Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 3 of 13

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“Ah, so the Champion has returned...”

Alice startles at the cultured drawl. “Chessur?” she asks, turning in a circle, searching for a glimpse of him. She gasps when she completes the turn to see a pair of vibrant green eyes and an up-ended grin just inches in front of her nose.

“Still jumpy,” he muses on a purr before swimming over to ogle the Hatter’s top hat. “And hello again, sweet hat. Has your current master been treating you well?”

The Hatter sweeps his hat from his head before the Cheshire Cat can paw it. Alice bites a smile at the suspicious gleam in the Hatter’s eyes.

“And how are you, Tarrant? Any luck with...?”

Alice’s attention is redirected from the sound of hearing someone other than the queen say the Hatter’s given name: he’s always been “Hatter” to Alice! Despite the rare occasion of hearing his given name spoken aloud, Alice stares at Chessur’s knowing grin and the slight flush to the Hatter’s cheeks. Alice hadn’t known the man could blush.

The Hatter clears his throat. “I’ve lost my head, of course. You can hardly expect less than that.”

“That’s true, if he’d lost his head, he would be less, wouldn’t he?”

“Contrariwise, if he’d lost it and then some, then you’d expect him to’ve lost a bit more, wouldn’t you?”

Alice smiles. “Hello, Tweedles.”

“Is that Alice?”

“Well, if it weren’t Alice, it couldn’t be Alice could it?”

“But it is Alice, so it must be.”

Alice nods as they waddle further into the queen’s office. She notices their gazes flickering occasionally toward the Hatter who seems to be having a rather animated discussion with Chessur without the aid of his voice or hands. Teeth gleam, eyes glare, and brows wiggle in a way that must be meaningful... at least to the two of them.

Alice hides another grin.

While the Tweedles argue over which chairs to sit in – “Well, if it were taken, it would be, but since it isn’t, it ain’t!” “Contrariwaise, if it weren’t taken, we’d take it, and then it would be!” – Alice indulges in a Hatter-esque pastime: she daydreams. She recalls the past day-and-a-bit that she had spent keeping the Hatter company. The stroll preceding dinner through the misplaced battlements had lead them to the orchard, which had been lovely and quite interesting – “Honestly, Alice, the trees are in bloom! You can’t very well expect them to come up with fruit as well when they’re busy enough making flowers!” – and it had been fun to watch him work in his workshop on Sunday. She’d even learned a bit about the political relations between the queen’s domain in Underland and the other territories, jointly called the Outlands.

“Thats where my clan hailed from,” the Hatter had commented. “We’re a wandering people. Craftsmen, mostly. Travel where our skills take us.” He’d added after snipping a thread and pinning a ribbon, “I’m called an Outlander here.”

“And that’s the language you speak sometimes? Outlandish?” she’d ventured.

“Aye, ‘tis.” With a smile, the Hatter’s brogue had thickened to the consistency of a very hearty pea soup. “‘F ‘twere naught teh be kennin’ aught i’twoul’nae be gratlin’, nauw!”

Alice still isn’t sure if she should be more disturbed by not being able to understand more than two words of it or discovering that she’d liked the sound of it as much as she had.

“Ahoy, Alice!”

The greeting is punctuated by a stab to her ankle. “Ouch! Mally! What was that for?”

The dormouse glares. “What d’you think, you lump?! Keepin’ us waitin’ for so long being the least of it!”

Alice follows Mally’s guilty glance and finds the Hatter at the end of it, staring at the dormouse with a very intimidating scowl.

“Yes, I did do that,” Alice replies, turning away from those unsettling eyes. “I’ll do my best to be more careful with my promises in the future.”

“Sounds a bit wishy-washy to me!”

“Mally! Leav’be!” Alice shivers at the Hatter’s guttural Outland brogue.

“Good morning, everyone!”

At the queen’s entrance, the Hatter slides into the chair next to Alice’s and Mally scrambles up to stand over Chessur who has reclined himself in the chair on the far side of the Tweedles. Alice briefly wonders why Mally and the Hatter are avoiding each other before turning her attention to the queen.

“Thank you all so much for coming today,” the White Queen begins. “I’ve an appointment with Fenruffle shortly so I hope this won’t take long.” She takes a determined breath. “Now, as you’ve all noticed, Alice has returned.”

“Finally,” Mally sniffs.

The Hatter flashes yet another glare in her direction.

“Yes, at long last,” Mirana agrees pleasantly. “Now that my Champion is in residence, there are certain expectations of the public that must be addressed.”

Turning to Alice, the queen continues, “Do not think for a moment that you will have to accept these responsibilities, Alice. They’re quite antiquated as the last Queen’s Champion lived and died... well, let’s just say it’s been quite a while since there’s been a Queen’s Champion, shall we?”

Alice nods. She notices that, in the chair beside hers, the Hatter’s hand is rather forcibly gripping his armrest. “I understand. I think,” Alice replies.

“Excellent! Now, to the heart of the matter: As I’ve yet to be married and I have a Champion now to defend my, er, honor, it’ll be expected that any male of established lineage or reputation will be welcome to participate in the Wooing Rites to petition my hand in marriage.”

Alice closes her eyes briefly and tries to ignore the sinking feeling in her stomach. “The Wooing Rites?” she asks, trying to hide her deep, deep reluctance for learning something she’s relatively sure she doesn’t want to know.

“Ah, yes. Perhaps this is another thing Upland does not share with Underland. Well, as it so happens, a queen of marriageable age is quite eligible to receive suitors. Of course, she does not have to accept any of them.”

“Unless they happen to kill the Queen’s Champion, of course,” Chessur drawls and consequently receives a burning yellow stare from the Hatter.

“Excuse me?” Alice manages, keeping an eye on the byplay.

“Don’t worry, Alice,” the queen assures her. “It’s very, very poor form to kill the Queen’s Champion. And, with the current political climate it won’t be an issue. To put it bluntly, my role in the Wooing Rites is to smile and placate my suitors until – or if – I choose one of them. My Champion’s role will be to interview them and determine their suitability and sincerity.”

“Interview?” Alice confirms. That doesn’t sound so bad, but, next to her, the Hatter has still not relaxed one whit.

Mally snorts.

The queen clears her throat delicately. “Ah, yes, that’s part of it. After the interview, you’ll be required to duel the candidate.”

“Duel? As in hand-to-hand combat?”

“More like sword-to-sword combat,” Tweedledee explains.

“Unless the fellow’s a mind to be a bit more practical with his demonstration, then it’d be an anything-you-can-throw-stab-poke-or-choke against an, er, well...” Tweedledum subsides under another furious glare from the Hatter.

Alice takes a deep breath. “All right, let me see if I’m understanding this correctly: I’ll interview and fight – with real weapons! – against your suitors, who shouldn’t try to kill me because it’s bad manners?”

“More or less,” Chessur replies with a grin.

Alice ignores the Hatter’s reaction this time and directs her gaze to the queen. “Is it more or less, Your Majesty?”

Mirana nods, acknowledging her concerns. “You will do your best to determine the suitor’s intentions toward me through interviews. You’ll then provide him with the means to demonstrate his skills in dueling. After all, my vows do not permit me to harm any living creature so I am not able to defend myself. The future king will have that responsibility. The suitors will be eager to show their skills in combat to impress both my court and myself.”

“And they’re not going to toss me down and run me through because...?”

The queen winces at the imagery. Beside her, Alice thinks she sees the Hatter’s face twitch into a brief but furious grimace.

“It’s true, if a suitor defeated you, I would be forced to marry him. However, as I said, there’s no reason for him to kill you as his primary goal will be to make a good impression upon me and killing or severely injuring my Champion would not further that goal. So he’ll show off a bit and then, graciously, let you finish it.”

“I see...” Alice muses. Glancing around at the assembled creatures and people, she asks, “If it’s my decision to accept this responsibility or not, then why are so many attending our meeting?”

“If you decide to do it, then you’ll need some training, won’t you?” Tweedledee says.

“Contrariwise, if you don’t, then you won’t but we’ll’ve gotten a rather nice tea out of it,” Tweedledum replies.

Alice stares at the assembled Underlandians: Mallymkun, Chessur, the Tweedles, the Hatter... “All of you would be teaching me how to fight?”

“You’ve got it now,” Chessur announces. “So what do you say?”

Alice can see how eager and interested everyone is in her response. Well, everyone except the Hatter who is glaring furiously at the floor. He might be mad, but Alice agrees with Mirana about him: the Hatter does see things much more clearly than most. If he has found a reason to be anxious, Alice ought to be very, very careful.

“Your Majesty, why can’t I use the Vorpal Sword? Absolum told me it knows what it wants. Surely...?”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible, Alice. The sword only responds to the Jabberwocky. If it’s put to any other use, it will shatter.”

“Oh. A bit tetchy, isn’t it?” Alice mutters.

Mally giggles madly. Chessur grins. The Tweedles elbow each other. The Hatter does nothing.

Alice hesitates. “If I have to make a decision right now...”

“You don’t,” the queen assures her, no doubt sensing Alice’s refusal. “If you’d like a few days to consider it...”

“Actually, I’ll need a few days, and a lot of help, to even see if I have any talent at all with the sword.”

“And knife and garrote and staff and spear and...” Mally’s list dies incomplete when the Hatter growls at her.

“Ah, right,” Alice says, fisting her hand to keep from reaching out to touch the Hatter’s arm. That sort of public display would not be appropriate in this venue. Especially if the Hatter is to become one of her instructors.

Addressing the queen, Alice replies, “If Mally, Chessur, the Tweedles, and the Hatter have time this week to tutor me in... trouncing someone, then I’ll have a better idea of what I’m capable. By next week, I should have an answer for you, Your Majesty.”

Mirana smiles brilliantly. “Fantastic! By Monday, then? I look forward to your reports, everyone, and Alice, I shall look forward to your answer. Now,” the queen says with a worried glance at the clock, “I’m afraid I have a meeting with Fenruffle. If you’ll excuse me...”

As the group files out of the Royal Office and a very grumpy-looking gryphon stomps in, Mally gives Alice another poke in the ankle with her hatpin sword. “So, when are we getting started?”

Alice glances at the Hatter – the tense, silent, fist-curling, glare-hurling Hatter – and says, “After lunch let’s meet in the courtyard. Chessur, could you find a location that will allow for ease of movement and doesn’t present too many breakables?”

“My pleasure.” The cat disappears on his quest.

“Mally, Tweedles, why don’t you go ahead and start lunch? I... that is, I’d like to have a word with Hatter. In private.”

“Sure.”  “Of course.” The Tweedles shrug and head for the brunch room.

Mally giggles and follows them, lunging and jabbing at shadows with enthusiasm.


She turns and takes in the tumultuous swirl of colors in the Hatter’s eyes: fierce yellow and pale, pale green and even a hint of burning orange. Alice takes his arm and steers him toward the nearest available room.

“It looks as though you’re of as many minds about this as I am,” she observes wryly, closing the door behind them.

The Hatter ignores the sofa and chairs in the very lovely parlor and beseeches, “Don’t agree to this.”

“If I don’t what will happen to the queen, to Underland?”

He hesitates, his eyes turning a lovely shade of deep green. He shakes his head and that washed-out olive reemerges. “No, please, Alice. Don’t do this.”

“I haven’t agreed,” she reminds him softly.

“Don’t!” he nearly shouts, stepping in front of her, placing his work-roughened hands on her arms. “Don’t...”

“Hatter,” she says, reaching up to grasp his elbows. “In my world, I was a business woman. And I was horrid at it. At least in the practical aspects. In Underland, what will I do with my life? Who will I be?”

The Hatter smiles. “You’ll be Alice, of course.”

“As natural as that sounds, being Alice is not a career.”

He stares at her, his eyes so pale they’re almost white.

“I need to find out if I can do this. And I need your help. Please.”

He shakes his head. “Nae, nae...”

“Hatter!” Alice places a hand on his cheek again, drawing him out of his churning emotions and the siren call of madness. “I need you to be rational right now.”

He nods and takes a deep breath. “Yes, yes. Rational. Regrettably rational.”

Alice appreciates the attempt at humor, no matter how truthful the comment had been. His hands drop from her arms.

“I took up the Vorpal Sword,” she tells him. “Isn’t that another kind of promise?”

“The queen will release you if you ask her.”

Alice hesitates. “I’m not sure I want to do that. I’m not sure what I want.” She closes her eyes and sighs, trying to organize her thoughts. “I want to try this, though. If only to eliminate it from my future career choices.”

When she opens her eyes, the Hatter’s green eyes are studying her very closely. “Don’t consider it, Alice. Ask to be released. There’s time for...”

“I want to do this,” she interrupts, surprised at the intensity of her desire. “I’m going to do it. Try, at least.” She gives him a long, level look. “Will you help me?”

Tarrant’s expression tightens with unhappiness. A moment later, he nods with visible reluctance.

Alice addresses that resistance directly: “If you help me do this, you cannot be gentle with me. I need to know exactly what I’ll be facing. I’m pretty sure Mally won’t hold back, but I think you’ll agree that she and I are not very evenly matched. The Tweedles seem... a bit easy to fool,” she admits tactfully. “And Chessur is not a typical opponent. I’ll need you to test me. You’re a man and I’ll be fighting men. You know how to fight – I saw you during the battle. I need to know what you know.”

His hands return to her arms and hold on tightly. Above her, the Hatter’s eyes fluctuate between a rich blue-green to fearsome yellow and back again with an occasional glimpse of that sickly paleness. “You don’t know what you’re asking...”

“I know I don’t,” Alice agrees, wondering why this is so hard for him. “But I’m asking you to push me as hard as you can this week so that, at the end of it, if I survive...” She adds that last bit in a droll tone. “... I can give the queen my answer. Whatever it is.”

Alice feels a chill unfurl through her as something... calculating flashes in his eyes. “Push you hard?” he repeats in a considering tone, his brogue softening and darkening the words. “Aye, that I’ll do, Alice. That I’ll do.”


“Move your feet!” Mally screeches.

Alice forces herself to jog a few steps backward and to the side. The Hatter follows her.

“Keep your head up!” Chessur reminds her lazily.

Alice feels her body jerk roughly as she counters blow after blow from the staff the Hatter is wielding today. On the first day of her training, the Tweedles and the Hatter had taken turns knocking her down and Mally and Chessur had joined the festivities by tripping her at every available opportunity. Apparently, after four hours of colliding with the castle croquet pitch, Alice had managed to figure out how to roll with the blows and come up on her feet.

Today, they’d moved on to using staffs. She’d gotten the basics down with the Tweedles as the Hatter had adjusted her stance, the positioning of her hands and grip, her posture. She’d never been poked and prodded so much in her entire life let alone in a single morning, let alone by a man. If it hadn’t been for the fierce yellow-green of his eyes, Alice doubts she would have managed to keep the blush off of her face at all.

She’d done all right with the Tweedles, but now, after lunch and a break, the Hatter – stripped down to his trousers and shirtsleeves – had taken up the second staff. And he is pushing her just as he’d promised he would: hard.

Alice mistakenly drops her guard and the Hatter shoves the end of the staff into her stomach, winding her. She keeps her own staff up, though, and manages to counter an upward blow in the direction of her chin. She follows through with pair of rather predictable blows – a right and a left – then pivots smartly on her heel and manages a strike against his shoulder then forces her bruised body to roll under his staff as it whistles through the air and gets a good whack at his ankle.

Bloody bulloghin’ brangergain!” he barks.

Getting to her feet, Alice stumbles toward him, fight forgotten. “I’m sorry! Are you all –”

The flash of a grin is the harbinger of the attack: the Hatter grabs her staff, twists her body around, taking advantage of her poor balance, and pulls her back against his chest, her hands are trapped by his arms and the staff pressing her back against him.

Never, take pity on yer opponent,” he rumbles in her ear.

Mute and trying to suppress a series of very distracting shivers, Alice nods.

“Now, I’ve got ye. What are ye gonna do abou’ it?”

Sending a silent apology at him, Alice lifts her leg and scrapes the edge of her shoe down his trouser-clad shin.

The Hatter yelps and Alice twists out of his grasp, scoops up her dropped staff, and, turning, strikes at the back of his opposite knee. He doesn’t go down, but it buckles enough for her to charge his back and knock him forward onto the ground. The tackle is far from graceful. Alice keeps her staff across his shoulders and her weight on his upper thighs. She tries not to think too much about the exact position she’s in. Oh, what her mother would have to say about this!

“Good,” the Hatter says, his voice strained. “But put the staff a bit lower. Yes, there. There’s a pressure point there.”

Alice nods, examining the location of staff against his back. “I’ll remember.”

He nods and pants against the grass.

“Break?” she checks, unwilling to be attacked the minute she picks herself up.

“Aye, break.”

Alice rolls away as gently as possible and reaches out to help him sit up. “Let me check your leg.” He doesn’t protest as she reaches for his dirt-covered and grass-stained trouser leg and lifts it. She winces at the raw skin on his shin.

“Hatter... I’m so sorry.”

He cocks his head and regards the injury with an objective expression. “You did well. Nothing to apologize for.”

Of course, that just makes Alice feel worse.

“Here, this should ease your conscience,” Chessur says, materializing at Alice’s side.

She takes the jar from him and applies some of the paste to the bruising scrape.

“Your form’s pretty good,” Mally tells the Hatter. “I didn’t know you knew how to fight with staffs.”

“And yet you let me coach it?” he asks wryly.

Mally shrugs. “I know swords and knives. What was I going to say about a stick that’s not even sharp?”

“Ignorance has never stopped you before.”


Alice watches Mally march off, tail high. She notices the Tweedles and Chessur off near the castle wall, raiding the refreshment table. Turning back to the Hatter, she catches his wince as he gently folds his trouser leg down over the developing bruise and scraped skin.

“Are you really all right?” she asks. “I shouldn’t have...”

The Hatter raises a hand and presses a knuckle against her lips. “You should have and you did. You don’t get many second chances in a fight. You do what you have to in order to win.”

Alice blinks as he lowers his hand. His gaze is slightly unfocused as he studies her face. “You really think these suitors will try to kill me?”

“I don’t know,” he replies, his eyes snapping into focus and Alice sees the color of fear in them: that washed-out green.

Alice wants to ask him if he still thinks she should refuse, but she doesn’t. She doubts he’s changed his opinion. Alice draws her ankles close and wraps her aching arms around her trouser-clad legs. “Thank you.” When the Hatter looks up at her with a questioning expression, she explains, “For the honesty. For not holding back.”

His gaze gentles to a verdant green. “Just don’t forget to do the same. You fight as hard as you must to win. No less. Never any less.”

She smiles. Nodding once, she assures him, “I won’t.”

After the words have left her mouth and the Hatter relaxes, Alice realizes that she’d just made him yet another promise. The third one so far. Not that she’s counting...


Using swords had been... interesting. A bit painful despite the fact that they’d been dull and made of wood. Short staffs, actually. Mally had been especially bossy and Alice had jumped to obey just to keep her from screaming. She wonders glumly if anyone had appreciated her efforts.

And, true to his word, the Hatter had not been gentle with her. With his extra upper body strength, he had disarmed her nine times out of ten.

“How in the name of Fate did you manage to hold on to the Vorpal Sword long enough to behead the Jabberwocky?” Chessur had wondered aloud, looking flabbergasted.

The Hatter had shouted at him in Outlandish but Chessur had already achieved his objective: when Alice and the Hatter had squared off for the next bout, she’d been beyond mad. She’d been enraged. Of course, she’d been mad at herself, but the fire in her blood had worked just as well on the Hatter. It had been the one and only time she’d managed to disarm him, knock him down, and put the wooden “blade” to his throat without giving him time to regroup.

“That’s my Alice,” he’d whispered up at her with a smile.

If Mally and Chessur hadn’t been hovering within earshot, Alice might have happily agreed with him in that moment.

On the morning of the fourth day – Thursday and a much-needed holiday – Alice sleeps late, takes a hot bath, spends an hour stretching, then goes to find the Hatter. She stops by his workshop with some things in a basket for lunch and finds him busily forming, trimming, pinning, sewing, and weaving. The man’s hands move so fast it seems as if he is doing all of it at once. Alice leans in the doorway, content to watch him until he notices her. For two or three minutes, she tries to find a rhythm in his movements, but fails. But then an undoubtedly bad idea occurs to her.

Sliding the basket of bread, cheese, and fruit behind the full-length mirror next to the door, Alice slips into the room and, keeping low, circles around as best she can.

Don’t do it, Alice!

She wipes her perspiring palms on her trousers.

He’d be disappointed if I didn’t.

Alice bites her lip.

He’ll be furious if you do!

She tracks his movements intently.

Or he might not...

Crouching under his workbench, Alice pulls a cheese knife from her belt and slips it between her teeth. When the Hatter turns and scoops up a bolt of fabric in each hand, she strikes. Alice grabs his ankles and pulls with all her might. The Hatter falls and the bolts of fabric unravel in the air. Alice moves fast and grabs the back of his head with one hand before it strikes the thin rug even as she presses the cheese knife to his throat and tries not to wince when her bruised knees smash into the floor.

The Hatter blinks up at her, clearly startled.

“Did I surprise you?” Alice asks, in a disbelieving tone.  She'd certainly surprised herself!

The Hatter grins. “I believe you did. What an inspired attack!”

“Was it any good?”

He considers her. “You’re starting knives tomorrow.” He glances down at the cheese knife.

“And wrestling the day after that,” she agrees. With a shrug, she cheekily admits, “Maybe I just wanted a short introduction before –”

Alice squeaks as the Hatter grins wickedly and twists. With a single sinewy motion, he’s pulled the cheese knife away from his throat and has flattened her on the floor.

“A short introduction?” the Hatter murmurs, his blue-green eyes sweeping over her like a touch. “A short introduction in what exactly?”

Alice struggles to keep her breathing regular but she can hear her pulse pounding madly in her ears, she can feel it in her chest. Confused, overwhelmed, trapped in his undivided attention, she rasps out the first thing that comes to mind: “What... are you qualified to teach, exactly?”



Tarrant luxuriates in the feel of her – his Alice! – against him. He forgets that they’re on the floor of his workshop. He sees nothing other than her. Feels nothing other than her. With each breath, she presses against him. And with each instant of contact, his blood zings faster and hotter through his veins.

“What,” she pants, “are you qualified to teach, exactly?”

The sheer number and variety of options overcome him. For a moment, he has to close his eyes, wary of what colors they might show. His lips curve into a small smile.

“Distraction,” he whispers, choosing the least damning of his available choices. He leans toward her. He dares not kiss her. He dares not touch her any more deliberately than he already is. He leans down and opens his eyes as his face descends toward her neck, her scent. He inhales deeply until his lungs scream from the expansion.

“Alice... why aren’t you fighting back? You promised you would.”

She gasps softly beneath him. “It’s a holiday,” she manages. She sounds dazed, lost, utterly flunderwhapped.

“But you promised.”

“Don’t make me bite you, Hatter; I might draw blood.”

“You’re soft,” he tells her, enjoying the dual meaning of the words.

She struggles weakly to pull her wrists from his grasp before admitting with defeat, “Everyone has a weak spot.”

“And have you found it?” he asks against her neck. Her skin is so close, so very, very close. It would take but a thought to press his lips there, to taste her with the tip of his tongue.

No! Mustn’t!

Of course not. Of course not. But it’s only polite to wait for her answer, isn’t it?

“It’s becoming clearer,” she finally says.

He wants to demand that she say his name before he’ll release her. Oh, what he would give to hear his name spoken in her breathless voice...! But no. No.

He leans back, in control now that there’s a bit of distance between them and he can breathe non-Alice-scented air. Opening his eyes, he regards her. “Even pinned, you have weapons. Your teeth. Bite his neck, here.” He shifts away from her until he’s sitting on his knees and draws a finger down his neck along the body’s major artery. “Or his ear, there’s another pressure point here.” He lifts his hair out of the way and points. “You sink your teeth into him and don’t let go.

Alice sits up, bracing herself on her hands, and nods. “All right.”

Tarrant grins at her, delighted with her sign of trust. There’s no blushing, no scrambling up to her feet, no brushing off of hands. She meets his gaze directly and holds it without flinching. He can’t remember the last time someone had done that in so... intimate a setting.

“Hatter?” she asks, still watching him intently.

“Yes, Alice?”

“Your eyes... they’re blue.”

Tarrant tilts his head to the side considering her statement-that-is-a-question. So she wants to know what he’s feeling...? He replies, “I’ve been considering words that start with the letter M...”

“Munificent?” Alice guesses after a pause.

Tarrant smiles. “That is an excellent word, Alice! I shall have to keep that in Mind!”

“But it wasn’t the one you were thinking of.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

Alice smiles. “Your eyes are still blue.”

“Moonstruck,” he admits. He shares a smile with her for another moment and only one more moment, he then stands and helps her to her feet.

“I think we’ve lost the cheese knife,” she observes without bothering to look at the floor.

“Then I suggest we break cheese and cut the bread,” he replies, holding up a pair of shears.

They do.


Tarrant tries his best not to think about having Alice beneath him on the floor of his workshop... or at any other venue. He also tries not to think about the fact that she could make the deeply disturbing decision to accept all of her responsibilities as the Queen’s Champion and agree to fight whatever block-headed, heavy-handed, slithy-shrifty greizin’-grommer that gets it into his head to try for the queen’s hand.

Alice had asked him to push her. To show her what it would be like when faced with a foe, when faced with the loss of one’s own life. She’d asked for this treatment. And Tarrant has to continually remind himself of it.

He tells himself that if he’s harsh enough, cruel enough, it’ll convince her to turn away from her role as Champion. He tells himself that when the Trial of Threes arrives, it won’t matter.

It doesn’t have to be her.

Tarrant holds onto these thoughts ruthlessly. At least until he’s pinned to the turf with Alice’s soft body pressing down against him.

“Good,” he tells her – and, oddly enough, means it! – as she draws the short, wooden mock-knife blade across the side of his neck in a motion that would sever the blood vessels he’d told her about. “And the bones of the neck?” he prompts.

He feels her weight shift slightly and her inner thighs press against his back and sides. He closes his eyes and tries to focus on the dig of the wooden blade just there in the back of his neck. “Good,” he repeats, stifling a moan.

“Break?” she asks, a bit breathlessly.

“Aye. Break.”

As usual, she tumbles off of him with a whisper of sound. Tarrant grins as he rolls over in the grass and considers the fact that she’s very careful of how she touches him when they are not trying to... what had been the word she’d used?... ah, yes: trounce! Alice is unfailingly careful of how she touches him when each is not trying to trounce the other. Well, except for...

D’nae think about yesterday morning!

Tarrant sighs as he helplessly remembers.


He closes his eyes briefly, listening to the Tweedles and Chessur and Mally bicker and bet over by the plates of mint puffs and cheese candles. Opening his eyes, Tarrant looks up at the sky, the deep, summer blue and wonders if his eyes had been this color yesterday.

“Are you all right?”

She always asks him that. Even when he’s sure he must have injured her and not the other way around.

“Nae,” he says. Before she can scramble to her feet and go fetch the bruise ointment, he says, “D’nae accept this.” Tarrant clears his throat and struggles for calm. “Don’t continue the tradition of the Queen’s Champion.”

“Because I’m no good at it?”

Her droll tone bothers him. He frowns. “Because you’ll never know peace. Because even in times of peace, you’ll have to do this. Day after day. Once you step on this path, there will be no leaving it.”

Alice is silent for a long moment. “Where did you learn to fight?”

“Most of it I learned from my Fa. Then I relearned it after that Horvendush Day.” He’s thankful Alice doesn’t ask which Horvendush Day.

Again, another moment of silence passes. “You’ve been alone since then?”

“A hatter, alone with his hats, passes customers by attracting Time.” He giggles. “Have I made a rhyme?”

“It’s lovely,” Alice says. After a moment, she sits up and glances at their comrades near the punch decanter. “I’ll chase Chess around for a bit this afternoon. Maybe I’ll put a mint puff on the end of my ‘knife’ and try to stick it in his ear.”

Tarrant grins at the thought. “I’d like to stay to hear that.”

Alice blinks at him. “You don’t have any hats to finish today?”

“Several.” But he makes no move to get up and leave.

Tarrant stares at the sky and remembers watching Alice getting tossed around by the Jabberwock three years ago. He hadn’t been able to save her then. He’d tried, though, despite the fact that the Oraculum had predicted it would be her to fight the wretched beast. Tarrant hadn’t truly dared to defy that document; his one pathetic attempt to volunteer in her stead attests to that! And then she’d nearly gotten herself squished in the first thirty seconds of the fight! If he hadn’t intervened... Tarrant tries not to finish that thought. Instead, he prays she is smart enough to avoid the opportunity the queen is offering her.

“The battle’s long over,” he says. And, if he’s completely honest with himself, he never should have – no one should have – asked Alice to fight the Jabberwock that first time at all. Tarrant knows he’d been desperate for the Resistance to make its move. He’d been blood-thirsty and more than half-mad with the need for vengeance. He would have done anything to ensure his turn on the battlefield. And, to his everlasting shame, he had even manipulated Alice into becoming the Queen’s Champion. In his blind thirst for battle, he’d offered up Alice!

His Alice!

Although... she hadn’t been his at the time. And, quite frankly, he’s not sure if she’s his now. But, one day, perhaps... if possible... she might be. And the anticipation and uncertainty is a heady combination.

If you asked, she might be your Alice, you know.

No, Tarrant doesn’t know.

It could be so easy...

No, no it wouldn’t.

There’s the Thrice a-Vow... Remember?

He does. Tarrant shakes his head. No, no he won’t do that. He wouldn’t. Couldn’t.


Again, that hand against his jaw pulls him from his disturbing thoughts. He clears his throat. “I’m fine.”

He opens his eyes to see Alice leaning over him, her expression pensive. “And your foot?”

Tarrant giggles. “You’re rather good at crushing toes, aren’t you?”

“It’s my specialty.” She smiles.

Tarrant likes her smile. He’d like to see it every hour of every day, if possible. And it would be possible if she’d only decide to stay in Underland.

She might stay if she were the Queen’s Champion again...

Yes, that’s one option...

She’ll be killed if she stays the Queen’s Champion. The Trial of Threes...

Tarrant knows he should tell her to go back. Leave all of them to their fate. They’ve survived before; they will again.

Live, Alice.

Stay, Alice.

The thoughts are contrary. He shouldn’t be dwelling on them, inviting the madness. He’s not sure what he would do if the madness were to come upon him now, with her so close, with his need so desperate, with the others so far away...

Sometimes, Tarrant frightens himself.

Alice’s thumb caresses his cheekbone and Tarrant opens his eyes. When had he closed them? He’s not sure.

“You’re fine?” she checks.

He smiles. “Yes, and I’m ready to see you convince Chessur’s ear to chew a mint puff.”

Alice returns his grin. “Then I suggest you make yourself comfortable. This might take a while.” She stands, scoops up her wooden knife and calls, “Chess! Tweedles! Mally! Have you finished off all the mint puffs already?”

Tarrant leans against a tree trunk and folds his hands over his middle. Yes, he’ll watch. Yes, he’ll wait. And yes, he’ll find a way to keep her. Somehow.

Although whether he’ll be keeping her safe or keeping her with him, he’s not sure.

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 3 of 13

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