Alice at the Palace

It had been a long journey and it seemed to Alice so long since she had first stepped through the Looking Glass into the new world that lay beyond. But here she was finally at the eighth square. She threw herself down to rest on a lawn as soft as moss, with little flower-beds dotted about it here and there. ‘Oh, how glad I am to get here! And what IS this on my head?’ she exclaimed, as she put her hands up to something very heavy, and fitted tight all round her head. ‘But how CAN it have got there without my knowing it?’ she said to herself, as she lifted it off, and set it on her lap to make out what it could possibly be. It was a golden crown. ‘My goodness,’ she thought to herself. ‘That means I must be queen.’

Thereupon, she rose and walked about—rather stiffly just at first, as she was afraid that the crown might come off: but she comforted herself with the thought that there was nobody to see her, ‘and if I really am a Queen,’ she said as she sat down again, ‘I shall be able to manage it quite well in time.’ So engrossed was she in the process of settling into her new identity that she was unaware of the approach of a handsome Knight dressed in crimson armour on horseback. ‘Your Royal Highness,’ he intoned sternly. ‘I am here to escort you to the ceremony, with your consent.’ ‘But of course!’ she replied graciously.

And the next thing she knew she was transported to the Royal Court where she found herself ensconced between the Red Queen and the White Queen who were engaged in a heated discussion about a list of names they were drawing up. ‘Please, could you tell me—’ she began, looking timidly at the Red Queen.

‘Speak when you’re spoken to!’ The Queen sharply interrupted her. ‘Who do you think you are?’ This was not at all how she expected to be treated as a royal personage. ‘ I am Queen Alice,’ she responded defiantly. This time it was the White Queen’s turn to scold her. ‘The question was rhetorical. The command was not.’ Not being quite sure what was meant by ‘rhetorical,’ Alice decided to exercise discretion and await a more opportune moment to (re)assert her truth.

‘So I think that concludes the guest list for the wedding, 100 each from our respective families.’ The White Queen had returned to the business at hand. ‘Unless Miss Alice here has anything to add.’ Alice chose to ignore the deliberate mis-titling in favour of raising the more important issue: ‘But I don’t see my name on the list…’ The (other) two queens looked at her askance. ‘But of course you are not on the list,’ the White Queen retorted. ‘How can you be a guest at your own wedding?’

What was this? She was to be married but had not even been proposed to? Alice felt her indignation welling up within her. ‘My wedding…?’ was all she could manage to get out.

‘But of course. How else did you expect to bring to fruition your presumptuous aspirations to queenhood without first marrying a Prince?’

The arrogance of these women, imagining that she was interested in playing along with their games. ‘But isn’t it normal to be asked first?’ she asked pointedly.

‘Listen to her, how she stands by her outdated notions of what constitutes “normality” and expects everyone else to conform.’ The two queens rolled their eyes synchronously, before the Red Queen addressed Alice directly. ‘Recollections may vary, but we have it on no less authority than the handsome Prince himself that when he propositioned you this morning, your reply was “But of course.”

Recollections of a conversation with a Knight in crimson armour came rushing back to Alice at this point but were quickly dismissed as being at variance with her truth. She made the decision to double down: ‘But that is not true.’

Her initial confidence was however short-lived and she felt some trepidation as the Red Queen leant in towards her and spoke with a soft voice which belied the anger which was clearly now mounting inside her: ‘So you think that my son is not handsome? And you are furthermore calling me a liar?’

‘But I didn’t say…’ Alice started, but it was too late. The two queens had heard her words and were unequivocal in their understanding of her meaning and her intention. The crown was slipping rapidly from her grasp. She needed a strategy to reassert her truth and she needed it fast.

Then it came to her: ‘Let the Prince be summoned to corroborate my truth.’ So summoned he was. And corroborate he did. (‘All happened exactly as my beloved princess has said.’) And before long the plans were back on track for the nuptials to be held the following week and for Alice to establish her royal credentials on a permanent basis.

‘So all is settled then,’ asserted the White Queen more in hope than conviction, with a furtive glance in the direction of Alice and of the Red Queen.

It was Alice it seemed who had unfinished business: ‘There remains the small matter of the guest list.’ The two queens simultaneously pronounced their objection that this had all been settled with her agreement at the outset of the discussions. ‘Yes, but that was before I was made aware that the guest list was for my wedding. Since your majesties have invited 100 guests each, I must insist I invite the same number.’

But Alice had not foreseen the White Queen’s gambit which ensued: ‘That is fine by me if you are happy to pick up a third of the bill for the nuptials.’

Alice again had to think quickly but was up to the task, matching the allusion to a chess strategy with one to Greek mythology: ‘The Prince will be happy to defray those expenses from the Duchy of Cornucopia which he is due to inherit.’ The Prince was quick to endorse this plan, following which the conversation turned to who amongst Alice’s friends and family should be invited. Top of the list were her mother and her two kittens. It was also agreed that invitations would be sent to her estranged father and her half-sisters (who lived with him), but Alice held out little hope that they would attend, particularly given their aversion to passing through mirrors. The possibility of inviting friends was mooted but none of the close friends seemed to be on speaking terms with any of the others and the less-than-close friends were apparently so numerous that the number who would be offended at not being invited was greater than the number who could be invited. From this the Red Queen observed wryly that it seemed not to be feasible to invite any friends, which conclusion of Her Majesty Alice conceded she would reluctantly have to accept. As to the remaining unfilled places on the guest list, Alice’s suggestion was that invitations be sent out to all the movie stars she knew. It was pointed out, this time by the White Queen, that A-list movie stars would in likelihood be busy with movies and so unable to come at less than a week’s notice, particularly given there was a postal strike on. Alice reluctantly agreed that invitations would instead be sent to B-list celebrities. It remained unclear how many even of these actually knew Alice, rather than vice versa; or whether they would really turn up in person or, as seemed a more realistic prospect, just as holograms. But by this time it was established that, on matters pertaining to the other side of the Looking Glass, Alice’s truth was unassailable; and besides it was growing late and all concerned were keen to see the guest list put to bed.

That resolved, all concerned breathed a collective sigh of relief and began to count down the days until the great Royal Wedding, all that is except the Prince who was forever being summoned to mediate in the quarrels which broke out sporadically between the future princess and his sisters-in-law who were called to serve as bridesmaids and were forever bursting into tears over disagreements about frock design and the size and floral constitution of the bouquets they would carry. But this seemed a small price to pay for the perpetual post-marital bliss he was, as he saw it, set to enjoy with his fairy-tale princess.

To be continued in part 2.

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By Colin Turfus

Colin Turfus is a quantitative risk manager with 16 years experience in investment banking. He has a PhD in applied mathematics from Cambridge University and has published research in fluid dynamics, astronomy and quantitative finance.

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