Painting the Roses Red
Kate kept walking until at last she had stumbled into a garden. Or, rather, she had tripped, stumbled into a hedge, and somehow fallen through the hedge and landed right in the midst of three arguing gardeners standing over her. They all looked down at her in surprise, and Kate stared back with equal surprise.
They were all playing cards.
One was a two, one was a five, and one was a seven. They were as flat and white as cards, and yet they each had a head, a set of legs, and two arms. Each of them held a can of blood red paint and a dripping paintbrush in hand. Kate felt something drip on her shoulder, and she looked up to see a rosebush just over her, a half-white and half-red rose dripping red paint onto her shoulder. Kate started muttering under her breath as she slowly got to her feet, putting a hand to her back and wincing as she straightened.
“I’m too old for this,” she grumbled.
“Er… don’t go splashing paint all over me like that, Five!” the two of spades said quickly, very purposefully bumping the Five’s arm and wincing as red paint splattered over his arm.
“Oh, right!” Five said hastily. “Um… er… ‘I couldn’t help it! Seven jogged my elbow.’”
“That’s right, Five; always lay the blame on others!” Seven said, quite speedy on the uptake, as they all gave Kate sheepish grins.
“What the devil are you doing?” Kate asked, confused. Five looked down at the paintbrush in his hand, and he and the card marked ‘Two’ exchanged glances.
“Well, our argument was supposed to go on for another paragraph or so,” Five said apologetically. “Then you were supposed to interrupt and ask why we’re painting the roses. That was… how it was supposed to go, anyhow. I suppose that technically means the same thing…”
“Ask why,” Seven prompted.
“Why?” Kate asked, humoring them. Two cleared his throat.
“Well, you see, Miss,” he began. He paused. “I mean, the fact is… yes, I think that’s it. The fact is, you see, this here ought to have been a red rose tree, but we went and put white by mistake.”
“If the queen were to find out, she’d have our heads,” Seven said anxiously.
“She’ll be here any minute,” Five said, nodding. “I’m supposed to shout ‘the queen, the queen,’ you see, but the problem is that we’re about three minutes ahead. She won’t be coming for another 174 seconds. I suppose we’ll have to wait.”
Seven nodded solemnly, and the three cards began to twiddle their thumbs and the card Two even started whistling softly. Kate shook her head after a moment of it.
“How foolish!” she exclaimed. She snatched one of the buckets from the ground, and yanked the paintbrush from the bucket. Five winced as she spilled half of the bucket on one of the half-finished roses. “You’d better finish up quick, before the queen comes,” Kate said meaningfully, messily slopping paint around the surrounding flowers.
“Well… we would, just that it’s supposed to be half done,” Two said nervously. “Er… would you mind taking a short break? The queen will be here in a moment…”
“What queen?” Kate demanded, dumping more paint onto the bush.
“The head-cutting one,” Seven began, but the other two quickly shushed him.
“The Queen of Hearts,” Two explained, nodding.
“Vicious, nasty brute,” Five muttered under his breath. He brightened up suddenly and cleared his throat, putting on a brave face. “It’s the Queen! The Queen!” he exclaimed.
All three gardeners quickly threw themselves to the ground face-first, and Kate stared at them, her hands and the roses next to her dripping with red paint. She tried to wipe a strand of hair out of her face, but accidentally smeared a streak of paint across her mouth. To make matters worse, then she accidentally dropped the paint can and leaned down to pick it up.
She missed the bucket’s slim little handle and it rolled under a bush, spilling paint with it. She heard the sound of many feet, and then the sound of a bugle, but she ignored it because she was too busy getting the bucket out from underneath the bush. At last her fingers, slick with red paint, closed around the bucket, and she breathed a sigh of relief as she pulled it out.
She turned and straightened up, only to find herself face-to-face with the Queen of Hearts. Beside the stately woman stood whom Kate assumed was the King of Hearts, along with the White Rabbit, who looked quite horrified. The Queen’s chubby pink face was bright red with shock as her eyes took in Kate’s miserable state.
“Argh!” the Queen shrieked suddenly. “It’s an axe murderer! Save me!” Immediately, a handful of card soldiers appeared with their spears. Five lifted his head for a moment.
“Oh, no, this is the one that the master sent,” he said hastily. The Queen, her hand in the air (as she was about to give the order to take off Kate’s head), paused, staring at the card.
“Really?” she asked disbelievingly. She looked back at Kate and then back at the kneeling gardeners, also covered in red paint. “And you’re all… alive? She didn’t kill you all?”
“Can we go back to the script?” asked Seven, his voice slightly muffled.
“Right,” the Queen said quickly. She cleared her throat and pointed regally at Kate. “Who are you?” she demanded. Kate thought for a moment.
“Er… I hardly know at present,” she began. The Queen waved her hand dismissively.
“No, dear, your other line,” she said irritably.
“Um…” Kate was at a loss for words. “Well, I’m Kate, then,” she said, seeing no lines nearby. The Queen watched her expectantly for a moment.
“If it so please me,” she prompted.
“If it… so please me?” Kate repeated, frowning slightly. “I mean, you?” she said hastily as soon as the Queen’s lips drew taut in annoyance.
“I don’t like her,” she said frostily. She raised her voice, throwing her chin up. “Off with her head!” Seven, who was cowering on the ground, yelped in horror.
“But, Your Highness, you skipped quite a bit of dialogue—” he began, but the Queen ignored him completely and kept screaming.
“Off with her head!” she shrieked. “Off with her—!”
“Nonsense,” Kate thundered. The entire garden, right down to the cicadas that had been merrily chirping away in the trees, fell silent. Even the Queen was shocked at the strength of Kate’s exclamation. Kate, looking rather satisfied, put her hands on her hips and waited.
“Er…” the King of Hearts said timidly, gently putting a hand on the Queen’s arm. “‘Consider, my dear; she is only a child.’” There was a moment of silence as the King looked Kate up and down. He turned back to the Queen. “I mean, she was one, at some point,” he revised.
“Get up!” the Queen exclaimed suddenly, and the three gardeners leapt to their feet. The Queen, purple with embarrassment, proceeded to stomp over to the flowers, which still dripped with red paint. She waved her arms expressively at the mess. “What have you been doing here?” she demanded loudly, slapping at one of the wet flowers.
“Er,” Two said quickly, raising his hand. “We were trying to—”
“I see,” the Queen hollered, cutting him off. She turned to the guards. “Off with their heads!”
“Oh, no!” howled Seven, leaping behind Kate. “Save us, Miss!”
Five and Two joined him, and Kate shook her head as the guards stomped forward. The Queen, meanwhile, kept walking, with her procession (which Kate had not noticed before) following her down the garden trail. The guards gingerly stuck their spears towards Kate, quaking in fearful uncertainty.
“Er… if you’d just move out of the way for a moment, miss…” one of the guards began awkwardly, his request barely audible over the sounds of the pleading gardeners.
“Don’t stick those things in the air, you’ll poke someone’s eye out,” Kate snapped, narrowing her eyes at the worried soldiers. The guards dropped their spears. Immediately, Kate swung the paint bucket and very nearly took one of the guards’ heads off. The guard ducked just in time, and the others seemed to decide it wasn’t worth facing off against Kate and raced after the Queen.
“Their heads are off!” they reported hurriedly.
“That’s right,” the Queen said agreeably. “Can you play croquet?”
The soldiers were silent and looked back at Kate, trembling slightly. Kate paused for a moment, not sure if the question was meant for her or not.
“Well, yes, I believe so,” she said uncertainly. “I’ve never played before, to be sure, but I think I know the concept, and if I just learn the rules—”
“Come on, then!” the Queen roared, and Kate had no choice but to tag along on the end of the Queen’s procession. She felt a hand tug at the hem of her dress, and she looked down to see the Rabbit looking up at her timidly.
“It’s a very fine day,” the Rabbit said softly. Kate glanced up the sky.
“So it is,” she replied.
“Sorry,” the Rabbit said with a little laugh. “It’s my line, you see. You’re supposed to ask ‘Where’s the Duchess?’ but you can’t, see, because—”
“What Duchess?” Kate demanded. The Rabbit winced.
“Yes, because you don’t know who she is, because you went straight by her in the woods. Didn’t so much as bother to pay her a visit. She’s under sentence of execution, anyway. Again, that’s a line, so you technically have to reply…”
“That’s a crying shame,” Kate said blankly.
“Did you say ‘what a pity’?” the Rabbit asked.
“No, I said ‘it’s a crying shame,” Kate said, a little louder this time, thinking he might not have heard. The Rabbit rotated a finger in one of his long ears, his expression now rather distraught.
“Again, it’s a line,” he said sheepishly. “Oh, well. I’d best be silent until the Queen drops her line, and then we’ll all play a nice game of croquet.”
There was a moment of utter silence as the whole procession moved down the garden.
“Get to your places!” shouted the Queen, rather suddenly.
“There we go,” the Rabbit said, nodding. He saluted. “You have fun, Miss Kate!”
And then he was gone, just like that, hopping off to wherever it was he was late to get to this time. Kate sighed, turning back to the Queen in preparation for a game of croquet.
She had never seen a more curious croquet ground in all of her life. It was all ridges and furrows, the croquet balls were live hedgehogs, and, worse yet, the mallets were live flamingos. As if that wasn’t enough, the Queen was having the card soldiers make bridges with their own bodies to be the wickets. The Queen went to examine the basket of flamingos, so Kate took her chance.
“I say!” she exclaimed.
“Say what?” the Queen asked crossly. “Your line hasn’t come yet, you know.”
“Isn’t that quite rude?” Kate asked, pointing to the poor card soldiers.
“I suppose so,” the Queen said, shrugging. “I don’t know. It’s in the script, so I guess they’re getting paid for it. We’re all probably enchanted mice anyhow, if you think about it. Anyway, no rules, and the game’s started, so best of luck.”
And then the queen was gone too, with her flamingo and hedgehog. Kate looked down at her flamingo, who was looking rather flustered, although that may have been its natural color.
“I suppose you’re hoping to win?” Kate asked rather bleakly. She’d never made conversation with a flamingo before, much less one whose legs she held onto in preparation for a swing. She supposed it really wasn’t the strangest thing she’d done.
“I’m not allowed,” the flamingo replied sheepishly. “Just hit the hedgehog, I’m used to it.” Kate didn’t bother giving a reply or lining up her shot, and instead slammed the poor flamingo’s head right into the hedgehog. The hedgehog gave an indignant shout as it rolled down the hill towards the card bridges.
“A good shot,” said a smooth voice from beside her. Kate turned around a saw a grin all by itself, sitting on the basket of flamingos. Kate turned, giving a welcoming smile.
“If it isn’t the Cheshire Cat,” she said. The Cat smiled modestly as the rest of it appeared.
“How are you getting on?” he purred. Kate thought for a moment.
“Well, I’m quite a mess,” she said, gesturing down at herself. The Cat nodded slowly, taking in her unintentionally painted and dirt-streaked skirts.
“I can see that. You need a… the b-word,” he said hesitantly.
“A…” Kate thought for a moment, “bath?”
The Cat shivered. “Yes, that,” he said with disdain.
“I don’t think they’re playing fairly,” Kate commented, watching the field, where the card bridges scooted around to miss every ball but the Queen’s shots, and the hedgehogs changed directions every so often. The Cat nodded rather sadly.
“How do you like the Queen?” he asked.
“Well, she doesn’t seem so bad,” Kate began, but then one of the rolling hedgehogs turned right about, probably from low blood pressure, and pricked the Queen purely by accident.
“Off with its head!” the Queen shrieked, leaping about in a terrible fright. The hedgehog was immediately and wordlessly carted off by the card soldiers. Kate shrugged.
“Not very much,” she admitted, revising her earlier statement.
“Who are you talking to?” asked the King, appearing behind Kate and staring at the head of the grinning cat on top of the flamingos. The Cat smiled a greeting.
“Oh, this is the Cheshire Cat,” Kate said, nodding to the cat. “I’d like to call him Chess.” She wondered briefly if any of these characters talked to each other outside of their lines, or if everyone just stayed where they were supposed to be according to their characters and never went out. That’d be awfully boring if it was her, and she certainly wouldn’t accept that sort of treatment from any employer.
“I don’t like the look of it at all,” the King said, plowing through his lines without as much as a glance in Kate’s direction. “However, it may kiss my hand if it likes.”
“I’d rather not,” the Cat remarked.
“Don’t be so impertinent,” the King snapped. “And don’t smile at me—I mean, look at me like that!” He got behind Kate, using her as a barrier between him and the cat. Kate scowled. Royalty could be so terribly spoiled!
“He can grin at you all he wants,” she snapped. The Cat chuckled.
“I quite like her,” he said, smoothly pointing a paw in Kate’s direction.
“My dear,” the King called, looking back at the Queen, who was lining up her shot. “I do wish you’d have this cat removed.”
“Off with its head!” the Queen replied, without so much as looking up as she hit the hedgehog ball with a huge, lavish swing. It went flying off somewhere and the Queen watched it disappear with a scowl on her face.
“I’ll fetch the executioner,” the King said, and began to hurry off. Kate grabbed his arm.
“Oh, no you don’t,” she said angrily. Without realizing it, she took on the tone she often took when telling off a child. “No one in any world has the right to order someone’s head off at a whim, especially not for something as foolish as smiling. If you take off his head, you’ll answer to me, and you don’t want to answer to me.”
“Yes, quite,” the Cat added, its smile widening.
“Well, the script calls for me to hurry off and fetch the executioner,” the King said somewhat sheepishly. “I shan’t be a moment… and don’t worry, he won’t lose his head anyway, because he can disappear at will, you know, and grins don’t have heads to be cut off. It’s just nice to follow the script. We’re more than halfway through, you know. I had so few lines… so did my darling, if you count the same line over again as one.”
“Is it quite time for the Griffin and Mock Turtle yet?” the Queen asked lazily, walking over.
“She hasn’t met the Duchess and therefore we can’t smoothly join the scenes,” the Cat said, shaking his head. “We’ll skip right to the trial.”
“What trial?” Kate asked curiously, but the Queen and the King had moved on, rejoined the procession, and they were heading back through the garden towards the castle. Kate hurried after them, with the Cheshire Cat reclining in the air just behind her.
“What trial?!” exclaimed Kate once more, but no one was paying attention but for the Cheshire Cat, who answered from the air beside her.
“The Knave of Hearts’ trial, of course.” Kate glanced at him in question as the cat finished his explanation. “According to the script, he stole the Queen’s tarts, or something of the sort.”
Kate was ushered into an enormous room where a number of animals were seated. Card soldiers in groups were clustered all around and what Kate assumed to be the Knave of Hearts, in chains, was standing before the judge, which was really just the King in a garish powdered wig. The queen sat beside him, arms crossed sourly. The twelve jurors, birds and beasts alike, were already writing busily on their slates. Kate frowned, as the trial had not started yet and therefore there was nothing to record.
“They’re putting down their names,” the Cat explained lazily from his spot curled up comfortably in his own chair beside her even as she turned to ask. His grin was as wide as it could get as he cocked his head at the jurors. “They’re afraid that they’ll forget them by the end of the trial. It could be such a long trial, you know…”
“I’ve never heard the like,” Kate muttered under her breath. As one being, the jurors all turned to look at her expectantly. Kate shifted awkwardly. It was a very strange feeling to have all eyes on you.
“Mm,” the Cat murmured. “Could you refer to them as “stupid things”, a bit more loudly?”
“Whatever for?” demanded Kate, flabbergasted. It seemed awfully rude to her to insult someone in a way that they could hear.
“Well, you see, your line starts the trial,” the Cat said smoothly. “You say ‘stupid things!’ and in reply, the White Rabbit calls for silence and the king calls for the accusation to be read.”
“Well, then,” Kate said willingly, raising her voice, “stupid things!”
Immediately the jurors took note of it, and almost before Kate had finished her line, the Rabbit smoothly delivered his.
“Silence in the court, please!” he called. There was silence, except for the scribbling of the jurors’ pencils. Kate settled in to listen to this so-called ‘trial’, her eyes scanning the courtroom. The jurors looked up, pencils prepared, as the king waved his hand.
“Herald, read the accusation!” ordered the King. The White Rabbit immediately rolled out a fancy parchment scroll and cleared his throat.
“The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer day;
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!”
“Why does it have to be a poem?” Kate whispered, turning to the Cheshire Cat for an answer, since he seemed to hoard them.
“It doesn’t have to be, it just is,” the Cat replied, still smiling. Kate rolled her eyes.
“Consider your verdict,” the King ordered the jury, flourishing his gavel.
“Not yet, not yet!” the Rabbit exclaimed, just as the jury began to confer. “There’s a great deal to come before that!”
“Call the first witness,” the King continued, seemingly unperturbed by the Rabbit’s correction. He looked pleased – whether because of the trial or because he was delivering his lines well, Kate could not tell.
The first witness to be called was the Hatter. Kate’s eyes widened as the doors swung open and there was Mr. Voice, taller than anyone there, with his fancy top hat on his head and the familiar suave smile on his face. His cape slipped majestically across the floor behind him, trailing feathers as he went. As he passed Kate, he respectfully tipped his hat, his eyes meeting hers with a mischievous sort of look in them. Upon reaching the witness stand, he stood to attention in a flurry of feathers. A teacup had seemed to casually appear in one hand.
“Please forgive me, Your Majesty, but I hadn’t quite finished my tea when I was sent for,” the Hatter said smoothly, holding his teacup with his pinky finger gracefully in the air.
“You ought to have finished,” the King said reproachfully. “When did you begin?”
The Hatter looked towards the back of the courtroom, where the March Hare and the Dormouse waited by the door, having followed him in. Quite in character, the Dormouse had settled into a seat in the very back to snooze, apparently disinterested in the proceedings.
“Fourteenth of March, I believe,” the Hatter said, loudly enough for them to hear.
“Fifteenth,” the March Hare said promptly from the doorway.
“Sixteenth,” the Dormouse corrected, eyes already half shut.
The jury began to take their notes of the dates.
“Hey!” the King exclaimed, waving a hand accusingly at the jurors. “I was supposed to tell you to take notes, and then you take the notes! No taking notes before I say to!”
The jurors’ pencils obediently fell silent.
“Write that down,” the King ordered loftily. The jury did so. The King turned to the Hatter, his fingers drumming on the desk.
“Take off your hat,” he commanded.
“Oh, but it isn’t mine,” the Hatter said immediately. The King pointed an accusing finger.
“Stolen!” he exclaimed, turning hastily towards the jurors, who began their furious note-taking once more.
“I keep them to sell,” the Hatter added, taking his hat from his head. He flipped his rather messy hair aside and out of his face, and a number of female beasts in the audience sighed dreamily. Kate rolled her eyes once more. The Hatter held the hat up for everyone to see, smiling softly. “I’ve none of my own, you see,” he explained. “I’m a hatter by trade.”
The Queen uncrossed her arms to put on her spectacles and glance sidelong at the Hatter, who noticed her glance and shot her a dazzling smile in return. Her expression changed from disapproving to contemplating.
“Give your evidence,” the King ordered, banging his gavel. “And don’t be nervous, or I’ll have you executed on the spot. Hurry it up; we haven’t got all day.”
Kate wiggled a little in her chair. There was a strange sensation throughout her body, and her skirt seemed to be getting tighter. The Cheshire Cat glanced at her curiously as Kate jumped, realizing what was going on. The shrinking potion must have been wearing off, because she was growing rather quickly now.
“I wish you wouldn’t squeeze so,” the Dormouse muttered sleepily from his spot beside Kate. Kate hadn’t even noticed him take the seat beside her, but he must have, because there he was.
“Can’t help it,” Kate grumbled. “It seems that potion was temporary… I assume I’m growing back to my proper height now, considering the rate at which this chair seems to be shrinking.”
“You’ve no right to grow here,” the Dormouse said, opening one eye fully.
“You’re growing too,” Kate exclaimed. The chair was quite small for her now, not to mention her skirt, which had begun pinching her hips most annoyingly. She began to harbor concerns for her modesty.
“I grow at a reasonable pace,” the Dormouse said frostily. Then he smiled. “You know, you’re doing much better with your lines this clock of the hour.”
Kate didn’t bother a correction. The Dormouse had been forced to move a seat away, she was growing so much. The Queen suddenly whipped around, facing one of the officers from the court.
“Bring me a list of the singers in the last concert!” she ordered in a loud voice. “Otherwise, I’ll have all your heads!”
“Evidence,” the King snapped.
“I’m a poor man, Your Majesty,” said the Hatter, bowing deeply. “I hadn’t begun my tea—not above a week ago—and what with the bread and butter getting so thin, and the twinkling of tea…”
“The twinkling of what?” the King interrupted in a high voice.
“Of tea, sire,” the Hatter replied. His eyes caught sight of the March Hare, who seethed quietly in his seat, his face red with fury. As the Hatter’s eyes met his, he yanked the script from his coat pocket and held it up, pointing to the script and miming furious beheading to the Hatter.
“Oh, yes,” the Hatter continued smoothly, without missing a beat. “I meant to say that it began with the tea, of course, sire.”
“Of course twinkling begins with a T,” the King growled. “What do you take me for, a dunce? Go on! I didn’t say to stop!”
“I’m a poor man,” the Hatter repeated, absently curling the brim of his hand in his hand. An absent sort of look had come over him as he noticed Kate, who had slid across the seats towards the window to steal the curtains as certain things began to tear. Somewhat distractedly, he continued, “and most things twinkled after that, only the March Hare said—”
“I didn’t!” the March Hare interrupted in a great hurry.
“You did,” replied the Hatter coolly.
“I didn’t!” the Hare exclaimed once more. He winced.
“You did,” said the Hatter, nodding solemnly as he placed his hat back on top of his head.
“I deny it,” the March Hare said loftily.
“Oh, brother,” moaned Kate as her attention returned to the trial. Luckily the curtains worked well as a covering, as the pace she grew at made it difficult to conceal her troubles anymore.
“He denies it,” said the King to the jury. “Leave out that part.”
“Well, at any rate, the Dormouse said…” the Hatter glanced sidelong at the Dormouse as if to see if he would deny it too, but the Dormouse of course denied nothing, being fast asleep. “After that,” continued the Hatter, “I cut some more bread and butter…”
“But what did the Dormouse say?” one of the jury asked curiously. Another jury member smacked him on the head in a rather annoyed manner.
“That was my line,” he complained.
“That I can’t remember,” the Hatter answered quite woefully.
“You must,” the King ordered. “Or I’ll have you beheaded!”
“Off with his head,” the Queen said approvingly.
“Well,” the Hatter began quite slowly, his eyes straying thoughtfully to the ceiling. As everyone leaned forward with baited breaths to see what the Hatter would say next, he smiled quite suddenly. “I’m a poor man, Your Majesty,” he repeated once more, in an apologetic tone. “And I am quite lonely as well. Why, my days are wiled away time after time doing nothing.”
“You’re a very poor speaker, certainly,” the King remarked. “Pray tell; why is your friend the March Hare trying to strangle himself with the tapestry?”
“Oh, he does that,” the Hatter said dismissively. “He accidentally denied saying one too many times, you see, not to mention the fact that I added a bit onto my last line. I say, little Kate; are you quite having fun yet?”
“Well, watching a few adults bicker like children is certainly amusing,” Kate muttered from her seat, which was more like a few pieces of wood under her than a chair by now. She prayed it would end soon so that she’d be able to work something out; the curtains were only a temporary fix, after all.
“Ah, but your time hasn’t come quite yet,” the Hatter said, a reproachful smile on his face. He turned to the King. “You may skip the next witness and move on. After all, Miss Kate here hasn’t met the Duchess’s cook anyway. By your leave, Your Majesty,” he said, bowing deeply to the king, before he hopped off the witness podium and headed for the door.
“Just take his head off outside, then,” the Queen grumbled, but no one dared touch the Hatter as he silently went to sit in the back, his hat tipped very slightly over his black hair, and his gorgeous smile directed at Kate, who fidgeted slightly yet again in her chair.
“What are tarts made of?” the King asked the room in general, since his line couldn’t be spoken to the Duchess’s cook and certainly not to the next witness. Silence met his question.
The Hatter leaned over and gave the Dormouse, who had appeared beside him in the back of the room once more, a little poke, and the Dormouse’s eyes popped open quite suddenly. He shifted slightly, frowning as the Hatter whispered something that couldn’t be heard from across the court.
“Treacle,” the Dormouse replied, nodding thoughtfully.
“Collar that dormouse!” the Queen shrieked quite suddenly. The Dormouse squeaked indignantly, his eyes popping open in surprise. “Behead that dormouse! Turn him out! Suppress him! Pinch him! Off with his whiskers!” The guards tried to catch the Dormouse, but somehow even half-asleep the Dormouse was able to escape safely out of the courtroom.
Kate turned back to the room, frowning slightly as she shook her head. How very foolish this trial is turning out to be, she thought to herself. Why, everyone’s forgotten the poor Knave already! They’d best fetch a better witness this time, not to mention ask better questions…
The White Rabbit cleared his throat, looking down at his list of witnesses.
“Miss Kate,” he called. Kate blinked as all eyes turned to her. She felt ridiculously awkward wrapped in the court’s curtains.
“What?” Kate asked suspiciously. The Rabbit looked rather sheepish.
“Er… you’re supposed to say ‘here!’ and knock over the jury-box,” he replied.
“What an awfully rude thing to do,” Kate said, aghast. She got up, and her head almost brushed the ceiling. There were a few chuckles. She had grown quite a bit in the last few minutes, and was now nearly her normal size, meaning that the little room was getting a little tight for her. She ended up knocking over the jury’s box anyway as she made her way to the witness stand, gathering the curtains about her midsection.
“Sorry,” she said gruffly to the jurors, who lay sprawled about. Kate flattened the witness box as she sat down, pulling her knees up to her chest in order to fit as well as possible, and glared at the King, who looked rather taken-aback. He cleared his throat anyway.
“The trial cannot proceed until all the jurymen are back in their proper places,” he said solemnly. It took some time for this to be completed, as the little jurymen didn’t seem to be in a great hurry. Kate shifted slightly, as it was rather awkward being the biggest thing in the room.
“Now,” the King said at last in a businesslike fashion, turning to Kate. “What do you know about this business?” he queried.
“Nothing,” Kate replied, shaking her head.
“Nothing whatsoever?” pressed the King.
“Well,” Kate began slowly. The King looked horrified, not to mention the March Hare, who was wringing his ears in horror, as she was supposed to have stated, firmly, that she knew nothing whatsoever. Instead, Kate cleared her throat. In the back of the room, the Hatter leaned forward slightly, propping his head on one arm with a look of interest on his face. The Cheshire Cat smiled encouragingly from nearby.
“Firstly,” Kate began. “Is there any hard evidence that would suggest that this man stole the Queen’s tarts? Secondly, is stealing a few tarts really something to get so worked up about? Perhaps thieves in old times had their hands cut off, but we’re in modern times now. Tell him off and be done with it. I’m sure that he’s sorry and will gladly apologize for it. It’s not like a few tarts are life or death for the Queen, you know. I’m sure she can get more in a twinkling which, as I believe we’ve gone over before, certainly does begin with a ‘T’.
“Now,” Kate continued. The King winced once more. The jurors were very busy writing down what Kate was saying on their slates. “A witness is someone who knows something about the crime or saw it and knows quite a lot about the crime. Since the Hatter was at tea the whole time, he couldn’t possibly have seen anything happening at the castle. If you want the right answers, you must also ask the right questions, which, with respect, you weren’t doing, Your Honor.”
“Is that all?” the King asked wearily.
“No,” Kate said, quite enjoying it by now. “On what charge did you bring this man in, sir?”
“Stealing my tarts,” the Queen supplied helpfully.
“Mr. Knave,” Kate asked seriously, turning to the poor Knave of Hearts. “Did you or did you not steal the Queen’s tarts?”
“I did,” the Knave said, nodding.
“And so,” Kate began, turning back to the smug king. Kate paused. She turned back to the Knave. “Say what?” she asked disbelievingly.
“They were delicious,” the Knave added helpfully. Kate pursed her lips.
“Well, you have your answer,” she said frostily to the King. “Pass judgment, or what have you. Keep in mind what I said, mind you.”
She began to stand up, and accidentally hit her head on the ceiling.
“Ouch,” she murmured, sitting back down quite firmly.
“Silence!” the King exclaimed, grabbing a book from nearby and opening it to a random page. “Rule number 42; all persons more than a mile high are unwelcome in this court.”
“You made that up,” Kate exclaimed. “Besides, I’m not a mile high. Maybe five feet at best, but I’m not even sure if I’ve stopped growing yet. And anyway, I’m not too tall; you people are just too short. This place does do strange things to your metabolism, doesn’t it?”
“You are,” said the King, nodding as he flawlessly ignored her answer.
“Nearly two miles high,” added the Queen.
“Consider your verdict,” the King snapped, turning to the jury.
“There’s more evidence to come yet, please your Majesty,” said the White Rabbit quickly, holding up a piece of paper. “This paper has just been picked up.”
“What is it?” the King asked curiously. The Queen slapped him with a fan.
“What’s in it?” she asked irritably.
“I haven’t opened it yet,” the Rabbit said, shaking his head. “But it seems to be a letter written to somebody. I mean; a letter written by the prisoner to somebody… sorry.”
His apology was directed at the March Hare, who had proceeded to somberly pluck a large ax from a suit of armor’s hands and slowly make his way to the back of the room.
“It must have been that,” the King said agreeably. “Unless it was written to nobody, which would be most unusual, you know.”
“Who is it for?” asked one of the jurymen.
“It isn’t directed at all,” the Rabbit said, shooting a worried look at the March Hare. “In fact, there’s nothing written on the outside. It isn’t a letter after all,” he added as he opened it. “It’s a set of verses, apparently. You know, like the kind that makes a poem.”
“That proves his guilt, of course,” the Queen said quite eagerly. “So, off with his—!”
“Now just a minute,” Kate thundered, leaning down and snatching the paper from the Rabbit. Her eyes scanned the paper. Finally, she waved it in the air expressively. “It doesn’t make an inkling of sense! It probably wasn’t even written by the Knave! It has no signature and isn’t addressed to anyone in particular. There’s probably just someone who likes writing poetry!”
“It could be our most important piece of evidence yet,” the King exclaimed. “Please give it back to the herald, Miss Kate!”
“Off with her head!” the Queen exclaimed.
“Silence in the court! Silence in the court!” the King screeched. Everyone began talking at once, and Kate slapped her hands over her ears as a burst of sound filled the room.
“Please,” said the Hatter’s voice, thundering throughout the hall. Everyone was silent immediately, turning to stare with horror at the Hatter, who sat quietly in the back as he had been for the past few minutes. His smile was soft. “Let Miss Kate finish,” he said softly, nodding at Kate, who was staring at him in shock.
“Yes, well,” Kate said, a little awkwardly. She thought for a moment. “Er… I’m done.”
“Then let the jury come up with a verdict,” the King said quickly.
“No, no!” roared the Queen. “Sentence first – verdict afterwards.”
“Nonsense,” Kate said, shaking her head, which was now easily the size of the jury box. She was getting more than a bit cramped in the room that had seemed so big at first. “The idea of having a sentence first is preposterous,” Kate added. “Let the jury decide their verdict, and then the sentence may be passed. That’s how a proper trial’s done, you know.”
All eyes turned to the jury, and there was a long, deep silence.
“Off with their heads,” the Queen suggested. One of the jurymen stood up quickly.
“We hereby give our verdict,” he said quickly, dropping his slate into the lap of the juror to his right. “We find the accused to be guilty of all charges, as he himself admitted it, and we shall pass the sentence as follows. Please bake Her Majesty some new tarts, Mr. Knave.”
“Certainly,” the Knave replied, nodding. The King banged his gavel.
“Verdict reached, sentence passed! Everyone’s dismissed! Is it quite dinnertime already, my dear…?” he asked as he stood up and followed the Queen across the courtroom. Everyone else began to leave as well, and Kate nodded.
“There,” Kate said, satisfied. “That was a grand old trial, if I do say so myself.”
“Hmm,” said the Hatter, who was examining her behind with what seemed like a practiced eye, his face one of honest thought. “However shall we get you out?”
“Perhaps a bit of elbow grease and a shoehorn?” the March Hare suggested sarcastically. The Hatter nodded to himself, reaching into a pocket. He pulled out the half-finished bottle with the clear liquid and the ‘Drink Me’ tag. He handed it up to Kate, who took it gratefully.
“Thank you,” she said, lifting it to her lips.
“Oh, it wasn’t a problem,” the Hatter said, shaking his head dismissively. “Better finish it off this time around. There’s quite a bit more to go.”
“You mean this isn’t it?” Kate asked, confused, as she took the bottle from her mouth and slowly reverted back to a decent size for this little world. The Hatter handed her an identical set of clothing to the one she had found by the little door in the beginning.
“Oh, not nearly, little Kate,” the Hatter said, a twinkle in his eye, “your adventure is but half over.”