Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 13 of 22

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The Ascots’ country estate illuminates the night, glowing like a beacon of salvation and purity against the shadows of the distant forests and expansive lawn. Once upon a time, Alice would have thought it a lovely sight. Now, she can only think of Mamoreal, of the natural luminosity of the stone and the sweetness of the ever-blossoming cherry trees.


She struggles with her heartache. “I’m sorry. I’m just... homesick, I suppose.” She chuckles dryly. “And over-emotional.”

Tarrant’s arms are warm around her and his chest solid against her shoulder. The Kingsleigh carriage rolls slowly up the drive, conforming to the orderly line of similar vehicles waiting to release their occupants to the brightly lit main entrance of the grand house. She pets the sleeve of his new jacket.

“I’m sorry about the tailcoat and... other things,” she murmurs, hating the fact that she has allowed this World to make Tarrant even more uncomfortable, that he’s had to acquiesce to these pointless and nonsensical customs. At least they’d managed to get the tailor to leave a bit of give in the coat so that Tarrant wouldn’t have to go without the knife, especially at a function where they expect Valereth to be present.

“It’s only for one evening, Alice. I will survive.”

She smiles. “Thank you for the dress.”

“’Twas my pleasure, Alice.”

She knows it had been. Even after her mother had barged in and discovered their heart lines, Tarrant had been unable to dwell on the sudden discord between themselves and their hostess. He’d lost himself in something familiar and soothing and Alice had allowed herself to become lost with him. It had been a relief to escape their worries for even a few hours. But Alice senses there’s more to it than just that; they are that much closer to returning home.

“I suspect the committee will announce their decision tonight,” Alice whispers. “One way or another, we’ll know if our plan has worked.”

Tarrant shakes his head. “Your plan, Champion Alice.”

Our plan,” she insists. “You haven’t forgotten that I couldn’t have done any of this without you, have you?”

He presses his lips to her hair and Alice feels his mouth curve into a smile against her scalp. “It’s nearly finished, isn’t it, Raven,” he muses.

“Yes.” And then all they’ll have to do is figure out what to do with Valereth until they’re able to travel home through the mirrors.

At the reminder, Alice wonders how Maevyn is, if the little jabberwocky is still fighting the sickness, if Mirana has found a way to help the creature through the healing arts and alchemy.  If Krystoval has permitted it.

“You’re worrying,” Tarrant observes. “I can feel it, you know. Your thoughts are too heavy and too fast for regular Alice thoughts.”

She sighs but doesn’t deny it. And then the carriage is drifting to a halt in front of the manor entrance. Alice sits up and moves to the opposite bench, where she picks up her father’s black satin top hat and settles it on Tarrant’s head.

She smiles at the picture he makes. Tarrant smiles back.

“No hat?” she’d asked that afternoon over tea.

“I think not,” he’d replied, glancing at his distinctive hat where it had been keeping Alice’s company. “The very thought of one of those unremarkable, lifeless creations in the shops is...”

“And what about a hat worn by a man who often believed in as many as six impossible things before breakfast?” she’d wondered aloud.

Tarrant had been surprised, but had given her a delighted, gap-toothed grin. “I would be honored to wear the former hat of such a saganistute man, my Alice.”

Looking at her husband now, in the moment before the carriage doors are opened for them, Alice says, “You give life to that hat again. Thank you for wearing it for me.”

“My Alice,” he replies, reaching for her gloved hands. “You’ve never asked me to wear anything for you before. Not even my clan colors.” He brushes a kiss across her knuckles and lingers over the silver ring she still – always! – wears on her left hand. “Ye ken I’d be proud teh wear whate’er ye’d like.”

She shivers. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

And then there’s a smart rap on the door – a warning – before the brass handle is turned and suddenly, Alice is being guided out and into the light. Tarrant steps out and stops just behind her. He offers his arm with an easy motion. She smiles at him, his borrowed walking stick in hand and hat tilted rakishly on his head. She’s struck suddenly by the utter masculine beauty of him.

Uncaring of the next carriage pulling up behind them, Alice says, “I’d say you’ve never looked more handsome, except I’m sure you have.”

He beams. “Forgetting me, Alice? Naughty.”

She laughs and he guides her toward the stairs. In the moment before they pass through the open doorway, Tarrant leans toward her ear and whispers, “For certainly, I shall never forget how entrancing you look tonight, my Alice.”

“And have I entranced you, my lord?” she teases back.

“Why do you think I call you my Alice?

“Hm. Would it be because your every thought – and even your very being – is bent upon my every whim and happiness?”

His smile is brief and brilliant, but then he schools his expression into one of grave sincerity. “It would. Utterly, my Alice. There is no me without you.”

Oh, what she wouldn’t give for a private moment to thank him properly for those heart-melting words, for the Truth of them she can see in his eyes and Feel from his heart. The only reply she can give him is a silent one:


His breath catches in his throat.

“I beg your pardon, sir. Your invitation?”

Alice startles. “Oh! I beg your pardon.” She opens her small handbag and, reaching around the revolver she still carries with her everywhere, removes the envelope that displays the Ascot crest.

“Very good, madam.” The doorman accepts the invitation with a bow and then escorts them within. At the entrance to the ballroom, Tarrant relinquishes his hat and walking stick. Alice clutches his arm and endures the announcement of their names. Thankfully, they don’t hover on the threshold for very long.

“Alice! Tarrant! How good of you to come! And on time,” Lord Ascot enthuses from a nearby table.

“Good evening, sir. You do that suit a good turn,” Alice compliments him. “And I shall have to find your wife to praise her efforts; this is a truly lovely event!”

With the pleasantries and handshake with Tarrant taken care of, Lord Ascot motions Alice closer with a crooked finger. “Your plan is working perfectly, my dear.” Townsend nods inconspicuously in the direction of several MDR men who are entertaining the attentions of lords and ladies with their chests noticeably puffed up.

“They certainly look amiable, sir,” she agrees on a laugh.

“That they do. We shall see an end to this dynamite business before the evening is out. You can count on that!”

“I look forward to it!”

Townsend nods. Then, directing his attention over Alice’s shoulder (which is easy to do as she’s still leaning down), he demands of Tarrant, “Now, get your lady out there and show me how they dance in your country, Lord Hightopp!”

“With pleasure, sir.”

And it is. For the first time in memory, Alice actually enjoys a dance at an Upland event. She follows Tarrant’s lead, not caring that their Underlandian waltz draws puzzled looks. They follow the music and Alice finds herself laughing at the thought of creating a tiny whirlwind of Underland here between the two of them with nothing more than their arms and feet and a bit of breeze.

It appears hats and dresses aren’t the only things her husband is capable of crafting masterfully on a moment’s notice.

“Are you less homesick now, my Alice?” he murmurs, stepping closer and gently spinning both of them around.

“Much less. Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure.”

“And,” she can’t resist wondering aloud, “just how far would you go for your wife’s pleasure?”

“To the ends of both Worlds, my Alice.”

“And would you kill Time again?”

“Without a second thought!”

“And how would you address one of her mad whims?”

“With madness of my own, of course!”

Alice laughs. Uncaring of the crush of dancers around them, she inquires, “How is it possible I can love you more every day when I’m sure that I’d reached the pinnacle of such a phenomenon the day before?”

She feels Tarrant’s heart skip a beat. “Perhaps your heart grows larger with each day to accommodate a bit more?” he replies softly.

“It must be,” she agrees. And then tilts her head to the side and smiles, “How is it you so quickly found an answer to my riddle, Raven?”

On a whisper, he confides, “I’ve been experiencing the same phenomenon myself.”

“For very long?”

“Only ten years, approximately.”

Alice counters, “And what do you think our prospects are for the next ten?”

“Promising,” he quickly answers. “Our prospects are very promising, my Alice.” He doesn’t have to glance down toward her belly – only just recently beginning to change, to curve outward by the tiniest increment of measurement – for her to read his Mind.

Alice is about to remind him that they still haven’t thought of names yet, when Reality slams into her, making her stumble and forcing Tarrant to hold her up while dodging a waltzing couple.

“What is it?”

“Valereth’s just arrived,” she murmurs, trying not to stare over his shoulder at the entrance to the ballroom. Alice echoes Tarrant’s frustrated breath.

“Perhaps we should address the refreshments table? We haven’t introduced ourselves properly yet,” he suggests. And, because it will give them a good excuse to stand around watching the other guests (and one in particular!), Alice agrees.

They ignore the stares and sniffs and scandal-laced whispering that follows in their wake: yes, Alice knows her dress is not conventionally fashionable; yes, she knows her husband’s hair is outrageously long and hers startlingly short; yes, she knows they hadn’t managed a proper waltz. Sighing, she wonders why they’d even bothered to leave their hats at home or procure a new suit for Tarrant.

Lord Ascot is a rare breed of man, indeed, for no one else in this room will give them the time of day due to their Otherness.

Tarrant brushes a curl behind her ear. “Stop,” he whispers. “Let them think what they will.”

And, summoning a determined smile, she does.

Tarrant fills a plate for both of them and she collects a glass of champagne, not for drinking – no, the very thought of fermented beverages makes her stomach churn, Himoha flower or no – but for something to hold and, if necessary, something to throw. Her lips curve as she remembers dousing those two blustering fellows at the Wooing Rites Banquet.

Tarrant remembers as well.

With a giggle, he gently lays a hand over her wrist. “Now, Alice, as much as I would love to see how that rude fellow over there would suit –” Tarrant glances down at the flute in her hand. “– yellow Wassailin...”

“I know. There’s nothing to stop me from imagining it, though.”

“Nor me!” He holds out the dish. “Something to...” He frowns at the collection of unfamiliar appetizers. “... eat? Well, presumably.”

“You presume correctly,” Alice assures him, lifting a dainty fork and stabbing a spinach puff. When her stomach doesn’t object to the smell of it, she nibbles a corner and scans the crowd for their wayward Underlandian.

“Speaking to the older gentleman with the handlebar mustache and utterly unimaginatively tied cravat,” Tarrant tells her, poking a dollop of pâté with his own fork. Alice offers him the spinach puff.

“Little steps, love,” she tells him. “Save that one for when you’re feeling more daring.”

He giggles. “I can always count on you, my Alice. Even for introducing me to Upland soiree foodstuffs.”

“I’m happy to help. My assistance is especially invaluable when it comes to dealing with maypoles,” she mutters.

Tarrant snorts and cackles, drawing more attention to them, but Alice doesn’t care. “Do you think Thackery might be able to make spinach puffs for us? Or should I ask for the recipe?” she says, coming to his rescue.

He calms and samples the pastry, his eyes widening slightly as his low expectations are more than exceeded. “Not bad,” he agrees. “I suspect a recipe won’t be required. It’s a relatively straightforward sort of taste to describe, isn’t it?”

“True.” And a recipe would probably only confuse the poor hare, what with the ingredients being listed before the actual cooking preparation... It still escapes Alice how food in Underland can be passed around before being cut, cooked before the ingredients have been prepared...

They don’t dance again. They poke at the edibles on the plate, Alice with restless energy and Tarrant with blatant suspicion, as they track Valereth’s movements in the room. The evening wears on and then as the orchestra strikes up the tune for the quadrille, Alice watches as Hamish gathers up the subway committee members and escorts them toward the ballroom doors.

“Alice, should you be going with them?”

She shakes her head. “They’ll be going to the gentlemen’s parlor. To drink and smoke and talk business.” And even if the smell weren’t capable of making her gag, she wouldn’t be all that enthusiastic about gaining entrance.

They watch as their quarry follows the younger Lord Ascot’s lead. Alice scans the crowd for Townsend but, not finding him, assumes his son must have already helped him into the drawing room to greet the guests.

“It’s happening now, isn’t it?” Tarrant asks quietly.

“Yes. Lord Ascot is determined to resolve this tonight.” She smiles. “And when he’s made up his mind, there’s no other possible outcome.”

Tarrant reaches for her hand and squeezes her fingers. He sighs and Alice hears the sound of relief. Even her heart line seems quieter, lighter than it has in weeks. Alice can’t help but agree with him: one impossible problem settled. And only one more to be addressed: Valereth.  Not that Alice imagaines for one instant that the blighter will cooperate with them.  Or be civil.  No, at the luncheon, the air between them had been heavy with malice.  He is Planning something.  And Alice Knows neither she nor Tarrant will like it.  No, not at all.

She frowns. “Tarrant...”


A trickle of Anxiety escapes her heart before she can contain it. “As there’s a very good chance the committee will vote in favor of changing their construction methods...”

“Yes?” She hears less curiosity and more nervousness in his tone now.

“We’d better keep an eye on Valereth. He won’t want to give up his plans so easily.”

Tarrant’s eyes narrow. “Of course. Responsible for logistics, you said?”

Alice nods, surprised that he remembers that detail.

“No doubt has the dynamite already, or knows where it is. Might even know how to use it...”

“Which means he could use it an any time, provided he has the opportunity to do so.”

Their gazes meet and agree: there will be no rest for them until Mirana opens the mirrors and they can force Valereth back through it to where he belongs.

“I’m sure he has a plan,” she continues. “If only we knew what it was!”

Tarrant agrees by way of his silence.

They dissect the pâté and the blue cheese. They watch the dancers but don’t dare join in again, knowing that Valereth could easily slip past them if given the chance. Alice worries that, upon hearing the committee’s decision, the man will escape them, head back to town, and set off the explosives himself.

Feeling tense and fidgety, Alice straightens Tarrant’s cravat instead of attempting to shred the lace cuffs of her sleeves. She decides his cravat can’t be improved because it had unfortunately been perfect to being with, but gives him a pat on the chest nonetheless. However, when she does so, her hand encounters something small, hard, and cylindrical through the fabric over the lapel pocket. Two somethings.

She pats his chest again. “What are those?”

His gaze – nearly yellow with anxiety – meets hers. Yes, they both can Feel that Something is going to happen tonight. “Krystoval’s gift,” he tells her. “Didn’t think ‘twas a gehd idea teh leave i’tin th’room...”

“No, you’re right. We can’t have one of the maids finding them.” Dear Fates, the heart lines had been hard enough to explain, but an iridescent purple substance? What would she say to justify that?

Just as tense, awkward silence settles over them, Alice turns at a tap on her shoulder. “Hamish! You’ve escaped the cloud of tobacco already?”

He grimaces. “Gladly. I’m sure it’s an acquired taste I’ll... acquire when I’m good and ready for it.”

Alice smiles.

“In any case, I’ve come to tell you the good news: father’s agreed to waste money on that ridiculous subway project and the committee has agreed to institute the tunnel shielding method of Barlow’s and Greathead’s immediately.”

Tarrant’s fingers tighten around hers. She enthuses, “That’s wonderful news! Are they signing over it?”

“Done and dry,” he confirms, referring to the ink on the parchment. “And now that you’ve saved our fair city from overenthusiastic demolition crews, what will you do next?”

Alice is a little surprised to notice that this question had been directed to both her and Tarrant. She glances at him out of habit. “I’m not really, sure. We have yet to determine how much longer we’ll be able to stay...”

“Well, when you do, I’ll expect to be informed. We can’t have you running off without a proper good-bye,” he informs her. And then, “Hightopp, would you mind if I borrowed your Alice for a dance?”

Tarrant’s face, as well as his heart, holds an interesting mix of possession and amusement. “That’s up to Alice,” he says instead.

Hamish turns toward her. “What do you say, Alice? One dance?”

“As long as it’s not the quadrille.”

Hamish stifles a bark of laughter behind a stuffy expression. Still, she enjoys the twitch his face makes with the effort. “No, I believe they’re playing a schottische at the moment, but if you’ve forgotten how...”

“I’ll be sure to break all of your toes.”

He smiles and holds out a hand. “I’ll risk it.”

Alice feels fingertips against the back of her neck. She turns and smiles as Tarrant presses a kiss to her forehead. “Go let your feet enjoy themselves,” he bids her.

She laughs and, turning back to Hamish, says, “You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

He gives her martyred look as she accepts his hand. “Well, it’s too late to withdraw the offer. I shall have to resign myself to my fate and endeavor to learn from my mistakes.”

“Good luck with that,” she replies as he swings her around and they join the whirling, kaleidoscope of dancers. The threat of broken toes does the trick, however, and he doesn’t dare pull her too close, for which she’s very thankful. Every few steps, she glances in Tarrant’s direction. Sometimes he’s watching her right back (which induces a delightful shiver down her spine) and sometimes he’s scanning the crowd, presumably for Valereth.

“You seem a bit distracted tonight,” Hamish observes.

“Because I haven’t pointed out the gravy stain on your cravat?” she asks impishly.

Scowling, Hamish glances down at the garment. He doesn’t even break stride as he does so. “You’re having me on. There’s nothing there, Alice.”

“If you say so.”

He huffs. “Tell me what’s on your mind, Alice. I shalln’t ask again and then we’ll be forced to endure the rest of this dance in awkward silence.”

“Threats, Hamish? That’s new.”

“Whatever it takes, madam.”

She sighs, glances at Tarrant, who is watching her at that precise moment (which means Valereth still hasn’t reappeared although she can see several men from the railway once more enjoying the party and Lord Ascot’s brandy). “Just tell me your father’s not alone with Mr. Rethbourne.”

“No, he isn’t. If you must know, he’s ensconced in his office with his solicitor, trying to figure out a way to reel you back into the company with an offer of a partnership.”

“What? No! Now you had better be having me on, Hamish.”

“I’m not,” he grouches.

“Botheration,” she growls. “That partnership ought to go to you. You’re the one who worked for it.”

Hamish seems mollified by her assertion. “Thank you, Alice. It’s kind of you to say that.”

“It was an observation, not an opinion. Treat it as such, would you?”

“If you insist.”

“I do.”

He glances down at her with a speculative gleam in his blue eyes. “So you have no interest whatsoever in staying with the company?”

“I’m afraid not, Hamish. I love your father dearly, but I can’t stay. Tarrant isn’t the only one with obligations waiting in—”

“Yes?” Hamish prompts. “What was the name of that delightful nation you’ve come from? It seems to have slipped my mind.”

“Hamish, you rotter, I never told you its name and I’m not about to. Tarrant and I are under obligation to the queen to keep the country’s name and location a secret.”

“A pity. I should think if that hat you’d arrived wearing and this gown are any indication, it’s a country full of people with grand imagination and vision. A trade agreement would have been most welcome.”

“One more mention of trade and I’ll start breaking toes, Hamish.” His lips twitch into a reluctant smile. Alice sighs. “But you’re right. They are a people of great imagination and vision.”

“Which is why you can’t wait to return,” he finished. “I understand, Alice. So will my father. But... he will miss you.”

Only your father? she doesn’t ask. Alice replies, “I’ll miss him, too.”

Hamish glances at her expression, sees the knowing gleam in her eyes and the Mona Lisa smile on her lips, and relaxes. “That will be a comfort to him, I’m sure.”

A peace Alice hadn’t expected to feel (and, least of all, with Hamish Ascot!) settles over her. When Alice glances up again in Tarrant’s direction, she blinks in confusion at the empty space on the wall. Had she looked in the wrong direction? Gotten turned around on the dance floor? (Oh, a pun!) Frowning, she scans the crowd.

“Alice? What is it?”

Still not seeing Tarrant, Alice Calls to him but only a slight stab of aggressive irritation answers her. “I’m so sorry, Hamish, could we cut this dance short?” Meeting his unhappy expression, she offers, “I’ll still owe you one later.”

“Well... I suppose so then,” he answers agreeably and then disengages them both from the throng. Even before they’ve moved completely off of the dance floor, Alice is glancing around for Tarrant.

“Looking for Hightopp?” Hamish comments.

Alice gives him a Look.

He chuckles and nods toward the terrace. “I happened to notice him heading outside. Perhaps he simply needed a breath of fresh air. These sorts of affairs do tend to get a bit stifling. I’m sure he—Alice?!”

Squeezing through the crowd in the direction of the terrace, Alice waves a distracted farewell to Hamish.

“Tarrant?!” she Calls, worried at his sudden absence and the rumblings of frustration along the heart line. Clutching her handbag, she manages to elbow her way toward the open doors and onto the wide balcony overlooking the yard.

She squints into the darkness, willing her eyes to adjust. From this vantage point, she can see the edge of the forest, the gazebo where she and Hamish had suffered through that wretched proposal, and Lady Ascot’s high-hedged, maze-like rose garden...

The rose garden!


Alice squints at a flash of movement deep within the hedges. She’s moving down the steps before she even composes her next heart line message:

“I’m coming!”

But then: “NO! STOP!”

Baffled, she stumbles to a halt at the base of the stairs. In the shadow of the terrace, Alice considers the situation: Why had Tarrant come out here? Is he truly all right? If he weren’t would he admit it to her? His pregnant wife whom he’s supposed to be protecting?

“Stubborn Outlander,” she mutters, striding toward the roses.

But then...


Alice gasps as someone roughly grabs her arm and swings her about. She can’t stop her momentum – aided by the determined strides she’d taken in the direction of the maze – and brings up her arms just in time to keep her face from smashing into the stone wall beneath the terrace.

“Champion Alice.”

Alice’s heart sputters in fear at the satisfaction in Valereth’s soft voice.

“Well? Are you a Champion or not? Turn and face your foe, Lassling.”

The name, spoken in his voice, in that tone, summons forth a storm of memories and before she can trample them down, before she can even remember the existence of the revolver in her handbag she turns.

And flinches at the heat.

Heat and an odd numbness in her stomach.

She twitches, gasps, and looks away from Valereth’s face to the long, slender blade buried in her body.

“Why, Champion Alice... no corset? I don’t believe you’re properly dressed.”

The words, patronizing with the hint of a sneer wash over her. Thinking only of the child – their child! – Alice’s fingers scrabble at the slick, bloody blade, soaking and slicing open her gloves. She pushes herself back until she hits the wall, grabs and pulls at the blade.

But Valereth is stronger.

Alice has no idea what message her heart line is sending now. She cannot recognize Tarrant’s reaction to it. Her mind is blank with panic-fear-terror-desperation-STOP-NO-NO-NO-NO-NOT-REAL-NOT-HAPPENING!!!

She barely feels Valereth’s hand at her throat, knocking her head against the wall, she barely registers the pain of it, barely sees the white stars exploding across her vision. The blade – long and slender, typical of those concealed within a gentleman’s walking stick – stirs, slices, tears.

Her frantic hands are no match for it.


She thinks of the child, the yet-to-be-named child in her belly just bellow the hot, aching, biting pain in her guts.

“Die, Champion of Underland,” a voice commands in her ear. “But, please, not too quickly.”

And then Alice falls. Lands. Her fingers curl into the turf before she finds the strength to move her arm to her abdomen. But no... no... there is nothing she can do about the gaping wounds. He’d run her through. There’s no point in trying to hold herself together. She is not Humpty Dumpty and not even her queen, a woman of considerable skills in the healing arts, will be able to save her now.

“And now for Hightopp.”

Her pain-turned-hopelessness-turned-despair sharpens and twists and snarls.

She opens her eyes, stares as Valereth turns toward the rose gardens. Any moment now Tarrant will come barreling out of there... and right into Valereth’s sword!


Alice grabs for the only thing within her power left to do. The only gift she can give her husband. The only way left for a fallen Champion to fight... and win!


He’d made a choice.

When he’d glanced away from the sight of his Alice twirling around the dance floor with that harmless, sometimes-amusingly-arrogant fop, Hamish, scowling at him and no doubt threatening his future ability to walk successfully in a straight line (although why anyone would bother to walk in a straight line, Tarrant isn’t sure)... when he’d glanced away and had glimpsed that slurking urpal slackush scrum wending his way through the crowd toward the terrace doors... when he’d seen the restrained scowl on the man’s face and the air of determination about his being... when he’d seen that, he’d made a choice. A choice between being Alice’s husband and being her Champion.

He’d left her safe in Ascot’s care, had steeled his heart, and had followed.

Through the crush of perfumed-yet-perspiring people, onto the terrace, down the steps, across the lawn, and down a path formed by towering hedges of red roses.

His mind had reeled slightly at the sight:

Downal wyth Bluddy Behg Hid!!

But a flash of a tailcoat disappearing around the bend had saved him from the madness, from alerting Alice to his quest. No, Alice need not know. He’ll deal with this. This time – this one time! – he’ll save her!

He’d made another choice. A right turn, then another, then a left, and then... and then...

Just as he realizes that the tailcoat and the man wearing it had disappeared, Alice Notices his absence in the ballroom.

He winces at her Alarm. Is this what the sensation feels like when he worries for her? If so, he’s surprised she’s never complained about it before: it feels bloody awful. Massaging his chest with his left hand, long-bladed knife in his right, Tarrant Replies.

“Everything’s fine! Stay where you are.”

Irritated with himself for losing the blighter, he turns and begins making his way back the way he’d come. He breathes with care and steps with soft, deliberate motions. Valereth is out here still and he must be wary of sudden attack. With rational stealth, Tarrant moves through the maze, ignores the color of the roses – ignores the roses entirely! – and pauses at each juncture to listen before crossing the intersection. He’s just beginning to marvel at how very far he’d wandered into the maze when another message from Alice sears his heart.


But, no! NO!! He Shouts his denial back to her. She must stay in the ballroom where it’s safe! Where there are people! Where Valereth would not dare harm her!

He looks up, in what he believes to be the direction of the terrace, and scowls. He damns the too-high, too-thick hedges. He damns the filtered, listless sounds of the party that seem to scatter and echo around him, coming from all directions.

He prays he hasn’t gotten himself turned around in this bloody maze because if he has then...!



Tarrant gasps. “Alice!

He Reaches for her, opens up his heart as he rushes forward, no longer concerned with stealth or silence. He Reaches just as a chillingly familiar, but long-unfelt, sensation settles over the heart line: madness. Alice’s madness.

His breath catches and tangles in his throat. He grabs at the rose bushes to help steady himself as he rushes around corner after corner. His hands come away wet. It does not occur to him that it’s blood.

The moment of Silence – of cold, absolute, mad Silence – that had settled over his heart shatters, breaks, explodes with panic and terror and disbelief and betrayal and desperation so thick and sharp Tarrant gags on it.

“ALICE?!” he Calls.

She doesn’t answer.

The madness has gone and the bitter tang of her panic dulls, un-focuses, rambles and whirls. Her denial is the strongest emotion left now and the others begin to fade, as if she does not have the strength of will to support them all.


Still, she does not answer. Tarrant lunges around the corner and comes to a stop in front of a wall of thorns. For a moment, he gapes at the hedge. The hedge where the exit should be! Had been! But IS NO LONGER!!


Tarrant turns around, retraces his steps, tries to blank that emotion from his thoughts, from his mind. He does not want to Think about what that means. What it must mean. What might cause his Alice to Despair...!


Yes, yes, that’s it, Alice! Fight! Fight just a little longer!

Tarrant finds his wrong turning and corrects it. Nearly there! He. Is. NEARLY. THERE!!


The sound – that’s a gunshot! – upsets his balance and he stumbles over his own feet, but he doesn’t lose momentum. Tarrant is in sight of the exit now... so close! So Very Close!

He emerges in time to see Valereth slump to his knees on the grass, his eyes unfocused in shock and his face devoid of expression, of intent, of thought. The thin, sword-like blade in his grasp drops to the ground, glinting in the light from the party above.

It glints silver... and red.


Tarrant looks across the lawn to the shadows beneath the terrace, to the fair, curling hair of a woman. A woman lying on the ground.


He crashes to his knees beside her. His knife is tossed away, forgotten. Her hands – red, red, red, red! – reach for him and he lifts her, curls his body around hers, cradles her on his thighs, in his arms.


He looks her over now: Her poor hands! (Had she tried to fight against Valereth’s blade with merely her fingers??) And then he sees the spreading stain darkening her tattered dress, the dress he’d altered for her, crafted for her...

In disbelief, he places his hand over the ruin of her belly.


She struggles to keep her eyes open, to look at him, to see him. Her hand lifts and her poor, poor fingers claw at his lapel pocket.

“Jabber...” she whispers.

Without a word, he removes his hand from the torn fabric-and-flesh and grabs one of the vials, opens the cap, presses it to her lips.

She closes her mouth, turns away. “You,” she says.

“No,” he replies. “I’m nae leavin’ ye. Drink it. Think o’ th’ White Queen. She’ll—”

With a strength that surprises him, she wrestles the vial from his grasp. “You. Drink. Move through Time.”

He gapes and struggles to keep Alice from going all blurry and fuzzy on him. “What? Time? Slayed the bastard ages ago. For you, Alice. For you! Ye cannae LEAVE ME NAUW!

“Time and Place,” she insists. She grasps his hand and presses it against her belly, lower than her wounds. “Move through Time and Place,” she repeats. “We need you.”

An odd, broken sob echoes against the stone wall of the terrace. He drags in a breath, blinks his useless eyes.

Choose us!” she grates out, her voice is barely a breath, the scraping of a twig over autumn leaves.

Alice. Alice. Alice. Alice...

Then a Slap! comes through the heart line, startling him, shaking him free of the tears and panic and desolation and hopelessness and...


“So sorry!” he gasps.

“We need you,” she repeats and he can see it’s the last of her strength. “Move through Time. Choose us.” She lifts the vial to his lips.

Beneath his hand, within her belly, something stirs. A flutter of motion. Their littlin’s first Futterwhacken! he thinks through the blindingly hot sting of tears.

“Us...” his Alice whispers. “...drink...”

He does.

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 13 of 22

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