There had been parties and teas and knowing smiles, but finally Alice found the time to sit and read her father's letter:
Where to begin?
I guess the beginning is as good a place as any.
I have never told you much about your grandparents. That is because your grandfather was not a good man, not to his wife nor to his two sons. As the younger of the two I was spared some of his ire – if just for the fact I would not inherent so I was essentially unimportant. This, of course, did not endear me to him when he did remember I existed. My childhood circumstances, pitiable though they might be, did lead to one good thing: the discovery of Underland.
I discovered it one day quite by accident. I was very prone to day-dreaming (a quirk I never really lost and subsequently passed onto you, much to my delight) and could often wander for hours lost in thought. On this occasion I just happened to get a little more lost than usual and wandered right through Phillipe's door.
Alice looked up from reading, "isn't that how I found it?"
"Nope," Hatter replied from the corner where he was lazily polishing a tea pot.
"But I was day-dreaming."
"Ah you were day-dreaming and fell down a quite literal hole." Hatter continued over Alice's sheepish look, "your father slipped in through his dreams, as Phillipe guards the door of dreamers. Sometimes something real finds its way through, like your father."
"Who guards the rabbit hole then? McTwisp?"
Hatter made a face and Alice thought of falling pianos and flying dressers.
That, Alice mused, explained a lot. With one last chuckle she returned to reading the letter:
The first time I stayed but a few minutes, but I came back many more times. At first I just followed Phillipe around but later I met others. Two in particular, you would know them, but not as they were then, not as they were when I knew them. My childhood companions were Iracebeth and Stayne.
I'm sure you find this hard to believe, but please understand there was once a time when the Red Queen's head was not quite so large, a time when Stayne had both eyes, and a time when they cared more for adventure than they did for beheading.
I will not describe all our adventures – ask Phillipe someday if you're truly interested – for now it is enough to say the three of us were inseparable. Underland offered me an escape from home, and by my teenage years I was there more than I was not.
But then my father died, and I did not have quite so much time for day-dreaming. I did not visit so much in my late adolescence as I stayed in Upperland to care for my mother and help my older brother run the business. My brother had not the talent for a trade business, but Lord knows he tried. I always had to run accounts for him so I was often at the bank. That's where I met your mother, of course, you know this part of the story.
Your mother is why I did not stay in Underland and why I could not run from Time. I say this with happiness, for never have I made a better choice than to marry your mother and to father two of the most wonderful daughters. Never for a moment think that I have regretted that.
I'm sure by now you've had this explained to you. All who live in Underland severe their ties with Time. It's not usually a hard or painful process – only with Death follows so close behind him are there complications.
You and I, of course, are complicated people aren't we?
In my twenty-first year I made my last trip to Underland (this most recent one excepted). It was not my intention that it would be my last trip, but that is how it turned out. This next bit is embarrassing to even write out, so forgive me if I skimp on the details. Iracebeth asked me to stay – forever. She offered me a crown as well. I, in my youth, had not realized her attachment to me, so preoccupied was I with my attachment to your mother. I tried to politely refuse, but …well. We did not part on amicable terms.
I do not think my rejection was the sole reason for Iracebeth's descent into madness, but perhaps it was the starting point. I am more sorry than you will ever know that you had to suffer the consequences upon your return to Underland.
As for my most recent return, it was done out of desperation. You most likely already know the basic facts of my 'death' above – lost at Sea after the trade ship I was on was caught in a storm. This is true. The only added particular is that , as I was drowning, I once again opened a door to Underland. I escaped there, but I did not escape Death. My lungs were too far damaged to return. Had I stepped Above I would have died instantly. In Underland I could not move from Phillipe's domain, but I could watch my family from afar. Please believe me I exhausted every resource in my attempts to return to you; but, as I had given my heart to your Mother long ago, there was no way for me to hide from Time and Death forever.
I suppose I could have stayed forever hidden at Phillipe's, but it was not meant to be. A mutual friend, a blue creature that shall remain nameless, warned me of your cruel fate Above. My part in that sordid affair was a bargain – I would willingly return with Death if he would spare you long enough for you to have the chance to find your way to Underland. He would not promise certainty, but you were always a fighter. Please do not blame yourself for my choice. It was willingly made and indeed I was glad to do make it. I am your father and you my daughter, there was nothing else to be done.
This letter rambles on and Phillipe reminds me I should finish up as you will be here soon. I am glad I will get to see you one last time, however short that meeting may be.
With love always,
Your father, Charles Kingsley
That was it. Alice put the letter between the folds of a book, set it on the shelf and promised herself she would not read it again. There would be no looking back, only forward.
And forward she went; onto Bandersnatch rides, adventures with Mally, tea with Thackery, and nights with Hatter.
What she never knew was that Hatter had added something to the book that held her father's letter. A single slip of paper that read:
If you manage to prove yourself worthy enough to attempt to court my daughter's hand, know that you do so at my blessing. I only ask you love her more than I did. That may be an impossibility but I believe you're just mad enough for the task. Best of luck.
Hatter intended to do just that.
A few months between chapter 12 and this end chapter. Sorry to those of you still waiting, life got in the way, as it often does.
To new readers and old ones alike I want to say thank you for taking the time to read my little take on the fun that is Alice, Hatter, and all of Underland. I hope you enjoyed it/continue to enjoy it. Knowing so many of you read or reviewed my writing made this experimental return to fanfiction a wonderful experience.
Take care, don't forget to drink your tea