Finding Alice

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“Every time I close my eyes
It’s like a dark paradise
No one compares to you
But there’s no you,
Except in my dreams tonight.”
-Lana Del Rey

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27. Chapter Twenty-Seven

Grace would never forgive him. He’d foolishly pursued a small flicker of hope without a plan or a thought about what it would mean for her if he didn’t come back. He only had himself to blame this time. Sure, someone had set the bait, but he’d taken it without question. It was just like when Regina tricked him into going back to Wonderland. He wanted so badly to provide a better life for Grace that he went against his instincts not to trust Regina. Now he’d pushed aside all logical reasoning for the ember of hope that Alice was still alive. And Grace would be alone again. Without either of her parents.

The Queen’s maze was iced over. The land was cold and dead. The only sign of life besides himself and the guards were the occasional white roses that peeked out of the frost on the hedges.

Something shrieked from the sky above. A bone-chilling call he’d never heard before, but he knew too well from the horror stories he’d heard from his days as a trader and thief. He looked up to see the shadow swoop through the clouds before disappearing into the blue mist.

“What is that?” he asked. The knight stayed behind him on a horse with spiked bands around its ankles. He was the only knight with his head uncovered. The one they seemed to get their orders from.

“That’s the Jabberwock, my friend,” the knight told him, with a wary glance at the sky.

“It’s free now?”

“It’s been free for some time. It’s the Queen’s fears manifest. So long as the Queen fears it, it can’t be chained.”

“What’s it doing?” The knight smiled.

“Hunting. The lands are divided. Trespassers go to the Jabberwock. Be thankful I was here to intervene. You might not be so lucky next time. Most aren’t.” Jefferson motioned toward his legs, which were still immobile as the guards dragged him helplessly over the ice. They had him by the arms, and he still couldn’t get himself to move.

“Lucky. Right,” he remarked. The knight only smiled.

He thought of Grace as they dragged him through the hedges with the looming shadow sweeping through the clouds above. He wondered how she would react to finding the house empty when she got home from school, with no one there with a tray of tea and cookies. How long would she stay there before calling for help? Where would she go if he never returned? Back to the family who took her in the last time he failed her? Would she grow up hating him for abandoning her and never learning from his mistakes?

He had to find a way back. He couldn’t let them win again. If he could just get his legs to move, he could do it. But it was an enchantment and not his own lack of trying. He knew he’d never get free until they let him go. He could rage inside all he wanted. He’d still be as compliant as clay.

The roses were supposed to be red. It was the Red Queen’s garden before the Queen of Hearts usurped her. The new queen had wanted her subjects to remember her power wherever they looked. They’d only been white once that he recalled, and only through stories. They’d turned that color by accident, and Alice helped a scared gardener paint them red just so the Queen wouldn’t take his head.

She was seven-years-old then. Younger than Grace. And the Red Queen wanted her to die for it. Or so they thought. She only ever wanted Alice’s head. And now Jefferson knew that didn’t necessarily mean the end. The Queen of Hearts won Alice’s head years later when he’d stolen a single red rose from her garden and Alice paid the price. Now the roses were white. Like the snow that dusted the land. Like the armored guards and even the horse who watched him with intelligent, knowing eyes, occasionally whispering words to his rider.

They carried him up a small flight of stairs and over a black and white checkered floor, dusted with powdery snow. Even the Jabberwock had gone silent, but there was still a charge in the air like the tension right before a storm. Or the electric zip of magic right before a portal opened.

The guards dropped him at the foot of the Queen’s dais and the knight dismounted. Jefferson leaned on his hands but refused to look up at her. He didn’t want her to think she’d won. And if disrespecting her was the only thing he could do to defy her, he’d do it. He’d gotten out once before. Of course, he couldn’t remember exactly how, but there was still a chance he could get away again. So long as the Jabberwock stayed above the clouds.

“Trespassers go to the Jabberwock,” the Queen’s voice spoke from her side. It was a man at her side, speaking aloud her whispered words. Jefferson’s already scraped fingers turned pink on the icy floor. He still couldn’t get them to move.

“I’ve been told to obey different orders for this trespasser,” the knight said, standing beside him like a cat presenting its master with a mouse. “He was running when I found him. To a portal.” Jefferson could hear the Queen whisper, but couldn’t make out her words.

“The Queen wishes to know who you are and how you gained entrance to this land,” the voice spoke for her.

“I came through a hat,” he admitted.

“Hatter. You were a prisoner here before, were you not?”

“I was.”

“And how did you escape?” Jefferson shook his head. His breath left his body in puffs from the cold air.

“I don’t know.”

“You’re lying.” The Queen whispered again, silencing the man for using her voice without her urging. “Why have you come?” the man repeated for her.

“I was looking for something I lost.”

“Something you stole.”

“No. Something that was stolen from me.”

The throne creaked, and the Queen’s shoes tapped on her cold platform. She appeared before him in a gown of solid white. A warm gloved hand touched his jaw and lifted his chin up. The woman stood still and white like a ghost. Her face was hidden behind a veil that tucked into her collar, which was made up of long white peacock feathers that splayed around her like a halo.

He remembered the stories of the Wonderland of old. The locals told him there was another queen once. Not the Queen of Hearts or the Red Queen, but a White Queen. A benevolent queen. However, in Wonderland, that didn’t always mean they were kind.

“What is your name?” the man at the dais asked as the Queen studied the trespasser’s face, moving it from side to side as if she could read a story in his skin.

“Jefferson,” he said, staring back at her empty white veil.

“Mr. Jefferson….”

“Just—Jefferson.”

“And what is it that you’re searching for, Just Jefferson?”

“My wife. I want to bring her home. To our daughter.”

“Does your wife have a name?” the man asked. The Queen hadn’t asked him to say any of this, and Jefferson wasn’t sure if it was because he knew what she wanted to ask, or he was just comfortable speaking for her. She made no move to correct him. She took a step back, letting her hand drop from Jefferson’s face. But then she lifted it and stopped the man from continuing with his interrogation.

“Very well,” he said. “The prisoner shall not go to the Jabberwock.” Jefferson breathed a sigh of relief. “He goes to the dungeons. Escort him.”

The knight at Jefferson’s side lifted him back onto his clumsy feet and dragged him to the stairway that led into the underground castle. The Queen stayed where she was at the foot of the dais, watching him go. Her veil moved as she followed him until he disappeared into the dark.

The guards took him to his former prison, where he’d been forced to do nothing but build hats for days and weeks, he wasn’t sure how long. The room had bright windows that faced the other side of Wonderland, where he’d never been. He was shoved inside the large room and found himself facing one of the windows, where towns twinkled in the distance. A lazy river snaked between them and shimmered in the dull light. It stretched through the land before disappearing into that forest of unnaturally long trees. He turned to face the Knight, looking around at the familiar room while the man spoke to his guards.

“We will leave him here,” he was saying.

The room was the same, but there was no sign of his hats. Instead, it was filled from floor to ceiling with tall shapes, hidden behind white sheets.

“The Queen instructed us to take him to the dungeons,” a guard argued.

“I’m instructing you to leave him here. You are being dismissed. I will take the Queen’s wrath.”

The others didn’t argue. They nodded and disappeared into the hallway. The Knight didn’t shut the door, but stood back and stayed quiet as he watched over his charge. Jefferson turned his back on him and stood before one of the objects. He could tell, even before lifting the sheet, that it was a mirror. They all were. An entire room full of them.

“What happened when you escaped before?” the knight asked. Jefferson glanced around the room at all the other mirrors. It was large enough to be a ballroom. Filled floor to ceiling with sheet covered frames.

“I didn’t escape,” he said. “I don’t know how I got out.”

“I mean you no ill intentions.”

“Of course not. Why shouldn’t I trust the knight who kidnapped me and held me captive?”

“In a room instead of a dungeon. In a castle instead of the Jabberwock’s jaws.”

“This room was a prison cell to me before. It doesn’t feel any different now. And you disobeyed your queen to put me here.”

“I never disobeyed my queen. I follow different orders.”

“She told you to put me in the dungeon.”

“The Queen’s voice told me, and I don’t take my orders from him. If you were smart enough to turn around, you might have noticed I haven’t locked you anywhere.”

Jefferson slowly turned his head and glanced at the knight. He was standing beside the open doors, watching with vivid green eyes.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“When you were here before—The Queen of Hearts stationed me outside of your door. I would listen to you talk to yourself for hours. They all said you were mad,” he explained. Jefferson shook his head. “I knew it wasn’t madness. You were just a father, desperate to get home to his child. I took pity.”

“You got me out?”

“Perhaps you’re not as dumb as you look.”

“But why? I’m no one to you.”

“I take my orders from the Queen of Wonderland. The true Queen.”

“Why would the Queen want me to go free?”

“Because you have a daughter. She’s isn’t fond of making orphans.”

“Why the secrecy? Why all the tricks and lies?”

“This land is at war, Mr. Jefferson.”

“Just Jefferson.” The knight ignored it.

“The Red Queen rules in the east. The White Queen rules in the west. The Queen of Hearts left scars on this land. The people love their Queen, but they’re loyal to their fear. Fear is more powerful than love. You’ve seen what patrols these lands. You know who he works for.”

“So the Queen can’t let her people see me go. Or she loses power.” The knight nodded.

“Something like that.”

“I can leave? Just like that?”

“If you can find your way out.”

Jefferson decided not to question further. Of course, he had thousands of questions swirling around inside his head, but he had to get home to Grace, to make a better plan, and prepare for what he had to do next. He bolted for the door, and the knight made no move to stop him. But when he spun around the corner, he found his way barred.

The Queen stood in the middle of the hall with her hands clasped tightly at her front. The large gown and long feathers around her collar made her look bigger and more imposing than she really must be. She was still like a statue until he stopped, breathing hard just before her. Then she lifted a hand and motioned for him to follow. She turned quickly and walked away.

“Where are you taking me?” he asked, hurrying to keep up with her strides. She kept her gown clutched in her hands but her shoulders were straight. Her veiled head faced forward, and the feathers bounced along with her steps. She didn’t speak.

“I came here to find my wife,” he begged her. “I just want to take her home.”

“She can’t help you with that,” the Knight said, catching up to them.

“I just need to know what happened to her. The Queen of Hearts took her head. I need to know if she’s alive.” The knight shook his head.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you. This isn’t the same Wonderland you left behind. You’re better off going home to your daughter and never looking back. You got lucky this time. Don’t make the same mistake twice. The Jabberwock doesn’t waste time with questions.”

The Queen led the two of them through another door and down into the chasms of her mountainside castle. The stairs seemed to go on forever, some of them stretching across walls and leading into impossible places. She led them further down until the light from above began to fade, and it became difficult to see in the darkness.

Finally, the knight moved on ahead of them. She stood back to allow him to unlock a door. He pushed it aside and the Queen nodded a quick thanks before motioning for Jefferson to follow her into the dark. The knight reached out to grip the front of his vest before he could pass.

“You leave this place, and you don’t come back,” he warned. “I am loyal to the White Queen, but the others aren’t. If you come back here and I do not find you first, you will go to the Jabberwock, and the Red Queen will make sure you never see your daughter, or anyone else, ever again.”

He wanted to believe they were really letting him go, but his heart was pounding as he pulled himself free and followed her. He couldn’t agree to the knight’s terms. He was going to return whether they liked it or not. He owed it to Alice to at least try. Even if she really had died all those years ago. He needed to know for sure.

He stepped into the darkness and took a moment to allow his eyes to adjust. They’d led him to an underground waterway. He could hear the river rushing and feel the splatter of mist on his skin.

“Stay silent,” the Knight warned him. “The Jabberwock has been called back to the Red Queen. So the sky should be clear. But she has many spies. From birds to other, less kindly, things. Keep quiet on your journey. They are always listening.”

“I will.”

The Queen had disappeared down the stairs and stood waiting beside the water’s edge. A single white boat was tethered to the dock by a chain. She motioned for him to step inside and he did without question. He waited for her to unlock the chains before speaking. He didn’t know why she’d chosen to do this work herself, instead of allowing her knight to do it for her. He had his suspicions, but he couldn’t dare to hope for that much.

“Why are you letting me go?” he asked.

She lifted her hand in the direction the water was flowing and pointed to the paddle tucked into the boat. He scrambled to her side and pressed his hand against her chest, right where her heart would be if she still had one. Nothing was beating beneath the fabric.

“Alice,” he breathed. She put her hands to the edge of the boat and pushed it away into the current. He could still see her in the darkness, gleaming like the roses in his yard. “I named her Grace,” he told her. “Just like we decided.” The Queen lifted her dress from her ankles and fled back up the stairs.

 

                                                                      

 

I know the "White Knight" was technically a canon character in OuaT, but I decided to make my own version. So he isn't the same guy that's in the show. Also, the White Knight is written (in the book) as kind of a bumbling dumb-ass who rides his horse backward, and I obviously took some creative liberties there.

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