Tarrant looked up from his work as Nieve skipped into the room, her blonde hair looking more unmanageably curly than usual.

"Little girl, little girl, where have you been?" he asked.

"Gathering roses to give to the Queen," Nieve answered, as she pulled out an unwieldy bouquet of pink roses from behind her back.[1]

"For your Mam?" he asked, finishing a fine stitch in the white cloche he had been toiling over for the last half hour or so—one could never be certain, Time being who he was.

Nieve spread the roses across his table, covering up several bolts of silk, which would no doubt be snagged by the thorns. He frowned, but said nothing. This, he considered, is why Alice sometimes whispered in his ear at night that he was permissive, but whispering anything in his ear did very little to reform him.

"No, for Auntie Mirana."

His frown turned upside down. Pink roses for the White Queen: Nieve, the first child born in Underland since the end of the reign of the Red Queen, brought color into everyone's lives, whether they were ready for it or not.

"Roses for Auntie Mirana? How thoughtful, my wee bairn." He selected a white ribbon from his endless pile of white trim. "Set aside some for your Mam as well."

"Does she like pink?" Nieve asked, climbing atop a stool and tucking her legs beneath her to gain some height.

"As much as Queen Mirana does." That was no untruth.

"Do all Queens like pink?"

Tacking the white ribbon onto the hat, he paused, considering, "I think the only things most Queens can agree upon are bread and honey."[2]

"Mam and Auntie Mirana agree on a great many things," Nieve asserted, as she pulled one of the roses from the pile and began to pluck its petals so that they fluttered to the ground.

"Quite true, but quite unusual that sort of accord," Tarrant said, raising his brows over his work.

"What kind of queen is Mam?"

"A very good one." That was an easy enough question to answer.

Sometimes Nieve's questions could be quite difficult, as difficult as some of his choicest riddles. Why are March Hares not fond of marching? Why don't finger sandwiches contain buttered fingers? Why must I knock on your door at night?

It was well and good that Curiosity only ever took it into his head to kill cats, for otherwise his wife and little one would not be safe.[3]

"But she is not as much a queen as Auntie Mirana is," Nieve reasoned, tossing aside the denuded rose and leaning across the table to rest her elbows on its uneven surface.

Alice would be amused by that, but he felt the urge to defend his wife's Queenliness. "Just as much, I assure you."

"We do not live in a palace."

"Mam does not require a palace," he explained, reaching for a pair of scissors to trim a trailing thread.

Nieve placed an index finger to her lips, thinking. "Mam rarely wears her crown."

"She does not require that either," he said, holding the cloche before him and tilting it this way and that to see if it would suit Lady Namkin. "Your Mam rarely wears a head covering at all." One of Alice's very few Faults.

"If she does not require her crown, I would be happy to wear it," Nieve said.

Tarrant looked from the cloche to watch a smile spread across Nieve's face, as if she was concocting a Wonderful Plan. Nieve's plans had a tendency to end with cats in trees and stockings with ladders in them.

"When you are older, you may wear a crown, but for now Mam is the sole royal in our family."

The smile faded, and she said a little petulantly, "She does not have subjects."

Tarrant set the cloche down. "She certainly does, Nieve. Perhaps I should have said that first. Hmm, quite forgetful of me, perhaps even unpardonable, and if it was not for the magnanimous nature of our Monarch…"

"Faither!" Nieve exclaimed, sitting back on her heels and picking up a rose to wave before him.

"Thank you. Where was I?" he asked, blinking.

"Mam's subjects," she said while tucking her nose into the fragrant center of the rose.

He was quite envious, watching his wee one drink in the aroma. Tarrant held out his bethimbled hand, and as Nieve was finished with the aromatic perusal, she stretched the rose out to him. He smelled it as well. "You chose your roses very well. They are as sweet smelling as your Mam."

Nieve visibly puffed at the praise.

He smiled. "You and I are Mam's subjects. At first, when she was not much older than you are now, she was a Queen of Underland but a Sovereign of No One, you see, but then your Mam came back and she became the Queen of My Heart. She became Sovereign of One."

Nieve took back the rose, adding it to the pile once more. "Does that make you a king?"

Tarrant straightened his bowtie—the very thought! "No, I'm much luckier than that, dear heart. It makes me a Beloved Subject. As you are as well. We two are Mam's beloveds."

"Shall she ever have any other subjects?"

Tarrant felt color rush to his face and he imagined his eyes were changing hue rather rapidly. This was the sort of Conversation he preferred to have with Alice present. His wife was not so easily Flustered as he; she always seemed to know Just What to Say. "That is for Faither and Mam to decide," he finally managed to respond.

Nieve considered him for a moment before slipping down from her stool, her little black patents clicking on the floor. "Will you tell me when you decide? I would like to be the first to meet and welcome any new subjects to the realm."

He cleared his throat, "Yes, my dear. Any additions to the kingdom will be brought to your attention, as one of its foremost citizens."

"Thank you, Faither."

He stood, fondly watching as she tripped from the room. The second citizen of the realm had not only doubled the population of the citizenry, but also made the kingdom a family. He thought Alice preferred it that way.

A realm was a responsibility. A family a respite.


[1] "Little Girl, Little Girl, Where Have You Been?" can be found in print as early as the 1840's. It's a less well-known version of "Pussycat, Pussycat Where Have You Been?"

""Little girl, little girl, where have you been?"

"Gathering roses to give to the Queen."

"Little girl, little girl, what gave she you?"

"She gave me a diamond as big as my shoe.""

[2] The second verse of "Sing a Song of Sixpence" from which Tarrant quotes is as follows:

"The King was in his countinghouse,

Counting out his money;

The Queen was in the parlor

Eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden,

Hanging out the clothes.

Along there came a big black bird

And snipped off her nose!"

A version of the modern four verses can be found first in Gammer Gurton's Garland or The Nursery Parnassus published in 1784.

[3] The earliest printed reference to the origin of the proverb, curiosity killed the cat, is attributed to the British playwright Ben Jonson in his 1598 play, Every Man in His Humour, which was performed first by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare used a similar quote in his circa 1599 play, Much Ado About Nothing: "What, courage man! What though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care."