Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 10 of 17

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Mirana has always been happiest when she’s been permitted time – and an excuse! – to dabble in her laboratory.

Across the expansive room, Thackery bangs around at the stove. It’s soothing, in a way. It keeps her in the here and now. She’d once considered setting up her alchemy tables, cauldrons and cupboards in the rooms that had been built specifically for them. But no... sharing a room with the kitchens is better. It’s more difficult for her to lose herself in the rhythmic simmering, the mesmerizing dance of the flame, the gentle clinking of jars as she proceeds from one step to the next in the ages-old recipes... Yes, it’s much more difficult to forget herself here in this corner of the enormous kitchen with Thackery clanking pans and salt shakers together in the background. And it’s most especially difficult for her to forget herself when she has someone to keep her company while she works.

The last time she’d brewed for an audience, it had been Alice who had knelt at the other side of the table, her Upelkuchen-overindulged head resting on her rather too-capable arms. Today, however, someone with far more whiskers than Mirana’s Champion occupies that seat.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that song before.”

The queen pauses and realizes she’d been humming... rather badly off-key. She smiles at the bedraggled-looking lion leaning his elbows against the tabletop. “I’m very much afraid you have.” She sighs, a bit embarrassed. “It’s the Waltz of the Tumtum Tree,” she admits.

He shakes his head. “A classic, to be sure, but – in your voice – as unique as you are, Mirana.”

She arches a brow at him and reaches for, selects, then adds a buttered finger to the mixture simmering between them. “You’ve recovered your charm well. Now all you need is the mane to go with it.”

He shifts, his smile falling. “I know it bothers you to see me like this. I’m sorry.”

Mirana leans over the table and gently cups his whiskery chin. “Do not,” she says sternly, “be sorry for doing what you know is right. I know how important Leif is to you.” Indeed, Dale had told her story after story from his cubhood during her visit to Shuhcland; Leif has always been Dale’s best friend, protector, brother...

He sighs. “It’s true... I can’t tell you how many times he’s pulled my tail out of trouble...” Dale lifts his paws as if to rub his neck but he freezes midway and returns them to the table without doing so.

Mirana knows he doesn’t want to be reminded so totally of his humiliation. She can barely conceive of how he’d managed to bear it in the first place. For a lion without his mane is considered the most pathetic and pitiful of creatures. A non-entity. A ghost of a once-mighty beast. Just imagining it being hacked off of him... when she hadn’t even been there to support him... when she hadn’t even known it was happening...! Not for the first time, she wonders at the purpose of the bond they share if it cannot even alert her to his pain and heartache!!

“Mirana... please. Don’t.” She looks up and blinks furiously at the gathering tears. Dale gives her a droll look. “Isn’t it enough I’m letting you salvage my vanity? Don’t make me thank you for it, too.”

Her laughter pushes the tears away. “Absolutely not. No thanks allowed!”

Giving his whiskered chin one last caress, she returns to her task and reaches for a bowl of freshly ground spite nettles. “I would have done the same for Alice,” she says softly, needing him to grasp the depth of her understanding and empathy.

“I don’t doubt it, Mi-sh’rya.”

Mirana looks up at the alteration of her name.

Dale’s grin is endearingly nervous. “Mirana,” he corrects himself.

“That’s not the first time you’ve Shuchished my name. Care to tell me what it means?”

She catches the gleam of one of his dagger-like teeth before he smothers his smile. “It means – were your father alive – he’d be within his rights to toss me out on my left ear. I really shouldn’t have used it so freely.”

“Well, until you tell me what it means, I won’t possibly be able to agree with you on that, will I?”

“I suppose not,” he replies, finally allowing the wide smile to reveal itself.

Mirana gives him a devious glace. “Or, I suppose I could consult Leif. Do you suppose he’d tell me?”

“Only after boxing my ears,” he chuckles ruefully.

“Oh, dear. Now you’ve really got me wondering...”

“Well,” he counters, clearing his throat. “Never accuse me of ruining a good mystery.”

Mirana laughs. “And why would you bother with mysteries at all? Perhaps I prefer poetry or sonnets...?”

Dale regards her with his golden eyes which sometimes seem so young and sometimes so sagely. “More often than not, we like the very things that we are.”

“Are you saying I’m a mystery?” she muses, her eyes now on her work.

“The most intriguing one I’ve had the pleasure to meet,” he confirms.

Mirana tilts her head to the side and contemplates his charming rejoinder. “And what will you do when you’ve unpuzzled the puzzle?”

He considers his answer. “I suppose I’ll have to ask you for a Forgetfulness Draught, so that I can rediscover the answer all over again.”

She smiles. “Dangerous things, Forgetfulness Draughts, for you never know what it is you’ll forget, and once you’ve forgotten it...” With a tiny smile, she teases, “And besides, you might very well forget me.”

“And then you would have to introduce yourself, charm me, and watch me fall in love with you all over again,” he rumbles quietly, humor dancing in his eyes.

“I suppose I would, wouldn’t I? Can’t leave you in such a state of forgetfullish-ness.”

“But, please, don’t let me inconvenience you, Your Magesty.”

“No, please, inconvenience me,” she murmurs back, playing along as she adds two fork tines of silken sunshine.

“That’s what I appear to be attempting at the moment. How am I doing?”

Mirana sighs dramatically. “Amateurishly, I’m afraid.

He coughs out a laugh. “I suppose I could practice elsewhere until I manage to improve to an acceptable level of proficiency. Could you suggest a volunteer?”

She waves a wooden spoon at him. “All right, now you’re inconveniencing me.”

“Have I graduated, then?”

“Only to Novice.”

“Is the lesson over yet?”

“Not at all.”

“Then I shall endeavor to reach Sufficient before I concede.”

“You may begin at any time, sir.”

Grinning, Dale stands and, bracing his paws against the table, leans over the assortment of jars and bottles and pots and containers and Mirana feels his whiskers tickle her cheek and neck.

“You smell of happiness, Mi-sh’rya,” he purrs.

With a delightful shiver, Mirana turns her face toward his and...


She startles, her hand flying to her heart – which suddenly remembers to start beating again and commences with making up for the lost beats with extreme haste! Across the table, Dale had leapt over the bench and now places himself between Mirana and the door.


Mirana sighs, leans around Dale’s shoulder and smiles apologetically at a very disorganized-looking Royal Hatter. “I’m afraid not, Tarrant. Has she misplaced herself?”

“Yes, I fear so...” he replies, kneeling down to scan under the tables. “Thackery, have you a shrunken Alice in your pinafore pocket?”

No Pishsalver!” he grunts, whisking something in a bowl with a carrot peeler.

“Try the training field,” Dale suggests just as Tarrant dives for the kitchen door, having evidently used up his kitchen’s worth allotment of patience.

Tarrant pauses, hand on the door, and turns. “The... training field?” Mirana finds herself receiving an apprehensive yellow-green glance over Dale’s shoulder.

“Yes, she and Leif have a appointment with a pair of scimitars, I believe—”

Tarrant barrels out of the kitchen. Mirana is not far behind him.

Oh, no. Oh, dear. Alice fighting with a lion...! And only three days after being released from Jaspien’s service! Only days after being surrounded by men and beasts with weapons...! Only...


“I’m afraid this is rather urgent,” she tells Dale over her shoulder. The hallway is already empty when she pushes past the still-swinging door. She picks up her skirts and hurriedly prances her way toward the croquet pitch. Even before she arrives, panting – really, Mirana! You ought to schedule more exercise into your plans for the day! – she can hear Tarrant’s shout.




Mirana emerges into the sunlit yard and gasps. Leif wields his scimitar with his left hand and his right arm hangs limply at his side. Mirana has to turn her head away from the sight of the bloody gash running from mid-bicep to his wrist.

Tarrant scoops up a scimitar with his left hand and steps forward to draw Alice’s attacks.

“No!” Leif hisses. “You won’t need that.”

Reluctantly, Tarrant tosses the sword aside and stays two paces behind Alice, shadowing her. Mirana expects the woman to turn and run the Hatter through at any moment, but she’s completely and utterly – even mindlessly – focused on Leif.

In a series of neat moves, Leif manages to tie up Alice’s sword and flips it out of her grasp. With her weapon gone, Alice immediately moves into a crouch and her fingers reach for the hidden pocket in her belt.

No!” Mirana gasps just as Tarrant takes two flying steps and manages to tackle Alice to the pitch.

The fight should have stopped there.

But Alice is beyond stopping, beyond reason, beyond Mamoreal. Alice is in Causwick Castle.

Alice!” Mirana shouts, rushing forward despite Dale’s frantic whispers. “Stop, Alice, please.

A throwing knife clutched in one hand and the other pinned beneath her torso, Alice stiffens.

“Can you hear me, Alice?” Mirana asks, coming closer. She leans down and notes Alice’s eyes: brown. There is no glimmer of golden aggression nor is there the flat black of nothingness. Alice opens her fist and Mirana gently retrieves the knife.

Alice says nothing. She closes her eyes and lowers her head to the grass. Still seated gingerly over her back, Tarrant releases her wrist.

“Alice?” he lisps on a whisper of breath.

She sighs. Or perhaps it’s a sob. It’s difficult to tell as the sound is muffled by the grass.

“Leif, if you’ll follow Dale back to the kitchens, Thackery will show you where the bandages and cleansing solution are located.” She doesn’t take her attention off of Alice. “Alice, dear, please talk to me.”

“I’m fine, Your Magesty,” Alice mumbles woodenly.  “I’m fine.”

Mirana frowns. She glances at Tarrant. His pleading stare steals the breath from her. For a moment, she thinks she can nearly feel the depth and intensity of his pain. When she turns back to Alice, she tells her friend gently, “No, Alice, you are not fine.”

Oddly, Alice doesn’t argue... which means she is already starting to suspect that there is something deeply wrong within her own mind.

“Do not overwhelm her, Tarrant,” the queen advises him. “And remember to trust your Alice. The rest I leave to you.” Be careful, she thinks before handing him the small throwing knife and heading back to the kitchen. Upon arriving, she notes that Dale has already begun patching up his former Champion, so she returns to her laboratory table and regards the potion she’d so abruptly abandoned. She stares at it, but, for the life of her, she can’t seem to decide if it’s salvageable or not.

“Leif,” she finally says, giving in to the thoughts that are distracting her.

“Yes, Your Magesty?”

“Did she do permanent damage to your arm?”

“Not with that pathetic lunge. No, Your Majesty. Of course not.”

She sighs in relief. She leans forward to sniff the contents of the small cauldron, but another thought occurs to her.



“What happened? Did you speak Outlandish to her?”

There’s a short pause and Mirana looks over to see a worried frown on his face. “No. I laughed.”

Mirana sinks down onto the bench and puts her head in her hands. She does not cry, but once, she thinks she hears an odd sort of hiccup echo in the room. Luckily, no one remarks on it.


Oh! How could he have let this HAPPEN?!

Alice. Mad.

And now she knows it!

Tarrant struggles with his emotions. He must be calm. Rational. Contrary.

Yes, contrary: now is not the time to let loose the anguish emoting his heart. Alice needs him to explain. Tarrant needs for himself to explain, to make sense of this horror, to reassure her, to ask – beg, plead, implore! – her forgiveness. Although he does not expect, deserve, or even hope for it to be given.

Tarrant knows exactly how very close he is to losing his Alice.

But, even if she does not leave him today, or in five minutes, or following afternoon tea, how long will he be able to keep her? Soon – too soon! – she will be aware of each and every injury Tarrant has inflicted upon her through his unforgivable slurvishness!

Ye d’nae deserve her...

He knows.

Ye cannae keep her...

He expects not.

Ye have teh tell her the truth, lad. Tell her what ye’ve done teh th’lass.

“She’ll never forgive me.”

Tarrant closes the apartment door – “Oh, no slamming this time? How fortunate I am!” the keyhole snipes. Tarrant barely hears it. – and stares at their home. Their home:

There is Alice’s chair where she usually sits with her knee pressed against his beneath the table. And there is the writing desk where he keeps her letter from Shuchland and the portrait of her that is now too lovely for him to contemplate without feeling the inexcusable need to tear it to shreds. And there is the sofa where she’d first invited him to sit next to her, right before she’d placed her hand over his heart and told him she is his secret. And there, through the open bedroom door, is the armchair upon which she’d laid her borrowed blue dress and then offered her heart-line finger to him along with a simple – too simple for the gravity of the ritual! – fabric pin.

The memories take him, like the madness, but there’s no familiar, numbing heat that accompanies them. He feels each and every moment of those memories with exquisite pain.

And it will only hurt so much more when she leaves him. And she will. For how could she – how could anyone – forgive him? Especially when he cannot offer an honest apology for most of it. Fate help him, but if he’d had it all to do again, he would have done nothing differently. For if he had, perhaps he never would have had Alice, however short that time had been, however briefly he’d managed to keep her.

It will kill him if she leaves.

But how can he not let her go?

“What won’t I forgive?”

Her voice and the touch on his arm startle him.


He looks down at her hand, focuses on it, tries to etch the image of it into his malleable, ever-shifting mind. And, for once, he’s thankful the hand that draws his attention is not the left one.

“Tell me. Please,” she whispers. “What happened? Why did I...?”

Tarrant feels his love-pain-need-loss-want-failure! rush together, blending into one torrential cascade of despair, and slice through him. He opens his mouth to reply, feels his eyes burn from the inside out, and then – remember: CONTROL! – he clears his throat.

As evenly as possible, considering the circumstances, he says, “It’s my fault your ship broke and those men died. It’s my fault you became a Champion and killed Stayne. It’s my fault you almost killed Avendale’s Champion and then nearly died yourself on the battlefield. It’s my fault you’re mad, Alice.”

For a long moment, Alice just stares at him. “No. No, none of those things are your fault.”

He moves to reach for her but forces himself to take a step back instead.

Ye d’nae deserve teh touch her, lad!

“They are. Each and every one of them.”

Alice’s frown is so fierce he shivers. “No, they’re not.” She follows him when he shakes his head and retreats, then presses her hands against his face. The touch destroys him in ways he cannot even begin to understand. “Stop behaving like this, please. Why would you even think to say those things?”

“Because they’re true. I’ve hurt you far, far too much to be permitted to keep you, Alice.”

“No, you haven’t. The ship... the Fates...”

“Would not have sunk it if I’d only let the queen bring you back to us sooner.”

Alice’s jaw clenches. “Contrariwise, it never would have sunk if I’d never set foot on it.”

Tarrant looks away, refuses her words.

So she argues the next point: “I chose to become a Champion.”

“After I’d made you promise to fight and never give up until you win. Don’t you see,Alice? Your promise... a Champion’s promise... I made you that way.”

She shakes her head. Her hands still cradle his jaw and cheeks. “Stayne was not...”

“He was never going to give up. You promised to fight and win. Only death could have defeated him. I made you do that, Alice.”

She stares at him for a moment, her expression disbelieving. “Are you next going to tell me that I honestly nearly killed Leif in the battle?”

Tarrant nods. “I intervened to stay your hand.” His throat moves, but he doesn’t actually manage to swallow anything; he still feels... empty. “I’m sorry.”

“And how did I nearly die during the duel?”

She’s beginning to believe him. He can see the wariness in her eyes. It burns, but he doesn’t disrespect her by turning away. This may be the last conversation he has with her, the last private moment they share. Even a miserable Alice is better than... the emptiness.

“You fought so hard. Beyond anything you’ve ever done. You had no strength left and yet you didn’t stop. Could not stop. When I released you from your promise... to fight and win... you fell.”

She shakes her head. “No, that was the Hafflaffen, not...”

“The promise. It was the promise, Alice.” Torn, Tarrant wishes she would believe him, stop torturing him with the detailing of his failures; but, equally, he wishes she would never understand, for if she does not then she will not go. He confesses, “Just one promise, but it was too... too much to ask of you. Too much to accept. To keep.”

Alice still doesn’t release him. “If you’re right, that promise kept me going until you could come for me. In Causwick. That promise saved me.

Tarrant shakes his head. He can’t believe that. Won’t believe it. She’s trying to save him again, but she cannot free him from a prison built by his own will and selfishness.

“And, worst of all, Alice...” He lifts his right hand and collects her left. “With that promise, through this heart line, I’ve offered you up to the madness...”

She scowls, but Tarrant sees only dread in her eyes, hears it in her voice: “What... madness? I’m not mad!”

Tears gather in his eyes. “I’m so sorry, Alice. You are.”

“No... no!” she denies frantically. He watches her struggle to ignore the truth of her memories. “What are you talking about? I’m fine! I’m—”

Ye’re nae able teh hear me speak Outlandish, lass! D’ye nae see what I’ve taken from ye?!

And there... there it is. Tarrant watches and sees the precise moment when his Alice falls away into some secret corner of her own mind and the mercenary takes her over. Like before, she calls him the most horrible, heart-rending names. Like before, she pushes away from him, but this time he holds on to her hands. She fights him.

He lasts only a few seconds before he’s unable to bear the sight of what he’s done to her. He closes his eyes and lets her wrists slip through his fingers. There’s a moment of heat against his cheek before he steps away from her and lowers his arms. He doesn’t speak. Unlike his madness, the sound of a familiar voice – his voice – will not pull Alice back to him. His silence and lack of aggression unsettle her, jar with her memories, make her hesitate. So he waits.

When her panting breaths strangle on a sob, he dares to open his eyes. Alice stands only a few feet away from him, cradling her left hand in her right, her fingertips blue with blood. Tarrant feels a warm trickle slide down his cheek where she’d gouged him with her nails.

If she’d had a knife in her hand at that moment, just after he’d evoked the madness, he’s sure she would have slit his throat. As it is, he’s lucky she hadn’t remembered the garrote still hidden in her belt.

As calmly as he can manage, he holds out a bright orange handkerchief to her. “I’m sorry, Alice.”

For an instant, he thinks she’s going to run, but no, no of course she doesn’t. Not with all that muchness of hers. She takes the handkerchief and suddenly steps toward him, raising her hand.

He can’t help the slight flinch and damns himself for it. The confusion in her expression disappears at the helpless movement and is replaced with resignation. Acceptance.

A heartache blossoms hotly in his chest: he’s lost her.

Alice presses the handkerchief to his face to stop the blood. She swallows once, twice, but never manages to make a sound. She leads him to the bedroom, sits him on the bed in a move that’s reminiscent of their first time together: the third exchange of the Thrice a-Vow. He waits and wonders if, despite all that he’s done, all the unfathomable ways he’s hurt her, she might kiss him, forgive him, love him still.

But, more likely, it will all end where it had begun. Here. With blood in the air and uncertainty between them.

She washes the cuts on his cheek with soap and water, then reaches for a small jar of the queen’s mild injury remedy. He watches as she warms the ointment in her palm before gently applying it to his face. The guilt and sorrow in her expression unravel him. He feels his hands begin to shake, his breaths turn shallow, his muscles tremble.

Don’t leave, Alice...!

“I broke my promise,” she whispers finally, leaning forward to kiss each raw mark on his face.

He closes his eyes and leans into the touch.

Please, stay. Choose me even though I’ll never deserve it...

“I swore not to hurt you.”

He says nothing. It’s impossible for him to confess to the same failure when his heart is dissolving in the center of his throat.

“I don’t deserve you, Tarrant Hightopp.”

When she leans away, he reaches for her – he can’t let her walk away from him now! Not like this! Not when she still doesn’t understand! – and folds her into his arms. She stumbles and falls with a soft exclamation into his lap.

“Never say that, Alice. Never say that. It’s I who... who cannot... I never should have...” He closes his eyes and struggles to assemble his jumbled thoughts. “I should let you go, but I... I...” He growls. He tries to make his arms release her, but they won’t.

Alice looks up at him and he feels the rush of hot tears again at the utter desolation and hopelessness in her face. “Tell me what to do. Tell me what you want. Tell me how to make amends for this,” she begs, her eyes seeing only the silly, inconsequential scratches on his face.

She looks so... lost.

“Your... your muchness, Alice,” he whispers brokenly, grasping at the first thought that might reach her. “You had it a moment ago. Where is it now?”

For some time, she doesn’t say anything. Her eyes unfocus and he fears she’s falling again into that dark place that holds her prisoner and warps her soul.

He swallows.

The movement of his Adam’s apple seems to wake her from her daze. Lying in his arms, surrendering in a way that makes him nauseous, Alice replies slowly, “It was never my muchness, Tarrant. It’s yours. It’s always been yours. Why else would I cross the bloody moat at Salazem Grum – one floating, decomposing head at a time – to give you back your hat? Why else would I fight the Jabberwocky that destroyed Iplam and drove you into madness? Why else would I become a mercenary and pretend allegiance to the most foul creatures in all of Underland just to stay alive long enough to make it back to you?” She closes her eyes and turns her face away. “It’s your muchness, Tarrant. I just... borrowed it for a while.”

Unable to speak, he shakes his head furiously and holds her tighter.

“You know I can’t stay,” she whispers.

He watches those damnable silent tears spill over the edge of her lashes. “No, don’t go. If you go, you’ll take me with you, but I’ll be here. Alone! And all the muchness. All gone. Gone, Alice!

She closes her eyes. He watches her throat tense. She says thickly, “I think it already is, Tarrant.”

The shock – is this how it ends? – weakens his arms and leaves him too lethargic to move. Alice picks herself up and moves to the wardrobe. He hears drawers sliding open and doors swinging on squeaky hinges. A moment later – or perhaps it’s a day, a week, a month! – he feels Alice’s hand on his uninjured cheek. He looks up and meets her gaze. She looks oddly blurry from this angle.

Forgive me, he desperately wants to say.

Choose me.


But the words never make it past the odd blockage in his throat.

“I can’t stay,” she mouths. “I can’t.

And then she turns and, gathering a bulging satchel, walks out the door.

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 10 of 17

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