Disclaimer: Don't own anything!
Author's Note: Found the movie on HBO and got the sudden inspiration. I'm taking lots of liberties with it, but hey. That's the point.
It's double the giggles and double the grins, and double the trouble if you're blessed with twins. ~Author Unknown
They were never seen without each other. They were Magen-and-Tarrant. The Twins. The Hightopp twins. Identical in almost every aspect, except for the eyes. Magen's were amber, like a fire-lily's light and his twin's were green, brilliantly so.
Never apart, they were. If you saw one, the other was sure to be nearby.
Tarrant looks up from his book as his brother leans his practice sword against the bench and drops down beside him. "That didn't go so well, did it?"
"Well enough." Magen replies with a shrug. He's sweating and breathing hard, but there's still a hint of a smile on his face.
"So I was simply imagining things when I saw you get beaten continuously?"
Magen grins at him. "Well, of course." Tarrant chuckles and goes back to his book. "This just means I'll have to work harder."
Their mother has long since become accustomed to feeling exasperated around her sons. Their as different as night and day, sometimes. Where Tarrant loved the infinite textures and patterns of the workshop, Magen preferred the clashing of steel and worn leather in his hands. And when they spoke, it was clear who was who. Magen had a thick accent, one he'd picked up from listening to too many of Grandpappy Hightopp's tales of heroes and damsels. Tarrant only had a hint of it, stretching his vowels here and there. Magen's temper is hotter and quicker to spark, though a word from his brother snaps him back out of it.
And then, other times, they were so similar it was frightening. The way they smiled when they assured her that "No, mum, we didn't do nothing." And the way that their orange-peel curls simply refused to be tamed by any comb or brush.
Especially when it comes to teatime. The proper thing would be to take tea in the parlor, but they lean their forearms on the counter and give her identical boyish pouts.
"What did we do?" Magen asks.
"Do we not merit a chair in the kitchen anymore?" Tarrant inquires.
She sets a tray of nutcakes on the counter before propping her hands on her hips. "There's no point in tryin' to raise you boys proper, is there? Though why you'd want to eat in the kitchen of all places, I'll never understand."
"The kitchen is where the food is." Magen says as they clamber onto the stools.
She can't help but smile. Her sons are very nearly teenagers now and she hopes they never lose their muchness. "I suppose there are some things boys never grow out of."
It's when they're supposed to be at their studies that they're at their most mischievous. Rather than study and do their bookwork, they regale each other with extravagant tales the kind that Grandpappy Hightopp used to tell them. They leap from low table to low table in the library, run up and slide down spiraling staircases, fighting legendary battles with invisible swords.
Their mother scolds them most terribly for those days.
Today, though, it is rather dreary outside and their mood matches the weather. They quietly go about their bookwork (As quietly as the Twins can, in any case) when Magen calls his brother.
"I've a riddle for you and I won't tell you the answer unless you can figure it out." Magen loves riddles, loves them as much as Tarrant loves his books.
Tarrant rests his head in his hand, crossing his feet in the air and kicking them gently. "Tell me."
"Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
Tarrant never figures out the answer to it and Magen refuses to tell him.
"I don't much like corsets." Mirana said to Tarrant, who had been gazing out the window while the Lady changed behind a screen. "I can't breathe."
"Well, surely you can, Lady. You're talking, are you not?"
Mirana pokes her head out to playfully glare at him. Tarrant simply laughs. Mirana steps out a moment later, resplendent in a dress of silvery-gray. Small, white silk gardenias had been sewn into the hems by Tarrant's own clever hands.
"You did an absolutely amazing job." Mirana says, spinning a little and watching the gardenias spin with the skirt. "But I thought you wished to continue as a Hightopp and be a hatter."
"Oh, absolutely. I would wish that very much. But you're my Lady." He smiles warmly at her. "I'd do anything if you asked."
A knock at the door before Magen's voice asking if she was decent. Mirana wasn't, technically. Her hair was still undressed and her mother is always telling her that a proper lady isn't seen in public like that. But really, were the Twins public? They were the people closest to her.
When Mirana allows him in, Magen steps through the door, closing it quietly. As soon as he lays eyes on her, he freezes, amber eyes taking in the gardenias, the beaded bodice, the silky gloves and finally her face, framed as it was by hair pale as moondrops.
Magen quickly drops his eyes to his shoes. "You look lovely." He says, a wild-shy smile on his lips.
The Twins are often like that, mercurial and comfortable. Tarrant's hands skillfully twist her hair into something acceptable, adding a thundercloud gray comb to hold it together while Magen leans against the wall and saying that perhaps they should go riding one day. Just the two of them and all the while he doesn't meet her eyes.
Tarrant hides a smile at his twin's words, even as he put the finishing touches on his Lady's hair. He feels Mirana shift slightly. "Mother would never let me get away."
"…Does she have to know?"
"No, but she'll find out."
"How?" Magen-and-Tarrant ask.
"We wouldn't be able to avoid all the guards and even if we did, we can't avoid everyone in the palace."
"You don't have to." Tarrant says. "I'm certain I could come up with a distraction."
"Tarrant-" Mirana begins but he continues.
"Think about it. I could come up with a distraction that works so well that no one would think to look for you."
Tarrant didn't hesitate. "Absolutely."
"So what did you do?" Magen asks as he sits on a stool in the workshop, watching his brother work. It fascinates him, always. Tarrant's hands flutter and dart between the fabrics, constantly working, constantly moving.
"You remember that it was a knighting or some such?" Magen remembers. He'd been supposed to be knighted along with the others, but he'd just failed. "I decided I should interrupt the ceremonies once someone wondered where Mira was by futterwackening."
Magen laughs out loud, unable to help it. He's sure that his twin heard an earful from their mother—and then some—and was probably going to be mucking out the stables for a week for something like that, but it had clearly worked. Tarrant futterwackening was a sight to see.
"How was riding?"
"Wonderful. We went all the way to the Witzend border before returning. We even managed to have a peaceful lunch. We got a bit lost on the way back, but the trees—wonderful conversationalists, you know—they got us back on the right track."
"Those are lovely hats."
Both brothers jump at the sound. A smoky gray cat striped in icy blue is hovering just above the worktable, eyeing the hats curiously.
Magen relaxes. "Tarrant, Chesseur. You know how the trees tend to go on and on. Well, by the time they'd finished, we couldn't remember what they'd told us. So Chesseur found us our way back."
Chesseur smiles wide. "Pleasured to meet you." He reappears at Tarrant's shoulder. "Are you the royal hatter?"
"Not yet. If Time would stop being so annoyed about every little nitpicky thing, then I will be in six months."
Six months. When the next knighting would be. Because Tarrant refused to be a Hatter if his brother wasn't a royal warrior. It's simply the way they were.
Tarrant turns to nails-on-a-chalkboard voice. Iracebeth had potential for prettiness. Vibrant red hair of strawberries and cherries and crimson blossoms with the inherently ivory skin and dark eyes. It isn't even her rather large head that makes her all that terrible. Really, everyone in Marmoreal was accustomed to it by now. It's her quick, harsh temper and bossiness that makes her unbearable.
But she is the future Queen and so Tarrant must answer. "Yes, m'lady?"
"Why have you not yet made me a hat?"
"I was not aware that you wanted one. What kind would you like? A bonnet? A tricorn? Perhaps a sombrero?"
"It doesn't matter. Simply bring me one."
It's later when he is at work at the hat—it was difficult to find something that would balance out her head—when his brother comes in. Eyeing the hat, he simply arches an eyebrow. "Big Red Head?" He asks simply, using the nickname that those who had known Iracebeth since childhood had come up with years ago.
"Big Red Head." Tarrant confirmed.
"Shame." Magen says, lifting one of the possibilities up for inspection. Bright candy-apple red with beaded black lace. "This is a lovely hat. It's just a shame that you should make it for her."
Tarrant shrugs. "I suppose. But I do like to be at my work."
Magen sets the hat back down, leans forward and clasps his hands together. "…We've begun courting. Mira and I."
Tarrant beams at him brother. "That's simply splendorous, brother."
"She says it's wrong. That a princess can't marry a Rook. That the law says it has to be a prince."
Tarrant whirred away at a sewing machine for a long moment. "…The only one of suitable age is that prickish one from Berienders. No one would be happy with him."
"I know. I don't wish for that to happen. I love her, Tarrant."
Tarrant feels a strange prickling in his heart. He is happy for his twin. How could he not be? He'd never seen Magen this happy, amber eyes glowing and a smile never far from his lips. Tarrant wanted to be a part of that, had to be a part of it.
Which only makes him confused. He'd never had to try to be part of Magen before. They simply were.
"But you are a royal warrior now. Surely you can ask the King for her hand." He's been a royal warrior for as long as Tarrant has been Hatter, seven months.
"I'm only a Rook, the second-lowest rank."
"But you're a Hightopp. The King might make an exception."
"I shall try. And Mira can't know."
"We've never hidden things from her before."
"This has to be the first. Please." Because Magen knows that Tarrant would do anything for his Lady, just like he would.
But if there's anyone more important than the Lady, it is his brother. "Yes, alright."
"You look like you're going to be sick." This man is the first sight of real color in Marmoreal that Ilosovic has seen and he's sure that the greenish tinge to the skin isn't supposed to be there.
"I prob'ly am." But Magen manages a smile and holds out a hand. "M'name's Magen."
"Ilosovic Stayne. I'm supposed to have an audience with the King and Queen for a post here."
"You're a Knight?" Magen assumes from the armor.
"Yes. And you?"
"A Rook. 'S part of the problem. And you'd best go in t' see their Majesties before I do. I don't expect you'll want to face the aftermath of their temper."
There are the most curious of sounds coming from one of the rooms. Ilosovic can't help but investigate. Curiosity ran strong in his family.
It is as though all of the color that had been bleached from the rest of Marmoreal has been squeezed into this small room. There's buttercream yellow and ocean-at-midnight blues; sunshine-shining-through summer-leaves green and milk-and-honey golds.
It's the man at work that surprises Ilosovic the most. "You're feeling better then?"
The hatter looks up. "Sorry?"
"You were looking rather green before."
As though understanding something, the hatter smiles. "You must be talking about my brother, Magen."
"Aye." A bandaged, cobweb pale hand is extended. "I'm Tarrant Hightopp."
"The new Knave?" Something must've shown on Ilosovic's face. "News travels quickly 'round here."
"Particularly about new Knaves."
Ilosovic jumps when a cat he swears wasn't there two seconds ago appears, floating over the worktable.
"This is Chess. He likes to surprise people." Tarrant leans forward, eager lime-green eyes glowing. "Have you ever thought of getting yourself a hat?"
"…No, not that I can remember."
"You simply must get one. Everyone should have at least one good hat." Tarrant said.
"And he does make such wonderful ones, doesn't he?" Chesseur says rolling over in the air, his ever-present smile looking wistful.
"I'll think about it." Ilosovic promises.
Tarrant claps delightedly and the Knave wonders if the colorful ones are entirely mad here.
"You didn't tell me he was going to my father." Mirana says one morning. She looks life-tired and Tarrant wordlessly pours some tea into a cup and gently pushing it into her hands.
"He asked me not to." Tarrant says simply. Mirana wants to argue, wants to say that she was their princess. But she knows it would do no good. The Twins' first loyalty was to each other.
Tarrant looks her over carefully. It isn't the sort of look a man gives a woman, but rather in the way of concerned friends. "That isn't all that's been keeping you awake at night."
"I have heard some disturbing rumors." She says, sipping some of his tea. Tarrant makes some of the most fantastic tea and it never ceases to both calm and reenergize her at the same time. "Hopefully, that's all they are. Rumors."
Everyone stares at their Majesties, some in shock, others in outrage. Mirana was to become Queen? But she was not the eldest. Granted, most agreed that she was the better choice. She was the quieter, more even-tempered of the sisters. But still…
Iracebeth strode out of the room. Tarrant is sure that there will be tears. Perhaps not now and perhaps they would be angry, frustrated tears, but tears they would be. The new Knave follows closely on her heels.
"This is going to stir up some of that bad blood." Magen said quietly enough that only his twin could hear him.
Tarrant silently agreed.
Tarrant is the one who makes his Lady's coronation dress. He'd made it of spun moonbeams and had carefully sewn some donated swan's feathers into the skirt. Netting knitted with pearls cobwebs across her pale shoulders.
As Mirana smoothed her skirts in the looking glass, Tarrant asked from where he was leaning on the wall. "Would you like me to dress your hair?"
Mirana shook her head and pushed some loose locks of silvery hair out of her face. "No. I'm Queen now and I'll dress as I like."
Tarrant smiled. "Spoken like a true Queen."
The door opened a fraction and when no protest came, it opened the rest of the way and Magen stepped inside. He was in his resplendent white armor, squarish but still allowing for clean movement. His Rook helm was beneath one arm. Magen's face lit up at seeing Mirana, but there was still some sadness in his eyes. Perhaps because he saw the woman he loved, but could not have.
"I know you look beautiful, but if you keep staring at your reflection, you'll be late." Magen tells her.
Mirana's dark lips upturn in a smile. "Don't you know? A Queen is never late. Everyone else is simply early."
Magen-and-Tarrant laughed. "Well, mustn't keep the subjects waiting. There's food to be had."
During the entire ceremony, they see Iracebeth standing ramrod straight, her face without expression. During the coronation dinner, the air within three seats of her is frigid and awkward and Tarrant isn't sure whether Iracebeth's clenched fists were from an effort not to cry or not to scream.
It's later that night after most everyone has retired to bed that Tarrant knocks on Iracebeth's door. "M'lady?"
She's a mess. Bloodshot eyes, cheeks pink with frustration and she reminds Hatter rather of a child who presented an object they'd made to their parents only to have the parents turn towards the other sibling. It had happened to Magen more than once, Tarrant knows. Not that it had been on purpose, but their parents were automatically more partial to hatting than battle.
Ilosovic is kneeling beside her and they both look towards him as soon as he steps in the door.
"W-what are you doing here?" Iracebeth hiccups.
Tarrant brings his hands out from behind his back. "I finished the hats you asked for, m'lady."
For a moment, it's as though she doesn't know what she's looking at. The box of hats isn't large by any measure, but it's the only box of hats she's ever had that were exclusively hers.
Tarrant smiles, perhaps a little uncertainly. He's not entirely comfortable with her, never has been, but even she doesn't deserve having her future yanked out from under her like that. "Shall we try them on?"
Ilosovic sits back, watching them. He'd been trying to cheer Iracebeth up, but he'd had very little success. He supposes he shouldn't be surprised that it was one of the colorful twins that succeeded. She's not entirely better, but there's a fragile smile on her lips and it's more than had been there before.
It's their birthday, something Tarrant had nearly forgotten had it not been for Magen making himself quite comfortable on his back as a wake-up call.
Tarrant yawns and looks sleepily at his brother. "Is something the matter?"
"Is that how you greet your brother on our birthday?"
Tarrant is wide awake instantly. "Is it?"
Magen laughs. "Don't tell me you forgot."
"No, not nearly. I've only just woken up, haven't I? Gerroff me and I can find you your gift."
"I want to give you mine first."
The gifts they exchange with each other have never been very extravagant. A pair of mismatched socks or a polka-dot bow tie that they're not entirely sure how to tie. But when Magen sits off of his brother so that his knee is brushing Tarrant's side and pulls out from beneath the bed is something Tarrant could never have guessed in a million heartbeats, like a raven or a writing desk.
It's olive green patterned with gold and it reminds Tarrant of a peacock's feather, which, when Magen turns it, turns out to be stuck into the pink ribbon wrapped around it and tied with a large bow. There are little rods with amulets on the top sticking out of them and Tarrant recognizes them as things that the Twins have collected over the years. And out of the pink ribbon is sticking out a little card on which 10/6 is written in his twin's spiky handwriting. Their favorite numbers. Their lucky numbers.
"It's nothing like the ones you can make," Magen says, a blush tinting his cheeks. "And I pricked my hands quite a bit trying." He holds out his bandaged and scraped hands to demonstrate. "But-"
Tarrant is hugging the very life out of him. "It's wonderfully wonderful." Tarrant whips the hat on his head and it feels right. "I'm sorry I don't have anything nearly as brilliant."
Tarrant spreads the scarf out in between them. It's blue and spattered with faces and colors and splotches. Magen feels the smooth material, roughened by velvet splotches and tweed faces before tying it around his neck. "I think it suits me. Don't you?"
Tarrant grins at his twin. Surely they look ridiculous, dressed in bedclothes and wearing hats and scarves that don't match and are so very not-white that it would stand out immediately in Marmoreal, but he finds he cannot bring himself to care overmuch.
"He's jittery today." Tarrant murmurs, brushing his mare. She's a sweet-tempered thing with milky brown eyes and white speckles on her rump.
"You feel it too, brother? Something wrong about the air." Magen saddles his proud stallion that's the color of ripe apple-pears with a mane and tail like midnight. "I don't like this."
"You told Mira?"
"Aye, I told 'er, but she says that we promised the village we would visit today and we cannot break our promises."
"You told her about the bad feeling too?"
"Aye." Magen lets his stallion chew thoughtfully on an apple for a moment. "I think she needs to get out of the palace. She's been lookin' awful cooped up."
"You'd think as the Queen, she wouldn't be feelin' like that anymore."
"Seems like it's just the opposite. Come now, or she'll leave without us." They're the Queen's escorts on this trip. Naturally, she has other guards, but she wanted them to come along, more as friends than escorts. And as escorts, they can dress any way they like. Tarrant has his hat on his head and Magen has his scarf and they're dressed comfortably.
When Mirana had first seen the Twins with their new gifts, she'd simply said, "It looks like you."
The ride out to the village isn't a terribly long one, but long enough that the brothers begin trading jokes and riddles.
Magen smirks sideways at his brother. "I've got one."
"Go on then."
"Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
"You're never going to tell me that one, are you?"
Magen laughed and shook his head. "I told you I won't. Not if you don't guess it."
"Do you two ever run out of riddles?" Mirana asks, glancing between them. Tarrant is at her right, Magen at her left (The position of servitude, Mirana's mind supplies and Magen had told her from the beginning that he'd always serve her, whether she was Queen or not. Then again, Tarrant had said much the same).
They grin at her, mirror images. "Absolutely, positively not!"
Magen looks at his brother. "Perhaps we should turn our talents to being the Royal Jesters."
Tarrant hums consideringly. "I agree, brother. I think we'd do rather well."
Mirana shakes her head, amused. The Twins never ceased to bring her out of her worst moods, whether they meant to or not.
The large windmill comes into sight, marking the village. It's a beautiful village, really, bright and simple. Magen glances at Mirana. All the colors here, all the rich, earthy browns and the bright emeralds-shining-in-the-sunshine greens making her stand out even more, brilliant in her silvers and grays and whites. And she looks free, like he remembers her looking before the coronation.
Children are dancing around the Maypole, adults spinning and whirling around them. There's a long string of uneven tables pushed together with food set out. Nothing matches, so Tarrant can only assume that everyone brought something of their own.
The village girls ask Magen to dance (It's always Magen who's been good with the girls. He's the confident one, the fire-and-light one. Tarrant's the fumbling, shy one with a sweetheart's smile) and he does because he's comfortable with dancing with them because that's all it is. Dancing.
Tarrant knows his brother as well as he knows himself and knows that Magen wants nothing more than to ask Mirana to dance and to give her a hand off the white stallion on which she rode.
But this is in public and the Queen cannot be seen dancing so close with a mere Rook.
But Magen finds himself unable to really mind because when he glances over, he sees Mirana on her horse, dark eyes sparkling in laughter (He loved her laughter from the first time they met, as mere spratlings, when they were of similar heights and she had not yet acquired a woman's curve of cheek or body) and Tarrant, standing right by her side (As always. Tarrant had always been so loyal) clapping and grinning as wide as Chesseur on his best day.
But then it all goes wrong because there's fire and a roar that screeched a bit and Magen is ripped from the girl he was dancing with and he's scrambling to his feet, trying to get to Mirana and Tarrant. That's the only thought in his mind. Mira-and-Tarrant, Mira-and-Tarrant.
Tarrant snatches the reins as the white stallion rears, Mirana clutching at his mane for dear life. He breaks into a run, knowing the horse and rider will follow, attached as they are and he's glancing around, searching for Magen. He glimpses him through the smoke and the flames, but they're separated by a sudden burst of violet flames.
The Queen is gone—run back to M and Tarrant doesn't have to wonder who it was that had set the Jabberwocky on her. He runs through the charred remains of the village, searching desperately for Magen, wanting only to hear that familiar voice and smell his singular scent of peaches and oranges.
Tarrant finds him and sometimes, he wishes he hadn't (But only sometimes). Magen's pale face was speckled with blood and in his left hand he's clutching a sword that he must have gotten from one of the fallen knights. But that's really all that Tarrant recognizes of Magen, for the rest is crushed and seared beyond recognition.
Tarrant hugs his brother's body close, wishing to hear a heartbeat, a breath, anything, but he can't hear anything and he can't smell peaches and oranges, only soot and flames and ashes and Tarrant never ever wants to smell it again. Tarrant brushes a stray orange curl, stained slightly with that terribly bright red, away from his face.
Tarrant wanted to steal him away, to keep him with him rather than bury the body or let it become ashes. It felt wrong to not have Magen beside him. They'd been Magen-and-Tarrant since birth and living without your –and-someone is just something you don't do. Tarrant knew he would do anything, anything, to have his brother alive at that moment, to have him breathing and laughing and grinning like he used to.
"I want you back." Tarrant sobbed into his brother's soot stained clothing. He felt the soft-roughness of a familiar scarf, splattered with some red, but mostly intact.
Tarrant knows not how long he knelt there, sobbing and clutching his brother's body like it was the last lifeline thrown to a dying man, but when next he is aware of the time, it is dawn and Magen's body has grown cold and he's not sure whether he is waking from sleep or waking from a dream (For they are two very different things, you see, to dream and to sleep.)
He knows only that suddenly, he does not feel quite so lonely and he can hear Magen's familiar voice as easily as he hears the rather loud silence of the ruins of the village. (Of course I'm not gone. Brothers, Twins, like they are, could never be apart for long. Mum always said so, didn't she, Tarrant? Didn't she?)
Mirana sees the news on Tarrant's face when he returns, pale and tear-stained, and she embraces him as he hugs her tightly. She's not sure who needs it more, Tarrant or her.
She doesn't notice it then, attributing it to grief.
But it grows more noticeable as the weeks go by. Sometimes, Tarrant will look at her just like Magen used to (And only Magen. There were very few things that the Twins didn't do the same and she always remembered that one.) And other times his accent becomes thicker and his knuckles will tighten only in the way Magen did.
But Mirana doesn't think much of it. Perhaps she's looking for Magen in Tarrant because she also misses him.
It's one afternoon almost two months later that she really takes notice of it. It's their first chance to speak, really speak, since That Day. Tarrant looks more frazzled than ever, dark circles beneath his eyes and his fingers, ever in movement, were fiddling with a blade of grass.
She sits beside him and simply watches for a long moment. Watches as his hands create an elegant knot out of the blade. Finally, she asks, "How are you?"
Tarrant blinks up at her and it makes Mirana uneasy (She can't remember ever being uneasy in his company) because his eyes aren't his clear bottle green, but now are cat-like in their color of amber mixed with the green and it seems almost as if two different people are looking out at her.
But he still sounds like himself when he speaks and for that Mirana is relieved. She half-expected to hear his brother's lower pitch. "I'm fine, which is to say I'm fine as can be expected, but of course you don't wish to be hearing that since you haven't wished upon a star and I hear wishes don't come true if it's not on a star and-"
He stops abruptly and looks down, shamefaced. Like a child who'd been tossed aside. "Sorry." He says hoarsely. "I'm alright. Really."
"Are you very sure?"
He smiles in the reassuring way that Magen had never quite mastered. "I am indeed most absolutely, positively sure." He studies her for a moment before asking gently, "And you, Lady? Are you alright?"
"As you said. I'm as alright as can be expected. Iracebeth's gone. She was behind the attack."
Tarrant knows this, had figured it out before and was the one to turn the investigation onto the elder sister. Mirana's startled when he snarls and mutters long things in a language that wasn't used anymore, though everyone knew it, and his accent is suddenly thick and his eyes shine gold. His voice works its way up to a shout and he only stops once Mirana grabs one of his hands firmly and repeats his name several times.
Gold eyes blink closed until it's that strange mix of green-gold again and Tarrant seems not to know where he is for a moment. Tarrant smiles at her and it's wavering and a little uncertain and nothing like she remembers of the confident brother (brothers) that were her closest friends.
"I think I'm in the mood for some tea. Would you like some?"
Mirana closes her eyes and simply breathes for a moment before opening them and nodding. "Tea would be nice."
Perhaps it'll pass, she thinks. Perhaps this was his way of grieving becase the Twins had never done anything like anyone else.
It doesn't pass.
Tarrant is still Tarrant, still kind and gentle and brilliant. There's still that same not-quite-spring, not-quite-sway to his walk and he's still lovely and vibrant as life and death.
The resemblance is there. They were Twins, naturally, but Mirana had never had any difficulty in telling them apart and it's enough to make Mirana's heart seize when she looks at him. Tarrant looks so fragile, so nearly broken without Magen there and sometimes it seems that all Tarrant will ever do is break, break, break because there's something so terribly vital missing and if Mirana thinks too long or hard on it, she fears she'll die weeping for them both.
Tarrant is still at his trade, is still there in his workroom, hands flying over material and tools and shapes and his hats are still as beautiful as they were before, but now they are gray with grief and pale purple with dreaming and longing and love.
He spends more and more time out of Marmoreal. Chesseur often goes with him, floating about the hat that he refuses to take off and the scarf that he wears, one that Mirana last remembers Magen's neck.
Things end up outside in a small clearing not far from The Village, as they've privately begun to call it inside their minds. At first, it's simply a small collection of teacups and cakes, but slowly, a table ends up out there, and then two. A tablecloth, plates, old chipped china that Tarrant finds in the storerooms, chairs that have always stood out from the rest of Marmoreal's stark whiteness.
And the chair at the very head of the table was Magen's favorite, the one that he would always drop down into at the end of a long day and watch Tarrant work as they would speak about everything and nothing at all—and sometimes not even speak, for that is often the way of siblings as close as they were. Words weren't always necessary. The chair is worn at the edges and it's colors are beginning to fade, but Tarrant cannot imagine a more perfect place to sit.
He and Chesseur often enjoy tea out there in that lonely table—and it's enjoyable, indeed because of it's very loneliness. There is no one to watch him oddly, looking for signs of Magen, perhaps and there is no Lady looking at him with concern that she thinks he doesn't see, but of course he does because who knows her better (Magen did—does—always will).
Slowly, others come out to join he and Chesseur. Thackery Earwicket is a twitchy rabbit beginning to get on in years, but he has the most fascinating stories to tell if one could ever to get him to keep an idea in his head for much more than a few sentences.
And then there is Mallymkun, a petite dormouse with a fiery spirit that is unafraid to speak her mind. Tarrant finds her company refreshing, as he is becoming tired of court life with its subtle naggings and polite demeanors.
But he cannot forget his Lady and so he returns to Marmoreal every day (and occasionally, every other day) and sits with her to speak about her day, about how she is and does she need him for anything? (Most would assume that he meant hats, but in truth, he's asking whether she needs an unbiased ear or perhaps simply the presence of a friend).
But Chesseur appears at the table one day, smile hovering in smoke before his body fully forms. "There's a lovely girl on her way here. Darling, really."
The rest of them are curious after all. Why would a girl be all the way out here and with no one with her? Was she lost?
When the little girl does appear, she really is lovely for a child. Golden curls bounce between her shoulder blades and large blue eyes are taking in everything around her. Her face is too awkward for her now, but goodness, when she grew into that face…
"So you did find your way." Chesseur purrs. "I wondered whether you would."
"W-where am I?" The girl's voice is high and trembling a little, but it does not sound like it is from fear.
"Why, in Underland of course." Mallymkun says, standing atop an upside down teacup to get a better look at her. "Haven't you got a name?"
"Well of course I do." The girl raised her chin proudly. "M'name's Alice Kingsley."
Tarrant is not sure what it is about this child, this…Alice Kingsley…but she feels like something he has not felt in what feels both like years and mere seconds (Time was a very fickle fellow, constantly changing his moods and never wanting to stop for tea). She feels like Magen.
And so he sits her beside him and she is a wonderful conversationalist. Her words are simple—she is but a child of 'nine and a quarter' or so she tells him—but she speaks of fantastic, impossible things.
"Papa always says that he thinks of six impossible things before breakfast." Alice says before munching on a nutcake.
"That is a most wonderful practice." Tarrant tells her as he pours her more tea. "I think I should like to meet your father."
"Oh, he would like to meet you too, Hatter." She says, smiling. "'Specially since you make such good tea. Papa loves tea. He drinks it all the time when he works late."
"A sensible man."
"Would you like some sugar?" Thackery asks from across the table.
Alice beams and it could light up all of Underland. "Yes, please."
Thackery jerks his teacup, empty but for the cube of sugar, upward so that the cube goes flying and Alice catches it in her own tea. Her laugh is silvery sounding as she takes a sip.
"It's perfect!" She exclaims.
They speak of happy things, things that many of them had long since forgotten. Around Alice, Magen's voice is much more subdued, though Tarrant can still hear him in the back of his mind.
"You're a pretty girl." Tarrant freezes at the voice. He hasn't heard it since before The Village. Ilosovic looks very different, clad entirely in black like he is. He crouches beside Alice, smiling charmingly. "Very much like a princess, one might say. What's your name?"
Alice glances between Ilosovic and Tarrant and Tarrant can already see that she feels uneasy around the Knave. There is none of the pride that she had before. "Alice."
"Alice? A pretty name for a pretty girl." Tarrant's hands clench on the armrest. If Ilosovic is here, Iracebeth cannot be far behind. He doesn't know why this would be bad—Alice is but a child, after all—but he knows that she is special and that he does not want Iracebeth anywhere near her.
But Tarrant pushes back Magen's temper that is slowly simmering towards the surface. "Care to join us for tea?"
Ilosovic turns to Tarrant and is momentarily stunned by the changes he sees in him. The dark circles beneath gold-green eyes, the faint lines of sadness etched into his face.
"…I'm alright, but thank you for the offer. I will, however, take one of these cakes." Ilosovic snatches one up. "I've always been rather fond of theses, you know."
"It's been so long, Ilosovic. Tell me, what brings you all the way here?"
"Really? And how has that been going for you?" Tarrant glances at Chesseur, who evaporates beneath the table to tug at the hem of Alice's dress (Her dress is blue, Tarrant will always remember. Blue like summer skies and cornflowers)
Alice glances downwards at the wide pale blue eyes with their slit pupils and she smiles apologetically at the Knave. "It's getting late. My Papa will worry. I should be getting home."
"Yes, of course. Shouldn't keep your father worrying." Though Ilosovic doesn't seem entirely convinced as he moves to a stand.
The last Tarrant sees of Alice Kingsley is of her gold curls following Chesseur into the shadows of the trees.
(She'll be back, Magen whispers. She will.) And Tarrant shall be here, waiting for her.
Mirana doesn't recognize the look on Tarrant's face when next he returns and she finds herself ashamed for it. Because the look is healthy, is one of comfort in where he is and in assuredness in…something, though Mirana cannot tell what.
"What's happened?" She asks as they sit in the garden that night.
"The girl, Alice—surely Chesseur has already made it back here to tell you about her?" At Mirana's nod, Tarrant continues. "Well, she seems like she'll be quite the Lady when she gets growed up."
"Really? A lady?"
Tarrant shakes his head, orange curls bouncing. "No, no. A Lady, one much like yourself, I should think. She has a great deal of muchness."
"Is she the one that Absolem speaks of?"
Tarrant lifts his shoulders and lets them fall in a graceful shrug. "I've of no idea. But she is absolutely an Alice."
There is talk of a Red Queen. No one in Marmoreal needs ask who it is. Stories of the Knave spread like wildfire and there are never any happy stories.
Tarrant watches as Marmoreal empties, its residents fearful of the Red Queen. But his Lady—his first one, at any rate—remains strong and sure. She is unafraid of her sister, but neither will she fight her. Sisters don't do that, Mirana reminds herself of what her mother used to tell them when she and Iracebeth would fight.
And yet, he remains at Mirana's side. She only ever asked him why once. And his reply was simply, "You're my Lady."
But Mirana sees the way he stares out windows and looks longingly out past the gardens to the forest. She may have been his Lady first (though these days, she's wondering whether that's Magen's personality coming out more than Tarrant's) but this Alice, this girl she'd never met, was his Lady.
She draws him to her side one night, out by the garden with a gate leading directly down a forest path. Mirana isn't surprised to see his gaze immediately go to the gate. "You should go."
Tarrant turns to her, a puzzled frown on his lips.
"Go." She repeats, nodding toward the gate. "Go wait for Alice. If she is the one of legend, bring her back here. Perhaps she can help stop all this."
Mirana sees the indecision on his face, sees the longing to see Alice, to wait forever for her if necessary, and the loyalty and duty that made him want to stay where he was.
"I'll make it a command if I have to." Mirana warns. It would be the first command she's given him.
"I'll be back." He promises. "To help you bring down Bloody Big Head, I'll come back." (It hurts Mirana—just a little—to know that that is how Iracebeth will be known from now on rather than simply Big Red Head)
Tarrant smiles at her, grateful that she didn't make him choose. He leans close, kissing her cheek, before he's out through the garden gate.
He isn't sure whether this is sleeping or dreaming. He's aware of some things, of Mallymkun sharing a nutcake with him and remembers hearing about Chesseur, about how he'd let Alice go nearly half the way back home on her own after he disappeared, afraid. He doesn't remember very much about immediately after that, though he remembers that Mallymkun had watched him a little warily after that and he's sure that Magen had come out to play.
Mallymukun worries, but when she asks Chesseur after why, exactly, Tarrant was the way he was, Chesseur's large eyes go sad and he evaporates away into the wind.
Tarrant is a wonderful conversationalist if one can make sense of his words and train of thought. But now, more than ever, he looks at Mally and will ask, sometimes right in the middle of a sentence, "Do you know a word that starts with M? I'm looking for one and I can't seem to think of it."
Mally tries many things. Miracles, mirth, misanthropic, melancholy, monkeys, Mirana, Marmoreal. None of them seem to fit and Tarrant always look so very sad. She asks him why only once because he looked so very broken when he replied.
"I can't remember them. I know I know them, but I simply cannot remember them. Cannot remember the way they walked or how they spoke. It's like trying to remember someone I've never met, but I have, Mally. I know I have." Tarrant continues on into low mumbles that she can't make out, his eyes growing dark.
(How can you not remember me, Tarrant? Me? That hurts, you know.)
The voice is familiar, the words splintering and shattering to spill across the floor until they are unintelligible in his mind and he's trying to put them back together, but it's like glass and it hurts when he tries.
One day, Tarrant asks Mally a new question. "Do you know why a raven is like a writing desk?"
Mally guesses, tries several times and sits and thinks and replies. "Are any of those it?"
Tarrant shakes his head. "I suppose you wouldn't know."
"You've no idea?"
"Not a one pertaining to the correct answer of ravens and writing desks, but I've many ideas. Ideas upon ideas, like blocks that stack and eventually fall." Hatter leans forward, cat-like eyes intent. "I'm thinking of a word that begins with A."
This one, Mally knows. "It's Alice. You're thinking after Alice."
The smile that breaks out on Tarrant's face is brilliant and should light up the world.
He feels her before he actually sees her and he's on his feet before he knows it, stepping up onto the table and stepping around—and often on—the china and the food. The girl doesn't look like a girl, though she's the size for one. There are curves on her that aren't on any girl and her blonde curls are longer than before. Her dress is pale blue, much like before, but now it's nearly in shreds and Tarrant doesn't want to imagine what's happened to her.
He kneels before his Lady. "It's you."
"No it's not." Mallymkun said, annoyance lacing her voice. "McTwisp brought us the wrong Alice!"
"She's the wrong Alice?" Thackery twisted his long ears in panic. They needed Alice. Absolem said so. Tarrant needed Alice. Needed The Alice, the one who'd come before, the one who was his Lady and Thackery doesn't want to imagine what Tarrant is going to do to this Wrong Alice.
"She's absolutely Alice." Tarrant claimed, smiling wide. He leans in to whisper to her. "You're absolutely Alice, I'd know you anywhere. I'd know him anywhere!"
Him? No, the person in front of him was absolutely a her. But there's something about this her that reminds Tarrant of a him. A very important him. He isn't sure what he's babbling as he leads her down the table to sit.
"I've been considering things that begin with the letter M." Tarrant tells her and something in those eyes of hers is very much like something he feels he should remember (I've a riddle for you…) and it makes him think that perhaps this Lady Alice can tell him. "Do you know why a raven is like a writing desk?"
"You don't slay." Magen says from Tarrant's lips.
"I couldn't if I wanted to." She says from the stump.
Tarrant considers her. "You've lost your muchness.
"Your muchness." He gently pokes her torso. "In there. Something's missing."
His Lady has a look in her eyes that Tarrant can't quite describe. "Tell me what the Red Queen's done."
Something in Tarrant shirks at the request. "It's not a pretty story."
"Tell me anyway."
And because it's his Lady, he cannot refuse and so he tells her.
The chains bind his hands and feet and his restless energy is unable to make its way free. When he looks up, he sees his Lady, but she is much
"What a regrettably large head you have. I would very much like to hat it."
"Yes. I used to hat for the White Queen you know. Poor thing. There's very little to work with. Such a small head."
His chains are broken and his restless energy begins to get out. He circles the Red Queen, naming any hat he can think of. Magen manages to find his way out somewhere in his rabble.
She finds him whirring and snipping away at brightly colored cloth in the brightly colored room. Alice leans around his shoulder to see his work. "They're wonderful. You must let me try one on."
Tarrant turns to smile at her. "It is good to be working at my trade again."
Alice's face saddens. "It's just a pity you have to make them for her."
Tarrant freezes. (Big Red Head…pity…make them for…begun courting…Mira and I…) "…What is the hatter with me? Hatter?"
(Princess can't marry a Rook) Tarrant knows this man. Knows his voice, his actions, the way he walks, the way he laughs and fights. Knows how he died and that is when the rage explodes out of him.
"Hatter!" His Lady whips him around and presses her palms flat against his cheeks.
"Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?" He asks. He doesn't know why he needs this answer, why it must be answered, but he knows that he must find the answer soon. "I'm frightened, Alice. I don't like it in here. It's terribly crowded. Have I gone mad?"
One of her hands goes to his forehead. "I'm afraid so. You're entirely bonkers." She smiles and it's like she's a child again, telling him something that one only told close friends (And brothers. Can't forget brothers. Not ever) But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are."
Alice goes to a chair and gets a most familiar looking hat and sets it atop his orange peel curls. She smiles gently at him. "There. You look yourself again."
Tarrant tells her to go to the White Queen. His Lady would be safe there. Both of his Ladies would be.
"I'm not going without you." She says stubbornly.
Tarrant chuckles a little and smiles fondly up at her. (How familiar stubbornness is. Magen was full of it) "Why is it you're always too small or too tall?"
Alice is a good deal taller than Mirana had pictured her, but when she tells her the reason why, it suddenly seems very obvious.
"You can't imagine the things that go on there." Alice tells her.
Mirana looks at this Alice, The Alice. The one who is supposed to be her Champion, but is still Tarrant's Lady.
How could she not know or imagine what went on in the Red Court? She had grown up with Iracebeth, had seen the things she'd done. She'd seen the end result of her horrors, had seen the madness in Tarrant and seen the lives destroyed.
"…Oh, yes I can."
"I've always admired that hat."
Tarrant looks at the familiar feline hovering just outside the bars. "Hello, Chess.
Chasseur appears beside him, rolling through the air. "Since you won't be needing it anymore, would you consider bequeathing it to me?"
Tarrant clutches his hat closer to him. "How dare you? It's a formal execution. I want to look my best."
Chesseur appeared on the other side of him. "It's a shame. I was really looking forward to see you Futterwacken again."
Tarrant smiled at the memories. (We used to Futterwacken together, remember, Brother?) "I was rather good, wasn't I?"
"I really do love that hat. I'd wear it to all the finest occasions."
Tarrant grins at him mischievously. "Yes, Chesseur, I think you will."
The cat blinks at him. "What?"
"Here's my plan."
"I'd like to keep it on." He tells the executioner. It was a gift, a gift from the person closest to him and it's only right that the hat stay on at a time like this.
"The abused and the enslaved, rise up against the Bloody Red Queen!" He hears himself and he hears Magen. It's strange and powerful and exhilarating to stand up there and declare the rebellion all while looking Iracebeth right in the eyes.
Tarrant smiles at her. She's only slightly shorter than him and it feels right, feels proper. "I would've regretted not seeing you again, especially now that you're the right size again. It's a good size, a great size, it's a proper Alice size."
He's still smiling because it wasn't a mad ramble, but a good-to-honest ramble because honestly, what does one say to their Lady when they're at their proper size once again?
Mirana looks at him and hardly recognizes Tarrant, something for which she feels immediately ashamed of because this is closer to how he used to look before That Day. He smiles and hugs her when she comes to greet him.
"Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?" He asks when he comes to join her on the balcony. It's quiet here and he nearly giggles with delight at the thought. Quiet. Even to him-and-Magen. It's quiet.
She smiles thoughtfully. "Let me think about it."
Tarrant hesitates before saying, "You know what tomorrow is, don't you?"
"Frabjous Day, how could I forget?" Alice seems frustrated and annoyed, but at the same time, perfectly content. "I wish I'd wake up."
"Still believe this is a dream, do ya?"
"Of course. This is all just a figment of my imagination."
If it was, how strange her imagination was. How wonderful and how very terrible it must be.
His smile grows sad. "Which would mean that I'm not real."
"'Fraid so." She chuckles a little. "I would dream up someone who's half-mad."
"Yes, but you'd have to be half-mad to dream me up."
She considers him fondly. He's become a friend. An odd one, but a close one. "I'll miss you when I wake up."
"Now who shall be the Champion for the White Queen?"
Tarrant is the one who steps up immediately, partially because this was the Lady he served and he'd do anything for her but also because Magen is urging him forward. Mirana was as much Magen's Lady as Alice was Tarrant's.
Tarrant takes his brother's sword to march out to battle. It's not a familiar weight in his hand, but it's comforting because he still imagines that he can feel his brother here. With him.
They stare up at the Jabberwocky, ominously darkly powerful creature that it is. Tarrant feels his heart race because the last time he saw this…thing…it had killed his brother.
"This is impossible." He hears Alice whisper.
Tarrant leans closer to her. "Only if you believe it is."
Alice speaks as though remembering something from a half-remembered dream. "Sometimes, I believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Tarrant remembers this half-remembered dream. Remembers sitting beside her as she told him of her father. "That is an excellent practice. However, just at the moment," Magen is pushing his way out. He can't allow his brother out onto this battlefield. "You might want to focus on the Jabberwocky."
Tarrant's Lady is in battle and he can't go to her because his other Lady would be dishonored if he did. But when the Vorpal Sword is knocked from her hand, he steps out protectively, and stabs the Jabberwocky's tail as it goes by.
"The Hatter's interfering!" He hears the Red Queen cry.
Tarrant takes his hat off—a battlefield is no place for something so precious—and Magen is completely out, here to fight for His Lady because Tarrant is no warrior. He fights Ilosovic and his rage powers him. The Village, his death, His Lady's betrayal.
Tarrant comes out to play in his cleverness, in the needles he keeps at all time at bandaged hand. Magen is hungry for revenge as he stands poised above the Knave, sword ready to kill.
"Off with your head!"
Tarrant looks up as soon as he hears the cry in a familiar voice, one not as shrill, before glancing back down at the fearful man below him. The sword wavers in his hand and he steps away quickly. There's blood on his hands. He sees it soaking into the bandages on his fingers and he can't register it. Tarrant never wanted this life, never wanted to battle. That was Magen.
Chesseur floats the crown to Mirana and places it gently on her head. The air feels right once more and the Red Queen and her Knave are sentenced to wander. The Knave tries to assassinate Iracebeth, but Tarrant stops him with a pin because their torture deserved to be much more slow. (They killed Magen! How dare they?)
Everyone claps after watching him Futterwacen (It feels wonderful and brilliant to be dancing again) and Mirana smiles like he hasn't seen her smile in so very long.
"Will this take me home?" Alice asks the White Queen.
Mirana nods. "If that is what you choose." And Mirana hopes that Alice doesn't choose that because she isn't sure what will happen to Tarrant if she does.
Everyone steps back save for Tarrant.
"You could stay." He pleads quietly.
"What an idea." Alice says to him fondly. "A crazy, mad, wonderful idea. But I can't. There are questions I have to answer, things I have to do. I'll be back again before you know it."
"You won't remember me." He sounds broken, terribly broken then. It was so different to the person who had, not minutes ago, been dancing with such joy.
"Of course I will. How could I forget?" She's about to swallow the Jabberwocky blood when she looks at him. "Hatter, why is a raven like a writing desk."
Tarrant smiles. "I haven't the slightest idea." He leans close and can smell the blood and sweat and muchness on her. "Fairfarren, Alice."
We came into the world like brother and brother;
And now let's go hand in hand, not one before another.
~William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors