Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 3 of 17

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Still When Alice startles awake on the fifteenth day – the morning of their departure – she waits patiently for the odd pounding of her heart to subside, then gets up, dresses, and wakes the queen.

“Oh... is it morning already?” Mirana moans, burrowing into a pillow.

“Yes, and Fenruffle will have all your new brewing utensils for kindling if you put us behind his schedule.”

“Botheration...” she grumbles and reaches a hand out blindly.

Alice grasps it and pulls the queen up into a sitting position. She pours a cup of water for her. “Here, it helps with the muzziness.”

“Thank you...” Mirana drinks in cautious sips. “Please never let me have more than four glasses of Orashlach again.”

“I’ve already made a note of it, Your Majesty,” Alice assures her with a wry grin. She lays out the queen’s traveling clothes and tidies up. Fifteen minutes later, when Fenruffle knocks on their door, they’re both ready to go... more or less. Alice keeps a discreet hand on Mirana’s elbow to keep her from listing a bit too noticeably as they make their way to the grand hall to say their good-byes. As Mirana thanks the king and queen for their hospitality and accepts Avendale’s promise to see her again very soon, Avenleif stands stoically, enduring the proceedings.

Hating to see him like this – We were friends this time yesterday! – Alice searches for something to say to help fix this. All night, she’d blamed herself for not noticing his interest and dealing with it as soon as possible. But it had simply never occurred to her that his kindness and attention and generosity might have been generated by... attraction. Looking back on that day in the Orash grove, Alice realizes he’d more or less proposed to her. Very nearly! And now... and now their lieges will wed and she and Avenleif will be working together every day at Mamoreal and he won’t even look in her direction!

Alice bites her lip, closes her eyes, sighs, and prays for patience.

In the end, as the queen turns away and heads toward the great doors and the procession assembled and awaiting beyond, Alice says only, “Thank you for your kind hospitality, Your Majesties. Champion Avenleif.”

Too little. Far, far too little had been said, but Alice doesn’t have more time in which to say everything she ought. The ride to the Southern Underland Crossroads is very... long. And tiring. Over and over, Alice thinks of every mistake she’d made, how she might have unknowingly encouraged Avendale’s Champion, what she should have said last night at the banquet when she’d had the chance...

And then she resents the fact that this... difficulty has taken her thoughts away from Mamoreal, home, Tarrant! She’s on her way homefinally! – and yet she somehow manages to be weighed down with guilt over it!


At the sound of the queen’s gentle inquiry, Alice turns and regards her over the Bandersnatch’s furry shoulder. “Yes, Your Majesty?”

“What’s wrong? We’re returning to Mamoreal. I thought that was what you wanted.”

“It is. More than anything. I simply wish Champion Avenleif and I had not experienced a... difference of opinion before we’d left.”

Mirana frowns. “An argument?”

“No. A... misunderstanding.”

Mirana waits, expectant.

Alice sighs and relents. “A misunderstanding which seeing my heart line brought to light. Until then, I hadn’t realized he... that is... he hadn’t known I was... am...”

“Oh...” Mirana says. That, and no more. (Apparently, her mind is still a bit befuddled with Orashlach. Otherwise, Alice is sure she would have had more to say.)

“Yes. ‘Oh’,” Alice agrees grimly. “I hope he can put it out of his mind when Prince Avendale next visits...”

And then Alice remembers the purpose – and the wondrous result! – of this trip and, feeling like an utter insensitive – and, as Tarrant would say – slurivsh nitwit, Alice forces a bright smile.

“Truly... Congratulations, Mirana,” Alice says softly to her friend. “The prince adores you. As your Champion, I completely approve of the match you’ve found for yourself. And, as your friend... I’ve never seen you so beautiful with happiness.”

The queen smiles. “Thank you, Alice. It means a lot to me to hear you say that.” And then Mirana releases a mournful sigh. “I shall miss him...”

Alice hesitates for a moment before deciding that, as it’s a matter of the queen’s well-being, she can’t not ask: “And the First Claw? You’re bound now... aren’t you? Will you be all right so far away?”

Mirana’s smile is tired, but genuine. “In many ways, the bond will make the separation easier for us both. He’s always with me now. It feels as though I’m not alone, but...”

But you are. Alice finishes the thought in silence. She knows the feeling. Intimately.

“You’ll see him again very soon,” Alice replies.

Mirana nods and reaches for the claw still displayed around her neck. Although curious, Alice cannot bring herself to ask the queen to detail the bonding experience. Unlike the Thrice a-Vow, consummation had not been a component. So, how exactly had that worked? Alice swallows her curiosity. There will be time – after arriving home and seeing Tarrant again and resuming her normal schedule – to investigate the answers to her musings in the queen’s library.

“Yes, very soon,” the queen murmurs. “Still...”

“I know,” Alice says simply, thinking of Tarrant – of his battered hands caressing her face, of his arms tight around her waist, of his brogue (thick with passion and promises and pleasure) whispering in her ear... “I know.”


On the morning of the sixteenth day – the day that Alice is due to return – Tarrant bursts into the kitchen... again. Chessur drapes his robe over his shoulders... again. Thackery tosses his slippers at his feet... again. Mally pushes a cup of strong tea next to his elbow... again.

It all happens – again! – for the fifteenth time! It happens exactly as it has happened every morning since Alice’s departure... and yet... somehow... today, Tarrant feels immeasurably worse.

“Just a bit longer now,” Chessur tells him consolingly. “Perhaps a bath while you wait?”

Tarrant ignores the suggestion.

“Crumpets!” Thackery recommends but no one dares to pass the dish.

“Cucumber sandwich?” Chessur ventures.

Still, Tarrant doesn’t acknowledge the offers.

“A poke in the eye?” Mally suggests, waving her sword threateningly.

Scowling, Tarrant picks up the deck of trump cards and begins rhythmically shredding them into tiny pieces... one after the other. Thackery twitches and blinks as the pile of card confetti grows steadily. Chessur sighs dramatically every time Tarrant selects another victim from the top of the pile. Mally skips around the tea service and – following the utter decimation of every few cards – dives into the pile of rubbish as if plowing into a mound of just-raked autumn leaves.

“You could be doing something productive while you’re waiting,” Chessur tries.

Tarrant tucks his chin in and glares at the reduced stack of cards. Finishing the utter ruin of the one currently in his possession, he reaches for another and slows his shredding speed by half.

“Stubborn Outlander.”

Yes, Tarrant supposes he is stubborn. Someone has to be, otherwise the word wouldn’t exist at all, and words ought to exist. Even words like “stubborn.”

“I’ve decided to stay, you stubborn milliner!”

Yes, Alice does enjoy calling him stubborn! He can recall the way her eyes had flashed and her cheeks had flushed!

Tarrant closes his eyes and keeps shredding.

Shredding, shredding, shredding...

And when the last card has been turned into inked pulp, Thackery announces, “Card game’s over!”

Mally giggles. “So who won?”

Chessur regards the tattered remains of the set. “Not the cards, apparently.”

Thackery thumps the table with his teaspoon. “There! There!” he hiccups, waving the utensil at the pile of rubbish.

As nothing within arm’s reach is shred-able – and, thus cannot provide an adequate distraction from the unsettling feeling he’s experiencing – Tarrant lowers his head to his hands. Perhaps moving his skull to this slightly lower altitude will alleviate some portion of the dizzying ache that’s taken up residence there...

“Chess, anyone?” the cat asks idly.

“Not anyone! Just one!” Mally replies, chortling.

Thackery agrees, “One game of Chess!”

“Will you be heads or tails?” Mally asks, sending Thackery into spasms of hilarity.

Chessur eyes the March Hare’s foot – which now rests on the tabletop! – with disdain. “Thackery, I clearly recall warning you about putting your overly hairy feet upon the table!”

“I don’t clearly recall nuthin’!” Mally replies, then falls down in a fit of laughter.

“No more trump!” Thackery reminds all at the table, no doubt pointing out that Chessur’s promised method of punishment has evaporated.

If you don’t get that foot out of my sight this instant I shall pluck each, individual hair from it until there is no MORE FOOT!” Chessur roars at him.

Mally beats the table with her tiny fists, gasping for breath. “No... more... FOOT!

“Yea, the hare’s a-foot!” Thackery contributes.

“Callou! Callay!”

“A rhyme!

Tarrant stares at the dormouse, whose laughter looks truly... painful. He winces and presses his palms against his temples.

Yes, painful. Quite painful. Very, extraordinarily, undeniably...


The laughter continues, muffled.

... exceptionally, unavoidably, inexplicably...


And silence settles around the kitchen table.

... unbelievably, excruciatingly, TREMENDOUSLY...


Tarrant struggles with his gasping breaths, his suddenly pounding heart, the complete and utter abject TERROR driving his pulse.


He grits his teeth but doesn’t feel the ache. He opens his eyes, but sees nothing.


Tarrant’s eyes roll back in his head as, suddenly, the pain stops, his body stops, his mind stops, everything stops! and he tumbles off of the bench. He doesn’t even feel it when he hits the stone floor – he’s already unconscious.


This time Alice wakes up before the odd pounding of her heart can commence. For an instant, she allows herself to wonder if she has somehow cured herself of that strange ailment. By waking herself up before it had the chance to wake her, Alice wonders if she’s conquered it...

Have I beaten it? she wonders, and then grins wryly at the thought. Everything’s a battle to me, isn’t it?

She sighs.

I do whatever I must to win, Alice reminds herself, remembering the promise she’s made time and time again to her lover. And even once to her queen. Even if it means waking up at this ungodly hour.

It’s so early in fact, that she can’t even hear any activity in the yard: no one is feeding the chickens; no one is splitting and hauling firewood; no one is clanking about in the kitchen in the yard. The world is completely silent.


Wondering if she dares to take advantage of the oddly peaceful moment, Alice contemplates closing her eyes and getting a bit more sleep before having to worry about getting up and ready for another day – the last day! – of riding. She has just decided to risk a few more minutes of slumber when something knocks against the roof over her head. Knocks, scrapes, slips, steps, and is silent.

Alice’s eyes snap open. She stares up at the roof, frowning.

Perhaps a bird, she thinks.

Still... that had sounded like one awfully big bird. Certainly not one of the chickens. Not even the meaty-looking rooster. In fact, the only bird Alice is aware of in Underland large enough to make that much racket against the inn’s wooden shingles is... well, the Jubjub.

But it’s dead...

Alice feels a flicker of unease as a contrary thought occurs to her:

The Jabberwocky hadn’t stayed dead, had it?

No, indeed, it hadn’t. So, could that mean that the Jubjub would rise again as well? Or is there more than one Jubjub bird in Underland? Would roosting on the roofs of inns be considered normal behavior if, in fact, a Jubjub is sitting a mere two arm’s lengths above her head?

Alice shivers. Surely, it’ll take off just as soon as the innkeeper and his family start moving about...

She glances at the tiny window in their attic room and measures the paleness of the silver dawn-light pouring in.

A bit after dawn, she thinks. Hadn’t their hosts been up and preparing their farewell meals at about this time two weeks ago when they’d passed this way?

She thinks so...

Unsettled now, Alice knows she won’t be able to get back to sleep until she investigates. She glances across the modest room at the queen, who is still sleeping quite peacefully in the other bed. She continues to listen to the utter silence of the inn, which suddenly presses in on her ears menacingly. Reluctantly, Alice pulls back the blankets and, collecting her knife – for the halls of the inn are far too narrow to wield a sword in properly! – she ghosts toward the door of their room. She spares another glance at Mirana, hoping the queen won’t awaken and wonder why Alice is creeping around in her pajamas and boots, holding a knife. Alice would feel decidedly foolish at being caught sneaking up on their own door, but something... something seems... something is...

She presses her ear to a crack that the aged hinges can’t quite manage to close. There’s no sound of water pitchers being carried and set down next to the doors. There are no shuffling footsteps, creaking boards, hushed voices...

Alice leans away from the door, giving it a suspicious look. Dare she open it? Knowing the squeal the hinges are going to give, she hesitates. She opts to inspect the view from the window. Overhead, all is silent again.

Keeping out of sight of the yard below, Alice leans against the wall and glances cautiously outside. At first glance, everything seems quite normal. She can make out Bandy’s furry rump over the low wall of the stables and Mirana’s horse – Alfred – is flicking his tail at flies and dust motes. Alice feels her shoulders start to relax.

But then something moves just within the shadows of the forest that encircles the yard. She squints, not daring to blink, and studies the gloom... And, then...




Alice counts several shadows moving amongst the trees. More than the innkeeper could possibly employ. More than can be accounted for by wondering if every single member of the Queen’s Guard had decided to play a bit of hide-and-go-seek at daybreak...

Collecting her clothes for the day, Alice crosses to Mirana’s bed and, laying a hand across the queen’s mouth and nose, shakes her awake.


“Hush,” Alice nearly mouths. “Put these on. Quietly.

Mirana’s startled expression tenses with alarm. “What...?” she mouths back.

“I’m not sure. But I’m not taking any chances. Get dressed.”

As Mirana complies, Alice slips on her gauntlets and buckles her knives around her ankles, then wraps her sword and dirk belts across her hips. She hands the queen a pair of slippers – for stealth – and waits while she puts them on. Then Alice gives the queen her boots, each with a thick stocking stuffed inside, and motions for her to follow.

Again, Alice listens at the door. Wishing she’d brought some oil with her for the hinges, she decides to simply open the door as quickly as possible. Either someone is waiting on the other side – in which case they might be surprised enough to give her an advantage – or there is no imminent danger after all.

Or they’ll hear the squeal of the hinges and come running...

But what other options do they have? The window is far too small to evacuate through easily and the drop is over three meters...

And then the clatter comes again from overhead: claws on the wooden shingles; the susurrus whoosh! of large feathers beating the air.

Beside her, Mirana freezes. Alice glances over her shoulder and the queen mouths, “Jubjub.”

Yes, the last time they’d encountered the Jubjub bird, the occasion had not been an amicable one. Mirana doesn’t look as if she expects this instance to be, either. With a nod, Alice draws her sword – mindful of the narrow halls but unable to choose anything less that her most formidable weapon, especially now that the threat has been confirmed.

Heart pounding, she reaches for the door latch.

Just when her fingers touch the handle, it hits her.

The pounding, racing, screaming! of her heart.

NO, not NOW!

Alice grits her teeth and struggles to calm her inexplicable, daily attack of panic.

“Alice?” Mirana breathes in her ear.

Alice holds up a hand and concentrates on not dropping her sword. She counts off the regular rhythm of her heartbeats in her head, hoping it will have some influence over the thunderous, frantic terror that she doesn’t feel but which somehow forces her body to experience: one... two-three... one... two-three! ONE... TWO-THREE!

A minute passes, perhaps, and the technique seems to be working. Well enough for Alice to think over the rush of her blood and the hammering against her sternum. She swallows back her unease and forces herself to think before she opens the door: If someone is waiting to attack them in the hall – which remains scarily silent – will Alice be capable of defending Mirana?

With a fleeting thought as to what a mad hatter might do in this situation, Alice carefully retreats to the queen’s bed and gathers up her billowing white travel dress. Alice returns to the door and, holding the voluminous gown in one hand and her sword in the other, she gulps down another wave of dizziness and nods for Mirana to grab a hold of the door latch.

“As fast as you can,” she whispers. The queen nods.

Taking position on the other side of the door, Alice draws a breath – not too deep or it’ll upset her already rollicking-and-rolling stomach – and nods.

Mirana throws open the door. Alice spares the briefest of thoughts to the minimal squeak that the hinges utter – more like a gasp than a shriek – and then pivots into the hall, flailing the dress before her. If any attackers had been waiting with weapons poised, the sudden movement would have startled them or drawn their immediate attack.


Nothing happens.

Alice gingerly slides into the hall, staying low, and surveys the corridor. It’s utterly silent, completely empty.

And, at this hour, with the sunlight beginning to turn a rosy-gold, it shouldn’t be!

Still keeping hold of the dress in her left hand and the sword in her right, Alice once again nods for Mirana, who joins her in the gloomy passageway. Although Alice doesn’t instruct her to, the queen follows her steps as closely as possible, managing to avoid the same creaky boards that Alice does.

At the next door – Fenruffle’s – Alice pauses, listens, then – fitting her sword in the thin crack between the door and its frame – with a twist of her wrist, breaks the lock. She pushes open the door quickly and finds the gryphon sound asleep in his bed. Motioning for Mirana to follow her, they approach. Alice hands Mirana her traveling dress, then pulls the pillow out from under Fenruffle’s head and squashes it over his beak.

“Fenruffle! It’s Alice!” she hisses as he thrashes beneath the blankets.

She lifts the pillow when her words calm him.

“What is it?” he hisses back.

“There’s a Jubjub bird on the roof. Neither the innkeeper nor his family have arrived yet. And there’s someone out there in the forest.”

“Someone?” His beady, golden eyes narrow.


He considers this for a moment, looking over at the queen, in Alice’s garb, and Alice still in her pajamas but now armed to the teeth. “What can I do?”

The foreign panic that makes her heart pound clashes with her own anxiety and Alice struggles with an onslaught of nausea as it crests like a swelling wave at sea. “Can you fly with Mirana?”

“Not and out-distance a Jubjub,” he replies bluntly.

Alice nods then gestures for the traveling gown. “Then take this, hold it like you’re carrying the queen, fly as fast as you can, try not to follow a straight path. Hopefully, the Jubjub will follow you...”

“And you and the queen?”

Alice grits her teeth against the taste of bile. “I’d rather not say just in case you’re...”

“Captured. I see.” He considers the situation. “In the event that this is a false alarm, where will I meet you?”

“A league back, by the Tumtum grove we passed.”

He nods.

Backing away from the bed, Alice whispers, “Give us ten minutes, then find a place to launch yourself from and go!


Alice cautiously leads Mirana back to the hall and proceeds toward the barrack-style room where their guard had been boarded. Again, Alice breaks the lock with her sword and, staying low, pushes open the door. The smell hits her instantly and she can’t hold back the urge to vomit, which she does rather spectacularly all over the wooden floor. She feels a pair of hands on her arm and allows Mirana to drag her back into the hall and away from the stench.

“What...?” Alice gags.

“Essence of Mogra Mushroom,” Mirana says. “A strong sleeping agent.”

As Alice struggles to settle her stomach and get her frantic heartbeat under better control, Mirana thinks aloud, “Last night, you, I, and Fenruffle didn’t touch the Grobbenale. It might have been put in there. The scent only becomes noticeable after reacting with alcohol for several hours, so we wouldn’t have smelled it at dinner...”

Fantastic, Alice thinks. Someone had intentionally tried to poison the lot of them and had managed to eliminate their main offensive weapon – the Queen’s Guard. And not only that, they’ve managed to surround the inn, waiting for the light to improve before moving in at their leisure and killing every single one of them. Alice closes her eyes and winces, thinking of the soldiers she’s going to have to leave behind to whatever fate befalls them. She cannot protect them all and it is her duty to protect the queen first and foremost.

“Right,” Alice says, pushing against the wall to gain her feet. “Let’s find a way out.” Fenruffle will be making his move soon and Alice had better be ready to take advantage of the distraction.

Alice leads Mirana down the stairs to the first level which is as eerily deserted as the second floor and the kitchen beyond the backdoor. Recalling the existence of a storm cellar door in the yard, Alice gestures Mirana to a stand of Grobbenale barrels and motions for her to crouch down. Quickly, Alice inspects the breezeway – empty – and locates the door to the cellar. She stares into the perfect blackness and wishes she had another idea, but she doesn’t. If she tries to escape with the queen out the front door, they’ll be caught before they can make it across the road and into the forest beyond (which may or may not be hosting more mysterious shadows and the bodies that wear them!) but if they venture out the backdoor and into the yard, they’ll attract the attention of the ones that are most definitely waiting in the woods. She thinks of the Bandersnatch but knows she and the queen will never make it to the stables... and then he might be just as drugged useless as the Queen’s Guard!

There are no good choices! Alice fumes and descends the stairs.

The cellar is nearly completely dark. A few beams of light filter through the cracks in the outside door but Alice senses no one’s gaze, hears no one’s breath, and – miracle of miracles – the smell of the earth around her is starting to settle her stomach.

If only it would do something about her pounding heart!

She inspects the lock and, satisfied that a good chop of her sword will break it, Alice returns, collects the queen, and leads her down the stairs. Crouching beneath the cellar’s outer door, she positions her blade and instructs the queen:

“When we hear Fenruffle take off, I’ll break the lock and push open the doors. You will run as fast as you possibly can and find shelter as soon as you reach the other side of the road.”

Alice glances down and notices that the queen has put her boots on.

“Good,” she says, simply.

“Alice...” Mirana whispers.

“Do not worry about me. Everything will be fine.

The queen nods. Alice positions herself beneath the door. A minute passes... and then another... and then...


Alice doesn’t waste time wondering which window Fenruffle had chosen to knock out. She slashes the lock and throws open the doors just as the horrible spine-shattering shriek of the Jubjub rips through the air. Mirana grabs hold of Alice’s belt and they stumble into the front yard.

Alice reaches back and latches onto Mirana’s wrist with her left hand as they hurtle toward the gloomy woods. She doesn’t see anything moving in the shadowed realm of the forest ahead of them. Dare she hope that their enemy hadn’t bothered to cover this side of the road? Dare she hope they hadn’t expected the queen to attempt escape over such a wide expanse of open ground? Dare she hope that they’ll make it beneath the sheltering boughs unnoticed?

A shout goes up.

The sound of pounding feet join Alice’s pounding heart.

She pulls Mirana across the road, leaps over a Thrambleberry bush, and keeps going. Branches whip against her face, snag her hair. Debris tries to trip her feet, but they keep moving. The pace is the only thing that keeps Alice’s dizziness and nausea from catching up to her again as her heart races in earnest, all on its own, with no inexplicable assistance.

Alice evaluates tree after tree, boulder after boulder, searching for a place to defend her queen from, for they cannot run indefinitely! She can hear Mirana’s labored, gasping breaths. The queen stumbles every few steps – despite the lack of skirts and petticoats to get in her way – and Alice has to yank her up again and again.

But there are no good defensible features in the forest! Hating her choices, Alice finally pushes Mirana into another thicket of Thrambleberries and makes the decision to hide above her, in the boughs of a weathered, gnarled beast of a tree.

She swings herself up into the leafy boughs just as something crashes through the forest on her right. It is Bayne. She signals for him to get under cover, which – luckily – he does. And then...

In front of her, from the direction they’d just come, a dozen – a dozen! – armed soldiers move through the forest. Alice damns Mirana’s insistence on having every blasted scrap of clothing worn in her presence be made of the palest of colors. Surely, this motley assortment of creatures – tigers, hyenas, bears, and (Is that...?! No...) what even resembles a mad hatter so closely Alice almost calls out to him, but she doesn’t. She watches the beings move through the forest, unnerved at the sight of the first Outlander she has ever seen aside from Tarrant, and endeavors to be as unnoticeable as possible.

A rustle deeper in the forest catches their attention.

Who...? Alice thinks an instant before she catches sight of a long, brown hound’s tail. Her heart sinks as Bayard – for Bayne is still hiding behind her – lures the creatures deeper into the forest and away from Mirana.

Feeling sick to her stomach all over again, Alice surveys the forest, waits for the enemy’s forces to crash off after their prey, then leaps to the ground and pulls Mirana up and out of her hiding place. The queen has two hands cupped over her mouth to silence her panicked gasps.

“What do we do now?” Bayne whines softly, casting a worried gaze in the direction in which his father had disappeared.

“We get out of here,” Alice says. Hoping that Bayard will be leading the rag-tag band of fighters further into the forest, Alice decides to head straight for Mamoreal. “Stay on our flank, out of sight,” she orders Bayne who is far better camouflaged than either Alice or the queen. “If we are surrounded, it will be your responsibility to get back to Mamoreal and raise the Queen’s Army to come to our aid. Understood?”

He nods. “My dad...?”

“You have to trust him to take care of himself,” Alice replies, urging the queen to get moving. “He’s trusting you to do the same.”

And so they move as quickly as they dare, making as little noise as they can. Alice wishes for Bandy – or even that pampered twit of a horse! – but they have neither. Alice only hopes they’re both still alive: perhaps startled awake by the Jubjub and on their way back to Mamoreal or distracting the queen’s foes. But she cannot think about them right now!

Protect the queen!

Getting home to Tarrant is a whisper at the back of her mind, but she squashes it ruthlessly. She cannot allow her attention to be divided or...


Alice reacts to the sudden sound behind them. She shoves the queen down to the forest floor, turns – sword raised – and counts them:

One... two... three... four... five...!

And those are only the ones she can see.

Dismayed, Alice realizes she is facing yet another Jabberwocky. Although she had not sought out this battle, she knows it’s not one she can win. The question is: does she fight anyway, knowing both that there is no help coming and that she cannot possibly win on her own?

In her peripheral vision, more creatures step out from behind the trees, encircling them. Alice hopes that Bayne has slipped by; if he doesn’t reach the castle...!

Alice doesn’t shift her pose. She wonders if she can possibly drag this moment out long enough – stop time! – until the army arrives. It’s a crazy idea. Impossible. She wishes she had chosen it as one of her six impossible things today, but she hadn’t.

She struggles to stay calm, to keep her breathing regular and her heartbeat level and steady. But she faces a fear unlike anything she has ever encountered before. The Jabberwocky had been predictable and mindless in its hostility and efficient in its attempts to kill her. She cannot say the same for these mercenaries.

“Pu’down th’sword, lass,” a tall Outlander says. The brogue – so familiar, yet so utterly wrong – renews her nausea and panic. “Ye cannae win agains’tall o’us.”

“But I can kill at least one,” she growls around her fear. “Who do you nominate?”

A few of the hunters chuckle, but it’s too gloomy under the thick canopy of the aged trees to see their expressions.

“W’d’nae inten’teh’urt ye.”

“But you will, nonetheless,” Alice challenges.

“O’ly if ye insist,” the Outlander replies.

Briefly, Alice considers her options. She wishes she were in a position to demand their word on that! The Fates of Underland would surely punish them if they broke their vow! But they might prefer to rush her and chance the death of one of their own comrades to ensure hers. What she needs is to buy time!

Sending a silent apology to Mirana, still crouched on the forest floor where Alice had thrown her, Alice replies, throat burning with impotent rage, “None of you will touch the queen. I will keep all of my weapons in my possession and we will accompany you peaceably!”

“Tha’ ‘tis all we ask.”

And then, out of the corner of her eye, Alice sees a dark shape arcing toward her, fast – so fast! ­– and, in the one moment she has, Alice realizes that she hadn’t demanded protection for herself.

The pang of regret is fleeting as, in the very next instant, a fist slams into the side of her face. She thinks she keeps her grip on her sword as she falls, but as darkness closes in around her, she can’t be sure.


Late-ish morning light is sharply slanting through the kitchen windows that face Witzend and the west when Tarrant opens his eyes.

“He’s alive!” Thackery jibbers, waving frantically.

“Thank the Fates,” Chessur sighs, appearing over Tarrant’s face. “How are you feeling? Can you stand?”

“Never mind that,” Mally cuts in. “Can you rhyme?

“Aye, make a rhyme for us, Hatter!” Thackery demands.

Tarrant stares dazedly up at the vaulted ceiling and murmurs, “Spring waxes and Iplam waves, the silver flower her hand displays...” He frowns, considering the odd phrase he’d unthinkingly uttered.

“Oh, well done!” the dormouse enthuses. “You’re all right, then!”

Thackery celebrates by sprinkling a fistful of trump card confetti over him.

Slowly, Tarrant sits up and winces at the stiffness in his back – how long had he been lying on the floor? – and the act of wincing brings to his attention a curious throbbing on the left side of his face. Rubbing his cheek, he glares at the table and bench.

Yes, when he’d... well, that is to say, when he’d fallen he must have... yes, against the edge of the table or...

And that’s when he notices the very inconvenient fact that he’s still dressed in his night clothes.

Brangergain i’tall!

Sighing, Tarrant pulls himself up with the aid of the cheek-smashing table edge of dubious loyalty.

“Finally deciding on that bath are you?” Chessur drawls.

Tarrant ignores him, adjusts his bathrobe to drape properly over his chest, and executes a graceful exit. Yes, he thinks, a bath is a good idea. After all, Alice will be back soon and he’d rather not subject her to... well, not that he’d expect her to want to... she’ll be tired after all, from her journey, but just in case... that is, if she’d like... well, what he means is...

Tarrant gives himself an abrupt shake and gets on with it, doing his best to keep Alice’s preferences regarding their reunion completely abstract in his mind.

The very thought of returning to the castle kitchens – again! – makes him nauseous, but where else will he go? If he stays in the apartment much longer, he’ll start wondering if he ought to turn down the bed or put candles out or perhaps some of those Thrambleberries she loves so much...

Right. Kitchen.

Of course, he could go to his workshop, he supposes. And there he could... stare at the bolts of fabric, rolls of ribbon, and spools of thread that resemble the various shades of her hair, her skin, her eyes, her lips...


“What took you so long?” Mally shouts when he returns, finally dressed for the day despite the fact that it’s well past lunchtime. “Hit your head pretty hard there, Hatter? Lost your way back down?”

“Lost his head!” Thackery agrees.

Calmly, Tarrant wanders over to the bench and gracefully takes a seat.

Chessur grins. “It’s nice to finally see you in all your layers, Tarrant.”

He sniffs, not deigning to reply, and reaches for a crumpet.

The sudden BANG! of a distant door being thrown open startles him. Tarrant pushes himself up off of the bench he’d just sat himself upon and smiles hopefully at the kitchen door. He hears the sounds of movement – of running – drawing nearer and nearer and nearer yet!

Perhaps it’s his Alice! Returned at last!

He dares to hope his Alice has returned but something – some heretofore unidentified sense – insists otherwise. He doesn’t want to listen to it, so he faces the kitchen door (with a wide smile on his face – just in case!) as it’s thrown open.

Tarrant examines the new arrival – twice, just to be sure! – but it’s not Alice. Not of any size! No this creature looks far too much like Bayne, Bayard’s bravest and most responsible son. Remembering why the sight of Bayto had so alarmed him eight days ago, Tarrant feels his smile droop into a fearsome scowl. His hands tremble as he asks in an unsteady lisp, “Where is Alice?”

Panting, Bayne manages, “Gone. Taken. Both she and the queen. Can’t find Dad... Fenruffle was wounded by the Jubjub... And the queen’s soldiers...”

In the doorway, Nivens appears and gapes at the young blood hound.

At the table, Thackery throws the teapot toward the rubbish bin.

On the bench, Mally unsheathes her hatpin and declares war.

From the air, Chessur begins interrogating the breathless messenger.

But Tarrant... Tarrant doesn’t hear anything past: Gone... Taken. And when the madness comes and wraps his mind up in its irresistible, hot embrace, he doesn’t fight it.

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 3 of 17

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