So, we are at the end of the story. (It's always a bittersweet feeling when I am finished writing an epically long fic.) Thank you to each and everyone that reviewed: Niphuria, deathroman13, MyraValhallah, M. Cullen Hightopp (your reviews are too epic, dude, LOL), Kittyinaz, Kitty243, Kasbgre1107, EveFidelius, Janette-Chentel, Youriko, hatter sammy, Ronnie343, madhattress1314, Tigerkitty86, whispering tea mist. Y'all are the best! And of course, thanks to all of you who have marked this as a fav. It's always nice knowing you guys enjoyed the story!
Thanks again and enjoy the rest of the ride! It's been fun! :D :D
"So, ye donnae think Alice is a no-good slithy, bealin' rath anymore, eh?"
Tarrant stopped his pacing and looked at his niece. "If yer mother ken ye were talkin' like that…"
"Ah'd tell her Ah'd learned it from ye," Hannahlyn replied, smiling. She turned to look at Alice, her grin dissolving. "Is she gonnae b'alright?"
Tarrant noticed the yellow-eyed look of fear in her eyes. She was Worried about Alice, he noted with a touch of Tenderness. "Aye," he answered with more Confidence than he felt. "She got hurt on the battlefield, but t'was nothin' the White Queen could nae handle."
She relaxed, her normal green color returning to her eyes. "That's good tae hear." Hannahlyn took a step back and looked at him for so long Tarrant wondered if he had a tea pot on his head. "Mum says ye were hurt."
Tarrant closed his eyes briefly as the memories came rushing back to him. He remembered feeling Alice's pain as she lay there, suffering on the battlefield. Her unconsciousness had caused Tarrant to black out as well. Quickly, they had been rushed back to Mamoreal, thanks to the Phoenix, where Mirana had been able to formulate a potion that put Alice into a Deep Sleep, allowing the Frabjousness bond to be temporarily interrupted. Tarrant had awoken soon after the concoction had been administered and had been pacing ever since.
"Uncle Tarrant? Have ye lost yer train of thought again?" asked Hannahlyn patiently.
Hannahlyn! She was still waiting for his answer. He knelt down to her. "I'm fine," he promised.
He watched as she looked at Alice, then back to him. "There's somethin' g'ang on between the two o' ye," she declared, crossing her arms.
"Why would ye say that?" he asked, trying to hide to hide the Panic in his voice. He had been so busy with tending to Alice he hadn't gotten around to telling any of his kinsmen about the wonderific connection he and Alice shared.
"Ah just do," she replied, smiling, "jist like Ah ken she could b'trusted. But, don't worry, Uncle Tarrant, Ah won't tell anyone."
He patted the top of her hat. "Ah never did get tae thank ye fer giving Alice yer First Hat." He could hardly imagine what would have happened to his Queen Alice if she hadn't done that, though his Guilt was certainly trying to do so!
"Let me carry yer an' Alice's bonding rings at the weddin' an' we'll call it even," she said with a giggle.
A wedding? His Eagerness, Excitement and Enthusiasm leapt at the idea, but his Discernment gently reminded him that he and Alice had a Long way to go before they reached that point in their relationship. Still, his Hope jumped in, there was no reason to disappoint the youngling.
"We'll see," he cautiously whispered. "Now," he said, raising his voice, "don't Ah hear yer Mum calling fer ye?"
She planted a soft kiss on his cheek as he stood up. "Tell Alice Ah said 'goodmarrow' when she wakes up," she said before skipping away.
Tarrant turned back to Alice and waited again.
Fortunately for him, Time looked kindly upon him-for once-and he didn't have to wait long for Alice to awaken. "Tarrant?" she said softly, not seeing him in the corner of the room.
His Joy leapt at the sound of her voice. She'd called his name! "I'm here."
He watched as Relief passed over her face. "Are you all right? When I lost consciousness did you...? Were you...?"
"I was fine," he said, evading the unspoken question. He felt Guilty not telling her the complete truth, but there was no reason for her to Worry about him. He walked to her, approaching the side of her bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Better than I thought I would," she answered. She reached for his hand and weaved her fingers with his. "Tarrant, I wanted to say thank you…for being my Champion."
He brought her hand to his lips, kissing it softly. "T'was my pleasure, my Queen Alice."
The Tywyth was in full swing when the Phoenix and its rider landed in Witzend.
Alice dismounted the bird and surveyed the action surrounding her. Children were running around the maypole. The majority of adults were laughing heartily together as they watched the young men attempting to learn to Futterwacken. Other women were grouped together, sewing an intricate blanket-a tapin, her mind supplied-to celebrate the Tywyth.
Several of the Hightopps noticed her presence and bowed slightly in her direction. Alice forced a smile, despite her awkwardness.
"It's good to see the festivities," commented the Phoenix. "A year without the Tywyth would be unimaginable."
Images of past Tywythes filtered through her mind courtesy of the Frabjousness. "Yes, it would be," she agreed, slightly disconcerted. Despite the fact that their bond had strengthened over the last two weeks, Alice still found the idea of borrowing Tarrant's memories perplexing.
The Phoenix looked at her understandingly. Outside of Absolem, no creature understood the Frabjousness as much as he did. "It will seem more natural as time passes," he reminded her gently.
A peel of laughter pulled their attention back to the festival. "A Tywyth on a High Winter's Day," he commented, his feathers shining in the light. "I do not believe such a thing has ever happened in all of the days of Underland."
Alice placed her top hat on her head, concealing her sly smile. "It should be memorable," she replied, thinking about watching the High Winter's Night's festivities with Tarrant.
Or, at least, she hoped she would be watching them with him.
The Phoenix stretched out his wings, preparing to take flight. "I will return on the morrow. Fairfarren, Queen Alice."
Before she could finish, he flew away. With a soft sigh, she turned around and began making her way to the Tywyth.
She watched as Tarrant haphazardly approached her with a smile on his face. Several trays of food being carried were knocked over. A fallen top hat was nearly crushed under his foot. Indignant shouts followed him across the field, but he didn't seem to notice them at all.
"I'd know ye anywhere," he continued with a wide grin spreading across his face.
"Are you sure I'm welcome here?" Alice teased gently. "I'm not a Hightopp after all."
At least, not yet, she added silently.
The flash of purple in his eyes told her he had heard her unspoken words. "We can-"
"Queen Alice!" boomed Eideard. "On behalf of th' Hightopps, I want tae welcome ye tae th' Tywyth."
Alice looked at Tarrant who looked like he was trying to push aside his Frustration at being interrupted.
"Thank you," she said sincerely. "Tarrant has done a wonderful job setting up the celebration."
Eideard beamed with pride. "That's very kind of ye tae say abit mah son, yer Highness. He has preformed th' tradition of th' Eldest Son gratlin' gehd."
"It's the truth," she said honestly. "But, I am not your queen any longer."
Tarrant's head shot up, noticing the top hat on her head for the first time. "Does that mean…"
"Yes. Mirana finally accepted the fact that I want to relinquish the crown and remain her Champion," Alice finished, grinning.
"That's…" He paused, searching for the right word.
"Awespicious?" Alice offered, the Outlandish word effortlessly popping into her head.
"Aye," he agreed. "Awespicious."
Eideard's deep laughter rumbled through the air. "Ur ye sure ye arenae an Outlander?" he asked before turning to Tarrant. "Don't let th' lass gettae from ye."
Alice grinned. Tarrant, for his part, seemed slightly perturbed by his father's words.
"I'll hae 'er as lang as she'll keep me," Tarrant replied sincerely.
His father nodded. "Now if ye'd excuse me, yer Grace."
Alice felt a flare of irritation at his use of the title. Neither the Phoenix nor he seemed to understand she was no longer holder of the crown.
"I'm not the queen anymore," she said after Eideard walked away.
To her surprise, he smiled at her aggravation. "You claimed the crown of the Outlanders. For some, you'll always be our queen," he explained.
"Like you?" she asked knowingly.
As he was about to lead her to the festivities, she held out her hand and grabbed his arm. "Tarrant, before I left Mamoreal, Absolem told me the Oraculum has returned."
She saw the worry in his eyes, felt the panic in his heart, heard the concerned thoughts run through his mind.
"Is everything as it should be?" he asked, desperately trying to remain calm.
"Now it is," she answered cryptically. To his inquisitive look, she sighed. "According to Absolem, I should have never left Underland in the first place. This," she said, referring to her backwards trip through time, "was a plot conjured up by Fate, Time and Frabjous to, as Absolem said 'right the wrong of my stupid decision'."
Alice watched as his eyes glowed yellow at the caterpillar's dig. "It's fine, Tarrant," she quickly reassured him. "I shouldn't have gone back. At least, not the way I did. If I had taken the time to think things out, I probably could have found another way to finish my business without abandoning Underland…or you."
She drew in a long breath. "I'm sorry, Tarrant." She felt awkward apologizing. After all, she hadn't left him.
But Tarrant seemed to understand her need to make amends. Of course he would! He shook his head. "Things are better than they were before," he reminded her. "You have returned. Everything is fine now."
"And I'm not going anywhere," she added confidently. "When the Tywyth is over, Absolem wants us begin the Frabjousness training."
The purple in his eyes returned along with his infectious grin. "Something I am looking forward to," he admitted. Suddenly, the color in his eyes dimmed. "Are ye sure this is what ye ur wantin', Alice? I am rather mad."
"Half-mad," she corrected. "And, all the best people are."
All signs of insecurity fled from his face to be replaced with the joy that seemed to encapsulate him. "I'm glad to hear you say that," he whispered, gazing at her.
Timeless seconds passed as they studied each other, letting their thoughts and emotions tangle around each other until their was no distinction between his thoughts and her own.
"Go on and kiss her already, Hatter!" Mally shouted, interrupting their silent conversation.
Alice looked up and saw that not only Mally, but the entire Hightopp clan was watching their exchange with unabashed interest. Tarrant looked quite dismayed at the attention. "I'm sorr-"
She put her hand over his lips which caused a chorus of laughter to rise from their audience. "I think you should listen to Mally," she said, removing her hand slowly. "I'd hate for her to have to get out her hatpin."
He grinned widely. "As you wish, my Queen."
He lowered his lips to her own as hoots and hollers filled the air. Alice had never felt an odd combination of Embarrassment and Enjoyment before. Too soon, he pulled back, his purple eyes shining.
She drew in a deep breath. "Tarrant," she said softly. "I have a favor to ask of you."
"I would do anything for you, Alice."
A brilliant smile danced on her lips. The sight of which caused Tarrant's to widen. And then the Frabjousness came into play and Alice's thoughts jumped into Tarrant's head: she and he and the midnight show of High Winter's Night.
He sighed without any real disappointment. "I can see th' Frabjousness isnae g'ang teh b'lettin' me surprise ye. Seein' as ye already ken abit th' High Winter's Nicht."
Alice shook her head. "It wasn't the Frabjousness that told me. It was a dream."
"Ah. I see th' problem nauw."
"Yes." Another dream. She recalled the moments she'd insisted Underland had been nothing more than a dream during her first return. Dreams... pesky things here in Underland. They'd caused more interference than she was comfortable with.
"'Twon' be a dream any longer, my Queen Alice."
She smiled at him. "There is one more thing you can do for me," she said, knowing he would deny her nothing.
"Which is bein'?"
"Just call me Alice, Tarrant," she said, laying her hand on his softly. "I don't want to be a Queen Alice of the Outlanders, I just want to be your Alice."
He grinned as his Joy did a Futterwacken in his mind. "Than I shall, my Alice."
And that night, as two people sat atop a hill not far from Mamoreal Castle, leaning shoulder-on-shoulder, watching the constellations dance, murmuring about magics and mythical beings, the disturbing dream Alice had had of Underland faded away... into something real. And better.