Fandom: Alice in Wonderland (2010 film)
Word count: 2612
Notes: You don't even have to tell me how much this is not, in any way, what I am meant to be writing, but med school has consumed my free time and my writing-brain and I am just so bloody grateful that I yet retain the ability to finish anything. Anyway, this is all the fault of Anne Hathaway's fantastically messed-up portrayal of the White Queen. I am a sucker for morally confused characters with a penchant for science.
There are lots of references in here from the book Through The Looking Glass and how the Queens were portrayed therein; I've mixed and matched book and movie details to create my very own backstory concoction. Enjoy!
Iracebeth tells her, "When you've once said a thing, that fixes it, and you must take the consequences."
At the age of five Mirana vows to never again eat jam. Her hands pressed inadequately over her ears in delighted horror, she watches her sister's tongue hunt crumbs at the sides of her mouth.
"And the little black specks," Iracebeth says, pausing to lick a sticky patch on her index finger, "Those are the bones, all charred and ground up small."
"No!" Mirana squeals, believing every word.
Of course it doesn't take her many years to discover that jam is not actually the sweet fresh remains of slaughtered momeraths, but by then the vow is written in the book with the rest of them; Mirana has lifted her eyes to the half moon in private ritual and recited the list (short, as yet) of her promises to herself. There is something pleasing about how real and black the sentences are on the page, descending from the tall strong I to the neat full stop that comes at the end like a signature. A vow once inked can't be broken. Mirana gives the absence of jam in her diet little thought, except when they have fresh berries at dinner and she presses them between two tiny fingertips. As the seeded guts burst out over her skin she feels the thrill of death.
"Don't play with your food, dear," says the Queen.
"Leave her be," says the King, resting a fond hand on her bone-white hair. "She's exploring the world in her own way, aren't you, kitten?"
Mirana nods and reaches once more for the berry bowl.
"That's not true!" Mirana says, and three seconds later her sister says, "Well, your head is too small."
"How queer," says the King, when Mirana tells him about it, and he turns his many-lensed glasses upon her. Mirana is sure that through them her head must look just as large and odd as her sister's, but she doesn't say it, because they Don't Talk About Iracebeth's Head, except on alternate Mondays when strange little doctors from all across Underland are allowed to prod Mirana's sister and feed her things that smell of nervous herbs. Mirana likes alternate Mondays.
"No," Mirana says, and then:
"Has it happened before?" the King asks, and then:
"How curious," they say in unison.
It's dizzying at first but she gets used to it quickly, this occasional hiccup of backwards living. It doesn't happen often, but Mirana finds it useful when she's at her father's workbench running thoughtful fingers over bowls and bulbous flasks, wondering what to add to their concoctions. Sometimes she'll remember the green belch of smoke and then go ahead and add the singing rain anyway, just to be certain, and then she'll make a note in her perfect black handwriting and know better for next time. Remembering the future doesn't change the course of her life; it just gives warning.
Firstborn Iracebeth sits with the Queen and learns Queenness, and Mirana hitches up her skirts and goes hunting rare weeds in the forest with Tarrant. The journeyman hatter is one of the few people who will listen to the King's rambles about chemistry and emerge with an unfeigned grin on his face. Mirana likes his strange green eyes and wonders what they'd taste like if she plucked them out of his face and squeezed them into a potion.
"Like blackberries, I shouldn't wonder," says Tarrant when she asks him, "only with more insight."
"Like peppermint," says Iracebeth, her own eyes bright. "Try it, do."
"He wouldn't be nearly so good at making hats," Mirana points out.
Iracebeth sniffs. "His hats are such fiddly little things. I'm bored of talking about him anyway. Let's go tell the cook to make us some tarts."
"I don't eat jam," says Mirana. "It's against my vows."
"Then I'll eat them all," Iracebeth says. "Come on."
The very first potion that Mirana creates on her own contains five ladles of swansong and the fingernails of a liar, amongst other things. It's a clear lemony fluid that shrinks the drinker; she tests it on the Two of Hearts and then carries him around in her pocket until he complains that the lace itches. When Iracebeth doesn’t turn up for dinner that night they search the castle and find her in the laboratory, one-third as high as she used to be but in perfect proportion still.
"Goodness, dear," says the Queen, and leaves the room at once.
Iracebeth's cheeks are red. "Don't stare!" she orders. "I only wanted to see what it might be like if my head were --"
"Normal," says Mirana, and her sister punches at her stomach with small fists.
It takes three days for them to make the opposite potion, then two more for them to realise that it can't be taken in liquid form. Mirana arranges her skirts around herself and passes her miniature sister crumbs of cake one by one until Iracebeth is more or less the size she used to be.
"We could try rubbing the potion directly onto your face," Mirana suggests, but Iracebeth jerks away.
"There's nothing wrong with me," she says. "Nothing at all. It's the rest of the world that's too small, too regular, I've always thought that, and I'm right."
This morning Mirana painted her lips the colour of very old wine. Now she pulls them into a smile. "Is Captain Stayne too small for you, Iracee?"
Iracebeth goes red again, not a wine-red but bright and ugly and almost as red as her hair, and storms away. Mirana hums a song to herself.
"Not very nice of you, princess," says a voice above her left shoulder. Chess appears in a slow curve that begins at the tip of his tail.
"She's no better," Mirana says.
"Which means," says the Cat, "she's no worse."
"But she's getting worse." Mirana sits down on the floor of the lab and pulls her knees in to her chest. "I can feel it." After a while she adds, "I'm getting worse too. I wonder if it's written somewhere."
"I imagine everything is written somewhere," says Chess. "That's the thing about the infinite."
"Iracebeth likes the darkness," Mirana says miserably. "She thinks it's useful, she doesn't mind it pulling at her all the time, all messy and vague."
"I've never minded the darkness," Chess says. "A lot of fuss about nothing, I've always thought; but then, I can see through it perfectly well."
"You've been here a long time," Mirana says. "Underland's a dark place. I know."
"Being mad is just about the only way to get by," Chess says, and now he sounds almost gentle instead of smug. "Just ask the Hatter. Ask your parents. It's easy, once you begin."
Mirana turns her cheek to rest against the stained white silk of her skirt. "I don't want that kind of madness to suit me, Chess. I wish life were more like a potion. Everything's easy when you measure it into glass. Easy to control and easy to watch, and then if it turns dangerous you can pour it out and start over."
Chess sighs, a bodily sigh that makes his stripes glow a violent blue. "Seems to me that if something's written somewhere, you just write over it. That's sense."
Mirana thinks about the comfort of ink and very-white paper. "Yes," she says. "There doesn't have to be any darkness. I can just think about the light."
She waits until the next half moon and then writes in her book:
I vow that I will never hurt another living creature.
"Hurt is hardly exact," says Chess. "Slippery, princess -- it'll be upside-down before you know it, and I know about these things."
But Mirana reads her list of vows aloud to the moon, and to the four paws and the topsy-turvy toothy smile that are all she can see of the Cat, and she thinks very carefully about light things. Feathers. Paper. Starglow. She lifts her arms and imagines that she's made all over out of cobweb silk.
When the sickness comes it's like someone's opened pepper jars all throughout the castle, the air is that thick with sneezing. The sickness is fond of years, so it weaves and wefts itself the warpest around those who have the most. Mirana's mother sits bethroned by her stubbornness, coughing into a linen handkerchief embroidered all dainty with cornflowers, until the morning her head aches too much to hold up the crown. Mirana finds Iracebeth holding the golden thing in shaking hands.
"Now, that seems premature," she says, and the crown falls to the ground with a hollow spinning sound.
"Don't you dare accuse me," Iracebeth says. Her voice breaks.
Tarrant drinks endless cups of tea as his eyes grow wider and wilder. He doesn't sneeze often, but when he does his hat flies halfway across the room like it's trying to escape contagion. Iracebeth shuts herself in her rooms and screeches to anyone who comes near, and Mirana glides feather-light across the stone floors as though nothing can harm her, because nothing will. She's remembered something that she hasn't told anyone yet; it seems insensitive, under the circumstances.
"You're being so good and strong, kitten," says the King, and Mirana smiles her best worried smile, thinking about laughter and all their old games and not, at all, about how thin he is.
"We'll find a cure," she says. She picks up a basket of rose petals and carries it to the table. "These next?"
The King gives a great cough that echoes in his chest; he wipes his hands on a scrap of cloth and says, all seriousness, "What this medicine needs is the left eye of a brave man."
Chess was right about the slipperiness of words, because Mirana's vow only covers her own two hands. What others do in her name and by her command is another matter entirely.
She says, "Captain Stayne is very brave, Papa."
Her parents' will exists as, appropriately, another startling testament to the power of words once they are committed to paper and signed. Words like:
temperamentally suited to the role
lives backwards anyway, so when one thinks about it, she was probably meant to be the eldest all along
Mirana sits on her throne and holds tight to the hilt of the vorpal sword, loneliness sweeping up and around her like an autumn wind. The sword looks pretty in her lap, and her fingernails look pretty against the shining metal. She's decided that she will allow the darkness only these few parts of herself: the tips of her fingers, and the curve of her brows, and her sweet-speaking mouth like the bloody entrance to a cave.
"What a beautiful ceremony that was," she says.
Iracebeth has clenched her fingers into fists, and her expression of anger might be easier to hide if her face weren't so large. "So this is how it works," she says. Her voice is sour and unpleasant in Mirana's ears. "All that running to keep up with expectations, all that effort, and I end up in exactly the same place."
"I shouldn't worry," Mirana says, blinded by memory: black claws and purple fire and the screams of children, pure excitement and death, and she's not even allowed to be the cause. She remembers --
She says, "Isn't time an odd thing?"
"I won't accept this. I won't sit here and watch you fumble your rule," Iracebeth says.
"Then I suggest you stand," says Mirana in a new voice, and behind her a host of weaponry clicks to attention. "Or you could always run."
A little girl in a blue dress stumbles into Mirana's kingdom and mispronounces its name. Stranger things happen all the time, so it would be entirely unremarkable except that Mirana sees the lovely bright sunshine caught in the girl's hair and remembers the feel of leather and equine tension between her own thighs, a chessboard battle and blonde curls streaming out over armour.
"My name is Alice," the girl says. "Or at least, it was when I woke up. I've changed so many times today that it might be something else entirely by now, and I'd hardly know!"
"Alice," Mirana says dreamily. "I thought you’d be older."
When the Jabberwocky swoops overhead Mirana is actually surprised, because she remembered this day a very long time ago and wasn't expecting it to be today. Today she's preoccupied, thinking about plans for crop improvement, and an expansion of her newest hedge-maze, and how easy it is to ignore the darkness when Tarrant's dancing ankles flash white and joyous in time with the music.
The screaming starts and she lifts a languid hand to shield her eyes, so as to have a better view, but then her horse bucks and by the time she steadies herself they're dashing into the shadows, away from the fire, away from a lot of chaos that probably means a coup.
They pause in the middle of the woods and Mirana slides down from her saddle, wondering at how tired she is for someone who hasn't actually been running at all. Her skirt catches on the metal of the stirrup and tears with a sound like buzzing insects.
"Time for tea," says the Hatter, looking down at where the horse's reins have carved red stripes into the flesh of his palm, but Mirana shakes her head.
"You go," she says. "I'll be along in a little while. Save me some sandwiches."
The journey to the other side of the kingdom doesn't take very long; Underland is no great prize, really. And nobody stops Mirana as she steps softly up the stairs and into an immaculate bedroom, the bed itself hung all around with scarlet cloth.
"What are you doing here?" snaps Iracebeth, who is holding Mirana's crown in hands that shake not at all, half-lifted towards her head. She lowers it and jerks away from the mirror like a child caught stealing tarts.
Mirana feels as though she's been bleeding to death her whole life, her pale-pale skin and the horrid tug towards the darkness and the way she can't stop thinking about berry jam staining her hands. She lives in level anticipation of the day she remembers her own end, and the only thing she fears is descending into her birthright.
"Reminding you, Iracee," she says. "That's all."
"Off with her --" Iracebeth yells, and Mirana sighs, "Honestly," and then there's a funny silence like a pendulum that’s forgotten to swing, and they look at each other for a while as a confused patrol of cards sidles into the room in response to the aborted command.
"Stay in your silly white castle," Iracebeth says finally. "I don't care. But this crown is mine, just as it was always meant to be, and Underland is mine, and everything will be bigger. Better. Mostly bigger. And I have an army, you know, so you can take all the butterflies you like -- you won't hurt me."
"I vow that I will never hurt another living creature," recites Mirana.
"Is that so? How will you protect yourself? How will you uphold justice in your false court?"
Mirana looks at her and thinks hard about little white birds with bones as thin as a kitestring, drifting up and happily away on airy winter currents. "I'll find a way."
The Red Queen smiles a small and unhappy smile.
"I rule here now, my sister," she says. "All the ways about here belong to me."