One Year After Alice Left Underland –
The White Queen rode up to the clearing in the woods. The table was still set in the same place – the tea was stagnating and the crumpets were crumbling even worse than they had been previously. Mallymkun sat in a spoon and kicked at a cube of sugar. The dormouse looked bored to death. The Hatter, on the other hand, was sleeping as comfortably as you please in his big chair at the head of the tea table. He looked as relaxed as a grandfather sitting in his favorite chair by the fire – and as unlikely to move without massive innovation.
It had been thought that the Hatter would return with the White Queen to her palace and take up his trade there once again. So it had been a huge surprise to everyone to learn that he was not planning on accompanying the troops back to Marmoreal but was instead going back to his former abode. He had said he was going to fix it up and make the windmill inhabitable again. But he had, just as everyone had feared he would, lapsed right back into his old habits, namely sitting in his large chair at the head of the long tea table and watching the scones rot.
The White Queen was afraid that her news would not be taken well. Perhaps if he had been busy, had had a life instead of sitting here waiting for her to drop in from nowhere a third time . . . Hopefully he would be able to take it. He had been acting quite strangely, almost sick, the past year. It had only been one year since Alice had returned and then left again just as suddenly as the first time. Perhaps trying to understand the dynamics of interworld travelling made the Hatter feel ill. Or maybe he simply was a man who missed his friend. Either way, this news would be a shock and not a pleasant one.
"Mallymkun," the White Queen called softly, slipping off her horse and walking forward until she stood beside the dormouse. She whispered the next sentence into the small white ear: "Is Tarrant awake?"
"He is neither awake nor asleep, your Highness," the Hatter slurred from under his hat. "He is in a rather pleasant state of in-betweenedness and wishes not to be disturbed."
"I'm sorry, Tarrant," said the White Queen apologetically, straightening and gliding over to stand beside the slumping figure in the chair.
"– Mally, I think the Hare put something . . ." the Hatter cleared his throat, which had gone raspy, ". . . something in the tea . . ."
"Don't go blaming him, Hatter," Mallymkun said patronizingly. "You're always like this, funny tea or no."
"I have important news for you, Tarrant," the White Queen insisted, clenching her black-nailed hands into delicate fists. "About Alice."
Mallymkun looked up, face gone pointy and startled. The dormouse shook her head minutely at the White Queen.
"Alice. Alice?" the Hatter muttered under his breath.
"Yes. Alice. Don't you remember?"
"I don't remember an Alice . . . Alice . . . Allspice . . . Cinnamon? . . . No thank you, don't care for any."
The dormouse motioned the White Queen a small ways away with tiny frantic paws while the Hatter continued to muse over the name that had suddenly become unfamiliar. "Don't tell him about her," Mallymkun hissed. "Don't tell him – he's already in a state."
"You know?" the White Queen whispered in awe.
"Chess," the dormouse nodded. "He told me yesterday. I asked him not to tell Hatter. I think he's finally put her out of his mind."
"Mind!" shouted the Hatter from behind them. "Mind! Of course I mind. I don't like cinnamon in my tea, and you ought to know that by now, you creeping, sneaking, weasely, sniffling, boggling, ogling, snooping, pooping . . ."
"Hatter!" shrieked Mallymkun.
The Hatter blinked. He had risen halfway out of his seat, his eyes gone orange with anger. They faded to is customary green as he slumped back into shadow. He started to snore gently.
"You see what he's like now? It's been getting better lately, because I think," Mallymkun licked her lips. "I think he's managed to make himself believe he's forgotten Alice."
"He can't forget her," the White Queen cried gently. "She must live on forever in his memory. She saved our lives!"
"She'll ruin his, if he doesn't forget her," Mallymkun asserted. Then, spreading her tiny hands, she pleaded: "So. You Highness. Please."
"He must know," the White Queen got up from her stooped position, her face a mask of serene sternness. She glided up to the Hatter, ignoring Mallymkun, who was smashing china in frustration. "Tarrant, I must speak with you about Alice."
The Hatter woke up with a jerk and stared at the queen from under the brim of his hat. He looked frightened. "I cannot make hats anymore. My fingers have gone numb, look!" he held them up, allowing the muscles in his hands to go slack so his fingers dangled and wilted sadly. He shook his hands. "I don't know what's wrong with me . . ."
"Tarrant, I don't want you to make me hats. You don't have to make hats."
"Thank you, your Highness." The Hatter broke into a gap-toothed smile.
The White Queen plunged ahead with the grim tidings before she got diverted again. "Alice Kingsleigh is dead, Tarrant."
The smile faded, to be replaced instantly by a look of pained confusion. The Hatter lowered his hands, gripped the arms of his seat, ran his palms up and down the worn wood. His eyes went unfocused and he began muttering to himself.
"She was on a boat," the White Queen said, close to tears herself. "It went down somewhere off the coast of a place the Overlanders call China. She could not be saved. She drowned. Absalom just brought the news a few days ago. I came in person to tell you."
"That is . . . regrettable," whispered the Hatter. "Most tragic. But I don't want any cinnamon, your Highness. Who is Alice?"
The White Queen's eyes widened. "You really don't remember." She turned to look at Mallymkun, who was looking meaningfully at her. "V-very well, Tarrant. I thought you would want to hear the news. I'm sorry. I'll be going now . . ." She hurried away, more than a little disturbed by the fact that Tarrant Hightop did not remember the girl who – besides having been the savior of all of Underland – had been one of his only friends.
Once she was gone, her white horse cantering back through the woods accompanied by a bevy of her handmaidens, Mallymkun set about arranging a new scone on the Hatter's plate.
"Mally . . ." the Hatter whispered, almost frantically. "Mally, please, who is Alice? I have a feeling it really is terribly important."
"It's not important, Hatter," Mallymkun said firmly, patting his bandaged hand with her tiny paw. "You just eat."
The Hatter picked up the scone and looked at it suspiciously. "No cinnamon?"
"No cinnamon, Hatter," promised Mallymkun her friend. And no Alice, either.