Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 1 of 17

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Despite his familiarity with this particular ceremonial duty, it never gets any easier for Tarrant Hightopp, the White Queen’s Royal Hatter, to watch the Queen’s Champion fight in a duel. Every bloody time, the wretched, fearsome heartache he’s never been able to conquer catches up to him... even if he escapes up one of the ever-blossoming cherry trees surrounding the battleground. In the boughs of a tree, at the forefront of the assembled crowd... it makes no difference. Every bloody, wretched, torturous time, Tarrant Hightopp has to grapple with his panic and nausea and don’t-you-dare-touch-her-you-vile-excuse-for-a-man-beast-creature! Rage.

Understandably, in the moments preceding one of these duels, Tarrant Hightopp is often asked about his health, and usually by one of the queen’s nosy, gossip-seeking courtiers. On those occasions, Tarrant confesses (with perfectly false embarrassment) to a violent stomachache and acute bowel distress. That is often more than sufficient to ensure that the source of the unwanted attention relocates his or herself a satisfactory distance away... and up-wind.

Of course he knows the Queen’s Champion is an excellent fighter, a superb duelist, and formidable opponent. He’s fought her himself, after all! Had even been one of those fortunate enough to tutor her. He’d taught her everything he knows, as insufficient as that had been. And she’s surpassed him most gratifyingly. Normally, these assurances would be more than enough to dissuade his persistent heartache from trailing after him like a certain Cheshire Cat after his top hat. However, blessed objectivity is difficult to come by when the Queen’s Champion also happens to be the woman who holds Tarrant Hightopp’s very heart in her callused, scarred, pale, utterly delightful hands.

“Challenger! Queen’s Champion! Choose your weapon!”

Tarrant ignores Nivens as he hops out of the way. In fact, he makes it a point to ignore Nivens completely. The pre-duel speech holds no interest for him and never has.

He watches as Alice unsheathes her sword – still too short to be called a proper broadsword. If only she were just a bit taller and of longer limb, then she’d fit a proper-sized weapon! But, as the queen has told him time and time again, it’s cheating to smuggle a crumb or two of Uplekuchen into Alice’s morning slice of Battenburg... and, besides, it’s entirely possible Alice would notice the change and, therefore, his trickery... well-meaning though it would most certainly be...

Alice tosses her sword’s empty scabbard aside. It lands at Nivens’ feet and the rabbit twitches with surprise. Tarrant glowers. After all the times Alice has discarded un-needful scabbards in such a way, the white rabbit ought to be used to it!

However, Tarrant sets that thought aside and keeps his gaze trained on his blood-bonded lover as she takes her first step toward her opponent. Tarrant doesn’t pay any attention to the booly-geber. They’re all the same, except when they know nothing of dueling and their foolish inexperience risks her life! Or when their tendency toward pride or cruelty turns them into the most abhorrent sort of cowardly cheat imaginable! He’s stood back and watched – helplessly! – as she’s faced all types of challengers.

Glancing briefly at the queen, Tarrant decides, I shall have to have a discussion with Her Majesty about choosing a husband and putting an end to this business once and for all!

If the woman insists on a-gyring and a-gimbling over this for much longer, he shalln’t be held responsible for his actions! Visions of pea-soup green beanies and violently pink bonnets dance through his thoughts. Badly-colored and horridly-styled hats may not be much of a revenge, but, as a hatter, his options are a trifle... limited.

The first clash of metal brings his attention back to whom ought to be the recipient of it. He watches the Champion – his Alice! – sidestep a cutting swing and, with the broad side of her weapon, tap her opponent teasingly on his exposed flank. Tarrant grits his teeth. It never ceases to frustrate him that she allows these pompous twits so many chances to run her through! Does she have to play with them? What sort of queen asks her Champion to put herself in such situations over and over and over and over and over and over...!


Tarrant startles and blinks. Instantly, his rage – righteous though it most assuredly is! – dissipates and Worry, Concern, and Terror take its place. (It’s a bit of tight fit, but they all manage it somehow...)

He watches as Alice dodges a particularly vicious and well-aimed thrust and rolls under her opponent’s arm.

No, you thoughtless lass! Keep your feet!

She doesn’t hear him. She never does. Which is just as well...

Alice is working now. Protecting the queen. Mustn’t interfere...

Helpless, hopeless despair defeats him and Tarrant can only watch as Alice counters a chop, blocks a lunge, executes a few advances of her own, then, as if by mutual agreement, she and the other combatant pause, lower their swords slightly, and begin circling each other once again.

Twenty minutes. Tarrant counts them. Twenty minutes of meaningless posturing and posing until Alice will be permitted to tear that hateful blade from her opponent’s grasp and claim victory for the queen.

He’s never hated Time more than he does now.

Alice meets the opposing sword again, more furiously than before. The sound of metal striking metal occurs too rapidly for Tarrant to flinch in time with it. He forces his eyes to keep from blinking, forces himself to keep watching. As long as he’s watching, nothing bad – nothing very bad – will happen to his Alice. He’d kept his eyes open during the Battle of Frabjous Day – and a good thing, too! or she might’ve been gravely injured by that then-horrible Jabberwock! He’d kept his eyes open when that pathetic, groping, disgusting wastrel had touched his Alice in places that only Tarrant is permitted access to! But he’d kept his eyes open and had been able to direct her to her lost weapon forthwith once she’d struggled loose from that... that... villain’s grasp. In fact, the only time Tarrant hadn’t kept his eyes open, Alice had killed someone: Stayne. Alice had killed Ilosovich Stayne and the resulting guilt – which, in Tarrant’s opinion she should not have felt at all! – had nearly destroyed her, had very nearly pushed her back through the looking glass and into a life far and away from him!

Yes, Tarrant must keep his eyes on her!

Her opponent is taller than her, stronger than her, and wields his broadsword with frightening skill. Again and again, Alice must raise her weapon to counter his slashing attacks. Tarrant fears he sees her arms shaking with fatigue.

Has it not been twenty minutes yet?!

He dares to glance toward Nivens, toward the queen’s seat, but there is no white rabbit there. No silver bell on its raised podium. In fact, the soft, green grass of the croquet pitch at Mamoreal is nowhere to be seen, either! The checkered battlefield, with its cracked and weathered stones and clumps of scraggly weeds growing in obnoxious tufts meets his increasingly-panicked gaze.

Tarrant turns to the left and right, searching for the courtiers, Alice’s current tutors, the required contingent of the Queen’s Guard... but only the wind keeps Tarrant company on this desolate plain.


He whips back around, horrified by the fact that his Alice is still fighting!

Tarrant casts about for a silver bell – or any bell, for that matter! Perhaps he has something in his pockets! Perhaps he can fashion one from a thimble and a metal button! He struggles frantically with his pockets which suddenly seem much too small for his fingers to investigate and swears under his breath in Outlandish. He uses words he’s never said in Alice’s presence before, but he doesn’t care!

Without a bell the fight will not end until someone DIES!

Tarrant fears. He fears for Alice. For, even if she does not die, if she kills again, she will once again consider leaving him, fleeing Underland and her most disturbing memories through the mirror! Tarrant is not sure if he will be able to stop her this time...

And then... there! His fingers manage to gain entrance to his waistcoat pocket – his pocket watch pocket – and Tarrant pulls out a small, silver bell. He waves it in the air and – thank you Fates of Underland!! – its clear, pure tone peals, echoes across the wasteland.


Pure, blessed relief floods him. Alice will finish the fight, soon. Soon, she will turn to him and he will put his hands – bandaged and be-thimbled – against her cheeks and lean his forehead – still creased with deep frown lines – against hers and she will smile and say his name as she holds onto him and he will know that she is safe and that she has kept her promise!

And so, the silver bell rings.

And Alice drops her arm.

No, NO, NO!” Tarrant lunges for her, arms and hands reaching. He’ll save her, just as he had before! There’s no mirror between them this time! Nothing to slow him down!

And yet, he is not fast enough.

In the next instant, her opponent’s broadsword thrusts through the air and finds its mark: Alice.

Tarrant doesn’t understand what he sees: Alice, slumped over a the hilt of a sword, her crimson blood gushing in great rivulets from the tip of the blade that emerges from her back, her mouth open and blood dripping from her lips.


He reaches her, takes her in his arms, screams her name, forbids her from leaving HIM! But she does not look at him. She does not smile at him. She does not press her palm against his cheek to reassure him. She does nothing at all.

She is... His Alice IS...!!

He feels it then: the madness. It comes to him as it had that Horvendush Day when he’d stood in the center of his clan’s village and surveyed the utter... ruin.

The madness comes and he welcomes it!!

Let this rage be the last thing this vile, repugnant excuse for an Underlander sees, knows, FEARS!!

Still holding Alice in his arms, Tarrant lifts his gaze and looks upon his Alice’s opponent, her slayer. He looks and...

... and...

... and the madness envelops him.

It comes simply, completely, utterly. It comes not in response to his call for it, but in response to the face he sees looming over the woman lying – dead, lifeless, lost! – in his arms. It comes because the face Tarrant sees – the face of his wife’s killer – is one he knows!

The face of the man who has slain his Alice...

... is his OWN!


Gasping, clawing, screaming, Tarrant erupts from sleep. He turns toward the empty side of the bed, scans the room, lifts the blankets, overturns the pillows, leans over the edge of the mattress – nearly tumbling head-first to the cold, stone floor – and checks under the bed.

No Alice.

He scrambles from the bed, slams out of the apartment, runs down the corridors, nearly falls down the stairs, and keeps running. In her old bedroom, long unused: no Alice. In his workshop: no Alice. On the croquet pitch: no Alice. The sound of voices lures him toward the kitchen.

The door bangs open, startling the room’s occupants. He studies each of them – twice, to be sure! – but...

No Alice.


He blinks.

“It’s all right!

At the center of the long, wooden table, Mallymkun holds a soup spoon poised beside a pitcher of cream, as if she plans to smack it in his direction like a croquet ball.

He hears desperate pants and, a moment later, realizes they’re his own breaths. He closes his eyes for the briefest time, clears his throat, and asks in a tone that’s nearly calm, “Where... is Alice?”

Thackery cackles and hides under the bench. Mally brandishes the soup spoon warily. It’s the voice of an invisible cat that answers his question.

“Your dear Alice is fine. She’s in Shuchland with the queen. Today is the eighth day. She’ll be back on the evening of the sixteenth.”

Tarrant twitches at the reminder. “Chess?”

“Yes, I’m here.” The cat appears in the air beside him, holding a dark garment. “And you’re here and Alice will be here in eight days. Although, in the meantime, perhaps you’d consent to wearing a robe?”

He glances down at himself and realizes he’d charged out of bed wearing only his pajama trousers – the ones Alice had asked the Royal Seamstress to make for him after he’d audibly admired hers. He feels his face heat and accepts the robe, tying the belt very securely around his waist. From under the kitchen table, a pair of slippers tumbles out into the open, courtesy of Thackery. Tarrant steps into them and collapses onto the bench seat at the table, his head in his hands.

“Another nightmare?” Mally asks, finally putting down the spoon.

He nods.

“Was this one... any different from...?”

He shakes his head. No, this dream had been exactly the same as all the others: the duel in the croquet pitch with the unnoticed challenger, the disappearance of the audience, the grass, the silver bell... and then, on the checkered battlefield, Alice’s death... at his hands.

Tarrant forces himself to take three deep breaths, trying to calm his racing heart, his pounding head, his frantic pulse. He tells himself everything is fine, just fine. Alice is in Shuchland and Bayard would have sent one of his nearly-grown pups with news if anything were wrong although it might take a day – even at a run! – to arrive at Mamoreal from that distant realm and by then Alice could be dead and Tarrant would be too LATE TO SAVE HER AND–!!


Belated, Tarrant realizes he’d been shouting at the tabletop, his fingers tangled in his hair.

Once again, he closes his eyes and clears his throat. Removing his hands from his hair, Tarrant takes another deliberate breath, leans back and states, “I’m fine.”

Trump!” Thackery shouts, suddenly.

Tarrant blinks then notices the fact that there are three hands of cards laid out on the table, each lying face-up for all to see.

“We were just passing the time,” Chessur comments.

“Shall we deal you in?” Mally invites.

Tarrant sighs. “Aye. Go on and deal with me.”

Thackery picks up the deck and, bending the stack of cards, shoots an assortment in Tarrant’s direction. Choosing five at random, he places them on the table in front of him.

“You don’t want those!” Mally informs him, scandalized. “Pick up that three by your elbow!”

Indifferently, Tarrant does. He replaces the King of Spades with the Three of Clubs and flicks the extra card at Chessur’s pile.

“I’ll never win with this wretched addition!” the cat bemoans, resentfully sliding the Six of Hearts in Thackery’s direction.

Six!” the March Hare exclaims and pulls his ears frantically.

“Six impossible things before breakfast,” Tarrant muses. He closes his eyes and tries to imagine the six things Alice will choose for today: One...

Crumpets!” Thackery shouts.

“Oh, yes. Would you like one?” Chessur asks solicitously, passing the plate.

Tarrant accepts the dish and tosses it over his shoulder without even glancing at its contents.

Chessur grumbles, “A simple ‘No, thank you’ would have sufficed.”

“No, thank you,” Tarrant says flatly.

Mally giggles hysterically and Thackery knocks over his teacup with his foot.

“Thackery!” Chessur yowls. “You uncivilized leporid! The next time I see even one toe above the tabletop, I’ll take these cards and –!”

Toes!” Thackery enthuses, looking down to give his furry feet a thorough study... below the tabletop.

Chessur, exasperated, sighs.

“Found something unexpected there, have you?” Mally asks, scampering across the table to assist Thackery with his inspection.

Tarrant watches them. He’s too tired to bother with a smile or a pun, but he does appreciate his friends’ attempts to cheer him and – when that fails as it inevitably does – distract him. With the contents of his hat workshop organized alphabetically, by color, age, height, weight, width, delightfulness, and likely-to-be-met-with-Alice’s-approval, he’s running out of ways to keep himself preoccupied. After all, Alice had promised to be back before he knows it. Tarrant is doing his part – admittedly, not all that well, but he’s trying! – to not know it before these sixteen days have passed.

The gentle whisper of the kitchen door opening rouses Tarrant from his deep non-contemplation of his hand of cards. He looks up as Nivens McTwisp hops in... followed by Bayard’s second-eldest pup, Bayto.

Alarmed – for why would Bayard have sent his son if something dreadful hadn’t occurred! – Tarrant stands, knocking over the bench.

“HATTER!” Chessur preempts his rambling, frantic, raging madness. “I’m sure everything is fine. Bayto, perhaps you could put this poor, lovesick fellow out of his considerable misery?”

Nivens gives Tarrant a nervous glance. At his side, Bayto – uselessly! – pants and struggles for breath. “Yes, yes, all is well!” Nivens assures everyone. Then, with another glance at the new arrival, says, “If you don’t mind, Bayto, I’ll do the honors?”

The pup nods wearily, clamors onto the bench next to Chessur, who pushes a cup of tea at him, and then slurps quite rudely at his beverage. Tarrant doesn’t pay any attention when Mally starts scolding him for his poor table manners and Thackery picks up his saucer and begins guzzling his spilt tea with deafening enthusiasm.

“Oh, just listen to what you’ve started, you!” she moans.

“Out with it, McTwisp,” Tarrant growls, not in the mood for any of the tomfoolery he would have greatly enjoyed eight days ago.

Clearing his throat, Nivens glances at Chessur for reassurance (which is provided... if a too-wide, too-toothy grin can be reassuring) and then reaches into his waistcoat pocket. Tarrant watches him remove an envelope and, unable to stop himself, he snatches it from the rabbit’s paw. His hands shake as he gingerly wrestles open the missive and, when he loses patience with trying to urge the folded parchment out of its sheath, rips the envelope wide open and dumps the contents on the tabletop.

The slurping war commences with an immediate cease-fire as various colorful sketches scatter across the table.

“Oh, how lovely!” Mally enthuses, picking up one that depicts gently rolling green fields in soft, morning light. Thackery sniffs another sketch of a sandstone palace with great, gold-capped turrets. Chessur forgets his manners completely and hovers over the table itself, studying each image with the end of his tail in the sugar bowl.

Tarrant unfolds the letter and, as Nivens reluctantly takes a seat in Chessur’s vacated space (rather than sit next to Tarrant!), he checks the signature and, suddenly, everything is all right again!

“It’s from Alice,” he tells them, relaxing. All at once and from all directions, he’s suddenly being prompted to read the message aloud. Tarrant clears his throat and begins:

My dear friends,

“How is everything in Mamoreal? Does the castle still stand? Chessur, mind your tail, now. You know how it gets into trouble when you’re not paying attention...”

“Oh, botheration!” the Cheshire Cat grumbles, noticing its unfortunate location. “My apologies,” he says with a sheepish grin. “Please continue.”

With a half-hearted glare, Tarrant does:

Shuchland is beautiful. The sketches I’ve sent are of places we’ve visited – I mean, the queen, Prince Avendale, Avendale’s Champion, myself, and our guard. (I’m afraid we’ve been rather conspicuous during our tour here!) The Royal Artisan also came with us and produced these wonderful pictures so that we might have a few mementos from our trip.

The first is Palace Avenfaire, home of the royal family –

“Give it here!”

“Mine! Mine! Mine!”

“Silence! I shall hold the picture for all to see!”

“Are they... always like this?” Nivens wonders from behind his teacup, eyeing Mallymkun, Thackery, and Chessur, respectively.

“I sure hope so!” Bayto comments, wolfing down a cucumber sandwich.

A-hem!” Tarrant interjects, once again glaring.

Smiling in apology, Chessur meekly holds aloft the first illustration for all to clearly admire.

Tarrant resumes:

The first is Palace Avenfaire, home of the royal family. Upon our arrival on the second evening of our journey (we stayed overnight at the inn at the Underland Crossroads at the Snud border), we were greeted with a festival atmosphere – dancers and singers and musicians and even a girl with a snake she’d charmed – celebrating our arrival. Prince Avendale and the king and queen met us most considerately at the castle entrance and welcomed us into their home.

“The banquet that night was truly memorable! I wish I could have bottled up a bit of the excitement and sent it on to all of you!

“Should’ve thought to ask the queen how to do that,” Chessur grumbles. “Uplanders!

Tarrant ignores that.

I promise to tell you all about it once we return. And perhaps convince the queen to host a Shuchland-style party at Mamoreal someday so that you will experience it for yourselves!

“The second drawing is of the Shuchland Orash Orchards, where they grow the most fantastic fruit! There’s no Grobben or Wassailin here in Shuchland as everyone drinks Orashlach. It’s a wonderful beverage that warms one from the inside-out but doesn’t leave behind such a horrid aftertaste –”

“Wassailin!” Thackery gags in agreement.

– nor a thunderous headache in the morning.

“Grobbenale is evil!” Mally concurs.

I’ve already packed a few bottles so that we can all sit ‘round the table and sample it together when the queen and I have returned.

“I’m quite looking forward to that!” Chessur announces.

The third image is of the Bay of Light, the harbor near the capital city. It sparkles in the sunlight like diamonds –

“Eh? What’re those?” Mally asks.

“Die a-mond! Die almond! Dyed almonds!” Thackery stares at the displayed artwork. “Ooh. Blue almonds! Pretty...

And the queen experienced her very own madness at the morning market – a brewer’s madness, I’m sure – and we’ve more than compensated for the spaces left in the trunks after we’d presented our gifts to the royal family for their hospitality.

“You made some hats for their majesties, didn’t you, Tarrant?” Chessur ventures.

“Aye,” he says plainly and resumes reading.

“In the final picture – the portrait – you can see the king and queen as well as Prince Avendale and our queen. (But of course, you’d recognize her!) The fellow standing next to me is Avenleif, Prince Avendale’s cousin and his Champion.

“Looks a bit chummy, don’t you think?” Mally asks in a suspicious tone.

Chessur agrees, “He does seem to be standing rather close...”

“Off with his head!” Thackery shouts, then, when every pair of eyes in the room turns in his direction, he twitches and twitters, “Bad idea! Bad idea! Apologies!” And grabbing his ears, dives under the table again, belatedly snatching his brunch plate and pulling it beneath as well.

Tarrant tries not to look at the image, but knowing that he’ll see his Alice there is a siren’s call he can’t fight. When he raises his gaze to the card now on display, he sighs. There is Alice, smiling gently in the portrait, as if she’s truly looking right at him! Alice... alive and well and so lovely it makes his heart ache! Tarrant doesn’t bother with the other figures in the picture and doesn’t have to worry about ignoring one in particular as Chessur had thoughtfully covered the prince’s Champion’s image with his paw.

Feeling even more calm now, Tarrant continues:

They use scimitars here, those wickedly-curved swords, which I’ve been fortunate enough to try my hand at. The skills required are quite different from those needed for the broadsword, but I shalln’t bore you with the details now.

“Everyone here has been hospitable and honestly pleased to make our acquaintance. The people of Shuchland are quite honorable and often humble – is anyone, by chance, considering words that start with the letter H today?

“I hope, one day, all of you will be able to visit this wondrous place and see, smell, taste, hear, and feel it for yourselves!

“All my love,


“P. S. I’ve yet to have any decent tea here, so all of you had best save us some for when we return! This Shuchish coffee is rather... lacking.”

“She misses our teas!” Mally exclaims happily.

Tarrant smiles. “Aye, she does.” His happiness only lasts long enough for him to fold the letter and reassemble the scraps of envelope around it, as if wrapping the poor, naked thing in a robe. Once that is done, however, Tarrant frowns: not a single line of that letter had been written to him! It hurts that Alice wouldn’t have written anything especially for his eyes. No: don’t run your fingers through with your sewing machine! No: I haven’t used a drop, dab, or dribble of the Pain Paste! And, most distressingly, no: Hatter, why is a raven like a writing desk? Despairing once again, Tarrant cradles his head in his hands and closes his eyes.


Reluctantly, Tarrant opens his eyes again. At his elbow, Nivens fidgets noticeably before retrieving another item from his waistcoat pocket and placing it on the table next to Tarrant’s elbow.

“This is also from Alice,” the White Rabbit says.

He stares down at the envelope. His disbelief – Alice had written a whole letter just to him! – melts into hope – the name on the parchment is, without a doubt, his own and written in Alice’s hand! – and that hope twists into delight.

Collecting the envelope with reverence, Tarrant excuses himself – “I beg your forgiveness for reading this letter in private!” – and hies away to their – his and his Alice’s! – apartment. Slamming the door – “Oy, a bit of respect if you don’t mind!” the keyhole grouches – he hurries to the table and takes his customary seat. He’s more careful opening this envelope and gently urging the contents free.

Heart pounding, Tarrant unfolds the letter.

My dearest Tarrant,

All is well here in Shuchland, so please do not worry about me. I’m fine.

Oh, how well she knows him! Of course, her health and happiness is his most paramount concern and she’d very considerately obliged to set his mind at ease right away!

I’m safe and well and, when time permits, keeping up with my training. We have not experienced any unpleasantness at all during this trip so I haven’t even had to open the jar of Pain Paste!

He sighs happily at that.

But, how are you? The castle must be very quiet these days. I hope Mally, Thackery, and Chessur are keeping you company. And that they’re not doing too bad a job of it.

I miss you completely, utterly, desperately, and helplessly. Every time I chance to look at my left hand and see our heart line, it makes the ache all the more poignant, for I remember your laughter and kindness and passion and I feel you with me and yet, when I look up, you are nowhere to be seen.

But I will see you very soon! (I must tell myself this, no matter the day or hour, otherwise I might... well, I might go... Hm. I'm considering a word that starts with the letter M...)

My every thought is of you, Tarrant, and of ravens and writing desks.

Yours despite the distance between us,


Closing his eyes, Tarrant leans back in his chair and smiles. For the first time in days, he feels completely and utterly at peace! For several minutes, he simply relishes the knowledge that she had written to him, and then, when he realizes he cannot remember her exact words, opens his eyes and devours her letter again and again and again!

When his stomach is growling and the sun has risen high enough to demand all of Underland to attend to lunch, Tarrant reluctantly folds the parchment and reaches for the envelope. Picking it up, he blinks at the thickness of it. And perhaps... is it a bit heavier than it ought to be?

Setting aside the letter, Tarrant investigates the inexplicable not-just-an-ordinary-envelope-ness of the envelope. His fingers locate and gently remove a card of thick paper and, turning it over, he nearly gasps. His breath does get turned around in his throat, however, causing his chest to ache. There, in his hands, is Alice. A much-smaller-than-she-ought-to-be Alice, but Alice, nonetheless!

The portrait is breathtaking. His Alice stands on a foreign balcony. He can see the hint of sky and kingdom behind her. She smiles for him – it’s her just-for-Tarrant smile! – and stands with her hand raised – it’s the left one! – and placed against a pillar. Alice poses in what he imagines must be a traditional Shuchish dress: a short top that doesn’t quite reach her belly and a long, straight skirt. Over her shoulder – the right one! – a long, wispy-looking scarf cascades across her body, covering most – but not all! – of her exposed stomach. His eyes follow the curve of her hips – the smallest hint of which is generously revealed above the waist of the skirt – up to her navel and then...

He’d close his eyes and sigh if it wouldn’t deprive him of this vision! Tarrant savors the sight of her heart line, masterfully captured by the Royal Artisan. The blue lines twine up her arm, over her bare shoulder – for the top she’s wearing only secures over the right one! – and arcs over her chest. There, over her heart, Tarrant finds the mark that had begun to emerge only forty-one days ago. There, the delicate knot of blue rests in stark contrast to her skin. Where Tarrant’s own dark red mark is a four-pointed star, Alice’s is an intriguing oval. And even in this rendition of her image, he can see the hint of the intricate design he knows so well.


His Alice!

Tarrant ignores his grumbling, rumbling stomach and spends the afternoon in his robe and slippers and pajama trousers, sitting with his Alice and smiling like a poor, lovesick fool.

And he hopes for three very distinct things:

One, that Alice will return on the sixteenth day, safe and well, as promised.

Two, that she’s permitted to bring that fascinating garment with her!

And, three, that the Shuchland Royal Artisan does not happen to be a man!

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 1 of 17

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