Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 9 of 17

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“Oh, Alice!

Alice pulls Mirana into a tight embrace and feels the queen lean her cheek against her head. “You’re safe after all,” Alice murmurs. “Tarrant told me but I was afraid to believe it without...”

“Seeing it with your own eyes,” the queen finishes for her. “I know, dear Alice. I know.” With a final squeeze, Mirana pulls back. “Come and sit with me, just the two of us for a bit. Let us put all of that unpleasantness behind us, once and for all. There’s much to be done in the coming days...”

Alice nods and follows Mirana to the sofa in the queen’s tower parlor. They sit but Mirana doesn’t let go of Alice’s hand. Alice smiles at the gesture.

“It’s nice to be able to really look at you again,” she says, shuddering at the memory of manufactured indifference.

“Yes, and it’s wonderful to actually like what I see when do look at my Champion again!”

Alice fidgets. “Well, I’m not actually... that is, Tarrant explained how Chessur, uhm, persuaded Jaspien to release me from his service. So, doesn’t that mean that... I’m no one’s Champion?”

“At the moment, perhaps,” Mirana replies. “And should you chose not to continue on that path, I will understand. Just know that it is open to you should you wish to resume it.”

Alice struggles to swallow around the sudden tension gripping her throat. “Tha... thank you.”

Mirana smiles and brushes an errant curl away from Alice’s eyes. “No, thank you, Alice. Despite my assurances that I could negotiate our way out of that blasted castle, it was you who saved us both.”

Her heart thumps painfully at the reminder. “I didn’t know... I still don’t know how I managed to do... those things. I... I could hear myself – the things I was saying – and yet I just couldn’t believe that was really me... that I was really...”

“You are a woman of most uncommon strength,” Mirana tells her warmly. “And, working together, we managed to hold on long enough for a way out of that horrible place to be shown to us.”

Alice sighs. “I’ve yet to thank everyone. I’ve only seen you and Tarrant so far...”

“Which is fine! The others know you’re recovering and I’m sure Tarrant is with them as we speak, letting them know how you are.”

“Thank you, Your Magesty. For curing me. Tarrant told me about Oshtyer and the Hafflaffen...” Alice sends a wry glance in the queen’s direction. “And I strongly suspect that Mally, Thackery, Chessur, and Tarrant are – at this very moment – actually reviving the Resistance under the guise of afternoon tea.”

Mirana laughs. “I wouldn’t doubt it! Tarrant is quite protective of you. I’ve never seen him so...”

Alice feels a twinge in her chest at the thought of Tarrant worried sick about her. In fact, she might have seen that look on his face when she’d finally woken up yesterday and had found him doing his best to restrain himself to the armchair beside the bed...

“I’m just so glad you’re all right,” Mirana says, squeezing Alice’s fingers.

Alice studies the queen’s face. “And how are you? Did Jaspien keep his word to you? Were you... I mean...”

“I was fine. Completely and utterly fine. Although, I must say, if I ever have to watch that man contemplate a boiled egg or hear him slurp his porridge again, I may go against my vows not to harm a living creature.”

“That sounds... torturous,” Alice replies with a wry but sympathetic grin.

Mirana laughs softly. “Not as much as trying to act like a brainless nitwit of a girl who is easily distracted by shiny things.”

Alice chuckles. “But you fooled him.”

“And you fooled Valereth into thinking you were cooperating out of ambition, and Oshtyer into thinking you were loving it for the violence. I... I’m sorry, Alice. I never could have done that.”

“Despite getting such good marks in Resolving Disputes with Temperamental Despots?”

The queen laughs. “Yes. Despite even that.”

“Would you...” Alice glances away, knowing she has no right to ask but feels compelled to nonetheless. “Would you tell me about it? I’d really like to know exactly what it was like. For you.”

Smiling, Mirana lays an arm across Alice’s shoulders and tells her. She leaves nothing out. Not the battle she’d watched Alice fight in the courtyard, not the grand plan of their captors to divvy up all of Underland between them, and not Oshtyer’s vile scheme to lure Alice into his clutches. Mirana leaves nothing hidden and dabs gently at Alice’s silent tears with her lace handkerchief.

“There, there. It’s over now. They cannot hurt us anymore, for we’ve grown stronger through that trial even though we were already stronger than all three of them put together!”

Alice merely nods and sniffles.

Mirana fetches her a fresh handkerchief and a cup of cooling tea. For several minutes, they simply sit together on the sofa, luxuriating in an act that is so simple and yet had been impossible a mere two days ago.

“And now you, dear Alice,” Mirana coaxes gently. “Will you tell me of your time there? Leaving nothing out?”

Alice looks up, startled. “I...” She frowns. “I...” Her memories swirl like a sea storm through her head. Everything is suddenly there, all at once! She flinches away from the darkness and cruel laughter and pain and heart-tearing anguish.

“Alice? Can you tell me?”

She blinks and studies her friend’s pale, worried face and for an instant her desire to lay all of this pain and darkness at Mirana’s feet is nearly as strong as the sudden panic that warns her not to even consider it.

The queen waits.

Alice struggles to find some way to fulfill her request competently. And without getting sucked into – trapped within! – Causwick Castle again. Even if it is only real in her memories now.

And then there’s a soft knock on the door.

“Come in!” Mirana calls with an apologetic smile.

“I beg your pardon, Your Majesty, but we’ve guests from Shuchland awaiting an audience with you in the Royal Reception Hall for Visitors.”

At the mention of Shuchland, Mirana stands and as her hand is once more wrapped around Alice’s, Alice is pulled to her feet as well. “Prince Avendale?” she asks, already rushing toward the door.

Lakerton bows and holds the door open for her.

Alice marvels at how fast Mirana can run in her white heeled slippers and yet still produce only a whisper of sound and the vaguest impression of haste.

Must make a note to ask her where she learned how to comport herself like that, Alice thinks as she does her best to keep up. The castle corridors and stairs blur past and it seems only a moment or so later that Pondish and a fellow who Alice thinks is called Marshing open the great doors for the queen and Alice to pass though.

Alice blinks, taking in the pair of figures kneeling before the simple, white throne on its raised dais. For a moment, she doesn’t recognize them.

“Dale!” Mirana gasps, releases Alice’s hand, and rushes toward him.

Alice gapes. The prince doesn’t even turn to look at her. His ear twitches just barely in her direction, but that is all. Alice watches as Mirana sinks to the polished floor in front of him and gathers his paws in her hands.

“What has happened to you?”

Approaching the figure that must be the prince’s Champion, Alice has to struggle not to gasp aloud as the queen had. Both of them are barefoot and she can see dirt and blood and scratches and cuts on the pads of their feet. Their clothes are torn and filthy. Fine tremors run through Champion Avenleif’s body and his arms shake. She hears the faint, despairing gurgle of an empty stomach and, with a glance at the attending frog footman, softly requests meals, baths, and guest quarters to be readied.

“... banished.” Alice hears the prince explain in a lifeless tone. “We are disowned and exiled, Your Majesty. We came here not to seek your protection or mercy, but to assure ourselves that you and your Champion are safe and well before we continue on our way...”

Alice stares, finally noticing the most horrid thing of all – the prince’s mane, his lustrous golden mane, has been completely and brutally hacked off. Mirana is busy inspecting the dark cuts made by a hastily-wielded razor – or dagger – along his neck.

“You will stay with me, here,” Mirana tells him. “And I will treat these wounds and you will re-grow your mane, and when you are able and willing, you may tell me the reason for such an ill fate to have befallen you.”

The prince lowers his head again as Mirana gently strokes his cheeks and ears. Alice sinks down to her knees beside her newest friend and fellow fighter and, remembering the very unfriendly look he had given her as she’d left Avenfaire, she gently lays a hand on his shoulder.

“Do you need to see a physician?” she asks softly.

He shakes his head.

Alice can think of nothing else to say.

When the frog footman returns, she stands and, with a hand under his great, beefy arm, urges him up. “Your rooms are ready as well as baths and something to eat. Your Majesty?” Alice’s tone manages to rouse the queen, who makes an effort to pull the other lion to his feet. She manages it only because the prince does not deny her wordless request.

“Come on,” Alice says, maneuvering Avenleif out of the hall and down the corridors in the frog’s wake. They don’t go far, thankfully. The apartment on the first floor, tucked away in a newer wing of the castle, had obviously been meant for visiting dignitaries.

“No,” Dale says, refusing to enter the fine room. “We cannot stay here. I’m no longer worthy of such finery or...”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mirana tells him. “I’m afraid one room is much like any other in this castle. You’ll have to suffer with the luxury.”

Alice moves to enter the room behind them, but at her side, the lion refuses to budge. Frowning, she looks up, “Champion Avenlief, I’ll thank you to cooperate with us.”

“Champion Alice,” he rumbles, his eyes so sad, so devoid of light and humor and life. “My liege is no longer a prince, so I can no longer be addressed as a Champion. We are no longer even Avens... I am called Leif now.” He closes his eyes and shudders. “And I am thankful to have that much.”

“I don’t understand,” she admits. “How did this happen?”

“You don’t remember the battle?”

Alice shakes her head. “No, I was told I fought with the Champion from Shuchland, but I can’t...” Frustrated, she shakes her head. “I have no memory of it.”

He lets out a long breath and lays a scratched and grimy paw over her hand which still rests on his arm. “Avenresh – the King’s Champion – wanted to end the duel as quickly as possible to secure victory for Shuchland. He refused to... I couldn’t let him...” His sigh sounds like a soft growl. “Your people needed time to free you from Jaspien’s control before they could take you home.” Alice nods. Tarrant had explained that part of the plan. Leif concludes, “I... I took Avenresh’s place.”

Alice stares at him. “You... I fought you?

“Yes.” And then one side of his mouth tilts upward and a tiny light enters his golden eyes. “You were pretty good with a broadsword, actually.”

“Don’t look so surprised,” she replies in a droll tone.

“Far be it from me to wound the pride of a true Champion,” he says by way of apology, his gaze moving over her with unnerving intensity.

Alice shivers and searches for the way back to their original conversation. “So you took the place of the King’s Champion... but then why...?”

“Without permission, Champion Alice. I acted on my own. I risked the future of the family of Aven, of Shuchland. The penalty for that...” He sighs and glances at the open door. “Dale, the idiot, convinced his father I’d done so on his orders. And for that...”

“They cut off his mane?” Alice wonders aloud, horrified.

“Disowned us, exiled us.” He looks down and turns his paw, collecting Alice’s hand in his much larger one. “We came only to see if you and the queen were safe and well. We have nothing to offer in repayment of any kindness Her Majesty shows us. We cannot stay.”

Alice narrows her eyes. “You will stay. Dale needs you and Mirana needs him. It’s the least you can do.”

“And you, Champion Alice?” Leif asks softly. “Is there no service your require? Nothing you will accept in payment for your hospitality?”

Alice grasps his thick fingers – only two fit in her grasp, but she doesn’t loosen her grip – and informs him, “It’s Alice, just Alice now. And you’ve yet to finish teaching me how to use a scimitar. I’ll be expecting those lessons to continue.”

A small puff of laughter escapes him. “You might have noticed I didn’t bring one with me.”

“I have the one you gave me. And a few others I picked up in the market.”

“Is there anything I can say to change your mind?”

Alice grins. “I’m not sure. But keep trying. I’ll warn you... it could take a while.”

“Days?” he asks.

Alice simply gives him a mysterious smile and playful shove. “Get in there and eat before the complaints from your stomach get so loud I can’t even hear myself think.”

He barks out a laugh. “Yes, just Alice.”

“Oh, keep it to a dull roar, would you?”

He tilts his head in acquiescence and Alice notices faint humor and familiar animation in his features again. It warms her heart to see him looking more like himself. As he turns to enter the room, Alice puts her hand on his arm.

“And Leif... thank you.

Leif turns and looks at her over his shoulder. His eyes flicker briefly in the direction of her left hand and the heart line. “For you, Alice, I could not have done otherwise. No thanks are needed. Or deserved.”

“Let me be the judge of that. Now eat your tofu and mushrooms.”

Leif makes a face. “Yum...”

Alice laughs and pushes him through the door. She moves to follow but a flash of movement stops her. Turning, tense and alert, she scans the pearly corridor. She studies each doorway, but there’s no one and nothing there. She frowns. Perhaps she’d merely experienced a sliver of a memory, something from her time at Causwick... Or a hopeful phantom...? Perhaps it had been...? No, she decides. No, certainly she hadn’t seen a familiar dark suit and top hat just now.

It’s just my imagination... reminding me of how much I miss him already...

Alice considers leaving their guests to their own devices, but knows she can’t. Even though she’s not the Queen’s Champion at the moment, Alice is still Mirana’s friend. And her friend needs her here.

With a sigh, she steps into the apartment and helps Mirana organize the preparation of the baths and medicines their guests will need while the lions eat. Still, she can’t shake the sudden, odd, empty echo in the center of her chest. As if her heart had stopped beating and now only dreams of a memory of having once done so.


“Hatter? Where’s Alice?” Mally asks, tossing a sugar cube at Thackery. Turning, she plants her tiny fisted paws on her hips and reminds him, “You said you were bringing her down for tea.”

“You know very well Tarrant cannot just drag Alice away from a private meeting with the queen,” Chessur replies, rolling his eyes.

“Humph. They’ve been up there for an hour! What do they need to talk about anyway?”

Tarrant sinks down into his chair and studies the gilded edge of his teacup.

“Ar, th’queen needs a Champion nauw, don’she?” Thackery replies, twirling his half-full cup around in its saucer with his pinkie.

“But Alice is her Champion!”

Chessur, hovering, rolls onto his back and contradicts her: “Not since Her Majesty released her from her vows. Remember? That’s how she was able to swear allegiance to Jaspien.”

“Th’cad!” Thackery reminds them all with a thump on the table.

“So... Alice is retaking her Champion vows?” Mally asks curiously.

“I would imagine so,” Chessur answers her, but Tarrant can feel the cat’s attention on him. “Tarrant, would you know anything about Alice’s intentions to resume her position as the Queen’s Champion?”

Mute, Tarrant shakes his head and tries not to compare the cup’s delicate gold marquee with the pattern of Alice’s heart line.

A beat of silence rolls down the table and over the tea service and party participants. “Tarrant...” Chessur says in a warning tone. “I know that look. This is a tea party. Either leave the self-pity at the door or share it out with your friends and be done with it.”

He sighs and glances around at the expectant faces of his closest – Chessur, too? Odd... – friends and informs them in a low mumble, “Avendale and his Champion are here.”

“Here? Nauw?” Thackery hiccups.

Tarrant nods.

“Well, you’ve got to admit, the Champion was rather... useful in helping us get Alice back,” Chessur dares to suggest.

Tarrant aims a glare at him. “I want him away from my Alice!” he spits out between his teeth, closing his eyes and trying not to remember the rumbling chuckle, the tender tone, the softly spoken confession: “For you, Alice, I could not have done otherwise...”


Looking up, Tarrant blinks and then, looking down, notices that both of his hands are curled over his teacup as if he plans to snap it in half right down the middle. He gently returns it to the saucer and clears his throat. However, he does not tell them he’s fine. He is not fine!

“Alice likes him,” he forces himself to explain even though he can’t bring himself to stop glowering at the empty cup.

Again Silence pulls up a chair and keeps them company.

Surprisingly, it’s Thackery who evicts the unwanted guest: “Bu’ye’re th’one she gav’er heart teh!”

“Exactly!” Mally agrees enthusiastically. “You’re being jealous, Hatter. You’re the world to Alice. Why do you think I let her have you?”

Tarrant frowns at her and she covers her mouth with her paws, giggling.

“Jealousy doesn’t suit you,” Chessur tells him, eyeing his jacket which now sports olive green threadwork. “Not that it looks good on anyone. Dreadful color... What if Alice were to walk in and see you like this?”

He twitches and helplessly looks at the door – still closed! – and sighs.

“A weddin’!” Thackery declares. “Marry th’lass, Hatter! That’ll settle it!”

“An excellent suggestion,” Chessur approves. Then, aside, mumbles, “For once.”

Mally gapes. “You haven’t asked Alice to marry you yet?

Tarrant winces. “The Thrice a-Vow...”

“Is no substitute for a wedding!” Mally insists. “No wonder you’re all turned inside-down and upside-out over this!”

“What you need is commitment,” Chessur declares. “Propose to Alice. That will settle your mind on this issue once and for all.”

“Och, a weddin’!” Thackery croons, misty-eyed, to a sugar cube lying on the table.

Tarrant considers his friends’ suggestion. Could it be that simple?

Perhaps... He’d be able to keep Alice, and – more importantly – he’d be sure she would stay with him! Not only that, but that wretched lion would realize that Alice is his once and for all! And Tarrant knows that once Alice has promised herself to him for all time, she’ll keep that...


Ah, yes. A wedding vow is a promise, isn’t it?

The warm rush of hope suddenly turns gray and lifeless in his chest. “No, no I can’t ask Alice to make me another promise.”

“There’s no limit to the number of promises one can accept in Underland,” Chessur reminds him, helping himself to more tea.

“It’s not good for Alice to keep making promises to me. The last one...”

“Saved her life!” Mally declares.

“Nearly took her life!”

Chessur sighs. “Ah, now we come to it.”

“Guilt!” Thackery agrees. “Very bad f’r digestion!”

Tarrant sighs. “I cannae ask Alice to marry me.”

“So, don’t ask her to marry you!” Mally nearly shouts in a moment of inspiration. “Ask if you may marry her!

Thackery twitches. “Och... Nauw tha’s... lovely!” He lifts the corner of the tablecloth and dabs his dewy eyes and blows his nose.

“Yes!” Chessur agrees. “It’s not a promise if she chooses you, Tarrant!”

Tarrant blinks, stares, opens his mouth, but nothing emerges. “Will you invite us to the Choosing?” Mally pleads.

“Will there be tea?” Thackery presses.

“Can I wear your hat?” Chessur begs.

And then the door to the kitchen opens and Alice walks in, smiling. “You’ve already worn this wonderful, lovely hat, Cat,” she says wandering over to Tarrant and running her fingertips along the brim in a very suggestive manner.

Tarrant shivers despite the audience.

Voice husky, Alice tells them, “It’s my turn next.”

Alice takes the seat next to his and Tarrant slides a glance in her direction, feeling his face heat at the very thought of Alice wearing his hat...

He clears his throat, minds his accent, and reaches for her hand under the table. “I might permit you to borrow it... on one or two conditions...”

Alice smiles and raises her brows. “And what might those be?”

“Those... will be discussed... later.” His look is significant.

Alice’s smile is... appreciative.

“Tea, Alice?” Chessur interrupts.

“Thank you,” she replies as she accepts a cup. “And, thank you, all of you, for everything. Most especially, for rescuing the queen and myself.”

“Our pleasure!” Mally insists. “Who knew tying up smelly, hairy toes would be so much fun?”

Toes on strings!” Thackery chortles. He and the dormouse clink their teacups together in a toast.

“Despite the saddle sores, corset, and stockings, I also found it to be a very rewarding experience,” Chessur insists.

Alice sniggers into her tea. Tarrant merely sits and regards her with wonder. For, amazingly, Alice is finally here sitting next to him at tea with their friends, laughing as if the whole nightmare – both Alice’s time at Causwick and Tarrant’s chronic vision of her death – had never happened at all! Why, she’s just exactly like herself! His Alice! Tarrant’s very much muchier Alice!

Perhaps he could... he could ask her if she’d permit him to wed her...

He’s so overcome with the possibility – and the sudden hope that it might be made into reality – that he draws a breath to blurt out his request, right here at tea, surrounded by their friends: Alice, will you choose me to be your husband?

“A prince and a Champion in the castle! We need more tea!” Thackery declares with characteristic abruptness.

And with that, the moment dies. Tarrant deflates a bit and glares at the March Hare across the table.

At Tarrant’s side, Alice nods. His heart aches as her carefree smile dims, fades, and then disappears completely. “Yes, they just arrived.”

“Are they... staying long?” Mally ventures.

“I would imagine so. They’ve no place to go and before we were... er, before we left Shuchland, the queen had every intention of marrying Prin... um, Dale. They’re betrothed you know. In the Shuchish custom.”

Mally lets out a dreamy sigh and reclines against the inner curve of an unused teacup.

“Romance... all around us!” Thackery warns them, his gaze fixed on Tarrant.

“What do you mean, they have no place to go?” Chessur prompts.

Alice sets her cup down and turns just slightly in Tarrant’s direction until her knee is gently pressing just against his. “Well, you all know I fought Aven... er, Dale’s Champion at the battlefield, right? Well... it wasn’t supposed to be him. He... took the place of the King’s Champion without permission... to, uhm, help with your plan.” She closes her eyes and elaborates, “To rescue me. And...”

Tarrant watches as she struggles for a light tone of voice but eventually seems to settle on a factual one. “The prince told his father he’d ordered Leif to do it and so both of them are banished from Shuchland. I’m not sure if we should even call them by their titles or family names anymore. They’ve lost everything...”

In spite of himself, Tarrant can’t help but feel his aggression towards that beast soften at her words. Or perhaps it is simply Alice’s own heartache, reaching him through the heart line. He doesn’t try to untangle the feelings themselves, he simply wraps an arm around her shoulders and pulls her a bit closer to him on the bench.

Mally sniffles, “They’ve no home now? No names?”

“Only Dale and Leif, if I understand the situation correctly.”

“And the queen!” Thackery insists.

Alice smiles weakly. “Yes, that’s true. They have her as an ally now. The queen is very fond of Dale. I hope... Oh, oh!” Suddenly, Alice pulls away from Tarrant and, grabbing his jacket, gently shakes him. “What if the queen can’t marry him now that he’s not a prince?

“Not an issue,” Chessur replies while Tarrant once again struggles with his natural Outlandish. “The queen can marry whomever she pleases. It’s only those of high birth who can petition for her hand. Which, of course, Prin... er, Dale has already done.”

Alice relaxes again and Tarrant welcomes her weight against his side. “Still, what they did for me... What Leif did for me... I mean, he must have known he would be...” She closes her eyes and Tarrant watches her lips press together and her brows draw downward in pained sorrow. “I’ll never be able to repay him for that. No matter what I do...”

The thought of Alice repaying that lion sparks the darkest corner of Tarrant’s mind to life. Imagining all the ways that creature might like for Tarrant’s Alice to repay him for his noble sacrifice has him opening his mouth and speaking before he even knows what he intends to say:

“’Tis nae yer debt teh be repaid, Alice. ‘Tis mine an’we’ll sort it out jus’as—”

Tarrant breaks off abruptly as Alice, pressed against his side, stiffens.

Oh, no! NO! What have ye done, lad?!

In his chest, the warmth he’d felt coming from Alice abruptly ceases. He feels nothing from the heart line at all.

“Alice? Alice?” Tarrant lisps firmly, urgently. He gently cradles her face in his hands and turns her toward him. “I’m sorry, Alice. I wasn’t thinking...” He searches her blank gaze for a spark of recognition. “Look at me, Alice. Please...

Alice draws in a slow, controlled breath.

He dares to hope that maybe... perhaps...

“Get your hands off of me, Outlander,” she commands, her voice cold and each word dipped in venom before being spat out at him.

Slowly, he removes them. “I beg your pardon,” he whispers, never meaning those words so literally in his life.

“Now find yourself a seat that’s not next to mine.”

She doesn’t shout at him this time, which is good. And she doesn’t shake with exhaustion, which is also good. But Tarrant can’t help but feel that despite those things, the situation remains very bad, indeed.

He hesitates a little too long and, in the next instant, feels the edge of a cheese knife – why must Thackery always set the table for teatime and dinner? – pressed against his throat.

Move,” Alice orders.

He obeys. Careful not to approach her in anyway – either by shifting his weight or placing his hands between them – he slides backward along the bench until a space two arm-lengths across separates them. Alice, meanwhile, watches him, her entire being radiating with disgust and disdain. When she judges the distance between them to be satisfactory, she smiles – and oh, what a mockery of a smile it is! – and says, “Good boy. I suppose you can be taught after all.”

Tarrant resists fisting his hands in frustration, resists letting his disappointment, desolation, distress, and despair add tension to his body. He struggles to make himself look weak and benign to her.

“Alice! What are you doing?” Mally shrieks at her, the first to find her voice. Chessur and Thackery are still staring, mouths agape.

Alice blinks and focuses on the dormouse. “Hm? Oh, I’m sorry. What were we...?”

And it’s at this moment that Alice seems to notice several things at once: Mally’s disbelief-and-soon-to-be-righteous-rage, Chessur’s wide eyes, Thackery’s utter stillness, the distance between herself and Tarrant, and the cheese knife in her hand, which she abruptly releases onto the table with a clatter.

“What...?” Alice seems to shrink in on herself. “Have I done something?”

Her voice catches on the last syllable and Tarrant pulls himself closer to her and reaches for her.

No! What are you doing?” Mally hisses, alarmed. She draws her sword.

Tarrant ignores her. “Nothing’s wrong, Alice. You’re fine. I’m fine. We’re fine,” he soothes her, speaks into her hair.

“I... don’t think I am,” Alice murmurs, unsettled. “Why...?”

But she never finishes the question.

Tarrant closes his eyes and resists the sudden, hot rush of tears, for he knows what question she had been about to ask but does not want to know the answer to. He doesn’t blame her. The answer frightens him, too.

Before Mally or Chessur or Thackery can volunteer any information, Tarrant briefly opens his eyes and glares them into silence. Mally glares back and opens her mouth to protest but he gestures furiously out of Alice’s line of sight until she turns away with a huff.

“Hush, Alice, hush,” he begs her. Please, don’t make me tell you the truth!

Tarrant has never shied away from the truth as he does now. For how can he explain her episodes of madness without explaining how the combination of his heart line – the open door to his madness – on her skin and the promise he’d evoked from her heart – to persevere by any means necessary – so long ago have made it possible?

Ye did this to her.

Yes, yes, he had.

‘Tis unforgivable!

He knows. So he doesn’t tell her. For if she does not know, then she will not hate him for it, will not leave him because of it.

Choose me, Alice, please! He’d beg if only he still deserved the right to do so. But Tarrant very much fears he’s lost that.

No, the truth is too horrible, too terrible, too much! And, once again, he pleads for Time to come to his aid. He hoards this moment with Alice, while she knows him, remembers him, sees him, holds him, trusts him! And he struggles not to think about a future in which none of these things may be possible.

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 9 of 17

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