Alice Part 6

VIII.

The garden was dark and flanked by high hedges. Up above, the sky was dark blue and peppered with stars. All was quiet in the Queen’s gardens – only the occasional snore punctuated the silence. This was because here and there was a guard, standing asleep; they were using their lances to prop themselves upright. Alice guessed this was to make it look less obvious they were sleeping, as if the Queen caught them it would be “off with their heads”.

She crept around the walkways of the massive garden, careful not to wake any of the guards. It was somewhat like a wide hedge maze. She could see the Queen’s palace, not very far away. She wondered where the Gryphon was that the White Knight had mentioned? She turned to look back at the Knight on the hill, but couldn’t see him in the darkness at this distance.

Just then, she heard footsteps. She crept behind a clump of rosebushes and peeked out. A moment later a guard, in red armour, walked past.

When the coast was clear, she crept out from behind the rosebushes and carried on down the path, as quietly as she could. She came to a square with a fountain in the middle. The tinkling of the fountain seemed noisy in the night air. Beyond was a path to another square, which had a statue of a Gryphon standing in the middle. She was just about to start moving again when, out of nowhere, a voice said: “Where do you think you’re going, Miss?”

She broke into a run towards the statue. Just as she was about to enter the second square, two guards blocked her path. She was escorted back to the palace. She heard a horn blown in the distance. The guard to her right nudged a sleepy guard they passed and said, “Go and find out what that was.”

They led her up the wide steps of the palace and through the double doors into a spacious, ornately decorated hall, where the Red Queen sat in the middle on her throne. The Red King sat on a smaller throne beside her.

The Red Queen was a tall, imposing woman with an air of severity. Her husband, meanwhile, was a small, timid-looking man. As their titles suggested, they were both dressed entirely and elaborately in red.

“Well, well, what have we here?” barked the Red Queen. “An intruder! What are you doing, trespassing in my grounds?!”

“I’m sorry!” said Alice. “I just wanted to talk to the Gryphon. I understand he can take me somewhere important.”

“The Gryphon has no business with a person like you,” said the Red Queen. “He is under my command, and will do my bidding, just like everyone else in my kingdom. Kevin! Stop fidgeting!”

“I’m sorry, dear,” said the King, looking awkward. He promptly stopped fiddling with his whiskers.

“As I was saying,” the Queen said icily, “he shall do my bidding.”

“Then I’m sorry to take up your valuable time,” said Alice, curtseying. “If you’ll let me go, I’ll be on my way, and you won’t have to see me again.”

“Let you go?!” exclaimed the Queen. “How do I know you’re not a spy? Well? Who are you? What do you call yourself?”

“I’m Alice, your Majesty.”

“Alice? That’s an unusual name. A little Victorian; sounds made-up to me.”

“Now Susan, dear –,” started the King.

“Don’t take that tone with me, Kevin!” said the Red Queen, turning impatiently upon the King. “And address me by my title in front of strangers!”

She turned back to Alice, her face red. “I’ve had enough of you already. You’re irritating me. Off with her –”

She stopped because the head of the Cheshire Cat suddenly appeared, five times its usual size, in front of Alice, grinning at the Queen.

“Hello Susan,” it said.

This time the Queen really did go red.

“WHAT IS THIS?!!!” she screamed, enraged. “KEVIN, HAVE YOU BEEN SMUGGLING CATS IN?”

“No dear!” protested the King.

“YOU KNOW I HATE CATS! OFF WITH ITS HEAD! OFF WITH ITS HEAD!”

In the confusion that followed, Alice made a dash for it – out of the palace, back into the gardens, and she ran towards the square where the Gryphon had been. All the guards were running back towards the palace, alerted by the Queen’s screaming.

“What a horrible woman!” thought Alice. She ran back to the square where she’d seen the Gryphon, but it had disappeared. What now?

“Alice!” said a voice frantically behind her. She turned around and the Gryphon was there. It was the size of a horse.

“There’s no time to lose!” said the Gryphon. “Climb onto my back. Hurry!”

Despite her reservations, there were guards running towards her now, so Alice clambered onto the Gryphon’s back; he gave a flap of his great wings, and they went up, up into the air, at dizzying speed. Soon they were rushing through the stars.

“Sorry to startle you like that,” said the Gryphon. “But they know I’m a spy now. I can’t go back there.”

“What will you do?” asked Alice, who was quite determined not to look down.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go and live in the Dark Forest. Or maybe I’ll get a job in a supermarket. It’s a toss-up, either way.”

Alice presumed the Gryphon was using humour, and found it rather odd. Generally, mythical beasts are not known for their sense of humour.

“Where are we going?” shouted Alice over the rushing wind.

“Somewhere very special,” said the Gryphon. “It’s important to you.”

For a moment Alice wondered if they were going to leave the dream world and go back to her reality.