“It was many many Sun Turns ago when the Carousel was built. Eggbert Wilderhands was its builder. He had a funny shape to his head.”
“Pointed,” His brother interjects, “like an egg. But not so that he wasn’t handsome. Oh no, Eggbert was the finest boy in the land.”
“Despite the ears.”
A nod, “Yes. Despite the ears.”
Knobbly knees clears his throat. The boys jerk bodily. One coughs.
“Yes, anyway. See, Eggbert didn’t build the Carousel for just anyone. No, no. Eggbert was in love. The Carousel was a present for her. She was happy at first, the thought of getting a Carousel was lovely to her young heart.”
“But, war broke out between the Cards.”
“The Cards?” I ask.
“The Suit Families. After the Queen of Hearts was deposed with her king, war began.” The Knight answers. “The Queen of Hearts is always the winner in any card game you know, without her we had no ruler. Each suit wanted to be the most powerful.”
“Which is why the Chancellary was created,” pointed out the first Tweedle.
The Knight nodded. “The Black and White Queen rule-” he stops himself, “ruled. For a time.”
The story is making my head hurt unbearably. “Whose voice do I keep hearing in the Carousel? And why is there a circus? And what does Hat have to do with any of this?”
“You hear a voice?”
The four converse among themselves, their voices too low for me to hear. Silence. A nod. They’ve reached an agreement. It is the knight who speaks rather than the Tweedle brothers.
“It was arranged for the King and Queen’s daughter to marry Eggbert–”
“The eldest daughter-” Interjected knobbly knees.
“Yes, yes, the eldest daughter. Everything was going well. The Card War was over and the Chancellary was proving to be an acceptable way to rule. The Cheshire Cat is really a genius when he puts his mind to it.” He harumph humphs himself back to the point. “The relationship between all three of them seem to be going well. The Princess Minnie, Eggbert and Princess Hattfield all got along.”
“I’m sorry, what? Did you say Princess Hattfield?”
He raises an eyebrow, “Yes?”
“That rag doll is a princess?”
“She wasn’t always a rag doll, you know,” One Tweedle said petulantly, crossing chubby arms over his small chest.
“Yes, she used to be much better stitched together.” The other quipped.
That earns him a smack on the back of the head from one of the knobbly kneed man’s feet.
“Continue. We don’t have much time,” He urges.
“The long and short of it is, Minnie was playing poor Eggbert for a fool and Eggbert was in love with someone else. The announcement that the Clockwork Maker’s boy was going to create a Carousel as a wedding present stunned the whole nation. A party was given after its completion-the circus you so actively enjoyed-and that’s when the truth came out.”
“Princess Hattfield and Eggbert were sitting on the Wall.”
I feel so stupid for asking, like a child who’s not quite getting the story despite carfeul listening. “The Wall?”
The knight sighs, pinching his large nose between his thumb and forefinger. “The Wall that separates the Kingdom of Mystery.”
“Mystery? I thought this was-?”
“Be QUIET!” The knight roars. “There isn’t enough time to explain the particulars of this kingdom, just understand what you know as this “Wonderland” is actually called Mystery and can be whatever its creator wants it to be.”
“This is the cornerstone of our predicament, you see,” Knobbly knees says.
“Thank you, William,” Snarls the knight. “Understand that the wall is very high and is guarded twenty five hours a day.”
I make no move to correct his timetable.
“The duty is dull and the hours long, but it must be done. I was on watch that night that Master Eggbert confessed his love to Hattfield. It was touching and sweet. They both had drinks in their hands and the moon was shining full and bright on them, illuminating their coutenances and love for each other. Then, the unthinkable happened. Eggbert was pushed.”
The knight stops, gathering himself. “I was on the side opposite them, in the guardhouse. I heard the scream and came rushing out, too late. Princess Hattfield had toppled over as well and there was Minnie, screaming. A man was behind her, trying to comfort her.”
“The Jabberwock,” The Tweedles say together.
“The Jabberwock?” I ask incredulously.
“Its keeper, and Princess Minnie’s consort.” Their explanation comes out in a rush, “He loved Minnie, it was true. But the girl was a jealous one, she couldn’t bear for Eggbert to love anyone else but her.”
“The thought that the Clockwork Boy loved her sister was too much. She pushed them both.”
“At least that’s what those of us in the circus believe.”
One Tweedle nods to the other.
“The circus knows. Even after the trial when the Carousel broke.” He shakes his head, blond curls bouncing. “It broke when he did. The king’s men put him back together, you see.”
“There had to be a trial.”
“It was a lie.”
Their back and forth hurt to follow. Screwing up my face, I ignore the pain in my head and try to keep up.
“A sham trial. Minnie cried and wailed and blamed her fiance for the crime. He pushed her sister, she testified. The fact that he had fallen first never came into question.”
“What about Hat? She would be able to tell someone the truth.”
A shake of the head. “Her lips were sewn shut.”
“Peter Pan is long dead, you see,” The second Tweedle says gravely.
“I thought he couldn’t grow up?”
“Don’t be stupid. Mystery isn’t the key to immortality. Peter died, but Tink lived on and took her place in the circus. She granted the king his wish to see his daughter reborn. A sack was sewn together and her soul put into it. Minnie sewed her mouth shut to keep her from talking.”
“What about Eggbert?”
“The Carousel is his home now. Broken on purpose, never to be put back together. The King’s Men, with the help of the fairy broke it into pieces so that no one who tried could put it right. Except for you, oddly enough.”
“So, then it’s his voice I hear?”
“How did all of this happen?” I ask. “Who is the Red Queen and why do I keep getting attacked?”
“Had you followed me the first time, you wouldn’t have,” The knight grounds out.
“I couldn’t hear or understand you,” I snap.
He stays silent. The knobbly kneed man pushes his way forward, between the Tweedles. I’m not surprised to see his feet balancing on the top of his bald head, his body bent in a perfect “C”.
“Minnie and her consort have taken control of Mystery. She is the Red Queen and she doesn’t want you bringing Eggbert back.”
“Would you want to give up your throne and admit that you tried to kill someone?”
A cackle interrupts our conversation. I watch in wonder as a striped tabby cat spirals into view.
“Oh it’s been too long since someone has spoken of a rebellion. Tell me, gentlemen, what are we planning this time?”
There wasn’t a welcoming tone to the Knight’s voice. His hand goes to the pommel of a rusty looking sword. The cat sighs as if this is a game he’s played before.
“Is this the boy?” He asks instead, floating closer to me. “Found an Alice of the opposite sex, have we?”
“I’m not an Alice,” I say, swiping at his bushy tail.
“Of course you aren’t. Poor Hat says you are, but what do our torturers know?”
“Torturers?” My throat goes dry. “What do you mean torturers?”
He looks at me, a sly smile playing about his lips. “Just what I said. The poor little rag doll is in the gaol at the mercy of our rather excellent staff.”
“She’s a rag doll?” I say stupidly, wondering just how someone could torture a person made of sacking and string.
The grin grows wider. “That makes it all the more fun. But, we’re not here to talk about the many uses of fire, are we?”
The cat is dressed in livery befitting a fine court. Red and black with a puffed collar and jaunty hat. From a pouch around his neck he produces rolled parchment and tosses it to the knight. “Everything you need to know,” He says before disappearing.
“That cat is on our side?” I ask nervously.
“He is on no one’s side,” One Tweedle says.
“Not right in the head.”
“What does it say?” I ask, ignoring the brothers.
“It is a warning from the queen,” The knight says, rolling the paper shut. “It says we should wake you up and let you return to your world before she’s forced to act.”
I think back to the beating I’m not sure if I’m still suffering at the hands of my lust-driven brother and shake my head. “I think I’ll take my chances here.”