Aye,” came the chorus of agreements.
Quickly, Tarrant retrieved his broadsword from his home. He quickly cast a glance at his workshop, momentarily confused by his Guilt as he walked past the building. She was the enemy, his Distrust reminded him as he left the village.
He quickly made his way down the path he knew Mirana and her entourage would be traveling. His Anger and Rage were carrying on a rather lively conversation about Alice when a lazy voice suddenly interrupted them.
“I hear that the Tylwyth is canceled this year,” said Chess languidly from above Tarrant’s head. “It’s a shame, really. I was hoping to see you Futterwacken.”
He watched as the cat slowly appeared in the air next to him with an uncharacteristic frown on his face.
“There will be no Futterwacken this year,” pronounced Tarrant. “Alice has returned.”
Chess twirled around slowly. “The little girl with the terrible sense of direction?”
“Aye, but she nae a lass anymair. She’s grown up an’ workin’ wi’ th’ Bluddy Behg Hid,” answered Tarrant, scowling.
“She’s working with the Red Queen? I hardly believe that,” replied Chess.
Tarrant’s eyes flashed orange. “If ye don’t believe me, why don’t ye talk to ‘er yerself? She came tae me this morn and told me about th’ Bluddy Behg Hid’s plans.”
“And Iracebeth sent her ahead to warn you about the upcoming dangers?” Chess asked, a wide grin spreading across his face. “That’s unusually kind of her.”
Tarrant paused. That was the one point that his Skepticism had yet to explain to him. Why would th’ Bluddy Behg Hid send Alice to Witzend before the attack?
“I don’t ken, but I’m nae takin’ any chances,” replied Tarrant.
“Halt!” came a loud voice from the path ahead. “Who approaches the queen of Mamoreal?”
“It’s Tarrant Hightopp,” he answered, all traces of his Outlandish accent gone.
“You may proceed,” said the White Knight, recognizing the name and the man in front of him.
Quickly, the Hatter made his way to his queen who was seated upon her white horse. “Tarrant, what’s wrong?” Mirana asked, knowing that something Serious had to happen for him to leave his village before the Tylwyth.
“We need to talk, your Majesty.”
Chapter 3: Once and Always Champion (3/7), an Alice in Wonderland fic
fic: alice in wonderland, fic: once and always champion
Hours passed and, despite her best effort, Alice could find no way of escaping the room the Hatter had locked her in. Sometime during the night, she had drifted into a fitful sleep. Her dreams had been plagued with the wickedness of the Jabberwocky and Tarrant’s orange rage-filled eyes.
As the sun came up, she stuck her head out of the window, trying to hear something, anything, from the field.
She took it as a positive sign; there was no way the dozens of people she had seen earlier could be that quiet.
Suddenly, an unsettling feeling washed over her; just how long did Tarrant plan on keeping her here alone?
The hats that surrounded her provided her with somewhat of an answer. Tarrant certainly wouldn’t leave his work forever…
She brought her head back inside, nearly knocking into a smile floating in mid-air. “And so the girl Alice waits.”
“Chess!” she said, relieved. “Have you come to release me?”
“I hate getting involved in petty arguments,” he replied languorously as the rest of his body shifted into view. “They always put me out.”
“I need to get out of here and talk with Queen Mirana,” Alice said.
“Yes, Tarrant did mention that you claimed to be the Champion of Mamoreal, though I have to admit I can hardly imagine someone of your stature holding such a title,” retorted Chess, studying her.
“But I was,” she maintained, getting more than slightly frustrated at having to repeat herself to everyone she had met thus far in Underland. “I even slew the Jabberwocky!”
He looked unimpressed. “That is even less believable than your claim to being the Champion.”
There had to be someone in Underland who could prove Alice’s claim. Finally, she had an epiphany. “Absolem can prove it. The Oraculum will show that I am the Champion.”
A wide smile appeared on Chess’ face. “I do believe a visit to Mamoreal is part of Tarrant’s plan.” At her look of optimism, he added, “Without you, of course. He would never allow someone who he believes to be part of the Red Queen’s plans to get into the White Castle.”
“I don’t understand why he doesn’t trust me this time,” she muttered. She looked at Chess. “When I came back to Underland, he was the one who was convinced I was the Alice.”
“Perhaps it is not Time for Tarrant to believe you are who you say you are. You know how awfully the two of them get along,” offered Chess.
Shaking her head, she answered, “It seems so strange. After I slew the Jabberwocky, he asked me to stay in Underland. Maybe--”
“He asked you to stay?” Chess uncharacteristically interrupted. “That is most interesting.”
Before she could ask why that particular fact had caught his attention, the door opened. Tarrant walked inside, his hands behind his back and a scowl on his face. “Where did you get yer hat?” he demanded.
Alice reached up and touched the hat protectively. “Hannahlyn gave it to me,” she said with much Muchness.
“Why this does present a most interesting problem, doesn’t it, Tarrant?”
The Hatter turned to the Cat. “It takes one to know one.”
Alice watched the exchange, baffled.
Chess picked up on her confusion. “A hatter’s first hat is quite significant in the Hightopp clan,” he explained, ignoring the ire from Tarrant.
Alice touched the brim of her hat lightly. That was what Hannahlyn must have been talking about earlier.
The Cat turned back to Tarrant, grinning. “I suppose leaving her here while you go to Mamoreal is out of the question.”
“Why?” she asked, watching Tarrant glare at Chess.
“When a person received receives a First Hat, they also receive the protection of the entire Hightopp clan.” He paused dramatically. “Something I am sure that your friend was quite aware of when she gave you that hat,” explained Chess, seeming to enjoy Tarrant’s displeasure more than he should.
“She’s naught but a lass. She didnae knew what she was doin’,” Tarrant replied stubbornly.
“But you’ll have to respect her request since she is no longer able to take her hat back,” disputed Chess.
Alice’s eyes widened. “Is she all right?”
“Of course she is. Despite Tarrant’s reluctance to trust you, he could hardly ignore your claims,” answered Chess. “The Hightopps are safe.”
Hope bloomed in Alice’s chest. Perhaps things were going to work out this time, she thought. Just as the happiness threatened to overtake her, Chess spoke again. “But, the Queen has been taken.”
Alice sharply looked at the Hatter. “What happened?”
“According to the Winding Ivy, the Bitter Orange trees told Stayne where she was when she was traveling back to Mamoreal as we were coming back here. The Jabberwocky attacked the Royal Guard and Stayne was able to take her,” the Hatter reported angrily.
“We need to go to Salazen Glum,” she said as she ignored his orange gaze and pushed past Tarrant.
He grabbed her arm before she could leave. “Ye’d like that, wouldn’t ye?”
Alice had enough of the Hatter’s distrust. What had been bothersome was becoming unbearable. “We are going to have to work together, Hatter! The Red Queen has Mirana and the Vorpal Sword--”
“Nae, she doesnae,” he replied. He slowly pulled out the sword from behind his back and reluctantly held it out towards Alice. “When I told th‘ Queen abit yer claim about being her Champion, she insisted that I bring th’ Vorpal Sword tae ye.”
At least Mirana believed her, Alice thought, slightly relieved. It was a relief to have at least one friend in Underland. She placed her hand on the hilt of the sword, centimeters from Tarrant’s hand. He released the weapon to her with a scowl.
“We need to save Mirana,” she proclaimed.
“That may be true,” Chess said. “But, you cannot simply walk into Salazen Glum and take her back. There are rites that need to be performed.” He sighed. “Politics are so exasperating.”
“Absolem will be waiting for you in the White Queen‘s castle. He will be able to assist you with what you need to know,” he continued.
Filled with resolve, Alice turned back to Tarrant. “Are you going to come with me to Mamoreal?”
The Hatter flicked his gaze from her face to the sword to the top hat on her head. “Aye, but I’ll nae b’lettin’ ye out’ah ma sight.”
“Then I have nothing to worry about,” she said confidently.
Despite walking for nearly six hours with hardly a stop, Tarrant saw no outward signs of fatigue on Alice’s face. He looked around the forest and noted where they were. The trees here were rather friendly; it would be a good place for them to stop for the night.
“We’re stopping?” She didn’t seem too pleased at the idea.
“The Weeping Willows tend to get startled by people walking by them at night. Getting caught up in their branches--and tears--is a most unpleasant experience,” he answered, forcing himself to be halfway civil to her.
He had promised Chess, before he had left to do whatever Cats do, that he would try to not be completely gruffious with Alice the entire trip to Mamoreal. And, he grudgingly admitted to the several voices in his head, part of him wanted to be kind to her.
Stop, the loud voice of Suspicion shouted, she could be part of th’ Bluddy Behg Hid’s lickspittle cronies.
Tarrant wasn’t sure about that anymore. His voice of Reason was quick to remind him that, after spending the day with her, he had found that she had Muchness, Determination and Fearlessness, but not any Malevolence.
Still, his Suspicion countered, she could b’tryin’ tae trick ye.
She gently placed the sword and top hat on the ground next to her and leaned against the closest tree. “You still don’t trust me, do you?” she asked, slicing through the silence.
“I’m not sure, Alice,” he admitted, taking a seat close--but not too close!--to her. “How do I know your plan wasn’t to get the White Queen captured?”
Her eyes fluttered closed at his question. “I told you already, I’m the Queen’s Champion. I would never do anything to harm her…or anyone else in Underland. You must try to believe me, Tarrant.”
He couldn’t deny that the pull to trust Alice, especially after she had said his name like that, was strong, but so was his Distrust of her.
He needed to get to Mamoreal!
Absolem would have answers for him.
She watched him for a second, waiting for his response.
A riddle was in order, his Mind suddenly decided, wearied from his constant thoughts of Alice.
“Why is a raven like a writing desk?” he asked, changing the subject.
For some reason, this cause a brilliant, beautrific, bright--Tarrant was considering words that began with the letter B--smile to flash across her face. “I haven’t the slightest idea,” she answered.
Surprise, Happiness and Suspicion shouted in his mind simultaneously.
Maybe, his Happiness whispered, she was telling the truth and was the Queen’s Champion.
Or possibly, his Suspicion countered, she had been spying on him and had heard his oft-repeated answer to his own riddle.
Or perhaps, his Surprise argued, maybe she remembered him asking her the riddle when she crashed his tea party so many years ago.
“Hatter!” Alice said, cutting into his internal debate.
“I’m fine,” he squeaked.
Thankfully, she didn’t press the issue. “How long has it been since I’ve been in Underland?”
Despite his maligned relationship with Time, Tarrant knew that it had been five years, ten months, fifteen hours since Alice--a little girl at that Time!--had left Underland. But, he was rather regrattlin' at the Idea of telling her that he was keeping track of how long it had been since her Departure.
“Several years,” he answered. He watched her process the information.
“How has the Red Queen been?” she asked.
“Furymanglin’, as always,” he answered. “After the tart trial, she became more unbearable. ‘Off with their heads!’ she’s always saying. Most of Underland has gone into hiding.”
He watched her close her eyes. “I’m sorry, Hatter,” she said sincerely.
“It’s nae yer fault, Alice,” he said, Confused as to why he was trying to offer her Comfort.
“But I stood up for Stayne at the trial. Perhaps if I hadn’t…”
“Regret is a dreadful companion,” he interrupted. “Ye didnae dae anythin’ wrong. You were tryin’ tae dae the right thing by him. It’s nae yer fault Stayne is a slurking urpal slackush scrum.”
To his Astonishment, she scooted closer to him and leaned her head on his shoulder. “Thank you,” she said simply, not explaining her actions to the Befuddled hatter.
“You’re welcome,” he choked out, positively, absolutely, totally, not enjoying the feel of her against him.
As she shifted her head slightly, causing her warm breath to puff against his neck, Tarrant realized it was going to be a Long Night.
Tarrant and Alice arrived at the gates of the White Castle right as Brillig was about to begin, just as he had predicted they would earlier in the day. As they stepped onto the courtyard, Chess appeared to the side of Alice.
“Have you talked to Absolem yet?” she asked, ignoring her manners.
“Yes,” he said simply, giving no details of his conversation with the caterpillar.
“And?’ Alice prompted edgily.
Tarrant shared her impatience. After such a long journey, they were both eager for answers.
He spun in the air leisurely, not bothered by their annoyance. “He asked to speak with you himself. He’s waiting in the Queen’s study.”
Tarrant didn’t know what to take from Absolem’s request. Surely if he thought Alice was a danger, he would have had the Queen’s guard take her in custody before she had passed through the castle gates. But, the fact that he wasn’t willing to use Chess as his messenger didn’t settle well with him either.
“Let’s go see what he has to say,” Alice said determinedly, leading them into the castle.
Tarrant watched her with a bit of Admiration which did not go unnoticed by Chess. “My, someone has certainly moved passed his accusations of disloyalty against the young Alice,” the Cat observed with a wicked smile.
“Perhaps,” he said quietly enough so the subject of their conversation couldn’t hear, “I have a bit hasty in my judgment of her.”
“Maybe you should wait to see what Absolem has to say before you make a decision,” Chess said cryptically before disappearing suddenly.
Tarrant hastened his step, catching up to Alice. Somehow, Chess’ words had caused his Faith in the woman in front of him to suddenly go into hiding.
Soon, they found themselves in the Queen's study with Absolem sitting on a large pillow, smoking his hookah. “So the trouble-maker returns to Underland,” he said, not kindly.
Alice, however, seemed unbothered by his hostility. “It’s good to see you again too, Absolem,” she greeted with a small smile. “Chess said you had something to tell us.”
“Yes,” he said before he took a long drag from his hookah.
Impatient, Tarrant frowned as the caterpillar took his time in making ornate smoke creatures which danced across the room. “Were ye gonnae tell us somethin’?”
Absolem’s eyes flashed in anger, but he answered the Hatter anyway. “The Cheshire Cat says that you have come seeking answers from the Oraculum.” He sucked in another drag of smoke. “I cannot help you.”
“Why not?” Alice asked.
“Because it has disappeared,” he replied simply.
“It’s…disappeared?” Tarrant repeated disbelievingly. “When did this happen?”
“Approximately a day and a half ago. Not long after the Queen left for the Tylwyth,” Absolem answered seemingly unconcerned.
Tarrant whipped around to face a bewildered-looking Alice. “That’s when you arrived!” he said, his voice full of accusations.
“I had nothing to do with that!” argued Alice.
Absolem sighed, interrupting their exchange. “You are nearly as stupid as you are Mad. The Oraculum reveals itself when it chooses. She couldn’t make it disappear any more than you can fly,” he explained distastefully. “If you had taken the time to See, you would know Alice is no threat to Underland.”
Absolem’s harsh words silenced Tarrant’s Distrust and allowed his Reason to speak to him. Of course there was no way for her to have taken the Oraculum. She had been with him in his workshop when it had disappeared. Guilt and Remorse joined in the conversation as they reminded him of his actions at Witzend.
What had he done to her, locking her away? Why of all the abhorrent, appalling, atrocious actions--
“Hatter,” Alice said softly, calling him back from the Madness.
“I’m fine,” he squeaked, knowing he was far from it.
Alice flashed him a reassuring smile before turning back to the caterpillar. “We need to rescue the White Queen,” she insisted.
“You can’t just go in there and take her from the Red Queen’s castle, stupid girl,” argued Absolem.
“But I am her Champion!”
“While you are correct in your assumption that Time does not alter the Champion’s oath to a queen, only one monarch can challenge another,” Absolem countered. He blew a puff of crown-shaped smoke over Alice’s head.
Tarrant--and all his Voices--froze.
“You want me to become a queen?” asked Alice disbelievingly.
Tarrant looked at the crown of smoke still over Alice’s head. Queen Alice? He couldn’t explain why, but for some reason it seemed right.
Alice looked at the Caterpillar, squaring her shoulders. “What must I do?”
There was no fear in her voice, Tarrant noticed, only determination.
“You must reach the Queen’s Position, of course,” answered Absolem. “It is on the other side of Snud.”
Tarrant could see the confusion on Alice’s face. It seemed her knowledge of Underland geography was limited. “I know where it is.” He turned to her. “I can take you there if you want,” he proposed before he fully realized what he was offering.
What was he doing? A Hatter had no place to escorting a queen-to-be across Underland! Such a task would be better left to the Knights of Mamoreal.
Alice, however, seemed delighted at his proposition, rewarding him with a small smile. “Thank you, Hatter.”
“You’ll leave in the morning,” Absolem declared. He blew a puff of smoke that looked like the card soldiers and marched across the room. “Be on alert. If the Red Queen finds out what you are trying to do, you will be in danger.”
Alice nodded. “I understand.”
Before the two of them could walk away, Chess spoke, “When you get a chance, Absolem, perhaps you can search the archives on Frabjousness.”
The caterpillar looked bothered. “Why in the name of Underland would I do that?”
“Because, I believe another one is about to take place,” answered Chess coyly.
If this concerned Absolem, he didn’t show any outward signs of it doing so. “I’ll check when I have the time,” he replied, unexpectedly compliant.
Tarrant searched his memory for the word, but other than Frabjous Day, the word didn’t mean anything to the Hatter. It was probably something concerning Cats, he decided distastefully.
With the conversation over, Alice left the room. Tarrant soon followed after her. Before he could reach her, he felt a small poke on his toe. He looked down at saw Mally, stabbing him with a hatpin!
“That’s fo cancelin’ the Tylwyth,” she said angrily. She stabbed him again. “An that’s fer not telling’ me ya self!”
He knelt down to his long-time friend. “I couldn’t help it. The Jabberwock--”
“I heard Absolem talkin’ about it! But I would have poked it in the eye then I could have had Lafriden cheese,” she said, longing in her voice.
“Well, that I can help you with,” he said with a smile. He reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a perfectly Mally-sized chunk of cheese.
“Oh Hatter!” she said, embracing his finger before grabbing the piece of cheese. “And don’t think you’re leavin’ here without me either,” she said with a bit in her mouth. “I haven’t fo’got about how troublesome that Alice is! Someone has got to look out for ya!”
“Count me in as well,” added Chess.
Tarrant looked up and watched as the Tweedles waddled towards them.
“We’re coming too.”
“Contrariwise, if we don’t get to come then at least we’re safe in the castle.”
He watched as Alice looked over the group. “Of course, you’re all welcome to join us.”
Tarrant didn’t know if he was relieved or disappointed at the idea that he and Alice would have company.
Chapter 4: Once and Always Champion (4/7), an Alice in Wonderland fic
fic: alice in wonderland, fic: once and always champion
Once and Always Champion (4/7), an Alice in Wonderland fic
Alice woke up with more than a kernel of anticipation in her stomach. Much of the previous night had been spent planning their traveling route. The Rules of Underland--never speak to a flower unless spoken to first, be aware of the fire from the dragonflies, and never, ever touch a Squimberry bush--were taught to her, traveling bags were packed and a plan to save Mirana after Alice became queen was in place.
After Absolem’s proclamation that she was not a threat to Underland, just as she had said herself, she found herself with the trust of the others, including, most importantly to her, Tarrant. Now, despite the peril Mirana was in, she felt more at ease than she had since she had stepped through the looking glass.
Though, she had to admit as she looked at herself in the full-length mirror in front of her, she didn’t know what to think about the idea of her becoming queen. She shrugged off her feelings of awkwardness. It wouldn’t matter after everything was over. When Mirana returned to Mamoreal, Alice would relinquish the crown back to her.
Just as Alice was about to leave the room, Chess appeared. “I’d take the hat if I were you.”
She looked back at the table where she had purposely left the stunning hat. “I didn’t want it to get ruined,” she explained.
“It is worth what little dust might get on it for the protection you will receive. Despite their madness, the Hightopp clan in one of the most respected clans in all of Underland,” Chess offered.
Alice considered his words. There was so much about Tarrant’s background she didn’t know but she would trust the Cat who did. Alice walked to the table and placed the hat on her head. Finally ready, she made her way to the front gate with Chess where the Hatter, Mally and the Tweedles, her traveling companions, were waiting for her. Taking a long breath, she joined the three of them. “Let’s go,” she said determinedly.
Hours passed, along with countless trees, talking flowers and mushrooms the size of Alice’s home in London. Most of the day was filled with one of her companions, usually Tarrant, explaining to her different landmarks throughout Underland.
“That is Brawlin’,” supplied the Hatter as the first, large village came into view. “They have the most quarrelsome people there.”
Alice frowned. She didn’t want to waste her time fighting with the locals; she needed to get to the Queen’s Position. But, she noted, there was no way to bypass the large village. They had no choice but to walk through it.
When they reached the outskirts, she noticed Tarrant frowning.
“What is it?” she asked worriedly.
He shook his head, whether to clear his head or as some kind of answer, Alice didn’t know. “Usually there is the sound of fighting or drumming,” he said as way of explanation.
Mally, seated on Tarrant’s shoulder, nodded her agreement. “The Hatter’s right! Somethin’s goin’ on here,” she said, scrambling off Tarrant.
“Mally!” he called, but it was no use. She had already scurried into the village.
“We shouldn’t go in there,” chimed in Tweedledum.
“We have to! Alice needs to become Champion,” Tweedledee reminded his brother with a shove.
“But she can’t become queen if the Red Queen has her guard in there waiting to kill Alice,” argued Tweedledum.
Alice watched the fury grow on Tarrant’s face. “No one is going to kill me,” she said firmly.
“Yer right, nae one is gonnae kill ye,” Tarrant agreed. “I promise ye that.”
“It’s a shame you can’t disappear,” Chess said. “I think now is a good time to check on the White Queen.”
“That Guddler's scuttish, pilgar-lickering, shukm-juggling slurking--” Tarrant started as the Cat disappeared.
“Tarrant,” Alice called. “It will be fine.”
He turned to her, an apology on his lips, when he noticed Mally running back to them. “You’re not gonna believe this!” she cried.
Without waiting for them, she started back into the village. They weaved through the houses and shops until she led them to where a lion and a unicorn were sitting in silence.
Once Alice got past the fact that there were truly a lion and a unicorn in front of her, she wondered why their actions concerned Mally so much. “What’s wrong?”
“They should be fighting for the crown,” Tarrant explained.
“Which crown?” she wondered.
He shrugged. “I don’t think it really matters. They fight for the crown, then they get served quite the selection from the local bakery before they get drummed out of town. Then the next day, it happens again.”
“All that fighting sounds dreadful,” she commented.
She watched as Mally poked the lion in the arm. “Get up, you lump! Ya are supposed to be fightin’.”
The unicorn dragged his gaze to the little mouse. “The Red Queen said she would cut off our heads if we fought for the crown.”
Alice saw Tarrant stiffen slightly at the mention of the hated monarch.
“And ye thought t’would be best if you just sit around an‘ let her ruin Underland,” replied the Hatter, his eyes turning orange. “Yer just gonnae sit there until she sends that slurvish buddlelaken Styane tae your home an’ take it fer herself.”
“What can we do? She’s already taken the White Queen,” the lion said, defeated. “There is no Champion to save her or Resistance to fight the Red Queen.”
“I’m the Champion,” Alice proclaimed.
“You?” the Unicorn huffed in disbelief.
“Yes,” she replied, wishing she had the Vorpal Sword with her. Perhaps, if she could show it to them, they would believe her. “And soon the White Queen will rule over all of Underland,” Alice said.
The two creatures studied her for a second before turning away from her, not swayed by her words. “Why should we bother?” the unicorn asked, sighing.
“What’s the point of fighting if you know you can’t win?” the lion added.
“The two of you fought everyday for the crown. Neither of you ever won, but you had to try to win because it was worth fighting for,” argued Alice. “Don’t let the Red Queen take away your fighting spirit.”
Several long seconds passed as the two combatants considered her words. Finally, the unicorn stood up. “She’s right. When I win the crown, then I shall go and fight the Red Queen.”
“I believe you mean when I win the crown then I shall fight the red queen,” the lion replied, getting to his feet.
The unicorn rubbed his back hoof against the ground, getting ready to charge the lion. “I shall have the crown!”
“No, it will be mine!” the lion roared.
Alice watched in surprise as the rest of the townspeople came out to watch the creatures circling each other with a smile on their face.
“I’ll start making the bread,” said a portly man with a smile on his face.
The unicorn looked up at Alice. “Thank you. You have given us back our Much--.” The rest of his words were cut off by the lion pummeling into him. He straightened and looked at her as the lion was preparing to charge again. “Of course I should have expected as much from a Hightopp.”
Did they think she and the Hatter were a couple?
And, more importantly, why didn’t that bother her as much as it should have?
Alice felt a hand on her back. “The hat,” Tarrant quietly reminded her.
They watched for several minutes as the lion and the unicorn circled each other, attacking at every available opportunity. Tweedledee and Tweedledum, each rooting for the opposite creature, cheered. Mally, now back on Tarrant’s shoulder, yelled at both of them. Tarrant spent most of his time watching Alice out of the corner of his eye. Alice, for her part, stood by Tarrant, wondering how long the two of them would fight.
It wasn’t until the baker came out with several loaves of bread and a large cake that Tarrant moved away from the fighting. “We should probably leave before the drumming starts. It can be quite…earsplitting at times,” explained Tarrant.
Nodding, Alice led them away and left the villagers to their preferred form of entertainment.
“Pink is an absolutely dreadful color on you, your Majesty,” Chess drawled as Mirana entered the room.
She spun around, flashing him a relieved, yet strained, smile. “Chess!” she greeted, touching her once-white hair. “I am afraid Iracebeth’s presence is beginning to have an affect on me.”
“Apparently,” he agreed.
Mirana opened her mouth to speak, but then closed it quickly.
“Cat got your tongue?” purred Chess.
“I am frightened,” she admitted softly. “Iracebeth is doing her best to…corrupt me. She is stirring up feelings inside of me that I thought I had managed to control.” Mirana looked at him. “I am starting to go mad.”
“Aren’t we all?”
She sat on the edge of her bed, worried. “What if I cannot fight her influence? It is quite strong.” Glancing at her pink hair in the looking glass caused a frown to spread across her face.
“Your Champion wants you not to worry,” Chess replied, appearing next to her.
Mirana sighed. “But Alice hasn’t become my Champion yet.”
“According to Absolem, the Champion’s oath is not bound by time constraints,” he explained. “It is rather trying to understand all the rites of a Champion.”
She relaxed slightly, knowing there was someone fighting for her.
“You should be in Mamoreal by the week’s end if Alice has anything to say about it,” he said, floating in front of her.
Suddenly, Mirana grabbed him with a firm grasp, her eyebrows twitching. “I don’t know if I have that much time,” she gritted out as she began pulling his fur.
He fizzled out of her hands and appeared on the other side of the room, away from the threat. “Then you better talk to Time and ask him to give you some more. I’d hate for Alice to have to confront two mad queens,” he replied dryly, his anger barely in check.
And with that, he was gone.
Tarrant and the others, sans Chess, made camp just as the sun was slipping behind Mole Hill. The dormouse had promptly fallen asleep as soon as she had rolled out her pallet while the Tweedles seemed content to sleep against the closest tree.
Tarrant watched Alice move about the camp, noticing how completely exhausted she appeared. It was clear to him she was not used to the vigorous walking that was required of them.
She flashed him a smile as she rolled out her bedding, causing a federation of Emotions to start running through his mind. He grinned as he set the broadsword he had taken to carrying on the tree next to him. He leaned against it, settling in for the night. He wouldn’t--couldn’t--sleep, but there was no reason for him to be uncomfortable.
Alice looked at him, frowning. “You can trust me, Tarrant. I’m not going to run to the Red Queen,” she said softly, not wanting to disturb Mally or the boys.
He was shocked, stunned, stupefied by her statement! How could she think he still didn’t trust her? Wasn’t his admiration of her Muchness obvious?
“That’s not why I am not sleeping, Alice,” he finally managed to reply.
She cocked her head slightly, her Curiosity piqued. “Then why aren’t you?”
He looked pointedly at the top hat which still rested on her head. “I take my duties to the Hightopp clan very seriously.”
Tarrant watched as she carefully reached up and took the hat off her head. Yes, it was quite one of the best First Hats he had ever seen--and, Humility told himself, he didn’t think that only because Hannahlyn was his apprentice.
As she placed it to the side of her, she looked at him. “When’s the last time you slept?” she asked.
He thought about it for a moment. “Horunvendush Eve,” he answered.
“But, Tarrant! That’s been three days,” she replied, astonished.
“And it’s been even longer since I’ve had a good cup of tea. That is a much worse thing,” he said seriously. Yes, he thought, a good cup of tea would clear up his Confusion concerning his feelings towards Alice.
He was so deep in conversation with his Thoughts, that he didn’t notice Alice approaching him. She placed her hand gently on his chest. “Rest,” she insisted.
His heart raced at the contact. No one--no woman!--had ever touched him in such a way before. He lowered his gaze to where her hand was on his chest before looking up in Alice’s eyes. Tarrant noticed the Concern and Care in them.
“I can’t,” he said, as his Confidence encouraged him to reach up and cover her hand. “It’s only a matter of time before th‘ Bluddy Behg Hid hears about what we’re doing, I’ve got to keep a lookout for her guards.”
He swallowed his Fear. “I cannae let anythin’ happen to ye, Alice.”
“You’re forgetting,” she said with a small smile, “that I’m the White Queen’s Champion. I can keep watch for a while so you can rest.”
“But you’re--” he started, looking away slightly.
“Tarrant,” she interrupted. “Let me do this for you.”
His eyes met hers. Brown spoke to green. Finally he nodded. “Aw reit, I’ll lie down fer a while, but when ye git tired, wake me.”
“I will,” she smiled.
Before he realized what she was doing, she pulled her hand away from him and grabbed the hat from on top of his head and set it carefully next to her own. Not even his Madness could explain why seeing the two top hats side by side pleased him as much as it did.
“If you see anything strange…” he began.
“I’ll tell you,” she finished.
Despite the swirl of Thoughts in his mind, his Exhaustion silenced them and Tarrant found himself asleep within seconds.
Tarrant opened his eyes slowly, surprised to see the sun rising over the hill. Had Alice stayed awake all night just so he could sleep? He turned around and saw Alice sleeping against one of the trees, slightly slumped over, her short hair barely spilling over her shoulder.
He frowned. Why hadn’t she woken him up when she was tired?
She did say she would do that!
He was about to wake her up and demand answers when they came to him in the form of an annoyed voice from the ground.
“I told her to sleep, Hatter,” Mally said, her hand on her hip. “Ya can’t expect her to get to the Queen’s Position when she hasn't had any rest, can ya?”
“I told her tae wake ma when she was tired,” he replied, feeling defensive.
“Hmph! Only a Bandersnatch could compete with her Stubbornness!”
Tarrant couldn’t argue with the mouse there. It seemed as though Alice’s Muchness was directly tied into her fortitude.
He looked back and noticed the Tweedles were still contently snoring. “We’ll need to leave soon, but they can sleep for a bit longer,” he said, walking away from the camp so their talking wouldn’t disturb their sleeping companions.
Though he tried to focus on his conversation with Mally, he found himself looking back on Alice quite often.
“You are better company when you’re Mad than when you are Enchanted,” complained Mally.
Enchanted? Who exactly was she talking about? Certainly not him. Tarrant admired Alice for her seemingly never-ending supply of Muchness, but--
His often quiet voice of Reason interrupted his thoughts--perhaps he was enchanted by Alice.
He shook off his thoughts of Alice and turned back to his friend. “I’m sorry, Mally, what were you saying?”
“Never mind, you lump! You’ll just go back to starin’ at her anyways,” the dormouse grumbled. “What does she have that’s got you so smitten anyway?”
“I’m not sure,” his Confusion said. “But I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about anyone else before.”
Mally’s shoulders slumped. “I know you haven’t.”
Tarrant was Baffled by his friend’s reaction. Why it almost seemed like she was disappointed in him somehow! But he hadn’t done anything to grieve her…had he?
“Am I interrupting something Important?” purred Chess as he appeared in mid-air next to Tarrant.
“Did you see the Queen?” Tarrant asked, not bothering with a greeting.
“Again, you do the manners of Outlanders proud,” commented Chess sarcastically, seemingly put out.
“The Queen is trapped in Salazen Grum and you want a Good morning, you slurvish Cat,” returned Tarrant, feeling his anger building.
Chess let out a long sigh. “Good morning to you too, Tarrant.” He frowned. “It is as Absolem feared. Iracebeth is doing her best to use her influence to make Mirana turn to the Darkness.”
“Is it working?” asked Mally.
“Yes,” he answered. “And don’t ask me to go back there, because I won’t do it.” He frowned. “She nearly pulled out my precious fur.”
Tarrant frowned. Harming any living creature went against her vows. What could the Bluddy Behg Hid being doing to her? They were running out of time, he knew.
“Come on,” he said to his companions, “it’s time to wake up Alice.”
They hadn’t walked far when Alice heard the most peculiar sound coming from behind the large wall lining the path. She held her hand out, stopping everyone.
“What is that?”
“Nothing to worry about,” Chess assured her. “Just the local fool who can’t sit still and is always getting into trouble.”
Tweedledee and Tweedledum looked at each other. “Cousin Humpty!” They started to climb over the short wall.
“As in Humpty Dumpty?” Alice asked incredulously.
“You know him?” Tarrant asked, intrigued. “I didn’t think you had been to this side of Underland before.”
“I haven’t,” Alice answered. “But in London we have a nursery rhyme about him.”
“A rhyme?” There was no mistaking the fascination in his voice.
“Yes, it goes, Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, All the king’s horse and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again ,” she recited.
Tarrant clapped his hands and giggled. “Yes yes! That is his story.” A confused look passed his face. “Though I wonder how someone from Overland knew about him.”
“Well, I am sure I am hardly the first person who has fallen through the rabbit’s hole to Underland,” Alice replied.
He shook his head. “Underland has never been particularly kind to Outsiders.”
How strange, Alice thought. She had never seemed to have any problems with coming to Underland. not that she'd visited a great many times, though…Suddenly, her mother's words came back to her, how she had tried to touch the front of the looking glass, but nothing had ever happened.
“And yet, Alice has managed to return,” Chess casually noted.
“Well, that’s because she’s the Queen’s Champion,” Mally offered.
“Perhaps,” the Cat replied half-heartedly.
One of the Tweedles, Alice couldn’t tell which one, stuck his head over the wall. “Cousin Humpty needs help.”
Quickly, they made their way over the fence and saw the broken shell of Humpty Dumpty. Several large pieces of his body were scattered around. The shell with his face on it was facing upside down in the dirt.
Tarrant quickly turned the piece over.
“Thank you, my good sir,” the egg man said. He looked him over. “You’re not the King’s Man, are you?”
He shook his head. “I’m afraid I am the Queen’s Hatter.”
Humpty sighed. “I’m afraid I’m stuck here, boys,” he said to the Tweedles. “Without the King’s Men, I am doomed to remain broken.”
“We can help you,” Alice offered, unable to think of leaving this poor creature alone in his current state.
“You are a woman!” he laughed. “You can be no help to me.”
They were words Alice had heard spoken to her throughout her two years at sea. She stiffened slightly and noticed that Tarrant did the same.
“A woman can do anything a man can,” Alice proclaimed with a good dose of Muchness.
“Except fix a broken egg man,” Humpty argued. “It has been written that way, so it shall be.”
“Then it’s time to write you a new story,” she said determinedly. She turned back to Tarrant. “I need the Squimberry jelly.”
As he was busy getting the make-shift glue, she instructed the Tweedles to collect the biggest pieces and Mally to find any shards of the shell that might have fallen. When everything had been brought together, she and the others began to painstaking process of putting Humpty back together.
Finally, after nearly an hour, Chess floated up to the top of Humpty’s head, placing the last piece. Alice took a step back and looked at their work. There was a little Squimberry jelly oozing out of the seams, but overall, Humpty Dumpty looked quite himself again.
“Why, Alice, I do believe we managed to put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” Tarrant said, admiration in his voice.
“Thank you,” the egg said sincerely. “Boys?”
She looked at the Tweedles who had begun fighting.
“You tell her!”
“No, t’was you who said we’d do it!”
“But, you agreed with me!”
“Tweedles?” she asked, forcing herself to be patient.
“I knows we said we’d go with you to the Queen’s Position and all,” started Tweedledee. “But, seein’ as there’s no one to watch Cousin Humpty--”
“We think we should stay with him to make sure he won’t be fallin’ again,” Tweedledum finished in a rush.
Alice looked at the boys and nodded. She'd never wanted any of them to feel obligated to follow her. “Of course, Tweedles,” she said, reassuringly.
“Now that the family bonding is over with, do you think we could continue to the Queen’s Position? It is getting frightfully late in the day,” Chess commented.
Quickly, they bid their goodbyes and started making their way down the road again.
The journey to the Queen’s Position was getting increasingly more difficult as the day progressed, Tarrant noted as they once again hid behind a gathering of trees as the Red Queen’s guards passed. Most of the day they had alternated between ducking behind hedges and trees to slipping behind large mushrooms, trying to not get caught.
Once they passed another group of card soldiers, they continued making their way. Mally, seated upon Chess’ back, kept a look out for any more of the Red Queen’s army . “You never did explain why you’re followin’ along anyway, Chess. I thought you don’t pay no attention to politics,” she said.
“I don’t,” he agreed. “But, the idea of an Overlander becoming a Queen in Underland is quite intriguing.”
“I don’t see why,” Mally replied. “She ain’t gonna be a queen over any land anyway!”
“If Mirana has already fallen to the Darkness, then Alice may have no other choice,” the Cat said, smiling bitterly. “Queen Alice of Mamoreal.”
Alice’s firm declaration stopped the conversation immediately. “This plan will work--I know it will.”
“This plan is nearly impossible!” complained Mally. “You don’t expect th’ Bluddy Behg Hid to leave the Queen’s position unguarded, do you?”
Panic settled over Tarrant.
Mally was right!
Surely she wouldn’t send only a handful of foot soldiers to keep Alice from reaching her goal. What if that cursed Knave was there waiting for them?
“Sometimes,” Alice said, cutting into Tarrant’s thoughts, “I think of as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Tarrant let out a strangled squeak before collecting himself.
Six Impossible things? And before breakfast no less?
Just when he thought he understood the magnitude of Alice’s Muchness, she surprised him again. “That sounds like an excellent practice,” he commented, delighted.
“Tarrant,” she said in a confiding whisper.
An Unfamiliar feeling spread through him at the sound of her voice weaving his name in honeyed tones. It was an odd combination of Anticipation, Desperation and Elation.
“Yes, Alice?” he lisped quietly.
“Your eyes are purple,” she whispered, stepping close to him.
Mally huffed, but said nothing about the observation.
Tarrant swallowed. “Are they?” he asked a bit shakily.
She nodded as she slowed, taking her time to look into his eyes. “I’ve never seen that particular color before.”
Oh how he wished they were alone! Then he could share with her all the conflicting emotions running through his mind. But, there was no way he was about the share his inner secrets in front of that slurvish Cat and he doubted Mally would want to stand around for their conversation either.
“I’ve never felt this way before,” he said huskily.
He faintly registered Mally groaning, but most of his attention was on Alice. “Which is?” she pressed.
Certainly her Muchness was going to be the end of him, he decided. He drew in an unsteady breath. “When I can find a word to adequately describe it, I’ll tell you,” he said, not turning away from her unwavering gaze.
“I believe I can be helpful in suggesting a word,” offered Chess, shattering the delicious Tension that surrounded the two of them.
The Unfamiliar feeling was replaced with the more recognizable sensation of Anger along with a good dose of Annoyance. “Yer help is nae needed,” he muttered.
Alice smiled at the exchange, making Tarrant wonder what was so funny.
As they continued down the path, Tarrant felt his Dread growing.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, picking up on his change of mood.
“Something’s not right,” he said with a soft lisp, shaking his head. “I know we’ve seen the Queen’s guard, but, Mally’s correct, th’ Bluddy Behg Hid isn’t going to let someone walk onto the Queen’s Position without a fight.”
“We’ll be ready,” Alice said confidently. She reached over and gently put her hand on Tarrant’s cheek, causing a myriad of reactions--an indignant huff, a Canary-eating grin, and a shaky smile--from her companions.
“If I can slay a Jabberwocky, then everything else should be easy.”
Tarrant was willing to believe anything she said while she was gently touching him. “Of course, Alice,” he answered with a lisp and more than a little Hope. “Let’s go make you a queen.”
Chapter 5: Once and Always Champion (5/7), an Alice in Wonderland fic
fic: alice in wonderland, fic: once and always champion
There, pacing in front of the pearly gate, was Ilosovich Stayne.
They had been cautious in their approach. So far their presence had gone unnoticed by the Knave in front of them.
“What are we going to do?” Tarrant whispered as they hid behind the stalk of a mushroom.
“We’re gonna capture him! It’s all we can do!” replied Mally, swinging her hatpin in the air. “Just say the word, Alice, and I’ll poke out his other eye! Then he won’t see anythin’ comin’!”
While that was a good idea, Alice didn’t like the idea that her friend would be put in harm’s way. Alice considered her options for a second. “Do we have any Upelkuchen?”
Tarrant shook his head. “No, Thackery was out of Toe Jam.”
Alice frowned. They couldn’t wait around all day, hoping Stayne would leave. In fact, she knew that the man wouldn’t move from that position until he found Alice and stopped her from becoming queen. She was suddenly grateful for Absolem’s insistence that she arm herself before leaving the secure walls of the White Queen’s castle.
Slowly, she unsheathed the unfamiliar sword, noting the unsure look on her face in the reflection of the blade. Mustering up her Muchness, Alice stood up. “Stay here,” she instructed as she slid the weapon back into its holder and slung the sheath over her shoulder.
Tarrant stood up to follow her. “Alice--”
“No, I need you stay here,” she interrupted. The only way they could outfight the Knave was having the element of surprise on their side. “I’ll call you when I need you.”
There was a flash of orange in his eyes, but was quickly replaced with a dull yellow. He wasn’t happy with her decision, she knew, but he was willing to respect it. For now. “I hope ye know what yer doin’.”
“Me too,” she admitted softly.
Without allowing herself a second thought, or a first one for that matter, she made her way from the hiding place and walked directly to Stayne.
His disgusted laugh filled the air. “So, you’ve been hiding from the Queen all these years with those lunatics, the Hightopps.” He snickered as he took in her appearance. “What? Did you get tired with your current headwear?”
Hannahlyn’s hat! Alice had meant to take it off before she had left so it wouldn’t get damaged during her fight with Stayne. For a moment, she considered tossing it back to Tarrant, but she knew she couldn’t--not unless she was willing to reveal his position.
Which she wasn’t.
She ignored Stayne and tried to walk past him to the gate.
Unfortunately, the Knave wasn’t in the mood to move out of the way. “You’re not going anywhere,” he punctuated his statement with the drawing of his sword.
Alice drew out her own sword, suddenly grateful for her willingness to be taught how to fence by the men on the Wonder. She knew she wasn’t as proficient at sword fighting as Stayne was, but she was confident that she could hold her own. “I need to get by,” she said, deceptively calm.
“I can’t let you do that,” he said with a snarl and a thrust of his sword.
“You know,” she said off-handedly as she parried, “I always wondered how a swordsman of your caliber managed to suffer such an injury from a hatpin.”
Anger filled his features. “What did that blasted dormouse tell you?” he shouted, swinging his sword, nearly reaching her chest.
She took advantage of his sloppy swordsmanship and advanced, slicing his arm. “Enough,” she replied simply.
With a shout, he lunged forward and his sword clashed with her own. The force of the blow caused Alice to trip. She landed squarely on her bum before rolling out of the way from his next attack.
She got up to her feet and thrust her sword forward. “It’s over ye, brangergain-in' greizin'-grommer!” she shouted.
Surprise caused her hold on the sword to loosen slightly. Had she just spoken Outlandish?
“So, you have been with the Hightopps,” Stayne sneered. “I should have known by your poor fighting skills. Tell me, Alice, how does it feel knowing you’re about to die?”
“Ah wouldnae ken,” she answered, this time prepared for the unfamiliar accent coming out of her mouth. “Perhaps ye could teel me.” She lunged once, then twice but Stayne was prepared for her predictable moves. He blocked them effortlessly and advanced on Alice.
I’m nae gonnae tae be able tae defeat him, she thought worriedly.
Her confusion at her sudden capability to speak and think Outlandish combined with Stayne’s superior fighting skills made her doubt her ability to defeat him without the help of her friends.
Suddenly, Stayne stepped forward. He circled his blade around hers several times before flicking his wrist, causing Alice’s sword to fly out of her hand. She walked backwards until she hit the front of the gate, eyes wide in terror.
“I can’t say I’m going to regret this,” he said distastefully.
“Tarrant!” Alice yelled, as the blade was getting precariously close to her throat.
Startled, Stayne looked back to where Tarrant was. Alice watched as something came flying towards her. She caught the object in the air as Stayne turned back to her. Alice hadn't known what Tarrant was going to give her, but this was Mad even for a hatter.
“Is that a Squimberry tart?” Stayne asked as he looked at the tart hungrily, dropping his sword slightly.
“Yes,” she answered slowly, relieved that all signs of the Outlandish accent had disappeared. She looked bemusedly at the pastry in her hand.
Before he could ask for a sample of the treat, Tarrant came up from behind him and hit the hilt of his sword against the back of his head, knocking him out.
Alice looked at the pastry, then at Stayne, then at Tarrant. “I’m assuming this all makes sense to you,” she noted dryly.
Tarrant looked at her, grinning. She--along with his help--had defeated Stayne. Now there was nothing stopping her from becoming a queen and rescuing Mirana. “When you asked me for some Upelkuchen it got me thinking of all the things Thackery did put in our sacks, our bags, our --”
“Tarrant,” she intervened. “The tart?”
“Oh yes, well, if you remember that slurvish greizen’-grommer was on trial for stealing th’ Bluddy Behg Hid’s tarts. It’s quite known throughout Underland that Stayne cannot resist them,” he explained happily.
Alice looked at the motionless body on the ground. “But a tart?” she asked in disbelief.
“Everyone has a Weakness, Alice. Why not a tart?” he asked, hoping she wouldn’t ask him what his was. Or, his Courage countered, maybe he did want her to ask.
She smiled. “I suppose everyone does have a weakness,” she replied, looking directly at Tarrant.
His heart sped up. Was she trying to say something without saying it again? Before he could ask, she looked at the gate and drew a long breath. “I suppose it’s time for me to become a queen.”
He pushed down his Disappointment. “We’ll take care of Stayne while you go to the Queen’s Position,” he offered.
She whipped around and faced him. “You’re not going with me?” There was no mistaking the slight Panic in her voice.
Tarrant shook his head. “Only the one petitioning for the crown can enter the Queen’s Position,” he explained. “We’ll be waiting for you.”
Alice, the Alice that had led this journey with Determination and Drive, suddenly seemed very unsure of herself. Unable to stand seeing her like that, Tarrant stepped close to her and gently cupped her cheek. “I believe in you, Alice.”
His words worked better than many of the White Queen’s potions could possibly hope to. Suddenly, her Muchness reappeared, stronger than it had before. She stood on her tiptoes and gently pressed a kiss on his lips.
Tarrant had never been more surprised! If his words had caused her to kiss him, then perhaps he should talk more often!
He slid his hand into her hair, pulling her close. A groan slipped from him as he felt a puff of warm Alice-breath cover his bottom lip. He felt her slip her arms around his shoulders, drawing him somehow closer to her.
Several heart-racing seconds passed before their lips separated with a small pop. She leaned her forehead against his own. “Thank you, Tarrant.”
Slowly she took a step away from him. Reaching up, she carefully took the hat off her head. “Hold this for me?”
He nodded as he took it from her. Of course Alice wouldn’t need a Hightopp hat anymore, he thought with a twinge of Sadness. She would wear a crown now.
“I’ll be back,” she said confidently before stepping through the gate.
Tarrant watched, transfixed as Alice walked away and out of sight. His Sadness didn’t last long; his Memory reminded him of the amazing, astonishing, astounding Alice kiss he had just experienced.
As he opened his eyes, Chess appeared on the side of him. “She kissed me,” Tarrant said, if only to prove to himself that it really had happened.
“Yes,” Chess said with a sigh. “I saw that.”
“What does it mean?” Tarrant asked honestly. He never had to deal with so many conflicting emotions at once before.
“It could mean nothing. It could mean everything. That’s up to the two of you to decide,” Chess replied.
“She does have much Muchness, doesn’t she?” he asked, still looking at the gate.
“Quite.” Chess looked at him carefully for a moment. “Tell me, Tarrant, what do you know about Frabjousness?”
Alice didn’t know quite what to expect when she entered the Queen’s Position. She was hoping that she would just stand there and suddenly a crown would appear on her head. But, like everything else in Underland, things were as never easy as she thought they ought to be.
The long checkered path in front of her didn’t lend much to the imagination, so Alice busied herself by thinking of Tarrant and the kiss they had shared. She wasn’t surprised by her forwardness, in fact, she mused, it was a wonder she had waited as long as she had!
During her time at sea, she had worried that the unexplained feelings she had towards Mamoreal’s Royal Hatter would diminish as time went on. But, as soon as she saw Tarrant again, despite the way he tricked her, those feelings had increased ten-fold.
There was no way that Alice wanted to make things uncomfortable between the two of them. But after seeing his eyes follow her wherever she walked and knowing his dedication went far beyond whatever pledge was tied to the top hat she was given, Alice allowed herself to push the boundaries of their relationship a little further than it had been before.
Of course, she allowed herself to think, all this time spent with Tarrant might not be a Good Thing. She thought about how easily the Outlandish words had slipped from her mouth when she'd fought Stayne. She had meant to ask him about that before she entered the gate!
There was no time to think about such things now. She had to focus on becoming a queen and saving Mirana.
She continued following the checkered path until she found herself standing in front of the mouth of a large cave. Cautiously, she walked inside.
To her surprise, there was a large owl waiting for her.
He was easily as tall as Tarrant with his hat on. His brown feathers were glossy, his blue eyes were piercing. She didn’t know whether to be amazed or terrified by the giant bird.
“Lady Alice, welcome to the Queen‘s Position. I am Tylluan,” he greeted warmly. “Absolem said to expect your arrival.”
“Thank you,” she said, looking around the cave.
It was more like a large room than any cave Alice had ever seen. The caves she knew of were dark and dingy. Here, the walls were luminescent, giving off a faint pink light. She touched the cave’s wall and noted, with some surprise, that the surface was soft.
“He did mention your curiosity,” the owl noted. “He also said that you want to become queen with the intention to challenge Iracebeth of Salazen Grum.”
Alice nodded. “Yes.”
He considered her for a moment, studying her carefully. “Very well. Follow me,” he finally said. He made his way down the cave corridor which was lit by large torches, each casting a green flame.
Suddenly Alice found herself in a chamber with two looking glasses. Tylluan turned back to face Alice.
“The decision to become a queen should not be taken lightly,” the owl started. “When one takes the crown, their life becomes bound to the land they rule over. Even if, as Absolem suggested, you would want to relinquish the crown once Mirana of Mamoreal is restored, your bond to the land will not be broken.”
He pointed to the mirrors. “I offer you two choices, Lady Alice.” The owl flew between the looking glasses. “One will return you back to you world. You will be reunited with your family and live the remainder of your life in Overland. The other will grant your request and you will become Queen and spend the rest of your life in Underland.”
Tylluan flew close to her. “But I warn you, Lady Alice. The mirror that you do not choose will be closed forever.”
Movement in the mirror’s reflection caught her attention. She saw her sister and mother talking excitedly as a little child waddled around the living room in her childhood home. Alice saw herself in the corner with a smile, but seemingly out of place.
“I can be reunited with my Mother?” she asked softly. “But she’s dead. How is that possible?”
“You know of the looking glass’ ability to move a person through Time. It is the one realm he does not have control over. If you were to return to your world, you could do so and return at whatever point in Time you wanted,” explained Tylluan. “You could relive the time you missed with her.”
“Would she…” she swallowed, “still die the way she did?”
The feathers on the back of the Owl’s neck ruffled. “I am not sure, Lady Alice. Fate is an extremely unpredictable fellow. Even more inhospitable than Time himself.” He looked at her. “He did go out of his way to bring you back to Underland. However, Free Will is always a mite stronger than he is so nothing is certain.”
She turned her gaze from the first looking glass to the second. Tarrant and Mally were standing in the middle of a checkerboard field, each armed with a weapon--a broadsword and hatpin respectively--next to her. She saw herself dressed in the Champion’s armor, brandishing the Vorpal Sword. There was a large gash in her head and a determined look on her face.
The easy or the difficult?
The known or the mysterious?
The possible or the impossible?
To be Alice or the Alice?
Alice turned back to the reflection of her mother. She took a step forward towards the mirror and held up her hand, nearly touching the glass. All she had to do was reach out and she could be reunited with her mother…
And be separated from Tarrant.
“I’ve made my decision,” she said, taking a small step backwards.
His eyes widened. “That is terribly swift, Lady Alice. Are you certain?”
She nodded. “I’ve had to make this decision before,” she answered, thinking about the vial of the Jabberwocky’s blood. She looked in the mirror. “Goodbye, Mother,” she whispered, her eyes filled with unshed tears. “I’m ready now.”
“Good luck, Alice,” the owl said.
“Thank you. Fairfarren, Tylluan.” She turned around, gathered her Muchness and stepped through the opposite mirror--
And ended up outside the Queen’s Position.
Alice didn’t have to wait long for her companions to find her.
Chess smiled widely.
“It’s the Brallign,” he finally managed to whisper.
She looked around. “Where’s Stayne?”
“He is…tied up at the moment,” Chess answered, nodding towards a tree where Stayne, still unconscious, was bound.
She took a step towards Tarrant, curious at his quietness. Before she could say anything, he bowed lowly. “It seems like you found your crown, milady,” Tarrant finally said, oddly formal.
Alice laughed awkwardly at his rigidness. “Tarrant, I’m still the same Alice.”
He mumbled something under his breath and turned around quickly. Mally chased after him. “Hatter!” she cried as they walked away.
“What’s wrong with Tarrant?” asked Alice.
Chess spun around lazily. “Did you ever ask which part of Underland you were queen of?” he wondered.
“No.” It was something Alice didn’t even consider since she had no intention of holding the title once Mirana returned to Mamoreal.
“For centuries, Witzend and Ipalm have been unofficially part of the White Queen’s realm due to lack of a monarch. But, it seems, Queen Alice, you have filled in the void,” Chess purred.
“I’m Queen of the Outlanders?” she asked incredulously.
“In title only, of course. I doubt you could convince the majority of them to follow your rule. They have, after all, been on their own for a long time. Most of them abhor the idea of a ruler,” he replied. “Including myself.”
She watched Tarrant leaning against the tree in the distance with a worried glance. “That’s why Tarrant acted so odd.”
“It’s not just that,” he disagreed. “He doesn’t know quite how to react about the news concerning the Frabjousness when I brought it up earlier.”
Alice looked at Chess, now floating several feet in front of her. “What’s that?”
The Cat sighed. “I thought they--the future Absolem or Mirana--would have told you about it when you were the Queen’s Champion. Especially when Tarrant asked you to stay,” he said avoiding her question with a drawn out sigh. “Of course it is up to me to explain everything.”
“Chess,” she pushed, “what is a Frabjousness?”
“You are familiar with the term Frabjous, yes?”
“I thought it was the day when I slew...I mean, am going to slay...the Jabberwocky.”
“While that is true, the word Frabjous means perfect balance. When you slay the Jabberwocky, it will bring a stability to Underland that we haven’t seen in millennia. But its power is not limited to events. People can have the power of Frabjous within them,” he explained. He licked his paws. “Like you and Tarrant.”
Though she didn’t know what he was talking about, Alice felt a blush crawl up on her cheeks. “What does this have to do with the two of us?”
Chess didn’t answer her question and instead presented one of his own. “Tell me, Alice, how much Outlandish to you know?” he asked off-handedly, his tail swishing back and froth.
“Very few words,” she admitted.
“Yet you were able to use some quite…colorful Outlandish when you were fighting with Stayne,” he noted with a grin. “And, despite Tarrant’s terrible propensity to hold a grunge for a century or two, he managed look past his Suspicion and trust you rather quickly.”
Alice turned her head slightly. “And that’s because of this Frabjousness?”
Chess grinned. “Precisely. The Frabjousness kindles a connection between two people. When the process is complete, it is a complete merging of hearts, minds and souls.”
Alice froze, not sure if she was comfortable with such an intrusion on her individuality.
“What do you mean ‘a complete merging’?” she asked. “I won’t be Alice anymore?”
“Of course you will maintain your individuality,” he huffed. “Perhaps you would better understand it better if I told you that you will become more than you could have been without Tarrant. The two of you will balance each other perfectly. I suspect the last time you were here, you felt that pull before.”
Alice thought about it. Of course that’s why the two of them had seemed so close when she had returned to Underland the first time! She thought about her conversation with Tarrant on the castle balcony, two half-mad kindred spirits, sharing a quiet moment together.
“There are steps you will need learn to make sure you will not consume each other,” Chess continued, “but that will be for Absolem to teach you once you return to Mamoreal.”
Alice watched as Tarrant started placing the field…vigorously. “What if one of us don’t want to go through with the Frabjousness?”
“You must stop the process. Without intervening, the connection will only grow stronger regardless if you and Tarrant are willing participants or not,” he answered lazily.
“In fact, since you are now Queen of the Outlanders, it might be best to end the Frabjousness. To pursue a relationship--let alone allow a Frabjousness to be completed--with one of your subjects could be quite…scandalous.” he ended with a smile on his face.
“I wore trousers instead of dresses for three years while I was at sea, I never wore a corset to any of Mother’s events and I hate the feel of stockings. Scandals and I have a long history together,” she argued back. She had never backed down from a challenge and she certainly wasn’t going to break that pattern now.
But, she admitted, as much as she wanted to learn more about the Frabjousness, they still had a Queen to save.
She looked at Tarrant. “Will he be alright?” she asked.
“You are his Queen now. He will do whatever you ask of him. Though,” he said as he started to fade away. “I hardly believe you would have had any trouble getting him to do what you wanted even without that crown on your head.”
Frabjousness, his Hope cheered, could be th’ beginning’ o‘ somethin’ Unimaginable between ye an’ Alice.
Frabjousness, his Fear whispered, could scare Alice awa’ from ye fer good.
Frabjousness, his Affection shouted, could keep Alice wi’ ye forever.
“Stop pacing!” Mally yelled. “You’re gonna step on me if you ain’t careful!”
Tarrant paused long enough for her to scurry up him and sit on his shoulder. He began his pacing as soon as she was settled.
Why hadn’t he known about this Frabjousness before? And, more importantly, why did it have to be Chess who told him about it? The smug grin he wore the entire time he told Tarrant about the bond had nearly driven the Hatter mad.
“Frabjousness,” he repeated as twirled Alice’s top hat in his hands. “Me and Alice…can you believe that?”
“You can always end the rite,” Mally offered.
He watched Alice--no, Queen Alice--talk with Chess, looking in his direction periodically. He had little doubt that Chess was filling her in on the details of the Frabjousness. “I do nae want tae dae that,” he admitted softly, turning his gaze away from her.
“I knew ya were going to say that,” Mally replied sadly.
“Dae ye think she would…want tae? Wi’ me?” he asked vulnerably.
He looked at Alice, looking quite Muchy with the long-lost crown of the Outlanders on her head. She was a Queen and a Champion. A Mad hatter didn’t fit in with those positions of high caliber, his Doubt sneered.
“If she ain’t interested, I’ll be glad to give her a poke in the right direction,” Mally replied, punctuating her statement with a stab in the air.
“Nae, Mally, if she doesn’t want tae, ‘en there will be nae more talk o it,” insisted Tarrant. Despite the nearly overwhelming-irrestible-inescapable! urge to stay with Alice forever, he would end the rite if she requested it.
The dormouse kicked him on his shoulder. “Are ya madder than normal? Of course she’s interested! She’s enamored with ya, Hatter!”
“Me?” he asked in Disbelief. Certainly Mally was Confused.
“Of course, you lump! Little Miss ‘your eyes are purple’ is smitten with ya!”
He looked at his friend and shook his head. “I fear, Mally, that you--”
A loud swishing sound interrupted their conversation. Tarrant tensed. The only creature he knew that was large enough to make that particular noise was the Jabberwocky. Without thinking, he made his way to Alice, his queen, determined to protect her.
He ran across the field, ready to do what he needed to do to make sure she stayed safe. As he approached her, he located the source of the sound. It was, in fact, not a Jabberwocky, but a--
“Phoenix,” Alice whispered.
The large bird, which was slightly bigger than a Jubjub, was covered in soft, multicolored, iridescent feathers. They watched as the beautiful bird slowed down its flight and landed next to them.
“Your highness,” the rich voice of the Phoenix said. “I have come to take you to Tulgey Woods. A challenge has been issued to you by Iracebeth of Salazen Grum of Crims and Mirana of Mamoreal.”
Tarrant’s heart tightened. Were they too late to save the White Queen?
Alice squared her shoulders as the weight of the news settled in. Tarrant wanted--oh how he wanted!--to reach out and touch her, but with the newness of the news concerning Frabjousness and her position as Queen, he didn’t know how well his comfort would be received.
“Very well, but first I must go to Mamoreal.” She turned to the others. “Let’s go.”
Tarrant watched as Mally climbed on the back of the Phoenix. He held his hand out in front of him. He swallowed thickly, forcing all the questions--Did she want to go through with the Frabjousness? Did she him differently now that she was a queen?-- away. “After you, milady.”
“Tarrant,” she said quietly. She reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze.
He looked at their linked hands, wondering how such a small gesture could make him so unshattermade. He lifted his eyes to hers.
She didn‘t step onto the Phoenix’s back right away as Tarrant thought she would. “Chess told me about the Frabjousness,” she said, capturing his gaze.
His Denial did not want hear what Alice had to say. As long as she didn’t bring it up, then he could Believe that she would want to complete the Frabjousness with him.
“I’d figured he would,” he finally said.
To his Surprise and Delight, she grinned at him. “It would seem that we’ll have another adventure waiting for us when this is over,” Alice said.
Another adventure? Certainly there wasn’t more danger wait for them--Understanding rushed in and explained that she was, in fact, speaking of the Frabjousness. “Uh, yes,” he stammered. “It does seem that way, doesn’t it?”
She wanted to go through with the process! Tarrant resisted the urge to Futterwacken right there!
She laughed softly at his Joy before taking a seat on the enormous Phoenix’s back. “Your eyes are purple again,” she noted when he took his position on the back of the bird.
“Yes, well,” he mused as the Phoenix began its flight, “I believe I have come up with the perfect word to describe this feeling: Aliceness.”
Chapter 6: Once and Always Champion (6/7), an Alice in Wonderland fic
fic: alice in wonderland, fic: once and always champion
Once and Always Champion (6/7), an Alice in Wonderland fic
“Ah’ve got naw wan ter feed!” he said as way of a greeting. “Naw wan is ‘ere ter tell me if me batten bread ‘as too much pepper in it!”
“I’m sure it more than likely does,” Alice heard Tarrant respond patiently. “You tend to use the tablespoon rather than the teaspoon for measurements.”
“That’s cos teaspoons are meant fer TEA!” Thackery shouted.
Knowing what was coming, Alice ducked her head as the tea cup came flying through the air in her direction.
“Most excellent reflexes, Alice,” Tarrant said, smiling as he walked beside her. They entered the main hall--the area was noticeably empty. “You never did tell me why we needed to return to Mamoreal.”
She walked into the armory and approached the gleaming silver armor of the Champion and the Vorpal Sword. “I’m saving Mirana,” she replied.
“Ye ur a queen nauw,” he replied, tempted to block the exit. “Ye need a Champion tae fight fer ye.”
A flash of annoyance crossed her features. Didn‘t he understand that, despite the crown she was wearing on her head, her commitment to Mirana came first? “I don’t have one.”
“I’ll be it.” There was no doubt or hesitancy in his voice.
That caused her to pause. Of course he would want to be her Champion. Tarrant would never let her stand in harm’s way alone. “Tarrant,” she said warmly with a soft smile, “I know you would, but this is my battle to fight.”
“Nae, it’s not.”
Alice took the armor from its place. “When I became Champion, I made the decision to protect Underland. The Red Queen needs to be stopped and I’m going to be the one who will do that. Just like I did before,” she replied. “I know what the Oraculum said. I have to be the one to defeat the Jabberwocky.”
She watched him internally debate with himself until he finally he took a deep breath. “When you were here before…did I stop you in becoming the Queen’s Champion?” he asked, the colors in his eyes swirling.
She shook her head. “You were the one who encouraged me the hardest to become the Champion,” she answered truthfully.
He tensed at her response. As if she sensed his thoughts--and perhaps with the beginning of the Frabjousness she had--, she cupped his cheeks. “You helped me find my Muchness and that is something I’ll always be grateful for,” she said.
“Did you…get hurt the last time?” he managed to ask despite his Fear.
She shook her head. “No.” She thought of how Tarrant how watched over her before. There was no doubt he would do the same this time. “I’ll be fine.”
She watched his eyes go from orange to yellow to a grayish-green. “I’ll b’watchin’ over ye.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“The White Queen’s guard will be waiting for you when you arrive,” Absolem said as Alice stood before him.
“But if Mirana has issued the challenge--”
“We will assume that it was under duress until she has told us otherwise,” interrupted Absolem. He studied Tarrant and Alice for a second. “I assume that you have been informed of the Frabjousness.”
“Yes, we have,” Alice answered for the two of them.
He eyed Alice carefully. “The Cheshire Cat told me you have already begun to feel the effects during the encounter with the Knave of Hearts. That you were able to speak Outlandish effortlessly?”
Alice shot Tarrant a sideways glance before nodding. “And think it as well,” she answered.
Tarrant nearly stumbled forward. She what? Why hadn't he known about that?
“Not surprising,” Absolem said, taking a drag from his ever-present hookah. “You both were highly emotional at the time. The connection would grow stronger to seek out strength from the other, especially with you, Alice, since the Frabjousness has been initiated much longer than it has with Tarrant.”
He looked at them both. “I should warn you that an unrooted Frabjousness connection can be extremely dangerous,” he said, blowing out an intricate skull and crossbones.
“We’re gonnae die because o’ it?” Tarrant asked.
“No,” Absolem answered, irritated. “But, if one of you were to get injured, the other would undoubtedly suffer.”
Alice flashed a glance at Tarrant. “What if…” she paused. “What if one of us dies?”
Terror screamed through Tarrant’s mind. She said she would be fine!
“I would suggest,” Absolem replied, not paying any heed to Tarrant‘s turmoil, “that you make an effort to stay alive.”
“But, what if the Jabberwock mangles, murders, MASACRES! Alice?” Tarrant nearly shouted.
“It is your job to make sure she does not suffer that Fate, you stupid Hatter,” Absolem retorted shortly.
“Free Will is always a mite stronger than Fate,” Alice muttered, thinking about Tylluan‘s words.
Absolem looked slightly impressed. “It would appear that you can learn.”
Tarrant glanced at Alice, who was silently pleading with him to trust her. He did! It was that slithy Jabberwock that was his problem!
“Tarrant, I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine,” she said softly. She grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze as Absolem frowned slightly.
It was subtle, but there! Tarrant felt a whisper of her confidence run through him via the Frabjousness. She really did believe she would defeat the Jabberwock and that was enough for him. Finally, he nodded slightly, silently agreeing with her.
“We‘re ready,” Alice said.
“Then there is nothing else to say except...Fairfarren, Queen Alice.”
Now that his worries had been silenced--at least temporarily-- Tarrant remembered Absolem’s claim that Alice was able to speak Outlandish. He followed Alice and her Muchness out to the main hall before his Curiosity spoke up. “What did he mean that the Frabjousness has been initiated longer with you?”
The empty hall of the castle was certainly not the place he wanted to have such a personal conversation with Alice, but he knew they didn’t have time to find a private spot to discuss this matter.
Alice paused and looked at him. “I’m assuming it’s because I returned here before.”
“And you spent a lot of time with him--with me?”
He was surprised at his resentful tone. Why if he didn’t know any better, he would think he was Jealous with of himself!
“Not as much as I would have liked and certainly not under the best of circumstances,” Alice replied truthfully, causing a wave of Envy to pass over him.
“What was he like?”
Alice laughed. “Tarrant, you are him,” she tried to assure him, moving to take a step around him.
He stood in her way.
“I need to know.”
She sighed. “He was…sad,” she finally said. “He lost everything because of the attack on Ipalm.” A faint smile passed over her lips. “But, despite his brokenness, he had a kind heart, like you, Tarrant. I’d like to think that I helped him heal after I slew the Jabberwocky...before I returned to Overland.”
Panic gripped him as he processed her words, causing his Jealousy to flee!
What if, his Terror shouted, she decided to go back after slaying the Jabberwock this time?
Though he had only been reacquainted with her for a few days, he couldn’t imagine being without his Alice. Surely she would feel the same way.
“Why…did you leave? Go back to Overland?” he asked desperately, Needing to know the answer.
“I had things I need to do.” She frowned, seeming unsatisfied with her answer.
Tarrant drew in a shaky breath. “Would you--” Another shaky breath. “Would you leave again?”
She shook her head. “I’d step through the same looking glass every time,” she said confidently.
He didn’t quite understand what she meant, but based on the look she was giving him, he knew he shouldn’t Worry about her leaving Underland any longer.
“I cared deeply about you then, but now, whether it’s because of the Frabjousness or not, I…” she drew in a trembling breath, “love you more than I ever thought possible,” she finished softly, shyly.
The cacophony of emotions shouting in his mind nearly caused Tarrant to blackout. Alice, Queen Alice, the woman with an impossible amount of Muchness, loved him?
He knew he should reciprocate her words, but instead his Disbelief squeaked, “You love me?”
A brilliant smile passed over her face. “Surely there are more impossible things you believe in?”
Relief and Confidence did a Futterwacken in his mind. He took a step forward and ran his fingers through her hair. “And I love you, my Queen Alice.”
The dirty, blood-stained checkerboard battlefield was no less grotesque a sight from the back of the Phoenix, Alice noted. It circled around the entirety of the field, allowing Alice a bird‘s eye view of the fighting arena.
They saw the Red Queen and her army, Mirana and the Bandersnatch carrying the Knave of Hearts on its back. Alice felt Tarrant stiffen behind her. “What’s that slurking urepal slackush scrum doing here?”
“Getting ready to cause problems, I’m sure,” Alice said coldly.
The Phoenix landed on the opposite side of the battlefield. Alice, along with Tarrant and Mally slid off the creature’s back. Looking back she saw throngs of the White Queen’s soldiers, ready to fight. And, to her surprise, she saw a large group of men and women wearing top hats and brandishing swords, standing in front of them.
“Is that…” she trailed off.
“Aye. I told ye the Hightopps take their commitment to the First Hat very seriously,” Tarrant answered.
They watched as an older man with a familiar-looking face approached them. “That’s my pa, yes,” Tarrant said, answering her unspoken question. “This is Eideard Hightopp.”
The older man, bowed to Alice. “Queen Alice, wearer o‘ th’ First Hat, th‘ Hightopp clan o’ th‘ Outlands requests permission tae fight along side ye.”
Alice looked at Tarrant, who was watching the two of them with such powerful Pride, she could practically feel it. She nodded. “T’would be a pleasure tae hae such braverific people fight alongside me.”
If the fact she spoke Outlandish surprised him, he said nothing of the matter. With one final bow, he turned around and returned to his kinsmen.
“Tarrant?” his father called, waiting for him.
Tarrant froze, looking between Alice and his father, his Queen and his family. “My place is with Alice now, Pa,” he answered.
He looked at the two of them for a moment before nodding. “If ‘at is what th’ queen wishes,” he said, taking his place with the Hightopps.
They turned to face the center of the checkerboard and saw Iracebeth and Mirana, now with bright pink hair, approaching the center of the board.
“What did th’ Bluddy Behg Hid do to her?” he asked angrily.
“She’ll be fine soon enough,” Alice said, sounding more confident than she felt.
“If ye need me…”
“You’ll know,” she replied with a shaky smile.
Gathering her bravery, she walked alone to the two queens and proclaimed, “I, Queen Alice of the Outlands, demand the release of Mirana of Mamoreal.”
The Red Queen frowned distastefully. “And I, Queen Iracebeth of Salazen Glum of Crims, deny your request.” She turned back to her sister. “Summon the Jabberwocky.”
Alice froze, her eyes wide. Surely Mirana wouldn’t turn on the vows she had taken, would she? As Alice took in her pink hair and her snarling lips, she had to admit there was a chance she was too late to negate her sister’s influence.
“Mirana, please,” Alice pleaded. “Don’t do this.”
Alice looked at Mirana but saw no trace of the kind, gentle queen who had once patiently waited for her Champion to claim her place. Instead she saw a vicious, dark version of Mirana in front of her.
She narrowed her eyes at Alice. “You have tried to take Mamoreal for your own,” she accused as she looked past her. “You have deceived my guards and the Outlanders into fighting with you. Now, there is only death waiting for them for their betrayal.”
Alice suppressed a shudder at her coldness. “We are here to rescue you, your highness, not fight you,” she explained, ignoring the callousness coming from Mirana.
“Oh please.” Iracebeth interjected. “It’s obvious this Alice girl is nothing more than a menace. Look at her! Starting a mutiny!”
Alice reached up and took the crown off her head. With the ease of a hatter, she flung it across the battlefield to land in front of Tarrant. “I stand here in front of you, not as a Queen, but as the Champion of Mamoreal. Your Champion.”
Mirana flinched. “My Champion?” Alice immediately noticed the confusion.
So did Irecebeth.
“Don’t listen to her! Now call the Jabberwocky!”
Alice watched as Mirana took in her appearance. Several long seconds passed before she finally shook her head. “No. I cannot harm my Champion.”
“What?” screeched Iracebeth.
“I said, no,” the White Queen said, more firmly. As she took a step towards Alice, her hair was already beginning to eradicate the traces of pink, erasing Iracebeth’s influence over her.
Alice let out a breath as Mirana took a stand next to her. She shouldn’t have doubted her.
“Jabberwocky!” the Red Queen belted.
“Go to Tarrant,” Alice instructed. She offered her best reassuring smile. “You have your Champion.”
The Jabberwocky was no less terrifying to Alice when he emerged from the ground then he had been when she had first battled him. In some ways it was worse for Alice because, unlike the last time, she didn’t have the reassuring presence of Tarrant next to her.
She looked back at him briefly. He was looking at the vile creature, his orange eyes burning. Even from this distance, Alice could feel his hatred for the beast.
Wasting no time, Alice, firmly grasping the sword and shield, strode toward the Jabberwocky.
“So my old foe, we meet on the battlefield once again,” snarled the beast.
“You should fear me more than the sword,” Alice said, her voice hard, her body ready to fight.
“I was speaking of you, inferior bearer,” he snarled. “I am not bound by the limits of Time as those vermin you call friends are. I remember as you do what happened the last time we met and I can assure you that it will not happen again,” replied the Jabberwocky.
He flicked out his tongue, striking Alice’s shield. She staggered backwards at the impact, but was able to hold her ground.
“We’ll see about that,” she muttered.
She sliced at his tail as it swung by her face. “Foolish one!” he shouted. “I will not be defeated by a mere child again.”
She ducked as he snapped at her with his enormous teeth. “I’m not a child,” she replied, clinching her jaw. “I’m a Champion.”
Alice thrust the sword forward and stabbed him in the chest. She knew she needed to get across the battlefield to the steps so she could end the fight. While he was wreathing in pain, she dashed across the checkerboard.
“Not this time, child,” the Jabberwocky yelled. With a swift swing of his tail, he knocked the entire flight of stairs down.
For the first time since she'd become the Queen’s Champion, Alice wondered just how she was going to defeat the Jabberwocky.
Tarrant froze as he watched the stairs crumble under the strength of the Jabberwocky’s attack. He knew from talking with Alice on the way back to Mamoreal it was those steps that would lead to the Jabberwocky’s demise.
And now they were gone.
He needed to figure out some way--any way!--to help his queen, his Alice, from getting killed by the Jabberwocky. Interference was always an option, his courage mused, but not without a plan.
Tarrant watched as Alice stabbed at the vile beast. In response, he snapped his jaw, catching her arm in its teeth. Though he knew to be prepared, pain ripped through Tarrant’s mind. He screamed helplessly, nearly dropping his sword.
“Hatter!” Mally cried.
“I’m fine,” he assured her, rubbing his arm. He raised his gaze and saw Alice, retreating slowly to the fallen rubble.
“Tell me, Hightopp,” he heard from across the field.
Stayne, he thought with a snarl.
“Do you really think a girl can defeat the might of the Jabberwocky?” he asked, walking to the center of the field.
“Aye, I ken she can.” Tarrant would have said more, but at that moment, Alice was struck by the Jabberwock. The force of the blow caused him to stagger forward.
Unfortunately, the Knave noticed his reaction to Alice’s pain. He narrowed his eyes before Understanding dawned on him. “A Frabjousness?” he spat out. “Between you and Alice?”
Tarrant didn’t know how he knew about the rare connection, but it didn’t matter. His Intuition knew the Knave would use this information to use against Alice.
“I donnae know what yer talkin’ about,” he lied, hoping to protect Alice.
He sneered. “Of course you don’t.” With a quick flick of his wrist, he drew out his sword, ready to attack the unprepared Tarrant.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were ya.”
Tarrant was so busy worrying about Alice and lying to Stayne that he hadn’t noticed the dormouse scurry to the other side of the battlefield and up the Knave. She stood on his shoulder, her hatpin precariously close to his good eye.
“Unless you want a matching patch fo’ ya other eye,” continued Mally.
The sword dropped to the ground.
“Now go save Alice,” Mally yelled, keeping her hatpin trained on the Knave. “He’ll be givin’ you no more problems.”
A large hunk of Lafriden cheese was owed to his friend, Tarrant knew, as he turned from the Knave. Without waiting another Moment, he quickly made his way made his way to the Phoenix. “We need tae b'savin' our Queen,” he said to the Outlandish bird.
The Phoenix nodded as they watched Alice barely dodge another volley of attacks. “What did you have in mind?”
Alice knew she couldn’t keep up the fight much longer. Days of walking combined with the swordfight with Stayne had drained much of her energy. Why hadn’t she accepted Tarrant’s offer to be her Champion?
She knew the answer to her question, of course. The idea of him getting hurt to protect her was unbearable.
The flame from the Jabberwocky pushed against her shield, causing her to nearly dropping the sheet of metal that was keeping her from an untimely death. As soon as the flames ceased, she rolled under another a piece of debris and used it for cover as she sliced his tail.
The blow was effective; a large portion of its tail was severed and wiggling helplessly.
Enraged, the Jabberwocky flicked his tongue out and knocked Alice to the ground. She gingerly reached up to her forehead and touched the warmth of blood.
Dizzily, she stood up, trying to brace for the next attack. She tried to focus on the double-image of the beast, trying to determine which of the Jabberwockies was in fact the real one.
To her surprise, he didn’t attack her right away.
Instead, it roared in pain.
“Interference!” the Red Queen shouted.
“Nae it isn’t. I am th‘ Champion tae the monarch o’ th‘ Outlanders, Queen Alice,” declared Tarrant.
But, she had told him no! Two Tarrants stood in front of her, ready to protect her from the Jabberwocky‘s next blow.
His gaze flickered briefly up to the sky. “This is interference.”
Before Alice could realize what was happening, she felt the Phoenix lift her up with its beak and toss her carefully on its back. “You’ll only get one chance to do this,” said the majestic bird.
He flew around the board once, allowing Alice to get her bearings, drawing from Tarrant’s strength. “Are you ready, your Majesty?”
She nodded as the hideous view of the Jabberwocky came into view. “I’m ready.”
With perfect precision, he dropped her directly above the Jabberwocky, allowing her to deliver the fatal blow. Alice forced her eyes to focus and hold the sword firmly in her hand as she plummeted to the earth.
“It is time to end this!” The sword sliced through the Jabberwocky’s neck effortlessly as Alice crashed to the ground.
She felt Tarrant’s hands on her, desperately running his hands over her body. “Alice? Alice?” he said, panicking. “Are you alright?”
She wished she could answer him, reassure him, that she would be fine, especially with that Worried look on his face. But, too much of her energy was being spent trying to stay conscious.
He winced as a bolt of pain shot through her, feeling as if it was his own. Unable to control himself, he lurched forward, kneeling to the ground. “Alice? Are ya gonnae b’alright?” he asked, clinching his teeth together.
Guilt invaded Alice’s mind. It was her fault he was suffering!
Mirana, blurry yet utterly distinguishable, entered Alice’s line of vision. “Tarrant?” she asked, confused. “Are you injured?”
“No, but Alice is,” he said by way of answer.
“But, how can--”
Alice tried to focus on the White Queen, but unconsciousness was calling to her, black spots dancing across her vision, urging her to rest. “Frabjousness,” she gritted. She turned her no doubt glassy and unfocused eyes toward Tarrant. “I’m so sorry.”
Then, there was blackness.
Chapter 7: Once and Always Champion (7/7), an Alice in Wonderland fic
fic: alice in wonderland, fic: once and always champion
Tarrant stopped his pacing and looked at his niece. “If yer mother ken ye were talkin’ like that…”
“Ah’d tell her Ah’d learned it from ye,” Hannahlyn replied, smiling. She turned to look at Alice, her grin dissolving. “Is she gonnae b’alright?”
Tarrant noticed the yellow-eyed look of fear in her eyes. She was Worried about Alice, he noted with a touch of Tenderness. “Aye,” he answered with more Confidence than he felt. “She got hurt on the battlefield, but t’was nothin’ the White Queen could nae handle.”
She relaxed, her normal green color returning to her eyes. “That’s good tae hear.” Hannahlyn took a step back and looked at him for so long Tarrant wondered if he had a tea pot on his head. “Mum says ye were hurt.”
Tarrant closed his eyes briefly as the memories came rushing back to him. He remembered feeling Alice’s pain as she lay there, suffering on the battlefield. Her unconsciousness had caused Tarrant to black out as well. Quickly, they had been rushed back to Mamoreal, thanks to the Phoenix, where Mirana had been able to formulate a potion that put Alice into a Deep Sleep, allowing the Frabjousness bond to be temporarily interrupted. Tarrant had awoken soon after the concoction had been administered and had been pacing ever since.
“Uncle Tarrant? Have ye lost yer train of thought again?” asked Hannahlyn patiently.
Hannahlyn! She was still waiting for his answer. He knelt down to her. “I’m fine,” he promised.
He watched as she looked at Alice, then back to him. “There’s somethin’ g'ang on between the two o’ ye,” she declared, crossing her arms.
“Why would ye say that?” he asked, trying to hide to hide the Panic in his voice. He had been so busy with tending to Alice he hadn’t gotten around to telling any of his kinsmen about the wonderific connection he and Alice shared.
“Ah just do,” she replied, smiling, “jist like Ah ken she could b’trusted. But, don’t worry, Uncle Tarrant, Ah won’t tell anyone.”
He patted the top of her hat. “Ah never did get tae thank ye fer giving Alice yer First Hat.” He could hardly imagine what would have happened to his Queen Alice if she hadn’t done that, though his Guilt was certainly trying to do so!
“Let me carry yer an’ Alice’s bonding rings at the weddin’ an’ we’ll call it even,” she said with a giggle.
A wedding? His Eagerness, Excitement and Enthusiasm leapt at the idea, but his Discernment gently reminded him that he and Alice had a Long way to go before they reached that point in their relationship. Still, his Hope jumped in, there was no reason to disappoint the youngling.
“We’ll see,” he cautiously whispered. “Now,” he said, raising his voice, “don’t Ah hear yer Mum calling fer ye?”
She planted a soft kiss on his cheek as he stood up. “Tell Alice Ah said ‘goodmarrow’ when she wakes up,” she said before skipping away.
Tarrant turned back to Alice and waited again.
Fortunately for him, Time looked kindly upon him--for once--and he didn’t have to wait long for Alice to awaken. “Tarrant?” she said softly, not seeing him in the corner of the room.
His Joy leapt at the sound of her voice. She’d called his name! “I’m here.”
He watched as Relief passed over her face. “Are you all right? When I lost consciousness did you...? Were you...?”
“I was fine,” he said, evading the unspoken question. He felt Guilty not telling her the complete truth, but there was no reason for her to Worry about him. He walked to her, approaching the side of her bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Better than I thought I would,” she answered. She reached for his hand and weaved her fingers with his. “Tarrant, I wanted to say thank you…for being my Champion.”
He brought her hand to his lips, kissing it softly. “T’was my pleasure, my Queen Alice.”
The Tywyth was in full swing when the Phoenix and its rider landed in Witzend.
Alice dismounted the bird and surveyed the action surrounding her. Children were running around the maypole. The majority of adults were laughing heartily together as they watched the young men attempting to learn to Futterwacken. Other women were grouped together, sewing an intricate blanket--a tapin, her mind supplied--to celebrate the Tywyth.
Several of the Hightopps noticed her presence and bowed slightly in her direction. Alice forced a smile, despite her awkwardness.
“It’s good to see the festivities,” commented the Phoenix. “A year without the Tywyth would be unimaginable.”
Images of past Tywythes filtered through her mind courtesy of the Frabjousness. “Yes, it would be,” she agreed, slightly disconcerted. Despite the fact that their bond had strengthened over the last two weeks, Alice still found the idea of borrowing Tarrant’s memories perplexing.
The Phoenix looked at her understandingly. Outside of Absolem, no creature understood the Frabjousness as much as he did. “It will seem more natural as time passes,” he reminded her gently.
A peel of laughter pulled their attention back to the festival. “A Tywyth on a High Winter’s Day,” he commented, his feathers shining in the light. “I do not believe such a thing has ever happened in all of the days of Underland.”
Alice placed her top hat on her head, concealing her sly smile. “It should be memorable,” she replied, thinking about watching the High Winter’s Night’s festivities with Tarrant.
Or, at least, she hoped she would be watching them with him.
The Phoenix stretched out his wings, preparing to take flight. “I will return on the morrow. Fairfarren, Queen Alice.”
Before she could finish, he flew away. With a soft sigh, she turned around and began making her way to the Tywyth.
She watched as Tarrant haphazardly approached her with a smile on his face. Several trays of food being carried were knocked over. A fallen top hat was nearly crushed under his foot. Indignant shouts followed him across the field, but he didn’t seem to notice them at all.
“I’d know ye anywhere,” he continued with a wide grin spreading across his face.
“Are you sure I’m welcome here?” Alice teased gently. “I’m not a Hightopp after all.”
At least, not yet, she added silently.
The flash of purple in his eyes told her he had heard her unspoken words. “We can--”
“Queen Alice!” boomed Eideard. “On behalf of th’ Hightopps, I want tae welcome ye tae th’ Tywyth.”
Alice looked at Tarrant who looked like he was trying to push aside his Frustration at being interrupted.
“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “Tarrant has done a wonderful job setting up the celebration.”
Eideard beamed with pride. “That’s very kind of ye tae say abit mah son, yer Highness. He has preformed th‘ tradition of th’ Eldest Son gratlin' gehd.”
“It’s the truth,” she said honestly. “But, I am not your queen any longer.”
Tarrant’s head shot up, noticing the hat on her head for the first time. “Does that mean…”
“Yes. Mirana finally accepted the fact that I want to relinquish the crown and remain her Champion,” Alice finished, grinning.
“That’s…” He paused, searching for the right word.
“Awespicious?” Alice offered, the Outlandish word effortlessly popping into her head.
“Aye,” he agreed. “Awespicious.”
Eideard’s deep laughter rumbled through the air. “Ur ye sure ye arenae an Outlander?” he asked before turning to Tarrant. “Don’t let th’ lass gettae from ye.”
Alice grinned. Tarrant, for his part, seemed slightly perturbed by his father’s words.
“I’ll hae 'er as lang as she’ll keep me,” Tarrant replied sincerely.
His father nodded. “Now if ye’d excuse me, yer Grace.”
Alice felt a flare of irritation at his use of the title. Neither the Phoenix nor he seemed to understand she was no longer holder of the crown.
“I’m not the queen anymore,” she said after Eideard walked away.
To her surprise, he smiled at her aggravation. “You claimed the crown of the Outlanders. For some, you’ll always be our queen,” he explained.
“Like you?” she asked knowingly.
As he was about to lead her to the festivities, she held out her hand and grabbed his arm. “Tarrant, before I left Mamoreal, Absolem told me the Oraculum has returned.”
She saw the worry in his eyes, felt the panic in his heart, heard the concerned thoughts run through his mind.
“Is everything as it should be?” he asked, desperately trying to remain calm.
“Now it is,” she answered cryptically. To his inquisitive look, she sighed. “According to Absolem, I should have never left Underland in the first place. This,” she said, referring to her backwards trip through time, “was a plot conjured up by Fate, Time and Frabjous to, as Absolem said ‘right the wrong of my stupid decision’.”
Alice watched as his eyes glowed yellow at the caterpillar’s dig. “It’s fine, Tarrant,” she quickly reassured him. “I shouldn’t have gone back. At least, not the way I did. If I had taken the time to think things out, I probably could have found another way to finish my business without abandoning Underland…or you.”
She drew in a long breath. “I’m sorry, Tarrant.” She felt awkward apologizing. After all, she hadn't left him.
But Tarrant seemed to understand her need to make amends. Of course he would! He shook his head. “Things are better than they were before,” he reminded her. “You have returned. Everything is fine now.”
“And I’m not going anywhere,” she added confidently. “When the Tywyth is over, Absolem wants us begin the Frabjousness training.”
The purple in his eyes returned along with his infectious grin. “Something I am looking forward to,” he admitted. Suddenly, the color in his eyes dimmed. “Are ye sure this is what ye ur wantin’, Alice? I am rather mad.”
“Half-mad,” she corrected. “And, all the best people are.”
All signs of insecurity fled from his face to be replaced with the joy that seemed to encapsulate him. “I’m glad to hear you say that,” he whispered, gazing at her.
Timeless seconds passed as they studied each other, letting their thoughts and emotions tangle around each other until their was no distinction between his thoughts and her own.
“Go on and kiss her already, Hatter!” Mally shouted, interrupting their silent conversation.
Alice looked up and saw that not only Mally, but the entire Hightopp clan was watching their exchange with unabashed interest. Tarrant looked quite dismayed at the attention. “I’m sorr--”
She put her hand over his lips which caused a chorus of laughter to rise from their audience. “I think you should listen to Mally,” she said, removing her hand slowly. “I’d hate for her to have to get out her hatpin.”
He grinned widely. “As you wish, my Queen.”
He lowered his lips to her own as hoots and hollers filled the air. Alice had never felt an odd combination of Embarrassment and Enjoyment before. Too soon, he pulled back, his purple eyes shining.
She drew in a deep breath. “Tarrant,” she said softly. “I have a favor to ask of you.”
“I would do anything for you, Alice.”
A brilliant smile danced on her lips. The sight of which caused Tarrant's to widen. And then the Frabjousness came into play and Alice's thoughts jumped into Tarrant's head: she and he and the midnight show of High Winter's Night.
He sighed without any real disappointment. “I can see th' Frabjousness isnae g'ang teh b'lettin' me surprise ye. Seein' as ye already ken abit th' High Winter's Nicht.”
Alice shook her head. “It wasn't the Frabjousness that told me. It was a dream.”
“Ah. I see th' problem nauw.”
“Yes.” Another dream. She recalled the moments she'd insisted Underland had been nothing more than a dream during her first return. Dreams... pesky things here in Underland. They'd caused more interference than she was comfortable with.
“'Twon' be a dream any longer, my Queen Alice.”
She smiled at him. “There is one more thing you can do for me,” she said, knowing he would deny her nothing.
“Which is bein'?”
“If you can manage to simply call me Alice, everything will be perfect.”
“Than I shall, my Alice.”
And that night, as two people sat atop a hill not far from Mamoreal Castle, leaning shoulder-on-shoulder, watching the constellations dance, murmuring about magics and mythical beings, the disturbing dream Alice had had of Underland faded away... into something real. And better.