AIW Ch 15-

Mornings had never been Alice's cup of tea. She woke looking frazzled and grumpy usually, and it wasn't wise to speak to her until she had managed to procure a cup of British breakfast. Then again the earlier she arose the worse it was... So when an insistent rapping at her chamber's entrance echoed through the rooms to her sleeping ears, it was ignored. Once, twice, and a third, time. At last the blond head stirred slightly and issued a groan. Her arm again flailed out to find that Tarrant had disappeared with the night. The best part about their upcoming nuptials was that the sneaking around would be at an end. Why she had heard from a seamstress about no less then 6 couples that were known to be in flagrant and passionate relationships out of wedlock. Of course the crazy wild hatter would be a proper gentleman, she groaned again. Another round of tapping came through, and she realized there was no help for it she would have to get up and answer the perpetrator.

Half tumbling out of bed her bare feet caught purchase and found the cold marble floor. It drew a shrill squeak from her and sent her back up onto the covers. There was a pair of slippers somewhere wasn't there? Oh yes there they were, strewn across the room from being hurled at Chessure at one point or another. "Damn it all and that retched cat too..." she cursed under the breath.

Silently she chastened herself. Clearly she had spent to much time around men on ships, a Lady should never utter such language even in her own private space. With a loud sigh she braved the cold ground to procure her slippers and then a blue robe with elegant stitching that pooled lightly around her feet and left a small train behind. No doubt another gift from the Hatter, as nearly everything he did for her was the same soft cool blue.

Her initial greeting for the knocker was changed when she found that it was her friend Mctwisp at her door. She knelt down to her knees to be as close to eye level with the little page as was comfortable.

"Ms. Kingsliegh you needn't do such things, you are a Lady of the court..." his voice cut off when she put a finger across his little twitchy lips.

"First off my friend, for you it's Alice, always and forever forth. Secondly I haven't seen you since all the unpleasant times when I first got here...May I give you a hug, and thank you for getting me and helping me bring The Hatter back?"

The white rabbit trembled slightly and looked too and fro, whether for and escape or an answer one couldn't know. "I...I did...I didn't really do that much Ms..." His words caught as yet again Alice silenced him but with a hug, pulling his jumpy little form into her warm embrace.

When she released him he held a small smile and his ears relaxed slightly. Smiling at him she stood back up and waved him in. "What brought you my way today Mctwisp?" Stopping in front of her sitting room's large mirror she saw what a fit state her hair was in and started trying to smooth it down with her hands.

"It's actually more then a social call Ms...Um I mean Alice...The queen is having a garden party this evening for some of the women of the court. She was hopeful that you would be able to attend. It starts at 3, and will be a tea party." He hopped around her a little as he spoke and she worked with her hair.

"A tea party with no Hatter or March Hare? Why that sounds rather odd and pleasant at the same time." She couldn't help but giggle at the thought of a tea party with no hurled cups or demands to move down. Then again, it sounded threateningly like a tea party from home were propriety and snobbery were the main events. This drew another sigh out of her.

"Don't fret so Alice, this is Underland after all... I'm sure you'll find some way to pass your time enjoyably." The hopeful smile he gave melted her heart enough that she didn't really care if she found some interesting moment in the tea or not. She would enjoy herself just because she was with Mirana and because the sweet little rabbit hoped she would.

Shaking her head softly with a smile she looked at his reflection in the mirror to speak to him. "Ok ok. You win. Tell the queen I am thrilled to accept her invitation. I'd better start getting ready now if I'm to look fit to sit amongst so many stately women."

Twitching his nose and looking uncertain the rabbit reached up tentatively and tugged on her robe, calling her attention down to his large pink eyes. "If I may Alice, I'd just like to tell you that you won't have a problem there. You are a very pretty woman, no matter what those irritating flowers may say."

The compliment coming from so shy a creature at Mctwisp touched Alice's heart and earned him another hug. "Thank you my friend." was all she could say to him.

The two said their temporary farewells, he to bound down the halls of the castle to invite any number of other ladies, and Alice to attempt to make herself look the part of a member of the court of Marmorial.

The tea party, while not as boring as one in the abovelands, was painfully dull without the lively characters of the March Hare, and the Mad Hatter. Alice drifted in and out of conversations with more unknown faces then familiar, and Mirana was always preoccupied with some other lady in pale colors.

She couldn't help but play with and smooth her own dress now and again. It was the closest thing she had in her rooms to the white and silvers and blushes that most wore in the White Queen's land. It was a soft pale blue, reached to the floor to hide any abandoned hosiery, and had boning sewn into the bodice to negate the need for a corset. She was learning quickly that blue was to be her signature color.

Around her cinched waste however was a new gift from the queen, one that puzzled her a bit. It was a beautifully wrought silver and blue leather belt, that looked like something that would decorate the White Knight's armour. Hanging from the side of it was a dagger that looked very much like the vorpal sword had been shrunk and made into a smaller weapon. If Alice had to guess, she would say this was the Queen's way of letting her know she was still the White Knight. Not wanting to upset Mirana she had fiddled and donned the elegant weapon. Though she found it odd that it would be given to her to wear to a tea party...

Absent minded fingers now danced and caressed the scabbard for the dagger as Alice greeted and spoke to a group of ladies she wandered close to. "Hello, how are you?" she waited for replies and nodded her head now and then to feign interest, until she saw that Mirana was momentarily free from any one else. Giving a polite excuse and dodging away from the ladies, the blond made a b-line for the queen.

Not 20 paces away though and trouble loomed it's head. A woman with long wavy black hair and dead of night eyes intercepted her, with a bright silver fan waving airily around her person. "Well if it isn't the little hero turned paupers wife Alice..." She had caught Alice completely off guard and received only a stunned shake of the head and confused blink for her trouble. "Don't play sweet and innocent with me, girl. Not all of us appreciate the way you move through the crowd like you deserve all this glory and attention. Marrying that insane clown of a man is just what you deserve."

Under normal circumstances Alice would have just walked past the woman, unconcerned. She didn't know this woman from Eve, however something about the raven haired lady set off alarms in Alice. She should be wary of this one. "Just what exactly do you mean by this outburst?" Attention was dawning on this encounter at a frightening rate, but she couldn't walk away.

"What I mean you little wench is that the sword did all the work. Add to that the fact you are to wed The Hatter, and well my dear, you are a servants betrothed. Not one to be treating the aristocracy as equals. Oh my have I made you Mad?"

Crimson flooded the younger woman's vision that mirrored the angry flush of anger painting her fair skin. "YOU DIR..." her rebuttal was stopped before it was truly even started by non other then Mirana herself.

"Is there a problem here, Staline?" her face was blank and seemingly passive but her voice was heavy and the words meaning was clear as glass.

Bowing low and working the laced fan demurely in front of her face 'Staline' begged her Highness's pardon. Further inciting Alice's wrath. It was pure wisdom when the Queen drew the wrathful form away toward the Flower Garden.

"Who the Bloody He... Who is that wretched slurvsih..." A pale hand quickly covered her mouth and didn't release until they had reached the silvery white rose bush maze. Not at all chastened Alice's brows furrowed in and intense frown that did not leave, even after she was released.

"Shhh Alice. This is not something you need to continue!" Mirana's eyes were large and serious as she attempted to admonish her champion.

"Have you gone around the bend?! Did you not see that..that... HARPY block my path and then talk to me well I don't even know what.." Blue eyes were hard and cold as ice blocks in spite of the raging heat of her temper.

Nodding sympathetically the Queen glanced down to the grass and stems of the ground as if looking for something to help her explain. "You haven't been long in our world much less our court, dearest Alice. Even with this peace and the loss of Iracebeth's power struggle, court politics still exist and they never will cease." She walked in absent minded circles as she talked and chanced a glance up into the blue clad woman's eyes. They were calmer and less antagonistic towards her now. It was unnerving though how Alice would just stare at you silently waiting for you to explain things... It was almost predatory. For the first time the White Queen wondered just what Alice had been through and experienced during her long absence from Underland.

"Lady Staline is a very strong, very powerful courtier. It's best you stay out of her way and out of her target hairs." It seemed Alice wasn't satisfied with the explanation. She crossed her arms and shifted her weight to one leg and cocked her head to the side. A flick of the eyes was a clear sign to 'go on'. " Mirana groaned inwardly... She wasn't going to like telling her this any more then her friend was going to like hearing it. "Long story short?" Well at least now she got a nod..that was some sort of communication. "Did you never wonder how Ilosovic, became the powerful Knave? Or so close to Iracebeth, the acting Queen?" Now a shaking of the head to the negative.

Taking a deep breath and balling her fists up into small dainty fists the Queen plunged on. "The Stayne family is a very ancient and powerful family. They are always among descenders, and nearly always the leaders of such movements..."

"Wait! You mean to tell me that that woman is related to the Knave? What is she his sister?!" The explosion flowed hot out of Alice.

"Close enough.. She is his 1st cousin. They grew up together." The icy stare that met her now caused her to play with her long white hair. Tucking it behind her ear nervously.

Alice looked down toward the ground and then cut her eyes up to Mirana. Her voice was less in volume now and eerily even. "And she is in your court? Invited to one of your parties for your friends?"

Nodding the Queen tried to explain. "We all grew up together Alice. I can't hurl her out of society because of the actions of her cousin. Even if I could a fair number of the aristocracy wouldn't allow it. I have to play by the rules Alice. Being Queen doesn't bring unconditional loyalty and absolute control. There are eons worth of practices and plays to follow."

Nose wrinkled up in disgust the other woman shook her head. "And to think I ever called this place 'Wonderland'. "

"Don't be like this Alice. My court is one of the most peaceful ever thanks to you! So there are a few squabble makers to play games with... Is that such a terrible price for peace among the land?"

"I'm not sure Mirana... But let me ask you this. Does she blame me for the fortune handed to her cousin?"

Mirana nodded now. "She never left this court for the Red court but she was invited numerous times. And she wasn't happy when Ilosovic was banished. She feels that he was merely following his Liege's orders and should have been spared such a fate as well as death."

Flicking her hair over her shoulder and pinching the bridge of her nose against a headache Alice asked two more questions. "Do I need to fear her? And could she have been the one to poison Tarrant?"

Shrugging was not a very queenly thing to do, but now Mirana seemed deflated and less like she cared about appearances. "I doubt seriously she will perpetrate or organize you any physical harm. You're still the White Knight and the saviour of Underland. She may try to thwart any political movements you try to make though...Maybe Tarrant's as well. She was never fond of the Hightopp clan... She looks dreadful in hats you see. She is so elongated and her features so sharp.."

Sighing loudly Alice now shrugged her own shoulders. "Great... though I'll be honest I don't really wish to be a political power at all. Oh by the way, this dagger...Care to explain while you are on a role?" she smiled at her friend now.

Glad for the change of subject Mirana nodded. " I had it made for you. It's best that you keep some way of protecting yourself. Especially now that we know there has been an attempt on Tarrant's life. With you being back, you are a far more likely target."

Nodding solemnly the fair girl ran her hand over the ornate scabbard again. "Well thank you Mirana. It truly is lovely."
"You're welcome my friend. But it is powerful as well. Not so much as the Vorpal sword, mind you, but it is enchanted. It can pierce any armour or shield, well anything really, to strike true. Keep that in mind will you?"

"You can be sure. Thank you again. Do you mind if I veer out of this party and take a walk though the maze to gather my thoughts... There has been so much to take in these few weeks, and there is my impending nuptials."

Smiling broadly Mirana gave her consent. "Yes go spend a few quiet moments alone. I know they are few and far between for you here." she winked, and a blush flew across Alice's countenance at the realization that her friend knew!

"Oh Mirana I'm so Sorry!"

"Pssh do not even apologize to me! I only know because I tried to call late one night to check on the hatter and he wasn't in his quarters. I'm happy for you two, and no one else knows. Go enjoy a few moments peace, I have to go back to the fracas." She rolled her brown eyes and turned to join the tea party again.

It was so quiet in the green leaves decorated with delicate white roses, that you could hear little creatures scurrying around and crickets chirping happily. Alice couldn't help but wonder if the little creatures moving under the bushes were freed hedgehogs from the Red Queen's crochet games. She had seen a number of flamingos around since her arrival, it seemed the castle here had even cooled their bright plumage, as it seemed a softer shade of pink now.

Her minds wanderings were disorienting to the concept of time, she had no idea how long she had been in the maze when she heard a sharp and clear 'crack' of a stick breaking. "What the.." she breathed the words to herself and pressed against the wall of the maze. Her inner female winced at the thought of what the roses's thorns would do to the silk of her beautiful dress, while the main force of her mind tried to hide her as much as possible.

There were footsteps coming her way, though she couldn't be sure she thought they were from the opposite end of the maze from the Queen's garden party. The steps were so soft, so hard to hear but they were coming her way.

She reached down and slid the dagger out of its sheath as quietly as she could, wincing at the small sounds the metal made against the oiled but not broken in leather of it. /please don't hear me, please don't hear me/ she chanted silently under her breath. The other person was right around the edge of the wall Alice leaned against.

It was impossible for her to tell who's breath she heard now, her own was coming in fast gulps that she had no control over. A shadow stretched her way from the setting sun behind the other maze walker... She raised the dagger and waited for the form to follow.