Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 9 of 13

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Mirana cradles the Oraculum in her hands, marveling yet again at the illustration before her: The Jabberwocky allowing Alice to replace the Vorpal Sword in its breast.

And then: Alice and Tarrant and Chessur’s triumphant return to the still-standing castle at Mamoreal.

Yes, yes, she’d already heard the details from her returning warriors. Still, she marvels.

Only Chessur’s unique abilities could have delayed and distracted the enraged Jabberwocky. Only Tarrant’s non sequiturs could have calmed it. Only Alice’s odd Uplander logic could have worked out the puzzle of it all.

A puzzle, indeed. Mirana shakes her head and sighs with fondness. Only an Uplander would have thought it odd that a monster and the sword capable of defeating it have maintained a rivalry since the beginning of recorded history. Only an Uplander – Alice – could have saved both Underland and the Jabberwocky.

What odd logic those Uplanders employ, she thinks.


Mirana looks up and smiles at Chessur where he hovers just inside her office door.

“If I might make a brief request, Your Majesty?”

“Chessur, what do you need?” the queen asks, feeling magnanimous after such a fine conclusion to the trouble that had been looming over them all for months.

“I would like to borrow the Chronicle of Rites if I might... for Alice,” he states with a demure air.

The queen blinks. “Whatever for? The Trial of Threes has been completed. Permanently, it seems...”

“Yes, so it would, however...” Chessur clears his throat. “Did Your Majesty happen to notice Tarrant’s heart line earlier?”

Mirana searches her memory and finds herself recalling the moment Tarrant had slammed both of his hands down upon her desk in fury. Oh, yes, there had been something different about... Oh, goodness.

“They’ve completed the second exchange?” she asks.

“They have. How he got Alice to agree to it, I’ve no idea. I’ll eat my tail if she truly knows what’s happened.”

Oh, that’s not good at all!

Mirana bites her lip. “Do you really think now is the best time to... tell her?”

“Well,” Chessur holds up a paw and counts his pads. “She’s in bed at the moment so her weapons are all beyond reach. She’s too tired to kill Tarrant with her bare hands should she react... adversely. And, as I mentioned, she’s lying down so if she swoons, she won’t hurt herself.”

“All valid points,” Mirana praises. “If I might make a slight suggestion? Give the tome to Tarrant. Let him have one more chance to tell her himself.”

“If he can,” Chessur snorts. “How he thinks he’s going to explain this happening not once but twice...?!

Mirana has a hard time thinking of a plausible excuse for that, as well. “Still, let’s give him the opportunity.”

Chessur turns, as if to evaporate, but pauses and, with a positively evil grin, inquires too innocently, “I don’t suppose Your Majesty would permit a cat to oversee the conversation. Just to be... safe?”

Mirana huffs, hiding a smile. “No overseeing. No overhearing, either, Chessur.”

“Oh, very well...”

“And Chessur?”

“Your Majesty?”

“I commend you. Your battle with the Jabberwocky was valiantly fought.”

The Cheshire Cat winces, but she thinks she sees a spark of reluctant pride in his green eyes. “Don’t remind me,” he grumbles and swirling once, disappears.


Tarrant slumps in the armchair beside Alice’s bed and holds onto her hand – the left one again! He’s tired enough to tumble into a bed, too, but he mustn’t do so in Alice’s. It would not do to lie down next to her, no matter how tired he is. After all, his exhaustion has its source in a sleepless night and a highly emotional afternoon. He isn’t the one who had been tossed about by the Jabberwock!

He glances at the jar of salve on the sideboard and feels not a little jealous that the queen had been the one to tend to Alice this time. Still, Tarrant could hardly have addressed the injuries on her shoulders or hips or... No, no, he couldn’t have done that. The second exchange had only been completed the day before and he’ll have to wait until the third before...

Clearing his throat, Tarrant elects to distract himself from the third exchange and what follows it.

Gently unfurling her fingers from the lightly-clasped fist she’d made in her sleep, Tarrant examines her heart line. Just like his, the band has darkened considerably. His is a bright crimson now and Alice’s a bright blue. Wispy tendrils break off from the band around their fingers, twining up toward the pinpricks on the fingertip and twining back, over the third knuckle and reaching further to the wrist.

All in all, it’s a perfectly normal betrothal ring. Over the next few weeks, the lines will darken and continue twisting up until they reach the space over the heart. Tarrant knows that only with the third and final exchange will Alice’s blood bind with his heart and his with hers.

He smiles and hums a bit under his breath. Alice remains unmoving against the pillows, but he doesn’t mind. She’s safe now. And she’s very nearly completely his!

“I thought I’d find you here.”

Tarrant turns and shares his smile with Chessur who, oddly enough, does not smile back. “Thank you for your assistance today, Chessur. It made all the difference in Underland.”

“It was the least I could do.”

“Well, no... You could have evaporated from the queen’s office and left Alice to die, me to madness, and the Jabberwock to rampage across all of Underland.”

“It was enlightened self-interest, I assure you.”

“Ah, sure you are,” Tarrant giggles.

Ignoring the pun, Chessur nods to the developing heart line on Tarrant’s left hand. “A strong connection. It’s developing rather fast.”

“It seems to be,” he admits happily.

“I’ll have to congratulate Alice on her impending nuptials when she awakens.”

That dries up Tarrant’s smile. “Oh, well, that is...”

“You still haven’t told her yet,” Chessur says in an accusatory but resigned tone.

“I thought she... That is the other night when she... and I asked if she was... and she said ‘Yes!’”

Chessur gives him a cool, evaluating look. “Humor me,” the cat orders, producing a brown, dusty book. Tarrant accepts it and stares at the faded words on the cover. “There’s an entry in there that will explain the process, but not your rationale. I have to admit I’m rather curious as to that, myself.” Chessur’s tail twitches back and forth in irritation. “Do not leave this room without telling her what the two of you have done.”

With that, Chessur evaporates slowly until only his glaring green eyes remain. But after a moment, even those are gone and Tarrant looks down at the book in his hand. He slumps back in his chair and, still holding Alice’s hand with his right, he opens the text with his left and begins leafing through the pages. In silence, Tarrant reads over the rite that has been a part of the Hightopp clan as far back as anyone could remember. But despite the familiarity of the passage, he feels completely and utterly alone.

What will he do if Alice refuses him, refuses this? He is not a prince or a lord or a viscount or a baron or even a promising merchant. He’s a craftsman. A milliner. An old, lonely, mad one at that. And Alice is so very young and lovely and...

Tarrant would give almost anything to stay in this moment, holding her hand while she sleeps. But, he imagines he would miss her voice eventually. And her attention. She can’t very well converse with him, sit with him, or return his grasp if she’s asleep. And because Tarrant wants those things, more than anything, he’ll wait until she wakes up and then... and then he’ll tell her what it is they’ve done.

Although things look bleak, there is hope: Alice has forgiven him before.

Perhaps she has the strength to do so once more.

“Oh, iambic pentameter,” he murmurs.

No doubt Alice would have liked it, had she heard it.


That bloody Jabberwocky is Alice’s first thought upon waking.

She winces with each ache and pain as she gingerly tests her limbs. When nothing seems to be hurting worse than it ought to be after being treated with Mirana’s special Pain Paste, Alice relaxes back and luxuriates in the familiar surroundings.

Very familiar! she thinks when she realizes someone is sitting in the armchair beside her bed. The very same one the Hatter had used the night after he’d pulled her through the looking glass. And now here it is, occupied again. But by a different man this time. No, the Hatter isn’t waiting for her to wake up. Tarrant Hightopp is.

And he’s very much sound asleep.

Alice smiles but doesn’t move to nudge his knee. The shadows under his eyes are dark and his skin is still so pale. He ought to be in bed, so of course he isn’t. She sighs. She doesn’t want to get up – the bed’s far too comfortable. She knows she should wake him up, though, and send him off to his own bed, but she doubts he’ll go. He’ll insist on tea and riddles and whatever else he’s waiting in her chair in order to talk to her about.

She decides to let him sleep.

For a while, she simply lies on her side and watches him. She notices he’d taken his hat off – it’s on the sideboard. As she can’t see the jar of healing paste, she imagines his hat must be sitting on top of it. She studies his cravat, loosened just the slightest bit. He’s still wearing his vest and jacket. It’s the same suit he always wears and now it’s seen one more amazing adventure. Leaning against the chair is his broadsword. She imagines him waiting outside her door while the queen had asked her about the battle as she’d applied the paste then helped her into her sleeping trousers and nightshirt. Perhaps he’d been pacing. Or maybe he’d been too tired to do more than lean against the wall. Perhaps there’s a broadsword-hilt-shaped dent in the plaster beside her door...

She regrets falling asleep so quickly for she’d missed his arrival and the chance to thank him now that they’ve returned safe and sound.

“You saved me again,” she whispers.

He doesn’t stir.

Well, watching him sleep is all well and good – romantic, even, she supposes and then wonders if those sorts of thoughts might be inappropriate. After all, the two times she’d kissed Tarrant the circumstances had been rather... unusual. Perhaps, to his mind, they’re friends only... And for all her brazenness, Alice never has been able to ask him about that. Strange.

Wishing for something to distract herself with, her gaze falls to the book lying open on Tarrant’s knee.

Well, as he’s not using it at the moment...

Gingerly, Alice reaches out for it but stops and stares at her hand.

How very... odd, she muses with a twinge of alarm. The simple, pale blue band around her third finger seems to have... changed. She turns her hand this way and that, examining both the darker band and the odd, curving lines that seem to be sprouting from it. They wrap up her finger, like vines, and twine across the back of her hand, halfway to her wrist.

She flexes it and is relieved that it doesn’t hurt.

Some sort of poisoning, she decides dispassionately. The queen will have something for it.

This time, when Alice reaches for the book – and a much-needed distraction – she doesn’t hesitate. Very, very gently, she lifts it from his knee and, turning it around, reads the title of the entry:

Thrice a-Vow

Frowning, Alice tries to remember why that seems so familiar. She studies the fine calligraphy of the title for a moment more, but the memory eludes her. Out of patience, she flips over the book’s cover. (Ah, now I recognize this book!)

She returns to the entry and skims it, unsure if she’d like to spend thirty minutes trying to grasp some horridly dull concept. However, when she finds several unsettling phrases repeated consistently in the text, she slows her perusal:

“One of the advantages of the Thrice a-Vow is derived from the sharing of blood. Aspects of each of the bonded’s character may be transmitted in such a way, ensuring that afflictions such as madness and paranoia are tempered. This vow has often been used in such cases as when one of the participants suffers from some variety of chronic mental fatigue or illness...”

Alice skims a bit more and sees a notation:

“Illustrations of the stages of the development of a successful heart line may be found on the following page.”

She turns the page.

After a moment – or two – of staring at the drawings, she manages to swallow. The sound of it is oddly loud in the room and Alice startles herself. She flips the page back to the entry:

“A drop of blood must be consumed directly from the tip of the to-be-bonded’s heart-line finger, each of the other’s, then followed by a kiss, with the exception of the third and final exchange which requires consummation for the full effect to be implemented.”

Alice gapes at the page.

“Consu...” she mutters a bit breathlessly. Hurriedly, she sifts through the various examples of complications:

“If the second exchange is not made within three months’ time, the vow will cease without harm to either party. Upon the completion of the second exchange, another three months may be passed before the third exchange. If the third exchange is not made by the end of the thirty-times-third day, the disintegration of the vow will be quite painful, the intensity of which will drive any remotely unstable individual into true madness and will also leave a permanent mark on any healthy mind.”

“Oh, bloody wonderful,” she growls, reading the rest of it.

As the bits she’d already covered had hinted, the Thrice a-Vow is, in fact, a type of Underland marriage rite. While deliberate erasure of the vow after the completion of the second exchange is strongly advised against, it is quite impossible after the third.

I am such a fool! Alice shoves the book away and stares up at the ceiling. She doesn’t dare look in the Hatter’s direction. She knows if she does, she’ll be staring at his left hand and she’s not ready to see what she thinks must be there.

And to think I’d thought it a harmless ritual – something we’d stumbled upon by accident!

Indeed, a harmless, friendly – although not all that friendly if the heat of those kisses are anything to go by! – innocent – again, perhaps not the best choice of word ­– little ritual. It had certainly seemed to soothe Tarrant the second time around, but, now that she thinks about it...

I suppose I would have passed out, too, if I’d known what the first exchange had signified...

Alice shifts uncomfortably, guiltily. Perhaps Tarrant hadn’t meant to make the first exchange at all. Perhaps that’s why he’d fainted. And then... oh, dear... Alice had more or less demanded he make the second. She’d told him to take the pin and had offered her hand and...

Had he been too much of a gentleman to refuse her?

Alice folds her arms over her chest and grasps her upper arms as another – an even more horrible – possibility occurs to her:

Had Tarrant even been aware of what they’d done at the time? Had he known they’d promised and then betrothed each to the other? Likely not, she realizes. He would have mentioned it. Perhaps that’s why he’d been reading this particular entry when he’d fallen asleep. Someone, probably the queen, had noticed the blood-betrothal-rings on their hands and had given him the book to read.

Alice squeezes her eyes shut. What must he think of me?

Tarrant, her closest, dearest friend, now must face a lifetime of unending madness – caused by the painful reversal of the first and second exchange – or marriage. To her.

Suddenly, it’s all too much. Much, much, much too much. Tarrant will be very disappointed with her lack of muchness when he wakes up, but Alice cannot stay in this room another minute!

She slides quietly from the bed, throws on her discarded vest, grabs her belt, sword, and knife out of habit, and flees the room.


Mirana can’t say she’s surprised to see her Champion standing barefoot and looking quite lost on her doorstep. She’d hoped for a far more satisfactory result to her learning of the Thrice a-Vow, of course, but that can’t be helped now.

“Come in, Alice.”

Alice moves woodenly toward the sofa then, inexplicably, stops and swerves toward an armchair. Alice says nothing as she stares into the dark hearth, not even commenting on Mirana’s night mask. And Mirana knows silence is never a good sign.

“The Thrice a-Vow?” Mirana prompts, sinking down into the adjacent chair.

Alice nods. The queen notices her left hand is curled into a fist.

“What will you do?” she asks gently.

Alice shakes her head. “No idea. Absolutely no idea.”

“That’s fine,” Mirana assures her. “Stay on the sofa again, if you like.”

“Thank you.”

Mirana reaches out and pats Alice’s short hair. “You’ve taken good care of me, Alice. As your friend, I shall do my best for you.” Rising, Mirana gathers up a pillow and some blankets then makes up a bed on the sofa. “Get some rest now. Things will look different in the morning.”

“Yes,” Alice agrees with a tiny smile. “For one thing, it won’t be so dark.”


When Mirana quietly sneaks out of her own bedroom just after dawn and passes by the parlor, she notes that Alice never did move to the sofa; she’d spent the night in the armchair. Mirana places a jar of salve for her beside the small pile of weapons on the neighboring chair, then, on a whisper of sound, leaves her rooms.

Floating down the stairs, Mirana thinks to try Tarrant’s apartment first, but when the keyhole informs her that he’s yet to return, she drifts in the direction of Alice’s room. With a soft knock, she opens the door and calls, “Tarrant?”

Receiving no objections to her entry, Mirana pushes open the door and scans the room – really, Alice ought accept an apartment! This is far too small for her to feel comfortable for very long!

And there, by the bed, Tarrant sits (with his elbows braced on his knees) in an armchair – one very similar to the one Alice had slept in, actually – and is staring at an open book on the bed covers. Approaching him, Mirana notices that the text in question is her reference book on Underlandian rites and that it’s not even turned in the correct direction for her Hatter to be reading it.

Stepping closer, she realizes he’s not reading it. He’s not even staring at it. His eyes are unfocused and she winces at that horrible muddy, murky gray-green. She’d hoped never to see that particular shade again.

“Tarrant?” Unsure of her reception, she gently pats his shoulder.

After a long moment, he asks quietly, “Where is she?”

“In my rooms.”

“She’s upset?”

“A bit.” The queen looks down at Tarrant’s hands as they dangle between his knees. She’s never seen his hands so... motionless, so weak, so lifeless. She winces again at the sight of the bright red betrothal ring on his left hand.

“’Twas a mistake,” he says. Looking down, he comments flatly, “I’ll have to start wearing gloves. Regularly.” There’s a slight pause, and then: “I hate gloves.”

The queen pats his shoulder again. “Maybe a pair with the fingersleeves cut off?”

“... maybe.”

She wants to ask if Tarrant had explained the situation thoroughly to Alice, but she dares not stir his pain any more than it already has been.

“In a few days... Give Alice some time,” she counsels him. “Even I was surprised when I’d first heard about it.” She doesn’t tell him who had told her. He knows. He’d been an apprentice to his Fa when Mirana – a princess, then! – had asked the man about the odd blue design scrolling up his left arm.

“’Tis the Thrice a-Vow. A blood rite. Keeps us hatters sane – well, mostly – an’ it keeps auwr spouses lively... sometimes a bit tae much!”

“Let her think about it for a few days. You’ve time yet...”

Tarrant stands. “I think... I’ll fetch those gloves now. Good day, Your Majesty.”

Helplessly, Mirana watches as he slouches from the room.

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 9 of 13

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