Karen bustled about the house, collecting any mirrors she could and moving them into the attic. After moving her favorite large vanity mirror into the attic, she stopped and sat on a box. Her arm and leg had been miraculously cured days ago but weren't as strong as the others yet. She massaged her thigh then spotted movement in the corner of her eye. She whipped her head around to gaze at her reflection but didn't notice anything. After a moment she began to wonder.
"Harry told me to get rid of all of you… I put you on Craig's list but in the mean time; you have to be away from the family. What I want to know is why? Those phobophages came through mirrors, Harry says we can be spied on through mirrors… but seriously; why mirrors?" Karen put her hand on the mirror then saw her reflection wink, pressing her finger to her lips in a hushing gesture. Karen recoiled but the mirror image of her grabbed her hand and pulled her into the room. Everything seemed the same, just on the opposite side of where it belonged. Karen tried to go back into the mirror but couldn't, then the mirror image of her frolicked away. Karen screamed for help but was mildly concerned that what would come wouldn't be there to help.
She explored the house, testing each mirror, but none let her out. She spotted her mirror self from time to time, passing by, skipping around in a dress, playing with Maggie's toys. Karen went into Maggie's room and found it to be untouched. She was about to leave when some movement caught her eye. She looked down at Maggie's chess set, and then realized it was off somehow. Karen got onto her hands and knees to find the chess pieces looked like the fairy queens. The black queen was Mab, the king was Kringle, the knight was Harry, but there was a second queen that was Molly.
"What the hell. The chess pieces are all wrong." Karen grumbled. The white queen was wandering off the board while the white king scribbled a poem on a scroll using Fix's back as a table. She eyed the writing and rolled her eyes. "Either Lewis Carol has been here, or I'm asleep and thinking of Mirror House." Karen said to herself.
"Beware the Jabberwocky, my son!" Karen jumped, and then eyed the little Harry chess piece as he boredly recited the poem. "The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the jubjub bird and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!" he said up to Karen then smiled a wicked smile, made all the more frightening in his sharp gothic black plate mail and guy-liner. Karen watched him until she was gone from the room and left the house.
Outside was very different. She was back in the hedge maze from before, but it all seemed different though still recognizable as the same. Karen wandered the maze, and despite going in a path that shouldn't have brought her in a circle, she ended up in the same place. Eventually she resolved to go in a circular path and wound up at a large flowerbed where the flowers chattered obnoxiously.
"Hello, how do you do?" Karen asked. The roses turned to her, gave her a long evaluating look, and then turned away with a snooty "humph."
"Do what?" a daisy asked in a high-pitched voice that got annoying fast. She laughed just as obnoxiously, clearly pleased with her quip and other daises proceeded to chime in with possible answers in different but still shrill voices. "Grow? Quite beautifully!" "Blossom? Exquisitely!" "Sing? Harmoniously!" "Love? Full Heartedly!"
"Oh bother." Karen heard herself exclaim.
"Quiet, quiet you!" the Tiger Lilly exclaimed. "Damn little weeds!" she roared. "They act out because they know I can't reach them." She grumbled.
"Now listen here!" Karen shouted. "The lot of you better behave for tiger lily or I'll stomp on you!" Karen scolded. A long sudden silence stretched before a daisy remarked.
"Who's Have?" and they all erupted into shrill little cackles. Murphy climbed over the fence around the garden and trampled the daises with a sick satisfaction. They groaned in pain, but Karen actually had the restraint to not cause any serious damage. She found a path on the other side of the flowerbed within the garden.
"Barbaric!" A violet remarked.
"I'm in love!" a larkspur replied. Karen rolled her eyes.
"Thank you." Tiger Lilly said gratefully.
"Any time." Karen answered.
"Just you wait- just you wait till the white queen sees them!" the biggest rose threatened Karen. She cradled a rose bud defensively away from Karen in arms made of thorny branches.
"The white… Summer?"
"Yes of course. Winter can't very well tend us, we'd die!" another mother rose answered. Karen decided it was best to leave. When she left the fenced enclosure around the garden she was expecting to return to the maze but instead found herself atop a hill overlooking rolling hills and fields. One end had a Romanian looking castle made of black ice while the other end had a German fairytale castle made of smooth white stone as if it were carved out of a solid quartz mountain. Greens and whites and yellows crept up its walls, doubtlessly plants. After further examination Karen realized each part of the castles were pieces from a chess set. A grid formed from hedges full of green leaves on summer's side and black and thorny on winter's split the fields and hills.
The Pawns were towers along a curtain wall, each about half the diameter of the square and perfectly centered in it. The rooks were small towers on the outside flanks; the two knights didn't look at all like horses on Winter's side but square stables. On Summers side, they were glorious marble statues of rearing horses atop pedestals made of the same white quartz as the other structures.
The bishops were tall towers with steeples on both courts, though for Winter, they were the only steepled structures. Summer's Bishops looked much more like the pieces than Winter's. The King was a taller structure nearly identical to the Queens, though the Kings on both courts bore ornate architectural crowns around the roofs. Summer's Queen was steepled like a cathedral while Winter's Queen set herself apart with a balcony Karen had seen up close when she helped Harry save Molly.
"I know, it's breathtaking." The Winter Queen said from beside Karen. Karen spun and took up a defensive position instinctively. Mab's lips quirked into a smirk. "Do you like checkers?"
"Please, if you don't know what to say, just curtsey, it saves time." Mab snapped. "And always address me as your majesty."
"Yes your majesty." Karen curtseyed. "I like checkers but this is chess your majesty." Karen said, sweeping a hand at the board.
"Yes, and I'm terribly bored of it. If I could make it all a fun game of goofy golf, I'd be terribly pleased!" she looked at Karen who had nothing to say so she curtseyed. "Come along little friend!" Mab said and off she ran, dragging Karen behind her. Karen franticly kicked her legs beneath her, trying to keep up or at least keep from falling, as she was sure Mab would have just dragged her.
"The scenery is actually moving!"
"No, we are the ones moving silly girl!" Mab answered.
"But in the book-"
"Yes well Lewis always was an embellisher. Nothing seemed odd enough for him."
"Am I dreaming all of this, your majesty?" Karen asked. Mab looked back at her and tittered. At last they ended in front of Summer's curtain wall.
"Turkish delight?" Mab offered Karen.
"I think you're mincing your storybook queens…" Karen said, taking a Turkish delight out of courtesy. Mab laughed.
"Or maybe both are one and the same." She suggested. Before Karen could think at length about it, the queen continued. "You may only travel diagonally, skipping a space to take an enemy. Should you make it to my halls, I will pronounce you a queen!" she said excitedly. You will be granted two spaces unimpeded but soon after you shall meet my first pawns."
"Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum." Karen surmised. The Winter Queen bounced and clapped happily.
"Very good. After so, you shall meet with my knight, and then you would return to me!"
"I understand, your majesty." Karen said dipping with her back straight in another curtsey and with that Mab vanished. Karen trudged through the overgrown planes across the first space diagonally, spotting the unique insects she read about in the book. A tiny dragon, maybe three inches long with translucent insect wings fluttered by, puffing a bit of fire toward her. A bread and butterfly happened to be in a dive across her at the time so the bread was instantly bronzed by the fire. It spiraled out of the air and into Karen's hands, so out of sheer curiosity Karen took a bite. It was glorious bouncy fresh egg bread with sweet cream butter. She ate the two slices of toast and discarded the bug that joined them. It looked like it was molded of the same butter that had been spread on the bread but she wasn't curious enough to eat it.
The horseflies were fly sized horses with fly-like wings and they came in every horse breed with their wings varying in color length and width accordingly. Something bit Karen's ankle and she spotted the orange mane of a dandelion. It had a plant stock as the earth breed, but the flower looked like a lion's head though the mane was still made of petals.
She passed between two topiaries at the corner boundary and found herself in a forest. "This isn't the wood that loses your name, is it?" Karen thought aloud." Karen pointed at a tree. "That's a… oh my god. I can't remember what it's called!" Karen panicked and began to run in a straight path to the opposite corner of the square. She didn't want to lose her name. She liked it. Without a name, how could her loved ones address her? "I suppose they can call me by a title instead." She considered. "I can be called Mother. I always wanted to be called Mother. But being a mother seems so frightening. What if I'm bad at it, what if I don't like it? What if my child grows to hate me? What if my child… what if he or she dies too soon?" Karen cried as she ran. "Stop thinking like that. Maybe not mother, not yet. Maybe your majesty. You'll be queened at the end of this journey. Your family can just call you your majesty." Karen shook her head and spotted the archway made of two brick pillars overgrown with thorny brambles that formed a steepled archway to the next square. Then Karen spotted the curtain wall not far off. She just had to pass this square.
The next square was a short stone wall enclosed clearing in the woods. It framed a lovely little cottage in the very center with an overgrown tree that hung a swing big enough for two. There was a slide wide enough for two, and seesaw. Frolicking in the field was a fat little schoolboy with a limp boy identical to him on his back like they were having an ordinary piggyback ride.
"How do you do, boys? I assume you are Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum?" Karen asked. Every hair on her body stood on end as she got a better look at the boys. The limp one was quite clearly dead. The other boy stopped his skipping and dropped his twin then picked him up for a hug and draped his arms over himself to look like a casual pose.
"Good morning." The live one said. He then wiggled the other and gritted out the side of his mouth "contrariwise, it is awful hot for a winter morning." "But you must call us Tweedle now." He said normally "or your majesty. We have been queened." He said pupeting his dead brother.
"I'm Karen- IM KAREN! I know my own name!" Karen said astonished. She laughed then looked again at the dead child and began to cry.
"Don't cry, don't cry. Do you like poetry? I shall recite some poetry-"
"He's dead. Your brother is dead." Karen interrupted Tweedle at the start of 'the walrus and the carpenter.'
"Well the queen wanted to play checkers but we refused to be separated so she did us a favor and led us to the summer side, where one of us was killed then put on the other as a crown. Now we can be together always and we can move foreword and backward. How grand!" the live Tweedle hugged the corpse Tweedle. Karen ran, tears streaming down her face, to the next corner. A grand curling archway made room among the red tipped thorns to pass onto the stark dirt killing field at the base of the curtain wall.
"I wonder if I'll need to wear some dead fool on my head to be queen here?" Karen asked herself aloud.
"What a truly complex riddle that is!" a pompous voice shouted down to her from the wall. The man appeared to be an egg. No legs or arms like in the fairy tales, just an egg teetering on the edge of the wall.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Why sitting here to watch over the wall." He said proudly. "I was told this task by the queen herself. Now I am not too proud, to show it, you may touch me if you like. And you should never know another honor quite like it, to have touched a man who has been ordered a post by royalty."
"But aren't you afraid to fall?"
"If I needed to be afraid to fall, I could protect myself by merely being brave. I am not afraid, therefore I will not fall."
"Sound logic, I suppose. Oh, but be careful. If you fall from so high not even all the kings horses and all of his men will ever manage to put you together again." Karen called up.
"WHAT?" he asked. He began to shake, and sweat, and cry from his fear and sure enough, as he turned to get off safely he rolled backward, off the wall and his egg shell shattered at Karen's feet, splashing her with egg.
"He would have been fine had you not scared him." Harry tisked from behind Karen. Karen turned and looked at him with wet eyes. He sat in a black saddle atop a black lion in oil colored armor.
"I just killed him?"
"Hey, hey. Its okay. Its fine." He dismounted the lion to hold her but stepped back. "Ick, how about we get you out of those clothes?" he suggested. At that moment the white knight, Fix, had rode in on his beautiful unicorn. It was whiter than white with flowers braided into it's mane and tail that were both long enough to drag on the ground. Karen wondered how the crystal horned beast managed not to stumble and was answered when the unicorn tumbled. Fix recovered shakily and stumbled into Harry trying to throw a punch. Harry took it but it didn't seem to bother him. Fix grabbed him then retched on the ground and Harry rolled his eyes and punched him in the gut, making him puke some more.
"Harry!" Karen chided. Harry tossed Fix away from the vomit and ran after him, tumbling together to the ground. Karen fought the impulse to break them up. "They seem quite drunk."
"Well of course we're drunk. That's the rule!" Fix shouted at Karen.
"The knights have to be drunk when they fight each other in checkers." Harry said breathlessly, grinning ear to ear. Karen noticed belatedly he had the shine of someone plastered. He looked disturbingly attractive with raven hair, guy-liner, stubble, and tight black leather.
"Were you drunk when you made that rule?" Karen mumbled.
"Yes of course. It was made between my queen and the queen of darkness on one of their 'ladies nights.'" Fix slurred.
"They also decided on our clothing. Fix's billowing peasant top and white trousers, and my…" Harry added.
"Captain Hook costume?" Karen suggested. Harry looked down at himself and frowned. Of course, he hadn't watched TV since McHale's Navy.
"Well I'd say it was well fought wouldn't you?" Harry suggested to Fix.
"Well fought indeed."
"Then I shall take the woman prisoner." Harry said, leading Karen away. Fix nodded then passed out right there.
"Will he be okay?" Karen asked. Suddenly Harry wasn't drunk any more.
"He'll be fine." Harry said, leading her through one of the pawns into a courtyard layered with snow. She was led into the knight which was a big block, through a stable, up a spiral stairway, into a small hallway, then to a room with a massive bed with furs piled on it and four ornate black posterns that tipped in horse heads like nine foot long Knight pieces. The floor was stark white with color changing marbling marbled into it. The swirls passed from gold to green to purple to red and back depending on the light and angle.
There was a separate room with just enough wall to be considered a wall and decorated with an overly wide archway. In the toilet room, the shower stall was spacious, there was a massive crystal bath tub in it's own room from the toilet and the sink was crystal set in black stone that was marbled with all the colors of a raven's wings. The floor tile was checkered at an angle, the walls were stark white but the domed ceilings all had skies painted on them. The bath tub room had sun rise, the toilet had mid day, the bedroom had midnight, and the space set apart from the bedroom that held the armchair, fire place, and bow flex machine had sunset. Karen surveyed the room and understood. "This is your place?"
Harry shrugged. "This is the Winter Knight's place. Id prefer more textures on the walls and floor and a couple book shelves but it's a warm bed," he said holding the new clothes he found for her but not handing them to her. "It's a very warm and comfortable bed," he added huskily. Karen blushed and snatched the clothes… a shawl and a number of pins. She threw it across herself diagonally, wrapped it around herself then pinned it then threw the slack over her other shoulder and pinned that. It was still marginally see through but more functional that way. Harry nodded in approval as he watched her dress. "Maybe later then." He remarked as he crooked his elbow to lead her to the queen.
"You're different than usual. Cocky. Its how I know its not you. Not my Harry."
"You aren't wrong… I'm not your Harry…" Harry led Karen to the throne room. "I'm Mab's Harry." He said wiggling his brows.
"It's a rule… you have to be the way she wants you to be while playing her game. And as a rule it's like a law of nature. You can't fight it…" Karen looked at Harry's knowing face and confident smirk. "Your fight. You two were only drunk while you fought. Fix, I mean. You were sober once you called truce."
"Don't start talking like a fairy now."
"Why not? Understand, I'm not going to be human forever… it may be tomorrow, it may be next week- hell I'm a wizard, I'll live long enough it might be 100 years from now. The mantle needs to be given to a human… but the bearer needn't remain human under it." Harry bowed to Karen and gestured for Karen to move foreword. Karen walked up to the queens where both sat in ornate thrones flanking a simple one. Both queens gestured to the center throne so Karen curtseyed and sat in it.
"Before you are made queen we must ensure you are qualified."
"You mean A-B-Cs and Arithmetic's."
"Nonsense girl, we mean judgment and leadership." Tatiana said sternly.
"She read your lad's books. Its no wonder she has no senses." Mab smirked.
"Lewis, dear boy. Nothing was strange enough for him. As I recall you terrified him to the bones."
"Terrifies me." Karen mumbled.
"Queens don't mumble dear… and thank you." Mab winked at Karen.
"If I am made queen must I wear a dead body as a crown like Tweedle?" Karen asked enunciating.
"Heavens no. Tweedle isn't of royal blood." Mab answered.
"You bore the sword of Faith. Only decedents of the true royal bloodlines are qualified." Titania said soothingly.
"I broke it."
"But you wielded it."
"The white god, to bring order to humanity, sired your progenitors. He created three royal bloodlines that instated Christianity firmly at the rule of society. He drew power away from our kind, and created superstitions to protect mortals from us." Mab continued.
"Wait like Jesus?"
"Well marginally more successful than Jesus dear, but yes, like Jesus." The queen of Summer answered.
"Royal families are descended from God?"
"No, no, not all of them. Some were just people who were more charismatic, richer, or more violent than the others." Titania clarified.
"But three bloodlines were royal because the white god willed it." Mab explained.
"And I'm from one of them."
"The Irish one, yes- well more likes Swedish to be honest. But it all happened in Ireland. There's a bit of Fay in you as well, the wee folk to be sure." To that, Harry snorted from where he knelt opposite of Fix, both facing the thrones of their queens.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"There's nothing gained or lost by this information. Its conversation." Mab answered.
"You were born for a reason, we think. We see it sometimes." Titania explained.
"This tiny human, mortal, fragile… but so much potential."
"We wish to offer you to be Queen."
"You mean made into one of you… should you die, Molly or Sarissa will become one of you, and then I'll be put in their place." Karen said slowly. "If it happens in my lifetime, that is."
"Oh, don't you worry about your lifetime dear." Mab replied.
"We've already seen that far." Titania finished.
"I do hope you are fated for winter."
"She was born in the spring."
"But my knight is quite fond of her."
"He won't be capable of love and fondness for long."
"That hurts sister. Winter is cold but not unfeeling."
"Then why does one go numb when they are too cold."
"It's a mercy. Your fire heightens the senses as it kills. When a burn victim goes numb it is because they are already dead. Their mind just hasn't given up on them yet. Numbness should be a gift. A chance to bully through what would normally hurt too much to endure in order to survive. My court is cold to protect us from the hurt of our responsibilities."
"I'd rather feel the hurt. If I had to kill, id rather feel bad about it. If I lost empathy, if I went numb, other things I did wouldn't seem so bad either. Theft lies, rape, torture. They would be okay. I don't want them to be okay. I'd do what I had to do for mankind, but I'd rather feel bad about it if it was wrong." The queens looked at each other over Karen's head. Fix looked at Harry then at Karen.
"Maybe she would be a good knight."
"She would make a good morning too." Harry mumbled.
"She's perfect for Queen. Better than my new Maeve. To be queen one must make a good mother too. The Ladies we have now don't… suit that life well."
"If I may…" Karen began. "I'd prefer to go back through the mirror than stay and rule anything. I was a boss before. I got fired. Clearly I failed your examination."
"Very good leadership."
"Not so good judgment."
"She is biased by self loathing and regret. A human trait, it won't last long once she is queen."
"She did answer quite wisely so far."
"Yes child, return through the mirror."
"Just like that? Where is it?" Karen asked.
"In the attic where you stuffed it so we couldn't see into your home."
"My knight is clever." Mab nodded. Karen pointed up and lifted her brows at the Queen of air and darkness. She lifted her brows back. Karen tilted her head in a gesture of conceit and hefted herself out of the throne and ran to the tower. Up and up until she reached the top and found a hatch like the one to her attic which she pulled and ascended the ladder to reach an attic -the mirror image of her own. She found the proper mirror and her reflection looking bitterly back at her. Karen shut her eyes and rushed through then turned and the reflection was just that.
A sound made Karen flinch and spin, crouching into a defensive position. A box rattled, then light feeble mews reached her ears. Karen pushed through the boxes of things she couldn't give up, mostly things belonging to her father that she knew he loved, and found a bed made of old shirts and quilts where a big prissy white cat stood protecting her babies. One looked just like Mister, too big and all gray. One was pure white, the other two had patterns of both.
"You let your cat roam around all the time without neutering him?" Karen silently swore at Harry. "Well I didn't either, did I? Fine, I won't be mad. Come, here, honey, I won't hurt you…" Karen laughed. "I think I'll name you Dinah." Karen gathered the kittens gently and led Dinah out of the attic.