Splintered Page 43

The queen’s husband, king of the Red Court, lounges upon a velvet throne. Another woman in royal robes stands at his right hand, crimson bows tied on every finger. There are bows on her barefoot toes, too. She keeps shushing the ribbons, as if they won’t be quiet. Queen Red stands before them both, locked in chains. The jurors’ box, which is actually a cage filled with jagged-toothed tigers and bubble-headed seals, sits on the right. Card guards line the walls.

Seated in the witness chair is little Alice, fussing with the hem of her carved dress.

Rabid White stands behind her, his antlers low and his shoulders slumped, looking drained and miserable. His jacket and boots are the same marbled hue of his shiny, bald scalp. A strange assortment of creatures sits upon wooden bleachers and snacks on peanuts and popcorn. Even the Ivory Queen and her elfin knights are in attendance.

A toad-faced creature stands behind a podium, though he’s dressed more like a ringleader than a judge. He bangs a gavel. “The Red Court is now in session!” His plumed wig wriggles. Only when it stands on long stick legs do I realize it’s a stork. After preening its jade feathers, it settles into place again, and the judge continues. “Queen Red, because The Alice entered our world through the rabbit hole, which is in the Red province, and because you failed to capture her before she unleashed her mortal mischief over all of Wonderland, you have been accused of gross negligence and havoc by association. How do you plead?”

Queen Red’s wings droop behind her. She glares at the king and the woman with the bows. “I plead temporary preoccupation brought on by a broken heart. My husband left me for Grenadine . . . I was too distracted by his betrayal to note something so insignificant as a mortal child in our midst.”

Murmurs explode from the jurors’ box. Grenadine looks remorsefully at the ribbons on her feet. The king shifts atop his velvet cushions.

“You’re the one who should be in shackles,” Queen Red says to her husband. “Wasn’t it enough that before his death, my father favored her over me, an amnesiac little brat not even of his blood? But your betrayal is so much worse. My simpering stepsister can’t remember what day it is unless one of her chatty ribbons catches her attention. She certainly can’t remember whom she’s supposed to love. You’re responsible for wooing her and distracting me from my duties.”

The judge leans over his podium, hugging it with his webbed hands. “Perhaps you should be grateful to your royal husband for bargaining with this court to waive the harshest sentence. Should you be guilty found, you will be exiled to the wilds. Preferable to losing your head, I should say.”

“And as to The Alice?” Queen Red shoots a scathing glance at the witness box. “What of her sentence?”

The judge points his gavel at Alice. “She has chosen to read her written confession in exchange for being sent home with the promise never to return and to forget everything she’s seen.” He nods at the child, urging her to stand.

I lean forward to get a better view, so invested in the outcome I no longer care how high I am, relying solely on Morpheus’s arm around my waist to keep me anchored to the chandelier.

Alice curtsies before taking out a piece of paper from her pinafore’s bib. She coughs twice, delicately, then reads aloud: “Perhaps my first mistake was whom I chose to befriend. Or did they choose me? The smiling cat and the smoking caterpillar . . . oh, they hatched such fine schemes!”

I glare over my shoulder at Morpheus, who coughs up his puff of smoke and smirks sheepishly.

Below us, the judge waves his gavel, disturbing the stork upon his head. It makes a clucking sound and snatches the gavel’s handle with its beak. “Descriptions of the schemes, if you please!” the judge screeches, wrestling the bird for its prize.

Alice clears her throat and inhales deeply. “We put an untimely stop to a tea party, spilled soup over a duchess so we could make her sneeze and steal her gloves and fan, unleashed an accidental ocean, and helped a hungry artisan trick his walrusy friend out of a bevy of very vocal clams, thank you.”

Several bivalve audience members throw their popcorn at the witness and squeak out the word, “Scandalous!”

Alice dodges the rain of kernels by ducking behind her chair. The judge—who’s managed to salvage his gavel with the loss of his wig and dignity—waves her to stand up straight. “How did you come to hide at the Ivory Queen’s castle?”

“I wasn’t hiding, in fact. Chessie Cat and Mr. Caterpillar insisted I visit the Ivory Queen and ask her to send me home, as she is more agreeable than Queen Red.” Alice slides a pointed glance in Red’s direction.

The shackled queen snarls, and her chains move as if alive, nearly catching Alice’s ankle before she scrambles onto her chair.

Hammering his gavel, the judge demands order. “Would Queen Red’s royal advisor please step forward and wrangle her chains?”

Rabid White moves up to take the metal links and holds them taut.

“Continue,” the judge says.

Kneading her gloved hands, Alice clambers down and recites the rest of her confession from memory. “Ivory seemed pleased to have guests. She was, in fact, very fond of Mr. Caterpillar—who is debonair, in his own squirmy way. Just as I was preparing to follow the knights to the highest turret of the castle, where my doorway home awaited, an invitation arrived from Queen Red’s court—a croquet match. But it was a trap, so you could imprison me and force my confession for this trial.” She curtsies once more. “I’m sincerely sorry for the trouble I’ve caused. May I please go home now?”

“You will never go home, cancerous little polyp!” Queen Red screams.

I almost don’t catch what happens next. Rabid’s hands move faster than a shock of lightning, slipping out a blade that magically slices through Queen Red’s metal chains. It happens so quickly, no one else even notices until the queen flaps her wings and grabs Alice by her shoulders, lifting her into the air. The judge’s stork snatches the blade from the floor and follows Queen Red as she flies with Alice out the courtroom door, along with everyone else.

The minute they’re gone, I strain against Morpheus’s hold. “Follow them!” I demand.

“Follow them yourself,” he says, and releases me. I scream, somersaulting in midair, my stomach bobbing into my throat. An itch begins behind my shoulder blades, as if something is scratching to get out; then it’s gone as soon as it started. Inches away from striking the floor headfirst, I flip around and drop into my chair, teacup in hand. The chess pieces lie scattered on the table’s surface, as if the re-enactment never happened.

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