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.―You can never marry the princess, Dodge,‖ Sir Justice had explained, sympathetic, even a little proud that the princess had taken a liking to his son.―She will one day be your queen.You can show your affection by serving her to the best of your ability, but she has to marry someone from a suit family, and Jack of Diamonds is the only boy of proper rank close to her age.I‘m sorry, Dodge, but you and the princess…it‘s not in the cards.‖―I understand, Father.‖ But this had been only half true; Dodge‘s head understood, his heart did not.―Don‘t you have to practice any military exercises?‖ Alyss asked now.―I can always use more practice, my princess.‖―Stop calling me that.You know I don‘t like it.‖―I can never forget who and what you are, my princess.‖Alyss clicked her tongue.Sometimes Dodge‘s seriousness could be tiresome.―I have a new military exercise for you,‖ she said.―We must pretend we‘re enjoying ourselves at a party.Music is playing, there are mounds of delicious food, and you and I begin to dance.‖ She held out her hand.Dodge hesitated.―Come on.‖He put an arm around Alyss‘ waist and moved with her in gentle circles.He had never touched the princess before—not like this.She smelled of sweet earth and powder.It was a clean, delicate smell.Did all girls smell like this or only princesses? A potted sunflower in the corner of the room began to serenade them.―This isn‘t a military exercise,‖ he said, making a weak attempt to free himself.―I order you not to go anywhere.While we‘re dancing, Redd and her soldiers crash into the room.It‘s a surprise attack.People are screaming and running.People are dying.But you stay calm.You promise to protect me.‖―You know I‘d protect you, Alyss.‖ He felt warm all over and a little dizzy.He was holding the princess close.He could feel her breath on his cheek.He was the luckiest boy in the queendom.―And then you battle Redd and her soldiers.‖He didn‘t want to let her go, but he did, brandishing his sword.He jousted this way and that with his imaginary foes, spinning and ducking in imitation of Hatter Madigan, whose military workouts he often watched and studied.―And after many close calls,‖ Alyss narrated, ―your life in danger every second, you defeat the soldiers and stab your sword into Redd.‖Dodge looked the picture of intensity as he plunged his sword into the air where he envisioned Redd to be.He made a show of eyeing his handiwork, his vanquished foes littered on the ground before him.He returned his sword to its scabbard.―I‘m saved,‖ Alyss continued, ―but I‘m shaken by what I‘ve just witnessed.You calm my nerves by dancing with me.‖The sunflower in the corner again began to serenade.Without hesitation this time, Dodge took Alyss and spun her about the room.He had loosened up despite himself, despite what he knew his father would think of his behavior.He was reveling in feelings he should not have allowed himself to feel.―Will you be my king, Dodge?‖―If it pleases you, Princess,‖ he said, trying to be nonchalant, ―I—‖―You there, clean my boots!‖ a voice shouted from the corridor.―Servant, do my bidding!‖Dodge immediately stepped away from Alyss, stood stiffly to attention.―Wash my waistcoat, make my bed, powder my wig!‖ the voice shouted.Ten-year-old Jack of Diamonds, heir to the Diamond family estate, marched into the Issa Room.He stopped when he saw Alyss and Dodge.―What are you doing?‖ Alyss asked him.―I‘m practicing being a royal personage.What does it look like I‘m doing?‖Jack of Diamonds would have been a handsome boy if not for his bullying personality and for the fact that he had the biggest, roundest rear end in Wonderland.It looked like he carried an inflated cushion in the back of his trousers.He also had the silly pretension of wearing a long, white powdered wig because he‘d heard that the well-to-do in other worlds wore powdered wigs.He eyed the discarded box and ribbon on the floor.He eyed the jabberwock tooth hanging from Alyss‘ necklace.―The question is,‖ he said, ―what are you two doing?‖Neither Alyss nor Dodge answered.―Playing mushy, mushy love with the princess, are we?‖ He laughed and approached Alyss, touched the jabberwock tooth hanging at her throat.―Leave that alone,‖ Dodge warned.―Sweet Princess, when we‘re older and you‘re my wife, I‘ll give you presents of diamonds and more diamonds, not the rotten teeth of stupid animals.‖―Just go away,‖ Alyss pleaded.―Leave her alone,‖ said Dodge.―I mean it.‖Jack of Diamonds turned to face this son of a guardsman.He put a finger to his lips and pretended to be deep in thought.―Let me see now…ah, I‘ve got it.Eenie meenie miney moo, I‘m more important than you.‖Dodge flung out his fists and knocked Jack to the floor, left him splayed there with his wig askew, looking not at all like a person of high rank.Dodge braced himself for a fight, but Jack scrambled to his feet and ran out of the room and down the corridor toward the royal gardens.―We have to get out of here if we don‘t want to be in trouble,‖ Alyss said.―He‘ll tell his father on you [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]