Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 5 of 17

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Mirana manufactures a smile for her breakfast companion and, setting her tea aside, murmurs, “If it wouldn’t be too much to ask, Jaspien, dear, could I perhaps watch your Champion train for a bit this morning?”

The prince looks up from his porridge, his unremarkable gray eyes widening just the slightest bit in surprise. Aside from his customary, bland smile upon escorting her to the first meal of the day, it’s the first emotion she’s seen him exhibit all morning.

“I beg your pardon, Mirana. Did you just express an interest in watching swordplay?”

“Well...” she strives to be as honest as possible lest she be caught out in a lie. “I must admit I am curious as to how she’s getting on. She may not be my Champion any longer, and perhaps we were never the closest of friends –” Forgive me, Alice! “– what with her eagerness to brawl at the slightest provocation, but Alice was quite competent in her duties. It’s difficult to imagine how she might be becoming more proficient under the tutelage of your guard.”

“Hm.” The prince selects a butter knife and tends to his scone. “Valereth assures me she’s coming along just fine. Seems to be enjoying herself, in fact. You need not concern yourself with the particulars.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it!” Mirana replies with a shudder at the very thought of swordplay “particulars.” She sighs. “Still, these last three days have been rather... well, that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy your company, sir, for I do! But, understandably, you cannot entertain me every hour of the day. I just thought that perhaps viewing the activity in the courtyard might provide a distraction.”

“Indeed. However, I doubt it would be a sight fit to a queen’s tastes.”

Hiding her frustration behind a self-depreciating sigh, Mirana replies, “Oh, I know. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. This preoccupation with blood sports.” Again, another shudder. “I can’t seem to get my mind off of it. Embroidery, painting, even the magnificent pianoforte you provided – so thoughtful! – can’t sway my mind from it. It’s like a... curse. Or...” She visibly fumbles for the word she’s supposedly searching for. “A poison! Yes, it’s like a poison!”

Jaspien sips his tea – unsweetened, un-creamed – and hums in thoughtful contemplation. Mirana wonders if the man has had any sort of education in the basics of the art of alchemy. For every apothecary – and apothecary’s apprentice, for that matter! – knows the only way to cure an Underlandian poison, is the exposure to more of it!

“I do not enjoy hearing you describe your health in such dire terms,” the prince finally says. Lifting his gaze to hers, he studies her face. Mirana makes herself look upon his thinning, mouse-gray hair, dispassionate expression, and weak chin with fondness. And there! She sees the slight softening of his thin mouth and hopes...!

“Although the thought of you being subjected to the harsh realities of a fortress guard’s lifestyle does not sit well with me, I imagine we can make an exception, just this once.”

Mirana lifts a hand and gently pats his forearm. The gesture makes her skin crawl. “Thank you! When I am cured, I shall request to be taken back to my room at once,” she vows.

Seeming pleased, Jaspien returns to his breakfast and considers a boiled egg. Mirana once more regards to her plate of slightly off-season fruit and tries not to bask too obviously in her victory.

Never before has she had to rely so heavily on her skills in passive deception. Never before has her personal safety been at risk for so long. Never before has she had so much to lose and to gain. It’s nerve wracking... even more so, in fact, than the day of that terrifying attack on Hightopp Village. For, that indescribably horrible experience had occurred and passed far too quickly for Mirana to truly experience it. But this situation crawls by, slithers like a lost snail, permitting Mirana to examine each horridly uncertain hour moment by torturous moment.

Torturous. Yes, that’s exactly the word to describe her predicament. The Soul Bond aches to bring her closer to her betrothed, to bridge the distance between them and Mirana reprimands herself for acting so rashly – so romantically! – when Dale had proposed. She knows she should have waited until he could follow her back to Mamoreal for good... She had known it, but how could she have refused in him the beautiful, perfect moment that had been completely theirs? Still, a part of her feels strengthened by his presence, distant though it feels and despite the persistent ache caused by their separation.

The queen wishes her discomfort were merely limited to that, but – alas – it is not: Mirana hasn’t had a glimpse of Alice since the young woman had been escorted to her new chambers following that fateful dinner. And although Alice had confessed to worrying whether or not the queen would or could be safe in her absence, Mirana finds herself distracted and overcome with that very concern for her former Champion.

Mirana summons a gentle smile and looks up, intending to ask Prince Jaspien about some mundane aspect of his dreary existence, when the breakfast room door opens and Valereth enters.

“Good morning, Your Majesties,” he murmurs. Mirana hides a wince at the form of address, as if he is speaking to a king and his queen. She does not want to think about that.

“Valereth,” Jaspien says, deciding to dare a bit of the boiled egg after all. “Have they been sent?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. I sent the cheetahs; Hornsaver and the Avens will be receiving them by the end of the day.”

“Splendid.” The prince, however, sounds quite indifferent. “Which do you believe will answer first?”

“The Avens,” Valereth says, taking the seat Jaspien points to with his spoon. “Hornsaver will no doubt wait and hope the King’s Champion will succeed in defeating ours and save them the trouble.”

“Hm. The Shuchland Champion will not be easy to defeat.”

“Yes,” Valereth agrees. “But, as promised, we’ve anticipated that. If you’d care to see for yourself, I believe a demonstration can be arranged...?”

“As it so happens,” Jaspien replies in a bored tone, “the queen has expressed curiosity as to how you and your warriors could have possibly improved Champion Alice’s proficiency. Say, ten o’clock?”

“I’ll arrange it.”

Without a word or glance in Mirana’s direction, Valereth stands and excuses himself from the room.

“You’ve issued Challenges to the other realms?” Mirana asks after a moment. “How very... daring of you, my dear Jaspien!” Oh how she wishes she could wash her mouth out! Mirana takes a sip of tea instead and tries not to gag on it in self-disgust.

“I imagine it seems so, but it’s merely business.”

Mirana replies hesitantly, “Oh... I’m afraid I don’t have much of a head for business. I can’t even imagine what a Champions’ Duel has to do with such a venture.”

Ever patient, Jaspien explains, “I have the fortress, Valereth the warriors, and Oshtyer has the Jubjub bird and...” Here, the prince frowns. “... the particular... bent of mind, shall we say, necessary for these sorts of things. We’ve entered into an arrangement whereby all of us will benefit. Once the other realms fall to my Champion –” Mirana nearly reaches across the table and smacks him across his overly bland face for that remark – his Champion, indeed! Alice will never be his! Not truly! – but she merely refolds the linen napkin across her lap.

“Yes, when the other lands fall to my Champion, Oshtyer will have his Galandonland, Valereth will have his Shuchland, and...”

“Yes? What will you have?” Mirana inquires breathlessly. She would have been breathless, regardless, upon finally hearing their intentions: Lord Hornsaver’s people – such proud and noble countrymen – will be under the sadistic rule of that... creature. And the very thought of beautiful Shuchland being subjected to Valereth’s cruel, callous care nearly makes her weep. She fears, that however, she has not heard the worst of their plans.

Prince Jaspien glances toward the windows and Mirana thinks she sees a slight blush on his cheeks. Dread unfurls within her.

He says with gravity, “I shall have Mamoreal and all the lands of the White Realm. And, the White Queen herself, should she consent to ruling by my side.”

When he turns suddenly and regards her expression, Mirana knows she can’t hide her shock. The disgust and horror, though, those she manages to suppress before they can rise to the surface. “Well, that is... quite the proposal,” she manages. “A queen would do well to consider all aspects of that arrangement.”

“I trust you will,” he replies and then returns to slurping his porridge.

Mirana forces herself to eat, her motions automatic and expression arranged very carefully to express burgeoning delight. Inwardly, she’s calculating how long it will take for the challenges to be delivered to the other lands, how long it will take for the Avens to reply and assemble their army, how long she will have to dodge his proposal.

Perhaps two days...

She hopes it’s not more than that, for surely, he will require her answer and, when she gives it, it will, unavoidably, be in the form of a promise.

Her expression is still pleasantly vacant and her mind still uncomfortably full when Mirana is escorted to a narrow balcony overlooking the side courtyard.

“We won’t be going down?” she asks, puzzled.

Prince Jaspien gives her a sidelong glance. “I wouldn’t subject you to the muck of the yard unnecessarily, Mirana. The view from here is quite adequate. You shall indulge in your poison’s cure to your heart’s contentment.”

“Indeed. And I shall be able to retire discreetly should the scene become... disquieting. It’s very thoughtful of you, dear Jaspien.”

His chest puffs out a bit and Mirana turns away to gaze down upon the scene two stories below. Alice is there and also... Mirana leans a bit further over the low wall of the balcony and stifles a gasp. Is that an... Outlander?

It is. Dressed in his ceremonial clothes, no less, reminiscent of Tarrant’s own battle wardrobe on that prophesied Frabjous Day. Mirana hides a wince as snatches of his Outlandish brogue float up to her on the breeze. Were it not for the fact that she knows this man is not her Hatter, she might have assumed otherwise from the sound of his voice alone. Mirana has had no corporeal reminders of Dale – the lion-man she loves – in the time she has spent here. But, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Alice.

Oh, Alice!

The battle begins and Mirana can scarcely watch, but she forces herself not to look away. She has seen Alice fight earnestly before. Seven times, to be exact. But this time is like no other. The fury, the calculation, the utter blood-thirst is so foreign, Mirana can barely recognize her former Champion, her closest friend. Alice’s face is pulled into a fierce grimace and the collection of recent and healing bruises there make the expression truly horrible. She thinks she sees hand-sized discolorations around the woman’s neck and around her bare upper arms. Mirana’s heart aches and she wonders how many other bruises there are, concealed beneath the leather armor and trousers she wears.

What has become of you, my Champion? Mirana despairs. She watches as Alice not only attacks but rages, hunts, devours, destroys her opponent’s defense. In a matter of minutes it’s all over. The Outlander is on his back, his sword is gone, and Alice’s blade is at his throat, and her foot – Mirana winces – Alice’s foot is pressed between the man’s legs. It’s this action – this horribly cruel, merciless, callous action – that destroys what little hope Mirana has for her friend’s sanity. For Alice would never be so... so...

“Well done!”

Mirana startles as Oshtyer applauds from the crowd.


“We’ve made a true Champion out of you, Alice,” he praises her.

Mirana expects Alice to spit in the man’s direction. But she steps back, releasing her prey, and gives that cheating sack of filth a knowing smile. “I believe you have, my lord.”

My. Lord.

Mirana wrestles with her tears.

Oh, Alice. What have you become? What have I made you do? What have you let them do to you?

But the queen knows these answers. She knows what Alice has become, what she has had to become to survive, to ensure Mirana’s safety, to keep them from searching for Tarrant.

Alice has become a mercenary.


The nightmare never changes.

Alice fights until he finds and then rings the silver bell.

And then she lowers her sword.

And then she dies.

At his hand.

Tarrant gasps awake, heart pounding, fear overwhelming him, panic erasing all higher thought processes.


He struggles with the blanket, throwing it off of himself and casting his gaze around the tiny clearing. He forces himself to count them, his companions: One... two-three... one... two-three... Little by little, his heart obeys the rhythm. It slows, quiets, and aches.

One... two-three... And none of them are Alice. It doesn’t matter how many times he checks – just to be sure! – none of them are ever Alice. He listens to Mally’s buzzing snores, muffled beneath one of McTwisps’ white gloves. He hears Thackery’s foot thump against the exposed root of the weeping willow drooping over him. He discerns the White Rabbit’s wispy whispers from his dreams.

No Alice.

Tarrant closes his eyes and reminds himself:

Alice is in Causwick Castle.

Alice is Jaspien’s Champion.

Alice needs Tarrant to be calm. Rational.

Unlike yesterday morning – and the morning before that! – when he’d woken everyone at dawn with his desperate calls and frantic search for Alice among the bedrolls and campfire ashes, today he manages to keep the Terror in check.

But he knows he cannot sit here and do nothing. It’s far too dark to make tea, to start a fire, to rouse his fellow hopeful rescuers. He looks over his shoulder into the dense, murky swamp, through the gnarled, looming willow trees, in the direction of Causwick Castle.


Tarrant stands and, after first shaking out his boots, puts them on. It’s a reflex to reach for his broadsword and as his fingers curl around it, he startles.

The sword!

The sword that kills his Alice, his sword... He should not take it with him. He prefers the butter knife, prefers the peace of mind that fits in his pocket with it. The broadsword presses against his mind as it weighs across his back. If he does not take it, he will not find it somehow thrust through his Alice’s armor.

Understandably, Tarrant had not been very enthusiastic – although he should have been, he knows! – when Tweedledum had delivered it to him the day before yesterday as he and his brother had announced the arrival of the Queen’s Army.

For long moments, he stares at the sword, undecided.

And then he sighs and picks it up, swinging the belt over his shoulder and settling the blade against his back.

Alice will not let you hurt her, he tells himself and believes it. Alice has never let him hurt her. Not when the madness of Loss and Panic had taken him the day she’d stepped through the looking glass. Not when she’d given herself to him after the third exchange and he’d been paralyzed with Fear and Apprehension for her. Alice has never let him hurt her. He trusts her not to let him hurt her.

Hence, the broadsword accompanies him.

Tarrant steps quietly through the trees, sticking to the narrow path he and the others have carved through the sinister wilderness toward the object of their frustration and desperation. He knows he shouldn’t be doing this. He ought to stay in the camp until dawn. Tarrant cannot see as well at night as the others can. He could stumble across one of Jaspien’s Dobermans and lead its nose right back to his companions.

But he has to be closer to Alice. Just a bit closer. Just...

Even the nocturnal creatures of the swamp are quiet now in the hour before sunrise and Tarrant shivers.





Is this how his Alice feels?

He pauses along the trail and his eyelids flutter. His fingers dig into the mossy trunk of a tree.





He burns with the need to have her with him again, to keep her, to feel her hold onto him again!

“I’d ask what it is you think you’re doing out here, but I already know the answer,” a familiar drawling voice muses.

Tarrant opens his eyes and glares – albeit a bit weakly – at the Cheshire Cat. “I’m ou’here because I cannae ge’in there.

“As I suspected.”

He sighs. “How is she?”

“She just woke up.” The beat of silence following that statement is significant. Tarrant understands what Chessur means, but the bloody creature can’t resist salting the wound: “I assume because you did.”


“The same nightmare?”

Tarrant intends to answer, but – at the reminder of that unbearable nightly vision – the feeling of dread renews itself and saps his strength, steals his breath, locks his throat.

The cat sighs. “And yet you brought the sword.”

“I trust her.”

“Too much.”

Tarrant turns and studies the cat’s despondent expression. “Tell me.”

Looking relieved to finally do so, Chessur says, “I... do not know how much longer Alice can continue down the path she has chosen. If we do not have a chance to approach Jaspien soon, we shall have to risk an assault.”

Tarrant’s jaw clenches. “Ye never tell me wha’they’re doin’teh’er... I imagine... I see...” The most horrible, wretched, nauseating things, that’s what he sees, imagines.

“But what do you feel? What does her heart tell you?”

Tarrant takes a deep breath and examines the poignant heartache that follows him everywhere during Alice’s every waking moment. He examines the faint emotions flowing through her blood and into his heart and is thankful once again for the gift of the heart line. “That she’s... surviving.”

Chessur nods. “As I’ve said, she’s training. She’s surviving.”

“Hav’ye spoken teh her?”

“Not yet. It... she’s concentrating very hard on... things.”


“Tarrant, do not ask me questions you do not want to hear the answers to.”

He feels his temper flare. “An’ jus’wha’woul’ye know abou’th’answers I d’nae wan’teh hear?”

Chessur meets his angry gaze with one of resignation. “Enough,” he says, finally. “Leave be, Tarrant. Leave be.”

But he can’t. “They... are they... hurting her?” he asks, keeping himself under tight control.


The relief is instantaneous and almost painful in its suddenness. He sighs out a breath.

“No,” Chessur continues, negating his assurance with a second. “She is hurting herself. And that is why we must act soon.”

Tarrant assesses the stone fortress, purpose hardening his body, strengthening his limbs. “There’s Outlanders in there... I could...”

“You’d need a helmet to hide your face and hair, but no one wears them. They’d cut you down in an instant.”

He doesn’t care about that. There’s still the smallest chance that he’d be able to...

“Or, worse yet,” Chessur continues, no doubt seeing the stubborn light in Tarrant’s flashing eyes. “They’ll set their Champion on you in a duel. Do you want Alice to have to fight you while surrounded by dozens of hardened mercenaries? When she refuses to kill you, she’ll have a even greater fight on her hands after that...”

Tarrant can imagine it; if Alice shows any weakness, the prince will never trust her beyond the walls of the castle. Perhaps he’ll merely have her killed. But, if – by some miracle – that horror does not come to pass, Alice will not only have to re-earn the trust of her liege but also the respect-born-of-violence from each and every single one of those ruthless mercenaries. And worse yet, Tarrant would be at their mercy, and Alice even more so... through the heart line.

“She’s safe now?” he checks.


When Chessur doesn’t double his reassurance, Tarrant relents and releases his fantasy of charging the gate in a blaze of mad glory.

“Have you spoken to the queen?”

“No. I’m waiting until we have some good news to offer her.” Chessur sighs. “For now she has hope that we will find a way. I do not want to tell her we haven’t found it yet.”

Tarrant says nothing. He studies the un-ascendable walls, the flickering torches lighting the battlements, the shadows moving along the parapet. He examines every detail of the castle’s visible defenses, cursing each part. After all that he and Alice have overcome – the Jabberwock, suitors, unanswered questions, unknown consequences – this is what keeps them apart! This mediocre pile of stone and mortar! These money-loving lunatics!

Yes, they can keep him from wrapping his arms around her. They can keep her hands from caressing his face. They can keep her voice from reaching him or his riddles from reaching her. But there is one thing they cannot keep out!

Closing his eyes, Tarrant focuses. He draws upon his immeasurable, depthless, endless, boundless love for her. He gathers it up until he wonders if it might burst his heart. His need for her, his adoration, his hope, his utter devotion to her... And then he wills it through his blood and into her heart.

Feel me, Alice... Send me a writing desk for my raven...

He gasps when a twinge of surprise pulses around his own heart. Then he feels it: a pain of such intensity he can barely comprehend it. If it had been a color, it would have been blindingly white, brighter than any sun of any world in all of the universe. It burns him and, gasping, he places a hand over his chest.

“What is it? Is she...?”

Tarrant shakes his head. “An answer. Her answer,” he manages.

For a moment, Chessur frowns at him in confusion. And then: “You stubborn Outlander. Don’t distract her! The role she must play is hard enough without you reminding her of the price of her failure!”

“The price?” Tarrant narrows his eyes. “No more half-truths, Chessur. Tell me all of it.”

The cat does.

Tarrant listens, his heart breaking bit by bit as Chessur’s account pours into his mind, one miserable phrase at a time:

“... has forsaken the queen and turned to violence...”

“... appears to enjoy the domination of others...”

“... scorns her heart line...”

“... loves no one, laughs at others’ humiliation...”

“... wouldn’t recognize her if you saw her now, Tarrant...”

“... her eyes, so cold now, cruel...”

“... losing herself in this game...”

Leaning heavily against the moss-covered willow, Tarrant presses his hand to the flesh and bone over his heart as if he might find Alice’s hand there, as if he might give her that small comfort. He stares, seeing nothing. Finally, he understands the persistent heartache that Alice gifts him with from sunup to sundown. Finally, he understands that brilliantly agonizing anguish that had been her reply: so much love and desperation and hopelessness and fear and please-come-get-me-can’t-take-more-PLEASE-COME-NOW!

“Don’t remind her that she can still lose you,” Chessur murmurs. “No more heart line messages, Tarrant.”

He turns away and a gasping sob escapes him. His eyes feel hot but he’s not angry. His cheeks feel cold and wet but it’s not raining.

“Go back to the camp,” Chessur urges. “I’ll check in with the queen and Alice and see you –”

The whisper is cut off as, suddenly, a rusty clanking shatters the twilight. In the pale, silvery light of dawn, the sounds of mechanizations shatter the peace of the swamp.

Swallowing down the suffocating torment, Tarrant focuses on the castle gates. “’Tis opening...” He leans forward, calculating the distance. If he runs, could he...?!

No!” Chessur bats his face with a paw.

Tarrant grunts, surprised. He glares. “D’nae tell me no’teh –!”

“Hush! Get behind that tree, damn you! Now!

He does. Chessur vanishes. They both watch as two beasts, sprinting on four legs, become streaks of yellow and black as they tear down the rutted, muddy road. Almost immediately, the gates begin to close.

Tarrant fists his hands. It’s too late to make the distance in time. He fumes as this chance – bad though it had been – shuts in front of his eyes.

“Couriers,” Chessur decides. “I have to –”

“Go,” Tarrant tells him.

“Expect me later. After I learn more.”

Tarrant nods, but Chessur has already disappeared. Feeling once more alone, abandoned, apart, and assailable, Tarrant makes his way back to camp. He walks slowly, as he knows he will find no answers on this path and no relief when he arrives at his destination.

He wishes himself back in time, back to one of those first fifteen days, back to a time when Alice had been away, when she had been safe and well and merely absent from his side. Those days that tortured him with worry and doubt and fear. But they are nothing compared with the pure, undiluted, soul-burning hell he is trapped in, she is trapped in, they are trapped in... separately.

He considers the angle of the early morning sun. Perhaps it’s too late for him to try, she might be among the enemy now, but he needs to...!

Tarrant closes his eyes and lets the emotion fill him up as he thinks, Fight, win, and find me again!

He dares no more than that.

He waits for her reply, for a warming around his own heart or a too sharp reprimand or a thud of despair, but it never comes. And each moment that passes is like dying again and again and again. And yet, Tarrant does not die, which is perhaps the cruelest torture of all. Even worse than the nightmare he cannot escape, even when he’s awake.

He arrives at the small encampment, but seeing no one else awake, collapses on his thin bedroll. At his back, his sword knocks against the ground and rebounds against his shoulder. Startled, Tarrant pulls it off. He’d forgotten he’d been wearing it.

He curls his fingers around the scabbard and wonders about his Alice and he wonders about his dream. Alice dies on this sword every night! Why must the same dream haunt him, plague him, destroy him so relentlessly?! Tarrant shivers in the pre-dawn darkness.

He hesitates to understand what is obviously the truth: Alice has turned away from the White Queen, has changed sides. As it now stands, Tarrant and Alice are no longer allies. Perhaps that is the meaning buried in the dream, warning him that he may have to face his wife across a battlefield, divided by allegiances.

And there is no changing the fact that, at this moment, were it required of her, his Alice would have to fight for the gutless fiends who have taken her away from him!

And what are you going to be doing about it, lad?

The leather scabbard creaks, complains in his grasp.

What will he do?

He grapples with indecision he has never experienced before when it has come to Alice’s safety. Will he fight – unsheathe this sword – and risk that horrible dream being made real? Or will he stand by and do nothing?

He considers, ponders, and frets until someone else in the small camp wakes and distracts him, assists him in forgetting to whom this chronic heartache belongs. Today, it is Nivens.

“Good morning,” the White Rabbit yawns.

Tarrant eyes his muck-caked feet, dusty and grass-stained fur, and wrinkled ears. “And a very frumious morning to you, McTwisp.”

Plopping down at the edge of the fire ring, Nivens tosses a few sticks into it and – stamping his feet on them too fast for Tarrant’s eyes to catch – starts a fire. “What’s on the agenda today?” McTwisp asks wearily. “Following tea, that is.”

Considering Chessur’s insistence on acting sooner rather than later, Tarrant replies, “Strategy.” He rises and kneels by the fire, reaching for the provisions and tin teapot.

“What sort precisely?”

“The sort Mally will enjoy immensely.

“Oh, dear...”

Tarrant allows himself to think no deeper than those shallow words and this equally shallow moment, and grins.

After a moment of studying him, McTwisp ventures, “This will be the fourth day, since...”

Setting the kettle near the fire, Tarrant dusts off his hands and keeps his smile in place with an act of will.

“And, I must say,” the White Rabbit continues, “your enduring... calm is an inspiration. And a surprise.”

Tarrant’s eyelashes flicker. Calm. Yes, he’s calm because Alice is still alive. Still alive and uninjured. But, no, that’s not true. Her soul is crying out, dying a heartbeat at a time. His Alice is not safe. She is not uninjured. She is nearing the end of her considerable strength and she needs him and here he sits not ten bloody minutes AWAY AND HE CANNOT EVEN—!!

His hands tremble as the Blackness begins to creep up around him.

“Now, now!” McTwisp hurries to reassure him. “As Chessur has said time and time again, she’s fine. The queen is fine. We’ll get them back.”

His fists clench and he forces a deep breath into his lungs. “I have to be calm. For Alice,” Tarrant belatedly explains. “Contrary. Contrary, necessary things. Tea is easier.” He reaches for the tin of tea leaves. Wisely, Nivens refrains from further comment as Tarrant focuses on the mundane task.

“Rattle, rattle, tittle, tattle!” Thackery yawns, stumbling over to the fire. He sniffs, blinks, and holds out a teacup in mute demand for service.

“Did you sleep well?” Nivens asks the hare solicitously.

Thackery’s whiskers twitch. “Tea.”

“Hm. Not so well, perhaps.”

“Two more minutes,” Tarrant tells him, smiling so hard he feels his teeth ache.

Thackery abruptly slumps over his cup – now cradled in his paws on his lap – and begins snoring gently.

“It amazes me how he can just... do that,” McTwisp murmurs, unwilling to wake the hare before the tea has been steeped properly.

“A March Hare trait, I believe,” Tarrant explains, tilting his head and listening to the bit of the steam issuing from the kettle’s spout. “Nearly...” He nods in time with the subtle rhythm of tea leaves soaking in scalding hot water. He often endeavors to make his own rhymes emulate the cadence of frolicking tea leaves. It’s a delicate balance of syllables and stresses. Few appreciate the art.

Alice does...

Tarrant slams that thought shut by pressing his thumb against the side of the tin kettle, receiving a burn for his efforts and a blessedly blank mind.


He glances up at Nivens who studies him with worried, pink eyes. Tarrant resumes his grin. “Mally seems quite fond of your gloves. I can’t say she’ll need both, however, so which one will you be parting with?”

“I suppose I could spare the right one,” he replies slowly, thinking through his answer.

Tarrant nods and checks the resonance of the tea with the tin kettle and determines it to be ready. “Thackery, tea!” he announces and Thackery thrusts out his cup even before he lifts his head and opens his eyes.

He serves the hare and the rabbit, by which time Mally has followed her nose to the campfire and pushes her own cup in Tarrant’s direction. “Lucky Fenruffle thought to bring us provisions!” she mumbles, blowing across the surface of her cup. “Imagine having tea with only a butter knife!

“An adventure for another time, perhaps,” Tarrant allows.

“Speaking of, how do things stand at Causwick today? I believe you mentioned something about strategy being on the agenda for the day?” Nivens wonders aloud, drawing the now-pleasantly-caffeinated gazes of Mally and Thackery.

“Agenda?” Thackery barks with concern.

“Strategy?” Mally enthuses.

“Aye,” Tarrant replies to both. “Four days is quite long enough for our Champion to have formulated and implemented an escape on her own. As she has not, we can therefore assume that she requires assistance. We shall, therefore, be attending to her and the queen’s immediate rescue.”

“So, what are we waiting for?” Mally jumps to her feet.

Thackery rolls his eyes. “Tea!” And silently demands a refill.

“And Chessur,” Tarrant adds. “He’ll be bringing us the latest developments.”

“Hm... but I suppose there’s no harm in planning anyway? To pass the time until he arrives?” Mally inquires, taking her seat and picking up her cup again.

“No, no harm at all,” Tarrant agrees.

Three pots of tea, some tossed scones, a dozen lost sugar cubes, and a smoldering pair of stockings later – how had those ended up in with the provisions? – Tarrant has decided to turn Oshtyer into a dreadfully-hued puce bonnet, Mally has declared her intent to start an eyeball collection, Thackery has determined a bit of heart-of-my-foe tea might be to his liking, and Nivens has passed out exactly four times.

All in all, it had been a rather productive meeting!

That is, until Chessur shows up and delivers the news Tarrant had promised them. At which point, the bonnet, eyeball collection, and still-beating-heart tea ambitions must be pushed aside in the interest of forming a coherent – rather challenging, that! – rescue strategy.

At the apparent loss of her war trophies, Mally looks almost as disappointed as Thackery.

Tarrant pats the hare on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. Plenty of time for murder, mayhem, manhandling, maiming, and the molding and manufacturing of marvelous bonnets for Queen Mirana afterwards!

“Callou! Callay!” Thackery cheers.

Ms, Hatter!” Mally giggles hysterically.

Tarrant cackles and snorts.

Nivens twitches with distress.

Chessur sighs and gets himself a cup of tea (minus the dusty scones, mud-melted sugar cubes, and blackened stockings). Tarrant laughs harder: the bloody cat has no sense of adventure. Although, he must admit he almost wishes to be in the same room – a grin on the wall! – when the Cheshire Cat informs Her Majesty of the details of their plan. Yes, that would be very satisfying, indeed!

Of course, the most satisfying thing of all would be...

His heart thumps once, painfully, and Tarrant forces his smile not to droop.

Yes, he knows what it is – whose name – he can’t permit himself to think. Not now, not during the day, not when it might interrupt...

Mustn’t bother... Yes... working now...

Other words drift through his mind, words like fight and win and survive! Emotions batter at his heart: anticipation, anxiety, annoyance, adoration, aggravation, affection, apprehension, agitation, and alarm.

Tarrant notices that these things all start with the letter A. But he maintains his affliction, his ebullient madness. He would be anything for his... Yes, he’d promised to become anyone, and right now, he knows a mad hatter would be appreciated andan aggrieved husband would most definitely not.

He offers Nivens another drop or two of tea and ponders the amazing accruement of A words he’s producing this morning... All that he is able to think up, in fact, except the most obvious one.

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 5 of 17

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