The Girl and The Dragon
by Roaming Tigress
It had been some time since Alice had seen the one that scared most of Wonderland -- Jabberwock, and she was worried about him. The others went about their day, seemingly without a thought to the beast that lived in the land of perpetual darkness. She didn't blame them -- he had a tendency to be moody, and his sheer size made him especially frightening when he was feeling particularly grumpy. Somehow, aside from when he had that spell of wanting Benny Bunny for rabbit stew, she was never as frightened of him as everyone else.
The last time Alice encountered the dragon was when the Queen of Hearts' castle came crashing down in his rage. She had never seen him in such fury, and she was certain that nobody else had. Usually at the most Jabberwock would come out of his castle and yell if his sleep was interrupted from squabbling, sleep deprived fellow Wonderlanders, and occasionally chase down the odd visitor who stole his flowers or foiled his plans for making rabbit stew. This something deeply personal that cut right to the bone, something that brought out feral, primal rage to the top.
Alice's presence had calmed him right down when she arrived the ruins of the castle, and just in the nick of time; with one stomp of his foot, Wonderland may have been without one of its Royal families had she not. Perhaps it was her lack of fear for him that caused him to respect her; and through his grumpiness . . . It appeared he was rather fond of the girl.
Alice was minded by her parents to check in on those who lived on their own. Maybe they were ill, or hurt, or . . .
Alice took the shortest route through the woods, trying to comfort Benny Bunny from clinging so hard to her arm, petting him behind his ears. He knew the direction she was heading to and always became uncomfortable when they headed down towards the direction of that craggy trail leading to that castle perched precariously at the very edge of the cliff.
"It's okay, Benny Bunny. I won't let him eat you. Think he's given up on that, ever since the third go at you. The Cook made some of that stew up for him. I think she took a bit of pity on him but it did rid himself of his appetite for you."
The idea of the dragon still eating rabbit stew or even the thought of that particular dish in itself caused Benny Bunny's eyes to widen. His owner wasn't particularly tactful and he often had to act as a filter of sorts to her.
She put a hand to her mouth, when she realized what she had said. "Sorry."
Alice shook her head, holding him closer as they ventured deeper into the Misty Forest. Now and then she jumped a bit at the unexpected sounds of the various creatures which called the forest their home. The bizarre Mome Raths, the badger-like Tove, the Borogoves, all lived here, along with some less fantastical animals; owls, tree frogs, foxes and the like, that she was more familiar with at home. There was something strangely, eerily beautiful about the forest, almost sacred. The branches of the trees almost seemed to create their own music, with the wind blowing the branches and vines.
"You remember when we reactivated the volcano, to bring back the hot springs and to heat the water in the river. Never saw his mouth water once when he looked at you. He was moody but he did as I told him and at the end we both got the job done." She paused in thought.
"We both gave one another company that none of us might have had that day. Everyone was busy with their washing."
Alice had to smile a bit, finding gentle amusement at the thought of such a massive creature minding her. True he was eager to get warm water again, but he could have blown her away with one strong, smoky snort. If she discussed it with her father he was sure to tell her it was probably something to do with the mind. Perhaps, Jabberwock wasn't as unreasonable as The Blue Caterpillar had warned her and could be willing to cooperate.
As the clearing at the back of the woods started to come into view, Benny Bunny turned around, hiding his face against her. He shook a bit, but he calmed somewhat again when the sound of Alice's heart beating soothed him, and looked up at his young owner, but not around.
"Just a little bit to go. You don't have to turn around if you don't want to."
Alice minded her footing on the grassy knoll which lead down towards the pathway to the castle. There had been a rain earlier in the day and the grass was still slick, the pathway well-worn from the castle's mysterious inhabitant and the brave souls which dared to come up that pathway. She stumbled for a moment on a stone but regained her footing and they were soon on their way towards the castle, which dark clouds always loomed over.
"Y-you sure he won't eat me?"
"I won't let him."
The wind was heavy, and for a moment Alice thought her red hat would blow away, sending it tumbling down the ravine into scrub land below which was home to the odd little Screw Mice. She jumped a bit from unexpected lightning strike and she quickened her pace, thinking it was going to storm again.
"There he is . . . " Alice whispered, almost to himself, as the second strike of lighting revealed his long, large head sticking out from a window, facing the east, his chin rested on the window ledge where a window seemed it should be, but wasn't. He remained in place there, as she came up the pathway, only an ear twitching towards her as if acknowledging it was her without looking.
Jabberwock seemed glum, in thought, maybe. To be fair it wasn't unheard of for him to be in a state of reminiscing in Alice's experience, thinking back to the old days, and perhaps that was what he was doing. Alice frowned, though, her concern for him only growing. Was he sick? Normally he would grump at her, his usual way of greeting her or anyone who came up to the castle.
As the girl came closer, looking up at up, Jabberwock sighed, still not moving his head. "You may come up, Alice."
She nodded, patting Benny Bunny on the head and soon made her way up into the castle. As she came in, Alice was greeted by the scent of a recently burning fireplace, curry and chicken that had wafted from the kitchen. Knowing his talents for gourmet food, the kitchen being what seemed to be his favorite place in all of Wonderland,, undoubtedly as good as it smelled.
"Third level, bedroom . . . "
Alice came up the winding staircase as directed, looking down at Benny Bunny as he looked up at her. "I don't think he'd be up to eating you now." She whispered.
"He sounds . . . Sad."
Benny Bunny still kept on a bit of a state of alert, though calmed some. If he had wanted to eat him he would have snatched him up by now; for as big as the dragon-chimera was, he could move surprisingly fast as he knew all too well. He still kept a tight hold onto Alice as she came into the door frame, where he looked in wide-eyed wonder as he saw his former adversary lying on the floor, on his side, his head still propped out the window.
"Come right in, your pet's safe. I've just eaten." There was a slight lift in Jabberwock's deep voice, suggesting he smiled a bit. He let out another sigh and before he finally brought his head back inside, just in time, as it had started to rain again and quite suddenly and hard.
Alice stepped into his spacious bedroom, without apparent fear and she set her pet down, minding his fear. He followed her in, but stayed close to the door for the moment. Being the curious girl that she was, Alice did take a look around her as she came over to Jabberwock, taking in the vaguely medieval theme that he had going for him, the huge bed, and the paintings that hung on the wall. There was a lady dragon, green, with a lock of blond hair coiling down her forehead, by the bedside. For a dragon, at least, she was rather pretty. She had no idea . . .
"That was my princess." Jabberwock smiled a bit sadly, though there was much pride to his voice. "My Hannah. Pretty, wasn't she? She was terribly shy when we first met, as was I. We met up with each other on our way to the hot pools, met up with me halfway, by the river. She stopped to look at some water lilies and I was captivated. Accidentally spooked the poor girl when I suddenly appeared across from her. She wondered who's handsome face my reflection belonged to." He paused, blushing a bit, remembering those words so many years ago.
"'Who's handsome face is looking at me?' Handsome, not a word I don't hear being used too often for me, but she thought I was devilishly handsome. I was quite a bit thinner back then and my mane a bit shorter and a few less lines around my eyes."
Alice would lie if she didn't agree with the other Wonderlanders that he was homely, ugly even. Even for a dragon, or what she suspected a mixed array of creatures that made up his genetic background, she did find him peculiar looking. She could create a small novel in describing his appearance.
Jabberwock took on a (very well fed) dragon's body and neck with comically small wings that couldn't possibly support his weight if he tried to fly. His scaly hide, lavender with white accenting his round belly, throat and inside his horselike ears that heard every sound imaginable. There were prominent incisors coming out from his upper, overshot jaw that where distinctively rodent or rabbit's, and the thought of that made it bizarre that he wanted to eat her pet. His horns looked like they were take off of some poor antelope, set sweeping back on a long, large vaguely equine head that was accented by single whiskers in front of nostrils that blew off smoke when he was feeling particularly cranky. His eyes tended to take on a weary expression by default, and never lied about the mood he was in.
Yet now, Alice felt a bit guilty. She was minded by her parents to not judge on appearance alone and while he was certainly rough around the edges, she couldn't help but to feel for him. "She sounds very lovely." She smiled warmly, finding his passion for his beloved Hannah to be so endearing. With that moodiness of his, she never pictured him in love with someone.
Jabberwock nodded, and swallowed unexpectedly hard. His voice shook a bit, and he blinked rapidly.
"I'm sorry . . . " Alice spoke quietly, and to the shock of Benny Bunny who had settled in quite quietly by her side, she reached a hand up a bit, causing the small white rabbit to protest.
"Alice, you really shouldn't -- "
Alice shook her head, and leaned down to give Benny a pat on the head. "It's okay, Benny Bunny."
With that, Alice brought her hand up to him again, slightly shaking with a degree of caution with how he might react, she softly touched a scaly cheek and stroked in the same way as she just patted her rabbit. While she did so, she noted a few scales were missing, maybe a fight with another cantankerous creature or getting scraped up in the forest. He was warmer to the touch than she thought he would be; living in that old castle, she thought he'd be frigid.
Instead of snapping at Alice, which for a moment she was afraid of, Jabberwock closed his eyes at her touch, leaning into it. He was mindful of how powerful he was and did so carefully, gently even, not wanting to send the girl careening across the room. He hadn't had much in the way of positive physical contact for some time; he had almost forgotten what it was like. It felt . . . Nice, comforting.
"We almost married. But . . . " Jabberwock tried not to let tears fall, but they came anyways and he wiped them away with a claw as he lowered his head, closing his eyes again as he felt a hand move through his thick, wiry mane, a whiffle escaping as she felt Alice touching the base of an ear. It was such a funny little sound of contentment, that she almost couldn't believe came out of such a huge animal. He trusted her, more than any Wonderlander, visitor or permanent resident, and trusted she wouldn't mock him and felt secure in telling her a little about his mysterious life. He figured that being as young as she was, there was the chance she might tell the others but he wouldn't hold it against her.
"She died. Very suddenly. Ill one moment and then . . . Gone. She was so vibrant, laughed so much, never took life too seriously or herself for that matter. Just wanted happiness and the patter of little dragon feet. Liked to boss me about now and then and I didn't mind, as long as she was happy. Oh, did she ever make my heart stir . . . "
Alice frowned, and spoke quietly, heart sunk. "I'm sorry . . . "
"No need to be." Jabberwock shook his head, a slight smile upon his face as he came into a state of nostalgia. "I think you would have liked her. Took pleasure in everything, always curious about everything, now and then got into trouble for it, but managed to find a way out. You two might have gotten up to some trouble."
Jabberwock paused, as more of her empathy for him sank in. "I . . . Don't like visitors much, as you might know, many people come to gawk at me or judge me, but I want to thank you for . . . Caring about me. I'm sure the others think you're brave, coming up here, socializing with the most feared in Wonderland."
Alice shook her head. "It's good to have a friend, Jabberwock. Everyone needs one."
"Friend . . . " He almost whispered to himself.
Aside from Alice, Jabberwock's social circle had long been quite small. He was on friendly terms with the equally mysterious Cheshire Cat; sometimes they'd share trade secrets involving magic. He was quite fond of the Guardian of The Trees who calmed him with a tune of his flute. Now and then he would stop and chat with the elusive Gryphon whom he sometimes met in the woods, and he'd have the odd mock knight-and-dragon match for fun with Don Fernando, much to the worry of his horse, Wanderer. Occasionally, though he respected the work the forester did, he would troll him now and then, along with his cousin.
Being introverted and not anti-social per-se, Jabberwock would show for the odd social events in which he would usually scare others inadvertently and create an awkward situation. To Alice's admittance, though, he did always liven things up when he did so. The yearly roll calls were another event he would attend, and he would always check out the newcomers to the land. Alice was one of them; both her and Benny Bunny slid down his back when he placidly leaned his head over the balcony to check out the newcomer, terrifying the Queen of Hearts in doing so. Once the Queen held a beauty contest for her subjects, and though he had an idea he wouldn't have a shot, he good naturally came anyways, as self-conscious as he felt once he made his way on stage.
Other than making these fairly rare appearances in Wonderland Proper, past the woods, Jabberwock plunged most of his free time into his hobbies. Famously, the enjoyed gourmet cooking, creating recipes and researching others. He daubed in magic now and then, mostly for fun. At least once a week he came out for a soak in the hot pools, sometimes coinciding with his supply runs; he was so happy when those made their return.
"Yes. Nobody should be on their own." Alice frowned. "Of course, if you don't want me as a friend, I'll leave -- "
There was a weary look upon the dragon's face still, he often had that look, but that tiny smile grew a bit more.
"No. No . . . That'd be quite fine." Jabberwock spoke quietly, touched by this. He then flattened his ears back, tracing a claw back around his mane, untangling a mat as he took on a bit of an expression of shame.
"As a . . . Friend, I do want to apologize for how I acted back then. With smashing the castle. It all happened after the White Rabbit told me something that . . . Set me off, in a very big way."
Alice was still curious about that incident. What had set him off in such a way? Blue Caterpillar described him as 'unpredictable' and though his moods changed often, she didn't think he was any more unpredictable than the rest of the cast of characters that called Wonderland their home. He had a tendency to be grumpy, that was certain but now and then he wasn't above a bit of mischief, mostly for his amusement or to get more food and sleep and not generally out of malice. She considered him to be fairly intelligent, and seemed to be well educated; she saw what appeared to be a well stocked library
"What was it that made you so upset, if you don't mind me asking? I haven't seen you so upset." Alice stepped back a bit, noting Jabberwock's expression darkened and clutched Benny against her again, thinking maybe she was intruding on something personal, though her curiosity pushed her to her ask.
Jabberwock sighed when he saw her caution, reminding himself to not drive off the one who cared about him the most but he still felt some residual anger over the incident. His ears remained pinned back as he explained, this time in anger.
"He came to me with an order for my castle to be destroyed." Jabberwock growled, causing two strong puffs of smoke shooting out from his nostrils, mixed with sparks of fire. The sudden show of anger caused Benny Bunny to nearly jump out of Alice's arms.
"The Queen of Hearts condemned it. She just wanted me out of Wonderland. Out of my home that had been my home since I was a wryrmling. She just wanted to get rid of me and reduce the castle to a pile of rubble, getting rid of any trace of my existence."
Alice wasn't quite sure his castle was condemned for that reason. She never heard of her banishing anyone out of Wonderland and Jabberwock kept to himself for the most part, so why would she have any reason to do so? She frowned a bit again, considering the castle's precarious site; it could come crashing down at any moment, right into Wabe. It was also quite old, the strands of Spanish moss enrobed vines that seemed to grow from tower to tower seemed to have aged it even more.
"Maybe she thought it was going to fall apart on you. It does look quite old, isn't it?" Alice suggested. "She can be harsh but she truly does care for her subjects. Everyone of them, and that includes you. She may go on about cutting people's heads off but she's never actually done it. You mustn't accuse anyone of anything unless you have proof.
Jabberwock gave this some thought, and after a moment his expression softened again. He had to admit, he rarely knew her to be in the wrong though he was often uncertain about people's intentions and often questioned them.
"You really think so, Alice?"
The young girl nodded. "Mhm. She just doesn't understand you, says one moment you're a snarling wolf and the next you're as docile as a lamb."
"I suppose it takes a snarling wolf to know a snarling wolf." Jabberwock had to laugh at that, knowing well of her attitude as well. "Truth is, even sometimes I don't understand me. Maybe I'm not quite right in the head, but who here is?" He paused, looking thoughtful at the painting of his dearly departed.
"I have been moodier since Hannah passed. Maybe it wouldn't hurt if I came out more. I spent less time inside, when she was around. We would go gallivanting about here and there; once we were so caught up in each other as we chased each other about, we almost crashed Humpty's wall. You should have heard him rant!" Jabberwock reminisced out loud but looked uncertain, his ears remaining flat against his head as he looked around, as if . . . Frightened by the thought of venturing past the woods on a regular basis.
"But I like it in here. It's safe in here." It wasn't entirely impossible to get into the castle, as Alice found out herself, but it was still a fair challenge to someone determined and brave.
The idea that Jabberwock had anyone or anything to fear was astonishing to Alice. He was the biggest inhabitant of Wonderland, who or what would he be scared of? She recalled seeing him hightail it out into the woods when a young man with a sword appeared, the nephew of the Red Queen, who commanded him to come back and challenge him in a duel.
"What are you frightened of?" Alice inquired gently, reminding to keep her judgment in check, a touch difficult for her age and tendency to be blunt.
Jabberwock remained quiet for a moment, looking out at the rain, unsure. "Knights are out there. They like to kill us dragons to show off to some princess, or such balderdash as that. Doesn't seem right, does it? You may think I'm a coward for avoiding them but I like my head where it is." He scowled.
Alice consoled. "We all have our fears. I'm afraid of losing my parents, and Benny Bunny, and used to be really scared of spiders and such."
"Beamish Boy is out there, too. He's sharp and his sword is even sharper. He hurt my tail! And that's while practicing to be the greatest knight ever, he claims! I'm sure he'll tell you he practices with me to do so but I want nothing to do with that boy."
Jabberwock hugged himself a bit, visibly frightened even just talking about him, and maybe just a bit ashamed of himself for being so scared. He could easily take care of them both and he greatly admired the dragons that did so, but didn't take the risk, just in case they were faster than he was, even at the risk of having his heroes laugh at him.
". . . Uncertainty is out there."
Alice understood his fears but still didn't want to see him trapped up inside all the time. She may have been young, naive maybe, but she was often the voice of reason, the voice of encouragement. She wanted to see him happy.
"Maybe . . . You'll meet another dragon that you might fancy."
That suggestion immediately got a look of concern from Benny Bunny who was certain that she was stepping onto some big toes. She often jumped into things without thinking and it was that which often caused her to get into trouble. He didn't want trouble. Oh no, not with this big fellow. It was one thing to sort of play matchmaker to Little Bill, but . . .
The small rabbit's reaction only elicited a shaky laugh from Jabberwock, who shook his head. "It's quite alright, I won't turn her into a pile of singe for it." He absentmindedly curled his tail around himself a bit, and he toyed a bit with the tip of it, feeling insecure about the thought, maybe even timid, feeling so much at once.
"It's just that . . . Well, I'm so out of practice!" Jabberwock protested, trying to stall the whole matter.
"I don't think many dragons venture out in Wonderland too often. I haven't seen any about for some time."
Alice still gently pushed, catching him on the what he was trying to do. She set Benny Bunny down who watched them both carefully, just a little way by his bedside. "Well, you never know if they are out there unless you go out and look for them."
"I can't win with you, can I?" Jabberwock gave out a snort of a laugh. Alice was certainly insistent; no matter the size difference, he just couldn't out-wrangle her in the mind department.
"I suppose I can . . . I just don't know how well I'd do out there." Jabberwock remained uncertain, and absently chewed a claw and then twisted a whisker around a finger in nervousness.
"I mean . . . What would another dragon find in me?"
Alice smiled. Seeing this vulnerable side to him was quite the surprise. Things in Wonderland were always curiouser and curiouser indeed; quite literally anything could happen. "You're mysterious. Ladies like mysterious men, and especially ones that can dance! You could sweep one off their feet. And you being such a good chef, I'm sure your cooking can win one over. Dragons like food, don't they?"
Jabberwock nodded, still unsure. "Yes, yes we do. Sometimes a bit too much in my case." He frowned a bit and gave himself a loud pat on the belly, creating a loud thumping sound. The sound elicited a laugh from the girl, and he gave her a snort in return.
"I don't know, Alice. I . . . "
Alice gave an arm of his a pat and looked up into his eyes, and paused, wondering if her words were going to hurt him. She remained gentle yet firm, a sort of mental push from the back into the direction which he needed to go to.
"Go on, Jabberwocky. She wouldn't want you to be all on your own."
"Alright, alright . . ." Jabberwock sighed quietly as he relented, grumbled something under his breath about being a bigger pushover than he thought.
He paused for a moment before leaned his nose over to her, and since an actual hug was going to be too difficult, he did the next best thing he could. Jabberwock carefully wrapped his whiskers around her, as if they were another pair of arms and hands. Unlike the whiskers of her rabbit or cat, Jabberwock's were able to move independently through nerves which ran their entire length.
"Thank you, Alice. Thank you."
Alice was first startled by this, as was Benny Bunny, who must have thought he was about to eat her. After a moment though she relaxed and let out a light laugh, realizing it was a hug. She hugged him back as best as she could, around as much soft nose as her arms could reach around.
"Anything for a friend."