Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 2 of 17

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On the morning of the eighth day, Alice wakes the same way she’s woken every morning since leaving Mamoreal, since she’d turned away from her lover and ridden off at the queen’s side without once looking back.

Gasping, Alice grasps her night shirt in her hand and tries to control her pounding heart. She takes one deep breath and then another, but – just like all the other mornings – her heart races for nearly fifteen minutes before it calms. Still, Alice doesn’t get up. She waits. And there! A minute or so later, it starts again: the aching, racing, pounding! Her heart has never subjected her to such treatment! It’s almost as if she’s terrified or enraged or panicked, but Alice feels no emotions of the sort whatsoever.

It’s all very... strange.

She waits a bit more, just to be sure another attack doesn’t occur.

The first time it had happened, she’d been quite worried. Is it normal for someone my age to experience heart palpitations? she’d wondered. It had been quite distressing when the panic had lasted so very long and then, after a brief pause, had started again and again and yet again! The first time it had happened – at the Snud Crossroads Inn – Alice had been concerned, and the second time – here at Palace Avenfaire – she’d nearly sought out the Royal Physician! But she’d hesitated, for – as the Queen’s Champion – it would do no good at all for her to appear weak on foreign soil! So she had resolved to wait and see if these occurrences became painful or more intense.

They never have.

Every morning, it is nearly the same experience. The timing differs from day to day, but that is all. And so, Alice has not bothered to mention it to Mirana.

When her heart has been quiet in her chest for several consecutive minutes, Alice dares to swing her legs over the side of the bed and stand. She’s in the midst of dressing for the day when she feels a slight twinge of inexplicable excitement, as if some desperate hope has been answered favorably.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” she murmurs, massaging the flesh over her heart. But her heart isn’t finished; with one final throb it quiets.

Sighing out her relief, Alice buckles her sword belt to her waist and turns toward the queen’s bed. They’ve shared this room since their arrival and Alice is glad. She would have worried constantly if Mirana had been out of her sight all night. Of course, Mirana had protested – “Alice, you needn’t be on your guard here! We’re among friends! And, besides, I’m afraid I have the very bad habit of snoring before I manage to fall asleep...” – but Alice had insisted, and had listened to the queen snore gently every night for thirty minutes before finally quieting, and Alice had stayed.

She checks to make sure Mirana is still sleeping soundly and then Alice wanders over to the window and balcony overlooking the capital city. She selects an Orash from a nearby platter and, indulging in a peaceful breakfast, lets her mind wander.

She wonders how her Hatter is doing. And she hopes Chessur, Mally, and Thackery have taken her request to heart and are looking after him and distracting him until she gets back. She also wonders if Bayto has delivered her letters yet.

Poor Bayto. Alice sighs. She knows what it feels like to be homesick. Sometimes she still is. There are days when she’d do almost anything to be back in her mother’s house... So, when she’d noticed the poor fellow moping about, she’d asked Bayard if he could spare his son for a mission of “vital correspondence.”

Now there’s just Bayard and his most daring pup, Bayne, to sniff out trouble. And, of course, three noses are better than two but with all the sniffling Bayto had been doing, Alice doubts he would have smelled much anyway.


She turns as the queen sits up and squints at Alice’s already-made bed. “Here, Your Majesty. Orash?”

Mirana yawns, stretches, and rises from bed. Her grace is undiminished despite just waking, but she does tend to list a bit too far to one side or the other. Alice hides a smile and makes room for the queen on the balcony bench. Sinking down to admire the view and holding her own Orash, Mirana sighs contentedly. “It’s so lovely, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.” Alice keeps her eyes on the cityscape but can’t resist adding, “Almost as lovely as a certain prince, you think?”

“Oh, he is, isn’t he? Why just last evening, at dinner he...” Mirana blinks, finally noticing Alice’s silent chuckles. “Alice! That was not very nice!”

“My apologies, Your Majesty.”

But Mirana suddenly doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by the teasing. She simply sighs. “Yes, yes, he’s lovely, too.”

“And will we be seeing him again today or have you made other plans?”

“Oh, well, I thought we might take up Madame Shrava’s invitation this morning.”

In mid-bite of Orash, Alice’s eyes pop open wide. Quickly chewing and swallowing, Alice squeaks, “The court dancer lessons? Are you...?! Wait...” She studies Mirana’s patently innocent face. “You’re just making this up because I teased you just now.”

Mirana giggles. “Yes, you’re right. But she did invite us to her studio for lessons and I’m seriously considering it!” Mirana pauses and it’s not until her next words have left her mouth that Alice realizes the pause had been meant for dramatic effect: “Just think of how much Tarrant will appreciate that present from you!”

Alice groans. “Oh, you’re dangerous. It’s bad enough you had Magenka do my portrait while I was wearing that... that...”

“That divine creation,” Mirana interjects. “You looked lovely in your sarleh, Alice.”

“Another ‘lovely’.”

“It’s my word for the day.”


Mirana laughs and nudges Alice’s shoulder with her own. “Come now, wouldn’t you like to learn something of this culture that doesn’t involve rolling around in the dirt with sharp objects?”

“I never rolled in the dirt!”

“Sand, then.”

“Oh... well, I guess there was a bit of sand that one time.”

Mirana grins and, eyes sparkling, comments in a conspiratorial tone. “Don’t worry Alice, I’ve packed your sarleh all ready.”

“You didn’t! Just leave it here, Mirana! I’ll never wear it!”

“No, no, no!” the queen sing-songs. “It’s already packed and I’ve hidden it so well, you’ll never find it and take it out before we leave!”

“We have six more days,” Alice calculates. “I’m sure I can surprise you.”

“We shall see!”

“You know what I’d like to see...” Alice begins. “I’d like to see exactly where that portrait of me has got to...”

Because Mirana is still a bit groggy and Alice is watching her like a hawk, she catches the brief smile of smug, sneaky triumph.

“Mirana...” Alice warns, feeling decidedly unwell despite the fabulous Orash.

“Well... I knew you’d never appreciate it – honestly, you looked lovely! – so I...”

“You what?

Mirana ducks her head and lifts her fruit, mumbling something that sounds suspiciously like “sent-it-on-in-Tarrant’s-letter” but no, Mirana wouldn’t have done that... Wait, would she?

“I beg your pardon, Your Majesty – I think your breakfast impaired my understanding.”

The queen lowers her Orash and says, daringly, “I slipped it into the envelope containing your letter to Tarrant.”

Alice stares at her. “I... don’t believe you!”

“Would I lie to you?”

“That’s not the point! MiraNA!

The queen pats Alice on the knee. “Oh, come now, Alice. Let the poor man have something to tide him over!” She bites her lip and giggles, “So, as I’ve already packed your sarleh and Madame Shrava has invited us to learn the local dances and Tarrant will be most looking forward to seeing everything you’ve... picked up here...”

Alice gapes. “You. Are. Devious!”

“You’re only just now noticing?”


Mirana giggles. Alice almost feels sorry for Prince Avendale. Almost.

“Just promise me we won’t be making fools of ourselves at Madame Shrava’s today,” Alice pleads. The idea of learning how to dance like... like that will take a bit of getting used to!

“No, no, not today, I’m afraid. The Royal Apothecary has offered to share some local remedies with me.”

“I see... as I can’t very well protect you from powdered extract of Himoha flower, I’ll be your test subject this morning?”

The queen hesitates. “Well... actually, I thought you might appreciate another opportunity to roll around in the dirt with a few sharp objects while I’m engaged.”

“Sand,” Alice reminds her.

“Pardon me. Sand.

Alice considers that. On the one hand, she could stand around in a musty kitchen watching Mirana and the wizened Royal Potion Maker discuss blending properties and dynamic effects... or she could spend a few hours in the training arena with a borrowed scimitar and her new friend and fellow Champion, Avenleif. “Decisions, decisions,” Alice muses.

The queen shakes her head on a laugh. “I never should have asked Tarrant and the others to show you how to hold a sword!”

“I’m afraid – as proper young ladies go – I’m a bit of a lost cause.”

“That’s all right. Tarrant found you.” Mirana beams. “Things couldn’t have worked out better than that!”


The only time Alice doesn’t think of Tarrant – the only moments when both the bittersweet memories and the yawning, aching dearth of his presence lessen at all – is at times like these.

“You’re holding it like a letter-opener!” Avenleif laughs.

Glancing around the seemingly abandoned training grounds, Alice hisses, “Keep it to a dull roar, would you?”

“Or what?”

“Or I’ll open you!” she threatens with a grin.

Avenleif laughs again and, moving to stand next to her, demonstrates the proper grip on his own weapon.

And then, Alice muses, sometimes – at times like these – she is so suddenly and poignantly reminded of her lover she nearly sobs out loud. For she remembers when Tarrant had taught her to hold a fighting staff and a broadsword. She remembers how he’d never hesitated to touch her hands, manipulate her fingers, even wrap his arms around her to correct her posture. He’d never hesitated to put his hands – she remembers the moment she’d realized how strong his milliner’s hands are! – on her hips or nudge her knee to correct her stance. She remembers...

“Alice? Miss Alice? Miss Alice-y-poo?”

She blinks and glares at Prince Avendale’s Champion. “You did not just call me... what I think you called me.”

“That depends on what it is you think I just called you!” He smirks.

Alice wishes she could do something about that smirk, but she’d promised – oh, botheration! Here come the memories again! – Tarrant that she wouldn’t get into any situations requiring the Pain Paste. Or... had she promised? Maybe not, but she’d hate to disappoint him and he’ll worry if that jar is missing any of its contents when she gets back...

“Are you actually planning on getting anything done today or shall I order some refreshments for a picnic in the arena?” Avenleif says, chuckling. “The view’s a bit boring, but it’s a nice day, so...”

“Stuff it,” Alice mumbles. She demonstrates the up-swinging cut that he’d been trying to teach her. “Like this?”

“Only if you’ve got a letter you need opened.”

Alice sighs.

“Here,” he shows her how to fold her grip around the hilt one finger at a time. Alice forces herself to concentrate – after all, she’s sure Avenleif has much better things to be doing with his time besides giving her lessons! – and copies his grip.

“Much better,” he approves and narrates the necessary motions as he swings the blade up, from right to left. Alice follows his lead, learning the footwork as well for each basic attack.

“You’re a bit slow at picking this up today,” Avenleif comments after showing her the correct way to shift her weight and return thrust for the fifth time. “You’re not worried our old Gribblie is going to poison your queen while he’s got her locked away in his laboratory?”

“What? No, no...”

The he-lion pauses and thoughtfully taps the end of his sword hilt against his chin. “Perhaps you’re famished for tea?”

“Famished for...?” She smiles wistfully. “Maybe just a bit. I suppose you had a hard time going so long without coffee when your prince was visiting Mamoreal?”

He smiles. “And what a torturous experience it was, to go so long without! But I’ve come through the ordeal a stronger warrior for it, so I’ll do you the favor of not telling you where we keep the tea here!”

Alice huffs. “You’ll tell me. Eventually.”

“Oh, ho! So confident are we?”

“Everyone has a weak spot...”

Alice twitches as the memory slams into her: Tarrant leaning over her, his nose just barely touching her neck as they lie on the floor of his workshop. He’d been so strong holding her down – yet he’d never again used that strength against her deliberately and outside of their lessons! – as he’d whispered, “Why aren’t you fighting back? You promised you would...”

The flash of metal startles her and Alice reacts, raising her scimitar and countering the blow before she even has the chance to think about what she’s doing. Avenleif advances, his attack unpredictably timed and executed. And at long last, Alice is able to pull her mind away from Mamoreal and the Outlander waiting for her there.

Sometime later – perhaps thirty minutes or so – Avenleif finally disarms her with a practiced maneuver that looks far too simple to work so effectively.

“Halt,” he says.

Braced to dodge, duck, or dive away from his next swing, she halts. With a sigh, she walks over to her fallen, borrowed sword and retrieves it from the packed sand of the arena.

“I suppose that was a bit better than last time,” she allows.

“A bit,” he agrees, his golden eyes studying her. “Too bad I had to go to such dire lengths to get your attention.”

She sighs again, agreeing completely.

“Left part of your mind back in the queen’s castle?” he ventures.

Alice wipes the sand off the blade with a rag to hide the flash of memories and reminders that comment brings up. Avenleif waits for her to reply, but she can’t think of anything to say.

“You’ll be heading back in six days,” he reminds her, his tone a bit... subdued.


“And then you’ll be able to drink all the tea you want!”

Alice chuckles at his attempt at levity. “Yes, I’m desperately missing my teatime,” she replies, participating in the joke and trying not to visualize Tarrant’s delighted grin over the teapot in too much detail. “But...”

She looks at the prince’s Champion, her new friend. Although each member of the royal family has their own personal Champion, Avenleif is the only one out of the king’s, queen’s, and Avendale’s elder brothers’ and sisters’ Champions who has bothered to be kind to her. She supposes this makes sense: should Mirana and Avendale marry, Avenleif and Alice will be working together quite a lot... at Mamoreal. It only seems reasonable to attempt a good working relationship.

In addition, it only seems reasonable that he’d try to help her hone her skills in battle. After all, he’ll have to rely on Alice to protect the queen just as she’ll have to rely on him to look after Avendale. There might even be occasions – say, in the confusing melee of battle – where they’ll have to use each other’s weapons. So it’s best for all if Alice is familiar with the scimitar and that’s why he’s teaching her how to use it. After all, neither would ever wish to allow anything... unfortunate to happen to their lieges.

So, really, it only makes sense for Avenleif to try to make the best of the situation, but...

“Thank you,” she tells him. “For the lessons... and the... hospitality.”

For a moment, his expression is startlingly open. A little surprised and... something else... something that reminds her of a moment under the boughs of an ever-blossoming cherry tree not so long ago...

Uncomfortable, Alice turns away and mumbles, “Even if you insist on denying me my tea.”

The moment passes when Avenleif laughs. “Trials and tribulations build character, Champion Alice.”

“I’ll try to remember that, Champion Avenleif.”


In the following days, Avenleif proves to be a very good friend, indeed, to Alice.

“It’s not teatime yet,” he warns her whenever he notices her mind wandering. And, with an apologetic smile, she brings her attention back to the arena, or luncheon service, or walking tour. After all, it’s her job to protect the queen – her friend – and Alice had better make sure she does it rather than asking the prince’s Champion to do both their jobs!

“Sorry, thought I smelled some Throeston Blend,” she replies. And, just that simply, she’s forgiven her lapse in attention.

Not only is it frighteningly easy to get caught up in her memories of Tarrant, but it’s also dangerously distracting to see how obviously and utterly Mirana and Avendale are falling in love. Each day, it looks more and more like the prince and his Champion will be accompanying them back to Mamoreal when they depart. Or following very shortly thereafter.

Alice had asked Mirana about that:

“Are you sure he’s the one you want?”

“Oh, yes! He’s... he’s...”

Alice had taken pity on Mirana as the queen had struggled for words. “And the carnivore bit?” After all, that had been a legitimate concern before...

“He says he’s been on a vegan diet for the last four months. He doesn’t mind.”

Impressed, Alice continues, “And his position as prince of a foreign land?”

“Irrelevant. He has two elder brothers and twin sisters ahead of him in line for the throne. He won’t have many obligations tying him here.”

“And... heirs?” Alice had dared to ask.

Mirana had blushed. “I’ve hinted that I’d rather a daughter that resembles my kind... to inherit the throne when I retire. He seemed... pleased.”

And, having looked over the childbearing rites between members of differing species before, Alice knows exactly what Mirana is talking about: when parents of different origins bring descendants into the world, the children must either take after one side of the family or the other but not both. By marrying the White Queen, Avendale would have to concede to his wife’s higher station and give her the heirs she requires: the prince will likely not have any child-cubs to raise. Not with Mirana. It’s a considerable sacrifice to make. For anyone.

“I’m so happy for you,” Alice had said, her questions exhausted and the queen still looking as luminously in-love as ever.

“It’s almost sickening, isn’t it?” Avenleif asks as he and Alice watch over a private picnic in the Royal Orash Grove on the final full day of the visit.

“Not really. Mirana always looks like that. I’m accustomed to it,” Alice replies, scanning the surroundings again out of habit.

Avenleif coughs back a laugh – it would be most impolite to interrupt the whispered conversation just at the base of the knoll. “I was referring to the prince.”

Alice snorts. “Of course you were. Oh, wait, you mean he doesn’t always have that flunderwhapped grin on his face?”

“Hardly. Nor are his whiskers normally trimmed and polished with such care. It’s... painful to watch!”

“Love’s hard on everyone,” Alice informs him and forcibly pushes Tarrant’s image away. I’m working now! “But don’t worry. I won’t interrupt the experience for you. It builds... character.

Avenleif chortles behind a large paw-shaped hand. “When you say things like that, Champion Alice, I truly believe you did slay the Jabberwocky!”

“Fate knows how devastated I’d be if you didn’t credit me with it,” she returns, thinking how talking with Avenleif often resembles a tennis match.

He opens his mouth to reply, but turns to the left when – suddenly – a flock of birds bursts into the air above the small orchard. Alice scans the ground as Avenleif examines the canopy and sky.

“Magenka,” Alice says, spotting the large, magenta butterfly flitting towards them. Alice keeps her eyes on the Royal Artisan’s approach as Avenleif scans the area once more to be sure there are no other surprises.

The butterfly flutters and droops her antennae apologetically. “There’s no harm in keeping us on our toes,” Avenleif tells her without looking away from his survey of the secluded grove.

Alice watches as the butterfly moves toward the picnicking couple, no doubt in order to create another one of those beautiful images she’d been supplying them with all throughout their visit.

“We ought to ask her to do one of us,” Avenleif says suddenly. “To immortalize our camaraderie,” he explains in an oddly gruff tone.

“Sounds painful when you put it like that,” she teases.

He winces and then chuckles. “It does, doesn’t it?”

And speaking of painful things... Alice dares to ask one question that’s been niggling her ever since she’d arrived in Shuchland but had never felt comfortable enough to ask. She assumes her question is deeply personal as it had never been addressed during Fenruffle’s lectures on Shuchish custom and etiquette.

“Champion Avenleif, why does everyone in your family wear a claw on a string around their neck?”

He looks at her, startled. For a moment, he says nothing and then, glancing down at the small claw displayed around his own neck, above his full, dark mane, he says, “It’s the... totem of the Aven family. As cubs, we’re taught to fight and when we lose our first claw in combat, we keep it.”

Alice winces. “That sounds... painful,” she says, then winces again at how inadequately “painful” would describe such an experience.

“It is, but Gribblie makes a potion that helps us re-grow it, stronger than before. See?” He unsheathes his claws on his left paw and Alice sees how the middle one is pitch black while the others are candle-lit ivory in color.

“And if a cub never loses a claw in a fight?” she inquires.

Avenleif looks sad at this. “Then the cub is not Aven. Never will be.”

Before Alice can protest how horrible that is, he continues, “Many of the court performers and ministers are cousins, uncles, aunts... siblings who couldn’t perform the necessary sacrifice. They are called Oben, but everyone knows they were born Avens.”

“Can their children never be Aven?” Alice thinks to ask after a moment.

“Of course. Or I wouldn’t be the prince’s Champion,” Avenleif declares.

Alice relaxes a bit. At least the children aren’t discriminated against for their parents’ failure...

“The Aven family must be strong,” he continues. “It’s a brutal practice, I suppose, but necessary. This realm has enjoyed the peace and stability that comes from a strong monarchy for generations... because the weaker members of the family are...”

“Removed from power?” Alice supplies.

“Exactly. We’re all equals, bound to the same crown and family. There’s no motive for greed, ambition, or glory, for all of the Avens know being a part of this family is all the success we shall ever need.”


“Ridiculously sentimental?”

“No,” Alice replies. “I was going to say it’s... beautiful.”

“I’m a poet, didn’t you know?”

Alice chuckles.

“And another poetic thing about the First Claw,” Avenleif volunteers. “The Avens bestow it upon their mate, as a reminder of the other’s devotion and strength and bravery. The actual giving and receiving of it...”

“Yes?” Alice presses, curious.

Avenleif gives her a wry grin. “This is going to sound strange to an Uplander...”

Alice feels an answering wry grin shape her lips. “I think I’m rather accustomed to strange things by now.”

He laughs. “I expect you are. Well, let’s see how you do with this one.” Avenleif grins and tells her, “The giving and receiving of the Frist Claw causes the soul of each partner to become one.

Alice gapes at him.

He chuckles. “And you said you could handle ‘strange’...!”

“Well, that’s a bit... more... than I expected.”


Alice shakes her head and marvels at the unlimited impossibilities of this magical place and its inhabitants. The thought reminds her of her own experience with Underlandian magic and she fists her left hand, as always sheathed in the dark glove she wears. Now that she thinks about it, a ritual that binds two souls... how is that any more impossible than a ritual that binds two hearts?

Hesitantly, she persists, “Can it be undone?”

He nods. “Yes, the giver has to willingly acknowledge the refusal of his First Claw. It happens, but it’s rare.”

Alice looks up and glances at the claw around Avenleif’s neck. “And that one’s still your own?”

He nods, his golden eyes studying her. Alice can’t meet his gaze so she looks over the grove again, but there’s nothing to keep her attention; everything is peaceful.

“I wish you the best of luck in finding a... worthy recipient for it,” Alice says, hoping the sentiment comes across despite her lack of experience in Shuchish customs.

“With any luck, I already may have,” he replies levelly.

Alice fists her left hand again and wonders why she has goose bumps on her arms. “I look forward to meeting her... Oh!”

Alice stares at the couple on the picnic blanket as Prince Avendale reaches up and removes what is unmistakably his own First Claw from around his neck... and places it around Mirana’s.

Well, that looks rather... official, then, Alice thinks and makes a note to check that Mirana understands the significance at the first available opportunity.

Glancing at Avenleif, Alice smiles, feeling bashful and uncertain at having overseen this very private moment. “I hope your intended won’t mind coming to Mamoreal, Champion Avenleif.”

“No,” he says, contemplatively. “I don’t think she will. She even likes the tea there.”

And because Alice has no reply to that odd statement, she gets back to work. Protecting the queen. And her soon-to-be husband.


Please, Alice?”

Alice glares at the shimmering green fabric in Mirana’s hands. “I thought you said you’d hidden that so deep in our trunks I’d never find it?”

“Well, I did hide it, but I never mentioned anything about packing it in a trunk!”

If only she had... Alice sighs, thinking of each and every crate, carton, and case sealed and awaiting transport on the morrow.

“Please wear your sarleh tonight! It’s our last chance to be seen wearing them in public!”

“Our only chance, you mean,” Alice grumbles. Why, oh why, has the queen suddenly gotten over her shyness at wearing local garb now? If only this trip had been scheduled for fifteen days instead of sixteen and then they would have already left... before Mirana had discovered the gumption to wear a sarleh to dinner!

Alice sighs. “You go ahead and wear yours, Your Majesty.”

“Alone, Alice?” Mirana cajoles, “I’d feel so much better if we did this together.”

Just like those blasted dance lessons...

“I shouldn’t.”

“Why-ever not?”

“I won’t be well-prepared to defend you if I wear that thing. It restricts movement.”

“Oh! But it can be wrapped as trousers! See?” She demonstrates, fitting the fabric over Alice’s existing clothing.

“All right...” Alice concedes the point. “But it won’t cover my heart line.”

Mirana smiles. Alice grudgingly allows that the queen is very familiar with this point of contention. They’ve discussed it... well, daily almost. “Alice... it’s so endearing how you seek to protect Tarrant at all times, but we’re among friends here. I’m sure no one would use that against either of you.”

“Well, yes, but...”

“But you have no more excuses for not wearing your sarleh! Now help me with mine and then I’ll help you with yours!”

And because Mirana looks so delightfully happy, Alice can’t bear to continue arguing with her. “All right...”

An hour later, when she enters the dining room just behind Mirana, Alice ignores the startled glances and hushed whispers and escorts her queen to the seat beside her dumbstruck prince. Alice supposes he has every right to look dazed and elated. Mirana is resplendent in her pale peach sarleh which glimmers silver with her movements. Around her neck, Avendale’s First Claw is proudly – and knowingly! – displayed. Alice supposes her own appearance is a bit odd, after all, even worn as trousers, a Shuchish woman’s sarleh has never been meant to accommodate an assortment of knives and a broadsword. But not even Mirana’s heartfelt lecture on how friendly everyone has been thus far could make Alice abandon her duties and the means to fulfill them!

Taking her seat, Alice dares a glance around the room. And, yes, several eyes are riveted on the First Claw being worn around Mirana’s neck, but most are staring at Alice. And her heart line. At Tarrant’s mark.

Oh, she’d known this had been a very bad idea!

She looks away and finds herself being studied by one of Avendale’s twin sisters – a lioness who has never given any indication of having noticed Alice before. The she-lion examines Alice’s heart line with a shocked expression.

Alice wonders if it would be rude for a mere Champion to start a conversation with an Aven princess...

“You... you’re a Champion!” the woman hisses. “And yet, you are blood-bonded?”

“Yes...” Alice replies, feeling like she ought to argue against the accusations except... they’re entirely true.

The she-lion places a paw over her mate’s First Claw. Next to her, the princess’s husband watches their conversation with great interest. The she-lion says, “And yet you continue to risk your life for your queen, knowing what you hold in your very hands?

Alice doesn’t like the female’s tone of voice: there’s nothing wrong with having hands that are not large, clawed, or furry! “I do,” she replies simply.

“What an utterly foolish husband you must have if he allows you to do such a thing!”

Losing patience, Alice pulls back her lips and bares her teeth. “That, Princess Avenana, is an issue between my husband and myself. But –” And here Alice inserts a smidgen of Obvious Hostility. “– we thank you for your concern.

Frustration and distaste turn the lioness’s expression into a furious scowl. Luckily, Prince Avendale rises at that moment and offers Mirana his paw.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Alice manages and follows her queen without waiting for a response.

Avendale doesn’t escort Mirana very far, just to one of the gauze-curtained balconies that overlook the city from the banquet hall. Seeing someone friendly and expected – Avenleif – fall into step beside her, Alice feels herself relax a bit.

They don’t follow the queen and her prince out onto the balcony, but take positions on opposite sides of the open doorway. Alice has a clear view of the balcony and wall on Mirana’s side and Avenleif covers the opposite view. The breeze carries murmured words and Alice tries not to listen to what is undoubtedly a private conversation. Between a couple betrothed by way of the Soul Bond.

Alice has to admit she’s worried about Mirana. Had it been a wise decision to accept Avendale’s First Claw so soon? And before the prince will be able to accompany them back to Mamoreal? Alice sighs and resigns herself to trusting Mirana to know what she’s doing. After all, the queen is the one with several ancient tomes on sacred Underlanian rites to her name. Still, it weighs on Alice’s mind.

Noticing the continuing silence despite the fact that she is most definitely not alone in her dutiful vigil, Alice glances in Avenleif’s direction. It’s odd that he hasn’t made a comment yet. Usually, he’s the one who starts their conversations while they’re passing time, keeping an eye out for danger that – thus far – hasn’t made an appearance. And Alice would certainly appreciate a distraction right about now! From Avenana’s inappropriately-voiced opinion, at the very least! But then there’s the journey home to consider and the queen’s betrothal...

Alice looks over at the he-lion who stands opposite her and is startled by the fact that his gaze is not on the balcony and his prince, but on Alice. And she’s startled all over again by the look in his eyes as he stares – unabashedly! – at the mark over her heart. When he notices her regard, he opens his mouth once, twice, and then he shakes his head and says nothing. Nothing at all. For the rest of the night.

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 2 of 17

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