Bibwit reached under the sleeve of his scholar’s robe and tapped the receiver node on his crystal communicator’s keypad—before, to anyone else’s ear, the device even sounded. Projecting as if from the tutor’s navel on to the air: an image of General Doppelgänger in Heart Palace.
“General, sir!” the knight and rook cried. Their commander, with the wounds he’d received at Blister’s hands visible, had looked better.
General Doppelgänger smiled in greeting. “Bibwit. Chessmen.”
“We were beginning to fear we’d lost you, General,” said Bibwit.
“Not yet, Mr. Harte. Not yet. I intend to fully recover and serve Queen Alyss as long as she’ll have me.”
“Ahem hem hum,” Blue grumbled loudly, to get everyone’s attention. “We oracles have been in Wonderland these many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many years, waiting for the time of Everqueen. Now that she’s come . . .” the oracles shone beatific faces to the sky, “... we are no longer needed.”
Upon which, with astonishing speed and dexterity, each oracle wrapped himself in a chrysalis spun of his own silk. And as Redd’s surviving assassins—Siren Hecht, Alistaire Poole, and Sacrenoir—slipped away into the surrounding country, as Club Cards of high number and earth mercenaries escaped to cause trouble another day, the cocoons broke open and the largest butterflies ever seen in the queendom emerged, flitted up and away into the streaming energy of Everqueen as—
Alyss and Dodge, Hatter and Molly, Bibwit and General Doppelgänger, the Heart soldiery and white chessmen, all joined together in huzzahs.
Reverend Dodgson sat at his desk with only the ticking clock and crackling fire for company. His imagination hadn’t failed him once in the fortnight since he’d last seen Alyss Heart and Homburg Molly and, with notebook open before him, he reasoned out the answers to his math puzzles as fluently and creatively as ever. The more time that passed without harm to his creative powers, he believed, the more it signified Alyss’ victory in the war for imagination and the less chance there was of his again being accosted by Redd Heart or The Cat. Although he couldn’t know for sure. Which was why he wouldn’t throw his false starts to
into the fire. Not yet.
It was a stanza from the poem he’d published at the conclusion of
Through the Looking-Glass
. He had perhaps never written anything so true; for whatever else was to happen, Alyss Heart would remain a phantom in his life, a presence he thought of from time to time, but particularly whenever he crossed paths with Miss Alice Liddell. Musing thus, Oxford’s most famous bachelor closed his notebook and set down his pen for the night as—
Half a world away, a man who’d appeared out of nowhere was allowing himself to be nursed back to health by the nuns of St. Mark’s Church in New York City; a man who had once been a conquering king—at present one of Earth’s anonymous multitudes but who, with his outsized ambition, his skills of manipulation and self-promotion, would one day be as recognizable to millions of Americans as he was to Alyss Heart.
And where was Wonderland’s queen? Sharing a pot of tea with Dodge in Heart Palace’s ancestral chamber, with Bibwit Harte before her, chattering on and on and on, while the walrus-butler bumbled about the room’s perimeter, trying to be inconspicuous.
“I’m told that if one stands at the edge of the Pool of Tears and looks closely,” the tutor reported, “it’s now possible to see the water, which continues to rise as Wonderlanders refill it with tears of happpiness.”
“Happiness?” queried Dodge.
Bibwit’s ears folded once, then straightened. “Over the possibility of seeing long-lost loved ones again. I should also report, my dear, that the Clubs’ trial is set to begin next quarter-moon and Boarderland’s tribal leaders are back in their own country, hashing things out among themselves and apparently not the least concerned as to what’s become of Arch. However, I can’t help saying that no one’s quite been able to explain to my satisfaction what’s become of the king, and if he’s living . . .”
The tutor chose not to finish his thought: a rare occurrence.
She hadn’t returned to a paradise, Alyss reminded herself. As much as she hoped otherwise, she knew that in years to come the Pool would be refilled by more than a few tears of sadness. And regardless of what happened to the Lord and Lady of Clubs at their trial, there would still be anti-imaginationists in Wonderland, as there would always be Black Imagination devotees.
“What are you thinking?” Dodge asked her.
“Just that I’ll never give up on the principles of White Imagination, never stop working to secure the greatest good for the greatest number of Wonderlanders, no matter the obstacles or enemy.”
“I have tutored you exceedingly well, haven’t I?” Bibwit beamed.
“So well, Bibwit,” returned the queen, “that I won’t be remiss and ask you to stay while I attend to a personal matter of great importance.”
“Of course you won’t,” Bibwit said without moving.
The walrus-butler waddled over and put a gentle flipper to the tutor’s back, to urge him toward the door. But the learned albino didn’t budge.
“Walrus, Bibwit, would you please leave us a moment?”
The tutor glanced at the butler, who was trying to tell him something with his eyes. Baffled, not understanding, he said, “Yes, of course. I believe I have to powder my head,” and allowed the walrus to lead him from the chamber.
“A private matter?” Dodge asked.
Alyss went to him, took his hands in hers. She said his name softly, almost to herself, and then—
“I know we haven’t always agreed, and that I’ve disappointed you in some of my actions, especially recently.”
“No more than I’ve disappointed you.”
“I will always try and live up to your generous belief in me, Dodge. I’d ask for a reciprocal vow if I didn’t know the standards you set for yourself are higher than any I could request from a friend and . . . husband.” She paused, let him take in the word. “Despite my faults, will you be my husband, Mr. Dodge Anders?”
The guardsman remained silent for a maddeningly long time, then—
“Will I become your husband, the happiest man in the queendom? Yes, Alyss. Yes.”
He leaned close and kissed her—each too lost in the other’s touch to notice the figures of Queen Genevieve and King Nolan watching them from the wall’s looking glass, witnesses to a love that could only add to the wonder of Wonderland.