Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 7 of 17

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Still This should have been harder, Leif muses to himself as King Aven’s Champion stares at him in complete disbelief.

“I don’t think I heard you correctly, Champion Avenleif,” his uncle growls.

“No, I’m sure you did.”

The King’s Champion narrows his eyes. “No, my kinsman and loyal servant of the family of Aven would never ask me to forsake my oath... for a woman.

“I do not ask you to –”

“You ask me to spare her life! In a battle to the death! You ask me to forsake our king!”

“No, only... There is another way...”

His uncle’s lips curls in disgust. “Get out of my tent, nephew. I have a duel to prepare for.”

Even though his uncle turns away from him, Leif doesn’t move. Can’t move.

“I will beg you, Uncle Resh, please...

The older lion suddenly whips around and boxes Leif’s ears. The shame at being treated like a cub speaking out of turn should have eclipsed whatever selfish desire that had made him give voice to it, but it doesn’t.

This ought to be harder, he thinks as he keeps his eyes open, his head up, his back straight. “Please, spare Alice, uncle. I will do anything in exchange.”

Avenresh’s paws curl into fists. “You dishonor our family with this... request.

“Call it what it is! A plea! I am begging you to spare her life!

“It is not permitted for any other than the victor to live!” Resh growls in his face. “Would you have me throw away our family and our kingdom for the object of your lust?!”

“It’s not lust. Alice is –”

This uncle lifts a paw as if to strike him again, but Leif does not flinch in anticipation of the pain and humiliation.

“She is the Champion of Prince Avendale’s betrothed,” he concludes, striving for a rational tone.

“That’s not what it said on the Issuance of Challenge and you know it, nephew. She belongs to Jaspien now. And she’ll die for him for I will never see our kingdom in the pale, weak, worthless hands of that pretender!

He can’t let the argument go. Not now. Not until he wins. “And how did they threaten her queen to force her obedience? Do not tell me you wouldn’t do the same in the presence of the enemy, in the absence of immediate rescue for your liege!”

“It’s a risk all Champions take, Leif,” Resh says not unkindly. “You know this.” He shakes his head. “Let it go. You cannot save her from her fate.”

Arguments and logic and honor exhausted, Leif sinks to his knees, raises his paws, lowers his head and pleads, “I am begging you, Uncle Resh. Please, please, please...”

His uncle’s roar of frustration is muffled by his efforts to keep the others from hearing it and interrupting this scene. Leif isn’t surprised that his uncle would not want any witnesses to this. He would sooner cut off his own paw than allow any Aven to experience public humiliation.

“Perhaps I should let you go out there and fight her. Let your Alice kill you, you worthless, miserable, shadow of an Aven!” Avenresh turns away. “Get out.”

Leif lowers his arms. Against his thighs, his paws tense.

He cannot go. Not without...

He watches as his claws slowly extend.

Are you honestly going to...?!

Leif looks up, judges the distance between himself and his uncle.

I am, he answers himself and springs.

The struggle is brief and silent. An elbow across back of his uncle’s skull knocks him out. Leif leans over the unconscious lion and blinks. It had all happened so fast he’s not even winded.

It should have been harder, he wonders, staring at what he’d done.

Numb, Leif stands and dresses in his uncle’s battle armor. He’s lucky it nearly fits perfectly. With the helmet in place, no one will realize that the lion in the suit of the King’s Champion is a traitor. Leif hopes he doesn’t have to speak before the first clash of swords, hopes the wind doesn’t pick up and blow his scent to the king, for those are the only weaknesses in his plan. Were someone to realize he is not who he appears to be before the duel starts...

You must succeed, Leif demands of himself. Or Alice will die.

He kneels and secures his uncle’s arms and legs then silences him with a gag. With that, his betrayal is utterly complete.

They will kill you for this, he knows.

But it’s too late. For what he has done already, he will be disowned, banished, forgotten. In that order.

Death will be easier.

Still, it shouldn’t have been this easy.

Leif closes his eyes and thinks of her – Alice – the woman for whom he never thought he’d throw away everything that had ever mattered to him. When he’d first seen her at Mamoreal, he had nearly burst out laughing, for this mere child-woman could not have possibly slain the Jabberwocky! Her duels had been lacking in power and finesse – only her resourcefulness and will had saved her from Oshtyer’s malice and Jaspien’s ineptitude. And when she’d arrived at Avenfaire, he’d nearly laughed again for he could not believe this girl playing at warrior could have garroted Ilosovich Stayne! Not with those weak arms!

But then... then he’d seen the scars on her right hand – the sort that come from a cut so deep and precise only a sharp wire could have made them – and he’d started to believe. And once he had, everything else had come after it: wonder, hope, awe, respect, affection, and finally...

There, on the knoll in the Royal Orash Grove, he’d nearly offered her his First Claw. He’d had no reason not to: she’d never spoken of another and, honestly, who else would a Champion mate with besides another Champion? Who else would be able to watch their wife go off to war? It had all seemed so obvious. So obvious that there had been no reason for him not to allow himself to love her, to want her...

But now he knows; there is a reason.

You covet another man’s bond-mate!

Leif lowers his head in shame. He had tried to convince himself that it might still be possible for them... Perhaps the Thrice a-Vow had been a necessity? Alice is not from Underland; perhaps she’d needed a grounding presence to help her here? Perhaps her heart, though held in the hands of another, might still beat for Leif? One day?

With a low growl, he curses himself for this weakness she has created in him. He wishes it made a bit of difference in his regard for her. But it doesn’t. He still wants her. So much that he can’t even feel apologetic about it. There had been no shame when he had begged for her life and, he realizes, he would do it all over again. Gladly. Willingly.

For Alice.

He remembers that moment again, in the orchard. Had the prince not given his First Claw to the White Queen at that moment, it would have been Leif on his knees offering his own to Alice. But, seeing the prince perform that same rite, Leif had paused for he had wanted to offer himself in a moment that belongs to Alice completely. He’d assumed he’d have time, for they’d soon be comrades at Mamoreal. He’d assumed he’d have the rest of his life to find that moment for her. For them.

He closes his eyes and swallows thickly.

No, that moment will never be. The instant he’d seen her heart line, he’d realized it. She’d already... She’s already someone’s...

Someone else’s Alice.

When he opens his eyes and regards his crimes, Leif wonders at himself: It should have been so much harder to destroy himself so completely for a woman he will never have.

He wants to believe it’s possible; she might come to him someday. Her blood-bonded husband might be more of a brother than a lover. He’d have to share her with that man, whoever he is, but perhaps... Leif thinks he might be able to live with that if he were sure of Alice’s affections...

If he cannot have her heart, then, perhaps she might offer him her soul?

No, it’s too much to ask for.

It is. Undoubtedly. But he hopes for it nonetheless. And that is why he’d donned this armor. One way or another, he’s going to get Alice and himself out of this duel alive and well, even if he has to abscond from the battlefield with her slung over his shoulder!

And after that...

Her Champion’s vow to that fiend Jaspien will have to addressed somehow as will Leif’s punishment for betraying his country...

Well, what comes after will come, as it inevitably must.

“Champion Avenleif?” a small voice whispers.

Turning, Leif spots the pale face of a white rabbit at the tent’s curtain. Hesitantly, he nods, wondering what could possibly persuade a small herbivore to venture here.

“Oh, excellent! We have urgent news. It’s about...” He leans back and glances nervously around. “It’s about Alice.

Leif feels a wry smile pull at his mouth. Yes, if Alice could inspire betrayal of one’s kinsmen and homeland, she could certainly inspire a rabbit to risk its life in the company of lions.

“Not here,” Leif says, knowing that the rabbit hasn’t yet seen the form of his uncle which he’d rolled into a murky corner. He dons his uncle’s helmet and steps out of the tent. He checks to be sure, but no one is watching; they’re all respecting the Champion’s right to mentally prepare himself for the upcoming fight.

When he glances down, he’s surprised to see not only a white rabbit valiantly fighting against his instinct to run, but a severely distressed brown hare. “Lead the way,” he invites them and a few moments later, in a secluded break in the trees, holding his helmet under his arm, Leif tries his best to understand their message.

“There is a plan. Everything has been prepared,” the white rabbit begins.

“No string!” the hare insists. “We cannae start wi’out th’ string!

“We’ll get to that presently, now hush!” The hare quiets under his companion’s glare, and the White Rabbit clears his throat and begins to state his request, a request he would never have had to make, a request to not kill Alice. Of course Leif will agree, but why in the world is this mangy rodent going on and on about string?

“Be quiet, Earwicket! You did the finding, now I’ll do the explaining so allow me to finish before Tarrant gets tired of waiting and –”

“Follows you maybe?” a man’s voice suddenly announces.

Leif turns and tenses. The man entering the clearing could engender nothing but extreme caution in a warrior. His wild, orange hair – unkempt and loose around his shoulders – and his burning orange eyes and the gentle, eerie grin on his pale, oddly smudged face are... terrible. Yet, something about this man seems familiar. Yes, Leif has seen him before...

“And just who are you?” Leif says, irritated both that the White Rabbit still hasn’t managed to tell him the vital information he’d promised and that he can’t help feeling a thrill of unease in this Outlander’s presence.

The smile widens and threatens. “I’m the man in charge of returning Alice to her rightful place in Mamoreal –” And at this point his eyelids and the skin under his eyes darken to nearly black. “– so I’d suggest you pay attention because if you come between us and Alice we will hunt you down and REMOVE YOUR SCARLESS PELT ONE—!”

Leif has to stop himself from drawing his sword.

“HATTER!” the rabbit and hare cry at the same instant.

Hatter... Yes, Leif recognizes this man now. One of the artisans in the White Queen’s court. The hat-maker. The Mad Hatter. But this madness is not what he remembers. Sudden giggles, far-off daydreaming looks, fluttering hands and extravagant gestures... that is what Leif recalls, not this... this... fury.

The man grins tightly and grits through his tea-stained teeth, “I’m fine.

Leif will eat his scimitar if that’s the honest-to-Fate truth! Still, the man had interrupted an important meeting. It’s time to get things rolling again. He has to return to the tent before they call for him otherwise they’ll find Resh unconscious on the floor next to the meditation mat.

He says, “Relax. It’s all under control. No one will kill Alice. I’ll take care of her.”

The man’s eyes flash crimson, his jacket darkens to pitch black, and in the next instant, he’s...!

Too quick for Leif to dodge in the close quarters among the trees, the Hatter strikes him with his fist. White stars burst across Leif’s vision as he staggers back. Noting the presence of the broadsword still slung across Outlander’s back, Leif resists drawing his own weapon and contents himself with keeping the Hatter in his sights.

Leif isn’t sure what to expect after that attack, but the Outlander merely blinks, shakes his head, and with a slight frown, examines his surroundings with eyes that are once again a dark orange.

Wonderful. The fellow’s completely off his head.

But, then again, what else could he expect from the White Queen’s man? It had been obvious that she’d take in anyone, even the mad and un-reformable. Mamoreal had been – and likely still is – a security nightmare.

Leif glances at the Hatter’s right hand, still curled into a fist and hopes the fool had managed to break it.

“Just who do you think you are, you mad bastard?” Leif challenges, standing tall and placing a threatening paw on his weapon.

He watches the Hatter warily as, instead of offering his name, the Outlander tugs his glove off with his teeth and, eyes sparking with victory and challenge and a darkness that could only be possession, obsession, and greed, answers Leif’s question by presenting his heart line.

His heart line.

“I don’t believe this...” Somehow the words come out despite the sickening roll of his sinking stomach.

Surely Alice would not have permitted herself to be bound to this... this freak! Surely the queen cannot be so fond of this man’s skills as a hat-maker that she’d ask her Champion to anchor his madness with the Thrice a-Vow! Surely this is all some horrid misunderstanding!

“Believe it’r no’ye’ll nae ge’in th’way o’our bringin’ Alice home.

Leif shakes himself. He tries not to imagine Alice’s life with a man this unpredictable and violent. But rescuing Alice from her bonded husband must necessarily come after saving her life. Leif focuses on that.

Glaring, he manages to snarl, “What would you have me do?”

The Hatter tells him. And, as it turns out, it’s a much better plan than Leif’s.

Damn it.


“Well, are you happy now, Tarrant?” Nivens demands irritably.

Tarrant grins. “Much.”

The White Rabbit rolls his eyes. “That hand is definitely broken. How are you going to manage to get Alice out of the middle of that battlefield with only one hand, hm?”

Tarrant wanders over to a rook and, tapping it on the shoulder, inquires solicitously, “Would you happen to have a bit of Pain Paste, friend?”

The rook digs a pot out of his emergency rations and hands it over.

“Much obliged.”

“That’s not going to do much,” Nivens insists, shadowing Tarrant.

The Hatter ignores him and, after applying the paste, hands the jar back to the rook then proceeds to wrap his right hand in the violently pink handkerchief he carries in his right jacket pocket.

“Well, at least switch your broadsword to the other shoulder so you can draw it with your left hand!”

“My broadsword...” Tarrant wonders softly. Yes, he’d completely forgotten about it. Which is just as well or Avendale might be in the market for another Champion at the moment and their plan to rescue Alice well and truly thwumpished!

Grumbling at himself, Tarrant maneuvers the sword without the aid of his right hand.

Should’ve hit him with your left!

“Aye.” If he’d thought to choose between a broken right hand and a broken left, well...

Remember that for next time, lad.

Tarrant grins. “Aye.”

“What’s he ‘aye’in’ to his-self over?”

He blinks at the sound of Mally’s voice. “Oh, you’re back! Excellent. How is...?”

“On her way home,” the dormouse replies with confidence. “And by the time they realize they’ve been duped, Oshtyer’s Jubjub won’t have enough daylight left to be hunting her down!”

“Well done, Mally! Well done, Bayard!” Tarrant exclaims, noticing the winded blood hound.

“Not long now,” Bayard pants. “They’ll be coming over that hill soon.”

“Wonderful!” And then he’ll be able to see his Alice! He tells himself not to expect a glowing smile and outstretched arms, for how could he, on this dreadful day, in these dire straights? But he’ll see her again and, very soon, he’ll have her in his arms and they’ll be riding home on the Bandersnatch!

“What happened to your hand?” Mally asks, poking it with the pommel of her hatpin sword.

Tarrant hisses and flinches away from her.

Nivens answers for him: “He got into an altercation with Avendale’s Champion.”

“Oh, Hatter! Why’d you let him break your hand when you’ve got that great, big broadsword of yours?”

Why, indeed... Tarrant curses himself for not thinking of it. And then he curses himself for considering it at all when doing so would have only worked against their plan to retrieve Alice.

“Gallymoggers,” he mutters.

String!” Thackery insists. “I need me string f’r th’toes, Hatter!”

Nivens groans. “Why are you going on and on about string and toes, you mad March Hare? This situation is serious! Alice and Jaspien’s forces are due to come over the hill any minute and you indulge in this utter... randomness!

“Not!” He twitches. “Not random gallymoggers! Yere LATE!” Thackery shouts back. Then turning to Tarrant, the hare reaches into his jacket pocket and retrieves a small glass bottle. Offering it up, he says, “String, Hatter! Nauw!

Tarrant’s eyes widen and his mouth lifts into a smile. “Oh! Yes, yes, of course! My apologies, Thackery. You’re quite on top of things as usual, aren’t you? Here...” Tarrant rapidly picks loose the ends of the spools of thread slung across his chest. Removing the entire lot from his jacket, he trades them for the bottle of Pishsalver. “And take Mally with you. She’s quite small and fast and that hatpin might come in handy when you’ve a need to start a new stitch.”

“Come, Mally!” Thackery commands, his eyes rolling and a mad grin showing his jagged, tea-stained teeth. “Toes on strings!”

Mally gives Tarrant a dubious glance before dashing after the hare.

“’Tis goin’teh work,” Tarrant murmurs, eyes shining.

Still at his side, Nivens pets his own paws in an effort to calm himself.

Tarrant gives him an encouraging smile. “Go an’ge’th’Bandersnatch.”

With a nod, Nivens hops off into the woods. At the edge of the battlefield, Tarrant scans the west side of the checkered stones. Soon, the other army will crest over that hill and he wants to be able to see his Alice at the first available opportunity.

Alice... keep your promise.

For if she does her part, there’s no reason for them to fail.

Still that doesn’t prevent Tarrant’s teeth from aching under the pressure of his tension or his left hand from cramping in its fist.


Ladies’ attire, Chessur decides, is by far the cruelest torture he has ever undergone. Of course, with his spectacular evaporating skills, he’s never had to endure much in the way of intentionally inflicted torment. And as it’s not in his nature to inflict unpleasantness upon himself – he’s a cat, after all! – of course he’d be uncomfortable in a corset. If only he’d thoroughly considered the purpose of a corset before agreeing to this wretched plan!

And these stockings! He nearly growls as they rub against the beast’s tack.

Oh, I’m going to have saddle sores! Blast you, Tarrant, and your brilliant idea!

Thoughts of revenge manage to distract him from his woefully unprotected skin – Why don’t people have a bit of fur to cover them? Highly convenient thing, fur... – and he manages to develop quite the repertoire of torment.

“You’re very quiet, Mirana,” Jaspien says as they approach the last – Thank you, Fates of Underland! – hill.

Chessur forces a nostalgic smile. “I was just remembering my last visit. My sister, you know...”

“Yes. I was very sorry to hear about her death. Stayne got what he deserved,” Jaspien agrees.

Were you truly sorry to hear of her death? Oh, what Chessur wouldn’t give to be able to ask the inflammatory question, but he hides it behind a serene smile. Being Mirana of Mamoreal is highly irritating, he acknowledges. In more ways than one.

He shifts his gaze beyond Jaspien to where Alice rides astride a great bear who had, surprisingly enough, not grumbled in the slightest at being forced to bear her on his back. Chessur is dying to ask how Alice had managed to subdue the beast, for he is well aware of how those creatures think, having met one or a dozen in his life, and knows their pride is matched only by that of lions and pompous, self-important courtiers.

A question for another time, he sighs. Suppressing his natural curiosity is getting rather... painful.

To distract himself, he examines Alice’s profile. Not once during the trip had she bothered to look around her. In fact, the few glimpses he has gotten of her had revealed nothing of her emotional state or thoughts. Of course, she’d perfected the mask she now wears. She’d had to. Otherwise the whole lot of them would know how wretchedly miserable she is without her Tarrant and how very much she curses her captors to the depths of the vilest pits in all of Underland.

Chessur stops himself from rolling the queen’s dark eyes just in time. Still, he’s thankful that cats don’t fall in love. A thoroughly miserable state of being from start to finish. He’s seen it often enough. It’s, quite frankly, a miracle the other species have managed to survive the self-flagellation.

His wry and sarcastic musings do the trick, passing both the time and the chaffing rub of leather against his borrowed body. They come over the crest of the hill and approach the Underland battlefield. Along the southern border, Chessur takes in the well-ordered ranks of the Shuchland Army. He casts his gaze over the much smaller and very scruffy, ragtag band of mercenaries Valereth had managed to hire and suppresses a snort. True, these undisciplined creatures might be considerably more... resourceful in a fight – The Grobben blossom Alice had used against Stayne comes to mind! Wonderful survival instincts that girl has! – but even he can see how disciplined and well-prepared the Shuchlanders are. Of course, Jaspien, Valereth, and Oshtyer are betting Alice will prevail over King Aven’s Champion, saving them the trouble of a battle.

Chessur’s characteristic grin makes an appearance before he can think better of it. Luckily, Jaspien and the other two are busy dismounting and no one notices.

With a nauseatingly dreamy smile, Chessur allows Jaspien to help the White Queen from the back of the farm horse he’d been provided for the journey.

“Where shall we watch from?” Chessur wonders aloud. “Not too close, I hope.”

“No, no, of course not, my dear.” However, Jaspien leads Chessur to the front line. “Once the Challenge has been issued and formally accepted, we shall move back,” he explains.

Chessur sighs with relief. “You won’t mind? I’m sure the view won’t be nearly as satisfactory for you...”

“I have no interest in watching. Only in victory.”

Chessur says nothing to that. He again slides his gaze in Alice’s direction. She’d dismounted the bear, who had taken up a position in the front line. Alice now stares blindly across the battlefield. Chessur can’t afford to let himself stare at her – for the queen would never be so rude! – but it puzzles him that the girl hasn’t once acknowledged the attention he’s been paying her.

She ought to be more observant! he huffs in silence.

Once the hired army has been assembled along the north side of the field, Jaspien pats Chessur’s pale hand and strides toward the center of the stone-cobbled clearing. The cat doesn’t pay any attention to the formalities.

“Alice...” he hisses.

The girl doesn’t even seem to hear him.


Nothing. Is she even blinking?

Chessur suppresses a groan. Oh, he’d known this was a bad idea! They’d waited too long and now Alice is lost inside her own head, inside the game she’s been playing for days without respite.

Have we lost her already?

Chessur twists a lacy handkerchief and tries to keep his claws from breaking through Mirana’s small, delicate fingertips.

Just a bit longer, Alice.

For a moment, Chessur almost wishes for a heart line with which to send her a bit of hope and a boatload of strength. And then he wonders about Tarrant... Where is that damnable Outlander of hers? Shouldn’t he be the one shoring her up at the moment? Well, a fine job he’s doing of it if this the result. The girl’s practically catatonic on her feet!

“Send forth your Champion!” King Aven roars, lifting a paw and gesturing his chosen fighter to the forefront. Jaspien does likewise.

As Alice moves to take a step forward, Chessur whispers, perhaps, a bit too loudly in Mirana’s soft voice, “Listen well and heed what you hear, Alice!”

There’s the smallest nod of recognition and then Jaspien’s Champion approaches the center of the battlefield and the king’s defender. Returning, Jaspien leads Chessur back behind the assembled forces as promised. The cat notices that neither Oshtyer nor Valereth care to join them. But of course, they wouldn’t. Jaspien already has everything he wants. The future and fortunes on the line now belong to his two associates.

Perfect, Chessur thinks, taking stock of the fact that every gaze is focused on the pair of Champions now circling each other. Were it not so painful to see the difference in size and in the quality of armor, Chessur might have been a bit put out at not being able to have a nice, clear view. Despite Tarrant’s insistence to the contrary, Alice really is a pleasure to watch in a duel. Grace and calculation and swiftness and cleverness...

Chessur waits for it – the first clash of swords – and when it comes, he finally allows the mildly worried expression to melt from the queen’s face. He feels his eyes begin to blur behind his closed eyelids. Carefully releasing his right arm from the prince’s elbow – but keeping his left clenched around it tightly – the cat lowers the queen’s thin arm between them, curves it behind the prince and shifts it.

It’s a little frustrating trying to shape-shift just one part of the body. His own eyes and smile tend to come out quite naturally, but borrowed shapes, on the other hand, those take time and a great deal of concentration.

He tries to ignore the fight in the center of the field: each and every series of steps clattering against the stones, each and every crash of swords meeting then softer and equally abrupt hiss as they disengage.

Chessur closes his eyes and struggles with the forms at his disposal. Oh, he’d practiced before, but it had still taken quite a while for him to manage the transformation. This time is no different. However, several minutes later, it’s a very satisfied and smug shape-shifting cat who – for all outward appearances – appears to be the White Queen, but in fact presses a very wickedly sharp Jabberwocky claw between Prince Jaspien’s thighs and against the family jewels.

The man startles and tries to pull away but Chessur’s hold on his arm is quite firm.

“Mirana?” the man asks, glancing sideways at the queen.

Chessur grins the grin of his kind and reveals his luminous, aqua eyes. “I’m afraid not. And, unfortunately, if you don’t do exactly as I instruct you to, I shall have the unmitigated pleasure of hurting you... very badly.

Chessur watches the man’s Adam’s apple bob. Sweat blossoms at the man’s temples and Chessur is forced to admit, despite the corset and the saddle sores, Tarrant’s plan really is quite... rewarding after all.


“What’s taking so long?” Nivens mutters, rubbing his paws so fast Tarrant might have wondered if the obsessive creature might just spontaneously combust if Tarrant’s own attention weren’t completely focused on the combatants on the battlefield and his own impatience weren’t focused on a certain shape-shifting ally.

Tarrant keeps up a continuous heart line message to her – Your promise! Fight and win, Alice! – and does his best not to flinch with each expertly executed attack by that wretched, Alice-lusting guddler’s scut. Although even he can see that Avenleif is not even attempting to tire her, Alice counters with a ferocity Tarrant has never seen in her before. Not even when she’d fought that equally wretched, Alice-groping slackush scrum. Her broadsword – borrowed, he notices, and far longer and heavier than the one the queen had had made for her – slices through the air with frightening precision and force. Each thrust and slash a potentially fatal blow. But despite that, the lion keeps his word and draws the fight out, stays out of her way, stretches Time...

“Oh...!” Nivens pulls at his long, white ears before consulting his pocket watch. “How long does it take to shape-shift a bloody paw?

“Knowin’th’owner o’th’paw’n question, o’ly’slong’s poss’ble,” Tarrant growls.

Alice advances again and again Avenleif sidesteps. Waits.

A quick glance at King Aven assures Tarrant that the deception has been noticed. The king looks furious, but manages to stand tall and contained. On the other side of the field, Valereth and – Tarrant swallows back his burning fury – Oshtyer are unashamedly grinning from ear-to-ear. No, they hadn’t counted on Aven’s Champion having an aversion to killing Alice, but the bastards aren’t about to complain!

And just when Tarrant thinks he can take no more – just when he’s sure the next clash of metal is going to shatter him like the bay window above the queen’s office balcony – he hears a voice call out very clearly:

“I, Jaspien of Causwick Callion, do hereby release—”

Valereth hisses, gesturing furiously to the mercenaries nearest the prince. They startle and move toward him, but then, inexplicably, trip and fall to the ground before reaching him.

“—Alice Kingsleigh from my service from this moment hence forth!”

Oshtyer swears, then raises his voice and shouts, “Alice! Fight, Alice! Kill him!”

Tarrant turns back to the battle, expecting Alice to step back, drop her sword, and spit in the direction of those spineless slurvish slurking URPAL—!


Startled, Tarrant blinks, for he must be experiencing delusions again – oh, how inconvenient a time for the madness to impose on him! – because Alice is still fighting!

And not only that, but Tarrant feels his entire body tense, his eyes widen as he watches her destroy the Champion’s defense. He gasps at the fury, the speed, the singular purpose of her attack.

Sweet Fates, she’s going to kill him!

For an unforgivably long moment, Tarrant merely gapes, uncomprehending.

But why is she STILL FIGHTING?!

He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know!

“Tarrant!” Nivens panics.

The Hatter doesn’t take his eyes off of the battle as Alice charges, feints, and nearly takes the lion’s paws off with a nasty backhanded slash. He only just manages to jump back in time.

“Alice!” Avenleif shouts. “Halt! You’re free of your vows! Halt!

But she doesn’t.

“Something’s wrong,” Nivens despairs.

“Definitely,” Chessur agrees, appearing. “I’d say she’s in some sort of trance, but those stupid men don’t know snail spit about Intentional Magic...”

Each thrust Alice executes comes that much closer to finding its mark. Each plea from the lion who falls back and gives ground again and again and again falls on seemingly deaf ears. And Tarrant suddenly knows what’s going to happen:

Alice is going to kill Champion Avenleif.

And then she’ll go back through the looking glass... forever.


Tarrant charges out onto the battlefield, pulling his sword over his shoulder, sheath and all! He doesn’t notice Chessur and Niven’s weak attempts to hold him back. He doesn’t notice the ripple of surprise that passes through the assembled armies.

With another skull-cleaving slash, Alice manages to knock Avenleif backward with such suddenness that he stumbles over a broken stone and falls to the ground. His sword arm is down and Alice moves in, raising her broadsword in a furious swing...!


Tarrant winces under the impact of the broadsword against his still-sheathed weapon. Gritting his teeth, he thrusts up, wills his broken hand to comply, and pushes Alice back. She takes two light, retreating strides and regards him, panting.

Ignoring Avenleif as he stands again, Tarrant focuses on his wife, on her wide, frighteningly empty eyes, her pale, sweaty, colorless face, and says, “Alice. Alice, break. It’s over. It’s done. Come home.”

For a moment, all is silent, perfectly still. Frozen.

For a moment, it seems as if she might have heard him.

For a moment, Tarrant hopes...

And then Alice raises her sword and steps toward him!

“Bloody bulloghin’...!” he growls when he awkwardly knocks her blade to the side, clutching his broadsword in his left hand now.

Tarrant barely notices the chaos of movement along the north edge of the battlefield. The lines of mercenaries have turned into a churning mass of arms and hands and paws and swords.

Ah, Thackery and Mally managed it, then, he barely has time to think before Alice is sending another cutting blow at him – at his knees this time.

Alice! ‘Tis your Hatter! Stop this!

If she understands him, she shows no sign of it.

“Hafflaffen!” Avenleif shouts.

Tarrant twitches, wishing he could send a glare of irritation in the lion’s direction. “What?!

“I smelled mint. She’s been poisoned.”

Tarrant’s heart nearly stops. And then Alice very nearly takes off his head. If not for his regular attendance at Thackery’s tea parties, and his extensive practice in ducking and diving, she very well would have!

“She’s sensitive to suggestion!” Avenleif explains, stepping between Alice and Tarrant to draw her attacks. Although he doesn’t want to feel thankful to that brutish coveting creature, he does, for Tarrant desperately needs to think!

“Suggestion?!” he shouts at no one in particular. What hell sort of bloody sense is that supposed to make? Oshtyer had told her to fight and kill. Avenleif had told her to halt. Tarrant had told her to break and come home! What other suggestion could there possibly be?

“A... vow! Oath! Promise!” Avenleif shouts over the clanging of their swords.

A promise...

Tarrant watches Alice pursue her opponent. She hunts him mercilessly. As if her life depends on it. As if the very Fates of Underland will it to be. As if... As if...

Tarrant starts. His hands choke the scabbard in his grasp. He gapes as the dream comes to him.

Alice, fighting.

The bell ringing.

Alice, falling...

He can see her arms are shaking. She’s long past her strength, yet something gives her the will to continue. Something drives her – is driving her! – to the point of utter exhaustion, to the point of death. She will fight until there is no breath left in her body. And suddenly, Tarrant understands that bloody nightmare. Alice will not fall on his sword! She will fall upon her promise to him to FIGHT AND WIN AT ALL COSTS!

Again, she throws Avenleif back and – again! – he falls!

Discarding his sword, Tarrant leaps for her, grabs her arm, spins her around.


His heel catches on a clump of weeds and he falls.

“I release ye from yer promise!”

The breath rushes out of him as his back crashes against the stones. Above him, Alice raises the sword.

“Ye d’nae hav’teh fight anymore!”

And the sword falls.

“Nor win! Raven!”

And stops.

Tarrant stares up at her, ignores the cold edge of the blade against his throat. “Alice...” he pleads. For if she does not come back to him now, she may as well kill him. The pain of losing her to this poison, this merciless madness, would be too much to bear.

Her lips move. The barest whisper of sound passes between them. “... hatter...?”

He’s so relieved, he can only gasp and gaze up at her. Her eyes, as black as pitch and struggling to focus, finally – finally see him!

“... why... writing desk... slightest...”

“Let go, Alice. I’ve got you now,” he murmurs.

Her grip on the sword relaxes and it falls away. And then her eyes roll up toward the sky, her knees give out, and she slumps to the ground. Ignoring the throbbing pain in his right hand, Tarrant reaches for her, tries to save her from hurting herself on the stones but merely ends up having the breath forced out of him again as he lands on his back once more.

Tarrant closes his eyes for the briefest moment, inhales Alice’s scent – too minty! – and tightens his arms around her. Oh, what he wouldn’t give to just lie here with her in his arms, but she is not yet safe!

“Bandy!” he calls, struggling to his feet. To his surprise, Avenleif gives him a paw under his arm and another at his back rather than trying to take Alice from him. Tarrant glances at him, puzzled, then takes in the battlefield. The Shuchlanders look shocked and irritated. Jaspien’s mercenaries are just now managing to stand up again, finally having cut through the web of sewing thread Mally and Thackery had strung their feet together with. The Bandersnatch crashes out of the woods.

“Go,” Avenleif says, holding out his battered broadsword. “Get on. I’ll hand her up to you.”

Tarrant gives him a distrustful glance.

It’s not safe for her here!” the lion snarls and, in his anger, Tarrant sees the beast’s honesty.

Trying his best not to think about what he’s doing, Tarrant passes Alice to the lion, shoulders his broadsword, throws himself upon the Bandersnatch’s back, and reaches back for her. Avenleif passes Alice to him without a moment’s hesitation.

Wrapping his arms around her, gripping the Bandersnatch’s fur in his left hand, Tarrant doesn’t even think to thank the he-lion who had helped him save her, his Alice, his wife, the keeper of his heart.

GO!” he shouts to the beast that would do anything for Alice, even race across half of Underland in a single evening.

And, it just so happens, that’s precisely what the Bandersnatch does.

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 7 of 17

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