The voice echoes over and over buzzing in my head until sheer annoyance wakes me up.
“There he is,” The same voice says, relief making the sentence a sigh.
I open my eyes, groaning in pain. Four bright blue eyes look down at me, curiosity in one pair, worry in the other.
“He is awake then?” The first pair of eyes asks.
“Well, he’s looking around, isn’t he?”
“Doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s awake.”
“Not. It could be that he is walking in his sleep.”
“Absurd. Nonsense and utter fiddle faddle.”
I blink, trying to clear my vision, not understanding what was going on around me. I feel sticky and sore. Blurry blue eyes and pink splotches clear until smiling cherub faces appear. And behind them, a pair of gnarled leathery brown knees. I stare at them, confused.
“Where?” I shake my head, “What?”
My face stings where my hand makes contact. I remember the beating at the hands of my brother.
What the hell had he been doing hugging up on Rosalind?
“Out of the way, out of the way,” A new voice calls, inserting himself between the cherubian boys.
I recognise him. The knight from the beginning of my dream. He looks different out of his armour. Smaller and wiry with a long white beard and bushy mustache that looks as though its used to being curled.
“I’m not dead?” I ask stupidly, sitting up off the makeshift bed underneath me.
“No, son. You’re not,” The knight answers. His voice is surprisingly deep and kind, given his advanced age.
I groan, putting a hand to my throbbing head. The memories come rushing back, forcing my eyes open and my feet on the floor.
“Hat!” I cry out, standing up.
Gentle hands push me back on the couch. Sad eyes and mouths turned down at the edges tell me everything I need to know.
“Oh god,” I moan. “She’s dead, isn’t she?”
“What?” The knight asks, hands on my shoulders to keep me from leaping off the mattress. “No. She’s not dead. She’s being held.”
“Held? What do you mean held?”
Everyone goes silent, looking uncomfortable. My head hurts too much, preventing me from questioning them further. Instead, I look at my surroundings, trying to get an idea of where I am, hoping there were no talking spiders lurking in the corners, waiting until the lights went out to finish the job the one in the forest started. I’m in a small house that smells faintly of gingerbread and sugar cookies.
It’s not much of a house, really. The kitchen is nice and old timey with a roaring fire burning underneath a large black cauldron. To the right of it is a double oven deep set into light cherry wood cabinets. A small table sits kiddy corner to the brick fireplace complete with two chairs and pumpkin decorations. The living room sports a small television set and a comfortable couch where I currently reside, shifting uncomfortably under a heavy blanket.
“How did you find me?” I ask, hating the silence pervading the room.
“Miss Sparrow told us.”
“She was in a tiff about serpents stealing her eggs,” The pair of knobbly knees tells me. “She’s only screamed serpent one time, when Alice came through. That’s how we knew humans were in the vicinity. And, since you’ve been our visitor for quite some time, well, the connection was made.”
“But the spider?”
The knight looks sheepish. “We had to do some intense negotiations with Miss Spider.”
“Porridge and whey!” One of the cherub boys pipes up.
“Irresistible,” His twin confirms. “The spider’s only weakness.”
Every nursery rhyme I had ever been told as a child comes running back to me in a litany of mismatched rhymes and double-meanings.
“What about Hat?” I demand.
“She’s being held.”
“The Red Queen doesn’t like people who interfere.”
“We tried to rescue her, but when we got there she was already gone,” Knobbly knees says.
“The Red Queen’s men,” The knight clarifies. “She doesn’t appreciate those that try to rebuild the Carousel.”
I scowl. “Why?”
“The Carousel is not meant to be rebuilt.”
“It was broken for a reason.”
It is said so quietly that I almost don’t hear it.
“It was broken for a reason.” One of the cherub boys says, his voice stronger now. “The Tweedle Brothers were there.”