Chapter 4: A Knight in the Castle
Alice gazed amazingly at the intricate castle that lay before her. She climbed up the marble, white steps as she passed the red rose bushes. Alice wasn't quite sure if these roses had been painted or not and thought it best not to find out. Two card soldiers (one a Two of Hearts the other a three of the same suite) stood in front of an enormous red door with a heart engraved upon it. Alice stood tall in front of the entrance, acting as though she belonged there.
"What is your business?" the Three of Hearts (no doubt the more experienced of the two) inquired.
"I must speak to the Queen of Hearts," Alice replied. "The Cheshire Cat told me to." Alice thought she might add in hopes of persuading the queen even more. "Oh, and I have a pair of gloves for the White Rabbit," Alice mentioned, nearly forgetting she had them.
The Three of Hearts nodded in acknowledgment. The two cards stepped to the side, allowing Alice to pass through. She had a bit of trouble opening the door (for it was a rather tall one) but with some effort was eventually able to open it. Normally she would point out to the soldiers they really should help someone when they are attempting to open such a door, but she was too anxious to meet the queen. So, without another word, Alice proceeded into the castle.
The most apparent feature of the palace was the different shades of red covering the interior. There were so many shades of red, the colors occasionally clashed with one another. The tapestries each contained the Queen of Hearts insignia. Alice marveled at these tapestries as she walked forward towards the throne room, butterflies dancing in her stomach all the way.
What made this particular visit to the palace odd (or at the very least, odder than usual) was there were so few people present. In fact, the corridor Alice was walking through was empty. Hadn't the White Rabbit told Mary Ann everyone would be here? Alice opened with little difficulty a smaller door that led to the throne room as she wondered where everyone could possibly be.
"Well I suppose I shall find out from the queen," Alice told herself.
Upon opening the door, to Alice's great surprise, Alice found the queen's throne to be empty. The White Rabbit stood impatiently next to the throne wearing his tabard, clearly irritated. A young man stood next to him, attempting to calm the rabbit down.
Alice's footsteps created an echo throughout the room. The sound instantly carried to the White Rabbit's lengthy ears, causing him to turn in her direction. His eyes widened, not at the sight of Alice but at the sight of his gloves.
"You are late! Late, I tell you!" the White Rabbit reprimanded as he ran forward for his gloves.
"I'm terribly sorry, but I was a little side tracked," Alice began to explain as politely as possible.
"I could have very well lost my head to the queen thanks to you," the White Rabbit stated as he took the gloves from Alice's hand. Alice was not very sure what she should say to such a comment.
"I'm sure she did not mean to be late," the young man said as he stepped towards the two. Alice's gaze shifted towards the man. He looked familiar and yet she could not identify him. He was a rather tall man wearing a white tunic with black leggings. His dark brown boots created an echo with each step as he neared Alice. She stared into his light brown eyes, hoping to find some sort of hint as to who this person was. "Don't you recognize me?" the young man said after noticing Alice's puzzled expression. "It's me, Charles."
"Charles," Alice repeated, her eyes widening as she now recognized Charles, the White Knight. "I didn't recognize you without your armor!" Alice now became rather excited having found a friend in the castle. There were so many questions she wished to ask him right now, questions she knew she might have difficulty obtaining the answers to if she were to ask the White Rabbit.
"It's not like I wear that much armor," Charles teased. While this small conversation was taking place, the White Rabbit took this opportunity to place his gloves on his paws.
"I suppose so...," Alice trailed off, slightly embarrassed. It was rather silly that she was unable to recognize the White Knight after all. "May I ask as to where the Queen is? I must speak with her straightaway. It's rather important," Alice stated, not wanting to become side tracked once again.
"The Queen of Hearts is not here at the moment," the White Rabbit informed her, his irritation dying gradually. "However, when she returns, you may speak with her." Alice could not help but to roll her eyes: she could clearly see the Queen of Hearts was not present.
"But where has she gone?" Alice rephrased her original question.
"She has gone all over Wonderland, I'm afraid," the White Rabbit answered, clearly not wanting to be bothered with questions at the moment.
"When will she be back?" Alice continued to question.
"I do not know. You will simply have to wait," the White Rabbit said rather harshly, his irritated nature once more resurfacing. He clearly was not in a very good mood today. Alice frowned at his answer: his rather rude answer.
"May I take you on a tour of the castle while you wait?" the White Knight inquired as he waved his hand gracefully towards the door. Glad to be able to do something else besides wait, Alice nodded. "You are welcome to come as well," Charles added, offering his invitation to the White Rabbit.
"No thank you," the White Rabbit replied. "There are still many things that must be done before the Queen returns." Without saying another word, the White Knight graciously began to lead Alice out of the throne room. Alice turned her head around to see the White Rabbit was fidgeting as he clearly waited for his queen to return. Or perhaps, he was waiting for someone else who was supposed to help prepare for the Queen's arrival. Either way, Alice decided not to bother with such things at the moment and instead enjoy the pleasant walk she would now have with Charles.
"May I ask why you're here?" Alice inquired as the two were now walking down a long hallway.
"Well...the Red Queen was ill today so the White Queen invited the Queen of Hearts to take her place in the game," the White Knight explained. "I was captured just a few hours ago... though I suspect the game should be ending rather soon."
"I see," Alice replied. "How is the Queen of Hearts doing?"
"Well...to be honest," the White Knight replied rather lowly so as not to attract unwanted listeners. "I'm not entirely sure she knows how to play chess. She nearly had me executed after I was captured! If it hadn't been for a Rook, I might have been done for."
"The Queen of Hearts brought the executioner with her?" Alice inquired, her eyes widening at the story.
"No, she was about to do it herself."
"Now, may I ask why you are here, Queen Alice?" the White Knight inquired. Alice frowned at the question.
"You know I am no longer queen," Alice replied as she recalled a time in which she was known as Queen Alice by all of Wonderland. "I relinquished that title long ago."
"I'm sorry," Charles remarked as he opened one of the doors in a corridor. Upon opening the door, the White Knight revealed an unusual room in which various foods were running about, jumping on tables, and other strange activities. Alice noticed the leg of a chicken was hanging on a chandelier as drops of pudding attempted to leap towards it. She only caught a glimpse of a bottle of some drink playing hop scotch before the White Knight closed the door. "My apologies, I could have sworn I was taking you to the library."
"That's all right," Alice replied as the two began to take another route. "To answer your question, I am here because..." she trailed off, not really wanting to bring up the subject. "How is your father doing?"
"He's doing fine..." Charles answered, slightly confused by the sudden change of subject.
"He is a very kind man," Alice mentioned, recalling when she first met him during her quest to become queen. He was easily the nicest man she had ever met in Wonderland. It was a shame he had to retire his position as the White Knight though she firmly believed Charles (his successor) was the second nicest man in Wonderland.
"That he is. I hope to be as good a knight as he was," Charles commented.
"I believe you'll be a better knight than he was," Alice replied. Hopefully, Charles would at least be able to remain on his horse unlike his father.
"It is that type of encouraging behavior every queen should have."
"I suppose," Alice remarked rather timidly. She was not particularly fond of Charles insinuating her qualifications for queen. After all, as she had stated previously, that was a long time ago in a time when she did not fully understand queens and their duties.
"Why did you relinquish your title?" Charles asked curiously. Alice sighed at this question. It wasn't really a topic she enjoyed discussing. Still, she would rather tackle this chat as opposed to breaking the news to Charles of her leaving Wonderland permanently. "If you don't mind my asking," Charles added upon hearing Alice's sigh.
"Well...I would much rather explore Wonderland on my own free will as opposed to having to follow squares or be confined to a castle all day," Alice answered truthfully. After all, she could only enjoy chess for so long.
The White Knight looked rather sad once he heard Alice's answer, a part of him wishing she was still queen in his own domain. Alice noticed this hint of sadness and she could not help but to feel guilty as it reminded her of Hatter's sad expression not too long ago. Just as Alice was about to give words of comfort, the two had come to a complete dead end.
"This is quite peculiar. I could have sworn this was the right direction," he declared. They only stood looking towards the wall for a brief moment before the White Knight turned around and led them another way.
"You know Charles, I have so many dear friends in Wonderland, it would be rather difficult for me to be Queen and visit them all at the same time," Alice attempted to explain as they continued walking. "Besides, it's not like we are unable to see one another."
"That's true. You do visit quite often," the White Knight replied as he considered Alice's words. "Well, it is your choice after all." Alice simply nodded in agreement. It was then that she realized she had no clue as to where they were. The walls were a much lighter color, nearly pink, with a white floor.
"Perhaps we should ask someone for directions," Alice suggested as politely as possible.
"Nearly everyone is watching the game," Charles explained. "Not to worry, I will find the way Miss Alice."
"Miss Alice?" Alice inquired for he had never addressed her by that before.
"Well, if I am unable to refer to you as Queen, perhaps I could call you Miss?" Charles explained.
"Oh...," Alice replied, somewhat stunned by the White Knight's statement. "...of course you may address me by that if you wish. Though I only wish you wouldn't be so formal."
"As you wish," Charles responded innocently, smiling even. "Alice it is."
Alice found herself blushing for reasons unknown at the White Knight's comment. She only hoped it was not too noticeable. Even if it was, she did not imagine Charles to point such a thing out to her. He was much too kind for that. Still, Alice did not say anything for quite some time as she waited patiently for her face to cool down. As the two walked in silence, Alice realized she would eventually have to tell the White Knight of her leaving Wonderland. As the red tone in her cheeks died down, a pit in her stomach began to form.
"Charles..." Alice began rather timidly.
"Yes?" the White Knight inquired calmly despite the fact it was easy to detect something was amiss.
"The reason why I am here to see the Queen of Hearts...is...well...I have to ask her something," Alice attempted to begin as best she could. However, she could already see this was not going as she hoped. Why had it been so easy to tell Bill the Lizard and Mary Ann? The two came to yet another dead end.
"And what might that be?" Charles asked politely as the two turned around straight away towards yet another direction.
"I...want to ask her...if she knows of a way to leave Wonderland," Alice finally stated, refusing to look towards him.
"Do you not leave Wonderland often already?" the White Knight questioned.
"I meant, a way so that I may not be able to return to Wonderland...ever..." Alice explained with difficulty.
"May I ask why you wish to leave?" Charles inquired further. He seemed as calm as ever, as though they were having a rather nice conversation now instead of the grim one that was currently occurring. It was his collected behavior that Alice greatly appreciated at the moment. His serenity allowed Alice to now feel comfortable with such a topic.
"It's not that I wish to," Alice remarked simply. "It's just that I want to grow up and if I stay here, I shan't be able to."
"Then I guess it can't be helped," the White Knight replied. He did not say anything for a few moments as he processed what Alice had just told him. The two walked in silence as time passed by slowly.
Without warning, Charles grabbed onto Alice's hand as he began to walk briskly down the halls. Her soft, gentle hand rested firmly within Charles' own rough hand which told many tales of adventure and experiences beyond the imagination.
"What are you doing?" Alice asked, gasping at the sudden change of movement.
"Since we don't have that much time together, we might as well make the most of it, right?" the White Knight stated as he smiled back at Alice. Alice felt her heart race even though the two were not traveling very fast. Heat was once more traveling to her cheeks as they made a sharp turn towards a new corridor.
Alice and the White Knight spent the rest of their time together attempting to find their way through the castle. Eventually, Charles' fast pace began to die down with each dead end they ran into. Although it seemed as though they might be lost in the castle forever, Alice still enjoyed every moment she spent with the White Knight as their conversations explored various topics including riddles, rhymes, and even rhetoric.
"I believe this is the tenth dead end you've led me to," Alice remarked playfully.
"I'm terribly sorry," the White Knight replied, slightly embarrassed at this little fact.
"It's all right," Alice said more gently. The two stood in front of the dead end, staring at each other for a while.
"Alice!" Alice suddenly heard someone calling her, breaking her gaze that was now directed at Charles. She turned towards the direction of the sound to find none other than Hatter standing just a few feet away from the two.
"What is he doing here?" was the first thought that passed through Alice's mind. She examined him head to toe, hoping to catch something that might provide some sort of clue as to why he was in the Queen of Hearts' Castle. However, he was wearing the same clothes as before, only with an added yellow bow tie that possessed purple polka dots. Alice nearly laughed at this small addition as he marched towards her.
"What are you doing here, Alice?" Hatter demanded, excited and yet oddly irritated at the same time. Some form of anger was bubbling inside of him as he saw Alice alone with the White Knight even though he knew the two to be good friends. What must be understood is Hatter was once again feeling a rage of jealously; however, he was completely unaware of why he felt this way. For, Hatter was never able to find the answer to this question just as he was never able to find the answer to the riddle "why is a raven like a writing desk?"
"I've come to see the Queen of Hearts," Alice answered, slightly annoyed by Hatter's unusual behavior. "Why are you here?"
"I happen to be performing at a concert in honor of the Queen tonight," Hatter replied, slightly offended by Alice's tone of voice. Yet, Alice could see from the look in his eyes (for the two were now standing rather close to one another) that Hatter was clearly upset for another reason entirely.
"You're performing for the Queen tonight?" Alice inquired, more gently than before. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was going to tell you," Hatter answered, his tone of voice also more calm. "But you said you were busy." Alice bit her lip at Hatter's answer, recalling their conversation just before she had rudely left him.
"I'm sorry Hatter," Alice remarked softly, feeling guilty for treating him so poorly.
"...It's all right," Hatter replied, slightly at a loss for words. "Well, if you are still interested in attending, I'd be happy to escort you there."
"Since I'm sure you need practicing," Charles finally intervened, not wanting to disrupt their previous conversation, "I would be happy to take Alice there while you prepare."
"I thank you for such an offer but Alice is my honored guest," Hatter replied rather harshly, "therefore I shall escort her there."
"You may both escort me there if you wish," Alice offered, not entirely sure as to why the two were arguing over such a silly matter.
"Very well," Hatter reluctantly agreed. "Now, we must be moving along. It is rather late, past tea time anyway."
"Is it really?" Alice asked, slightly shocked by such information.
"That would mean we've been lost for a few hours," the White Knight remarked nonchalantly.
"A few...hours?" Hatter said, his mouth nearly agape. The strange feeling was once again boiling inside him. However, this time Hatter was able to compose himself rather quickly. "Well, in that case, follow me."
It was rather awkward for Alice to walk with Hatter and the White Knight. Hatter wished to lead the way (and no one objected to this) however at the same time, he wished to be close to Alice. Just the same, the White Knight also wanted to be close to Alice. Unfortunately, poor Alice had yet to understand why such strange occurrences were happening. Not to mention, she was not paying much attention to their behavior as she now pondered a new problem: she had yet to tell Hatter of her leaving Wonderland. She would have liked to discuss the matter right away but at the same time she did not want to break it down to him before his concert. He would need all the help he could get for the concert.
As the three were reaching closer to the concert hall, more and more people were beginning to fill the palace. Alice determined that the chess game must have ended if so many people were now present. She believed she spotted Basil the Mouse however she could not be sure of this for there were so many mice walking about.
As the crowd became thicker, the three found it rather difficult to stay close together. One moment, the White Knight was next to Alice and the next he had vanished. She stopped in her tracks in order to search for him but he was no where to be found. By the time Alice began walking again, Hatter had also disappeared. If it had not been for Hatter's large top hat, she would have lost him too. Quickly, Alice moved through the crowds with the dark blue top hat as her guiding light.
"Hatter!" Alice exclaimed as she finally reached him. Hatter turned around, not noticing that they had been separated in the first place. It was then that he was able to realize just how crowded the halls had become. Without another word, Hatter gently took Alice's hand, leading her to their proper destination. His hand was much different than that of the White Knight: it was smooth and delicate much like Alice's. This small little detail made Alice wonder how Hatter made his hats if his hands had clearly not done much labor (at least the labor hat making required).
"I did not expect so many people to arrive," Hatter muttered as he led Alice forward. Alice felt his hand twitch slightly as he said this.
"I'm sure you'll do just fine Hatter," Alice remarked encouragingly as she squeezed his hand lightly.
"I hope so," Hatter replied, still rather nervous about the whole situation and yet somewhat excited. "Your seat is up front," Hatter remarked as the two entered the chamber in which the concert would take place.
It was as though Alice had walked into a theater. The walls were decorated with a deep scarlet. A curtain rested to the side of the stage that was situated at the far end of the room. The stage was a fair size with nothing but a piano resting on it. Wonderland citizens chatted away as they sat in their seats, which were also red. As the two walked down the row, Alice spotted the White Knight sitting next to a Dodo. Alice was about to move towards them until Hatter urged her forward to the front row. There was one empty seat at the end of the row that lay next to where the March Hare and the Dormouse were seated.
"This is your seat," Hatter stated rather proudly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to...prepare," he continued, a hint of nervousness still in his voice, as Alice took her seat.
"Alice, I didn't think you were coming!" the March Hare exclaimed.
"Nor did I," Alice replied as she briefly looked around the room. The Lord and Lady of Diamonds were just a few seats away from them. Alice could have sworn she saw the Cheshire Cat's head floating in one of the seats, his grin as wide as ever and she could not help but wonder why he was here. She would have looked further but she knew it was rude to not look directly at the person she was speaking with. "But I'm very glad I'm here."
"Where have you been Alice?" the Dormouse, who was seated next to Alice, inquired. Alice was surprised for a moment to find the Dormouse with his eyes open completely. He stared beadily at her, his eyes full of curiosity. She wondered what Hatter and the March Hare had to do to get this phenomenon to occur.
"I was lost in the castle," Alice answered sheepishly.
"Well, all the same, we are glad you are here as well," the March Hare remarked. "Hatter has been practicing for this occasion for who knows how long."
"Really?" Alice asked surprisingly. "Why didn't he tell me about it sooner? I almost missed it!"
"I don't know, what are you asking me for? He's mad after all," the March Hare replied.
"It was a surprise, I believe," the Dormouse chimed in.
"The best prize is a surprize I always say. That must have been it," the March Hare added.
"I suppose so," was all Alice managed to say before the lights dimmed. "Oh dear," Alice thought suddenly, "that's all the time Hatter had to prepare? That simply isn't enough."
All attention was now focused to the stage where a spotlight was following the White Rabbit as he entered from stage right (which would be Alice's left). Everyone present was silent while the White Rabbit cleared his throat.
"It is fitting that this concert should take place on the eve of the Queen of Hearts' victory at her first game of chess," the White Rabbit began. Another light appeared towards a balcony Alice had not noticed before. It was the only balcony in the entire theater where the Queen of Hearts sat proudly as her husband, the King of Hearts, sat next to her. "Therefore," the White Rabbit continued, "it is with great pleasure that we honor this concert in the name of the Queen." A wave of applause filled the room as each citizen of Wonderland present honored their queen.
Alice followed Hatter's movements towards the piano nervously. If he had the same skills playing the piano as he did singing, this would not go very well for him. Not only would he be at risk for execution, Hatter would be completely embarrassed in front of the top figure heads in Wonderland once more. Alice bit her lip as Hatter's hands moved towards the keys of the piano.
She was expected a complete, off tune piece: one that would send anyone running. For a brief moment, Alice found herself closing her eyes, unable to witness such a horrible occurrence. She only hoped it would be over before it had even begun. However, her anxiety for Hatter's sake immediately died as a wonderful tune began to fill the air. Slowly, she opened her eyes to find Hatter's hands glide gracefully across the piano. As though under a spell, she became mystified by the beautiful sound that was now filling her ears.
"I...never knew..." were the only thoughts that passed through Alice's head. She never expected Hatter, of all people, to possess such a wonderful talent.
Alice could not identify the pieces of music Hatter played. She guessed it was either an original work or something someone from Wonderland had composed. Alice did not think of such trifle things for very long for she was completely engulfed in his music. Everyone in the theater was. And yet, although she was completely entranced, she had no idea that this was for her and not anyone else; at least, that was how Hatter's subconscious mind saw it. This was truly, the best surprise she had ever been given.
As soon as Hatter stroked the very last key, the entire audience stood, each applauding as loud as their neighbor. The March Hare whistled with excitement as Hatter bowed in gratitude. Even the Dormouse was filled with a ray of energy as his hands clapped furiously. Alice smiled while applauding as Hatter looked in her direction and he in turn smiled back. For a moment, Alice could not help but to feel sad as she realized she would have to speak with the Queen of Hearts next.
"I'm leaving Wonderland, Dormy," Alice said rather calmly to the Dormouse who was the only one who could possibly hear her at the time due to the noise that was filling the theater. "But you mustn't tell Hatter or the March Hare. I have to tell them on my own." Alice merely looked at the Dormouse through the corner of her eye. His eyes were as wide as ever yet he did not say a word. He and Alice knew this silence was for the best. Alice and the Dormouse decided to push the sad feelings aside for now. This was a happy time, not allowed to be poisoned by such thoughts.
Hatter desperately attempted to reach Alice and the others as crowds of people wished to congratulate him.
"That was wonderful!" the March Hare exclaimed when Hatter was in a reasonable distance.
"Terrific!" the Dormouse agreed though he was looking rather drowsy now.
"You were splendid Hatter," Alice added. Hatter was clearly pleased to hear all these compliments as he beamed with happiness.
"And now, to celebrate, I declare this is tea time!" Hatter announced, attempting to sound as though he had as much authority as the White Rabbit. The March Hare cheered in agreement and the Dormouse would have if he had not been half asleep.
"Actually Hatter, I really must speak with the Queen of Hearts first," Alice mentioned.
"All right, would you like me to go with you?" Hatter offered.
"No, no," Alice protested. That was the last thing she wanted. She knew she must tell Hatter about her future when they were alone. "I really must speak to her myself."
"Then I shall wait for you," Hatter insisted. Alice frowned, not particularly fond of this idea.
"We all will," the March Hare agreed.
"You really don't have to..." Alice began.
"Hatter is preoccupied anyway," the Dormouse said sleepily as he referred to the people who were crowding around them.
"Then it's settled," the March Hare stated.
"But-," Alice tried to protest once more.
"We shall meet you in front of the throne room," Hatter called as the group was now being separated by the mass of people.
Alice had no choice but to fight the crowd as she desperately attempted to exit the theater. She was barely able to walk as she was nearly dragged around to various parts of the castle. It took some time before the crowds finally dispersed and she was able to walk once more on her own. She did not have to walk too far until she finally stood in front of the entrance to the throne room where the Queen of Hearts was waiting.