Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 16 of 17

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

“There. You look stunning, Mirana,” Alice informs her, gently smoothing the shimmering skirt of the sarleh into place. Smiling, she continues, “I hope you’re not expecting sweet nothings in your ear because, if I’m not mistaken, you’re going to stun poor Dale speechless.”

Mirana laughs, despite her obvious nerves... or, perhaps, because of them. “I... I...”

Alice pets the queen’s lustrous, white hair. “How can you be nervous now when the hard part’s over with?” Indeed the celebrations and the ceremony, the planning and the preparations, the dinners and the dancing, the tea and the toasts, the hors d’oeuvres and the Orashlach... Those things are all little more than memories now. The rosy light of sunset illuminates the queen’s tower bedroom through the Queast-facing windows.

“I suppose I am nervous,” Mirana admits. “On this night of all nights, I think I’m entitled, though. Even considering the Soul Bond.”

Alice hesitates a moment before laying her arm across the queen’s shoulders. “Would you... like some advice? From one who knows what it’s like?”

“Yes, please!”

Feeling unaccountably shy and unsettled – how odd it seems to be giving Mirana advice of the heart! – Alice gently wraps her arms around Mirana so that each might both hide their embarrassment from the other. “Expect pleasure,” Alice whispers, recalling her own experience with Tarrant on their first night together. “And unless the Soul Bond allows you to read each other’s minds, you’re going to have to show him what you like, what you need. He’ll be nervous, too, because he’ll want to please you, but he won’t be sure how. Be strong for him. Guide him. Don’t let hesitance make this night anything less than it could be.”

Alice steps back and, giving Mirana a comforting smile, says, “You’ve chosen to spend the rest of your life with him. Begin as you mean to go.”

The queen returns Alice’s smile and nods. “Thank you, Alice.”

“It’s the least I can do, Mirana.” She collects her friend’s hands and gives her arms a good shake, loosening the muscles. “Deep breath, now,” she orders.

Mirana closes her eyes and obeys.

“Now imagine his smile, his eyes: what exact shade of gold are they when he smiles just for you?”

Alice continues prompting the queen’s memories of her beloved until a soft knock sounds against the door. And when Mirana opens her eyes, Alice sees only lingering traces of her anxiety. Mostly, the woman looks... luminous. With one more reassuring squeeze to her hands, Alice turns and opens the door. She waits for Dale to enter and then bows herself out, careful not to intrude on any portion of the moment. Her feet carry her down the curving stairs to the tower parlor where Mally is waiting.

“You make that tunic into a very intimidating garment,” Alice compliments her.

The dormouse grins and struts a bit. “I do, don’t I? Never thought blue to be my color, but...”

“You suit it quite well,” she finishes.

“Ha! You said it, Alice!” Mally heads over the small dinner table that had been set up beside the front door and climbs up the lace tablecloth.

With a smile, Alice continues, “Thank you for this, Mally. It means a lot to us...”

“Aw, go on with you!” the dormouse insists. “After this week, you an’ the Hatter ought to get away for a bit.”

“We’ll be back tomorrow,” Alice promises. “And, in the meantime...” She glances over Mally’s head at the other guard assigned to watch over the new king and the queen on their wedding night. “Try not to impress Chessur too badly.”

The cat grins. “I should very much like to see her try,” he drawls.

Mally cackles. “Oh, there’s not much that ol’ Chess can do that I can’t do better!” she replies.

“Oh? Have you suddenly developed evaporating skills?”

“When it comes to a pot of Throeston Blend, I certainly have!” She giggles.

Even Alice has to admit Mally has very impressive skills when it comes to tea consumption. “You most definitely do and someday I’ll get you to tell me where you put it all.”

Mally claps her paws together with glee. “After you and the Hatter get back, we’ll sit down and work out a little bargain on that!”

“Oh, er, right,” Alice manages and moves toward the door. “Now, play nice, you two, and get the king and queen whatever they need.”

“We know, Alice,” Chessur replies, rolling his great eyes.

“Nuthin’ more dangerous than a pack of trump cards for tonight.” Turning, she nearly hollers at him, “An’ it won’t be my fault if you give yourself a paper cut!”

Alice bites back a laugh as Chessur tries to block her from reaching the stack of cards with the end of his tail. “Not until we’ve settled on the rules!” he insists.

“What rules?!” Mally retorts. “There’s only one way to play a game of Snud-done Snitzer!”

“Good night!” Alice calls, letting herself out of the room and heading down to the base of the tower. She nods to the knight and bishop on either side of the main entrance and bids them a good evening as well. Passing by a balcony overlooking the courtyard, she hears the sounds of tents being dismantled and tables cleared. Alice sighs. She’s very happy to have an excuse to avoid the clean-up. Helping Marshing, Lakerton, and Pondish erect over a dozen voluminous white tents – who in their right mind had decided to assign three frogs that task? – earlier that morning had been harder than her regular Champion’s training!

She feels a smile pull at her lips as she recalls the surprisingly adept serenade Thackery had produced for the newlyweds – with the help of a bit of Orashlach, that is! The Tweedles had performed a rather spectacular tap dance duet – or so it had seemed to Alice. Perhaps it had actually been their own unique brand of Futterwhacken.

Futterwhacken. Yes, she’d timidly asked Tarrant if he wouldn’t mind dancing for her again and Mally had been beside herself with joy. And Alice hadn’t been unaffected, either.

Must remember to ask Tarrant how that dance is even possible!

But, then again, he’d probably just chuckle, smile his gap-toothed grin and remind her in a soft lisp, “It’s only impossible if you believe it is!”

Shaking her head, she heads downstairs to the hat workshop. She might have been excused from helping everyone clean up outside, but she knows her husband’s workshop is still in shambles from the other day. And, as that’s largely due to her, she feels it’s only fair to ask him if she can help set it to rights.

Alice still can’t believe he’d forgiven her for that inconceivably painful deception:

“What would have happened if you’d charged into that room and I’d flown into your arms?”

His eyes had flashed when she’d asked that question. “I wouldae killed th’creature!”

And she’d smiled then stroked his cheeks until the fire in his eyes had subsided. “Exactly,” she’d said. “And I’d do it again to spare you from crossing that line, Hatter. My Hatter...”

His eyes had narrowed then. “D’nae say tha’Alice, I cannae... I shouldnae... I know I frightened ye in mae workshop...”

“And if you apologize for it, it will break my heart.”

His hands had reached for her, then had abruptly stopped and fisted. “What can I do, then, Alice?”

“Forgive me for hurting you? For making you believe I wasn’t yours anymore?” She still hates herself for asking no matter how much she’d needed to hear the words, see the absolution in his mismatched eyes. She knows she’ll never have the right to ask, but she couldn’t not.

He had shaken his head at her. “Ye never need teh ask me fer f’rgiveness, lass.”

“Please?” She’d only mouthed the word, but he’d read it from her lips.

“Ye need this...” he’d murmured to himself and then he’d smiled; he’d given her that absolution through aqua-colored eyes. “I f’rgave ye the momen’ye opened tha’door.”

Alice had goggled at him. “But... how did you know to forgive me just from that?”

Tarrant had finally reached out to her and had pulled her close. She’d listened to him sniff and nuzzle her hair, her ear, her temple...

“Alice... mine or no’ye ne’er would’ave come teh me in tha’moment w’thout th’intention o’savin’ me. An’ I knew I still had a chance teh’ave ye again...” His arms had tightened around her. “An’ then I lost control teh th’ Blackness... desperate, dangerous, overwhelmingly unforgivably—”

Raven,” Alice had commanded, kissing him. And, amazingly enough, that had been the end of it. Alice marvels at his capacity to forgive. (Although, considering the grudge-filled glances he has been exchanging with Chessur recently, perhaps she ought to admit that his generosity doesn’t seem to extend to everyone.)

She wonders now how things will be here in the castle what with Leif remaining and her and Tarrant living here... Alice rubs her fingers over her forehead and sighs. Truly, she doesn’t know what to do about that slithy tove’s nest of bitter awkwardness, but she’ll have to do something. Now that Dale is, in fact, King Dale of Mamoreal, Leif will be his Champion once more, which means she’ll be working with him, training with him, relying on him every day for the foreseeable future.

No doubt, Tarrant will not – is not? Has this occurred to him yet? – be happy about that. But she has confidence that they’ll arrive at some sort of solution. She loves him too much to allow their home to be invaded by anger and resentment.

Mind obviously occupied, Alice doesn’t realize she has arrived at the hat workshop until she’s there, standing in the open doorway and gaping at the sight before her.


Leif is standing in Tarrant’s workroom.

And Tarrant...

Tarrant is clasping the lion’s paw in...

Alice struggles to comprehend the scene, for that can’t be a genuine smile curling Tarrant’s lips. Nor can that be a look of relief on Leif’s face...!

What in the name of Underland is going on here?

But the question never manages to make it past her lips. She watches as the two of them shake – hand and paw – firmly and without rancor. Then, with a respectful nod, Leif turns toward the door, obviously intending to take his leave, when they both spot Alice standing there. No doubt she very closely resembles a landed codfish.

“Alice!” Tarrant declares, delighted. Oddly, he doesn’t move toward her.

Leif, however, does.

Despite her shock, she tenses. Her right hand moves to the pommel of her sword and Leif stops his advance immediately. Alice neglects to note that he’ll have to get through her in order to actually leave – she’s blocking the doorway, after all! – and glances from the lion’s repentant expression to Tarrant’s bright green eyes.

And then Tarrant gives her an imploring look and very deliberately nods in Leif’s direction. She gawks at him over the lion’s shoulder.

“Champion Alice,” Leif murmurs in a reserved tone.

Alice gives herself a slight shake and returns her attention to him. “Yes?”

“I’ve come to apologize. Formally. For my error in judgment and my behavior. And, also,” he continues, “to beg your endorsement.”

She frowns in confusion.

“King Dale has asked me to resume my post as his Champion, but I will not do so without your – and your husband’s – agreement.”

Alice blinks. “I...” Unable to help herself, even though she can feel the warmth of Tarrant’s support through the heart line, she glances over Leif’s shoulder again and is struck breathless by the utterly charming smile of open confidence on her Hatter’s face.

Trust me, he seems to say.

And because she does – without reservation – she lets his smile call forth her own. Turning back to Leif, she says, “We accept your apology and wish you all the best in your new post as Champion.”

And she’s silently surprised to realize that she means those words. She does wish him the best. Because... because...

Because I’ve missed my friend, she admits to her audience of one.

The lion releases a long breath. “Thank you, Champion Alice.”

She nods and steps past him and into the room. As he moves toward the door, she hears herself say, “I’ll see you on the pitch.”

“After breakfast?” he asks, a friendly grin lighting his eyes.

“Yes, but not tomorrow. The day after. I’ve plans for tomorrow.”

“Until then, Champion Alice.”

“Champion Leif.”

His grin is broad and exactly the way she remembers it. After he goes, Alice closes the door and – still stunned by what had just happened – she turns around slowly. When she looks up Tarrant is already there, standing before her with his arms open.

She steps into them on a bubble of laughter.

“What just happened here?” she asks into the locks of his long, wavy hair.

“Didn’t you hear?” he replies jovially. “Leif apologized and asked for our permission to stay at Mamoreal.”

Alice opens her mouth to correct him, then stops herself. Despite Leif merely asking for their permission to resume his post, Tarrant had of course looked past that to the truth of the matter: Leif had really been requesting their permission to stay. Of course, Tarrant had seen it. His specialty is the truth, after all. She sighs and feels incredibly lucky to have a man so gifted.

“And you accepted his apology and gave him your permission,” she summarizes. “Why? Why did we do that?” For, really, the decision to do so hadn’t been hers but theirs. And, honestly, it had been mostly his for she never would have forgiven Leif without Tarrant’s full support.

“He told me why he did it,” Tarrant replies softly. “Out of respect and love for a Champion. To keep you safe.” He leans back until Alice finds her gaze captured in his. “I can hardly fault him for loving you, for doing whatever he must to keep you safe...” He brushes his thimbled and scraped fingers over her cheek. “I’d be the most intolerable sort of hypocrite to blame him for feeling the very things that I also feel for you, Alice.”

The words are more than she’d ever expected to hear and yet they ring true. So true that they resonate with something even deeper within her. A twinge of intuition:

“Ye need this...” he’d said when she’d asked for forgiveness and so he’d given it to her.

And when her fellow Champion and foolish friend had asked to be allowed to stay in Mamoreal, to be part of their lives, Tarrant had known that this is another thing that Alice – despite her pique and frustration and temper – would need...

Tarrant had known Alice would need this. Even before she had herself.

Her heart feels as if it is melting within her chest. Swallowing, Alice takes a moment to focus on the feeling and share it with Tarrant. When he inhales sharply, she knows it has worked.

“But you forgave him so easily...” she mutters when she finally can, hardly daring to believe that he could do – but he had done! – something like this just for her.

Tarrant shakes his head, his irises fading into a deeper and deeper blue as he speaks. “’Twas nae easy, but I coul’see that’ th’lad willnae come b’tween us again. He respects an’ loves ye tae much.”

Alice blinks, perplexed. “And that... doesn’t concern you?”

He giggles. “Alice, how can ye no’see it? He loves a Champion. He’s no’in love with Alice.”

She smiles. “Your Alice,” she corrects him.

“Aye,” he answers, his eyes closing in a expression of utter bliss. “My Alice.”

His kiss is so sweet she thinks the very tenderness of it makes it taste of caramels and bergamot, but no, that’s simply her memory of Tarrant’s blood and their first tentative kiss. She sighs as his natural flavor mingles with those achingly sweet memories and it’s only the lack of distracting passion that allows her to really experience the taste.

Yet, even as content as she is now, in this gentle moment, she shivers as thoughts of his overwhelming domination from just a few days ago rush to the forefront of her mind.

“What?” he whispers.

“I love kissing you,” she replies, sighing again, “but I’ll miss the way you were the other day.”

Opening her eyes, she’s a little surprised to see nothing more than a contemplative gleam in his ever-changing gaze.


He shakes his head wonderingly. “You’ve just answered my question.”

“Which was?”

“How you could have forgiven me for that... display, for scaring you...”

Alice traces the edge of his jaw with her fingertips. “There was never anything to forgive.”

This time, when he kisses her, she doesn’t taste caramel and bergamot. She tastes Tarrant. She tastes his strength.

She moans into his mouth as his tongue surges over hers. She’s vaguely aware of something – the wall? – pressing against her back and shoulders, holding her up. His hands move to her hips and pull them tightly against his own. His lips leave hers and he proceeds to mark his way down her neck. Alice’s hands flutter weakly at his shoulders, oddly indecisive. She feels that she ought to do a bit more, participate a bit more, but when she begins to gather her thoughts and the impetus to move, he suddenly collects both her wrists in his right hand and pins them against the wall above her head.

“None o’tha’nauw, Alice,” he warns her gently.

The sudden heat his voice releases within her blood makes her shudder. His left hand reaches down and, grasping her under her knee, hooks her leg over his hip.

Hmmm...ngh!” she hears herself moan as he presses against her, already so hard...

“Las’ chance, Alice,” he murmurs against her throat. She feels the tip of his tongue press against her pulse. “Tell me teh stop an’ I will. I still can...”

Her breath shivers out of her. She closes her eyes, leans her head against the wall and gives in: “More.

And, with a hot glance from his now-violet eyes, he obliges.


It’s well past nightfall when Alice manages to drag Tarrant away from the new mess they’d made in his workshop. She considers apologizing, but glancing at Tarrant’s knowingly sexy look, decides against it.

“Where are you taking me, Alice?” he murmurs as she pulls him by the hand toward the armory.

Walking backwards, she smiles. “And ruin the surprise?”

His eyes widen and his smile brightens. This man had just had her at his mercy against a wall, had knelt at her feet and petted her with his tongue until she’d screamed, had taken her on a jumble of torn fabric meant for the bin, had handled and possessed her in the most carnal sense, and yet she can’t mistake the total innocence and boyish delight of his smile. He lisps, “You’re going to surprise me, Alice?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Is it a good surprise?”

She hesitates. Is it? “It’s something you have to see for yourself,” she hedges.

His right eyebrow twitches, but the smile doesn’t change. “Then I will follow wherever you lead.”

Alice escorts him through the armory which is no longer full-to-bursting with weapons. The once-was-mercenaries had collected their things after vowing fealty to the queen two days ago. She doesn’t linger here, however. She leads Tarrant down the hall lined with cabinets and racks of broadswords, spears, and bows, past the various suits of armor that mark the history of Mamoreal’s Champions. She gently pulls him toward the exit at the other end, takes him down the stairs and pushes open the well-concealed side entrance of the White Castle.

Outside, dozing in the moonlight, the Bandersnatch twitches in response to the soft squeak of protest from the hinges.

“Sorry,” Alice apologizes to the door’s machinery. “I know it’s late.”

There’s a bit of a grumble – incoherent with drowsiness – and then the door settles back into its seamless frame, blending in with the blocks of white granite once more.

“Grrr-grrl,” the Bandersnatch grumbles.

Alice winces and scratches his ear. “We’re late. I know.”

Tarrant giggles and, when she glances over her shoulder at him, informs her, “I believe I’m beginning to acquire some of you bad habits, Raven.”

With a saucy grin, she reaches up and caresses the brim of his hat, “Then maybe I should borrow a few of yours.”

His eyes widen, narrow, and simmer. “Ask and give,” he replies.

She raises her brows at him.

He explains, “You wanted to know the conditions I’d require were you to borrow my hat.”

“Ask and give.” She can guess what question she’d have to ask and what he’d require her to give. Alice grits her teeth to keep from pushing him up against a cherry tree and ripping his waistcoat and shirt buttons off in her haste to...

Taking a deep breath, she collects herself. “I’ll keep that in mind.” She mounts the Bandersnatch before the creature can fall back asleep.

Tarrant takes her outstretched hand and swings himself up behind her. He wraps his arms around her waist and smiles against her neck. “Alice... you’ve made a rhyme.”

“Have I?”

“As in ‘mine’,” he replies nonsensically.

Alice considers that as the Bandersnatch moves through the garden toward the main drive. “’Stipulations twine and the hat will be mine; I’ll keep that in mind?’” she tries, using the Outlandish word for the number two to build on his suggestion.

He sighs happily. “You’ve listened to the tea steeping before, haven’t you?”

She laughs. “I have,” she replies honestly, yet she’s still delightfully confused.

“Shush and hush they brush, lest the best be rest, hiss and kiss, lips from cup sip,” he whispers and Alice marvels at the sound – like the white noise of very hot water, like the susurrations of leaves brushing against each other, like steam issuing from the spout of a kettle, like the moment of silence during the first taste of tea.

She closes her eyes and leans back against him, utterly charmed. “Do you know another one?”

“Aye... The sigh in her eyes cannae decide the tide, for shall all abide then none fly, mark the maigh.”

“Maigh?” Alice asks.

“May, Mayfair, the moment spring arrives in Underland and the clans gather.”

She smiles. “Maigh... beautiful word.”

“Outlandish has many beautiful words, mogh’linyae Alice.”

“And a beautiful man who speaks it; lucky Outlandish.”

He giggles and squeezes her. “Another rhyme!”

Alice laughs.

And then the Bandersnatch strolls through the main gate. All of Underland lies before them. “You know the way, Bandy,” Alice says.

With a grunt, the creature takes off and Alice allows his galumphing stride to press her back against Tarrant’s warmth. The rhythm of the Bandersnatch’s stride makes it almost impossible to make more rhymes, so they travel through Tulgey Wood in relative silence. After some time, however, Tarrant muses, “This surprise, Alice?”


“Is it a tea party at Thackery’s windmill?”

“While that would be lovely on a night like tonight, no, it isn’t.”

She feels Tarrant’s chin lift from her shoulder and she senses he’s looking up through the boughs of the Tumtum trees to glimpse the full moon.

More minutes pass before he asks with reluctance, “This... is a good surprise, Alice?”

She slides her left hand beneath his, grasps it, raises it to her mouth and brushes a kiss over his heart line. He threads his fingers between hers, lowers his chin to her shoulder, and seems to contemplate their joined hands. She feels a twinge around her heart and knows he has guessed their destination. Her silence confirms it and she struggles for something to distract him from the memories of his past.

“You owe me one free answer to one of my questions,” she reminds him, recalling the bargain they’d made at tea not long before the third exchange.

He startles a bit. “I do, don’t I? And which question will you have me answer?”

Alice sifts through her options and, reluctantly, settles on one that she needs to know the answer to but will probably never bring herself to ask if she doesn’t utter it now.

“What woke you every morning while I was in Shuchland?” she whispers.

His free arm tightens around her waist; their still-clasped hands press against her chest; his face turns toward her hair. She feels his lips against her temple and a breathed apology for waking her every morning during her absence. They rock and sway in time with Bandy’s galloping stride until he’s ready to answer. “The Nightmare,” he replies finally.

“Tell me?”

He does. Alice listens to the horror he details and her hands tighten on his forearm and in his grasp. She listens and realizes he hadn’t misspoken when he’d called it The Nightmare. It frightens her with its consistency, its epic terror, its eerie resemblance to reality.

“You know what it means, don’t you?” he murmurs then clears his throat.

She replies, “I should resign from my post. Being Mirana’s Champion... it’s not fair to you. At any moment, for any reason, I could—”

“You could, but you won’t,” he interrupts decisively.

“Tarrant, I promise—

No!” he whispers harshly, pulling her roughly back against his chest. “No more promises, Alice. Too dangerous. So, so dangerous! That was what The Nightmare tried to tell me. ‘Twasnae my sword tha’woul’kill ye, but yer promise teh me. Th’ sword is th’ promise...”

Alice shivers. “All right. I won’t promise.” But she doesn’t like that solution, either. Perhaps there’s another way, another tactic they might employ to keep her safe and him sane... or, rather, sane enough to wait for her, to trust her to return to him once her duties are done.

“Tell me about Causwick?” he barely breathes. She can feel him tense around her, waiting for her to refuse or ignore the request or pretend he’d never asked. She does none of those things. She tells him and he listens and, sometimes, he even shares his own tortures with her.

“I don’t remember that time clearly,” he admits when she hesitantly asks him what Stanye had done to him in the Red Queen’s dungeon. “Except that I thought something was uproariously funny. I think it was Chess. He was there, you see, but he couldn’t bring himself to watch. Even being invisible wasn’t enough for him.” She senses his frown. “It doesn’t seem so amusing now... strange. Perhaps I’ve forgotten the joke...”

Chasing after the first thought to cross her mind that doesn’t include manacles and chains and Tarrant in a dark and dingy cell with that beast, Alice blurts, “If a Champion could have a Champion, you’d be mine.”

He seems to still at that. “You would... choose me to be the Alice’s Champion?”

“Your Alice,” she corrects him again and he sighs, relaxing.

“Aye, an’ I look after wha’s mine.”

Alice says nothing in reply. Why bother when he speaks for her, too? Why bother when the events of this last week have shown quite clearly that Alice looks after what is hers?

They doze on the back of the Bandersnatch until he breaks rhythm and inelegantly lumbers to a halt. Exhausted from the trip and the preceding days of merriment, Alice slides down beside Tarrant. She has enough energy to dig out the bedroll and blanket from her satchel, spread them out and curl up beside him. His nose finds its way to her hair and his knee to the back of hers. She pulls his arm across her side and mumbles, “Writing desk...”

“Slightest idea, Raven” she hears just before sleep gently closes her mind to the wind and the trees and the grass and warm body of her husband lying beside her.


“This is impossible...”

The whisper wakes Alice. “Mmm,” she replies, burrowing into a warm, Hatter-scented chest. “Only if you believe it is,” she slurs sleepily.

“Alice... Are we... awake?”

“No,” she groans, hiding her face in his armpit to block out the light. “Sleeping.”

He giggles and twitches, which only serves to wake Alice further. But since she’s enjoying his sounds of mirth, she nudges her nose against his inner arm, releasing another round of furious giggles. Sometimes she can’t resist playing with his oversensitive skin.

“Ticklish!” he gasps.

“Say that in Outlandish,” she mutters, burrowing again.

Merri’anglin’!” he shouts between screaming giggles... or would they be gigglish screams? She always forgets the difference... “Merri’anglin’! Merri’anglin’! Merri’anglin’!

Showing mercy, she rolls away and listens to him gasp for breath. When she dares to open her eyes to the soft glow of morning, the first thing she sees is a drowsy-looking Champion Flower nodding in her direction. Sitting up, Alice stares at the meadow spread out before her as the warming light of dawn illuminates it.

“Is this the surprise?” Tarrant asks a bit breathlessly from behind her.

She nods. Gentle, callused fingers touch her jaw and Alice looks away from the sea of sleepy blossoms amongst the bluest of green grass.

“Are we awake now?” Tarrant whispers and Alice isn’t sure if he’s serious or not. Perhaps he is and he isn’t. Both at the same time. Within his fascinating mind, any given contradiction could exist at any given time.

“Yes. We are.” To prove it to him, she kisses him on the underside of his chin.

He sighs. “Alice, I’d like to answer another of your questions now.”

Leaning back, Alice opens her mouth but he presses a finger against her lips and shakes his head. “I shall answer and you shall ask the question.”

Her lips purse and she kisses his fingertip before agreeing, “All right.”

Smiling, Tarrant pulls her into his lap. With his arms around her waist and his chin once more resting on her shoulder, he says, “Iplam has never looked quite like this before, you know. Even when I was just a wee lad no higher than mae Fa’s knee.” He sighs. “It’s better now. New again. When I’d known it, it had been a bit worn about the edges, a bit frayed but still in good repair. The Hightopps always kept it so. We keep all our things in good working order... except for my pocket watch, of course, but, well, you can’t very well expect a hatter to know much about the inner workings of Time, now can you?”

Alice shakes her head.

“I remember two occasions,” he continues, “when the Hightopps hosted the Maigh.

“The gathering of the clans?”

“Aye. Th’first, I was still jus’ a lad.” He clears his throat and when he speaks again Alice knows he has pushed away the deeper emotions that had brought out his Outlandish accent. “My Fa wanted me to try my hand at the cobbler’s craft.”

Alice struggles to imagine a version of Tarrant Hightopp who makes shoes instead of hats.

“Cobblers don’t lose their heads as hatters do,” he says. “True, they often lose their feet, but with a bit of searching, they manage to find themselves again.”

She smiles at the image.

“And when the Master Cobbler asked me to go back to his home in Galandonland and work for him, I... well, I refused. Absolutely. Embarrassed myself a bit, actually. Was rather upset with my Fa over it, too. He’d approached the cobbler first, you see. On my behalf. That’s how those things are done.”

He shifts. “Were done? Was done? Would be? In any case, I refused and told my Fa I wanted to be a hatter and if he wouldn’t teach me, I’d run away to be a juggler.”

Alice snorts, imagining Tarrant as a boy giving his father the what-for and making his own path.

“I refused to go to the other Clan Gatherings.” He tilts his head to the side. “In all truth, it wasn’t necessary for me to. I was an apprentice to my Fa, busy learning the trade. And happily, too. What would I do with another? I simply hadn’t had Time in those days...

“So, much later, when he’d retired from his post at Mamoreal and I’d taken his place and the hatter’s madness began to come upon me... Yes, suddenly, it was very important for me to think about the next Clan Gathering. My Fa had already sent word that the Hightopps would host it again, that he had a son, a hatter, who would need a... a wife for the Thrice a-Vow.”

Alice feels his chest expand against her back as he takes a deep breath. “I was... quite not happy, to tell you the truth. Furious, actually. Beyond furious. Bey-urious! Of course, I knew I’d have to... to... well, it would have to be done soon or I wouldn’t be fit to be anyone’s husband. Ever and forever and more.

“If I’d agreed to go to other Clan Gatherings, I might have met a lass who was agreeable to becoming a Hightopp, but I hadn’t gone, so I hadn’t met anyone and then suddenly, there I was, a grown man in need of a wife. And my Fa had taken it upon himself to summon one for me. Host the Maigh...”

He shakes his head. “I couldn’t refuse to go, but oh I was in a mood most foul. The queen chose to accompany me, to meet with the other clans while the opportunity presented itself, and my humiliation was complete: my employer – the queen – would see me, a court-employed hatter, being bartered over by clansmen fathers with eligible daughters.

“I stood there and smiled my most mad-some grin and, with my thoughts, damned them all... and then the Jabberwock came...”

Alice gently strokes his hands and waits.

“The Jabberwock slew them. The daughters, the fathers, my Fa... Alice?”


“Do you think some thoughts – some very bad thoughts – can become real?”

No,” she answers immediately, absolutely.

He presses a kiss to her cheek. Drawing another breath, he continues, “The White Queen was banished to Mamoreal. I joined the Resistance against the Bluddy Behg Hid. Time passed. I stopped making hats and started making war. The madness... became madder. It was too late for me, then. There would never be a lass in all of Underland willing to accept this poisoned, mad heart and the mind and the man along with it.”

Tarrant rubs his cheek against her hair. “And then you dreamed me, a half-mad hatter. But you were already half-mad yourself having dreamed me in the first place. I hadn’t been able to bear the thought of you waking up... Sometimes I still think you might. Your dreams are frightful sometimes, Alice, but there is such beauty in them it makes my stomach ache to think it could all end...”

“It won’t end,” she tells him. “I’m not going to wake up.”

They sit on the bedroll at the edge of the field and watch the flowers stretch upward toward the morning sun. Just when Alice is starting to think about reaching for her satchel and pulling out the provisions she’d packed for breakfast, Tarrant asks:

“Have you found your question yet?”

Alice considers all that he’d said. Before she can allow doubt to interfere with the idea forming in response, she says, “The question you answered... was the one I most wanted the answer to.”

“Hm,” he replies on a breathy chuckle. “The end.” With the conclusion of his story, Tarrant reaches for and balances her fingertips on top of his own. She senses then that his mood has suddenly turned pensive. She waits.

Eventually, he wonders aloud, “Have you truly forgiven me, Alice?”

“There was never anything for me to forgive,” she replies.

“The madness... the Blackness...?”

She turns in his arms and meets his worried gaze. “Is not a shameful thing, Hatter. It is a part of you. I only ask that you never hide it from me.”

He traces the bridge of her nose with one finger, smiling. “Perhaps I shall never have to. And perhaps you will never again see it. I feel... healed, Alice.”

She wraps her arms around his shoulders. “These fields have that effect on people.”

He shakes his head very slowly. “Nae... ‘tis you. Ye’ve healed me, Alice.”

Alice presses her forehead against his shoulder and, when she feels too overwhelmed by her emotions to bear them alone, she shares them with him.

“Hatter?” she asks when she’s sure she can manage the words and he can manage to hear them.


She whispers, “Tell me another rhyme?”

He giggles, clears his throat and says, “Mae greatest dream, yer husband teh be; choose me?”

Iambic pentameter, she thinks in the instant before the meaning catches up to her. Alice feels her heart perform an odd little skip-jump-hiccup when it does. She leans back, startled, and sees a small silver flower held aloft between his thumb and forefinger. The charm looks familiar, very familiar...

Studying it, she realizes it’s not just a silver flower with a blue crystal set in its center, but it’s a ring. Thin bands of silver had been coiled and soldered together beneath it to form the band itself.

“It’s a ring,” she blurts.

“... aye...”

“It’s...” She frowns at it, struggling to remember where she’s seen it before. “It’s...”

And then her gaze flies up to his top hat and she counts the pins. One, two, three, four... Only four!

The fifth one is missing. Well, actually, it hadn’t been the fifth one, but the third. The silver daisy that had always dipped and bobbed with his movements flanked by two other hatpins on either side. Yes, that little silver daisy hatpin is missing... Or rather, not missing but removed, re-formed, remade.

She blinks at the ring still held between his fingers. “You made this from your hatpin?”

“... aye...”


“It’s not much, I know. I know I haven’t much to offer you, Alice. The Alice. My... my... maybe it’s not... that is... bad idea! I’m sor—”

Alice presses a hand over his mouth. She wraps the fingers of her other hand around his, stopping him from closing his hand around the silver ring. His eyes, a frantic yellow-green, flicker between her, the hatpin ring, and the hand over his lips and back again.

“Tell me the rhyme again?” she asks, slowly removing her hand.

He blinks.

She prompts, “Iambic pentameter?”

He takes a deep breath and rasps nervously, “My greatest dream, your husband to be; choose me?”

“I choose you,” she answers immediately, as she should have done the first timehe’d asked!

“You... do?”


“Choose... me?”


He frowns slightly and seems compelled to confirm once more, “Alice, you are choosing me to be your husband?”


His lips begin to curve upward in a hesitant smile. “Then... may I be your husband, Alice?”

“Tarrant,” she replies, cradling his face in her hands as she’d done years ago in the Red Queen’s makeshift hat workshop. “You already are.” Perhaps he had been even that far back...

His grin is so wide and his eyes so jovial he seems nearly mad with happiness. Apparently unable to speak through his elation, he silently removes Alice’s left hand from his cheek and reverently slides the hatpin ring onto her heart-line finger. Alice knows she shouldn’t be surprised that it fits so well. If he knows her well enough to realize her broken friendship with Leif had – and would continue to – hurt her very badly, it’s a small matter to check the size of her finger.

All of these small things he does for her... and all of the monumentally thoughtful things he does for her... awes her. If only he would accept one more promise, for she would promise – and quite happily! – to be with him until the end of their days!

And then Alice realizes there is something she can offer him in place of a vow, a promise, or an oath.


He looks up from admiring the silver flower on her hand.

She smiles, bites her lip, chokes back her nervousness, and whispers, “May I be your wife?”

The sensations that break through his control and flood her heart steal her breath. There’s so much surrounding her, churning within her...!

How can he breathe around this?!

“Alice,” he manages in an uneven, rasping voice. “I believe... I believe you always have been... my Alice.”

Then he’s gasping at her own heart line message and their arms tighten around each other and they’re panting breathless kisses against each other’s lips. And perhaps the swaying flowers and budding trees object, but Alice doesn’t think they do.

Maigh...” she thinks she hears the sunshine-warmed flowers whisper.

Yes, she agrees. The opening of spring. For this is, she realizes, the springtime of their life together. They’d made it through the doubt and the fear of the long winter and had somehow never lost each other in the storms.

The occasion deserves more, Alice decides, sliding her hands beneath his shirt. If Tarrant won’t risk a promise, perhaps... yes, perhaps a decision...

Leaning in toward his neck, she nuzzles behind his ear, waits for him to shiver as he always does when she breathes just so, just there.

“I choose us.”

He shudders again. “Us,” he replies. “A raven...”

“... and a writing desk.”

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 16 of 17

<< Previous     Home     Next >>