Page 59

Oliver didn’t appear to either.

They said nothing, the two of them. Alice sat there like a stone, turned solid from the inside out, and Paramint didn’t even seem to notice. She was all dread and worry and fear and she didn’t know how they’d get themselves out of this one, she really didn’t. She rolled Paramint’s words over and over in her mind.

How many queens were there? How many princesses? How many twincesses? More importantly, how angry would the twincesses be if Alice and Oliver tried to escape? And where, where, did those eggshells come from?

Alice wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answers to her own questions. But she knew they needed a plan.

Paramint had left them alone for a stretch (he was seeing about their baths, he’d said) and she and Oliver were still sitting on that little couch in the eggshell house, staring at each other like they thought they could summon solutions out of each other’s brains. Speaking of brains, using theirs had turned out to be a very bad idea, and Alice said as much to Oliver.

He didn’t seem bothered at all.

“Oh, don’t worry about Paramint,” Oliver said, waving a hand as he got to his feet. “That’s what I’m here for, remember? I can always persuade him to let us go. I’m not worried about that.”

Relief flooded through Alice so quickly she would’ve needed to sit down if she weren’t already sitting. “Well, why didn’t you say something sooner?” She collapsed backward on the couch, every tense muscle in her body coming undone. “And why didn’t you try to convince Paramint while he was still here?”

“Because I haven’t the faintest idea where we’ll go if we leave right now,” Oliver said. “We need a safe place to stay until we figure out how to find a painter. Perhaps Paramint will be able to help us.”

Alice made a small sound of agreement before letting herself melt more completely into the couch. Alice was so tired and so full of fears and worries that she could almost understand what it was like to be a real grown-up. In any case, she desperately needed a break and she was grateful for the chance to let her guard down for just a moment longer.

But Oliver wouldn’t allow it.

“Up, up, up,” he said abruptly. “Now’s not the time to be lazy, Alice. We must remember to pay extra attention while we’re here, especially now that we know we’re being watched more closely than most.”

Alice threw Oliver a grumpy look and stumbled up to her feet.

“Now, I don’t think Paramint is the one to worry about,” said Oliver, “but all the same, we must keep our eyes and ears open for anything that seems interesting or suspicious. Perhaps if we listen closely we’ll be able to unearth something new. In the meantime, I’ll see what I can do about finding a painter.”

It wasn’t much to go on, but it would have to do.

Alice sighed. It was a struggle to remain optimistic. Everything had already gone terribly, horribly wrong, and for every minute they spent searching for anyone but Father, Alice grew more anxious. She was being crushed by the guilt of her own perceived selfishness—and if they didn’t find a painter soon, she would insist they abandon the plan to fix her arm. Her priority was Father above all else, and she couldn’t risk losing him again.

Alice and Oliver desperately needed a bath.

Paramint led them down a mossy branch that led to a ladder nailed into the trunk of a nearby tree. They climbed until they reached the very top of the trunk, which had long since been hacked off and flattened out. The top of the tree was now a large, flat, oblong expanse of polished wood, and atop it were dozens of gleaming porcelain tubs.

Ladies and gentlemen dressed much like Paramint were awaiting Alice’s and Oliver’s arrival with towels, robes, bouquets of flowers, and pots and pots of something warm.

Alice was so excited to be clean again that she was already untying the ties of her skirts. Oliver, ever the gentleman, saw Alice half undressing and began to fidget, clearing his throat and stuffing his hands in his pockets and studying a tree branch very carefully. Unfortunately for Oliver, his discomfort was no discomfort of hers, as Alice was unaware of his blushing and fidgeting. She hated clothes and was happy to be rid of them.

Alice gladly followed a smiling lady to an empty tub and let herself relax; she was about to have a bath and, just this once, she would allow herself to enjoy something in Furthermore. She would bathe, and it would be beautiful. She couldn’t wait.

The lady helping Alice introduced herself as Ancilly, and Alice decided she liked Ancilly’s smiling, honey-hued face and frizzy shock of red hair. Ancilly helped Alice step out of the rest of her clothes and into the tub, and there Alice sat, using her one arm to pull her knees to her chest. She shivered as a cool breeze blew past.

And then: pure, undiluted delight.

Friends, this was not a bath of hot water, but of warm milk: rich and silky in a way that made Alice’s very bones unclench. Ancilly poured pot after pot of warm milk into the tub until it was sloshing against Alice’s shoulders. She sank down and let her limbs melt into the milk, and just as she thought the beauty of this moment had reached its maximum, Ancilly brought out the bouquets she’d been carrying. She broke off the blooms one handful at a time and carefully tossed them into the tub. The flowers bobbed at the surface, rainbow icing on the cake of a delicious experience, and Alice closed her eyes, enjoying every minute. Their fragrance soothed her, and the warm milk soothed her, and the colors soothed her, and soon Alice was cocooned in pleasure, and she was reminded, all at once, why Furthermore was so dangerous. Alice knew she could lie there, in that tub, forever, and she knew then that she had to be even more cautious as the moments passed.

Soon, she thought. Very soon she would be cautious.

But right now—for right now—she would relax.


Too soon, Ancilly had returned with a warm towel, and too soon, Alice was dry and clean and smelling of sunshine. Alice was swiftly wrapped in a toasty robe, and Ancilly set to work running a comb through her wet hair.