“It’s absolutely Shae. I’d know you anywhere. I’d know him anywhere!” The man exclaimed to both me and everyone within earshot. “I am a girl, thank you very much!” I insisted, arms crossing over my chest. The man chuckled, picking me up by the back of my dress as he stood and crossed back over the table to his seat, placing me on the table in front of him. “Now that everyone is here, we can begin our tea. You’re terribly late you know. Naughty.” He said to me, lips turning up in a small smirk. His head shot around as a fluffy blue and grey cat with a wide grin and eyes to match manifested itself out of thin air at the other head of the table. “How rude of you, Terrant, didn’t invite me to tea.” The cat said, shaking his head as one paw ran over the rim of the cracked cup in front of him, the other paw supporting his head. “And here I was thinking we were friends.” Terrant’s eyes, as well as their sockets, darkened immensely as he pushed himself up. “What are you doing here, Cheshire?” “I came to see the girl. I had heard she had arrived. Not that you had bothered to tell me anything, Nivins.” The cat purred, eyes flickering to the White Rabbit. Floating out of his chair and towards where I stood, he looked me up and down before an abnormally large grin grew on his face. “You seem… smaller than I’d expected.” “Blame it on the size of the door I had to get through to get here.” I muttered, watching the cat carefully as he circled me. “Ah, yes. I had forgotten about that door. No one’s used it since Alice.” “Can you tell me what happened when Alice slayed the Jabberwocky?” I questioned, still eyeing the cat. “Ah, yes. The Jabberwocky.” He said with a small shake of his head, “I’m afraid what Alice did that day is far too terrible to speak of.” “Get out of here, Cheshire. This tea party is not for you.” Terrant growled, eyes’ following the cat’s every move with a solid glare. “What a shame. I was going to offer the girl some helpful advice, but I suppose I’ll just go then.” Cheshire purred, slowly vanishing into the air again. “NO!” I exclaimed, reaching towards where the cat once was, but he was already gone. After a few short moments of silence, the pale man sat back down again as his eyes faded back to their normal colour. “Well, on to the tea then?”
“Hatter, you need to take Shae to Marmoreal.” The White Rabbit pleaded after what felt like hours and hours of never ending tea. The man simply shook his head, sipping from the cracked tea cup casually. “I’m afraid I haven’t been there in years. Not since…” He trailed off, head shaking again. “Hatter, please!” Mallymkun begged, crawling from her seat onto the table to wander closer to Terrant. “Mally, you know why I can’t do that.” He said as calmly as he could manage, his voice cracking as he raised the cup to his lips for a lingering sip. “Terrant, this is no time to let your personal feelings get in between life and death for the rest of us!” The mouse insisted, storming right up to the man as angrily as she could manage. “I can’t turn my back on her, Mally.” He muttered into his cup, slowly setting it down on the table.
“Don’t forget,” Cheshire said as the reappeared right over Terrant’s shoulder, “It was her who turned her back on you first.” Hatter’s head snapped around to scowl at the cat who vanished as quickly as he’d come. “Hatter…” Mally pleaded softly, eyes wide as she looked up at him. I saw his eyes flicker to me, a hint of guilt on his features before his gaze snapped back to the cup in front of him. “Fine.” He gave in reluctantly, “But not for any of you… For her.” He said, eyes lingering on me this time. I felt my cheeks darken, reaching up to tuck some of my hair behind my ear.
Terrant took his hat off, placing it on the table and looking at me expectantly. I raised my brow, looking up at him questioningly. “What do you expect me to do with that?” I asked, earning a slight grin to grow on his face. “Anyone can walk or travel horseback, but the absolute best way to travel is by hat.” He said with a slight nod, earning an excited jump from Mally. “Oh I just love traveling by hat!” The mouse squeaked, going to climb onto the brim before Terrant pulled it away from her. “Mally, just Shae, please.” He insisted, lifting the back of my dress again and placing me on the brim of his hat before situating the hat once again on his hat. “Would you quit doing that?” I groaned, gripping the ribbon that covered the brim of his hat as he stood up, nodding once at everyone at the table before turning to wander back into the dense forest.
Crows cawed and flew over head, the only sound I’d heard in hours. Hatter never talked, he seemed too caught up in getting me there and being rid of me. Glancing up at the dull grey skies, I frowned slightly at all the crows that seemingly followed us and the ones that perched on trees, watching us pass. Carefully lowering myself off the bridge of the hat, I dropped down onto his shoulder with a huff. “Hatter?” I called softly, trying to gain the man’s attention. With no response, my features turned down into a frown. “Hatter!” I yelled, now getting frustrated with his lack of response. “What?” He replied simply, his eye sockets darkening once again along with his eyes. “What happened with Alice?” I asked, determined to find the story from someone. Terrant didn’t respond, earning a scowl from me. “I insist you tell me something about Alice this instant!” I demanded, Hatter stopping immediately in his tracks before reaching over and lifting me up so I hung directly in front of his face. His eyes were nearly entirely black, the sockets a deep grey. “Let me explain something to you,” he began, his face tight and stern, “Alice is a girl that is not to be crossed and I don’t expect you to be any better then the numerous Wonderlanders that lost their lives trying. If she could toss me aside, she really has no heart left.” I swallowed, dangling a few moments longer before he set me back on his shoulder and immediately returned to walking as if nothing had happened.
I spent the rest of the journey, which went well into the night, going over each word that Hatter had said. ‘If she could toss me aside, she really has no heart left’. Was Hatter in love with Alice? I wanted to ask, believe me, I really did. But I didn’t want to bother Hatter again, especially not on the apparently touchy subject of Alice Kingsleigh.
As we neared Marmoreal, Hatter slowed to a stop. I could see the remains of a once beautiful white palace and extensive grounds, most of which looked like the remains of a fire. The palace still stood, but no longer at its shimmering white and previous glory. There was a fine line of ashes circling the grounds, and I noticed that Hatter stood only an inch in front of it. “This is as far as I go.” He said, picking me up to lower me to the ground. “Good luck, Shae.” And with one final nod, he turned on his heels and began the long journey back to his table.
I looked down at the line of ash, taking a deep breath and closing my eyes tightly before slowly stepping forward. I expected a force field, or gust of wind, anything to let me know I’d crossed a magical barrier. I felt nothing. When I opened my eyes I was safely on the opposite side of the ash line. Shrugging off the confusion, I continued into Marmoreal.
“Who are you?” A voice demanded. I looked around in confusion, having not seen anyone there. “Hello?” I called, “Is anyone there?” “Who are you?” The voice commanded again, followed by a rather large dog waltzing out from the palace. “I’m Shae. Shae Warren.” I said confidently, looking up at the dog that towered over me. “Are you the girl we’ve been waiting for?” He asked, tongue lolling out of his mouth. “That is what everyone’s been saying.” I replied simply with a shrug, “Are you Bayard, by chance?” The dog shook his head, “I’m Denar. Bayard is my father.” He replied before turning around, “Follow me.” He said simply, heading back towards the palace. I followed after him, nearly running just to keep up.
Denar led me into the throne room where the White Queen sat with her ladies in waiting. Seeing Denar enter, her smile brightened slightly. “Denar, who have you brought?” She asked, her voice as airy and light as her body language. “Shae Warren, your majesty.” He replied with a small bow. “You mean…” She trailed off when the dog nodded, dismissing all the ladies before getting up to come kneel were I stood. “We have been waiting for you.” She said with a smile, looking me up and a down a little awkwardly. “You’re much smaller than I had hoped.” She commented. “Blame it on the only way to get into this place.” I muttered before realizing who I had said that to, “Oh! I mean uh… This isn’t my usual size, your majesty. I am usually much taller than this.” The Queen simply smiled, “Well, that can be easily fixed. Follow me.” She said, standing up and leading me towards the kitchen of the palace.
“A pinch of worm fat.” She said, adding said ingredient to her brewing pot. “Urine of a horse fly.” She listed next, adding it as well. The stench made me gag, biting back my reflexes as not to be rude. “Buttered finger.” She said last, mixing it all together before taking her spoon and bringing it to me. “Now, drink.” She said with a smile. I bit back another gag at the revolting smell, reluctantly leaning forward to take a sip. As the Queen stepped back to replace the spoon, I felt my body quickly growing back to it’s original size. “Feel better?” The Queen asked as she floated towards me, smiling softly. “Much, thank you.” I replied with a smile, taking her hand when she offered it.
Returning down to the throne room after getting a change of clothes, I found the silk blue trousers and top to be much more fitting than my original clothing, I approached the Queen with a curtsy. “How do you like the clothes?” She asked with a smile, my head falling into a small nod. “They fit perfectly, thank you.” I replied with a small smile of my own. “Your majesty?” I said softly. “Yes, my dear?” She replied, head tilting slightly. “What can you tell me about Alice? No one will tell me anything.” I asked, my lower lip getting pulled between my teeth when she didn’t respond. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. My mistake.” I muttered quickly, shaking my head as my gaze quickly found its way to the floor. “It is not a mistake, my dear. You have every right to want to know about Alice if you are to beat her.” The Queen said simply. “I do?” I replied, “Does that mean you will tell me about her?” I asked, slowly directing my gaze back towards the Queen. She nodded slightly, “I will tell you what I know, but no one will know Alice better than my sister.” I nodded slightly, sitting down next to the Queen when she ushered me to. “Now, Where to begin…”