"I wish Father was here."
"He's due back form Boarderland at any moment," said Queen Genevieve. "But since the rest of Wonderland is here, I suggest you try to enjoy yourself for their sake. That's interesting, don't you think?"
They watched as a man floated down from the sky with what looked like a hollow mushroom cap strapped to his back.
"It's pretty good, I suppose," said Alyss, "but it'd be better if it were furry."
And with that, the mushroom contraption was suddenly covered with fur, its inventor falling to the ground with a thump.
Queen Genevieve frowned.
"He's late," Alyss said. "He promised he'd be here. I don't understand why he had to make a trip so close to my birthday."
There were reasons, as the queen well knew. Intelligence had indicated that they may have already waited too long. Unconfirmed reports suggested Redd was growing more powerful, outfitting her troops for an attack, and Genevieve was no longer sure that her military could provide adequate defense. She was as keen as Alyss for King Nolan's return, but she had determined to enjoy the day's festivities.
"Ooh, look at that," she said, pointing at a woman wiggling as she walked so as to keep a large hoop swinging round and round her waist." That looks diverting."
"It'd be more fun if it had fountains of water coming out of it," Alyss said, and immediately the hoop was spurting water from tiny holes all along its surface, the surprised inventor still wiggling to keep it swinging round and round.
"Birthday or not, Alyss," Queen Genevieve said, "I don't think it's nice to show off."
The fur on the first-ever parachute vanished. The fountains of water on the newly invented hula hoop dried up. The power of Alyss' imagination had made them appear and disappear. Imagination was an important part of life in Wonderland, and Alyss had the most powerful imagination ever seen in a seven year-old Wonderlander. But as with any formidable talent, Alyss' imagination could be used for good or ill, and the queen saw mild reasons for concern. Hardly one revolution of the Thurmite moon had passed since Alyss' last incident: Impatient with young Jack of Diamonds for some childish indiscretion, she's imagined his trousers filled with slick, squiggling gwormmies. Jack of Diamonds had said he "felt something funny," looked down, and saw that his trousers were moving, alive. He'd been having nightmares ever since. Alyss claimed not to have done it on purpose, which may or may not have been true, Genevieve couldn't tell. Alyss didn't yet have full control of her imaginative powers, but the girl would say anything to get out of trouble.
"You will be the strongest queen yet," she told her daughter. "Your imagination will be the crowning achievement of the land. But Alyss, you must work hard to develop it according to the guiding principles of the Heart dynastylove, justice, and duty to the people. An undisciplined imagination is worse than no imagination at all. It can do more harm. Remember what happened to your aunt Redd."
"I know," Alyss said sulkily. She had never met her aunt Redd, but she'd heard storied about the woman for as long as she could remember. She didn't bother trying to understand it all; it was historyboring boring boring. But she knew that to be like her aunt Redd wasn't good.
"Now that's enough lecturing for one princess' birthday," Queen Genevieve said. She clapped her hands and the parachute and hula hoop passed into the Heart Crystal, much to the joy of their inventors.
An empty pair of King Nolan's boots floated out from behind the balcony door and began to dance in front of the brooding princess.
Excerpted from The Looking Glass Wars, Copyright (c) 2006, Frank Beddor. Reproduced with permission of the publishers. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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