(Author's Note – Nubile: Adj. 1. Of marriageable condition or age. 2. Sexually attractive – used to describe young women. Also, the "song" from the last chapter, is actually most of the opening poem of Through the Looking Glass. Sorry, thought ya'll would catch that immediately.)
Alice opened her eyes and looked around. She was tucked into the ornate bed of her cell. How had she gotten here; hadn't she passed out on the floor? She sprung from the bed, barely noticing that she was dressed only in a thin slip, and ran to the window that looked into the Hatter's cell. He was up, fully dressed, merrily working away at a table of fabrics, making his hats.
"Alice!" He cried happily, scurrying over to the window.
Alice gripped the bars tightly, there was an odd gleam in his eyes.
"I've been considering words that start with the letter 'N'," he announced, his green eyes darting around her cell.
"Nnnaughty. Nnnautical." He glanced at Alice. "NAKED! Alice! You're nnnearly nnnude!"
She glanced down at herself; he was right. The slip she wore was so sheer she could see the pink of her skin through it. She crossed her arms over herself and hurried off to tug her gown on.
"Sorry, Hatter! So, so sorry!" she cried, out of his sightline.
The Hatter wrapped his fingers around the bars and tried to peer into her cell.
"Nnno nnneed for apologies, Alice. " he called. "You're positively nnnubile." He added softly.
"What?" Alice called, her voice muffled by the silk she was tugging over her head.
"Nnnothing, Alice." He called back with a mad giggle.
Alice returned to the window. "Hatter, are you alright?" she asked slowly.
He tilted his head to the side. "Couldn't be better. Oh! Alice! Look! I'm making hats! How exciting! What's your favorite color? And, by and by, if we're presently speaking of colors – where have they all gone? Have I lost them in my head? It's quite disorganized in here," He trailed off, staring at a point somewhere above Alice's head.
Alice narrowed her eyes. "What's wrong with you, Hatter?"
He started at her voice then paused, seeming to consider the question. "What's your favorite 'n' word?"
Alice sighed. "Hatter, you're mad. Again."
He grinned crookedly. "Nnno. I'm quite happy. I like the word nnnebula. Nnnebula's make me happy. Not mad or sad, but glad. Oh look, I rhymed. How lovely!"
Alice let out an incredulous breath; what had happened to Hatter? She ran to the door of her cell and screamed out for the guard. When he approached, she demanded the Queen. Nnnow.
"Very forceful, Alice" the Hatter called with a serious expression. "Hurrah!"
"Oh Hatter," she sighed, rubbing her forehead and pacing the width of her cell. The Hatter had his head shoved against the bars, watching her.
The Queen appeared a short time later, sweeping down the stairs in another stunning gray gown. She approached Alice immediately. Alice noted that she held a large, gray, leather-bound book in her hands.
"You asked for me?"
"What's wrong with him?" Alice asked, jabbing her finger at the leering Hatter in the window of her cell. He grinned and waved.
"My dear," the Queen said slowly, as if talking to a child. "he's mad."
"He wasn't," Alice snapped. "He was fine until you drugged us. Again."
"Yeah!" the Hatter yelled.
The Queen looked contrite. "I do apologize about that," she said. Alice glared. "But the drug you received last night," the Queen went on. "Is completely harmless. I assure you that it is not the root of his madness."
"Then why was he fine yesterday and off his rocker today?" Alice asked in a rude tone.
The Queen shrugged helplessly. "I'm not a physician Alice. He woke up and asked the guard for materials to make hats. He was completely lucid at the time." She paused. "Hatter!"
The Hatter's eyes turned slightly orange around the edges as he shifted his gaze from Alice to the Queen.
"Have you done anything else that may account for your current mental state?"
He narrowed his eyes; the orange bleeding through more of the iris. "I jus' make me hats," he spit in a thick Scottish accent.
The Queen returned her eyes to Alice. "I'm sorry, but I don't know."
Alice folded her arms. "Why did you drug us?"
"My guard is minimal at best, Alice." The Queen said softly. "I do not have the manpower to guard you around the clock. My guard needs rest too."
"Down with the bloody Red Queen," the Hatter muttered restlessly.
Fantasia gazed at him thoughtfully. "You're quite right, Alice," she said suddenly. "There is something off with him today. If he doesn't improve by tomorrow, I'll send for a physician."
The Queen slid the book she was holding through Alice's bars and set it on her table. "This is the truth Alice. It's photographs and journal entries that explain the truth about my sister's Mirana and Iracebeth. And of myself."
Alice whipped her head around. "Your sisters?" She sputtered.
The Gray Queen nodded. "Royalty runs in blood lines."
"How many are there in your family?" Alice whispered.
"Four." Fantasia answered. "Iracebeth is the eldest, then Mirana, then our brother Xavier, and then I."
"A King as well!" snorted the Hatter. "Lovely!"
Fantasia shot him a dark look and his maniacal laughing cut off mid giggle. "Xavier is dead. At the hands of your precious Mirana, no less!" she snapped.
Alice's mouth dropped open and the Hatter gasped. "I don't believe it." Alice stuttered.
The Queen's eyes narrowed and she motioned to the book in Alice's cell.
"The truth," she said simply before turning and bustling up the stairs.
When they were alone, Alice took the book into her hands and glanced at the Hatter. He was beaming a toothy, slightly unsettling, smile at her. She went to him, reaching through the bars to stroke his cheek while he looked on expectantly. He was reeling inside his own head; Alice could see it in his eyes. What had brought on the bought of madness? Where was the Hatter she'd known the last few weeks?
"Hatter," she said softly and he grinned benignly at her. "Would you make me a hat while I read this? Something lovely and feminine,"
"Oh of course, Alice!" he cried, clapping his hands together. "I'd like nothing better!" He turned to his table of fabrics in varying shades of gray and rubbed his hands together vigorously. "Now what shall we do for Alice, hmm? Something to match her pretty dress…hmm," he was immersed already in the process and with a sad sigh Alice took the book to her bed and began to page through it.
The book provided some pretty provocative arguments, Alice thought idly, as she paged through it. The family photos were exceptionally intriguing. Mirana started life as a dark-haired fairy of a child, dressed in untamed colors, whom romped about wildly with Xavier. It was only as she grew into a teenager that she seemed to subdue into the starkly white Queen, Alice knew today. What had caused the transformation and where was the raven-haired child who laughed so merrily in the photos?
Iracebeth had shown a love of red from an early age. From her bulbous headed infancy, it seemed Iracebeth had been swaddled in red. She rarely smiled in photographs, and yet her gaze was not malevolent. She regarded her siblings with cool detachment, except Xavier, whom she gazed at as if he'd hung the moon.
Fantasia was an exceptionally lovely child, always dressed in bright flowing dresses and doted upon by Mirana and Xavier.
Xavier, oh Xavier, was the most handsome male Alice had ever seen. He grew out of his knobby-kneed youth and into the most glorious man, with unruly black hair and a staggeringly muscular build. He possessed the bluest eyes, a blue unrivaled by any color in Underland. He was always laughing and grinning in his pictures, usually with a casual arm slung around one of his sisters.
The final photograph showed the Queens as Alice knew them, except Fantasia. Iracebeth, looking sour, dressed in head to toe red and thick makeup, Mirana with shockingly pale hair and a vividly white gown looking serene, Xavier dressed in a suit of armor, his blue eyes sparkling while he laughed, and his arm thrown around Fantasia's shoulders, and Fantasia, her raven curls tumbling wildly about her face dressed in a bright gown of many colors.
What had happened?
Alice flipped the page and began reading a short journal entry:
I know that Iracebeth doesn't want Xavier to become King because she desires the throne for herself. Because she is the eldest, Iracebeth thinks that she is entitled to it. But the laws of Underland clearly state that the first-born son shall take the throne.
Iracebeth has no respect for the rules.
Although I do not believe Xavier to be a capable King, I do realize that it is his duty to try. I only wish that he could adhere more to the rules and oaths that his position deems necessary.
Does he really believe that it is acceptable behavior for a King to run, and dance, and shout, and play?
He is, of course, not the only one responsible for his outlandish behavior; Fantasia encourages such rowdiness with her carefree attitude. How I wish they could be kept apart – for their own sakes…
Something must be done. The coronation is rapidly approaching and Xavier is nowhere near ready to assume the throne! Why, just yesterday, I caught him hopping in and out of rain puddles with Fantasia! They soaked through their clothes with mud and water. How disgraceful.
However will Underland remain within i's laws if such a King oversees it? No. It simply cannot come to pass.
I will have to figure out a way to stop it…
RULES! Does no one have any respect for them?! Proper etiquette must be observed at all times! Kings and Queens do not play! They rule over their lands justly and STRICTLY by their laws and oaths!
Xavier will ruin our great land.
I've spoken to Iracebeth about this and she agrees, though I think it's just because she wishes to be queen.
I would make a much juster queen…
I have to do it. I cannot put it off any longer. Tomorrow is the coronation and Xavier simply cannot be king. It may go against my oaths, but I must stop him.
This tiny infarction will surely be overlooked as it is for the greater good…
The album ended there and Alice sat quietly as she absorbed all she had learned. It seemed as if Mirana were mad…as…well…a hatter. She most definitely has a serious distaste for anything fun and an unhealthy obsession for following the rules. Did she kill Xavier? Alice shuddered. It certainly seemed like a possibility if those journal entries were to be believed.
It was then, as Alice sat considering, that the Hatter announced that he'd finished her hat. Forcing a smile, Alice went to the window between their cells and accepted the bit of fabric he passed through to her. It was truly a lovely hat.
Alice placed the grey silk creation atop her head and sighed sadly as the Hatter looked on madly.
"Do you love it?" he asked loudly.
"I do, Hatter, I really do," she assured him with a squeeze of his hand.
His hands were bleeding and Alice cried out upon seeing his blood on her hands.
"Oh, Hatter!" she cried. "What have you done to yourself?!" She tugged his hands closer the look at them.
It was the tips of his fingers that bled, the skin on them looked strange, as if it were wax that was melting. Alice stifled a sob as she glanced up at his face to see that his eyes had shifted to the frightened blue of a child as he looked on with her at his mangled hands.
"What's wrong with me?" He whispered.
"I'm not sure," she whispered back, frightened. "You can't remember anything?"
He shook his head slowly. "There's so much in my head now, Alice, I can't think."
"Shh," she soothed him gently. "It's going to be alright. I'll send for the Queen."
Alice called out to the guard absently and sent him for the Queen, all while pressing a handkerchief to his disfigured hands.
"Alice," he said quietly. "I'm not feeling so well,"
She glanced up at his face noticing for the first time how pale he truly was and the sheen of sweat upon it. His breath was coming in small gasps, the effort seeming mountainous to him. She felt his hands quiver in hers. Hatter was very, very, ill.
Alice was terrified.