My Ranking Points
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Home at Last
The ride lasted for several hours. For the most part, the group was quiet and tense. Any effort to make conversation was stilted and got an equally stiff response before dying out.
At some point during the last hour, Alisha fell asleep curled up on the crates. Ches was lounging across from her, covering his eyes with his hand. Cass walked over to where Ace was sitting, staring out at the town growing ever-closer.
Sitting beside him, Cass rested her head on his shoulder. He put an arm around her shoulders and continued to gaze out at the landscape.
“She’s asleep,” Cass replied. “She’s certainly been better, but I think, given time, she’ll be fine.”
“Why does she talk to you, but not me?” Ace asked.
“I think she’s resigned to the fact that we’re-” Cass paused. “She’s heartbroken over you, even though she’s willing to let us be together. It just hurts her to be around you right now.”
Ace nodded thoughtfully. The wagon turned into a village, and Cass stiffened as people started to stare at her. Many froze in the streets as they watched the wagon pass. None waved or smiled or got to close.
“They’re your people, and they’re afraid,” Ace realized.
“My mother is a rather fearsome queen,” Cass replied. “She’s done many wonderful things, but many horrible too. The people are frightened of losing their heads if they get too close. Quite literally, really.”
“And they’re afraid that you’re like her,” Ace said.
“Yes,” Cass said, “because that is the image I’ve given for my entire life. I am the future queen, and it is my duty to follow in my mother’s footsteps.”
“You don’t have to be cruel like she is,” said Ace.
“Your mother rules in another part of Wonderland. She may be good, but that is not the way here. At least, not for the Queen of Hearts.”
Ace shook his head and said, “There are two kinds of queens: the good one who uses her power for the people and the queen who used her power for herself. Just because your mother is one kind doesn’t mean you can’t be the other.”
“Yes, it does. It is my destiny to be just like her,” Cass argued.
“But it doesn’t have to be,” Ace said. “Look at Tiana. My mother is a great queen who used her power and magic to help her people. But as soon as Tia took the magic, she became evil and decided to use it for vengeance. My mother was Good, and Tia turned out to be the worst kind of Evil.”
“It’s not that simple for me,” said Cass. “Mother rules Wonderland with an iron fist. If I don’t do just that, I could lose the crown.”
“You are more likely to lose the crown by being a queen the people fear than one they love and adore. If the people like you, they will support you and do whatever they can to keep you on the throne,” Ace promised.
Cass didn’t reply. The spires of the castle were coming into view. She stood up slowly, watching her home draw nearer.
“We did it,” she said. “We’re home.”
Ten minutes later, the wagon was parked behind the palace. Ace got out first and held out his hand for the girls. Alisha took it first, jumping down onto the ground while Ches appeared behind Ace. Cass got out last, taking Ace’s hand and climbing down quite gracefully.
The cook came out to greet the driver and tell him where to put the tea. When she saw Cass, her eyes nearly popped out of her head as she threw herself into a bow.
“Your Highness,” she said, her voice thick with surprise.
“Madame Cook,” Cass replied with a nod. “Have you seen my mother?”
“I believe the Queen is in the throne room, Your Highness,” the cook said, still bowing.
“Thank you,” Cass said. She marched past the cook into the kitchens, where servants stopped to stare at the princess in the kitchen. They bowed as she passed with her friends right behind her. She barely spared them a glance, saying, “Get back to work. Those pots won’t clean themselves.”
The palace was vast, with a maze of spacious halls and heart shaped doors. The high ceilings rose fifty feet above their heads. Gorgeous chandeliers of heart and flamingo shaped crystals lit the castle, and hundreds of card guards were posted throughout the hallways. None moved, not even when the missing princess marched past with her mini entourage.
As they approached the throne room, Cass heard her mother’s voice booming from behind the double doors at the end of the hallway.
“Oh dear,” Cass muttered. “Seems like we’ve caught her at a bad time.” She quickened her pace, hurrying to reach the throne room.
“Y-your Highness,” the frogman by the doors stuttered. “Y-you’re back!”
“Open the doors, Harold!” Cass commanded. The frog fumbled for a second, then pulled open the door.
A shaking man was kneeling before the angry queen, who was opening her mouth to shout out his sentence (which was almost certainly beheading). The White Rabbit sat to the Queen’s right, an executioner to her left. The rest of the Queen’s Court filled the chairs behind her.
Cass marched into the throne room, the others on her heels. “Get out of here, Jefferson,” Cass ordered the man. The Queen’s eyes snapped onto her daughter. The room was silent for a moment, except for the man scrambling to his feet and hurrying out while the Queen’s attention was diverted.
“Your Royal Highness!” the White Rabbit cried. “You’re back!”
“Ssh,” the Queen snapped, waving her hand at the rabbit to quiet him. She stared at Cass for a minute, and when she tried to speak the queen held up a hand to stop her.
The scrutiny dragged on for several moments before the Queen stood up and said, “Cassandra! You’re back!”
“Yes, I am, and I have… news,” Cass said. She paused, looking between the animals and humans of her mother’s court. “Perhaps I should tell you over tea.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” her mother scoffed. “Tea time was hours ago!”
“No, really, Mother. Let’s go to your sitting room and I’ll call for tea.” Cass turned towards the door, then back. “We should probably have the White Rabbit join us.”
The Queen of Hearts sighed. “Alright, fine. Come, Rabbit. Court dismissed.”
“Thank you, Mother,” Cass said.
She led her mother, the rabbit, Ace, Ches, and Alisha to her mother’s sitting room where she sent a servant to get tea and mini sandwiches. She gestured for her friends to sit. Ace, Alisha, and Ches squeezed in tensely on a sofa. Cass and her mother each sat in an armchair, and the White Rabbit stood by the Queen’s side, ready to do her bidding.
“Now,” the Queen said when the tea was served, “what’s this about? Why have you brought the sons and daughter of my enemies into my castle?”
“Mother,” Cass said as patiently as she could, “they mean no harm. How many times must I tell you that Ches is a friend?”
“I know he is, much as I hate it, but the other two? That Alice is just trouble, and that girl shares her blood. And the son of the White Queen?” The Queen of Hearts clucked her tongue.
Cass rolled her eyes. “They’re not their parents. Just- let me talk for a minute. Please.”
“Alright. What is it?”
“Thank you.” Cass took a deep breath. “I assume the White Rabbit told you that I was taken to the School for Good and Evil? Well, we sort of accidentally discovered a Jabberwock and now it’s loose and being controlled by Ace’s evil sister who wants to destroy Wonderland.”
The Queen of Hearts stared at her daughter for a minute, speechless. Then, “WHAT!?”
Cass bit her lip and shrunk into her chair. “It wasn’t really our fault! We just made it possible for her to destroy Wonderland, but we came back to stop her. We thought that maybe if we could-”
The Queen of Hearts stopped her with a glare. “You have a lot of explaining to do, Cassandra. Get comfortable and spill the beans.”
Cass sat up straighter and smoothed out her skirt before launching into a detailed explanation of all that had happened while she was at school (except for the part where she was put into the School for Good and fell in love with Ace).
Her mother listened without interrupting, but the look on her face made Cass worried for somebody’s head.
That was amazing!!
I’m glad the Queen of Hearts has a softer side and didn’t ask for Ches, Alisha to be beheaded because they’re the son and daughter of her enemy.
Oh my God I’m so excited to see the Queen of hearts reaction to Ace and Cass being together!