The next morning, Alice awoke and smiled sleepily as she remembered the events of the day before, but especially the tender moment she had shared with Tarrant.
Outside of her room, the final preparations were being made for the ball to be held in Alice’s honour.
The ballroom was adorned with glittering blue jewels strung along the length of the room. In addition, there were blue flowers in vases dotted around the room, giving the room a heavenly perfumed scent. The overall effect of this scene was a brilliant contrast to the pristine white walls of the rest of the ballroom.
As Alice finished dressing in the dress she had worn the day before, she heard a knock at the door and someone entering.
“Alice?” a voice asked uncertainly from the door.
Turning to the door, Alice found that it was Tarrant standing in the doorway. She smiled and beckoned for him to fully enter the room.
“Hatter! What a lovely surprise.” Alice said, smiling and blushing slightly as he smiled his trademark gap-toothed grin.
“Alice, there is to be a ball tonight in your honour and I...” Tarrant said, beginning to stutter in his nervousness.
Stepping closer to Tarrant, Alice replied, “Yes, of course.”
“But you do not know what I was asking you.” Tarrant responded.
“I accept your invitation to the ball. I hope you shall escort me, as I would not have anyone else escort me.” Alice said, her blush deepening slightly.
“Thank ye, lass.” Tarrant said, his eyes flashing gold.
“Well, well. Isn’t this a lovely sight?” Chess said, casually floating into the room.
“Ye mangy thing! Leave me alone!” Tarrant said, beginning to get annoyed with Chess for intruding a private moment.
“Tarrant, please. Chess, you should give warning before entering the room.” Alice scolded.
To his credit, Chess had the good grace to at least appear embarrassed. Tarrant, too, seemed ashamed of his behaviour.
At that moment, the captain of the guard, Charles, walked into the room.
“Champion. Hatter.” Charles said as he nodded in the direction of the two.
Alice was curious about the purpose of the captain’s visit to her room and said as much.
“I am here to tell you that the threat to Underland has been increased and thus the need for you to fill your position as Champion sooner than expected. I will tell you more as I escort you to the training facilities to ensure that you are ready to face the Red Queen if and when she appears to terrorise her sister and the kingdom. Forgive me for intruding, but it is urgent.” Charles concluded.
“Tarrant, I am so sorry. I will see you soon?” Alice said, upset that she had to leave Tarrant.
“Aye, later.” Tarrant nodded, somewhat downcast.
As Alice walked down the hall next to Charles, she could not forget Tarrant’s facial expression as she had walked out of the room. She tried to focus on what Charles was saying.
“Champion? Have you heard anything I have said?” Charles asked, rather annoyed at his Champion’s apparent lack of attention in such dire circumstances.
“Sorry. I have been distracted as of late.” Alice said sheepishly.
“Alice. Please. We did not get the right start to our friendship, if I may call it that, but I would like to start over.” Charles said, coming to a standstill in the middle of the hallway.
“Of course. You remind me of someone I used to know. Must be my imagination, forgive me.” Alice said as she shook her head slightly.
“I do?” Charles asked with interest, wondering if Alice had guessed the connection between them. He hoped that she had, for his heart ached with the deception that he was using on her and wished to openly acknowledge her as his daughter once more.
Alice nodded before responding, “Yes, you remind me of my late father. You have the same eyes.”
With a deep breath, Charles responded, “Alice, we have not known each other for very long, but if news of you father were to be known, would you wish to be informed?” Charles inquired.
Quizzically, Alice turned to face Charles, before responding in a strained voice, “You have news of my father?” She knew it could not be so, for her father had been quite dead for quite some time or so she had thought.
“Perhaps we should sit down before we continue the conversation?” Charles suggested with a trembling voice.
With her mind reeling, Alice nodded and continued down the hall to the spacious training facility. Once both she and Charles entered the room, she sat on an available bench. Charles joined her and continued the conversation that had begun in the hall.
“Alice, I do have news of your father.” Charles said, nodding.
“What? You do?” Alice exclaimed.
“Yes, Alice. In fact, I have seen him quite recently. He sits before you now, my dear Alice.” Charles confirmed.
“Father? It can’t be!” Alice said, tears welling in her eyes.
Alice lowered herself onto the floor and wept. Charles joined her and together they sat, embraced in a hug that even Chess was not willing to interrupt. They were found in this position several hours later by Mirana, who had gone to investigate the whereabouts of her Champion and the captain of the guard.
Mirana was touched by the scene before her as she had hoped to reunite father and daughter sooner, had she been permitted to do so.
“Alice?” Mirana asked in order to gain the attention of her friend, effectively interrupting the touching moment.
Looking up as she wiped her eyes, Alice replied, “Yes, Mirana?”
“I believe that Tarrant is anxious to give you a gift as you are to be his date to the ball.” Mirana said teasingly as Alice blushed at the implications of love that Mirana was no doubt hinting at.
“Where is he?” Alice asked curiously, hoping that he was in his workshop. She had not forgotten his strange behaviour when she had mentioned it the day before.
“I believe that he is still in his workshop.” Mirana said with a smile.
Alice nodded and smiled as she went to find Tarrant. She couldn’t wait to share the knowledge that her father was alive with the Hatter. The place that she had once called Wonderland was truly becoming her home and living up to its name.
As she made her way to Tarrant’s workshop, Alice’s natural curiosity caused her to wonder at the nature of the gift she was about to receive. She knew that no matter what it was, she would love it simply because it was given to her by the man that she loved. This subject kept her thoughts occupied until she reached the double door entrance to the workshop.
The door flung open before she was able to knock, giving her a glimpse of what appeared to be the Mad Hatter. Alice entered the room and was immediately assaulted by the riot of colour that her eyes fell on. In the midst of the chaos, Tarrant sat busily adding the finishing touches to a stunning midnight blue creation.
Not wanting to interrupt the heart-warming sight of her Hatter once more working at his trade, Alice simply stood in the centre of the room, waiting for Tarrant to notice her entrance into the room. When no such recognition was forthcoming, Alice decided to announce her presence.
“Um, Tarrant?” Alice asked, tentatively moving closer to him, not really wanting to tear him away from his work when he was so absorbed in it.
Despite the fact that Alice had spoken, Tarrant continued to work as if she had not spoken. Alice placed her hand on his shoulder, hoping that this would alert him to her presence which he had specifically asked for.
To her delight, this seemed to have the desired effect. Tarrant jerked away from his work as his eyes slowly returned to their usual green as they had flashed a light yellow as he concentrated on his work. Once he saw Alice, he smiled his trademark gap-toothed grin.
“Ah, Alice. I am glad you came.” Tarrant said as he moved to hold Alice’s hand in his own mercury stained one, oblivious to Alice shaking her head as she smiled. She knew that he was unaware of the efforts she had made to tear him away from his work and she would not change a thing about him for she loved him as he was.
“Mirana said you wished to see me?” Alice asked, with a smile.
“Aye, lass I did.” Tarrant said as his eyes changed to a purple that was flecked with gold, reflecting his love for Alice.
Curious as usual, Alice wondered what Tarrant could possibly show her, however her gaze was drawn to the beautiful midnight blue fabric on the work table. She raised her eyebrow questioningly, waiting for Tarrant to reveal his latest creation to her.
“Alice, I have a gift for you. Please close your eyes for a moment while I prepare it. No peeking!” Tarrant said with a slightly mad laugh as Alice pouted.
Alice nodded and closed her eyes. Before she knew it, Tarrant tapped her shoulder and told her to open her eyes.
Situated upon a mannequin, Alice saw the most stunningly beautiful gown. She instinctively walked closer in order to better see the intricate detail that Tarrant had patiently sewn into the midnight blue fabric. Alice gasped as she noticed that a rabbit, cat, tea cup and top hat had made their way into the design which largely consisted of swirls and loops.
Alice could not believe that such a gown had been made for her. She turned to face the Hatter who was eagerly awaiting Alice’s reaction and appraisal of his work.
“Tarrant, I love it. It is so beautiful. Surely it is meant to be displayed in a glass case so that it will not be ruined, not worn?” Alice said, touched that anyone would go to such effort for her.
“That, my dear, would defeat the purpose for which it was created. I would rather you wear it in order that people may admire the detail and design upon whom it was created for.” Tarrant said gently, slowly coming closer to Alice.
“I will wear it. Thank you for making such a beautiful gown for me.” Alice said, allowing the gap to close between them and her lips to touch the Hatter’s.
Once their lips met, Alice realised that the Hatter’s kisses tasted like tea and cake. The kiss itself was gentle and sweet, lasting a few seconds however Alice was sure that more time had passed.
“Shall I place it in your room for you?” Tarrant asked, seeking to place his attention elsewhere as he had recently started to act embarrassed in Alice’s presence and the kiss had definitely taken him by surprise.
Alice smiled bashfully, before she replied, “Tarrant, may I leave it here? I will come and get it when it is time to prepare for the ball.”
Tarrant smiled in return which caused Alice’s heart to race.
“Shall we join the tea party now?” Tarrant invited, offering Alice his arm with a slight bow in an attempt to remove the slightly awkward atmosphere between them.
Laughing, Alice accepted and they walked arm in arm to the garden which housed the large tea table.
The tea party was in full swing when Alice and Tarrant reached the table arm in arm.
Thackery was slightly put out by the lateness of his friends and voiced these feelings.
“Yer late for tea!” Thackery shouted as he threw a tea cup in their direction, narrowly missing Alice’s head.
Alice smiled as she had missed her friends’ antics. Tarrant, however, gave Thackery a murderous glance which effectively stopped his and Mallymkin’s mad laughter.
Confused as to what had just transpired, Alice turned to look at Tarrant and saw that his features had darkened as he looked at his friends.
“Tarrant, what’s wrong?” Alice asked, concerned.
“He nearly hurt you!” Tarrant exclaimed as he pointed to Thackery, unable to believe that Alice could be so calm about the situation.
Alice placed her hands on his cheeks, hoping that this would calm him down as it had done in the past. Fortunately, this tactic worked once more and Alice relaxed as Tarrant’s features returned to their usual colouring.
Looking around, Tarrant felt embarrassment and shame at his outburst.
“Thank you Alice. Thackery, old friend, I am sorry for the way I reacted.” Tarrant apologised as he sat in his customary seat at the head of the table, inviting Alice to sit as well.
Alice nodded and sat next to Tarrant, thus signalling for the tea party to resume.
For the rest of the afternoon, the tea party continued happily, the earlier incident apparently forgotten.
At last, it was time to begin to get ready for the night ahead. The night of the ball had arrived.