As Charlie walks away to the horses Alice finally really looks at Hatter. Does no one ever thank or appreciate him for what he does for them? The Resistance… Charlie…herself even? She smiles at Hatter as she ponders this.
Hatter sees at her smiling at him, and thinks that is all the thanks he needs. He realizes that Charlie is trying to give them a second with all his noisy clanking. Or else Charlie is oblivious to everything around him; Hatter is unable to tell the difference. He is still leery of him, hoping he is not making a mistake trusting him with Alice’s safety.
He grins and tells her, “Alice, we need to help Charlie get everything together before that freak of nature hunts us down.” He moves over to her and looks down at her. She is looking lost again and he wishes he can get her to tell him what is wrong. “Trust me, Alice… please.”
She looks at him. Hatter does try. But she needs some time to make sense of…her feelings? What had happened earlier when they had been arguing?
Charlie calls out, “Um… vassal of Just Alice, can you please help me get Guinevere ready?”
Hatter groans. He can see this becoming a habit with the old Knight. Wanting to not be subject to be calling a vassal for the entire time, he replies to Charlie, “I have a name ya know. It’s Hatter.”
Charlie drops what he is holding and spins around. “Hatter? As in-”
Hatter interrupts him quickly, “No, not that Hatter.”
Charlie relaxes and gives him another look. He then walks away muttering under his breath.
Hatter realizes that of all people in Wonderland nowadays, of course the old Knight would be the one that would recognize the name. He needs to be more careful in the future. Hatter glances over at Alice and notices she has a thoughtful look on her face. He hopes she didn’t overhear that little exchange. Alices and their curiosity are well known to him and his.
He gently calls her name again, “Alice.” She looks up startled. “We really need to get going. Charlie has a horse we can ride.”
Alice nods and follows him over, still lost in thought. Then she realizes what he says. “Um… Hatter.”
He is checking the saddle, and making sure that everything is ready.
Alice tries again, “Hatter?”
Hatter absently answers her as he works to make sure they can get out of here before anything else can happen, while making her as comfortable as he can, “Yeah?”
Alice shyly tells him, “I… umm… never rode a horse before.” She waits nervously, her hands playing with the jacket sleeves. She is not entirely sure why she is nervous.
Hatter stops what he is doing and turns around. He repeats what she says, “You haven’t ridden a horse before?”
Alice tries to explain, “Well, you see I grew up in the city and horses are not something we can afford and-” She stops, realizing she is babbling.
Hatter looks at her and smiles as he gently advises her, “Alice, there is nothing to worry about. I will ride up front and all you have to do is hold on. I will take care of anything that needs to be done.” He can see how nervous she is about this, and he is trying to help her calm down.
Alice stares into his eyes, trying to see if he is teasing her. But, looking in his warm brown eyes, she realizes that he is being honest with her. He will take care of her.
Charlie comes up and is quietly watching them. He has a rope contraption in his hands as he comments, “Actually this will need to be around your waist, Just Alice. It will hide our tracks and keep the Kingdom of Knights hidden from curious eyes.”
Alice and Hatter stare at the contraption in his hands and then turn to stare at each other.
Hatter shrugs and leaning forward, he mutters to her, “At least it will help brush out the obvious tracks.”
He moves and mounts the horse, once settled, he reaches down to Alice, “Grab on to my arm and put your foot in the stirrup and swing up behind me. “
Alice follows his instructions and notices that one of the things he had been doing is securing another saddle pad for her to sit on.
Hatter continues to tell her over his shoulder as he unconsciously calms the horse, “Just hold on to me and let me know if you feel like you are slipping.”
Alice nods, letting him know she heard what he said.
Charlie walks over and helps put the rope around her and fixes it on the ground behind them. “Va… Hatter, please follow behind me and Arthur please.”
The White Knight mounts his horse easily for an old man with that much armor on and starts to ride out. Alice looks around and notices that there is nothing to give away the fact that they had even been here except the pit. How had the Knight done all that?
Hatter looks back at her. “Ready?” She nods and he encourages the horse to follow Charlie. He grins to himself as her arms came around him, gripping him quite strongly. He really enjoys the feeling of her pressed to him. He pats her hands to reassure her as they move out; leaving his hand covering hers.
Alice realizes that she may have some time to think, finally. There has been so much going on! She tries to get her thoughts in order. What to think about first? This world? What has been happening? Jack? The ring? Hatter? She takes a deep breath.
Hatter hears her. Trying to think of what can have caused her to do that, he worries for a second and asks, “You okay back there?” Hatter glances at her over his shoulder, as his hand tightens over hers.
Alice relaxes as he comforts her. She answers him meeting his eyes, “Yes.”
Hatter gazes back into her eyes. He can see they both need some thinking time. He softly tells her, “We are going to need to be quiet for a little while, make sure no one hears us leave. I will let you know when we are in the clear, okay?”
Alice continues to stare back into his eyes, how come she hasn’t really noticed how expressive they are before and answers, “Um, okay.”
Hatter nods and turns back around. He tightens his grip over her hands as she leans back away from him, hoping she gets the message. When she doesn’t pull away her hands, he relaxes.
Alice shifts in an attempt to get somewhat comfortable, something that is really hard on horseback. She needs this time to figure out things, so much has been happening. The best place to process all of this is to start at the beginning and the beginning is Jack. Jack started all of this when he handed the ring to her and subsequently got kidnapped.
Alice jerks a little in the saddle as she suddenly remembers the White Rabbit mention that he knows Jack. Didn’t he say that Jack is a friend? But the old man knows her name! How did he know her name? Did Jack talk about her? As these thoughts came over her, Alice realizes that she had assumed that since the White Rabbit had known her name, and is so gleeful in capturing her, that she is the target. Maybe, maybe not. Didn’t Hatter say they wanted Oysters? She gave herself a mental shake. ‘Stay focused Alice or you won’t get anything done!’
So the first thing that comes to mind is: does she really care about Jack? She had felt something for him but with everything going on, shouldn’t he be in her thoughts at least a little? She thinks back and comes to the conclusion that over the last day and a half, he has rarely entered her thoughts. In fact, the only time he has come to mind, is when she wondered about the ring.
Alice doesn’t think that she should be feeling accountable for what happened with Jack and staying with anyone over feelings of guilt for being quick to dismiss him from her life. But, at the same time, according to her mother, she has been running from men.
Alice realizes that she has not really been running from men; commitment, that is what she has been running from in the past. She is scared of committing to the wrong man. To the man that doesn’t fit her fantasy. She has this fantasy, this unattainable wonderful fantasy that the perfect guy is going to come in and sweep her off her feet. But then doesn’t every girl? Is she just being more stubborn or is she just wanting… well, everything? And what did she want in a man? Someone that cares for her, is committed to her, and will do anything for her. Is that too much to ask for?
Alice’s mind jumps back to the Stone of Wonderland. Didn’t Jack make a comment about how the ring has been in his family for years? The ring is the Stone of Wonderland and a major item here, how can it be in his family for years as he mentioned? This is truly bothering her. Her mind keeps circling back to it. There is a niggling feeling there that Alice can’t avoid. That little quirk of hers has helped her win chess matches and also helped her learn martial arts so quickly. Alice has learned to listen to it in the past, and now it is telling her that here is something about the Stone and Jack that she doesn’t know. She has a feeling that it might be the crucial piece of information.
Alice also has this nagging feeling that Jack doesn’t really care for her in the way he had professed. He left pretty easily when she asks him to. But of course she is quick to make him go. She needs to talk to him. There are several unanswers questions. But…
Then there is Hatter. Hatter is the one that is making her feel all these feelings. She would normally tell her friends that it is love, or at the very least, a strong ‘like’. He is such a jerk at the beginning, but he has stood by her since then. She also feels an odd pull towards him, a connection she can’t explain, but it made her feel safer around him. One of the things she has learned so far in this world is that nothing is free. He seems to care but what did he want in return? Why did this have to be so hard? Alice had an uneasy suspicion that she is making this harder than it seemed. She has a need to understand what is happening between her and Hatter.
But in all honesty, can she even move on these feelings that she may have? Or should she talk to Jack, whom she feels has not told her the whole truth. But, Hatter has secrets also. She thinks back on the conversation between him and Charlie for one thing. That arm of his. His past. On the other hand, they say actions are more telling than words. And his actions have, and continue to show, he cares. Look how he is attempting to keep her calm, holding his hand over hers. Alice shook her head slightly; she NEEDS the words, doesn’t she? Doesn’t everyone?
Alice sighs quietly. This is not solving anything, really. But, in a way it does. She knows that she is not in love with Jack. But, she will rescue him. She stands by her friends, and he IS a friend.
She does care for Hatter. But, can she trust him with her heart? Can he trust her?
All of a sudden the White Knight starts singing, “Hey nonny nonny. Hey nonny nonny.” This startles her out of the rut she is getting into. She is grateful for the quiet time to think, but she realizes another crux; her feelings for Hatter and her need to see Jack. But, she has a funny feeling if it came down to where she had to choose one over the other, who she would opt for…
Hatter tries to be respectful of her need for a little quiet. He fought earlier to keep from making sure she is okay, when she would straighten up quickly, as though in shock or when she would sigh. She has a lot of information to try to process in a very short while. He has a few things to figure out also. The biggest two things are the ring and Alice, specifically why she is HIS Alice in his mind. He felt bad after the Great Library. But at the time he had been trying to understand the feelings she had stirred up in him when he watched her compassion with the refugees. He even acknowledges he felt some jealous feelings about this Jack fellow and who wouldn’t want the loyalty of someone like Alice? But somewhere between here and there, he has grown very protective of her, and then some. He tightens his grip over her hands just a bit.
He has tried his teas before. But in his experience, they are not as satisfying as the real feelings. He had to try them to pass off as a Tea Shoppe owner and if he couldn’t have done that, he couldn’t have helped the Resistance. Hatter’s family has long been involved in Resistance activities. But, these feelings? He has neither tasted nor felt them before, and he is unsure of what they mean, but Hatter has an idea and hopes he is right.
Then there is the ring. How HAD Jack gotten the ring? Hatter feels like there is something wrong with how Jack had gotten the ring and with Jack himself. He fears that his Alice will be hurt. His brave little oyster has handled herself well in his world so far. There are several instances where he has observed Alice’s fragility. His new feelings for her do not want to see her hurt because of that Jack.
All of a sudden, Alice leans further back, and removes her hands from Hatter. Hatter immediately misses the contact. He tries to think if there is something he had done to make her remove her hands and can come up with nothing. Hatter sighs, then looks back at the contraption that is wrapped around Alice’s waist, and what it has been doing. It is not only wiping the tracks, but it is growing grass over the mud!
What he observes shocks him, he mentions to Alice, “Even works over mud. It’s wiping the tracks clean away.” He grins at Alice, his dimples much in appearance as he tells her, “Maybe Senile Sam has a trick or two up his…escutcheon.”
Alice fights her temptation to grin wryly back at him.
Hatter tries to think of something to make her smile. He misses it. Then he smirks and asks her, “You comfy?”
Alice replies, “No.” How can he think she is comfy on the back of a horse? With a rope tied around her waist? “’Course not.”
Hatter’s smirk grows bigger as he advises her, “Why don’t you lean forward and put your arms back around me and let my body take your weight?”
Alice had removed her arms, uneasy of the closeness between her and Hatter. She just resolved to talk with Jack, before addressing the new feelings for Hatter. But here she is thinking about him, sweet things he has done for her, and he makes a comment like this! “Yeah, I’m good!”
Hatter grins to himself. He knows he did it to just get a reaction from her. She had been getting too quiet and he wanted his Alice back. She seems more like the Alice that he met at the Tea Shoppe now and less like the Alice that had been feeling overwhelmed. She is regaining her – well he hated to be so repetitive, but if the shoe fits – her muchness.
They come around the bend and see Charlie is off his horse, waiting for them. He smiles and tells them, “Welcome to the Kingdom…” as he pulls back a branch of moss, “of the Knights.”
Hatter can’t believe his eyes. The old man had been on the level, he has guided them to the Lost Kingdom. “Well, well, what do you know?” They can have some time to plan now; he doesn’t think the ceramic walking dead can find them here.
Charlie leads them through the paths in the woods. That once they passed, Hatter looks back and the pathway is gone. Hatter nudges at Alice and indicates with his head for her to turn back. She does and gazes at him with a face full of a child’s wonder. How he loves to show her some of the magic that is Wonderland. So far all she has really seen is the worst part of his homeland.
They ride up to a stable of sorts. It is not as destroyed as the rest of the kingdom; Charlie must have taken the time to rebuild it to make it very comfy for the horses.
Charlie and Hatter dismount quickly. Hatter turns around and helps Alice off the horse. He quickly steadies her when she almost falls from the fatigue from riding the long distance from the forest to here. Concerned, Hatter asks, “You okay?”
Alice looks up at him and her heart skips a beat. Here he is being nice again. “Yeah… my legs hurt.”
Hatter relaxes a little bit, “See if you can walk over to that bench and wait while we unsaddle the horses so they can graze tonight.” Alice tries to step away and wobbles a little too much for his liking. Without thinking, he gently holds her close to him. He softly tells her, “On second thought, I will help you over there instead.” Hatter really wants to pick her up and carry her, but he doesn’t think she will be too happy about that after their exchange a few minutes ago. So, he helps her walk slowly over to the bench. He wishes he can get her a potion to take away the soreness.
Alice sits down gratefully once they reach the moss covered stone bench. She then reaches out and grabs Hatter’s hand to stop him. When he looks back at her, she tells him, “Thank you, Hatter. I do appreciate all your help.” Alice will remember to thank this man that it seems like too many others take for granted.
Hatter flashes her his full grin with dimples and she feels butterflies in her stomach. He holds her hand for a second longer before reluctantly letting it go and heads back to help Charlie.
Alice takes a deep breath trying to calm her stomach. She decides that some of her exercises that incorporate both Yoga and warm ups, may help her get limber again and lessen the chance that her muscles will cramp. Alice began some of the easier ones keeping in mind that she is in a dress and that she has company. It hurts when she starts but after awhile she begins to feel limber again. She finishes and turns around to see Charlie and Hatter staring at her. She feels a tad self conscious with their looks and asks, “What?”
Charlie can’t contain his curiosity and asks Alice, “Just Alice, what are you doing?”
Hatter glances at him but since he has been wondering the same thing himself, he lets the comment go. It has been kinda beautiful watching her go through some of the positions…and makes him wonder how limber she really is…
Alice stops and answers Charlie, “Oh! It is a form of exercise in my world called yoga. I do it to keep limber along with my Karate.” She keeps forgetting they have no idea what she is talking about when she comments on things from her world.
They both stare at her, unsure of what she is saying.
Hatter shakes himself seeing that they are making her uncomfortable. He quickly comes up with a distraction, and asks, “Charlie, can you show Just Alice where she can hopefully relax and get some rest for tonight?”
Charlie jumps, being startled from being off in his own world. He quickly bows to Just Alice and tells her, “Ah yes, Just Alice and Hatter, if you would please follow me, I will take you to my home.” Charlie leads them off into the ruins.
Hatter holds out his hand to Alice, hoping she will take it. He tells her softly, “C’mon.”
Alice smiles at him acknowledging what he had done just now. She thinks back to what she had thought about on the way here and deciding to take a risk, she reaches out and takes his hand. She really likes him, and has noticed that when she holds herself back, he is hurt. Alice cannot justify hurting this man when it isn’t his fault. She over thinks stuff. She will work it out later.
Hatter smiles back at her, feeling better with her hand in his. They turn together and follow Charlie, Hatter keeping Alice close by him in case she needs any additional help. At least that is the justification, he tells himself.
As they walk through the city Alice can’t contain her curiosity about this wonderful place and what happened. She finally asks, “Charlie, can you tell me about this place?”
“Certainly!” He replies.
Hatter is a little hurt that Alice asks Charlie instead of him. But, he knows he would have had to turn around and ask Charlie anyways. Hatter can not tell what he knows about the old Kingdoms. He can’t tell her what he knows in specifics about this city. Plus, he is curious on what Charlie’s version would be.
Charlie starts his explanation, obviously in his element. “Before the war with the Queen of Hearts this is the greatest city in the realm. The Red King and his elected council ruled Wonderland with the wisdom of the ages.” Charlie leads them to his home, the Manor, as he calls it.
Alice asks, “And the Hearts destroyed everything?” She is trying to place the information she had received from Hatter earlier in the bus/elevator.
Hatter looks around with Alice shocked at the destruction that the Hearts had rained down on this peaceful looking city.
Charlie answers her, “We lived in harmony for a thousand years but when the Queen came to power…” He turns and faces them to make his point, “She just wanted to feel the good… not the bad.” He moves on past them. Alice and Hatter stare at each other, their faces showing their emotions, sympathy for Charlie and bewilderment on how the Queen can do all this damage. Hatter is privately shocked at the level of destruction. He had heard about this from his family but to witness it first hand? He shakes his head.
Charlie continues his narration, “Believe it or not, this is once the throne room.”
They both come up to where Charlie is standing and gaze out to where Charlie obviously lives now.
Charlie sadly tells them, “Sadly, all that is left now is the throne.”
Alice and Hatter both feel for the old Knight. To have to live through the devastation that transpired, and to now live in the destroyed throne room with the deceased Red King; that is misery personified.
Charlie’s voice gets happier and he tells them, “Come now. There is much work to be done for dinner tonight.” Charlie leads his guests down the hill.
Once they are down in the main area, he graciously turns to Alice and asks her, “Does Milady wish to freshen up while we prepare her meal?”
Alice perks up, freshen up? She would love to at least get some of the smell off of her! She grins at Charlie and answers him with real pleasure in her voice, “Yes, please!”
Charlie lends her some towels and soap. Then he comments to her, “If you would follow me, I will show you where you can freshen up. Your vassal will help me prepare our dinner while you are otherwise occupied.” He leads her to an area that is a ways off but is hidden from the rest of the Manor by nature herself and hands her an odd feeling cloth. “If you use this on your outfit, you will find that it will remove most of the dust and grime from it, while letting it remain dry.”
Alice smiles at him, “Thank you Charlie. I really appreciate it.”
Charlie returns her smile and tells her gently, “I have not forgotten everything Just Alice. Take your time and I will make sure your… Hatter is kept busy.” He leaves her standing there looking at him in shock.
“Maybe you’re not as crazy as you seem Charlie” Alice mutters to herself. Then she smiles and gets ready to finally get clean!