Chapter 1: initium
"Alice, I'm pregnant."
Alice sat back on her heels and stared down at her Queen, shocked by such a revelation. "What did you say?"
Mirana sat up. "Alice, I said I was pregnant." She attempted to touch the young woman, but was stopped by the look in her Champion's eyes. "Alice?"
The young Champion continued to stare, forlorn. "How?"
"Alice, I just told you."
"Mirana, have you been… with a man?"
The White Queen gasped slightly. "What?"
The young woman got up from the bed, searching for her robe. "I know I left it here somewhere."
Mirana sat, stunned into silence.
Alice found her dressing gown, then turned to Mirana. "I'll be back later." She paused at the door, then turned to face her Queen, her expression sad. "I promise." Alice grabbed the door handle then stopped, fighting with her inner insecurities, attempting to settle her uncertainty. After a few moments she realized her fear was irrational, Mirana would never betray her. Never. Their bond was too great and deep for one to do such an unspeakable act against the other.
She released the handle and let out a deep breath, then shook off her robe. "Oh, Mirana, I'm so sorry for doubting you." She looked to her White Queen, but Mirana's head was down. She strode to the bed and then sat beside her Queen, she whispered, "I'm sorry."
The White Queen continued to look at her hands. "Alice, what is it going to take for you to never to doubt me?"
"I don't mean to. I know you love me just as much as I love you. I'm such a fool at times."
The monarch turned to her Champion. "I'm sorry, too. I sometimes forget how young you are."
"I don't want to feel so anxious, but I don't know how to stop."
Mirana took hold of her lover's hand. "I don't think you're so terribly insecure, Alice. I just think maybe I'm expecting too much from you.
Alice frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I didn't plan on getting pregnant, Alice. I did not know that my magic could do that. I only wanted to fulfill your fantasy, I wasn't thinking."
"Oh, Mirana, please don't fret yourself so." The Champion wound an arm around her Queen's shoulders.
Mirana sighed and rested her head on Alice's shoulder. "But look what I've done. I told Chessur a few days ago that I would never fetter you to my world, but I have done exactly that."
Her Champion gently wiped a tear off her Queen's cheek. "Please, don't do this. I want to be here with you in Underland. You knew from the moment we met that my path would always come back to you. I can't help but love you, my Queen."
"But, Alice, you're only 22 years old, I don't want to force responsibilities on you that you're not ready for."
Underland's Champion pulled her lover closer. "You are not forcing anything on me, my Queen. Don't be silly."
Mirana sighed and snuggled closer, enjoying the feel of Alice's nakedness. "Oh, what did I ever do to deserve someone like you—no, to deserve you."
"I could say the same thing," Alice sighed, as she pulled Mirana closer. She brought her hand up to caress the older woman's belly, feeling for any sign of Mirana's revelation.
Alice turned her body so that she was facing her Queen. She looked down at Mirana's belly, continuing to run her hand over it. "There is a baby in here… my baby?"
Mirana smiled and touched her Champion's cheek. "Yes, my love, we are going to have a baby."
"How do you know?"
"Alice, a woman knows her own body."
Alice continued to run her hand, slowly, over her Queen's belly. Before long her curiosity turned into an all too familiar hunger, and she tackled her lover and rolled on top of her. She nuzzled at Mirana's neck. "I want you."
The White Queen sighed and spread her legs again. "I was hoping you'd say that." She pulled the young woman into a slow and deep kiss, using her tongue to part her lover's lips. "Take me, my sweet Alice."
Alice lifted so she could spread her lover's legs again with her knees. "Will it be okay? We won't hurt…"
Mirana let out a long moan. "It'll be all right. Come with me…"
The White Queen awoke just in time to catch the last rays of the sun sink below the horizon. She turned over on her side to find Alice watching her from across the bed, where she was curled up, with quite a silly grin on her face.
Mirana smiled, as well. "Are you happy, my love?"
Alice grinned. "Exceedingly so."
The monarch crawled to her Champion. "There is something I want to do for you."
Alice's eyes widened. "Oh?"
The Queen took hold of her lover and gently guided her back down on the bed, and then she knelt between her legs. "Spread them."
"Anything for you, your Majesty."
Mirana ran her hands down her Alice's thighs. "So, we are back to being formal, again, my sweet?"
Alice lifted her head, and grinned again. "Yes, my Queen."
The Queen scooted down further on the bed, and lowered her head, resting it on her Champion's inner thigh. "I'll wager you taste so good."
Alice's smile vanished and her breathing quickened. "What… what are you doing?"
And, just as many times in the past, the White Queen of Marmoreal fell further into love with her beloved Champion, her sweet Alice Kingsleigh.
Alice awoke to the sound of birds chirping in the trees outside. A soft breeze fell into the room from the parted curtains, bringing with it the aroma of a warm spring afternoon. Alice yawned and ran a hand over her face. "Mirana?"
The White Queen rolled onto her back. "Yes, my sweet?" Her voice bore all the signs of contentment.
"Do you think we ought to get out of bed?"
Mirana yawned. "Why?"
"Well, we've been in bed about a day. Don't you think people will start to wonder where we're at—and what we're doing?"
The White Queen chuckled. "Let them wonder."
"Secondly, I am a little hungry. I spend quite a lot of energy making love to you, my Queen, and I feel I'm owed a little compensation." Alice could not keep the mirth out of her voice.
Mirana sat up and laughed. "Oh? So, are you going to start charging your Queen for services rendered?"
"Absolutely, I've got to get something out of this."
"A fee, then?"
Alice sat up, and then swallowed hard. "Ah, yes… you are the Queen who put your Champion out to stud."
Mirana scooted closer, her breath mingling with Alice's. "Am I?"
Alice pulled Mirana into a kiss that was part demanding, and part relinquishing. She pushed her Queen back down on the bed. "Food can wait."
Mirana sat up quickly, scanning the room to get her bearings. "Alice?"
Alice turned her head, her voice clouded with the remnants of sleep. "We've got to get up, Mirana, I'm very hungry, now."
The White Queen sniffed at the air. "I think we ought to bathe before eating. We both smell a lot like…" Her voice trailed off at the look in her lover's eyes.
Alice pulled her Queen onto her. "Like what?"
The monarch freed herself from her Champion's arms before the young woman could draw her in. "Oh, no. We really do need to get up, Alice, and have the maids… clean up at bit."
Alice smiled as Mirana rolled off the bed and grabbed her dressing gown. "Oh, what a scandal it will be, don't you think?"
Mirana tied the ribbon of the robe around her. "What will be a scandal?"
"The Queen's chamber—smelling like a brothel. Everyone will know then what goes on behind these closed doors."
The Queen threw Alice's robe onto the bed. "Get up, my love, or I'll make you stand guard duty—at the stables."
Alice grabbed the dressing gown. "You wouldn't."
Mirana opened the door to the bathing chamber. "Oh, yes I would." She easily ducked away from the pillow Alice threw.
Alice settled into the hot water and groaned as her body tingled from the warmth. "This feels so good."
The White Queen sat on the edge of the pool, splashing her feet. "I knew it would. Alice, have you thought about what kind of wedding you would like?"
The Queens bathing chamber was a huge ornate room that was almost two stories high, made of the finest marble in all of Underland. The room was oval shaped, as the pool in its center, flanked on either side by two large sinks and shelving for towels and other necessities. The hot pool, which ran deep, was filled with the purest water from subterranean springs deep below the foundations of Marmoreal. The water was so pure, and some would say magical, that one did not require the use of soap in order to be clean.
The young woman floated over to her Queen. "I haven't really thought of it. I was thinking that you, perhaps, could tell me what you want." Alice chuckled.
"What's so funny?"
Alice parted her Queen's legs and moved between them. She wrapped an arm around the older woman and reached up to remove Mirana's crown, placing it delicately on the marbled tiled floor. "Must you wear that thing in the bath, Mirana?"
Mirana pulled Alice closer. "So my crown is only a thing to you? Why don't you wear it, then."
Alice stopped smiling and regarded Mirana for a moment. "I can't." She let go of the monarch and then backed away slowly. "I'm sorry."
The White Queen lowered herself into the water and swam to her Champion. "I'm sorry for joking about it."
Alice looked up to her Queen. "I'm not ready to do that—wear a crown. I'm sorry, Mirana."
The monarch wrapped her arms around the smaller woman. "No, no. Please don't be sad. I should have thought before I spoke." She touched her Champion's cheek. "It's all right, I promise. You know I would never force you to do that."
The young Champion sighed deeply. "I know you wouldn't." She looked up and smiled. "I love you, Mirana."
The White Queen lowered her head and brushed her lips over the younger woman's. "Me, too."
Alice deepened the kiss and groaned into it. "There is something I want to do."
Mirana moaned. "What?"
Before she knew what was happening, the White Queen found herself being dunked into the hot water, and when she surfaced, Alice splashed her with more water.
The Champion laughed. "I can't believe you fell for that!"
Mirana looked like a soaked puppy. "My hair is wet!"
"Yes, it is." Alice started to back away from her monarch, snickering as she did so.
"You will pay dearly for that, my sweet Alice."
Alice grinned, and then began to swim away from Mirana. "I don't think so."
Much to her chagrin, Alice discovered that her Queen was, indeed, a much faster swimmer than she was. Before long, Mirana caught up to her Champion and wrapped her arms around her. She picked up the young woman and tossed her into the water.
Alice surfaced and choked out some water. "Is that the best you can do, my Queen?"
The White Queen took hold of Alice again and pushed her against the side of the pool. "Open your legs, Alice."
The younger woman did as she was told. "What…"
Mirana pressed herself against the younger woman, spreading her legs even further. She lowered her hand between he Champion's legs and ran her fingers through her silken folds. "Turn about is fair play, I think."
Alice threw her head back and wrapped her legs around Mirana's waist. "Oh, yes… it is." She gasped as her Queen plunged her fingers deep inside her.
The White Queen was spread out on her stomach on a large pile of pillows, by the side of the pool, Alice wrapped around her from behind, grinding against her furiously. "Oh… Mirana…I'm, I'm…" She cried out and collapsed on her Queen, panting heavily.
Mirana turned her head and groaned. "You are so lovely, my Alice."
The Champion pushed against her Queen one more time then whimpered. "You inspire me, my Queen—my love." She rested her head on Mirana's back.
And Alice Kingsleigh, formerly an awkward girl from London, found herself completely in love with a woman from another world; a world that was full of promise and fulfillment—Mirana of Marmoreal, her White Queen, the one that she would love forever, and beyond.
The afternoon was a pure delight. The warm spring afternoon was filled with the fragrance of Eucalyptus trees and thyme, filling the air with a wonderful essence. A swarm of Rocking Horse flies flew past the tree Mirana and Alice were sitting under and dropped by the side of the creek, taking a small drink.
The White Queen lifted her arm and pointed her finger. A single Rocking Horse fly flitted around her then landed on her finger. It whinnied when the Queen ran a finger over it.
Alice watched, fascinated. "How do you do that, my Queen?"
"Because it knows I have butter, its favorite." Mirana reached into the picnic basket and offered the beast a small portion of butter. The animal neighed out of excitement then devoured the butter in only a few seconds. It flew away, happy.
Alice finished her glass of wine. "Have you thought about what kind of wedding you would like?"
"One that both you and I are in?"
The Champion frowned slightly. "Mirana…"
The Queen brought the cup of tea to her lips. "Well, I'm torn about it. On the one hand, my subjects would be extremely put off if we decide to have a small affair, yet on the other I know that you don't like really big crowds and all that pomp and circumstance."
Alice poured herself another glass of wine. "I just want you to be happy, Mirana. If you feel we must have a celebration for everyone, then I am content with that."
Mirana reached over and caressed Alice's cheek. "Thank you, my Champion. Then we will invite all of Underland. Of course, if we do that then we will have to do all the traditional things."
"There are three days of pre-wedding celebrations. It's just an extremely long party, nothing more. Then the actual wedding day—which lasts about a whole day. Then…"
Alice lifted a brow. "And then?"
Mirana blushed. "The wedding night."
The Champion smirked. "That ought to be no problem. We are more than familiar with each other."
"That's not exactly what I'm referring to."
"It's just that, well, there must be observers, to make sure that the marriage is truly consummated."
Alice choked on her wine. "What?"
"Its just a small inconvience."
Alice didn't know if she should laugh or be angry. "Mirana, I'm not having sexual relations with you in front of other people. Besides, we consummated already!"
The White Queen looked dejected. "It is the law, I don't know any way around it."
Underland's Champion did not look pleased. "But, Mirana, I won't do it! We have to find a way around that law."
The Queen reached over to soothe her Champion. "We will, I promise. I think it's a fairly outdated and unreasonable Law. One that Iracebeth insisted on."
Alice calmed down. "Thank you, your Majesty." She leaned back against the trunk of the eucalyptus tree and pulled Mirana's head down to rest on her lap. "I feel invincible when you are with me, my Queen."
Mirana smiled and look to her Champion. "I love you, too. The future is ours to decide and make. We'll rescind all the laws, if it means we will be together always."
Chapter 2: The Idylls of the Queen
Alice lifted the bow and steadied her grip. She adjusted her line of site to the center of the target and pulled the bow even tighter before finally releasing. The arrow flew and slammed into the target just slightly left of center.
"A great shot, Champion Alice." Knight Harthacanute picked up his bow and wiped the sweat from his brow.
It was a warm, lazy afternoon in the south lawns of Marmoreal, an afternoon of nothing more than good company and an impromptu archery competition. The well-manicured lawn was spread from the hedges that separated Mirana's private gardens from the public open spaces, on the southern side that rose just slightly higher than the main entrance to the castle. The spacious lawn was flanked on all sides by an uneven grove of Eucalyptus and Oak, whose branches stole over the lawn in scattered places, providing shade.
The White Queen sat on a blanket next to one of the oaks, supported by numerous pillows. Four poles at the sides of her large blanket supported a canopy and her royal flags. Her Ladies in Waiting and a few Men of the Court sat about her, providing the Queen with company as her Champion participated in the contest. Other courtiers and members of Marmoreal's nobility were present as well, scattered about the fringes of the lawn, under the cover of shady branches and under their own regal flags.
Four targets were placed at the center of the spacious lawn, each representing an Order of Knights to the Realm, four members to each team.
Alice smiled at her favorite Knight. Gone was the cumbersome Armor of Underland, replaced by a tartan kilt of white and blue with a dark gray pattern. The breastplate and shoulder gauntlets replaced with a simple linen shirt and waistcoat of lightweight chain mail. "You flatter me. My arrow flexed too much."
The Knight, of the Order of Honoris, grinned as he passed her and adjusted his bracer. "No, it did not. The Boss is too packed at the center, I think, and, well, you being small…"
Alice paused and then shot the Knight her most indignant stare. "Small?"
Harthacanute nodded. "Yes, Lady Alice, you are small, you would be better at a clout shoot. I'm taller and, well, obviously stronger, making my aim better."
Alice grabbed a crossbow and carefully aimed the bolt. The arrow flew at the target with amazing speed and impacted at the center. "You were saying?"
The Knight cleared his throat. "Oh, nothing. Nothing at all."
Alice put her sword in the scabbard at her side. "I leave the field to your capable hands, dear Knight. My Queen awaits."
Mirana smiled as her Champion made her way over to her. She could not help but notice how the young woman's confidence emanated from her in ways it never did before. When she returned to Underland for the final time to be her Champion she had been so unsure as to her abilities, even after the previous slaying of the Jabberwock. But that was three years hence, and the insecure young woman was now Champion to the Court of the White Queen, and had earned the respect of the Queen's subjects. And she was stronger, many hours of sword practice and training had given her a muscled, yet feminine, physique.
Alice stepped up to the blanket Mirana was sitting on and turned to the Ladies in Waiting, who were sitting slightly behind her Queen. She nodded. "Ladies." They scooted back a bit to allow the Champion to sit. As Alice was about to sit her eyes landed on Lady Ecgwynn, who's smile didn't quite seem right. "Is there something wrong, Lady Ecgwynn?"
The Lady averted her eyes. "No, nothing is wrong, Champion Alice."
Mirana extended her hand and Alice took it gently, bending slightly to kiss it. "You were marvelous, my love."
"Thank you, my Queen. Though you may be a bit biased." The Champion took a seat on the soft pillows, close to her beloved.
"I do hope that your team wins."
"Well, it is not really my team, per se. More like three Knights who want to tease a Queen's Champion."
Mirana snickered. "And why would they want to do that, my love?
"They know how completely undone I become when I'm with you, and they are so good at exploiting the situation."
"I will make them stand guard duty in the pig sty."
Alice laughed. "I am not perturbed, my Queen. I don't mind repartee; it is quite a joyful camaraderie that we share."
The Queen chuckled. "So, they enjoy mockery because you are in love, that is sweet. I am so glad that my Knights have come to like and respect you, Alice."
"I am relieved for it, as well, my Queen. But I'm still not completely welcomed by the Order of Iustitiae. They think that I'm not aware of their scorn, because of how graciously they appear at Court. But I feel it, deep down."
The Queen sighed. "I thought we had worked that out, no?"
"They are the only Order of Knights that have yet to sign the Proclamation, my Queen."
"The one that clarifies my position within your realm. The one that puts my rank of Champion above all the Orders of Knights—not to mention the duchies and minor fiefdoms."
Mirana frowned. "They are still squabbling over your peerage? That is outrageous, Alice."
"I know it is, Mirana." Alice reached over and took her Queen's hand.
"I need to officially reprimand this Order of Knights, my Champion."
Alice squeezed Mirana's hand and then gently caressed it. "I would ask you not to do that, my Queen. Just allow me more time to secure their confidence."
"Are you sure?"
"Most sure, my love." Alice kissed the hand she was holding. "What have we for lunch?"
The Queen picked up a bell and rang it. Frog footmen approached with a large picnic basket and placed it in front of the Queen. She opened it and looked inside. There were breads, cheeses, jams, curried vegetables, a variety of candied fruits and roasted beef for Alice. "Just your usual favorites, my love."
Alice popped a piece of Brie in her mouth then glanced back at the Queen's entourage. "Shall we take this basket to a more private place?"
Mirana turned her head slowly and eyed her Champion. "By all means."
Her Champion rose and extended her hand and gracefully helped her Queen to her feet. She bent to grab the basket and then led Mirana into the grove of trees.
"You know that you drive that man crazy?"
Alice grinned. "Whom do mean, my Queen?"
Mirana laughed. "Why that poor Knight—Harthacanute. He is so loyal to you and you are so mean to him."
"Not mean, my love, I just truly enjoy teasing him. He knows my heart and care, and…he's a friend." Alice stopped and placed the basket near the trunk of a large tree. She wrapped her arms around Mirana and drew her close. "But my constant care is devoted only to you."
A small swarm of rocking horse flies flitted about the tree, rustling the warm air around them, and whose whinnies floated over the soft breeze.
"I'm glad that you have such a friend now. I know it's been difficult for you since Tarrant died." Mirana reached over and caressed her Champion's cheeks. "What would I ever do without you?"
"You will never have that burden, Mirana, I promise you." Alice leaned up and kissed her Queen. These tender moments did not go unnoticed, as the trees began to sway slightly, filled with the love and happiness emanating from the Champion to the Queen and back.
"I love you, Alice."
Alice gently pressed Mirana up against the tree, and moved her body so that there was no space between them. Her hands ran slowly over her beloved's body, eliciting small moans of pleasure from her Queen. Before long, she felt a jolt, as an intense arousal overwhelmed her. She deepened the kiss and spread Mirana's legs apart with her knee.
The Queen moaned as Alice's mouth moved from her own and began peppering kisses down her throat. "Oh, yes…" Mirana encouraged her Champion by lifting her leg and wrapping it around Alice's hip.
Her Champion groaned. "Here I am, again—undone."
Alice hiked up the Queen's skirts as her own hips thrust forward, she easily lifted the Queen and settled her onto her hip, making a connection between them. She kissed her Queen again with a wild abandon.
From behind the tree they heard a small voice. "Excuse me, your Majesty."
Alice froze completely, and tried to get her ragged breathing under control while Mirana had to bite down on her own lip in order to suppress her moans of pleasure. After a few short moments she was able to speak. "Yes, McTwisp? What is it?"
"Umm…the Knights, your Majesty. They were wondering if your Champion would be returning to the contest."
Mirana could feel her Champion tremble with need. "No, not immediately. Give us a half hour, will you."
McTwisp fidgeted. "Of course, your Majesty." And with that he hopped away.
The Queen sighed and wrapped her arms around her beloved's shoulders. "Perhaps we should…"
She did not get a chance to finish her sentence, as Alice's hips ground into her own for several moments, and then her Champion whimpered against her shoulder. "Alice, did you…?"
Alice tried to pull away, but was grabbed rather tightly. "I'm sorry…I couldn't help it."
Mirana's embrace was loving, and held no recrimination. "No, no, my love. Please don't ever apologize for your desires, they thrill me."
Alice looked up and the Queen offered her a warm smile. "I love you, my Queen, and I'm not finished with you, yet." She lowered them both to the ground, and the world fell away.
Harthacanute put down his usual bow and chose the bodkin instead. He lifted it to judge its weight and balance, and then smiled. It felt good in his hands. Knight Harthacanute was the only member of the Order of Honoris who was not born in Marmoreal, but on the fringes of the Outlands, of the Cornelii clan. He was of average height and muscled, and his pale blue eyes contrasted well with his short black hair and solemn features. He chose an arrow and waited for his competition.
Whereas Harthacanute was average and dark, Eanfrid was light and fair. He had the same white-blonde hair as all born in Marmoreal had, and his dark eyes were striking. He walked up to Harthacanute and smiled, but it did not quite mask the coldness in his eyes.
Harthacanute nodded. "And how do you fair, my Lord?"
Eanfrid looked at the bodkin. "Very well, indeed. The Queen has set up my son in his own Establishment, at Fairhaven Knoll. He's now an official Prince of the Realm."
The other Knight looked surprised. "The Queen is most gracious, is she not, Eanfrid?"
Eanfrid noticed the other Knight's reaction. "Is there some matter that troubles you, your Grace?"
"Just surprised, that is all."
"And why should you be, dear Knight? Our Sovereign is not married, and Underland needs a successor should something…happen to the Queen."
Harthacanute stepped closer to the other man. "She has her Champion, my Lord."
"Alice? Another woman?"
Harthacanute stared. "They will marry, my Lord, you can count on that, and then all your concerns will be for naught."
Both men turned at the sound of the rabbit hopping to them.
McTwisp hopped up to Knight Eanfrid, of the Order of Iustitiae. "The Queen and her Champion are…indisposed for the time being. I suggest the contest go on without them."
The Knight smirked and chose an arrow. "Indisposed? Is that a euphemism for a dalliance with our Queen?"
Eanfrid turned around. "Yes, Harthacanute, our Queen."
"Do you not consider our Champion a part of this realm?"
"Well, she did slay the Jabberwock." Eanfrid handled his bow with expertise, and his arrow split the one that Alice had previously shot. "But I'm not superstitious man, and I don't believe in prophecies, not even the Oraculum."
Harthacanute frowned, and his hand fidgeted with the sword at his side. "What are you implying?"
"I'm not implying anything, my friend. My words were clear. A Champion of this realm ought to be from Underland itself. Not some foreigner, some young upstart. My Order has yet to sign the Proclamation, and if I get what I wish for, they never will, your Grace."
"Are you serious about this, my Lord? The Queen has total and complete confidence in her Champion and so does the rest of Underland."
Eanfrid chose another arrow. "Are you sure about that? So, in your narrow mind, this whole Kingdom is behind the Queen and her Champion? When was the last time you visited your own kin in the Outlands? There are rumors of unrest and…dissatisfaction. Not all peoples of this realm want to see Alice Kingsleigh at the Queen's side!"
Harthacanute reached out and grabbed the other man by his cape. "Why are you saying these things now? Our Champion has already established her place in this realm. You are a Knight to Her Queen's Majesty! You are sworn to obedience and faithfulness. Such words are treason!"
Eanfrid easily jerked away from the other man's grip and staggered backwards a bit. "Touch me again and you'll lose your hand!" He adjusted his cape at his shoulder gauntlets. "As you know, the Queen has restored freedom of speech back to this kingdom, so I'm entitled to say whatever I please." He turned on his heel and stormed away.
McTwisp brought a cup of ale to Harthacanute. "What was that all about, if I may ask?"
The Knight downed the draught in one swallow, his blue eyes staring after the retreating man. "I don't know, maybe nothing."
Mirana settled onto her back and stretched, getting comfortable as she lay on the soft grass. She looked over to her Champion, who was sitting naked against the tree, and watching her, a small smile on her lips. "Come here."
Alice crawled over to the Queen and lay down with her head resting on Mirana's shoulder. She ran her hand over her Queen's belly, and smiled some more at the slight bulge, knowing that their child was growing. "I think it is time to address the Council, Mirana."
"I was waiting on that, you know."
Alice lifted her head and looked Mirana in her eyes. "I know you have, and I'm sorry it took so long."
"Well, it's been a month since I told you I was pregnant."
Alice looked surprised. "That long? I'm sorry."
The Queen ran her fingers through Alice's hair. "Are we announcing our plans to wed?"
"Of course." Alice continued to run her hand slowly over her lover's belly. "Sometimes I can not fathom that I will soon be a parent."
Mirana frowned somewhat. "Oh? Are you having…regrets, doubts?"
Alice immediately sat up, bringing her Queen with her. "No! Oh, no, my Queen, nothing like that at all." She quickly enveloped her beloved in her arms. "I…I just never imagined that I would have this opportunity."
The Queen sighed and rested her head on Alice's shoulder. "Why? You are so young…"
Her Champion chuckled, and ran her hand down her Queen's back. "Mirana, as I grew older I realized that I did not feel any attraction to young men, but to young women. It would have been impossible for me to have children." Even though she couldn't see it, she could feel Mirana blush.
"Oh, I see. Well, that night was fabulously exquisite. You felt so good inside me." The Queen sighed again. "It was fun, was it not?"
Now it was Alice's turn to blush. "My Queen, it was so much more than that."
Mirana lifted her head and shot Alice her most mischievous smile. "Would you like to do it, again?"
Alice's smile faded, and her breathing quickened, despite herself. "What are you saying?"
Mirana leaned in and whispered in Alice's ear. "Do you want to be inside me, again, my love?"
Alice just stared, her voice momentarily taken. "Uh…"
The Queen chuckled. "I thought you might. Will you help me dress?"
Both the Queen and her Champion dressed each other in no time at all, and made their way back to the castle in record haste.
In their haste to leave, they failed to notice a cold, malevolent stare, which followed them as they left the forest.
Chapter 3: Trials and Tribulations
The windows were open yet the curtains were drawn, letting the fragrant afternoon breeze into the chambers, yet shielding its occupants from prying eyes.
Alice gasped, her hips thrusting forward, and into the woman below her. "Like that?"
"Slow down, please…"
The Champion lifted her head and looked down into the lust filled face of her lover. "I…I…can't…" She tried to adjust her rhythm.
Mirana moaned in frustration, and wrapped arms around Alice's waist. "Stay with me…I'm not ready."
Alice whimpered, as her erection was beginning to hurt in her effort to keep her release at bay. "Mirana…" She surged forward, and bent down to capture her Queen's mouth in a lip-bruising kiss.
A warm gust of wind billowed the curtains, cooling the writhing bodies on the bed, and spurring them on. The bed began to creak, as the Champion's thrusts sent her deeper into her Queen.
Mirana's body undulated with her desire, and writhed uncontrollably as her pleasure rose, the build up exquisite.
And then her Champion felt it; the Queen's flesh, taking more of her in, and she threw her head back as Mirana reached her fulfillment. They both fell into an oblivion of pleasure, and thrashed about, hands grasping, cries muffled by sloppy kisses.
Alice leaned on the balcony railing and listened with delight as her White Queen flitted about in the room behind her; she was singing, and that in itself was a wonder, as her voice was melodious and pure. Alice turned around and caught sight of Mirana darting to and fro.
"Can I come in, now?"
The Queen ducked her head out the door. "Just give me a moment."
Alice lowered her head and chuckled. "Are you going to tell me what you are doing in there?"
"Of course not."
Alice rolled her eyes and laughed. "Please?"
Mirana appeared at the door and held out her hand. "My Champion."
Alice dutifully took her Queen's hand. "My Queen."
"Please close your eyes."
Alice grinned and closed her eyes while Mirana lead her into the room. "You can open your eyes now."
The Champion opened her eyes, and then took in a deep breath. "Oh, my goodness."
The small room, which had previously served as a storage place for Mirana's many gowns, was now completely changed into a nursery. The afternoon sun brilliantly lighted the walls of the room as it reflected off the gold and white walls. At its center, the most precious baby's bed that Alice had ever seen.
"When did you have time to do this?" Alice whispered.
Mirana laughed. "What do you think I do during all your hours of sword practice?"
Her Champion wound her arm around her Queen. "I thought perhaps that you paced back and forth, waiting for my return with great anticipation."
Mirana snuggled closer to her Champion. "Well, I do that, too. But this took—" She never finished her thought as she was hit with a spasm in her belly.
"Mirana?" Alice caught her Queen before she fell to the floor. "Mirana!"
The Queen looked up to her in shock. "Something is wrong…" She bent over again in pain.
Alice lowered Mirana to the floor and grabbed some pillows to support her head. "What can I do?"
The Queen grabbed at Alice's shirt. "I need my physician."
"I'll be right back!"
Alice slammed open the doors to the room and rushed outside down the hall. She rounded a corner and almost ran into two guards coming in her direction. "You two, listen to me now. The Queen is hurt and is on the floor in that room. Please take her gently back to our Chambers and put her into bed. Where is the Chamberlain?"
"Nivens is in the council rooms, Lady Alice."
"Please summon him to the Queen's bed. Now!" Alice started to rush off, then turned around abruptly. "Where will I find Her Majesty's Physician?"
Alice, McTwisp, the guards and Her Majesty's Ladies in Waiting stayed in the reception area of Her Majesty's Chambers. No one dared to speak, as Alice was beside herself. She stood at the fireplace, one hand on the mantle, as she tried to control her shaking body.
All heard the door to the bedroom open and Alice rushed to it. "What news, Physician?"
The older woman offered Alice a consoling smile. "Please come in, Lady Alice."
The Champion allowed herself to be led into her bedroom and then let out a deep breath, as the Queen was sitting up in bed, apparently looking well. She ran to the bed and gently took Mirana's hand. "What happened?"
The Physician smiled at the tender way the Champion attended to her Queen. "Nothing but a sudden bout of indigestion, Lady Alice."
The Queen turned to her lover. "Although it was a particularly painful one."
Alice lifted her Queen's hand and kissed it. "I am so relieved that you are well, and so is our…" Her voice trailed off.
Mirana smiled. "It is all right, my love. I told Ealhswith that I'm pregnant with your child. She examined me and we both are doing extremely well."
Alice didn't look up or say anything as her lips remained on Mirana's hand.
The Queen gasped a little as Alice's tears trickled onto her skin. She turned her head to the older woman. "Please excuse us, and let those outside know that all is well. Send them all away."
Ealhswith nodded and then backed out of the room, letting the door close behind her.
The Champion continued to cry, but finally released Mirana's hand. "I thought…"
The Queen pulled her Champion to her and used her sleeve to dry her tears. "What did you think, my love?"
Alice looked up, her eyes swollen with tears. "I thought I hurt you, and our baby!"
Mirana frowned. "But how…when?" And then the Queen knew. "Oh, no, no. I would not have let us have such pleasure if I thought it could have hurt the child."
Alice calmed, and laid down on the bed. "I've never been so frightened in my life, Mirana."
"Oh? I'm so sorry, my love." Mirana laid down next to Alice and scooted closer to her. "Well, on a happier note, Ealhswith thinks that we are both doing just fine."
Alice let out a ragged breath. "Oh, that is good news."
"I told her about our…kink in the bedroom."
Her Champion blushed and covered her eyes with her arm. "Why did you do that?"
"Because I was worried about that, too, when the pain overtook me. She does suggest that we—exercise our passions a bit more conservatively."
Alice sat up and looked down at her lover. "We can't make love?"
Mirana laughed. "Oh, yes, we can, my sweet girl. But, perhaps no more of that until the child is born."
Her Champion smiled. "I can live with that." She stood and held out her hand to her Queen. "Shall we go?"
Mirana took the proffered hand. "Where are we going?"
"Tea time, my love. I thought we could take our tea in the garden, and, perhaps, go for a swim in our favorite pond."
"Lead the way."
Nivens made his way to the castle infirmary, and looked about for the Royal Physician. He found the older woman in small storage room, counting medicinal herbs.
"Excuse me, Ealhswith, but I was wondering if we could have a few words."
The woman carefully wrote on the label of the jar she was holding and then placed it on a shelf. "What is on your mind, McTwisp?"
"What happened with the Queen?"
The older woman turned around. "But I told you—and the Champion—a flare up of indigestion. I'm thinking of putting the Queen on a special diet, until she feels better."
The rabbit stared at her for a while longer. "Is…is there something you aren't telling me?"
Ealhswith smiled. "Why, no, Chamberlain. Why the air of suspicion?"
"The Queen—she has not been herself. I've seen it, and so have others. I need to know if she is well. My concern is not only for her but this household, this Kingdom!"
"I assure you, McTwisp. Everything is fine."
The rabbit huffed, his whiskers twitching. "Then that's all I need to know. Good day."
Ealhswith frowned as she grabbed another jar, and wondered why the Queen had not told her Chamberlain of her pregnancy.
Lady Ecgwynn slammed open the door to the parlor, and then threw her shawl on a large chair. "I've reached my limit with that one, to be sure."
Cynethryth followed the older woman into the room and shut the door behind her. "Watch yourself, my Lady, such words are unbecoming to our station."
"Our station? Have you not seen—we are being made obsolete by the Queen's Champion."
The younger woman poured herself a cup of tea. "Ecgwynn, we are Ladies to our Queen and have sworn an oath. You are not allowed to question her decisions—ever. Such words may be taken as treason."
"There has never been secrecy in this Realm before! And now, our Queen has taken ill, and we are not allowed to look after her, nor are we allowed to know what is wrong with her! I am not the one committing treason in this Realm."
"Then who, my Lady?"
Ecgwynn poured her own tea. "She makes such a spectacle of herself whenever they make public appearances. It is disgraceful the way she hangs all over her."
The younger woman sat on a chair by the fireplace. "Please tell me that you are not referring to our Champion, my Lady?"
"Who else, then!"
Cynethryth frowned, and carefully put her cup on a table. "Be careful, my Lady. Our Queen has compete confidence in her Champion—and she loves her."
"Have you not known the Queen all your life, my Lady? Did you not grow up together in Marmoreal? You know her, and have known her great loneliness. How can you begrudge her this happiness?"
"It…it is really not my intention to deny our Queen her joy."
"What would you have of her, then?"
The forlorn woman turned abruptly, her eyes full of emotion. "She…she should have been mine."
"You still love her?"
"Yes." Ecgwynn barely held her tears in check.
"Then how can you begrudge our Champion for her love-sick public follies, when you yourself would do the same thing for your love?" The younger Lady in Waiting stood and walked over to the other woman. "I am sorry that you are still burdened by your unrequited love; and it does grieve my heart that there is so much unrest within these walls. But you must let her go; she is in love with her Champion, my Lady. She has loved Alice since the moment she laid eyes on her."
"Then don't fight it. It will be your undoing."
"I can not deny my heart, or its infatuations."
"That is true, but you can learn to live with it, and to celebrate it, to let it transform you into a better person."
The older woman was silent, taking in the other woman's words. "Thank you, Cynethryth." Ecgwynn nodded, and then she looked up, offering the other woman a small smile. "You are wise, for one so young."
"It is not from wisdom from which I speak, my Lady." Cynethryth moved to the door, and then paused. "I used to resent our Champion, but for an entirely different reason."
"I loved Tarrant Hightopp."
Alice held her Queen's robe open as the Queen languidly glided out the pond. "More tea, my love?"
Mirana allowed Alice to wrap her in the garment. "Do we have any wine?"
Her Champion led her Queen over to the blanket. "No, would you like me to send for some?"
The Viridian Pool was a small body of bubbling water, created by subterranean thermal jets, which lay just beyond the southern lawns of Marmoreal. It was situated between two small hills, and was well hidden by overhanging branches of Weeping Willows and other scattered foliage. A stone path from the Castle led to the pond, and was only accessible to the Queen and her Champion.
It was late afternoon, the sun was slowly sinking into the west, and the warm breeze was giving way to a cooler evening. Several swarms of Rocking Horse Flies and Fireflies were flitting about the horizon, some landing on rocks near the pool, and offering their intimate illumination to their Queen.
Alice settled the Queen on the blanket and then went to light a small fire within a circle of rocks that she had collected. She bent down on one knee to warm her hands when it was lit.
Mirana watched her lover for a few moments before finally speaking. "What troubles you, Alice?"
Alice sighed then threw a small twig into the fire. "It's just been a very long day, my Queen. It started out as a good day, and then…I don't know."
Alice sat down and stared at her hands. "I think I've been, well, negligent in my youth."
The Queen leaned back against several small pillows. "Go on, my love."
Alice sighed. "Today's events opened my eyes to the fact that I've been the fool—thinking to myself that all will be well despite the very real obstacles to our security. There is an entire Order of Knights that doesn't recognize my authority in your Kingdom, Mirana. How can I count on them to help me protect you if the need ever arose? And now it is even more imperative that we have the total dedication of all the Knights." She got up and went to her Queen. "You are with child, my love—my child. I will not speak on what goodness that makes this , indeed, the most wonderful thing in the world. But, I need these men to be with me in all matters, in all matters of trust."
The Queen took one of her Champion's hands into her own. "You are troubled, my dear Alice."
The Champion dropped down and laid her head in her Queen's lap. "Yes. I am fraught with these doubts and insecurities, and…I'm afraid that I will fail you."
Mirana stroked her lover's cheeks. "These words will take this burden from your heart, dear Alice. Once we are married the Knights will have to swear their fealty to you or face punishment."
"That is a forced allegiance, my Queen. They will not love me because they esteem my worth, but will do so just to appease the law."
The Queen sighed. "They will learn to love you, Alice, how can they not? You are brave and true…"
"If they have not learned by now that I value them and Underland, then how? Have I not shown them my love by my unfailing devotion to you? I would give my all to protect you, my Queen."
"I do not desire your all, Alice. You do more service to me by your life, not your death. Perhaps, if we had more time…"
Alice got up and began to pace. "I returned to you three years ago, my Queen, swearing my love and my life. What more do I need to do? What more?" She stopped, and then began to walk away.
"Do you believe that I am a failure, too?"
Alice stopped again and turned around to see the pained look on her Queen's face. She was stunned. "How…how are you a failure, my Queen? Your tenacity has seen the flourishing of your Kingdom by your own hand and will."
Mirana stood and went to her Champion, taking her hands into her own. "What? Just because I desired you to slay the Jabberwock, and return Underland to me?"
Alice offered her Queen a genuine smile. "You were also good at securing my heart, Mirana." She lifted her Queen's hand and kissed it. "And my body, too."
Mirana shivered at the pure pleasure of her lover's touch. "If you are a failure then so am I. For I will have failed to see that my subjects esteem you in the ways in which I do. I will have failed in my role as Sovereign to sing your praises as my Champion, and to shout to all in Underland that you are mine, and, therefore, theirs, as well."
Alice chuckled. "You are no failure, my Queen, as you have done all those things—and, if I may, even privately in the throes of our passion, to your credit."
The Queen laughed and threw her arms around Alice's neck. She lowered her head and captured her Champions lips in a sweet kiss. Alice responded in kind, and kissed her beloved with equal love.
Mirana broke the kiss and rested her forehead on Alice's. "Do you still feel so troubled, my Alice?"
Alice sighed and closed her eyes. "No, my love. My heart is only slightly troubled, but I know that if we stand together as one—in body and in spirit—there is nothing that we cannot do."
"You must understand, Alice, that I'm not oblivious to the troubles that may befall us in the future—especially in light of my pregnancy. But I have complete faith, not only in you, but also in us. We will prevail."
"I'm in love with you, Mirana." Alice kissed her Queen's cheek.
Mirana let her head fall back. "I know."
Alice wound her arms around her Queen's waist and drew her close before lightly nipping at her neck. "Hmmm…"
Mirana closed her eyes. "Are you ready for the Council tomorrow?"
Alice drew back and smirked. "Probably as much as I could ever be."
"Then let us retire…"
Mirana tried to squirm away from her Champion's embrace, but Alice stopped her. "It is not yet dark, my Queen. Would you like to stay here for a little while longer? We can send for our supper?"
The Queen stroked Alice's cheek. "I am dreadfully tired, my Champion. I think I need to retire for the evening."
Alice carefully hid her disappointment, as not to trouble her Queen. "Then I shall escort you, sweet gentle lady."
After collecting their belongings, Alice led Mirana back to the Castle, and began preparations for the Council.
The Queen turned her head and watched as Alice slept beside her. When she was sure that the young woman was asleep she quietly slipped out of bed and, after putting on her robe, went outside to balcony.
"Good evening, love."
Mirana sighed. "Hello, Chess. I'm glad that you are here."
The cat twirled around as he floated beside his Queen. "I am, above all things, your humble servant, my Queen."
The Queen nodded. "Do you know why I wish to see you?"
Mirana's hands clenched the balcony railing, as she was loath to do, as she must. "Then set about it, Chess. You know what you must do."
"Are you sure, my Queen? It will surely break her heart."
Chapter 4: Caesar's Ashes
Naked, Mirana stood at her mirror in her dressing room and slowly let her eyes roam over her reflection, capturing the early signs of the new life she knew was in her. She turned to the side and gazed at her profile, and the swelling of her belly. Her left hand rose to caress her distending flesh, marveling at how life could be. And, most especially, how this life could possibly be, as it was something she never imagined. She let her hand slowly pass over her belly several times, relishing in the complete awe that she felt, both for the new life in her, and in the realization that Alice was responsible for it.
It had been nothing more than a desire to see that Alice's fantasy was fulfilled, and had ended up being so much more. Alice. Sweet, lovely, beautiful Alice Kingsleigh. Mirana's heart always hurt somewhat at ruminating on her Champion, as her feelings were felt at such depths, as the heart was capable.
A blush crept up her neck at the memories of that wondrous night when their child was conceived. Alice had been so eager—and wanton. Both had no care of what was to come of their glorious union, if anything at all. Mirana tilted her head and noticed perkiness to her breast; she let out a deep breath and closed her eyes. Images, unbidden, floated around the periphery of her thoughts—Alice, emboldened in her desire, taking her again and again, plunging deeply inside her…
Mirana whirled and was face to face with her Champion. "Alice!"
The Champion bent to take her Queen's hand to kiss it. "Good morning, my—"
Mirana jerked her hand away and staggered back a bit, her eyes wide with her desire. It took only a moment for Alice to respond to the carnal desire emanating from her Queen. She put her hand on Mirana's chest and felt the wild beating of her heart. She used that same hand to push her Queen against her mirror.
Alice growled as the Queen's body made contact with the cold surface. At Mirana's gasp she tried to kiss her, but the Queen grasped her shirt at the shoulders, holding her away.
Now it was Mirana's turn to moan as she pushed them away from the mirror, their bodies still flush together. Alice whimpered as Mirana unbuckled her belt and tore it off, she tried to push Alice's trousers down, but they were still clasped.
Mirana threw her head back as Alice grabbed her hips and lifted, she turned them around, and shoved her Queen against the wall before crushing her lips in a bruising kiss. Moaning, she worked at the clasps holding her trousers up as Mirana tore off her shirt. And then they fell into each other, hands and mouths everywhere, exploring the splendid depths of their passion.
They were on the floor, tangled in a heap of blankets and entwined limbs, watching each other peacefully after their passion was spent.
Mirana smiled and soothingly caressed her Champion's cheek. "I love you, my dear."
Alice closed her eyes briefly before returning her Queen's smile. "Someone sure woke up happy this morning."
Mirana laughed. "Did I? I hadn't noticed."
"Well, my body sure noticed. If our mornings start like this more often I won't have enough energy to defend your Kingdom."
"Speaking of which, we have a Council meeting in a few hours."
Alice rolled onto her back. "I know. Would that I could be anywhere but here."
Mirana put her head on Alice's shoulder and wound her arm around her waist. "Please do not fret yourself so, my love, everything will be all right."
"I know." Alice turned her head and kissed her Queen.
The Throne Room was in shambles. The fine red curtains were torn and rent in two, with some remnants on the floor, making a new home for rats. The once brightly covered walls were now dingy, wallpaper hanging loosely from marble stained by rainwater. A branch from a nearby tree had crashed through the clearstory window, and glass splinters were everywhere. Two of the ornate columns that were supporting the roof had been shattered, and the roof was in the first stages of an imminent collapse.
"My, my. How the nymphs have departed." He picked up a shard of glass and lifted it; it was a delicate red heart. Smiling, he put it in his pocket.
There was a foul odor coming from a darkened corner of the room. He slowly walked over and discovered a rotting pile of frog footmen. He frowned and backed away. This carnage had nothing to do with the fall of the Red Queen. There was something else at work in this forsaken place.
"Do you know what happened here?" He noticed that something was hanging near the back of the dilapidated throne. Stealing himself, he moved toward it and discovered a rotting Dodo bird slowly swinging back and forth. "This is most interesting."
"If there was a portal in here, it has long since disappeared."
He turned to the Knight and frowned. "No matter."
The Knight turned his horse around and fidgeted in his saddle. "No matter? Do you know what I have risked bringing you here?"
"No. But I'm sure you will tell me."
The Knight stiffened. "Look, I've fulfilled my promise. You are here and now I must go."
"So soon? I was hoping that you could show me around?"
"Like I said, I have to leave." The Knight spurred his horse. "Good day."
He watched as the Knight ducked his head before leading his horse out of the double doors. Unsheathing his sword, he followed at a leisurely pace; having decided it would be best to simply kill the Knight.
McTwisp hopped into the Queen's private dining room, his arms loaded with documents and parchments. "Good morning, your Majesty."
Mirana looked up from the tart she was eating. "And to you, my dear Chamberlain."
"What are those?" Alice leaned over the table and grabbed a small tray of fruit.
"More petitions and requests, Champion Alice. Nothing of major concern." The rabbit poured himself a cup of tea.
The Queen looked at Alice for a moment and then turned her attention back to McTwisp. "Chamberlain?"
He did not look up from his cup of tea. "Yes, my Queen."
"I do detect a slight tone in your voice. Would something be the matter?"
"Why, nothing, your Majesty."
Alice bit into a warm muffin. "Liar."
Nivens head popped up so quick he almost lost his balance. "I'm…not a liar!"
"Then what would you call it?"
Mirana put down her cup of tea with a small bang, and both Nivens and Alice looked up to her, both surprised. "That's enough, the two of you!" She delicately wiped her mouth with a napkin and then returned to McTwisp, knowing what was troubling him. "McTwisp, I know that you have…some concerns. I promise you that all will make sense to you during this morning's meeting."
The rabbit sighed and his whiskers twitched. "I apologize for my short temper, your Majesty. Please accept my humble apologies. I will see you at the meeting." He hopped away with his burdens.
The Queen turned towards Alice and caught her with a pointed look. "Alice?"
Her Champion finished her muffin and then wiped her hands clean. "Yes, my love?"
"You are incorrigible."
Alice grinned. "It's why you love me."
Mirana stood and walked over to where Alice was seated. She knelt between her legs. "It's one of the many reasons why I love you, my sweet Alice."
Her Champion leaned down and kissed her Queen. "Help me with my armor?"
"Only if you promise to keep that appetite of yours under control."
Knight Thrydwulf stopped his horse at the Caerdin stream, a small waterway that separated the border of the region of Crims with the outer fringes of the Tulgey Wood. He led the animal down to the bank so the horse could drink. This area of Underland was still surprisingly devoid of water, which was the cause of some concern in Marmoreal because of the White Queen's victory. Knights did not like to patrol in these regions, and only those whose hearts were stout volunteered for such assignments.
Thrydwulf pulled a piece of bread from his satchel and took a bite. He looked around the horizon and to the ruins of Salazen Grum just a few leagues away. It looked tiny from his perspective, and no threat at all. At least, he hoped that all was well in these still desolate lands. There were rumors.
When the horse was finished he put his remaining bread away and was prepared to leave when he spotted something on the horizon, running towards him at great speed, from Salazen Grum. His first thought was to draw his sword and face the apparition. But a sudden fear stole over his heart and he maneuvered his horse behind an outcropping of rocks and brush. He waited. The figure was closer but still too far away. He waited some more and twitched in the saddle, and, to his dismay, his horse began to shift from one hoof to another, in apparent apprehension. The horse began to whinny, and Thrydwulf tried to steady it. And still the figure came at them, like a dark wraith in the blackest night. It was screaming, whatever was coming in their direction was screaming, a high pitched wail that frightened Thrydwulf to his core and caused his horse to rear up and throw him from the saddle. The last thing he saw before blacking out was another horse speeding past him and running in the direction of Marmoreal. It was a black as night, and so was its rider.
Lady Cynethryth stopped before her mirror and checked her appearance. It was going to be a long day, as this mornings meeting was probably going to last until the late afternoon; and she did not want to spend her entire morning waiting for a meeting to be over. She sighed and shook her head, ashamed of feeling such resentment because of her station. She left her quarters and proceeded down the hall to the stairway that led to the Queen's chambers. She rounded a corner and almost ran into Ealhswith, the Royal Physician.
Cynethryth jumped back some. "Excuse me, Ealhswith, I did not see you."
The older woman smiled. "Are you attending to her Majesty this morning—during the meeting?"
Both women began climbing the stairs. Cynethryth held up her skirts. "Yes, yet it is nothing that I look forward to."
The Physician glanced at the younger woman. "How so? Are you not pleased to wait on Her Majesty?"
The Lady cringed. "Sorry…I ought not to have said that. The Queen is very good to us."
Ealhswith thought a caveat was to come. "But, you are not happy?"
Both women reached the top of the stairs and turned left. Cynethryth sighed. "Not completely. We seem to be competing with a Champion."
"For Her Majesty's love?"
"No, nothing like that. The Queen continues to shower her love upon us as always. But, her attention grows ever more towards her Champion, and I'm just afraid that we Ladies are becoming obsolete."
Ealhswith chuckled. "You are not the first to make that complaint."
"I didn't think so." Cynethryth laughed. "But, I guess we ought to be delighted over Her Majesty's contentment and quit complaining."
"I think Her Majesty has more than earned her right to be happy. I, for one, could not be happier that Alice is becoming more important to this Realm."
"Yes, the Queen does. I am truly ecstatic for her. I just miss…" The young woman stopped walking. "Please forgive me."
The Physician turned around and lightly grasped the younger woman's shoulder. "Please don't apologize. I'm just sorry that I've not extended my condolences sooner. How long—"
"Not quite two months."
Both women proceeded to the door and Ealhswith raised her hand to knock, but she hesitated. Both women could hear low moans and gasps; they looked to each other and then left without saying a word.
Mirana grabbed Alice's arm and groaned. "Harder, please."
Alice was half dressed in her armor, naked from the waist down, and grinding against her Queen who was bent over a small table in Alice's dressing room. She adjusted her stance and spread her legs further, and then began to move against the taller woman with urgency. One arm was wrapped around Mirana's waist, her hand pressed against her center, pleasuring her. At her Queen's plea she delved deeper, dipping her fingers again and again.
The Queen clutched the table and whimpered. "Alice, please…"
Her Champion bent over further until her chest was flush against Mirana's back. The Queen gasped at the feel of the cold armor against her, and it increased her pleasure. She began to moan uncontrollably as Alice grabbed at her hip and increased her rhythm; and then she felt her climax coming, building slowly. She cooed and coaxed her Champion by wiggling her hips, and adjusting Alice's movement against her. The Queen surged, and her Champion rose along with her, until they both fell off the precipice together, falling into a love most divine.
"Mirana…" Alice whimpered and rested her head on her Queen's back. "I love you."
Her Queen finally opened her eyes. "Alice, honey, please get up."
Alice, unwilling to break the physical connection between them, wound her other arm around Mirana's waist and gently lifted her. She sat on the floor with her legs spread, back against a wall, with her Queen resting between her legs.
Mirana gasped for air, her head resting on her Champion's shoulder. "That was lovely."
Her Champion finally opened her eyes, and her breathing began to quiet. "I'm sorry."
The Queen breathed in deeper. "No…no…my sweet, don't say it."
Alice closed her eyes again and whimpered slightly. "Ever since you told me you were pregnant I can't seem to get enough of you."
Mirana turned her head and lightly brushed her lips over Alice's cheek. "Why is that, my love?"
Alice whimpered again, and then tried to stifle a sob. "I…I don't…"
The Queen turned her body around and then pulled her Champion into her lap. "What is it?" She could feel Alice holding back.
"My Queen, I…I…" Alice lowered her head onto Mirana's shoulder and let out her sobs, releasing her pent up emotions.
Mirana held her Champion for many minutes, letting the girl wash away at whatever was troubling her soul. She ran her hand up and down Alice's back, wishing that she could touch her skin, and not the armor. "There, there, my love."
Alice cried even harder and wound her arms around her beloved's shoulders. After a short while she quieted, and reached down to the floor to pick up a shirt. She wiped at her eyes and nose. Sighing, she lowered her head back down to Mirana's shoulder, and reveled in the sweet feeling of being loved.
The Queen lifted her Champion's head and offered her a warm smile. "Feel better?"
Alice let out a deep sigh. "Actually, yes. I feel a bit better."
"My dear Alice, you must stop bottling up your feelings deep inside, for they bring you nothing but trouble when you do."
Her Champion nodded. "Yes. It's just so hard for me sometimes."
"I'm sorry, too."
Alice looked up and met her Queen's sad eyes. "Whatever for, my Queen?"
"My pregnancy is causing you some heartache. I wish I wa—"
She never finished her sentence, as Alice reached up and cupped her Queen's face, brushing her thumbs gently over her cheeks. "Don't even think it, my love, let alone say it. I'm so incredibly happy that you carry my child. I wouldn't trade these days for anything in the world."
Mirana smiled. "Do you mean it, Alice?"
"Of course I mean it. Mirana, you bring so much happiness into my life. I love you." She held onto her Queen for a few minutes, letting their love for each other deepen and flourish.
Mirana sighed. "Do we have time for a quick bath before the Council?"
Alice stood and held out her hand to her lover. "Yes, indeed. I have no desire to show up at the Council smelling like sex." She paused and then chuckled. "Well, actually, I think it would be great fun, but I think some would faint."
"That's a very good point."
Alice wore the full armor of Underland. She also wore a black surcoat over her armor that had the insignia of the Queen embroidered on it in white stitching, plus an emblem of a white tree. Over the rerebrace on her left shoulder she wore a ceremonial garland of a silver leaf design. The surcoat was belted at the waist and a baldric that was draped from her right shoulder hung down to her left side and was connected to her scabbard, which housed the Vorpal sword. And flowing behind her was a gray, greenish cloak, fastened at her neck with a silver leaf clasp. She was the embodiment of what a Knight and Champion to the Queen of Underland must be. The Queen wore her usual white gown and glittering crown. Both stopped at the door to the Council chamber and looked at each other, offering the other their love and affection.
Alice extended her arm with her hand palm down and Mirana placed her hand over it. "Are you ready, my Queen?"
"Lead us, my Champion."
Her Champion opened the door with her free hand and allowed Mirana to enter first. When they were both in the doorway a herald raised his horn and blew a greeting. "All rise!"
The Council room was a large rectangular room on the first floor of the Castle at Marmoreal. The large white doors opened up to a spacious room. Two roaring fireplaces adorned the adjacent walls and two extremely long wooden tables were parallel to them. Each table could seat as many as twenty people. A throne at opposite end of the room was held especially for the Queen. It was located on a dais ascending three steps up.
Lords, Knights and others from the Realm were sitting at the tables with pages standing behind them, ready to serve if needed. McTwisp and other dignitaries from the Castle were standing in the space just behind the Queen's throne.
The Herald spoke, "The White Queen, Mirana of Marmoreal, Defeater of the Red Tyranny, Defender of Underland! Alice Kingsleigh, Defeater of the Jabberwock, Defender of the Queen, Champion and Lord Protector of the Realm!"
All those at the tables rose as the Queen and her Champion made their way to the other end of the room. It was apparent to all in the room that the Champion held the Queen in great esteem, as she watched Mirana with complete adoration. When they arrived at the Throne Alice continued to hold the Queen's hand until she reached the top step. When the Queen turned around to face the Council Alice stepped back a bit from her position on Mirana's right.
The Queen took a step forward. "Lords and Ladies, Knights of the Realm, Invited Guests…I greet you."
A young page, Haigha, stepped forward and handed the Queen a chalice of wine. All in the room took up their chalices and presented them to the Queen.
Mirana lifted her chalice. "To Underland, to the prosperity of the Realm." When she drank all those in attendance did the same. After she drank, she sat down.
The Herald spoke again. "The Chamberlain and Mayor of Marmoreal!"
McTwisp hopped up to the Queen and bowed, and then he turned around and proceeded to the center of the room to speak. "We are gathered here at the request of Her Majesty, Mirana of Marmoreal. But before we consider her petition we must dispense with the monthly requests." He produced a scroll from his waistcoat. "First item on the agenda is from the Hightopp clan."
Two guards opened the white doors and three members of the remaining Hightopp clan, Aelfraed Hightopp, Aachen Hightopp, and a young boy, entered the room and strode up to McTwisp. After acknowledging him they turned and bowed to the Queen.
Aachen stepped up to the rabbit. "We have come, on behalf of all the Hightopp's, to make a request of Our Gracious Queen, Mirana of Marmoreal." She looked up and smiled at Alice.
The Champion returned Aachen's smile, as she had spoken to the young woman before. Mirana glanced at Alice before turning to the young woman. "I have a mind to listen to your request, Hightopp."
Aachen bowed again. "We have endeavored, your Majesty, to renew Witzend and restore our clan's importance to your Realm. We would like, with your Majesty's permission, to reinstate the May Festival to Witzend. We feel that this yearly celebration of the first fruits of our land will encourage others to return to this region and restore it to its former self—and to reflect the greatness of her Queen's Majesty."
Mirana sat back and cringed somewhat. It had been at this festival that she lost her crown, and her sister's sinister rule begun. She knew Tarrant had hoped to bring back the festival, for the reasons Aachen was stating. Standing, she took a step forward. "It would please me tremendously to see Witzend a happy land once more. You have our permission to do exactly that. The festival is restored. McTwisp, add this to the official record."
The Hightopps bowed again and stood off to the side of the room. Aelfraed turned to the Queen. "You have our deepest gratitude, your Majesty."
Nivens scribbled on the scroll. "Yes, your Majesty. It is so noted. The next request comes from Lord Aephelstan of the Duchy of Westmarch."
The guards opened the doors again and Aephelstan entered the room, followed by his groom and a personal guard. All bowed to the Queen, who had sat down again, after nodding to the Chamberlain.
Aephelstan turned towards Mirana. "It has come to my attention, your Majesty, that the son of Knight Eanfrid has his own Establishment at Fairhaven Knoll."
Knight Eanfrid, who was sitting at one of the tables, and was whispering to a Lady sitting next to him, turned his head abruptly at the mention of his name.
The Queen waited for a moment, but the Lord remained silent. "Yes, your Grace. And?"
The man shifted on his feet, apparently agitated. "Your Majesty, is not my son better qualified to be a Prince to this Realm? He is older and…"
Eanfrid rose to his feet. "Her Majesty's decisions are not open for discussion, your Grace."
Aephelstan started forward, but was held back by his guard. "Not open for discussion? Who are you to say that to me? I outrank you in this Kingdom, my Lord."
Alice unsheathed her sword and began to step off the dais but the Queen stopped her with a look. Her Champion relented, but kept her sword at her side.
Mirana stood again and walked over to her Chamberlain and the Lord. "I'm afraid that our dear Knight is correct, your Grace. This decision is not open for debate. I have made my decision and it stands. So, we will hear no more of it."
Aephelstan stared at the Queen for a few moments before he backed down. "Forgive me, your Majesty, for being presumptuous."
"It is quite all right, your Grace." Mirana turned towards McTwisp. "Is there anything else on the agenda, dear Chamberlain?"
The rabbit was about to speak but Alice's action stopped him. "I have come to petition this court." She stepped down from the dais and walked to the center of the room to stand alongside her Queen and McTwisp. She grinned and re-sheathed her sword.
Mirana made a point of slowly walking around her Champion, apparently sizing her up. "And what would you have of us, my dear Champion?"
"Only this." Before she did or said anything, Alice grabbed Mirana and pulled her into a deep and passionate kiss. Rumors arose from those assembled. She pulled away and smiled before releasing her Queen. "I have been Champion to this Realm for not quite three years, and in that time I have come to know our beloved Queen very well—intimately, passionately."
The Queen blushed and tried to turn her head away but Alice would have none of it. She used her fingers to gently turn Mirana's face back to her. "I love her, with my body and soul…and will never stop loving her."
The Queen curtsied to her Champion and held out her hand. "Do you inquire as to my love, my Champion?"
Alice bent on one knee. "Yes, my Queen, I inquire as to her Majesty's heart, and if it would welcome my pleas of love. Do you love me, Mirana?"
The Queen laughed at the use of her given name, as she knew it would cause a stir amongst those present, and it did. "Yes, my…Alice. I love you."
"Will you have me, my Queen? And deign to marry your lowly servant?"
Mirana lifted Alice from the floor and hugged her. "You are no lowly servant, my Champion. And, yes, I will marry you."
Both women cried in thanksgiving, and barely heard the clapping of those dignitaries in the room. But not all were happy. Knight Eanfrid and the other Knights of the Order of Iustitiae remained silent, and so did Lady Ecgwynn, and a few others at the tables.
When they pulled apart Knight Eanfrid rose from his seat and walked around the table. He stood only a few feet away from Alice. "You may have our Queen, Lady Alice, but my son will one day rule this land."
Alice turned her head to Mirana, her eyes asking the question she could not speak. When the Queen nodded she turned back to the Knight. "Well, therein lies the rub, does it not, my Lord?"
Eanfrid was seething on the inside. "What do you mean by that, Lady Alice?"
The Champion walked up to the man and grabbed him by the collar. "Lady Alice? I am Champion and Lord Protector of this Realm! You will address me accordingly!"
The taller man flinched slightly, not used to such treatment by the Champion. "Forgive me…your Grace."
Alice let the man go and went to stand by her Queen again. "I claim my right, under the Law of Primogenitor, that my child will inherit this Realm, not yours."
Another Lord, who was seated at the tables, stood. "If you will forgive me, your Grace, but how would any of your future children claim any right to the Throne? You would have to divorce the Queen and marry a man to have children. Your children would have no right to the Crown."
The Queen stepped forward. "Lords and Ladies of the Realm, listen. I am pregnant."
There were a few gasps and shocked looks from those pregnant. McTwisp started to hyperventilate. "I thought you were just getting fat!"
Mirana whirled to the rabbit. "What?"
Alice advanced on the rabbit but stopped short at the laugh coming from Eanfrid. The Knight calmed somewhat and pointed at the Champion. "Our Queen admits infidelity to you, Champion! So much for-"
Alice felt like backhanding the man. "The Queen is pregnant with my child!"
Eanfrid drew his sword. "How dare-"
But he did not get a chance to finish his thought as everyone turned towards the doors as shouting could be heard. "Your Majesty! Your Majesty!" The doors flung open revealing a page. "Your Majesty, you are needed at once!"
Alice immediately grabbed Mirana's hand and led her out the doors quickly, with the others in the room falling closely behind. The page led them out of the front entrance to the castle. The sight that greeted them was horrifying. There was a dead horse on the marble entryway, small amounts of blood oozing from its mouth. Right next to the fallen horse was the burnt body of a Knight, only his armor giving his title away as the body was burnt beyond recognition. And tied to the horse's neck were the gruesome remains of the Queen's dodo.
Mirana cried out. "Uilleam!"
Alice quickly turned the Queen around and held her for a moment before placing her in the care of her Ladies in Waiting. She walked up to the scene and could only stare. "What fell hand did this, and why?"
Knights Harthacanute and Eanfrid could look to each other before joining Alice by the remains. Harthacanute looked over the remains and stopped at one of the burnt hands. "Alice, look!"
The Champion looked and saw something clenched between the withered, black hand. She bent down and gingerly removed it and held it up to the light. It was a glass red heart. She whispered. "The Red Queen…"
Chapter 5: Deus ex Machina
Alice stopped at the door to the Chambers that she shared with the White Queen and hesitated. She steeled her heart for what state the Queen may be in, considering what they had just witnessed a few hours before. Opening the door and as quietly as she could, she peered inside and saw Mirana sitting on the couch in front of the huge fireplace, an unopened book in her hand, and a far off expression on her face.
Alice gently closed the door behind her. "My Queen?"
Mirana looked up and held out her hand. "My Champion."
Her Champion took off her cloak and then removed her weapons before sitting next to her beloved. "Are you all right, Mirana?"
"I am as well as I can be."
Alice's heart broke at the pained expression on Mirana's face. "I'm so sorry, my love. I know how much you valued Uilleam."
"One of my truest advisors…and a good friend." The Queen tossed the book down and laid her head down on her Champion's shoulder.
Alice wrapped her love in a warm embrace, and just held her, no unnecessary words needed. "What can I do, Mirana?"
The question went without answer, as the Queen had fallen asleep. After a long while Alice gently laid Mirana down on the couch and put a pillow under her head. She went to her dressing room and grabbed a blanket and put it over the Queen. She knelt next to her beloved and watched her briefly as she slept. After a few moments she became aware that her Majesty's Ladies in Waiting had come in and were standing in the back of the room.
Alice rose and picked up her cloak and weapons and walked to the Ladies. "I have an emergency meeting to attend to. You will stay here and take care of the Queen when she wakes." She glanced back at Mirana. "Tell her I will be back as soon as I can."
The Ladies curtsied and Alice smiled at them before leaving.
Unlike the large council chamber that was used for all official business, the Champion's private council room was small and comfortable. It was located on the first floor of the castle and consisted of a large fireplace surrounded by ten well-padded chairs in a semicircle around a circular table. Alice walked into the room and was followed by Knights Harthacanute and Eanfrid, Lord Aephelstan, McTwisp and a few other dignitaries who had witnessed the carnage on Marmoreal's steps. They filed into the room and took their appointed seats.
Alice sat and reached over the table and poured a glass of wine. "Gentlemen—Lords, what have we discovered so far?"
Knight Eanfrid sat back in his chair. "The Physician has not yet identified the remains of the Knight, and doubts she can, as the body is completely burned. But his armor indicates he may be of the Order of Fides."
The Champion sipped her wine. "Has anyone thought of taking a census, to see who is missing?"
Knight Eadmund, of the Order of Fides, spoke, "I will personally see to it, your Grace."
"Good. What else?"
McTwisp hopped onto the round table. "I know that Uilleam was researching the castle records, looking for any rule that Iracebeth had decreed regarding the royal lineage."
Alice leaned forward. "Why? By whose order?"
The rabbit fidgeted. "I don't know, Alice. But as I recall Uilleam was considering traveling to Salazen Grum; to find more records."
All in the room were quiet for a moment. Finally, Alice broke the silence. "Perchance that is where the horse and rider were coming from? Maybe the Knight stumbled onto something he was not supposed to."
Knight Eadmund spoke, "Perhaps it would be best to send a patrol to Salazen Grum."
Aephelstan recoiled. "That is no place I would ever wish to go to. The land around that castle has yet to fully recover from the Red Queen's reign."
"I know, and that is a strange thing, indeed," said Lord Cuichelm, a younger Earl from Westmarch. "Could it be that the Red Queen is growing again in power?"
When the room went silent again all eyes turned to Alice. She sighed and then sat up. "We need to go to Salazen Grum and try to find out what exactly Uilleam was doing there and if it had anything to do with the Knight and their deaths."
Harthacanute and Eanfrid looked at each other before the former Knight spoke. "We would like to inquire as to—the claims made in the council chamber this morning."
Alice smiled, and blushed somewhat. "What you heard is true; I love the Queen with all my heart and desire that we should be made one, according to the Laws of Underland. And as to the—other matter, it is true, as well, my Lords. The Queen is expecting my child. I will not go into detail on what makes this joyous thing true, but you must know that neither I nor the Queen would ever lie about such a thing." She got up and stood to the side of her chair. "Have I ever lied to you, my Lords? Has the Queen?"
There was a resounding agreement that neither Alice nor the Queen had ever made false statements of any kind. Harthacanute cleared his throat. "Thank you, your Grace." He broke out into a huge smile. "Then I guess congratulations are in order, you cad." He lifted his wine cup. "To the Queen and her Champion!"
All in the room saluted to the happy couple and Alice just stood there, blushing, momentarily taken aback in her youth. "Thank you…thank you. Now, please, shall we get on to the topic at hand?"
When the room quieted the Champion spoke again. "Knight Harthacanute, arrange a reconnaissance team of Knights and have them ready to travel within one hour. We will go the Red Queen's castle and try to solve this mystery." She turned to the Lords. "Would any of you like to accompany us on this mission? Are not you good with the sword, Lord Cuichelm?"
The young man smiled and stood. "Yes, I am, your Grace…and I would love to come with you."
Alice smiled back at the Lord before turning to go. She paused at the door. "Perhaps we ought to take a team of archers with us. Will someone see that Lady Hild and her company of archers are notified?"
McTwisp nodded. "I will do it, Alice."
"Alright, and prepare the Bandersnatch."
"What did I tell you, they are all dead." Stayne tried to adjust the manacle around his wrist, as it was a constant source of pain. He pulled that arm forward and Iracebeth fell to her knees. "Will you stop lagging behind!"
The former Red Queen got up and glared at the dark man. "I'm tired of following you all around the Outlands! Why don't we go back to Snud?"
"Silence, you two!"
Stayne cowered, and offered the older man a smile of submission. "I'm sorry, but this one is a burden. Why won't you unshackle us?"
"You will be unfettered when you have proven your worth." He took step towards the pathetic duo. "You, too, redhead."
Iracebeth pursed her lips, and was seething on the inside. "Fine."
The older man turned back to the scene; he ran his fingers through his long white beard. They were standing on the top of a small hill and overlooking a valley below. All the red cards that had fought for the Red Queen were stored in this valley, penned up like farm animals, and seemed to be devoid of life.
"No, they are not dead, but are merely asleep. I'm quite sure that as my strength grows I can restore them to their former selves."
Iracebeth looked doubtful. "And how will you do that?"
He just ignored her. "As each day passes my powers slowly return. Did they actually think that they could kill me? They did not understand that I am practically an immortal." The man unbuckled his scabbard and sword and then tossed it to Stayne. "I don't need this anymore, I have my staff."
The Knave eagerly attached the scabbard to his belt. "I am truly grateful."
The older man turned to him, his black eyes cold. "As you should be, you will rule at my side once I claim all of Underland as mine."
Iracebeth looked from man to man and suddenly felt afraid. "Does that include me?"
The man regarded her for a moment, as one might linger on a cherished sow. "You have uses that you can not possibly imagine."
The Queen awoke suddenly and shot up on the couch. "Alice!"
One of the Ladies, Cynuise, rushed to her side. "Your Majesty, the Champion is out at a meeting, but she'll be back shortly."
Mirana relaxed, but felt at a loss. "Did she say how long?"
"No, your Majesty, she did not."
There was a soft rustling of the air beside the Queen; Chessur appeared and settled on the couch next to his Queen. "How are you feeling, love?"
Mirana turned her head and eyed the Ladies in the back of the room. "Will you all excuse us. I'll be fine with Chessur here."
Ecgwynn stood awkwardly for a moment, but then left with the other Ladies. Chessur grinned as he watched them go. "Have you noticed that, my Queen?"
The Queen frowned when she detected that her tea was cold. "Notice what?"
"Lady Ecgwynn is a bit enamored with you, your Majesty." He blinked his huge cat eyes.
"You can't possibly be serious."
"Oh, I am deadly serious, Mirana." He began to lick a paw clean. "You watch that one close. Does Alice know?"
"I don't know. I don't think so!"
The cat began to float. "As for the other matter you sent me to attend to?"
The Queen got up and straightened out her dress. "I know, its been weighing on my heart ever since." She turned to the cat. "I would like to hold off on doing that for now. But be assured, it must remain secret. No one else is to know."
Chessur spun around in the air. "Of course, my Queen. How is little Alice?"
The Queen frowned. "My Champion is not little."
Chessur grinned and floated over to Mirana; his paw touched her belly. "No, not the Champion, but this little one."
Mirana blushed. "We are both doing just fine." She tilted her head. "Do you think I'm going to have a girl?"
The cat did not get the chance to respond as Alice entered into the room. "Until later, my Queen." He vanished.
Alice walked up to her Queen and took her hand, bending to kiss it. "My Queen."
The Queen drew Alice to her. "My Champion." She wrapped her arms around the younger woman. "I'm so happy to see you, Alice."
The Champion's smile faltered, as she was loath to tell Mirana that she would be leaving on a potentially dangerous mission. "I would love to spend the rest of the day in your arms, my Queen, but I must lead a search party to Salazen Grum."
Mirana let go of her Champion. "What, why are you doing that?"
"Because we must find out what happened to Uilleam; and what killed that Knight."
The Queen looked stricken. "But, can not you have others go?"
Alice smiled and caressed her beloved's cheek. "Am I not Champion to your Realm, Mirana? Is it not my responsibility to see that it remains a safe and prosperous place for your subjects—and you?"
Mirana captured Alice's hand, keeping it on her face. "I'm pregnant, Alice. What if something should happen to you? It would grieve me to no end if you never had the opportunity to see your own child."
Alice blinked, and was hit quite suddenly with her new responsibilities. "I…I had not considered that." She took a step back and tried to pull away from Mirana but the Queen stopped her.
The Queen wound her arm around Alice's waist. "You are so brave, my young Champion. Ever ready to do what your position requires. It makes my heart soar to know that you are Lord Protector of my Realm—and soon to be protector of our child."
The Champion allowed for a single tear, and grinned at her Queen in much that same way as she had done on Frabjous Day, when Mirana caressed her cheek. "I love you, Mirana, and will bend to your will on this."
The Queen lifted both her hands and cupped Alice's cheeks. "Then you must do as you ought, my Champion—and be a Queen's Champion."
They drew together and kissed, and the Champion desired her Queen. "I love you…" She pulled Mirana closer, melding her to her armor, and moaned into her mouth.
The Queen felt her Champion's passion and responded in kind, kissing Alice with a wild abandon. She pulled back in order to talk. "How…how long until you…go."
Alice peppered kisses all along Mirana's throat. "Ah…about and hour…ugh."
Mirana grabbed Alice and threw her on the couch, and, within moments, was straddling her. She bent down and whispered into her Champion's ear. "Will you give in to me?"
Alice choked out a gasp. "Yes."
The Queen reached under Alice's armor and into her linen undergarments. "Really?"
Alice threw her head back. "Really."
Alice pulled on her gloves as she walked out into Marmoreal's Courtyard. A centuria of Knights and Archers on horseback greeted her, fifty of each, plus two carriages of supplies for the two-day journey. Lord Cuichelm was on a horse next to the Bandersnatch and was looking over his sword. Alice smiled as she walked up to them and mounted the Bandersnatch.
"I'm glad you could join us, Lord Cuichelm."
The Earl sheathed his sword and turned to Alice. "Actually, this is first time I've ever worn armor or lifted my sword."
Alice laughed as she settled onto the large animal. "Then I hope we don't run into trouble, then." She turned the animal around to address the company before her. "Today we ride to Salazen Grum and investigate the death of the Queen's most true Advisor, Uilleam. And we need to find out why one of our dear Knights was killed. I do not know what awaits us, but I know that you are true and valiant and will defend the Queen even unto death." She unsheathed her sword and raised it above her. "For Mirana of Marmoreal!"
The Company of men and women lifted their weapons and cheered. "For Our Queen! For Queen Mirana! For Her Majesty!"
Alice spurred the Bandersnatch around and shouted. "We ride to Salazen Grum!" She spurred the animal again and it took off at great speed. The horses and riders, excited to run, fell in line with Underland's Champion.
The Queen stood on the balcony on one of Marmoreal's highest spires and watched as Alice led her team away from the Castle. A part of her wanted to be at Alice's side, and lead her Knights into the fray. She raised her hand and rubbed the swell of her belly, the ever-present reminder that her life was now different, and the old carefree days were over. Ever since Alice returned to Underland they had rarely spent a day apart, and none of those days that they were separated involved any unknowable dangers. She felt as if a part of her had just been yanked out, without her consent. Her heart hurt, for many reasons, and she just wanted Alice back, safe and sound, and this business to be over.
The company of soldiers disappeared around a far off bend of the road, as it vanished around a hill. Mirana felt the loss of her Champion keenly, and with head down, departed into the Castle.
Mallymkun watched as the Chamberlain leafed through various papers on his desk before climbing onto it. "Hello, Nivens."
The rabbit looked up from his work and regarded his friend. "I hope you are doing well, Mally. But, as you can see, I'm very busy at the moment."
"I went through Uilleam's room like you asked me to."
McTwisp finished stamping a pile of papers. "Yes, yes. I'm sorry I sent you to do that, must have been frightfully boring…"
The dormouse stamped her foot. "I found something."
The tone in Mally's voice startled the rabbit. "What did you find?"
"Why was the Dodo researching the Royal blood line?"
"I don't know. I thought it a bit queer, though."
Mally climbed onto the papers that McTwisp was working on. "There was a wooden box under the bed. It looked like Uilleam was trying to hide it. I managed to drag it from under the bed and looked inside. There are countless lists of Marmoreal's monarchs—and something strange."
The rabbit's whiskers twitched. "What was strange?"
"There is a letter in the box that says King Osric was not the Queen's father, but verifies that Queen Osðryd was, indeed, her mother."
McTwisp put down the stamp and sat back. "Does it say anything about Iracebeth?"
The dormouse nodded. "Yes, it does. It does say that the King is Iracebeth's father, but not Mirana's. Why was Uilleam looking into this?"
"I don't know. The late King is not Queen Mirana's father? That is news, and strange news, indeed."
"What could it all mean?"
"I don't know." The rabbit started to fidget.
Mally stamped her foot again. "Should we tell the Queen?"
"Maybe we ought to wait until the Champion returns, just in case."
"In case of what?"
The rabbit's left foot began to twitch, as it always did when he was nervous. "We don't want to upset her—delicate condition."
"What delicate condition? Is she sick?"
The Chamberlain sighed and flattened his ears. "No, not sick—she is pregnant."
Mally's eyes went wide. "Does Alice know?"
McTwisp fell onto his side, and could feel a headache coming on. "It is a long story."
Knight Thrydwulf rubbed the back of his neck and sank to his knees, his vision still blurry from the fall from his horse. He had looked for the animal, but it was nowhere to be seen. He had managed to walk about a half a mile from the Caerdin stream and could go no further, his head still hurt and his legs would not cooperate with him. He looked and realized it was nearing twilight, and soon the land would turn cold. He wiped the back of his head and looked at his hand, there was blood on it. He groaned and almost fell over when something on the horizon caught his attention. It looked like a large company of riders was heading in his direction. Panicking, he realized that he had left his sword at the bank of the stream. He closed his eyes for a few minutes, then stood up, determined to meet whatever was coming at him as a true Knight of Marmoreal, at whatever cost.
When the riders drew closer he realized that they were Knights, and that the Champion was leading them, riding on the Bandersnatch. He waved and then noticed that Alice had spotted him.
Alice raised her arm and brought the Bandersnatch to a halt. Her centuria of Knights and Archers had halted behind her. She led the animal at a slow trot until she was upon the Knight. When she recognized him she slid off the beast and ran up to him. "Knight Thrydwulf, are you hurt?"
Thrydwulf fell to his knees, dizzy. "My head."
Alice ran back to her company. "Who is skilled at healing?"
Lord Cuichelm steered his horse closer. "I have such skills, your Grace."
"Knight Thrydwulf is back there in need of your help." The Champion turned to the Knights. "Harthacanute, there is a stream not to far ahead, let us camp there for the night. Will you see to it?"
"Yes, your Grace." He turned his horse around and led the rest of the company towards the stream.
Alice returned to Thrydwulf and the Lord. "How is he?"
The Lord looked up to her. "He has a head wound, and from the looks of it I think he fell off his horse and hit his head on a rock. Could explain why his horse is missing."
"Help me put him on the Bandersnatch." The Champion and the Lord managed to place the Knight on Alice's mount. "Lead him over to the camp, I'll catch up to you."
"But you have no ride, your Grace."
Alice offered the Lord a worn-out smile. "I'll walk. Don't worry, I'll be fine." She watched as the Lord grabbed the Bandersnatch's chain and led it away. The sun was just starting to sink on the horizon.
The Champion removed her gloves and began to walk in the direction of the camp. She sighed, and felt troubled. She was distracted by Mirana's earlier words, about her being an expectant parent, and how that would mean drastic changes in her life. For the first time since hearing the news, she felt burdened. Alice closed her eyes and chastised herself for such feelings, but it did no good. Soon she would be married and shortly after that their child would be born. That was a responsibility she never considered, because she had been so assured that that situation would never be relevant to her. Since her teenage years she had understood her attractions would always lead her towards women. Despite her mother's constant insistence, she knew she would never be married, and never would be concerned with having to take care of children.
Alice stopped short of the camp and watched as Underland's soldiers concerned themselves with setting up a camp. These men and women were her responsibility, and they looked up to her for making sure they remained safe, and that their mission would proceed without incident or disaster. She hid behind a tree and brought her hand up to wipe away some unwanted tears, the sudden feelings of responsibility overwhelming her, and tearing at her youth.
The early morning was cold and a thin layer of frost covered everything, including the tents. Alice was uncomfortable, having slept in her armor, too weary when she finally came to the camp to do anything but sleep. She got up and tried to stretch out the kinks in her limbs, groaning as her pains began to dissipate. Her stomach growled and she realized she was hungry. She opened the flap of her tent and the cold air rushed in, causing her skin to tingle.
Alice wasn't surprised to find that her soldiers were already cooking breakfast and dismantling the camp. They needed to eat quickly and get to Salazen Grum right away if they were to keep their schedule and make it back to Marmoreal before sunset.
The Champion walked up to the nearest fire pit and sat down. Harthacanute and Hild, who were already there and eating, smiled as the Champion sat with them.
Harthacanute handed over to Alice a basket of warm bread and dried fruits. "Would you like some bacon, your Grace?"
Alice nodded as she bit into the bread. "I can get it myself."
Hild stood and waved her hand. "No need, I'll go. I wanted some more anyway." She turned to go. "Would you like some tea, your Grace?"
"Do we have anything stronger?"
Harthacanute smiled and reached into his satchel. He handed a bottle to Alice. "It's the last of the ale from Queast."
Alice tipped the bottle and downed a large swallow. She felt its warmth immediately. "Very good, indeed."
Harthacanute eyed his Liege. "Are you all right, Alice?"
The Champion smiled. Harthacanute was the only Knight that she allowed to address her by her given name; she trusted the man. "I think I will be. The night did not end well, my friend. I'm afraid I was a bit panicky."
The Knight tore off a large piece of bread. "May I ask why?"
"I think they are called pre-wedding jitters." Alice munched on some raisons.
Harthacanute nodded and regarded the young woman. "I would be surprised if you claimed you didn't have them."
Alice smirked and lowered her head. "Why is that?"
"You are only human, after all, Alice." When the Champion remained silent he continued. "I know that a lot citizens put you on a pedestal, even the Queen, and they expect you to be perfect. Before you came back to Underland there were a lot of stories of how the Champion killed the Jabberwock—and they made you out to be some sort of mythic hero."
Alice laughed. "Oh, I'm no hero, my friend. I'm humble enough to know that—sometimes."
"Maybe you need to know it more often."
Hild returned with the bacon and gave some to Alice. The Champion ate the rest of her breakfast in silence as the Knight and the Archer swapped ideas on how to best complete the mission. When Alice was finished she stood. "Hild, can you let the Captains know that I want everyone ready to leave within the hour? We can not waste this precious daylight."
The Archer nodded and smiled up at Alice. "Of course, your Grace."
As Alice walked away Harthacanute spoke. "Memento mori, Alice."
Alice stopped and tilted her head before continuing to her tent. Hild looked over to the Knight as she stood up. "What was that all about?"
"Oh, nothing—I hope."
The centuria of Marmoreal's soldiers reached the gates to the once pristine Red Queen's fortress. The carefully manicured hedges, that once graced the outside of the castle were now scattered, overgrown brush, the pretty flowers replaced by weeds. Bricks and broken stonework were everywhere, as if the entire structure had the intent of laying the land around it waste. The mote around the castle was clogged and had a stink of dead things about it. But the dank smell that came out of the castle front gates stopped everyone short, a few riders leaning over their mounts vomiting their breakfast on brown, dead grass.
Alice brought a handkerchief up to her nose and fought with her own nausea. "Back off!"
The company backed up far enough to be away from the foul smelling fortress. Alice slid off the Bandersnatch and waved for her Captains to join her.
Knights Harthacanute, Eanfrid, Eadmund and Hereric strode forward along with the Archer, Lady Hild. Alice indicated for them to follow her a few yards away from the company. "We need to get inside that castle. Any ideas?"
Hereric, of the Order of Misericordia, stroked his beard. "Well, I'm not bothered too much by the smell. I can find a few lads like me and clear out that entrance in no time."
Alice smiled. "Thank you, Hereric. Lady Hild, when we are able, I would like you and your team to set up at those ramparts circling the mote—just in case we are beset from the outside. Knight Eadmund, take your Order and go along with the archers, as a back up."
Hild bowed and left to prepare her team while Eadmund gave orders to those men under his command. Alice turned and was about to give more instructions when Hereric emerged from the gate, his face ashen and his limbs shaking.
Alice rushed up to the Knight. "What is it? Are you all right?"
The Knight's eyes were wide and, after awhile, he shook his head. "It is atrocious, your Grace."
Alice swallowed. "What is appalling?"
"Someone—and it had to be a person—stacked…" His voice faded into nothing.
The Champion looked in the direction of the gate. "Stacked what?"
"Heads, your Grace. There must be at least one hundred human heads just past the entrance. Like they were put there on purpose, to frighten off any curiosity seekers."
Alice was silent for a moment. "A warning…for us?"
The Knight shook his head. "I don't know. We're putting them in burlap bags, your Grace. What would you like us to do with them?"
"Do any of the faces look familiar?"
"No, not so far. At least, not as far as I can tell."
Alice unbuckled her cape and handed it to a nearby page. "Put the bags in the mote, and clean the grime from the stone entryway."
Hereric nodded and left again. Harthacanute moved closer to Alice, and lowered his voice. "Iracebeth was exiled almost three years ago, this slaughter has nothing to do with her."
Alice nodded. "I know. I spent quite a bit of time in this place on my second visit to Underland and this doesn't remind me of any of the awful things that she did. Not even her Knave would be capable of doing something like this."
Knight Eanfrid moved closer to them. "I agree with you, your Grace. I was imprisoned here just before the Red Queen lost her grip on the Kingdom. She was malicious to be sure, but not like this. Her cruelty was not—inherently evil—if that makes sense."
Harthacanute looked dubious. "That does not make any sense."
The Champion shook her head. "No, it really does, my friend. Not all improper actions are evil actions, or are motivated by evil intentions. There is a malignancy in this place that was not here before. I can feel it. You are right, this is not about the Red Queen at all, but something else—something evil."
Knight Hereric emerged from the gate with the rest of his Knights and waved at Alice. "If it is all right with you, your Grace, we would like to return to Caerdin stream and clean up."
Alice nodded her assent. "By all means, my Lord." She turned around and faced the remaining Knights. "We are going to separate into three groups."
Alice dispersed the remaining knights into different areas of the castle and charged them with finding anything that would help solve the unexplained deaths of Uilleam and the unidentified knight. She led a small party of knights through the main floor of the castle, searching for anything that would help unravel the mystery. Using her sword, she opened the double doors to the former Throne Room and peered inside. It was in shambles.
The Champion walked in slowly, sword ready to strike if needed. Five knights followed her in and moved in different directions. Alice came upon the pile of dead frog footmen and her eyes widened. The bodies on the bottom were far more decomposed than the ones on top of the pile. In fact, the bodies on top looked like they had been dead for only a few days at most. She observed them closely but could not see how they were killed.
A knight walked up to her. "I've never seen anything like this, your Grace."
Alice nodded without looking at the man. "I know." She wandered around the Throne Room and noticed the glass shards at her feet. She picked one up that looked exactly like the one clutched in the burned hand of one of her soldiers; she put it in a small satchel around her waist. The dingy carpet at her feet was stained with brown, dried blood. The broken throne caught her attention so she went in that direction and was aghast to see the rotting feet of Uilleam behind it. She briskly walked away as a sudden need to vomit overwhelmed her. It was everywhere, death or the stench of death. Stomach in knots, she leaned against a column, but quickly moved away when it made a noise.
Alice could feel it, a cold malevolence—unforgiving, mocking—and shuddered to her core. She was frightened. Without delay she ran for the double doors. Her knights followed her, unwilling to spend any more time in the decaying Throne Room. When she was in the foyer she dropped to her knees in an effort to control her fraying emotions.
A knight approached her, but did not get too close. "Are you all right, Alice?"
This time, she was grateful for the use of her name, feeling better that her soldiers did, indeed, care for her. "I will be. Thank you for your concern." Alice squeezed her eyes shut briefly before standing and sheathing her sword.
Just as Alice was about to say something Knight Eanfrid emerged from the bronze door that led to the lower halls; his company of knights soon behind him. "Your Grace!"
The Champion whirled and rushed to the man. "What is it? What did you find?"
Eanfrid looked like he had just danced with the devil. "We found the bodies those heads came from. They are crucified on the walls in the lower basement. Every other room down there is empty, which does not make any sense to me."
Alice frowned. "How so?"
"They are not only empty, your Grace, but completely clean—as if someone is preparing them for—"
Eanfrid shook his head. "I don't know, your Grace."
Alice lowered her head somewhat, and then made her decision. "I don't think that we w—"
A knight coming down the main staircase interrupted her. "Your Grace! Alice!"
"What is it?"
"Lord Cuichelm needs you upstairs, immediately!"
"Eanfrid, you and your team stay here." Alice rushed up the stair with her knights in tow. She found Cuichelm and Harthacanute in an upper storage room. Alice looked around the room. It was a bedroom that was converted into a storage room for paper records. "Have you found anything?"
Harthacanute looked up from the box he was examining. "Yes, your Grace. We've got about eighteen boxes filled your family's birth records. Is this what Uilleam was looking for?"
Alice nodded. "According to Nivens it was." Alice walked to a box and opened it. "This is exactly what Uilleam was looking for. Look at this—the birth records of our Queen and Iracebeth." She closed the box. "Harthacanute. Pack all these boxes in the carriages. We'll take them back to Marmoreal. Did you find anything else up here?"
Cuichelm indicated for the Champion to come to him. She tilted her head as she approached him. "Yes, my Lord?"
"Come with me."
Alice followed the Lord out into the hallway. "What—"
Lord Cuichelm walked to a door down the hallway and opened it. "Take a look, your Grace."
Alice peered inside to a large closet. She saw nothing out of the ordinary. "Is there something I should see?"
"I found this while the knights were in the upper floor." He went inside and pushed aside some old coats still on their hangers. Behind those was a door and he opened it. It led to a small room that he entered; Alice followed him.
There was a light in the room that couldn't be accounted for, as no apparatus for it could be found. All the walls were empty except one, on which hung a large portrait. Alice squinted as she looked at it. It showed a tall, thin man with extremely long white blonde hair, and he was holding a baby with similar features.
Alice moved closer to the portrait. "That baby—it's Queen Mirana. But who is holding her? That's not King Osric." She moved even closer. "His ears look unusual, don't they?"
The Lord was staring at the portrait. "Yes."
"Have a knight take this down. We'll bring it to Marmoreal, as well. Have everyone prepared to leave within the half hour." Alice left and went downstairs.
Queen Mirana sat at her desk and tried to concentrate on the paperwork before her. Much of it was overdue petitions from all over her Realm—permissions to build a damn, or create and new bridge—that needed a decision on her part and an official signature and stamp. But she had difficult remaining on her task, as she expected her Champion back at some point today. She chose an old stack of paperwork and began to reading through it when a page burst into her office.
"Your Majesty, the knights are returning!"
Mirana moved so fast that she knocked down her chair, but halfway down the hall she slowed, remembering that she was with child. She did not want to upset the baby. By the time she reached the entrance to her castle she could see the riders on the distant horizon, apparently on an unhurried pace towards home.
She heard activity behind her and turned. Her ladies in waiting plus a few other people came out to great the returning knights.
Alice could see the castle growing in size and knew she was close to home. She was tired and dirty, and the Bandersnatch had been run to the ground. Marmoreal was getting closer and her heart began to soar as she could finally see the White Queen, waiting for her. The Bandersnatch took off from the group and ran even faster, as if knowing how much its rider wanted to be home. Alice unsheathed her sword and waved it above her head, shouting for joy. She turned and noticed that he soldiers did the same.
Alice slowed the animal as it reached the marble path that led up to the castle. She grinned as Mirana started walking down the path, ready to greet her. Unable to wait any longer, she slid down the animal and began to walk, too. She could hear the knights behind her stopping their horses and dismounting. Throwing chivalry aside, she unclasped her cape and let it fall to the ground. Next came the baldric from around her shoulder. She unbuckled it and tossed it away from her, along with her scabbard and sword. She unclasped the surcoat and lifted it off her shoulders before tossing it to the ground.
The Champion grinned again and then started running, and didn't stop until she had swept her Queen up into her arms and spun her around. They laughed and just held each other tightly, kisses mingled with tears of happiness.
Mirana's tongue begged entrance into her Champion's mouth and Alice gladly accepted. They clung together like school kids in love, hands roaming and exploring. The Queen tore her mouth from Alice's and finally spoke. "We need to get inside, my love, before I tear that armor off right now."
Alice grabbed her Queen's hand and they walked into the castle, their eyes never leaving the other, neither one of them noticing the blushes of those around them as they passed by. The Queen and her Champion were in love.
Alice removed her armor and just dropped it by the floor where she stood. She slowly entered into the steaming water and groaned, as her muscles began to finally protest her exertions. Mirana floated over to her and wrapped her arms around Alice's waist, bringing their bodies together.
Mirana rested her head on Alice's shoulder. "I missed you."
Alice closed her eyes. "I missed you, too. I hated being away from you, it was awful." She felt herself being drawn into Morpheus' realm. "I'm so tired."
Mirana lifted her head and finally noticed her Champion's weariness. "Here, let me bathe you." The Queen grabbed the bottle of soap and quickly cleaned her lover.
Alice just smiled as the Queen's hands roamed her body. She expected to feel arousal at such an intimate touch, but her body was too exhausted to do anything other than feel drowsy. "I love you, Mirana."
"I love you, too, my Champion." Mirana led Alice out of the bath and dried her before taking her hand again and leading her to their bed. She pulled the blankets down and pulled Alice with her onto the soft surface. Alice groaned, and Mirana guided her lover down with her. Alice moved to her back and drew her Queen to her. They fell asleep together, all their cares and burdens momentarily forgotten.
Chapter 6: The Antipodes
In the midnight, swarms of fireflies lazily flitted over the horizon and buzzed past the bedroom window of the White Queen and her Champion, creating a soft light meant to please, and offer comfort for those inside.
Mirana rolled over in her sleep and threw her arm out, as she always did, in the hopes of snuggling closer to her beloved. This time, however, her arm fell onto the soft mattress. She slowly woke, her open eyes falling onto an empty bed. Full of drowsiness, she sat up and yawned, and then turned her head around, but Alice was nowhere to be seen. Frowning, she got up and put on her housecoat and moved to the door that led to their parlor.
The Queen opened the door and peered out into the parlor. There was a small fire in the fireplace and Alice was sitting on the couch in front of it, rolling a glass of wine between her palms. "Alice?"
Her Champion did not answer immediately, but raised the glass and downed a large swallow. "I'm sorry I woke you."
"It was your absence that disturbed my sleep."
Alice did not look up. "I'm sorry."
Mirana glided over to the couch and sat down next to her Champion. She watched her somber face for a few moments before speaking. "What is it? What troubles your heart, my love?"
"I am at a loss on how to interpret what we discovered today." She glanced up briefly, completely befuddled; not knowing how to tell her Queen about the evil found at Salazen Grum, and that she was the focal point.
Mirana nodded and regarded her Champion closely. "You are deeply troubled, are you not?"
Alice downed the last of the wine and threw the glass aside. "My heart is grieved within me, and I'm contained by a prodigious sorrow." She lowered her head, unwilling to let her beloved see her falling tears.
Mirana did see them, however, as she knew her Alice very well. She reached over and drew her beloved to her, and held her as she rode out her grief, releasing bitter tears. Time is eternal, and can be felt by the beating of one's own heart, and can reach beyond distances, to marry those who are in love. It covered the White Queen in a mantle of security and strength, and gave her a gentle caring, binding Queen to Champion and making them present only to each other.
The Queen did not know how long they reclined on the couch, holding each other until the tears were at an end. She used her sleeve to dry Alice's face and chuckled somewhat when her Champion hiccupped.
Alice looked up, her eyes swollen, her mood low. "Why do you love me so? Am I really that worthwhile?"
Mirana turned her body so that she was facing Alice. "Oh, Alice…there must surely be a rent in your heart to doubt your worth to me. I am humbled by you, my love, your sweet innocence and love captured my heart so long ago that I cannot remember a time when I didn't love you."
Alice blushed at her Queen's honest admission, and reached up to gently caress her cheek. "It is I who am humbled by you and your passionate belief in me."
"Will you share your anxious heart with me?"
The Champion shook her head. "May we have this discussion when it is daylight? I do not want to curse the night with the things I must share with you."
Mirana blinked, concern evident on her face. "Curse the night? Need I be afraid, Alice?"
Alice grabbed hold of her beloved and held her tight. "No, Mirana. There is no reason for you to be frightened. It's just that there are some truths that are made clearer by the light of day."
The Queen buried her face in Alice's shoulder. "I will trust you, my Champion."
"That is good." Alice pulled away and smiled. "Would you like to go back to bed?"
Mirana lifted a finger and gently parted Alice's robe, revealing the swell of her breasts. "Any other suggestions come to mind?"
Alice watched as the Queen's finger slowly circled her breast, coming to rest on an erect nipple. Mesmerized, she languidly raised a hand and captured that finger, raising it to her mouth to unhurriedly suck and tease. When Mirana groaned her passion was fueled. She forced her Queen down on the couch; her hands were everywhere, ripping at the fabric of the housecoat, trying to take it off.
Mirana felt her Champion's passion and forced Alice up so she could wiggle out of the housecoat before ripping Alice's robe off, and guiding the girl on top of her. "Yes, Alice. You are my Champion…"
"Yes…" The Champion reached under her Queen and grabbed her hips, lifting her up and positioning her just so. Alice grunted and reached between them, she stroked herself and then Mirana, uniting their bodies as they fitted perfectly together. Alice began to move, and Mirana undulated with her, the friction between them delicious. She clutched at the fabric of the couch, anchoring herself as she writhed on top of her Queen. Just as she was about to bend down and kiss Mirana there was a loud knocking at the door, followed by the door swinging open and a Knight rushing in. "Your Maj—"
Mirana screamed and Alice froze for only a second, before reaching to the floor and picking up her robe, putting it over herself and her Queen. "What are you doing here at this time of night? Answer me!"
Knight Wuscfrea halted, his eyes wide, before turning around and facing the door. "I'm…so sorry, your Majesty! But Knight Harthacanute needs you right away at the stables!"
The Queen flinched and turned her head away. "Leave. We will be out shortly."
As the door slammed shut Alice went rigid with rage. She stared down at her Queen for only a moment before getting up abruptly and marching into the bedroom. Mirana clutched her housecoat to her and followed her Champion into their room.
Alice stormed into her dressing room and her Queen stood at the door, her eyes wide. Her Champion whirled around and caught her Queen with a look both filled with anger and lust. "Please go, now…I must get dressed!"
Mirana didn't budge, and she took exception to Alice's tone. "Why are you speaking to me like that? You have no right raising your voice to me, or taking your anger out on me! I am your Queen!"
Alice lashed out and kicked over a small table. "Fine, your Majesty!" She took two strides to Mirana and grabbed her by the shoulders, flinging away her housecoat. "I believe we were in the middle of this." Her lips crashed down on her beloved's in a kiss filled with ire and lust. She pushed Mirana against a table and spread her legs, and then tried to touch her. For a few moments there was a struggle between them.
Mirana fiercely pushed Alice away. "What is wrong with you, Alice?"
The Champion staggered back and lost her balance. Her back hit a wall and her breath knocked out of her. She groaned and slid down the wall.
The Queen was horrified. She rushed to Alice's side and knelt down next to her. "Oh, my…I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, my love! What have I done?"
Alice gasped for air and sat up, her eyes bereft of her earlier rage. She looked at her beloved and could still see apprehension in her eyes. "Mirana?"
The Queen was in agony; she had come to edge of breaking her vows. "I'm so sorry that I pushed you. I almost broke my vows…on you. Alice, what is happening to us?"
Her Champion reached out and enveloped her Queen into her arms. "Please don't do this, Mirana. Think of the baby, you must calm down. I'm the one who was out of control—and I'm not exactly sure why."
Mirana rested her head on her beloved's chest. "I have never seen you so enraged."
Alice nodded. "And I've never felt so much anger in my life." She sighed and ran her hand over her face. "What's happening to me?"
The Queen remained silent, but she pondered her Champion's distress, and felt that she understood what was wrong with her. "Do you need to spend some time away, my love, to center yourself again to this world?"
The Champion was stunned by Mirana's offer and wrapped her arms around her. She was torn, as she needed exactly what her Queen was offering her, but she also knew that leaving a pregnant Mirana would not be something she would wish to do. "You mean leave you? I…I can't make that decision."
Mirana looked up. "You need some time to yourself, Alice. I understand that now. But, please, don't worry about what happens here, I can take care of Underland. Please take care of yourself, alright?"
Alice let out a ragged breath, and hugged the Queen even tighter. "I love you."
The Queen and her Champion arrived at the stables and were met by Knights Harthacanute and Wuscfrea, Ealhswith and McTwisp. Alice could not help notice the somber mood, and took Mirana's hand.
"There are more deaths." Harthacanute's tone was 'matter of fact', as he tried not to appear worried or in distress.
Alice sighed. "Who?"
Ealhswith motioned for Alice to come over, but the Champion did not move. "The Tweedles."
The Queen's eyes went wide and she grasped Alice's hand tighter, but realized in a few moments that Alice was going to be leaving. She turned to her lover. "It is alright, my Champion. Concern yourself with this no more…at least, for now."
Alice bent to take her Queen's hand then kissed it. "Good-bye." She turned and then left.
All were stunned except Mirana. She watched as Alice walked away and disappeared into the night. Her heart was already low, but she did not want the others to know of it. "Show me."
The Physician looked to the knights before addressing the Queen. "Are you sure, your Majesty?"
The Queen lifted her skirts and proceeded into the stables. "Of course I am."
The vast Marmoreal stables housed at least four hundred horses, most used for the Equestrian Knights, but also for the personal use of the Queen and her Court. When the White Queen returned to power one of the first things that she did was to restore the Equestrian Order of Knights to the Kingdom, as the Order first flourished under her family's rule over Underland. And she herself loved to ride over its hills and dales.
They were in the first Hall of Stables, in the quarters of the Overseers—the Tweedles. The inside of the living area was freezing, as the various fireplaces in the domestic spaces were cold and unused. Mirana walked into the parlor and stopped abruptly, her visceral reaction forcing her to ignore the urge to vomit. "Oh, my goodness."
Knight Wuscfrea followed his Queen inside the room and moved around her in order to see. He shook his head. "This is incomprehensible. Who would do such a thing?"
The Tweedles had been strung up by their heels, their throats cut, frozen blood from the chill weather hanging down like gruesome stalactites. The blood that gushed out of their bodies had anointed a pile of rotting rats directly below them. Harthacanute halted at the threshold before slowly entering the room, followed by the Royal Physician.
The Queen stopped as a chill set in her bones, and then turned abruptly and looked at Harthacanute. "Why is the air so chill? We are in springtime, yet this feels so much like winter."
The Knight could only shake his head. "I don't know, your Majesty."
McTwisp closed his eyes, as he could no longer stand to look at the sight. He hopped into the Queen's arms. "I can't look anymore."
The Queen held her Chamberlain as she walked about the room, hoping to see something that would reveal a truth—any truth—to help her solve this mystery. "Knight Wuscfrea?"
The Knight turned from the bookcase he was inspecting. "Your bidding, your Majesty?"
"Please take Nivens back to the castle and see to his care. Will you go as well, Ealhswith?"
"Of course, your Majesty."
When they were gone Mirana turned to Harthacanute. "My Champion is not here, so I'm relying on you, dear Knight, to enlighten your Queen on what all of this is about. You need to tell me what you found at Salazen Grum."
Harthacanute swallowed hard. "May we wait until daylight, my Queen? It is a difficult thing that I must convey to you, and…I'm somewhat intimidated by the night, and all its shadows."
Mirana's insides went cold. "My Cham—Alice—told me the same thing, but she told me I need not be afraid."
"And with such a stalwart soul at your side I would not fear the darkness, either. But, my Queen, for some reason, Alice is not here, and I must insist on the morrow."
For the first time in many days, the Queen was afraid. "Will you see me safely to Marmoreal, my dear Knight?"
"Of course, my dear Lady." The Knight held out his arm, which the Queen gladly took.
Alice found herself on the other side of the massive stables complex, putting all the provisions she would need in a small wagon, and in the company of a groomsman, who was attaching a horse to her wagon.
The young man—a boy, really—looked up. "Will there be anything else, Lady Alice?"
Alice mounted the Bandersnatch and looked down. "No, my friend. Why don't you return to your family—its awfully late and you ought to be home."
The boy frowned. "I don't have a home anymore, Lady Alice."
The Champion stared for a moment, then slid down to the hay-strewn floor. "What? What happened to them?"
"They disappeared two days ago. Me mum and dad are gone."
"Where have you been staying?"
"In here, over there."
Alice looked in the direction the boy was pointing and saw a shabby stall with extra blankets in it—food scraps all over the place. "In there?"
Alice dropped to her knee in front of the boy. "I want you to go to the castle and ask for the Royal Physician, Ealhswith. Tell her what you told me—and mention that you talked to me—and she will provide a room for you. When I return we will try to find your parents. Okay?"
The young man wrapped his arms around Alice's neck and held on. "Thank you."
Alice closed her eyes and sighed deeply, and understood probably for the first time what it may be like to be a parent. She unwrapped the boy's arms from around her neck. "There you go—now off with you!" As she watched the young boy run away she was beset with a strange sense of foreboding, as if she was on the periphery of some knowledge that was still elusive. Sighing, she ignored the feeling and mounted the Bandersnatch again and grabbed the reigns of the horse and led it out of stables, to a place yet to be discovered.
Knight Harthacanute escorted the Queen to her Chambers and bid her goodnight. Mirana closed the door behind her and leaned against it, her heart heavy. There was something not quite right with her Kingdom, and she was just beginning to finally see it. No, she thought, not see it, but feel it. Her heart was troubled in much the same way as it was when Iracebeth was in power—guilt, sorrow, and feelings of futility. Taking a deep breath, she rubbed her swollen belly in an effort to calm the baby within, knowing that such negative emotions might harm the child. She calmed and let her mind wander, images of the woman she loved flitting about, easing the strain, and bringing a smile to her face.
The birds chirped, heralding the beginning of a new day, and the first few rays of the sun began to illuminate the horizon, Mirana opened her eyes to an empty room, one devoid of a familiar and necessary presence. She looked to her desk and to the draped rope hanging from the ceiling. When pulled it sent a few musical notes to her Ladies in Waiting, letting them know that she needed to be attended to. She had not used it in three years, but now it was necessary with Alice away.
The Queen pulled the rope and then glided over to the couch, reclining as she waited. In a manner of minutes Ecgwynn, Cynethryth and the rest of the ladies in waiting came rushing in, adjusting their clothing, as they had not waited on their mistress in a long while.
Cynethryth finished tying her apron. "Yes, your Majesty. How we may serve you."
Mirana stood up. "My Champion…is away. I wish to sleep right now and will require assistance when I wake. See that a fire is stoked and does not burn out, as it is unseasonably cold. I'll be in my chamber."
Ecgwynn watched the Queen enter into her bedroom. "So…who would like first watch?"
When no one responded, Lady Cynuise stepped forward. "I will."
Cynethryth sighed. "Me, too."
"All right. We have not done this in awhile but the usual rules apply. Eight hour shifts overlapping every four hours. Ladies." Ecgwynn opened a closet door and the hinges creaked from under use. She pulled out a sleeping cot along with a pillow and blanket and then settled in for some sleep.
Cynuise pulled a small table in front of the fireplace and put a stack of cards and a bottle on wine on it. She sat and motioned for Cynethryth to come over. "Fancy a game of cards?"
"Not really, but sure." The lady poured a tall glass of wine. "It's too early in the morning to drink wine."
Cynuise smiled. "Then why do you?"
"I've nothing better to do." Cynethryth dealt the cards. She looked Cynuise directly in the eyes and then lowered her voice. "Have you noticed?"
"Well…things. Strange things happening here; the Knights going to Salazen Grum and now having to go to the stables at such an odd hour. Not to mention all the secret meetings."
Cynuise put two cards on the table and then took two more. "Maybe it has to do with the wedding plans."
"I don't think so. My heart is troubled—and now the Champion isn't here—when the Queen is pregnant. Why would she leave with the Queen in such a delicate condition?" Cynethryth looked at her cards with disgust. "I'm not good at card games."
"What happened at the stables?"
"I think someone died."
Cynuise frowned. "Who?"
"This is what I'm talking about—so many secrets."
Cynuise chuckled, and then blushed. "The Queen is pregnant with Alice's child. How do you suppose that happened?"
"I don't know, but I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when it did."
Cynuise used her cards to lightly hit the other woman on the hand. "Such insolence!"
Both women looked at each other and then broke down in laughter. Neither of them knew that Ecgwynn was not asleep, and was listening to their conversation.
Mirana turned onto her side and sighed deeply. As much as she needed sleep at the moment, it eluded her, chased away by one worry after another. She felt a tingling at her back and then a soft green glow. "Hello, Chessur."
The cat yawned. "Mirana, my dear, you must stop worrying and get some sleep. Little Alice needs the rest."
The Queen sat up. "Do you always do this?"
"Pop up in my chambers, when I'm asleep?"
Chessur vanished, and left his smile. "Maybe…and are these not the Champion's chambers, as well?"
The cat plopped down in front of his Queen. "Why the hesitation, dear Queen? Is there something that I should know?"
Mirana frowned. "Why are you deeply into my affairs, Chessur?"
"Not yours, Mirana. But I am your Champion's chief spy, and need to know where she is at any given moment." Chessur smiled then licked his paw.
The Queen leaned back against her headboard. "Alice is away…working out some of her troubles."
"Troubles?" Chessur watched the changing expressions on his Queen's face. "What is troubling you, my dear Queen? I realize that Absolem was once your confidant, and that you have not taken another since Alice's return. But when she is gone you can count of me to be a treasured friend."
Mirana's features softened, and then she offered the cat a genuine smile. "Thank you, Chess. I am not sure, but I think Alice has been dreadfully burdened since I announced that I am pregnant. I fear that she may not want this responsibility as it is now complicated by the strange things happening in this kingdom."
"Do you doubt her love for you?"
"Not her love, Chess, but her ability to be Champion to this Realm and be protector to our child—not to mention her responsibility in solving our current problem."
Chessur sat up and scratched behind his ear. "I think she is more than able to do all that, and so much more, Mirana. Her heart is true and her resolve is strong. Everyone goes through periods of self-doubt. Alice will emerge from hers as Underland's fiercest Champion, and, well—a more ardent lover, I would think."
Mirana blushed. "And how would you know of such a thing?"
Chessur grinned. "Because I have a certain knowledge of her, and I think I know where she is will end up on this particular journey."
"Yes, my Queen."
The Queen waited for a few moments. "Well…where?"
"Do you trust me, my Queen?" Chessur started to float, and then turned his feline body completely around.
"Of course, I do."
"Then I shall not tell you, my Queen. Alice will be in safe, so to speak."
Mirana settled back down onto the bed and then turned back onto her side. "I'm so tired…"
The cat stretched. "You forget your intimate tie to this world, my Queen. You and Underland are one—as you prosper so does the realm, and if you should wither this kingdom will fall down with you. That is why you must not doubt Alice's ability to be your strength and your fortress against any doom."
When the Queen closed her eyes the Cheshire cat floated back down in front of her and placed an ear on her belly. What he heard caused him to purr loudly, and then he, too, fell asleep.
Purple rays of the sun bounced off the Antipodes of Truth and Untruth, a strange mountain formation in a queer part of Underland. But the familiar song of the morning birds was changed somehow, and resembled a dirge. A ray of muted light hit the tent and woke its occupant. The tent provided very little warmth from the unseasonably cold weather outside. It was springtime yet the sun was muted and its rays did not penetrate into the icy menace that was seeping into Underland.
Alice parted the flaps to the tent and her breath caught by the coldness. She crawled over to the dead fire and tried to ignite it, her breath easily visible in the gray morning. The embers began to glow, and slowly, heat rose up to greet her achingly cold fingers. Alice's head fell to her warm hands and she closed her eyes, wondering why she was out in this wasteland when she could be in her warm bed next to her beloved Queen. The heat from the growing fire started to make her drowsy again.
A loud crash startled Alice and she whirled to see Mirana's friend—the gryphon—King Eadweard, standing a few feet from her. "Alice Kingsleigh of London—prepare to enter into the fire!"
Chapter 7: Kind Eadweard
Alice rubbed her eyes and yawned, but then hastily scooted back as the massive creature walked in her direction, the enormous footfalls causing the ground to shake. The Champion scrambled back to the tents entrance and wrapped the blanket around her. The gryphon stopped just a few yards from her and Alice had to crane her neck backwards in order to look Eadweard in the eyes.
"I remember you." Alice waited for a response, but none came. The creature continued to stare at her, its black eyes cold in the frosty morning. After awhile, she shifted on her feet as a strange fear stole over her heart.
The creature turned its considerable, eagle head and looked at the Champion's sparse camp. "Alice Kingsleigh of London, do you require safe passage?"
"Well, no, as I am not dead."
Kind Eadweard lashed out and its talon swept her tent away. "I did not ask if you were dead!"
Alice turned around and saw her tent torn and made useless. She swallowed before turning back around and stared at the huge gryphon. "Why did you do that, Eadweard?"
The gryphon sat down and leaned low, so that his eyes were level with Alice's. "Why are you here, Alice Kingsleigh of London?"
The Champion sighed. "You don't have to be so formal, Kin—"
The creature lifted its claw and flicked it at the Champion. She went sprawling a few feet backwards and landed on her back. "Hey, why are you—"
Eadweard stood and took one large stride towards Alice. It easily lifted the Champion so that her face was level with his. "I will ask you only once more. What are you doing in my domain?"
Alice's back ached, and she stifled a groan. "I came for…for…some time spent alone."
The gryphon released Alice and she fell to the ground. "Time spent alone?"
The beast dropped Alice again but this time she landed on her feet. She staggered backwards and glared at Eadweard. "Why are you being so mean to me? I thought you were Mirana's friend?"
Eadweard tilted his massive eagle head to the side and his pupils dilated. "I am a dear friend of Mirana of Marmoreal…but not yours."
Alice bent and grabbed a blanket, as she was still clad in nightclothes, and it was cold. "Why not?"
The gryphon stood and stretched his feline body and then slowly circled the shivering Champion. "Why do you seek solace amongst the dead?"
The Champion turned slowly as Eadweard did in order to see what the creature was doing. "I do not know, as I did not know where I was going. I just sort of followed…an inner feeling."
The creature stopped and bent its head again to stare Alice directly in the eyes. "You look for the living amongst the dead and you don't know why? I know many things, Alice Kingsleigh of London!" He flapped a massive wing and it knocked Alice to the ground again. "Do you think that I do not know that you left Mirana? You abandoned her in her hour of need!"
"I did not mean—"
"You left her in the beginning of her pregnancy, when she is carrying your child! I know everything, Alice Kingsleigh of London! There is a dark plague on the borders of Marmoreal. A new menace lies waiting in the depths of Salazen Grum. The disgruntled of the Outlandish regions grumble low in the hills, waiting for the right time when a leader will arise and renew them to their lands. A portal is open and waits! The time of the White Queen stands on the edge of a knife."
Alice got up and favored her left arm. She rubbed it and the pain was intense. "I don't know how…"
"Silence!" The creature flapped his other wing and Alice went flying in the opposite direction, landing hard on ground.
This time Alice could not suppress a groan. She got up again and her hands were bleeding from landing on the rough surface. She was angry and frustrated. "Why are you doing this to me?"
"The time of your infancy is over. Put on your armor!"
The Champion stood her ground. "No."
Eadweard lifted his front leg and smacked Alice on the head sending her to her knees. "Put on your armor, now!"
The Champion stifled a tear and was determined not to show any weakness. When she stood both her hands and knees were bleeding. But she did not challenge the gryphon this time and moved to her scattered camp and looked for her armor. Some vague part of her mind wondered if her Queen had sent Eadweard to her, in order to punish her for leaving. But just as soon as she had the thought she rejected it. Mirana was not that cruel, at least, not in that way. She lifted the ripped tent and found her armor beneath it. Her bleeding hands made it difficult to put it on, with its many buckles and ties, but she managed to put it on without outwardly moaning, or showing any sign of weakness.
When she had buckled the last strap she turned around and faced the gryphon. "Do I need my sword?"
"You will not need it." Eadweard paused before turning around and lumbering away.
Alice followed the creature at a respectable distance, not sure if it would be proper to try to engage the gryphon in conversation. She looked down and noticed small drops of blood oozing from the greaves on her knees. "My knees are cut from the rocks."
The gryphon swished his lion tail and nearly slapped Alice in the face. "That is no concern of mine."
The Champion gritted her teeth. "No concern of yours! I am injured!"
"As I said, it is a non sequitur to me." This time the end of his tail found purchase on Alice's cheek.
Alice's head flew to the side and she reeled, nearly losing her balance, and blood spewed from her mouth. She stopped and spit out the blood and was startled to see one of her teeth in the bloody splatter. As she bent down and picked it up a rage built up in her.
"Look!" Alice held out the tooth in front of her. "I said, look!"
The huge beast turned around slowly and eyed the tooth, a low growl emanating from deep in his throat. "What do you expect me to do about it?"
The Champion stared, dumbfounded, at the coldness she was receiving from some creature that was supposed to be the White Queen's friend. "Why are you doing this to me? What have I done that was so wrong?"
For the briefest moment Eadweard felt sorry for the girl. But the moment did not last, and his ire peaked even higher. "What was so wrong? You got what you wanted, with no consideration for what may come of it!"
"What are you talking about?"
"I know everything, Alice Kingsleigh of London. Your fantasy with the Queen, for starters. You fathered a child on that night and then doubted when Mirana told you she was pregnant! You were going to leave the Queen, in a hour when she most needed you!"
"But I realized my mistake! I understood that Mirana could never be unfaithful to me, and apologized to her. I felt my error very keenly, Eadweard!" Alice spit out more blood from her mouth, and then winched form the pain in her knees.
"But her hurt remained, didn't it? Your fits of doubt have caused her to grieve her pregnancy, as if it is an annoyance to you!"
Alice's eyes widened. "How do you know she feels that?"
Eadweard sat and regarded the small, young woman. "To this hour she regrets it! Of course she would never tell you of this most darkest fear, because if you would really leave her she would never recover, and would live the rest of her life in inconsolable sorrow."
The Champion knees weakened and she grabbed the trunk of a nearby tree to steady herself. "I would never leave Mirana. She knows this; it is no secret! She has my heart, soul, and life! Everything that I am is hers for the taking."
The gryphon seemed to pause, letting Alice's words seep into him. But it was not enough. He got up abruptly and started to walk away. "Follow me."
Alice got the impression that she would be bruised even further if she refused. So she steadied herself and limped along, following Eadweard, but not close enough to be whacked by his tail again.
Hours later, Alice was in agony by the time they reached the skirts of a nearby mountain. Her cheek was swollen and her hands and knees were caked in dried blood. Also, she was sure that her feet were covered in blisters, as the armor footwear was not designed for any long distance walking. She halted when the gryphon stopped to sip water from a nearby stream.
The gryphon looked up abruptly and caught Alice in an icy stare. "You are an insensitive brute!"
"No, I'm not!"
"How else do you explain lashing out at the poor Queen in anger? You wanted to take her by force!"
"No, that is not true! I would never do that! You think that I am capable of rape? I was only angry…"
"…An angry, unthinking brute!"
Alice lowered her head. "Stop saying that!"
"It is true, so I won't stop."
The Champion picked up a rock and threw it at the creature. "Go ask the Queen! She will tell you that I'm the gentlest companion and lover!"
Eadweard easily caught the rock before it hit him. "Never mind."
Alice fell to her knees and cradled her head with her filthy hands. "Where…where are we going?"
Eadweard turned his considerable head to glance at the girl. "Up."
The Champion crawled to the stream and gulped down the water as if her life depended on it. After a while she lifted her head and slowly dipped her wounded hands into the water. She inhaled deeply at the sting. "What do mean by 'up'?"
The gryphon stretched his black wings. "Why, up the mountain, of course."
Alice abruptly withdrew her hands from the water and stood, shakily, to her feet. "Up that mountain? How do you expect me to do that with no gear and wearing this heavy armor?"
The creature stood to his full height. "Are you not Champion to Underland? As Champion, you ought to be able to figure that out on your own!"
Alice cowered. "Can't you see that I'm injured? How do you—"
"Silence!" The gryphon flapped his wings and soared into the morning sky. The quake of his ascent causing the Champion to fall backwards onto the cold ground.
Alice looked up as Eadweard rolled over and then dipped, flying low to the ground and brushing past her cowering form. Finally the beast slowed and then landed abruptly onto the ground in front of Alice. "Alright, I'll go."
Kind Eadweard nodded and then proceeded to walk in the direction of a nearby slope. Alice followed the creature, but it was not without effort. Every part of her body ached from the abuse she was receiving, and her mind could not process the reasons why this friend of Mirana was putting her through her paces. She reached up and ran her hand down her swollen cheek, it hurt, badly; and when she rolled her tongue along her jaw she felt the tenderness of her gum, where the tooth had been knocked out. She spit out more blood and then blindly followed the creature, as her mind was overcome with her physical pains to care anymore.
The trees gave way to scattered brush the closer they came to the foot of the mountain; and so did the chill, as the wind blowing down the mountain slope was severely cold, and made the journey one of pure torture. Alice thought herself in purgatory, paying for her sins in this lifetime through the affliction of her body. Her mind was numb, and all coherent thought was gone, save only her will to survive the ordeal.
They reached the slope and Eadweard turned to Alice and spoke only one word. "Climb!"
Alice bent over in exhaustion. "I…I can't."
The gryphon picked up the Champion easily and threw her against the slope, but not too harshly as to render his command useless. "You will!"
Alice cried out as her cheek made contact with the cold stone; and then grabbed at it. She lifted an aching limb and began to haul herself up the rocky terrain. Her foot found purchase in a crevice and she hauled herself up some more. "You are a bastard, do you know that?"
Eadweard easily grasped at the rocky slope and drew himself up next to the small, young Champion. "Nonsense, my parents were joined for life."
Alice could feel blood seeping from a cut above her eye, but she dared not let go of the side of the mountain as she was too afraid to fall. She whirled her head around to face the annoying creature. "You must lead a miserable life if this is what you do to amuse yourself!"
"You think me amused by this?" The creature easily scaled the surface.
The Champion lifted herself up higher, her hands digging into small crevices and grasping at diminutive outcroppings of hard rock. She reached a small plateau and sat down, her breath labored. "I don't care if you are amused or not. But I won't have you believing that I care nothing for Mirana!"
Eadweard reached the plateau, and anchored his massive body to fit on it. "What good is your love and devotion when you leave at every little problem? The Queen does not need an inconvenient Champion!"
"And I'm not!" Alice spat, the venom in her voice obvious. "I love her and will never abandon her. We are to be married!"
"Marriage! You are a laughing stock, Alice Kingsleigh of London! What makes you think that Mirana will marry you?"
The Champion tried to turn to face the gryphon, but her body would not move. "She loves me, and is devoted to me. She knows that I am…" Her voice trailed off, and she looked down.
Eadweard lowered his head to the Champion's level. "Knows what? Tell me!"
The gryphon's eyes narrowed. "Then get up, you are hardly finished."
Alice cried out as she turned her body around and grasped the granite surface. Then she noticed that her eye was swollen. "My eye is swelling, I can't see!"
Alice painfully ascended, one aching step and reach after another. "You know she loves me and you can't stand it!"
"You don't know anything."
Alice wiped bloody sweat from her brow. "Why would you want to deny her happiness by killing me? What purpose does it serve?"
Eadweard stopped and regarded the small Champion. "I do not wish to see your death, Alice Kingsleigh of London. But you have yet to prove yourself!"
"Prove myself? At what? Why do you demand answers from me?" She dug her foot into a small fissure and then ran her hand up the slope, finding another one and lifting herself farther up the mountain. "Why don't you ask Mirana?"
"Because the White Queen is in love with you."
Alice turned her head and offered the beast a bitter laugh. "So, you do accept that the Queen loves me!"
"Why would I not, it is evident to everyone in Underland." The gryphon flew up to another ledge and looked down on the small, young woman. "Why does she?"
Alice reached the ledge and hauled herself up onto it. She collapsed and panted heavily. "Why don't you ask her?"
Eadweard roared, "I'm asking you! Why are you fighting me on this? You must know the answer."
"Because she is devoted to me."
The gryphon lashed out and his claw connected with the rocky surface next to Alice's head. "That is not the answer!"
"She loves me! She is devoted to me! She wants to marry me! What more do you need to know?"
"I want to know why?" The gryphon was so close that Alice could feel its breath on her skin.
"I have told you why!"
Eadweard lashed out again. "No, you have not!"
Alice stood to her full height, ignoring the many pains in her body. "Because I'm worth it! I am courageous and brave! I believe in myself and in my ability to protect her and all of Underland if I'm called to do so!"
The gryphon laughed. "Are you?"
Alice advanced on the creature. "I am Champion of Underland and I am worth it! I am worthy of the Queen's love! I know who I am and what I desire to be! I am a Queens' Champion, lover, friend…she loves me because I am worthy of being loved! I matter and have a voice!"
"Yes! When all others fail the Queen, I will prevail! I am worthy! Worthy of a Queen, and her love…"
Eadweard sighed deeply and all enmity vanished from him. "That is what I have been waiting to hear, Alice Kingsleigh of London. Your self-declaration that you matter, that you know your own heart and strength; and that you believe in yourself. I can think of no other that I would wish to be our Queen's Champion."
Alice fell to her knees again and wept. She wept for the trials that she had to suffer, and for the renewed sense of purpose and destiny that had been buried for so long, causing all of her self-doubt. Her self-doubt was at an end, and she wept, no longer caring if the gryphon saw her as weak. Kind Eadweard draped a black wing over the Champion to protect her from the cold wind.
Eadweard lowered his head and tenderly nudged Alice with his beak, "Are you ready?"
Alice looked up, and was amazed when Eadweard gently dried her tears with the tip of his tongue. "Ready for what?"
The gryphon chuckled. "To go home, to be a Queen's Champion. To be who you were meant to be?"
Alice stood. "Yes, but look at me. How can I face my Queen looking like this?"
"You will face the Queen just as you are, it is only right."
Alice thought about if for a moment, then nodded, understanding the verity of it. "Yes, it is right."
Mirana had slept through the rest of the day and well into the next morning, as her exhaustion had finally caught up with her. She was now in her private gardens, sitting at her table with McTwisp and Ealhswith for company.
The physician lifted her cup and sipped some tea. "How are you feeling this morning, my Queen?"
Mirana smiled somewhat and bit into cinnamon roll. "I am feeling rested, if that is what you mean."
"Well, I was actually inquiring as to your mental health."
The Queen lowered her head. "My heart hurts for my Champion. She was so troubled when last I saw her."
The rabbit looked up. "Do you know where she went, my Queen?"
"No, but that meddling cat knows, and won't tell me."
Ealhswith chuckled. "Chessur?"
Mirana shifted in her seat to get comfortable, and realized that she needed to commission more new gowns because her belly was getting bigger. "Yes, sometimes I just despise that cat."
McTwisp's whiskers moved as he chuckled. "No, you don't, your Majesty. Chessur is the only one you let speak to you in any manner he chooses…well, Alice, too."
The Queen looked up. "Yes, I must admit. He has been most handy, especially since Absolem refuses to come back to Underland."
The physician put down her cup of tea. "Oh, how do you know that?"
Mirana frowned. "I don't rightly know. It's just a feeling I have, and I also know it has something to do with all the strange things happening here. We do have quite a mystery to solve."
Ealhswith looked down at her hands. "I want to offer you my deepest condolences on the death of the Tweedles, I know how much you cared for those boys."
The Queen nodded and then wiped a tear from her face. "They were like my own children—and I cannot fathom why anyone would want them dead."
The physician leaned in closer to her Queen. "Does it have anything to do with what happened at Salazen Grum?"
Mirana sighed deeply in frustration. "I still don't know what happened at Salazen Grum! I'm waiting to meet with my Knights and Councilors later this morning. Will you stand with me at this meeting, Ealhswith? I do not know when Alice will return."
McTwisp was about to say something when the Queen sat up abruptly and stared into the forest beyond, as if in a trance of some kind. The physician noticed it, too, and gently shook the Queen's shoulder. "Are you all right, my Queen?"
Mirana's head whirled around and she stood. "McTwisp!"
The rabbit stood at attention. "Yes, my Queen."
"Gather the Knights and nobles! Alice is returning!" She gathered her skirts and practically ran from the gardens in the direction of Marmoreal's main entrance, with her royal physician in tow.
Alice clutched at the feathers on Eadweard's back, steadying herself on the beast as it flew over the hills and valleys on its way back to Marmoreal. She grinned as the wind slapped at her face, relishing the sensation of flying, and enjoying it immensely.
She bent down and shouted so the gryphon could hear her. "How much longer?"
Eadweard turned his head and eyed Alice. "Look!"
Alice looked forward just as the creature flew over a hill that she recognized and soon saw the palace come into view, and getting closer with each passing second. "Marmoreal!"
Eadweard glided over the horizon and dipped lower as the castle was almost upon them. He banked to the left and circled the castle once, so that all gathered below would know of Alice's return. Both Alice and Eadweard heard the distant sound of the trumpet, and Alice lifted the Vorpal sword so that all could see it.
Mirana looked up at the sight and was momentarily startled, as were the others gathered with her. They were looking at the stone path that led up to Marmoreal's main entrance and were not expecting the gryphon, nor were they expecting to find Alice riding it, as if she had been doing so for years.
The four Captains of the Royal Knights were in attendance, as were several Lords and Ladies of the Court. Her Majesty's ladies in waiting were with her, as was her royal physician plus McTwisp, Mallymkun, and most surprisingly, the Cheshire cat.
Eadweard landed several feet away from the awaiting party and knelt on its front legs, allowing for Alice to slide down its side. She did so, and then began to limp in her Queen's direction.
Mirana noticed her Champion's strange gait and ran up to her, a look of horror on her face. "What happened to you?"
Even though she was bloodied and bruised, and one eye was swollen, practically shut, Alice smiled. "Hello, my love?"
The Queen's eyes went wide. "What…one of your teeth is gone!"
All eyes turned to Kind Eadweard as he roared. "Alice Kingsleigh of London!"
Alice turned her grateful eyes on the beast. "Yes?"
"What are you waiting for? Kiss your Queen."
Alice nodded. "I think I will." She turned back to Mirana and gently took her into her arms. "I love you." She used her right hand to guide the Queen's head down to her own and loving kissed her beloved. Mirana responded in kind, and soon no one else existed in the world except for them. The couple clung to each other, and soon a soft glow emanated from their joined bodies, and all in attendance gasped their surprise, all but Eadweard and Chessur, who only looked to each other and nodded. The glow brightened until those around them could stand to look at it no longer, and turned their eyes away in fear of blindness. And in a flash, it sparked out, and both Alice and her Queen gasped.
Mirana looked over her Champion, and then whispered. "Alice, you are healed."
Alice felt it—the pains were gone and strength returned to her. She felt with her tongue and her tooth was there. And she could see clearly, as the swelling in her face was no more. "This love, Mirana—our love—is stronger than anything, and will help us to heal this land."
Mirana laughed and drew Alice to her in an embrace full of love of determination. "We will do it together—heal Underland and free our people. I love you, Alice."
Alice glanced over Mirana's shoulder at those who were assembled. "What is this for?"
"There is a meeting in a few hours—the Captains and nobles are to meet me in the Council chamber and reveal what you know so far, to ease my ignorance."
Alice offered her Queen a mischievous smile. "What do you say to a nice hot bath before that?"
Mirana blushed a bit. "Why, I don't know, my Champion. Will we be naked?"
Alice grinned. "Most definitely."
Mirana leaned in close. "Will we make love?"
Alice sighed and rested her head on Mirana's shoulder. "I certainly hope so."
The Queen linked her arm in Alice's and guided her towards Marmoreal's entrance. "Oh, how I love you…"
Chapter 8: Crossing the Rubicon
Alice leaned against the doorframe and watched as Mirana sat at her vanity and brushed her hair. She smiled as her beloved meticulously ran the comb down slowly at first, moving her head languidly, a warm smile on her face, to straighten the hair on top, and then quicker strokes to emphasis the curliness. It was an action that stole her heart, and melted away her concerns.
"You are beautiful, Mirana."
The Queen turned slowly to her beloved and then let her head fall slightly. "You, my dear, are biased."
"I hope always to be so." Alice lowered her head and smiled. "I am your humble servant, after all."
Mirana shivered slightly. "And you do serve me…so well. My toes are still tingling."
Alice blushed and rested her forehead on the doorframe. "Mirana, I'm sorr—"
The Queen turned in her seat and offered her Champion a bright smile. "If you apologize again I'm afraid I'll have to hurt you."
The Champion turned her head towards her Queen. "Breaking your vows, I see?"
"Only for you." Mirana got up and glided over to Alice. "I will be honest with you, my love. You caused my heart to ache, and I almost gave up on you. But, what would that have accomplished? Breaking both our hearts and rending our souls asunder. I never want to be parted from you, my dear Alice."
"Even though I can be a horse's arse?"
Mirana laughed. "Especially then."
Alice fell into her Queen's arms and sighed deeply, not wanting to be anywhere else for an eternity. When the door to their chamber's opened neither one of them pulled apart.
"My Queen, we have come to serve—" Lady Ecgwynn stopped short, not expecting to find Alice returned to soon. She watched her Queen and her Champion held onto each other, and coldness settled over her heart and into her eyes.
Lady Cynethryth noticed the change in Ecgwynn immediately and grasped her shoulder, forcing the other woman to turn around and look at her. When their eyes met Cynethryth shook her head. "I'm sorry, my Queen, but do you require our assistance?"
Alice gently released Mirana and turned to the Ladies in Waiting. "No, we do not. Please meet us in the Council Chamber shortly, as the Queen will need for you to attend to her at the meeting." She noticed the stare from Lady Ecgwynn and stepped in front of Mirana. "Is there something on your mind, Lady Ecgwynn?"
"No, your Grace, there is nothing wrong." She turned abruptly and walked briskly out of the room, followed by the rest of the ladies.
When they were in the corridor, and when the rest of the ladies walked away, Cynethryth grabbed Ecgwynn by the arm so that she was facing the older woman. "Are you out of your mind? Never stare at Mirana or her Champion like that ever again!"
The older lady's eyes remained cold. "It is not your place to tell me what to do, Cynethryth. I am her Majesty's chief lady in waiting!"
"I know that. But never challenge Alice again with that kind of stare! She is Champion to this realm, and will soon marry the Queen."
Ecgwynn yanked her arm away from the other woman's grip. "Don't remind me." She stormed off in the direction of the staircase.
Cynethryth paused and shook her head, determined not to interfere in the older Lady's problems. She followed the other ladies to the Council Chamber.
Frowning, Alice leaned against her beloved. "I really don't like that woman. Why do you keep her around?"
Mirana ran her arm around Alice's waist. "She has nowhere else to be, Alice. When she came into my service she was an orphan teenager, around the same age as me. Her parents were killed in a violent storm. I guess you could say we 'grew up' together."
"But…she has feelings for you."
The Queen nodded. "Yes, I know. I didn't want to believe it, and declared that I didn't. But I can't do that now. She was very vulnerable when she began serving me, and developed quite the crush. I had always hoped that she would get over it and get on with her life."
Alice stiffened. "If she touches you I'll kick…"
Mirana pulled her Champion into a tighter embrace. "Now, enough of that, my Champion. You'll do no such thing. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself, do you know that?"
"Well, yes," Alice pouted.
Mirana laughed again and rested her forehead on Alice's. "You are so adorable, my sweet Alice." She smiled. "Do you know that Chessur keeps calling our baby 'little Alice'?"
Alice's eyes went wide, and she grinned. "He does? How does he know?"
"I don't know. I've always suspected there was far more to that cat than what meets the eye." The Queen swayed a little.
Alice caught her Queen before she fell and led her over to her chair. "What is wrong, Mirana? Tell me what to do!"
The fuzziness in Mirana's eyes slowly faded to a look of clarity. "I think I'm just famished, my Champion."
Alice knelt in front of her Queen and rubbed her swollen belly. "Are you sure? You've been under an awful lot of strain, Mirana. Perhaps I ought to fetch your physician."
"Absolutely not." She cupped Alice's face and gently kissed her. "Just feed me before the meeting and I shall be fine." She layed her hand over Alice's, which was still on her belly. "I will be needing more gowns really soon."
Alice stared at her beloved's swollen stomach. "This is just so much like a miracle to me. At times, I just cannot believe that I will be a parent; I never thought I would be so blessed."
Mirana drew Alice into an embrace. 'And I thought it would never happen for me, either. I always knew that my heart longed for a feminine touch, for the softness that is a woman. When I was younger I sometimes grieved that I would never have children. But you have made it possible for me, Alice…and I just love you so."
"Shall we to the garden for breakfast, my Queen?"
"Yes, lead the way."
All four Captains of the Royal Knights were present in the Council Chamber when Alice and Mirana arrived for the meeting. With them were also Lady Hild, the Captain of the Archers, McTwisp, Ealhswith, Knight Wuscfrea, Lord Aephelstan, and various other members of the Peerages and a few members of the Hightopp Clan. Her Majesty's Ladies in Waiting stood behind Mirana's ornate chair.
When Mirana was seated McTwisp opened the proceedings. "Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen's Fair—this meeting is has been called to enlighten our Sovereign, Mirana of Marmoreal, as to what is known concerning the infestation of our land by an unknown presence." He hopped onto a table next to Knight Eanfrid. "My Lord."
Eanfrid stood and ambled around the large table. "Well, we'd best start at the beginning, when that Knight was found dead on our doorstep."
Knight Eadmund spoke up from his seat. "Yes, I looked into the matter as promised and found out that Knight Cearl was reported missing by his wife shortly after the discovery of the body. We believe, without doubt, that the body is Cearl's."
Alice fidgeted with the Vorpal sword at her side. "What was he doing at Salazen Grum? That area was not part of his patrol."
Eanfrid spoke out. "We still don't know that, your Grace."
"But how do we know that Cearl was coming from the Red Queen's fortress?" Knight Hereric inquired.
McTwisp gestured to a Knight standing in the back of the room. "Knight Thrydwulf?"
Thrydwulf straightened out his armor, and then tentatively moved to stand next to the rabbit. "I was in the vicinity of Crims, on my regular patrol, when that hideous apparition flew by me from Salazen Grum. I saw it from a distance."
Alice turned her head and watched as Mirana took in this news. The Queen looked a little tense, and was tapping a finger on the arm of the chair. "So all of this is confirmed so far. The dead body was Knight Cearl and that he was in Salazen Grum. Are we all agreed?"
There was a buzz of conversation, and then Mirana's eyes darted back and forth, trying to understand the current dilemma. When all confirmed their agreement McTwisp jotted down a few notes on a scroll. "Good. As we all know the Champion called a meeting of the trusted advisors shortly after the discovery of the body. What was decided on at that meeting?"
"You were there, weren't you?" Lord Aephelstan poured a cup of wine, and then noticed the impatient look the rabbit was giving him. "Alright, we decided that a thorough investigation of Salazen Grum was needed, as we inferred that Uilleam went there."
Alice rose from her chair next to Mirana's and strolled to the center of the room. "Hold on, please. We need complete clarification for our Queen. Someone explain Uilleam's role in this mystery, for the record." She gestured to the rabbit. "McTwisp?"
"Well, after we identified Uilleam's body I sent Mallymkun to his quarters to rummage about and see what she could find to help us. Mally?"
The dormouse hopped down from Ealhswith's shoulder and scrambled to stand next to the Chamberlain. "I found a box under Uilleam's bed, it was filled with records concerning the royal bloodlines."
Mirana sat up. "Royal bloodline records? Why?"
Mally looked to Alice and the Champion nodded for her to continue. "We found a letter in the box that…"
The Queen leaned forward in her chair. "Yes? What is it?"
"We found a letter in the box that states King Osric was not your father, my Queen."
Mirana's eyed widened and she put a hand to her mouth. "What?"
Alice threw an annoyed stare at the dormouse before rushing to her Queen's side. She knelt next to Mirana and took her hand. "Are you alright, my Queen?"
The Queen briefly glanced at Alice before turning her eyes back on Mally. "A letter…written by whom?"
"Do we have the letter?" Alice rose and addressed the Chamberlain.
A page, Haigha, reached into a bag at his side and handed the letter to Alice. She scanned the document and could not identify the hand-written script. After inspecting it she handed it to Mirana.
The Queen looked over the hand-written script, and although it looked recognizable, she could not identify it. "Its familiar…but I can't recall who." She took the time to read the entire letter. "It mentions a portal…another Hall of Doors, but it doesn't say where. What does this mean?"
Knight Harthacanute, who had been sitting quietly at the far end of a table, looked up and captured his Queen's attention. "We found similar correspondence…at Salazen Grum."
Mirana sat back in her chair. "You did, who knows of this? Why am I the last to know? Alice?"
Alice lowered her head. "My Queen, I was going to tell you everything in the morning—this morning, in fact. Do you remember?"
Lord Aephelstan stood. "Don't forget the portrait."
The Queen closed her eyes for a brief moment before standing, and then tottered to the center of the chamber. She slowly turned around and made sure that she had captured everyone's attention before speaking. "This is utterly unacceptable. I am the Sovereign of this land and need to know everything!"
Harthacanute took a step towards his Queen, and then glanced at Alice before speaking. "If I may be so bold, your Majesty. Do you remember my promise to reveal everything to you, this very morning?"
The Queen's arms flew up, her hands at shoulder length. "I am so sorry, my dear Knight, but I do now recall my conversation with you. I thank you." She held out her hand and the Knight dutifully took it and guided his Queen back to her chair. He avoided looking at Alice as they passed her, and wished for a painless death once she got a hold on him.
Mirana turned to Aephelstan. "What portrait?"
There were a few moments of silence before Knight Eadmund spoke, breaking the tension in the room. "I was the one who first brought up the idea of going to Salazen Grum, to investigate."
Mirana gazed at the Knight. "This was before the portrait? Did you all agree to do so?"
"Yes, we did. We gathered a centuria of Knights and Archers—which included all the Captains—and traveled to the Red Queen's castle." Alice looked over to her Queen. "I'm sorry that we seem to be repeating ourselves—I just think that you would benefit from knowing everything that happened."
Mirana offered her Champion a warm smile. "Thank you—my love."
Alice blushed, and was quite sure that others in the chamber did so, too. "You are most welcome, my Queen."
"What did you find there?"
Lord Cuichelm stood, wine glass in hand, and addressed the Queen. "It took us two days to reach Salazen Grum. On the first day we ran into Knight Thrydwulf, who was injured while on patrol. He confirmed seeing the dead knight on horseback running in the direction of Marmoreal. We camped for the night and carried on to the Red Queen's castle early in the morning."
Mirana sat back, at first a little annoyed that the proceedings were going slow, but she soon recognized and appreciated the thoroughness with which it was being presented to her. "So, was it then that you found a portrait—a portrait of what?"
"No, your Majesty," Knight Eanfrid chimed in. "We first had to get around—an obstacle."
Mirana leaned forward in her chair. "Of what?"
Eanfrid looked over to Knight Hereric, and nodded for him to stand up. "We found a hundred human heads stacked at the gate of the castle, my Queen. It became obvious that they had been put there on purpose, as a warning of some kind."
Mirana, wide eyed, gazed at her Champion. "Iracebeth?"
Alice moved over to her Queen's chair. "We don't think so, my Queen. The type of violence that went into doing such a thing, we felt, was beyond her reach. As far as we know, there is no one left in Underland willing to help her."
The Queen nodded. "Yes, I can see that. And not Stayne, either. He was always a sniveling, cowardly wretch." She began to tap her finger, again, on the arm of the chair.
Knight Hereric sat back down. "This is where my testimony ends, as myself and my Order of Knights were sent back to the Caerdin stream and do not no anything of what transpired at the castle."
Mirana smiled at the man. "Thank you, my Lord."
Alice turned to the page that was standing behind Mirana's chair. "Bring in the boxes."
Soon the tables in the Council chambers were filled with the various boxes found in the rooms of Salazen Grum. As each box was brought in Alice directed those people who were sitting at the tables to open boxes and reveal what was inside. The huge portrait found at the Red Queen's castle was brought in, as well, but was covered with a linen cloth. Mirana watched as her subjects leafed through the vast collection before them, and waited for some more information.
Knight Harthacanute looked up to his Queen. "I haven't seen these before, but they look like those found at Salazen Grum. These have hand-scribbled notes in them. Would you like to examine the handwriting, my Queen? Maybe you can identify Uilleam's script?"
Mirana frowned. "I didn't know that he could write."
McTwisp spoke out. "Oh, yes, your Majesty. He learned now to write with his beak, as he could not with his wings. I would recognize it, my Queen."
When Mirana nodded the Knight brought the document over to McTwisp. He examined the writing very closely before speaking. "Yes, I believe that this was written by the Dodo."
"These are the boxes from Salazen Grum? I guess this proves that Uilleam was, indeed, at the Red Queen's castle. But for how long, we can't be sure." Lord Cuichelm poured himself a large cup of tea. "Someone found him there, saw what he was doing, and killed him."
"But, was he killed because he was researching these records? Or was he killed because of what he found in them?" Alice waited for a response.
"Perhaps both." The Queen looked up. "So it was Uilleam who discovered that my father—wasn't really my father—and it got him killed."
Alice sighed. "It appears so. But it still doesn't explain if there is a connection between this and the fate of Knight Cearl."
The Queen looked up to her Champion. "But doesn't it rationally follow, my Champion? They were both there, and now they are both dead."
Lord Aephelstan leaned forward on the table he was sitting at, and frowned. "Perhaps there was a third party at Salazen Grum, one we haven't yet considered. Look at what we found in the basements. Except for the bodies found there the entire basement was clean. The Red Queen was banished almost three years ago, would she have left the Castle on Frabjous day making sure that her basements were clean before she left? I don't think so."
Alice's mouth twitched, a sign that she was thinking, and edgy. "Why didn't I see this sooner? What if whoever killed Uilleam and whoever killed Cearl are one and the same? I felt a malignancy at Salazen Grum on our mission there. A foulness that has nothing to do with Iracebeth or the Knave. This evil—this is what killed them both. It has its own purposes, its own wicked plans and evil desires." She turned to her Queen. "And it warned us, so to speak, to stay away and not get involved."
For the first time since the meeting had started, there was an obvious fear in the room, as if all were suddenly bound and gripped by an unknown terror.
The Queen sat still for many moments before speaking up. "And all of this has to do with our late King not being my father? This knowledge got Cearl and Uilleam killed?
Alice lightly grasped her Queen's shoulder. "Yes." She turned her head to the page. "Unwrap the portrait."
"Wait!" Knight Wuscfrea jumped to his feet. "It has been here! This evil Alice is talking about was here at Marmoreal! It killed the Tweedles! Who else would do such a thing?"
"We brought it back with us?" Knight Eanfrid leaned against the wall, aghast, unable to support himself.
"Another warning, then? To back off and stay away." Lord Cuichelm sat back down, and rested his head on his hands.
There was a collective gasp from those in the room who had not been made privy to the news that the Tweedles were dead. All of her Majesty's ladies in waiting looked frightened, and Alice pulled her Queen closer to her, horrified by the implication. "We have let this within our own boundaries? Knight Hereric!"
The man jumped to his feet and raced to kneel before the Champion. "Your bidding, your Grace."
"We have been idle too long." Alice thought about all the distractions of the last few days, her ever-growing self-doubt, and her lust for her Queen, her decision to walk away from her. "It is time to wake the Chessmen. I want you to create a border around Marmoreal with these knights. I want signal fires set up every fifty yards, and place ten knights at each. No one is to cross the border without permission, and no one is to be allowed to leave without a good reason. Take ten knights of your Order. I want this done before nightfall!" Alice, Alice, Alice, you have been the fool!
Mirana rose slowly to her feet then glided to the center of the room. "Please, remain calm, my dear friends. We are all a bit concerned over this but we must not lose our confidence or our desire to solve this mystery. Is this not true?"
Alice closed her eyes briefly, and when she opened them there was calm about those around her. "May we see the portrait now?"
The portrait was brought before Mirana and she removed the protective covering. It showed a tall, thin man with extremely long white hair, and he was holding a baby with similar features. Mirana tilted her head as she gazed at the portrait. There was an otherworldly dignity about the man, as if he were beyond a simple, mortal existence. There was something…she felt a stirring, deep within…a familiarity…a recognition of something buried many years ago. She staggered backwards and Alice caught her before she fell.
Alice wound her arms around Mirana's waist. "What is it, my Queen? Do you know this man?"
Mirana blinked. "I feel as if I must….but, I don't know."
The Champion stared at the portrait along with Mirana, but then her head snapped up. She whirled to face the royal physician. "Ealhswith, did a little boy come to you within the last twenty-four hours? I sent a little boy to you from the stables, an orphan."
The physician shook her head. "No, no child has come to see me."
Alice looked around the room. "Does anyone know of people being reported as missing? This boy told me that his parents were missing?"
McTwisp raised a paw. "Why, yes. His lordship, Duke Sigberct and his escort disappeared yesterday on his way to the meeting of peerages. No one knows where he is, and he did not return to his family."
Alice paused before speaking. "Do we dare assume that these disappearances have to do with this evil?"
A lively discussion began, but the Queen turned away from it and continued to stare at the painting. Her eyes wandered over it slowly, taking in every aspect of it, memorizing it as if she needed to, as if she was being compelled to. And then her eyes fell on the baby the man was holding. She recognized herself immediately, and found it strange that the realization did not startle her. Her hand ran over the surface of the portrait, and when her fingers reached a corner, she felt a flap.
Her Champion turned from the discussion. "Yes, my Queen?"
"There is something under the canvas." The Queen pulled at the corner and it ripped from the frame easily. She found a letter under the canvas, and pulled it out.
"Quiet, please!" All eyes turned at the Champion's exclamation, and watched as the Queen unfolded the letter.
Mirana scrutinized the parchment; it seemed to be written in two languages One, the common tongue of all people of Aboveland and Underland, and another one that was unrecognizable, yet beautiful. The lines wound and flowed with an almost lyrical cadence, and the Queen found that it was something that she could interpret, but she kept that knowledge secret. She looked up at Alice. "It is a letter to me, from this man in the portrait."
Alice's eyes went wide, her brow furrowed, and was beset by confusion. "It is? How do you know?"
The Queen handed the parchment to her Chamberlain and then sat down, her weariness written on her face and in the way she slouched in her chair.
McTwisp fidgeted with the letter, his whiskers twitching, then he began to read. "'My dear daughter, of this world I came and beheld you, and knew you were mine. I have loved you since and do not wish to be parted. But the days of my people are shrouded by a shadow from the east, and we look to the west, over sea..." The letter went on to describe the nature of the shadow, and how he grieved over the new era to come, and then ended with a personal note to the Queen. "…My daughter, you must come and see me before we depart. There are things that you must know. The hour draws near and the ships are sailing from the Gray Havens. Come, and learn who you are. You must learn this before you marry. I am waiting…" McTwisp's voice trailed off and he looked around the silent room. "There isn't any signature."
Alice moved over to Mirana and took her hand, she was stunned, as was all in the room. "Lord Cuichelm?"
"Yes, your Grace."
"The small room where we found this portrait…was it not glowing an ethereal and muted light?"
"Yes, it was, your Grace. We couldn't find the source of it." Cuichelm sipped some tea.
"Then that is where the portal is, the entrance to this other Hall of Doors."
The Queen nodded, as she understood the implications of Alice's words. "Then that is where we must go, to find this man who claims to be my father—and to discover what haunts my Kingdom."
Lord Aephelstan shook is head, incredulous. "This is fell news indeed, this is potentially dangerous."
Knight Harthacanute turned around in his chair in order to face the Lord. "Your Grace, your cowardice is unbecoming. You are a Duke to this realm and have responsibilities to our Queen!"
"I'm not putting my household in danger!"
Alice shot the Duke a pointed look. "Yes, you will, your Grace. You are coming with us."
Aephelstan scowled, "Ought not this be put to a vote? The Council must decide!"
"The Council advises, my dear Lord, it is I who have the final decision. Or do you wish to argue with your Sovereign?"
The Duke backed down. "No, no I do not wish to contradict you, your Majesty."
Mirana smiled, but it did not reflect into her eyes. "A wise decision, to be sure." She stood up. "I will not force anyone to accompany us, as I will not impose myself onto your own wills. But I would like Lord Aephelstan, Knights Harthacanute, Wuscfrea, and Thrydwulf to come with us. Also, I will need Lady Cynuise and my physician, Ealhswith as my personal aides. Lady Hild?"
The Archer stood up. "Yes, your Majesty?"
"Will you accompany us, with ten of your best archers?"
"Or course, your Majesty."
The Queen turned to Alice. "You will obviously go as my Champion, Alice. Will you pick the usual standard bearers and heralds?"
Alice took Mirana's hand and kissed it. "I am yours, my Queen."
Mirana smiled at Alice. "Of course you are, my Champion. Knights Eanfrid, Hereric, and Eadmund—you will form a Triumvirate and will act as Regents in my stead, but you must take council with McTwisp on every decision, as he is Chamberlain to Marmoreal. We will leave the day after tomorrow. In the meantime, use the rest of this day and tomorrow to make all the necessary preparations. My Champion."
Alice raised her arm, palm face down. "My Queen."
The Queen placed her palm over Alice's hand and let her Champion escort her out of the Council chamber.
Alice found her Queen at the threshold of the nursery, she did not enter the room, but only let her eyes roam over it. "Is there something wrong, my Queen?"
"I don't know." The Queen held out her hand and Alice took it. "Am I committing folly? Is this something that we really need to do?"
"I…I don't rightfully know, Mirana. I am concerned for all of us, especially you and the baby." She let her head fall to her Queen's shoulder. "But if it will help us rid the land of this strange menace then it is something we must do. Please, do not fret yourself so. I am your Champion in this, and will defend you with my life if need be."
Mirana groaned and wrapped her arms around Alice. "No, no, no. Please do not say that, ever again. I would not wish your life away like that, my Champion. I could not bear the sorrow that would be mine should you perish."
Alice swallowed hard, the lump in her throat making it difficult to speak. "And I do not wish my death, my Queen. But I will do anything…to keep you safe."
Mirana rested her head on Alice's. "I know, I know."
Lady Ecgwynn entered into the parlor with in a huff, slamming the door shut as she came in. "I can not believe—"
Cynethryth shot to her feet. "I don't want to hear it!"
Surprised, Ecgwynn stopped short. "What?"
"I said, 'I don't want to hear it!' It's always the same with you, the same complaint over and over again and I'm sick of hearing it! Get on with your life!" With those words, Cynethryth stormed out of the room.
The other Ladies in Waiting remained silent, and no one dared to look at Ecgwynn.
The Viridian Pool was a small body of bubbling water, created by subterranean thermal jets, which lay just beyond the southern lawns of Marmoreal. Once more Alice led her Queen to their private place, and, after undressing them both, helped Mirana into the pool of steaming water.
Mirana waded through the soft, rippling water. "This is just what I needed."
Alice leaned against a rock, the water up to her neck. "You and me both."
The Queen paddled over to her Champion. "This water must have healing properties, it lessens the burdens in my heart."
Alice did not reply, as she was tired, and closed her eyes. But when Mirana wrapped her arms and legs around her she sighed deeply. "Thank you for delaying our journey for a day. There are many things that must be done before we go." She opened one eye and then chuckled. "You can take the crown off, you know."
Mirana smiled and cupped Alice's cheek and then gently ghosted her lips over her Champion's. "I want—" Her head snapped up. "Show yourself!"
The Cheshire cat materialized and then floated over the water. "Good evening, loves."
Alice pulled Mirana closer, in order to hide her away from the cat's prying eyes. "Don't you ever knock?"
Chessur moved closer. "Knock? How absurd, as there are no doors here."
The Champion gritted her teeth. "You know what I mean."
"Chessur, someday you will be caught." Mirana turned her head to face the cat. "And I am just the Queen who will do so." She yelped as Alice's hand rested on her bottom.
The cat grinned. "Something wrong, love?"
The Queen frowned, and rolled her eyes. "What do you want, Chessur?"
"I was considering things that begin—well, no. I was thinking about the Council meeting this morning."
Alice tried to splash the cat but he disappeared quickly and then popped up upside down, next to her face, "What about it?"
"I think it would be best if I accompanied you to…wherever it is that you are going."
Mirana wound her leg around Alice's hip, and joined them tighter together. She smirked at her Champion before turning her head to face Chessur. "You've never put yourself in danger before. Why now?"
"Because before now there was never a 'little Alice' to consider."
Alice began to grind, imperceptibly, against Mirana, causing the beginning of a titillating friction between them. She gave the Queen an innocent smile before turning to face the cat. "So, do you vouchsafe your loyalty to our unborn child?"
Chessur floated in a circle around the couple. "Yes, I most solemnly do."
The Queen slowly wound her other leg around Alice, and gripped her hip, tensing her buttock muscles, and sweetening the friction between them. "Fine, you can go with us, but we'll talk about it tomorrow. Now leave!"
Chessur flew over the water. "I'll go…Fairfarren, my lovelies."
The Queen closed her eyes and began to undulate her hips, her build up pleasant and slow. "Hmmm…"
The Champion supported her Queen's hip, and matched her move for move. "Faster, my love…"
"No, no. This is nice." Mirana opened her eyes. "Alice, look at me."
Alice whimpered, but did as she was told. "Yes…uhh."
Mirana clutched at her Alice, and reached between them, connecting them even closer. "Watch me…I want to see your release."
And the Queen and her Champion rose together to that place of bliss that existed for only the two of them, and joined their hearts and souls as one.
He stood on the hilltop just as the sun was sinking into the west. Its glow highlighted by the gentle movement of the clouds, creating a landscape muted in hues of purple, orange, and yellows. Smiling, he watched the scene below him, and smirked at his own cleverness.
"Did I not tell you."
Stayne followed the man's stare and he nodded in satisfaction. "I must admit that I did have my doubts, but no more. It is a thing of beauty."
Down in the canyon the Redcards came to life, illuminated into life by a magic henceforth unheard of in Underland. They gathered, row after row, and marched in perfect lines to the mouth of the canyon, where it divided two hillsides and followed a ancient path to Crims. Hundreds marched, glowing red, and filed as one.
"How…your magic is truly impressive." The Knave crossed his arms.
He looked away, his eyes seeing something only he could conjure. "They are planning something, just as I suspected."
"You mean, the White Queen?"
"Yes, they have taken the bait, and will soon cross over."
Iracebeth looked up. "Cross over? What do you mean?"
Stayne glanced over his shoulder at Iracebeth, who was standing a few feet from them, and was watching the motion of the Reds intently. "Is it time?" He rattled the chain that bound him to the Red Queen.
The man turned and regarded the former Queen, as well. "Yes, you have proven your worth to me Ilosovic Stayne. Besides, I have a message to send, and who better to send it."
The chill of the last few nights faded into the dreamy warmth of the night air. A light breeze blew in from the west and woke the night blooming Jasmine, its fragrant scent wafting over Alice and Mirana as they dosed on soft pillows on the shore of the Viridian Pool. Fireflies and Rocking Horse Flies flitted over the pool, playing out their nightly dance for their Queen. On this night, the Fireflies spun around their monarch's head, forcing a smile from the placid Queen.
Mirana gazed at the tapestry of stars before her, comfortable on her back, lying on soft pillows. She cherished these moments at midnight, when the earth and trees were silent, when the secrets that effervesced within her heart rose, precariously, to surround her in a veil of certitude. The one thing that she knew, without question, was her love for her young Champion and lover, and soon to be wife. If the world provided nothing else, if it forsook her dreams, and laid waste all of her hopes, then she would still live contented. The warmth from pool drifted over to her—and Alice, making them both loath to return to Marmoreal.
"Shall we sleep here?"
The question seemed forced, Alice appearing reticent in the moment. "Are you uncomfortable?"
Alice stretched, loosening limbs, and then her tongue. "I am not. But my heart bears much love for you at the moment, and I fear it shall be lifted away by this soft breeze."
The Queen sighed. "Is your love for me so easily swept away?"
"No, not at all. But…I just…feel my love for you flourish with each passing moment, and it, at times, overwhelms my senses." Alice let out a ragged breath.
The Queen closed her eyes, and felt, rather keenly, the expression of that love. "Are you referring to our lovemaking?"
Alice blushed. "Well…yes and no. My love for you surely expresses itself with my body, but my soul unites with you, too. And…I fear…"
Mirana moaned, daring to feel the depth of feeling emanating from the younger woman. "Why such troubles and fear, my love? Is our love really your concern right now, or are you worried over our journey?"
"It is not fear that haunts me, but the cloud of unknowing. I know now of my ability to assist in solving this mystery. I know, as well, my ability to protect you and the baby. What troubles my spirit is, what foe am I to face in this? I don't know what to prepare for, Mirana. I can wield a sword against a man, but…a monster, something I cannot see? The Vorpal blade helped me to slay the Jabberwock…but, I have no sword for something as yet unseen."
"We are to travel with more than your weapons, my love. We will have Knight and Archer, the best of both worlds."
"And I am glad for that." Alice glanced at Mirana. "After tomorrow we will journey to our destiny, yet I find no comfort in that knowledge, as I believed that my future was already known."
Mirana offered her Champion her hand, which was gratefully accepted. "Have no grievances for the tomorrows, no one can truly know what the future may bring. I believe in you."
"As I, you." Alice turned her body and placed her hand on Mirana's belly, slowly caressing the soft flesh. "How is our child?"
The Queen placed her own hand on Alice's. "Asleep, I think. Just as we ought to be."
Alice smiled. "Well, do you want to go back to the castle, or shall we sleep here?"
Mirana pulled a blanket over them, and snuggled closer to her Champion. "We will be fine here. I will ask the trees to relinquish their shade to us in the morning. Have no worries, my dear Alice, no one will disturb us out here. We are safe."
The day of the long journey arrived, and the bustle of activity in and around the palace was frenetic. People were everywhere; preparing the food for the Queen and her company, washing down the horses for the long journey, both knights and archers polished and then adorned their finest armor, and the Queen and her Champion watched over all, making sure every little detail was attended to.
Alice prepared the Bandersnatch in Marmoreal's stables, and then watched as frog footmen were attending to Mirana's carriage. The knights and archers checked and then re-checked their weapons, and when that task was done they prepared their mounts for the long journey. A centuria of Chessmen knights were selected to guard the company on the expedition, and then were ordered to wait at Salazen Grum for whatever outcome may be. Mirana was just about to climb into the coach when a knight came running and then paused at the stable's entrance.
Mirana whirled around, as the sound of the knight's voice alarmed her. "Yes, what is it?"
"Please, your Majesty! You are needed at the front gates!"
Alice ran over and grabbed her Queen's hand and then followed the knight, the rest of the group following closely on their heels. When they reached the front of the castle what awaited them was particularly horrifying, and stunned all into an immediate silence.
On the stones, just twenty feet from the front entrance, lay the body of Iracebeth, neatly cut into six pieces. Her head and limbs had been separated from her torso and were evenly spaced out from the torso to all the directions of the compass. Her head faced north while her legs pointed to the south. Her arms were aligned to the east and west with her torso in the middle. Just above her head lay the body of young boy that Alice had found in the stables, his family disappeared.
The Queen stared, and any and all color drained from her face. "Racey…?" Alice tried to turn the Queen around but she wrenched herself free.
Mirana slowly walked over until she was standing only a few feet from the corpse. She fell to her knees and wept, covering her face, her body wracked by sobs. Alice rushed over to her and then dropped to her knees in order to hold Mirana as she cried out her sorrow.
"Harthacanute!" Alice called out to the knight, but he remained frozen to his spot. "Harthacanute, now!"
The knight looked up, and appeared in a trance, but soon snapped out of it and rushed over to the Champion. "Yes, your Grace."
"Get some help, and take this away." Alice gathered her courage and looked over to Iracebeth's body, and it was then that she noticed the boy's body. "Oh, no…no!"
Ealhswith came over and leant down, placing her hand on Alice's shoulder. "What is it, your Grace?"
Alice wiped at her tears. "It's the boy, the young man that I sent to you…the one whose parents are missing!"
Ealhswith nodded. "I am sorry, your Grace."
Alice wrapped her arms around her Queen and then helped her to her feet. They held onto each other, stricken with grief, unable to simply move. Finally, Alice turned around and faced the stunned crowd. "Lady Hild?"
The archer walked up to her then bowed. "Yes, your Grace?"
"Please escort our company to the stables and continue the preparations for our journey."
When all were gone, Alice continued to hold her forlorn Queen, and melded her own grief with her beloveds. "I…I do not know what to say at this moment." She took out her handkerchief and wiped at Mirana's tears.
Finally, the Queen lifted her head and gazed down at her Champion. "Alice…this is worse than we thought. Poor Racey…"
Alice felt her remorse, as well. She had despised the Red Queen, but never would have wished her such a gruesome fate. "Be strong, Mirana. This was done to weaken our steadfastness; we have been given another warning to stay away."
Mirana allowed Alice to wipe the tears off her face. "I know…but, should we delay…"
Her Champion cut her off. "Please…no, my Queen. This is what we mustn't do—give this foe any indication that it is stronger than us."
The Queen sighed. "You are right, of course. It strikes at the heart of us, tearing at our resolve."
Alice pulled Mirana's forehead down onto her own. "I know."
Almost immediately, the Queen's head snapped back up, her eyes wide. "Oh, Alice! Could this enemy know…know that I am pregnant?"
Alice stood there, stunned into silence at the Queen's simple, yet keen, observation. Finally she croaked out, "I do not…oh, my, I…" She grabbed the Queen to her and then looked around, making sure that no one was around, looking for any sign of someone else present.
When Alice and Mirana finally showed up at the stables the mood was somber. Earlier in the morning there had been a companionable camaraderie amongst those going on the journey. But that was now gone, replaced by a sullen fear felt by all.
Alice led the Queen over to her carriage. "We still need to do a few more things before we set off. Would you like a cup of tea, my Queen?"
Mirana sighed heavily as she sat down. "Yes, thank you, Alice."
"Get the Queen a cup of tea," Alice ordered the frog footman before she made her way over to where Wuscfrea and the other knights were getting ready. She stopped short, and then glared at them, as a new emotion rose to the surface. "I was not angry until today!"
Knight Thrydwulf jumped. "Your Grace…"
"No! Did I not order the Chessmen around the Castle! Did I not forbid anything or anyone coming to Marmoreal!"
Wuscfrea swallowed hard, then backed up. "Yes, you did, your Grace."
Alice raged, and then unsheathed her sword. "How did this happen?"
When no one answered Alice stormed over to Lord Aephelstan and grabbed him by the collar. "Did I not make myself clear, your Grace! Was there something else I needed to say to make my wishes apparent!"
"No, no…you were…"
Alice let go of the Duke and he staggered backwards. "The Queen's sister is dead! This is not something our Queen ever wished for, and I'm holding all of you responsible until you prove yourselves otherwise!"
Alice re-sheathed her sword and walked over to Mirana's carriage, she leaned against it and lowered her head. "I can not believe this happened, I am beset by such incompetence."
The Queen lowered her cup of tea to her lap. "Am I to count myself as such, should I hold you to the same standard?"
Alice looked up, shocked, her tone defensive. "Do you blame me for this?" When there was no response, all ire drained from her. "Mirana?"
Mirana shook her head and then placed her cup of tea on the table next to her. "No, no. Please forgive me. I don't know why I said that."
Alice knelt in front of her Queen, tears streaming down her face. "I'm sorry."
Mirana tilted her Champion's head up, so that their eyes met. "Don't be. You have proven your worth to me time and time again. I do not blame you, Alice. This foe that we are facing—its using us—setting ourselves against each other." She reached down and brought Alice up with her as she stood.
After giving a reassuring glance to her Champion, she glided over to the knights. "From this moment onward, please, check your feelings. Do not lash out at anyone, or direct blame to anyone. We are being manipulated, and it must stop now."
Knight Harthacanute strolled over to the Queen. "Everything is ready, my Queen. Just give the order."
Alice took the Queen's hand and led her over to her coach and helped her inside. Then she stepped aside to allow for Lady Cynuise and the physician, Ealhswith to enter. She strolled over to the Bandersnatch and mounted. She spurred the animal around and watched as the knights and archers mounted their horses. Lord Aephelstan nodded to her when he was saddled, and four horsemen came riding forward, bearing the standards and emblems of the Queen and Marmoreal. They rode out of the stables ahead of Alice and then stopped for the final command.
Alice unsheathed her sword, and then addressed those before her. "Once again we are riding out to Salazen Grum, but this time we escort our Queen. Everyone remain alert, as our adversary has yet to reveal itself. The pace will be slow, but our intent steadfast and certain. For Mirana of Marmoreal!"
Once again the cheer rose up to honor the Queen, and when Alice turned the Bandersnatch around, the company moved along with her. And the journey to their destiny was started, and their futures unknown. But they proceeded with courage, intent on living up to the task at hand, and proving themselves worthy to their Queen.
Lady Hild bent over the Caerdin stream and splashed water on her face. It was late afternoon, and the Champion had declared that the company make camp for the night, as not to arrive at Salazen Grum during the night hours. Once the fires were set, the Chessmen set up the camp rather quickly, and then moved themselves to stand guard around it.
Hild grabbed a towel to dry her face and then stood up as Harthacanute approached. "What news, dear Knight?"
Harthacanute put a towel into the water and used it to wipe off the grime from the back of his neck. He glanced up at the archer in amusement. "Why the formality?"
Hild wiped her hands dry. "You heard what the Queen said earlier. No harsh words, remember?" She smiled at the knight. "So, what are we to do? The Chessmen are at the borders tonight, leaving us without a job."
The knight stood and regarded the archer, his interest piqued. "Oh, what would you like to do, my Lady?"
"Well, I have cards—and wine—in my tent, my Lord. Care to join me for the evening?"
Harthacanute nodded, and then followed the woman as she led the way. But Knight Wuscfrea stopped them short at the entrance to Hild's tent. "Our evening supper is ready."
Hild glanced at Harthacanute. "We are…"
Wuscfrea interrupted the woman. "We are drawing lots to see who breaks the news to the Queen." He indicated to the others standing by the cooks.
Harthacanute chuckled. "What…why?"
"She is in her tent, with Alice."
Hild looked over to the Queen's tent, which was set up away from the others. "I don't understand…" Her eyes widened, and she blushed. "Oh…oh…we could bring it to them later."
Wuscfrea shook his head. "The Queen said she was famished."
"Maybe she wasn't referring to food." Harthacanute glanced at the tent. "Whoever draws the shortest straw loses?"
"Something like that."
Alice fell onto her back and panted, completely spent. "That was incredible."
Mirana lifted herself from between Alice's legs, wiped her mouth, and then smirked. "Did I give as good as I got?"
Her Champion rolled her head. "And then some. You are my undoing, my Queen." She reached down and brought Mirana up, and then laid the Queen's head on her shoulder.
Mirana scooted further into her Champion's side. "Only in the ways of love, I hope."
Alice turned her head and captured Mirana's lips with her own. "I was wondering, my Queen?"
Her Queen closed her eyes. "Yes?"
"Your stomach…I mean…the baby, is everything alright with your pregnancy?"
Mirana turned her head to face Alice. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I've noticed that your stomach is larger than it was last week." Alice briefly glanced at her Queen, not knowing how her question would be taken.
The Queen smiled. "That is what happens when women get pregnant, Alice. Our stomachs get bigger as the baby grows."
Alice sighed. "I know that, Mirana. Well, how to phrase this…you seem to be growing a little faster than what I've seen other woman do."
The Queen turned over, partially straddling her Champion. "Oh, and who else have you seen naked?" There was mirth in her eyes, and Alice saw it.
Her Champion grinned. "Well, I used to enjoy watching the Chattaway twins swim naked in the pond."
Mirana's eyes widened, and she smirked. "Oh, did you, now? Were they as lovely as me?"
Alice shook her head, vigorously. "No, no…not at all. I actually don't know why I did, they were not much to look at!"
The Queen rolled on top of Alice, careful to not to lean too heavily on the girl. "Then why did you continue to watch them?" When she bent down to kiss her Champion, someone called out to her from the entrance to her tent. She sat up, hands automatically raising to shoulder height. "Yes, who is it?"
"I have your supper, your Majesty!"
"Just put it down and I'll retrieve it momentarily." She grinned down at Alice, who chuckled.
Mirana threw on a housecoat and popped her head outside. Then she reached down and brought the tray into the tent and then brought it over to her makeshift bed. Alice threw a button down shirt over her head and accepted the tray.
Alice bit on a warm piece of bread and looked up at Mirana. "So, who lost the bet?"
The Queen shrugged. "I think it was Knight Harthacanute."
The morning was, yet again, unseasonably cold, and a frost blanketed everything in and around the camp. The sun, barely visible coming over the horizon, seemed mute, an odd orange color tinged with an occasional ray of purple, devoid of its usual brightness. Also, the morning song of birds, which usually heralding the beginning of a new day was absent, replaced by the chirp of a single cricket, like a dirge, ominous and foreboding.
Alice quietly left the Queen's tent, as not to waken the still sleeping Queen. She was dressed in her full armor with Mirana's grayish, green cloak wrapped around her, clasped at the neck by a silver leaf clasp. She trotted over to the cook's fire to warm her hands. Knight Thrydwulf was there, along with Lady Cynuise.
The young woman put down her cup of tea. "Yes, your Grace?"
"Have you had your breakfast?" Alice placed her hands closely over the fire.
"Yes, I have."
"Will you, please, go and serve your Queen? She needs to be woken and then have her breakfast brought to her."
Cynuise smiled at Alice. "Of course, your Grace."
Alice smiled back and watched the young woman as she left. Thrydwulf looked at Alice then smirked. "Watch yourself, your Grace. Don't let the Queen see your roaming eyes."
The Champion looked away. "My eyes don't wander, my Lord. But sometimes they do appreciate."
Thrydwulf laughed, and then handed a cup of tea to Alice. "I wouldn't worry about it. Queen Mirana…once appreciated me. But I had to tell the poor dear that I already have a wife."
Hot tea spewed from Alice's mouth, then she laughed along with the Knight. After a short while she noticed that the activity around the camp was increasing, as more people woke and prepared for the new day. "Thrydwulf?"
"Yes, your Grace?"
"It's time to wake everyone. Will you please see to it, and let them know I want to leave within the hour?"
When the Chessmen knights finished dismantling the camp, the company began its trek to Salazen Grum. As soon as they entered into the border of Crims an unsettling sense of doom hung heavy in the air, and was felt by all. The Queen felt about her, and reported that the trees were silent, and all the small creatures that lived among them were gone, driven off by something sinister. The sun did not grow any brighter as the day progressed, and stayed subdued, much like it does during the twilight hours. Fireflies and Rocking Horse flies were absent, the flowers robbed of their voices, and the clouds formed and then diluted into hideous faces that frightened all.
Alice rode ahead of all, even the standard bearers, secured perfectly on the Bandersnatch, and gave off an air of strength and certitude. And all in the company were glad for it, as the Champion now permeated with an intensity and resolve that was appreciated by everyone, and most notably, her Queen. She kept her back straight, a grim look of determination on her face, and she did not cower at the clouds. When they finally arrived at Salazen Grum, it was just past mid-day.
Alice dismounted from the Bandersnatch and looked around, trying to determine if anything had changed since her last stay. Knights and Archers dismounted and discharged their horses, weapons were checked again, and the Chessmen knights spread about the Fortress, charged with detaining anything or anyone out of the ordinary, and to defend to the death if necessary.
Queen Mirana of Marmoreal stood at the threshold of the castle gates, and then looked at her Champion. "Are we ready, my Champion?"
Alice turned around and saw the standard bearers standing just slightly behind them, followed by Knights Harthacanute, Thrydwulf, and Wuscfrea, and behind them Lady Cynuise and the physician, Ealhswith; and behind them Lady Hild and her company of Archers.
Alice took her Queen's hand, and held on tightly. "Would you like to look about the castle before we set upon the Hall of Doors?"
Mirana glanced at her Champion briefly, before facing forward again. "No, I do not wish that my thoughts should dwell upon this castle. We need to make haste, and discover what awaits us, with courage. Come!" And the company moved forward into the Hall of Doors, and found the way clear, and devoid of any obstacle.
"There is a new evil, a familiar foe, now present in an unusual, mysterious land. You know of what I speak."
"That is of no concern to me. Our people are leaving these lands. They have grown weary of the empty promises of men."
"It is of men that I speak. Will we let another domain fall to the will of the enemy? Will we let our dearest child fall into the hands of perdition?"
"No, I have foreseen it."
"And of Morinehtar?"
"I have set my mind on him, and he is soon to Laurelindórenan."
"If you send them, will they go?"
"They will go, and will bring the flame of An'duin'ethre with them."
Chapter 9: Lothlórien
In the Westron it was known simply as The Golden Wood, but it had other names, more ancient names from peoples long since gone or forgotten, or departed to the West and over Sea. To the Nandorin it was Lindórinand, or The Valley of the Land of Singers, because the antediluvian histories of Galadriel and Celeborn told it as so. It became such when the roaming Elves of the First Age reached the Hithaeglir, and forgot their nomadic ways, and settled in to become the Laiquendë, or Green Elves, and dwelled therein in Mirkwood. But when the Sindarin introduced the mellyrn trees it took the name of Lórinand, the Valley of Gold, because magic now permeated through the land, and after, was called Laurelindórenan, Valley of Singing Gold, because the Elves sought dwelling within its sublime curtains of beauty. By the Third Age, the name of Lothlórien it was known, because Galadriel, with a Ring of Power, forged it as a place of refuge, where the evil of Sauron could not penetrate, and the land remained free—a land out of time and space, not bound within any dimensions—and all who sought refuge there were unfettered of their burdens.
The small fortress of rock—no bigger than an extremely large guard shack—on the west bank of the Anduin housed an ancient Hall of Doors, which was used by the Elves of old to cross into many lands and principalities. But it was falling into ruin, as the Elves at the beginning of the Third Age seldom made us of it, as their longing for the Western shores grew. It was on the border of the Hythe, in the Imlad Lalaith, and was now deserted—its guard towers fallen, its magic hidden.
Alice looked at Mirana and then grabbed the door handle. "Are you ready, my Queen?"
When Mirana nodded Alice opened the door and looked out. Her eyes were met with a river to her left, flowing rapidly by, its waves crashing on rocks by the shore, and bubbling a strange effervescence. She stepped out of the door and looked to her right and caught sight of a dense forest—a forest greener and fuller than anything she had seen in Underland or the World Above. She turned around and indicated for the rest of the party to come out of the cramped stone building. Little did the wayfarers from Underland know that they stood at the eaves of the Golden Wood.
Mirana followed Alice as she stepped out of the structure and looked around. "This is truly a magical place."
Alice turned around. "How do you know, my Queen?"
"I feel it."
Lady Hild and her archers quickly formed a circle around the rest of the Company as they proceeded out of the small fortress. When they were about twenty yards from the building they all turned at the sound of someone screaming from the Hall of Doors.
Alice trotted forward to the sound and watched as Chessur came floating out with Lord Aephelstan firmly within his bite. The feline dropped the man at Alice's feet. "Poor fellow was trying to escape. I thought you might appreciate my efforts."
Alice smiled at the cat. "Indeed, I do. Good of you to join us, your Grace."
The man cowered at the stern look he was receiving. "No thanks to that scoundrel!"
Chessur pretended to stretch, and then flicked a paw at the Lord's head. "Oh, pardon me, dear fellow."
Alice turned to Harthacanute, who was staring at the forest beyond. "Yes, my Lord?"
The knight glanced at her before speaking. "I think we are being watched."
The Champion quickly ran up to the knight and followed his line of sight. "Over there?"
Harthacanute's hand slowly gripped his sword. "I swear, no more than a few seconds ago I thought I saw…"
Alice went cold. "Saw what?"
"About five men, in those woods, and then they vanished." His hand fell and he shrugged. "It could have been my imagination."
Knight Thrydwulf walked up to Alice. "No, I think Harthacanute was right. I saw something, too."
Alice looked over to her Queen, and noticed that she was looking a little tense. She turned around and examined the land before them. It was then that she noticed they seemed to be at an intersection of two rivers—the one to their immediate left—and another one, about seven hundred feet before them that appeared to be somewhat perpendicular to their current position.
The Champion turned to face her company. "I say we walk in the direction of where these two rivers meet, we may find something there to guide us."
Mirana glided over to Alice and took her hand. "Lead us, my Champion."
Alice nodded to Lady Hild. "Form a boundary around us; the standard formation."
Hild whistled and her archers, once again formed a circle around the company. Alice walked beside her Queen and the Knights followed at the back, just slightly ahead of the archers. Lord Aephelstan and Her Majesty's escorts walked in front of the knights. The standard bearers followed closely behind the archers.
Mirana looked about as she walked, and then nearly stumbled on a rock. "Oh, dear. I seem to worn the wrong shoes for the occasion."
Alice glanced over to her then grinned. "Do not worry, my Queen. I won't let you fall." She glanced down and noticed, for the first time, that they were following an old stone road; one that not been trodden on for many years. The white stones were uneven and at certain points disappeared altogether, only to reappear a few yards ahead, almost as if they were leading the company from Underland to their appointed destination.
A sound was heard slightly ahead, as something was running out of the nearby forest. Alice drew her sword. "Weapons at ready!"
The knights drew their swords and the archers aimed their bows, but it was not needed, as an extremely large moose—a Rascaras—leapt from the forest and trotted up to them. It was huge and stood twice as high as any moose from Underland, its horns spanning a length of at least ten feet.
Alice whistled, and her soldiers lowered their weapons. The creature sniffed at them and then hoofed over to the Queen. It nudged her slightly with its large head and then scooted backwards, jumping on its front legs for a few times before scattering away.
Ealhswith shook her head. "What kind of place is this?"
Knight Wuscfrea gently touched her shoulder. "I would not worry, my Lady. This area does not appear threatening to me."
Alice sheathed her sword. "Let us move onward." As her Queen took her hand again Alice smiled at her.
Mirana turned her head and scrutinized the land around her. It had the appearance of a long forgotten world—a world that did not follow the passage of time—only to whither as the days and years passed. There did not appear any word, either in Underlandian or Outlandish, to describe its immense beauty. The river at their left bubbled and flowed to an otherworldly cadence, and flowed with a deliberate intention—one to soothe and not to add worry. And the colors—blues, whites, greens, and gold—startled the eye, as their poignancy ripped at the heart, daring anyone not to fall in love with the terrain.
The Queen turned and gazed into the forest beyond, and was struck deeply by the trees. 'Tree' did not seem an adequate word for what they were. There were beautiful trees in Underland, trees that swayed to their own music, and reached up into the night skies in order to capture the stars. But these trees were alive in ways that she had never seen before. Their girth was immense, and huge roots sprouted from their bases, and grew at least forty feet beyond before plunging into the dark brown earth. The bark of these trees was a rich brown that was interspersed with dark and lighter shades of green throughout, and it seemed like it became lighter the as one's eyes moved upwards, but the tops of the trees were so high that the eye could not perceive them.
Mirana felt her heart ease, and she responded to her surroundings by clutching at Alice's hand, hoping to infuse her beloved with the serenity that now dwelled in her heart. Her Champion returned the smile, her heart settled for the moment.
Alice let go of her Queen's hand and trotted to Lady Hild, who was at the front of the company. "Well, Lady Hild, what do think?"
The archer lowered her bow and then paused for a moment. "Where are the little creatures…you know, the insects and flying things?"
"That's a good observation." Knight Wuscfrea came up and stood beside his comrades. "Not even a fly. A strange land, indeed."
Alice nodded. "Stay at the front, Wuscfrea, I'll scout about for awhile." She jogged further away from the company, following the white stone path.
Mirana saw Alice run up ahead and started after her, but Ealhswith held her back. "Please, my Queen, don't exert yourself, it may not be good for the baby."
The Queen let out a frustrated breath. "What is she doing?"
The physician put a reassuring hand on Mirana's shoulder. "Don't worry, your Majesty. Alice is more than capable of taking care of herself."
Haldir observed Alice from a flet on the other side of the dale, where the sparse shrubs near the stream gave way to the forest of Lothlórien. He gestured for his brother to come closer. "This one is familiar to me, although I do not know from where."
Rumil nodded. "I do not know their tongue, but I will make way to Caras Galadon, and inform the Lady of the Wood." He sprinted from the flet and fled into the woods.
Haldir turned back to watching Alice when his other brother, Orophin, dropped by his side. "What news, Haldir?"
"Your observations do you credit, they have arrived, just as predicted."
Orophin shook his head. "But it was not I that foresaw this, but the Lady, herself."
"Then the rumors are indeed true. We will go and meet our kin shortly, and fulfill the prophesy of the Hidden Wood."
Orophin frowned, his elf eyes seeing a great distance ahead. "They are armed."
"I know. But there is nothing they could do to harm us. Nor would we want to cause harm to them, there is one who is our kin."
"Alas, I do not know the Common Tongue," Orophin iterated. "I will send those who do."
Alice noticed the small stream right away, as the water appeared sparkling white in the afternoon sunlight. There was just something in the way that the water sparkled that captured her attention. She peered into it and saw her reflection stare back at her, but then the image changed, and it looked like she was staring at a woman with light colored hair and the brightest of blue eyes. She staggered backwards, stumbling on a rather large rock.
The Champion landed on her back and cried out in surprise. "What—"
"Let me help you."
Alice turned her head and expected to see a member of her company speaking to her, but, instead, a stranger stood before her. Her first instinct was to try to get away, but the more she stared into the eyes of the one before her, the more her tension melted away.
She blinked, and then took the offered hand. "Thank you."
Haldir easily helped the young woman to her feet, and sensed that she was from another world altogether, but one once visited. "I am Haldir, son of Galathil, of the Golden Wood. Welcome."
Alice nodded and then gaped at the figure before her. He was very tall and handsome, with angular features, and possessed an aura about him that was unfamiliar, yet canny. And he looked down on her with blue eyes full of a wisdom born of many years. "My names is Alice Kingsleigh, daughter of Charles Kingsleigh, formerly from London, but now from Marmoreal."
Marmoreal… Haldir was well acquainted with that name and what it meant. "You are in the realm of Galadriel and Celeborn. We have been preparing for your arrival."
The Champion frowned somewhat. "You have? How did you know we—I was coming?"
Haldir smiled down at the young woman. "We know you are not alone, Alice Kingsleigh, and we welcome you. Please wait with me until the rest of your company approaches."
It was not long before the rest of those from Underland caught up to Alice and her companion; five others from the Golden Wood were escorting them. Alice looked at Haldir closely. "Your ears, they—are different."
Haldir smiled again. "That is because I do not belong to the race of men. I am a elf, the last of the Silvan elves descended from the Nandorin."
Alice nodded, even though she did not understand. She sighed when she saw Mirana and ran up to her, hugging her tightly. "Are you all right, my Queen?"
Mirana smiled at her Champion. "Are you sure you are all right, my love?" She looked up and saw Haldir, and a flare of recognition pierced her heart. After releasing Alice she glided over to him and smiled. "Do I know you?"
"Elen sila lumenn omentilmo, Mirana." The elf closed the distance between them and touched his chest with the palm of his right hand, and then bowed. When he rose he wrapped Mirana in a smooth embrace. "Nae saian luume."
The Queen closed her eyes, absorbing the words spoken to her. They fit into her well, releasing the whispers of a memory from long ago. "Yes, it has."
Alice froze as a momentary flicker of jealousy arose from within. "My Queen?" As soon as she spoke of her Sovereign she regretted it, as she knew her voice betrayed her emotions.
The Queen slowly walked over to her Champion and drew her aside. "No need for such declarations, my love. You know I am yours."
Alice blushed, and berated herself for such adolescent behaviour. "I'm sorry. I just…what did Haldir say to you?"
"He was merely saying that it has been a long time since we last met."
Alice's eyes went wide. "You know him?"
"I must, don't you think? I understood his strange language as if it was my own."
Knight Harthacanute walked over the Haldir. "Greetings, I am Harthacanute, son of Berctuald, Knight of Marmoreal." He lifted his hand.
Haldir looked at the hand for a moment, and then remembered the customs of men. He grasped the man's arm. "May the peace of the Noldor sustain you."
Another elf, Finwë, strode up to Haldir. "Brother, we must ask our guests to surrender their weapons. And by the Lady of the Galadhrim oaths must be sworn."
Knight Thrydwulf came forward. "I will not swear any oath, unless it is to Mirana of Marmoreal."
"The same goes for me." Lady Hild nodded and looked back to her archers. They all agreed with her.
The White Queen took Alice's hand and led them over to Haldir. "My people, we have nothing to fear in this land as you can see from the reception given us. I believe we will be safe, even if we chose to give up our weapons."
Lord Aephelstan unhooked a knife from his belt and threw it at the Queen's feet. "So be it, your Majesty." He smirked.
Angered by the man's insolence, Alice made her way for him, but was stopped by Finwë. "Please, no acts of violence in the Golden Wood. It is not of our custom."
Alice allowed the elf to hold her for a moment, and then felt a peace within her that was unlike anything she experienced before. She offered the elf an awkward smile. "I'm sorry. Everyone, lay your arms at our Queen's feet."
The company did so, some willingly, others put off by an obvious act of surrender. When every weapon was at Mirana's feet she looked up to Haldir. "Will this do, my lord?"
Haldir nodded then took Mirana's hand in his own. "Please, Queen Mirana, there is no need to address me like that as I am your humble servant." The elf looked over to his kinsmen that were standing in back of the visitors from Underland. "Finarfin, secure these weapons, and send word to Caras Galadon that the appointed time is at hand."
Alice was startled when six elves approached from the woods nearby with white bags to put the weapons in. She had not heard them approach. And the others were startled, as well, and began to shift on their feet, feeling uneasy.
Once again, their Queen spoke to them. "Please, my friends, unburden your hearts, and be at peace." And Mirana's words touched the hearts of her people. She smiled in return and then turned to Haldir. "And what is our next move?"
"Khila amin, Mirana. Follow me through the dale to the dark wooded area beyond. There is a settlement there where we may rest for the day and night. We will advance to Caras Galadon in the morning hours." Haldir continued to hold the Queen's hand aloft as they led the company of elves and men.
Alice fell in line with Harthacanute and Wuscfrea near the back of line and brooded, unused to being this easily forgotten. Harthacanute looked at her and then shook his head. "What are you doing back here with us? You are Underland's Champion, start acting like it!"
Alice glared at the man. "What would you have me do?"
"Go up there and take the Queen's hand! Declare yourself, Alice!"
Alice stopped, and fell to the back of the line, and then summoned all of her muchness. "My Queen!"
Everyone halted, and then all eyes turned to Alice. She adjusted her cape then strode with confidence to her Queen, who was walking with Haldir. When she reached them she bowed to Mirana and then offered her arm, palm facing down. "My Queen."
Mirana turned to Haldir. "If you will excuse me, my dear, but I must recognize my Champion."
Haldir was momentarily surprised. "Alice Kingsleigh is your Champion?"
Mirana offered her Champion a sweet smile. "Yes, she is Champion of Underland, and my heart—she is my Consort."
Haldir bowed to Alice with a flourish. "Then I beg your pardon, Champion Alice. I did not know of your rank until now." The elf looked from Mirana to Alice then smiled. "Unexpected and solemn news, indeed. Cormamin lindua ele lle, Alice Kingsleigh. My heart sings to see thee!"
Alice gazed at Mirana and then blushed. "My Queen." Mirana placed her hand over Alice's and the company carried on through the dale, amazed at the lightness the land imbued into their spirits.
After awhile Mirana turned to Alice. "You are incorrigible, Alice."
"Don't I know it."
Morinehtar moved through the wood with a practiced ease, moving in and about the trees even more quiet than the elves. The sun was setting and its light was escaping the forest, but the illumination that saturated the hills and dales of Lothlórien was not dependent on it. A soft blue-green glow emanated from the mellyrn trees and spiraled out like soft tendrils of light, creating a glow in and throughout all of Lothlorien. Its gentle luminescence awoke the forest, and the chant of the elves coalesced with the woodland, joining them as one.
Morinehtar stopped, smiling as he leaned his staff against a tree. "You know I do not like that name, my Lord."
Celeborn stepped from behind the mellyrn tree. 'But it does capture your attention, my friend, does it not? I called you from the East, and you came—I am grateful."
"I was surprised by the summons. At first I did not believe the news, but was reassured by Elrond that it was a genuine request. Am I to assist Gandalf in the war against Sauron?"
Celeborn grasped his friend's shoulder. "No, his path lies on a different road. It is I who needs you, Morinehtar. Galadriel has seen into the future and has beheld the death of Saruman."
The wizard paled. "No, no. It cannot be."
The Elf Lord dropped his hand. "There is a tale of betrayal that I must tell you, but that is for a later time, I promise. Galadriel saw the passing of Saruman's spirit from this world into another—into a world that I deeply care about."
Morinehtar nodded, understanding. "The Hall of Doors…"
"Yes, my heart grieves that I may not be able to save it…save it for…her."
"Will you take my counsel, my Lord, and allow me to do whatever I can to help you?"
Celeborn sighed, his heart lifted. "Thank you, my friend. Come, let us away and prepare for an auspicious meeting of these two worlds."
Alice looked over the railing of the guard flet she was standing on and watched as a procession of elves approached Cerin Amroth. Long ago, and many years before Celeborn and Galadriel stepped foot into the land—before Caras Galadon was even a thought, or memory—Lothlórien was known as Laurelindórenan and was ruled by the Elf Lord Amroth. He built his home in this part of the forest—the oldest flet in Lothlorien—on a hill as ancient as Middle-earth itself.
It was now used as a guardhouse and three pavilions were erected at the base of its massive tree, and housed guests who were to visit the Lord and Lady of the Realm. A grand and ornate spiral staircase wrapped around the tree, and led to the house within its branches. Alice could not have known she was seeing the arrival of Elrohir and Elladan—the sons of Elrond—to Cerin Amroth, sent by their father to aid the Lord Celeborn.
The elves had attached Queen Mirana's standards and emblems to the side of the flet, a signal to everyone—elves and men, alike—that a monarch was dwelling within. Alice turned from the scene below and padded her way over to Mirana, who was resting in a chair. "More elves are coming, my Queen."
Mirana opened her eyes and gazed at her lover. "And that must be a good thing, I think."
Alice dropped to her Queen's feet and rested her head on her beloved's lap. "Are you sure, my Queen? I feel so out of sorts in this place. The mystery of why we are here grows deeper as each hour passes."
Mirana stroked her Champion's hair. "Do you think so, my love? I feel that this is exactly where we are supposed to be—right now. Do not ask me how or why I feel this. I just do."
Alice sighed. "I do."
Her Champion lifted her head. "You are connected to this place, Mirana, and to its people. I can see that. Although, I don't think our companions have the sense of it as I do. Maybe Ealhswith does, and Harthacanute, but not the others."
The Queen gently caressed her Champion's cheek. "You are so wise and insightful, my dear Alice."
Alice closed her eyes and grinned at the sweet feel of her lover's hand on her face. "Ah, no I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
Mirana lowered her beloved's head back to her lap and laughed—a good hearty laugh that made Alice tingle with pleasure. "How would I ever live without you, Alice?"
"Well, I hope you never have to." Alice lifted herself and held out her hand to her Queen. "Shall we go, and see to the new arrivals?"
Mirana stood, but made no effort to move. She wrapped her arms around Alice. "No, I am weary from all that walking today, and I'm sure the baby must rest, as well."
Alice cringed on the inside, berating herself for not taking her Queen's pregnancy into consideration. "I'm sorry. I…I forgot…"
Mirana hugged Alice even tighter. "No, please stop your self-recrimination, my love. With everything that we have experienced on this day it is no wonder that your thoughts are muddled."
"Are you hungry, Mirana?"
"And you must be, as well. Would you mind seeing as to what the elves may have to eat?"
Before Alice could respond they heard the ringing of a bell from the spiral staircase. Alice released her Queen and went over to investigate. She went to the entrance of the flet and peered down the staircase. "Yes?"
An elf stood at the landing to the staircase and presented a basket to Alice. "Lord Haldir has indicated that Queen Mirana is hungry, so I have come to bring you this. Saesa omentien lle, Alice Kingsleigh."
Alice raised her eyebrow, and then took the basket. "Thank you." She took the basket to Mirana, who was waiting in the house's single bedroom. "I think Haldir can read your mind, Mirana. The elves have sent food and drink."
The Queen finished taking off her shoes. "Really? What did they send?"
The Champion sat on the bed and opened the basket. She found a decanter of wine and several breads and fruits, and what looked like cheese, and a large bowl with a lid on it.
Mirana let the aroma of what was in the bowl drift over her and she quickly took off the lid. "Oh, this looks like a potato and vegetable stew!"
Alice removed the two bowls from the basket and ladled out generous portions for herself and her Queen. "Indeed it is. Come and eat, my Queen."
Mirana took her bowl and began to eat. "This is incredibly delicious. Maybe we ought to bring one of those elven cooks to Marmoreal?"
Alice looked up from biting into an apple. "Really, Mirana? Are not you spoiled enough?"
The Queen laughed. "No, I am not."
Her Champion took a spoonful of the stew and then rolled her eyes. "I could always stuff one of the cooks into one of those large white bags."
Mirana held out her goblet to Alice. "My Champion?"
Alice dutifully poured her Queen some wine. "Do you think the others are being taken care of, as well?"
Mirana nodded. "Of course, dear Alice. Our new friends do not appear to be the ungracious type."
"And I'm still wondering exactly what type they are." Alice drank a large portion of wine and then set her cup down. "Yes, we'll steal a cook and maybe a few bottles of this wine."
Mirana looked up. "Do you really bear our new friends ill will, my love?"
"No." Alice rose from the bed and tried to stretch. "Will you help me out of this armor, my Queen?"
"Of course, my Champion." The Queen set her bowl aside and stood. "Come here."
Alice strode to her Queen and watched as her Queen slowly undid the leather ties to her breastplate. The Queen set the piece down and then bent on her knee; she undid the armor at Alice's thighs, then she gently ran her hands over the thick linen undergarments Alice wore, hoping to relax sore muscles. Alice swallowed hard as her Queen's hands ran slowly down her legs, kneading the tight muscle, and then she used her fingertips.
Mirana smiled, but did not look up to her Champion. "My poor Alice, I can sense your need."
Alice stifled a groan. "I…do not know what you mean."
This time Mirana looked up, her face close to Alice's stomach. "Alice, my dear, I can smell it."
Her Champion closed her eyes. "I apologize, my Queen."
Mirana stood and began to unlace Alice's shoulder greaves, she made sure she was as physically close to her Champion as she could get, without touching her. She let her fingertips graze Alice's nipple. "Why?"
Alice clenched her fists as her arousal grew. She could barely speak. "This is not the time…for this."
The Queen threw the various pieces of armor to the floor, and then slowly sauntered around Alice, until she stood behind her. She leaned in close and grasped her Champion's hips. "Why not?" Her tongue laved over the back of Alice's neck.
Alice shivered, but she tried to deny her hunger for her Queen. "No…please."
Mirana stopped. "Are you sure?"
Alice lowered her head as hot tears rolled down her cheeks. "Please, Mirana…"
Mirana felt her Champion's anguish and quickly turned her around; she enveloped Alice in a tight embrace. "What have I done to hurt you so badly, my Champion?"
Alice continued to tremble from her desire, but she returned her Queen's embrace. "You haven't hurt me, my love. I'm trying not to want you so bad."
The Queen sighed. "Why? Your desire for me is sweet and precious, and I return it."
"I'm…just trying to be noble, Mirana."
"By denying your Queen?"
Alice's head snapped up. "No, I do not mean that, Mirana! But…I do not want these elves to think lowly of you."
The Queen lifted her hands and held Alice's face, trying to scrutinize her reasoning. Before long she smiled tenderly at her young Champion. "I do not think they will begrudge me our moments of passion, Alice. Haldir knows we are joined for life, and has probably told those who also need to know." She wiped at Alice's tears.
Alice lifted her hand and caressed her beloved's cheek. "I love you, Mirana."
The Queen smiled before returning the bed. She removed the decanter of wine and basket and put them on a nearby chair near the hearth. After she did that she took their bowls of stew and put them on a table. She returned to the side of the bed and looked over her shoulder. "Will you help me with the clasps, my Champion?"
Alice smiled warmly at her Queen and stood in back of her. Like her Queen had done for her, she did for her Queen. She let her fingers smoothly work at the clasps and then gently let them caress the smooth skin she found beneath the dress. It wasn't long until the dress pooled around Mirana's feet. She wrapped an arm around Mirana's waist and drew her in until her breasts made contact with Mirana's back. "My Queen…" Her other arm snaked around her Queen's waist and she lowered her to the bed, and then she bent over her, adjusting her stance. "Mirana…"
Galadriel—the Lady of the Wood, of the Noldorin of old—stood in her garden and pondered her mirror once more, just as she had done not twelve days hence, when she questioned Frodo of the Shire. Her heart was pure and her thought went out to wander her lands, and it came upon Cerin Amroth. She paused and then stepped back a bit, a smile graced her lips, and she left the lovers alone, and sought to know the thoughts of Sauron at the moment. A drift of wind passed over the back of her neck and she smiled again, her elf eyes drifting up to catch sight of the elusive creature.
"Where have you been, my most subtle of friends?"
The Cheshire cat appeared, and floated over to the Queen. "I have dwelled in Underland all these years, my Queen—your silent sentinel to that wonderfully eccentric land."
"It is good that you returned at this time, as I have missed our time together." She reached out and scratched Chessur behind his ear. "I am sure that you have yearned for…your kind?"
Chessur purred. "At times I have." He swept his tail over Galadriel's head. "But I am a miscreant, love."
Galadriel laughed, then lifted a hand to her lips. "You have learned much?"
"Yes, my Queen."
"And where do your loyalties lie?"
"With both worlds, my Queen."
"Then I seek your counsel, Chessur. There is much that I cannot see, so I need your help. Tell me all about this Underland."
Chapter 10: Caras Galadon
Alice rolled over and wrapped an arm around her lover. She scooted closer to her Queen and slowly began to ascend from the land of dreams. She shifted and Mirana caught her hand and placed it on her stomach, sighing as she did so. Alice softly whimpered in response and wrapped her leg over Mirana's. When the Queen began to snore Alice let out a breath and slowly opened her eyes, blinking away the sleep. The Queen rolled over on her back, and pulled Alice on top of her, and then giggled in her sleep. Mirana hiccupped when her Champion rolled off and sat up, momentarily uncertain as to where she was.
Alice yawned, her eyes still half lidded. "Mirana?"
Her Queen turned over onto her side and pulled the blankets over her. "Wake me when its time for tea."
Alice turned around and regarded her Queen, still quite groggy. "I don't know if they serve tea here." She looked around the room, wondering if there was a place where she could take a nice, warm bath. Alice turned her head and noticed that the curtain that separated the bedroom space to the living area had been drawn, and she knew that neither she nor Mirana did that.
The Champion forced herself awake and quietly padded to the drape, and drew it aside slightly. She peered into the living area and saw that someone had brought breakfast to them. There was also a neatly folded piece of paper on the table. Alice, after looking around and making sure no one else was there, walked into the room and unfolded the paper.
There was a message in the Common Tongue:
When you have rested and have partaken of the morning repast, after your bath, Lord Haldir requests that you join him and your companions in the pavilions below, in the first of the afternoon.
"In the first of the afternoon?" Alice put down the note and then noticed a door in the far corner of the living area that she could have sworn was not there yesterday. She walked over and opened it, revealing an antechamber made of solid wood, like the rest of the flet, only it contained a large stone pool of steaming water.
Still a bit sleepy, Alice went to the bed and sat down again. "Mirana?"
The Queen groaned, not quite fully awake. "Get McTwisp…"
Alice shook her head and yawned again. "He's not here."
Mirana shot up in the bed and stared ahead, dumbfounded, and in a sleepy stupor. "Ring the bell, then! I want some tea…Alice?"
"I'm in the loo!"
Mirana yawned and waited for Alice to come out and then took care of her own business. When she came back into the bedroom area Alice grabbed her hand and led her to the wooden antechamber and guided them both into the steaming water.
The Queen immediately ducked her head and when she surfaced she was fully awake, and feeling rather wonderful. "Was this bath here yesterday, I do not remember?"
Alice splashed her Queen then dived into the water. After a short moment, she resurfaced and smiled at her beloved. "I don't think it was."
Mirana drew Alice to her and held on tightly, and then sighed in utter contentment. "I love you, my Champion."
"I love you, too, my Queen." Alice smiled and lifted her head. "I love your morning affections."
"And I know there have been far too little of them in the past few weeks, I know that, Alice." Mirana rested her head on Alice's shoulder. "Hopefully, with the help of these Elves, we may find the answers we seek."
Alice rubbed her cheek on Mirana's hair. "I think they can read our minds, at least, I think they read yours."
Mirana lifted her head. "Oh? Why do you say that?"
"Well, this bath for one. I know how you love your morning bath; and there is a meal already prepared for us in the living room."
"Really?" The Queen pondered for a moment, and then smirked. "Do you think they can read my mind all the time?"
"All the time?" Alice thought about it. "I don't know."
Mirana smiled. "Do you think they can read my thoughts when I make love to you?"
Alice blushed. "Oh…I hope not." She released her Queen and then splashed around in the water. "Shall we have breakfast, my Queen?"
"After you scrub my back."
Around the huge mellyrn were the Queen and her Champion dwelled was a ring of what the elves called the 'White Trees,' as they were so old the memory of their name was long forgotten. Interspersed with these trees was a circle of more mellyrn trees. Elaborate bridges connected the trees to each other, and to the pavilions below. Between the large, exposed roots of these trees, under the white pavilions, dwelling, meeting and sitting areas were built, and fountains were created, filled with elven magic.
Knight Harthacanute sat on a stone bench that was between two roots, and sharpened his sword, as the company had received back their weapons. He ran the elven whetstone smoothly over the blade and was amazed by the sharpness of it. He looked up to see Lady Hild coming toward him. "Good morrow, my Lady?"
Hild chuckled, enjoying the knight's sense of humor. "Yes, it has turned out to be, my Lord." She sat down next to the man. "Where do you suppose the Queen is? The morning is wasting away."
The knight gestured over his shoulder. "Probably still up there with Alice. Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact. No ill dreams or anything like that." The archer looked over to the other side of the pavilion they were under and noticed Knight Wuscfrea with Lord Aephelstan, they were conversing with two elves. "What do you suppose they are talking about?"
"I don't know. Have you checked your arrows since you received them back?"
"No, why, my Lord?"
"Well, I have a suspicion that our new friends traded them for ones of their own, my Lady. They gave me this whetstone for my blade." He handed the stone to Hild. "It has made my sword sharper than it's ever been, even when it was new—and look how it shines."
Hild rolled the stone in her hands. "It weighs nearly nothing." She looked up and handed it back to the knight. "More elven magic, I suppose. Say, my Lord, have you had your breakfast?"
Harthacanute put down his sword. "No, I have not."
Hild rose, and smiled. "Care to join me, my Lord?"
The knight rose and extended his arm, and the Lady took it. "With pleasure, my Lady."
Morinehtar leaned against the tree and smoked his pipe, creating intricate smoke rings as he did so. He gazed into the first pavilion under the mellyrn and watched the guests from another world, and how they interacted with the elven folk. "Interesting." His uncanny hearing picked up on a sound and he smiled to himself. "Ah, my old friend, care to share in some Longbottom leaf?"
"Now really, Alatar, I will not, as I am smoky enough." Chessur appeared and scrutinized the wizard's pipe. "Is it from the Southfarthing?"
The cat's eyes narrowed and he appeared greatly tempted. "No, no. The Queen would have my pelt if I started smoking."
"Which Queen are you talking about?" The wizard scratched his beard.
"Mirana. She thinks I have too many vices as it is." Chessur whirled around the tree as he spoke. "Didn't you learn to smoke from Gandalf?"
"No, from Saruman." The wizard frowned, as he had learned from Celeborn of the other wizard's great betrayal. He changed the subject quickly. "You have been gone for quite a while. I have not seen you since the beginning of the Third Age."
Chessur halted in front of Morinehtar. "I flit about here and flit about there, that sort of thing."
The wizard blew smoke at the cat. "You are as elusive as the clouds."
"Nonsense. Can a cloud do this?" He snatched the wizard's staff and began to twirl it around.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you, Chessur."
Morinehtar smiled. "Care to be a toad, or something unnatural?"
Chessur dropped the staff and frowned. "I must depart; see you at Caras Galadon, my old friend." He disappeared.
The Lady Galadriel walked through the forest of Caras Galadon and pondered the events of the last two days, ruminating on the expedition of the Fellowship, and on the immediate Company from Underland. Two quests were laid before her, and she felt that the decisions she made from this point on would decide the fates of two very different lands. Her faith in both was sure, but when men were concerned, there was always the element of weakness to meditate on, and why men were so easily moved by temptation. She bent her thought, and loosely fiddled with Nenya, a ring of power—her Ring of Power—forged by Celebrimbor, a descendent of Fëanor, and never touched by the hand of Sauron.
"You look troubled, my Lady."
Galadriel turned around. "Do I? Long has it been since we last took counsel, my friend."
Legolas touched his breast with his right hand. "I am always at your service, my Lady."
The Lady of the Wood smiled, her voice musical. "How fairs the Fellowship?"
"Fell things we have seen, and still mourn the passing of the Grey Pilgrim."
Galadriel nodded. "When does Aragorn plan to continue the Quest? When will you pass from our borders?"
"Elessar has set his mind on a fortnight, my Lady."
"That is good." Galadriel turned again, and appeared to be listening to the Wood. "I have requested to see you because there is a matter of great concern to me, and I require you to pause from your current path, and to follow another."
Legolas looked surprised. "To forsake Frodo and the Ring—and the Fellowship?"
"No, your destiny lies with Aragorn. But there is—another matter that requires your skills, Legolas. I do not pretend to understand it completely, as there is much that lies in shadow, much that is hidden. But, will you go where I send you, with complete trust that it is your destiny to do so?"
"I will, my Lady." Legolas took Galadriel's hand and kissed it.
Alice held her Queen's hand as they descended the great spiral staircase. She peered over the banister and watched the activity below. "Take a look, Mirana."
The Queen looked over the railing and saw the arrival of a great carriage, her standards and emblems already attached. She looked up to the flet to see that they had, indeed, been removed. "When did they take them down?"
Alice shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. And when did they have the time to do this?" She indicated her armor, which had been polished to a bright shine. She adjusted her cape.
Mirana smiled at her Champion. "I think my crown is shining a bit brighter, too."
Alice chuckled. "How will I ever live up to this attention once we are back in Underland?"
Mirana laughed as they reached the bottom of the staircase, and smiled when she saw Haldir there, waiting for them. "Good morning."
Once again the elf touched his chest with his palm and bowed. "I trust your night was restful, Queen Mirana."
"Yes, it was. Your hospitality warms my heart, dear Haldir."
"Then I am glad for it." He glanced over at Alice then turned to her. "Do you know that you are wearing a Elven cloak—from the Lady of the Wood?" He ran his fingers over the silver leaf clasp.
Alice looked over to her Queen. "I am? Mirana gave me this cloak when I became Champion to her realm."
The Queen looked puzzled. "I have always had this cloak, ever since I can remember."
Haldir nodded. "I am sure you have. Come, my friends, there are those with whom you must meet. They are over at the first pavilion."
Alice held out her arm again, in the royal fashion, and Mirana placed hers on top. Together with Haldir they followed a stone path from the great mellyrn and into the intersection of the great trees, with their pathways to and from each other. They passed through stone paths, grass and saplings of the White Trees on both sides, Niphredil grew in the grass, as well as Elanor. The wind blew through the branches of the trees, and it sounded like an otherworldly music.
Alice looked over at Haldir. "There is music in the trees, a fair sound, I think."
Haldir nodded, but his attention was taken by his thoughts. "Yes, a cry from the far away Seas, and birds long since dead and forgotten." He paused at the highest step of the pathway, and was greeted by six Elven escorts. They were dressed all in gray, with scarlet cloaks about their shoulders with the same clasp as Alice wore. They carried lanterns before them, and the candles burned with a bright, white light.
Haldir nodded and the escort proceeded down the path with Haldir following. Alice and Mirana followed closely behind the Elf.
Mirana glanced over and watched her Champion, noticing the gallant warrior as she strode with confidence. "Alice?"
Her Champion smiled, but did not turn to her. "Yes, my Queen?"
"Whatever happens here—I mean, whatever happens with our stay here in Lothlorien, I want to tell you that I am so proud of you. And that I am so incredibly grateful to have you as my Champion."
Alice resisted the urge to take the Queen into her arms and kiss her. "I love you, too."
Haldir led Alice and the Queen to the outermost pavilion, where the rest of the Company from Underland was waiting. Under the white pavilion two sets of seating areas were set up, in a semicircular pattern. Underland's representatives on one side, and Elven lords and chieftans on the other. When Haldir set foot in the pavilion those of Elf kind stood, and after a short pause, those of the Company did, as well.
Alice led her Queen over to a throne that had been set up for her, and then stood by her side. She leaned in and whispered in Mirana's ear. "Don't worry, my Queen. You will be fine."
Both Captains of Underland—Harthacanute and Hild—rose to stand with Alice by their Queen's side. When the Queen sat, so did the rest of men and elves. Haldir nodded to Mirana and then addressed the crowd. "We are gathered on this day to recognize Mirana of Marmoreal as Queen of Underland and Princess of Lothlorien."
Mirana sat wide-eyed, and fought down the urge to raise her arms, as she always did when nervous. "Princess of Lothlorien? I do not understand."
Alice frowned, and rested her hand on the sword at her side. "I don't understand, either. Is our Queen indebted to this land in any way?"
Haldir noticed Alice's action and sighed somewhat, and then had to remind himself that Alice was from a different land. He walked up to her and then lowered his voice. "You do not have to grasp your sword, Alice Kingsleigh. Everything will make sense when you see the Lord and Lady of the Realm."
Alice lowered her hand, a small blush on her cheeks. "Forgive my impetuousness, my Lord."
Haldir grasped her shoulder for a moment, then turned to finish his declaration. "Mirana of Marmoreal—stand and be recognized."
The Queen stood and moved a few paces from the throne. An older man dressed in dark gray, and with a blue cloak, came forward. His eyes met Mirana's and he nodded. "I am Morinehtar the Blue—of the Istari—sent by the Valar to aid Middle-earth against all that is dark and murky."
Mirana took the wizards hand. "I am honoured, Morinehtar." She gestured to her right. "This is Alice Kingsleigh, Champion of Underland, and two of my Captains, Knight Harthacanute and the Lady Hild."
Haldir nodded and the sons of Elrond approached the White Queen. Elrohir greeted the Queen in the traditional way, and touched his breast with his hand. "My Lady, I am Elrohir."
His brother, Elladan, took Mirana's hand and then bowed, briefly touching the Queen's hand to his forehead. "And I am Elladan. We send greetings from our father, Elrond, son of Eärendil and Elwing, Master of Rivendell."
Mirana nodded at the brothers and smiled. They were handsome, and did not resemble the Elves of Lothlorien, but had dark hair and gray eyes, and were solemn in appearance. Both wore bright chain mail of the finest silver, and their cloaks were silver-gray. "It is my pleasure. I greet thee in the name of Marmoreal, seat of my Kingdom."
Elrohir brought forth a parcel and presented it to the Queen. "I bear this, as a gift from our sister, Arwen Undómiel."
The Queen nodded to Alice and she stepped forward to take the parcel. She smiled at the brothers before handing the package to her Queen. Mirana unwrapped the linen parcel to reveal a dark, burgundy cloak. She handed it to her Champion who slowly wrapped it around her shoulders, and then clasped it at her neck. After Alice clasped the cloak she took her place at Mirana's side again and took hold of her hand, both bowed to the brothers.
Mirana smiled at Alice before looking at the brothers. "This gift is gladly accepted, on my behalf and that of my Realm."
Elladan glanced at his brother. "Gîl síla na lû govaded, Mirana."
Haldir nodded to another Elf and he stepped forward to greet the Queen from another world. Legolas greeted the Queen in the traditional fashion, touching hand to chest. "I am Legolas of the Woodland Realm, son of Thranduil, of the Sindar. My honour is yours, Mirana of Marmoreal." His eyes locked with the Queen's for the briefest of moments, but the moment embedded itself into his heart.
Mirana felt the sensation, as well, and had to turn her head away to gather herself. She turned back to Legolas and smiled. "Once again, the pleasure is mine." She turned her head and gave Alice a reassuring smile.
But Alice had seen the look that had passed between her Queen and the Elf, and her heart was given over to sorrow, but she held it in check, and used all of her muchness to return Mirana's smile. "My Queen."
Haldir was satisfied that all of the customary greetings were done according to tradition, and allowed for the visitors of Underland to roam about and greet the remaining elves.
After a short while he walked to the entrance of the pavilion and spoke. "No dhínen!"
The Elves fell silent, and after a short period, so did the visitors from Underland. "The appointed time is at hand, and we set for Caras Galadon. Come!"
The escorts led the procession from the pavilion to the waiting carriage and horses at the border of Cerin Amroth. Alice and Mirana stepped up into the open-air carriage along with the physician Ealhswith and the Lady Cynuise. Haldir, Legolas, and the wizard Morinehtar rode horses at the front of the line while Lady Hild and her archers took up position in front of the carriage, and walked along with two-dozen elves. The Knights and the Lord Aephelstan were given horses to ride and they rode in back of the carriage, along with Mirana's heralds. The sons of Elrond rode at the very back.
And the company of elves and men passed from the borders of Cerin Amroth into the deeper forest of Lothlorien, passing through mellyrn even more grand than those at Cerin Amroth. White Trees were scattered about and their boughs blended with the mellyrn, creating a canopy of white and brown branches overhead, and offering shade to the visitors from Underland.
The Queen leaned back in her seat and looked about the forest. "It is lovely here, indeed. Is it not, my Champion?"
Alice did not turn her head. "Yes, my Queen, it is so."
Mirana frowned, and turned her head towards her Champion. She saw the unshed tears in Alice's eyes and cringed on the inside. She turned away, her heart breaking immediately for her Champion. She had not expected her reaction towards Legolas, and had not realized that Alice had noticed.
She gently took Alice's hand and held it between her own. "Alice, my love?"
This time Alice turned her head. "Yes, my Queen?" Her expression was flat, and did not show her grief.
Mirana was surprised at her Champion's empty look. "Alice, please turn and face me."
Her Champion turned her body towards her Queen. "Yes, Mirana?"
Mirana turned and lifted her hands, gently cupping her Champion's cheeks. She locked eyes with Alice, and tried to convey all of her love in that one glance. Alice held her gaze, and saw for herself the deep love that her Queen had for her. She offered Mirana a small smile and fell into her embrace. Both women held on, as if both of their lives depended on this very touch. Mirana gently caressed her Champion's hair, and Alice smoothly rubbed the small of her Queen's back, and then brought her hand around to Mirana's belly, and soothed their sleeping child.
The Queen rested her forehead against Alice's and released a great sigh. She whispered, "I love you, my Alice, my Champion—I love you so much."
Alice closed her eyes, absorbing her Queen's words, and cherished them. "I love you…I'm so in love with you…and our baby."
The sweetness of their embrace did not go unnoticed, and Lady Cynuise glanced at Ealhswith, and both turned their heads away from the couple.
Elrohir guided his horse closer to the Knight, Harthacanute. "Greetings again, Harthacanute."
The knight turned his head. "And so to you…it is Elrohir, right?"
The Elf nodded. "Yes. My father has sent my brother and me into the services of the Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel. Would you happen to know why?"
"I suppose it has something to do with the evil that befalls our kingdom."
The Elf nodded. "And where is your kingdom, in the East?"
Harthacanute smiled. "Well, not exactly. Perhaps it would be best to have this conversation while in the presence of your Lady and Lord? I am sure they know much more than I concerning the reason for our sojourn here in Lothlorien."
Elrohir glanced at the knight. "I trust you are being tactful, and not deliberately elusive?"
"I am trying, my Lord. You must understand that I am as ignorant as you are at the moment, and greatly wish to know what is the truth in all this."
"As I, my Lord."
"It has been a pleasure." Harthacanute spurred his horse forward and fell in line with Knight Wuscfrea.
Elladan steered his horse next to his brother's. "What news, Elrohir?"
"None at the moment, I am afraid. It appears that all of our questions can only be answered by Celeborn or Galadriel."
The procession of elves and men passed through the Great Gates at Egladil and entered into the city from the southern most tip of Caras Galadon. The path, from that point on, crisscrossed northward up a extremely large hill. The city was like no other in Middle-earth in the sense that it did not have any fortified buildings or towers, and was circular. The elves lived in giant flets—or talans—constructed in and about the great mellyrn and White Trees that were densely scattered about the land. And at the center of the circular kingdom was the greatest mellyrn of all. It towered over six hundred feet into the sky above, and house many dwelling places for the elves. At it's summit stood the great oval Chamber of Celeborn.
Alice looked up at the great mellyrn as the carriage wound its way up the path. "I've never seen anything like this."
Mirana nodded. "This is far more intricate than any of our trees in Marmoreal. Do you suppose we are going to climb that?"
The Lady Cynuise looked up. "I'm afraid of heights."
The Queen glanced at her servant. "You are? Have you ever climbed the towers at Marmoreal?"
The Lady shook her head. "Never. If you must climb that, do I have your permission, your Majesty, to remain on the ground."
Mirana nodded. "Of course you do, Cynuise."
Ealhswith turned towards Cynuise, a look of concern on her face. "Why have you not mentioned this to me? I could have given you a potion for it."
Cynuise shrugged. "It never occurred to me." She turned away from the physician and looked at her Queen. She looked at the Queen's belly and tilted her head. "Your Majesty?"
Mirana glanced in her direction. "Yes, Lady Cynuise?"
"You seem a bit—how does one say—larger than you did yesterday."
Alice slowly turned towards the Lady in Waiting and narrowed her eyes. "Oh? What are you implying?"
Cynuise wrung her hands. "I'm not implying anything! Its just that her Majesty seems more pregnant today than she did yesterday."
The Queen looked away, appearing to be in deep thought. "But I am."
"Should it show?" Cynuise was becoming more flustered.
Both Ealhswith and Alice looked at Mirana's belly. Alice, who saw the Queen every day, scrutinized her Queen's stomach and then raised an eyebrow. "It does, my Queen."
Mirana lifted her hands to shoulder length, as was her custom when either flustered or confused. "It does what?"
"Your belly is bigger today than it was yesterday." Alice scratched her head.
"Don't be absurd, my Champion."
"I'm not, my Queen. Maybe its elf magic."
"Of all the ridiculous…" Mirana fell silent, and then briefly closed her eyes, letting her mind concentrate on the life growing within. She opened her eyes and then looked at Alice. "Maybe it is…I feel different."
Her Champion turned to her. "You do? How, my Queen?"
Mirana beamed at her Champion. "Our baby is happy, content. I feel the love from our baby, Alice."
Alice placed her hand on Mirana's belly again, and then closed her eyes. "What about now?"
The Queen placed her own hand on Alice's. "Love…Alice. Our baby can feel your love."
Alice looked up at her Queen, soft tears rolling down her cheeks. "I…I…" She leaned in and softly pressed her lips against her Queen's. "I'll love you forever."
Mirana caressed her Champion's cheek. "As I, you, my love." She returned the gentle kiss.
Ealhswith groaned. "Not again…"
The procession came to a stop at the lawn below the giant mellyrn. Alice helped her Queen down and was followed by Cynuise and Ealhswith. She looked as Haldir came up to them, still on his horse. "Queen Mirana, we will rest here for a short period, and will journey to the Lord and Lady near the twilight." He turned on his horse and left.
Alice looked around and noticed a giant fountain on the lawn below the tree, where the path ended, and observed that a pavilion had been set up under it. There were plenty of seats there for the Company, plus a table set up with food and drink. She turned around and notice that there was a similar pavilion on the other side of the path, about forty yards away, and that what appeared to be a child was looking at them, sitting on a large, exposed root.
Frodo Baggins sat on the giant root and observed as many elves and men came upon the base of the great mellyrn. He took a bite from an apple and watched as someone in armor took the hand of a woman in white, and led her out of a carriage. Frodo looked closer, and wondered if an elven princess was newly arrived at the home of the Lord and Lady. He thought about going over and investigating, but was called away by Aragorn before he could do so.
Alice turned away as the child leapt from the root and disappeared behind it. She took Mirana's hand and led her over to the seating, and guided her to the throne set up there.
"Are you comfortable, my Queen?" Alice draped a small blanket over her Queen's lap.
Mirana smiled. "Yes, I am. Would you mind seeing that the rest of our party is settled in?"
"Of course, my Queen," Alice answered. She trotted over to the spot where everyone, after dismounting their horses, had gathered. Lady Hild and her archers came up shortly.
The knight bowed towards Alice. "Yes, your Grace."
"Are you well?"
"Yes, your Grace. We are being treated very well by our elven masters."
Alice chuckled. "They are not our masters, my Lord." She glanced at Hild. "You walked the entire way, you must be exhausted."
Hild wiped perspiration from her brow. "Yes, we are, your Grace. We would like to take our leave from you and rest at the foot of this great tree."
Alice nodded. "By all means." Alice noticed that the heralds were removing Mirana's standards and emblems from the carriage. Once they were removed the heralds took them over to where the Queen was sitting and stood behind her throne. She looked back to her knights, who were taking off their riding gloves. "Will you gentlemen be alright?"
Lord Aephelstan waved her away. "Yes, of course, your Grace. Do you suppose they have any ale?"
Alice called over her shoulder as she walked away. "Take a look for yourself."
The Champion looked around her, and noticed that Haldir and the rest of the elves were nowhere to be seen. She trotted over to her Queen. "Mirana?"
"Yes, my Champion?"
"What happened to the elves, they are gone."
Mirana stood, and tried to stretch. "I cannot sit for a moment longer, Alice. We've been sitting all afternoon."
Alice took her Queen's hand. "Would you care to go for a walk, Mirana?"
"Yes, why not follow the path of that stream."
The shimmering water from the fountain fell into a large basin where it connected to a small stream that flowed down the great hill. Alice took her Queen's hand and they slowly followed the stream, their hearts lifted and their burdens forgotten. For such were the ways in Lothlorien, and all travelers within its borders found peace and were glad for it.
The Queen and her Champion stopped at a place where the stream fell into a small waterfall, over white rocks. Alice helped her Queen sit on soft moss, and then removed her shoes. She placed Mirana's feet in the water and began to massage them.
After a short moment, Mirana giggled. "You touched a silly spot."
Alice looked up and chuckled. "Oh, have I?" She ran her fingers slowly up her Sovereign's leg. "How about here?"
The expression on her Queen's face changed, and she took in a shallow breath. "No, not much silliness at that spot—but something different."
Alice continued higher up Mirana's leg. "What about now?" She swallowed hard, caught in the web of desire.
Mirana closed her eyes and groaned. She reached out and grabbed Alice, pulling her towards her. She kissed her fiercely, and lowered herself onto the soft, green moss.
Alice's body followed her Queen's, and she layed down next to her, and returned her passionate kiss. "Please…" Alice caught the Queen's gown, and she began to hike it up; she placed her leg between her beloved's and adjusted her position.
Alice stopped, and slowly lifted her head. "Yes? Who is it?" She noticed an elf, half hidden behind a White Tree.
"It is Finwë, Champion Alice. Lord Haldir awaits you at the pavilion."
Mirana turned her head. "We will be there shortly." When the elf was gone she helped Alice hike up her dress. "How long do we have?" She pulled her Champion down into a lip-bruising kiss, and Alice responded in kind.
When Alice placed her fingers at her Queen's center Mirana gasped, and then groaned her pleasure. She pulled at Alice's hip, trying to do the same for Alice. Her Champion positioned herself over her Queen's leg, and then gasped when Mirana lifted it in order to bring her pleasure. She began to grind as her fingers plunged deep inside her Queen. They clung onto each other, as their pleasure rose, both bodies moving together. Alice thrust faster, and then cried out as she fell into an oblivion, bringing her Queen with her. Their cries reverberated throughout the forest.
Alice adjusted her cape and then pulled her gloves on; she glanced up and observed as her Queen brushed off her dress and then fixed her own cape. "Are you ready, my Queen?'
Mirana looked up and smirked at her Champion. "You…"
Alice offered her Queen an innocent smile. "Yes?" She took Mirana's hand and helped her up the hill.
"Everyone will know what we have been doing." Mirana tried to sound stern, but failed miserably.
"I'm not too concerned. Let them know…that you are mine."
The Queen stopped, and turned Alice to face her. "Do you really doubt that I am yours, my love?"
Alice furrowed her brow, and looked down, not meeting her Queen's eyes. "No, my Queen…I'm sorry."
And Mirana was reminded once again how young her Champion and lover was, and her heart reached out and captured the affections of the young woman in front of her. She pulled Alice into a warm embrace. "Oh, my Champion—how I love you so."
Her Champion looked up and then blushed. "Come on, my Queen. Let us make an entrance to remember." She took her Queen's hand in the royal position then led her out of the forest.
A wondrous sight met them. Lanterns now hung within the pavilion and were giving off a soft, muted light, which accented the banquet table below them. A mist grew from the great fountain, and was now blanketing the ground with an ethereal luminescence, and a far off chanting of the elves began, adding to the beauty of the coming night. Elrohir and Elladan were waiting at the fountain, and Legolas and Morinehtar were waiting by the table, apparently in a deep discussion. All turned to greet and bow to the Queen.
Knight Wuscfrea turned and then whistled, a secret signal to the Company from Underland that the Queen and her Champion were to be protected. He greeted them with a smile. "I trust your walk…was relaxing, your Majesty?"
Mirana beamed at the knight. "Yes, I am completely—rested."
"I bet you are." Ealhswith mumbled as the Queen walked by.
Mirana merely chuckled and walked up to where Haldir was waiting. "You summoned us, dear Haldir?"
"Queen Mirana, we are to ascend the mellyrn and greet the Lord and Lady when the sun begins to set. Are you prepared?" He touched his hand to his chest. "As you can see we have prepared a feast in your honor. Come."
The elf led Mirana and Alice to the oval banquet table, and then Alice stood behind her Queen for a few moments as the rest of the invited guests took position around the table. All sat down when the Queen did.
Mirana noticed that Alice did not take the seat to her right, but continued to stand in back of her chair. She turned her head. "Alice, what is it?"
Alice smiled down at her Queen. "Am I not fulfilling my duties as your Champion, my Queen?"
The Queen indicated for Alice to sit down. "Yes, you are, my lovely Champion. But I don't think it necessary at the moment. Please sit, and enjoy the feast." Mirana watched Alice as she sat, and then smiled to herself. She realized that Alice's action was most likely done to impress upon Legolas that she was taken. Mirana leaned over and kissed Alice on the cheek.
Alice grinned. "What was that for?"
Mirana sipped her glass of wine. "Just because I think you are cute." She put down the chalice. "Morinehtar?"
The wizard took out his pipe and lit it. "Yes, Queen Mirana?"
"You were in a rather deep discussion with Legolas."
Morinehtar blew out a perfectly round smoke ring and watched it float away. "We were merely discussing the dimming of the stars. They are veiled, and appear fearful of the night."
Legolas turned towards Mirana. "We are in no danger, as the protection of Lothlorien spreads out to all of its borders. But we cannot influence the stars, and they signal that danger…"
Mirana waited, but the elf did not continue. "Yes, dear Legolas?"
Legolas held Mirana's stare. "Do not take my words to heart, dear Lady. Let us not dwell upon fell things this night." He lifted his chalice. "To the Queen from a foreign land. To Mirana of Marmoreal—I Melain berio le!"
There was a great cheer around the table, but then Alice lifted her chalice and did not drink, but put it down and lowered her head. Mirana noticed again and sighed, but chose not to intercede at the moment, and to allow her Champion time to sort out her troubled heart.
The elf Finwë looked around the table. "Lady Hild?"
The Captain of the Archers smiled at the elf. "Yes, my Lord?"
"I hear that you are Captain to Queen Mirana's archers. Perhaps you would like to show me your skills when you have the time? I would be honoured to test your bow against mine."
Hild smiled. "I would love to."
Knight Harthacanute frowned, but chose not to worry about it. He turned to Elladan. "How about my sword against yours?"
The Elf Prince nodded. "But would it be a fair fight?"
"Only if you brought your brother." Harthacanute grinned. "Then it would be a fair fight."
Knight Thrydwulf downed a second glass of wine. "Why not host a tournament, Lord Haldir? The skills of your best against ours?
Haldir lowered his head before speaking. "Perhaps for another time, my good knight. We have pressing business with the Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel this evening."
Thrydwulf nodded. 'Of course, my Lord. Forgive my boastful words."
Haldir smiled before lifting his own chalice. "Besides, you would need a hundred more men, at the very least."
Queen Mirana laughed at that, and her melodious voice soothed all the hearts present, except, maybe not for one. Once again, her wisdom told her to leave Alice alone, and to allow her Champion to grow her confidence without constant reaffirmation. She held out her chalice. "My Champion."
Alice poured more wine into her Queen's chalice. "My Queen." When the Queen turned away from her, to engage in further conversation, Alice was shocked. She put down the decanter and sat down, her head low, and sank further into her self-pity.
Haldir watched Alice for a few moments before standing and moving around the table. "Champion Kingsleigh, may I have a word?"
Alice looked up. "Of course." She put her napkin on her chair and then walked along with the Elf Lord. "How may I be of service to you?"
Haldir walked slowly, his hands behind his back. "Are you not a Queen's Champion?"
"Yes, my Lord, you already know this."
"Do I, now? I have not seen a Champion tonight, but an insecure young woman who does not know her Queen's heart."
Alice stopped. "What?"
Haldir held up his hand. "I do not wish a confrontation with you, such things are repugnant to me. You are Champion to Mirana of Marmoreal, Alice Kingsleigh."
"I know." Alice faltered for only a moment, then her voice grew strong. 'I am her Champion—and Consort. I am hers and she is mine."
Haldir grasped her shoulder for only a moment. "Then I am pleased that this matter is settled." He walked away.
Alice watched him go and then stood taller. She adjusted her cape and made her back to her Queen's side. After sitting back down she took her Queen's hand and kissed it. "I love you, my Queen."
This time Mirana turned to Alice. "And I love you." She noticed the twinkle in Alice's eyes and smiled in relief. "My beautiful young Champion." When she caressed Alice's cheek Legolas lowered his head, and felt a loss, for his heart was taken.
And the rest of the feast went without further incident, and the hearts and minds of the Company from Underland were put at ease, and the elves were glad for the new bonds formed, and both understood they were as one. The sun began to sink further, and night began to blanket the land. But as soon as the darkness fell, lanterns sprang up, so that their light mingled with that of the forest, and any and all gloom was banished from Lothlorien.
At last Haldir rose to his feet and called upon the Company from Underland. "Alas, the evening has come and we must make our way to the summit, and to the Chamber of Celeborn." He turned towards the Queen. "Who of your Company may stay behind?"
Mirana stood up, and was followed by her Champion. "My heralds may stay, and the archers, save for Lady Hild." She turned to the Captain. "Is this alright with you, Lady Hild?"
Hild bowed. "Of course, your Majesty."
The Queen thought for a moment longer. "The Lady Cynuise does not wish to go, so she will stay. Ealhswith?"
The physician remained at her chair. "I will keep company with Cynuise."
"Then it is settled."
The Elf Lord, Haldir, formed the line and they began the solemn trek up the great spiral staircase. Haldir, Legolas, and Morinehtar were at the front, followed by the Queen Mirana and the Champion Alice, and the Queen's Knights and the Lady Hild followed them. Lord Aephelstan took up a position at the back of the procession along with the sons of Elrond—Elrohir and Elladan.
The further up the great mellyrn they went the more they noticed the ethereal glow from the trees themselves. And they passed many flets on the journey upwards and were gazed at by curious elves, which let them pass without delay. Alice also noticed that the enormous branches were loosing their color, and were glowing white.
Alice looked around and then whispered to her Queen. "Do you feel that, Mirana?"'
Her Queen nodded. "Yes, I do. There is more magic around this great tree than in all of Underland."
Alice was startled. "How do you know?"
Mirana turned her head towards Alice. "Because I am Underland and Underland is me; and I know that I do not possess this."
Alice squeezed her Queen's hand. "Are you frightened, Mirana?"
The Queen chuckled. "No, my love, I am not frightened. I do not feel any malice coming from our elven friends."
"Well, I am here to protect you, if something should happen." Alice looked ahead once more. "But I agree with you, my Queen. My heart is at peace."
"So is the baby."
At last the spiraling of the staircase stopped and they arrived at a rather large landing, the flooring of which was a beautiful geometric design, carved into wood. But their ascension was not over, as a final staircase stood before them, the final step of their destination. And Alice noticed that any and all color of the tree was gone, and that the branches were glowing white, and spiraled into many geometric forms, creating a beauty that was stunning to the Company from Underland.
Haldir turned for a final time. "Queen Mirana of Marmoreal, are you ready?"
"Yes, I am, dear Haldir."
They went up at last, and entered into the Chamber of Celeborn. And were met with the Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel. They were tall and bore a wisdom from old, as there was an agelessness about them. The Elf Queen's hair was a beautiful white gold, and flowed about her shoulders, appearing to glow. The Elf King's hair was silver, and about as long as Galadriel's, and his eyes looked down upon the Company with a knowledge of things they did not know. Their eyes startled Alice, because she felt the depth of their sight, as it was beyond time and space.
There was a moment of solemn silence, before Celeborn briefly glanced at Galadriel. She nodded to him. He extended his hand. "Mirana of Marmoreal?"
The Queen gazed at the Elven king before her, and was not afraid. She glided to the elf and took his hand. "Yes?"
Celeborn paused for a moment, then took Mirana's other hand. "Welcome, my daughter."
Chapter 11: ...veritas curat...
The smile vanished from Mirana's face at those unexpected words. "You are…my father?"
The Chamber of Celeborn was just as majestic as the tree itself. The hall was huge and built entirely of wood, and it gave off an eerie glow, soft spinnerets of light flowing from branch to branch overhead and weaving towards the sky, only to float upwards—as if they were upside-down raindrops—and then evaporate into a mist overhead. Wooden chairs hugged the oval room, with two chairs set off at the farthest side, for the Lord and Lady of the Realm.
"Yes." The blue in his eyes seemed to drain somewhat at the look his daughter was giving him. "I can tell that this news does not please you."
Alice shot her Queen a quick glance before turning back to the Lord and Lady. "We need time…to sort through it all."
Mirana still did not speak, but she continued to hold the elf's hand, and was once again unburdened. "I…I do not know what to say. Save that I would have liked to have known this sooner; and not in this time of upheaval."
The Elf King nodded. "I understand." He looked at his wife, Galadriel, and was glad of her compassionate smile. "May I present my wife—the Lady Galadriel, of the Noldor, The Lady of the Galadhrim."
Mirana smiled at the Lady and bowed, still a little unsure. Galadriel nodded and then lifted her up. "You do not bow to me, Mirana of Marmoreal, as you are a Queen." She turned her eyes and beheld Alice. Welcome, Alice Kingsleigh of London.
Alice felt the words in her mind and heart; they floated over her like a gentle rain. When she bowed so did the rest of the Company from Underland. "At your services, my Lord and Lady."
Her Queen held out her hand and Alice took it. "This is my Champion, Alice Kingsleigh."
Galadriel smiled. "And so much more, I think." She looked towards Mirana, her thought turned inward as she reached out to envelope the monarch in a cocoon of serenity. Her smile brightened. "You are with child." She moved forward and then touched the White Queen's belly. "I misspoke, you carry twins, Mirana of Marmoreal."
Mirana gasped and Alice's eyes went wide, as the joy of being soon to be parents was now splendidly twofold. And when they looked at each other the world fell away, and all that existed was the two of them, and their unborn children. A love purer than the delicate breeze flowed between them, uniting Queen to Champion, in an unbreakable marriage. Without realizing it, they came together and held each other tenderly. No words were spoken, as none were necessary. And as happens when a Champion can be everything a Queen needs, Alice gave her heart over completely to love at that moment, and let the Queen's love for her enter into the deeper parts of her being. And the Queen bared all for her Champion, and gave over her immeasurable love, and that of their unborn children.
After awhile, Alice blushed profusely. "My Queen." And then she held her Queen tighter, as Mirana looked like she was about to swoon. She held on securely, and did not care what the others around her thought.
Galadriel held her husband's hand, as he was a bit shaken as well. Both looked deeply into the hearts of the Queen and Champion before them, and understood without question that the children were of the Queen, Mirana and her Champion, Alice. It appeared there was magic in Underland that they were not aware of.
Celeborn addressed the elves and men. "Let us into the Chamber and allow the Queen and her Champion a moment alone."
Alice took her Queen's hand and led her down the staircase to the great landing below. When she made sure no one else was around she lovingly held her Queen. "Mirana, my love, we are to have twins."
Her grin was infectious, and Mirana returned her embrace. "Isn't this the most wonderful of news?" She caressed Alice's cheeks. "I should have known, my Champion."
Alice adoringly gazed into her lover's eyes, and brought a hand around to hold her belly. "Known what?"
"That your seed would be this…potent."
Alice blushed again, and then rolled her eyes. "I could not have done it without you."
Her Queen ran a finger over her lips. "I know." She wrapped her arms around Alice's shoulders and rested her forehead on her beloved's. "I wish we were home, and that this mess was all done with."
Alice closed her eyes. "I would wish for nothing more than to take you home, right now, and live a normal life, one without these demands."
Mirana sighed. "Have we ever done that, Alice? What is a normal life?"
The Champion rested her head on her Queen's shoulder, as gesture done many times before, one that always soothed her and bound her eternally to her beloved. "I don't know what is. Our life in Underland is certainly different from London…oh, Mirana, what are we doing here, so far from home?"
"I think we are looking for answers—to many things, it appears."
Alice lifted her head. "This Elven King is your father, Mirana. How did this come to be? Did your mother ever say anything about this?"
The Queen let go of her Champion and turned around, her eyes roaming the trees beyond. "I was not close to my mother—Queen Osðryd. She would look at me strangely at times, almost as if she didn't know me, or want me around."
"You are wrong, Queen Mirana, your mother loved you very much, and did everything she could to make sure you had a normal life."
Both Alice and Mirana turned around to see Chessur sitting on a nearby branch; a solemn expression etched itself onto his normally jubilant features. Alice took a step closer to him. "What do you know of it?"
The cat sighed. "I know everything."
The Queen's eyes narrowed, and she had to control the urge to slap the creature. "What? Everything? You've known this all along, and never told me!"
"It was not my place to tell you."
Alice frowned as anger grew within. "What, the Queen had a right to know!"
Chessur stood resolute. "Yes, Mirana, you had the right to know that the former King was not your father. But your mother should have told you, not me."
Mirana felt her ire dwindle. "Why didn't she?"
Chessur floated from the branch and drifted over to his Queen. "I will tell you the truth, all that I know, if that is what you wish."
Alice paddled over to the Queen and took her hand. "Tell us."
"I will refrain from telling you anything about Celeborn, as it is his to tell you. But I will tell you of your mother, Osðryd. She was quite the free spirit, and surprised everyone when she accepted Osric's pleas of marriage."
The Queen smiled somewhat. "Yes, she was all that. I loved her for it."
Chessur moved to sit back on the branch. "But after Iracebeth was born, who looked everything like her father, your mother became…restless. Her once happy marriage soured, and I think she became very melancholy about the whole thing. She began to spend much more of her time away from Marmoreal, and would wander the lands with a few of her trusted Ladies in Waiting, looking for ways to brighten her days once again.
"Until one day, about ten years later, when she met—someone, who had come through the Hall of Doors—a sojourner to Underland—The Elf King, Celeborn. He could not stay, and it broke Osðryd's heart, as she believed she had found her kindred spirit, her soul mate. You were born nine months later.
"At first Osric was delighted; he thinking that his relationship with your mother was improved. But when he saw you for the first time, he knew you were not his, and his heart became bitter."
Alice and Mirana looked at each other, and then Alice took the Queen into her arms, once more. Mirana let out a quiet sob, and Alice held her dearly. Finally, the Queen looked up. "How…how did my…how did Osric know that I was not his?"
Chessur sighed again. "Your ears, Mirana…they were once very much like Celeborn's."
Mirana reached up reflexively to touch her ear. "What?"
"The King forced the Queen to use her magic—to correct your ears. And he made her promise to never speak of it, to anyone. Not even you. She had to sign an oath, which was punishable by death, if she ever broke it. Such was Osðryd's humiliation. But she demanded that the King treat you as if you were his own, and not to punish you for her indiscretions. Osric, being a noble man, agreed. But his kindness only went so far, as you can probably testify to."
Mirana gently pulled herself from Alice's embrace and walked over to Chessur. "Did my mother make you promise?"
"Yes." Chessur flattened his ears. "There have been many times when I wished you knew the truth because it would have made certain parts of your life easier. That is why she appeared indifferent to you, at times, my Queen. This burdened her heart every day, even on the day of her death, when she made me promise never to tell. You see, I was her confidant and protector. She knew I was there on the day when she signed the oath, hidden, of course."
The Queen leaned on the branch Chessur was sitting on. "I remember the day she died, and the great struggle going on in her heart. But I did not know the reason for it."
"After her death Osric had the Hall of Doors sealed up and decreed that no one ever visit it again. But, I could not abide by that, and secretly reopened it, without his knowledge. And shortly after I did I made my trip here, and told Celeborn of your mother's death."
Alice walked over to Mirana and wrapped an arm around her. "How did you do that, reopen the Hall of Doors?"
"With the one thing that King Osric did not possess—magic, as it is called." Chessur licked his paw for a few moments. "You are a child of two worlds, your Majesty. Of Underland and Middle-earth, and you possess the charisma of each. You are of the Royal House of the Sindarin in Middle-earth, Mirana—your Sindarin powers come from Valinor itself. And from your mother's side you belong to the Royal Lineage of the Veritae in Underland, from the Great Lords of Wisdom—also known as the Fair Days of Underland. Before the time of the Red Queen."
Mirana was quiet for many moments and Alice gently ran her hand over her back, in an effort to keep her calm. "This is quite a lot to understand, dear Chessur."
"I know, my Queen. For the rest, I'm afraid, you must inquire of the Elven King. This is all I can give to you."
The Queen lowered her head and began to rub her forehead. "I'm so tired, Alice, is there someplace we can go to rest—before we go back up there."
Alice looked at the cat. "Well?"
Chessur pointed his paw towards the other end of the flet. "Yes, follow the passage from this landing and you will find a parlor, so to speak. There is a hearth and comfortable seating. I will inform the Lord and Lady, and bid them not to disturb you."
Alice wrapped her arm around her Queen, and led her away down the passage. She called over her shoulder. "No one is to disturb us, Chess."
The narrow walk way wrapped around the mellyrn to a small room on the other side of the massive trunk. Unlike other such spaces, it was walled and had a roof made of wood. A small hearth, made of stone, took up one wall and a rather large chaise was in front of it. Alice led her Queen over to the seating and helped her to get into a comfortable position.
The Queen turned her head and watched as Alice found a blanket and then brought it over to her. "You service me well, my Champion."
Alice offered her Queen a small smile as she put the blanket over her. "It is no service, Mirana. I simply love you, and want to take care of you." She sat down at Mirana's feet and helped her out of her shoes. She massaged her Queen's tired feet. Alice looked up after awhile and locked gazes with her sleepy Queen. "How does that feel?"
Mirana let out a deep breath. "Wonderful, Alice. Please, come here." She held out her arms and Alice lifted herself into them.
Alice rested her head on Mirana's shoulder, and ran her hand over her belly. "How are our children, Mirana?" Her cheeks flushed with joy and pride and Mirana felt it.
"They are fine, my love. Happy and asleep." She lifted Alice up and kissed her soundly, conveying all of her love into that one kiss.
Alice deepened the kiss and shifted her position in order to wrap her arms around Mirana's waist. "I love you, Mirana," she moaned.
The Queen sat up, and brought her Champion with her. "Take off your armor, my love, and lie with me."
Her Champion removed the armor with the help of her Queen and placed it in back of the large couch. After her armor was removed she unclasped Mirana's dress and placed it over a chair. She found a few more blankets in a nearby cupboard and brought them over to the couch, soon she was snuggled with her Queen in front of the fireplace.
Mirana turned in Alice's arms and scooted closer to her. "I love you, Alice."
"I love you, too." Alice ran her hand over Mirana's belly, relishing the life that grew within. "First you give me one miracle—and now two. How can this possibly be?"
The Queen smiled. "I do not really know, my love. Only that I desired to see your fantasy fulfilled. I had no idea that this would happen, that we were creating new life."
Alice let her eyelids droop. "Do you think it may be because of your heritage, or…"
Mirana grinned. "Or what?"
Alice blushed in the dim light, and her Queen felt it to her core. "I mean…well…is it something I had in me?"
Mirana looked at Alice for the longest time, and then laughed heartily. "Something you had in you? I don't know about that, because from all outside appearances you are definitely female."
Her Champion felt she could not be more embarrassed. She buried her face in Mirana's cleavage. "No, no—nothing like that. What I'm trying to say is, maybe I have some magic in me."
The Queen paused, considering Alice's words. "Now, that is something worth considering. How would we find out if that were true?"
"Well, after the children are born, and after you've recovered…I'd like to try again." Alice grinned against her Queen's bosom, drinking in her wonderful scent.
Mirana chuckled. "Oh, no, my sweet Alice. If you think you're going to keep me barefoot and pregnant you're mistaken, mister."
"Not pregnant, per se, my Queen. It's the trying that counts; and I plan on giving it a very good effort."
Mirana felt her Champion's lips on her breast and her breath hitched. "What are you doing?"
"Why, Mirana of Marmoreal, I'm trying to arouse you." Alice slowly ran her tongue over a pink nipple.
The Queen squirmed, as her pleasure grew, her need pooling between her legs. "Please, touch me."
Alice reached between them and groaned, her Queen's pleasure coating her fingers, and her hips involuntarily thrust forward. She flipped Mirana onto her back then straddled her. Her Queen bent her knee, and Alice began to move her hips slowly. She gradually plunged three fingers inside Mirana and then leaned down for a sweet kiss. And the Champion and her Queen made love in the great mellyrn of Lothlorien, binding them within its magic, forever sealing their bond within its inner recesses.
Galadriel and Celeborn silently watched the sleeping lovers, giving them their protection and their love, and uniting their hearts as one.
"Your child is in love, my husband."
Celeborn nodded. "This I know, and I am glad that she has found happiness."
The Lady took her husband's hand and held it. "Does it bother you that it is with another woman?"
"No, I would never begrudge Mirana her happiness. And I am grateful that her heart led her to Alice Kingsleigh—she is a true Champion, indeed."
"Yes, she it. Although she will be tested, and her heart will be layed bare near the end."
The Elf King looked at his wife. "Her heart is strong, and she is completely devoted to my daughter. Alice will not fail Mirana."
"But, will their love withstand the storm, will their future always lie in shadow?"
"Of that I am uncertain, as my wisdom is clouded by a father's love. It is the same love that I bear for Celebrian, yet, it is a love that I have yet to proclaim."
Galadriel smiled at the lovers, peaceful as they were in their sleep. "Mirana is expecting Alice's children." She glanced at Celeborn. "She knows how to wield magic, to a greater degree than I would have predicted."
"The blood of the Sindar runs within her, and something else, a spark of glamour not of Middle-earth."
"Perhaps from her mother's bloodline."
"That is always a possibility. But, at this point, I do not know."
"I think Celebrian will want to meet her sister. Shall we send for her before it is too late?"
"Too late? Celebrian plainly shows what all elves in Middle-earth know deep down in their hearts."
Celeborn sighed and then lowered his head. "Yes, Celebrian's heart grows disenchanted with Middle-earth and she seeks the Undying Lands. Her torment—we will not speak of it. Let us see what a sister's love may bring."
Galadriel glanced at the lovers before squeezing her husband's hand. "Come, my husband. We will speak with Mirana tomorrow." As they walked away Galadriel looked over her shoulder. I know you are awake, Alice Kingsleigh.
Alice's eyes snapped open at the presence of the Elf Queen's quiet voice in her head. She lifted her head and looked around, but she and Mirana were alone. Sighing, she gently disentangled herself from Mirana' embrace and quietly got up from the chaise. She grabbed her armor and tiptoed out of the room, making sure that her Queen was still blissfully asleep.
Once her armor was on she fastened her cape around her shoulders and then walked out to the landing. She looked around and then walked over to the stairs, peering down. No one was around, or so it seemed, until she heard the sound of someone walking up to her from behind.
The Champion turned around just as Galadriel walked past her and descended the stairs. "Lady Galadriel—" But the Elf Queen was out of sight.
Alice followed her as she glided down the stairs. When she reached the bottom, after many long minutes, she spied the Elf Queen following the stream, just as she had done with Mirana many hours prior. Eventually the stream let out to a garden of sorts, in the sense that there was less foliage than in the forest proper. She watched the Lady descend an ancient staircase hewn in the rock, and curled to a small dale with a fountain at its center. The fountain was as archaic as Lothlorien itself. Alice stood at the top of the stair and watched as the Lady Galadriel poured water into the large bowl. The water effervesced a muted bluish light.
Without looking up Galadriel offered Alice an impish smile. "Welcome, Alice Kingsleigh of London."
Alice slowly walked down the stair. "How did you know I would follow you?"
"I know many things—from now and from times past." The Lady finished pouring the water into the fountain, which was actually her mirror. "Would you like to see, Alice Kingsleigh?"
Underland's Champion stopped at the bottom of the stair, and did not move forward. "What will I see?"
The Elf Queen stood back and beckoned for Alice to come to her. "What has been, what is now, and what will be—if you have the courage to look."
Alice strode forward, her head held high, and her hand on her sword. "Why do you want me to do this? Why did you call me from my Queen's bed?"
"All your questions will be answered, all you have to do is look for them."
Alice peered into the large bowl of water and saw herself as a little girl, when she first fell into Underland, and saw snippets of her adventures there. She sighed, then looked up, offering Galadriel a small smile. "I was so sure it was all a bad dream."
Galadriel smiled back at Alice. "And then you went back to London, and your time in Underland haunted your steps, until it became a nightmare."
Alice faltered. "I…how do you know?"
"Look into the mirror, Alice."
The Champion stared into the bowl again. This time the images swirled around, as if in a whirlwind, and finally coalesced into an image of her on the field of battle, on the Frabjous Day, the Jabberwock before her. She watched herself battle the creature, and then final victory, standing before her Queen.
Alice swallowed, a lump in her throat. "I did not want to leave that day, but needed to."
Galadriel nodded. "You knew you were breaking Mirana's heart that day. You struggled with your feelings, and yet had the strength to leave."
"Strength? I didn't see it that way. I thought it was the most cowardly thing I had ever done."
"And yet you returned for a third time, not knowing how you would be received."
"I…could not stay away. I knew I was in love with a Queen from another world, but so much time had passed—almost three years."
"Once again you showed great courage, or—as you would call, muchness."
Alice blushed. "Yes, muchness."
"Courage took you away, and courage brought you back."
Alice looked back at the mirror, but it was cloudy. "Yes…"
Galadriel took the few steps necessary to be in front of Alice. "And yet your heart doubts your own valor. You will need all your muchness when you return to Underland." She lightly grasped Alice's shoulder. "Do not let your heart fall into sorrow and doubt, Alice Kingsleigh of London. You will not fail your Queen. Look." She swept her hand over the mirror and the images returned.
Alice saw herself on the Bandersnatch, at the head of a mighty army, in the armor of Underland and holding the Vorpal sword in one hand and a spear in the other, with her cape billowing out behind her as she rode. Her look was one of pure determination. She looked up abruptly. "But…there is no such force of men in Underland like this."
Galadriel merely smiled. "Do you not accept your responsibilities as Champion of Underland?"
"Of course." Alice tried not to sound aggravated.
"If you do, then why do you doubt what you have seen in the mirror? The Mirror of Galadriel does not lie, or show false images. It can bring you the future, but it does not make it. That is up to you."
"You remind me of Absolem; he spoke in riddles, too."
"The mirror, Alice."
Alice looked into the mirror and was startled by a completely different image. She and Mirana were sitting on the grass in the Queen's private garden at Marmoreal, each holding a twin, and happy. Alice's breath hitched in her throat. "Oh, my…"
"Do you accept your responsibility as Consort to your Queen, and protector of your children?"
Alice looked up again, and a soft tear rolled down her cheek. "Is this the future? Is this the truth? Is our future one of peace and victory—where we are free from this war yet to come? I am torn by what I see here." She grabbed the side of the basin and closed her eyes. "How am I to know what to believe? You show me two different paths! Am I to lead this army into ruin or victory, and sacrifice my family as I do so. Or am I to be a spouse to my wife, and live my days happy and free from war and all its machinations?"
"Is not that something that you have felt all of your life, Alice Kingsleigh? The burden of being pulled into opposing directions?"
Alice struggled for a response, as the truth of what Galadriel revealed found its way to the deeper parts of her heart. "What do you want, my Lady?"
"You cannot enter into the future on a crooked road, Champion Alice. But you must follow it forward, to its fulfillment."
Alice took off her gloves and wiped tears from her eyes. "What does that mean?"
Galadriel was about to answer, then she tilted her head slightly. "You must go, as your Queen has awoken—and needs you."
Alice looked at the Elf Queen briefly, and then turned around and ran up the stone stairs.
Mirana shot up on the chaise, a sudden fear rolling over her. For a brief moment she did not know where she was, and turned around suddenly. But she moved too quickly, and began to feel a twinge in her belly. She bent over in pain. "Alice…"
Underland's Champion ascended the stairs, pondering all the things that Galadriel had revealed to her. She was certain of only one thing, that her resolve was strong, and that she would do anything to protect Mirana in the dark days ahead.
The Queen began to panic, and summoned all her strength to shout out. " E!"
Her Champion's head snapped up, as she felt the sudden panic and fear emanating from her Queen. She ran up the stairs, and soon realized that others were following. Breathless, she reached the landing and stumbled into the back room. "Mirana…" She rushed to her Queen's side. "What happened?"
"Something is wrong…Alice…" The Queen cried out in fear and pain, and gripped her Champion like a vice.
Galadriel rushed into the room, followed by Legolas. "Legolas, go and get Aragorn, with all speed!"
The Elf swiftly ran from the room and Galadriel moved to Mirana. She gently took hold of her. "Calm, Queen Mirana…" She locked gazes with the other Queen and held.
Mirana continued to hold her belly, but her breathing evened out, and she began to relax. Alice whirled to the Elf Queen. "What has happened?"
After a short moment Legolas returned with a man. He was dressed as a soldier might, and had brilliant blue eyes that held an ageless depth in them. He looked at Galadriel before striding to Mirana. "What is it, my Lady."
"She is in need." Galadriel stepped back and motioned for Alice to do so.
Alice turned to the stranger. "Who are you?" She was pushed back by a strong hand, and stumbled onto the chaise.
The man looked to her briefly before turning his attention back on Mirana. "Please, let me help you."
All eyes turned as a woman came running into the room. Ealhswith looked at the Queen and tried to go to her, but was stopped by Legolas. "Please, let Aragorn assist her."
Ealhswith struggled with the strong elf. "Let me go, that is my Queen!"
"Let her go!" Alice turned angry eyes on Legolas, and reached for her sword.
The Lady Galadriel gently took Alice by the shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes. "Please, Alice, let this man help the Queen. He is of theDúnedain, descended from the Númenóreans, and bears mystical healing powers."
But Alice held firmly to her conviction. "The Queen's physician stays!"
Galadriel smiled, her satisfaction evident. "Come, let us recede so that they may help Mirana."
Alice allowed Galadriel to lead her out of the room, and was followed by Legolas. On the landing they encountered a few more elves, ascending to the landing. Alice recognized Finwë immediately. She looked at him before moving off to stand by herself.
Finwë approached the Lady of the Wood. "We heard shouting, my Lady."
Galadriel nodded. "Yes, but there is no need to be alarmed. You may return to your slumber."
The elves nodded to their Queen and went the way they came. Alice sighed deeply and then turned her head towards Legolas, who was standing with Galadriel.
She closed her eyes briefly, then walked up to him. "I am sorry for raising my voice to you. I know you are just trying to help." She looked up into his eyes, and their eyes locked, and an understanding passed between them.
Legolas bowed slightly. "There is no need for apologies, Lady Alice."
Alice nodded to him and then walked away, she leaned heavily on the trunk of the great mellyrn and resisted the urge to cry, as she did not want to appear vulnerable before the Elven Queen and Legolas.
Legolas and Galadriel exchanged glances, and then Legolas nodded and left, walking down the stairs. The Elf Queen walked over to Alice and stood by her. Underland's Champion was grateful for the silent support, and sighed again.
Both turned their heads as Aragorn and Ealhswith came out of the back room. Alice hurried to the physician. "What happened? Is Mirana alright?"
The physician lightly touched her shoulder. "Go and see for yourself." When Alice was gone she started for the staircase. She turned her head before descending. "Thank you for your help…Aragorn, is it?"
Galadriel seemed troubled. "What is it? Is the Queen alright?"
The man looked directly at her. "This Queen is not of Middle-earth, my Lady."
"No, she is not."
"And she is with child." The man turned his head toward the back room. "She told me that she is newly with child, yet she appears to be well along in her pregnancy."
"What are you saying?"
"I don't rightly know. But there is a mystery surrounding her."
Galadriel sighed with relief, but did not reveal that Mirana was pregnant with twins. "How is the child?"
"The child is well, my Lady. The Queen merely pulled a muscle as she rose from her bed. But she is well, and I've tended to her heart's worries."
"Thank you, Aragorn."
"My Lady." The man touched his palm to his breast before turning to the staircase and walking down.
Galadriel stood for a while before ascending the staircase, and leaving the Champion to tend to her Queen.
Alice swiftly strode into the back room and found Mirana on the chaise, sitting up and looking better. She dropped by her side and then released her pent up emotions, laying her head down in her Queen's lap, her tears flowing.
Mirana looked down on her beloved with half-lidded eyes. "What is it, my Champion?"
Alice moved so that she was kneeling on the ground, she buried her face in her Queen's dress, and wrapped her arms around her Queen's waist. After awhile she calmed, and looked up at Mirana. "I am undone by you, my Queen, you are my weakness. I am a ardent warrior in all things, and can best anyone by the sword or bow. But when it comes to you and our children, I am vulnerable."
Mirana sighed and closed her eyes, knowing exactly what her Champion was referring to. "I am sorry for your troubled heart, Alice. And it grieves me to think that you put yourself through such torment."
Her Champion got up and wiped at her tears. "I love you, and our children, so much." She sat on the bed and took her Queen's hand into her own. "But, know that I will be your fiercest protector, Mirana. Even though I may fall into worry, I am, nevertheless, resolute in this." Alice sighed and then met her Queen's eyes. "I know something now that I did not before. This enemy that awaits us in Underland will try to tear at me through this one fear—my worry over you and our children." She got up and stood near the fireplace. "But I will not let it happen. I will face my fear and move through it, like water through a sieve. I will not let fear stand between me and your safety or that of the children, my Queen. I am your Champion, in all things."
"Okay." Mirana nodded, and was glad that her Champion was finally believing in her own capabilities. The Queen watched her Champion for a few moments, and then tilted her head. "Why are you dressed in your armor, Alice?"
Alice smirked and then looked down at herself. "I got restless and went for a walk?"
Both women locked gazes before laughing at the situation. Alice went over to her Queen and began to undo the straps to her breastplate. "How are you feeling?"
The Queen stood and helped her Champion divest herself of the cumbersome armor. "I merely strained myself too much. We are fine." She smiled. "Were did you walk to?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Would you happen to have found any tea on your travels?"
Alice smiled, and gently touched her Queen's cheek. "No, but I would wager that if I went out to the landing there will be food and drink there."
Mirana smiled. "Could you go an check for me, my love?" She sighed with pleasure and padded back to the chaise.
Alice returned to her Queen with a basket in one hand, and a carafe in the other. Mirana smiled again and indicated for her to place the items on the table in front of the chaise. Alice did, and sat down next to her Queen.
"Just as I expected." Alice poured a generous portion of tea for Mirana.
"Are you going to tell your Queen where you were?"
Alice put the carafe down and then took Mirana's hand. "I followed the Lady Galadriel to her garden."
Mirana sipped her tea. "And?"
Alice looked up. "She has a—mirror, so to speak—in her garden. A magical basin of water that shows the past, present, and future. She showed me some things."
When Alice did not continue the Queen put down her cup and held her hands. "It is alright, my Champion. You do not have to reveal what you saw if you do not want to."
"Thank you, my Queen." Alice lifted Mirana's hands and delicately kissed her fingers, one at a time. "I love you, Mirana."
"I love you, Alice. You are the best part of my life, my Champion."
Alice looked up from her task, a sweet smile on her face. "Aw…what about the children?"
"The children, too." Mirana's smile widened when Alice closed her eyes and sighed deeply. "Are you ready for tomorrow?"
Alice opened her eyes. "Tomorrow?"
"I have a feeling that Celeborn and Galadriel will want to meet with us, and the rest of our Company."
Her Champion's smile faltered a little. "Yes, I could have almost forgotten where we are. But, yes, my Queen, I am ready. I believe we will have our questions answered tomorrow, for good or ill."
Mirana nodded. "Yes."
Chapter 12: The Play's the Thing
Alice turned over onto her side and opened her eyes, unable to sleep any longer even though the sun had yet to steal itself over the horizon. She stole a glance at her Queen, who was over on the other side of the chaise, and happily asleep. They declined the opportunity to have a more opulent place to sleep, as both were comfortable in the simple wooden room.
The Champion quietly swung her legs over the chaise and sat up, determined not to wake up Mirana. Once she was satisfied that the Queen was asleep she crept over to the curtain and pulled it aside. The door to the bathing area was still there, and she was grateful for it.
Alice lowered herself into the steaming water and groaned, as it helped in relieving the very real tension in her body. She let out a deep sigh and closed her eyes, hoping to let the hot bath lull her into going back to sleep. She shifted her body and relaxed even further. But an unwelcome notion—an image—sneaked its way into her thoughts, and she frowned, annoyed at being disturbed. An image of Legolas, strong and handsome, lifting Mirana's hand and kissing it, their eyes lingering, and hearts beating faster, slammed into the forefront of her thoughts.
The Champion sat up abruptly and opened her eyes. "Damn…" Alice ran a wet hand over her face and lowered her head. It was ridiculous, she knew it, and Mirana would not permit such forwardness from the Elf. But she found herself obsessing over it, and a strange blackness stole over her thoughts. An impish waft of something inherently malevolent in its intentions crept slowly into her heart, and she shivered because of it. If Alice had known about Saruman's evil, she would have been able to recognize it, and throw it away immediately.
Galadriel shot up in bed as soon as the evil presence made itself known. She grabbed Nenya from the table beside their bed and rushed to put on a night coat, and then stopped, choosing to get fully dressed instead. Celeborn felt it, as well, and was hurrying to get dressed.
The Elf King looked over at his wife. "Its Saruman, my wife. He has found a way into Lothlorien and now bends his thought throughout our domain—he is seeking…"
"I know. I am to Queen Mirana immediately." Galadriel finished dressing quickly left.
"Take our grandsons with you." Celeborn watched Galadriel leave and then went to his bureau on the other side of their master bedchamber. He reached behind it and pulled a hidden lever. A small door in the wooden floor, hidden from normal sight, glowed for an instance before taking shape. Celeborn opened it and then reached inside, and pulled out the palantír of Amon Sûl.
Galadriel summoned Elrohir and Elladan and they walked with her to the flet that Queen Mirana and Champion Alice resided in. They hesitated at the threshold, not wanting to cause an immediate alarm.
The Elf Queen called out, "Queen Mirana?" There was no response.
Alice opened her eyes at the intrusion, and quietly rose from the water. She put on a housecoat and peered outside, only to catch site of the Elven Queen. "What is the matter, Lady Galadriel?"
Galadriel indicated the back room. "Will you please rouse the Queen from her sleep. The two of you need to come to Celeborn's Chamber right away."
The Champion nodded. "Sure…okay." Alice padded into the back room when the elves were gone. She smiled when she found the Queen lying on her side, one arm holding her swollen belly. Alice sat down next to Mirana and gently shook her. "Mirana?"
The Queen snorted, and then moaned. "Go away."
Alice shook her again. "Time to get up, my sweet." Her tone was light, and void of the snickering voice deep within her soul, the one who wanted to slap the sleeping woman below her, and bend her to her will. And the influence of Saruman grew within her, seeping at her goodness.
Mirana opened her eyes and saw her Champion hovering over her. "Is it really time to get up? The sun is barely out."
Alice continued to smile, but its warmth was vanishing quickly. "You need to get up now."
The Queen sat up at the harsh tone coming from her Champion. "Alice? What is the matter?"
Her Champion got up and began putting on her armor. "Really, my Queen. Can you not obey a simple command?"
Mirana frowned. "Command? Since when do you command me, my Champion?"
"Starting right now!" Alice finished putting on a bracer and then grabbed her Queen by the arm. "Get up, you bitch!"
Both women whirled around when Galadriel entered the room. She did not say anything but calmly made her way to Alice. "Alice Kingsleigh!" She grabbed the young woman and held her by the shoulders, forcing her to make eye contact. "Look at me, Alice Kingsleigh, and let your heart feel the healing power of Nenya."
At first, Alice fought for control. "No!" But the more she looked into the Elf Queen's eyes; the power of Saruman's presence was diminished, until it was gone completely. She blinked and then looked at her Queen, knowing fully the words she had spoken to her. "Please let me go."
Galadriel smoothly released the Champion, and then nodded before leaving Alice to her Queen. Mirana had turned around, and was not facing her Champion, and it broke the young woman's heart.
Her Queen did not respond, and did not turn around, either. The two just stood there, for many awkward moments. Both of their hearts breaking, and a chasm opening up between them, and still no words came.
Alice could stand it no longer, and took a tentative step closer to her Queen. "Please, look at me, Mirana."
Still the White Queen did not turn around, and continued to stare off into the trees beyond. After awhile she finally spoke. "Oh, Alice, please do not blame yourself."
Alice just stood there, half dressed in the armor of Underland, and completely desolate within. "I…I do not know…" Her voice trailed off as her Queen turned around and looked at her, sorrow plainly evident. "Oh, god…"
The White Queen's heart hurt for her Champion, and she went to her, enveloping her within a warm, loving embrace. "Please, Alice, you were taken by something malicious, you were not yourself." A tear fell down her cheek, and Alice reached up to gently wipe it away.
Alice and Mirana continued to hold each other, each at a loss on what happened to them. Finally, Mirana broke the embrace to look her Champion in her eyes. " We must see Celeborn and Galadriel, my love, and find out what just happened."
The Chamber of Celeborn was tranquil when Alice and Mirana arrived, and only the Lord and Lady of the Wood were present in it, sitting quietly at their thrones. Alice held her arm out to Mirana and guided her into the auspicious place as her Champion. Galadriel stood and indicated for the two to sit at chairs off to the side of the Chamber, and then she and her husband left their thrones to join Underland's Queen and Champion as equals.
Celeborn spoke quietly. "As you probably already know, Lothlorien was invaded by the presence of Saruman." He looked to his wife.
Galadriel smiled at him and turned to Mirana. "Before your arrival in Middle-earth I had a vision concerning a former friend, the wizard Saruman. I foresaw his death and the transmutation of his spirit into another land—although I could not see exactly where until your arrival. Now I know without doubt, Saruman is in Underland."
Alice nodded, yet it still did not explain her change in character. "What does this have to do with what happened to me?"
Celeborn sighed, and then looked Alice in the eyes. "His—influence—found its way to Lothlorien this morning, and there is only one way that could have happened."
Mirana leaned forward. "How?" Alice saw her Queen's concern and rose from her seat to stand by her.
"Someone in Lothlorien is in league with Saruman." Galadriel saw the confusion in the other Queen's eyes, so she went on. "We know it is no one of our kind, nor from the fellowship that sojourners here along with you. I can see into the hearts of many, but there are those that I cannot, and then there are those who's hearts are veiled by their own wickedness."
Mirana paled, then gasped slightly. "Are you saying that someone from our Company is bound to this evil presence—what you call Saruman?"
Celeborn nodded. "Yes, my daughter, although we cannot know for certain who it is. What we do know for certain is that neither you, nor Alice, is part of it."
Without looking up, Mirana reached for Alice's hand. "This is impossible to believe. I do not feel enmity between my people and me."
"Even the noblest and fairest of subjects can fester on the inside, Queen Mirana." Galadriel kept her voice calm and reassuring. "There is no doubt that one among you is plotting evil."
Alice looked down to her Queen. "It can't be Harthacanute, I know him well enough to vouch for him…but the other knights…"
Mirana squeezed her Champion's hand tighter. "I…this is difficult to comprehend. What do I do now, if I cannot be sure on who to trust?"
"We were able to banish him before he could cause harm or mischief, so you have nothing to fear whilst you stay here." Celeborn sighed. "I would counsel you to still have your faith in Alice, and trust in her to keep you completely safe."
Alice knelt in front of her Queen. "I am yours, my Queen. I am your protector in all things, in all times, and at all places."
Mirana took her Champion's hands into her own. "And I am truly grateful for all of that, my love." She smiled at her Champion before returning her attention back to Celeborn. "What do you know for certain, my…forgive me, Lord Celeborn…I cannot as of yet call you father."
The Elf Lord offered his daughter a small smile. "Do not burden yourself with this knowledge, Mirana. Give yourself time."
"We know that Saruman dwells in Underland. Upon his death his spirit sought solace in another world, and was drawn to your land because of your spirit, Mirana. You are a daughter of the Elves of Middle-earth, my child, and therefore Saruman, in spirit form, sought you ought." Galadriel turned towards Alice. "Yet he could not take physical form because Mirana's soul was not weak and vulnerable, and, therefore, he could not corrupt her. He has corrupted another."
Alice and Mirana looked at each other, each coming to the same painful realization. The Queen shook her head and then lowered it. "He killed my sister." And the White Queen's grief took hold of her, in ways that she had not experienced in Marmoreal. She fell into Alice's arms, and her Champion rode out her Queen's grief with her, as if it was her own. Celeborn and Galadriel fell silent for the long moment, and left the lovers alone.
After a short while, Mirana lifted her head and Alice wiped her tears away, offering her Queen a smile of reassurance as she did so. They rested their foreheads on each other and gently held on to each other as if their lives depended on it. And Alice felt her rage for the first time in Middle-earth.
Alice broke from Mirana's embrace and turned to the Lord and Lady of the Realm. "How long has this Saruman been in Underland, and how much longer until he is fully human?"
Galadriel could feel Alice's anger, as it washed off her in waves. "These things are unknown to me."
"Unknown? How long have you known about Saruman in Underland, and why didn't you do anything to stop it!"
When Mirana attempted to take Alice's hand again her Champion wrenched it free. "Alice, please calm down."
"I don't know why I should not be upset, Mirana! Our friends—an innocent boy—are dead, your sister is dead; how much grief am I expected to carry because of their inaction."
Celeborn rose from his seat and then towered over Alice. "It is not a matter of inaction, Alice Kingsleigh. We have tried to enter Underland but have been stopped at every attempt by a fell magic at the Hall of Doors." The Elf King looked at his daughter. "Would you know of the reason, my daughter, why the portrait denied us entry into your lands?"
Mirana blinked. "The portrait—the one of you holding me when I was an infant? We found this portrait at Iracebeth's—my sister's—castle; it was not in my care. Isn't that right, Alice?"
Alice took hold of her Queen's hand. "Yes, we found it at the Red Queen's castle not too long ago. It was in Salazen Grum, not Marmoreal."
Celeborn sat back down. "How long was my gift for you not in your possession?"
The White Queen sat up in her chair. "It was a gift for me? I never had it until a few days hence."
Galadriel exchanged a glance with her husband before turning to Mirana. "We gave it to King Osric with an understanding that we would be allowed to venture into your Kingdom to see to your care."
Mirana sat back and closed her eyes. Images of the man she called "father" fell into her memory, and brought with it warm memories. But just as the images coalesced, it changed, and the man before her was someone she didn't know. She wiped at the fresh tears that fell. "King Osric…I called him, 'daddy'."
Alice looked down and watched her feet, not knowing what to say to her Queen at this moment.
The White Queen looked up at the Lord and Lady. "He was supposed to let you come and see me? What did my mother say?"
"As we have said, the portrait prevented us from entering Underland." Celeborn rose and then knelt before his daughter. "We had an agreement; that I may come to Underland upon occasion to watch you grow up. When I could not do that, we lost all way to contact you."
"The portrait created an entrance to the Hall of Doors?" Alice looked confused. "So how were we to enter it from Salazen Grum when the portrait was taken to Marmoreal?"
"Most likely because Saruman has made his home there; and was able to reach out and touch Lothlorien through it. But as we said earlier, we have closed that entryway." Celeborn looked worried.
Mirana leaned forward and touched the Elf Lord's face. "I'm sorry."
Celeborn stood and brought the White Queen up with him, and, for the first time, the two embraced as father and daughter. Alice looked up, anxious, but a gentle smile from Galadriel eased her mind and heart.
After awhile, Celeborn loosened his embrace and looked down on Mirana. "I know this is burdensome, my daughter, but let us do what we can to ease your suffering."
"Thank you." Mirana gave her father a warm smile, and began to understand how the man she called 'dad' had betrayed her, as well as her own sister. She turned around and sat back down. "He had my sister's help."
Galadriel nodded. "The portrait was in her possession, and you were never made aware of it."
Alice let out a deep breath. "She was even more evil than I gave her credit." She reached out and took her Queen's hand again. "The portrait is in Marmoreal now, so it is safe from this man, Saruman."
"He is more than a man, Champion Alice," Galadriel cautioned. "He is of the Istari—they resemble men in appearance, but are far greater in physical and mental powers. They were sent by the Valar to assist Middle-earth in our fight against Sauron. He is not to be taken lightly."
"I only want to know one thing." Alice drew her sword from its scabbard. "Will my sword kill him?"
"That is not the Vorpal sword." Celeborn stood and began to pace. "The Vorpal blade will kill him, but its power must be united with that of the An'duin'ethre. Did you bring the Vorpal sword with you?"
"No, I did not." Alice glanced at Mirana but she said nothing. "What is this An'duin'ethre?"
"It is another blade, forged by the power of Nenya—a blade that has yet to fulfill its purpose." Galadriel had fallen into a somber mood.
Alice tried not to sound startled. "What is its purpose?"
"To kill one who cannot be killed." Galadriel's blue eyes bore into Alice's. "The An'duin'ethre will kill one such as Saruman, so that his spirit shall be obliterated as well as his physical form. And when the Vorpal sword is united in power with it they both will hold such faculties."
Mirana looked at Alice. "I brought the Vorpal blade with us, my Champion. It is in the possession of the Knight, Harthacanute."
"What? Why didn't you tell me, Mirana?"
The White Queen stood and drew Alice aside. "It was a last minute decision, Alice. I did not want you to trouble yourself with the burden of bringing it with you."
Alice sighed. "But…why?"
"Because it is a powerful weapon, my Champion, and I did not know what powers would befall it should it be used here."
Alice blushed then looked down for a moment; and when she lifted her head she smiled sweetly at her Sovereign. "Thank you for looking out for me, my love."
Mirana lifted her hands and cupped her Champion's cheeks. "I did not want to see you harmed by it in any way."
Celeborn and Galadriel exchanged an affectionate glance, and were once again made keenly aware of how much Mirana and Alice were in love. Such love, as theirs, was sometimes an impossible thing in Middle-earth, and only matched by the devotion of Elessar and Arwen, the Evenstar of her people.
Galadriel stood along with her husband and locked their fingers together. "We need time to begin uniting the two blades as one. Perhaps you would like to spend some time alone?"
Mirana looked to Alice, and the expression on her face told her all she needed to know. "Yes, Lady Galadriel, we appreciate it."
Alice took her Queen's hand and led her out of the Chamber of Celeborn into the crisp morning air. Both were exhausted, and desired nothing more than to be in each other's company. "What would you like to do, my Queen?"
"Do we still have the bathing chamber?"
Alice grinned. "Yes."
"Do you think breakfast will be there when we get back to our room?"
"Yes, probably." Alice wound her arm around Mirana's waist. "Come, my Queen, let us rest."
Mirana settled herself in the warm water and Alice guided her to sit between her legs, and to use her body as a resting place. The Queen sank in her Champion's embrace and released a great sigh, relieving herself of all her tension.
"You are so good for me, my Champion."
Alice closed her eyes. "I could say the same thing, you know. This love that we share, is so precious to me. I can't wait to share it with our children."
Mirana turned her head and looked dreamily at her Champion, and then lifted her hand to caress her beloved's cheek. "We already are, Alice. They can feel it as deeply as we do."
Alice kissed her Queen, and ran her hands over her swollen belly. "I love you so much." She rested her head on Mirana's. "Do you think we will have girls? Wasn't Chessur calling our child, 'little Alice'?"
Mirana chuckled. "I know he did. But he didn't know we were having twins, so I don't think he really knows. He was just trying to be cute." She furrowed her brows. "Do you want girls, my love? Would you be disappointed if we had boys?"
The Champion wrapped her arms tighter around her beloved. "No, no. please don't fret yourself like that. I will be happy with any child you give me."
The White Queen turned in her lover's arms. "We won't have just any child, my love. Our children will carry with them the wondrous enchantment of this Middle-earth."
"I know." Alice sighed deeply. "It's all a great wonder to me." She shifted her position in the water, and spread her legs wider.
The Queen scooted back further into Alice's embrace, and she also felt her Champion's heated flesh at the small of her back, she shivered.
Alice did not say anything, but her breathing quickened just a little. She flattened her palm on Mirana's stomach and pulled her hips more firmly against her center. The contact was electrifying, and she began to move against her Queen. Mirana let her head fall back onto Alice's shoulder, and she gasped when Alice's other hand moved downward, to caress and pull at the source of her arousal. And then their bodies moved as one, connecting in all the right places. No endearments were spoken, as none were needed; only the sounds of deep breathing and the occasional grunt or gasp.
Mirana fell forward somewhat, but Alice caught at her hip, and began to move more urgently against her. The Queen felt her own desire increase as Alice's fingers worked magic at the core of her pleasure. Before long, both women felt their arousal peak, and fell into a sensual bliss together, their cries loud and full of want and satiation.
Alice rested her head on Mirana's back. "You are so sexy in your pregnancy, my Queen." She closed her eyes and shuddered.
Mirana chuckled. "Oh, Alice, I think you'd find me sexy if I were wearing a burlap sack."
Her Champion lifted her head. "Are you making fun of me, Mirana?" She loosened her hold on her Queen.
Mirana turned around and stood up in the bath, and brought Alice up with her. "No, no, my sweet girl. It was not my intention to hurt you. Oh, please, don't be sad."
Alice looked up and then offered her Queen a small smile. "No, please forgive my insecurities, my love. I've been around the bend since we found out we are going to have twins."
"Why is that?"
"It seems as if I must now pay double attention to the world around me—I mean, us. I will do anything to protect you and the children. But you already know that, and I suppose I say these things to reassure myself."
"I know, my Champion. And our journey back to Underland weighs heavily on my spirit and mind. But we can lay aside these things for now, Alice. I do not know when we shall return."
Alice brought her arms around her Queen's waist and hugged her tightly. "I have a notion that the passage of time is a non sequitur here in Lothlorien. We are in a land where such thoughts and concepts are irrelevant." She looked up at Mirana and caressed her cheek. "But, unlike you, I am eager to return to Underland and face our foe and strike him before he can harm our land and people." She let go of her beloved and sank back into the water. "I'm itching for a fight."
The Queen fell into the water, as well, and floated over to her Champion. "You look forward to what I fear. I fear that when you go into battle that you may not return to me, or our children."
Alice sighed. "I do not fear that, my love. I have reconciled myself to victory and will see to it. I have a few things to look forward to, after all." She reached forward and touched her Queen's pregnant belly.
Mirana placed her own hand over Alice's. "Have you thought of names, yet?"
Alice lowered her head and grinned. "Well, not really, I've had other things on my mind."
"I know what's always on your mind, Alice. Sex, sex, and more sex."
Alice laughed, and her cheeks flushed. "Well, that, too. But I was thinking about our upcoming marriage."
"Me, too." The Queen lowered herself onto Alice's lap and placed her head on her shoulder. "From what we have discovered so far about the treachery of my father and sister I do no wish to name my children within the tradition of our royalty."
"I understand." Alice nodded. "When I was a child I did love my French cousins more than the rest of my family."
"What is a French cousin?"
Alice smiled. "France is a country in the abovelands, Mirana. Much like Underland is a country. My father's sister married a man from France and lived there with him for the rest of their lives. I think they lived in Thorigny-sur-Marne, I'm not completely sure of that, but I remember my uncle, Thibaud Guillemet." Alice chuckled. "My mother didn't like him, nor did she like leaving England for France."
Mirana lifted her head and sat down next to Alice. "Why not?"
"I don't know." Alice tilted her head. "She was not one for 'unconventional living,' as she called it. Etienne and Elsa—my cousins—they were a lot of fun to be around."
"Do you like those names, Alice?"
"Yes, I do."
"Are they boys or girls names?"
Alice chuckled again. "One of each."
Mirana reached over and caressed her beloved's cheek. "Are you making your own prediction now, my dear? You think I will have a boy and a girl?"
Alice blushed. "Well, I think it would be a wondrous thing, my love—for many reasons."
Alice glanced briefly at her Queen before stepping out of the bath. She grabbed a towel and did not respond. Mirana followed her out and was a little concerned. "What is it, Alice? Did I say something wrong?"
Her Champion blushed again, and pulled her Queen into a crushing embrace. "It's nothing, Mirana. It's just…well…I…"
Mirana pulled her Champion even closer. "Alice, you are being cryptic again. Please talk to me."
"I'm embarrassed, my Queen." Alice broke from her lover's embrace and turned away from her, but after a long moment she gathered her courage and turned back to her beloved. "You fulfilled one of my secret fantasies, Mirana. And this is another one of them—to beget children, a boy and a girl—that were in no doubt mine."
"Oh…oh…" Mirana smiled and lowered her head, finally understanding her Champion's bewilderment. "How long…have you wanted this?"
Alice took Mirana's hand, and after grabbing a blanket, led them back into their room. She settled her Queen onto the large couch and then started a fire. After awhile, she sat down next to Mirana. "I've never talked about this, with anyone. Not even you, Mirana."
Mirana frowned, as Alice seemed to be revealing a part of herself that she had previously kept hidden, even from her. "You know you can tell me anything, Alice, and that I will not pass judgment on you."
"I know that, Mirana. It's just a part of myself that I thought I had to keep secret. Well, I guess I had to keep it secret from my family, my mother mainly. They would have put me in Friern Hospital."
The Queen looked puzzled. "What is that?"
"A place where people leave their insane loved ones, in the hopes that they may be cured." Alice looked at Mirana. "Don't be fooled, there are absolutely no altruistic motivations here, only the desire to throw the unwanted away." She lowered her head, and a few tears trickled down her face.
"There is no shame in that, Alice. If you feel more comfortable in your masculinity then that is person you must be." Mirana turned around and comforted her lover. "I would love you no matter who you chose to be."
"Really?" Alice wiped at her tears. "You can accept me for who I am?"
"I did that years ago, my sweet girl. Even before you knew who you are."
And then Alice wept, for all the years she had to pretend to be who she was not, and for the joy of finally finding acceptance of who she was, even if it was slightly off center. "I love you, Mirana."
"I love you, too."
Mirana gently held her Champion, and ran her hand down her back. "Can you tell me when you first knew?"
Alice squeezed her eyes tightly shut as the memories from her adolescence came rushing to the forefront of her thoughts. "I was fourteen, I think. We were visiting—mother, Margaret, and me—the Chattaway Estate for holiday. We always did that when my father was away on one of his extended business excursions." Alice could feel a blush coming on. "I was with Fiona Chattaway in the attic, gossiping about the other girls, I suppose. She…she wanted to pretend that we were getting married and on our honeymoon."
Mirana's hand stilled at her back, causing her to look up. "It started out so innocently. She was in love with Lucian Fitzhugh Smith, one of her distant cousins, and I think they were promised to wed. So she told me she wanted to "practice" at being married."
The Queen could feel her Champion's hesitation. "Go on, my love. It is alright."
Alice let out a deep breath. "She asked me to take my clothes off and lie on top of her, and to…to…" She let out a strangled sob. "It was my first orgasm…and I was so ashamed. I felt as if my body had betrayed me…"
Mirana held on as Alice cried out the bitter tears from the past. Her Champion's sobs wracked her body, and she held her even tighter. "Have no fears, my dear Alice. You did nothing to be ashamed of. I'm so sorry, I thought you that you were always comfortable with your identity, I did not know that it caused you to suffer."
Alice calmed, and the self-recrimination from her past was freed from the depths of her being. She let out a few deep sighs and then lifted her head from Mirana's shoulder. "I once told Hamish that he wasn't the right man for me. I should have told him there would never be any man for me, it was not in my nature to love or want them. I've always been attracted towards young woman, such as myself. Always, Mirana, even before you."
Mirana wiped away her Champion's tears. "And you've held this within as a acrimonious secret your whole life, with no one to share it with?"
"Not until you, my Queen." Her Champion let out a few more deep breaths.
"Why didn't you ever tell me? I, of all people, would have understood."
Alice could feel the frustration her Queen was feeling. "I'm sorry, I should have shared it with you. But I thought that when I returned to Underland that my inner hurts would go away. They obviously did not."
Mirana frowned slightly. "Were you ever in love before?"
Alice sighed again then smirked. "No, my love. I've only ever been in love with you. You are my life, my Queen." Now it was Alice's turn to show slight jealousy. "Have you…been in love before?"
The Queen let herself fall back onto the couch and she pulled Alice down with her. "You are my first, Alice. I had crushes when I was younger, but I never fell in love—and I've never been intimate with anyone except you."
Alice layed her head on Mirana's shoulder, and she shuddered. "It seems we were meant to be, doesn't it?" Her eyes went wide. "What? You've never—not at all?"
"No, Alice, you are my first—and only—lover. There were a few young women in the past that I could have bedded—that I wanted to take to my bed. But, my intuition stopped me every time, knowing that I was waiting for my Champion."
Alice smiled. "Meant to be…"
"I know we were meant to be, My Knight in Shining Armor."
Alice rolled over and settled on top of her beloved. "I like the sound of that."
Mirana winched somewhat. "Alice…please, it's a little uncomfortable now for you to put all your weight on me."
Her Champion shifted her weight. "How's that?"
Alice got up and looked closely at Mirana's stomach. "This must be a magical realm—your pregnancy is even further along than it was a few hours ago."
The Queen glanced down at her swollen belly. "Do you think so?"
Her Champion nodded. "What does this mean?"
"I don't know. I do know that we have nothing to fear here."
"I know that, as well." Alice ran her hand down Mirana's arm. "Don't you think we've spent enough time in this room? Shall we go and explore Lothlorien?"
"Of course, Alice."
Galadriel stood at her mirror and pondered the fate of the Queen from another world. The images swirled and dissipated, and then flew around showing her many different things. She bent her thought and felt deeply the connection between Mirana and her Champion. Then an image formed in the mirror, showing the Queen and Alice back in Underland, at Marmoreal presumably, standing on the balcony of one of the towers, and overlooking a vast enemy force advancing on them. Galadriel blinked, and the image vanished. She stood back for a moment and then made a decision, knowing what must be done to see to the safety of Mirana.
Chapter 13: Yesteryear
In the days gone by…the past
The afternoon sun was slowly sinking on the Realm of Lothlorien and the night flora and fauna woke from their daylight sleep to welcome a new night. The mellyrn began to glow and lanterns lit. Elven voices began the evening chant, and the waters slowed. The warm wind lazily flitted through the mellyrn below bringing with it the sound of crickets chirping, and children at play.
Galadriel looked over the balcony at the children below and smiled, easily remembering when Celebrian was young and full of innocence, and would wander the hills and dales of the Golden Wood, laughing and singing as all youths did. She turned around and slowly made her way through the giant branches until she landed on the flet a few yards below the one she was on, and walked to the edge, where a bed was layed, and its occupant was fast asleep.
The Lady regarded Osðryd, and for the first time since her arrival, noticed the careworn features of the human woman. There were dark circles under her eyes, almost as if she had not slept in days. Her brow was furrowed with worry, even in her sleep, and her lips were curled into a somber frown. Galadriel sighed and wondered what burden was upon this other Queen. So far as she knew, Osric was unaware of the liaison between Celeborn his Queen.
The Lady of the Wood closed her eyes for a moment, and sought to understand her own feelings towards her husband at this time, aware of his infidelity. Celeborn was wise and caring, and deeply attracted to what was beautiful in this world, and also grieved beyond measure that Middle-earth was becoming intolerable for his people. He sought out other lands through the Hall of Doors, looking for other worlds where his people might find a home, and one day his travels found him in Underland, and straight into the path of Osðryd of Marmoreal. Galadriel reached down and drew the covers over the other woman before leaving.
Celeborn stopped at the threshold of the small room and waved away the elven guard who stood at its entrance. He could hear cooing, and the soft gentle noises that babies made when they were awake, and it caused his heart to flutter somewhat, and his eyes to brighten. His daughter. In the small room his infant daughter lay in an elven bed made especially for her by the finest wood worker in his realm. But he had yet to see her, as he had to care for the woman who brought this daughter to him.
The Elf Lord leaned against the doorframe and closed his eyes, and the memories of the yesteryears washed over him like a gentle rain, and his thought fell upon the day he had met the remarkable human woman, who was filled with such a passion for life like no one he had ever known.
She raced through the underbrush, holding up her skirts in a very unladylike fashion, with her Ladies in Waiting in tow, struggling to keep up with their free-spirited monarch. The Queen turned her sweaty head and laughed at her Ladies, thoroughly enjoying her romp through the forest when she slammed into someone, and both went sprawling onto the forest floor.
Celeborn reeled from the collision, and shook his head to clear it of the unwelcomed fog. "I am sorry, if you will excuse…"
Osðryd sat up abruptly, and then clutched her head as she did so, still reeling from the impact. "What are you doing in the middle of my forest, in my way?"
The Elf King was dumbfounded, as he had no adequate answer to the woman's question. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage. I did not know this was your forest."
The Queen looked up just as Celeborn rose to a sitting position. She regarded the man in front of her—his long blonde hair, ice blue eyes, and dressed in clothing worthy of a King—and blushed. "I've never seen you before."
Celeborn rose to his feet and extended his hand. "Would you allow me to assist you, my Lady?"
Osðryd allowed the strange man to help her, and when she was on her feet she stared at the stranger before and was not afraid, but, rather, was intrigued. She felt something at the core to her being as she continued to hold his stare, and she reached out to touch his face.
The Elf Lord opened his eyes and could still feel the touch from the Queen of Underland. Their moment in time was sweet, yet brief, and he had grieved the hurt he had caused her when he announced he would return to his own Kingdom. There was really no choice, for him or her, and both went back to their own lives, not knowing that they had created a child.
Celeborn looked up in time to see Galadriel walking toward him, her compassionate smile helped to relieve his anxiety. "I am glad that you came."
"How could I not? We welcome a new princess today, my husband."
The Elf King nodded. "I did not know how you would receive this."
Galadriel reached up and cupped her husband's cheek. "I know of your restless heart, my love, and I would never begrudge you your moments of happiness."
A lone tear slowly ran down Celeborn's cheek. "I am—grateful for you, my love." He wound his arm around his wife's waist and drew her to him.
Galadriel rested her head on Celeborn's chest, and breathed in his particular scent. "She is yours, and I already love her." She looked up and smiled and wound her fingers in his. "Shall we go see her?"
They walked into the small room together and went immediately to the crib and the child within. She was tiny and full of life. Her hair was the brightest blonde they had ever seen, and almost appeared to be white, and her dark brown eyes matched those of Queen Osðryd. The baby turned her head to the new visitors and kicked out her tiny legs in excitement, and soon after, started to make small, cooing sounds.
The Elf Queen placed her hand on the side of the crib and smiled down at the infant. "Oh, Celeborn, she is beautiful—look."
And Celeborn looked down on his tiny daughter, and when he did, it seemed like the small baby recognized him, as she began to writhe about in her bed. "Yes, she is…more than I could ever have imagined."
"I have never seen a small one with such deep brown eyes."
Celeborn reached down into the crib and ran a finger over his daughter's curly hair. "Neither have I."
Galadriel smiled. "What is her name?"
"Mirana. Mirana of Marmoreal."
The Queen indicated the child. "May I?"
Celeborn looked up. "Do you want to?"
"Of course." Galadriel tenderly picked up the infant and held her as a mother would. "She even looks like her sister, my husband."
The baby hiccupped and then frowned somewhat at the new sensation. Her little hand shot up and she grabbed the Queen's hair, and held on firmly. Galadriel laughed, and her joy went out straight to her husband's heart. Before long, Mirana began to squirm, and then let out an infant's cry.
Celeborn reached for his daughter. "Let me." When the Queen placed the infant in her husband's arms he began to sing in a quiet voice.
"A Bereth thar Ennui Aeair!
Calad ammen i reniar
Mi 'aladhremmin ennorath.
A Elbereth Gilthoniel
I chin a thûl lín míriel..."
Mirana stared at her father, apparently mesmerized by the soft chant coming from him. She sighed as infants do, and her father lifted her to place her small head on his shoulder. The baby let out a sound, and then sighed again. Before long, her little eyes closed, and she fell into a peaceful sleep.
Galadriel smiled. "Look, she's sleeping already."
Chapter 14: The Conscience of the King
And just as she had done over the last few days, Alice took her Queen's hand and led her down the great spiral staircase towards the pavilions below. Both remained quiet, and did not feel it necessary to make idle conversation, but were eager to explore Lothlorien. The nearer they came to the bottom both became aware of celebrating below and quickened their steps.
Alice stopped short at the bottom, and stood wide-eyed at the scene before her. A tournament was commencing between the Underlandians and Elves. Some were competing at archery, while others were busy clashing swords, while others still, watched, fascinated, at how the Elves could blend in to their surroundings. Food tables were set up near the fountain, and tables and chairs for all.
The Champion wound an arm around her Queen's waist. "I guess I needn't have worried over our people being bored."
"It appears so." The Queen smiled at her young Champion. "Would you like to join in, or would you rather we go off on our own?"
"What would you like, Mirana?"
The Queen looked at the celebration before her, her smile radiant. "Would you mind, terribly, if we joined our companions?"
Alice was about to answer, but was cut-off by Haldir, who was walking in their direction. He stopped just short of them and bowed, touching hand to breast. "Greetings, your Majesty. Alice."
Mirana stepped forward and took Haldir's hand. "How are you, dear Haldir?"
"I am of a good spirit now that you are here." He linked his arm with Mirana's and led her away to the banquet tables.
Alice stood there for a few moments and just admired her Queen as Haldir led her away. Mirana easily went from one group of people to the other, offering her warm smiles and easy laugher. Alice grinned broadly, and didn't stop as the Knight Harthacanute walked up to her.
"Need I ask what has put you into this fair mood, your Grace?" He grinned and stood at Alice's side.
"Just admiring the beauty, my friend."
"I see." Harthacanute watched his Queen, as well, and thought that he may understand the Champion's deep devotion to her. "She has an inner strength to her, doesn't she?"
Alice blushed and her smile broadened. "Yes, she does. But only a few people can really see it. I think most of her subjects only see the woman who occasionally forgets where she is."
"But—that is so superficial, isn't it? Look how she has completely captivated the elves here, with her subtle demand to be recognized and taken seriously."
"I am glad I'm not the only one to see it."
"Well, I do love our Queen, too, Alice—but not as you do, of course. And I do love the way she has the complete respect of the Cheshire cat."
Alice turned her head towards the Captain. "Chessur? Why that scoundrel?"
Harthacanute reached over and ruffled Alice's hair. "Because he was in deep discussion with that wizard, Morinehtar. I have a feeling there's more to that feline than we know."
The Champion nodded. "Perhaps, I haven't noticed. My eyes, lately, have been drawn to only one, my friend." Her smile grew. "Well, perhaps to three."
Alice cleared her throat. "Shall we to the field, dear friend?"
The Knight bowed with a flourish. "As you wish, Your Grace."
A warm mind blew gently through the great mellyrn creating an ethereal and festive mood throughout the wood. It seemed like it erased the mind of all evil thoughts, as such things were unwelcomed in such a mystical land. And it was felt most keenly by the elves and they yearned for times past, when the years of Middle-earth were new as in the First Age.
Legolas leaned against a tree some yards away from the tournament in the clearing and the great pavilions. He watched as the men and women from Underland participated with his kinsmen at archery and swordplay, wondering, not the first time, why Galadriel wanted him to go to the strange land. He sighed and fiddled with his bow, an uneasy feeling percolating within him.
"Why are you so troubled?"
Legolas turned to find the Queen of Underland walking in his direction. She was carefully lifting her skirts as not to get her dress dirty. "My lady." He touched hand to breast. "I trust you are well."
Mirana rubbed the growing swell of her belly. "I think the babies are awake. They appear to be restless, and I could not sit a moment longer."
The elf offered his arm and Mirana took hold of it. "May I?" He led her further into the woods of Lothlorien, commenting on the land, and offering her good company.
"My people love these lands dearly, but we slowly depart from them as they fall into shadow, and the tales told of the past no longer delight them, and they wither under the dominion of evil."
Mirana glanced at Legolas. "Surely there must be hope left in Middle-earth?"
Legolas nodded. "There is always hope, but we no longer desire to be the ones to bear it. A great passing is at hand, and the dominion of the Elves is over."
They crossed a sparkling stream and walked out onto a small glade where the air was warm and fragrant with scent of jasmine and thyme.
Legolas took off his cloak and then noticed that Mirana appeared to shiver. "Are you cold, my Lady?"
"Maybe just a little." She smiled when the elf wrapped his cloak over her shoulders. "Ever since my pregnancy I can never seem to be just right; I'm either too cold or too warm."
"Except, I believe, with Alice?"
The warmth that came with the mere mention of her Champion's name made her smile. "Yes, there is always Alice." She chuckled. "Everyone ought to have an Alice."
"Then who could stand to gaze at the sun?" Legolas bent and picked up a stone and fiddled with it.
"Why, how perceptive of you. I can sometimes be overwhelmed by her sweetness, too, and then have to be remind myself not to place her in the realm of the stars."
Legolas stopped. "I have never known such a love—until…" He reached over and touched the Queen's shoulder.
Mirana slowly turned to face him. "Please…"
"Please forgive my hasty words." He looked at the Queen worriedly when she let out an involuntary gasp. "What is it, my Lady?"
Mirana gasped again and held her belly. "That was an incredible kick." She took Legolas's hand and brought it to her stomach. "Can you feel that?"
Legolas bent down and pressed his ear to Mirana's stomach, listening intently. "They are indeed, restless, my Lady. I think they long to be home." His eyes widened. "They appear to be ready."
Mirana reached out and placed a hand on the elf's shoulder. "How do you know? Are you an empath?"
"I can know the thoughts and feelings of my own kin, but not those of other races." He brought his hand up and gently began to caress Mirana's belly, and a lovely Elven melody flowed from his lips and reverberated to the twins that the Queen was carrying.
Mirana gasped again, and her eyes widened as she felt the children settle, and felt no more kicks. "Like magic." She whispered.
Legolas rose to his feet and the two stared at each other for a moment, and that moment carried something akin to a longing, until finally the Queen could stand to look in the Elf's eyes no longer.
Legolas backed away from Mirana. "Forgive me, I do not wish to cause you—or Alice—any heartbreak."
Mirana took a step closer to Legolas. "No, forgive me. I also do not wish to be the one that causes you grief of any kind." She looked up and thought she saw un-shed tears in her kinsmen's eyes and then looked away. "Would you escort me back to the pavilions, Legolas?"
The elf smiled and hooked his arm with the Queen's again. And the two of them made light conversation as they made their way back to the others. But neither of them was aware that someone was watching them, hidden behind a mellyrn, and was smiling with sinister satisfaction.
Celeborn noticed as Mirana and Legolas came out of the forest and made their way over to the Archery Field. One brow rose and he turned to Galadriel. "You have spoken to the son of Thranduil?"
"Yes, he has agreed to join the leagues of Underland."
A small smile graced the Lord's lips. "I dare say he would go even without your entreaty."
"He will be Lord Protector of the White Queen should Alice perish in their struggles."
"That is a fate I would not wish upon her. Her love and devotion to my daughter is without equal—Arwen is not so taken with Elessar as Alice is to Mirana."
"Yes, but my heart is troubled by her presence here. Please do not misunderstand my words. A part of her belongs here with her people, yet there is another part of her a complete foreigner. And that her pregnancy seems to be quickly furthering along here in Lothlorien far ahead of what should be; I fear that when they return to Underland she will give birth amidst war and chaos."
Celeborn closed his eyes. "What can we do to help them?"
Galadriel smiled at that. "This love that they share is deep and will sustain them in the upcoming trials and tribulations."
Celeborn glanced again at Legolas and Mirana. "What of the trials that the heart must bear? Surely you have seen it, or felt it."
Galadriel looked to the pair, as well, but was not dismayed. "Yes, your daughter is very much like you; with a restless heart. But I know she would never forsake Alice."
Celeborn smiled at the gentle rebuke, and then softly took his wife's hand and began to caress it. "What has your mirror revealed to you?"
"The hands of fate. But let us not dwell upon fell spirits, my husband, not at this hour."
Celeborn slowly lifted Galadriel's hand and kissed it. "Tonight is for making merry." But his smile vanished quickly, and he stood and walked away from Galadriel.
"What is wrong, my husband?" The Elf Queen stood and placed her hand on Celeborn's shoulder.
"I do not know if I can do it."
Galadriel reached around her husband's waist and held on. "Do what?"
"Let my daughter go—to a land that will soon be tested by evil." Celeborn shuddered and whispered. "I have yet to have a fatherly conversation with her or her Champion." He turned in his wife's embrace. "I am soon to be—excuse me, we are soon to be grandparents again. How can I not want to be in their lives, watch them grow as we did Arwen and her brothers? Yet our people are leaving Middle-earth and I cannot live in Underland and abandon the ways of the elves—and you."
Galadriel's heart broke for her beloveds, but her mind sought out a solution to their dilemma, and her heart lightened. "We know that the flow of days is different for our two worlds. Perhaps we can go there for a short while and partake in the birth of the babies. We could return to Middle-earth without any passage of time here."
"Celebrian is a lost soul and will leave these shores too quickly for a father's pleasure. I cannot lose another child to the vicissitudes of another world, my love." Celeborn released Galadriel from their embrace and turned away from her; not wanting his wife to see his freely flowing tears. "What am I to do?"
The warm wind blew through the great mellyrn, rustling ancient leaves and creating what sounded like a low moan. A large target was placed at the base of a particularly large tree, and a few knights of Underland and the sons of Elrond were currently competing with the bow. Lady Hild sat on a large blanket under a nearby tree and was admiring the performances, wondering at the skill of the Elves. Knight Wuscfrea downed his ale in a few quick swallows and then reached for his bow.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
Wuscfrea offered the elf a lopsided smile. "Bow practice? I may be inebriated, but I'm the best bowman in Underland."
Elrohir was silent for only a moment. "But you must understand this is what I live for. My brother and I hunt orcs for sport, and can hit a target easily at great distances." He was the most reticent of his family, and rarely spoke hasty words or engaged in useless activities. But, like his twin, he held a passion for orc-hunting.
The knight turned around briefly and eyed the elf. "I think you may overestimate yourself."
"Yes, maybe I have. Shall we?"
Wuscfrea turned to the target again and released his arrow. It hit the center with a mighty thud. He casually walked to the blanket Hild was sitting on. "Have I improved, Hild?"
Hild chuckled while she drank her wine. "Yes, Frea, you have. But I think bragging is unwise." She stood and pointed to Elrohir. "Look."
The elf raised four arrows on his single bow and let go. All the arrows flew at the target so fast that the eye could not perceive it. But all four arrows hit Wuscfrea's arrow directly at its center, pushing it completely into the target. "As I said?"
Wuscfrea tipped his cup to the elf and smiled. "Then this swallow is for you."
Elrohir nodded to the man and then left, leaving the Underlandians to themselves. The knight took off his breastplate and arm guards before sitting down next to Hild. He sighed before turning to her. "I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to talk with you until now, how are you?"
Hild offered him a small smile. "As best as I can be."
"I'm so sorry about Saberct. I wanted to see you about this sooner, but didn't know how to."
The archer sighed. "Because you were his friend?" When the knight nodded she pressed on. "And you knew about his mistress?"
"Yes…and I'm sorry about that, too. I ought to have said something—made him tell you, but…"
Hild placed her hand on Wuscfrea's shoulder. "That was not your responsibility, so don't berate yourself like that—his memory isn't worth it, Frea."
"Okay, I won't bring it up again." The knight grabbed a bottle of wine and poured himself a glass. He decided to steer the conversation back to the present. "What do you think of our new friends?"
Hild took her cup and began rolling it between her palms. "Well, I've decided that they are not enemies because it is obvious they hold our Queen in esteem—and that they are definitely far different than us." She sipped some more wine. "But, well…"
"Well, what?" The knight ran his hand through his blonde locks.
Hild pointed to where Celeborn and Galadriel were. "We don't know what they have said to our Queen and Champion. And the Queen has yet to speak of it!" She downed her entire glass of wine. "I want to know why we are still here. Is being here going to help us when we return to Underland?"
"I would think that it should. Our Queen would not let us have this leisure time here when our kinsmen are in danger back home. She is a careful ruler, Hild."
"Yes, I know that."
Wuscfrea looked over to where the Champion and Knight Harthacanute were standing and talking with Morinehtar and Lord Aephelstan, at another pavilion. "You don't trust our hosts?"
Hild sighed again. "No, no…I trust them. I just want our monarch to come and talk to us."
"Do not let your hearts remain troubled, friends, all will be revealed."
Both turned and found Haldir standing a few yards behind them. His presence startled them, as they had not heard him approach. Hild stood up. "We have been patient for long enough, I think. Is anyone going to tell us what is happening here?"
"We need some sort of reassurance." Wuscfrea stood as well, and stood next to the archer.
Haldir smiled. "I can assure you that tonight Lord Celeborn and his daughter, Queen Mirana, will speak to everyone regarding the task at hand. But I would begin preparations for your return to Underland, as it is almost upon us." He touched hand to breast before nodding and walking away.
Alice continued to smile as she prepared to test her skills against Elladan and Morinehtar. She had invited Aephelstan to join them in bow practice, but the Lord had backed down and went away, heading for the banquet tables.
Harthacanute watched the man go, then shook his head. "Why did we bring him with us, your Grace? That man is essentially worthless."
"Not completely, I think. He has yet to play a part in this unfolding drama."
"A drama, indeed, Champion Alice." Elladan was just as imposing as his brother, but there was a twinkle of mischief in his eye that his twin lacked. And he was particularly drawn sometimes to the baser needs of the body, and sought out female companionship much to the chagrin of his father.
Alice finished taking off her bracers and threw them on the grass. Then she began to unstrap her breastplate. "Is there something you wish to say?"
"Only that this exercise will be a completely one-sided, as I can hit a target in the blackest of nights."
"You are one of the orc-hunters, aren't you?" Alice tossed the breastplate next to her arm guards. "How big is an orc?"
Elladan watched the Champion keenly. "About double the size of a man."
Alice nodded before noticing the amused look on Harthacanute's face. "Did you hear that, dear knight, about double the size of you."
Both Alice and the knight nodded again then Alice turned to the elf. "Impressive. Have you ever hunted anything the size of a Jabberwock?"
Elladan frowned. "What is a Jabberwock?"
Alice smirked then walked away without answering. Harthacanute, however, moved to stand next to the elf. "A Jabberwock is about the same size as that small mellyrn over there."
Elladan followed the knight's line of sight then remarked, "Impossible. Alice hunted and killed a creature such as that?"
"Yes, I'm afraid. A bit imposing, isn't it?"
The elf watched Alice's retreating form and then nodded briefly, and a new respect for Underland's champion was fostered that afternoon. He would tell his kinsmen later of the great deed performed by Alice and this new tale was added into the great works of legends past. It was from that day forward carried by the elves for all time.
Alice stopped abruptly and watched as Mirana and Legolas exited from the forest and an immediate flare of jealousy stole over her. She closed her eyes and fought back the urge to run up to them and pull her Queen from the elf's company. After a few deep breaths she was able to calm down a bit and saw that Mirana's responses to Legolas were nothing more than friendly, and she was able to calm the rage and hurt that sometimes was her undoing.
The Queen saw Alice out of the corner of her eye and then turned her head towards Alice as she walked. She was able to see the warring emotions from her Champion and lover as she wrestled with her inner self. Mirana smiled when it became apparent that Alice was able to keep her composure, and was secure in their relationship.
She glanced at Legolas. "Will you excuse me, dear Legolas?"
Alice opened her eyes to see that her lover was walking in her direction, a beautiful smile on her face. She returned the smile and enveloped Mirana in her embrace when she was close enough. "I love you, Mirana."
The Queen laughed and then wrapped her arms around Alice's neck. "And I am so blessed that you do, dear Alice." Her smile vanished when one of babies kicked again. "Whoa." She grabbed Alice's hand and brought it up to her stomach. "Feel that, my Champion."
The powerful kick startled Alice and she gasped. "That was… incredible." And the reality of parenthood was slammed once more into Alice, and this time she stood a little taller, and offered her Queen a mischievous smile. "These are my children." She looked at the hand that was holding onto Mirana's belly. "Our children, Mirana—begotten of us, both of us."
The Queen leaned down and placed her head on Alice's shoulder. "I know, I know."
And the bond between them grew even more at that moment, creating a certitude that no one would ever be able to penetrate from that moment onward. Legolas lowered his head while Celeborn smiled as he had never smiled before, his overwhelming sense of pride bounced off of Galadriel and she was, too, drawn into the powerful emotions that were emanating from Queen to Champion, and vice versa.
But the moment didn't last as Mirana's body jerked back a bit and she gasped in pain. "That was no kick…"
Alice grabbed her by the arm. "What is it? Please tell me!"
When the Queen doubled over in pain Celeborn and Galadriel were at her side in an instant. Galadriel briefly glanced at the Queen and then immediately knew. "Mirana, you are going into labour."
Alice's head snapped up. "What? That's impossible! She…" Her voice trailed off when her Queen cried out and nearly collapsed.
And then many things seemed to happen at once. Haldir dropped his sword and ran up to them while Ealhswith was momentarily frozen, not knowing what was happening or what to do about it. Elrohir and Elladan calmly walked in the direction of the stricken Queen.
Harthacanute whistled and then called out. "Men and women from Underland! To me, right now!" Even though they were a bit confused as well, the Underlandians dropped what they were doing and rushed to the knight's side, brandishing their weapons, as was their custom.
Galadriel serenely turned to Haldir. "Please to the pavilions, at once, dear Haldir, and retrieve Aragorn."
As Galadriel was giving instruction to Haldir Alice whirled to the royal physician. "Ealhswith! Get over here, now!"
As Alice was yelling Celeborn turned to his grandsons, Elladan and Elrohir. "Please carry my daughter to that small pavilion over there and see to her comfort." He held onto her hand as the two elves easily lifted Mirana and gently led her away.
When Haldir turned to run to the outer pavilions Harthacanute ran up to the Champion. "Alice, what is it?"
Alice grabbed his arm to steady herself. "Mirana is going to have the babies!"
"What! Isn't it too soon!"
Alice turned to Galadriel at her gentle command, her eyes wide with shock and fear. "What?"
Galadriel held out her hand and smiled. "Come."
Alice turned her head towards Harthacanute as she walked away. "See that our people remain calm! And for God's sake, put away those weapons!"
When they arrived at the small tent Mirana's cries could easily be heard. Alice ran into it and was at her side immediately. She took her hand and tried to soothe her. "Please, my love…"
Mirana sank into the soft pillows as the contraction ceased. She drew in a deep breath. "I am fine, Alice." But her eyes spoke differently, as this was completely new to her.
Alice felt a rising panic and gripped her hand even tighter. "What can I do?"
Galadriel came up on Mirana's other side and looked deeply into the other Queen's eyes. "Mirana, listen to me and heed the sound of my voice and my words of encouragement. We women have been doing this for ages, have we not?"
Mirana groaned. "…yes…"
"So this is not really new, is it? Feel how your body knows what to do."
The White Queen gasped again. "…yes…"
"No fell spirits can enter here so we are completely safe. They babies know this, and wish to enter into the world amidst peace and tranquility."
The White Queen caught Galadriel's stare and her heart loosened its grip on fear, and her body relaxed as well. "Yes, I can feel the truth of it."
Elladan and Elrohir took up position on either side of the tent's entrance and began to chant an otherworldly melody, almost imperceptible to the humans. Galadriel moved away from Mirana when Ealhswith came in to examine the Queen and then Celeborn ushered out the rest of the elves that were present.
Alice's head snapped up when she heard the familiar voice. "It's Aragorn, Mirana. Do you want him here?"
Mirana nodded then groaned again when another contraction hit her, and she rode it out with difficulty. She gripped Alice's hand so tight that Alice nearly fell to the floor. But she caught herself at the last moment and instinctively jerked her hand back, wincing as she did so.
The Queen saw this and cried out. "Alice!"
"Alice, help me remove the Queen's dress." Ealhswith noticed Aragorn and she sneered. "What is he doing here?"
But Alice had no time for pettiness. "He stays! Now attend to your Queen." Her voice was both commanding and confident, and she took Mirana's hand again. "My Queen, I am here. I will not leave your side for a minute, and neither will these good people."
Mirana relaxed again and held Alice's stare. " I know…" She settled back down onto the pillows and Aragorn approached her.
The man touched palm to breast, then he retrieved a small basin of water and a cloth and began to wipe the perspiration from the Queen's brow. "The waters of Lothlorien are pure and run deep; let these healing waters erase all fear from your heart and mind." As he gently stroked Mirana's brow he glanced at Alice, who was looking a bit apprehensive. "Alice? Alice Kingsleigh?"
Alice looked up. "Huh?"
He reached over and lightly grasped Alice's hands then moved them so that they were around the bowl. "Here, Alice. I believe that you would wish to do this."
Alice was grateful for the man's insight, and offered him a lopsided smile. "Yes, thank you." She began to speak soothing words as the Ranger had done and a slow cadence of words poured forth from her, blanketing her lover in a warm haze. As her hands worked the cloth her words helped her Queen's heart, and Mirana began to relax even more, even though she still felt the contractions.
Ealhswith sat back and felt like she was no longer needed while Galadriel just smiled in satisfaction. But when Mirana's eyes went wide again she was snapped out of her stupor. "My Queen, what was that?"
Aragorn sat back and watched how delicately Alice took Mirana's face into her hands. "Look at me, my love. Just look at me and let the bond that we share help us through this…"
And the Queen relaxed as another contraction hit her and held Alice's stare as her body road out the spasms. Then the others in the room went immediately to work. Galadriel moved to stand by her husband and took his hand. They waited at the entrance to the tent along with Elrohir and Elladan and began a new chant; one meant to welcome new life into the world. Aragorn and Ealhswith made the Queen more comfortable and adjusted her position in order for the babies to be born comfortably.
And, in the meantime, Alice continued to hold and caress her lover's face and to smile and speak soothing words to her, even though her own heart was racing and her nervousness was at a high level. She glanced at Mirana's stomach and seemed to notice for the first time how distended it really was; and it was surely possible that their stay in this magical land had furthered along her pregnancy more than anyone could have realized or imagined.
Aragorn finally took Mirana's hand and gently touched her face. "It is time, Queen Mirana. You must bear down and push with everything you have."
The Queen cried out and Alice grabbed her other hand. "Please, Mirana. We can do this."
Mirana shot her a pointed glance. "We! We can do this? I'm doing it, I'm the one giving birth, not you!"
"I know that!" Alice squeaked.
The Queen grabbed her by the shirt and writhed about. "You…you did this to me…"
Alice blushed profusely when Galadriel's head snapped up and caught her glance. "Now is not the time, dear."
Mirana cried out again and once more Alice leaned down and gently cupped her face. "Let go, my love, let go. I love you, I love you."
The world melted away when their eyes met again and soon both were wrapped in a cocoon of love and assurance. And it was not long before a tiny cry pierced the air and Mirana fell back onto the pillows and Alice turned herself just in time as Ealhswith took the small baby and immediately handed her to Alice.
Aragorn quickly handed Alice an elven blanket and helped her to wrap the infant, then he began to clean her as Alice held her. She was wide eyed and seemingly at a loss on what to say or do. She turned herself to face Mirana and both looked at their child with love and devotion.
When Mirana began to cry Alice placed the tiny bundle next to her lover's breast. "It's Elsa, my love. Look, we have a little girl." She began to cry as well when Mirana brought her hand up to gently caress her daughter's tiny face.
"Oh, my baby girl…my sweet little baby girl…my sweet Elsa…Elsa Kingsleigh." But her pleasure was short-lived when another spasm hit her, and Alice instinctively took up her little girl.
Ealhswith placed herself closer to the Queen when another tiny form came forth and wailed even louder than his sister. She caught the tiny boy and placed him on another elven blanket while Aragorn cut his cord and tied off the end still connected to the baby.
The Ranger continued to clean the boy as the physician handed the small bundle to Alice.
Aragorn smiled. "You have a son, Alice Kingsleigh."
Alice took hold of her small son and just stared in amazement, unable to speak or do anything other than cry; but her tears were of joy and not sorrow and soon Galadriel joined the two women in their tears of bliss. And as the custom when Elven children are born the sons of Elrond exited the tent and proclaimed the news throughout Lothlorien.
Celeborn was mute for several moments as well, but he knelt at Mirana's side and touched her face briefly. "Thank you, my daughter." He stood and addressed the others in the room. "Let us away and give Alice and my daughter some private time with their new family." He was reluctant to leave, but Galadriel took his hand and led him out.
Alice looked up when everyone in the room was gone, and only she and Mirana were left with their children. She gently stroked her son's cheek. "Little Etienne, its me, Alice—your, your…"
Mirana laughed with joy and motioned for Alice to bring their son closer. Her champion scooted closer so that both babies were settled comfortably in their mother's arms, near her breasts. "Oh, Alice…you don't have to be so unsure anymore…here are your children. Children—here is your Champion—and father, if I may."
"You may." And Alice wrapped one arm under Mirana's neck while she used the other to support the babies. She kissed Mirana softly and closed her eyes, her tears of delight flowing freely. All other thoughts were forgotten and any and all other concerns laid waste.
After awhile Aragorn and Ealhswith were allowed back into the tent to assist with the afterbirth and cribs were brought in for the babies. The elves worked their miracles once more and the tent was made comfortable with a large bed piled high with blankets and pillows for Alice and Mirana plus an extremely large basin was brought in for a hot bath. The bed was canopied and would allow the lovers a bit more privacy than the rest of the tent. Alice requested that the bath be draped as well so she and Mirana could retain as much privacy as possible.
It was late afternoon when Alice sent word to Harthacanute to announce the birth to all the Underlandians and to prepare to meet with her the following day as she and Mirana were going to retire from public life for at least the rest of the day and early the next. Two elves were placed at the tent's entrance as guards and elven women was sent to see to the children and to help in any way they could.
After a hot bath Mirana settled into the large bed and Alice brought their children to her once more. She and Alice stroked tiny feet and hands and laughed with pure excitement.
"Look, Mirana." Little Etienne had grabbed ahold of Alice's finger and wouldn't let go. "They are precious."
The boy had a full head of blonde curly hair just like Alice and his eyes were a russet brown, much like his mother's. Elsa's hair was far lighter, much like Mirana's, and her eyes matched those of her brother perfectly. She slept in her mother's arms while her brother stayed awake and made little pouting noises. When he began to pout even louder Alice placed him at his mother's breast and he began to suckle.
Mirana looked up at her beloved. "Thank you so much Alice for these precious babies…they are so adorable, just like you—their father."
Alice's breath caught, and her heart soared at the verity in her lover's words. She was, by all accounts, the father to these children and the shame that she had carried her entire life was melted away, forever. She knew she was different right away from the other girls and that difference was so much more than an attraction to other females. She was finally comfortable with her masculine leanings and would hide her preferences no longer. And Underland was just the right place in which to finally be herself.
As Etienne sucked at his mother's breast little Elsa woke up and yawned, and Alice took her up and laid her little head on her shoulder. She delicately held her small daughter and a few more fresh tears escaped her. "Hello, my little Elsa—my baby girl. You look exactly like your mother. My god, Mirana, I can't believe that this happened…but I am happy about it, I assure you."
Mirana smiled and nodded. "I couldn't be happier. Come here."
Alice moved closer and Elsa began to squirm and then began to cry. Alice placed her at Mirana's other breast and the infant began to suckle, too. Alice supported her weight. "Are you comfortable with their names, Mirana? I'm sorry, I just assumed…"
The Queen reached up and caressed Alice's cheek. "As I told you before, it is quite all right. I love those names for our little ones." She gently wiped at Alice's tears. "I cannot begin to tell you how content I am right now."
"I know the feeling." Alice yawned and then blinked, the days of expectation having caught up to her.
"Are you tired, Alice?"
"Yes, but don't worry. I'm not leaving your side or that of the children."
Mirana frowned. "But you need your rest."
"I need my rest?" Alice chuckled. "But you just gave birth, Mirana. I can't begin to imagine…"
She was interrupted by the appearance of an Elven woman. "Forgive my intrusion, but I may assist the Queen if you desire to rest, Champion Alice."
Alice yawned again and then look at her blood stained clothing, and felt the discomfort of wearing her lower armor. "Perhaps I could use a nap." She looked to her Queen who only smiled and nodded before tearing off the rest of her clothes, not caring that she gave the elf woman an eyeful of her backside as she slid into a hot bath. After a quick scrub she was back at Mirana's side in the huge bed and asleep before she knew it.
Mirana found herself yawning and looked to the elf for help. "Can you help me burp the babies, if you don't mind."
"I do not mind at all."
Elsa and Etienne were asleep within minutes and were placed in the cribs just as Mirana joined Alice in sleep. In the middle of the night, however, both got up and brought their children in bed with them and fell back into slumber secure that they and the babies were safe.
Celeborn continued to stare into the fire and knew that sleep this night would be impossible. His mind swirled with one scenario after another, all in the attempt to protect the newest members of his family. He was not in the habit of pacing back and forth, but he did on this night and his worried grandsons kept vigil with him, not wanting to abandon him when he needed support the most.
Elrohir sighed in an attempt to clear his mind of unrest. "I have sent for that knight, Harthacanute, just as you instructed, grandfather."
The Elf Lord stopped pacing and nodded. "Thank you. He needs my instruction as soon as possible."
Elladan pushed himself off the wall he was leaning against. "We have come to a decision."
Celeborn knew what his grandson was going to say, and it grieved his heart. "Then it is entirely possible that I will never see you again." He nodded to both brothers.
"Grandfather, there is no other way."
"No other way? For what may I ask?" Galadriel strode into the parlor without making a sound.
Elrohir looked to his twin before answering. "Elladan and I…have come to a decision."
Galadriel bent her thought inwards towards her grandsons, and her own sorrow matched that of her husband. "Yes, I see. There is no other way, is there?"
"No other way for what?" Knight Harthacanute appeared at the parlor door and yawned, having just been sent for in the middle of the night.
"Come in, gentle knight, and lay waste to worry." Galadriel's smile was infectious in that it soothed all who partook of it.
Celeborn nodded. "There are grave matters that we must discuss; and I see that Champion Alice has the utmost faith in you."
"I would hope so." Harthacanute adjusted his sword. "I am the Captain of her most trusted Order of Knights."
Elladan extended his hand. "Then come in…friend."
Morinehtar stood at the border of Lothlorien and gazed across the Anduin towards Mirkwood and beyond, and tried to connect with his surroundings as well as Galadriel could. He smoked his pipe, but it failed to soothe him at this hour. "Come out, my vaporous friend."
Chessur materialized next to him and floated languidly on the air. "You were not at the festivities, I see."
The wizard blew a few smoke rings. "I loathe such tediousness. How are the babies?"
"Elsa and Etienne are doing just fine."
"Such strange names from a strange land, dear cat." He put down his pipe and picked up a rather large cup of ale. "I have more than one vice, as you may see."
Chessur grinned. "Don't we all."
The wizard downed his cup then looked pointedly at Chessur. "There is someone in Lothlorien who is not what they seem—and I do not know who it is. My vision is clouded by something, something that veils itself rather well."
The cat frowned, and his ears fell. "I know…it has eluded everyone, even the Lady of the Wood cannot see it."
"If I can't see it, then who can? How am I to protect Underland from something I cannot see?" He threw down the cup. "Enough of that…and this." He tossed his pipe in the raging river. "It addles my mind, you know."
Chessur's buoyancy evaporated and he slowly sank to the cold earth. "We will all need to be on alert and on constant guard from now onward."
Mirana turned over on her back and was immediately made aware of the morning light. She just lay there; eyes closed, and enjoyed the feeling of being at rest after several months of being on edge because of her pregnancy. But her eyes snapped open when no other sounds could be heard.
The Queen sat up and sighed in relief as she saw Alice at the cribs, looking down and smiling at her babies. "Good morning, my love."
Alice smiled, but didn't turn to her. "Yes it is, Mirana. It is a wonderful morning."
Then Mirana noticed that Alice's armor looked newly polished, and a black cape was around her shoulders clasped with a silver brooch, shaped like a leaf, and that the Vorpal sword was now in a black sheath supported by a black belt with a silver buckle and clasp. And on her head she wore a thin silver circlet, much like the one worn by Celeborn. "You look so dashing, my Champion."
Alice looked down at herself then blushed. "I do look rather fetching, don't I?" She indicated the cape and belt. "Courtesy of the elves, my Queen. I am now considered part of your new family."
The Queen frowned. "Were you away? For how long?"
Alice reached down into one crib and picked up Elsa, who had just recently found her own thumb and was vigorously sucking on it. She brought the infant to Mirana and gently handed her over. "There, just perfect."
Mirana grinned and nodded her head towards the other crib. "And Etienne?"
Alice grinned back and carefully retrieved their son and then sat on the bed next to Mirana. "Now this is perfect, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is." The Queen was silent for a few moments, and then finally looked up. "How long was I asleep?"
"It is late morning, Mirana." Alice stood and walked to the opening in the drapes. "You can come in now."
Two elven women entered and curtsied to the Queen. "We have come to help you dress, Queen Mirana."
It was then that the Queen noticed she was still naked. "Oh… why thank you. Alice?"
Alice took Elsa and held both babies. "I'll wait for you out there, alright?"
It took Mirana only a few moments to dress and soon she joined Alice in the main area of the tent. She was back in her normal white gown. It was then that she noticed a feast set out for her and Alice by their hosts. "I think I'm famished." She took Elsa and then sat down at the table. "Alice, have you been waiting for me to get up?"
Alice sat down opposite Mirana and rested Etienne's head on her shoulder. "Yes, but it hasn't been too long."
Mirana saw all her favourite pastries, breads, nuts, and fruits plus a large carafe of tea and quickly began to eat. "How did they know?"
Alice smiled. "That's no mystery, my love. I told them." She closed her eyes and inhaled the unique scent of her baby, memorizing every bit of sweetness from him. "I love you, little boy."
Mirana looked up, and new tears fell. "Oh, Alice…" She held Elsa a little tighter, and laughed when the girl began to tug on her hair.
The two elves looked to each other and then one approached. "Would you like us to look after the babies while you partake of your meal?"
Alice looked to Mirana, and they both reluctantly handed over the infants to the elves. And then Alice brought over her chair and sat next to her Queen. "There is a gathering of elves and men soon, my Queen. The Lord Celeborn has requested it for later today, and told me that the hour of our parting is at hand."
Mirana blanched. "So soon? But…I have yet to sit down and have a proper talk with my father. I am not ready to leave—not today."
Alice lowered her head and nodded. "I know, I'm reluctant to leave, but for other reasons. Once we are back in Underland we lose the protection of the elves; and we have so few knights with which to—engage this Saruman."
The Queen took her Champion's hand. "I do not think that they would abandon us so utterly. I have a feeling…" Her voice trailed off.
"What? What is it?"
Mirana sat back, and she smiled serenely at her Champion. "No, I already know that they would not abandon us like that. If I know anything from our experience here, it is that, Alice."
Alice picked up a strawberry and slowly raised it to her Queen's lips. "These are so sweet."
Mirana first licked the fruit with the tip of her tongue, which made Alice groan. Then she casually bit into it, relishing its deliciousness. "Does it make you hungry, Alice?"
Her Champion wound an arm around her waist. "No, but you make me hungry, my Queen." She turned her body and began to nibble at Mirana's neck.
The Queen closed her eyes and gasped somewhat, but her eyes shot open when Alice began to fondle her breast. She quickly grabbed her Champion's hand. "Oh, no—not there, Alice. I have milk for the babies."
Alice sighed in frustration. "Sorry, I forgot." She slowly lowered her hand to Mirana's waist. "Please?"
But the Queen only laughed and batted Alice's hand away. "I give birth just yesterday and you already want to make love! You are incorrigible, Alice!"
Alice backed away and laughed as well. "Don't I know it!"
And both turned their heads when someone cleared their throat. Haldir was standing at the entrance to the tent and just smiled at them before finally speaking. "I trust that everything is to your liking, Queen Mirana?"
The Queen blushed. "Yes, I could not ask for more, dear Haldir."
"I hope the news that I bear is agreeable to you. The Lord and Lady of the Realm request your presence in the main pavilion in one hour, your Majesty."
Alice winked at Mirana before turning to the elf. "It is—to both of us, my Lord."
Haldir merely nodded and then touched hand to breast before leaving. Alice snatched up a plate of cheese and breads before sitting back in her chair. "I wonder why they are being so formal about it?"
Mirana continued to stare at her Champion before shaking her head. "You are worse than incorrigible, Alice."
Alice and Mirana walked out of their dwelling place to find Haldir, Elladan and Elrohir waiting for them. The twins were carrying pouches that were slung over one shoulder and draped down the opposite shoulder to drape over the back to the clasp on top of the shoulder.
Haldir smiled as he approached Mirana. "Queen Mirana, would you permit Elladan and Elrohir to carry the babies to your meeting with the Lord and Lady?"
Alice was startled, and started to object when the Queen placed a hand on her shoulder. "Of course they can, they are my nephews after all." She saw the pained look on Alice's face and drew her aside. "Please, Alice, they are family—and it would be rude to deny them this pleasure."
Her Championed nodded, and then handed over Elsa to Elladan. "You will keep my daughter safe."
It wasn't a question and the elf knew it. "Of course, Champion Alice, she is my cousin." He gently placed the little girl in the pouch and carefully supported her weight
Once Etienne was given to Elrohir the company walked the short distance to the large pavilion next the Great Mellyrn that they had slept in up until last night. Haldir opened the large flap at the entrance and tied it open and then every one entered to a curious sight. The Lord and Lady of the Realm were sitting on their thrones in the middle of the tent with various elves and humans from Underland sitting to sides of the thrones, much like the arrangement one would find in a basilica.
Celeborn stood and offered his hands. "Mirana, Mae l'ovannen, Iellig."
The Queen smiled as she grasped her father's hands. "Gi suilon!" Then she wrapped her arms around him and held on tightly. "I'm so glad that I found out about you, father. Believe me."
At first the elf Lord was embarrassed at such a public display of affection, but his heart melted quickly, and he returned his daughter's embrace, lovingly holding on to her. "And I am glad for it, as well."
Galadriel smiled and glanced at Alice, who was looking at her Queen and smirking somewhat. It was then that she remembered what Mirana had cried out when she was giving birth, and she made a mental note to ask the Champion about it at another time. Celeborn and Mirana finally parted and the Queen beckoned her Champion to join her on the dais that the thrones were on.
Celeborn nodded to Galadriel who turned to address all those present. "Gi suilon!" Then she turned to the men and women from Underland. "Le nathlam hí! My brethren and our fair guests, I know you are anxious for news concerning your presence in our realm and I hope to be able to quell your fears and bring you to an understanding of what is being done here to help you."
Lady Hild stood and beckoned her archers to stand as well. "We are most anxious to find out what has transpired between you and our Queen." She turned to Mirana. "Your Majesty…first of all, congratulations on the birth of Elsa and Etienne."
All the humans at that moment cheered and the Queen smiled sweetly at her people. Alice, however, buried her face in her hand and blushed a deep crimson. The Queen saw this and discreetly smacked her on the back, which made Alice jump and acknowledge the crowd and the cheers.
Mirana stood tall on the dais and addressed everyone. "We are overjoyed…" She was unable to say more as Elladan and Elrohir stepped forward and handed her and Alice the twins. Mirana smiled and wiped a tear from her face as she held Etienne and then laughed when he burped loudly. The noise startled the infant and he began to cry. Alice chuckled and held Elsa up and rested her little head on her shoulder. But her armor was cold, even though covered by her cape, and the baby began to whine her discomfort. Then it appeared that both infants heard the other and they stopped crying, and looked at each other with wonder and amazement.
Alice looked at Mirana and both were once again transported to a place that would not only exist for the two of them, but for their children, as well. They came together and were about to kiss when the infants squealed with glee at their closeness to each other and the nearness of their parents.
Mirana grinned at her lover and shook her head. "They are definitely so like you, my Champion—the constant demand for attention."
"Me?" Alice lowered Elsa so that she was cradling the baby. "You are the one that demands me to your bed, Your Highness."
The Queen blushed and glanced at Galadriel, who had heard Alice's comment and was silently chuckling at it. "Of course, Alice, I am rather insistent at that, am I not?"
Alice looked over the rest of those in the pavilion and decided to steer Mirana back to the topic at hand. "Your Majesty?"
Mirana nodded. "Of course, Alice. Thank you." She held onto Etienne tighter and turned back to the elves and humans. "The babies wanted to be born in this fair land and I am glad they were, and that they are happy. My Champion and I were grieved over what may befall us once we return to Underland, and still do not know if we return in peace or at war. Galadriel?"
The Lady of the Wood made her way towards the Queen and stood by her. "On this matter my knowledge is uncertain, and my mirror is unclear on your immediate danger. But we know that Saruman is waiting for you, and whatever vile host that he as assembled.
"For this reason I have asked the wizard, Morinehtar to accompany you back to Underland as he will be able to match whatever sorcery Saruman has in store; and I have asked the son of Thranduil, Legolas, to momentarily turn aside from his present quest and join Morinehtar in this struggle."
Alice was shocked to learn that Legolas would be joining them in Underland and looked to Mirana, who looked as surprised, as well, and a bit distressed.
Galadriel noticed the exchange, but did not interfere, and continued to speak. "And two others will travel to Underland—the sons of Elrond—Elrohir and Elladan, and will champion Elsa and Etienne Kingsleigh, and protect them with their lives."
If Alice was shocked before she now stood stunned in that this decision was obviously made without her knowledge. She looked again at the Queen but Mirana appeared not to have known this, either. But her expression remained neutral for appearances sake. She looked to her father, who only made a motion with his hand; one to indicate that they would discuss this latter.
Galadriel continued to speak. "Also, with the permission of Queen Mirana, we would like to send with you one hundred of our kind who are most skilled at warfare."
Mirana nodded towards Galadriel. "That would ease my heart tremendously, Lady Galadriel—but on one condition."
The Lady nodded back, and appeared to be astonishment. "Yes, of course."
"Alice Kingsleigh is Champion of all Underland. Anyone who would join us there must recognize her as their leader and Captain."
Alice shot the sons of Elrond a pointed look, and then beamed with pride at her Queen.
Celeborn stood and moved next to his wife. "Yes, Mirana, it shall be so." He turned to the gathered elves and humans. "Are there any things which trouble your heart?"
Knight Thrydwulf, who had been unusually silent for the past few days, finally stood and spoke. "We are grateful for whatever assistance you can offer Underland." Then he turned to his Queen. "But you still have not told us what has attacked our lands."
The knight stood his ground, and the Queen acknowledged him. "You are right, dear Knight. Alice and I have been far too selfish with each other and have not confided our knowledge. Please allow me to clarify for you." She paused for a moment to gather herself. "A powerful man who was from Middle-earth died and his 'spirit' found its way to Underland because I am half-elf, as Lord Celeborn is my father. He sought me out because of familiarity yet I could not be corrupted, and he now dwells in Underland—in an uncertain form—and is possibly using our people in an evil plot to take control of it.
"The Lady of the Wood 'felt' his spirit take form in our land and has given us aid in destroying him. And there are a few things that I do know for certain, because I know my kingdom. He killed my sister and has enlisted the help of Illosovic Stayne in his evil schemes. I believe it is also possible he has awoken the Red Cards and has corrupted the Outlandish peoples."
Thrydwulf blanched. "My… we don't even know exactly who or what lives in the Outlands."
Lord Aephelstan stood and moved to the Knight's side, placing a hand on his shoulder before turning to the dais. "I know I've appeared indifferent to what is happening here but I am as equally concerned about our land—and I want to know what we face when we go back."
Mirana attempted to smile at the Lord. "My good Lord…"
"No!" The Lord withdrew his sword and threw it on the ground; a clear message that made the Queen pause, and Alice froze. "I want assurances from you!"
The Champion calmly approached Galadriel. "Do you mind?" She gently handed over Elsa who was cooing with delight, and then she threw her cape back over her shoulder to reveal the Vorpal sword in its sheath. After withdrawing the sword she slowly approached the man who's indignation was quickly withering away. "Lord Aephelstan, I suggest you re-think your decision to throw your sword away and renounce your commitment to your Queen." She pointed the tip at the man's throat and after an awkward few moments he backed down.
The Lord quickly retrieved his sword and knelt before Mirana. "I am an unworthy wretch who does not deserve to be in Your Majesty's good graces. Yet I ask for your pardon and forgiveness, my Queen."
"You don't deserve it—and I'm not in the mood to give it to you." The Queen removed his royal dagger, that had her emblem on it, from his belt and then she removed his sword. "I am revoking your commission, Lord Aephelstan, and removing all its rights and privileges. Wuscfrea, Thrydwulf."
Both Knights came forward and bowed to their Queen. Mirana offered them a weak smile. "Our dear Lord here is under arrest for treason, among other things. Kindly take him into your charge while here in Middle-earth until we return to Marmoreal." After Alice re-sheathed her sword she handed over the Lord's possessions to her. "My Champion."
Alice bowed before taking the sword and dagger. "My Queen." She bent and kissed Mirana's hand as per her custom as Champion. "Lady Hild."
The archer came forward and bowed. "Your Grace."
"See to the safe storage of these." Alice turned and went to Galadriel and gathered Elsa to her. "My baby girl." She smiled broadly when the baby began to tug on her hair.
And a new respect for the Queen and Champion of Underland was fostered at that time amongst both humans and elves.
Celeborn looked at Mirana with pride in his eyes then he extended his hand to her. "My daughter and Queen."
Mirana relaxed and took her father's hand and both turned to those assembled. Mirana spoke. "Are there still any concerns about what is to take place? We know the time to return to Underland is upon us and that the good elves of this land have offered us their assistance in ridding Underland of one of their own. If there is any doubt on what is to happen next, please step forth and lay aside all fear and worry."
And then the Cheshire cat decided to make an appearance. "Well, that seems all settled, doesn't it? But is it?"
Elsa began to squirm in Alice's arms. "What else is there, stupid cat?"
Chessur floated over to Galadriel and swished his tail in her face. "My Lady, we are ready."
Galadriel batted Chessur away and then turned to Alice and Mirana. "We know that from this moment on you will face uncertainty and war, and may not have the time for the pleasures and fairer things in life. So, on behalf of the Kingdom of Lothlorien, we would be well pleased to host the marriage of Queen Mirana to her Champion, Alice Kingsleigh."
Celeborn turned to his daughter. "If it pleases you, I would be blessed and honored to join you to your Champion in a ceremony as old as time itself."
Mirana stood stunned for a moment before turning to her Champion. "Alice?"
When her Queen's eyes fell upon her Alice could only nod, as her voice was momentarily taken. But she recovered enough to pull Mirana closer. "What do you think, my Queen?"
A lone tear fell slowly down her cheek. "I think it is wonderful, Alice, just wonderful." She leaned down and placed a tender kiss on Alice's lips. "To join with you and become one in the midst of the love we have for our children—and our family present—I cannot think of anything better."
They were so close that the babies were able to touch each other and both squealed with delight. Alice gradually used the tip of her finger to wipe away her Queen's tear. "I would love to, Mirana." She leaned in close to whisper in Mirana's ear. "And, no one gets to watch."
At first the Queen didn't understand, and then she remembered the customs of court that she had told Alice a lifetime ago. Her laughter filled the pavilion and soon her Champion joined her. But the raucous laughter startled the babies and they began to cry so they stopped and quickly soothed their children.
"There is smoke on the horizon."
Kind Eadweard turned his massive gryphon head and watched as the normally pink and orange sunset was now a deep blood red, and the billowing plumes reached up into the high heavens and sent out malignant tendrils of filth towards Marmoreal. "Yes, the evil one grows in power, and the Queen and her Champion are still not returned to Underland."
Kind Ealdwine, a lion as huge and powerful as Eadweard, sat next to the gryphon on the outskirts of the Western slopes and watched the smoke as it rose. His coat was a shiny black and was just as impressive as his piercing blue eyes. "This is fell news indeed."
"Alas for Marmoreal!"
Both turned their heads as Kind Ealdred, the Lord of the Unicorns, as white as the purest snow, and as huge as the Lion Lord, ambled up the slope to watch the scene. "Alas for poor Marmoreal!"
The Lion slowly nodded. "The Outlands are on fire."
Eadweard flapped his wings. "No, the land does not burn, but something else, something not of this world full of rage and hunger—and the desire for revenge."
Ealdred whinnied and shook his mane. "Oh, my brothers, alas for poor Marmoreal."
Chapter 15: The Marriage of Alice and Mirana
The branches of the trees glowed as they fell over the entangled lovers, shielding them from the elements beyond and muffling their cries of ecstasy. Sharp nails scraped over a bare back and drew blood, causing the recipient to gasp before bearing down again in a deep thrust. Beads of sweat fell to the soft moss below just as bruised lips met again in a war for dominance…
The night flowed with more than a little flourish, and the usual chant of the elves muted and somber as one traveling company after another arrived at Caras Galadon for the wedding of an Elven princess. And at the midnight hour Elrond of Rivendell arrived with his family and an entire company of Elves and Rangers from the North. Men and women from Gondor and the land of Rohan arrived on steads that roared like as in a whirl of thunder, and awoke beast and elf alike. There was much activity at the foot of the great mellyrn, and a troubled soul awoke far above in its branches.
Alice's eyes snapped open and she turned her head to find that Mirana was fast asleep, a small smile on her lips. She was lying on her side and the twins were asleep on their backs, cuddled up next to her. Alice sighed and wondered how the Queen could sleep on this particular night, the night before their wedding. But the long days of her expectancy were over, and she gave birth to two beautiful babies, and now she relaxed in complete contentment, knowing that she and the babies were safe from harm.
A small pang of a deep emotion touched at Alice's heart as she watched her family. My family—from me. She inhaled deeply. "Regarde ce que ton amour a rendu possible." Her hand gently stroked Etienne's cheek, and then she offered Elsa the same affection. "Je vous protègerai de ma vie s'il le faut. Mais j'espère pouvoir vivre tandis que je le ferai."
Alice turned towards Mirana and felt, very keenly, her love for the other woman. "Merci, mon amour, pour ces enfants magnifiques." She wanted nothing more at this moment but to take her family back to a peaceful land, one without trial or conflict.
If there indeed was a benevolent creator to all things, and if this indeed was the sum of all things that one could wish and hope for, then her life was complete. A groan escaped her lips before she could suppress it, and she sat up and swung her legs over the side of the huge bed, dangling her feet. But this fleeting sense of completeness was short-lived as she realized that a stark uncertain future was before her, and she could not know what awaited them when they returned to Underland, which appeared to be the day after tomorrow.
I am a Queen's Champion. Alice groaned again and quietly got up from the bed and retrieved a simple pair of trousers and shirt. After slipping these on she walked out of the living space to the branches beyond the flet and found a rather large one to walk on. She traveled as far as she could go and watched the activity below feeling rather detached from it as if watching a play, with the occasional aside with which to make sense of everything.
And if there was one thing that stood out it was that everything about her life as champion, parent, and soon to be wife was the notion of how nothing made any sense at all at this very moment.
Alice ran her hand down her face to wipe off the sudden sweat and wondered just how she was going to manage the upcoming days of her life—there was much to do from this day onward and she was keenly aware of her own mortal state at the moment. Mirana needed protecting as she cared for their children, there was a war that needed almost all of her attention, and there was someone in her own camp that was possibly a traitor to Underland itself. The mantle of responsibility was cumbersome, and Alice cringed with the overwhelming weight of it. What am I to do?
"What you always do, Alice Kingsleigh. Be a Queen's Champion."
Alice turned her head slowly to find Galadriel standing at the end of the flet, watching her. "Can I help you with something, Lady Galadriel?"
The Lady heard a slight edge to Alice's voice but was not troubled by it. "My only wish at this moment is to ease your heart of all worry, Alice."
"Then you want to do something that not even my Queen can do." Alice stole one last glance over at the activity below then made her way over to Galadriel. "I need to get back to my family."
"Spare me a moment, Champion Alice?"
"My moments are few, as my time does not belong to me anymore." Alice turned away from the Lady and stared off into the mists swirling around the tree branches. "My children—and Mirana—I will protect them with my life, although it is my hope that it will never come to that. Believe me I have no desire to die in this war to come. But I do not know what to expect, and because of that, there is a burden that I must bear alone. I cannot ask anyone else to shoulder it with me, even though you have enlisted the help of others in this conflict." She let out a deep breath. "Don't worry, Galadriel, I am well aware of what you were about to tell me."
Galadriel smiled and nodded. "You are?"
"You were about to say that the love Mirana and I share is more powerful than any enemy, and that if we stay true to this love we can do all things—be protectors of our children and rulers of our fair land. The bond that we share—there is something—what is the word I'm looking for… mystical about it. We—complete Underland, make it whole and undivided, and because of this, we will be victorious. I just don't know at what price. What will it cost me—or my family, or the kingdom: at what price victory? I know all these things. I just need some time to let them cleave within my heart, and to not be in conflict about them."
"You are wise, Alice Kingsleigh of London. Actually, I just came to thank you for such beautiful grandchildren."
Alice blushed and then looked at her feet. "I don't know how to respond to that."
Galadriel was reminded once again on the youth of Underland's Champion, and on her quite innocent social awkwardness. It did not seem in keeping with Mirana's inner strength and self-confidence, but it was a balance, in a way. "You and Mirana create a
most formidable equation, Champion Alice."
"Well, I think we are perfect together, I will agree on this. But I'm not sure about the 'formidable' part."
"Aren't you, after all the time you have spent together?"
"I would not call three years a long time, my Lady."
Galadriel was surprised. "Please forgive my assumptions. I had reasoned that the two of you grew up knowing about the other and loved each other from the beginning."
Alice allowed a single tear to fall slowly down her cheek. "Such a lovely sentiment; although it feels like exactly that with each passing day. We were meant for each other and I knew it all along."
Galadriel tilted her head slightly. "You are not from Underland, Alice Kingsleigh. So the joining of your hearts is quite beyond the physical realm—beyond what is seen and what can be known."
The Champion let out a deep breath and smiled. "I wish I could be as articulate as you, my Lady. My lips would pour out such eloquent love for my Queen."
And Galadriel understood the depth and perfection in the bonding of the Queen of Underland and her Champion. "From two different worlds, yet destined to be together always. That is most remarkable and I have seldom seen it in others." Then, quite suddenly, the Lady of the Wood gathered Alice into an incredible hug. "You are most welcome to our family, Alice Kingsleigh."
Two bodies writhed as one, blending into the other until their distinction was obliterated. The Champion landed on her back with a thud, and grunted at the impact, although her ardor remained, and intensified.
Mirana smirked in satisfaction and rolled her hips. "The conqueror is conquered."
Alice gasped at the movement, and pulled her Queen's hips down harder on her swollen flesh. "Never."
The Queen undulated out her pleasure and moaned loudly; her Champion dug her fingers in the fragrant earth below.
Mirana awoke shortly after she could no longer feel her Champion's presence in their bed. She turned her head and watched her babies sleep, the gentle cadence of their breathing soothing her heart. Sometime during the night Elsa and Etienne had grasped each other's hands, and did not let go. The Queen chuckled and then noticed that little Elsa had opened her eyes and started watching her.
Mirana reached over and softly ran her finger over her daughter's cheek. "Hello, little one." The baby hiccupped once and then began to squirm a little, waking her brother, who began to make little baby noises. "Oh my, we are telling a very big story now, aren't we, my precious boy."
Etienne squealed and Elsa began to suck her thumb.
Mirana turned her head and saw that Celeborn was standing at the entrance to the door, but his back was to her. "If you will excuse me for only a moment." She got up quietly and put on a simple tunic before indicating for her father to come in.
The Elf Lord walked to the bed and picked up his grandson and held him dearly. "He looks just like Alice, Mirana." He ran his fingers through the little boy's soft blonde curls. "Hello, Etienne." He continued to hold his grandson and a deep and profound emotion sprung up within his heart. "How can I ever let you go?" He turned to Mirana and did not attempt to hide his tears. "All of you—how can I say goodbye to you tomorrow, Mirana?"
The Queen picked up Elsa and moved to where her father was standing. After placing her daughter's head on her shoulder she wiped away Celeborn's tears. "This tears at my heart, as well, father. We have had barely a word since my stay here, yet I'm expected to take my leave from you so very soon."
Celeborn tilted his head slightly. "It is of partings that I wish to speak. You are of Elf-kind, Mirana, and have quite the daunting decision to make because of it."
"Decision? What do you mean?"
"You are a child of two worlds—one immortal and one not. Because you are my child you have the choice of staying alive forever and living as elves do. Yet, because of your mother, you may also choose to live out your life as any mortal—to die and pass on beyond this realm."
The Queen's eyes widened with shock. "Do you mean that the choice is mine? To live as you do or to grow old and die?" She held Elsa a little tighter. "What of my children, do they have a choice?"
"They will be burdened with the same alternative when they are older."
Mirana began to think of all the possibilities laid out before her. "What of Alice? Will my decision decide her fate, as well? Can we be together forever?"
"Not as elves do, my daughter." Celeborn shifted Etienne so that the boy's head rested on his shoulder. "Alice is a mortal woman. She will grow old and die one day and will not be affected at all by what you decide."
Mirana frowned. "Not be affected? She is to be my wife—how can I possibly live without her at my side?"
"I did not say that this burden would be easy. But you must do as you will, Mirana, because you are to join with Alice tonight in marriage. She has the right to know of what we have spoken of."
"This is—not easy." Mirana looked away and thought of what kind of life she could have without Alice at her side. Would she want to live forever—even if her children and grandchildren were there—without the woman she loved more than life itself? And what of her kingdom? Would Underland benefit from a ruler who never died and was always attentive to its needs? Or would the eventual rule of others, with new ideas, be better for all involved? And then there was Alice. What would Alice think when she told her of her dilemma? Would she want Mirana to grow old with her? And what would Alice feel when she realized that her new wife was considering living forever without her?
Mirana moaned and looked at her father again. "I will tell her before the ceremony, I promise."
"I am sorry that this encumbrance is placed upon you."
"So am I."
She could feel the flesh stiffen even more within her and fell to her back, panting. "I'm not ready…please…"
Alice plunged deeper, and then gasped again as sharp nails dug into her back once more. Her lips stung with perspiration, and she lifted on her hands to slow her movements.
"Good god, I'm so ready to—"
Mirana bucked wildly and clutched at her wife's hips. "Faster…"
Knight Harthacanute stopped before the small tent Alice was in and cleared his throat. "Your Grace…may I come in?"
Alice stood before a mirror and gazed at her own reflection. Her silver armor was newly polished and was shining in the late afternoon sun. Instead of her usual cape, she wore a short black one over her left shoulder that was clasped under her right arm. It had Mirana's emblem embroidered in silver on it. The Vorpal blade was in its new sheath and was actually shining in a way that hadn't before and the circlet on her head matched its luminosity. "Come in."
The Knight entered quietly and smiled as Alice checked herself repeatedly in the mirror. "Do not worry, Alice, you look wonderful." It was one of the few times that he addressed her with just her given name.
"I know." She checked the blade at her side. "I didn't want all that elven finery they wanted to dress me in, so I chose just to look my best in my usual armor."
"The Queen will approve, I think." Harthacanute glanced outside and then turned back to Alice. "Why are you in here alone?"
"Elladan and Elrohir were here with me, but I sent them away—I just needed a few moments to myself."
"Feeling a bit jittery, Your Grace?"
Alice blushed. "Well, maybe just a little. Are you sure this looks right?" She adjusted the circlet around her head.
Alice put on the black leather gloves she was given. "And Lord Aephelstan?"
"Under a secure guard of elves at the moment. That was my decision, Your Grace, as I assumed you would have wanted as many of us as possible at your wedding."
"A good decision, dear Knight. I don't trust him, even more so now at his boorish behavior." She paused for a moment. "Do you think its possible he is the foe we are looking for?"
"It is surely possible, Your Grace. Although his conduct in Underland has never been suspicious as far as I know."
The Champion nodded. "I know. And I believe he is rather too obvious a target, if you take my meaning."
"Yes, indeed, Your Grace. Perhaps we are being led down the wrong path?"
"As far as he is concerned." Alice offered her friend a genuine smile, but then it faltered for a moment. "There is another matter that I must place into your immediate care."
The Knight stood taller. "Your bidding, Your Grace."
"There will be no Establishments in Underland other than that of my children, Knight." Alice's voice was firm.
Harthacanute hesitated. "What of Eanfrid—and the minor fiefdoms? The Queen declared official princes and princesses of the Realm…"
Alice adjusted the Vorpal sword at her side. "That was before the birth of our own children, my friend. When Mirana and I are officially wed those appointments will be null and void. Since McTwisp is not here I will need for you to write up the official decree tonight for me. The Queen and I will add our official seals and signatures in the morning."
"Knight Eanfrid will not be happy about this. He and his Order of Knights could abandon us in our fight against Saruman."
"That is a chance I am willing to take. My authority as Champion of Underland must never be put to question ever again and if I allow these prior Establishments to remain those children might grow up to challenge my position in the Realm. I cannot allow that. Etienne and Elsa will grow up unchallenged—rightful heirs to Marmoreal and Underland itself."
"I understand, Your Grace."
"Fairhaven Knoll must be vacated immediately upon our arrival back at Marmoreal."
The Knight cringed somewhat. "I will see to that, Your Grace. Don't worry, I'm sure everything will be fine."
Alice let out a deep breath, glad that her favorite Knight was deeply loyal to her. She regarded him for a few moments. "You look handsome, my Lord."
The Knight looked down on his newly polished armor. "Courtesy of our new friends—and your future in-laws. I do believe everything is in order, Alice."
Alice turned away from her Knight and gazed once more into the mirror. "Am I doing the right thing, Harthacanute?" Her question was only a little more than a whisper.
"Pardon me?" The Knight took a few steps closer to Alice and stopped when she turned to look at him. "Alice, this is hardly the time to have reservations about marrying our Queen."
The Champion nodded. "I don't know what I'm thinking right now."
"Perhaps you are just nervous, Your Grace," Harthacanute offered.
Alice could feel the perspiration drip down her back and swallowed hard. "Please don't let me faint in front of these elves. Mirana would never forgive me."
The Knight placed a hand on the Champion's shoulder. "I promise. But I do believe it is time, Alice."
The Queen spread her legs wider and anchored herself again. "Oh, please, do not tease…"
"I'm not." Alice ran her hand over her Queen's back and inhaled deeply. "You are so beautiful."
"Stop talking." Mirana looked over her shoulder. "You are wicked."
Her Champion took hold of her own flesh and paused. "Are you sure?"
"What do I have to do, beg you? Now…please…"
There was no preamble, no meaningless words or gestures. Alice plunged deeply and her Queen cried out in ecstasy.
Mirana held little Elsa to her breast and sighed in contentment. So did the baby as she continued to feed and watch her mother. The Queen smiled down at her small one and then turned her attention to the others in her tent who were there to help her get ready for the wedding. Lamps hung from the wooden supports and cast the interior purple and gold drapes with an eerie and otherworldly light. There was also a small fire in the center of the space that didn't appear to be giving off any heat and a lone elf attended to its flames. Other elves were working on her dress and spoke in quiet tones in the hopes of keeping the children content. Two elves stood at the entrance to the space and were chanting so quietly that it's lyricism filtered down deeply into Mirana's heart, and that of the other humans in the room.
The Queen sighed somewhat before making herself more comfortable on the overstuffed chair. She had imagined for many hours what her marriage ceremony would be like—how it would be to join with Alice. But this was something beyond what her limited imagination could think of, and she was feeling somewhat overwhelmed by it all.
The only thing that grounded her back to reality at this moment was her children, and their immediate needs. Elsa was finished feeding and she began to squirm so the Queen lifted her to her shoulder and began to rub her back, in case she needed to burp. When the baby began to pull her hair she chuckled and felt as well as heard the posset.
"Lady Cynuise, where is Alice?"
An elf woman looked up from her work and answered. "She is readying herself in her own tent, Queen Mirana. May I help you with something?"
The Queen sighed and paused before answering. "No, thank you." Mirana closed her eyes for a moment and felt an overwhelming desire to be back in Marmoreal, with Alice at her side, both happy and content with nothing more to do than the raising of their children. When she opened her eyes reality broke over her and she sighed deeply. She needed her Champion. "Lady Cynuise?"
The Lady in Waiting glanced at the elf before coming to stand before her Queen. "Yes, my Queen?"
"Will you take Elsa while I feed Etienne?"
"Of course, your Majesty." Cynuise picked up Elsa but the baby did not want to be away from her mother and she began to cry. She was about to hand the infant back to Mirana when Alice came confidently strolling through the door.
"I'll take her, Cynuise." Alice lovingly took her daughter before bending down to kiss Mirana. "Hello, my love."
The Queen grinned after the kiss. "You look so dashing, Alice." She wound her free arm around Alice's neck. "I love you."
"Je t'aime aussi, chérie," Alice responded while holding her baby close.
Mirana looked up at Alice and smiled. Her Champion seemed different, more sure of herself than at any other time since their stay in Middle-earth. "What did you say, Alice?"
"I said, 'I love you, too.'" Her Champion nodded. "It's French, Mirana."
"Ah, from your misspent youth." Etienne was done feeding and began to reject the Queen's nipple so she lifted him to her shoulder to burp. "I just want to be home, Alice."
"So do I. But don't fret yourself so, Mirana. I'm afraid that tomorrow will come too soon, and that our tender moments will be over."
"They never will be, as long as you are at my side. I don't care what awaits us in Underland. There will always be time just for us."
Alice smirked and kissed her baby on the forehead. "Did you hear that, Elsa? I think your mother loves us."
Mirana chuckled and leaned over to kiss Alice. "Yes, I do."
They were interrupted by the appearance of Haldir at the tent's entrance. "The hour is at hand, Queen Mirana."
The Queen looked up, startled. "I'm not even dressed!"
Alice stood up. "Please, Haldir, a few more moments."
Elladan and Elrohir appeared behind Haldir, resplendent in shining armor, and moved to where the Queen was. Elladan reached out. "We have come to see to our cousins, Queen Mirana."
Alice continued to hold Elsa. "What? What do you mean?"
Elrohir and Elladan exchanged glances before the former took a step closer. "We will see to the comfort and protection of the children whilst you and the Queen are occupied, Champion Alice."
Alice was about to respond when Mirana placed a hand on her arm. "Of course, Elrohir, you are more than welcome to assist us." She smiled at Alice. "My Champion?"
Alice briefly glanced over at Mirana then hesitated for a moment. Finally, she held up Elsa and Elrohir gently took the baby. When Etienne was safely in Elladan's arms the two elves bowed slightly before leaving. The Queen turned to Alice but her Champion had moved away from her and had her back turned.
"It is not easy, is it?"
Alice nodded slowly, but did not turn around. "Yes, Mirana."
The Queen waited for a few moments. "They can be trusted, Alice. I would not surrender our children to just anybody, you know that."
Mirana sighed. "I need to get dressed, Alice."
Alice stiffened somewhat at the slight irritation in her Queen's voice. "Until later then, my love." She briefly glanced at Mirana before leaving.
Alice exited the tent so quickly that Harthacanute almost missed seeing her fly by. "Your Grace!"
The Champion stopped, her back still towards her Knight, and began to put her gloves back on. "My Lord, what is it?"
The Knight's smile faltered. "Are you alright, Alice?"
Alice briefly glanced at her Knight before walking away. "I will be once we leave this land."
The last rays of the sun receded over the mountains and Lothlorien was awash in a pinkish yellow glow. And although the night usually brought a cessation of activity in Lothlorien, this night was different. For on this night an elven princess would be married to her Champion.
On the opposite side of the great mellyrn a massive golden pole acted as the center support of a gigantic circular white canopy. It was tied to other mellyrn by ropes as thick as medium-sized tree branches. Several rows of gilded seats were arranged in a semicircular pattern around the golden pole and various purple, red, and black banners hung from smaller ropes, each bearing the seals and emblems of the royal houses present, both elf and human. Lamps were scattered everywhere, and a great swarm of fireflies lazily flitted under the canopy, offering an added luminesce to the auspicious occasion. Lord Eomer and his sister, Lady Eowyn, from the land of Rohan, represented that rugged country and its king, Théoden. Faramir of Gondor, son of the Steward, Denethor, sat with his company of Knights opposite of the members of Rohan, and they were shining in their bronze armor and helms. Elrond and Celebrian of Rivendell, along with daughter, Arwen, sat at the first row of seats, being kin to the Queen of Underland, and had brought with them a company of twenty of their kin. King Thranduil of the Sylvan Elves was present with fifty of the stealthiest warriors of his kingdom and was presently taking council with his son, Legolas. Other distinguished men and elves made up the rest of those assembled.
A horn blew and a procession of chanting elves descended from the great mellyrn, each carrying a gilded lamp. Celeborn and Galadriel followed at the end with Elladan and Elrohir walking closely behind them. When they slowly circled the great golden pole once they stopped and another trumpet blew.
Alice and Mirana stepped up on the circular dais and the Champion extended her hand, palm facing downwards. Mirana glanced at Alice before placing her hand on top of hers and when she did they began to slowly walk around the pole with their coterie of Knights and Archers from Underland, all immaculately dressed for the solemn occasion. Those from Underland completed the outer circle around the tree and when they stopped Celeborn stood on the upper part of the circular dais to address those assembled.
The somber mood of the assembled guests was broken by the squeal of a little baby, and Elladan chuckled as he held Etienne tighter. He looked to his brother, who only grinned as Elsa stared at her brother, who chose just this moment to be fussy. Alice glanced at Mirana and then blushed when she saw Galadriel smile.
The chanting of the elves stopped and only Celeborn carried on the formal address in song. "Le nathlam hí…"
But he was interrupted by Elsa's squeal, as she matched her brother's gleefulness. Alice buried her face in her free hand and peaked at Mirana, who was trying not to smile. She started to groan but Mirana silenced her with a look.
Celeborn exchanged a look with Galadriel and started to begin again but this time Etienne decided to answer his sister's squeal and giggled rather loudly. Alice blushed an even darker crimson but decided a slight change in the ceremony was in order.
Alice released Mirana's hand and slowly walked over to the elven twins. "May I?"
Without hesitation they handed over the babies to Alice who made her way back to Mirana. She handed over Elsa to her Queen and cradled Etienne, who sighed rather loudly in her arms.
There was a collective chuckle from the assembled guests and Celeborn addressed Mirana. "It seems they would rather be with you, which is only fitting."
Alice turned to Mirana and spoke her part at first in the Noldorin. "Órenya quetë nin ya melinyet az merin vesta tyenna. Man óretya quetë?" The baby in her arms giggled again at the strange words and Alice spoke again. "…My heart tells me that I love you and we should wed. What does your heart say?"
Mirana smiled when Elsa tried to reach over and touch her brother. Then she responded in kind. "Órenya ná ve óretya…vveryuvalvë!" She laughed when Elsa pulled on her hair. "…My heart is like your heart… we shall wed!"
Galadriel stepped forward. "Nai Varda Tintallë laruva ellor Alice-va ar Mirana-va, ar nai Eru Ilúvatar alyuva tet!"
"Nai Manwë Súlimo tiruva Alice ar Mirana, ar nai Eru Ilúvatar alyuva tet." Celeborn completed the blessings and then placed a jewel on a chain around Alice's neck and Galadriel did the same for Mirana.
Then Alice stepped forward and Harthacanute handed her a gold ring. She placed it on Mirana's finger and then blushed. "I love you." It was a whisper.
Galadriel handed a similar ring to Mirana and she gently did the same for Alice. "I love you, too."
Alice looked deeply into her Queen's eyes. "I am yours forever, my love, in body and in spirit."
"And I am yours to keep, if you want to."
"I want to."
They looked at each for the briefest moment. Then Mirana bent down and captured Alice with a sweet kiss, which brought the babies so close that they were able to touch each other and chortle loudly. They broke apart and turned to the assembled crowd. And Alice grinned at her new wife before crying out, "Let the feasting begin!"
"Who knew that elven weddings were simple things?" Harthacanute downed his cup of ale and glanced at Alice before filling another.
Alice leaned back against the tree and held a sleeping Etienne, his little head on her shoulder. "Yes, it was a great relief." She managed to sip wine and not spill it as the baby in her arms was quite still. "Will you look at my new wife; she how she is completely charming her new in-laws?"
The Knight smiled as he watched his Queen move from one from one party to the next, extending her hand and showing off her new ring, and how she laughed so easily and was gracious to all. "You are a lucky Champion, do you know that, Alice?"
Alice looked at the taller Knight. "Believe me, no one is more keenly aware of this than me, I can assure you." She looked over at Mirana. "I love her so much I can hardly stand it at times."
Harthacanute nodded when Lady Hild beckoned to him. "If you will excuse me, Alice."
"Of course, dear friend." Alice gently rubbed little Etienne's back. But she stiffened when the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. "What do you want, Chessur?"
The cat materialized next to her and grinned. He ran his paw down the boy's curly blonde hair. "And how is the little precious one?"
"My son is fine, thank you very much." She inhaled the boy's unique aroma and happily sighed.
"I hear we return to Underland tomorrow. Is that right, Alice?"
"Yes, why do you ask?"
The cat turned his body so that he appeared to be sitting while floating in the air. "I just think that it is time that we do. Foul things await our return."
Alice cringed on the inside, but she was loath to let Chessur see it. "You can easily flit between worlds, Chess, I know this. Do you know what we are to expect upon our return?"
"I have taken a vow, young Champion, not to interfere with this situation. And, no, I will not go into the details of it right now. But know this…" He turned towards Alice and all mirth was gone from his features. "All are in great danger, Alice, and only you can stop Saruman." And in a flash he was gone.
"Only me? What do you m—" But the cat was already gone, and her question was left hanging like a suspended knife. She held Etienne tighter, as a slow tendril of fear crawled up he spine.
The Queen turned to her Champion at just this very moment and saw Alice's features go white. She excused herself from her conversation with Eowyn and hurriedly walked to her wife. "Alice, what is it? What is wrong?"
Alice blinked and then remembered where she was, and what she was doing. She cradled Etienne's head and looked up. "Chessur was just here, and he said something that struck at the heart of me."
Mirana wound her arm around Alice's waist. "What did that wretched beast say to you to rend your heart wounded?"
"He said that only I—only me, Mirana—can kill this fiend, Saruman. What does this mean? Am I to face this foe alone? Am I not to have assistance in this grave matter?"
The White Queen was shocked and angry at the same time. "Why would he place this burden solely on you?" She looked up and realized that she could not see her daughter. "Elsa? Who has my daughter? Elsa, where are you?!"
Galadriel calmly stepped forward and handed Elsa to Mirana. "There is no need for worry, here is your baby girl." She noticed the pained look on Alice's face and the worry in Mirana's and stepped forward slightly. "What has happened to grieve you so?"
Alice sighed. "Chessur was just here and he told me—"
"Do not say another word, Alice Kingsleigh, for I know of what you speak." Galadriel indicated the festivities around them. "Please, this celebration is for you. I will—speak with the Cheshire cat and know his reasoning."
Alice looked at Mirana who nodded. "Shall we greet all our guests, my Queen?"
"Your hand, my Champion."
Alice supported Etienne with one arm and extended the other to Mirana. "Of course, my wife."
When they were gone Galadriel caught the eye of Morinehtar at the other side of the pavilion and the wizard made is way over to her. "What is it, Lady?"
"We must take counsel, Morinehtar, come with me."
Once the actual marriage ceremony was over the elves brought tables and seating under the circular canopy and set up a great feast for all the invited guests. Bonfires were lit, and songs were sung to welcome the newlyweds to their new life. Tales of old were told, and Alice and Mirana took their children and personally greeted each delegation that had come to their special night.
The night air was fragrant with the aroma of warm fires plus jasmine and thyme and the fireflies flitted in and around the large canopy and then appeared to settle on following the newlyweds around as they greeted their guests. Alice was shining bright in her newly polished armor and the circlet around her head appeared to glow slightly as she walked around with her new wife. Mirana had changed from her elven wedding dress back into her customary white gown plus a matching white silk coat that reached all the way down past her knees. She wore her crown as Queen of Underland and radiated pure happiness.
The White Queen cradled Elsa as she approached Elrond of Rivendell and his wife, Celebrian, who was her half-sister.
Celebrian beamed with joy and held out her arms and Mirana placed Elsa in her arms. The elf cuddled the little baby and then smiled at Mirana. "Na vedui! At last we meet, dear sister. Peditham hi sui vellyn?"
The Queen smiled back. "Yes, I would be very happy to speak as friends, Celebrian, as that is how I hope us to be." She indicated for Alice to step forward. "And this is Alice Kingsleigh, my Champion and new wife."
Alice nodded to the elves. "Pleased to meet you." She smiled and held up Etienne. "This is our son, Etienne, and that sweet little girl is our daughter, Elsa."
The usually reserved Elrond smiled at Alice and took Etienne into his arms. The baby cooed and squealed with delight and then sucked his thumb, a particularly human trait, and it made the elf chuckle. "They are delightful, Alice Kingsleigh."
Alice blushed. "Thank you, Master Elrond."
Galadriel, Morinehtar, and Celeborn walked up to them and Galadriel spoke. "A…special place has been prepared for you whenever you are ready."
"A special place?" At first Alice was confused, but then she sobered quickly and blushed before looking at her feet. "Mirana?"
The Queen blushed too and her hand went up to hide her smile. "Shall we, my Champion?"
Alice looked up and held up her arm, which Mirana gladly took. She turned and looked for Harthacanute. "Dear Knight?"
The man trotted up to his Queen and Alice and bowed slightly. "At your service."
Alice lowered her voice. "Keep counsel with our hosts tonight, and keep me informed of any pertinent news." Alice looked to Galadriel. "And our destination, my Lady?"
"Do you see that path over there that leads down and away from Caras Galadon?"
"Follow it past the Garden of Memory and it will take you just shy of Ead Gilithad—you will know where to stop."
"Thank you. My Queen?" Alice glanced at Mirana and blushed again. The Queen chuckled as Alice led them away.
Harthacanute watched as Alice and Mirana disappeared from view, then he gathered Knights Wuscfrea and Thrydwulf to him. "My Lords, we must keep a watchful vigil this night as our Champion and Queen—well, celebrate their marriage. Tomorrow we return to Underland and whatever fate has in store for us."
Wuscfrea fiddled with the sword at this side. "I must say that I am wary of those brothers who will accompany us. They seem to have a claim on our new prince and princess."
"Take no pains in this, my Lord. Etienne and Elsa will need their companionship, believe me."
Thrydwulf nodded. "I will accept your counsel in this matter, my Lord. I have no quarrel with them."
"Thank you." Harthacanute sighed deeply. "And of Lord Aephelstan tonight?"
Wuscfrea looked over his shoulder before speaking. "Lady Hild's archers are watching over him. Does that need to change? Would you rather the elves saw to this matter?"
"My archers know how to keep a man bound, Knight." Hild walked up the Knights, a cup of wine in her hand, and looked pointedly at Wuscfrea.
The Knight nodded to her. "I meant no injury, my Lady. I am merely—anxious to return home."
Thrydwulf downed an entire cup of ale. "As we all are, I'm sure."
"Knights." Both Wuscfrea and Thrydwulf stood at attention as Harthacanute started to speak, but he stopped first and chuckled. "There is no emergency, my Lords. But will you both see that Ealhswith and Lady Cynuise are well and unburdened?" When they nodded he relaxed. "Go and enjoy the celebration. It may be our last for quite some time."
Hild took a moment to study Harthacanute's face as the others walked away. "What are you not telling them?"
"That Alice tasked me to watch her new in-laws tonight—and to take heed of their counsel."
The archer looked over to where the elves were headed. "Well, there they go, along with Etienne and Elsa—we should be with the prince and princess, they are ours, too—come on, knight."
Celeborn and Galadriel led their small party to a far side of the large circular canopy, towards a small bonfire set up just for them and their other family members. They settled around a circular table where their feast awaited them. Morinehtar and Galadriel exchanged glances before settling at the table with the others.
Elrond watched closely as his sons held the twins lovingly and protectively. "Am I to believe that Orc hunting is no longer your chief desire?"
Elladan sighed and looked to his brother before speaking. "We have come to feel a certain—kinship with our young cousins."
"You are to be the protectors of these children, are you not?"
His mother's question unsettled him, but Elrohir nodded. "Yes, we have taken vows to see to their safety."
Celebrian offered a small smile. "You continue to amaze me, my sons. This is unexpected."
"Not to me." Elrond stood and turned to look at the forests beyond. "Your restless hearts were bound to leave these lands eventually. You will be missed."
"By all, I think." Galadriel stood and gathered her grandsons to her. "Your steadfast hearts will do well in Underland I think."
Celeborn rose to stand by Elrond. "I know how grieved your heart must be as I have gained and will lose a daughter in the blink of an eye."
"I do not grieve for the loss of my sons, but that I too wish to leave Middle-earth. These shores no longer sustain our people. The time of the dominion of elves is over; I believe this with my whole heart."
The somber mood was broken by the arrival of Harthacanute and Hild, who immediately went to stand by the twins as they held the babies. The knight spoke, "We understand your commitment to our prince and princess—but they are our responsibility, too. So I must insist that we stay with them, as well."
Galadriel smiled. "I would have it no other way. Come and join us."
Alice and Mirana did not need to worry over finding the place that Galadriel had mentioned; it was obvious as they approached it. A large white bed was in the middle of a secluded cropping of trees that hung on the bank of a small stream. Next to the bed a stone hearth had been erected and the fire that burned within it was warm and inviting. On a table next to the bed were a decanter of wine and an assortment of elven delicacies.
The Queen let go of Alice's hand and walked up to the table. "This is surely unexpected—Alice, come and…" She did not finish her statement at the look in her Champion's eyes. "What is it, is something wrong?"
Alice looked around her before answering her Queen. "Aren't you worried about being interrupted?"
Mirana laughed heartily, a sound that Alice had not heard in a long time and it made her grin. "Oh, Alice, you are the most wonderful of Champions—so diligent in your worries."
"Is that a good thing?"
"Come here, my love."
Alice bashfully walked over to her Queen and took her hands. "I don't know why, but I'm feeling a little…shy."
Mirana smiled down at her Champion. "Shy? Why now of all nights?"
Alice, once more, looked down at her feet. "I don't know, Mirana…" When she looked up she had tears in her eyes. "You are now my wife…"
The Queen drew Alice to her. "I know, as you are now mine. Is this why you are feeling this way? Because we are now joined as one?"
"I don't want to disappoint you, in any way. And now that you are my wife I feel as if I must be perfect in every way—in order to please you as you deserve."
Mirana sighed and fell in love with her Champion all over again. "You can never disappoint me. Look at our beautiful children; you gave them to me, and they are perfect, as are you."
Alice fell into her Queen's embrace. "I love you, Mirana."
"I love you, too." Mirana caressed Alice's cheek. "Let us make love, my Champion."
Alice stiffened somewhat, her body responding immediately. "Nothing would please me more." She brought her hands up and began to lightly caress Mirana's back. "How about some wine first?"
Mirana chuckled and stepped away from Alice. "I think we will need some refreshment to keep up our strength." She walked over to the table and began to chose tasty morsels to eat.
Alice watched her Queen and smiled to herself. Then she marveled at how blessed she was to have Mirana in her life and now ever more so, now that she had given her such beautiful children, and was completely hers now that they were married. "I have a wife—amazing…"
Morinehtar sat back against the tree and watched the merriment before him, and envied those who were here as guests and knew nothing of the trouble at hand. He absentmindedly scratched at his beard and wondered why he lacked the courage to speak his mind when Galadriel asked for his counsel. Elrond had looked to him expectantly, yet he held his tongue and could not offer anyone any encouragement for the days to follow.
The wizard sighed and regretted the loss of his pipe. He heard the soft footfalls just behind him. "I do not have an apology for you, so you can go away."
"I think not." Galadriel smiled down at the old man. "Your heart bears some recent wounds, does it not?"
Morinehtar stood and adjusted his cape. "They sent me to the East where I was see to the safety of all there knowing that no battle would ever reach those lands."
"But those people needed assurance—and protection from themselves, I think."
"My presence there was a nuisance. They did not need me, I can assure you. And, once again, I am being sent to a place that I would not choose."
"Do I detect resentment, my friend? That was not Celeborn's intention when he begged you to help him." Galadriel tilted her head somewhat, a small frown forming.
"No, I bear no ill will in this matter. But—I am afraid of Saruman and his powers. Will I be enough to offer any help in this matter? I fear that I will be useless against him." The wizard's hand twitched, and he longed for his pipe even more.
"You will not be alone—and you will carry one of the two blades that will render him dead and powerless." Galadriel paused for a moment and then smiled again at the wizard. "But, come and join the celebration, as tomorrow will come upon us soon."
The two bodies writhed as one and once again Alice pressed herself down completely on her beloved. Sweat poured off her and she grunted loudly, straining with an overwhelming need to release into the woman below her. Her hands clutched at the mattress and she gritted her teeth. And this time, her Queen was ready…
Legolas stood at the foot of the great mellyrn and watched as his kinsmen continued the celebrations, even though Alice and Mirana had left a long time ago. When he heard the crunching of leaves behind him he did not turn, as he knew who was approaching. "Hello, my friend."
Aragorn touched had to breast and then looked to the celebration. "We can hear this at the other pavilion. What befalls this night?"
"The marriage of an elven princess to her Champion."
"A very good reason to rejoice. Do I know her?"
Legolas turned to the Ranger. "You attended to her suffering a few days passed. Aragorn, I called you here to tell you that I must depart from the Fellowship and follow a different path. But, do not fear, as it—" He stopped at the look that fell onto his friend's face.
Aragorn took a step back, and his eyes widened. "This is ill news, Legolas. What has happened to make this true?"
Legolas paused, and wondered why, indeed, was he agreeing to this mission. "The Lady Galadriel as tasked me to attend to a grave matter. And I have sworn to help Lord Celeborn with anything he could ask of me."
"Will our paths cross again, my friend? Or is this a parting that will cut me to the core?"
Legolas moved closer to his friend and touched his palm to Aragorn's chest. "This is not good-bye, Aragorn. It is rather like…" He stopped when words became unbearable.
Without a preamble, the Ranger stepped forward and hugged his friend dearly. "Then this is good-bye for now, not forever. I already grieve your loss and will bless the day when you return."
With a final thrust Alice cried out, and she fell onto Mirana and swallowed her beloved's screams of passion with a long and lingering kiss. Their breaths were labored, and they clutched at each other out of a desperate need to be as one.
Alice closed her eyes and panted, her mantra of words torn out of her. "How did you do this…how did you do this…how…"
Mirana finally opened her eyes as her head fell to the side, as she was limp and satiated. "Do what…" She unwrapped her legs from around Alice's hips and wiped away the sweat off her brow. She caressed Alice's head, which was lying on her breasts.
Alice shuddered as her orgasm sent its final wave of pleasure up her spine. "I love you so much, Mirana. You were so incredible, my love."
Mirana finally got her breath under control. "As were you, my Champion. You have become so adept in the art of love."
Alice gazed lovingly into her Queen's eyes. "I have? You are the incredible one…how did you use your magic without me knowing?"
"My magic?" The Queen blinked, and brought them both up into a sitting position. "Alice, I have not used any magic while here in Middle-earth. I just assumed that you—you didn't, did you?"
They stared at each other for many long moments as realization slammed itself deeply into them both. Alice swallowed, and then tried to hide her face. "Oh, my…how did she know? I swear, I didn't tell her about—that, I promise."
And for the second time that day, Mirana threw her head back and cackled a good, hearty laugh. "Oh, but I bet you thought it so loud, didn't you?"
"Well, yes, I did think about it—when you were giving birth to our children."
The Queen laughed again and fell back down onto the bed. "Oh, Alice, you make me feel so good." She lifted her head, and then tilted it slightly. "But didn't I tell you that I refuse to let you keep me barefoot and pregnant?"
Alice blanched. "Yes, you did! Mirana, I swear, this couldn't possibly lead to that—could it?"
They stared at each other again until the both of them could contain their mirth no longer, and their joyous laughter filled the forests of Lothlorien. Finally, they calmed, and Alice lowered her Queen onto the bed and brought the blankets up and around them.
Mirana sighed and snuggled closer to her Champion, and new wife. "Do you think the babies are alright?"
Alice kissed Mirana's forehead. "Yes, I do." She closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. "I love you so much."
Mirana lifted her head from Alice's shoulder. "I…I…"
"What is it, my Queen?"
"I do not wish for the morrow."
"Neither do I. But, come, and do not think beyond our time tonight." She lifted the blankets and looked under them, and it was gone without her being aware of it. Alice blushed at looked helplessly at Mirana, who only snickered and threw the blankets off of them.
"Come to the stream, my Champion." The Queen got up and walked gingerly through the overgrown moss. "It will be warm, just to my liking, I know it."
Alice threw her legs over the side of the bed and let out another deep breath. "Alright." She reached Mirana and they both settled into the warm waves about three feet deep. "This is so good."
Mirana sat opposite Alice and took her hands. "Promise me everything—will be fine. Please?"
Alice blinked after dunking her whole head into the water. "I promise. As far as I can say it, as I know it must be true or else I could not speak it."
The Queen turned her head and looked to the horizon, beyond the forest. "It has to true, I know it. It must be true."
Alice blinked again, but this time it had nothing to do with the water. And she wished with her whole heart that it was true, and that they could face anything, as long as they believed in the other.
Neither one noticed as a lone figure slunk behind a tree not too far from them, and snickered out of fiendish delight.