Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 18 of 22

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

The baby wakes her just before dawn. Alice frowns as an unfamiliar bedroom swims into focus. Gingerly, she rolls over... and into Tarrant’s solid warmth next to her. Alice can’t remember accepting a guest room in Hamish’s residence, can’t recall entering it or disrobing down to her shrift, either. In fact, the last thing she recalls is leaning her head back against the sofa cushions and curling up...

She glances over her shoulder at her husband’s still-sleeping face and smiles. Somehow, Tarrant must have transported her to this bed. He’d even managed to remove her boots without waking her this time! Either he’s getting more skillful at taking care of her or she’s getting better at trusting him to do so. Or, perhaps, a bit of both.

Suddenly, the listless shifting in her abdomen intensifies and very nearly vibrates. Gasping, she pulls Tarrant’s arm over her side and settles his palm against her belly and the activity within. She watches his expressions as he wakes: an instant of Objection, a moment of Stubbornness, a flicker of Contentment, a twinge of Awe, and then a ripple of...

What? No, can’t be, she thinks.

But it is.

Tarrant opens his eyes, green and unfocused. He nuzzles his cheek into her longer hair and sighs. “Alice...” He meets her gaze and there’s a moment of Shame before he allows himself to show her what he truly feels. “Is it wrong for me to...?”

He moves closer to her and she feels his warmth all down her side, from shoulder to knee. She can’t help but take note of that part of him against her hip.

“In the morning?” she wonders aloud, unable to even consider that he might find her swollen body remotely appealing... well, That Way. “I’d say it’s pretty usual by now...”

“No,” he rumbles in her ear. “It’s not morning yet. I was dreaming of you and...” His hand stirs on her belly, caresses. “And you’ve part of me inside you, Alice. And you wanted... you asked me to... you accepted, sought, took, gave, will give and it’s... it’s...” He groans softly into her hair. “Is it wrong for me to... think These Things?”

She swallows thickly as his hips move again, clarifying exactly what Sorts of Things he’s thinking. “No, it’s not wrong,” she manages, her heart rate picking up. She closes her eyes and rolls the idea around in her head – his point of view: part of him has joined with part of her inside her; she’d Wanted this, had Offered... She shivers despite the fact that she always feels warm these days. Margaret and her mother had assured her the constant warmth is normal. But they had said nothing about the possibility of her husband desiring her like this!

“It’s not wrong,” she repeats, her voice husky even to her own ears and Tarrant nibbles at her ear. When she turns toward the heat of his mouth, he leans over her and gently curves his arm around the mound of her stomach.

“I’ll ne’er forget th’way ye look, lass, carryin’ our littlin’... I cannae find th’words teh d’scribe ye...”

“Try?” she asks, needing this reassurance.

Lovelish...” he burrs. “Beautrific... a-glouminous... prechlian... geminous... My wife, my Alice...”

She moves closer to the sound of his voice and kisses him. She opens her arms to him and he shifts to crouch over her. Her shrift and his trousers are tossed over the edge of the bed. A pillow is inserted under her hips and his warm hands – no longer so rough these days – are wrapping her legs around his hips and he’s...!

Alice swallows back a moan. He kneels between her thighs, moves gently-slowly-wonderfully! within her. She doesn’t care that it’s nearly time to get up, that they’re in a borrowed bed, under the roof of a man who had once asked for Alice’s hand...

Tarrant makes love to her, cradles her breasts and belly in his hands, whispers Outlandish endearments flavored with lust, lust that he – incredibly! implausibly! impossibly! – feels for her because of this shape she’s become.

“Impossible,” she murmurs, reaching for his hand and guiding it down her body to the place where they come together. “That you want...”

“I do,” he answers, his breath almost a whine. His gentle, nimble fingers touch her where she’d directed. “I do wan’ ye, m’Alice. Can ye no’feel it?” he teases a bit breathlessly.

She closes her eyes, arcs against the mattress, gives herself over to him. Smiles. “Impossible thing number one: my husband will desire me because I carry his child.”

“Number two,” he continues, “My Alice will want my child.”

She gasps. “Three: we will dare to make love in this house.”

“Four: we’ll ne’er be apart.”

His movements and ministrations mesmerize her and she feels her end approaching. Her victory. No, his victory. The victory he gives her. Thoughts and breath and words... all are gone as she feels the Intensity crash into her!

And as her pounding heart begins to subside, she feels him moving faster which means soon he’ll...

“Five! I’ll-be-a-fa’her!” he shouts on a strangled breath. And then his eyes lose their focus completely. The right pupil dilates and his breaths gasp. His hips suddenly still and his chest expands with each hard-won breath. Alice pushes his hair back over his shoulders, pets his skin, calls him back to her, here and now, in this borrowed bed in Hamish Ascot’s house.

“Six,” she concludes when his breaths have calmed somewhat and his blood has stopped racing. “I will love my husband more now than I did just a moment ago.”

“My Alice,” he answers between breaths, “have you already forgotten? That’s not an impossible thing.”

Alice smiles. “Neither are the rest of them.”

Tarrant smiles back. She passes her fingertips over his lips and memorizes that smile, curls her fingers closed and keeps it safe in the palm of her hand, carries it with her as they rise and prepare to meet the dawn. And What Comes Next.


The duel.

Alice’s stomach lurches as the carriage pulls to a halt. She grasps the handle of her valise a bit tighter, reminds herself that she’s placed two throwing knives in her jacket pocket for convenience and that Tarrant wears his gauntlets – something he should have done the night of that damned soiree! – and tells herself that this is Hamish’s fight and Hamish will be fine so she need not worry that Tarrant will be in danger.

No, there will be no mortal peril here today. She Believes that. She must.

Hamish measures their expressions with a long look and then says, “I’ll give you a moment, shall I?” Sword box under his arm, he ducks out of the carriage before either of them can summon up a half-hearted protest.

Alice doesn’t waste time; they only have a Moment.

She leans over and kisses her husband, her heart so full of fear and need and resignation and desperation she feels tears burn her eyes. “Choose us, no matter what happens. Please.”

“I do. I shall. I will. I have, my Alice.”

His gloved fingertips drift along her cheek and then the carriage rocks as he turns and steps outside. In the shadows, Alice watches and waits.

This is not Alice’s first duel, but it is her first time witnessing one, and in all honesty she should not even be here, invading this time-honored and sacred gentlemen’s rite.

She couldn’t care less. She needs to be here. Her sanity and the heart line and the wellbeing of their child Demand it.

As this is Tarrant’s first – and hopefully only and last! – Uplandish duel, he follows Hamish’s cues and introduces the two of them to the attending physician. The man frowns at Hamish, looking very disappointed. Hamish weathers the doctor’s disapproval well, however. Alice can only imagine that they know each other. Perhaps the man will even tell Lord Ascot of this.

Well, that’s Hamish’s problem.

Alice has Other Things to worry about.

The Manchester carriage pulls into the small field. Her hands fist so tightly in her jacket and skirt that, despite the gloves, she feels the muscles cramp.

Please let Tarrant not need any of these potions...

Alice doesn’t know what she’ll do if these basic health aides, with which the queen had equipped them before their journey, fail him. Or are not sufficient for his injuries. They have no more jabberwocky blood, no ready escape to Mamoreal’s alchemy lab and Mirana’s expertise in the healing arts.

Once again, they are alone.

Were it not for the fact that Hamish had truly been doing all that he could to help her sister and nephew, Alice is fairly certain she could have browbeaten or blackmailed Hamish into apologizing. Or perhaps that’s merely wishful thinking on her part. But it matters not! For here they are.

It is a shame, however, that Hamish and Lowell do not fight for her sister’s freedom – for that would truly be something worth fighting for! They fight for honor. Or the shallow, hollow dream that it is.

She’d very much like to kill Lowell for forcing all of them into this situation. She damns him, his weakness, he need for alcohol and mistresses and brothels and gambling and what in the world is wrong with the man?! How could her father have missed the sicknessin him? Why had Charles Kingsleigh looked the other way when Margaret, cheeks flushed and eyes sparkling, had announced that Lowell had proposed?

If there were ever one thing Alice would dare to think ill of her father for, it would be this.

Or, perhaps not. Perhaps he had merely been drawn in by his own hope: hope that marriage to Margaret would draw Lowell away from his flaws and weaknesses, would strengthen him, would change him for the better.

Alice is glad her father had not lived to be disappointed. Marriage has, in fact, pushed Lowell as far away from Better as one can possibly get: he has since become Worse.

If the reports from the investigator Hamish had hired are to be believed (and also if Hamish can be trusted not to skew that information in the retelling), then the man has been steadily wearing his way through and using up favors and compassion from both friends and family at an alarmingly increasing rate.

Lowell Manchester had had no business whatsoever getting married at all!

Alice is sure her father must have known this. Certainly, Charles Kingsleigh had had Lowell’s finances checked. His habits reported on. Undoubtedly, he’d already heard rumors about the man’s... proclivities. And yet... And yet he’d never raised a single objection to the match. He’d said nothing at all.

Giving Lowell the benefit of the doubt? Or a second chance? Alice wonders, but then decides it does not matter. Now they are all victims to her father’s mad dream of an impossible outcome.

Alice hates – despises, abhors, detests! – that Tarrant has been pulled into this. Of every rotten facet of the situation, that is the worst! But neither she nor Tarrant can – in good conscience – leave Hamish, his good intentions, and his honor at the mercy of one of his useless, poncy peers. Not when he had dared to not ignore the fact that Alice’s sister is trapped in a marriage of humiliation and shame. Not when he had glimpsed only more of the same on the horizon for her.

Oh, if only they had more time!

Time. Yes, in this instance, Time could not be more cruel.

Alice places her hands over her belly, feels the baby roll over then settle, and curses the Time that makes her, Tarrant, and their child so vulnerable. It’s true that Alice would duel Lowell herself if she could! It’s true that, in the past, she has dueled for less!

But now she and Tarrant have so much more to lose than simply each other.

If the creditors would but wait until after Christmas – and the birth of their child! – she would not be so fearful; she would not wonder or dread what might happen to their child should anything... adversely affect her heart line. She hates that their child is at the mercy of her body, an imperfect body, a body with unimaginable strength but also a frightening weakness. But they cannot wait until their child is born; Lowell’s debts cannot be put off any longer and this had been Hamish’s chance to save Margaret’s marriage. If only Lowell had signed the blasted contract!

But no. He’d let his dumb pride get in the way. He’d demanded this fight. This duel.

Alice shivers even though the combined body heat – her own and the baby’s – ensures that she is rarely cold. Bad Things happen during duels. Men lose their heads, behave foolishly while armed with dangerous weapons. She’s heard the stories of how often there are... accidents. How often the Seconds end up fighting each other with just as much ferocity as the named combatants.

She will kill Lowell’s Second if he so much as takes a step in her husband’s direction!

Stop, she tells herself, focusing on the weight of the throwing knife that had somehow wandered into her grasp. She cannot permit her anxiety to reach Tarrant. He must focus now. She must focus now.

All is not lost. For even if Lowell loses the fight, he may reconsider the contract. Surely he can keep his nose clean for a few months, until his birthday and his annual salary is awarded to him for the following year!

And, although she hates to think it, Hamish losing the fight – safely! – would not be a total disaster. The very fact that Lowell would have managed to defend his honor might actually stretch him along a bit more with his creditors, up his standing, buy him a smidgeon of leeway.

Alice admits she had been wrong to imply that Hamish’s actions are not noble. In fact, she knows of no nobler man in all of Upland. But she knows she’s not wrong to assume that his motivations for doing this are... emotional. Alice knows what kind of... attachment would inspire this sort of defensive scheming and risk-taking, this willingness to face one’s own mortality.

She knows what it takes to inspire someone to risk so much for a dream.

Across the clearing, Lowell and his Second emerge from their carriage.

They face Hamish and Tarrant across a modest distance.

Hamish offers no apology.

The swords are inspected and, despite the frost on the ground and the chill in the morning air, coats and jackets are doffed.

Hamish and Lowell face off in their trousers and shirtsleeves and, in the instant before the first blow is landed, Alice hopes these last few months of fencing lessons will not have been for naught.

Lowell attacks first.

Alice watches, the throwing knife in her hand and the valise they’d quietly rushed through her mother’s house to pack at her feet. She keeps her attention on Lowell’s Second, for the most part. But, remembering the underhanded play Stayne had tried so long ago, she also watches the combatants, too.

Lowell is good, surprisingly. Perhaps the man is angry enough to focus. Or perhaps he’d merely burned through the booze with several cups of coffee this morning. It matters not. He’s a threat.

He steps confidently, attacks quickly, lunges smoothly.

Yes, he’s quite good.

Hamish, however, is clearly Better.

Although the man has merely his recent interest in fencing to guide him, he uses those skills effectively. Alice glimpses his footwork and combination lunge-parry-lunge-turn-strike-parry! with interest. Hopefully, if Hamish is this good, Tarrant really will have something to teach her when she’s able to learn it!

She slaps the wayward thought aside and shifts her attention back to Lowell’s Second. The man hasn’t moved from his stance near the carriage. In fact, he appears utterly indifferent to the fight. Or perhaps he is merely indifferent to Lowell.

Which could mean that...

The man had not agreed to be Lowell’s Second out of camaraderie, but out of warmongering.

No, she tells herself, Tarrant will not have to fight!

She had purposefully left this point out of their six impossible things for today. She will not risk making the necessity of her husband’s safety an unconquerable obstacle, an unavoidable tragedy.

Tarrant will not have to fight!

Hamish sidesteps a jab and returns it with a brief slash which catches Lowell’s sleeve before the man manages to block it. Alice watches as red blossoms on the white fabric of his torn sleeve and wishes the terms of the duel had been confined to first blood. However...

Lowell redoubles his efforts, circling Hamish and attacking with a flurry of fairly predictable – but fast! – left-right-left-right! assault.

Watch your flank! she wants to yell but bites her tongue instead.

Lowell lunges low, catches Hamish in the thigh, near his knee. The man stumbles back, keeps his guard up, and ignores the damp fabric clinging to the wound beneath the fine wool of his trousers.

Lowell preens.

Hamish scowls and performs a pathetically half-hearted lunge at the man’s chest. Lowell blocks it easily and Hamish – daringly! – uses the momentum to spin himself, pivot smartly on his good leg and return the favor, slicing open Lowell’s pant leg along the back of his thigh.

Lowell curses and flinches away.

Favoring their wounds, they once again face off.

Shirtsleeves are ripped, trousers torn, flesh sliced and punctured, but no one moves to execute a fatal blow.

As the minutes are trampled beneath booted feet and crushed into the frosty, nearly frozen ground, Lowell’s arm becomes less steady, trembles with exhaustion. His feet drag and his knees refuse to bend as readily as they had. Hamish, however... Hamish’s recent training has clearly paid off – or, rather, it will pay off if the man can keep his wits about him, draw Lowell in, disarm him and finish the fight.

She continues to divide her attention between the duelists and their Seconds, relieved that Tarrant is still alert.

A shout goes up from the center of the clearing: Lowell.

And Alice would have looked away if not for the suspicious shrug of the Second’s shoulder. Before she can do more than lift the throwing knife and aim, Tarrant has already thrown one of his own. It strikes the man in the shoulder joint – deeply, if his shocked gasp and widened eyes are any indication! – through the layers of his coat, jacket, vest, and shirt. His hand, dangling at his side, spasms open and a small pistol drops to the ground.

Tarrant raises a hand, shakes his head, and waggles a finger at the man. “I wouldnae b’ doin’tha’ again, if’n ye’re hopin’ teh keep th’use o’yer other arm,” he warns softly.

Gritting his teeth, the man reaches up and pulls the small throwing knife from his flesh. He weighs it in the fingers of his left hand for a moment and then Alice sees a malicious gleam flash through his eyes. In the next instant, the knife is spinning through the air...

... right at Hamish.

There is nothing Alice can do. Nothing Tarrant can do. It all happens so fast and there are no cats with evaporating skills or bloodhounds to knock the man out of the way.

There is, however, a rock.

At the precise moment Alice realizes the danger he’s in, he steps backward.


His arms flail wide.

Lowell lunges forward, blade trained on Hamish’s chest.

And the little steel throwing knife strikes the nearest target: Lowell’s shoulder.

“Bloody hell!

Lowell flinches, steps back, his sour expression twisted with pain: Hamish has regained his footing; the chance to end the fight has been lost. Furious, Lowell glances up at the Seconds, from one to the other.

“That’s Hightopp’s knife in your shoulder,” his man informs him, gesturing for Lowell to back up toward him so he can pull it out.

The doctor waves the man away. Hamish gapes at Tarrant, who sends the other Second a furious glare from beneath his hat.

Lowell screams, “You gutless cheat! Ascot! Is this how you fight for your honor?

“No, it is not!” he protests. He stomps – as menacingly as his wounds allow – over to Tarrant as the doctor examines the knife still in Lowell’s shoulder. “Why in the world would you dare to bring... bloody... throwing knives!” Hamish spits on a whisper, “to a duel?

Tarrant is not given a chance to answer.

“What the blazes were you thinking?” Alice hears Hamish hiss in Tarrant’s ear. “I explained that this was to be a fight between Manchester and myself!”

“Mayhap no one informed Manchester’s mahn o’that,” Tarrant growls back, keeping his eyes on the subject of his speculation. “Ye asked me wha’t I was thinkin’? I was thinking tha’m’Alice woul’nae want me teh ge’shot by tha’booly grommer!”

Shot?!” Hamish sputters, looking across the clearing at Lowell’s Second.

Alice is not a little bit surprised to note a sudden and utter lack of surprise in either Hamish’s tone or expression as he takes note of the man.  “Blakefield,” he growls, encapsulating a History in that one word.  His next are spoken so softly she almost doesn’t hear them: “You would bring a pistol to my duel, you cheat.” “Ye’re nae su’prised,” Tarrant observes. Hamish rounds on him.  “I’m not surprised that you would bring knives here, either!  You’re a wretched cheat, Hightopp.  You know I have to win or lose on my own merits!” “Aye, I do.  An’ I was willin teh le’ye do so.  Howe'er, Blakefield seems teh’ve felt o’herwise.”  Tarrant continues on a rumble, “Bu’nauw I’m thinkin’ ‘twas fortuitous ye’d stumbled o’er yer own feet, Ascot ‘r tha’mahn wouldae foun’dis mark in ye wi’my dag’her.”

“You... Wait a moment. You didn’t throw it at Lowell?”

Tarrant nods across the clearing. “He’s th’one wi’th’ bluddy shoulder an’ th’pistol a’his feet!”

Lowell, having overheard this, shouts, “This is an outrage! How dare you accuse Blakefield of such underhanded treachery!”

“I’ll accuse where it’s warranted,” Tarrant replies, his mood shifting suddenly, speaking in a tone eerily similar to that of the voice of the Blackness. Alice focuses on calm, on rationality, on confidence and Sends him what strength she can. His posture straightens from the crouch he’d been leaning forward into. His hands uncurl from their claw-like arrangement before fisting.

Alice breathes a sigh of relief.

The relief itself, however, is short-lived.

“Doctor Jameson...!” Hamish begins.

“Don’t ask me for verification, sir. I was attending to my patients.” The man removes the knife without warning and, ignoring Lowell’s squeal of pain, presses a cloth against his shoulder. “And, by the way, if either of you would like my opinion, I believe this fight is over. For today at any rate. Continue to fight in the condition you’re both in and I can promise neither of you will be pleased with the consequences.”

Tarrant gently shoves Hamish in the direction of the carriage. He then crosses the field and collects the sword Lowell had dropped and holds out his hand for the throwing knife which the doctor returns to him with a disgusted grimace. Hamish waits at the carriage door, swaying on his feet and bleeding, but he doesn’t take his eyes off of Lowell’s Second. Alice doubts he could do anything to prevent another attack on Tarrant now, but that’s not the point. Hamish stays outside and waits for his friend to safely cross the field and Alice could kiss him for watching her husband’s back, for this show of solidarity. She keeps the throwing knife at the ready and watches from the shadows. Just in case.

And, in this case...

She watches as Tarrant navigates the field, weapons in hand, his eyes flashing peridot green with uneasiness and suspicion. She watches as Manchester’s Second simply smiles, a gesture that could have been a polite goodbye if not for the gun still lying at his feet. She watches as Tarrant kneels, locks both swords in the case, yet keeps the small throwing knife held lengthwise between the first and middle fingers of his right hand. She watches as he tucks the sword case under his arm and steps toward the carriage.

“Ascot!” Lowell shouts.

Hamish looks up and glares tiredly at his aversary.

“We’ll finish this another day.”

Hamish nods then permits Tarrant to usher him into the carriage. Tarrant follows, raps on the roof and the driver snaps the reins and then they’re...

Alice watches as they pull away from the clearing. She glimpses the doctor getting into his own coach and Blakefield helping Lowell into his.

It’s over.

For now.

Alice slides the knife into her coat pocket; in this case, she hadn’t needed to use it.

“Alice? A bit of Pain Paste?” Tarrant whispers.

She hands it over, turns her face toward the window and doesn’t watch as Tarrant treats Hamish’s wounds. And Hamish is too tired to object to the strange medicine. Alice closes her eyes, focuses on Tarrant’s presence – so close! and safe! and hers! – shudders, holds herself together just a bit longer...

They drop Hamish off at his home and Alice waits while Tarrant sees him safely inside. No doubt Hamish will wonder how his cuts could have been healed so quickly. No doubt he’ll brood about the next duel. Luckily, he’ll be in better condition for it than Lowell will.

Alice holds herself together until Tarrant strides down the steps, speaks to the driver, then ducks back into the carriage and pulls her into his arms.

They don’t go home.

Not right away.

They circle the city, immerse themselves in its bustling noise...

... so that they do not have to speak. For this is a Silence that, when broken may never be mended. Alice sits on his lap with his arm around her waist and his hand against her belly and their child sometimes rolling or spinning within her. She pulls herself as close as she can get to him:

Her husband.

A hatter, the father of their child, and – she finally realizes – a True Champion.


The fight is not over.

The fight is never over.

And finally, Alice understands why Tarrant had despaired all those years ago – when they’d lain side-by-side at the edge of the queen’s croquet pitch in Mamoreal, enjoying the sunshine and the thick turf and the hard-earned break in combat training – and he had asked... no, begged, pleaded for her not to choose the life of a champion. Finally, Alice Understands his heartache at the thought of her knowingly accepting the duties of the Queen’s Champion.

“... you’ll never know peace,” he’d said. “...Once you step on this path, there will be no leaving it.”

There will be no leaving it for either of them.

The moment Tarrant had ushered Hamish toward the carriage, had braved the silent battlefield alone to collect his friend’s (and his own) weapons, had performed that function alone...




When one accepts the Duties, they accept that the Duty supersedes their own safety, their own wants, their own life.

Alice had watched Tarrant do just that.

Like her, he had offered up himself to fate, to whatever omniscient power may have been watching.

That sort of sacrifice leaves a mark on a person’s soul. A scar that will never heal. Alice Sees it now, Feels it. Strange that she’d never noticed it before. Unbearable that it had taken Tarrant’s sacrifice to Show it to her. She should have recognized it before, for when Tarrant had warned her away from becoming the Champion (for good!) he’d spoken from experience: he’d spoken of a Sacrifice so great that, even though it had not been required in the end, he had never been quite the same thereafter.

His Sacrifice had been his future.

Tarrant had offered himself up to the Red Queen. Had gotten himself captured to buy her time, had conspired with her to gain the one weapon that could defeat their greatest enemy in combat, had surrendered his own life so that she might escape.

Tarrant Hightopp had been her Champion, then, wielding nothing more than two bolts of fabric, a sunhat, an iron dress-frame, a powder puff, and a bottle of perfume. Shackled to the consequences of resisting, he had Fought for her, for the Vorpal Sword, for Hope. He had unflinchingly given up his life.

That sort of thing, never truly leaves a person, Alice realizes. The confrontation with one’s own mortality never ends.

The fight is never over.


She closes her eyes and bites her lip. She will not cry about this. Not now! Not when it is far, far too late!

“Alice, what is it, Raven?”

His hands grasp hers and she feels Strength and Love and Warmth surround her heart, blossom in her chest. The pressure pushes out the tears she is trying so desperately to conquer, control.

Control. Since becoming the Queen’s Champion, her life has become – has been! – all about Control. And Tarrant, having already Known what she would be feeling, had permitted her that. For her sake, he had Given that to her whenever she had not blatantly Taken it.

And, to her shame, she realizes she’d once thought his greatest Gift of Thoughtfulness had been to forgive Leif his transgression against them.

Oh, how utterly Blind she’d been!

“I’m sorry,” she whispers. And she is. Every tear is an apology; a tragic sonnet wrapped in a riddle, distilled in a rhyme the shape of sorrow. She raises her hands to his face. “I’ll be better. Us. We’ll be us now. Not me and you, but us.

She knows she’s not making any sense. Oh, how she wants to tell him she’s sorry she never noticed their matching scars! Oh, how she wants to reassure him that she’ll never dominate their decisions again!

She tells him, “I’ve finally noticed: without you, there’s no me.”

Two halves.



And their fight is not over.

“My Alice,” he whispers into her hair, breathes relief and wonder against her tresses. “You’re terribly late, you know. Naughty.”

And she laughs, sputters tears against his vest, coughs thickly into the fabric.

She doesn’t deserve to be forgiven for This.

But he does forgive her. Unconditionally. And in... “Iambic pentameter.”

“I’m considering things that begin with the letter ‘M’,” he replies with a smile rather than a giggle. Alice sighs against his vest and, sitting beside him, only half-dressed for luncheon with her mother, Alice joins him in that silent pursuit.

She considers Miracles and Magic and Madness and Muchness and Mirrors and Missions... and she knows he’s right.

The fight is not over; they’ve Uplandish Logic and Disbelief yet to slay if Mirana is ever going to be able to step through that looking glass when Alice has need of her.

They spend over a week considering those things that begin with the letter M. Oddly enough, it is another M-word that provides the catalyst for the conversation they Must have...

“Margaret! I haven’t seen you in days!” Alice accuses her.

“I’m so sorry. Lowell’s been feeling a bit under the weather. A slight infection, I think. But he’s on the mend now.”

“Well,” Helen comments with a polite smile, “that’s good to hear.” She sets aside her knitting and leans toward Margaret without getting up off of the sofa. Opening her arms, she wordlessly demands an exclusive visit with her grandson.

“How’s the loom-work coming along, Tarrant?” Margaret asks as she surrenders the wiggling boy to Helen’s arms. Margaret’s sleeves ride up her arms a bit with the motion and Alice is startled by the sudden Rage she feels from Tarrant. She follows his gaze – which has always and only ever been beautifully green in her family’s presence – to the finger-shaped bruises on her sister’s pale wrists.

Helen notices as well. Winslow fusses and pats his grandmother’s cheek but Helen is transfixed by those marks. “Margaret...” she whispers.

“Are you injured elsewhere?” Alice asks, standing with difficulty. She wishes she could charge across the room and... and... do something! As it is, she merely waddles and snarls. “What did that beast do to you?”

“Alice, please, calm down! It was only the fever and... and it was an accident!”

“An’ tha’one, tae?” Tarrant interjects in a dark tone. His gaze is fixed on Margaret’s jaw and, once she looks for it, Alice can see the faint discoloration of a faded bruise.

“You’re not going back there unless he calms down!” Helen commands.

“I’ll kill him,” Alice declares.

“He’ll ne’er touch ye again!” Tarrant agrees.

Tarrant’s voice – rumbling with rage and the promise of Pain – and his curling fingers and fisting hands do not pull Alice from her own ruminations of retribution. It is her sister’s gasp and her mother’s cringe that successfully to catch her attention.

She follows their horrified gazes, looks up at her husband... and into his unfocused red eyes.

Forcing herself to calm down despite knowing – and imagining! – what that louse had done to her sister is nearly as hard as having to watch Tarrant be a Champion. And because it is merely nearly as hard, she manages it.

“Tarrant,” she whispers, Nudges, reaches out a hand to rub his shoulder.

He gives himself a small shake. “I’m sorry.” And, oh, how he is! She can Sense it as his regret pulses against her heart. “I’m so sorry, Alice. Forgive me...?”

And somehow she Knows what he can’t say aloud, here, now. She remembers a conversation beneath ever-blossoming cherry trees following her sixth duel in the name of the White Queen. It had been years ago, but he’s never forgiven himself for needing her as much as he had. She knows what he’d say if he could. She knows he’d call himself slurvish for chaining her to him.

And no matter how many times she’s told him otherwise, he can’t believe – accept, acknowledge – the fact that she hadn’t – has never! – been chained: Tarrant Hightopp had – and continues each day to – set her free!

But now... now there is another weight upon his conscience. He has lost control. In the presence of her mother and sister. And now they will have to explain...

Alice is not ready for this.

But, then again, she’s not sure she ever will be...

“Tarrant, your eyes...”

Both of them look up at her mother, drawn to do so by Helen’s faint tone.

“Did I just imagine that your eyes were... different? Just now?”

“Yes,” Alice says at the same moment Tarrant reflexively answers with a resigned, “No.”

The sound of the clock in the room resonates in the silence.

Finally, Tarrant turns to her, places his hands on her shoulders and says, “Alice, we do your mother and your sister a disservice by attempting to conceal very Obvious truths from them.”

“The truth,” Alice counters softly, “can be a terrible burden to bear.”

Tarrant reaches for and grasps her fingers. “I know.” Alice watches as his sympathy melts into determination. He looks up and across the room at Mrs. Kingsleigh. “If you truly wish to know what it is we have not yet said, then we will tell you...”

Alice glances at Tarrant again, smiles wanly when he squeezes her captured fingers, and turns back to her mother. Whether she’s ready or not, Now is the time.

“Have a seat Margaret. Please.”

Tarrant fetches two chairs – one for Alice and one for himself – and places them opposite the sofa. Alice seats herself, wonders how to begin, spies the glove on her left hand, and reaches for Tarrant’s.

“Tarrant’s people aren’t like us.” Tarrant nervously watches as she gently takes his hand in her lap and pulls the glove from his left hand.

Margaret gasps at the sight of the heart line. Helen looks weary, as if she’d nearly managed to convince herself the sight of it had merely been a harmless nightmare.

“This isn’t a tattoo, mother,” she tells them both. “It’s a permanent mark created from three drops of blood. In his case, three drops of my blood. The color of which is reflected in the mark itself.”

Tarrant collects her left hand, slides the silver ring from her finger and then pulls her glove off as well. She takes a deep breath and prays for muchness.

“Just as the color of the mark on my skin reflects the color of Tarrant’s blood.”

Margaret looks a breath away from passing out. Helen, however, stares at her daughter’s hand and hesitantly reaches for it. Alice allows her to take it. Winslow, still far too young to understand what is amiss, although he senses it, whimpers for his mother. Margaret reaches for him and pulls her onto her lap, anchors herself with his small, squirming body.

“You’ve just seen Tarrant’s eyes change color,” Alice continues, “corresponding to his emotions. And his blood... is not like ours. Tarrant comes from people very different from us, mother. And, if you can accept that, then, perhaps you can also imagine that the land which gave rise to such wondrous beings might be vastly different from the one you know. Might be... magical, even.”

Helen studies her daughter’s hand, now held in her own. “You hands are rough, Alice. Tarrant, you work in the hat-making and tailoring trades, do you not?”

“I do,” he admits in a rasping voice.

Helen pauses at that. “And does my daughter work beside you in your trade?”

“No!” Alice very nearly flinches at the force of the conviction in his reply. The heart line flares and Tarrant’s discomfort manifests; his eyes adopt a shade of simmering yellow; he rambles-grumbles-rants, “Imagine Alice staining her hands! Slicing open her fingers! Pricking her skin in the name of fashionable accessories! The Idea is ludicrous, madam! Alice is our Champion!”

Oh, thwimble fumpt! Alice had most definitely not intended to bring that up. Yet. Or ever.

But Tarrant will not be shushed. Not quite yet: “She is the champion to the queen. The Queen’s Champion.”

“What does that mean, Alice?” Helen presses.

Alice closes her eyes and wishes for a third vial of Jabberwocky blood. When moments pass and none appears, she reluctantly explains, “It means I’m the queen’s steward. I protect her and her children.”

Helen shakes her head in disbelief. “Alice, you don’t know how to... protect someone.”

“I’ve learned.”


“I’ve made a promise. A promise to the rightful ruler of the place where I belong. A promise to protect the people that I love.” Alice doesn’t have to look in Tarrant’s direction to know he is experiencing the depth of her commitment.

“Mother,” she continues, “would you not fight for your family? If... there was ever a need?”

“But these people... they are not your family, Alice.”

Alice sighs. She pulls her hand from her mother’s grasp and gives up the argument. For now. “That’s the situation, mother.”

Helen is silent.

Margaret, oddly enough, is not: “Alice, these things you claim. They are impossible!”

“Tell me Tarrant has hazel eyes, Margaret,” Alice dares her. “Go on and explain away the fact that you just witnessed his eyes go from green to red and back again, and then to yellow and green.”

Margaret opens her mouth. Closes it. Pulls her son closer to her. “I can’t.”

“There is such a thing as magic,” Alice says to her family. “And if you can find it in yourselves to believe in it, to give the impossible a chance, then...”

“Then what, Alice?” Helen asks.

Alice sighs. “Then I won’t have to choose between There and... Here.”

Yes, it’s a decision she’d already made once. It had been a painful one then. And although she knows exactly which she would – must! – choose if forced to do so again, she doesn’t fool herself into believing the pain will have diminished in the slightest.

Again, Silence wanders into the room with them. Leans back in an armchair, crosses its legs, and settles in. Margaret’s whisper barely disturbs it: “Time, Alice. Give us some time to think about this... Understand...”

Alice nods. “Of course.” Although she doubts either of them truly can.

Margaret looks at her son, smoothes his wispy hair back from his forehead. “This is all happening so fast... so much has... I just can’t...”

“What is it, dear? You know we won’t allow Lowell to handle you so roughly again! You’ll stay here and we’ll sort him out,” Helen assures her.

Margaret manages a watery smile. “I... thank you, mother, but I don’t think that will be necessary. I... I received a visit from Lord Manchester yesterday evening. He’s sending Lowell away. To the Americas. To open a new branch office. It’s all been arranged.”

“What?” Alice sputters, too shocked to wish she could take back her graceless and tactless reaction.

“He’s leaving this weekend. They’re packing now. At the house, I mean. Now that his fever has broken and he’s on the mend...”

“Will you be going with him?”

“No, no, I won’t. Lord Manchester has encouraged me to stay; a voyage like that would be difficult for me and dangerous for Winslow.” She bounces him on her knees for a moment and he squeals with delight. Softly, she continues, “Lord Manchester also mentioned that he’d very much like it if, when Win’s of age, he would apprentice with the company.” Margaret fidgets. “In all honesty, he gave me the impression that... Lowell will not be welcome should he return to England.”

“Oh... my!” Helen exclaims.

Alice wonders just how much her sister knows about her own husband. “Perhaps he’s caused some sort of trouble for his family recently...” she speculates.

“Dueling,” Margaret reluctantly mutters. “At least, I’m fairly sure. Lord Manchester was... livid.”

Alice imagines he had been. But not due to the dueling. Well, not merely due to the dueling.

Alice glances at Tarrant who is trying his best to not only hide his smile but sit peacefully on what she suspects is a very strong urge to Futterwhacken right here and now!

“Come with me, Margaret,” she invites, standing with Tarrant’s hand under her elbow to assist her. “I have something that will take care of those bruises by the end of tea.”

“Tea!” Tarrant suddenly interjects, as if he’d forgotten about the subject completely. “Yes, yes, the tea tray will not assemble itself!”

“Winslow and I shall keep you company as you do so, sir,” Helen answers, once again silently demanding her grandson be placed in her arms.

Margaret sends a wary sidelong glance at Tarrant.

Alice remarks, “He hasn’t changed in the last half an hour, Margaret!”

“No, no, it’s fine, Alice,” Tarrant lisps. “I wouldn’t want the tea tray to feel slighted should I neglect to give it my full attention.”

“Tarrant...” she protests but he merely brushes his fingers over her cheek, dons his glove again, and strides from the room. Moments after the door closes behind him, Alice continues to stare at it rather than attack her sister with an accusing gaze.

“I’m sorry, Alice,” she whispers, passing Winslow to Helen and standing. “I just... that was rather... frightening and he’s so strange...”

“Perhaps,” Alice answers in a tightly controlled voice. “It is us Londoners who are strange and Tarrant normal. Have you ever thought of that?”

Her sister has no answer to the challenge.

Alice takes a deep breath and scolds herself for being so impatient. She’d known this wouldn’t be easy.

“Right. Come upstairs with me and we’ll get you fixed up.” She does. And, as Alice collects the pot of Pain Paste while Margaret disrobes in her old room, Alice takes a moment to consider that, despite the uneasiness that exists between her sister and Tarrant now, there is good news to celebrate:

Lowell is leaving.

Possibly for good.

And, if Margaret so desires, in two years she might file for divorce, citing abandonment. It would still be scandalous but not nearly as shameful as Hamish’s solution would have been. Few people will blame Margaret for divorcing Lowell under these circumstances and Alice wonders if the Manchesters will object to Margaret getting remarried one day.

Still those are thoughts of a far distant future. Still, it is a possible future! And one that had not existed a week – or even a few days! – ago.

And she ponders the possibility that the duel – and Hamish’s outrageous contract – had somehow played a part in all of this. Had Lowell’s inability to defend his honor finally pushed his father over the edge? Or is Lowell’s financial situation more dire than the investigator (and Hamish) had described?

Regardless, Lowell will no longer be an embarrassment to his family or his wife. Not for years to come. And, by then, Lowell’s self destructive tendencies may well come to fruition. America is a wilder place than England, Alice has heard. Perhaps too wild for Lowell. Regardless, the width of an ocean is a safe enough distance from Margaret and Winslow. The man will finally be able to do whatever he likes and, Alice imagines, he will finally learn what it means to stand on one’s own two feet.

Perhaps he will return the better for the experience.

Perhaps he will stumble into trouble he cannot squirm his way out of.

For the moment, it doesn’t matter.

Alice collects the ointment from Mamoreal and joins her sister. She soothes away Margaret’s bruises: one on her upper arm, the two on her wrists, and the faded one on her cheek.

“It’s a poor gift to leave you with,” Alice remarks.

Margaret glances down at the blemishes. “But a memorable one,” she admits. “Should he return, I will not welcome him back so readily.”

“No, for Winnie’s sake, I don’t imagine you should. Just tell me one thing, sister,” Alice continues in a gentle tone, “I’ll do and say nothing to anyone else, but I need to know... Has Lowell hurt you in other... Was he so out of control he...?” Gathering her muchness, Alice blurts, “Did he attack you?”

“No!” Margaret replies, eyes wide and expression showing nothing but shock... and then disgust. “No. He didn’t. He only grabbed me roughly.”

“And struck you in the face.”

Margaret sighs. “You won’t believe that it was the wall that did it.”

“I might if Lowell had shoved you into it.”

“After he arrived home, I tried to tend to his injuries. He pushed me back. I tripped on my skirt and...” She looks up. “I am telling you the truth, Alice. Please do not entirely blame Lowell for this. He is... ill. Ill in mind and body. And nothing I’ve done has helped him.” She lowers her head and sighs. “I’ve given up.”

“No,” Alice answers. “No, you haven’t given up, you’ve chosen your son’s future. He’ll have a comfortable life with Lord Manchester looking after the two of you and offering him a place in the business when he’s of age.”

“He still needs a father,” Margaret admits.

“But not today, dear sister. Let that be a worry for another time.”

She nods.

No, the fight is not over. Not for any of them.

Winslow still needs a father.

Alice still has to explain about Underland and the queen’s impending visit.

She leans forward and embraces her sister. Margaret sighs out a long breath and rests her head on her shoulder. They sit, thus, on Margaret’s old bed, in a room she had once filled with adolescent hopes and innocent dreams and romantic expectations of a simple and happy life.

No, Margaret hadn’t found that life, hadn’t lived those dreams.

Not yet.

Alice closes her eyes and feels a smile curve her lips.

The fight is not over.

The fight for Margaret’s happiness will continue.

And Alice must continue the fight to keep her mother and her sister in her life, even after she returns to Underland.

These will not be small battles – not in the least! – but she has never fought one more worth the effort.

Yes, some things – these things! – are worth fighting for!

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 18 of 22

<< Previous     Home     Next >>