Song I listened to for this chapter: The Catalyst by Linkin Park
Hatter looks around, a slight sense of unease creeping down his neck as if someone is watching them, however, neither Wonderland nor the Kingdom of the Knights is warning him of anything. He knows it’s not safe to rely them completely, but he is unable to find what his instincts are warning him of.
He tries to keep himself calm and not wake Alice. Their bond is unusually strong for as little time as they have been together. He has noticed that the land bond is strong in both of them as well. All this is helping his Alice feel more in control, and in his mind, there is nothing wrong with his love, being calm.
Hatter just looks around and keeps a closer watch on what is going on. He knows it will not take much time, maybe a day if that, to get to the Kingdom of the Knights. The kingdoms are small, but Wonderland is still growing. When he had mentioned that to Alice in one of their conversations, she hadn’t understood. Wonderland grows as is needed to make room for everyone. The Kingdom of the Knights was a forest originally between the Rabbit Hole and the kingdoms. Once his mum had won the Kingdom of the Knights, Wonderland grew to allow the room for it. The Forrest of Wabe still has a branch that runs close to March Hare’s home. His mum had actually traveled through it to get to his fa and then later to Marmoreal.
When the queens went to battle, it had only taken the armies a couple of hours to travel to the battleground between the two. In fact, it is that battleground that became the Kingdom of the Knights because of the Kingdom’s function as being a middle ground between the other two. When she had battled the Jabberwocky, this had helped his mum because she was essentially battling it on her own ground. The Kingdom had not been as awake then as it is now, but Hatter suspects it had tried to help its future queen. He remembers his fa mentioning that the Jabberwocky had tripped more than once when trying to get to Alice.
It had taken Alice and Hatter most of a day to travel from Salazum Grum to the Manor. Nevertheless, when Hatter came back from Salazum Grum to let Alice know of the deal he had made with the Resistance, it had taken him less than four hours. He had been booking it, worried about Alice and not wanting her to come after him, but now he is puzzled that it had taken him so little time.
Wonderland answers him and tells him she had helped. She hadn’t wanted Alice to worry any more than she already had been.
Hatter snorts and asks Wonderland, ‘Do you live in my head to answer any and all questions?’
Wonderland…giggles? Hatter doesn’t know if that is the answer to the funny feeling he got in his head, but it is the closest he can come to it. Then she answers, telling him that she is part of everything in Wonderland. She is just more connected to the rulers of Wonderland than everyone else is. As for Alice and Hatter in particular, well, she is just even more in tune with them.
Hatter sits back in the saddle to ponder that. He has noticed that Wonderland seems to talk with them more and more. He’s been wondering about it and hadn’t had time to speak with anyone about it before they left Marmoreal. However, thanks to his instincts telling him to just ask, he did so and received an answer.
Before he can explore this anymore, Santi rides up beside him. Hatter is a little shocked since everyone has been leaving them alone to allow Alice some sleep. But then he feels her stir awake.
Alice wakes to Hatter’s emotions. He feels…intrigued and a little confused. “Hatter?” she asks as she looks up at him.
Hatter holds her a little closer and answers her softly, “I’ll explain later Luv.”
Alice nods and then notices Santi. “Good afternoon, Santi.”
Santi smiles at his Queen, giving a little bow with his hand over his heart. While he is Hatter’s man, his heart and devotion is to his Queen. He would never try to interfere with their Bond; it isn’t even an option in his mind. Nevertheless, this woman has garnered his admiration with the way she handled the Queen of Hearts. She freed a land that had been broken while living under a loaded gun named the Queen of Hearts. The Queen had been crazy. There is no other way to describe it. Anything at all could set her off as he had learned to his profound sadness and regret. Alice, on the other hand, is love and compassion. So is the White Queen, but Alice has no trouble defending what she perceives is hers. You know if there is something wrong, she will work to take care of it. The White Queen couldn’t often deal with things personally due to her vows, but luckily, she has her champions.
Which brought Santi to why he is here. The White Queen has Champions. Hatter and Alice are their own Champions.
Santi greets his Queen, “Good afternoon, Alice.”
Hatter glances back along their line and then makes a slow and thorough perusal of their surrounding area. He then looks back at Santi and realizes the duke has noticed him looking. “I feel like something is watching us, but neither Wonderland nor the Kingdom have said anything. Makes me uneasy.”
Santi nods before speaking, “I have had a single question asked of me, by many of your new subjects. And, while I know the answer, I am not sure if I am to share it.”
Alice raises an eyebrow and inquires, “What is it, Santi?”
Santi looks at both of them and says, “They want to know who is the Champion of the Kingdom of the Knights.”
Hatter frowns and senses Alice’s confusion. He answers for both of them, “We are. We are also Champions of Wonderland. This was announced when we were crowned. Neither of us quite understand why you would hesitate to answer this question.”
Santi takes a deep breath and then tells them, “The Kingdom of the Knights has been without rulers for so long. The White Queen has both of your parents as her Champions. They are the first Champions for a long time, and now that you and Alice are both Champions… people may be worried that it may mean that one of you will be killed while you are defending your kingdom.”
Alice gasps and then leans out of Hatter’s arms to make her point to Santi. “Santi, we are never to lie to our subjects. Alice Kingsliegh was also the Champion of the Kingdom of the Knights as well as its Queen; Tarrant is the Champion of all of Wonderland. They were both the leaders of this kingdom before us. Don’t you think that Wonderland will make sure that the Kingdom will be taken care of? They are both wide-awake and more than able to display who and what they want. Hatter and I are no slouches; we can both take care of ourselves. We did it under restrictions beneath the Queen of Hearts’ rule and now all restrictions are off of Hatter and I am aware of my abilities. Hatter and I will be working with Charlie to continue sharpening our skills.”
Santi watches his Queen and then looks back at Hatter. He sees in Hatter’s eyes that, while everything Alice had said is true, Hatter will do his damnedest to protect his mate, his queen. It will not be checkmate to take Hatter, no, to have a true checkmate; you would need to take Alice. He further realizes that Alice is right; they are not the same as the White Queen. They are completely different. Their devotion for each other, their love for each other will drive them to defend themselves and their kingdom. They are not ones to hang back as Mirana has done in the past, allowing others to fight for her.
Alice can feel Hatter’s determination that she never be in harm’s way again. She sends to him her own determination to be by his side no matter what.
Hatter groans, sensing her response and he tells her, “Alice. I need you safe, Luv.”
Aneesa snorts. “Hatter, my companion will be what she is. Would you be in love with her if she had been some weakling?”
Hatter sighs and answers her, “No, Aneesa. I would not be in love with her had she been anything other than who she is. However, can you blame me for wanting her safe? She is my Mate.”
Xavier whinnies and answers them both, “Both of you are correct. But there are more here to help keep both Hatter and Alice safe. For instance, there is both Aneesa and I; we will be with you all the time. There is Chessur and Santi who will be around and advising. In addition, once we are in the Kingdom, there will be more to help protect you. None of us wants anything to happen to either of you, Hatter. It would destroy us.”
Alice feels a little overwhelmed by the outpouring of emotions. Then picking up how everyone is including her, she baldly asks, “Why? I can understand your feelings for Hatter, you have all known him. But for me?”
Everyone stops and stares at Alice. She tries again, “I’m trying to understand. Is it because how it would affect Hatter if something happened to me?” Alice grows uncomfortable with the heavy silence as everyone stares at her. All she feels from Hatter is pure shock. She is very confused and feeling a little bit lost.
Wonderland reads the situation and sends a command to the Guardian. He is needed to make Alice truly understand her worth to not only her citizens but to all of Wonderland’s inhabitants; he may be the only one who can. Alice trusts him.
Absolem appears in answer to Wonderland’s command and lands on Alice’s shoulder. She jumps, but Absolem flutters his wings over her cheek, giving her the caress that she is beginning to associate with their meetings. “Cherished and Beloved, you are named thus correctly and justly, not just by myself or Hatter. That is your name by many. Your compassion and love has been witnessed on many occasions – while watching the refugees in the Great Library, sacrificing yourself to protect Hatter, helping a knight find his courage. You forgave a man who had forgotten you and one who did not know what he wanted. You stood up and fought when you had lost everything just because you witnessed something that was wrong. In the process, you stood up to and brought down and insane ruler, saving everyone in Wonderland. All of this was witnessed by others.
“Hatter fell in love with your compassion as he watched you care for a people not your own even though you knew they may have been the reason you had lost your father. Charlie became your knight after seeing and feeling your love for your father whom you hadn’t seen in so long. Chessur loved you after witnessing your love for Hatter and how much you were willing to sacrifice for his closest friend. He then admired you when you called him to help Hatter, forsaking his comfort. Santi admired you as he watched you handle the Queen of Hearts even as she did what she could to break you. He then loved you as his queen when you forgave your father and others for what they had done to you. Aneesa and Xavier love you because you freed them. I, myself, love you after watching you all this time doing what you could for a land that you had no knowledge of being your own.
“I could list for hours others that call you Cherished and Beloved. In fact, you are more loved and cherished than anyone in Wonderland. This is what we need. Love and compassion has been in too short of supply in Wonderland. We need you to reawaken these feelings in us. For doing so, most of us will do what we can to protect you.”
During this time, Chessur appears and curls around Alice. Santi and Hatter are nodding agreement, remembering the situations Absolem spoke about. Xavier and Aneesa are both nodding their heads as well. Alice is in shock, “But, I wasn’t doing anything someone else wouldn’t have done!” There is no need for the entire land to feel this way when she had done nothing special.
Hatter wraps his arms around his Alice and holds her to him. “Alice, that’d be where you’d be wrong, Luv. Compassion has been sorely missing from Wonderland for so long. There is no Tea for it, even. Love is banned as a Tea. But what you did is show us what those feelings are. My love for you came about because of your compassion for the refugees in the Great Library. Before then, I lusted for you, felt pity for you, and maybe started to have the suggestion of love for you. But watching you watching the refugees that was the point where I can say I fell in love with you.” Hatter takes a deep breath, “I was confused when we went to meet Dodo because I was unsure what this feeling was. However, when he threatened you with his gun, my heart stopped. I couldn’t allow you to get hurt. I would have stepped in front of the bullet without a vest. I still would. I love you more than I can possibly tell you, and I plan to spend the rest of my life showing you.” With that, he sends his love for her through the Bond as he kisses her gently in contrast to the feelings he is sending to her.
Alice gasps as his love for her tears through her like a hurricane. She sends her own love back to him and can feel him react to it. The love they both have for each other is indescribable.
Absolem then tells her, when they break apart, “This is why everyone wants to protect you, Alice. Both of you really. Neither of you would be who you are without your other half and we know this.”
Alice’s eyes fill with tears threatening to fall and then Chess saves her, “Luv, you should know that we all love you. Why else would we be taking this long trek through the forest, not knowing how long we will be camping out in the bushes until the Kingdom is rebuilt?”
They all laugh. Then the Kingdom sings joyfully in their heads, leaving everyone stunned as it leaves them.
Santo shakes his head and comments, “It will definitely be different living in this kingdom. While I’m not sure what that is about, I did send my Clubs a message to try to arrange some living quarters for us.”
Hatter is chuckling at everyone’s reactions. “I have my own suspicions on what we will all find when we get there.”
Alice smiles up at him. She herself is a little suspicious of what they may find but will keep her suspicions to herself since she is not sure what Wonderland is capable of.
The group laughs and jokes, Absolem staying on Alice’s shoulder. This is the first time in a long time that there has been any time just to be themselves, to enjoy life and celebrate being alive and the new beginnings that everyone can feel. Everyone in the party is very aware of this, so they make the best of it. The train of people behind them take their cues from their leaders and relax. Not so much that anyone can attack them, but enough to allow them to talk and to find out more about each other.
The Golden Eyes watches all of this, confused. The last time he was in Wonderland, it had been a land under siege. After he tried to attack and save what he could, he had left for the Outlands to heal. It has taken centuries for all the injuries to heal and he has just awakened. He’s unsure what is going on, but he continues to follow Hatter and Alice. He feels a pull towards them.
After most of the day passes, the group enters the Kingdom of the Knights. Alice and Hatter feel the difference once they are in their actual kingdom. It’s hard to explain, but they just feel more in touch with their surroundings.
Alice looks up, trying to see the chess pieces that are the buildings for the Kingdom and gasps. Her shock and surprise travels to Hatter who has straightened up to see what has affected his mate so. Then his mouth drops open in shock.
Everyone looks to see what has surprised their lieges and see a kingdom of legend. There are no more worn down buildings, no more destroyed and toppled chess pieces. They are not close enough to see any details, but they can see the tops of a restored city in front of them. Then they round a curve in the road and see the road itself is repaired.
Alice finally whispers, “How?”
Absolem answers her, “Wonderland and the Kingdom. It has always been meant for you and Hatter but it was built by others with a hope that you would be happy with it. You loved the Kingdom as it was, so it repaired itself. It had started the process when it woke up. Much of what you saw was not the damage from the fighting, but from the Kingdom itself not paying attention and letting everything deteriorate. So, she and Wonderland worked together to make it right. Call it a thank you gift. To be honest, you don’t have the luxury to spend a lot of time fixing and repairing the Kingdom; you have enough to do with getting your rule started. I don’t need to tell you that something is coming.”
Everyone looks at the Guardian. They had all sensed it. Seeing how much Wonderland and the Kingdom of the Knights have done, makes them all a tad uneasy. A storm is coming.
Hatter finally asks, “If you learn anymore, will you please let us know, Absolem?”
Alice looks also on her friend on her shoulder. Absolem looks up at her and advises her, “Cherished and Beloved, I will do what I can to forewarn everyone. I will however, leave you this. The scroll just unveiled a new scene.”
Alice cocks her head and asks, “Absolem, can you please tell me about it?”
Absolem tells her softly, “It shows you going through the Looking Glass.”
Hatter’s arms tighten around her. Chessur floats off of Alice’s other shoulder in shock. Santi and the horses stare at Absolem. This is not something anyone could have imagined or want to hear. Alice leaving Wonderland?
Alice looks at Absolem as she sends her love back to Hatter, reassuring him even if it shows her leaving, she will never ever leave him permanently as long as she is able to breathe. She can’t even imagine it. She finally asks, “Was that all it showed?”
Absolem nods. He had just received the image and is still shocked. He can’t imagine a reason for Alice to leave, and yet it shows her doing it out of her own free will. Knowing her love for Hatter alone makes it impossible to even fathom. He caresses her cheek and tells them to call him if they need him. When they nod, he takes flight and disappears, going to do what he can to find out more.
Alice sits there and thinks as Hatter is reacting to the news. They are moving towards their kingdom and she is not sure what time she will have to think once they enter it. As they cross the bridge into the Kingdom, she’s quiet.
Hatter is scared and worried. Alice leaving Wonderland? He is very aware that Alice loves him and would not be leaving him permanently. No, he’s more worried about how the two of them will survive being that far apart with their Bond being so new, with both of them so needing each other’s physical presence. It pains them to be slightly far apart now.
He knows how much pain it caused his mum and fa to be separated from each other, each in a different world, but their Bond had not been acknowledged yet. What will this do to Alice and himself? He knows Alice is thinking, trying to figure out the hows and whys, but he continues to hold her close to him. He cannot be apart from this woman.
The group is quiet as they make their way into the Kingdom. As they approach where the White Knight had lived, Hatter notices how different the Kingdom looks. It has kept a lot of nature in its structure. In his mind, it makes it more like a fairy tale, a city that had formed in the middle of a forest. Nevertheless, he is impressed with the Kingdom, all in all. His military trained mind notes the defenses built into it. They are well hidden, but the Kingdom is showing them to him so that he can make the best of it, if it is ever needed. This city will not be taken easily if ever invaded again.
As they stop in front of the palace gates, Alice moves to get off Xavier when Hatter murmurs into her ear, “Luv, we are home.” She nods, still distracted. She needs to solve this mystery for both of their sakes.
Before she can slide off the horse, though, someone lifts her off of it and hugs her. She looks up, knowing it is someone she knows based on Hatter’s amusement. Then Alice laughs in joy and hugs back her knight. “Charlie!”
He has a huge grin on his face. “Just Alice!! Or shall I call you my Queen?”
Hatter laughs along with everyone. He answers for his Luv since Charlie is still hugging her, “She prefers to be called Alice, Charlie.” Hatter dismounts smoothly and moves towards him.
Charlie hugs Alice hard and then releases her to grasp Hatter’s outstretched hand. “My King. I am more than pleased to call you that, Hatter. Even though you tried to keep it hidden from me.”
Hatter smiles at him, “We have some matters to take care of, but will you train the Knights, Charlie? As to the other matter, there were promises that had to be kept.”
Charlie nods in acknowledgment of the burden of secrets and promises. He has been made aware of the promises; Mirana had sought him out in the Red Kingdom to explain why Hatter had not been able to acknowledge if Charlie had been right when he had almost guessed who Hatter was.
Alice walks over and puts her arm around her mate. “And Charlie, we need to swear you in as my knight.”
Hatter smiles and nods. “I can’t be her knight since I am her king. And in the chess world of which she is queen, in more ways than we ever imagined, she needs a knight.”
They both keep quiet on the fact that Charlie has to be, and always has been, her knight. Hatter has always been more than just Alice’s knight. In addition, Charlie will not be her knight in the traditional manner, she or Hatter will handle any knightly duties in that manner themselves. Charlie is too valued in other matters to risk himself in that manner.
Charlie’s smile gets bigger and he bows. “I would be more than honored to be your knight, milady.”
Santi walks up to them after speaking with the Clubs that had come forward when he had ridden in. “My lieges, while the city is rebuilt, there is still some work to be done. My people have asked for the artisans to come. They were left behind to start arriving in a few weeks; only the ones that were needed in the actual rebuilding came right away. However, there are no furnishings or anything in the city itself. The only place fully habitable is the palace, and even then it is minimally furnished by the Kingdom. Our people have been working to make it livable for you.”
Hatter smiles and speaks to the group, “I thank you for doing what you could for our queen and myself. I was not looking forward to sleeping on the ground. Please go on doing what you can for the rest of the Kingdom, this will be your home also.”
The Clubs leave, pleased with their lieges. They have heard from others that their king and queen really cared for them and they are happy to see this is true. It’s a breath of fresh air after living so long in servitude to the Hearts.
Hatter turns to his mate and asks her gently, “Care to find where we are sleeping, Luv?”
Alice nods. Charlie speaks up and tells them, “I will be more than happy to escort you both to your chambers.”
They move through the gates and enter what can only be called a palace. Alice is completely shocked by the beauty surrounding her. She loves the fact that nature is everywhere. It feels like Rivendell has come to life around her. They move into the airy entrances and she thinks of how hard it would be to defend this from any attackers. The Kingdom then shows her how defensible it really is. It may look airy and open, but there are a lot of things to impede any attacker’s entrance. The Kingdom of the Knights is taking no chances with her promised king and queen. After seeing how they love the beauty of the outdoors, it had tried to combine their wishes with its own need to keep them safe.
They move through the building and Charlie leads them to a set of rooms that are hidden behind many turns and twists. When he arrives at the door to their suite, they see two knight pieces on either side of the door carved out of stone. Alice and Hatter look at each other and go to move forward, but Charlie stops them, turning to the knights and bowing.
Charlie asks the knights, “Do you recognize them?”
Alice and Hatter are shocked as the knights answer Charlie, “Yes.”
Charlie nods and orders them, “You will always guard them in these rooms.” He then moves to the side and advises Alice and Hatter, “These knights will never need to sleep. They will guard you two in your rooms. They can move through stone itself to get to you.”
Hatter nods to Charlie. “Thank you.”
Charlie smiles and answers him, “Harbinger, I care for you both. Now, I will see you in the morning.”
The two watch the Guardian of the Curtsey walk down the hallway. Then Hatter turns and picks up his Mate bridal style with a mischievous look on his face then proceeds to open the door and carry her across the threshold. Alice laughs at her Mate and the pure impish look on his face as he does this. Once inside the door, they both look around, shocked at the sheer beauty of the rooms. The rooms are open to nature. They also overlook their kingdom. Hatter puts Alice down as he moves through the rooms, assessing the safety of them. Alice just asks Wonderland and the Kingdom to show her. They do so and she is relieved. The beauty of the rooms just hides the steel underneath. Tired from the ride, Alice sinks down on the couch and goes back to thinking about what Absolem told them. She can still feel Hatter’s unease and fear for them underneath the calm he is projecting for her and their people.
Hatter moves back in their bedroom after Wonderland and their kingdom shows him the defenses in the other rooms. He is satisfied that he and his mate will be safe here. Finding Alice sitting on the couch, thinking, his fear returns. He moves to her and crouches down at her feet, looking in her face, waiting for her to solve the issue, trusting her to be able to see what he is unable to see.
Alice feels Hatter as he realizes what she is doing and then senses him take her hands. He rubs the Stone of Wonderland to remind them both of what else they have together. Then everything crystallizes. “Hatter!”
Hatter feels her surprise and he pulls her into his arms. “Alice?”
Alice looks up at him and blurts out, “I have to go.” Before she can say anything else, his despair crashes through the link. She almost cries out at it and cups his face in her hands as he fights not to grab her and run, hiding them from everyone and everything that would attempt to separate them. “Hatter, I will NOT leave you. I can’t, you’re my other half. I would be a walking husk of a person. Hatter, I love you!”
Hatter forces himself to listen to her and brokenly asks her, “I love you, Alice and I know that you will never leave me. But… why?”
Alice nods and as she forces her love and devotion to him through their bond, she explains, “I need to start the Looking Glass to return the Oysters. I also need to get my mother to come here. My father showing up there would be too much of a shock.”
Hatter listens and asks, “Why can’t I go with you?” While internally his mind is screaming, ‘I need you, Alice!! Don’t you need me to be there with you?’
Alice looks at him while his need to be with her is pounding through the Bond. “I don’t know. I think you need to handle our kingdom,” she answers.
Hatter just stares at her and then demands, “You need to take someone with you. Alice, I need you safe!” ‘This is the only way I can let you go. What if it is too much?’
Alice just stares at her mate. She can feel his need to be with her and knows he is sacrificing so much to even allow her to leave. She finally calls, “Chess, I need you.”
Chessur appears and takes in the scene in front of him. “What can I do to help, luvs?”
Alice never takes her eyes from Hatter’s as she explains the problem. Chess nods and then gives his opinion to Hatter. “I can go between the worlds as Absolem and Nivens can. I think either your mother or father should accompany Alice.”
Hatter finally speaks, his voice heavy with emotion, “How can either of them survive the distance?”
Chessur disappears, knowing that this needs more minds involved and reappears with Tarrant, Alice K, and Mirana. He explains what is going on before the three can react to the change of scenery in front of them.
Tarrant finally speaks and tells his son, “She ‘es right, David.” His brogue is heavy as he watches his children suffer. He understands Alice’s reasoning, but he knows as well as his mate and son do, this will be a pain that neither can ever prepare for. But at the same time, they have been separated before.
Hatter looks at his fa and blankly tells him, “I know. But how can I?” ‘How can I let her go, knowing as I do the pain it will put her through? But what about the pain she will be in, not having given her mum a chance to be here, for her family to be united again?’
Tarrant nods as he understands the spoken and unspoken words his son was trying to hide from his daughter and then looks at his Bonded. She nods, understanding his need to be the one to protect his one and only daughter. Tarrant tells everyone, “I will go. Mirana, can you give me something to make me more normal for Alice’s world?” Mirana nods, tears in her eyes for her friends. She knows all of them will be in pain.
Alice finally asks, “How?” How are Tarrant and Alice even considering being the ones to be with Hatter and herself when they will be in pain themselves?
Tarrant tells her, “Because we have been bonded for centuries. Because we have done it in the past. Because my daughter and son need me.” Nothing more needs to be said in his mind. Tarrant doesn’t make decisions often, but when he does, everyone obeys.
Alice and Hatter both look at him. Hatter sees his fa is determined to do this. His mum tells them, “I will stay here with Hatter. Chess will go with Alice and Tarrant. Hurry back.”
The group agrees and Chess takes the three back to Marmoreal. Alice and Hatter move into each other’s arms. Hatter picks her up and walks to their bed, neither able to do more than hold onto each other as they fall asleep in their kingdom.
In another part of the Kingdoms, in a hidden underground room, a group of people is meeting. This group is not what you would call friends, but they are united under the same leader and same goals; the goals of wanting their kingdoms back or to have a kingdom given to them. Their leader wants nothing more than revenge.