Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 2 of 13

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Tarrant Hightopp barely notices the reflection of his own eyes, burning orange, before he presses first his forehead, then his nose and chin through the looking glass. He scrambles for leverage in order to shove his right hand through even before his face is free.

The smells hit him first: fear and wet wood and salt water.


She turns at the sound of her name. Tarrant watches as she struggles with the door. The weight of the water has bowed the wood.

“Hatter!” she calls. And despite her panic, Tarrant sees such relief in her eyes it nearly distracts him from his urgency. “The ship’s sinking. I think...”

’Tis nae time fer thinkin’!

Beside his face, the thin, slender hand of the queen pushes through the looking glass, holding a vial of Pishsalver.

Tarrant struggles for self-control. “Drink it and take my hand! I’m pulling ye through!”

Alice glances at the door she’s bracing with her arms and body. “But, if I move...?”

His precarious control snaps: “’Tis nae time teh a-grye ‘n’ a-gimble!

Tarrant watches resolve tighten her expression. She dives from the door toward his outstretched hand. In the same instant, the flimsy latch gives way, the door bangs open, and a wall of seawater crashes inside.

Alice doesn’t swim so much as she’s shoved at Tarrant. He hastily grabs her arm and curls his fingers around her jacket sleeve and the soft flesh beneath. Alice reaches frantically for the Shrinking Potion and gulps it down. Tarrant hears her sputter and gasp just before the water submerges the mirror. Eyes stinging in the rushing, swirling salty seawater, Tarrant Hightopp pulls her toward him before she manages to shrink right out of his grasp completely.


Never, in all of his life, has Tarrant Hightopp been so happy – so deliriously fantastically ecstatically happy – to be choking on seawater. He smiles through his coughing fit as a doll-sized Alice vomits bile and more seawater all over his waistcoat. He thinks he hears the White Queen calling for water and blankets, but he doesn’t care. Tarrant stares at the shivering, pale creature in his arms, weighted down with the clothes that had jumped through the mirror with her rather than on her.


Tarrant closes his eyes, minds his hands – it wouldn’t do at all to crush Alice less than a minute after saving her from a sinking ship! – and laughs.

“He certainly is a mad one, isn’t he?” someone croaks froggily.

Tarrant opens his eyes wide enough to locate and then snatch the towels draped over the servant’s arm. He drapes the first tea towel over Alice and wipes his own face with the second. Cups of water are pressed to both his lips and Alice’s. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches as she struggles to hold the tea towel up as she gulps down as much water as she can from the goblet being held obligingly by the White Queen.

He tries not to stare at her bare shoulders. He really does. Shoulders really ought not to have such attention-demanding properties! It’s surprisingly difficult, but he manages not to gawk.  At least, he thinks so...

“Alice! You’ve made it back to us!” the queen enthuses softly.

Alice nods and coughs. “As... long... it’s... Thank you... Your... Majesty.”

The White Queen smiles. “There’s my Champion. Rest for now.” The queen tucks the tea towel around her securely and helps her slide down from Tarrant’s stomach. The sensation of her small feet sliding across his side is actually rather ticklish, but he doesn’t giggle.

Tarrant Hightopp is staring blankly up at the ceiling, considering the odd qualifier Alice had choked out: “As long... it’s...” As long as it’s what? Tarrant wants to know.

But not right now. He doesn’t want to know right now. Actually, he has a stomachache, which is odd as he hasn’t done anything to upset his stomach. (Well, not that he can recall!) And, he’s not entirely sure, but he thinks it’s odd for a stomach to reside in the center of a person’s chest. Still, it’s a stomachache. It must be! It can’t be anything else!


Tarrant startles and looks down into a very familiar yet very, very small face. An Alice face.


She smiles at the sound of her own name, lisped just as softly as the last time she’d arrived in Underland. He studies her hair – he’s never seen it wet before and it’s a darkish, tangled mass. He notes with relief that her shoulders have been covered by someone’s handkerchief – the queen’s perhaps? He doesn’t recognize the lace... Tarrant experiences the fleeting urge to tell Alice she looks rather fetching in borrowed handkerchiefs, but his unanswered question – As long as it’s what? – locks his throat and his stomachache flares again.

“Thank you,” she says simply. Tarrant watches as she reaches out to straighten his cravat. “And I’m sorry I... I’m sorry about your waistcoat.”

“It’s seen far worse treatment than I ever have, I assure you,” he hears himself say.

Alice laughs in that silent, breathless way of hers. She sits down on the flagstone and accepts a teaspoon – finally a receptacle scaled to her size! – of water. The handle is a bit unwieldy but she seems to manage.

With a sigh, she leans back against Tarrant’s shoulder. “I don’t want to wake up this time,” she murmurs groggily.

Forgetting the presence of the queen and her footmen milling about as they gather up Alice’s sodden clothing and refill her teaspoon and his goblet, Tarrant chuckles. “You won’t. This time, it’s my dream you’re in.”

Oh, how he would like that if it were so – if it truly were his dream she’d appeared in! Why, she’d be the right, proper Alice-size and she’d be dressed in that luminous tunic that she’d been wearing when he’d made it back to the White Queen’s castle after escaping execution. And her hair would be down and her scent would drift on the breeze to him and he never would have had to miss her for a single day because she would have kept her promise:

“Be back before you know it!”

In his dreams, he wouldn’t have had to wait three years for her to come back to him. In his dreams, she would have come back to him in the very next instant, all on her own, of her own choice! In his dreams, she would look at him like she... as if he...

Tarrant closes his eyes briefly and damns his stomachache. Instead, he focuses on the weight – so slight! – against his left shoulder. When he opens his eyes again, the White Queen is leaning over him, smiling.

“Shall I move our Champion to the settee so you can get up?” she asks in a whisper.

Tarrant glances down. Alice has curled up against his shoulder and appears to have drifted off to sleep.

“Nae,” he murmurs. “’Twon’ do teh force me inteh bed now that I’ve made myself comfortable here.”

The queen nods and moves off. With her white dress and mincing steps, she almost looks like a fluffy cloud. A cloud in the Royal Office... and salt water in his hair and eyes... and a doll-Alice leaning against the dripping brocade of his jacket...

And she remembers me!

Tarrant grins up at the ceiling, for certainly, that’s something to be pleased with!

Although it doesn’t do much for the odd center-of-his-chest stomachache.



When Alice opens her eyes, the first thing she notices is the ache throughout her entire body. She winces at the pain stabbing her through the temples and forehead and moves, very slowly, to cradle her head in her aching arms.

The second thing she notices is that she’s lying on a very nice – but enormous! – settee in a lady’s study.

And then, as she sits up in order to get a better view of her surroundings, she realizes that she’s clothed in a towel and a handkerchief.

“Ah, Alice, welcome back.” Alice looks over her shoulder as the White Queen moves toward her with a wide smile. “How are you feeling?”

Alice tucks the tea towel more securely around her. “I... Am I dreaming?”

“No, dear Alice, I’m quite certain you’re not.”

“The Hatter...?”

“Pulled you through the mirror in your cabin.”

Butterflies erupt in her stomach at the memory. “So he was here earlier...”

“Yes. It’s nearly dinnertime so I sent him off to get changed. He’ll be rejoining us shortly.”

Alice nods. “And Lord Ascot’s steam clipper? The ship, I mean?”

The White Queen’s smile fades. “The mirror is completely dark now.”

“Dark?” She follows the queen’s gaze to the nearest mirror – a looking glass under a lovely, carved arch atop a vanity. The top of the vanity bureau has been cleared of everything and she thinks she sees a few droplets of water stubbornly clinging under the face of the drawers. Alice swallows thickly. “It’s sunk?”

“I’m afraid it has.”

Numb, Alice nods. She briefly closes her eyes and thinks of the thirty-seven men that had been aboard.

“Come, Alice. Let’s get you back to your proper size and into a bath.”

Alice lets Mirana carry her through the castle to a luxurious bathroom. A bit of Upelkuchen and a hot bath later and Alice follows a silver fish in a very fine mint-green brocade waistcoat to the dining room. As she approaches the door, she hears the queen’s quiet voice and beseeching tone.

“Please, Tarrant, she is here now. Let us not dwell on what cannot be changed.”

Alice strains to hear the Hatter’s reply, but there is only silence.

“Your Majesty,” the fish announces suddenly, startling Alice. “Alice.” He gestures her into the room and closes the door behind her.

Mirana smiles and sweeps toward her. Collecting Alice’s hand, the queen turns them both toward their seats. Alice stares at the long table with its shimmering table cloth and gleaming, covered platters. The room is predominantly white and silver and just exactly how she remembers it. The only blotch of chaotic color and darkness in the entire room is the Hatter, who sits quietly in a chair to the left of the queen’s, staring at his empty plate.

“You look somewhat refreshed,” the queen says as she maneuvers Alice to the table.

Alice watches as the Hatter stands automatically. Eyes still downcast, he strides to the opposite chair and pulls it out.

“I... yes, thank you, Your Majesty.” Alice pauses beside her chair. She looks up at the Hatter. “Thank you for saving me, Hatter,” she says, feeling suddenly shy.

His gaze flickers briefly in her direction. She glimpses solemn green rather than the radiant emerald she remembers.

“I... Well, that is... you are welcome,” he mumbles.

Alice sits and watches as the Hatter also sees to the queen’s chair before returning to his own. As they eat, the White Queen tells Alice of the events she’d missed. It’s a relief to know that Mallymkun, Thackery, Chessur, Bayard and his family, Absolum, the Tweedles, and even the Bandersnatch are all well and, in several cases, reemployed. Mirana regales her of the celebrations following her return to power.

“I’m sorry I missed that,” Alice replies, imagining Chessur and Bayard in a paw-wrestling match. “But I did get to see some rather amazing Futterwhacken.” She smiles across the table and the Hatter’s startled gaze meets hers briefly.

“I’m sorry I was away so long. I wish I’d been able to come back sooner,” Alice murmurs, thinking of how impossible it had been to escape the clipper once she’d boarded it. She frowns. “And without paying such a heavy price.”

The Hatter sits up straight. “And just what sort of price did you think you’d pay for a broken promise?”

For a moment, Alice simply blinks at him. “I... what? Price?”

The silverware shakes in the Hatter’s hands. “Di’nae yeh ken tha’ a promise can only be stretched so far afore it breaks?”

Alice can think of nothing to say for a long moment. “Are you... are you saying promises... Here in Underland, broken promises hurt people?”

The Hatter draws in a breath and his eyes flash. Mirana holds up a hand and turns toward Alice. “Yes. Broken promises have terrible consequences in Underland. Is this not the case in Upland?”

Still watching the Hatter, Alice shakes her head. “No. Of course, legal contracts and the law – if broken – have consequences. But those are enforced by the justice system, not...”

“Underland is quite different, then,” the queen says. “A promise is the most sacred of things here. And although they can be broken, the price is always... considerably high.” Alice notices the stern look the queen sends in the Hatter’s direction.

“But... I haven’t broken any promises... have I?”

The Hatter’s eyes flash a bright yellow. His chair squeals against the floor as he abruptly stands. Without another word, he strides from the room. The door slams behind him. Alice stares at it for a long moment. “I don’t understand...”

Mirana sighs, drawing Alice’s attention back to her. “Yes, I see that you don’t.” Expression regretful, the queen explains, “When you left us on Frabjous Day three years ago, you told Tarrant you’d be back before he knew it. You promised him, in a way.”

Alice gapes at her.

“And, I’m afraid, he did know it. For a very long time. And Fate got quite irritated with you for making him wait when you’d said you wouldn’t.”

“Wait... you mean... the storm? The ship? The thirty-seven men who died? This is all my fault?

“It is no one’s fault!” the queen replies in a frustrated tone Alice has never heard from her. “It is the law of Underland: promises must be kept.” The queen’s expression turns pensive. “Do not blame yourself. And do not blame Tarrant for trying to keep you here. You don’t know how powerfully you affect him...”

“Who cares?!” The shout echoes in the white room. Alice pushes back her own chair. Her entire body heats with rage. “Thirty-seven people are dead! Why didn’t someone stop him from...” From what? Trying to convince me to stay after the battle had been won? “... or stop me from promising him?! How could this happen?!

Alice paces the room four times before the queen quietly offers, “How could it not, Alice? How could it have not happened? Tarrant invited you to promise to return and you made it. Ignorant of the consequences, but you made it nonetheless. Time gave Tarrant two years to wait for you. But this last year, his madness has deepened... greatly. And not from hat-making.”

Slumping into her chair again, Alice thinks for a long minute before arriving at a possible solution to the situation. A solution that hadn’t been played out until this afternoon. Alice wearily asks, “The mirror. If you could have pulled me through the mirror sooner, why didn’t you?” Perhaps then the shipwreck, the deaths, might have been avoided...

The queen leans back in her chair, suddenly looking very tired. “I couldn’t pull you through the mirror, Alice.”

Alice remembers those frenzied moments in her cabin: the Hatter’s blazing eyes, his outstretched arm, his hand reaching for her... “The Hatter pulled me through. Why then? Because I was about to die?”

Mirana gazes upon Alice with such a look of compassion and regret that Alice isn’t sure she really wants to know the answer to her question. “Tarrant has been waiting for you to come back to us. He did not want to force you to return, or even persuade you to give up your life in Upland... I think, perhaps, because he feared you’d soon have to leave us again. He felt so strongly about it he made me promise not bring you back to Underland myself.”


“Do not be angry with him, Alice. This was my mistake. I should not have made that promise. I regret it. Very deeply.”

“But, he...?!”

“Yes, it’s true; perhaps, Tarrant wasn’t thinking very clearly. He rarely seems to, but he does. Perhaps the most clearly of all of us, in fact. I’ve never known him to let details cloud the truth. But this... I do not know why he did what he did. I have not asked him.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be sure to have that conversation with him shortly.”

Alice stands once again and heads for the door.

“Wait! Alice!”

Her hand on the doorknob, Alice hesitates.

“He’s hurting so much... The madness... you’ve no idea!” Mirana sighs. “Alice, please don’t hurt him more than he already has been.”

And because Alice isn’t sure she can keep that promise, she says nothing as she leaves the room.

She looks up the hall and down, but it’s completely empty.

Alice’s fury dies down just enough for a frisson of loneliness – of lostness – to intrude. Conflicted, consternated, confused, Alice follows the hallways, turning at random, until she finds herself on a terrace lit by moonlight. She crosses the flagstones and leans against the railing. Studying the moonlit orchard in bloom below, Alice remembers wondering at this sight all those years ago on the eve of Frabjous Day. The Hatter had found her then. He’d been a friend to her then.

“Alice, why is a raven like a writing desk?”

“Let me think about it...”

Missing him, Alice sighs and buries her face in her folded arms. “What sort of place cares for the promises people make each other?”

She’d always thought the making and keeping of promises was the measure of someone’s character. Of course, she hadn’t done all that well with her promises. Alice knows she never should have promised to return to Underland so carelessly. But certainly, the consequences far outweigh the infraction!

“It’s not fair,” she whispers, feeling the hot rush of tears at long last.

Alice tries not to sniffle. On a ship with walls as thin as paper, sobbing would only lead to knowing looks from the crew and lips curled with disdain. Over the previous six months, Alice has gotten quite good at keeping her misery quiet. The lack of sobs forces out twice as many tears, but at least they are silent.

She looks out over the orchard as it weaves and wavers and blurs and she wonders, How much of my misery was my own experience and how much of it was Fate’s punishment for breaking my promise?

And then, when she realizes that it doesn’t matter, her heart breaks.

Indeed, none of that matters. She’d missed Underland – she’d missed her friends and she’d missed the Hatter! – more than anything in the world. The excitement of her apprenticeship and first voyage had eclipsed her need to see him again, but only for a brief time. Alice knows she’s always wanted to be here. But now...

At the cost of thirty-seven lives, how can I just... carry on?

It seems hopelessly callous for her to be happy in the wake of their deaths. To be healthy and whole and content because the entire crew had died. All to bring her here.

If only she hadn’t promised to return.

If only the queen hadn’t promised not to bring her back to Underland.

If only...

Exhausted, Alice closes her eyes and curls her legs under her. She’s nearly asleep when she feels someone strong gather her in their arms. She knows she ought, but she’s too tired to fight their assistance, so tired...

Alice curls toward the solid warmth and breathes deeply. This scent... She frowns briefly as a memory tickles her gently before drifting beyond reach.

I know you, she thinks and wraps her arms around the man’s neck as she falls asleep.


Tarrant Hightopp stares at the girl – Nae, the woman! – who has never called him by his given name. He wonders if she even knows it. Had he ever given it to her? If he has, she’s never used it. And a name’s meant to be used! (Otherwise no one would have one!)

A ray of sunlight slips through a break in the curtains, falling across Tarrant’s hands where they rest on his knees. He should leave. He knows this. I would not do at all to be caught in Alice’s bedroom, no matter how innocent his intentions. And his intentions have not been innocent at all.

Ye let her make that promise on Frabjous Day. Accepted it.

He knows he should have refused. Until today, he has never regretted it.

Ye never released her from her promise.

He’d been too afraid to cut that last thread between them that would have set her free – truly free – of Underland... and him. Instead, he’d attempted to compensate:

Ye should nae have tried to make amends by preventing the queen from bringing Alice back teh Underland.

He tells himself he’d tried to give her a choice. But there’d been no choice after Alice had trapped herself with that promise. And he’d wanted her to keep it too much. Far, far too much. He’d panicked.

Tarrant Hightopp, for all his imagination and contorted wisdom, had not known what he would do if Alice did return only to leave him again. Like a child playing with a less-than-favorite toy.

He’d wanted – needed! – her to return not to Underland, but to him!

Tarrant shudders in his armchair in the sunlight. If he closes his eyes, he can smell what he’s been missing: the scent of her hair and skin. When she’d ridden on his hat and then on his shoulder through Tulgey Wood, the breeze had blown her essence right under his nose. He vaguely remembers reciting the prophecy of the Jabberwocky slayer to her. He’d practiced several times during the quiet moments of the never-ending tea party in front of Thackery’s house while the March Hare had been twitching in his sleep and Mallymkun had been dozing in her teacup. He’d been quite proud of his inflection and tone, making the prophecy into something more like a poem, a sonnet. But with Alice’s scent filling him, he’d heard himself utter the prophecy in his rough, native brogue, had felt tension and something intense – best not think about that! – infuse him. Burn him from the inside out. If it hadn’t been for her utter lack of muchness, he might have...

No, no. I wouldn’t have.

Of course not. Of course not.

Tarrant studies the woman bundled up in blankets on the bed and wonders how much muchness she’s managed to hold onto. The sunlight is warm, but it doesn’t stop the shiver that slips down his spine.

He wants to touch her, so he curls his fingers around the armrests of his chair. He wants to wake her, so he swallows back the words he would say. He wants to look into her eyes, so he closes his own. Fate save him, but he wants Alice too much to bear her presence.

A slight rustle from the bed reaches his ears and he tenses. Of course, as he isn’t the slightest bit ready to face her, she awakens. Bloody Fate.


He swallows. “Tarrant Hightopp,” he replies calmly, opening his eyes and looking directly into hers. Her hair is tangled again, her eyes glazed with drowsiness, her frown sleepy.

“Shall I call you Mister Hightopp?” she wonders aloud.

Tarrant winces around that damnable stomachache. He thought he’d lost it hours ago. “Whatever you prefer,” he manages, despite the odd sensation rushing through his body. As if he’s both dying and dying to move all at the same time.

Call me by my name...

Alice looks away and clears her throat. “I seem to remember drifting off on the balcony last night... Thank you for... Is this my room or...?”

Tarrant’s hands curl around the armrests even tighter at the thought of watching her awaken in his bed in his room...

No! No, d’nae think it, lad!

“Yours,” he chokes out. “Or so Pondish croaked.”

“Pondish? Oh, the frog in the waistcoat?”

“Perhaps.”  In all truth, it might have been Lakerton, not Pondish...

She nods, looking distracted. He watches as her expression changes. Bit by bit, he can see the memories assembling themselves. Bit by bit, a mulish expression settles over her face. “I’m really... irritated with you right now,” she says haughtily.

Tarrant blinks. “You... are... irritated?

Alice looks at him, her eyes flashing with something much more beyond irritation. Something much, much, much, much...

Muchness, he muses, dismayed to feel his stomachache pulse in response.

“No, actually,” she replies flatly. “I’m furious. I’m absolutely furious! Why did no one tell me what could happen if I didn’t come back soon enough?! Was McTwisp too busy?! Has Absolum lost the ability to speak with his new form?! Would it have been too much of a bother for you to at least try to talk to me through a bloody looking glass?!

Tarrant stares at her, shocked. Her cheeks are flushed, her hair tangled, her impassioned gaze focused completely and utterly on him...

And the lass is still in bed, isn’t she?

He growls. “’Tis nonsensical teh think tha’ broken promises hav’nae consequences!”

“There’s a difference between consequences and the hand of Fate sinking my employer’s ship and killing the entire crew!

“Not the entire crew,” he replies after a beat of silence.

Alice struggles to sit up, slipping twice as she attempts to unwind her arms from the mound of blankets. Tarrant muses that, perhaps, seven might have been a bit excessive...

“No, not the entire crew,” she agrees through her teeth. “After all, I’m still alive, aren’t I? The only survivor! The reason for the wreck! I’m the reason they all died! Me and that bloody promise! Do you think I want to be the cause of so many deaths?! Do you think everything is just fine just because I’m still here and they’re NOT?!

Tarrant stares at her, at her tears. There are no sobs or hysterics in sight, but the tears drip from her eyes in steady rivulets. He briefly wonders when, where, and how Alice had learned to cry like an old woman.

“How—do I—live—with that?” she whispers.

Guilt. An ocean of guilt surrounds him. He’d done this. He’d held her fast and sure to her promise – a promise that had taken her ship, its crew and had very nearly taken Alice as well!

Guilt, rage, terror... A hatter can only take so much!

Tarrant stands. Someone speaks in an Outlandish brogue: “If ye find that ye cannae live wi’tha’, ye know where th’ lookin’ glass is. I’m sure ye’ll be able teh find yer way back teh yer ship eas‘ly enough.”

In the utter and complete silence that follows, pressing in upon his ears like the salt water of the Upland ocean, Tarrant wonders if, in fact, he’d been the one to say those things. Must have! No other Outlanders here...


Tarrant looks away from her face, pretends he doesn’t see the pain there – he can deal with no more today! One more word, one more tear, and she will break him! He clears his throat. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve left the queen’s hats hanging for too long.”

Grasping the front of his shirt, trying to stop the stomachache from exploding – or maybe imploding from the weight of it all – Tarrant hurries from the room. He doesn’t slam the door on his way out, but when he arrives in his workshop quite a few things get slammed about. And shouted at.


“Would you care for some tea, Alice?”

Alice looks up, startled out of her thoughts. “Oh, um, no. Thank you,” she manages, trying very hard not to think of tea or tea parties or teapots or the scent of tea on a battered top hat...

The queen nods and smiles to the fish in the green waistcoat. “If you’ll just leave the tea service, Algernon? Thank you.”

The fish bows and slithers from the room, closing the door behind him.

The queen turns and flutters over to the settee facing the balcony and the cherry orchard beyond and takes a seat next to Alice. The White Queen doesn’t ask Alice how she’s feeling, and Alice is unbelievably grateful for that. It has been two days since she’d last seen the Hatter. Two days of sitting in her rooms, staring at the armchair he’d sat in. Two days spent soaking her borrowed nightgown sleeves and pillows, one tear at a time, salting herself in her own guilt. Today, she’d ventured to bathe and explore the castle. It hadn’t taken as long as she’d hoped it would to find a familiar room: the queen’s office. And, unfortunately, it had been occupied when she’d cracked open the door.

“We argued,” Alice says.


“The Hatter and I.”

The White Queen’s eyebrows arch. “Tarrant raised his voice to you?!”

“What? No, no.” Alice sighs. “No, that might have been preferable.”

The queen sighs. “Oh, botheration.” For a moment, neither woman speaks. “Alice,” Mirana tries reluctantly, “I can only imagine how difficult this is for you. But you must believe me when I say that... what happened was not your fault.”

“I didn’t know.”


“I wasn’t told, either.” Alice winces. “Not that that excuses it. After all, I can’t blame others for my mistake. Unintentional though it had been.” She sighs. “I blamed him for it. For not telling me.”

“I... see. The argument, you mean?”

“Yes,” Alice says. “He told me...” She looks in the direction of the vanity mirror. “... if I wanted, I could go right back to...”

“Oh, that Outlander!” The queen doesn’t growl, but it’s certainly a rather forceful sigh. “Alice, he doesn’t mean it. Truly, he doesn’t. Have you not thought of how he must feel about this? He’s wanted to see you again for so long and now he learns what the price for that is... Don’t you think he’s already blaming himself?”

Alice puts her head in her hands and bows under the wave of realization. “I’m horrid.” And then: “It’s been two days. I should have apologized ages ago. The instant I’d said it. I shouldn’t have said it at all.”

A soft hand rests on Alice’s shoulder. “An apology is a wonderful idea.”

“The sooner the better.”

“Well...” the queen hesitates until Alice looks up. The concerned expression on Mirana’s face stirs tendrils of worry in Alice.

“What is it?”

“Brillig,” Mirana replies, turning away from the very fine, upstanding clock leaning against the far wall. “Four o’clock.” She sighs. “And it’s a Saturday.”

Alice watches in puzzlement as the queen looks up and out at the balcony.

“What –?”

Her question is cut short by the sound of breaking glass above them. She looks up with a start as glass shards fall and tinkle against the balcony flagstones.

Alice only manages to gasp before a very thick brogue drowns her out.


An instant later, a fully loaded tea table crashes to the balcony. Alice leaps up from her seat and rushes to the balcony doors.

“As I mentioned,” the White Queen continues softly, “Brillig on Saturdays might not be the best time for a... rational discussion.”

“I don’t understand. What has brillig on Saturdays anything to do with the fact that the Hatter has tossed a table and tea service out a window?!

The White Queen draws a deliberate breath. “You’ve always arrived on an Underland Saturday, Alice. And, as I mentioned, he’s been hoping you would find your way back to us for... some time now.”

“But he knows I’m here! Why wouldn’t he just invite me to tea?”

The queen smiles sadly. “Perhaps because his role has always been to wait for you and your role has always been to arrive.”

Speechless, Alice stands just on this side of the threshold and gapes. For a long moment, neither Alice nor the queen say anything. A breeze plays with the gauzy curtains and rustles the cherry blossoms in the orchard below. It’s in this moment of heavy silence and gentle susurration that Alice thinks she hears her name from somewhere above.

“... Alice...? We’ll have fresh scones next Saturday. If you’ll come. Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you...? Alice...?”

She closes her eyes and leans against the wall. “I’m going to see him.”

“All right,” the queen replies serenely.

“Right now.”

“Oh, well... I’m not really sure that would be for the best...”

Alice shakes her head and pushes away from the doorjamb. “This can’t wait.” She marches toward the door but pauses just before she opens it. “If you don’t see me at dinner, send up the cavalry, won’t you?”


Tarrant stands with his back to the open window, his hands fisted in his hair. He notices that it’s gotten quite long. Almost as long as it had been that Horvendush Day when the Jabberwocky had... When the Red Queen had...

Perhaps he should cut it. He’s too old to wear his hair so long. And too disinterested to make it presentable. Not that he ought to present himself for anyone. There’s no one to see him, in any case. He’s a milliner, not a courtier. No, there’s no one to care for how he looks, so why bother with it at all?


Tarrant turns smartly and sweeps an arm over his desk. He stares at the floor and the pair of shears lying on the rug.


Tarrant blinks and looks over his shoulder. He stares as someone who looks surprisingly just exactly completely utterly absolutely like – but it can’t be! – Alice standing in the doorway.

“I knocked,” she says.

Tarrant gapes at the vision of her for a moment. Then, desperate for something to prove what he’s seeing is reality, he casts his gaze about, taking in the broken bits of china, the tea dripping down the walls, the remnants of cucumber sandwiches that had been squashed beneath his boots, and the occasional crumbling scone.

How odd. He’s never imagined Alice visiting him after he’d disposed of the tea things. He considers the possibility that this is some new scenario. Perhaps his mind has grown tired of the same delusion over and over and over and over and...


The feel of a hand against his cheek startles him again. He opens his eyes and looks down at that very, very, very familiar Alice-face. And no longer a doll-Alice, either. She’s still the just-right-wonderfully-spectacularly-sized Alice!

“I’m fine,” he manages in a husky whisper.

“I’m sorry,” she replies.

He frowns. “I’m confused.”

“I’m horrid.”

He gapes.

She continues, with her gaze searching his face. “I never should have said that you’re to blame for the ship sinking. I’m so sorry. I... I should have come back ages ago. Ages and ages ago. You see, I realized months ago that there was nothing left for me there. I was failing in my business, I missed y—Underland so much, and I was planning to go back down the rabbit hole at Lord Ascot’s summer villa as soon as I got back and...” Alice closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry. For all of it.”

Tarrant marvels at the fact that her hand is still resting against his cheek – could she truly have forgiven him for being so utterly slurvish? He dares not ask her. After all, Alice is touching him again! How long has he waited for this? How long has he tried not to notice how much he’s wanted this? Knowing he should let her go, he lifts his own hand – bandaged, bruised, and be-thimbled – to trap her palm there against his face.

“I’m... devastated,” he confesses to this vision. Her eyes fly open and her expression turns downward with worry. “I’ve never daydreamed you like this before. You should be smiling. I always imagine you smiling. And then there’s tea. There’s always tea. You know we’ve nearly always had tea when we first meet again on Saturdays. It’s not quite a Saturday without tea, you know.”


“That’s not to say that one must have tea every Saturday. One might indulge in coffee or chai on occasion, I suppose. Do you care much for coffee or chai, Alice? I wonder what you’ll say. This is a daydream so, really, you might say anything. Isn’t that right?”

“Hatter, this is not a daydream. I’m real. I’m really here.” A wry grin tugs at her lips. “Just really late for tea, obviously.” She raises her other hand and presses it against his other cheek. “Go on and look at me. I’m really here.”

Look? he thinks. That won’t do! Time and time again his mind and his eyes have fooled him into thinking she’d arrived for tea on Saturday. The feel of her hands is rather persuasive, but he’s imagined the sound of her voice so often he can’t trust her words. But he would trust – undeniably, utterly, absolutely trust – one thing...

Alice’s eyes widen as he leans forward and ducks his head over her shoulder. When the twisting tendrils of hair that have escaped the ribbon at the base of her neck are tickling his nose, he lets his eyelids drift shut and breathes deeply.


He startles violently. The hand not engaged with hers fists as his side.


Because her scent is such a miracle for what it represents – Alice is here! In my rooms! She’s arrived! – he dares to savor it again. Alice stands perfectly still. He can see the slight motion of her pulse in her neck, beneath her ear. He can feel her breaths as they stir his hair. He can feel the heat of her still-trapped hand against his face. He blinks and smiles.

And then he notices just how close she is. So close! It would be the smallest of steps to close the distance between them and –!

No! No! D’nae think it!

Clearing his throat, Tarrant retreats a step and brings Alice’s hand away from his cheek. He brushes her knuckles once with his thumb before forcing himself to release her hand. “Alice,” he says in the smooth voice he’d cultivated for use at court. “Of course it’s you. Of course. I’d know you anywhere.”

Her smile is tentative but her expression is relieved. Tarrant feels a stab of regret at disturbing her. He must do better at keeping his delusions under control!

She says, “You’ve said that once before.”

Tarrant grins. “Only once? I’ve said it twice, I’m sure.”

“Or three times?”

He considers that. “It’s possible.”

“I believe it is.”

And then she smiles. And it’s a real smile. There’s a bit of crinkling at the corners of her eyes and a mirthful light in their depths and...

“Can you forgive me for what I said the other morning?”

Tarrant watches, alarmed, as her smile begins to fade. “To my memory, there is nothing you said that requires forgiveness.”

And then, miracles of miracles, Alice reaches out to him again.


And takes his hand in hers. Tarrant thrills at the touch.

“I don’t deserve a friend like you, Hatter.”

The twinge of disappointment at the sound of his profession rather than his given name on her lips is eclipsed by the disquiet her statement causes. “And I don’t deserve the tolerance and patience of the Alice.” He smiles for her. “I therefore recommend that we agree to not deserve each other and then ignore the fact entirely.”

And there! Alice’s smile returns!

A moment later, his own smile is so stretched with delight he feels his chest might actually burst the seams of his waistcoat. The strain distracts him and he finally notices that he’s standing in the middle of his rather untidy parlor with nothing to offer Alice by way of refreshments!

Why is that? he wonders.

And then a breeze rustles the curtains framing the broken window and he recalls the tea service and the tea table and...

Oh, how embarrassing!

“I’m afraid I can’t offer you tea,” Tarrant says with a sheepish glance toward the window. “Unless you’d like to have it on the balcony below...”

“Well... it is well after brillig,” Alice replies. “What would you say to a stroll before dinner?”

“Along the battlements?”

“Are there any?”

“I’ve no idea. If there aren’t, I’m sure we’ll find them!”

She chuckles her breathless laugh and nods. Tarrant escorts her out the open door and past the line of footmen waiting to scrub down his room... again. He keeps his eyes on her, however, and his mind on the hand tucked into the crook of his arm, and tries not to dwell on the fact that this obnoxious stomachache is becoming a chronic occurrence.

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 2 of 13

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