Song I listened to for this chapter: Smooth by Santana & Rob Thomas
Hatter and Alice continue to make their way to their rooms, talking in low voices about their plans. Hatter opens the door and gestures for her to enter before him with a slight bow. Alice laughs at him as she enters the room with Hatter close behind, dropping his hat off on the table.
Alice sits down on the couch. Hatter drops down beside her and ends up laying his head in her lap as they sit there. Running her hands through his hair, Alice uses the time to help gather her thoughts. She really loves touching him and his hair.
She uses the calming repetition of her motions to allow her mind to think on everything she has been told in a very short time. She went from thinking she was an Oyster, allowed to stay in Wonderland because she helped free the Heart Kingdom from the evil queen to finding out that she is actually a Wonderlander, just raised in a different world, and has every right to be here. In addition to being a Wonderlander, she is also mated to her soul mate who happens to be a prince. Then, in a surprising turn of events, if she understands what Wonderland and the Kingdom of the Knights have told her, Alice and Hatter are both rulers of a Kingdom. Not just because she is Hatter’s Mate, but because she was chosen in her own right.
All that is surprising enough, but now she is being told she will have a talent and will be changing physically. Hatter has been surprising her with his physical movements since he was healed. She gathers from comments made earlier, that he is an excellent fighter. He must have dumbed it down when they had been fighting in the past. However, what is going to be happening to her?
She finally asks, “Hatter, I am trying to make sense of what is going on. When they talk about changes, are they going to be to my body? So, you know, what is going to happen to me?”
Hatter’s eyes are closed in pure bliss and happiness because of his Mate’s hands in his hair. Having her here with him before the storm hits, is something he is treasuring. With how hard Wonderland is pushing them to return to the Kingdom, he knows a storm of epic proportions is coming and he is unsure how safe his Alice will be. From what he has experienced, he is taking these times of just the two of them and treasuring them. Then he hears her question, and feeling her worry coming through their Bond makes his eyes open quickly to look up at his Mate. “Alice? Luv? What’s wrong? What do you mean?”
When Alice doesn’t answer him, he quickly sits up and turns to pull her into his lap. He holds her close to him and asks again, “Alice, please tell me what you are thinking, luv. I can’t help you if I don’t understand what’s wrong.” He pleads with her as he sends reassurance and his love through the Bond.
Alice feels his love and relaxes. She looks up at Hatter. “Hatter, I’m…I guess, I would say that I am baffled, disorientated, bewildered… I went from being what I thought was an Oyster being accepted because of our Bond and what I did for Wonderland to being told I am basically a native of here. Then before I can understand that piece of information, that I belong here in my own right, I am being told I am going to be some sort of super woman. What is going to happen to me?” She stares up at him, hoping that he can help her.
Staring back at her, Hatter thinks of her questions and what he is feeling from her. He looks down and says to Alice, “Luv, you are accepted here because you belong here. When you believed in Wonderland, you became a Wonderlander. The only difference is you probably will be slightly madder than any other Oyster that chooses to do the same. As for the powers, well, Wonderland is made of and founded on magic, luv. Pure magic. The Red Queens don’t like it, Constance in particular doesn’t like it. Nevertheless, the magic is in all of us. Moreover, because you are a descendant of a native of Wonderland, it just means you probably have your talents already. Just like your father had his ability in Above, if I were to leave Wonderland I would keep my Sledgehammer and other abilities.” He tries to see if she understands what he is telling her.
Trying to comprehend everything, Alice feels like she is being stupid and obtuse. She just cannot understand what he is telling her. “Hatter, I am so sorry. I don’t understand.”
Hatter senses her frustration pouring through the Bond and jerks his head back, surprised by the strength of her feeling versus how calm she looks. He thinks harder, frowning until Wonderland steps in, trying to help him explain. He feels that it has tried to help, but is also unable to explain it to her in terms she can understand. However, hopefully, between the two of them, they can come up with a way to explain it to Alice.
He gently cups her face and asks her, “Alice, can you just bear with me and answer some questions for me, luv?”
Hatter sighs and asks her, “You mentioned that your teacher had started to train you in akeeta skills?”
Alice can’t help but laugh at his mispronunciation of ‘Akido’. “Hatter, it is called Akido. And yes, he had started to teach me skills that an Oyster would call Akido.”
Grinning, Hatter tells her, “Give me a break, Alice. There are so many words you have tossed around that I have, and probably will continue to mispronounce .” He kisses her head. “But, back to what I was asking. Is it normal for you to progress as you did to the level that your teacher would teach you this normally? Any person off of the streets and who had taken your classes with you would be at the same skill level?” Hatter leans his head towards her, waiting for an answer.
Alice frowns and turns the question over in her head. She always gives thought to what Hatter asks, a lot of the times it helps her settle her own thoughts or helps her to realize what is just out of reach.
She thinks back to comments her sensei had said to her as she trained. He often mentioned how quickly she picked up on the classes and how easily her body moved to replicate the moves and skills he was showing her. She then remembers some conversations she had overheard on how she had gained the black belt fairly early in the classes. “I thought I was normally progressing through the ranks. But now that you are asking, I remember someone commenting that I had progressed quickly.”
Hatter nods. “Alice, what is it about your fighting style that makes it easy for you?”
Alice just stares at Hatter, confused again. Hatter sighs, not in exasperation at her, but in trying to explain what is just known to him. “You know I have a lot of strength in my right hand, the strength to pulverize stone without any pain to me; that is my magic, the one that people know about. However, my real skill is my speed and ability to analyze. That’s why I am the best swordsman in Wonderland. But, me mum and fa worked with me for hours to bring that ability out and make it be an unconscious part of me. It helped when I was in the Heart’s Kingdom, it made me a better conman.”
Understanding dawns on Alice, causing her to be a bit excited as she answers him. “I can basically predict what someone will do. If I somehow manage to watch an opponent before, I can mimic their skills to a T. I can’t explain it to anyone, I just seem to be able to make the right moves. The same thing with chess. I just seem to know what moves to make; it’s all played out in my head before I make one move. And, as the game goes, I can see who will win.” Alice looks away from Hatter. “I always kept quiet about it, not wanting to seem more of a freak.” This last is said quietly.
As her feelings of sadness and anxiety come through the Bond, Hatter asks, “Alice? Why would you call yourself a freak?” He can never think of her as a freak.
Sighing, Alice tells him frankly, “Children are cruel, Hatter. With my dad missing so early in my life, I was called a freak and other names. Since I was playing chess with my father before he left, I continued to play, but people commented on how unusual it was for a small child to be able to beat adults as easily as I did. As much as I wanted to stop, I felt like I needed to continue and it helped me remember my father in a good way.” She smiles softly. When she played chess she remembered her father without any sadness.
Hatter frowns over what she has said and he has to clarify. “I don’t understand, Alice. Why would children be cruel?”
Feeling his honest confusion, Alice answers him, “Because I was different. Different is not encouraged. Oh, they say it is, and there are awards to celebrate the geniuses and the people who are different. But, as a child you are taught that different is bad.”
To say Hatter is shocked is an understatement. Alice is surprised at his emotions as they come through the Bond. Shock is first. But now…now anger? Alice looks up in his face and she sees his black around his eyes start to spread out.
Hatter can’t believe the world his love comes from. To teach children that they need to be the same, to be as toy soldiers lined up, that to be different is bad? That is the complete opposite of what is taught in Wonderland. It may be due to the long life spans of Wonderlanders, but children are rare and are celebrated. They are encouraged to be different and to explore. How else will they find what they can do? However, to have Alice, who would have been different as different can be to the world above, be subject to this treatment? To have her exposed to that criticism at a time in her life that instead she needed to be encouraged, that makes Hatter angry. His Alice is amazing as she is. In addition, it is probably the magic in her that drove her to chess and to keep at it. Something in how she plays it, how she can see the moves, is what she needed at the time.
Lightly touching Hatter’s face, Alice sends her love to her amazing man. She keeps it up until she feels his answer from the Bond.
Hatter looks down at his Mate. “Alice, you are amazing. But, I will tell you right now, if we have children, they are NEVER going to grow up in your world.” He pulls her to him and holds her tight. “Alice, I love you. You are not going to be ever called a freak here in Wonderland. And if you are, leave me something to take my revenge upon when you’re finished.”
Alice can’t help but laugh. “I’ll be sure to do that, Hatter. But seriously, what is Fa saying about additional abilities?”
Frowning, Hatter thinks back to his fa’s words. Then he truthfully tells her, “I really don’t know, Alice. Me parents never took the crown or were formally linked with the lands. Mirana is a pretty private person so it just doesn’t feel right to ask her. Most Wonderlanders maybe know one of their talents. To know both is rare. Not as rare as a Bonding or anything like that. But maybe 3 in 10 Wonderlanders know both of their abilities. Dormie is one. But his abilities are sleeping in any position and being able to convince people of anything.”
Relaxing into Hatter, Alice reflects on his words, then she tells Hatter, “We need to get moving, but this won’t be the last time we speak about this. Just to make sure I am thinking down the right path, you’re telling me I have had my abilities all this time and have used them. I may get stronger, but nothing different from anyone here.” She reaches up and kisses Hatter. When they break for air, she smiles and continues, “Oh yeah. If anyone calls me a freak, I am to leave something for you to take your revenge upon.”
Hatter kisses her again and then smirks as he reminds her, “No children are to be raised outside Wonderland. Pretty important one there, Alice.” He nuzzles her neck as she chuckles.
Alice turns her head to give him better access to her neck as she replies, “Well, since any children I have will be yours and we have a Kingdom to rule over, I don’t think that will be a problem!”
Hatter moves Alice until she is under him as he ravishes what he can of her body. He stops to look at her as he says the tiny three words that mean so much. “I love you, Alice.” When she raises her left hand to gently touch him, Hatter catches it and kisses her finger that holds the Stone of Wonderland. “Mine, my Mate, my love of my life, my soul. Moreover, you will be mine in every way I can and have made you mine, luv. Every single way.”
Alice sighs. “Well, I am yours, Hatter. I think I always have been. But, we need to get moving, love.”
Sighing, Hatter stands up, giving Alice a hand to help her up. “We just need to grab some clothes for a couple of days. Everything else will be sent or made for us.” He walks over to their wardrobe and opens it.
Alice frowns and finally has to ask. “Hatter?”
He answers her as he is trying to think. “Yes?”
She smiles and asks sweetly, “Hatter, dear.”
Where is his jacket? He will also need his bulletproof vest. What about Alice? “Yes, dear?”
Alice turns to him and she shouts, “HATTER!”
Hatter jumps in surprise and turning to Alice, asks, “Alice? What is it luv?”
She laughs at his expression as she inquires, “Why is it every time we open this wardrobe, there are different clothes in here?”
Frowning at her, he answers, “When whoever opens it, the wardrobe tries to present what it thinks they will like to see.”
Alice shakes her head. She will just never get used to Wonderland, she thinks. She reaches in, and grabbing clothes in her hand without looking, she puts them into Hatter’s arms. “Well since it knows what I want, these will work.” Alice turns and goes to the bathroom feeling numb.
Standing there shocked, Hatter watches her. He cannot feel anything through the Bond and that makes him uneasy. He drops her clothes and goes after her. “Alice?”
Alice needs a second. She has handled a large amount of information in a short amount of time. For the most part, she is happy – who wouldn’t be when they are soul bound to a man like Hatter? The other things are overwhelming, but Hatter has been there for her every step of the way. He really is trying to help her understand what is going on. It is also comforting to know that while she had been called a freak in her home world, she fits in here in Wonderland. No one will think she is a freak here because they all have similar, heightened abilities. Hers are unique to her, but everyone has some form of an ability.
But a wardrobe reading her mind? That’s what is freaking her out right now. It is different with Hatter knowing what she feels; she feels the same things from him, a give and take between them, a sharing it could be said even. The Kingdom and Wonderland? They asked her questions. They never take the information from her without her permission.
Alice goes to the mirror and stares at her image without really seeing it. She is lost in her head and trying to work it out.
Hatter comes in, worried. He can feel nothing from their Bond and, quite frankly, it’s scaring him. He has gotten used to the little emotions that travel through it. In fact, he relishes them because they let him know how she is. It’s also a constant, steady reminder that they are Bonded, that she belongs to him and no one can take her away. It also reinforces that she loves him since that is the feeling that travels along their Bond most often. Actually, the feeling of love is always there, underneath everything else. However, for him to feel nothing? That should be impossible. Not with how strong their Bond is.
He walks in the room and sees Alice standing in front of the mirror. “Alice?” He moves to her, worried when she doesn’t answer. Alice never ignores him.
Moving behind her, he puts his arms around her. She still doesn’t move, doesn’t melt into him as she normally does. Hatter holds her to him and forces himself to calm down. He will wait right here for her to come back to him and tell him why she is upset.
Alice is lost in her head. She keeps trying to think, to gain control, to understand what is happening to her. She wants Hatter so badly to make this right, but her mind is rebelling against that also. ‘Alice, do you really need to depend on a man?’ She frowns at the thought and tells herself, ‘No. But, even if I do depend upon him, he depends on me. I love him.’ With that thought, she realizes something else. Hatter completes her. He is the other half of her. Where she lacks in self-confidence, he supports her. Where he needs to be calm, she soothes him. They need each other. In addition, Wonderland and their Kingdom? They want something from them, but they are working with them. They act more like a presence than like godlike beings. Alice understands that they are, or at least Wonderland is, basically godlike, but it acts more like a friend and confidant. They work with Hatter and herself to move towards a common goal. Moreover, Wonderland really cares about her inhabitants.
Hatter stands there with his chin on Alice’s shoulder waiting for his world to come back to him. He’ll change whatever she wants if she will just tell him. He’ll move mountains and oceans for her. The best thing is, he knows that she would do all the same for him. He is unsure what sent her to this state, but he knows she needed to think about it. He remembered that when she had time to think in the Kingdom, she was usually better, calmer, and had more insights into their problems. She is the thinker, and he is the doer. So, he is letting her think and get through what she needs to. He will be here waiting for her to come back to him.
Before Hatter can blink, he feels the Bond open wide and her fear flow through it. He tightens his arms around her instinctively, protecting her with his body if need be. Then the love for him flows through and Hatter feels pure relief in having her back.
Shaking, Alice realizes that she needs to understand Wonderland better. She works to gain back her mind and body. When she does, she is shocked to not feel the Bond! Her fear of losing Hatter comes rushing through her body and she barely gains control of it. Before she panics anymore, she senses Hatter’s love and protectiveness coming though the Bond at the same time she feels his body behind her with his arms wrapped around her. Her love for this man comes over her and helps calm her down somewhat, but the fear is still there.
Hatter holds her close to him and asks her, “Alice, what’s happening?”
Leaning back into his embrace, she tries to explain it to him. “I freaked out. I was handling everything with you and Wonderland helping. But…Hatter. What we have is mutual. What one has, the other has. I love you, and you are my other half in every single way. I never worry about what I feel or think with you, I somehow know that you will understand. Wonderland and the Kingdom of the Knights ask me what I want. They never take the information from me without my express permission. What freaked me out was a wardrobe closet reading my mind. What else can read my mind? Is there anything private?”
Hatter can feel her getting upset and tries to soothe her. “Alice, luv, shh, calm down. It’s the magic. It is not reading your mind, it’s kinda like it can see glimpses into the future and presents you with choices that match your need. Moreover, since you can make many different choices, it offers you the same. It is nowhere near the same level as the Oraculum or anything like that. It’s a minor magic. Your mind is your own and nothing can take from your mind what you are not willing to give. I will help defend you from any attacks, mental or physical.
Alice turns and reaches up to take his hand in hers. He looks down at her, his other arm still holding her to him. He sighs and then leans his head against hers. “We have so much to talk and work through, luv. We come from two different worlds, literally. But I love you. And we will work through all this.”
Alice softly tells Hatter, “I love you too, so very much. In fact, that’s what frightened me so much – I could no longer feel our Bond. I could no longer feel the utter complete love you have for me coming through the Bond. There is no need to change anything about you for me; I love you for all of you. Moreover, the two totally different worlds, I am beginning to think that it won’t be a huge deal. I just need to deal with Wonderland. If your mum could learn, and she is not even a descendent of Wonderland, didn’t even have a father from here to at least try to teach her enough to help her get through this crazy land of ours, then I can.”
Hatter thinks and asks, “Alice, what do you mean about your father?” She has rested her head against his chest and he is running his hand through her hair as he tries to understand.
Relaxing even more, Alice tells him, “I just realized, he knew I would be how I am. He’s the one who insisted I take the judo classes. He’s also the one who played games with me until we found out about chess. He read me stories of Wonderland that had more to do with this Wonderland than the Heart’s Kingdom.”
Hatter leans down, picks her up, brings her to the couch, and settles both of them on it, with him holding his life to him. “I don’t understand.” He cocks his head at her, wanting, needing, to understand what she is saying.
Alice looks up at her world and answers him as her wonder flows through their link. “It’s like he was preparing me for this…”
They both feel Wonderland agree with them. As they look at each other in surprise, Wonderland reiterated to them both that Alices and Hatters belong with each other. And that Wonderland tried to do what it could to help prepare Alice and Hatter.
Hatter’s eyes widen and he croaks out a “Me?”
Wonderland sighs to herself. These two are what legends are going to be made of…but the trials had to be taken on willingly. Therefore, she has helped but never forced any decisions. She made this known to them.
Hatter stares at Alice in shock. Alice chuckles and asks him, “How does it feel Hatter, to know that you were an object of interest for Wonderland? Because, I’ll tell you, it makes me feel a whole hell of a lot better not to be the only one she’s singled out.”
Laughing, Hatter teases, “I am glad that my shock is making you feel better, luv.” He kisses her.
Sighing into his embrace and kiss, Alice realizes they are not going to leave today unless they get moving. “Hatter, we REALLY need to get moving.”
Hatter feels Wonderland’s amusement as she prods both of them. “I’ll pack what we need, Alice. Get anything else you need for this trip and let’s go.”
They both reluctantly get up and get their things packed. Luckily, Time seems to like them and is drawing out the afternoon. They both change into traveling clothes, Hatter in a black leather jacket that looks like his brown one, a dark blue shirt with cream abstract designs on it and black slacks. He wears a black fedora hat. Alice is in dark blue pants that are loose and a cream top with a dark blue, light jacket on top. Before they leave, Alice asks Hatter, “You didn’t pack any heels did you?”
Hatter frowns and answers her puzzled, “No.” Why would he pack heels?
Alice sighs in relief. “Running around Wonderland once in heels is enough. I refuse to do it again anytime soon.”
Hatter laughs as he wraps an arm around her. They talk as they move through the castle to the armory. When they reach the door, Hatter opens it and waves his Mate in.
Alice is amazed by the number and assortment of weapons in the room. She looks around as Hatter enters behind her and closes the door.
Hatter smiles at her look and heads towards the swords. He is going to grab his sword that is kept here as well as some knives and other weapons. He doesn’t have to act like he doesn’t know how to fight anymore and will not go weaponless again. He still has the guns from the casino and plans on giving Alice one later. It had looked like she could handle them in the casino.
Frowning, Alice turns as she really looks at all the weapons in the room. She turns back to Hatter to ask him a question when she is taken aback by his movements. This is not the same Hatter who had been fighting before. She can see the difference in him, can see what her instincts had told her when she first met him. He is dangerous. Not to her, but her man is definitely a dangerous man to mess with. Before she is too wrapped up watching him, she asks her question of him. “Hatter, who makes these weapons?”
Hatter was heading to the knives, but stops at her comment turns back and answers Alice’s question. “The weapons master does or if they are found, they are brought here.”
Alice frowns and looking around again sees something that catches her attention. She feels Wonderland encourage her. Alice moves past Hatter to the knives and moves some out of her way to confirm what she is seeing – throwing stars. She reaches out a trembling hand to touch them.
Hatter is watching her with a confused look on his face. “Luv?”
Alice answers him absently, “I know how to use these, Hatter.”
Hatter eyebrow quirks up giving her a look, one that says, ‘Ok I know you are trying to tell me something, but I am not understanding what the big deal is.’ “Ok, then take them, Alice.”
Alice looks back at him. “Take them?”
He looks back at her and says slowly, “Yes. This is an armory. It’s meant for people who have permission to come and arm themselves.”
She looks back at the weapons and then back to Hatter. “How are you sure that I have permission?”
Hatter sighs. “You wouldn’t have been allowed in the room otherwise, Alice. Now please take them and anything else you think you can use.” He moves beside her and starts to go through the knives and adding them to his body and the sheaths that are built into all his clothing.
Alice watches him then grabs the throwing stars. She also grabs a knife that curves oddly along with some small knives. Hatter watches her out of the corner of his eye and asks casually, “They seem a little small, Alice.” He is curious.
Alice nods and answers, “They are for deflecting more than anything else.” She moves to her left where she is being pressured by Wonderland. Then she stops, amazed at the different types of swords in front of her. Hatter moves to stand beside her, finished with the knives also.
Alice remembers the conversation from earlier at Tea Time and states to him, “You can use any of these.”
Hatter nods as he looks for his sword. “I’ll be happy to work with ya, Alice, to bring your talents up to what you feel you need.”
Alice looks over at him and then moves past him towards something that has caught her attention. Hatter looks after her and sees her pick up a wooden sheath that is black and oddly curved. He then sees her grip it tightly and pull the blade out of it in one smooth motion. The blade is not one he has seen before, but he finds himself noticing the apparent weight, the curve to the blade and then he realizes the quality of the steel.
Alice smiles feeling the weight in her hands. This is the weapon she has spent the most time with. Looking at the blade, she can see the watermarks on it. Wondering if she really has what she thinks she does, Alice calls out, “Hatter, can you come here, please?”
Hatter moves up to her and answers, “Yes?”
Alice holds the blade out to him. “Can you please bend the blade for me?”
Hatter looks at her and then at the blade. “Alice? You want me to break the blade?”
Alice hands him the sword correctly and explains to him, “I need to see if this is a true blade of the type I’m used to. It should be able to touch tip to hilt without breaking or being damaged in any way.”
Hatter takes the blade from her, noting the superb balance to it. He grabs the blade with his right hand after flexing it. He glances at her again, making sure it was ok for him to do this. When she nods, he bends the blade. He is surprised that it bends, not easily but not as though he is damaging it. He put some of his strength into making it touch, but once he does, he releases the blade. He is shocked to see it bounce back into shape with no damage.
Alice sighs happily, “That is the first test. Thank you, Hatter. I needed to make sure I can trust this blade.”
Hatter nods, understanding what she means. His blade is the same way; he trusts it not to break when he needs it. “What’s the next test?” After that impressive stunt, he wants to know what else it can do.
Alice looks up and tells him, “It should be able to cut through steel and silk with the same resistance. However, I can tell that part already. The true test is what I already had you do.”
Hatter is curious though; he takes the blade over to some old armor and slices the blade across the breastplate. He is surprised to find it sliced through it easily, like a hot knife through butter. Hatter then looks around and sees the polishing cloths and picks an old silk one from there and tosses it in the air. Hatter swings through the silk and is surprised to see it part and flutter down to the ground in two separate pieces. He grins in enjoyment and Alice notices that he looks like a little boy with his grin and dimple showing. She is smiling at him when he looks up at her.
Hatter walks over and presents the sword to her. “Here, Alice. I wholeheartedly agree to this sword for you. It equals my own. I look forward to being able to spar next to you, luv.” The words are formal, but the look on his face is anything but. Alice laughs.
He flashes her his signature grin as he moves towards the door in the back. He opens it and Alice sees a couple of swords in there. She recognizes the swords his mum and fa had on them when they arrived at the Red Kingdom. There is a plain dark blue scabbard with a silver hilt sticking out of it. Hatter grabs this and draws it quickly. He inspects the blade quickly then slides it home. It is all done as though he has done it thousands of times before, and knowing what she does now, he probably has.
Hatter grabs a couple of guards for their swords and moves back to Alice. “Ready, luv?” She nods and they leave the armory together. The only signs that they had been there are their swords, Alice’s slung on her back and Hatter’s on his waist.
When they exit the castle and move across the courtyard, Santi sees their swords and nods. While he knows they need to be back in their kingdom, he too is a little unsure about them traveling the distance by horseback. Before he can start to worry, he hears a voice tell him, “Don’t be worrying about those two. They have, and probably will continue to, handle themselves just fine in a fight.” In front of him Chess appears. The Duke’s eyes widen. “Good afternoon, Cheshire.”
Chess smiles, showing his wide smile to the duke. “Are you ready to deal with those two?” He looks down at his paw to see if there are any broken nails he needs to deal with.
The duke raises his eyebrow at the cat. “I take it you are coming with us?’
Chess yawns. “I have been invited. And I did miss David.” He twists and moves in front of the duke, “But why are you traveling with them?”
Santi smiles, “Because they are the best thing in this land. After living so long under the Queen of Hearts and watching my father being beheaded for voicing his opinion on one of his lackeys… Wonderland needs their compassion and love. Watching their love for each other is a revelation. Maybe we got dependent on feeling others feelings and not our own, because what they feel for each other is beyond anything I have ever seen. The Queen said that our feelings were not as potent as the Oysters.”
Chess looks thoughtfully at the new Duke of the Kingdom of the Knights. “Maybe she wanted you to think that way so that she could control all of you better. There is no difference between the kingdoms that would cause one’s residents to feel differently. They are all interconnected as is shown now that the Kingdom of the Knights is active; there are people from all over the kingdoms answering the call of the Knights. What the Queen of Hearts did is inexcusable on so many levels. It will take more than Alice and David to fix all of it. Jack will have a lot on his hands also. But Mirana and Carpenter are working on not only getting the Oysters better so that they can be returned to their lives but also healing the Tea Heads. That is not what Wonderland is pressuring Alice and David about. They are not the only ones to feel the pressure; many of the rest of us are as well. I am not sure why it is working through them mostly; David’s parents are also champions.”
Santi tosses this about his head as he moves to saddle his horse, Breetai. “Maybe they are what is so crucial about it. Something about them being who they are and where they need to be. You are not the only one that has observed that Wonderland seems to unusually attentive to those two.”
Santi and Chess look to each other and nod in perfect agreement. While they both are aware that the new King and Queen of Wonderland are very able to handle their own and be able to defend themselves, they will do what they can to protect them, for the sake of all of Wonderland…
Alice and Hatter walk over to the stable entrance. Hatter signals her to wait at the entrance and Alice watches. The stables are unusual in that all the stalls are open for the horses to walk in and out of. They are also in a circular shape as if to make it easier for them to converse with each other. Hatter walks into the middle of the space and stops. All the horses in the stable look at him with interest in their eyes.
Hatter smiles and asks them, “Alice and I are going to need companions on our journeys and most likely for the rest of our lives. We would like to ask if any of you are willing to put up with us. Just a general warning, Alice is not used to riding, and we will probably be doubling up until she is more comfortable. Who would like to join us?”
Alice is a little uncomfortable with the interest the horses are taking in her. One solid black horse comes forward and walks past Hatter. Alice notices that the horse is perfectly proportioned to her size. The horse stops in front of Alice and looks at her. Then Alice is floored when the horse asks her, “Are you Alice?”
Hatter feels Alice’s shock through the bond and groans. He didn’t even think of warning her that all the horses that speak had came to the White Kingdom when the Kingdom of the Knights fell. However, before he can move to her side or even open his mouth to explain to her, he feels for a moment that she almost laughs then she gathers her wits and answers the horse.
Alice is floored. The horse talks? Like Mister Ed? The thought almost makes her laugh. Nevertheless, looking at the horse in front of her waiting patiently for her to answer, she realizes that she needs to gather herself. This is why Hatter had asked as he had for a horse for him to use. “My name is Alice. But I am unsure of why you are asking me.”
The mare sighs, and then tells her, “I am willing to be your mount. I will help you learn how to ride and be your partner. However, I want to go to the home I have heard about my entire life, to graze in the green pastures of the Kingdom of the Knights. I admire what I have heard of you and want to be able to assist you, and to eventually become your friend.” Then she turns and looks at Hatter. “But, I will not bear both of you.”
Hatter speaks quickly, “No ma’am. I wouldn’t dream of it. Nevertheless, I definitely am happy you have volunteered, Aneesa. There is not a single other mount here I would wish for Alice other than you. You would be a good friend and teacher to her.” Hatter turns to Alice and speaks softly to her, “Aneesa is one in a million. Really. Her parents are part of a small herd that is greatly admired for their grace, beauty, intelligence and speed. Aneesa is one of the smartest, most graceful and fastest of them all. You can see her beauty for yourself.”
Alice is awestruck. She walks closer to Aneesa and asks her, “I am not sure what is waiting for us, what the future holds. Are you still willing?”
Aneesa shakes her head and tells her, “More than willing to be your companion.”
Alice smiles, answering her, “Then I am more than willing to be your companion.”
Aneesa’s ears perk and she looks as shocked as a horse could be. “Alice, you are my rider. I can only be your companion.”
Alice looks puzzled to Hatter, hoping he or Wonderland will explain. Hatter is shocked also with Alice’s answer and is trying to tell her what the difference is.
One of the other horses, a dark brown one with a blaze down his face and a cream mane and tail whinnies with laughter. He comes out of his stall and moves to Alice. He carefully bumps Hatter out of the way and lowers his head to Alice’s. “They are both shocked, Queen Alice. While we have to agree to be a mount to someone, afterward we are subject to their will. What you have offered is more.” He stares into her eyes waiting to see what she will do.
Alice frowns and turns back to Aneesa. “Aneesa, I will not be your master. If you offer companionship to me, then that is what we will be to each other. We will be a partnership. And if you want or need to leave me, then you can do so at any time. I only ask that you tell me why.”
Aneesa’s black eyes widen and she moves closer to Alice. “Alice, I will be happy to promise to agree to your wishes.” A ripple spreads from her, showing her willingness. “Thank you, Alice.”
Hatter is floored, but he agrees wholeheartedly. The way these horses have been treated has always bothered him, but he can never get anyone to talk to him about it. Alice, with her not knowing about Wonderland, cut through all the traditions. Hatter walks to her and hugs her. “Thank you, Alice.”
Alice looks up at him shocked at him thanking her. Based on the shock she is getting from the others, this is not normal, but why is Hatter thanking her? For doing what is right? What they had been doing to these creatures that were as smart as they are is wrong.
Hatter explains softly, “You have done what I always wanted to do. You are freeing the horses.” He cannot explain it any better than that.
Alice is confused then Wonderland shows her what Hatter meant. She gasps. While it is not slavery, it can be. The way the companionship works, the horse becomes like its master. That is why the horses are so careful who they partner with. However, as careful as they are, there is no true way that they can just tell. Alice realizes by what she had done, she has freed Aneesa from this fate.
Looking up at Aneesa, Alice tells her, “You were never meant for that Aneesa. Now you can live to your full potential.” Alice reaches out and Aneesa puts her muzzle in Alice’s hand.
Hatter smiles. The horse that had answered Alice’s question turns to him. “Do you still need a mount?”
Facing the horse, Hatter nods and answers him, “I offer the same deal to you that Alice has offered Aneesa, Xavier. I will be more than happy to offer you friendship other than the traditional companionship.” Hatter is smiling broadly. This is why he has never taken a mount before. Now he can with no feelings of unease.
Xavier whinnies and tells him, “I will be happy to promise to be your friend, King Hatter and agree to those stipulations.” As the ripple spreads from him, Hatter grins. Xavier is not finished, however. “Hatter, I have been waiting for you to come for your mount for centuries. I am glad you finally came.” Hatter is shocked, but he grins as he puts his hand on Xavier.
Xavier then looks over at Aneesa as he tells Alice and Hatter, “I have no problem carrying both of you. Now, we need to get saddled and start moving out.”
Alice and Hatter work with both horses and have them saddled shortly. Hatter mounts then reaches down for Alice to mount up. When she moves to get up behind him, he shakes his head. “Alice, I told you, never again will you be behind me. Please.” Alice remembers why he has become adamant about this and shakes her head. She mounts in front of Hatter and they move out of the stable with Aneesa following behind. They are ready finally to get moving towards their Kingdom.