Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 14 of 17

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Preparing for the return journey takes longer than preparing for the march to the battlefield had. The White and formerly-Red Armies collect the discarded weapons, and the mercenaries – now loyal subjects of the White Queen – allow it with only a few longing glances and halfhearted growls.

“Your things will be returned to you upon completing a formal vow of fealty,” Alice informs them, and after that, there are no more grumbles or snarls.

The soft puff of breath against her neck warns her an instant before Tarrant murmurs over her shoulder and into her ear, “You’ve quite a gift for handling the masses.”

She bites back a smile.

“I’ve always known you were splendidly talented. But this is a wonderful surprise,” he continues and Alice has to hide a shiver of lust at the heat of his breath and the tender possession in his tone.

“Champion Alice? I believe everyone is ready to return,” Fenruffle announces, emerging from the lines of soldiers. Alice watches the queen bid farewell to Lord Hornsaver and accept his congratulations on her betrothal. Even King Aven speaks softly and warmly to her. Alice cannot hear his words, but she imagines, from the look in his eyes, that he is thanking Mirana for rescuing his son from the consequences of his actions.

Alice marvels at how... beautifully everything has worked out.

“Once again, wonderful use of that Uplandian mind of yours, dear Alice,” Chessur whispers, still wearing the Jabberwocky’s frightening form.

“And, once again, wonderful use of your shape-shifting abilities, Chessur,” she replies quietly. “And your powers of persuasion. Not just anyone could have convinced the Jabberwocky to let them borrow its shape... again.”

He preens. “Yes, I did do rather well with that, didn’t I? Although, I imagine someone has a few questions about the entire affair...” His bright green cat eyes pass over Tarrant and Leif.

Tarrant giggles and then, shaking his head, sighs with contentment.

Leif glances at Alice and says slowly, “You planned for Avendon to see me there on the balcony.”

“I did,” she admits. “And he was prepared for seeing you there.”

“So it was all planned? Shuchland and Galandonland withdrawing their aid...?”

Alice nods. “Yes. It was planned in secret and done in public so that, after word reached Jaspien about it, he would have no reason not accept the challenge.”

Tarrant claps his hands in glee. “Yes, yes, a necessary challenge it was! For how else were you going to petition the mercenaries to turn against them and force their surrender?”

“Exactly,” Alice replies.

“Only... there is one thing I’m curious about,” Tarrant continues, his expression reforming into one of serious contemplation and puzzlement. “Which lands and city were you speaking of?”

“The city you already know,” she tells him. “It’s been abandoned for years now.”

“Ah... Salazen Grum. Yes, yes, they tore the castle down after the Battle of Frabjous Day.”

“Yes, and there’s a harbor that needs a wharf and a town.  And those are going to need fishermen and shopkeepers and tradesmen to fill them up.”

Tarrant smiles, nods, then wonders, “And the land?”

Alice nods in agreement with his implied observation; the lands surrounding Salazen Grum are certainly not ideal farmland, at least not for the produce that has always been grown in the White Realm. “Actually, during our trip in Shuchland, there were several local plants that seemed to grow quite well in a rocky, arid clime like the one at Salazen Grum. But, you’re right, there are other places that need populating.”

“And where might those be?” he wonders curiously.

Alice just smiles. “In Snud, in Queast, in Witzend... all over really.” An idea occurs to her and she offers, “I’ll take you to see my favorite one sometime soon.”

Tarrant’s smile is gleeful and Alice can’t help but return it.

“I’m sorry, Champion Alice,” Leif interrupts gently.

“For what?” Alice asks, puzzled. “You played your part extremely well, Leif. Thank you.”

He shakes his head and sighs but says nothing further.

Despite the long day and the longer journey, the mood is festive. The newest citizens of the White Realm bicker and joke about their future occupations:

“Ha! If ye’re try teh catch a fish wi’tha’ ugly face, ye’ll scare even th’sea beasties away!”

“Aye, ye’d better stick teh carrot farmin’.”

“Or potatoes.”

“No’p’tatoes! Them‘as eyes, ye ken? Won’b’able teh beg ‘em teh come up outeh th’ground!”

Laughter – both harsh and heartfelt – is heard periodically throughout the journey. Alice can feel the attentions of both Tarrant and Leif on her during those moments of spoken Outlandish and rough humor, but not once does she lose herself to the memories they had previously called forth.

The new citizens are settled in the town of Mamoreal for the night and the Queen declares that, on the day after tomorrow, after the former mercenaries have accepted their vows of fealty, a grand, three-day celebration will be held. Alice listens with only half an ear and sighs, knowing she’ll have to attend to guard the queen when she’d rather be spending the rest of the week elsewhere...

She glances at Tarrant and finds his gaze already upon her. The look in his eyes makes her heart beat faster.

Yes, she’d rather spend the whole time behind closed doors. Isolated, but most definitely not alone. They will have tonight, she knows, but after the long march and the adrenaline of the confrontation, Alice is beyond tired. No, tonight she expects she’ll be doing naught but sleeping.

Tomorrow morning, however... Yes, with any luck, there will nothing to stop her from spending the night with Tarrant, waking up next to him in the morning, and then showing him how very much she has missed him.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen quite that way...


“Thank you, Hatter.”

Tarrant returns the queen’s appreciation with a tired smile. “You are most welcome, Your Majesty. It was my—”

“No,” she interjects gently, “no it was most certainly not your pleasure, but I thank you for everything you’ve done for me, for Mamoreal, and for Alice.”

Tarrant twitches a bit at the mention of his wife’s name.

The queen gives him a knowing look and he glances away, shifting uncomfortably. That one glance tells him that Mirana already knows exactly why he’d participated in the deception Alice had orchestrated... and his main motivation had had very little to do with Mamoreal or its queen.

“I also thank you, Sir Hatter,” a rumbling voice says.

Tarrant glances up, surprised at being addressed by none other than the queen’s betrothed. He takes in the he-lion’s new mane and kind expression and feels even less worthy of the attention. “If there’s ever a way I can be of service again...” he lisps in a rush.

The queen once more interrupts him (very bad habit that!) and suggests, “But not for some time, Hatter. I believe you have other duties to attend to...?” Her dark eyes glance toward the castle drive where courtiers are milling about with the queen’s generals, demanding every last detail from the day’s confrontation. Tarrant spies Alice standing with Fenruffle, organizing the weapons that had been given up by the mercenaries. Fenruffle scribbles furiously, recording each item and its owner’s name as Alice waves each pawn and card soldier in through the normally-well-concealed castle side entrance and toward the armory on the second floor.

He barely notices when the queen and Dale move away, disappearing amongst the milling crowd, and Thackery joins him on the steps, clutching a wooden ladle.

“Mally says I missed all th’excitement!” the hare announces.

Tarrant feels a wry smile tug at his mouth. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m afraid our dear Mally has been exaggerating again. There was very little excitement and certainly no occasion for tying up toes with string,” he replies.

“Well, I coulda tol’ye that,” Thackery sniffs. “Cannae use th’same trick twice ‘r shame on ye when it d’snae work!” He waves the wooden ladle in the air for emphasis. “Soup...

“I’m afraid I’m not very hungry at the moment,” Tarrant apologizes. “Will it keep until tomorrow?”

“Aye, ‘twill, but don’be expectin’ there teh be any Thrambleberries left!”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Again, Tarrant is left alone on the steps. He does his best to keep Alice in sight at all times, but every now and then his gaze drifts off to Dale’s fellow exile. And every time he notices the blighter, he feels a scowl pull his pleasant, relieved smile relentlessly downward.

No, Tarrant has not forgotten the he-lion’s vow to woo away Tarrant’s Alice. He knows, despite the battle between the White Realm and the alliance of Jaspien, Valereth, and Oshtyer being over, that he has yet another fight on his hands. Although he is calmer and more focused now than he had been just a few days ago and although Alice seems receptive to his overtures of affection, he is very much aware of the fact that very little has been resolved between them and nothing at all has been said of their future.

“Hatter! What you doin’ out here?”

Tarrant startles and realizes that he’d been neglecting his watch over Alice in favor of glaring at that... that...!

“Mally,” he says, scanning the dispersing crowd for a woman in battle armor. “You’ve been sharing tales with Thackery again.”

She harrumphs. “There’s no need to be swappin’ tails as mine suits me just fine, thank you very much!”

Tarrant continues scanning the remains of the assembled welcoming party: lingering soldiers and a smattering of courtiers but no be-armored Alice.

Mally pokes him in the ankle with her sword. When he hisses and looks down, she swishes it at him. “Lookin’ for Alice, are you? Well, that’ll teach you to spend all your time glaring at that other fellow!”

“Where is she?”

“And why should I tell you, you great, jealous lump?”

Tarrant closes his eyes, takes a deep, calming breath and, looking at her again, breathes, “Please, Mally.”

“Oh... all right. Went inside a while ago. Looked right knackered, she did, so don’t you be goin’ an’ botherin’—Oi, Hatter!

Tarrant marches into the castle and heads directly for her old room, where he knows she’s been sleeping since her return to Mamoreal. He knocks softly on the door, but when – after a minute or so – there’s no answer, he knocks firmly. And then, moments later, pounds on the door. He knows he oughtn’t but he’s unable to stop himself.

He has just opened his mouth to call her name when the doorknob across the hall informs him, “She’s stepped out, young man. Maybe moved out. Again.” The fixture sighs. “Never seen a lady so unable to make up her own mind about her sleeping arrangements!”

“Where did she go?”

“How should I know? I’m just a doorknob, for the love of brass polish!” The doorknob pauses, and then says consideringly, “Which is quite possibly one of the things I love best...”

Gritting his teeth and thinking uncharitable thoughts of vain and useless sentient brass door handles, Tarrant heads back down to the first floor. Perhaps she’d returned to the room they’d once borrowed not so very long ago, when there had been an excess of Hafflaffen in her system? But no, the latch on that door insists no one’s been in or out since the room had been cleaned a few days ago. He tries the kitchen, the libraries, the armory and – with great hesitance – his own hat workshop. Still, no Alice. Reluctantly, he decides she must have gone up to the queen’s tower parlor to sleep on the sofa there.

When there’s nowhere left to search, he admits defeat and forces his exhausted, aching body up the steps and down the corridor to his rooms. Disappointment makes each step more difficult than he could have imagined.

He’d hoped... foolishly, yes, but he’d hoped that Alice might have spoken to him about coming home tonight. He’d doubted she would agree, but he’d been prepared to ask – beg, plead, bargain! – about that very issue. He’d formulated all manner of excuses and concessions just to ensure that she’d be with him in some sense of the word so that he wouldn’t have to wonder if that gutless, slithy, shukm-peddling booly-geber might be calling on her, charming her, claiming her affections...

Tarrant growls and reaches out to wrench open the door to his apartment.

“I’ll thank you to treat me a bit more kindly from now on,” the lock orders him, “or I’ll not be telling you who’s been by in your absence!”

Tarrant pauses, blinks, and addresses the fixture. “Who has been by?”

“A bit of trust is required for me to divulge that,” the useless, opinionated jumble of scrap metal rebukes. “But I will say this: you are, without a doubt, the luckiest son of a Witzend wild-man I’ve ever had the misfortune to be manhandled by!”

Tarrant opens his mouth to argue his father’s sophistication. Imagine a Hightopp begin called a “wild-man”! The insult!

But the lock’s next proclamation distracts him. “Don’t botch it this time!”

And with that, the door swings open of its own accord.

Suddenly nervous as he recalls similar words from Chessur regarding his handling of Alice’s madness, he steps into the room. The first thing he notices is the woman slumped against the sofa cushions in her pajamas. For a moment, he’s sure he’s imagining things. So he checks: shoes that look like Alice’s are sitting by the door; an Alice-sized vest is draped across the armchair in the bedroom and... yes, the shirt and trousers she’d worn beneath her armor today seem to be in the laundry basket; a jar of ointment, a hair brush and various other Alice-y odds and ends are cluttering the top of the dresser. Tarrant blinks back the odd burning (but not from madness!) sensation in his eyes and smiles.

Confident now that he is not imagining Alice dozing on their sofa, he wanders back into the living room. As he approaches her, she doesn’t stir and he takes a moment to simply look at her. She looks tired, certainly, but she also looks well.

Oh, how he’s missed her!

He reaches out to gently brush a curl away from the corner of her eye, but stops himself. No, she hasn’t given him permission to touch her again. Not yet. He mustn’t until she does.

Sighing, he pulls his hand back and that’s when he notices the item lying on the sofa cushion next to her. His smile returns as he leans over and collects the small portrait of her. Kneeling at her feet, he cradles the thick parchment in his hands and reminds himself to thank Alice for sending this to him.

“You’re late,” she whispers suddenly.

Tarrant looks up and meets her bleary gaze. His heart thrills at the sight of her tired yet endearing smile.

“I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”

She blinks and her smile widens. She looks down at the drawing in his hands. “I just about throttled Mirana when she told me she’d tucked that in with my letter to you.”

“Why?” he asks, drawing the small portrait closer to his chest protectively.

Her gaze tracks the movement. “Mostly, I was embarrassed by it. It’s very...”

“Ensnaring, enrapturing, sensual, scintillating, sultry, seductive, persuasive, pleasurable, pleasing—!”


He giggles. “I’m fine.” Glancing at the portrait once more, he murmurs, “And, while it was not my most preferred way to keep you with me, it... helped nonetheless. Despite how very far away your were, I could hold you in my hands again. It was... yes. Yes, it was.” Setting the portrait aside gently, he turns his attention back to her. “Alice?”

“Is it all right that I’m here?” she asks worriedly. “I promise I’m fine. I won’t hurt you again. I mean, like I did. The... madness is... I control it now. That’s what Chessur and I were doing in the evenings. Testing my mind... I’ve faced it,” she says solemnly. “I won’t let it hurt us anymore.”

Tarrant feels his heart throb at the incredible strength his Alice has.

She takes a steadying breath. “So... can I stay?”

“Alice,” he says, slowly reaching for her hands and smiling broadly when she allows him to collect them in his own. “Alice, I don’t care about the madness. Where else would I rather have you than here? In our home? ... with me?

And she releases the breath she’d drawn in a long exhalation. “Thank you.”

“Hush,” he replies, caressing the back of her hands with his thumbs.

When Alice opens her eyes, his hopeful smile is waiting for her. “Having a shape-shifting, Outlandish-speaking cat around was very useful, but... I miss your Outlandish,” she murmurs.

He huffs out a breath of wry laughter. “I miss watching you as I speak it.” He leans closer, examining her face. “Your eyes soften and your mouth opens just the smallest bit and, if I’m very lucky, I can watch your tongue wet your lower lip... yes... just like that...”

He stares at her mouth until her fingers squeeze his. “Outlandish, please,” she implores.

And because he will give Alice anything she asks for, he complies, “Aye. Yer eyes b’come th’softest, deepest color o’warm dark tea an’yer lips open f’r me an’I’ll do anythin’teh taste ye. An’ yer breaths b’come pants tha’draw me in an’ I cannae deny th’need teh touch ye, teh have ye, teh give ye wha’e’er ye ask o’me...”

Alice closes her eyes and shivers. “Yes,” she moans-whispers-pleads softly. “I’ve missed that.” She opens her eyes. “I’ve missed you.”

Daringly, Tarrant leans forward and touches his forehead to hers. “I’ve missed us, Alice.”

She nods, her eyes tightly closed. And then she kisses him. His entire body sings at the soft touch. Her lips move languidly against his, lacking the purpose of passion that often drives her and then captivates him.

Stop, lad! Alice is exhausted.

Yes, yes, of course. “Thank you,” he whispers, pulling back.

Her smile is a bit wobbly, but it is a smile.

“I know it’s not... That is, you’re very tired, Alice, but I have to... I mean, I’d like to say that... I’m sorry.”

“For what?” she asks.

“The promise, the Thrice a-Vow, the horridly slurvish way I spoke to you when you trusted me for answers and all I gave you was me own guilt an’ fear an’ I WAS SO AFRAID I’D LOSE YE, ALICE!”

Shhh...” she croons after pressing a hand against his cheek. “Everything’s fine. It’s fine.”

“I’m sorry,” he says again. “You’re tired and I’m... so slurvish! I ne’er learn!” Tarrant shakes himself as he stands. “Com’on, Alice, inteh bed wi’ye.”

She allows him to pull her from the sofa and tuck her against his side. He ushers her into the bedroom and settles her down for the night. After tucking her in, he moves away, but her fingers reach for him and graze his wrist.

“Stay...” she breathes. “Missed you...”

Remembering the last time she’d woken up beside him, he hesitates. “Are ye sure?”


Tarrant quickly disrobes then slides into the bed with her and wraps her up in his arms. He can feel her warm breath puffing against his chest and the weight of her body as she relaxes into sleep.

Tarrant forces himself to stay awake just a while longer in order to relish the feel of her. Here. In his arms. Finally!

“No one will take ye away from me again,” he mouths into her hair.

And with that vow, he knows exactly what he has to do. First thing in the morning, Tarrant Hightopp is going to do right by Alice Kingsleigh. If she chooses him in the light of day, with a clear mind and an open heart, he’ll have a ring for her and a promise of his own.


Alice’s grand plans for a memorable reunion with her husband are completely and utterly scuppered when she opens her eyes to the late morning sunshine and notices a very conspicuous lack of Tarrant-noise in the too-silent apartment.

Groaning, she rolls over, buries her nose in his pillow, and swears. Of course she’d forgotten one very obvious fact yesterday evening when she’d daringly promised herself a passionate lie-in with Tarrant... Like the fact that he’s the Royal Hatter and the following day will be the first of a massive celebration.

Not for the first time, Alice damns the greed of the White Queen’s courtiers.

She wishes she could merely close her eyes, roll over, and wish him into bed with her, but she knows it won’t work. Grumbling, Alice throws back the covers, summons a frog footman and requests a bath and, following that, tea.

Once she’s presentable and the tea service is on its way, Alice indulges in a moment to consider her heart line. She really ought to consult that tome of Mirana’s about it. She vaguely remembers Mirana saying something about being able to use it to communicate with one’s blood-bonded spouse and is utterly frustrated at her inability to recall reading that. Of course, at the time, she’d been more focused on what they’d done to each other rather than how it could be used to benefit both of them.

“I shall have to rectify that today,” she whispers to the bay window. And, at that moment, the tea service arrives. Alice rises and opens the door, then blinks down at not only Marshing but a certain hatpin-swishing dormouse with twinkling, secret-filled eyes.

Alice thanks the frog then, as he enters to place his burden on the table, she points her finger at Mally. “Whatever it is you know that I don’t had better be something you’re planning on telling me if I invite you to tea.”

Mally cackles. “Oh, well, you know I’d tell you if I could, but as it’s not my secret...”

“Uh huh. Thanks for stopping by, Mally,” Alice says, moving to close the door.

“Now, just hold on a minute, Alice!” The persistent dormouse’s voice squeaks through the tiny crack between the door and the jamb caused by the insertion of her hatpin. “I said I couldn’t tell you, but there ain’t nuthin’ wrong with you guessin’...”

Alice sighs and opens the door again.

“Thanks, luv,” Mally says, strutting inside and heading for the table. “I do enjoy a cup of Throeston Blend!”

Alice sees Marshing out and, with an exasperated sigh and a fond smile, joins Mally at the table. Seating herself, she pours them each a cup of tea and tosses Mally some Battenburg.

“That was quite the speech yesterday,” Mally says by way of opening.

“Thank you,” Alice replies. “Does this secret you know – but I don’t – have anything to do with Tarrant?” With that delightfully, determinedly devious light in the dormouse’s eyes, Tarrant is always a good place to start guessing...

“Could be,” Mally answers, then fires off, “How’d you know they’d go for it?”

Alice shrugs. “It made sense they would.”

“Made sense to you, you mean.”

“Is Tarrant planning to Futterwhacken at the celebration?” Alice guesses while it’s her turn.

Mally considers that. “If you asked him to, I’m sure he would.” The dormouse leans forward eagerly. “Are you going to ask him to? I haven’t seen him Futterwhacken since the Battle of Frabjous Day!”

“I’ll think about it,” Alice replies.

“So, how come you ain’t gallymoggers anymore, Alice?” Mally accuses.

Alice’s brows arch. “Are you disappointed I’m not?”

“’Course I am! Suppose you think you’re too good for us now!”

Mally!” Alice huffs.

The dormouse giggles. “Oh, you know I don’t mean nuthin’ by it, Alice. You don’t have to be mad as the rest o’ us if you don’t want to.”

“Thank you for understanding,” Alice replies, happy to avoid telling Mally exactly why she’d chosen to purge herself of that madness. No, if Alice were to tell Mally that she’d hurt Tarrant, that she’d made him bleed, the dormouse wouldn’t rest until she’d exacted revenge.

“So, how’d you do it? De-mad yourself?”

Alice waits until Mally has taken another noisy sip of her tea. “Well, as it was mainly Outlandish and... um, male laughter that triggered it, I asked Chess to shape-shift into the Hatter and...” Alice shrugs.

“Oooh...!” Mally places both paws on the rim of her cup and leans so far over the edge, she’s only a soft breeze away from drowning herself in it. “Did you get in a few good swipes?” she demands excitedly.

Frowning, Alice opens her mouth to reply.

Knock knock!

Mally turns to look at the door as Alice focuses on it over her head.

“Were you expecting someone for tea?” Mally wonders aloud, oddly suspicious.

“No,” Alice replies bluntly. “But I suppose the queen would like a word...”

Yesterday, Mirana had gently pulled her aside and confessed her desire to hold her and Dale’s wedding as soon as possible – on the third day of the celebration, to be exact. Alice winces at the thought of all the hullabaloo that will cause, but can’t deny her happiness for the queen. After all that she and her former prince have been through recently, after the strain they’d been under through their bond (courtesy of the First Claw Dale had given her and she’d accepted), Alice can understand perfectly why they’d rather not wait any longer to finalize their vows and begin the rest of their lives together.

Alice rises from the table, strides over to the door, pulls it open and blinks at the creature on the other side of it.

“Leif...” Frowning, Alice asks, “Is everything all right?” She spares a brief thought for her broadsword in the other room.

The lion draws a breath and rumbles softly, “Could I come in?”

From the table, Mally shouts, “Don’t let that booly-geber in here! Get out, you! This is the Hatter and Alice’s place and you’re not welcome here!”

Turning, Alice hisses, “Mally! What’s gotten into you?”

“You just tell him to go away, Alice,” the dormouse orders.

But, feeling rather contrary today, Alice ignores her. “What is it?” she asks Leif instead.

His voice is still feather-soft when he requests, “Could you accompany me for a moment?”

“We’re in the middle of tea,” Mally points out in a hostile tone.

Alice grits her teeth.

“Never mind,” Leif says. “I came here to give you this. It’s yours.”

He hands Alice a small, silk pouch and then, with a flick of his tail, turns and stalks down the hall. Confused, Alice watches him go. Then she steps back and closes the door.

“What is it?” Mally asks with what sounds like apprehension.

“I don’t know...” Turning, Alice fiddles with the stings of the pouch and upends it over her palm.

A tangle of leather cord and a single ivory-colored claw lands in her hand.

Mally gasps.

Alice gapes.

“Oh... oh no, Alice. Did you... just accept... that? From him?

Alice looks up at Mally’s horrified expression. She feels her own face pulling into a frightful scowl. Without another word, Alice pivots on her heel and charges out the door, automatically slamming it shut behind her and ignoring the keyhole’s shout of protest.


Overall, it had been a rather productive morning. He’d awakened just after dawn from the dream of the most delightful ring on Alice’s heart-line finger. Recognizing the design, he’d carefully extracted himself from bed and rushed down to his workshop. Rather than start working on it right away, however, he’d forced himself to attend to several of the hat orders he’d received overnight. (Easily a dozen missives had been slid under the door at some point, each detailing a particular accessory for the queen’s victory celebration.)

As he’d worked on more familiar tasks, his mind had been busy considering the unfamiliar venture that had come to him in the dream...

I shall need a hammer...

No, no, don’t want scratches, so a cloth of some sort, a barrier...

Perhaps heating would assist in...

Yes. Shall have to see about that. A candle?

No, scorching. Don’t want scorching on...

And on and on it had gone until he’d convinced himself that he’d determined the best method and then had set about practicing with a bit of scrap – chortling in delight at his success – before attempting the final version.

Tarrant’s right hand dips into one of his many jacket pockets and his scraped, blistered, and raw fingertips brush against the small object within. He marvels at its diminutive size, for how can such a small thing truly represent his love for Alice?

He hears himself whistling softly as he strides toward the apartment. He’s later than he’d expected, unfortunately. He regrets that his proposal will be a luncheon one rather than an as-she-first-opens-her-eyes one. But perhaps that’s for the best; Alice tends to be a bit drowsy and out of sorts before her first cup of tea anyway...

Allowing the scene he has planned and prepared for to play out in his mind, Tarrant feels his chest tighten with anticipation and joy. He wonders at the odd sensation. And he giggles at the thought of surprising Alice... He hasn’t had the opportunity to give her many pleasant surprises. Oh, he does hope she’ll like this one!

“About time you got back,” the keyhole grouches.

In too pleasant a mood to be bothered, he merely opens the door.

“Oh, dear. Oh, dear, oh dear, oh dear!

Tarrant feels his elation deflate as the door swings open and he sees not Alice but Mally, who is pacing back and forth over the table – which had been set for morning tea – and quite obviously fretting.

“Mally?” Tarrant asks, glancing around. “Is Alice here?”

“No! No, she isn’t and we haven’t a moment to lose!” Mally shouts, clamoring down from the table and racing toward him. Tarrant scoops her up in his palm and sets her down on his shoulder.

“What is it? What’s happened? Where’s Alice?!

“I don’t know!” Mally wails. “I was doing just as you asked – keeping Alice busy until you came back with the... you-know-what... but then that lion showed up and he...! And he...!”

Tarrant clenches his jaw and struggles to keep the encroaching madness at bay. “He what?” he demands, picturing all sorts of horrible things: Alice taken again! Alice in the paws of that... that... that...!

“He gave her his First Claw, Hatter!”

The anger chokes him. He hears an odd sort of wheezing snarl and it takes a poke in the shoulder from Mally’s hatpin sword to distract him from the Blackness. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and – striding for the still-open door – asks, “D’she accept it?”

“He didn’t give her a choice, that rotten blighter! Gave it to her in a pouch an’ when she opened it up and turned it over the claw fell right into her hand! Oh, Hatter!

Tarrant races down the stairs, his heart pounding but not from exertion, his mind a chaotic mass of denial.

No, no, no, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO—!

How could that bloody lion have done this?! WHY?

I’ll nae let tha’bastard take MY ALICE!!

“Does she know?” Tarrant growls. “Does she know what this means?”

Mally, grasping the hatpin which she’d stabbed through his jacket’s shoulder seam to keep herself from tumbling off, shrieks, “I’ve no idea! Who knows what goes on inside that woman’s head?!”

“If she d’snea know...”

“Won’t make a bit of difference unless she can convince him to take it back. Willingly.

Later, Tarrant will wonder how he’d managed to make it down all those stairs without managing to kill both himself and Mally as he’d skidded and slipped around corners and crashed into walls. Later, Tarrant will marvel at the fact that he hadn’t actually allowed the madness to engulf him despite feeling it pulsing beneath his skin, crouching just beyond the periphery of his vision. Later, Tarrant will wonder if giving in to it might have been more merciful.

But at the moment, he struggles to remember everything he knows about the First Claw. He vaguely remembers that the exchange initiates the bonding of two souls and, although the bond is stronger if each creature gives its First Claw to the other, only one is actually necessary. He also recalls that once the claw passes from its owner and touches the skin of the intended recipient, it cannot be returned. Not without the owner allowing it and intending to release the recipient from the merging of their souls.

And with every minute that passes following the exchange, the process becomes more and more difficult to reverse, for with every minute that passes, the two souls move – little by little – each toward the other until...

D’nae think it, lad! FIND ALICE!

Yes, yes, he must find Alice and tell her... tell her before it’s too late!

He can see the door  – standing open – to that frumious, dirt-snuffling, shukm-lickering bastard’s rooms just ahead!

Nearly there!

Hatter! STOP! What are you going to say?!

He doesn’t answer because the answer doesn’t matter. All that matters is Alice and he’ll do and say whatever he must to keep her!

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 14 of 17

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