"Who is the betrayer?
Who's the killer in the crowd?
The one who creeps in corridors
And doesn't make a sound?"
It seemed, for a moment, that everyone-even Time, himself-was holding their breath as they waited for what would happen next. Everything paused for a moment, speeding up just enough to a pace that could be considered something akin to slow-motion as Mirana came to her senses and began to make her way to help her fallen friend, before returning full force as guards rushed to escort their Queen away to a safer place. Nothing like this had happened since the death-murder by their own daughter-of the High Royals, Mirana and Iracebeth's parents. The White Queen felt her throat close slightly at the memory as she was being pulled away from the scene of slowly out-breaking panic. More guards were pouring from the doors, trying to escort everyone away-Andrea was frantically trying to get to Johnstone and Mia, who were slowly being sucked into the frantic and ever-growing crowd-Hamish was making his way toward her, pushing away Chess Pieces and gazing at her with wide, pleading eyes.
And then all became silent as the dining hall doors closed behind the Queen, Hamish, and her body guards, only the sound of their quick, heavy footsteps echoing down the marble corridors.
It took Mirana several shocked moments to revisit reality, and her mind returned as one of the guards-the Knight Piece that had been of such assistance the night before with Johnstone-was gripping her shoulders gently and asking if she was all right. They had made it to the Safe Room, but Mirana was still unresponsive. Answers and questions raced through the White Queen's head, but she could only verbalize one thing as her thoughts became a strawberry-jam of disjointed feelings. "Where are the Children?"
Children are so rare in Underland after Iracebeth…
So many were lost with the Hightopps…
We cannot lose any more…
"Your Majesty? Are you unharmed? Did you drink any of the fíon provided?" The Knight repeated, gazing at this Queen worriedly.
"Are the Children all right?" Mirana pleaded, her normally-calm demeanor cracking for a brief moment. There was a tense silence in the air before the Knight gave a slight nod and stood.
"Two-D and -F," he said, addressing two Pawn Pieces who immediately stood at attention, "Find the Children and their caretaker; bring them here for safety," another nod and the pair was off on the search. The Queen breathed an audible sigh of relief, and suddenly she felt exhausted. Seeing this, the Knight gently ushered her over to a crisp, white sofa along one of the walls as another Piece began securing the locks on the door. Mirana closed her eyes choosing to completely block out her surroundings once more rather than focus on the room she was in. She knew this place all too well, memories of the last time she had been brought here flooding her thoughts despite her efforts to stifle them.
The Throne Room… Meetings with Fabraice Hightopp about a suit… A servant bringing refreshments… Choking… Screaming… Calling… The Safe Room…
"Lady Mirana!" Mia was by the Queen's side in an instant, her eyes red and tears on her cheeks. Before anyone could object, the little redhead was climbing onto the couch and hugging the monarch. The action brought Mirana back to reality once more, and-as she returned the gesture-she glanced around the room. True to his assignment, a Pawn had brought the Champion's daughter and Johnstone, as well as Andrea. The fact that Hamish was not among them, though, unsettled her more than it should have…
"Where is Two-D?" The Knight Piece asked, just as the doors opened once more and Hamish entered, escorted by the missing Pawn.
"Mirana!" he practically cried, rushing over to her side as she, too, stood abruptly, scooping up Mia with her. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, yes; I am fine. I had nothing to drink, much thanks to Chessur," the Queen made a mental note to ask how the Cat had known of the poison next time they met. "I am assuming you had none, as you are standing here with me," she smiled weakly, adjusting the little redhead on her hip. The Englishman returned the gesture as Andrea made her way over to the trio.
"Is Alice still with Tarrant?" the brunette asked, holding the hand of a strangely-calm Johnstone. The little boy reached for one of Mia's hands, letting go of the Irishwoman's as he did so.
"I have no reason to believe otherwise," the Queen responded, sparing a nervous glance toward the door. Her friends had not been present at the meal with the rest, so they should have been fine… But would Thackery not have brought Tarrant a tray of food in the stead of a formal meal? At the moment, all edible items were in question, and there was no room for chance. "Sir?" Mirana addressed the Knight, who was immediately by her side.
"Yes, Your Majesty?"
"Has there been any word yet from your men on the Royal Hatter and our Champion?"
The soldier directed his attention to the Pawns, who shook their heads. "No, your Majesty," he paused for a moment, thinking. "Due to both the physical condition of Champion Alice and the threat of your possible attacker still within castle walls, we cannot risk bringing any other here to the Safe Room. I can send a man to check on them, however, if that is what Your Majesty wishes."
Mirana nodded, grateful, "Thank you, sir; your help during this last few days has been invaluable. What is your Rank, Knight?"
"One-B, Your Majesty," The Queen nodded once more, turning to watch as one of the Pawns exited the room for the final time, and made a mental note to recommend the fine soldier to the Commanding Officer.
A tense silence filled the small room after the Piece's departure, and the anxiety hanging about the air was so thick one could cut it with a knife. Eventually, Mirana returned to her place on the sofa, Johnstone and Mia curling up beside her on the remaining available cushions. Soon, both fell into a restless slumber, and their rhythmic breathing lulled the Queen with them into a Dreamland despite her racing thoughts.
"…Traced the source of the poison to a vial of luibh in the kitchens used to make the fíon served during Morning Meal. The kitchens staff have been quarantined and detained for questioning, and the drinks bottled and burned," someone was saying.
"Fine work, soldier; has the all-clear been given?" That sounded like One-B
"Yes, sir; One-C deemed the immediate threat dealt with. Her Majesty is requested in the Infirmary, when she is able, to assist Lord Rallison. The Nurses are doing what they can to remove the luibh from his system, but the Her Majesty's healing skills are unparalleled."
"We will wait until Her Majesty awakes to deliver her to the Infirmary. And the Champion?" One-B again.
"With the Hatter, safe; neither consumed any of the drink."
"Excellent; you are dismissed." There was some rustling, and soon the room became quiet again. In the silence, Mirana nearly drifted off once more. It seemed-in her dazed, half asleep state- as though she was not needed immediately, and a few more moments in Dreamland would hurt no one… No, this was not a time for sleep. Her people needed her-her friends needed her. She had to be strong. …Which meant she had to wake up, and move. The final, urgent thought that brought her head up and her eyes open was that of how positively un-regal her current situation was. Curled up on a sofa, skits no doubt ruffled and hair a-fray? Oh what a sight she must look! Then, slightly appalled at her practical but selfish thought, she began to stir.
As the hour wore on in that tiny room, Hamish felt one thing for certain: awkward. He was not afraid, nor was he particularly worried for himself-for Mirana and the others, however, was a different matter-but there he stood, sidled up next to Andrea in such cramped quarters, trying not to keep his eyes on the sleeping Queen. She looked absolutely peaceful, and he realized-not for the first time, but certainly most surely now-that the calm, happy façade Her Majesty wore through her waking hours was simply that: a façade at times. When she began to wake after the Knights had finished debriefing one another, he could not help but perceive how beautifully graceful she looked as she smoothed her hair and evened her skirts in one swift motion as she stood. It seemed as if she needed no time at all to return to this world, as she was almost immediately conversing with the soldiers.
"Good afternoon, your Majesty," One-B greeted and soon matters became all business. "When you are ready, your presence has been requested in the infirmary. Will you oblige?"
"Yes, my Knight, I shall go where my people need me. This is regarding Lord Rallison, I presume?" she asked, glancing sidelong at Mia and Johnstone, still curled up on the sofa, and then to Hamish in the blink of an eye.
"Yes, your Majesty," he replied, nodding once and giving a slight bow. "He is currently incapacitated, and the nurses have been, as of yet, unable to bring him to consciousness. There was the hope that, with your added expertise, he could be revived before any more permanent damage took its course."
"Of course; and all is well elsewhere in the Palace?"
"Yes, your Majesty."
"Then we must be going as soon as possible-there is no time to waste with a life at stake." Hamish watched with fascination as the crown-clad woman before him morphed once more from the White Queen to Mirana as she cast one last look at the two, sleeping children curled on the sofa. Her entire demeanor softened, but, as soon as she turned back toward the Knight, she had become Her Royal Highness again. Granted, he found both aspects of her personality captivating in their own, unique ways, but the way she could switch between the two people within and still radiate beauty, authority, power, and love to all those around her simply drew him in. The young Englishman was unaware that he had been watching Mirana until she nodded at him, smiling ever-so-slightly and blushing, "Hamish," before departing out the door, followed closely by One-B.
Now that he was alone-well, mostly alone, as he was surrounded by three sleeping bodies-he let out the breath he had been holding for what seemed like hours, and breathed a sigh of relief as he collapsed onto what little section of the couch there was left to take up. For now, everyone was safe... or as safe as anyone could be in such a situation. He heard a small noise to his right, and turned to see little Mia stretching herself out as far as she could-which was not very long at all-before curling back up, all the while managing not to jostle the dozing boy next to her. Hamish had to wonder at the little girl... she was such an enigma, yet, at the same time, she seemed so familiar. He shook his head-it was such an Alice-like thing to do, really-adopt a little orphaned girl; but he knew that wasn't what was bothering him. Why hadn't she ever mentioned Mia in her letters? Yes, they had been few and far between, but there had been no indication of an addition to the family before that shocking revelation on the Ifreann. Maybe, if they had known, what was left of the Kingsleighs could have been saved... or maybe it was for the best-knowing that she had lost both her daughter and her granddaughter would have taken even more of a toll on the late Helen Kingsleigh than the tragedy already had, and, as for Margaret... well, there was no telling how she would have reacted. Would she have been plunged into even more grief than she already was? No, she did not deserve that- no one did.
As his mind wandered back and forth between topics in the silence, he found himself returning again and again to that ne'er-mentioned afternoon some days ago when he and Mirana had set out on what she assured him was a routine happening. But nothing that had happened on the Ifreann was remotely related to what could be considered normal, whether it be in his own lands or this strange, mad world. Alice's situation-and Alice, herself-seemed to have fallen prey to the twisted grip of Chaos, and there seemed no reasonable explanation. And what had become of the Captain and his First Mate? Where had Mirana's guards taken them? He had so many questions, but he knew that there would be a time for answers-a different time, but a time nonetheless.
Mirana sighed heavily, falling into one of the oh-so-characteristically white plush chairs that littered her study. Only a few moments was all she needed, and then she would resume the already- hectic day's activities. She had just returned from the infirmary, where she had managed to help cleanse Lord Rallison's system, expelling the last of the luibh—a poisonous herb native to the Outlands that had somehow managed to make its way into the spiced wine served daily during the Morning Meal. Still, though, he did not awaken, and-though she did not voice her concerns to the nurses surrounding her at the time-she feared that he would not be revived. It was likely, she predicted, that he would remain in the comatose state for the rest of his quickly-shortening life, and-even if he managed to survive on the slim chance that he could return to the world of the living-he would be severely crippled, whether physically, mentally, or both. There really was no telling.
What worried Mirana the most, though, was that, though the Knights had deemed that area safe for her to move through-accompanied by a guard at all times, of course-they still had no concluded who the attempted assassin was. At any moment, he or she could be targeting her... or worse, those close to her; Mally, Tarrant, Hamish, Alice... the children... there were so many horrible possibilities roaming wild through her thoughts that she had to stand once more and pace on her already-aching feet. After a few more moments of brooding, she groaned and rubbed her eyes, suddenly overcome by how exhausted she was. And yet, she could not be still. With another sigh, she resigned herself to the anxiety and paranoia that was likely to follow her for the next few days, and emerged from her room once more. With a light wave of her hand, she motioned for the Knight to follow her as she made her way back toward her sitting chambers, where Alice and the Hatter were likely still waiting-in actuality, where the Hatter was waiting, and Alice was most likely still unconscious, oblivious to the insanity ensuing around her.
As she walked, she felt the familiar sensation of the air growing heavy, and she smiled softly. "Hello, Chess; you seem to have missed all the action."
"Oh, your Majesty," the blue feline purred, his face slowly appearing one feature at a time as he lazily floated along beside her, "you know I never miss any fun going on."
"I am quite sure you do not, Chessur," the Queen responded quietly, though whether it was from exhaustion or the insinuation of what was just said, even she had no idea. "How is everyone? I am on my way to our misplaced friends at the moment; I assume that Alice had not yet awoken?"
"No, she is still as asleep as a satisfied baby," he replied, grinning at his own joke. Mirana, however, was not in the mood for humor, and did not laugh-though she did appreciate the effort, and attempted to turn the corners of her lips up ever so slightly. "Absolem is much less than pleased that you missed his meeting, by the way." He did a flip in the air, now fully formed, and Mirana huffed in a very un-Queen-like manner.
"I am not sure he's noticed, but I have been a bit busy as of late," she snapped, quickening her pace. The cat, however, was unfazed.
"Now, now; let's not shoot the messenger. I am simply relaying what the old butterfly informed me-he wishes to speak with all of you as soon as possible, and he is becoming very impatient with Alice's unconsciousness. I am beginning to think that he might simply interfere and wake her up, himself," he laughed again at his own terrible joke. "Although, I'm not sure what good that will do- there's no telling what state she'll be in if she ever comes back to us."
"When, Chess. When she comes back to us-because she will." Mirana replied defiantly- though, after wondering it herself so many times, she was no longer sure just who she was trying to convince, or whether she still believed her own words.
AN: Y'all have every right to storm down my door and shoot me. Really. A year-long wait and this is all you get? I'll admit, it's pretty pathetic. But at least the story's not dead... right? Right! I've actually taken the time to sit down and plan this damn thing out, and-I have to say-it's going to be freaking long. Like, double-book type long. But at least I'm no longer lost and writer's-block ridden!
As usual, please review, and I'm sorry if there are terrible typos and awfulness in this thing... ):