Chapter 23: Journey's End
"Long, long journey out of nowhere,
long, long way to go;
but what are sighs and what is sadness
to the heart that is coming home?"
The one thing he'd forgotten about was the four inch frame surrounding the large mirror. Mirana had remembered and had set up a ledge at the base that met up with the bottom of the actual mirror. Fred walked through, Lizzie safely in his arms, and the footman Mirana had set to keep watch left to alert her of their presence. He sat down, still holding Lizzie, making sure the cloak was wrapped around her tightly. Fred raised her up so that her head rested beneath his chin. He buried his face in her hair, breathing in her scent. It was then that it hit him – how close he had come to losing her. He closed his eyes and concentrated instead on her being there, with him in his arms in Underland, before his emotions could get the best of him.
Mirana entered the room a few minutes later, followed by Alice, Tarrant, and two other women that he recognized as healers but didn't remember their names. He had almost forgotten that he and Lizzie were only about two inches tall. Mirana knelt down to his level.
"They gave her something," he said. "I don't know how long she's been asleep, but I've only felt her awake once since yesterday morning."
Mirana placed her hand beside him, palm up. "We'll take care of her, Freddie. She'll be fine." Fred didn't make any motions of letting her go. "You need to give her to me," Mirana said, softly. "I can't help her here, and you haven't slept in two days."
"I'm fine, I'll come with you."
"No," she said, sternly, "you will not. You'll either sleep voluntarily or I can find something to knock you out. I'll stay with her myself - Alice, as well." Alice nodded an affirmative. "I give you my word that no more harm will come to her. She'll be here when you wake up."
Still reluctant to let her go, Freddie lay Lizzie in the queen's outstretched hand, and she and the healers left the room, taking the tiny Lizzie with them. Alice handed Fred two large crumbs of upelkuchen which he ate and returned to his normal size.
Tarrant put his arm around Fred's shoulders. "Come on little brother, you look like you might walk into a wall if you don't lay down soon," he lisped.
"Don't talk like that to me – you sound like ma'," he complained. Tarrant pushed him out the door towards his room.
Six hours later, Freddie found Mirana. "I slept. Where is she?"
Mirana looked him over disapprovingly. "She's sleeping – normal sleep," she corrected, quickly. "You've walked all over Underland, dug out a rabbit hole, and wandered around in Lizzie's world. You're not seeing anyone until you're more presentable than you are now. I'll have a bath drawn for you. Get cleaned up and then come see me."
Fred rolled his eyes. "Yes, your Majesty."
"Don't patronize me. You're a mess."
Fred left and headed for the men's lavatory, sulking, though he knew Mirana was right. He cleaned up and dressed, but stopped as he passed the mirror. He ran his hands through his damp hair. It was strange to see himself - he'd spend decades never making a reflection at all. Now, he was real again. He was home. Lizzie woke and he smiled as he felt her presence once again. She was here, in his world – real, not just a dream anymore. He sensed her confusion, but someone must have been there with her because he was suddenly flooded with happiness through her.
["Where are you?"] she thought to him.
["I'm coming, but I have to find you first."]
["There's an apple tree out the window."]
["There's apple trees all around us."]
["I can see the front gate from the window."]
["That helps. I'm coming."] He ran to the eastern wing and wondered if maybe she was in the same room she'd been in before. It was an easy find – he just looked for the room with the footmen outside it. As he approached the door, one of them turned inside, and Alice came out with him and closed the door behind her. She smiled when she saw Freddie.
"You look better," she quipped. She walked off down the hallway, leaving him alone with the footmen standing guard outside.
His hand felt sweaty as he turned the doorknob. He opened it a crack and peered in. She was standing in front of the window, turned away from him, looking out. Her hair was long again he noticed and she wore a cream colored dress with gold and silver trim.
["You look like an angel."]
She spun around, beaming at him. "Fred..."
He crossed the room and wrapped her in a fierce embrace.
"Am I still dreaming or am I really here?" she asked.
He leaned back to look her in the eyes. "You're really here, Lizzie. Whole and completely – here." He ran his fingers through her hair. "How do you feel?" he asked.
"I feel fine," she said. "I feel like I've missed something, but no different otherwise."
"Do you remember what happened?"
She looked away worriedly and shook her head. "The last thing I remember is walking home from the bus stop."
"That's alright," he said. "I'm sure nothing happened that you'd want to remember anyway."
"That bad, huh?"
He shrugged. "Well, the Mega-beast and Fart-pants know I'm real now. Maybe they'll sign up for a group counseling session."
"You'll have to tell me the story...later." She leaned into him and kissed him passionately, pulling him closer to her.
Fred pulled back and grinned at her. "I don't think this is the time or the place for this," he said, nodding towards the footmen and the open door. "Besides, there's something to be taken care of before something steals you away from me again."
She shook her head. "Never again," she vowed.
"Let's hope not." He took her hand, pulling her after him. "Come on, we have to find my brother."
"Why do we need your brother?"
Fred led Lizzie though the halls of Marmoreal until they stopped outside Tarrant's workshop. Freddie banged on the door. Something crashed to the floor inside and a curse in some language Lizzie couldn't understand erupted from within. The door finally flew open. Tarrant looked at the two of them, confused and a bit...unkempt.
"Is there somethin' I can help ya wit'?"
"Are you havin' a problem," Freddie asked, peering around the door, "or can we come in?"
"Do you need a hat?"
"It's a personal matter."
Tarrant sighed and opened the door completely. Alice, looking a bit flushed, greeted them as they entered.
Fred looked at his brother and then at Alice, realizing belatedly that he might have interrupted something. Ah, well, too late now, he thought. "Good," he said, pointing to Alice, "she can be a witness."
"A witness to what?" Tarrant asked, suspiciously.
"We need you to marry us."
"What! I'm not qualified for that. I'm happy for ya', but go talk t' Mirana."
"No way," said Fred, "she'll make us wait a month and fuss over everything. You're the clan elder, you can do a handfasting."
"I'm not an elder."
Freddie was prepared for all his arguments. "You and I are the only one's left and you're older, so I hereby proclaim you the clan elder. Congratulations...now stop griping and marry us."
"I don' have a proper ban t' bind yer hands with."
"That's just traditional. You can use anything." He went over to the curtains. They were the same style as in all the rooms. He untied the red cord that held them back and pulled it out. "Here," he said, tossing it to Tarrant.
Lizzie laughed. "I suppose that's appropriate," she said as Fred grinned at her. Tarrant decided he really didn't want to know why.
"Fine, but I'll hav t' find th' book. I don' know what I'm supposed t' say."
"Good grief, Tarrant, didn't ya' go to enough of them when we were growing up to remember? It's not that complicated," he said as his brother sifted through dusty tomes, looking for the right one.
"Some of us had better things to do than memorize poetry. Here it is, give me a minute t' look at it."
"Hear that, Lizzie? We have one minute."
"We shouldn't waste it."
Fred took her in his arms and kissed her soundly. "Got it yet?" asked Fred.
"Aye...would ya' stop that!" Tarrant glanced quickly over the page. "This isn't really a proper ceremony with only one witness, so I suppose we can skip all the introductions."
"Just read the important parts," complained Fred, impatiently. He smiled at Lizzie.
["You still want to do this, right?"]
She bit her lip and grinned at him. ["Yes, of course I do. I can't very well have someone else stealing you away."]
["That wouldn't happen...We've been through a lot together, haven't we?"]
["Yes, we have – but that's just the beginning."]
Fred pulled the small wooden box from his pocket and removed the two silver rings inside.
"I though you'd lost those," said Tarrant.
Fred glared at him. "What do you take me for – an idiot?" He handed the larger one to Lizzie. "Put your promise ring on your other hand," he told her as he did the same.
"Pay attention," said Tarrant. "I'm only doin' this once. In fact, we'll just do this t' fast way an' y' can both repeat it at th' same time. Put th' rings on each others fingers." Tarrant read from the book and Lizzie and Fred repeated him together after each line.
"Just as this circle is without end, my love for you has no end.
Just as the ring endures, my commitment to you will never fail.
With this ring I take you to be my trusted confidant and partner for life."
He picked up the red cord. "Um...okay, I think ya' join yer left hands together."
"Don't sound so excited." said Fred, sarcastically. He took Lizzie's hand in his.
Tarrant glanced up at him. "I'm doin' m' best. I can find Mirana if ya' like." Tarrant tied their hands together with the cord. "Ya' ken yer sposed' t' keep it tied 'till..."
"Just get on with it."
"Alright...after me again, like last time...
Today I recognize you as my soul-mate
And ask that you become a part of me, in sacred kinship.
With you, I have lost all fear and have found the greatest courage.
I have learned to love and let myself be loved.
With you, I have found a rhythm of grace and gracefulness.
Love has reawakened in my life; a rebirth; a new beginning.
With you I am understood,
I am home. "
Lizzie smiled at Fred. [I am home.]
He rested his forehead against hers. [Yes, you are.]
[It's been a long journey.]
[Yes, it has.]
Neither Fred nor Lizzie noticed Alice slip from the room into the corridor.
"Almost done," said Tarrant. He turned the page in the book and read:
"Made to measure, wrought to bind,
blessed be, these lives entwined.
What you have here done together with one another, let no one break apart.
May you be blessed with health, prosperity, and fruitfulness,
from this day forth and forevermore.
So may it be."
Tarrant looked up. "Congratulations. Now go kiss yer bride...somewhere else."
Fred pulled Lizzie, her hand still bound with his, out the door. News somehow traveled faster than average in Marmoreal, and if Mirana found him now, Freddie knew he'd never hear the end of it.
["Where are we going?"] asked Lizzie.
["I don't know, yet, but if Mirana finds us, we're never gonna get any peace."]
They rounded the corner to the upstairs section where Fred's room was – and saw two footmen and a courtier waiting by his door.
"Why do we have to stay here in the castle?" Lizzie asked.
Fred turned to her, a slow smile spread across his face. "Where do you want to go?"
"I don't care...wherever you are."
He thought for a minute. "Come on, let's see if we can make it to the door."
They left the castle by the service entrance and ran down towards the door, only to find two courtiers stationed in the vicinity (Mirana couldn't see the door, but she knew where it was). Fred led Lizzie around the north side of the castle. There was one other door that was close to them – he just didn't want to use it. Oh, hell, he thought, at least Lizzie was with him. Surely it wouldn't be as bad as if she wasn't.
["There's another door, close to the rear of the castle."]
["Lead the way."]
They made it to the woods behind the castle and after another fifteen minutes or so of walking, Lizzie saw the door carved into the tree.
"That's really neat how it's part of the tree," she said, "who do you think made the doors?"
Fred looked at her, confused. "You can see it?"
"Did I forget to tell you that? Yeah, ever since we used the promise rings."
"Well that makes things interesting."
She opened it up and stepped through – into a field of wheat nearly as tall as her shoulders. There was nothing as far as her eyes could see, save a small clump of trees far to her left. She turned to Fred and was surprised by the expression on his face. He looked...haunted. He glanced around quickly, as though expecting something to pounce out at him. Something he'd told her came to her mind. Her heart began to pound in her chest. The wheat field...the trees far off...his expression.
"Freddie," she said quietly, "where are we?"
"We're in Queast," he whispered.
She walked over and stood in front of him. "This was the door, wasn't it? This is that place."
He knew what she meant. "Yes." He closed his eyes and sighed. "There's nothing but bad memories in this place."
"Then maybe we should stop here," she said, running her unbound hand through his hair.
He opened his eyes and looked at down at her. "And do what?"
She tilted his face down to hers. "And make some better memories..."
Her kiss was all the convincing he needed.
A/N: I want to thank each of you who have read this story for the time you have taken out of your schedule. This was the first fanfiction that I wrote...oh so many years ago! Although it's been a long time, please consider leaving feedback for me. Just a short note warms my heart. If you would like to read more professional writing by me, please consider journeying over to my Dukes of Hazzard fanfiction. There's no need to be a follower/fan of the show, as my stories are considerably darker and more realistic than the series itself. Not really "good ol boys" fanfic - my main character is Deputy Enos Strate.