Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 8 of 17

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Mirana believes in being prepared for any potential eventuality. After her horrible mistake just two months ago, when she’d sent her Champion off to defeat the Jabberwocky in utterly preventable ignorance, she had taken to consulting the Oraculum religiously.

Which is why the entire episode – the abduction, the training, the duel – is so utterly baffling. Before their departure, Mirana had indeed gazed upon the Oraculum. She had very nearly taken it with them, but had left it behind in Absolem’s care again instead.

With half of her laboratory now in Alice and Tarrant’s apartment, awaiting the return of her Champion and her Hatter – fearing one or both of them might be seriously injured – Mirana has nothing left to do except... wait. And think about the Oraculum.

She wanders out onto the balcony overlooking the castle gates and peers through the spyglass but nothing moves on the darkening horizon.

A blue butterfly flutters next to her, landing on her shoulder. She very nearly brushes him off in irritation.

“You were supposed to warn us,” she scolds him.

His antennae uncurl, become rigid with irritation.

Mirana arcs her brows in disbelief. “Are you telling me you didn’t notice that the events foretold had changed?

His wings beat once, furiously. She can only imagine what he would have said were he still capable of speech. He leaves her shoulder, lands on the balcony railing and begins pacing in agitated steps, his wings held rigidly upright.

Mirana sighs and forces herself to let go of her anger, for it will accomplish nothing. “I’m sorry, Absolem. I know how devoted you are to your position as Steward of the Oraculum.”

He stops pacing, turns to face her and his antennae jab in her direction.

“All right,” she says, meeting his challenge. “How many days ago did you realize Alice and I would be taken?”

Absolem flaps his wings very deliberately once, twice...

Mirana counts them, then counts the days backward. When she arrives at his answer, her eyes widen in disbelief. “Oh! On the fifteenth day of the trip! The day we departed Shuchland...” She frowns, considering the situation. Clearly, the partnership between the three men and the enlistment of the mercenaries had happened at a much earlier time. But why hadn’t the Oraculum foretold their planned attack?

And then Mirana understands: the Oraculum had not foretold it because the day on which it would occur had not been decided yet. And, in fact, the timing of it must not have depended too greatly on the days and events leading up to their departure for Shuchland. So, something must have happened in Shuchland to force their hand.

Something, like... maybe...

She thinks of Dale’s First Claw and, absently reaches for her neck, but she knows it’s not there. It had been left behind at the inn in the confusion of the impending attack. Sadness and regret steal her breath. She hopes someone has found it, will return it to her...

She sighs and turns her mind back to the mystery of the Oraculum and wonders if the attack had come because Jaspien had heard of her betrothal and had feared that Mirana and her realm had been slipping further and further away from him.

Still, she had made no secret of the trip at all before departing. Rumors had been flying across the countryside for weeks beforehand. Many had expected her to leave that land after promising her hand in marriage to the youngest Aven. And yet the Oraculum had not revealed a warning.

“Something must have happened while we were in Shuchland to set all of this in motion,” she finally decides. On the railing, Absolem’s antennae relax into a gentle curl once more. “Although I’m afraid I have no idea what that might be. I shall have to consult with Alice. Perhaps she will have a suggestion...”

Distractedly, Mirana peers once more through the spyglass. Just as she is about to sigh and turn away (again!) a motion catches her attention. She steadies the apparatus with her other hand and gasps as a large, bounding white blur crests over the rise and grows larger and larger in its approach to the castle.

“They’ve returned!” Mirana explains and drifts as quickly as she can down to the main entrance. The Bandersnatch wobbles up the grand, sweeping steps just as the queen swings open the doors. “You’re injured!” Mirana gasps, noting the pink handkerchief stretched taut around Tarrant’s right hand. “And Alice! Alice?!” Mirana reaches forward to help brace Alice against the panting sides of the Bandersnatch when Tarrant lowers her then follows her down in the next instant. All it takes is one whiff of her Champion’s matted hair, one glimpse of the utter pallor of her face, and one touch to her cold, clammy cheek for Mirana to arrive at a diagnosis.

“Hafflaffen,” she spits out in disgust. “That rotten collection of slime from a listless snail!”

“Your Majesty?” Tarrant asks in a strained tone.

“Later, Tarrant. If you can’t help me get her up to your apartment, then at least help me get her into the kitchen.” She runs her fingers over Alice’s glistening forehead the lifts them to her mouth for a taste. Spitting to clean her mouth, she mutters, “No, not the usual remedy for this... Why must Uplanders be so contrary?!

Mirana fits herself under Alice’s left side as Tarrant pulls her right arm over his shoulders. Together, they drag Alice into the castle. “Pondish, the large bath tub if you please, in the kitchen. Lakerton, heat the water for a very warm bath. Algernon, you may collect my things from Mr. Hightopp and Alice’s apartment and bring them back down here.”

Each creature rushes off to do her bidding. Mirana determinedly puts one foot in front of the other, wishing she had scheduled a bit more exercise into her daily routine.

“Your Majesty?” Tarrant asks again, his demand to understand slowly eclipsing his exhaustion. At least, that’s what it sounds like. Mirana is glad of it. She’ll need his help.

“Are you otherwise injured, Tarrant? Or is it just your right hand, which, from the swelling, I’d have to say is broken.”

“Aye, ‘tis. And it’s the only thing wrong wi’me.”

“Then I’m afraid it will have to wait until we’ve dealt with Alice.”

“I wouldnae have it any other way.” They take two more steps before Tarrant demands, “Who poisoned her?”

“Are you sure you want to know now?” she asks. “I need you to focus or Alice’s health will be in serious jeopardy.”

He nods once. Mirana notices his jaw is set. “Ye can tell me. I’ll only wonder if ye don’t.”

“Oshtyer,” she informs him, reaching out and pushing open the kitchen door. Pondish had worked fast and Mirana is relieved to see the old, battered bath tub set up beside the stove where several buckets of water are already heating.

“Arms out, straight in front of you, Tarrant,” the queen orders and leans Alice back against his chest with her arms draped over his. Mirana hurriedly works on the buckles of Alice’s leather armor. The bits that resist too much are sawed through with a root knife. Mirana doubts Alice will want to keep the memories that come with the attire anyway. The queen removes every stitch of clothing from Alice before directing Pondish and Lakerton to fill the bath. She checks the water temperature, adds a bit of cool water, mixes it, then reaches for Alice’s knees. Tarrant gently lowers his wife into the bath.

“Up to her neck,” the queen directs, then hands him a cloth.

It’s only when she turns back around with her own cloth in hand that she realizes why he hasn’t spoken for the last ten minutes. Tarrant Hightopp stares at his wife’s nude body, his eyes a burning acidic orange as he catalogs each and every bruise, both fresh and nearly a week old.

“Tha’bloody cat tol’me they werenae hurtin’er...” he growls.

“I don’t think they did,” Mirana assures him, dipping her cloth in a basin of hot water and wiping at Alice’s face then rinsing it out again.

Tarrant gapes at her for a moment before soaking his own cloth in a bucket near his knee and wringing it out over Alice’s hair. He then wipes the rivulets from her slack face. “But look at her!” he whispers fiercely.

“Tarrant, each and every one of these bruises is a mark of victory. Each bruise she received marks each assault she won. Be thankful Oshtyer was not permitted to have his way or I would be truly fearful to find out how much of our Alice might have survived that place.”

“Tha’bastard will pay...” Tarrant promises silently.

Mirana doesn’t doubt it. “More hot water, please, Pondish. Ah, Algernon, the bottle of citrus extract.”

She pours six drops onto the surface of the water and watches as the faint, lavender-blue oil slick that had begun to shimmer on the surface of the water dissolves.

“What is that?” Tarrant asks as he accepts another steaming bucket of water and continues wiping Alice’s face after rinsing her hair.

“A very good guess,” Mirana admits. “Alice’s biology is different from ours. Had she been born in Underland, I’d merely need to dust her skin with Hafflaffen powder to draw out the poison. Unfortunately, it appears as if her body reabsorbs it too easily once it’s perspired. When she cools, she merely takes in the poison again through her skin, doubling her symptoms. I can only guess how long she’s been exposed, but every cycle of her body trying to expel it and the Hafflaffen re-entering it is like receiving dose after dose after dose.”

Mirana looks up at Tarrant. His face is perfectly white, his mercury stains look like streaks left by bloody tears, and his eyes are pale with fear. She can barely see the dark line of his lips where his mouth has compressed tightly.

“Did everything go as plan? Did she fight?” Mirana asks because she cannot believe Alice would have had the strength to manage that portion of the plan.

“No and yes,” her Hatter answers. “She fought... she fought like th’world was ending.” He swishes the cloth in his own bucket of citrus-treated water before collecting more hot water with it and treating Alice’s face again. “My fault,” he whispers. “Chessur did his part. Thackery’n’Mally did theirs... But she di’nae stop fighting... Nearly killed Aven’s Champion.” Tarrant’s eyes flash, but he doesn’t become distracted. “’Twas th’promise she made me that nearly killed her.”

Mirana doesn’t say anything to prompt a full confession. He delivers it nonetheless.

“Alice promised to fight as hard as she must to win. Promised me that on th’second day of her training. And I kept sending her heart line messages to fight an’ to win all through th’battle an’...” Mirana glances away as Tarrant’s face twists into the most horridly miserable grimace she’s ever seen on him. “’Twas I who almost killed her. Alice...”

“Tarrant, you could not have known how that promise would react with Hafflaffen in Alice’s system. No, listen to me!” When Tarrant lifts pale orange eyes of self-loathing to her gaze, Mirana informs him quite firmly, “There was no way to know. None at all. Now, does this water feel cool to you?”

He tests it and nods.

“Lakerton, the other tub, if you could? Pondish? Yes, more water on the stove. Thank you.”

And so the night continues. Mirana and Tarrant haul an unconscious Alice from her current, cooling bath and into another hot one, over and over and over again. Despite Alice’s wrinkling, pink skin, the surface of the water continues to shimmer with the opalescent gleam of the poison still escaping from her body. Hours later, when Tarrant truly looks as if he’s going to collapse at any moment, Mirana hands her cloth over to a severely uncomfortable Algernon and instructs him to keep rinsing Alice’s hair and face.

“Come here, Tarrant. We must deal with your hand.”

“But, Alice...”

“Is breathing easier and, last I checked, her pupils weren’t so dilated. We have time. Sit.”

He does.

Mirana cuts off the thoroughly soaked handkerchief and regards his swollen hand. “Definitely broken. How did this happen?”

“Oh, um, well...”

“Did Alice do this to you?” Mirana asks suddenly, horrified at the possibility.

Tarrant clears his throat and looks away. “No, I... no.”

“Fine,” the queen huffs. “Don’t tell me. We’ll just never mind the cure and leave it like this.”

Tarrant winces. “I struck Avenleif. In the face.”

“Which part?” Mirana asks with clinical detachment.

“His great, furry nose,” he growls.

“With your fist?”


“All right. Wait here a moment.” Mirana gets up and considers her stock of remedies then selects one bottle, a jar of powder, and a medicinal compress. Resuming her seat, she takes Tarrant hand in hers and narrates: “One drop of Green Envy for each knuckle, a sprinkling of Vengeance, and a bandage soaked in Rational Thought.” She glances up as she presses the compress to the back of his pale hand. “I’m assuming you found out about Avenleif’s... feelings for Alice and that’s what brought on the sudden urge to break your hand against his nose?”

Tarrant bows his head. “Aye...”

Mirana gently lays his injured hand down on the table and pats his other. “Don’t blame Alice, Tarrant.”

His head snaps up. “What? Why would I? I don’t...”

“Just so,” Mirana replies, seeing the truth in his eyes. “Alice kept her heart line a secret because the dear was driven to distraction wondering if someone might try to harm you while she was away.” Mirana sighs. “I almost wish Stayne could be killed all over again for making her fear for you so much.”

“Ye’re not th’only one who’d like teh see him dead all o’er again,” Tarrant agrees.

Mirana continues, “On the last day of our stay, I persuaded Alice to wear... oh, uhm, well, to reveal her heart line as we were among friends. Until then, until Avenleif saw it, Alice had no idea of his intentions. Truthfully, neither had I, but I was... distracted...”

“It’s all right,” Tarrant tells her, surprisingly maintaining his grasp on calm rationality despite his obvious exhaustion. “He knows Alice is mine now.”

Mirana nods and drifts back over to her supply chest. “We’ll have to splint that hand,” she warns him. “I know you won’t like it, but Green Envy is notoriously unreliable when combined with Rational Thought.” Tarrant stoically endures the wrapping of his right hand then helps the queen move Alice again into another tub of steaming water.

When dawn finally peeps in through the Witzend-facing windows, Alice groans a bit in protest when they switch her baths again and the cool air touches her skin. When they settle her into the next tub, she manages to open her eyes for the briefest moment. “Buttered fingers,” she murmurs before falling asleep. Finally.

Mirana sighs with satisfaction. “This might be the last bath,” she dares to tell her Hatter.

“And she’ll wake up cured?”

“Let’s hope so. I’d still recommend a hot bath every other hour whenever she can manage it. We don’t want a relapse occurring.”

He nods. Mirana notices how utterly exhausted he looks – his face is too pale and his hands shake with a fine tremor and his shoulders slouch – but she can’t help but be cheered by the spark of hope in his once-again green eyes.

“I’ll have Algernon make up one of the guestrooms on the ground floor. It’ll be easier to manage the baths she’ll need.”

He merely nods again and, slumping down to the floor, curls his right arm across the back of the tub and gently cradles her flushed face in his left. Brushing his thumb over a the nearly-healed bruise that had been the first of many Alice had had to endure, he rasps, “Could we apply a bit of lotion to these bruises?”

“Not for a few days,” Mirana replies regretfully. “It may interfere with her body’s efforts to push out the poison.”

“I don’t want her to see these. Be reminded,” he explains.

Mirana considers that. “I think she’ll want them. She’ll want to watch her body defeat those memories. After all, we did have the hardest time convincing Alice Underland and all of us were, in fact, real.” Mirana considers her Champion and the man utterly devoted to her and her happiness. “It’d be cruel of us to take that hard-won reality away from her and replace it with shadowy nightmares that she cannot fight.”

Tarrant lowers his forehead until it rests against the side of the tub and sighs.

“Your room will be ready soon,” she promises.

Within the hour, Mirana helps Tarrant tuck Alice into bed before ordering him to lie down with her. As he sits on the edge of the bed and begins removing his shoes, the queen moves to the door, closing it only when she hears both boots hit the floor and the soft sigh of the mattress as he lies down on it.

“No one is to disturb them, Propinton,” she instructs the lock.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

With a satisfied nod, Mirana heads for the stairs and her own room and a bit of rest before lunch... however, the clamor and clanking of dozens upon dozens of footsteps draws her back to the main entrance.

Seeing her, the Bandersnatch rouses and she pats him. “Alice will be fine; you did well getting her back home so quickly.”

The beast sighs and closes his eyes, immediately falling into a light doze. Mirana wishes she were that lucky. But she waits on the front steps and, smiling, welcomes her army home and announces their success. The celebration will have to wait for another day, but that’s no reason to withhold a well-deserved congratulations for a job well done.


Alice dreams of floating adrift in a hot sea, of the spray of an ocean that smells like Orashes against her face. She dreams of an armchair that wraps itself around her back and shoulders and a glass of warm soup that tilts against her lips. She dreams of a whispering wind that somehow knows her name and combs her hair. She dreams of the gentle, tickling brush of cherry blossoms against her face.


Yes, she’d left him under the boughs of one of the cheery trees lining the white stone drive leading to the castle, to Mamoreal, to home...

Just a little further...

She pushes against the Bandersnatch – not now, Bandy! – and throws herself through the so, so soft drooping branches of the trees. The wind sighs to her against her ear. She’ll have to ask Mirana to teach her the tree language they speak; it sounds so heavenly, so familiar... Like the pale line of a man’s jaw, like the dark gap between his two front teeth, like the half-lidded gaze of radiant green she knows to expect just as he wakes from a sound sleep...


Where is he? Why does he insist on waiting for her under that tree? The tree she’d left him beneath? Why can’t she remember which one it is?

Oh, botheration. This could take days!

She strains but the warm presence of the Bandersnatch holds her back, slows her down.

“Let go!” she demands. Tarrant?

And just like that, she’s free. Alice experiences an instant of relief, of freedom, before the avenue lined with cherry trees fades before her eyes...


... and a rough hand gently smooths her hair away from her face.

“Alice? Have you decided to wake up now?”

Her lashes flutter but don’t open. Too heavy. “No,” she groans. “Looking for... Let me look...”

“You’ll have to open your eyes for that, my Alice,” the man’s voice whispers.

She frowns. He sounds concerned and hopeful and does she hear a slight lisp...?

No, she decides. There is no lisp waiting for her there. After all, she has yet to find Tarrant, and he’s waiting for her somewhere – here! – among the cherry trees.

“Can’t... late...” she murmurs, desperately trying to call back the pearly avenue. “Promised...”

“Hush,” the voice bids her. “You’re fine. Everything’s fine. Open your eyes, now. Come home to me, Alice...”

Home! Tarrant!

She moans and pushes through the darkness. She expects to encounter the hard, linen-like texture of the tree bark, but finds actual linen beneath her hands. Linen and something firm but not so very unyielding as a tree. Something much warmer and alive than even the warmest of sun-kissed patches of bark.

Is this...? Am I...?

She can barely form the thoughts, so afraid of being broken – shattered, destroyed – over them when they turn out to be false, a dream, a delusion...


The voice sounds concerned now, dejected, lost. She doesn’t like that sound so much. It calls to her, makes her ache. She turns toward it, inhales, and promptly sobs.


The scent of him surrounds her and she burrows into it, seeking him, for surely he must be nearby!

Her arm winds around a man’s waist. Her face brushes then presses against the fabric of his shirt. Oh, if this is only a dream it will kill her to wake up!

But it must be, for Alice can remember only the darkness and horror and fear and what-have-I-become?! of Causwick Castle. She recalls a vague sense of traveling, of the wind on her face, and the impression of square stones on her memory, but it’s so dim, so fleeting...

This can’t be real...

“It is. I am. You are. Alice...”

The same rough hand gently brushes against her cheek. The second sob that escapes her is muffled against his chest.

The voice deepens, softens, rumbles, “Open yer eyes an’see what ye smell, lass...”

Alice freezes.


Suddenly, she knows she is not dreaming. She is...


... inside the cruelest of nightmares...


... and she...

... she...

Don’t touch me you filthy OUTLANDER!” She shoves him away with all her strength, propelling herself backward, tumbling over the edge of something. She strikes the floor and, heart racing, panic cresting like an ocean wave over a tiny vessel, Alice rolls to her feet and grabs the first thing she can find – a water pitcher, which she smashes against the table. It shatters and splashes water over her legs and feet but the handle she still holds is now connected to a large, jagged piece. She turns toward her assailant – how many times has she told them she’s NOT A PLAYTHING?! – and evaluates his weaknesses.

His neck, his belly, his...

Something about the man makes her pause. He’s still lying on the bed (What was I doing in his BED?!) vulnerable, open... Too vulnerable, too open.

Alice is confused. Where is the laughter? The grating cackle of degrading humor? Where are the patently false reassurances?

“Aw, we werenae goin’ teh ‘urt ye, Lassling. ‘Twas jus’a bit o’ fun...”

“I’ll show you something I think is fun...” she hisses through her teeth.

“You sure there be a woman under that snarl?”

Alice growls, “If you’re keen to check and you don’t mind a bit of pain, be my guest!”

But no braying laughter echoes in the room. No sudden movements. Alice listens to her own breathing, hating the harsh pants. And her heart... it feels as if the force of its beating ought to shake her apart, knock her off of her feet. She grips the shard of china in her hand and wills herself to focus!

This is not the time for WEAKNESS!

Bit by bit, Alice feels her breaths quiet, her heartbeat calm. Unfortunately, she also begins to feel unbelievably, incredibly weak.

NO! Stay standing, you twit!


She shivers, shakes her head, blinks at the broken pitcher in her grasp and the sharp, white fragments scattered on the wet floor.

“Alice...?” Again, that hesitant voice – that torturous lisp – comes again!

“What?” she demands, desperately trying to stay strong, in control! She will not succumb to their trap!

There’s a moment of hesitation and it’s that beat of uncertain silence that rocks her to the core, upsetting her fragile balance. For they have never hesitated. They do not know how to hesitate. It’s not in their nature...

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

The shard shakes in her hand but she can’t still it. Her whole being feels like it’s about to crash apart into jagged, razor-sharp pieces.

“... no...” she moans. How had they discovered this? How had they learned of it? And why do they use it against her now? She is one of them! She is strong! SHE HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL IN DECEIVING THEM!

“No, no, no... Stop. Just... just...”

There’s a clatter and the feeling of falling. She thinks she hears a sharp oath and the rustle of cloth and then the floor – wet and jagged in odd places – crashes into her. Her eyes close and she welcomes the darkness before the pain manages to catch up to her.


He expects death, for that is the manner in which crimes such as his must be atoned in Shuchland and King Aven has never been one to show mercy. Not for treason. Not for betrayal. Not for an Aven who has turned away from the royal family.

Leif closes his eyes.

The king’s anger permeates the nearly empty hall. Only the Aven family’s unfailing pride prevents this trial from being made public. No Aven is ever subjected to public humiliation and ridicule. Leif can’t help but feel relieved at this. Perhaps Alice will never hear of his death, will never know what he’d done, will never guess the reason behind it...

Alice. He wishes he could have seen her one more time. He wishes she could have seen him one last time so that she might see all that he feels for her, all that had been concealed beneath his shock and disappointment and loss when he’d watched her walk away from him, from Avenfaire, from Shuchland.

If he had known it would end like this, he would have gone after her. He would have confessed his feelings and damned the consequences.

Now... now he will never know if his love might have been enough to bring her to him.

Leif keeps his gaze lowered. He knows he ought to look up and daringly meet the king’s eyes. Death would be instantaneous for that insult. But he allows them to expound on his faults, on his transgressions, on the methods of punishment he has earned. It’s a small comfort that the duel had been a draw, that the rule of Shuchland remains within the capable paws of King Avenglen. There is only one comfort Leif can take from all of this: Alice is free of Jaspien.

But is she alive? Or had the Hafflaffen killed her before she could be cured?

But is she safe? Or is that madman even now loosing his temper upon her?

Leif knows he will die with these questions unanswered.

You did this to yourself.

Yes. Yes, he had.

And now you’ll pay for it.

Yes. He undoubtedly will.

He tries not to listen too closely as Champion Avenresh – Leif’s own uncle – insists on being given the privilege of hacking off his nephew’s mane, carving out his tongue, taking off his hands and feet... All that before allowing Leif to die a coward’s death – a slit throat...

The very idea... Leif grits his teeth to control the convulsion of disgust and horror. But he had known the consequences of his choice... and he’d made it anyway. Not for the first, second, or even hundredth time, he wishes he could be disgusted at himself. Swayed by a woman. A blood-bonded woman, no less!

He tries to shame himself with his actions, but how can he feel shame when he thinks of her? How can he feel shame when there might exist the smallest chance that she still lives? That she will be strong enough to leave that mad bastard and find happiness?

Two fortnights ago, Leif would have spat in the face of any fortune teller who may have predicted the situation he now finds himself in.

It’s just as well I make it a habit to stay clear of those useless mystics.

But still, knowing the future would not have prevented this. He might have insisted on accompanying Alice back to Mamoreal. And if he had, he would have fought to the death to keep her from being taken. Or, he might have locked her away in the castle to keep her away from that hatter. If he had... well, all the roads Leif considers still lead him here, to this moment, to the forfeiture of his life.

Avenresh steps down, having aired his grievance and expounded on the offender’s earned punishments. Leif knows what comes next. The crimes have been counted. The injured party has spoken out. Now, the king will announce the verdict.

Leif grits his teeth and forces himself not to tense up, not to resist.

You’ve earned this. You’ve shamed them. Shamed yourself.

Even if it doesn’t feel that way, he knows it must be true.

As the king moves to stand, there’s a sudden movement. Out of the corner of his eye, Leif thinks he sees his liege stand and take the floor. A blaze of panic bursts from his heart.

No, no, you idiot! Sit back down!

“My King, I request permission to speak before sentencing,” Prince Avendale says in a clear, sure voice.

Leif holds his breath. Shut up, Dale. Don’t you dare...!

The king nods and relaxes back onto his throne.

“I petition that the crimes filled against Leif –”

On his knees on the cold, sandstone floor, Leif flinches. No longer is he a Champion. No longer is he an Aven. He is not even an Oben once more. He is nameless, without a family, lacking even a homeland.

You knew this would happen when they caught you!

Yes, he had. But he couldn’t have run away after that duel. Not with those mercenaries getting to their feet and looking hungrily across the battlefield at Leif’s people. He’d almost hoped for their charge. He’d almost hoped to kill a dozen of them before being cut down himself. But no, it hadn’t happened that way.

You don’t deserve such an honorable death.

He knows.

“ – the crimes Leif has been charged with must be reconsidered,” Avendale continues, “as he was acting in accordance with the wishes of his liege.”

Leif cannot stop his paws from curling into fists on his thighs.

You stupid cub! Say no more! Lie no more for me!

The silence is so heavy with accusation and shock and disappointment, Leif wonders if he might be crushed beneath it before Resh can indulge in his chosen method of torture and execution.

Prince Avendale,” the king finally rumbles in a dangerous tenor, “are you telling this court that you ordered your Champion to interfere with a Champions’ Duel? Are you telling this court that you engineered this betrayal that may have cost your people their sovereign power?”


“Yes, I am.”

Leif bites back his roar of frustration and guilt and pain and despair. He knows if he makes a single noise he’ll be put to immediate death and now this stupid, headstrong boy-lion who has yet to grow in a full mane will need him alive for as long as possible, for if there is even the slightest chance of escape, Leif must ensure it for his liege. His vows will not permit him to acquiesce to death for as long as the prince needs him.

Dale, you selfish, idiotic...! Words fail him.

“It displeases me greatly to hear this,” the king replies.

“I could not allow the Champion of my betrothed to be killed by my family,” he says. That and no more in his own defense.

Leif nearly roars at him: Now I will die defending you from your family and you will earn my punishment!

It’s too horrific to contemplate. The waste of life, of happiness, of a future, makes him feel physically ill.

“I will acquiesce to any and all punishments this court deems acceptable,” the prince says in a soft but firm tone.

For a moment, no one says anything at all. And then the queen speaks:

“You do not regret your actions in the slightest?”

From the resonance of her voice, Leif knows she’s struggling with tears, for she knows as well as Leif what fate will befall her youngest son now, what fate must befall him.

The prince replies, “I regret that I did not accompany the White Queen and her guard to Mamoreal. If I, my Champion, and my guard had done so, this tragedy may have been prevented – the White Queen may not have been captured and her Champion may not have been forced to serve their captors. But there is nothing I can do to make that right. That it happened, however, is my responsibility. I was remiss, overly confident, and thoughtless in my duties toward my betrothed. Perhaps my actions – the return of her Champion – have given some comfort to her despite the fact that she will never be fully compensated for her suffering.” The prince takes a deep breath. “I offer myself to the court and await your verdict.”

And when it comes long moments later, it is not the verdict Leif had expected.

In many ways, it is worse.


The next time Alice’s eyelashes flutter, Tarrant is very deliberately sitting in the armchair beside the bed. He resists the urge to lean closer to her, to touch her, to speak to her. The queen had given him very clear instructions regarding this after she’d come to check on Alice and had found Tarrant in the midst of cleaning up the shattered crockery on the wet floor.

He’d considered lying, rhyming – “Och, ‘twas me. Clumsy...” – but the queen had seen the falsehood forming in his eyes.

“The truth, Hatter,” she’d demanded.

He sighs at the memory. It’s impossible to defy a royal decree from one’s own sovereign. Unfortunately.

“Do not let her wake up next to you,” the queen had declared, her eyes swimming with sudden tears. “Alice has been doing her best to protect herself from men and beasts every minute of the day for nearly a week. Many of whom were Outlanders and spoke as such. Watch your voice with her, Tarrant. If you don’t think you can do that...”

“No, no, I will.

Resisting the urge to lean forward in the armchair to greet his Alice when she opens her eyes, Tarrant’s mouth tightens, his eyes narrow, he nods once.

I will!

He only hopes this will work. He only hopes she will see him this time, understand where she is. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if he has to watch that frighteningly desperate, chilling madness take her again...

Tarrant fists his left hand and curses his utterly slurvish weakness, the weakness that had lead him to initiate the Thrice a-Vow with Alice.

My Alice, I never wanted you to know madness...

But she has known it. Her panic and aggression upon wakening, her complete inability to absorb reality, the flickering of amber-colored rage in her ought-to-be-brown eyes is all a testament to what Tarrant has done to her.

Unforgivable mistakes:

The heart line that has opened her mind to sharing his predisposition to madness...

The promise that had nearly driven her to fight until she died of exhaustion...

Tarrant briefly closes his eyes at the thought of that vow. In the dim hours surrounding dawn, he’d carefully considered the implications of that promise. After Alice had made it, she’d become the Queen’s Champion, had killed Ilosovich Stayne, had been forced to twist and mutilate herself into the sort of creature who could survive amongst a band of hardened, blood-thirsty mercenaries.

If this is what comes from a single, kept promise, Tarrant vows to never let her make another to him!

A small gasp startles him and he sits upright, his eyes opening, hope blossoming within him.

“Alice?” he whispers, dreading the reappearance of the madness, frightened for her.

She stares at him, disbelieving. “Am I... Are you real?”

Grinning, he reaches out to her and offers his hand. With the briefest hesitation, she takes it. He swallows thickly at her touch and forces his native Outlandish accent away. It pains him that Alice is in no condition to hear it now. It pains him to know that something that had given her such pleasure before now causes her unbearable pain.

“Feel that?” he asks.

“No bandages,” she notes. “Or thimbles. Strange...”

“Well, I couldn’t very well take them with me on a rescue mission or there’s no telling what sorts of hats they might have gotten up to.”

She chuckles in that soft, breathless way of hers. Tarrant studies her brown eyes, relieved that she’s really here with him. Present and accounted for.

She remembers me this time!

He watches as she shifts a bit uncomfortably and gives him an apologetic smile. “I’d very much like to hear about that rescue mission... just as soon as I use the lavatory.”

“Of course,” he replies and moves to help her up. “Slowly now. You’ve been very busy expelling Hafflaffen.”

“Is that why I feel as if a herd of gryphons have danced the Futterwhacken on me?”

Tarrant cackles despite himself. “Silly, Alice. Everyone knows gryphons Futterwhacken in flocks.

Alice snorts and swings her legs over the side of the bed. Gently, Tarrant pulls her to her feet. She sways for a moment, then finds her balance and looks up at him.

“Are you sure I’m not dreaming?” she wonders aloud.

“I’m sure,” he replies, resisting the urge to fold her into his embrace and keep her safe in his arms for all the days remaining within the Oraculum’s roll of parchment. “And before you ask, I’m fairly certain I’m not dreaming us, either.”

“But how do you know?” she wonders curiously.

“You could pinch me,” he suggests.

“No, I couldn’t.” And then she leans forward and presses her lips to his.

The groan nearly makes its way up his throat and past his vocal chords, but he strangles it in his chest.

Control, lad. Control!

Warily, he lifts his hands from her upper arms and wraps his right arm around her waist. His left hand delves deeply into her hair.

Stay with me, Alice. Don’t let me hurt you, remind you again...

Her arms wind around his shoulders and her hands bury themselves in his hair. Tarrant’s blood heats as she presses closer to him, her breasts so soft against his chest and her hips arching toward him so invitingly. His right hand, due to that damned annoying brace, cannot clench in her nightshirt, so he moves his left hand from where it cradles the back of her head. It trails down from her temple, along her cheek, and then his fingertips feather against her jaw. Tilting her head just a bit, he breathes against her neck, nibbles the underside of her chin, presses daring, biting kisses at the juncture where her pale neck becomes an equally invitingly pale shoulder.

“Tarrant...” she murmurs, moving against him. Her hands fist, one in his hair – still too long, but at times like this he can’t bring himself to mind! – and the other in his shirt. “So quiet...” she muses.

He winces but she does not see it, cannot see it. “If one of us is dreaming,” he murmurs against her skin, “I’d hate to wake us up...”

She sighs in agreement. “I’m afraid we’ll have to risk it regardless. I now urgently need to visit the lavatory.”

“Of course! Forgive me!” He escorts her across the hall to the room she requires then waits until she emerges, managing to catch Algernon’s unblinking eye and whisper a request for a meal service. He then helps Alice – looking much more relaxed and refreshed – back into their borrowed room.

“Why aren’t we in our apartment?” she asks and he feels his entire being fill with warmth at the small, simple phrase: our apartment.

“And why is your hand bandaged? What rescue mission? Why don’t I remember leaving Causwick? Did you say something about Hafflaffen? And do we have any Pain Paste for all these bloody bruises?”

Giggling, Tarrant sits her down on his lap in the armchair. “Let’s see... it’s easier to arrange for frequent hot baths on the first floor; I broke it; probably due to too much Hafflaffen; yes, I did say something about that; and no, not at the moment we don’t.” He taps her nose. “I think your curiosity is starting to catch up to you!”

“It already has,” she says with a breathy laugh. “Now stop being so mysterious and tell me what happened. Everything.”

“I will, Alice, just as soon as the tea service arrives.”

Her sigh is wistful, nostalgic. “Tea...”

He grins. “Aye... um, remember you mentioning something about missing it.” Tarrant resists a wince at the small slip and prays to the Fates that Alice hadn’t noticed...

Her eyes remain warm and dark and lucid. “Tea wasn’t the only thing I missed,” she murmurs. When she leans in to kiss him again, Tarrant opens to her readily at the first brush of her tongue. He can’t help the small, breathy moan as she possesses his mouth.

“Hmm...” she murmurs, leaning back for an agonizing moment. “Better. Say that again, Hatter.”

Her teeth scrape over his lower lip, trap it in her mouth and then she sucks on it just so. Tarrant hears himself indulge her request with helpless abandon. She moves in his lap, rubbing against him. He has to clear his throat to keep the Outlandish from pouring out: “Alice? What can I give you? Tea? An epic account of your rescue? Or...” Dare he hope for... “Myself?”

“All aforementioned necessities,” she breathes, lowering her mouth to his neck and nuzzling just beneath his ear.

“And...” He gulps. Control! “What would be your order of preference?”

“You. Tea. Epic-ness.”

He groans again. “Yes...”

And a moment later, Alice is leaning over him atop the bed, one thigh on either side of his hips, her body rocking against his as they fumble their way through the buttons of each other’s shirts. There’s a moment of breathy laughter as their trousers are dealt with, followed by a moment of breathless moans as he fills his hand with her breast and brushes his callused, rough fingers over her nipple, and then a moment of gasping breaths as she takes him inside her with a move so utterly, breathtakingly demanding that he loses every coherent thought and several half-mad ones.

“...yes... Alice...

She thrusts against him, letting her head fall back and her eyes close. “Tarrant...

He clenches his teeth to keep the Outlandish in check. Luckily, groans and other sounds of pleasure seem to be acceptable and he provides them in abundance. His incapacitated right hand stays at her hip, following and anticipating her movements. His left rises, once again trailing his fingertips over her nipple, the swell of her breast, and then up to that undeniably mesmerizing hollow at the base of her throat. He wants to wrap his fingers around the irresistible column of her neck and measure her thrumming pulse but something stops him, reminds him not to...

“... Alice, please, more...

She moans, tightens her muscles around him in that mind-blankingly, thought-destroyingly amazing way of hers and leaning back, bracing her hands on his thighs, moves.

The sight of her arched, offered, lost to the feeling of him-her-us-mine-yours-YES-NOW-MORE! undoes him.

“Too... too soon! Alice!”

And then he can’t take anymore! In the next breath, he’s above her and her head is now resting on the tangle of blankets at the foot of the bed and her legs are around his waist and he’s moving-seeking-finding-taking! so deep inside of her he expects to be lost forevermore.

Tarrant...!” is the only warning she gives him before she’s tightening around him with maddening intensity. He pants against her collarbone and struggles not to disappoint her. His hips drive against her: in and in and in and in and in and in...

... and then, with a strangled cry, her fists release his hair, her arms slacken and with a muffled whine against her heart line, he joins her in release.

When Tarrant manages to tumble back into his own topsy-turvy mind, he notices Alice’s hands brushing out his eyebrows, trailing down the length of his nose, rubbing against his lips, lingering under his jaw...

He opens his eyes. “Are you...?”

“Fine,” she tells him, smiling that smile. The one that’s for her lover only. The very best reward he could ever receive for pleasing her yet again. “Ravens,” she whispers.

Tarrant sighs as the last of his reservations evaporate: Alice is truly going to be all right! They are going to be all right! “And writing desks, my Alice.” He rubs his lips against hers in a prelude to a kiss.

“No one has the slightest idea why we say that, you know,” she mutters, closing her eyes and mimicking his not-quite-a-kiss ministrations.

“Not true,” he argues. “We do.” He pauses and says against her willing mouth, “A fact that pleases me greatly.

She moans her agreement as his tongue gently enters her mouth and savors her.

It’s a while before Algernon is finally permitted to enter the guestroom with the tray he’d prepared, much to the fish butler’s obvious irritation. Tarrant is surprised the creature doesn’t voice his complaint, though, when the Hatter finally opens the door and accepts the covered dishes and tea tray. But, perhaps, it has something to do with the way Alice is lounging across the rumpled bed, wearing naught but Tarrant’s too-large bathrobe and a very satisfied smile.

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 8 of 17

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