Jareth's head snapped up. Dawn had come, washing the air with a dusky purple. He looked down at Alice, who was curled against his chest, her eyes still closed. Jareth untangled himself from her and carefully laid her down, still wrapped up in his cloak.
The fire had burned down to cinders and he busied himself with lighting it again. They would need breakfast before continuing. He had packed Ro's saddlebags with provisions but he wondered if they would be enough to sustain him and the girl. He didn't know how long they would be in Wonderland and he wasn't sure what they would find themselves would be edible. Besides being simply edible, he didn't want to go through any unforeseen transformations.
As he sat toasting some meat over the fire, Jareth found he was relaxing. The night has been cold but the morning air was pleasant. There were some strange sounding birds singing, although for all he knew they could have been normal birds. The most singing he heard was done by goblins, himself or the Fireys in the forest. There weren't many birds in the Underground. After awhile he began to pick out words in the birdsong. His ears pricked up and he glanced around. Was it really birds that were singing? He wasn't sure.
"... And the slivey toooves did gyre and giiimble in the waaaaabe..."
Jareth sat up straighter, craning his head to follow the voice.
"All mimsy were the borogroooves and the mome raths outgraaaabe..."
Jareth stood up. He could see grass flattened by foot prints. Occasionally the foot prints would part around objects like rocks and meet up again, as if the walker had split in two to accommodate whatever was in their path.
The singing had trailed off and Jareth was wracking his brain, trying to place the voice. He recognized it a little but not much. Behind him, Alice stirred and yawned. "Is that the Cheshire Cat?" she asked sleepily.
"Indeed it is," the disembodied voice replied. Slowly, a cat faded into view and stripes began coiling up its' sides. "Sharp memory little Alice has," it giggled. "What now, has it been a year? Alice mustn't be too little anymore."
"I've grown some," she replied, rubbing her eyes.
Jareth looked at the cat. It looked back at him with a very human expression of amusement. Its dilated eyes seemed too large for its head and its grin was especially wide. "Hullo, your Majesty," it chortled, bowing.
The Goblin King nodded. "Chester Cat," he said stiffly.
"It's Cheshire," Alice corrected absentmindedly.
The cat's head rolled upside down as it regarded Jareth with its large eyes. "You're very far from your kingdom, Majesty."
"I suppose," Jareth said suspiciously. He had a vague recollection of the Cheshire Cat but for the life of him he couldn't remember where its loyalties lie. Was it with the Queen or no one at all?
"I'm friends with the Hatter if that at all helps," it rolled its head back to the right-way-up position.
Jareth let the suspicion drop from his expression but not from his thoughts. "You know the Hatter?"
"Yeees," The cat's tongue lolled out of its mouth, "And you're the Goblin King, the Hatter's dear." The cat suddenly started to laugh, "And you have Alice and the Hatter has Sarah. Oh goodness, what a mess."
"You've seen Sarah?" Jareth cried, kneeling before the cat. Their eyes met: Jareth's blazing mismatched ones and the cat's unsettlingly large ones. The King saw no sanity in those eyes but did see a terrifying spark of intelligence.
"Seen her? Noooo..." the cat sucked his tongue back in with a startling slurp. "But I know she's around. She reeks of your magick."
It took all of Jareth's will not to lunge forward and shake the silly animal. He clenched his fists and glared as the cat slunk into Alice's lap and curled up there. In his opinion, Chesire Cats were sillier and stupider than goblins.
"Chesh," Alice said kindly, scratching behind his ears, "would you please give us a hint as to where they might be? Even if you don't tell us outright, it will be ever so helpful."
"Well..." the Cheshire Cat intoned dully, "they might be in the Tulgey Wood."
Jareth rubbed his face with frustration. The Tulgey Wood. He had no idea where that was. Practically all of Wonderland was forest with pockets of civilisation in between. The Tulgey Wood could be all over Wonderland or could be a patch of four trees.
Alice turned the cat over onto its back gently and rubbed its belly. "Where in the Tulgey Wood, Chesh? Is it by the small waterfall?"
"Look for fiddleheads," the cat purred, paws splayed in the air and tail twitching with pleasure. The grey stripes all along its body were even trembling with enjoyment.
"Thank you Chesh," Alice said and bent to kiss it on the nose. The Cheshire Cat grinned up at her and unraveled, purring all the time. A few minutes passed and Alice stood up, brushing her dress off.
"He's gone now," she said aloud.
"What are fiddleheads?" Jareth asked.
Alice tapped a finger on her small chin. "Well," she sighed, "I suppose 'fiddleheads' could be an insult. But I also read somewhere that they are a type of fern."
Jareth took the meat off the fire. It was starting to split and was ready to eat. "A type of fern," he said dryly. "So, we're looking for a wood that is either infested with musicians or plants."
"When you put it that way," Alice said sadly.
Jareth held out a medium sized piece of the meat, skewered on a stick. "It is inelegant but all I have to offer," he muttered.
Alice accepted it politely. She came to sit beside him with her legs tucked beneath her primly and the skirt of her dress around her lie a corona on a sun.
They ate in silence. Jareth mulled over the cat's directions. The Tulgey Wood and fiddleheads. What did that mean?