Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 7 of 13

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Alice stands with the queen, bidding farewell to Viscount Valereth, his vassals, and the courtiers. She does not smile or wave. After all, being pleasant to the queen’s guests is not in her job description. And it’s better not to encourage any of them to attempt friendship with the Queen’s Champion, regardless. It’s Alice’s job to be dispassionate and objective in her service to the queen. Alice would have felt a pang of loneliness if not for the fact that every single one of them make her feel nauseous.

As the party disappears beyond the grand arch at the end of the cobblestone drive, the queen sighs happily. “Alone at last!”

Alice agrees, but she’s a bit curious. “I don’t suppose you’ll consider any of them?”

“The suitors? Well... I suppose I’ll keep in touch with Dale, er, Prince Avendale, I mean.” Alice smiles at the wistful look in the queen’s dark eyes. “It really is a pity he’s a carnivore.”

“They say opposites attract,” Alice says as they head back into the castle.

“What an odd thing to say!”

“I suppose it is.” Then, remembering one of the queen’s comments about the Jabberwocky weeks ago, Alice muses cautiously, “But... we cannot see the stars without the night, can we?”

The queen gives Alice a startled look. “Very wise, Alice.”

“I wish I could take credit, Your Majesty.”

The queen laughs.

They continue up the stairs until Mirana reaches her office. There, Algernon, Pondish, Lakerton, and several other servants report that the castle rooms have been emptied. Forgotten items will be sent on to their owners posthaste and the rooms cleaned by the end of the day. After they hop or slither out, Mirana turns to Alice and, laying a hand on her shoulder, announces: “I hereby relieve you of your duties as Queen’s Champion until further notice.”

Alice returns her smile with more enthusiasm than she’s felt all day.

“Go and visit Tarrant. It’s nearly brillig.”

“On Saturday,” Alice adds. She very nearly rushes to the door but then remembers: “Tomorrow, shall I meet you in the Royal Library? After breakfast?”

“Yes, if you don’t mind. It takes two heads twice as long to ache as one!”

Alice chuckles. “I’ll be there.”

And she is. Alice’s days settle into a pattern: breakfast with the queen then research until lunch, which she usually takes to Tarrant’s workshop, followed by a leisurely tea, then exercises on the croquet pitch with one of the queen’s guard... unless it’s a Wednesday. On Wednesdays, Alice practices fighting not one but two members of the guard at once. Sometimes Tarrant joins her and the queen for dinner and sometimes he doesn’t. Alice often sees Mally, Thackery, and Chessur in the halls of the castle, coming and going. Probably visiting with the Hatter. Sometimes they arrive in time for teatime. Sometimes, that time belongs to just her and Tarrant.

The first month passes peacefully. Wonderfully. Alice thinks that if this is her new life, she could get used to it. Easily.

If only the research were going as well as everything else.

“Where is that volume on the Jabberwocky anatomy?” Alice asks one day. “I’d like to take a look at it again.”

The queen shows her the way to the Royal Library of Alchemy and locates the correct volume. “I was sure you’d memorized this already, Alice.”

“I’m sure I have. I just want to test my memory...” The lie is almost too easy to say.

She’d had to wait another four days before, finally, the friend she’d been needing to talk to had passed her in the hall.

“Hello, again, Alice. How odd to see you out and about before brillig. Have you misplaced your Tarrant?”

Alice valiantly fights the blush Chessur’s suggestive tone provokes.

“No, I’ve not misplaced him. He’s fine. I thought I’d have a word with you on the way to tea.”

“A word, you say? Or a whole sentence?”

Alice smiles. “A conversation.”

He pauses and hovers in the air. “And what would you wish to converse without your Tarrant knowing?”

Ignoring the personal comments, Alice waves Chessur into the alchemy library. “This,” she says, pointing to a diagram of the Jabberwocky, “is what I’d like to discuss with you.”

“Ah, yes. The Trial of Threes. It arrives in twenty-eight days, doesn’t it?”

“Exactly. And... I’ve only fought the Jabberwocky the one time, so I was wondering if, you know, you could... with your abilities, I mean...”

“Hmm...” Chessur purrs thoughtfully, regarding the drawings from an upside-down position in the air. “An interesting challenge. I’ve never tried to learn a shape this way.”

Which reminds Alice... “How did you learn the Hatter’s?”

Chessur’s grin is very, very wicked. “Perhaps on Tarrant’s birthday, when it’s perfectly acceptable to embarrass him as much as possible, I shall explain the process to you in complete, unabridged, crystal-clear detail.”

Alice chokes. “I... think I can guess now...”

“I’m sure you’ve several ideas regarding the process running through your mind, but tell me, why must this be kept a secret from your Tarrant? Wouldn’t he be pleased to know you’ll be prepared?”

“Well, it’s not that I don’t think he’d approve, I’d just thought it would be a bit much to know there’s a copy of the Jabberwocky out there... I mean, after it...”

“Yes, a perfectly horrid Horvendush Day.”

Alice nods. “Before I leave, I was thinking I might tell him I’ve practiced with the Bandersnatch, but he doesn’t need to see this.”

“Your attempts to protect him are unfailingly valiant, Alice. I shall do my best to replicate the beast. I may not get it exactly right... especially the voice, but...”

“Anything you can manage would be appreciated.”

Chessur grins. “It will be my pleasure, Alice. Now, if you’re ready to put away your protective tendencies...”

“Done. Let’s go to tea.”

Chessur smirks. “Indeed, let’s not keep your Tarrant waiting...”


Two weeks later, Alice is sitting the Royal Library – again – with a dusty tome lying open across her lap – again – staring at the entry explaining the Trial of Threes – again – but this time she’s seriously considering asking the Bandersnatch to be her Jabberwocky stand-in. She hasn’t heard anything from Chessur and she’s starting to become concerned. Yes, she’ll take the Vorpal Sword with her to face the rebirth of the Jabberwocky, and yes, the sword already knows what it wants, and yes, Alice need only hold onto the blasted thing, but...

But the Jabberwocky will remember her. And it won’t have forgotten her amateurish fumbling with the sword, either. And then there’s the fact that nearly every time the Jabberwocky has faced the Vorpal Sword, the bearer has been different. Insignificant, the creature had called her. Alice supposes she was. And still is. After all, she doesn’t know how to fight something like the Jabberwocky. It’s this ignorance she desperately needs to address. Fighting the Bandersnatch wouldn’t be the same, but at least he’d be a closer approximation. Closer than a rook, a knight, and a bishop.

Alice leans her chin in her palm and regards her left hand over the brittle pages of the book. Frustrated with the Trial of Threes, Alice adds to her compilation of unknowns by contemplating the odd, faint, bluish band circling her ring finger. She can’t remember exactly when she’d noticed it: at dinner sometime after the first and before the final duel. She wonders if this is something she ought to be worried about. Don’t some poisons change the color of one’s skin? But why would it show up as such a uniform line and only in this one place?

Another mystery. And not important when compared to her confrontation with the Jabberwocky only a fortnight away.

“Ah, what an interesting mark you have there!”

Alice twists in her chair and sighs at the Cheshire Cat’s grin. “Chess! Have you managed it?”

He arcs his brows. “How abrupt! No ‘Hello, handsome cat. How have you been?’”

“Hello, handsome cat. How have you been? And have you managed it?

Chessur sighs. “You Uplanders have deplorable manners.”

“Most of the time,” Alice admits. “Sorry.”

The cat twists through the air suddenly, rustling the pages of the Chronicle of Rites on her lap. “Interesting reading. I don’t suppose you’ve indulged yourself in any entries other than the Trial of Threes? Many of Underland’s most sacred rites are en-tome’d here...”

Alice glances down and reads the title of the next rite in the text: Thrice a-Vow. With an impatient snort, she closes the book and sets it aside.

“Out with it, Chess.”

“Are you sure? This is a library, not a battlefield.”

For a moment, Alice stares at him. And then a wide grin curves her lips. “You did it? I mean, you can do it?”

He grins. “Did you truly doubt I could?”

Wisely, Alice doesn’t answer. Feeling hope for the first time in weeks, Alice suggests, “This evening, after dinner, let’s find someplace... large and isolated.”

“I’ll meet you at the castle gates,” he promises, and with a twirl and flick of his tail, disappears.


Tarrant Hightopp knows what today is. Today is the day before the Trial of Threes. No one has mentioned it in over a week. He doesn’t know what the queen and Alice think they’re gaining by ignoring it. Or perhaps they aren’t. Perhaps they simply do not speak of it in front of him.

He’s concerned, of course. Alice must go alone to that broken battlefield and wait beside the headless corpse for its new body to emerge. A grisly task, at best. Terrifying to contemplate without the aid of her friends.

He regards Alice across the small table. He’d invited her to his rooms for dinner. It had seemed the only way to acknowledge what she must do on the morrow. He hates – loathes, despises – the fact that his Alice must negotiate a peace treaty with that monster. He hates – abhors, detests – the fact that he cannot – must not – stand with her.

Dinner had seemed like an inspired idea: let her know he knows without having to say the words! But as the evening drags on with only awkward – flat, hopeless, arbitrary – comments about the food, which neither of them are particularly interested in consuming, Tarrant begins to consider that he’s made a mistake.

He searches for something to say. He should have something to say to his Alice! He can feel the words swirling like a storm in his mind, but every utterance he considers is too trite, too depressing, too desperate. His Alice deserves better than paltry comments, poorly-timed riddles, and non sequiturs.

Conceding defeat, Tarrant pushes away his plate with a clatter. Alice looks up and watches as he rises and picks up his chair and sets it down at her side. Retaking his seat, he reaches for her hand – and, by chance, it’s the left one! – and encloses it in both his own.


“Aye,” he says. “I d’nae want ye teh go on th’morrow, but I ken ye must.”

She stares at his hands, curled around hers, and nods.

“Promise teh fight as hard as ye must teh win.”

“I promise.”

Tarrant pulls her hand to his chest. Her body follows and the smell of her almost distracts him. “Promise ye’ll return.”

At this, she looks up, finally. She studies his eyes for a moment and he wonders which of his emotions they reflect now. His fear or his passion?

“And what will happen to you if I break that promise?” she whispers.

His hands tighten but she doesn’t try to withdraw from his desperate grip. “I cannae say. Promise me, Alice. Please.”

Tarrant would do anything to take that pain from her face, but he is only a hatter. And he’s never mended a woman’s spirit before. The moment stretches until Alice stands and matter-of-factly seats herself across Tarrant’s lap.

He’s too startled – amazed, enraptured, exhilarated! – to focus on her words at first, but after a moment, they filter through the haze of wildness:

“I’ll win and then I’ll come back. I promise.”

Tarrant frames her face with both hands. “Alice...”

Her expression is fierce, intent. He shudders helplessly.

He feels her hands on his jacket. “Here,” she says, her stare expectant.

Tarrant looks down at the fabric pin she’s holding up to him. He thinks he recognizes it as one of the half dozen he keeps concealed in his left lapel for emergencies.

“Take it,” she says.

He does. And then he stares when she offers him her left hand, palm raised, fingertips turned toward him.

He shivers. The second exchange...

You shoul’nae!

He knows. But Alice... does she know? He shouldn’t do it if she doesn’t know. He should ask. He should tell her what it will mean if they do this...

His apprehension and desire swirl, froth, and churn inside him. Oh, how he wants this!

Ask her if she understands!

He intends to. He honestly does. But the look in her eyes is mesmerizing and her hand stays there, steady and sure, and he can see the shadow of her own promise-ring on the underside of her finger and he...



It’s enough. He reaches for her hand, cradles it in his own, and applies the pin to her heart-line finger. Tarrant can hear his own heart pounding. His pulse rushes, overwhelming his ears. He leans forward and slides the pad of her finger between his lips. Again, the taste of her blood makes its acquaintance with his tongue. He notices the salt, of course, but something else. Something rich and metallic... He keeps his eyes closed even after he releases her.

When he feels her smaller hand around his own, Tarrant opens his eyes and watches as she presses the same pin against his fingertip. He stares, watching the blood dew. He’ll have another small, blue mark there on the morrow...

His fingertip disappears between her lips and he stiffens, gasping. He watches, but part of him still cannot believe this is happening. Alice, his Alice, is more his now than ever before. More his than not his.

She gently laves the pinprick with her tongue and he hears a breathy groan. Belatedly, he realizes he must have been the one to make it as Alice’s mouth is quite busy at the moment.

Watching him intently, she pulls his hand away, leans forward, and covers his lips with hers. Tarrant is defeated by the touch. His arms rise, pulling her closer, closer, closer still...

Her hands frame his face. Her tongue laps at the seam of his mouth. He denies her nothing. He thinks of nothing except the miracle of her here, in his arms, his. He strokes her tongue with his own, welcoming it in his mouth, then chases hers as it retreats. His fingers bury themselves in her hair and slide between her vest and shirt to rest against her back. And she holds onto him!

Tarrant savors her acceptance and this second kiss continues on. He knows he must stop.

Stop now! Nae more must be taken! Not yet!

No, no, he can’t have her. Not yet. This is only the second exchange, but he’s not sure if he can stop.


His hands clench.

Help me...

He knows he could be hurting her; he’s pushing her back against the table. In another instant, he’ll have her laid out on it and then...


Alice tears her mouth away and gasps. Tarrant lowers his forehead to her neck and pants helplessly against her collar. He can see the vague outline of her breasts as they rise and fall with her wild breaths. He closes his eyes.

“Violet, again,” she murmurs.

He manages a tiny nod.

“I think I know what that means now.”

He giggles. She’s still seated across his lap. There’s no doubt she can feel him as easily as he can feel her pressing just there... Alice laughs with him and Tarrant lets the rest of his tension fall away from him. He leans back in his chair and collects Alice’s hands in his again.

“Thank you, Alice.”

She smiles and combs his hair with her fingers, smoothing it down. Tarrant has a vague memory of her hands clenching in it and struggles to keep his mind in the present only.

“I’ll keep this promise,” she tells him. “I’ve sworn an oath in blood, and sealed it with a kiss. There’ll be no breaking it now.”

The words reverberate in him, making him shiver. How odd of her to describe the second exchange like that. Almost as if...

“I’ll go tomorrow and I’ll fight as hard as I must. And I’ll come back.”

Tarrant manages a smile, but the confusion he feels... the confusion manages him. A short while later, he escorts Alice to her room but never once does he find the words to ask her why she’d called the second exchange a blood oath. Perhaps it’s an Uplandian custom, he surmises. Although, the thought doesn’t help him get any rest. All night, he chases sleep and all night, it eludes him.


At dawn, Mirana meets Alice at the castle gate. For a moment, she simply watches as Alice pats the Bendersnatch and scratches behind his ears.

“Alice...” she begins.

With a final pat, her Champion turns. “Your Majesty?”

Mirana opens her mouth to give the order to offer an alliance, or, at the very least, a truce. The words don’t come. “I trust you to do what you believe is best for those you love,” the queen whispers.

A triumphant light shines in Alice’s dark eyes. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

The queen watches as Alice mounts the Bandersnatch. She can see the Vorpal Sword as well as a bag of provisions slung across the young woman’s back. Frowning, she puts out a hand to stop the Bandersnatch from taking off.

“Where’s Tarrant? Wouldn’t he want to... see you off?”

“Don’t worry. There’s no need for good-byes. I promised him.”

With that, Alice’s leg nudges the Bandersnatch and, with a great huff, he gallops off into the murky morning.

The queen watches her go, hand still raised.

What have I done? she wonders. If Alice kills the Jabberwocky again, all hope is lost for the next Trial of Threes... The Jabberwocky’s grudge is not a meek or mild thing.

But how could she have denied the Hatter what little peace she can offer him? How can she betray one so loyal? Mirana hopes Alice will try, nonetheless, to broker peace. She hopes, but she knows it’s too much to expect success.

Sighing, she turns back to the castle. She has quite a bit of correspondence and other business to attend to today, despite the date. That ridiculous Wooing Rite has put her woefully behind schedule. Sometimes she wonders why, exactly, she’d wanted to be queen. Certainly, she’d had more time to spend in her laboratory when her sister had been in power. Of course, leaving Iracebeth in power would have been beyond cruel and inhumane... to everyone in Underland.

The morning seems to be galumphing backwards for Mirana. The stack of papers on her desk seems to be growing taller despite the fact that no new ones have been delivered. She almost wishes she could be up in her rooms with Pondish and Algernon, sorting through the hats and hatboxes to be returned to Tarrant for refitting, reconfiguring, or recycling. After all, as queen, she is not permitted to wear the same creation twice. A pity, really. She’s quite fond of some of them.

When lunch arrives via Lakerton, the queen considers taking it down to the hat workshop to see how Tarrant is doing.

Just as she opens her mouth to request that very thing, a very harried Hatter crashes into her office. Startled, Mirana leans back in her chair as he storms across the room in wordless fury. She’s never seen his eyes that particular color of rage before.


He says nothing. Behind his shoulder, the Cheshire Cat hovers with a worried scowl. Mirana jumps when he slams something on the tabletop between them and Mirana gapes at what could only be the Oraculum – the Oraculum that she’d hidden in a hatbox in the back of her closet for spring nightgowns.

She spares a brief thought to having a word with Pondish and Algernon about sorting through her unmentionables without permission, but focuses when Tarrant wordlessly jabs a finger at the illustration for today.

Mirana leans over the document and gasps.

“But this...!”

“Is not possible, I know,” Chessur says. “She’s been training for the last two weeks to avoid that very fate.”

Tarrant pivots and focuses his burning orange-red eyes on the cat. “Trainin’ how?”

“Well, that is, I...” He looks from Tarrant’s intimidating stare to the queen’s befuddled expression. “She presented me with Your Majesty’s copy of Jabberwocky Anatomae and I... learned its shape. We’ve been meeting after dinner for the last fortnight...”

Mirana gapes. “You learned the Jabberwocky’s shape?”

“Yes, for Alice.”

She blinks and looks down at the scroll. Her eyes tear as she watches the Jabberwocky lean over Alice’s prostrate figure at the battlefield. The Vorpal Sword and the shield have been tossed aside.

“There’s more, I’m afraid,” Chessur continues.

Frantically, Mirana unrolls the scroll a bit more and stares at the image of Mamoreal... or what had once been Mamoreal. She sinks into her chair, struggling for air.

“I’ve destroyed us all,” she says.

Or just her!” Tarrant screams. “Why di’ye have teh demand th’ truce? Don’ ye see it’ll kill her afore she even –

Bracing her arms against the edge of her desk, Mirana finds the strength to stand and shouts back, “I did not order Alice to negotiate! I told her to protect the ones she loves!

The silence is somehow worse than the noise, she notes.

Tarrant stares at her, frozen. And then:

“Call her back!” he orders.

Mirana stares at him. “I... can’t. She took the Bandersnatch at sunrise. She’ll be there by now and the third and a third hour is approaching...” She consults the clock. “There’s no time, Tarrant. We must evacuate the castle –”

Tarrant slams his hands against her desk. “D’nae tell me there’snae TIME!

YOU!” he roars, turning on Chessur, shaking with fury. “Does the Jabberwocky fly or nae?”

“Er, yes. Yes, it flies.”

“Then you’re takin’ me teh the battlefield.”

Tarrant storms from the room. To retrieve his broadsword, the queen imagines. She shares a shell-shocked look with the Cheshire Cat.

He gulps. “Tarrant thinks I’m going to fly him to the battlefield as the Jabberwocky?

“It would appear so.” Overhead, Mirana hears a door slam and heavy footsteps cross the room. “And if I were you, I’d be ready to go by the time he gets done up there.”

Chessur doesn’t need to hear any more. In an instant, he’s disappeared.


Alice takes in the desolate, stone checkerboard and the dark, skeletal shape at the base of the ruined tower in the distance. She draws in a deep breath and gathers her courage. Bringing her leg over the Bandersnatch’s neck, Alice carefully slides to the ground, trying not to get any of his fur caught in her armor.

She takes a minute to stand next to him, her hand against his furry jaw. He’ll be the last friendly face she’ll see until her task has been completed. She’s in no hurry to send him away.

“Grrrb?” he asks.

Alice pats him. “Yes, yes, it’s fine.” She sighs. There’s no point in putting it off. “Go on now,” she tells him.

His great, jaundiced eyes roll in her direction, expressing his doubt.

“I’ll see you later, Bandy.”

With a huff, he turns and gallops off into the forest. Alice hopes he won’t go too far as she might really want a ride back to Mamoreal when this is all over with. Who knows how long she’ll have to run, dodge and hack away before she prevails?

She takes another deep breath and heads for the Jabberwocky carcass across the battlefield. Judging from the position of the sun in the sky, it’s just gone lunch.

Doing her best not to think of what Tarrant must be doing, who he might be having tea with, which hats he’s currently working on, Alice picks her way over the ruins and finds a series of fallen pillars and chunks of stone that provide the best protection in the area. She pulls her satchel over her head and, stomach churning, sets the bread and fruit it contains aside untouched. She fights better on an empty stomach anyway.

Alice sits down on the cold, weathered stone and, with her shield at her side and the Vorpal Sword in her hands, waits for the Jabberwocky to awaken.

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 7 of 13

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