Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 6 of 13

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

“Alice, are you all right?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. I’m fine.” Alice doesn’t mention the bruises on her right wrist or the swelling knuckles on her left hand. All things considered, she’d rather forget about them entirely. But with four more duels left, Alice knows she’ll have to deal with them before going to bed.

“Did your tutors congratulate you?” the queen asks.

Alice chuckles. “Yes. Mally was very impressed.” Alice remembers her hatpin-swishing enthusiasm as the dormouse had reenacted the fight with commentary. “Chessur and the Tweedles seemed pleased.” There’d been handshakes from those three. Even her former opponents among the queen’s guard had given her a salute.

The queen smiles. “Wonderful. And now, let’s see... it’s nearly midnight, so it’s time for...”

Alice sighs. Yes, it’s time for her to run the gauntlet of facetious, simpering faces back to her room for the night. This won’t last forever, she reminds herself. In two weeks or so, they’ll all be gone – things will be back to normal – and I won’t have to hide from Tarrant any more.

She doesn’t like to think of it as hiding, but she knows that’s what she’s doing. She wants to see him, more than anything, too much. If any one of the queen’s court were to notice her looking in the Hatter’s direction, the secret would be out. Alice isn’t sure what would come of that, but whatever it would be, it wouldn’t be good.

Alice opens her mouth to bid the queen good-night when there’s a knock on the door.

“Enter!” Mirana calls.

The door opens and there stands Tarrant, looking exhausted and frazzled. He stops short just inside the door, his eyes widening when he sees Alice standing not two arm-lengths in front of him.

“You’re right on time for my hat fitting,” Mirana announces. “I’m sure it’s beautiful, Tarrant. Just leave it, oh... anywhere, I suppose, before you go.” The queen then floats up the staircase to her bedroom. “Good night, Alice. Good night, Tarrant.” The queen’s bedroom door closes and silence descends.

When the door to the queen’s tower parlor swings closed on its own, the sound jars both Alice and the Hatter. He drops the hatbox clutched in his hand to the floor and Alice crosses the distance between them.

His eyes are green now, she notes. Alice smiles wearily before lowering her forehead to his shoulder with a sigh. His arms wind around her and her hands find their way to his waist. Propriety be damned; she’s too tired to bother with it.

Tarrant seems to understand. His embrace holds her up. Alice wonders if hers, weak as it is, helps him at all.

“Let’s not think about today,” she says.

“All right.”

“And let’s not think about the next ones, either.” Oshtyer, especially, worries her. Those shrewd eyes do not engender trust.

“Are you all right?”

Alice starts to tell him not to worry, but changes her mind. Of all the people in her new life, here is the one who knows her best. She doesn’t want that to change. “No,” she says. “I need some ointment, I think.”

Tarrant gently turns her toward the sofa in front of the hearth and Alice notices a familiar-looking jar on the side table. “How did that get there?” she asks.

“It flew, of course,” the Hatter says with a friendly grin. “No feet.”

Alice huffs a brief chuckle.

Tarrant scoops out a bit of paste and kneels in front of her on the rug. “Where does it hurt, lass?”

She pulls her shirtsleeve up and slides the gauntlet off her right wrist. Looking at her arm now, hours after the fact, makes her wince. Magenta and blue bruises are starting to color her skin, darker in the place where the sheathed throwing knife had been pressed into the muscles and tendons.

Tarrant’s eyes flash yellow and Alice places her hand on the back of his neck. When he glances up at her, she smiles and the moment of anger passes. He gently rubs the lotion into her skin, intent on the simple task. Slumped against the sofa cushions, Alice can do little other than appreciate the experience.

“An’ th’other?” he asks some time later.

Alice opens her eyes briefly. “Sorry,” she mumbles. “Sleepy.”

“’Tis all right.” Without prompting, the Hatter takes her left hand in his and gently smoothes the paste over her swollen knuckles. It seems to her that he spends a very long time massaging her hand. And perhaps she imagines it, but she thinks his fingertips trace over the base of her ring finger, back and forth, several times.



He clears his throat softly. “Shall I help you to your room?”

She shakes her head. “I’ll sleep here. ‘S closer.”

There’s a long pause and then hesitant hands unbutton her left cuff and remove the other gauntlet. After her left wrist is freed, there’s another long pause and then those hesitant hands fumble at her waist. She hears belt buckles clinking and her knife and sword are pulled away. Another long moment of nothingness follows and then those hands are at her feet, taking off her shoes and unbuckling the knives she keeps strapped to her ankles. When those are set aside, the hands return and arrange her on the sofa.

“Belt,” she manages, reaching for it.

“I’ll do it.”

Alice relaxes against the sofa and lets Tarrant remove the belt with the concealed garrote. She lifts her hips slightly to help make the task slightly easier when she feels the belt start to slide away.

“Tarrant,” she whispers, feeling herself start to drift off.

A hand brushes across her forehead. “Aye?”

“Thank you...”

“Ye’re welcome, Alice.”

She feels his hand smooth her hair and his lips press against her forehead. A moment of rustling cloth and footsteps later and then a door opens and closes in the distance. On the sofa of the queen’s private parlor, Alice tumbles into sleep.


Alice had been right to be wary of the shifty-eyed Oshtyer: Of all the suitors, she had expected him to be the least honorable.

Alice doesn’t enjoy being right about that.

The other duels had been refreshingly civilized:

The lion, Prince Avendale, had been a perfectly poised and level-headed opponent. Not only that, but his performance during the interview had impressed her as he’d answered her silliness with creativity and humor and the occasional rumbling laugh. He’d chosen fighting staffs for his duel and despite a few dubious moments, mostly due to Alice overbalancing, she’d managed the fight well enough for Avendale to thank her for the opportunity to show his skills after he’d conceded the victory. Alice had noticed that Tarrant’s eyes had not flashed yellow across the banquet hall that night.

Prince Jaspien had chosen the broadsword and, unfortunately, he not been all that skilled at it. Alice had been repeatedly alarmed by his wild swings and off-balance lunges. She’d managed to stay out of his way when she’d had to and she’d done her best to make sure his attacks had connected safely whenever she could. She’d genuinely felt sorry for the man. Even though he’d produced the singularly most boring interview, the taciturn prince hadn’t deserved to be publicly humiliated in the duel. When the silver bell had rung, Alice had wished she’d had more experience with swordplay – if she’d had she would have tried to make his defeat look like a valiant attempt to win nonetheless. But she hadn’t so she couldn’t. Tarrant had been late arriving to that banquet and had glared at the man all night.

And then it had been Oshtyer’s turn. He’d done his best to demean Alice during the interview, criticizing her choice of questions in a gentle, patronizing tone. The man had never struck Alice as a fighter, more of a plotter. And so, on the day of the duel, Alice had cast a wistful glance at the armor she’d worn to fight the Jabberwocky before heading for the courtyard. She’d even hoped to get a glimpse of the Hatter and a private moment to whisper: “Have your throwing knives close by, please.” But alas, it had not been meant to be...

“Challenger, stand down!” Alice hears McTwisp screech. The beefy arm around her neck doesn’t budge. Oshtyer’s other hand, however, gropes various areas of Alice’s anatomy that he never would have dared to touch had she been born a man!

Alice’s dagger is long gone, but luckily so is Oshtyer’s. Still, that doesn’t mean he’s not carrying extras... just like Alice. She doesn’t want to use them unless she has to. It’d be bad form. Cheating. But, still, it’s preferable to dying... or having her shirt ripped open before all and sundry!

However, Alice hadn’t learned wrestling for nothing.

Her elbow jabs back, connecting with some part of his torso. She shoves the edge of her shoe against his leg and does her best to peel the skin right off his shin. His arm twitches a bit looser and Alice grits her teeth, braces herself and slams her head back. There’s sickening crunch and a litany of oaths but Alice is already rolling away from him, coughing, wheezing, blinking back the tears blurring her vision. Gaining her feet, she surreptitiously glances about for her lost weapon. From the back of the stunned-silent crowd, a familiar brogue shouts, “Alice, high tea!”

Looking toward the eight o’clock position – where it would be from Tarrant’s point of view up in that tree – she spots it in the grass. Keeping her eye on Oshtyer, she circles around him and scoops it up. The man is still swearing, clutching his broken nose. There’s a knife in his hand now, too. It looks very much like the one he’d been using earlier, but Alice is pretty sure it’s not one in the same.

Wretched, underhanded son of a...

And the silver bell hasn’t been rung yet.

Alice isn’t inclined to wait for it this time.

They start circling each other again. She dodges several attacks, not daring to roll under his arm. She’s too tired, too shaken to try anything fancy or well-coordinated.

Oshtyer tenses for another attack. This time, when he lunges, she focuses on the movement and manages to get a good grip on his forearm. She crushes his foot beneath her boot, kicks his knee out from under him and, as he tumbles to the ground, she uses her grip on his arm for leverage, forcing him onto his stomach. With a bit of pressure applied to his wrist, the knife drops from his fingers. Alice doesn’t have to set the tip of her blade between the bones of the back of his neck, but it feels really goodto do it anyway!

Panting, Alice listens as McTwisp calls the match and summons the healers. Once the physicians have approached, Alice climbs off of the offensive man as quickly as possible, not bothering to be gentle. She puts herself between him and the queen and keeps her eyes on both him and his equally suspicious ministers.

It’s not until after she’s left the field with the queen safely ensconced in the protective formation of her guard that Alice feels shock start to set in. (After such a blatant disregard for propriety, it’s understandable that the queen would retreat to her rooms until Oshtyer and his delegates have been escorted off the premises.) Alice damns the nosey courtiers and their gossip to hell and heads directly for the Hatter’s rooms.

“You again?” the keyhole yawns.

“Shut up.” Alice flings the door open and kicks it closed.

She thinks she hears a faint exclamation from the offended lock. She doesn’t care. Alice storms back and forth in the room, pacing furiously. Every once in a while, her fist strikes out at the imagined face of her most recent opponent.

“Should have... should have...”

There are dozens of things Alice should have done differently in that duel.

“Should have...” Alice pulls a throwing knife from the sheath on her arm. She balances it across her fingers for a moment. Then, with a furious motion, she sends it across the room and into the wall. If Oshtyer had been standing there, it would have struck him in the face.

“A bit lower, maybe.”

The second knife lands considerably lower than the first.

“Try getting someone to marry you with that problem,” she snarls.

Hands fisted, she pivots to resume pacing and finds the Hatter standing just inside his own front door.

“Alice?” he asks.

Amazingly, his eyes are clear, rational green. A detached voice in Alice’s mind whispers, That’s fine – you’re angry enough for the both of you.

“That rotten, slimy, evil, opportunistic, sadistic BASTARD!”

The Hatter says nothing.

“I should have disemboweled him! I should have torn his throat out! I should have broken his fingers one by one!” She pulls her fisted hands close to her chest, trying to keep her fury from ripping her apart. “I should have...! Should have...!”

Gritting her teeth, Alice looks up at Tarrant. “Why did I just let him crawl back to wherever he’d come from?!”

The walls absorb Alice’s shouts. After her ears stop ringing, she notices that her breaths are exploding out of her like drumbeats.


She struggles to calm down. “I’m fine.”

Tarrant giggles and Alice feels her lips twitch in a helpless smile.

“I know,” she whispers. “That’s usually your line.”

He clears his throat and ventures further into the room. His gaze quickly assesses her. “Is any of this blood yours?”

“It’s blue, so I don’t think so.” Her attempt at sarcasm falls depressingly flat.

He takes her hand and leads her toward the sofa. Returning a moment later, he places a basin on the floor and then a familiar clay jar. The Hatter soaks a towel in the water then wrings it out. He collects her hands and gently scrubs them, attending to each knuckle and fingernail. Once finished, he washes her face and, when she leans forward on her elbows, he rubs the cloth against her neck as well.

“Thank you.”

“Do you hurt anywhere?”

“Just my pride.”

Tarrant lifts her face and drops his gaze to her throat.

Grudgingly, she asks, “Is it bruising?”


Alice gestures for the paste then sits still when Tarrant applies it himself instead of simply handing her the jar.

“Why aren’t you in the midst of a screaming fury?” she asks him while he works.

“We can’t both lose our heads,” he says with a smile.

Alice laughs humorlessly. “There wouldn’t be a stone left standing of this place if we did.”

They lapse into silence for a few minutes. Alice lets Tarrant check her neck for other injuries and reevaluate her hands. And then: “Alice... why didn’t you use your other knives?”

Eyes closed, she swallows. “I should have.”

“But you di’nae.”

“I considered it. He deserved it.”

Tarrant clasps her hands in each of his and waits.

“He was such a wretched cheat I thought... if I go for my knives then so will he and then... What’s to stop him from throwing one at the queen? Or, what if I hit her by mistake? Or someone else? I...” The nightmarish scenarios march through her head, one after the other.

“Hush. ‘Tis al’right. Ye fought yer hardest. Ye did what ye had teh.”

Alice opens her eyes.

Tarrant smiles. “An’ ye won.

Alice marvels at the fact that she’s not capable of refusing him a smile, even in this miserable situation. “Tarrant?”


“Just out of curiosity, did you have any knives on you today?”

In answer, he shakes back his lace cuffs and Alice sees his own gauntlets strapped to his forearms, the left one with three throwing knives and the right with two. She reaches for his right arm.

“Where’s the third one?”

Tarrant clears his throat and his gaze shifts guiltily toward the rather unfortunately-placed second knife that Alice had thrown at his wall. “It seems you and I were of the same mind on the nature of his punishment.”

Alice gapes at him. He blinks back at her sheepishly. Then she snorts. Covering her face with her hands, she laughs until tears are streaming down her cheeks and her nose is running and her breaths are coming in great sobs and going out helpless hiccups. Tarrant giggles with her for a bit, then hands her his handkerchief for the rest.


From the solarium terrace, there’s a lovely view of the croquet pitch. Mirana’s never bothered with it much. Croquet had always been her sister’s pastime. As children, they’d rarely spent their free time together. Iracebeth had chased flamingoes and knocked about hedgehogs. Mirana had tried to give the trees singing lessons. She likes to think her efforts hadn’t been wasted; the trees do sigh in rather nice counterpoint if someone gives them a one, two, three...

“Your Majesty?”

Mirana turns and smiles. “Hello, Tarrant. How are you?”

“I’m well...”

She takes note of his befuddled expression. She knows he’s busy turning out hats for the courtiers and guests. (Well, the remaining guests: Hornsaver had excused himself after the second duel and Oshtyer, that repugnant creature, had been asked to leave the day before. She can’t say she’s sorry to see either of them go.)

“I realize you’ve much to do today, but I thought you and I could do with a break.” Mirana motions for him to join her on the terrace. When he does, she lets him absorb the view for a few moments without interruption.

Below, one of the queen’s rooks is facing off with Alice. Both are wielding spears. Off to the side, the Tweedles are providing commentary and criticisms.

“A bit less of that, now, Alice!”

“Unless you grow longer arms, that is.”

“Don’t over balance!”

“Or under balance, either, come to think of it.”

Mirana lets Tarrant alone long enough for Algernon to enter and deliver the tea service. After the fish has left, Mirana says, “She’s down there with her tutors and a volunteer from my guard every other morning. And even I can see she’s improving.”

“Of course, she is. She knew nothing before she faced the Jabberwock.” He frowns. “That sword saved her life.”

“As did you.”

“I started a battle,” he replies, clearly remembering stepping between the beast and Alice to stab the Jabberwocky’s tail. Mirana smiles at the elated expression on his face. Yes, she supposes of all of Underland’s residents, Tarrant’s right to face the Red Queen’s forces had been the most legitimate.

But that time is not what the queen had been referring to.

“And you saved her again. Through the looking glass. And, again, after that.” She shakes her head in wonderment. “When Alice told me you’d been teaching her... wrestling, that she’d injured your side with her knee because you’d been pinning her down, I was utterly and completely appalled. I’d trusted you to prepare her for being my Champion, not teach a refined young lady to brawl like a... thug outside a Grobben pub.”

Next to her, Tarrant doesn’t look away from the activity on the croquet pitch. His shoulders curl in a bit. His expression is abashed.

“However,” Mirana says, “thank you for doing that. You saved her yesterday... again.”

Tarrant clears his throat awkwardly. “I’m just a hatter, Your Majesty. Alice saved herself.”

“With your foresight,” she concludes.

In the unsettled silence that oscillates between them, the sounds of wooden spears clanking and clapping against each other drift up.

“Missed an opening there, Alice!”

“Pay attention, Champion!”

Mirana honestly has no interest in the game below, so she takes this opportunity to study her Hatter. He looks tired, true, but there’s something about him. Something a bit more... demure. Or calm? Perhaps, centered? She looks him over, searching for any hint as to the source of this change.

When her gaze settles on his hands, pressed flat atop the low wall of the terrace, she feels a smile stretch her lips.

“Oh, goodness! Congratulations, Tarrant!” The Hatter startles and looks at her blankly for a moment before he notices the direction of her gaze and then he blushes. Delighted, Mirana says, “I take it, from the color of the ring, that your promised one is Alice?”


“That’s wonderful. Truly.”

So that’s what the Cheshire Cat had meant when he’d suggested I pay closer attention to Tarrant’s hands and look for new developments...!

“These past few weeks haven’t been easy for either of you,” she sympathizes. And she knows the next few months might not be any easier, either. She’s yet to find a solution to the difficulties presented by the Trial of Threes. Mirana vows to devote all of her time and energy to that research as soon as Viscount Valereth has completed his challenge and the castle has been cleared of guests. Despite being his queen, Mirana knows she owes this man her life. If he hadn’t guided her horse away during the massacre on Horvendush Day...

The White Queen regards the man who had turned his back on his people to ensure her safety, the man who’d lead the Resistance against the Red Queen’s tyranny, the man who had protected Alice and had kept her safe right under Iracebeth’s oddly disproportionately small nose...

Mirana owes Tarrant Hightopp a very great debt, indeed.

And, someday, she will find a way to repay him. Perhaps she will never be able to compensate him in full, but she will do what she can.

Mirana closes her eyes and sighs, accepting the possibility that Alice may have the right of it: both Mirana and Alice owe it to Tarrant to make sure the beast that decimated his clan – every hatter, apprentice, and babe – is not permitted to take anything more from him: neither his home, nor his trade, nor his friends, nor his Alice, nor his sanity.

Sometimes, a line must be drawn.

Mirana looks down at the faint, rosy promise-ring on Tarrant’s finger.

This is the line, she realizes. This is the line that must not be crossed. Not for crown or country or even the Oraculum. The queen will forsake all before she lets this man lose one more thing!

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 6 of 13

<< Previous     Home     Next >>