Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 4 of 17

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Still  The first thing Alice sees when she opens her eyes is Mirana.

“Alice? Are you all right?” She squeezes her eyes shut and takes a moment to make sure there aren’t any aches – aside from the obvious ones – waiting to ambush her now that she can properly appreciate them. When none clamor for her attention, Alice nods and slowly rolls over onto her side and gingerly sits up on a surprisingly comfortable bed in an equally surprisingly luxurious room. She raises a hand to her face and wonders how badly it has bruised.

“I was permitted to apply a bit of Pain Paste... inferior though it was. Yes, using Bread-and-butterfly wing dust is more readily available, but it only addresses the numbing properties and...” Mirana gives Alice an apologetic look. “I’m afraid you look...”

“Like a thoroughly thwumpished Champion?” Alice suggests, daring a bit of Outlandish for the occasion.

Mirana nearly laughs. “Precisely.”

“I’m sorry about earlier. I should have –”

“Yes, I would have liked it if you’d included yourself in those to be kept unharmed, but as we are both still alive – and keeping each other company! – I can’t fault you too badly.”

“You’re too generous, Your Majesty,” Alice insists darkly. “It’s a miracle we’re both still alive and speaking to each other at all. I nearly got us both –”

“Do you not believe in impossible things as part of your breakfast regime?”

Alice snorts. “If I’d remembered to do that this morning, I could have believed we’d have made back to –”

“But that wouldn’t have been impossible... under normal circumstances, so you wouldn’t have thought to believe in it.”

“But –”

“Shush, Alice.”

“Will you at least stop interrupting me?” she grumbles.

Mirana manages a lukewarm smile. “Queen’s prerogative.”

Alice huffs. “I suppose it is.” Then she slides a wry glance at the queen. “I notice you don’t bother when I’m agreeing with you.”

And there, Alice finally wrings a helpless, breathy – if slightly hysterical – giggle from her sovereign.

Shaking her head, Mirana sighs. “Oh, Alice. You’re nearly as mad as... Well, not many people would be trying to add humor to our situation.”

“Could do with a bit of humor. To balance out the hopeless depression and angst.” The gurgle of an empty stomach punctuates that observation.

“Have they fed you anything?” Alice asks.

“Well... They left something for us, but...” The glance Mirana sends the tray is significant.

Standing, Alice approaches the bowls of now-congealed stew and sniffs. “Is that... mint?”

“A variety of,” the queen confirms. “Sweet to the taste.”

“And its effects?”

Mirana reluctantly replies, “It’s meant to make us more... amiable to suggestion.”

“So... nothing good, in other words.”

The queen tilts her head in agreement. “I thought it best to abstain until we were introduced to our host.”

“You assume it’s a man.”

Mirana glances pointedly around the room. “The view from the window is what I would expect to see were I in the heart of Causwick Callion.”

“Causwick... The swamp that lies near...”

“The western border of Snud. This is the territory under the protection of a certain Prince Jaspien, you may recall?” the queen concludes, her rising intonation inquiring if Alice does, indeed, remember her Underland geography lessons correctly.

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

“That makes two of us.”

Closing her eyes, Alice asks the question that is – perhaps – the most pertinent to their current predicament: “What do you think they want with you?”

Mirana gives Alice a long look. “I do not know, but...” When the queen hesitates for far too long, Alice cannot resist opening her eyes and taking in the worry she sees in Mirana’s gaze. “They did not leave you behind, either. Even though...”

Yes, even though they’d already secured Mirana’s surrender.

The fact that they’d brought Alice along could merely mean they had hoped capture would neutralize her and disable any truly competent rescue attempts on the queen. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Prince Jaspien has some nefarious purpose in mind for her! Still...

Her hands curl into fists and Alice crosses to the room’s single window to take stock of their surroundings. There’s no balcony, no ledge of any kind beneath the opening in the gray, stone wall. And the glass is thick, impure and pebbled with un-dissolved sand. She can barely see anything out there in the twilight. She turns and investigates the room. Aside from the space under the bed, there is nowhere to hide. And, unfortunately, the bed skirt had been removed and the bed itself had been raised on a platform – from the doorway one would clearly be able to see whether or not someone were attempting to hide beneath it.

Alice doesn’t tell Mirana not to worry. She doesn’t say that someone will come for them soon. Unfortunately, Alice can only think of two people who would dare, and she knows Mirana wants to contemplate her prince rushing to face danger just as much as Alice wants to consider her Hatter in the same role.

No, it’s best they don’t try to cheer themselves with thoughts of rescue.

Escape, on the other hand...

“If you have the chance to run, take it,” Alice says.

Mirana slumps down on the rumpled bed. “I heard dogs earlier.”

“Blood hounds?” Alice asks, hopeful in spite of her pessimism. One of those baying calls might have belonged to Bayard, which would mean...


Alice releases the curtain she’d pulled back, giving up on dreams of daylight and freedom. For now.

“How are you, Mirana?” she asks softly, her gaze lingering on the queen’s throat, which is bare. “Where’s...? What’s happened to the...?”

The queen closes her eyes and sighs. “At the inn, presumably. Perhaps my snoring managed to unravel the knot in the cord.” Alice continues staring until the queen opens her eyes and answers her first question. “I can still feel him, a bit, but he’s so far away...”

“Does it hurt you?”

“No. No, I’m fine, Alice. Truly.”

Rather than argue or press for details, Alice says instead, “It’s nearly dinnertime.”

“Yes, I suppose they’ll be back to try to ply us with more Hafflaffen-laced edibles.”

Alice doesn’t look forward to that. But she wonders what might be gained by trying to avoid confronting their captor. On the one hand, any time they can manage to waste before actually being forced to start negotiating for their safety might be time well-spent. But, on the other, the longer they remain in this room, the more likely a rescue party will be coming for them and that could end... very badly. Perhaps their best chance is to attempt to secure a promise for their release from the castle’s liege. Still... Alice has so many nightmarish visions of what could happen during that meeting... and with Mirana being utterly unable to raise a hand in her own defense...

She shivers.


“I could...” Alice bites her lip to stop the words.

“What? What horrible thought are you thinking, my Champion?”

Wincing, Alice says, “If you’d rather put off the conversation that’s probably coming – the victory I-have-you-now! speech, I mean – I could... guarantee that you’re unconscious when someone comes...”

Mirana stares at her for a long moment. “You... would do that?”

“If that’s what you wanted, Your Majesty. I’ve promised to protect you to the best of my abilities. Your vows don’t allow you to defend yourself. If the only defense I can give you is unconsciousness...”

The queen considers the option. “Would you recommend that?”

“I can’t recommend anything knowledgeably,” she replies, feeling utterly useless, unnecessary, and unhelpful.

“Would it be easier for you if I were... indisposed?”

Alice forces herself to seriously consider what it would mean for her if that situation were to come to pass and weighs each word of her reply carefully. “Instead of worrying that you were being forced to endure something unpleasant, I would merely hope you would be ignorant to whatever unfortunate things might happen in my absence.” Or inability to interfere. “So... no, it would not be easier. Simply a different set of worries.”

“Still, sometimes it’s advantageous to have a different set... in the event that one grows weary of bearing the same ones over and over again.”

“Is there anything you can offer in exchange for your release or – failing that – your safety?” Alice asks, perhaps a tad bluntly.

Mirana appears to give the question thorough consideration. “There are some assets I would be able to part with – lands and tribute that are within my rights to give away as I see fit. Other things... are bound to my crown and, as such...”

“Would have to be taken by force,” Alice finishes.

“But we do have one advantage,” Mirana rebuts.

Alice raises her eyebrows in question.

“We’re women!” the queen proclaims. “Contrary, indecisive, often-times hesitant, fickle creatures of inexplicable logic!”

Alice snorts. “I think I’m a bit out of practice...”

“Don’t worry,” Mirana replies. “For I, most assuredly, am not!

Alice’s brows raise.

Mirana smiles broadly. “It’s your turn to stand down, my Champion, and let the one who got rather good marks – if I do say so myself – in Resolving Disputes with Temperamental Despots to do her worst!”

Alice chuckles, but her heart isn’t in it. She’s busy thinking about this new game she’ll have to play, the one she’d practiced with the Red Queen: deception. Mirana will do her best, certainly, but a woman like the queen can only affect the heart if a man still carries one in his chest. And Alice has met many in recent years – and a few in recent months – that had appeared to possess no such organ at all.

Only time – and the whims of their captor – will tell if the queen’s strategy will be enough to save them.


Even madness must run its course.

Tarrant knows this highly unfortunate fact. He resents the end of the roaring rage and blessedly blank mind. Only empty chairs, broken teacups, a steady downpour, and guilt-shame-embarrassment-fear-dread! have ever greeted him when he emerges into his own mind again, opens his eyes to the world again, lives again.

Yes, bothersome thing: living. Much to be done, to get done, to have done. So, it’s no surprise he hates that moment of re-awareness even more than he hates the moment that had spawned the madness itself. For, in madness, he might do anything. In fact, he might address the very wrong that had pushed him so far outside himself that he no longer feels pain or pleasure or past or present.

There’s oblivion in that hot darkness. There’s a blind strength, too. The potential to conquer all and then awaken to a once-again-normal reality. One in which only good things exist, where the tea service is intact and in use instead of filling with rainwater, one plinking-plopping-plunking droplet at a time. A reality in which he’s surrounded by friends instead of failure.

But this time... When Tarrant blinks open his eyes and sees what awaits him, the disappointment is immeasurably worse than slowly-filling china cups of rainwater tea. What Tarrant sees is a white rabbit tending to a barely-bandaged and still-bleeding gryphon, a gaggle of still-lanky-limbed blood hounds whining mournfully, Mally ordering the crockery into battle formation and Thackery shouting suggestions in between trying to apply broken corners of scones to the worst of Fenruffle’s scrapes.

And what Tarrant feels are arms – as long as his own, as strong as his own – holding him down in one ruined corner of the kitchen.

Alice’s arms are thinner, weaker, softer, he thinks.

Tarrant closes his eyes and bites back the utter Blackness that tries to climb out of his chest by way of his throat, for he knows there is no chance of these arms transforming into Alice’s.

Alice is gone... Taken.

Tarrant opens his eyes, narrows them, allows the slow, relentless, simmering burn of eternal RAGE! to take over his every fiber of being: someone has his Alice!

And may the Fates pity that slurking urpal SLACKUSH SCRUM!

Because Tarrant certainly won’t. A hatter, without his Alice knows no bounds, no forgiveness... no mercy.

Tarrant looks down at his hands, fisted and clenched in the plum-colored jacket sleeves of a shape-shifting cat, and examines them quite deliberately: they’re the hands of a future murder. With the addition of another thimble, he thinks they’ll do quite nicely...



Behind him, Chessur releases a relieved breath. “At last! I’ve had a cramp in my left buttock for over ten minutes!”

“Then you’d best deal with it. A cramp in one’s scut is something requiring immediate attention,” Tarrant replies, smiling without any rancor at all.

A moment later, when the teaspoon Mally is trying to balance upright on its end falls over with a resounding clatter, Tarrant realizes that every occupant in the kitchen has gone completely, totally, absolutely silent. Looking up with a puzzled frown, Tarrant finds that each and every pair of eyes in the room are focused on him. Leisurely, he stares back. One frightened face after another passes inspection until Tarrant is sure of it: they are all – each and every one of them – terrified... of him.

And they have reason to be, Tarrant allows. For a normal Hatter would have screamed and raged and thrown things and broken furniture and tried to charge out the door to rescue his Alice. The pleasant, calm, sympathetic man they now find in their midst is a never-before-identified specimen of unpredictability.

Grinning, Tarrant says, “Cup of Throeston Blend, Chessur? It’s helped me on occasion when that particular ailment strikes.” He moves to the table and begins considering the remaining crockery, looking for something to serve as a teapot.

Thackery gulps, quivers, and tries to hide behind the corner of a scone he has yet to find a home for. Mally dives behind the pitcher of cream. The pups hover behind their mother and eye the door warily. Nivens, bandages in paw, has become a statue of quivering fur. Even Fenruffle – that useless excuse for a feathered hat who has constantly lectured Tarrant on staying away from his Alice WHILE SHE’S WORKING! – hardly dares to breathe.

“Have you tried the crumpets,” Tarrant asks the gryphon solicitously. “They’re Thackery’s specialty.”

“Fates save us...” Nivens whispers hoarsely.

“Aye...” Thackery grunts, a spasm of panic coming and going now and again.

From the middle of the table, Mally raises her hatpin sword and shouts, “WELL?! WHAT’RE WE WAITIN’ FOR? HE AIN’T GETTIN’ ANY MADDER!

Fates of Underland help them all if he does...

“Right,” Bayelle says with characteristic decisiveness. “Climb aboard, Mally. Let us be off to pick up the trail.”

“Ar,” Mally agrees. “Fight first, plan later!” Then launches herself from the still-suspect-of-smashing-perfectly-peaceable-faces table edge and snags the ring on Bayelle’s collar.

Tarrant giggles and tucks a butter knife into his pocket for the journey.

“Er... well, perhaps I’d better... accompany you,” Nivens allows.

“Pishsalver!” Thackery demands, scrambling over to the queen’s hands-paws-whiskers-teeth-claws-intentions-OFF! cupboard and ransacks its contents. “Lost it!” he says, tucking a bottle into an inner pocket of his vest. “Nauw we’re ready teh find th’wee bessom!”

“Indeed,” Tarrant muses mildly, “what if Alice were too big to be rescued? How inconvenient that would be!”

“Wrong size Alice!” the March Hare concurs.

“Bad habit, that,” Tarrant remarks.

“Always late for tea!” Thackery adds, expounding on Alice’s faults.

Hesitantly, Nivens whispers aside, “Fenruffle, would you...?”

“The Queen’s Army will be right behind you,” he promises, keeping his golden, beady eyes on Tarrant. “Along with anything else you might be needing.”

Tarrant ignores the suspicious glare and advises his companions, “Pack a tea bag, for we may invent a table and pick some cups along the road! They’re in season, you know.”

“A rhyme!” Thackery sighs, twitching.

And then Bayelle applies her formidable nose to the ground and, baying, leads the charge.


The next morning, when Alice awakens, she wakes to the nightmare she’d fallen asleep to escape. In the perfect gloom of the small, servant’s room, Alice stares up in the general direction of the low, stone ceiling she can’t see in the windowless chamber and fights against her despair. Which only worsens with every recalled memory:

“The fact of the matter is, Queen Mirana, that we – that is, I – require a Champion. And yours is quite... impressive,” Prince Jaspien had announced suddenly over the Mock Turtle soup course.

“Yes, Alice has not only defeated the Jabberwocky, but she’s remained undefeated ever since,” Viscount Valereth had complimented. Despite the praise, the words had turned Alice’s stomach.

“Indeed, poor Stayne. Someone should have warned the blighter you’d go to any lengths to win.” Oshtyer’s voice echoes in Alice’s thoughts. She wishes she could wash out her mind.

Shivering, Alice closes her eyes, knowing the worst is yet to come:

“You... are asking me to release Alice from her vows of fealty?” Mirana had asked, wonderingly.

Despite the utter disaster of an evening it had been, the queen had been utterly brilliant: charming weak smiles and warm-ish glances from Jaspien, making an ally of the taciturn and unimaginative man.

Valereth had been completely unaffected; Alice knows his kind – concerned only with business and it appears that Valereth’s business is war.

Oshtyer... No, Mirana had not been able to reach Oshtyer. Alice doubts he can speak a language that’s not laced with domination and hostility.

“Yes, Mirana,” Jaspien had replied. “I would like to offer Alice a position as my Champion. It would be... best for you if you were to release her voluntarily.”

Oshtyer had snickered. “You always insist on ruining a man’s fun... sir.”

“You would force me?” Mirana had asked, disbelieving and looking every bit the lost and frightened heroine.

“No,” Valereth had answered harshly. “We will kill you.” For that would work just as well – Alice would be free of her vows then.

“I would offer you my protection, Mirana, if you were to cooperate with us on this matter,” Jaspien had offered stiffly, but sincerely.

“I... see.”

And, at this point, Alice had gathered her courage and had dared to speak for the first time since the beginning of dinner:

“Your Majesty, you know you don’t have much use for me. It’s been rather... well, dull since that middling excuse for a man crawled his way to Mamoreal and petitioned your hand.”

Mirana had turned and given Alice a searching look. “That’s true...” she’d replied slowly. “And I do know how much you enjoy a fight...”

Alice had smiled and, seeking to secure Mirana’s position with Jaspien – who had clearly hoped to win her over – Alice had dared a bit more: “Thank you for conceding to the trip to Shuchland, Your Majesty. Receiving instruction in their...” Alice had glanced across the table and smirked at Oshtyer. “... unique weaponry was quite the opportunity. Perhaps our Prince Jaspien could offer other...” And this glance she’d sent at Valereth. “... profitable lessons.”

For a long moment, the queen and her three former (or perhaps not so former) suitors, had regarded Alice in silence. She had struggled to keep her expression bland, but interested.

“Alice...” the queen had begun.

Oshtyer had interrupted: “You expect us to believe that you’d willingly fight for the prince even with that on your arm?” He’d nodded to her heart line.

And then Alice had done something so unforgivable she’d nearly broken right there. “This... heart line?” she’d sneered. “As Queen’s Champion, I am required to acquiesce to my liege’s requests.”

“I... am sorry I required it of you, Alice. We simply couldn’t be sure how staying in Underland for so long might affect you...” Mirana had murmured, her eyes shining with sympathetic understanding but Alice had been sure these men would not recognize it. They would think it to be shame or perhaps pity.

“It matters not now,” Alice had replied with a shrug, dismissing the entire ordeal. “That is, if I’m to be a true Champion?”

Valereth had smiled. “Yes, Alice, we will offer you far better opportunities to utilize your skills than Wooing duels.”

Alice had grinned, had forced a glimmer of anticipation into her eyes, and then she’d turned to Mirana who, with a look of heartbreaking sorrow, had replied, “If this is what you wish, Alice...?”

Wish? No. Most certainly not. Alice had wished to be in her bed at Mamoreal in the arms of her Hatter. But that had been an impossibility. So, Alice had chosen to save Mirana’s life, which is now protected by Prince Jaspien’s vow. Alice had had to betray Tarrant, who would be a target of violence or abduction if either Valereth or Oshtyer had believed they would have to use threats against him to ensure her cooperation. Alice had needed to buy time so that they both might find a way out of this hell. What Alice had wanted – what she had wished – hadn’t mattered. This had been necessary.

“It is,” Alice had told her without hesitation or detectable fear.

“Then... I, Mirana of Mamoreal, do hereby release you, Alice Kingsleigh, from my service... from this moment henceforth.”

And now I am Jaspien’s Champion...

Alice blinks back the rush of hot tears. Crying will accomplish nothing but show weakness. If she shows weakness now, that will be the end of it. She needs these bastards to trust her. She needs these cowardly, pathetic creatures to give her enough rope – enough slack on the leash – so that she might choke them with it!

Her hands fist in the rough linens.

You must become them...

There’s nothing she wants less.

Be strong. Fight. Win. Survive.

Yes, she must do those things for she had never been released from that promise. Very carefully, she does not think of to whom she had made it. No, in this new horror her life has become, she cannot think of any friends at all. In this new life, she is a woman who has no friends. She is a Champion who lives – breathes! – to fight, to conquer, to...

Alice closes her eyes and forces herself to think the last word:


She’d saved the queen, but she isn’t naïve enough to assume that Fate will not demand a life in exchange. Perhaps it will be her own. Perhaps it will be her hand that takes someone else’s.

Be prepared, Alice!

She spends her remaining time in the perfect darkness of the room considering this new person she will be, the motivations that will drive her, the inclinations that will shape her. She builds this new Alice – Jaspien, Valereth, and (she shudders) Oshtyer’s Alice. And, with every breath, she’s thankful that she had never given any indication of her true self – or the object of her affections – during the Wooing Rites. If she had not appeared to be perfectly impartial, distant, and unaffected, then this strategy would have died during the soup course last night.

She has one chance to make this succeed.

She must do whatever necessary to ensure that success.

Fight. Win. Return.

Everything else is irrelevant.

When the sound of footsteps grows louder and louder in the hall beyond her door, Alice gets up from her bed and crosses the murky room. As she’d never gotten undressed the night before, never taken off her weapons, she doesn’t waste time before taking up a defensive position beside the door. She draws her sword and waits.

Expecting the light to blind her when the door is opened, Alice squints her eyes and keeps to the wall behind the door. There’s a rattle of keys, the click of a rusty lock, and then torchlight pours into the small chamber. A shadow falls across the floor. Tall, human-looking... An Outlander.

It doesn’t matter. When he steps into the room, her blade is at his throat.

“Well, a’g’mornin’teh ye, lasslin’!” he says, stopping in his tracks and grinning at her.

Alice doesn’t return the greeting. “Not one foot over that threshold,” she informs him. “Now step back, Outlander,” she orders, spitting the last word out with disgust.

He does. His eyes widening. “M’thinks ye d’nae care f’r Outlanders much.”

“Thinking? You can do that, too?” she replies.

He laughs. “Oh, aye. Walk’n’talk a’th’same time’s well.”

Alice lowers her sword a bit now that he’s standing in the hall... alone. “The sort who enjoys a challenge,” she assesses with sarcasm.

He chuckles. “’Twoul’have teh be... teh b’takin’ye on.”

“You’ll take nothing.”

He considers this with an amiable expression. “S’pose ‘twoul’nae b’right f’r me teh be doin’ tha’... leas’no’wi’thou’ givin’ ye me name firs’.”

“You can give it. I won’t promise to take it.”

“Davon,” he says with a grin, showing gaps in his stained, battered teeth. No doubt those missing teeth had been knocked out in one fight or brawl or another. “Tha’s me name. Jus’in case ye’re decidin’teh use it.”

“Forgetting it as I speak,” she replies.

Still grinning, Davon gestures her to proceed him down the hall. Alice draws a knife and re-sheaths her sword. “Oh, no, laddies first,” she invites.

“Ar, ye are a deligh’ful lass, Alice.”

“Thank you.”

She doesn’t ask him to reveal their destination before they arrive – to do so would be to show anxiety and a lack of confidence in her abilities to defend herself. She keeps the knife in her left hand, rather than her right, to show she’s wary but not overly afraid. It’s a wise decision, in the end, for when Davon emerges from the castle into the dirt-packed, rubbish-strewn side yard, Alice’s skills are put to the test at once.

Just as she steps through the doorway and into the pale light of this overcast morning, a whoosh! of air, a streak of motion, the blur of an object whistles in her direction. Alice raises the knife and draws her sword.

The enemy’s sword crashes into her much shorter dagger blade, and Alice sets her jaw, straining against her opponent’s strength. Her broadsword flashes, arcs, and she presses the tip against the figure’s belly and warningly but relentlessly pushes it forward.

With a yelp, the creature – a hyena, she notices – leaps back, lowers his weapon, and rubs his stomach. “Oi, that pinched a bit!” he pouts.

The courtyard erupts in laughter. Stepping outside fully – for to stay in the castle would only show cowardice – Alice gives the assembled motley assortment of mercenaries an imperious stare. And then, glancing at the hyena still rubbing his stomach and, occasionally, checking to see if he’d lost any of his precious pelt, she grins and chuckles.

“Nauw, b’nice, Argur,” the Outlander teases. “I ken ye still rem’mber hauw...”

“Can’t blame me for being curious!” he retorts, eyeing Alice with suspicion. “It be just a slip of a thing...”

Alice stretches her lips into an overly sweet smile. “Well, you’re no Jabberwocky, but if you’d like further demonstrations...” She hefts her broadsword and takes a step toward him.

Davon reaches out a hand and gestures for her to stand down. She halts, but doesn’t relax her guard. He says, “Af’er th’introductions, Alice.”

The crowd chuckles and guffaws. Alice stands up straight and examines the circle of, perhaps, three dozen creatures of all shapes, sizes, and origins. There are tigers, bears, more hyenas, even a badly scarred lion, and several Outlanders, none of which look nearly as friendly as Davon.

“Alice,” the Outlander continues, adopting an obsequious smile and the exaggerated pose of a footman charged with announcing the dinner guests. “This charmin’, flea-bitten, filth-ridden beast i’called Argur Frothbreath.”

“Am not,” the hyena spits, a string of drool escaping his grimacing lips.

“I di’nae say ‘twas yer name, but ‘tis whot ye’re called!” Davon explains to the amusement of the crowd.

Argur growls.

“An’ this,” Davon continues, gesturing to Alice, “i’th’prince’s Champion. Alice...?”

She flashes him a dark grin. “I’m sure I’ll earn the rest of my name before the day’s out.”

Her statement is met with whistles and cheers.

Looking mightily entertained, Davon concludes, “W’shall be lookin’ forward teh tha’ then! Nauw, everyone all intr’duced?” When no objections are voiced or growled, the Outlander nods and pulls back his still outstretched hand. “Le’th’fight begin!

Argur’s eyes flash and, in the next instant, he charges Alice. She sidesteps and knocks his sword wide of its mark. The hyena doesn’t lose his grip on it, though, and pivots for the next attack. Attempting to conserve her energy – who knows how many of these wretched introductions she’ll be subjected to! – Alice draws him in and decides to finish this nonsense quickly.

This time, when he charges, Alice not only knocks his arm wide with the flat of her blade, but she kicks viciously at his knee and, spinning, brings both fists slamming against his lower back. Her blade is at his neck and her foot firmly planted just there against his spine at the small of his back, ready to crush the bones beneath her heel. Under normal circumstances, she would never have considered breaking anyone’s back in a fight – she wouldn’t have believed herself capable of generating enough force to do so – but this Alice would not hesitate, would not doubt herself.

“I think I may have broken your knee, Argur,” Alice tells him sweetly as surprised silence surrounds them. “Shall I put you out of your misery?” She applies a bit more pressure to the blade.

The hyena snarls and a few bubbles of froth escape the corner of his mouth.

“’Tis enough o’ tha’!” Davon calls. “Either kill ‘em’r le’im up, Alice.”

With her nose wrinkled in disgust, Alice releases him.

“Aw, ‘twas lookin’ forward teh seein’ tha’lump get ‘is comeuppance,” someone growls.

“I’ve no quarrel with Argur,” Alice replies as the hyena stands and glares at his fellows. “Not yet.

Argur turns toward her and, seeing her playful – if somewhat dark – smile, lets out a bark of screeching laughter. The others join in and Alice forces sounds of mirth from her own mouth, even as her stomach twists, knots, and rolls.

Remember whose Alice you are!

And, if – by chance – the thought forces a tear out of her, she can simply blame it on the laughter.


Just outside the formidable walls of Causwick Castle, Tarrant Hightopp paces. Seven and three-quarters steps, pivot, eight and two-thirds steps, pivot, six and a smidgen steps, pivot...

“You’re making me dizzy!” Mally whispers.

Tarrant barely hears her, for here – on the other side of this cursed wall! – is his Alice. Somewhere!

“Ge’yer useless tail back ‘ere!” he growls. How long does it take to find two women in a bloody medieval fortress? Not long, certainly. Not for a cat with evaporating skills, anyway!

“Stop this, Hatter!” Mally squeaks furiously. “They’ll see us!

No, no they won’t. They might see Tarrant but no one will see Mally. Not from the height of those battlements.

Battlements... ah, yes, he remembers walking with his Alice, looking for the battlements at the White Queen’s castle. That had been on a Saturday, after brillig. Alice had been horridly late for tea and he’d had naught to offer her when she’d arrived except his arm and a smile, which she’d taken. But, he supposes, with her tendency towards tardiness, she can’t afford to be fussy over the state of the tea – cold! – and the scones – stale! – so it’s just as well that—

“Any word?”

Tarrant registers Bayard’s low voice, but continues pacing.

“Nuthin’!” Mally replies.

“Well, it’s only been a short time...”

“What are we going to do when he gets back?” Mally wonders.

“Storm th’bloody castle,” Tarrant growls.

“With a butter knife?” Mally reminds him.

He has to concede, “’Tis no’as good as a powder puff nor a perfume bottle, but I’ve fought wi’less.”

Witless,” Mally corrects, glaring at him.

Perhaps he is. After all, he’s pacing – daring to draw attention to them – along the outer wall of the enemy’s castle armed with an eating utensil small enough to fit into his pocket. And there’s no use thinking of his broadsword – still sheathed and leaning against the wall next to his and Alice’s wardrobe back in Mamoreal...

Despite the unforgivable act that very sword gets up to in his nightmare, Tarrant knows he should have asked the Bandersnatch to fetch it for him. But when they’d arrived at the Crossroads late last night, Tarrant still hadn’t quite emerged from the madness that had been buzzing through him, addling his brain. The still-woozy guards had been sent back to the castle with the crates and trunks. Alfred had stumbled along behind them, complaining of an overly warm stomach. The Bandersnatch, muddled by the same drug that had been used on the guards, had slowly and very grumpily sniffed out Bayard’s trail until the blood hound had caught up with them and informed them of the horrible truth: Alice and the queen have disappeared behind the walls of Causwick Castle.

Tarrant has never liked that Prince Jaspien. Even before the uncoordinated twit had nearly flailed that sword right through his Alice’s middle! But this! This treachery...! This will NOTgo unpunished!!

He had sworn to retrieve his Alice before dawn of the seventeenth day, but as dawn had come and gone and Alice had still not arrived – had not returned to him! – he’d stubbornly forsaken sleep. He will not suffer that nightmare again! Not without her lying next to him. Not without having her there when he wakes up!

“Is the army not coming?” Mally whispers to Bayard. “Shouldn’t you be leading them here?”

“The Bandersnatch is taking care of it,” he says. “And Nivens has finally gotten Thackery to agree on a place to wait out the daylight hours. I’ve come to take you there.”

“I’m no’leavin’,” Tarrant announces, still pacing.

“It’s too dangerous to remain!” Mally reminds him. “It’s long past dawn!”

He doesn’t care.

“Chessur will find us when he’s done. He’ll sniff us out. You know he will!”

Tarrant ignores that. He stops pacing, turns to the wall and presses his hands against it. He squints, glaring, as if his very will could drill through the dull stone and, finding Alice, pull her to safety.

“Now is not the time to attack. We’re undoubtedly outnumbered,” Bayard argues in Tarrant’s direction. “We will wait for the army and Chessur’s information.”

“Come away now,” Mally begs him.

Mally doesn’t understand, he knows. She doesn’t realize that he can’t leave. Not without knowing that Alice is alive, safe, and well – at least for the time being – despite what the sickening thuds of his heart are telling him.

His left hand fists against the wall and his eyes squeeze closed. Oh, what he wouldn’t give to just speak to her, to tell her he is here! Right here! If she can only find a way to him...!


The thought of her is laced with so much love and desperation and despair and need he feels his heart strain with it. Oh, if only she could feel it! If only she could sense how close he is!

Tarrant startles as he realizes there is a way! How stupid of him to forget about the heart line!

He takes a deep breath, lets it out, tries to focus...


“Am I interrupting something?”

Tarrant turns away from the wall and has to stop himself from grabbing Chessur from midair and shaking the information he seeks from him.

“If you’d like to be alone with... the wall, I’m sure we can oblige you...”

Tarrant hears only the lack of Alice’s name, whereabouts, and health. “Tell me. NAUW.”

“Ahem. Yes, well, the queen and Alice are unharmed. I was unable to talk to her majesty as she was having breakfast with Prince Jaspien and...”

“Alice?” Mally interrupts.

“Er, no... Alice is in the side courtyard... training.”

“What? What’s she doin’ trainin’ with this lot! We’re her tutors!” the dormouse huffs.

“I... am not exactly sure, but... it appears that the situation is... complicated.”

“How complicated can it be? Jaspien kidnapped the queen and Alice and is holding them hostage,” Bayard states with a doggy frown.

“Well, it’s... that is... Prince Jaspien does not appear to be acting alone.” Chessur flicks a fearful gaze in Tarrant’s direction.

Tell me!

The cat backs up a bit at the furious demand, but relents: “His associates appear to be Viscount Valereth and... Lord Oshtyer...”

Tarrant’s jaw clenches, he can feel the rage within him burning through every patch of exposed skin: his hands, which clench; his face, which pales; his eyes, which flame. “We’re gettin’er out o’there righ' nauw!

“No, we can’t!

Tarrant ignores that wretched, cowardly, politically-adverse, useless wrapping of sometimes-invisible fur and strides toward the front gates of the castle.


Suddenly, Tarrant finds himself pinned against the wall by his own form. He struggles, damning the blasted cat for his interference and refusal to just bloody forget Tarrant’s shape!

“Hatter! Stop! Even if we were to storm the castle now and find Alice, she would not be able to come with us!

“Ye said she wasnae hurt!” Tarrant grits out between his teeth. “She’s out in th’open, trainin’! ‘Tis our chance!

“No, it’s not! She is bound to this place!”

Mally gasps. “They’ve got her in manacles?! In shackles?! I’ll kill them! I’ll stab their eyes out! I’ll –”

No!” Chessur-as-the-Hatter hisses. “Alice cannot leave because...” Tarrant watches as his own face turns toward him and he feels his heart race at the pitying look he’s given. “Please, Tarrant, let us away. Do not make me tell you this... here.

Tarrant narrows his eyes. “Ye’ll tell me ‘rI’ll shout th’bloody place down an’ don’think I won’do it!”

“Botheration. I know you would. Just to get captured so you can see Alice for yourself. But that would not help her now! She’s...” Chessur pauses. Seems to consider one more attempt at begging Tarrant to come away from the castle before hearing what he has to say.

Continue...” Tarrant demands in a very dangerous tone.

Chessur does. “Alice is no longer the Queen’s Champion.”

“She...? What?!” Mally very nearly shouts. Bayard shushes her.

“I do not know how it happened but... Alice,” he gulps, “has become a Prince’s Champion.”

“Which prince?” Mally wonders, confused. And then with sudden but undoubtedly backward insight, she chatters, “The queen hasn’t... become a... a... boy, has she?!”

“No!” Chessur replies, never taking his too-green gaze off of Tarrant. “Alice belongs to Jaspien now. She’s his Champion!”

The trembling that Tarrant had been fighting in order to remain calm, in order to hear word of his Alice, breaks free. He shudders, shivers, quakes against the wall. The hands on his arms are the only force holding him up. The rage, the madness, the pain, the terror, it is nothing compared to this!

Alice...! His Alice... ! She’s... she is...!

Hatter!” Chessur shakes him roughly and his head knocks soundly against the stones, dazing him. “We will get her back! If the queen can release her from her vows, then so can the prince. We need only find a way to convince him to do it!”

“Oh, bother-an’-all!” Mally grumbles, kicking the dirt. “We’ll have to plan first, then fight!”

“I’m afraid so,” the cat replies. “But, there are times when each and every one of us must do things contrary to our nature.” He gives Tarrant a gentle shake. “Focus, Hatter. Alice needs you. Be rational for her.”

Tarrant takes a slow, steadying breath. “I’d be anything for Alice.”

“Then be the man she needs,” Chessur urges. “Help us find a way to free her, to bring her home.”

He closes his eyes briefly, wills them to a more logically-hued shade, and nods. “Aye,” he agrees. And then he lets the copy of himself pull him away from the castle wall and into the surrounding swamp. He stumbles into the murky, damp forest, numb with disbelief. Never has he done something so contrary to his nature as this!

Not when he’d knelt in that red hall and had seen Alice – improperly sized, again! – seated beside that Bloody Big Head and had pretended not to know her!

Not when he’d charmed the Bloody Big Head and made hats for her!

Not when he’d watched Alice march toward the Jabberwock, sword in hand, but not a clue as to how to wield it!

Not when he’d stood back and let her leave Underland!

Not when he’d closed his eyes to the mirror – to his first glimpse of her in three bloody years! – and denied the queen her request to allow her to bring Alice back to Underland, to him!

Not when he’d stood by, time and time again, and had watched supposedly well-bred men and beasts try to hurt her for the sake of chivalry!

Not when he’d kept himself a crowded room and a populated dinner table away from her for weeks on end, daring only to touch her with his gaze!

Not when he’d forced himself to leave her be, to not beg her forgiveness for taking such horrible advantage of her and performing the second exchange without her full knowledge and consent!

Not when he’d made himself calm down – despite the utter rage at the thought of her being gone! taken! – and do what he’d had to in order to force his feet-dragging, kerchief-wringing friends to get off their lazy scuts and HELP HIM FIND ALICE!

Tarrant closes his eyes again, briefly, and takes a deep breath. A calming breath. Alice needs him to be calm. Rational. Contrary.

Yes, there comes a time when they must all do something utterly contrary to their natures. Tarrant knows those times – knows them well – for he’s had a great deal of experience with them already.

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 4 of 17

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