My Ranking Points
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Mad As A Hatter
Cass woke the next morning to a shriek. Her eyes flew open and she sat up. Alisha was on her feet, sheiding away from something on the ground.
“Alisha what is it?” Cass asked, standing up. The boys heard the commotion and woke up as Alisha pointed at a small gray creature on the ground.
“It stole my ring!” Alisha cried. “The one my mother gave me for my twelfth birthday!”
Cass looked to where she was pointing. A little mouse held a diamond ring in its mouth, staring up at the people above it. It’s ears twitched and its tail wiggled as it watched them carefully. Ace drew his sword, pulling it back to strike the mouse.
“Wait!” Cass said, stopping Ace.
The second of hesitation was all the mouse needed to drop the ring and skitter away. Ches bent over and picked up the ring, returning it to its rightful owner.
“Follow that mouse!” Cass called, starting after it. Ches and Alisha followed after her, but Ace didn’t budge.
“Follow the mouse?” he repeated. The others turned back to him.
“Yes,” Cass said with exasperation. “It’s not just any mouse; it’s a dormouse. There’s no time to explain, just do it!” She continued chasing after the mouse, and this time Ace followed.
They followed the mouse for hours, weaving in between trees. The creature was quick, and they had to sprint to keep up with it.
“Where is it taking us to?” Ace panted.
“It’s not where, it’s who it’s taking us to,” Ches explained.
“Fine, who?” Ace asked, but no one answered.
Finally, they came to a small shop at the edge of the woods. Just beyond it over a hill was a village, with red roofed houses and dirt roads.
The mouse disappeared through a crack in the wall. Cas barely noticed, staring at the small building before them. She barely paused to catch her breath before marching in with her friends at her heels.
The inside of the shop was small and cozy. People sat at tables eating tasty delicacies and sipping flavorful tea. The walls were bright and colorful, as well as the counter that a twelve year old girl stood behind, taking orders.
“Madeline!” Cass barked, startling the girl. “Where’s your father?”
“He- he’s in the backroom… Can I help you, Your Highness?” the girl stuttered. Cass didn’t answer, breezing past the girl to the back room.
“You can’t go in there!” Madeline called after her.
Cass ignored her. She stepped into the backroom and stopped short. Her friends stopped behind her, taking in the scene.
The room was long and dimly lit, very different from the bright, welcome shop. Shelves packed with hats lined the walls. A narrow table stretched across the room, taking up most of the floor space. It was cluttered with empty teacups and ***** dishes. A chair stood at either end of the table, and that was it. Two chairs, no more. Before each seat was a teacup on a saucer, filled with rosebud tea. A biscuit sat neatly beside each cup of tea, freshly buttered.
And seated the chair on the far side of the room, face shrouded in darkness, sat a short figure in a tall tophat.
“Crown Princess Cassandra Rose,” the figure drawled. “I was expecting you.”
Cass didn’t reply. She straightened her spine and looked at the man, waiting for him to say more.
“And Miss Alisha, what a pleasure to see you again,” the man continued. Alisha bobbed a quick curtsey, but like Cass said nothing. The man’s gaze turned to Ches. “And you’ve brought the son of the Cheshire Cat, though I can’t say it’s a pleasure. The White Prince too, I assume, but we’ve never met.”
“What do you want?” Cass demanded. “Why did you send your little mouse?”
“Well, he’s hardly my mouse. Just a friend I asked for a favor,” the man said.
“Who are you?” Ace questioned.
“Why don’t you know?” the man asked. “Didn’t your friends tell you? I’m the Mad Hatter, of course.”
Cass stiffened. “Why did you bring us here? What do you want?”
“Patience, Your Highness. All in good time,” the Hatter said. “But first, sit and let us have a drink.”
Cass didn’t move for a moment, but then she stepped forward and pulled out the second chair. She perched on the edge of the chair, rigid and straight.
“That’s better,” he cooed. “Now let us talk.” The man lifted his teacup and drank. He swallowed, grimacing at the bitter taste. “A bit of sugar might fix that,” he said, proceeding to dump a huge spoonful into his cup. He offered the sugar bowl to Cass.
“Stop playing games, Hatter,” Cass ordered. “It’s time you tell us what you want.”
“Ah, yes. Always so practical, Your Highness,” the Mad Hatter said. “You are quite lucky I haven’t had much tea today, otherwise I’d be babbling like a lunatic. Though that may be due in part to the absence of the March Hare. I do seem to drink more when he’s around.”
Cass didn’t reply.
The Hatter sighed. “Alright, if you insist. I’ve been waiting for you, Your Highness. There’s a prophecy, one that I do believe you’re meant to fulfill. And I do so enjoy being the one to tell people of these things,” he said, clapping his hands like a little child.
“What prophecy?” Cass still didn’t touch the tea. She watched the short man before her cautiously, ready for whatever he would do or say next.
“There comes a Queen, a future queen, who landed in a far land. The Queen fell down, got turned around, and dumped right back where she started,” the Mad Hatter chanted.
Cass frowned. “What does it-”
“Patience, I’m not finished,” the Mad Hatter chastised. “An evil threat rode on a beast to take away her Ever After. The not-yet Queen was all in between the destruction all around her. If she could learn to trust her fate, a sword she’d wield to stop the beast, as long as she found it ‘ere it was late.”
Cass stared at him. “I’m not quite sure I understand.”
The man harrumphed. “I put it in my own words to make it more exciting, but if you insist on being boring…”
Cass waited. The Hatter sighed.
“Fine. The prophecy states that a future queen of Wonderland would land in a far away land, have her fate twisted and life turned upside down, then return back to Wonderland, where a threat would pose to destroy all of Wonderland and everyone in it. The only way to stop this supposed threat is the future queen herself, if she could accept who she was first,” the Mad Hatter explained.
“I assume it refers to you, since you vanished for weeks and came back truced with your enemies.” The Hatter glanced at Ace and Alisha. “As for the threat, I have no clue what it could be, what sword you must use, or when you will face it. All I do know is that you and you alone can stop it, but you must trust yourself first.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Cass said. “As for the threat, I’m pretty sure I know what it is.”
“And that is?” the Hatter inquired.
“A Jabberwocky controlled by the person who hates me most,” Cass said.
“Then it is safe to assume that the prophecy could only be referring to the vorpal sword,” the Mad Hatter said, “but it’s been hidden for centuries and it will be up to you to locate it.”
“Which I will do,” Cass said, “after I warn my mother of the coming danger. But for now, we must be going, as it is a day’s walk from here and I need to get there as soon as possible.”
“Luckily for you, I have a shipment of tea headed for the palace this afternoon. You can ride in the wagon and be at the palace by nightfall,” said the Mad Hatter.
“Well then,” Cass said, leaning back in her chair, “it looks like we’ve come to an agreement.”
“Let us toast to a job well done,” the Hatter said.
“Alright,” said Cass. “Cheers.”
Together, they lifted their glasses in a toast and sipped the tea, a plan formed and ready to go.