Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 14 of 22

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It is a beautiful plan.

Without the long-term satisfaction of business partners to concern him, Valereth had come upon the most elegant, most vicious, most perfect plan.

And none of it would have been possible without Alice.

He smiles and watches from the shadows of the hallway just beyond the ballroom doors. Alice glides past in that unfashionably colorful gown, in the arms of that pale and utterly unremarkable Ascot buffoon. Soon, it will be time for Valereth to make his move.

He almost regrets ending the game now. He rather would have liked to have strung Hightopp and Mamoreal’s Champion out a bit longer, heightened their fear, played with their anxieties. But that is not his way. He will take his revenge here.  Tonight.  On the night of their "victory" with the commissioners, he will savor his own.  Perhaps this is the only reckless portion of his plan, but it is too poetic to let pass.  A man is surely permitted a few small enjoyments in life, is he not?  Not everything must be done impersonally.  And Valereth will take great pleasure in seeing to this matter personally.  Really, this is the way it must be.  For it is the best way.  And his way is and has always been the best, the surest, the most likely to be met with success.

Jaspien and Oshtyer had not understood that. But it hardly matters now.

He deliberately does not think about Jaspien and the advice – valuable advice! – Valereth had given him on the eve of the Champions’ Duel against the White Queen. If he had taken it, they might have fought and won another day. Instead... Instead...!


The thought turns his tongue to ashes in his mouth.

And for those first few years, he had been without hope of ever regaining anything of value, of ever exacting revenge upon Underland and the Queen’s Champion. But then... Then...!

Valereth smiles.

Yes, then he'd heard the rumors as he'd sat in the back of dingy Grobben pubs, hiding disgracefully in the shadows: the Jabberwocky had spawned and, suddenly, there had been hope once again. It had been a short conversation, indeed, that had secured Oshtyer’s cooperation. They’d watched the nest, tricked the young one, taken its blood, and followed their dreams of Alice Up Here. To London.

Oshtyer’s... efforts had been instrumental in establishing themselves. The man’s natural inclination toward cruelty had lead them to boxing matches and opium dens and brothels. Within a few weeks, the man had opened an... establishment of his own. And, with Valereth’s business acumen, they’d begun accruing funds. Enough funds for Valereth to purchase nice clothing, secure a modest residence, make useful friends. He’d left Oshtyer to his dens, advising him on his finances – their finances, at the time; Valereth’s finances, now! – as he’d sought to find a way to bring Underland to its knees.

And then he’d read of the recent use of dynamite in a mine somewhere in the country. Dynamite. Now all he needed to do was put it in the ground where it would do some good! The optimal location would be beneath Buckingham Palace, for he was sure no Upland Palace would have allowed itself to be built anywhere except upon the same hallowed ground as the greatest of Underland’s castles: Mamoreal. But, it had been easy to see how disappointingly impossible that would be. Still, there had been other options. And he’d taken them!

Instead of destroying Mamoreal in one strike, he’d chosen to employ several. Would the terror not be greater, in the end? And, the end itself, would that not be the same? He’d worked his way onto the subway committee, had lobbied for the use of dynamite, had invested considerable sums in its procurement personally!

Of course, Oshtyer had objected when he’d discovered the fate of their hard-earned funds. But it had hardly mattered then. Oshtyer had served his purpose well enough.

Oshtyer had been lured to the recent demolition site, to the still-gaping hole. A sound knock on the head with a brick and a slash of the blade from Valereth’s walking stick (which had been quite satisfying, indeed!), a roll of pounds in his jacket pocket – and Valereth had been sure to hand the man that jacket on their way out the door, the jacket with the name of London’s finest tailor sewn into the lining – and a push... And that had been the end of Oshtyer and the beginning of the final phase of Valereth’s plan.

He’d expected Alice to follow the trail: check the coat, use the quid, and with Oshtyer dying before being able to impart any valuable information, he’d expected her to arrive blind, not knowing the name of the man she sought or the cause of the devastation that had rocked Underland.

He’d also expected her to come alone.

His initial panic at seeing not only her but also a man exiting the Kingsleigh residence had startled him. But only for a moment. For, when he’d recognized the man, he’d relaxed. Tarrant Hightopp, Mamoreal’s Mad Hatter, would be no match for a mind like Valereth’s. No match at all.

The timing of their arrival had been impeccable. The newspaper article about the recent demolition had kept the two of them occupied on stopping further destruction rather than discovering Valereth’s whereabouts and new identity until...

Valereth smiles.

Until the invitation had arrived. And by then, it had been too late. They had all been invited to the glorious occasion.

Yes, this glorious occasion.

For tonight, Alice will die by the blade. But not quickly. No, no, no quick, easy death – not for the Champion of Underland.

And then Hightopp, he’ll be a simple matter to be dealt with. The death of his bond mate will drive him completely mad. Perhaps Valereth won’t bother to kill him at all. Perhaps he’ll sell the man’s drooling, catatonic shell to a scientific establishment. Yes, he could use the funds to recover the losses of the most recent dynamite purchase.

Not that those explosives will go to waste. Oh, no. They’ll be put to good use.

Very good use.

And his revenge will be complete.

Valereth moves out of the shadows and into the ballroom. Within, Alice is still dancing. Hightopp is still watching.

Watch me, he wills the hatter, schooling himself into the form of a desperate man.

Watch me destroy your life, your world, your existence.

Valereth fights a smile.

His tongue no longer tastes like ash in his mouth.

Now it tastes like honey... and blood.


He makes a choice. When he swallows the oddly tasteless, iridescently purple, watery substance, Tarrant Hightopp chooses his wife, their littlin’, their future.

“Move through Time and Place,” she’d said. He Clings to those words as he Clings to the fading warmth along his heart line from Alice.


His Alice.

His Alice is dying!

And, at her insistence, he Leaves. Before her final breath, before his mind is utterly destroyed by the sensation of the heart line turning to dust, before the Anchor that she is and has always been is cut.

He Leaves, for that is the choice he’d made.

Move through Time.

He doesn’t understand, but he doesn’t need to. He Believes in her. He Trusts her. He will Follow wherever she Leads him.

He imagines her.

Not broken and bloody and... and... (Her poor hands!) and rattling breaths and... and... (Their child dying beneath his hand – one twitch of Life before the arrival of Death!) and...


He shakes himself and Remembers her. Dancing with Hamish Ascot, just across the crowded ballroom. He imagines her there, scowling up at the man, threatening his toes, and looking so utterly, incomparably lovely and alive and wearing the dress he’d fashioned for her, HIS-AND-ONLY-HIS ALICE!!

He Recalls that moment, Reaches for it with all his might.

Take me There!

The warm body in his arms lightens, fades. A wind that is not wind – is not anything at all! – engulfs him. Pulls him.

Pulls him Downward.


He resists the siren’s call of Underland. He can feel it opening to him, beckoning, awaiting his return. For the briefest moment, he hallucinates: he imagines he’ll find peace there, happiness, his Alice.

But, no. NO!!

He fights the draw of the blood, the blood’s living owner, the land of Under itself.

He fights for Alice.


He Envisions her smile, the golden light from the gas lamps of the ballroom illuminating her hair, the animation in her gaze as she looks at him over Ascot’s shoulder...


Every want he’s ever had, every desire he’s ever felt, every need he’s ever tasted is encapsulated in Her Name.

And suddenly, the wind-that-is-not-wind stops.

The pull evaporates.

The music resumes.

Tarrant shudders, swallows, opens his eyes, and blinks at the scene before him.

He’s once again standing in the crowd, against the wall. The very wall he and Alice had stationed themselves in front of in order to keep watch on the entrances and exits of the room.


He scans the whirling, twirling crush of dancers, searching, searching...


He catches sight of Hamish’s red hair and then a flair of violet skirt and then...!

Alice...” Tarrant very nearly crashes to his knees. She’s alive! Still! Yet!

He grabs for the nearest object with which to steady himself. His palm slams down, connecting with something solid – the buffet table! – and shakes it, nearly upsetting a tray of petit fours. Stumbling a bit, forcing his knees not to tremble, Tarrant glances down and gasps at... at...


He closes his eyes, shakes his head, blinks them open again...

And stares at his perfectly pristine cravat, waistcoat, and shirt.

Ye’re imaginin’ thin’s, lad.

Yes, he is. He is not covered in Alice’s blood. He frowns.

Is he imagining things? Perhaps that scene, that horrible scene and that unthinkable event – he can’t even Think it without feeling his grip on sanity begin to slide away from him – had merely been a nightmare?

A nightmare that he remembers with painful, terrifying clarity.

But look! he tells himself. Alice is fine!

So that means that unthinkable thing had not happened to her and their littlin’. That means her hands – her poor, poor fingers! – had not been mutilated in the struggle with a blade and her belly had not been—!


Tarrant shakes his head, looks up, finds Alice again, takes a deep breath.

Ye see, lad? Th’lass an’ yer bairn ‘r’ jus’fine.

Yes, yes they are.

He doesn’t think twice about sending her his love, sharing it along the heart line.

Only... only this time, something’s wrong. The message disintegrates before he feels it burn across the mark from his heart into hers. It falls dead from his fingertip.

Tarrant startles, stares at his gloved left hand, struggles with the sudden and inexplicable feeling of Aloneness, Abandonment...

What in the name of Underland is going on here?

He struggles to focus – a task that should not be quite so difficult! – but his thoughts are scattered, swirling, random.

What is he doing just standing here? Why had he let Alice dance off with her former Intended? He hates gloves. The heart line is a secret – their secret. And a memory: Alice’s hand pressed over his chest and her voice promising him, “I’m your secret, Tarrant...” The flash of swords: Fight Alice! Don’ le’him draw ye in! Where is her sword now? No, now she has a revolver...


“It is a man’s duty to assert his will over nature...”

“Tarrant has never forced me to do a single thing!”

Tarrant shudders as the memories and thoughts and questions pile on top of one another, layering and swirling and swelling...!

With a brief flash of Alice’s naked belly, just beginning to curve, beginning to grow full with their littlin’, Tarrant shakes himself sharply.

“Futterwhacken!” he shouts.

He blinks, ignores the startled glances he’d drawn from nearby party guests. He relishes the moment of Quiet in his mind.

His mind...!

The heart line...!

And he Knows: it’s no longer working.

He fists his hands at the thought: he’s Alone. For the first time in years, his Alice cannot Feel him, just as he cannot Feel her and he is Alone with the madness and it never really left and he was never really healed and every Bad thought and memory had merely been waiting for this moment, waiting for him to be cut loose from his Alice so that they might drown him in the darkness and despair and the darkest of nightmares...!


Her poor fingers!

No, ‘twas jus’ a dream!

Their littlin’!

Is fine!

The blood: red, red, red, red, red...!

There is nae any blood nauw, lad!

He shivers, closes his eyes, turns away from the cacophony of the melee.

And he sees a familiar face. It wears an expression that would have been bland if not for the scowl of fury tightening the muscles just beneath the skin.


Tarrant watches as the man crosses the room, his body tense with suppressed purpose.

Alice’s recent words of Concern come back to him in that instant: “He won’t want to give up his plans so easily.”

Tarrant’s eyes narrow.

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

Which means the man could use it at any time... “Given the opportunity,” Tarrant murmurs.

He follows.

Each step feels Fated, somehow. He finds himself fighting a chill, swallowing down his anxiety, pushing aside his thoughts.

No, he cannot allow the madness to distract him now! Not now!

He passes over the threshold and moves onto the balcony. Turning, scanning, he just notices Valereth disappear into the looming hedges across the lawn.

Something pulls Tarrant in that direction. Warily, he begins descending the stairs. And yet, with each step, he grows colder, shivers harder.

Something is Wrong.

Halfway down the flight of stairs, he stops. He places a hand over his unfeeling heart...

Why is the Heart Mark so silent? Broken?

... and frowns at the soft sound of hollow glass tinkling out of his lapel pocket. He reaches in and pulls out the vials of Jabberwocky blood. The first he grasps glows purple in the dim light of the party behind him. The second...

He stares. He can feel his brows twitching, his mouth trembling.

But for a few drops clinging to the interior of the vial, the second is completely empty.


Tarrant’s hand fists around the vials as his memories – those soul-destroyingly-devastating recollections of his Alice dying in his arms – revisit him. Sear him. Strip the sanity from his mind.

It was REAL!

Not a nightmare. Not a delusion. Not a night terror of the foulest sort. Not...!

He slumps against the wall, his knees giving out completely, and he slides to the cold, stone steps. He buries his head in his hands, suffers through the sensation of his entire being blurring with the need to scream, to sob, to shout, to give in to the sickness within him.


He Calls, but he knows she does not Hear him. How can she hear him? This mind from an unbearable future is trapped within a body that has not yet lived it! He is not One with his Alice because Time has Separated them! This mind knows not this heart line!

Time forgets Tarrant there, on the stairs – a rhyme! – until the shadowy hint of motion catches his attention:

Valereth. Crossing the lawn toward the terrace, returning to the party. But, no, not returning.

Tarrant watches as the man’s form melds and disappears into the shadows at the base of the terrace wall. Waiting.

For what?

And then another flutter of activity, much closer. Tarrant looks up as Alice steps out onto the terrace. “Tarrant?” she calls.

The sound of her voice, so utterly Alice, destroys his strength and his reply disintegrates in his chest.

She turns – turns away from him! – and begins jogging down the steps – the steps curving down to the lawn from the right side of the balcony! Tarrant watches from his position – still sitting – on the opposite set of stairs and suddenly...!


He begins to Understand!

Tarrant glances in the direction of the maze, watches a wispy recollection of Valereth striding toward and then entering the hedged path without a backwards glance. And then, a moment later, Tarrant remembers... himself following after him!

Tarrant gapes, gawks, struggles to comprehend...

Ye’ve gone back in Time, lad.

So... so that’s...?

Aye, ‘tis ye. Th’ mem’ry o’ th’ one o’ye who was stupid enough teh leave yer Alice unprotected.

Tarrant feels his hands fist, his expression harden. He won’t be making that mistake this time!

“Stubborn Outlander...” his Alice whispers and he hears her Fear!

He scrambles to his feet. ALICE!

He grasps the railing and pulls himself up to the edge of the stairs, sees his Alice pause at the base of the staircase opposite. A few paces away, in the deepest dark of the shadows, a figure stirs.


Tarrant backs up a step, reaffirms his grasp on the railing, and sends himself flying over the edge!


Alice sighs heavily and surveys the Ascot’s finely groomed lawn. There’s the gazebo – she ignores the memories it stirs as if they are merely a tiny cloud of harmless, buzzing insects – and she sees the rose garden, of course – another irritating memory! – and beyond both, the edge of the wood wherein she’d fallen down the rabbit hole...

She considers her options.

She takes a deep breath. The rose garden, she decides, suddenly anxious not only over the alarming cessation of Tarrant’s presence in and around her heart, but also over something else... Something she can’t quite... Alice shivers, wonders at the inexplicable fear gripping her. Tarrant? Where are you? And, for that matter, where is she? Where is the Champion she has become? Shouldn’t she be stronger? Braver? Muchier than this?

Her hands tremble. Her breaths pant. Oh, why had Tarrant wandered off now? And why can’t she Feel him? And where is he? And why did he leave her alone? “Stubborn Outlander...” she mutters but the sound of her own voice – wavering, warbling and otherwise distinctly lacking in the frustration she’d meant to flavor it with – gives her no comfort. The fear is almost enough to drive her back up the stairs, but the thought that he Needs her... The knowledge that if she wants answers, she’ll have to Seek them herself... Each takes a hand and pulls her forward.

She takes a hesitant step in the direction of the rose labyrinth, pauses, turns back toward the steps and sees...!

“Champion Alice.”

Alice swallows back her surprise. “Valereth,” she answers evenly, happy to be out of his reach but very unhappy to see the long, slender sword in his hand. “I’ve thought up another answer to your riddle,” she hears herself say.

His lips twitch in a brief expression of amusement. “As have I.”

He lunges. She stumbles back, trips over the hem of the long skirt, falls.


Rolls away.

And stops at the sound of metal striking not flesh, not stone, but... metal?!

Alice jerks her head up and feels her eyes widen, for there is Tarrant, standing between her and the sword, his much shorter knife being employed to block Valereth’s advance.

The very sight of her husband so close to mortal peril nearly breaks her, but no. NO! That will not help Tarrant now!

Later, much later, she will wonder why she hadn’t considered screaming for help. She will chastise herself for that, for her foolish self-reliance. For risking Tarrant’s life so rashly. It does not even occur to her to call for help. She reaches for her sword and then remembers why she isn’t wearing it.

Brangergain i’tall!

Tarrant has Valereth’s sword arm in his grasp and Valereth has locked his fingers around the hand that holds Tarrant’s knife. There’s a flurry of feet – kicking and scraping – and then both of them are losing their balance, falling! They roll away from each other and stand, begin circling. Valereth’s much longer blade is trained on Tarrant. Tarrant, whom she can no longer Feel, but if that look on his face is any indication, has completely lost himself to his madness...

Alice shivers and tries to think!

The revolver!

Of course! How utterly stupid of her not to have reached for it sooner! She dives for her handbag, tears it open, pulls out the gun and snaps the bullet-filled cylinder into place. She braces herself against the balustrade, pulls back the hammer, aims and sights...

And growls as Tarrant steps in her way. The knife and sword flash in the darkness, gleaming with hidden light that must be coming from the stars because the gas lamps are throwing nothing but long, black shadows over this patch of the estate.

Tarrant sidesteps a lunge, slashes with the knife, but his reach is too short and Valereth’s too long and if this goes on much longer, the man will send that blade right through her husband’s belly!

She’s mad-scared-frustrated-frightened-enraged-terrified enough to scream!

Scream... she thinks.

And then she does.

Affecting her best imitation of Thackery’s Witzend accent, she hollers, “Ye’re late f’r TEA!

Out of a long-ago-learned reflex, Tarrant ducks.

Valereth swings with the cane sword.

Alice pulls the trigger.


Tarrant flinches and rolls out of the way.

Had Valereth’s hand not suddenly gone lax, allowing the sword to wobble uselessly, had the gun not fired correctly, Tarrant would have... would have...

She doesn’t think it. She won’t think it!

Valereth stumbles to his knees.

Alice rushes forward and, grasping her husband’s elbow, helps him to his feet.

“A gun...” Valereth murmurs, his hands pressing against the hole in his chest.

Alice takes in the flash of numb surprise in his eyes and, finally, the last puzzle piece fits into place. “A gun, a gift from Oshtyer,” Alice says, although by the unfocused state of the man’s eyes she doubts he can even hear her. “Who understood Uplanders far better than you ever could.”

Tarrant wraps his arms around her, nuzzles her hair, but Alice doesn’t turn away from the man dying at their feet. She watches as he sits back on his heels, lists to the side, and tumbles to the lawn. She forces herself to watch as the light leaves his eyes, forces herself to listen as the breath rattles from his lungs.

Champion Alice.

Yes, she still is that.

Finally, when her duty is done and the man is utterly dead, she closes her eyes, drops the gun, fights back the wave of nausea, and buries her nose in Tarrant’s jacket. Where she smells his fear and perspiration and the clinging scents of gas smoke and invasive cologne. She smells him, but, still, she does not Feel him.

Leaning back, she frowns up at him. “Tarrant, what...? Why can’t I...?”

She’s startled into silence by his eyes. Aqua. Rich, deep, glowing aqua. He smiles and it is utterly mad.

His knife is gone and his arms are around her, but one uncurls, reaches for his lapel pocket and lifts out...

Alice is puzzled for a moment at the sight of the vial of glowing Jabberwocky blood. But then Tarrant moves away from her, uncaps it, leans over Valereth, forces the man’s mouth open and upends the contents into it.

“Back teh where ye b’long, ye wretched waste o’ a man,” he Commands.

Alice can do nothing but watch, flunderwhapped, as Valereth’s body begins to fade and then... disappears completely.

“I don’t underst—”

She gasps as a sensation that is not a snap, not a punch, not a crashing tidal wave, but all of those things and so much more...! smashes into her chest. Into her heart.

Alice struggles to breathe and then Tarrant is there. He is There! And she can Feel him again and his madness is so hot and desperate and Real and his Love and frantic Desperation and...!

Alice!” his whisper is a scream, a sob, a prayer in her ear. His body is warm and solid and shivering around hers. She clings to him, still not understanding: Why had the heart line broken and then mended itself so suddenly? What...? Why...? How...?


He leans back, aligns his mouth with hers, but suddenly pulls back. Before she can protest, she feels his hand – hot and large – press against her belly.

He says nothing, but his silence is more filled with eloquence and meaning than any words could possibly impart. And then...

Alice gasps as something... moves. Flutters. From within her.

She blinks through the sudden blurring of her vision, focuses on Tarrant’s overjoyed and devoted expression through the heat burning behind her eyes and the feel of...

Their child.

Tarrant leans closer, his breaths are sighs of relief and love so fierce he can’t contain the emotions and Alice is overwhelmed by them.

“Futterwhacken,” he murmurs against her lips and, finally, kisses her.

And it is a kiss like none other they’ve shared. He does more than taste, savor, worship, give, take, need... He is. He exists in her, with her.

“There is no me without you.”

Had he only whispered those words a few hours ago? Had she foolishly thought she’d understood them then?

She understands now.

They kiss until the taste is lost, until their unique flavors are thoroughly mixed and their tongues have become numb to the nuances of it. They kiss until there is only soft, wet warmth here in the darkness.

“Alice,” he murmurs, pulling away to drink in the scent of her hair, her throat. “I chose us, Alice. Us.

As the words register through the haze of awakening passion and lingering relief, Alice opens her eyes.

Straightening and reaching into his lapel pocket once more, Tarrant removes the second glass vial of the Jabberwocky’s blood.

It’s empty.

“I chose us... my Alice... our littlin’... Us.

His mind is still chaotic, she knows, but looking at that vial, she thinks... perhaps she can imagine... Alice closes her eyes and wraps her arms around her stomach.

Yes, she can imagine what set of circumstances – unbearable circumstances! – might have motivated Tarrant to drink the Jabberwocky blood, to travel into the past, to change the present.

I must have told him... she muses. I must have sent him through Time myself.

“You saved us,” she answers. “Protected us.”

His arms are tight around her again. “I promised ye I would.”

“Thank you.” The words are so inadequate, but she can think of nothing else to say in their place. She Sends her answer instead.

She feels tears against her ear, gulping breaths in her hair and against her neck. Somehow, she finds herself in possession of the empty vial, the vial that had contained the jabberwocky blood that Tarrant had drunk. The jabberwocky blood that had – she is sure! – saved her life, their child’s life, Tarrant’s life!

Thank you, Krystoval, she thinks, returning her husband’s grasping hold. And thank you, Oshtyer. Thank you both for these precious gifts...

A resolution.

And a second chance.

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 14 of 22

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