Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 11 of 13

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Still Tarrant Hightopp is the happiest hatter in all of Underland.

Not that he’s asked any other hatters to comment on their level of happiness, but he’s quite sure none could possibly be happier than he is!

“Whoops. Watch that ledge,” Alice says from under his arm.

“Troublesome feet,” he murmurs. “T’woul’be better were I a jar.”

Alice chuckles. “Yes, then you’d fly.”

“No feet,” he agrees with a delighted sigh. He follows the garden path back to the castle with Alice pressed against his side and her arm around his waist. Tarrant could not have asked for a better distraction from his discomfort. Couldn’t have imagined one, either. Even if he had sat down and given the subject a good, long pondering over a cup or three of Throeston Blend. Of course, things would be perfect if Alice were tucked snuggly against his side, her hip brushing his with every step, without the added botheration of painful injuries. (His head still throbs and things are a bit slippery, sliding like quicksilver in and out of focus in a way that would be quite worthy of lengthy study if not for the fact that the only thing he’d like to study at the moment - namely, Alice - he’d rather not have a distorted view of!)

As they step into the cool interior of the garden foyer, Tarrant notices the sound of clinking silverware and porcelain and wine glasses and idiotic chatter in the distance.

“Luncheon?” he asks.


“With the queen?”

“Undoubtedly. She’d never abandon her guests for any reason.” Alice’s tone seems to indicate that it would have been all right with her if the queen had canceled the festivities.

Personally, Tarrant can’t think of a better reason to celebrate than the long-waited – and anticipated! – death of Ilosovich Stayne. Tarrant is actually rather sorry he’d missed it.

Must ask Mally for an exposition of that!

Laughter echoes from down the hall where lunch is being served and another question occurs to Tarrant:

“Alice, why is the Champion here and not protecting the queen?”

Alice doesn’t break stride as she maneuvers him to the staircase – he’d feared she might, actually; upon being reminded of her duties, she might have sat him down on the steps and run off! – but she merely maneuvers him close to the railing and begins to climb.

She replies, “Chessur’s taking care of it. He can become a Jabberwocky now. That’s much more frightening than I could ever be.”

Tarrant mulls that over. “I... found you quite frightening when you were angry with me.”

She laughs. “Well, that’s something, I suppose.”

“And then after the Trial of Threes, when I’d woken up and you had just... left... That was very frightening.”

Alice pauses at the top of the stairs – thus causing Tarrant to pause with her, as her arm is still tight around his waist – and places her opposite hand against his cheek. He can’t help but notice that this motion brings her body into fuller, closer – better! – contact with his own. “I’m sorry,” she says and he has to struggle to recall what it is that she’s apologizing for.

Ah, yes. He remembers now!

Tarrant closes his eyes briefly, then makes himself look into her eyes – this is more important than how close she’s standing, lad! – as he asks, “Did it... frighten you? The Trice a-Vow?”

He watches the emotions – so many! – form and reform in her expressions.

“I... it’s complicated.”

“There are two more flights of stairs yet.  Let’s take it step-by-step.”

“All right,” Alice replies, guiding him down the hall to the next set. “At first, I couldn’t believe it was possible. I’d thought... I don’t know, that it must be some sort of cosmic joke. Somehow you and I had started this little ritual that was actually real!

Tarrant giggles. “You ought to know Underland better than that by now. Everything is real here!”

“Even dreams,” she agrees. “The rest of it is just as I said yesterday. Either you’d known about the rite all along and that’s why the first exchange affected you so strongly –”

He tries his best not to look too embarrassed about that swoon.

“ – because you’d realized what we’d done and you hadn’t intended to – and then you’d agreed to do the second because it wouldn’t have been gentlemanly to refuse...”

“Or?” he prompts. His memories from the day before are a bit hazy and things are finally starting to make sense now. At least in an Alice way.

“Or you hadn’t known about it either and the queen had noticed our heart lines and had given you that book to read.”

A few more steps pass in silence as Tarrant struggles with his shame. “I knew.”

“I see that now.”

Thinking he hears a hint of reproach in her tone, he hastens to explain, “No, not... that is, the first exchange... perhaps I was... I didn’t realize until you’d exclaimed and, at the time, I’d thought it must have been a pin in my cuff – I sometimes keep pins in my cuff – and that providence was smiling on us and then I just... I opened my eyes and I was... your blood was... and it was too late to stop, but I never thought you would... I mean, there was no reason for you to reciprocate... but then you did... and I thought, ‘This stops now!’ but you smiled... you smiled, Alice, and suddenly I was... we were...”

Again, Alice stops them. She raises her fingers to his lips and then replaces them with her own. Eyes wide, Tarrant gapes as she brushes her mouth against his in a soft, chaste kiss. “Like that?” she asks, leaning back a bit.

“Not... Well, that’s not quite how I remember it...”

“What did I forget?”

Tarrant watches as his hand rises – again without his permission! – and slides into her hair. “Ye promised no’teh forget me.”

“And that includes the minute details of a kiss?”

And there! Alice gives him that secret, knowing smile that had precipitated their first kiss. It calls to him irresistibly.


Tarrant lowers his mouth to hers for the softest of kisses and brushes his lips against hers. And then – Yes! Just like that! – her lips part and Tarrant savors this second chance at their first kiss. He doesn’t shake or shudder with uncertainty or madness this time. The tip of his tongue glides between her lips in a slow, shallow slide... and then he pulls away.

After a moment, she opens her eyes. Tarrant studies the faint flush on her cheeks and the glazed softness of her gaze. “Is that how you remember it?” she asks.

“Aye. You?”

“It’s... becoming clearer.”

“Perhaps you need another reminder?” he dares to inquire.

“One more,” she agrees. “At the very least.”

He obliges.


Alice hasn’t ever thought of herself as much of a flirt, but she must have some latent talent for it. How else can she explain receiving four very enjoyable reminders of that first kiss before they even arrive at Tarrant’s apartment? She can feel the heat in her face and knows she’s flushed. It also doesn’t help matters – “matters” meaning her own personal sense of equilibrium – that she’s more aware of the solid warmth of his body than ever before. If she’s honest with herself – Oh, why bother? – she’d have to admit that Tarrant is perfectly capable of making his way to his rooms unaided. But, as he hasn’t complained, she hasn’t let go of him.

Arriving at his door, she leans across to grasp the doorknob but Tarrant is faster. He gently collects her hand in his and Alice has a clear, unobstructed view of his heart line. She watches her thumb slide over it.

“Will it always stay this color?” It is a rather vivid red, after all...

“No. It’ll darken with the last exchange.”

“And after that?” she asks, lifting his cuff a bit and studying the lines as they trail and twist up and over his wrist.

“They will never change,” he replies in a soft whisper.

Her fingertips uncover one more inch of skin before a touch in her hair distracts her. Looking up – and into violet-hued eyes – Alice gives herself over to one more reminder... Just one more! Only, she quickly realizes, this one is not a reminder of their first kiss. It has far too much in common with their second, although, Alice concedes, perhaps now’s not the time to bother with such distinctions.

Tarrant’s mouth presses against hers in a way that makes her torn shirt and the vest Algernon had silently delivered to her under the cherry tree earlier seem both far too inadequate and far too cumbersome. His lips are insistent and warm. And when hers part for him in helpless reaction, his teeth scrape lightly over them. His left hand captures her arm and, curling around her clenched fist, presses it over his heart. Her fingers brush against his jacket collar and grasp it desperately, pins and all.

The kiss deepens and now he’s inside her mouth and she’s marveling at the taste of him: sweet, as before, but somehow so real... His arms tighten around her and the distance closes between them. (Had she moved or had he?) The hand on his lapel becomes an obstacle and she runs it up his chest and curls it around the back of his neck.

Where their second kiss had ended with her first gasp for breath, this one doesn’t. Tarrant laps at her lips while she drags air into her lungs and then covers her mouth with his again. Alice is peripherally aware of motion, of being moved, of the doorknob pressing against her hip...

“Oy! Move it to a room, if you don’t mind!”

Startled, Alice turns toward the voice and stares down at the frowning keyhole.

“About time you noticed!” it grumps. “I’ve been clearing my throat and begging your pardon for the last five minutes!”

“Oh...” Alice says and winces at her rather inadequate response. In the suddenly awkward silence, she glances at Tarrant from under her lashes just as he offers her a sheepish expression. She bites her lip to keep from laughing but ends up snorting instead. Tarrant giggles.

“Oh, bloody great,” the keyhole grouses. “Like that chortling is any better!”

Alice reaches down and twists the doorknob, stepping quickly into the room as it opens.

Thank you!” the keyhole sighs a bit spitefully.

Tarrant doesn’t take his gaze – still violet! – off of Alice as he follows her across the threshold.

“Hatter! You missed everything!

Alice blinks and turns at Mally’s cry of despair. She gapes at the sight of the Tweedles, Bayard and his family, Thackery, Nivens, and – of course – Mally all sitting around Tarrant’s dinner table with empty plates and teacups. With a glance at the teapot – which has steam issuing from its spout – Alice suppresses a groan. Tarrant’s fingertips gently touch her lower back as he guides her to an empty chair. His eyes are green, again, she notes, although he still looks a trifle sheepish.

“The next time Chessur feels it necessary to knock a tree into me, I’ll be sure to raise your objection,” Tarrant replies gamely and holds out Alice’s chair.

Bowing to the inevitability of afternoon tea, Alice sinks down into her seat and summons a smile for Bayelle.

“It’s nice to finally see you at tea,” Alice says quietly, serving her a slice of lemon cake.

At the center of the table, Mally begins reenacting the final moments of the duel, to which Tarrant gives his undivided attention.

Bayelle ignores the performance and, with a wise look, responds, “It’s nice to finally see you with Tarrant.”

“It’s nice to finally be with Tarrant.”

“Then all is as it should be,” the she-hound comments. “Pass the tea?”

Oh, iambic pentameter, Alice thinks and, smiling, reaches for the teapot.


The funeral for Ilosovich Stayne is not so much a ceremony as a necessity. Mirana attends to ensure that the man who had murdered her sister – thereby thwarting any attempt Iracebeth might have made at redemption or even reconciliation – will stay decently dead. Beside her, Alice – the woman who had killed him – stands in attendance and, beside her, Tarrant Hightopp – the man who had nearly killed Stayne three years ago and likely regrets not finishing the task – remains silent and pensive.

Mirana can understand her own motivation for being here, despite all the history – some pleasant but mostly not – with the deceased. She can understand Tarrant’s motivations as well, for although they are as varied as her own they are still quite evident: there, in his clenched fists, she reads the need to be sure that the man who had tried to take his Alice away from him will never again be a threat. And there, in his pale, unfocused eyes, she reads the memory of that Horvendush Day when Stayne had led the Jabberwocky to Hightopp Village and Tarrant’s time spent in the Red Queen’s jail just before Frabjous Day. It’s very clear that both the queen and Tarrant have come here to bury their pain. But Alice...

Mirana frowns. Over the last two days, she has never seen Alice or Tarrant so happy. Despite the misunderstandings and turmoil, they’ve managed to grasp the joy that has always danced just beyond their reach. But here, at this somber, sparse gathering of people, Mirana watches Alice stare at the scars on her hands – from the garrote she’d used to dispatch Stayne; unfortunately the cuts had been too deep for the Pain Paste to heal completely – and the queen wonders why her Champion has chosen to be here today.

Tarrant accepts Mirana’s offer of tea once the service has been completed. No one had spoken except the funeral director – a buzzard by the name of Cloughcloth – and that had seemed fitting: Stayne had loved no one in his life and it follows that, in his death, no one would mourn him.

Alice neither accepts nor declines the offer of tea, but seems to follow in Tarrant’s wake, her mind on other things. Mirana continues to puzzle over her Champion's behavior as Alice ignores her tea, stares at her cucumber sandwiches, and often gazes silently off into the distance. It’s not until Tarrant offers to escort her to the croquet field for her daily exercises with the guard that she seems aware of her surroundings at all.

After her guests have left, the queen considers her Champion’s odd silence. Still puzzled, Mirana moves around the table and takes Alice’s seat, hoping to gain some insight. She lifts her gaze and looks in the direction that had so mesmerized her Champion all afternoon and is startled to find her reflection staring back from a looking glass.

Odd, certainly, but not... worrying.

The day following the funeral, the queen glances out the window at the sounds of battle on the pitch, and frowns when Alice seems to be putting a bit too much effort into her training. More than once, the bishop finds itself on its back. And, on one particularly memorable occasion, Alice doesn’t halt her attack and the poor fellow only just manages to scramble out of the way at the last possible moment. Strange, certainly, but not a cause for concern.

On the day following that, it rains and the queen floats past Alice’s door to see if she’s available for brunch. Only, Alice doesn’t hear her knock nor does she respond when Mirana cracks open the door and calls her name. Upon opening the door fully, Mirana finds Alice sitting with her legs folded on the rug in front of the standing mirror. Just... looking. Eventually, Mirana gets her attention and they have tea. But, again, Alice offers very little in the way of conversation.

The next day is cool and cloudy and the pitch is still soft and wet so there are no training exercises for the second day in a row. The sounds in the corridor indicate to Mirana (as she takes refuge from ennui in her laboratory) that Alice is sitting in the hat workshop several doors down. After all, Tarrant doesn’t normally talk to himself when he works...  And especially not about his childhood or family!  But, unless her ears are deceiving her (as they had under the cherry trees! A raven and a writing desk, indeed!) there’s no other way to interpret the bits and phrases she catches between the whirr and clatter of the sewing machine and the stacking and un-stacking of hatboxes.

It’s the day after that when Mirana looks up from her desk as Tarrant enters her office, and – before she can offer him tea – announces with frustrating brevity, “Alice.”

“How is Alice?”


“I beg your pardon?”

She’s barely Alice!

“What’s happened?” Mirana demands, thinking her Champion must be ill. She begins to compile a list ointments and antidotes from memory. Would the acid from a Grobben plant affect Uplanders differently than...?

Tarrant twists his cuffs helplessly. “I asked her why a raven is like a writing desk...”

Mirana recognizes the riddle; it’s the very same one she’d convinced herself she’d misheard Alice tell him under the cherry trees just a week ago. The one Tarrant had once asked an imaginary Alice every Saturday at teatime during that Dark Year. “Yes?”

His shoulders twitch and his gaze is restless. “Nothing.”

“Nothing?”  Whether it’s Hatter Logic or Uplander Logic, it doesn’t seem to matter.  Perhaps she ought to look into hiring a Royal Translator...

He nods. “She didn’t ask me. She’s supposed to ask me and I’m supposed to tell her I haven’t the slightest idea, but she di'nae ask me.

Despite not being able to grasp the significance of the riddle, Mirana does realize that this ritual – odd though it seems – is significant to Tarrant and Alice.

“It’s none of my business, of course, but... you haven’t quarreled, have you?”

“I don’t think so...”

Mirana can think of nothing helpful to say.

“Perhaps if I... Yes, an apology is called for in this instance...”

“An apology for what?” she asks, bemused.

Tarrant smiles. “I haven’t the faintest idea, but it’s always a good place to start!”

Mirana watches him go and continues staring at the closed door for a long moment. And then, unable to ignore her curiosity and concern, especially when they pair themselves together, she gets up and follows him upstairs to Alice’s room.

“... wanted to say that... What I mean is that... I apologize,” she hears Tarrant say very clearly. It seems odd that Alice’s door is open for this conversation, but with the castle once again empty of guests, there’s no reason for the Royal Hatter and the Queen’s Champion to not expect privacy. For an instant, Mirana feels guilty.

“You apologize,” Alice repeats woodenly. The tone alarms Mirana and overcomes her discomfort. “For what?”

“What I’ve done,” Tarrant replies still sounding confident.

“What have you done?”

“Something to upset you.”

“How have you upset me?”

“I... am not sure.” A note of uncertainty enters Tarrant’s tone. “Perhaps if you could remind me of my transgression?”

There’s a very long pause. Mirana actually holds her breath.

You’ve done nothing that requires an apology.”

Another beat of silence pulses between them and Mirana can only imagine the flickering of Tarrant’s eyes and his ever-changing expressions as he processes that. “Has someone else done something that requires an apology?” he ventures.

Alice sighs. “I’m tired.” Mirana can hear her exhaustion and frustration and... something else in her voice. “Just go away. Please.”

Oh! Mirana covers her mouth with a hand to quiet her gasp. Alice has never behaved so wretchedly! At least, not with Tarrant Hightopp!

There’s a squeak of a floorboard and a rustle of fabric. “Alice, please...” Tarrant whispers. “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Silence stretches out the door and down the hall. “Alice... please?”

He waits. Mirana feels the minutes pass but Alice doesn’t say anything else. Finally, when Tarrant emerges from the room, leaving the door open, he turns toward the queen. She thinks to offer some explanation for her presence, but he doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by her intrusion.

Tarrant walks over to her and speaks quietly, “She’s hurt. Somewhere. Alice has always let me fix her. Well... except after confronting the Jabberwocky, but with the... various locations of those injuries, I wouldn’t expect... Well... otherwise she always lets me fix her!” He gives Mirana a solemn, woeful look. “Why won’t Alice let me fix her now?”

Why, indeed. “Let me talk to her,” Mirana whispers back.

“Talk, aye. You can talk to her.” His expression hardens with frustration. “The thing I’ve yet to come by is an answer.

Unfortunately, Tarrant is right. Mirana talks and talks and talks. And then she waits and waits and... waits a bit more, but Alice never looks away from the mirror.

“What fascination does the looking glass hold for you, Alice?” Mirana asks, wondering if this question will be ignored as the rest have been.

“My scars,” Alice whispers, reluctantly. “I’m always surprised to see them. Sometimes I don’t notice them if I look through the mirror.”

Mirana regards Alice’s hands. The scars are still pink and slightly raised. “Why would you dislike them? They’re a mark of honor, of victory, of –”


The word is so softly and so briefly spoken, the queen almost misses it. “... murder?”

“Do you think I have the right to touch anyone with these hands? Especially Tarrant? He’s never killed anyone. He didn’t kill Stayne, even when he could have. I did that.”

In her lap, Alice’s hands fist. “Sometimes, it’s so easy for me to forget that all of this is real.” She laughs but she cries, too. At the same time. Mirana’s heart twists at the sight of it. “Alice Kingsleigh would never have killed anyone. She never would have picked up a sword or wrestled a hatter or made a blood vow...!” Alice lifts her left hand and touches the surface of the mirror with her fingertips. “On the other side, there’s a world where Alice Kingsleigh is still... good.” Alice’s gaze slides from the mirror and settles on her left hand, on the scars, on the heart line. “Do you think my mother and sister have had m—the funeral yet?”

Beginning to grasp the fever gripping her Champion’s mind, Mirana blinks back her own tears. This is her fault, the queen knows. She should not have pushed Alice, encouraged and invited her to take up the Champion’s duties again and again and again. Mirana wants to apologize, but bites back the words. An apology hadn’t gotten Tarrant very far, after all.

Clearing her throat, Mirana asks, “Would you like to see your mother, Alice?”

“I’m... not sure. Would she be able to see me?”

“Not if you stay on this side of the looking glass.”

Alice considers that. “Yes, I’d like to see her.”

“All right, then close your eyes,” Mirana begins. “Now, imagine a room in your mother’s home that has a looking glass. Do you see it?”

Eyes closed, Alice nods.

“Imagine where the mirror is... Now, become that mirror, Alice. Feel your skin become cool to the touch and smooth. Picture the light as it comes in through the windows of the room... See how it reflects just so off of the furniture? The knickknacks? The rugs and wallpaper?” Mirana watches as Alice breathes, calm. Even Alice’s spark of life has been pulled back, tucked in, hidden. Alice might as well be a piece of furniture in this room. In that moment, Mirana knows Alice is ready to open the looking glass.

“And now, pass your right hand between your eyes and the room beyond... Yes, just like that... Unveil the looking glass in the room Alice – look, now.”

She does. Mirana remains at Alice’s side and studies the room through the mirror. It’s luxurious and well-kept. A lady’s bedchamber.

“Your mother’s room?” Mirana asks.


And there, at the vanity, an older woman, still slim and handsome, sits with perfect posture. A music box is open beside her elbow. A stack of letters sits inside the keepsake compartment. Mirana doesn’t have to struggle to identify the handwriting; she knows they’re Alice’s letters.

“How much time has passed... there?” Alice asks in a hushed whisper.

“I cannot say,” Mirana replies. “Time is different in each world.”

“Could I... step through?”

Mirana hesitates. “You could, but without someone to keep the looking glass open... You might spend a half an hour speaking with your mother in Upland, but days... weeks... could pass in Underland. Or, you might only be gone an instant. There’s no way to know.”

“How did Tarrant know my ship was sinking?”

Mirana blinks at the sudden return to an old issue. “I’d taken to leaving the looking glass open to your cabin, looking only when I was sure I wouldn’t be intruding. It was that very morning, when the storm seemed to start on your side, that I told Tarrant that I’d been... watching you for some time. He was there, watching you write your report, when the ship overturned. And he brought you through because, as I mentioned before, I’d already promised not to.”

“He could have released you from your promise.”

“Yes, he could have.”

“Why didn’t he?”

“You’ll have to ask him that yourself, Alice.”

There is no response to Mirana’s quiet challenge. They watch as the door opens and Alice’s mother turns. A maid speaks and moves aside to let Mrs. Kingsleigh pass. The door closes.

“I want to talk to her. Can I?” Alice says.

Mirana places her hand on Alice’s shoulder. “You can. But be careful, Alice. Perhaps she has not yet heard about your ship...”

“I could... touch her, couldn’t I?” Alice asks. “I could... go back.”

“Yes, you could,” Mirana replies, then, daringly, touches the scars on Alice’s hands and the heart line. “But your hands would look no different, Alice. You cannot erase all that has happened.”

“I could forget... there. I forgot before...”

Mirana is silent for a long moment. “Do you really believe you could?”

“I...” Alice swallows. “I want to believe... I’m not sure if I like what I’ve become...”

“And what have you become, Alice? You are a strong fighter, a protector, a Champion.

For the first time since Mirana had entered her room, Alice looks at her. “If I’m those things, why did I kill Stayne even though I considered LETTING HIM LIVE?

It’s not a shout, but the intensity of the emotion steals Mirana’s breath.

“I considered it. I thought, ‘Let him live. Let him be punished by the queen.’ ... And then I twisted the garrote. Because... because...” Alice closes her eyes. “I don’t know why I did it.

Mirana can think of nothing to say.

“Can you imagine what that’s like? Not knowing why you’ve done something? Not knowing if, next time, you’ll even think of stopping? Not knowing if, next time, you won’t even feel regret?”

“No, Alice, I can’t imagine it,” Mirana replies with brutal honesty. “But I think Tarrant might. How often do you think his madness has taken him over completely? How often do you think he’s come back to himself and not known where he is, how he got there, or what he’d done in the meantime?” The queen pets her Champion’s hair with gentle motions. “I may be your friend, Alice, but Tarrant still knows you best. As you know him best. Sometimes,” Mirana concludes, “even though it seems as if we ought to know ourselves best of all, it’s those we love who truly understand us. Especially when we don’t understand ourselves.”

Alice’s eyes had remained closed throughout Mirana’s small speech and now she shudders. Moments pass and the clock ticks softly, regularly. The door to Alice’s room is still open and Mirana would wager her kingdom against a teaspoon of moldy snail slime that Tarrant hasn’t left his place against the wall beside the doorway.


Mirana’s hand drops from Alice’s hair to her arm. “Yes?”


The queen waits.

Alice takes a shuddering breath. In silence, tears squeeze out from between her closed eyelids. In a small, choked voice, Alice says, “I’m ready for Tarrant to fix me now.”

That is – apparently – all he has to hear. In the next instant, Tarrant is in the room, helping the queen to her feet and then seating himself on the floor next to Alice and gathering her into his arms. He whispers against her hair in his thick brogue and Mirana distracts herself from trying to understand the words. This time, she doesn’t eavesdrop. But she does close the door on her way out.


Tarrant damns Ilosovich Stayne every minute of every hour of every day that Alice struggles with her conscience. Often, Time finds them on the same sofa or settee or terrace wall or even armchair, with Tarrant’s arms around her shoulders and her hands grasping his elbows or jacket lapels. In these moments, the silence is absolute, total, accepting, like being at peace, like feeling the blanket of the earth settle over one’s head, laying one to rest.

Yes, that’s what he and Alice are doing: resting.

After a while, she always says, “I had a choice.”

And he always answers, “Aye, ye did.”

“I killed him.”


“If I’m ever not upset about that...”

“I’ll say, ‘Ye ought teh care who ye kill.’”

“Yes... I ought.”

Tarrant doesn’t tell her how guilty he feels about this. Alice does not need his remorse, too. Any offer to remove her pain might upset her balance and send her tumbling back through the looking glass... and that Tarrant suspects he would not be able to survive.

So he doesn’t tell her about that instant during her duel with Stayne when he’d known something had been about to happen. He doesn’t tell her about that moment of frustration when he’d tried so hard to remember something he ought to know...

Stayne had noticed the heart line...

Tarrant had heard it all – the entire interview from inside the alchemy cupboard – and although Alice had realized that knowledge would change Stayne’s plans, Tarrant hadn’t. If he had, he might have chosen to stand a bit further from that bloody tree. He might not have been knocked out when he’d been pushed down. He might have thrown a knife at Stayne’s hand, stopping him from choking Alice. He might have thrown a knife at Stayne’s throat and saved Alice this internal conflict.

Yes, if Tarrant had known then what he knows now, he would have intervened. Even if it had meant harming Alice. He flinches to think it, but he would have thrown one of his own knives at her to stay her hand.

But then, would she have always wondered... If he’d interrupted her, stopped her, would she have always wondered if she could have killed a man. If “a man” is, in fact, what Stayne had been. Tarrant isn’t so sure on that point.

“Stayne was a monster,” he’d told her once.

Alice had merely shaken her head and argued back, “The Jabberwocky was a monster and we see how that turned out.”

Aye, Alice had killed it and then tried to kill it a second time without considering any other options. Sometimes, Tarrant wants to shake some sense into her.

Perhaps when she’s feeling better.

He’s looking forward to doing a lot of things when she’s feeling better, actually. But for now, they rest. Tarrant is a little surprised by how soothing this time is for him, too. As the queen had told Alice as they’d sat in front of the mirror, there have been many times when Tarrant had come to his senses in a strange place and had wondered what he had done while in the grip of that madness, had wondered what he’d been capable of...

In a way, he’s relieved that Alice has already found the answer to her own version of that question: she knows what she’s capable of – she doesn’t like the answer, but she knows it. Tarrant may never know his own limits. He may never have the chance to face the monster within him, whatever form it takes or sins it enjoys.

Although, when he sees Alice sitting on the rug in front of her mirror, when his entire being freezes in terror – Is she going to leave?! – he thinks he glimpses that beast within him. He thinks he knows what lengths he would go to in order to keep her. He remembers the first exchange of blood; at the time, he’d been surprised by the fact that Alice’s heart-line finger had been pricked. But, Tarrant is ashamed to admit that he’d never asked her what had really happened. In the grip of madness, had he pressed the pin to her finger with deliberate intent? Had he done that? He’d like to think he hadn’t forced that upon her, no matter how simple it would have been to reverse. He’d like to think it very much.

So, he doesn’t ask.

And he doesn’t ask her if she wants to leave, if she wants to return to Upland. They both know that would be impossible now.

But after the third exchange...

Tarrant buries his face in her hair and closes his eyes.

After the third exchange, she could leave, and ye wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it, lad.

His mind would be safe... or as safe as it has ever been, as would hers. For as long as they both live. (Tarrant refuses to think of the state of his heart; yes, he has realized exactly what that odd center-of-his-chest stomachache had actually been. In fact, it had taken quite a lot of effort to lie to himself about it as long as he had.) But the vow will not force them to remain together. Alice could go back... marry someone else... forget about Underland entirely, forget Tarrant... He wouldn’t be able to stop her.

A bit more Time, he pleads silently with the entity that has turned its back on him. He needs just a little longer to open her eyes to what she could be here in Underland... what they could be... together.

Tarrant damns Ilosovich Stayne for the dire straights he finds himself in now. He wishes for his previous ignorance: only a fortnight ago, Tarrant had been sure that having Alice would be the same as keeping her.

Now, he knows differently.


“Are you sure you wish to do this?” the queen asks.

Alice nods, smoothing the long, blue jacket over her hips. The last time she’d worn these clothes, she’d been trapped in her cabin aboard a sinking ship. She remembers those moments with difficulty. Some things she can’t recall at all – the level of the water, the temperature of it, if she’d been wearing shoes or not. And yet other things she recalls with such vivid clarity that she feels it – Tarrant’s blazing orange eyes, his mercury-stained, battered fingers reaching for her, the scent of the seawater-saturated wood, the rush of the air as it had been churned with the incoming deluge.

With difficulty, she keeps her body from shivering. “Thank you for the boots,” she says.

“Of course,” the queen says. “You never ask for anything, Alice. The least I can do is provide you with footwear you’re familiar with.”

Alice models the boots. They don’t look very much like the ones she’d worn at sea, but she doesn’t think anyone will notice. With no task left to do, no reason left to delay any longer, Alice turns around and regards the full-length mirror in her room. Mirana stands to the side.

“Thank you for helping me,” Alice tells her friend, her queen.

“Again, it’s the least I can do.”

Again, Alice nods. Words seem so out of place considering what she’s about to do. “If you see Tarrant, tell him...”

“I shall.”

With a tense smile, Alice focuses on the looking glass, on the shadowy room in the world beyond, and steps through.

Stepping through a looking glass is an odd sensation, she thinks, feeling the cool glass warm against her skin... warm and then relent to her intrusion and she has to shove with her toes to make it through what feels like a solid wall of air. Emerging, she gasps. The scent of her mother’s perfume hits her first and Alice feels the tears she’d been denying burst forth.

Despite the ache in her heart, Alice grasps the sides of the mirror frame and pulls herself the rest of the way through. Her boots touch the carpet – she’d forgotten how soft it is! Not at all like the thin rugs at Mamoreal! – and Alice gives herself a moment to wipe her tears away and absorb the sights and scents that ought to be as familiar as her own skin, but, strangely enough, aren’t.  But then, these last few months, even Alice’s skin has changed, hasn’t it?  Suddenly nervous, Alice checks to make sure her heart line is still completely concealed under her glove and jacket sleeve.

With a deep breath, she gives her mother’s sleeping figure a long glance before moving to the vanity. Alice had given a lot of thought to this meeting and she wants to be sure... Yes, there on the vanity is the missive with the official seal of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. Opening the letter Alice hadn’t been able to read through the looking glass, she sees it’s the one she’d expected: everyone believes her dead now. Lost at sea with the crew and Lord Ascot’s steam clipper.

Alice puts the letter down and turns. On the bed, her mother’s face looks haggard and exhausted. From grief.

It’s time to do something about that...

Alice moves quietly to the bedside and gently sits on the edge. Taking her mother’s hand in one of her own, Alice raises the other and gently tucks a few stray gray hairs back under the white night cap. After a few moments of this, her mother’s mouth twitches and her eyelashes flutter.


Helen Kingsleigh’s eyes open slowly, still clouded with sleep. “Alice?”

Alice hides a wince at the utter lostness in her mother’s tone, the frailty and pain. “Yes, it’s me.”

“Alice!” The older woman struggles to sit up in bed. Gently, Alice holds her back against the pillows.

“Everything’s all right, Mother. You’re dreaming.”

“I’m...? But you...” Thin, warm hands grasp Alice’s arms. “You feel so real!”

“Everything feels real in dreams,” Alice reminds her. “Remember the odd one I used to have? Again and again?”

“Oh... yes. But, Alice... Your... What...?”

“The ship sank; it’s true. I’m afraid that really happened,” Alice says softly. “I was in my cabin. It was over quickly.”

Tears glisten in the dim light. It’s a full moon tonight, Alice realizes, and it’s hovering just beyond the window on the far wall. Gently, she wipes her mother’s cheeks with a borrowed handkerchief: it’s one of Tarrant’s.

“I wanted to tell you that I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m in a wonderful place, Mother, and there are so many friends there... Friends I never even knew I had. And there’s someone who loves me very much...” Alice is quietly startled when she realizes that this is very true. Tarrant does love her. Perhaps a bit desperately sometimes, but no more than... Oh! Alice blinks as she realizes that she loves him a bit desperately in return as well. She says none of this aloud. In a subdued tone, she assures her mother, “Where I am now, I have someone I can hold onto when I need to. Someone who holds onto me, too. I’m not alone.”

Helen Kingsleigh sobs quietly and Alice fights to keep her expression peaceful. “Don’t be sad, Mother. Everything is fine.”

“I... don’t know what I shall do without you, Alice.”

“I know... I know... It all seems so impossible now, but you’ll be all right, and I know this because I am.” And, suddenly, Alice knows that she really, truly is all right.

Alice blinks back her own tears as her mother raises her hands to touch her daughter’s face. “Your hair’s so short, darling...”

“A concession to life at sea,” Alice lies easily.


“I don’t know if you’ll remember this when you wake up, but... I love you, Mother.”

“Oh, Alice! I love you!

Alice lets her mother pull her down into an embrace. After a long moment, after conquering the writhing mass of words and platitudes and promises lodged in her throat, Alice whispers, “Give my love to Margaret?”

She nods. “Just... don’t go. Not yet, Alice, don’t go...”

“It’s all right. Everything’s fine. This is just a dream. And I’m in a good place now. I’m happy. I’m safe. There, there...” Alice croons, petting her mother’s wet cheeks. “I have to go back soon – everyone’s waiting for me – and you need to sleep...”

“... Alice...”

She watches as her mother closes her eyes and, gradually, relaxes against the pillows. She lingers until she’s sure her departure won’t disturb the woman who might not have always understood her, but had loved her nevertheless.

A part of Alice doesn’t want to leave, but she knows she must. She must go back through the looking glass and the life that’s waiting for her there. This Alice Kingsleigh is no more. This life is over. Now she will face the next one: the one she has chosen.  The one she'll build with a mad hatter named Tarrant Hightopp.

Carefully, she stands and, with a determined breath, steps up to the looking glass and then into it.

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 11 of 13

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