Movie-verse, pre-movie. Spoilers for the Queens. Based off Hathaway's interpretation.
It had been an innocent enough fancy, at the start. There were no potions left to brew in the Apprentice Guide to Alchemikal Disputes, and Mirana had been forced to sneak more advanced books out of the Lyceum whenever the ministers' backs were turned. She had worked her way through several tomes on Boiling, one on Filtration, and all the way to a pair of broad ledgers that listed a hundred uses for freckle-footed lilies. Those, she had put aside in hopes of something more entertaining.
It had been a slim, lizard-scaled volume that finally delighted her, one she had borrowed on a whim. Inside, pinched between one method for dyeing unshelled egg yolks and one for hatching toads out of stones, there was scrawled the recipe for a potion that conferred true vision upon the one who distilled it.
To Know Thyself, it had read -- and at eight, Mirana had very, very good reason to want to know.
Deformity had long been an emblem of the ruling houses of Underland; a result of fine breeding, it was said, or successful breeding at all. Not all of it was grotesque. One of her uncles had a fetching pair of wings, which came in handy every time they needed new pillows. A second cousin had six fingers on each foot, and seven toes on each hand. Yet another was simply a lump.
Nor was each mark obvious. Mirana's mother was of the houses of Crims, of fine Black and Red lineage that had given the rulers of Underland their mettle in times long past, when the world was wilder, and more prone to glisping. She was a full-blooded heir to the fervor of the Reds, known for the depths to which their passions could drive them. The Black ran equally strong in her, tempering her moods with a practicality that could border on cruel. Conversely, she had extraordinarily oversensitive tastebuds; she had repeatedly sent the Dutchess west to Witzend as punishment for overuse of spices.
Mirana's father was one of Marmoreal's nobility, prone to serenity and outbursts of poetry. His pupils were permanently enlarged, so that his eyes seemed black as pitch; he often went about with tinted spectacles, and was known to stumble into walls on particularly sunny days. Mirana had almost never seen his eyes unclothed. She was accustomed to thinking of him with colors painted permanently on his face, a rainbow that stood between him and the world.
Her sister was the most overt example of family trees gone wrong. Though she was but ten, Iracebeth's skull had already eclipsed her torso. Rumor had it that the Queen had used to entertain herself when Iracebeth was younger by tipping the child over, and watching the chubby limbs flail like a turtle.
But Mirana herself was untouched. Her skin was unblemished, perfectly smooth and pale. Her voice did not screech; her tongue was not split thrice along its length, as was the case with one notorious cousin who was always invited to parties. She had the proper number of limbs. Her shape pleased the eye without challenging it.
She was perfect.
As Mirana grew, she studied herself in her mother's mirrors -- and was studied in turn, admired and approved of by the physicians and scholars of Underland. Each pronounced her clean of any flaw. Her hair was glossy and thick. Her wrists, perfectly boned. Artists cut fresh brushes to paint her profile. All of Marmoreal adored her. Most of Crims did too.
But Mirana was not so content to let the matter end there. If there was a secret disfigurement buried within her, lurking in her blood, she would find it.
She gathered the ingredients for the Knowing potion with care, working her way down the list from nonperishable to delicate. The first few components were not even a challenge; some of the fresher materials had to be cut with proper timing for their potency, but none of them forced her to rush.
The hard part, she saved for last.
One thimble of Twifflewisp blood was the finishing touch that the recipe asked for. One thimble, to finish off the potion and give her a vision of her true self.
Mirana was familiar with Twifflewisps: brown, puffball creatures no bigger than cherry-stones, that liked to float about on the air and imitate sunmotes. They were easily mistaken for thistle burrs, which were their natural camouflage. In voice, they chittered like brass fiddle-crickets. They were attracted to sugary treats left unattended, and also to librarians.
Having none of the latter at hand -- or at least none that she could recruit to stand about enticingly until they gathered a living Twifflecoat -- Mirana resorted to culinary bribery. The cooks did not mind her begging for snacks after she turned her charm on them adoringly. They gave her a jar of white gooseberry jam, a silver spoon to eat it with, and the biggest strawberry tart from a tray that had originally been prepared for Iracebeth.
Nibbling on the tart, Mirana laid her trap. The nearest guard tower provided her with a small metal footlocker to use as a cage. Finding a nook among the garden bushes was simple enough. The shadow of leaves obscured her from notice, without forcing her to hide so far off the path that she would not be able to attract her prey. Wasting no time, she spread the jam thickly across the bottom of the locker. To deter small insects, she sprinkled a cordial of rat's breath; to deter larger ones, she sprayed birrum root into the air. To lay the final touch to the trap, she carefully placed the last bite of the tart in the center of the locker, ringed around by a moat of jam.
Once she judged that the trap was perfect, Mirana slipped off her shoes so that she could compose herself and sit neatly, skirts tucked just right without getting stains on them from the grass.
Soon enough, her strategy bore fruit. As the afternoon spun on through the gardens of Crims, a gaggle of scholars drifted through the gardens, chatting amiably about the weather. One Twifflewisp was left behind in their passage. It floated closer and closer until it veered straight for the footlocker, attracted by the aroma of sweets. Though Mirana did not hear it give any audible call, it was soon joined by others of its kind, until the air was thick with tiny brown tumbleweeds, all congealing together upon the jam.
She clasped her hands together, suppressing her impatience. After enough of them had assembled, she cleared her throat.
One Twifflewisp jerked straight up. who's this who's this.
just a pawn.
no no. Another one detached from the cluster, spinning up through Mirana's hair like a spider giddy on its own cobwebs. queen's daughter.
can't be. head's too small.
A few more of the tiny creatures wafted up, bumbling around her nose. Fighting the urge to sneeze, Mirana lifted her chin, putting on her most noble air. "I am Mirana of Marmoreal, the Queen's youngest daughter," she announced grandly. "And I have come to you, o generous and gomely Twifflewisps, in search of your aid -- "
too small too small.
wrong wrong wrongwrongwrongwrongwrong
The call was picked up and echoed through the cloud, a tinny, buzzing chorus that made Mirana's skull ache. She fought against the urge to clap her hands over her ears. "I require some blood from you all, if you please! Only a thimble's worth in total! If I take a few drops from each of you, it shouldn't hurt -- "
much too much.
They rose alarmed, spinning around in an increasingly agitated cloud. "I just need a little from each," she tried to explain, but the drone of the Twifflewisps drowned her out. They swerved back towards the jam, then away from it, then back towards it again, fighting the lure of sweets.
help someone help us.
Panic flooded Mirana as the Twifflewisps gathered themselves in a rising clump. She could not risk the creatures getting loose and spreading gossip about what she had intended; they would surely get the story wrong, and she would be seen as a monster. In vain, she tried to wave them back towards the locker, hoping to close them all up so that she could think about what to do.
Then one Twifflewisp dove to the side; acting purely on reflex, Mirana twisted and grabbed the nearest hard object that came to reach. Her shoe fit her grip perfectly. With a grunt, she swatted the fuzzy dot out of the air as deftly as batting a shuttlecock.
help help help help
"Be quiet!" she wailed, frantic now to stifle all that horrible noise. Bang! Bang! went her shoe. The stiff heel smashed through the Twifflewisps, spattering them all over the footlocker. Jam leapt in spurts. Tufts of fur clumped together in a muddy paste.
Only after the air was still did she finally recover, panting, shaking from the carnage. The footlocker was a purpling mess of guts and fur. Not a single Twifflewisp moved.
"No," she whimpered. Her hand trembled as she lowered it -- though from horror or triumph, she could not tell. The inside of her mouth was sweet where the jam had splashed. Sugar was stained along her gums. She'd been baring her teeth. She'd been smiling.
Whirling, she cast her eyes about in terror that one might still be alive. Bile painted the back of her throat; her first thought had not been guilt at what she had done, but fear that she might be caught.
The sight of the potion vial stirred her back towards her task. A thimbleful of blood was required to complete the potion. Jam had mixed irrevocably with the Twifflewisp corpses; Mirana pawed through the grisly remains, until the tiny heart of one nudged against her touch. The mass was soft as a peeled grape. It was still warm.
It would have to do, she decided.
With shaking fingers, she dropped the Twifflewisp heart into the bottle of half-finished potion. The grisly muscle instantly bobbed to the surface like a leaf. Around it, the liquid began to fog, clouding from a clear green to a milky white, until the entire vial had become murky.
The heart refused to sink. It floated, impossibly light, cradled like a black licorice candy on a swath of pure white.
To Know Thyself, the recipe had said. To see her hidden deformity.
"No," she sputtered. "It can't be that."
"Miraaaannnnaaaa!" Coming from almost beside her, the noise made her jump with a squeak. Leaves rustled; Iracebeth's hair poked out from above the bushes, followed by her swollen skull. The rest of her sister emerged in parts, escaping the shrubbery. "What have you found yourself now, Mirana? Ah! Twifflewisps -- what wretched things! What a slurvish little sister you are, hoarding them all for yourself. Give them to me! Look at how well they squash!"
It was there that their father found them, with Iracebeth's hands covered in dripping, sticky fur, and Mirana splashed with the remains. He whispered snatches of soothing odes as he untangled Iracebeth from the footman's locker, and ushered both children back towards the castle.
Mirana, struck dumb with horror, allowed herself to be steered into her room without resistance. She barely heard the comforts of her father's voice. Slumped on the floor, she stared blankly at her feet, and shivered with denial.
Her father appeared some time later, golden lenses straddling the bridge of his nose. "Your mother," he said gravely, "is out riding upon the Jubjub Bird again. I shall have to catch her before it is too late. I wanted to see to you first, Mirana." He paused, slender knuckles pushing up his spectacles before continuing. "I had thought to blame your sister for what I saw today. Yet, Iracebeth says that the Twifflewisps were already in the condition she found them in when she arrived. Is this true?"
Fear drenched Mirana's nerves, clenching her stomach. "Father, Father, please listen," she claimed desperately, convinced that guilt was painted on her like a stain -- a blemish that disfigured her past any attempts to hide it. "I don't want to hurt any living thing, I swear it. I swear it by the Sacred Squares of Red and Black. I swear it by the oldest trees of Tulgey Wood. I swear it by the Vorpal, may it sever my tongue from its root if I lie -- Father, you must believe me, please."
And her father knelt down, and looked deep into her eyes, and said:
"I believe you."
With that, he kissed her forehead and left her, ruffling her hair affectionately as he went.
The sun grew lazy in the sky. Nourished by the afternoon, the people of Crims went about their preparations for tea, and then supper, puttering about their lives as peacefully as ever.
In her room, Mirana of Marmoreal sat with her arms wrapped around her knees, holding herself together, her pale perfect fingers pressed tight against her monstrous heart.