The return of Alice was always expected by those who lived in Underland, so when she arrived --late, of course-- at Thackery’s tea table, no one hardly took notice.
Mally looked up from her teacup and gave Alice a half-shrug. “Ya can sit down if ya want, but all of the biscuits have been eaten.”
Tarrant rushed around the tea table to stand by Alice’s side and flashed her an apologetic smile. “I would have had Thackery bake some extra if Time would have told me when you were to arrive back in Underland.” A deep frown darkened his face; his now-orange eyes narrowed in distaste. “A most disagreeable fellow, he is.”
Alice gently lay her hand on his arm, banishing any further dark thoughts. “It’s quite alright, Tarrant. Tea is fine.”
The hatter quickly set to the task of preparing a cup of Thackery’s special brew for Underland’s Champion as Alice sat in the chair next to the head of the table. To her side, Thackery was muttering to his reflection in the teaspoon.
Alice was about to ask him if the conversation was interesting when Mally sauntered to the empty saucer that was before Alice. “Did ya do everything ya needed to do in Overland while Underland had no Champion?”
Alice’s eyes widened. Panic, one of the most detestable tea part guests, quickly invaded the lighthearted atmosphere and settled over the newcomer. Before she could ask about the welfare of the land, Tarrant quickly cut into the conversation.
“Mally,” he gently chided. He smiled reassuringly at Alice. “Everything has been fine since your departure,” he lisped. “Though we are all grateful you have returned.”
“Some more than others,” Mally wisely mused. The Hatter’s elation was impossible to ignore.
“Tell me, Alice,” Tarrant said as he handed her the teacup, careful not to send the liquid sloshing over the side, “have you come for a visit? Or, are you planning to stay a bit longer?” He punctuated his second question with a hopeful look.
She smiled widely at him. “I plan on staying here as long as Underland will have me.” There was much Muchness in her answer.
Underland breathed a sigh of relief at the understanding that its Champion hadn’t forgotten everything she had learned during her previous trip.
Tarrant clasped his hands and turned to Thackery who had finally finished his conversation. “Isn’t that wonderful news?”
“Nauw th’ queen will be havin’ her Champion back!” the hare crowed (which was a wondrous thing in and of itself considering the contentious relationships between the Aves and Leporids families).
Tarrant’s smile faltered slightly. The Champion was the hardest working member of the queen’s entourage. There would be expectations for Alice to protect the land, establish treaties with neighboring countries and be the Queen’s personal guard when she travelled from Marmoreal’s gates. Why she would hardly ever get the chance to join the mad trio for their afternoon tea!
And that was impossible to think about!
Being unlike Alice who was able to think of six impossible things before breakfast, Tarrant forced himself to think of very possible, high probable things (like finishing his cup of tea in Alice’s company). “But first,” he said, sliding into the chair next to Alice’s, “It’s time for tea.”
He barely had time to appreciate the smell of the Darjeeling when another unexpected (and unwelcome, if one was to ask for the Hatter’s opinion) voice cut through the air. “So, the Alice has returned.”
A wide smile floated above Tarrant’s hat. Alice looked up and flashed a pleased grin of her own. “I’m not too late, I hope.”
Chess came into full-view, still hovering in midair. “If you are talking about the welfare of Underland, all is how it should be. If you are speaking about certain haberdashers who are too Mad to recognize his feelings for a certain woman with much Muchness, I would say that you have arrived just on time.” He sighed dramatically. “Honestly, some days it seems as if Tar--”
“Clean cup!” the hatter suddenly announced causing Alice to jump up in surprise. “Move down!”
Her teacup which she had been holding came clattering on the saucer. The impact caused the cup to crack slightly on the bottom. Her eyes grew wide as she looked at the broken cup.
“Mah cup!” Thackery shouted.
Alice pushed away from the table, leaving the damaged vessel by the biscuit crumbs. “I am so sorry, Thackery!”
The hare took no notice of her apology and grabbed the cup with trembling hands. The four of them watched silently as he examined the cup, turning it over in his hands several times.
Alice snuck a glance at Tarrant who had not turned away from Thackery’s stunned expression.
“Ye cracked mah cup!” His right eye twitched as he slowly turned towards Alice. Before she could respond, he let out a loud cackle. “It’s all cracked up like we are!”
The guests around the tea table let out a sigh of relief as he held up the cup proudly. “Do ya think it’s mad too?”
Tarrant flashed a toothy grin. “Maybe.”
“As much as I do hate to break up a delightful tea party, the White Queen has requested Alice’s presence in Marmoreal right away,” Chess announced.
The look of disappointment that passed over Tarrant’s face was impossible not to notice. Why it seemed as if Fate itself made sure Alice never stayed too long as the tea table!
“Oh! Of course,” Alice said regretfully. No one at the table missed the sorrowful glance she cast in Tarrant’s direction except for the Hatter himself. She stood up and straightened her dress. “I suppose I have made her wait a while for her Champion to return.” She faced the tea party guests. “I’m afraid I don’t remember the way to Marmoreal. Underland seems quite different when one is two inches tall.”
“I would be glad to go with you,” lisped Tarrant a tad too eagerly. Chess rolled his eyes and Mally let out a small mouse-sized groan.
“I’ll go with ya two.” Mally cast a look at Tarrant. “No need stayin’ here wonderin’ what the queen wants with ya before ya have had time for a proper drink o’ tea.”
Thackery shook his head, still clutching his now-favorite cup. “I’ll nauw be goin’. There’s tea to be drinkin’ in ma cracked cup!”
Alice turned towards Chess. “What about you?”
“It would be fun to see Tarrant tongue-tied during the trip, but I’m afraid Absolem has already demanded that I find his hookah that somehow went missing when he was in Overland watching you,” Chess replied.
“Hey!” Mally cried, putting her hand on her hip. “Didn’t I see ya usin’ it?”
“Me?” The cat was already starting to evaporate. “Why, Mally, I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Tarrant humphed indignantly and leaned close to Alice. “That slurvish cat kept it to himself the whole time the two of you were gone.”
Alice smiled widely. “Then it’s a good thing I have returned,” she whispered playfully.
“Yes,” the Hatter said as Mally scampered up his arm to sit on his ever-present top hat. “That it is.”
The journey to Marmoreal took longer than the three of them expected thanks to the actions of several overly zealous Street Sweepers that kept brushing away their path. It was just past Brillig on the second day when the exhausted traveling companions stepped through the castle gates.
Baynard took in their appearance and lowered his head apologetically. “I’m sorry that we weren’t able to send the Bandersnatch to pick you up, Champion. He was charged with a most important task just before your arrival.”
Despite her weariness, Alice’s eyes widened. “Is something wrong? Is the White Queen in danger?”
“She is safe, but her tea supply is dangerously low,” Baynard replied solemnly.
Alice let out a sigh of relief while Mally and Tarrant gasped in horror. “Has she been that preoccupied to let such a travesty happen?” the Hatter asked worriedly.
The canine nodded. “Things are being stirred up by the house of diamonds; they are claiming their borders are vulnerable to attack.” He lowered his voice. “Some say they can see a pirate ship in the far distance.”
Alice, having become familiar with the immoral men on those wretched vessels, shivered. “Is the land safe?”
“For now. Come, Champion. We shouldn’t keep the queen waiting any longer.”
Tarrant gestured for Alice to take the lead as he and Mally exchanged a worried glance. They hadn’t had any outsiders from any land other than Alice for a millennium. The legend of the Lion King coming to Underland was still one of the most told stories in Underland.
They walked though the castle, gaining the attention of people and doorknobs as they past. The news that the Queen’s Champion had returned was circulating around the castle. By the time Baynard had led her to the throne room, an entourage had surrounded the four of them.
People, animals, and several doorknobs that were fortunate enough to be installed near the throne room watched Alice curiously. It was a small chess piece--a red pawn--that finally spoke.
“You’re late!” She punctuated the statement with a huff.
“It’s an Alice trait,” Mally replied, rolling her eyes. “She’s always late.”
“But worth the wait.” Tarrant’s eyebrows rose in jolliness. “Did I make a rhyme?”
“You did, Tarrant.” Mirana was standing at the now-open door with a small smile on her face. “It was a lovely rhyme. And you are quite right, waiting for our Champion has been worth it.” She glided towards Alice. “Is everything in Overland well?”
Alice looked at Tarrant and shook her head slightly. Though her recent travels had been discussed by the three of them on the way to Marmoreal, the Champion didn’t want to share the details with such a captivated audience. “It is as well as it is going to be,” she answered evasively. She straightened her shoulders. “Chess said you wanted to speak with me as quickly as possible.”
The White Queen nodded. “Please, follow me.” She waved her hand, beckoning Mally and Tarrant forward. “The two of you are welcome to join us, of course.”
The rest of the faces in the crowd fell.
Tarrant nodded and Mally scowled. “Baynard said you ain’t got no tea.”
Mirana’s hand dropped slightly. “This is true, but I do have a wheel of Drewllyd cheese to offer you.”
The mouse’s eyes lit up. “Then let’s get goin’, Tarrant! Don’t keep the queen waitin’!”
The three humans exchanged an amused grin at Mally’s new found eagerness. The White Queen ushered them in and closed the door behind them. She knelt in front of the doorknob. “Make sure no one comes in until we return.”
“My keyhole is sealed!” he assured her.
She smiled gently as she walked past the large ivory throne to the glass table. Carefully, she picked up the large brass key.
Alice looked around but saw no other doors than the one that they had just walked through. She squinted towards the floor, but saw no mouse-sized passageways. Besides, without a bottle of Pilshiver, none of them--with the exception of Mally--would be able to fit through such a tiny hole!
Her curiosity was satisfied when the White Queen pulled back a large tapestry which looked like a large map of Underland. Behind it, there was a door that was flush against the wall.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen sunlight,” the doorknob said, squinting in the bright light.
“We won’t take long,” Mirana assured him, holding up the key.
The knob stayed still long enough for the White Queen to unlock the tumblers. When she removed the key, he turned to Alice. “Put that tapestry back where it was before, would ya? That dreaded sunlight is going to make my paint start fading!”
“Well, aren’t you a vein one!” Mally huffed.
Alice smirked at Mally’s comment but nodded. “Of course,” she assured the knob.
Now that his demands were met, the knob turned slightly and the door opened. The White Queen led started leading them down the narrow hallway. Alice, true to her word, moved the tapestry to its previous position as a cluster of fireflies blew tiny pillars of fire, lighting their path.
Alice turned to Tarrant questioningly.
Having become quite proficient in hearing unspoken questions (and several other Mad voices in his head), Tarrant answered her, “We’re going to the wine cellar. It’s the only place in the castle where the walls don’t have ears.”
“It’s not much further,” the White Queen added as the path descended steeply.
Alice grasped for Tarrant’s shoulder as the grade of the slant became nearly impossible for her to navigate.
“You would think a Champion would know not to wear slippers!” grumbled Mally.
“I’m not!” insisted Alice as she stumbled forward slightly.
“Seems like they’re slippery enough to me,” muttered the mouse.
“You’ll have to forgive Mally. It’s been nearly a whole day since she’s had a proper cup of tea,” Tarrant interjected. He reached up and plucked Mally from the brim of his hat. “Isn’t that right?”
Mally crossed her arms. “I didn’t say nothin’ she didn’t need to hear.” She frowned in Alice’s direction. “I think she’s just tryin’ to get close to ya, Tarrant.”
Alice pulled her hand back quickly at the accusation. “I am not!” At Tarrant’s stricken look, she cleared her throat. “I was leaning on him for support.”
Her reply seemed to please Tarrant who smiled widely, the gap in his teeth showing itself. “And I will always be glad to support you.”
Mally rolled her eyes; Mirana smiled politely. She lifted back a large, heavy curtain at the end of the passage, revealing another secret door. The doorknob’s eyes widened at the sight of them. “Your Majesty.” He cleared his throat. “Is everything well?”
“It is now.” She placed a hand on Alice’s shoulder and the tension in the White Queen’s stance faded away. “My Champion has returned.”
Alice smiled at the knob. “A pleasure to meet you.”
The Doorknob looked less than impressed by the young woman standing in front of him. “This is the one who slew the Jabberwocky?” he asked in disbelief.
“Aye,” Tarrant rushed in, his Outlandish accent entering in the conversation. “And a great job she did too.”
The hardware gave her one final look of doubt. “If you say so.” Then he rotated to the left and spun around, causing the door to open.
The room was pure white--of course--and despite being underground, the room was illuminated with bright lights courtesy of the sunflowers planted in pots throughout the room. An intricate table with the familiar shapes of hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs was surrounded by a dozen white high-backed chairs. A throne, smaller in scale than the one they had passed, sat at the head of the table.
On the far wall of the room was a banquet table full of squimberry tarts, cheeses, and other Underlandian specialties (Though sadly it seemed as though the Bandersnatch hadn’t returned with the tea supply). Mally scampered down the length of Tarrant’s body and made her way to her promised snack.
Mirana waited until Mally had her hands--and cheeks--full of cheese before gestured to the empty seats. “Please, sit down.”
Tarrant, raised with proper Underlandian etiquette, sat in the chair without moving it, cramming his body between the arms of the chair and the edge of the table. Once he sat down, he scooted the seat back several inches from the table.
Alice looked at him curiously. “Don’t you pull the chair out before you sit in it?”
Tarrant frowned, his eyebrows pressed together. “Why of course not! Their backs are terribly ticklish! If one were to grab them from behind, they might fall over in laughter.”
Alice eyed the chair carefully before following Tarrant’s example. After a couple of soft grunts and grumbles, she lowered herself in the seat then pushed the chair back.
Mirana remained standing (It was highly doubtful she would have been able to navigate herself into and out of her throne without assistance.) and smiled sincerely at Alice. “First of all, let me welcome you back to Underland, my Champion. I assume Tarrant and Mally have filled you in on everything that has happened since your departure.”
Alice nodded. “Yes. They told me that there are now Dukes and Duchesses over the Club, Spade, Diamond and Heart realms.” She swallowed. “Tarrant also told me about what happened to the Red Queen and Stayne.”
“Oh yes,” the White Queen sighed. “Dying of boredom.” She shook her head sadly. “There is no worse kind of death to an Underlandian.”
“They got what was comin’ tae them,” Tarrant muttered, his eyes turning orange.
Alice placed her hand over his to calm him. “If I may ask, your Highness,” Alice said, steering the conversation away from such terrible topics as the Red Queen “If everything is well within the borders of Underland, why do you seem so worried?”
A small frown flittered over Mirana’s lips. “Your observation skills are noteworthy, Champion.” She took a deep breath. “There have been some...disturbing reports about a dark power growing to the west of the Outlands. If we were to come under attack, I do not think we would be prepared.” She glided across the room to stand in front of Alice. “We need to start securing treaties with nearby benevolent lands.”
“And you want me to secure them?” Alice looked slightly panicked. “If my return to London has taught me anything, it’s that I am dreadful at negotiating.” She shook her head. “Making trade agreements--or treaties--is positively awful.”
The White Queen considered her words before reaching out and touching her hair. “Perhaps it will be different now that you are no longer in Overland. I have faith in you, my Champion.”
“So do I,” Tarrant heartedly agreed.
Three expectant pairs of eyes turned to the dormouse who had cheese carefully placed on the table in front of Tarrant. She eyed Alice for several silent seconds. “I do too,” she finally said. “Ya did slay the Jabberwock, after all.”
“And I believe Alice can do it as well.” Chess slowly appeared before them, a wide smile in place. He faced Mirana. “Can I suggest Neverland? Their chief leader is already familiar with the part of Overland where Alice is from.”
Mirana clapped her hands together. “Your suggestion is wonderful, Chess.” She reached up and scratched behind his ears. “Neverland would be a perfect place to start.”
“He’s from London?” Alice asked, dumbfounded.
Chess nodded. “Yes, though he didn’t have the misfortune of being raised in such a drab place. He was saved from that atrocity when he was but a baby.”
Alice bit her lip, still looking perplexed. “Do I have to go to this Neverland alone?”
Mirana chortled, her laugh sounding melodic. “Of course not! Anyone who wishes to travel with you is free to go.”
“I’m willing,” said Chess, surprising everyone in the room.
Tarrant shot him an annoyed look. “I thought ye donnae like politics.”
“True, but I am a cultured feline. Traveling to neighboring countries is the cat’s meow.”
Alice turned to Tarrant, hope in her eyes. “And you?”
He reached out and touched her hand briefly. “Of course.”
“If the Hatta is goin’ than I’m coin’ with ya too,” Mally declared from the tabletop.
“Excellent!” The White Queen smiled widely. She leaned towards Alice and lowered her voice. “I would ask that you mention your true purposed for traveling to no one. Mad people tend to be one thought away from becoming Paranoid.”
She straightened up. “I will have the preparations made right away. Tomorrow, you shall start your quest.”
The boat was magnificent, even for Marmoreals’s standards. The giant vessel looked like it can been cut out of the whitest ivory, adorned with intricate carvings of chess pieces on the bough of the ship. It could easily carry a company of several hundred card soldiers and chess pieces, far more than the few dozen travelers it would transport on this occasion. The boat’s name--Hope--was etched on its side in perfect Marmoreal scrawl.
“It’s beautiful,” Alice breathed, unable to take her eyes off the ship as Mirana approached her and the others in her traveling party.
“Yes, the Hammerhead sharks finished placing the last nail just as the sun was rising.” Mirana looked at Alice who was now frowning. “Is there something wrong?”
Alice pulled her gaze from the vessel to face the White Queen. “Where on the ship’s sails?”
Mirana shook her head slightly in confusion and she exchanged a questioning glance with Tarrant. One look at his befuddled face told the White Queen he was unfamiliar with the word as well. “Sails?”
Alice nodded. “Yes, sails.” She gestured widely with her hands. If the Champion was attempting to do a magic trick, it must have failed because nothing appeared.
Mirana studied her Champion’s empty hands before asking, “You use these ‘sails’ in Overland in travel by boat?”
“Yes, don’t you?”
Mirana shook her head. “It would seem as if there is one more thing that is different about out worlds. Tell me, what do these sails look like?”
“They are very large pieces of material--”
“A coat for a boat!” laughed Mirana.
Tarrant clapped his hands. “Excellent rhyme, your Majesty!”
She curtsied as Alice shook her head. “No, it’s not a coat. You raise them on the mast. The sails then catches the wind and moves the boat forward.”
Tarrant’s brow furrowed. “Trusting the wind? It’s almost as fickle as Time.”
Alice nodded. “Yes, well, you can’t very well row a boat of that size without an enormous crew.”
Tarrant giggled. The idea of the Queen’s chess piece soldiers rowing such a huge ship was Mad, even to him! “Of course not! That’s why we have horses to pull us.”
Alice’s eyebrows rose. Her curiosity was impossible to miss. “What kind of horses can run on water?” she wondered aloud.
“Sea horses, of course! Ya have those in Overland, don’t ya?” asked Mally from Tarrant’s shoulder.
“We most certainly do!” argued Alice. She turned towards the ocean as the sound of roaring water rushed towards them. Mouth agape, she watched as eight figures that resembled horses emerged from the water. Once they were fully formed, they trotted towards the ship. “But, nothing like that!”
Mirana approached the sea creatures. She gently touched the misty mane of the horse closest to her. “Thank you for taking my Champion and her companions on such short notice.”
The sea horse nuzzled her hand. “It is our pleasure, your Majesty.” Then he and the other horse bowed down together. Several of the White Knights came forward and started attaching the bridles to the horses.
Mirana smiled gratefully then turned to the waiting party. “Your journey awaits.”
Alice adjusted her white tunic and straightened her back. She nodded towards Tarrant, Mally and Chess, who just appeared out of thin air. “We’re ready.”
Sever dozen members of the White Army marched up the steep ramp. Tarrant and Mally, closely followed by a floating Chess, went next. Finally, Alice stood in front of Mirana alone.
The White Queen sensed Alice’s nervousness. She reached out and caressed her cheek like a mother would to comfort her daughter. “You will do fine. Never forget about your Muchness, Champion.”
A genuine smile passed over Alice’s lips. “I won’t.”
Mirana took a step back. “Fairfarren, Alice.”
“Fairfarren, your Majesty.”
With a determined step, Alice climbed up the ramp. She didn’t turn around and face the pier; instead she turned to the north towards Neverland. For several seconds, a blissful serenity swirled around her.
It was, however, disrupted when a certain Hatter cleared his throat from behind her.
Alice turned to face him questioningly.
“The horses are waiting for your instruction,” he explained quietly.
It was quite different than how Absolem had told them thing were aboard the Wonder! There Alice had virtual no say whatsoever. Once the trading vessel left out, it didn’t matter that she was Lord Ascot’s apprentice or Charles Kingsleigh’s daughter, she was only seen as a woman. An annoyance or a distraction depending on which man one asked.
She faced the watery steeds and remained silent for several seconds. Why it almost seemed as if she didn’t know what to say to them! Finally, she spoke, her voice loud and firm. “Please take us to Neverland.”
The horses whinnied and started running away from the dock. To Alice’s delight, they started moving the giant vessel forward.
A smile grew of Tarrant’s face as he watched Alice marvel. He moved to step beside her. “When we return, you must tell me about these sails. Were they colorful?”
“The sails? No.” Alice shook her head. “But some of the flags I saw during my travels were quite beautiful.”
They stood there quietly for several minutes, watching the shores of Underland fade away, before Chess floated their way. “Has the Champion though of how she intends on securing the treaty with the Neverlandians?”
“Not yet,” she admitted.
“Are you gettin’ curious as to what she might do?” Tarrant asked with a wicked gleam in his eye.
If Chess was offended by the Hatter’s remark, he made no outwards signs of it. It anything, the feline looked almost disappointed by his dig. “Tsk, tsk, Tarrant. You should know that I am quite aware if what such a thing can do to a cat.” He stretched out his paws. “I was merely trying to assist in her quest.”
“Usually, help comes in the form of answers, not questions,” countered Tarrant.
“And yet, my method seems to have worked.” He nodded towards Alice who had become lost in thought.
Four days later, Alice looked out and saw something she had never seen during all of her journeys in Overland: the end of the ocean.
There was no shore. There was no canal. The water just seemed to drop off in midair.
Alice looked ahead and gasped. “Tarrant, we’re at the end of the world!”
“Our world, yes,” he agreed, moving to stand next to her. “How else would we got to another?”
“Is the fall far?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But we shall find out together.”
“Not me,” Chess said from behind them. “Sea water does dreadful things to my fur. I will meet you Over There.”
“Of all the slurvish things--”
Alice gently placed her hand on his coat sleeve, calming him. “I can’t say I blame him,” she said, eying the water’s ledge. “It does look rather dangerous.”
“I wouldn’t worry about our safety, Alice. You are the Queen’s Champion. Underland is indebted to you for ridding our world of the Jabberwocky. We will be fine.” He swallowed at the edge came closer. “I hope.”
Mally scurried up Tarrant and lifted up his hat. She ducked underneath it. “I can always use this to float ashore if it flies off your head!”
Tarrant frowned at the thought--losing his hat!
Alice reached out and held the ship’s railing securely in one hand. Tarrant slipped his hand in her other hand.
“Hang on!” the lead Sea Horse called out.
It seemed as though for several seconds the boat seemed to float in midair. Maybe the drop wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Then, they started plummeting to the unseen ocean of Neverland.
Alice let out a gasp of alarm; Tarrant’s eyes grew black in fear. Alice squeezed his hand. “It will be alright, remember?”
It was difficult for him to believe Alice’s words. Her hair was whipping around her face violently, her voice held little Muchness.
And the boat still hadn’t landed.
Mally gave Tarrant’s hair a tug. “How much longer?” she cried, her voice muffled under Tarrant’s hat which had miraculously managed to stay on his head during the drop.
Tarrant risked a look off the side of the boat and suddenly wished he hadn’t. The ocean--Neverland’s ocean-- was close. Too close! “Not much,” he answered weakly.
Alice followed his gaze. Her body tensed, prepared for the impact of their landing.
But it never came.
Instead, the freefall from Underland slowed down the closer they got to the surface of the ocean. They drifted down the last dozen meters, landing on the ocean with a weak splash.
Tarrant beamed. Alice grinned. Mally, who emerged from the safety of Tarrant’s hat, let out a sigh. “That went a might better than what I was expectin’!”
Alice leaned over the side of the boat and checked on the sea horses. “Are you alright?”
The horses let out a chorus of neighs. “We are all fine, Champion,” the head horse said. He nodded to the island that lay before them at the end of the rainbow. “To Neverland?”
Alice nodded. “To Neverland.”
It took nearly the rest of the afternoon, but they finally reached the shore of Neverland. Alice instructed the White Knights to remain on the vessel and she, Tarrant, Mally and Chess looked for the leader of the island.
As they stepped off the ship, a welcoming committee of a dozen or so young boys, including one that was over six feet tall, stood for them.
And they did not look happy.
The tallest one stepped forward and appraised them with a frown. From the way the other boys stayed in their position, it was clear that this redheaded boy with a feathered hat, was their clans leader. Odd for a mere child to be the authority of the island, but, one coming from a land with cards and chess pieces as soldiers does not judge another.
He looked them up and down before shaking his head. “So, what do you think, Tink?”
A small glowing fairy fluttered back and forth between the party from Underland before replying back to the man-child in a language that sounded more like a bell than any dialect spoken in Underland or Overland. She shook her head emphatically before flying to float next to him.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking. Grown ups!” he huffed.
The boys by his side piped up.
“We don’t like grown ups!”
“They smell funny!”
“They don’t know how to have any fun!”
Tarrant’s jaw dropped at the accusation. “Of course we do! In fact, I was thinking about a riddle on the way over here.”
“Riddles aren’t too bad,” the tall boy conceded. He crossed his arms. “Ok, what is it?”
“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
Alice smiled at his oft-asked question.
The boys considered the question for a few seconds. Even the fairy seemed intrigued. One by one each of the boys shrugged.
“All right, we give up. Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
Tarrant exploded with giggles. “I haven’t the slightest idea!”
The tallest boy grinned. “That was pretty good. For a grown up.” He looked over at his young companions. “You can come with us before Hook sees you.” Before Alice could respond, he turned around and started walking away.
“We haven’t even exchanged names yet. I don’t know what to call you!” Alice yelled after him.
The boy stopped and turned around. “Peter Pan, of course.”
Negotiating a treaty with the Neverland natives was going to be nearly as impossible as convincing Mirana to wear a color other than white. Talks had been going on for nearly a half hour (though if one was to look at Peter Pan, they would have expected the negotiations to have been going on for days) and most everyone was unhappy.
Mally and Tinkerbell were the exception to the rule. Their similarly-sized small bodies (with big personalities) drew themselves to each other. The two spirited women had been sitting in Tinkerbell’s lantern practically the entire time they had been in the tree house.
Alice smoothed out her tunic and eyes the man-child. “Do we have a deal?”
Peter crossed his arms. “Why should we agree to a treaty with a bunch of grown ups? You would probably have us do boring grown up stuff.” He made a face.
“We wouldn’t,” Alice assured him. “It would be fun...like playing cops and robbers.”
The idea seemed to intrigue the boys. “I wanna be the bad guy! BANG!” shouted Tootles.
“And I can be the cop! You’re under arrest!” yelled another boy. He launched himself at Tootles and they started wrestling, nearly knocking Alice out of the rocking chair she was sitting in.
Peter laughed at their antics. “Let’s see how well the grownups do playing a game,” he said. His talking caused the boys to stop. They looked at the group from Underland intently.
Alice crossed her arms and looked at Peter suspiciously. “What sort of game?”
Peter floated around the room. “A game of hide and seek.”
Tarrant and Mally looked at each other in confusion. Hide, then seek? What a backwards place this was! Everyone in Underland knew one should always seek then hide.
It seemed as if the Champion understood what Peter was talking about. “It’s hardly fair if you get to hide. You know this island too well.”
Peter looked at his fairy companion. “What do you think, Tink? Should we be IT first?”
The pixie considered his question momentarily before nodding.
Mally moved to stand next to her friend. “Ya can go play game if ya want, but I’m staying here.”
Tinkerbell put her arm around the mouse and nodded.
“All right,” Peter agreed. “You two hide. If I find you before you reach base, you have to leave Neverland forever and never come back. Ever!”
“And if we win?” asked Tarrant.
Peter shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never lost before.”
Alice leaned towards Tarrant and lowered her voice so no one else could hear. “I wish Chess was here. He could just disappear.”
“But that would be cheating, would it not?”
Alice sighed. “I suppose it would be.”
Tarrant looked around the treehouse and frowned. “Where is that slurvish cat? I thought I saw him here earlier.”
“He said he wanted to have a look around the island.” Alice shrugged. “Maybe he can find something that can help us with this treaty.”
“Yes, well, he should be careful. We all know what curiosity did to the cat.”
“So are we playing or what?”
They stepped apart. Alice raised her chin up. “We’ll play as long as you agree that if we win, you will agree to a treaty between our two people.”
Peter sighed, but consented. “Deal, but you’re not going to win.”
“Fine. Count to fifty.”
The boys around the room gasped. “No one knows how to count to fifty! Can you count that high?”
“That’s probably how old she is,” snickered Peter.
Alice pressed her lips together in annoyance. “No, I am not fifty.” She turned to Peter. “How high can you count?”
“What comes after four?”
Four seconds would hardly be enough time for a person to hide his light under a barrel!
Alice turned to Mirana and asked hopefully, “Could you count for Peter?”
The mouse huffed. “And I suppose ya want me to make sure he keeps his eyes closed too!”
Tarrant stepped forward and flashed Mally a hopeful look (with a dash of despair thrown in for good measure). “We need your help, Mally. Underland needs it.”
She crossed her arms then sighed. “All right, I’ll count, but only to thirty.”
“Thank you, Mally.” He gently patted her on the head.
Mally turned to Peter. “Keep yer eyes closed or I’ll start over!”
Peter and the rest of the boys did as the mouse ordered. Once all of their eyes were shut, Alice grabbed Tarrant’s wrist and pulled him out of the treehouse. “You go down this path and I’ll go this way,” she said, nodding in the opposite direction.
It was clear from his pressed lips and yellowing eyes that the Hatter did not agree with the Champion’s idea. “We should stay together. It will be safer,” he countered as she released him.
“Safer?” Alice laughed. “We are on an island full of boys, Tarrant. I would hardly considered this place unsafe.”
“But what about that Captain Hook man Pan was talkin’ abit? Ye said he was dangerous.” He scarcely seemed aware that he had slipped into his Overland accent.
Alice, however, had. She placed her hand on his arm, settling him. “I’m sure he made him up.” She smiled. “It was probably just a strange coincidence. After all, Captain Hook isn’t a very imaginative name for a pirate, is it?”
Having never met any pirates before, Tarrant was unable to give her an answer. Before he could find one (or his train of thought for that matter), Alice gently pushed him down the path. “Now go! We don’t have much time!”
Two more precious seconds passed before he finally nodded. Alice wasted no time and turned around, running quickly. Tarrant did the same in the opposite direction.
The path before him was twisty and steep. There were some rather tall trees that he could climb (not that it would help hiding from a boy who could fly). Since there was no other place to go, Tarrant stood in front of a leafy tree.
“Do you mind terribly if I stay on your branches for a while?” he asked the looming tree.
It made no reply.
“Must be asleep,” he whispered to himself.
Though he didn’t want to startle it awake, he was left with little choice (and Time) to do anything but climb it. Once he was settled in the boughs, Tarrant looked on the horizon for any signs of the boy who could fly.
Fortunately, he saw no signs of him. Unfortunately, in the distance he saw the unmistakable sight of smoke rising from the part of the island where Alice had run to. And everyone knew where there is smoke there is fire. His eyes widened! Alice was in danger!
He scrambled down the tree (this time much more carelessly then before) and started moving towards the smoke. Tarrant stumbled only three times along the narrow path (which was quite impressive seeing as he was walking so erratically one would think he had two left feet). As he approached the site of the smoke, he stopped running and listened.
There were drums beating.
His eyebrows furrowed. No fire in Underland ever made such a sound before! Tarrant cocked his head to the side and listened for a while longer. “Why this is music one should Futterwacken to!” he whispered.
With a curiosity that was more like an Alice than a Hatter, Tarrant continued making his way down the path. When he turned the corner, he saw who was making the dance-worthy beat.
A group of people sat around a large campfire which was lit in the center of a circle of tents. Some of them had makeup on their faces, others did not but all of them were adorned with a headband with at least one feather. One stocky man stood out above the rest with his elaborate headpiece.
Tarrant headed straight for him. “You have the most--”
Three men stepped in front of him. “You no see Chief.”
His mouth opened in shock. Did everyone on this island have deplorable manners? “Why not?”
The Chief frowned deeply. “You spend time with Flying Boy.”
Tarrant crossed his arms. “Not my choice, let me assure you,” he answered, returning the Chief’s frown. “His manners towards Alice are worse than the Cheshire Cat’s at a tea party.”
The Chief took two steps towards Tarrant. He looked. He stared. He gazed. “You no like Flying Boy?”
“At this point in Time, no.”
A grin spread over the Chief’s lips. “Then Crazy Hair is welcome here!”
Many parts of Tarrant had been called crazy --his mind most of all -- but no one had ever told him that his hair was mad. Perhaps it was behind his Mad thoughts!
Tarrant nodded his thanks before changing the subject. “Who made your stunning headpiece?”
The Chief reached up and touched the feathers with pride. “My daughter, Tiger Lily. She makes good things. Me proud papa.”
Tarrant looked admiringly at the headpiece. “Yes, she does.” His eyes morphed into a bright green. “She does have a natural ability in hat making it would seem. I should like someone with her skills to become my apprentice one day.”
The Chief crossed his arms and shook his head. “Tiger Lily no leave camp.”
His eyes widened. “Of course not! I was only saying she has impressive skills. I hope to find another with her talent in Underland.”
A hearty laugh rumbled from the Chief’s chest. “You wise, Crazy Hair!” He turned towards the other men who were watching the exchange closely. “Build up fire. We have might pow wow for Crazy Hair!”
Tarrant clapped his hands together. Celebrations were always fun! But they were always better with people one knew. “My friends should be here,” the Hatter replied with a small frown.
“Your friends come later. We friends now.” The Chief handed him a large smoking pipe.
Tarrant sniffed the smoke. Why it smelled nothing like Absolem’s special blend! He probably couldn’t even blow out intricate shapes with it either! He shook his head reluctantly. “Not for me.”
The Chief handed the pipe to another feather-hatted man. He thought for a second, rubbing his chin. “We trade hats.”
Of all the Terrible ideas! It was well-known in Underland that though there was a price tag on it, Tarrant’s hat was most certainly not for sale! The Hatter reached up and caressed his hat protectively. “I--I--”
The Chief chuckled. “Not forever. Only tonight.”
The Hatter nearly collapsed in relief. Now that idea has Merit! No Hatter from Underland had ever worn something so feathery before. He nodded as he reached up and removed his hat. He held it out for the Chief to take. The headdress, in turn, was handed to him. Without wasting a second, Tarrant slipped the headpiece on top of his head.
It was stunning! Though, if he were in Underland, he would have been mistaken for a Jub-Jub bird!
The Chief looked dapper as the hat settled on his head. “Friends.”
Tarrant smiled merrily. “Friends.”
The silhouette of the flying man-child covered the full moon.
The Chief grumbled. “Flying Boy ruins night. Again.”
Tarrant turned around where the small (yet full of Muchness) voice came from. A young woman who was also wearing a feathered headpiece stepped from the tent.
Peter swooped down to where she was standing and hovered several feet up in the air. “I was just playing hide and seek with this grown-up when I found him here!” The man-child faced Tarrant. “You’re with the Indians! They don’t like me and I don’t like them!”
“Ye donnae seem to mind the lass,” Tarrant wisely observed.
Peter made a face. “She’s just a girl.”
The young woman huffed in indignation and went back into her tent.
Peter crossed his arms, not moving his gaze from Tarrant. “Tink!” he shouted.
Within seconds, the glowing ball of light come whizzing towards Peter. When she stopped, Peter waved his hand in Tarrant’s direction. “Take this codfish back to the treehouse. I still need to find Alex before she--”
“I think you mean Alice,” corrected Tarrant firmly.
Peter rolled his eyes and promptly ignored the Hatter’s words. “--wins.” He flew high in the air and let out a loud crow. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!” With that, he flew away from Tarrant.
The Hatter reached up and reluctantly took off the elaborate headpiece. “It’s a very nice hat,” he said sincerely.
The Chief removed the top hat and handed it back to Tarrant. “Me know.”
Tarrant’s eyebrows furrowed. Surely the Chief was going to complement his beloved hat, no? Why it was the Most Known Hat in all of Underland!
Tink jingled impatiently in his ear.
Seeing that his hat was not going to be flattered, he put it back on top of his hair haphazardly and followed the pushy fairy. She led him down the steep path, but instead of passing the tree which he had climbed, he noticed they were going a different way than he had taken.
He looked at the fairy questioningly, but she seemed too busy flittering between trees to pay him any attention. He shook his head and said nothing.
Why everyone in Underland knew there were many ways to reach the same destination. In fact, sometimes one had to go backwards to move forward! Perhaps Neverland was not so different from Underland after all.
They weaved through the boughs of friendly trees, but the treehouse was still nowhere in sight. As they stepped through an Ivy Curtain, Tarrant looked at his miniature guide. “Where are we going?” he asked, unable to keep his curiosity silent.
She jingled a response, but Tarrant was no closer to understanding what was going on. He frowned deeply.
“She said she’s gonna make sure ya and Alice don’t lose the game,” said a familiar voice.
A pair of mouse feet landed on his shoulder. “Mally,” he grinned. He scanned the area. “Where is Alice?”
The voice came from above, but the only thing that could be seen were leaves. Tinkerbell flew up in the air and illuminated the bough Alice was sitting on.
He clapped his hands together. What a marvelous hiding place!
With the deftness of a Champion, she made her way down the tall tree and moved to stand in front of Tarrant. “Here,” she said, adjusting his top hat. “Now it’s perfect.”
The fairly flew up to the trio and started talking rapidly. Mally translated for the two humans. “She’s gonna have a talk with Pete. She ain’t happy about the idea of us being banished from Neverland.”
Tarrant tilted his head to the side so he was speaking in Mally’s ear. “If you don’t mind me asking, how are you understanding her? It does seem quite impossible.”
“Ya should know with friendship, anything is possible.”
Tinkerbell started chiming again.
“She wants to know if ya two want to go out flyin’ while she finds Pete.”
Alice’s eyes lit up. “Flying? Like Peter?”
Mally nodded. “She’s got this fairy dust that she sprinkles on ya. Ya think a happy thought and off ya go, sailin’ in the air!”
Of all the Odd things that happen beyond Underland’s borders! Fairy sprinkles that make one fly? The Power of Thought was well-known for its moxie, but the idea it could help one levitate? That seemed absurd even to a Mad Hatter!
“I’d love to!” Alice looked hopefully at Tarrant. “You do want to come too, don’t you?”
A cheek-splitting smile covered Tarrant’s face. “It would be my honor!”
Alice turned to Mally. “What about you?”
Mally shook her head resolutely. “Mice ain’t got wings for a reason! I’ll stay here and wait for Tink to come back.”
Alice flashed Tarrant another smile. “Then I guess it will just be the two of us.”
A blush colored her cheeks and the implication of her words. Mally groaned, Tarrant stammered and Tinkerbell started laughing. “I just meant--”
“We know what ya meant!” Mally interrupted as Tarrant set her on a branch at eye-level.
As Tinkerbell sprinkled then with the fairy dust, she let off another string of commands.
“Stay out of the moonlight!” Mally said. “Or Pete will find ya. Now just think a happy thought and ya’ll be flying.”
The two of them closed their eyes. Moments later, they were floating above the ground. It was Alice who opened her eyes first. She gasped as they approached the top of the trees. “Tarrant!”
The view was so startling for the Hatter that he started falling back down to Earth.
“Happy thoughts!” Alice reminded him.
One would suppose he filled his mind of such Happy Hatter thoughts as thimbles and stylish hats because soon he was soaring towards the heavens. Before he could float too high, Alice grabbed his hand and pulled him to her level.
“Let’s go together,” she said, her eyes sparkling.
Her grin was magical, it seemed. As soon as it covered her lips, Tarrant shot up in the air like a Jumping Bean. Alice held his hand firmly, floating up with him. “We have to be careful,” she reminded him. “Peter is still looking for us.”
Together, they flew to the coast of the island, floating several feet above the ocean’s surface. Their reflection bounced off the water, their smiles evident despite the waves. They made their way to where the sea horses were waiting beside the boat.
They neighed in delight as Alice and Tarrant hovered next to them. She scratched behind the horse’s ear before leading Tarrant away to the east of the island.
The duo flew past where the Mermaids lived. An incredible sight that was! Underland had plenty of Milk Maids and Hand Maids, but ones that looked like fish were unheard of!
“When I was on the Wonder, the men with me would look in vain for mermaids, despite their reputation for being tricky,” Alice said, leading him away from them.
"Did they ever find any?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No. And I must say quite a few of them were disappointed."
They circled around the island until they started approaching another large, unfamiliar boat with giant pieces of fabric attached to it.
“Are those the sails you were speaking about?” Tarrant asked as they slowed their flight.
Alice nodded. “That must mean there really is a pirate here.” She tugged on his hand. “Let’s go have a closer look!”
Tarrant’s altitude dropped. No Happy Thoughts could come from being in danger!
“It will be fine, Tarrant. Just a peek, then we’ll be on our way,” assured Alice.
The Champion’s confidence was strong enough to silence any concerns (or Unhappy Thoughts) from the Hatter. He rose several feet as Alice led him closer to the seafaring vessel.
There were men, all adorned with swords, walking on the deck of the ship. Alice and Tarrant moved towards the stern of the ship, away from the pirates. There they saw the captain's quarters with a window.
"Let's go!" Alice encouraged.
She tugged on his hand and they made their way to the opening. As they looked inside a small window, she let out a small gasp. “Is that...Chess?”
Sure enough, inside the room, the Cheshire Cat was floating next to a tall, gangly man who had the misfortune of having a hook for a hand. Alice tried to peer further into the room, but the size of the window only let her see a small sliver of the chamber.
“I believe it is. Why is that slurvish cat with him?” He started drooping towards the deck of the ship.
“I don’t know.” Alice licked her lips.
They could hear the muffled sound of Chess’ paws clapping. “Bravo!” the feline said.
Alice looked at Tarrant worriedly. “We need to find Mally and tell her what’s going on.”
The two of them rushed back to the part of the forest where they had left their friend. It had been nerve-racking during the entire journey; Tarrant dropped precariously to the ground at a rush of influx of Unhappy Thoughts. Alice and her Muchness were the only thing that kept the Hatter from falling out of the sky.
“There,” Alice said, pointing at a small clearing.
They moved together and made their way to the ground. The tree where they had left Mally was there, but the mouse wasn’t. “Mally!” Tarrant called softly, knowing that Peter was still looking for them.
There was no response.
“Where did she go?” he asked, his eyes growing orange.
“I’m not sure,” Alice quietly admitted. “Tinkerbell!”
A frown creased her face as she heard no reply. “Tinkerbell,” she called out, louder.
At the continued silence, she faced Tarrant. “We need to find Peter. I don’t care if we lose his little game. Something is wrong. He should be able to help us find Mally.”
Filled with Despairing Thoughts, the pair of Underlandians weren’t able to lift themselves off the ground. They run through the forest until they found the Lost Boys’ treehouse.
“Where’s Pan?” Tarrant demanded, his eyes glowing orange.
The ground of young boys looked at the enraged Hatter nervously. “He--he--he’s--”
“Right here.” A voice spoke from behind them. He flew in Alice’s face. “What did you do with Tink?”
“Me?” Alice sputtered. “She went to talk to you!”
“I haven’t seen her since she was suppose to take this codfish back to the treehouse,” Peter argued. The boy looked at them crossly. “Tell me where she is!”
“We don’t know!” Alice argued. “But, we did see the most particular thing on the pirate ship.”
Peter’s eyes narrowed. “How did you get over there?”
“Your fairy friend came us some of her magic sprinkles,” Tarrant answered.
The man-child looked at them in disbelief. “Why would she do that?”
“I think she wants there to be peace amongst our people,” Alice said. The Champion inside of her emerged. “She knows a decision like this shouldn’t be decided on whether one wins or loses a game of hide and seek.”
“Maybe Hook has her!” said one of the boys.
Peter looked at Alice intently. “What did you guys see? Did you see Tink?”
“No,” Alice replied. “But we did see one of our friends, a cat, on the ship talking with a person we assume is Captain Hook.”
“Did he take your cat?” Peter wondered.
“I’m not sure,” Alice said, skirting the fine line between Truth and Non-Truth. True, neither Underlandian knew for sure whether or not Chess was being held against his will, but it was unlikely.
“Well then, let’s go! Fighting Hook is always better than playing a boring game of Hide and Seek!” Peter proclaimed as he found his dagger and held it up in the light.
The Lost Boys shouted their agreement.
“Just stay out of our way!” Peter said to Alice and Tarrant.
“We’re going with you,” Alice said firmly. “If our friends are in trouble then we’re going to help then out.”
“You?” Peter laughed. “You couldn’t catch a fly!”
With much Muchness and a dollop of Pride, Alice said, “I’ll have you know in Underland I defeated a Jabberwocky!”
“What’s that?” asked one of the boys.
“A vile creature,” Tarrant answered solemnly. “One that destroyed my entire village and killed my kin. So, Pan, you are gravely mistaken. Alice can do much more than catch an annoying flying insect.”
“Oh, all right!” Peter sighed. “Let’s go.”
The pirate ship looked a bit less intimating as the sun started to rise in the east. From their position on the shore, behind a large rock, Alice and the others could see the silhouette of Captain Hook and Chess on the bow.
“I’m going in!” Peter said.
“You’re taking me with you!” Alice said
The man-child only hesitated a second before nodding. “All right, but the rest of you are going to have to take the boat.” The tiny vessel was pulled on the shore next to them. “Alex will throw you a rope so you can climb on the Jolly Roger.”
The Champion rolled her eyes at his deliberate mispronunciation of her name. She opened her mouth to speak, but before any words tumbled out of her mouth, she saw her friend’s concern.
Alice reached out and squeezed Tarrant’s hand. His eyes were filled with worry. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
“I do hope you’re right,” he whispered.
Before she could reply, Peter scooped her off the ground. “Hope you like flying fast.”
He swished through the air, moving swiftly. No one on the boat noticed the flying boy or the young woman he carried with him. Peter sliced through the hair, frowning as Alice’s hair flew in his face. “Girls,” he muttered.
As he turned towards the stern of the boat, he glided down to the deck. Safely hidden behind the walls of the captain’s quarters, Peter set Alice on the ground. “There’s a rope on the other side of the ship. I’ll distract Hook and you throw it over.”
Alice nodded. “Thank you.”
Peter scrunched up his nose. “I’m not doing this for you. I’m saving Tink!” he scowled. Without a second look, he turned around and started to fly, leaving Alice alone.
She cast a glance at the shoreline. Tarrant and the other few boys that were brave enough to go on this adventure had already loaded into the boat and were rowing to her position. She moved quietly on the deck and spotted the rope.
“Hook! You codfish! Have you taken Tink?” Peter shouted from the sky.
“And what if I have?” yelled Hook. “I’m thinking about feeding her and her little mouse friend to the crocodile.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
Alice used the distraction and made her way to the rope. It was thick and heavy, but she knew she had to lift up the coil and throw it over the edge. She grunted slightly, but managed to grab a hold of the thick twine. With a heave, she threw it over the side of the boat.
“Attempting a rescue mission?” a familiar voice asked from her side.
“Chess!” She looked at him closely. He showed no sign of trouble. Then what in the White Queen’s name had he been doing with that pirate?
“What are you doing on this ship? Do you realize what kind of person Hook is?” she hissed, keeping an eye out for any pirates walking on the ship.
“Do you realize what kind of person Pan is?” countered Chess. “When one goes around making treaties, she should know exactly who they are dealing with and how to use it to her advantage.”
Alice’s eyes narrowed. “I know what I’m doing.”
“Then you secured the treaty?” he asked, his eyes widened in surprise. "I hadn't heard."
The clattering of swords from the side of them interrupted the conversation. Alice turned and faced the front of the ship. There, on the ledge, sat two glass jars. One of them contained a familiar-looking fairy and the other held--
Alice looked at Chess. “I trust you’ll have no problems in rescuing our friend.”
Chess held up his paws in innocence. “I am now but an observer.”
She glared at him, but he was already fading away. Soon only a shadow of a wide smile remained. "Do your best not to get yourself killed. Mirana would hate to have to look for another Champion."
Then, he was gone.
Alice pressed her lips together. Until Tarrant and the boys made it aboard, she was alone. Alice crawled towards the front of the boat. She glanced at Peter and Hook who were battling fiercely and made a break for it.
She sprinted across the deck and lifted up the jar, releasing the mouse. “Are you alright?” she asked breathlessly.
“That no good cap’n came and snatched me up!” Mally said, enraged.
“Tarrant and the others should be here soon. We need to get to the back of the ship,” Alice whispered, allowing the mouse to scurrying up her arm. She turned around and walked straight into the barrel-chest of a huge pirate.
“Looks like that cat was right!” boomed the pirate. He looked at Hook. “They are trying to save the rat.”
“I’m a Mouse!” She pulled out of hatpin and held it in Hook’s direction.
Hook stabbed at Peter’s direction before he looked at Mally and laughed. “What do you intend to do with that? Mend my torn trousers?” He blocked Peter’s advance. “Just tie the girl up and put the mouse back where she belongs.”
"Will do, Captain." He leered at Alice with a evil smirk. "Come here, runt."
Alice shared a look with Mally. “You go for his eye. I’ll go for something a bit more...sensitive,” she whispered.
The mouse nodded. “One..two..three!”
The women sprung into action. Mally launched herself at the pirate’s face and Alice kneed him in a rather unlady-like way. She ducked to the side of him as he doubled over in pain. He let out a guttural shout; Mally ran down his back, her optical prize on the end of her hatpin.
“He’ll be needin’ a patch just like that foul creature Stayne,” she bragged.
Knowing he wouldn’t be able to see, Alice reached down and scooped his sword off the ground. Despite not having carried such a weapon since the last time she was in Underland, Alice was relieved to find that it felt sturdy in her hand. She swung it in the air, testing the weight of it.
Satisfied, she nodded at Mally. Together, they ran towards the back of the ship where Tarrant and two of the other boys had made it aboard.
“Mally!” Tarrant grinned. “You’re safe!”
“Well, of course I’m safe! But Tink ain’t! We need to go and get her before that Hook feeds her to the croc!” Mally replied.
“How many pirates are on the ship?” Alice asked.
“Maybe six or seven,” Mally said. “And none of them ain’t got any manners!”
“All right,” Alice looked at the boys. “You distract the pirates and we’ll try to save Tinkerbell.”
The boys looked at Alice strangely. “Ya mean you ain’t leavin’ even though you got your friend?” Tootles asked.
What kind of people did these Lost Boys think they were? “Of course not! We’re all getting off this ship. Together,” she said resolutely.
“All right,” another boy said with a toothy grin. “We’ll pull their pants over their heads!”
The rest of the boys--and Tarrant--giggled at the thought.
“Come on,” Alice urged. They all moved forward, along the narrow deck between the rail and the wall. Ahead of them stood three pirates facing away, each armed with a sword. “Are you sure you boys can do it?”
The boys sprung into action, jumping on the unsuspecting pirates. Alice, Mally and Tarrant ran towards the front of the boat. Hook and Peter were sweating as their weapons stuck off each other.
“I’ll get Tink,” Mally said, scurrying down Alice.
Tarrant and Alice watched breathlessly as she weaved around the deck. She managed to reach the fairy’s position without being noticed by Hook or his other pirates. With a push and a shove, she tried to tilt the jar to allow her friend to escape, but it was simply too heavy.
The fairy pounded her fists on the thick glass.
Mally tried jamming her hatpin under the jar to lift it up, but the tiny tip didn’t have enough leverage to lift the glass prison.
Alice pointed to the left of the mouse. “Tarrant, look!” A burly pirate with a few missing teeth was running to where Mally and Tink were. “He’s going to catch her!”
Quickly, Tarrant lifted his hat off his head. “Duck!” he cried.
His hat went sailing across the length of the boat. With perfect aim, the top hat hit the jar and sent it crashing to the ground. The sound startled the two fighters who turned to see what had caused the commotion.
Peter looked smug. Hook was enraged!
“Smee!” Hook roared. “Get those pint-sized trouble makers back!”
A stout man bumbled around the deck. “Oh yes, Captain. I’m on my way, Captain.”
“You go help Mally and Tinkerbell,” Alice said. “I’m going to help Peter. He looks like he could use a hand.”
During the rescue attempt, Hook had obtained the upper-hand in the fight and had the man-child pinned up against the side of the boat, making an escape by flight impossible.
“Be careful, Alice,” charged Tarrant.
“I will,” she promised.
With a determined look and the pilfered sword, she ran across the deck to where Peter and Hook were battling.
Tarrant, meanwhile, focused on getting to the bow where Mally was standing. Tinkerbell had flown away from the shards of glass that held her, but was still hovering around her friend. He rushed to them, but was stopped by the bespectacled man.
“I’m afraid you can’t take her,” he said.
Tarrant’s eyes grew orange. “I beg to disagree.”
On the other side of the ship, Alice was approaching Hook who had his sword pressed precariously on Peter’s throat. “I’ve been waiting a long time to do this, boy.”
“You’re going to have to wait longer,” Alice said, holding the tip of her sword against his neck. “Now release him.”
He looked over his shoulder and sneered. “A woman? Just when I thought your band of misfits couldn’t get any worse.”
Alice clinched her free fist and pressed the blade. A chunk of hair fell to the ground. “Release him now.”
Hook looked to the ground and saw the fallen strands. “My beautiful wig!”
Despite his apparent peril, Peter laughed. “It’s a wig?” Taking advantage of his distraction, Peter spun out of the captain’s hold and flicked Hook’s hair with his dagger. The rest of his wig landed on the ground with a plop.
“You’re bald!” Peter crowed.
The entire ship froze, taking in the sight of their follicle-challenged captain. Then, everyone, including Smee and the rest of the pirates did something unimaginable.
Hook froze. Peter and Alice wasted no time in surrounding the captain. “Tell your men to stand down,” Alice ordered.
For a second, Hook did nothing. Then, he slumped. Even his mustache seemed to droop slightly. “Smee, let the man with the giant hair get his pet mouse.” Smee obeyed his captain’s command and stepped out of the Hatter’s way.
Tarrant brushed against Smee and plucked Mally from the ledge. He placed her on his shoulder and Tink jingled merrily.
Alice kept her sword pointed towards Hook as Peter reached down and scooped his wig off the ground.
“What’s that I hear?” The man-child held his hand up.
A faint ticking sound was heard. It was growing closer and closer.
Hook shook in fear. “It’s that blasted crocodile!”
“I think your friend should have a tasty snack!” With a flourished throw, Peter threw it into the ocean.
“My wig!” Hook shouted. He turned around the jumped into the water. “Smee!” he cried once he resurfaced. “Get that lifeboat and keep me and my wig safe from that wretched crocodile!”
Ever-obliging, the stout man moved to follow his captain’s order. Seeing their captain and Smee gone, the rest of the pirates held their hands up in surrender.
Peter flew up high and let out a loud crow. “We defeated that codfish!” He swooped down to stand in front of Alice. “If fighting with you is always this much fun, then I’ll sign the treaty!”
Tink and the Lost Boys let out a cheer.
“I want Tarrant to show me how to throw a hat like that,” Tootles said, approaching the group.
As Peter and the rest of the Lost Boy spoke with Tarrant and Mally, Alice looked over her shoulder to where Chess was floating, looking quite pleased with himself.
“You knew, didn’t you?” she asked softly.
“That we wouldn’t be able to earn Peter’s trust unless I fought against Hook--the grownup. That’s why you orchestrated the whole thing,” Alice said.
Chess rolled his eyes. “You Overlanders and your ridiculous ideas,” he replied disapprovingly. “You know how much I hate politics.”
Alice opened her mouth to argue, but Chess gestured to where Peter and the others were standing. “I do believe it is your responsibility to secure this treaty once and for all.”
It was clear that the Champion didn’t want to let the issue go, but the feline was correct; she needed to start moving forward with the treaty process. She stepped towards Peter and stuck out her hand. “Friends?”
He spat in his hand before grabbing and shaking Alice’s hand with a wide grin. “Friends.”
Two weeks later…
“And you believe that Chess was behind all of the actions you described?” Mirana asked from her ivory throne.
“He won’t confess to anything, but, yes, I do,” Alice said. She took a long sip of tea (which was thankfully in amble supply thanks to the Bandersnatch’s delivery).
The White Queen considered her answer for a second. “Perhaps the Cheshire Cat isn’t as aloof as he claims to be.”
Alice nodded. “I believe you are correct, your Highness.” Her gaze shifted to the large tapestry that hung behind the throne. The map of Underland seemed so large and yet there were so many lands that the tapestry didn’t show.
“Where would you have us go to next?” Alice asked.
Mirana smiled. “Take a little Time to rest, Champion,” she ordered. She stood up and looked at the tapestry. “When you are ready, it will be time to go south. I don’t know much about the land; there is a large desert that separates our worlds, but I have heard they have a most wonderful yellow road that runs through the entire land.”