Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 19 of 22

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At the sound of her sister’s nearly-scandalized tone, Alice looks up from the slice of pound cake she’d been unknowingly contemplating. In truth, her mind is still spinning out the possibilities that Lowell’s imminent departure has opened up. She wonders if Hamish might... Or if she or Tarrant should perhaps mention something to Margaret... But no. It’s too soon. Lowell hasn’t even left the country yet!

Perhaps, if there ever were an occasion for an unnecessary slice of cake, this would be it. Still, Alice knows she shouldn’t, not with the typical early London winter making her usual brisk walks impossible.

No, no more cake this week, Alice!

Well, no more today.

And then, recalling the cook’s truly heavenly puddings, amends: No more cake until after dinner.

Blast it all, but maybe Alice should have spent the duration of her pregnancy in Underland. At least there, when the food calls her name it’s not a product of her overactive imagination (or, perhaps, lack of willpower)! Of course the food Up Here doesn’t speak. Not like Thackery’s Contrary Crumpets and Gooseberry Guilters and... Yes, perhaps being forced to subsist on a diet that talks back would have been a much Better option all around...


“Hm? Oh, sorry. Where’s the fire?” Not in the lavatory – which Margaret had just purportedly visited – she hopes!

Margaret sits down in her chair and holds out her hands in front of her over the demolished tea service. “They’re gone! Completely gone!” she exclaims, wide eyed.

And, indeed, they are. The bruises that had marred her sister’s skin and had initiated the much-needed but much-more-dreaded and utterly-unplanned revelations of her husband’s Otherness have disappeared.

Margaret continues, speaking as if she can’t trust the reality of her own skin and senses, “That ointment you used...”

“I told you they’d be taken care of by the end of teatime,” she replies drolly.

“But this is...” Margaret visibly flounders.

Alice resists the urge to accuse her of being flunderwhapped... aloud.

“Impossible?” Alice gently suggests. Then she smiles and glancing in her husband’s direction, winks. “Only if you believe it is,” she concludes and is rewarded with a wide hatter grin and a boyish giggle.

“But how...? This is impossible, Alice! How could you... and I... and it... and it shouldn’t have worked so well! Not at all!

Tarrant barks out a cackle. “That is nearly word-for-word what Ascot said the other day! Why, by the time we’d traveled back to the townhouse all those cuts and scratches and so on had made themselves quite scarce!” Why Alice doesn’t think to Pinch him or Nudge him to shut off his ramble at this point, she doesn’t know. Later, she blames her pregnancy, for certainly if she weren’t utilizing so much brain power fending off unnecessary helpings of sweets, she would have managed to circumvent that particular revelation!

“Of course,” Tarrant blithely continues, “poor chap was too exhausted to really notice his renewed health until much later, but... Alice! I must warn you: that man is after something called a trade agreement and he’s looking rather... fiercely Muchy about it!”

No, Alice’s only though at this point is how she’s ever going to successfully deal with a fiercely Muchy Hamish Ascot. (Which she has to admit is a rather alarming thing to contemplate, indeed!) It’s only after Margaret inhales sharply and straightens in her chair that she realizes what had just Slipped out...

Margaret turns to Tarrant, who is playing with Winslow’s bare toes. The toddler squeals and giggles, twitching and writhing with delight in Helen’s tolerant embrace.

“Tarrant?” Margaret asks pointedly.

“Hm? Oh! I beg your pardon, madam!” he fairly shouts, withdrawing his fingers at once. “I meant no harm! I was simply investigating things that begin with the unique sensation of ticklishness. It’s a favorite pastime of Alice’s – this particular topic of contemplation – and perhaps her Curiosity is paying me a visit today—”

“Along with my good sense,” Alice mutters, chastising herself for not finding a way to keep Tarrant from mentioning Hamish’s suspicious injuries.

“Tarrant,” Margaret interrupts with urgency. “What’s all this about Hamish being injured?”

“Oh, but he isn’t any longer! Marvelous thing, Pain Paste... if it can be called a Thing. Perhaps it’s more of a substance than a...” Margaret’s Look must be really something because Tarrant stops right there. “Ahem... Yes, yes, Ascot is fit as a fish’s fin!”

“But he was injured?” she demands. “What happened last week that he would require...? And... Is this whatever-it-is the reason he hasn’t been by yet to take you off to the club today?”

“Er, no, madam. That would be because today is Thursday. If my shoes are correct, that is.”

Alice glances at her husband’s boots and notes the particular shade of the leather. “I believe they are,” she replies, knowing they’re not quite dark enough to be Friday shoes yet, but are certainly not light enough to be considered a pair of Wednesday boots.

“You still haven’t answered my inquiry, sir!” Margaret continues, ignoring the shoes and their fascinating weekly color shift entirely. “Why was Hamish in need of this... pain paste?”

Tarrant fidgets. “Ah, um, well...”

“Alice?” Margaret demands when Tarrant’s yellow-green gaze flicks nervously in her direction.

Alice sighs. Oh, what an inconvenient time for Tarrant’s mad genius to go on holiday! “I’m afraid I’ve given my word not to speak of the incident.”

“Tarrant?” Margaret barks, irritated. Taking the slight pinching around her mouth as evidence, Alice knows her sister senses the battle is Lost.

“Me as well, madam. I was permitted to tell only Alice.”

“Mother? Do you know anything about this?”

“Thankfully, no,” Helen replies blandly, her attention on coordinating a game of patty-cake with her barefoot grandson. “But if you’re so concerned, dear, might I suggest addressing Hamish yourself on the matter?”

“Yes. Yes, thank you. I shall.”

She does.

The next day, when Hamish arrives to collect Tarrant and take him to the club to resume their fencing (Tarrant’s lip never fails to curl into a mocking, half-hearted snarl at the word) lessons, Margaret beats the lethargic Mr. Brown to the front door and, throwing it open, demands, “What foolishness were you engaged in last week that resulted in you being injured, Hamish?”

There’s a beat of shocked silence which rolls lazily down the hall, bumping against the grandfather clock and making it chime (or perhaps that’s only the half-hour being marked), then flopping into the library where Alice is curled up on the sofa with Tarrant, an open newspaper between them.

“I... Well, I... Whoever said I was injured, madam? As you can see, I’m in perfect health!”

“Yes, thanks to that miracle ointment my sister brought with her! Why were you in need of it?”

This time, the silence is contemplative. It picks itself up off the floor, leans over the threshold and cocks its head, as if studying Margaret Manchester with Great Interest.

“And... may I ask,” Hamish returns in a slow, speculative tone, “how it is you came to be aware of the existence of that wonder cure?” In the time it – no doubt – takes Margaret’s expression to twitch with guilt, Hamish’s Speculation turns into Upset: “Were you in need of it?”

Apparently, her sister’s struggle with Shame and Frustration is more than answer enough:

“Manchester!” Alice’s eyes widen at the sound of... Dear Fates, had Hamish’s voice just... cracked?

“What did he do?!” he demands to know. And then: “How dare he lay a hand on you un-gently! Why, I’ll run that gutless fiend through this time and never mind the bloody rules of engagement! I’ll march down to that pier this instant and...! His boat’s not sailed yet! Yes, I’ll just... Driver!

Alice can feel herself gaping as she glances up at Tarrant. He meets her astonished gaze with wide eyes and an equally startled expression.

“Hamish Ascot!” Margaret shouts back. “Have you been dueling my husband?

Alice winces. Certainly, Mr. Brown, the cook, the chambermaid working upstairs, the neighbors, and the street vendors around the corner had heard that!

“Madam, I have!”

If Alice’s jaw hadn’t already unhinged, it certainly would have done so upon hearing that!

“Whatever for?

There’s a long pause and then a last offensive: “Lady Manchester, if you do not know, what good would be accomplished in telling you?”

“For one thing, I won’t allow you to set foot in this house until you do!”

“Well! Then it appears we are at an impasse, madam. Hightopp!

Alice glances over her shoulder at her husband, expecting him to give her an apologetic look before he removes himself from the sofa and steps out into the hall. At the very least she expects him to answer! Say something chiding and witty in a delightfully cheerful tone!

But Tarrant does none of those things.

Alice glimpses a smug grin on his face as he curls his arm tighter around her shoulders and pointedly turns back to the newspaper spread out over Alice’s stomach.

“I don’t think he heard you.” Margaret’s reply is composed of dulcet tones that dance down the hall rather... Dangerously. “Perhaps you ought to bellow a bit louder?”

Hamish blusters, “Oh! For the love of...!!”

“Margaret Manchester?” Tarrant suggests, sotto voce.

Alice bites back a bark of laughter.

And perhaps it’s the pressure of her contained humor that kicks the Idea loose, but suddenly, Alice thinks of Tarrant’s “unwitting” confession the day before concerning Hamish’s use of the Pain Paste and...

“You utterly, undeniably diabolically brilliant mad hatter!” Alice hisses. “You set all this in motion with that slip about Hamish needing the pain paste!”

“But of course,” he replies. “I was rather surprised you didn’t try to stop me. Are you feeling quite... Collected, Alice?”

“No, not hardly! I’m an absolute oblivious twit these days!” she huffs. Then feels the need to point out: “You do realize they could kill each other on the front step, don’t you?”

“Shush, my Alice. I sense an Ultimatum coming!”

It does: “So, let’s have it, sir! Either fire when ready or disclose the extent of your utter foolishness!”

And Hamish Ascot – much-more-Muchier Hamish Ascot – answers that dare:

“Foolishness! Is it foolishness to attempt to assist a dear friend’s husband with the tidying up of his priorities? With the securing of his finances? With the care and continuation of his family’s future? Foolishness is it?”

“And just why would Lowell require that kind of assistance?”

Hamish counters more quietly, but not by much: “Why would his father send him off to America to open an office we all know to be fiction?”

This time, it takes Alice a moment to realize this new breed of Silence is in fact one arisen from Shock and dawning Shame. The moment stretches taut with tension.

“Perhaps... you’d better come in after all, Hamish,” Margaret replies almost too quietly for Alice to hear.

The door closes. Their footsteps draw closer but Alice doesn’t move away from Tarrant’s embrace. Nor does he offer to let her go.

The library door slides open and Hamish gestures a shaken-looking Margaret to precede him. She does and takes a seat beside Alice. Alice reaches for her sister’s limp hand and squeezes her fingers.

After nearly a minute, Margaret draws a shaking breath and dispenses with the most obvious theory:

“It can’t be that Lowell has a bastard child. If so... the mother would have been sent away. Not Lowell.” Margaret stares straight ahead for a moment more. And then she muses woodenly, “Did he have an affair with a married woman? Of higher standing?”

Alice honestly doesn’t know and, reluctantly, admits her ignorance. “I’ve no idea, dear sister. But I don’t believe that was the primary reason for him being sent away. In fact, would the woman’s husband not be permitted to challenge him for the insult? I doubt even Lord Manchester could circumvent that.”

Margaret nods, her brows drawing together. “Then I... I don’t understand...” But she does – or, at least, she’s beginning to! – for she looks up at Hamish who is hovering awkwardly in the middle of the room as if waiting for the firing squad to cock their hammers.

“You offered my husband a loan.”

“Yes, madam.”


Bluntly, Hamish answers, “He needed the money.”

“Money his father couldn’t give him?!”

“Money his father refused to give him any longer.”

“Any... longer?”

Hamish releases a long breath and crosses the room to kneel at Margaret’s feet. In a move that is brazenly forward and yet so utterly appropriate for the moment, Hamish gathers Margaret’s other hand in his own and explains, “According to the man I hired to... look into your family’s welfare, Manchester was but weeks away from gaol. Debtor’s prison. I’m so very sorry, Margaret.”

Margaret stares at their hands. “Gaol?”

“I’m very much afraid so.”

“But how could I not... know?

Hamish hesitates.

Alice forces herself to say the hateful words that the man who loves her sister cannot bring himself to utter:

“Are you sure you didn’t? Think about it, Margaret. When was the last time you entertained any of his friends? The Manchesters themselves? You know that Society forgives nearly everything except...”

“Except a lost fortune. Yes. I know.” She closes her eyes. Takes a deep breath. Shudders. “I knew. You’re right, Alice. I knew.”

Again, Margaret draws another deep breath. When she opens her eyes, she fixes her clear stare upon Hamish who is still kneeling at her feet, his hand now trapped in her grasp. “You offered Lowell a loan?”

“I did.”

“Why didn’t he accept it?”

Hamish swallows. Noticeably. But, ever noble, ever honorable, he gives her the truth she seeks, despite what it will reveal of him: “I believe it was the terms of the contract, Lady Manchester.” He clears his throat and continues. “Those being, were he unable to repay the loan by the first of the year, he was to disclose to you the extent of his personal bankruptcy and... if you desired it, consent to a divorce and also relinquish Winslow into your care unconditionally.”

Margaret’s breaths have become soft gasps at the utter... the undeniable... the unavoidable Implications of Hamish’s intentions.

But he has not finished yet. “Your husband took exception. We dueled.” He pauses a moment, gathering his thoughts for what must be said next. “I am sorry my attempts to... assist only exacerbated the situation. I had hoped he would turn around, you see. You deserve so much better than he had – thus far – been capable of. And, as your dear father could not confront his foolishness, I... took it upon myself to...”

Alice aches for him; Hamish has bared his soul and very nearly his heart, but...

Margaret says nothing to this.

Hamish swallows. His expression twists. He pulls his hand from Margaret’s abruptly and stands. His tone is hard with self-reproach and mortification, “I fought Manchester’s foolishness with my own, it seems. I do not ask you to forgive me, but I offer my sincerest apologies. Whatever they are worth at this point.”

He turns toward Tarrant. “Hightopp,” he says brusquely, ignoring Margaret’s unwavering, blank stare. “Are we going to the club today or not?”

Alice sends a Nudge along the heart line. Margaret needs her, needs her sister, needs to speak of things a woman can only tell another woman. And Hamish needs his half-mad friend. “Go,” she urges him.

“Yes, we are!” he declares, gently withdrawing from behind Alice and settling her against the cushions of the sofa. He presses a swift kiss to her hair before standing. His fingertips linger on her shoulder and she feels his Reassurance engulf her.

Yes, they had hoped Margaret would be happy to learn of Hamish’s regard... They had simply assumed it would not happen on the same day she learned of her husband’s utter lack of sense, of responsibility, of... worth.

Hamish waits on the threshold for Tarrant to join him, but before he can make his escape, Margaret poses yet another question the younger Ascot is somehow compelled to answer.

“Hamish? The duel... who won?”

“Neither. It was a draw, madam.”

Alice twitches at the over simplification, at the credit Hamish is giving Lowell despite the bastard’s utter inability to deserve it.

Margaret looks up at him, pins him there in the doorway with her stare. “No, it wasn’t.”


“Lowell fought for the sake of his own selfish pride,” she explains. “The same cannot be said for you.”

Hamish has no answer to this. No verbal response at any rate. He merely nods his head, bows to Margaret, pivots smartly on his heel and leads Tarrant from the room. And when Alice wraps an arm around her sister’s shoulders, her hand still grasped in Alice’s gloved left, Margaret leans against her sister and – finally – cries. Her tears are silent.

Alice’s heart is breaking for her: her sister’s (and their father’s) dream of Lowell is no more. The extent of his utter selfishness tears the belly out of every promise that man had ever made her sister.

Of course there are tears.

Of course Hamish’s veiled declaration is met with misery.

But then Alice remembers something Very Important:

She remembers traveling through the looking glass with Mirana’s help. She remembers seeing her mother again in the guise of a not-dream. She remembers soothing her and speaking of fond, found friends and someone... someone who loves her...

No, the moment Alice had realized Tarrant’s love for her had not been a joyous moment, either. It had been filled with pain, with the tearing, wrenching, wretchedness of making a Choice. While one dream had died, another had been born. But that, Alice realizes, is more often than not the way of things.

Through the pain, Alice had Seen clearly. She’d found herself facing a choice between a life of stagnation and a life of promise. It had taken less than an instant for her to choose.

“Lowell had fought for the sake of his own selfish pride... The same cannot be said for you.”

Margaret has Seen her choices: staying loyal to a man who has failed her or opening her life to a man who loves her, enough to Sacrifice for her.

Alice knows her sister understands that choice. And when the pain has lessened – when the tide is out and the sorrow at sea – Margaret will make it.

It will be no less difficult than Alice’s had been.

But it will be Margaret’s and that is considerably more than her sister had ever expected to have again. And Alice senses that is why her sister weeps... not from a lack of hope...

... but from a sudden influx of too Much of it.


Alice is falling asleep against his shoulder... again.

Tarrant Feels it as her consciousness fades, as her emotions diffuse and unfocus, as her weight settles against him completely, as the arm which she’d curled around his waist loosens until it lies slack against the back of the bench.

The sounds that whisper through the house – Margaret playing with Winslow and Helen commenting on the news downstairs, Anne dusting the hall, Mrs. Cray cleaning out the stove – and the sounds that eke through the walls and windows from the street – the traffic of feet and horses and brash drivers – all conspire with the knocking of the loom to send Alice to Sleep.

In fact, there is only one sound that is absent in this murmured symphony, Tarrant thinks: Hamish Ascot’s pompous declarations and blustery back-peddling (which he does – no, no, had done – quite a bit of in Margaret Manchester’s presence!) and harrumphs of concession. Yes, there is a Hamish-shaped hole in this soft noise.

“Don’t worry,” Alice had assured him. “I know my sister. She just needs time to... find her Muchness.”

Yes, yes, of course! Why, he can imagine his sister-in-law is not enthusiastic about replacing a defective husband as if he were a pair of outmoded boots! These things take Time, he knows. And Margaret’s parting comment to Hamish so long ago... Yes, she’s aware of his motivations. No, she does not regard him as another Lowell. And, most importantly of all – and, as Tarrant is constantly reminding Hamish! – it is what Margaret had not said that must be paid special attention:

She had not said “No.”

She had not said “Never.”

She had not even said “Farewell.”

“Perhaps I shall intrude upon your family for Christmas supper,” Hamish had mused. “Helen is constantly inviting me.”

“Please do!” Tarrant had replied, overjoyed despite not knowing what this “Christmas” is everyone had taken to speaking of!

Alice had been pleased when he’d reported this. “You see? They’ll come around.”

“Yes, yes, but with all the circling they’re doing, it makes one very frustrated and somewhat sick to one’s stomach from dizziness!”

“If you feel that way from just watching, imagine how Margaret and Hamish feel. Let them make their circles, Raven. There’s a reason it’s called a merry-go-round.”

He’d considered that for a moment and then, smiling, he’d concluded, “For the reward which is acquired not despite but because of the circuitous route taken, my Alice?”


“Then I ought not interrupt the journey.”

Alice had smiled and wrapped her arm around his waist, had leaned into his shoulder, had closed her eyes and sighed. “Yes. Let them have their mad Caucus Race. It won’t end until it’s over and not a moment before.”

They’d had that conversation a month ago, on an afternoon much like this one. Alice had taken to joining him here, as he’d worked her great-grandmother’s loom, as he’d woven hand’s width after hand’s width of pure white wool. Creating his wife’s tartan had been good practice, he notes, for this one – their littlin’s – is turning out much better!

Now, after two months of practice, he works the machine with skill. Skill his Alice appreciates as the regular, rhythmic movements predictably soothe her into sleep. And he knows she Needs her rest now that she’s finally being permitted to have some. Even after spending all day in bed yesterday, Alice still has not fully recovered her strength. But no, of course she hasn’t! For five continuous, unrelenting days, their littin’ had very nearly Futterwhackened poor Alice breathless! Why, Margaret and Helen had hardly known what to make of it.

“I told you the Hightopps are... different from us,” Alice had gasped when Margaret had sputtered and squawked about more impossible things! “And Tarrant’s known throughout Witzend for doing the very best Futterwhacken. I can hardly expect less from his son or daughter, now can I?”

The very thought of one day teaching a little lass or a little lad how to Futterwhacken had very nearly set his head spinning. Luckily, he’d merely felt his hands spin on his wrists. Once. But Helen and Margaret had seen it, had gasped, and had nominated themselves for preparing an Immediate tea service.

“They’ll be fine,” Alice had assured him once the room had emptied.

“Yes, yes!” he’d agreed, still frowning with Worry. “But will they be fine in time for the arrival of our littlin’? And our queen?”

“I’ll make sure of it,” she’d promised and then gasped as yet another performance had pushed the air from her lungs.

“That—was—quite—Vigorous!” she’d wheezed once it was over and, despite his Concern, Tarrant had giggled.

“Perhaps it runs in the family?” he’d suggested.


Tarrant makes a concentrated effort not to pause in his work and disturb Alice’s slumber. He knows the patterns of Alice’s sleep; if he moves her now, she’ll awaken and he must avoid that at all costs. No, no, he must wait until her breaths hitch and her eyes move beneath the delicate lids. Only then will it be safe to return her to their bed down the hall. He continues weaving, rhyming her into dreams with the knocking of the loom. She needs the rest. Just as their littlin’ does.

Five days of fierce Futterwhacken.

Followed by three days of slumber and then...

And then Alice will be able to share their littlin’ with him. And then he will be able to hold that tiny body in his arms. And then...

D’nae stop yer weavin’, lad! Yer lass needs th’rest!

He knows.

Ye’ve o’ly one more day teh go, lad!

He knows that as well.

Yer Alice will be jus’fine!

He’s not so sure about that, but he Hopes...!

Tarrant grits his teeth, squeezes his eyes shut and Banishes the Bad Thoughts to the Back of his mind. It’s a cluttered place, truth be told, and rather dim and shadowy as he’s yet to get around to lighting it. And due to the darkness it’s rather difficult to tidy up so he expects those Bad Thoughts will be stumbling around for quite some time before they manage to find their way back to him. And by then...

Aye, by then yer littl’lad ‘r lass will b’ born.

And Alice will be fine.

Yes, everything will be Fine.

“Fine,” he murmurs, opening his eyes and moving his whole-and-healthy fingertips over the weave. Then he giggles. Fine, indeed! “Yes, yes, a fine weave, indeed!” he rhymes, imagining Alice can hear it in her sleep and have pleasant dreams filled with his nonsense and her Alice-laughter.

A fine weave, indeed!

And it truly is! It’s the best weave he’s ever managed and he’d long passed the required length of fabric weeks ago, but he’d kept on weaving. He’d needed the activity, the distraction, and the closeness of his wife as she’d sat with him and sung songs with him and sometimes rubbed his shoulders.

He gently folds the finished cloth out of the way and muses at what they’ve made together, he and his Alice. This blank canvas will become bright with color, just as their littlin’s life will be.

Never before has Tarrant truly cared for the color White – a shy color, too bashful to commit to one hue or another, no Muchness at all! – but now...! Now...!

Now it is the most perfect color in the entire universe.

It is the color of Hope, of Possibilities, of the Future.

Now Tarrant Hightopp understands why Mirana has always insisted upon surrounding herself with it.

And he’s never been happier knowing that the White Queen herself will be attending the birth of the next Hightopp.


“Your Majesty, Avenfaire Palace has been rebuilt, down to the last tile in the throne room.”

Mirana looks up from the reconstruction report at this happy statement. Goodness knows how many pages she would have had to wade through to discover that!

“Thank you, Fenruffle. That is most welcome news!”

She accepts the latest scroll from her agents in Shuchland and sets it apart from the rest of the pile for last. Knowing that there is a reward for suffering through this seemingly unending mountain of haphazardly composed and nearly-illegible-at-times correspondence, Mirana takes a deep breath and prepares to reapply herself to the reports.

Fenruffle begins to bow himself from the room, but then pauses and, frowning more fiercely than usual, glances toward her vanity – piled with all sorts of texts and previously read scrolls and whatnot – and comments, “I beg your pardon, Your Majesty, but it seems as if your correspondence has... grown since I was last here this morning.”

“Has it?” she muses, joining Fenruffle in frowning. She rises from her chair and drifts toward him. “How odd...”

Coming to stand next to him, she admits that the collection does look oddly more... populated than it had just this morning.

“Very strange...”

And then, as they study the disorganized jumble, the parchments shift all on their own and the pile seems to... enlarge. Mirana shares a wary glance with Fenruffle and then, with hesitance, begins relocating the top rolls of parchment. Fenruffle obediently holds out his arms and acts as a paper receptacle. The scrolls are rustling against his chest and tucked under his beak before Mirana realizes the source of the... problem, as it were. A collection of much smaller scrolls litters the tabletop and each is still unread, tied with a ribbon.

She reaches for one and unrolls it.


Mirana, all’s well here. The birthing pains are coming every fifteen minutes or so. Love, Alice

For a moment, Mirana just stares at the odd message. And then, whirling, she consults the calendar, the clock, and calculates the time since Tarrant’s last letter:

Your Majesty, Our littin’ commenced with the Five Days of Futterwhacken today. I expect Alice will be needing your assistance on the eighth day. I know she won’t ask you again, but I am. Please come. Your ever-faithful hatter, Tarrant Hightopp

Mirana turns back to the vanity and digs down until she feels her fingers pass through the insubstantial surface of the small, silver looking glass resting face-up on the vanity’s tabletop.

“Oh, botheration!” she nearly shouts, causing Fenruffle to flinch and the scrolls in his arms to crackle-crumple-crunch!

“Put those down,” she says shortly. “And fetch the king, please. Now.” Mirana doesn’t look up as the gryphon does as she commands. He dumps the scrolls on the nearest armchair – those arms might as well be useful for something! – and rushes for the door. Mirana tears the ribbon from the next scroll.

Mirana, Still fine. I haven’t told Tarrant yet, but I think he already knows. No change in the pains. Love, Alice

And another:

Dear Mirana, I believe my labor has begun. If you could make time to visit later, I’d appreciate it. I’ll send a note every hour to let you know how we’re progressing. Love, Alice

And another:

Mirana, I was only able to evade Tarrant’s questions for so long and then I had to tell him. Ten minute breaks. Nothing urgent. Love, Alice

The next:

Mirana, I can see now I should have INSISTED Tarrant go to the club with Hamish today. Botheration. My water broke and he nearly suffered an apoplexy. Five minutes or so apart now. Still not urgent. Pain is manageable. Love, Alice

And then:

Mirana, Please bring a Calming Draught. It’s for Tarrant. We all need it. The duration of the breaks hasn’t changed but the pain is intensifying now! We’ve called the doctor, blast it all. Well, maybe he’ll have something to calm Tarrant.

And the apparently most recent:

Mirana! Where are you? Are you getting these? If you’re looking for that Calming Draught, ask Thackery! And if you don’t find it in the next ten minutes, I insist you simply shove Tarrant through the mirror when you arrive. Less than five minutes!!


The White Queen turns as her husband enters the room, his face drawn with concern. “Dale,” she begins, opening the largest drawer in the vanity desk and pulling out a small satchel. “I’m afraid my Champion needs me. I must go. If you could...?”

Dale leans forward and presses a whiskery kiss to her forehead. “Of course, Mi-sh’rya. I’ll just read through these–” He nods to the pile of correspondence on her desk. “– while I hold the looking glass open, shall I?”

She smiles and places a kiss on his lion-lips. “I love you.”

He chuckles. “And a good thing, too! I wouldn’t offer to read through field reports for just anyone, you know.”

“I know.”

And with a smile, a wave of her hand and a flutter of fingertips, she steps through the free-standing mirror and into...

... into a vacant bedroom. She takes a moment to survey the slightly dusty shelves filled with dolls and books and other little-girl odds and ends. And then she hears:

Brangergain i’tall, Tarrant! If I want to bloody pace the bloody room I bloody will! For the last time, I’m bloody fine!

Ah-hah! Mirana thinks and moves toward the door.

There’s a slight rumble of masculine fear bundled in a rhythm that sounds Outlandish to Mirana’s ears.

“I don’t need to see the bloody doctor!” she nearly shouts back. “I need to see Mirana! Ow!

“Alice, dear, I still don’t see how someone from this country you’ve come from could possibly—”

Locating the correct door, which stands slightly ajar, Mirana pushes it open with a hesitant poke and takes in the scene: Alice is crouching over the back of a low chair with the slats in her white-knuckled grasp, an older woman Mirana assumes must be Alice’s mother is rubbing circles against Alice’s lower back, yet another woman who could only be Alice’s sister is frowning at Tarrant who is hovering over his wife... obsessively.

Mirana clears her throat and announces herself, “Ah, excuse me, everyone! I’m Mirana of Mamoreal. So wonderful to meet you all! And, Alice! I’m so sorry I’m late! It seems your bad habits have migrated to me today! Now, Tarrant, will you please take my bag? Thank you. And open it, yes. I’ll need those things organized thoroughly on a suitably large table, if you don’t mind.”

Alice’s sister gapes at the queen, to which she smiles in response then politely ignores.

Alice’s mother has stopped rubbing her daughter’s back and is looking equally flunderwhapped.

Alice looks up, still riding the pain of the contraction and manages a teeth-gritting grin. “Mirana.” Her brown eyes, flecked with yellow aggression, scan the queen. “No time to change?”

“I’m afraid not,” the queen answers, explaining away her crown and elaborate gown. “But it seems fitting this way. This is quite the occasion, Alice. I ought to be properly dressed for it. Now, what do we have, dear?”

Mirana presses her hands to Alice’s belly, considers the shape and direction and weight of the baby. “Ah, excellent!” She then leans over and checks Alice’s bare feet. “Good, good!” Smiling, she drifts in front of Alice and requests, “Open up! Say ‘Ah!’”

As Alice does so, her mother finds her voice. “What in the world is that supposed to accomplish?”

Mirana merely grins and announces, “It won’t be long now, Alice.”

Turning, she notices that Tarrant is watching their exchange with peridot-green eyes, his very un-groomed brows knit together in abstract Worry. “The bricks, if you would, Tarrant? Right here is fine,” she indicates with an airy gesture. The room is clearly a guestroom that had been stripped of all non-essentials. Clearly someone had Prepared things. Most likely Tarrant as Alice has been rather... preoccupied for the last eight days or so.

He sets the heavy stones down on the floor, adjusting them at the queen’s direction. “Wha’telse can I do?” he burrs, his gaze never leaving his wife, who attempts a brave smile for him despite her shaking limbs and shuddering shoulders.

“Let’s ask Alice,” Mirana replies and gently removes her Champion’s claw-like grip from the chair. “Alice, dear, who would you prefer at your back?”

“Tarrant,” she answers without a moment’s hesitation. Mirana nods and accepts Alice’s request that she take the midwife’s position. “But your dress...”

“Will not object in the slightest. Nor will I,” Mirana consoles her, patting her cheeks. “Now, Tarrant, where is the blanket? Ah, good!”

As Mirana removes her jewelry and washes up in the steaming water, Tarrant approaches his wife. He stands behind her and takes each of her hands in his. He presses a kiss to her temple. “Writing desk, my raven,” he whispers.

Alice takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and nods. “We can do this,” she assures him, assures herself.

Mirana notes the tears in his eyes at Alice’s utter and undiminished bravery. His tears echo her own. She completes her preparations with a layer of slick lotion on her arms. Mirana kneels down and gently inserts a hand beneath Alice’s shrift.

Seeing this, Alice’s sister murmurs numbly, “I suppose I’d better bring the doctor upstairs.”

“Mirana will take care of the baby,” Alice reminds her. Her voice tightens as another contraction builds. “Make sure he’s clear on that!

“Yes, of course,” Margaret says, her tone automatic, before ducking out of the room and the strange sight the three of them must make.

“What can I do?” Mrs. Kingsleigh asks, clearly irritated at the direction things are taking but valiantly keeping her priorities straight. Even in mid-labor, Alice’s will and determination are forces to be reckoned with.

“Be here for Alice,” Mirana replies, investigating her Champion’s progress gently. “Nearly there, Alice.”

Dear Fates, please let my midwifery skills be up to this task!

Alice nods, her breaths puffing out like the steam locomotive that had once served Underland... before Iracebeth had ordered it destroyed rather than permit it to be used to transport traitors to her crown beyond her reach before their scheduled beheading.

Mirana barely hears the blustery protests of an older gentleman when he accompanies Alice’s sister into the room. She ignores everything except for her Champion, who is also Underland’s Champion, who is and has always been Tarrant Hightopp’s Champion.

The queen looks up and into Tarrant’s face. His gaze is fiercely green and focused on his wife’s expression. She can only imagine what he Sends her through the heart line, can only imagine what he Feels from Alice, but he stands tall, holds steady as she grips him to keep herself anchored.

“Beautrific, my Alice,” he murmurs softly. “’Twon’b’much longer nauw. I’ve gau’ye, luv. Ye’re ‘ere in m’arms an’ ye’ll no’be lettin’ me go...”

As the contraction eases, Mirana checks the baby’s position then urges, “Onto the bricks now, Alice. It’s time, dear.”

Tarrant helps her up and Mirana ignores the doctor’s protests – “This is barbaric, madam! You can’t expect a safe delivery in this manner! Lady Hightopp ought to be abed, or at least seated properly in a birthing chair!” – and arranges the length of white fabric Tarrant had provided as well as an empty basin.

And then Time enters the room and begins to play.

As Alice kneels, leans back against her husband, bears down and hisses through gritted teeth, Time seems to slow and yet Mirana finds herself with barely enough opportunity to think, to urge and encourage Alice, to direct Tarrant to shift his weight or lift Alice’s arms or...

Time wraps up fifteen minutes of activity and packages it all into a single instant. Or so it seems to Mirana. And then a small body is sliding into her arms and onto the length of white wool. Mirana shifts the baby into one arm and tends to the cord.

“Congratulations, Alice, Tarrant,” Mirana whispers as she wipes the baby clean with the wool... which mysteriously begins to color in the most interesting ways where the child’s skin touches it.

“We’ve created a Tamial, my Alice,” Tarrant whispers into her hair.

Alice sobs once, smiles.

Mirana pushes the basin in place with her opposite hand. “You’re almost finished, my Champion. You know what comes next.”

Reluctantly, Alice draws another breath, closes her eyes, and waits for the final contraction to come. And when it does, the last essence of her pregnancy is dispelled.

“Excellent work, Alice!” Mirana praises her, doing her best to clean up Alice with a warm cloth. “Now, I believe you’re ready to lay down for a bit?”

Mirana follows them to the bed and urges Tarrant to sit beside his wife. She then lays their son in the cradle of Alice’s tired arms. Tarrant reaches across her to hold them steady and they both study their son’s surprised and rather disgruntled expression. He whimpers a bit, coughs, but doesn’t cry.

The doctor’s presence goes unnoticed by the two of them as he steps up to the bed and examines his patient. When he seems satisfied that Alice has delivered safely, he looks up and across the bed at Mirana.

“Is that how it’s done where you come from, madam?”

“It is,” she replies with a serene smile.

He sniffs. “A miracle she didn’t hemorrhage.”

Mirana says nothing. Let this man think what he will. Mirana had not come through the looking glass to educate him. The man insists on lingering on the premises just to be sure Alice doesn’t encounter any complications. He excuses himself to finish his interrupted cup of tea downstairs.

Alice’s sister escorts him away.

Mrs. Kingsleigh seats herself beside the bed where she can clearly see her newest grandson. Mirana finds herself enraptured as well by the baby’s flashing irises and the curling wisps of strawberry-blond hair atop his head. He flails a bit and makes a grumpy mewling sound.

Yes, Mirana imagines it had been much easier to Futterwhacken before this entire birthing business began. Poor disappointed lad...

She finds herself mesmerized by the child’s tartan. It remains as fluffy and soft and clean as it had before the birth and yet the colors...! Mirana gapes as she watches the Hightopp colors weave themselves into the threads slowly, steadily, relentlessly. Why, if the newborn infant spends the night lying on that fabric, his Hightopp-ness will succeed in staining the entire bolt into Hightopp tartan!

She burns to ask Tarrant about this, the mechanics of it! Why doesn’t she have a tome dedicated to this phenomenon in her alchemy library?!

But now is not the time. There will be time later for intellectual pursuits.

For now, Mirana turns her attention to where is should be: to the child nuzzling Alice’s breast.

“Alice,” Mirana murmurs, feeling her heart throb: Alice has yet again emerged the victor, a Champion. For really, that is what motherhood is, is it not? She informs her dearest friend, “He’s absolutely perfect. You didn’t need me at all!”

“We did,” Alice counters weakly, her eyelids drooping with exhaustion. “All three of us did.”

“Tamial,” Tarrant murmurs, his fingertips gently investigating his son’s skin, “would not have been possible without your assistance, Your Majesty.” His expression softens until she fears he might weep great, Hightopp tears. “Thank ye fer always keeping th’ mirror open teh my Alice. Thank ye fer watchin’ o’er her aboard her ship. Thank ye fer... e’erything.”

Mirana finds herself meeting his dark blue – but perfectly clear and dry! – eyes. “Hence the name?” she asks tearfully.

“Aye. Fer the thrice o’ us.”

“Is it all right?” Alice asks and Mirana has to take a moment to persuade her tears to retreat.

“Yes, of course! I’m honored, Tarrant, Alice. I’m honored to be a part of your family.”

“Auntie Mirana,” Alice jokes tiredly and Tarrant gently collects their son from her shaking arms. Alice leans against her husband’s shoulder and closes her eyes.

That’s Mirana’s cue. “Tarrant,” she whispers, “I’m leaving some things for Alice to take if she’d like. In small doses, of course. I’ve left instructions on their use.”

He nods, completely transfixed by the presence in his arms.

Smiling, Mirana stands and begins to clean up. As promised, she leaves a fresh pot of Pain Paste and a few other things Alice might have a need for in the coming days. The birthing stones are placed back into the impossibly small bag along with the potions and other remedies she’d prepared, just in case.

Collecting her valise, the queen stands and steps toward the door.

“You’re leaving so soon?” Mrs. Kingsleigh asks.

Mirana inclines her head, amused that the woman’s gruff tone no doubt comes from pique at not having any control over the situation rather than any intentional rudeness on the queen’s part. “I’m afraid there’s much to be done at home and I must return.”

It’s an excuse. Mirana knows she could stay... but what would she do? Alice and Tarrant are in no condition to receive visitors today of all days! What other options remain? Share an Uncomfortable Tea with Alice’s family? No. No, she can be of more use in Mamoreal. She will visit with Alice and Tarrant and their son another, less stressful day...

“But... you’ve only just arrived!”

Yes, Alice’s mother has questions and concerns. Well, perhaps Mirana ought to address those before she goes...

“Mrs. Kingsleigh,” Mirana replies gently, “would you be so kind as to see me out?”

And, faced with such a reasonable request, Alice’s mother cannot refuse. “Yes, of course.”

But when the woman turns toward the staircase that descends obediently – how oddly silent everything is Up Here! – toward the first floor, Mirana clears her throat. “I’m afraid that is not the way I came, madam.” And then she drifts toward Alice’s old bedroom. Mrs. Kingsleigh, frowns and follows her.

“How precisely did you arrive, madam,” the woman inquires, “if you did not enter through the front door? And... how did you manage to arrive in such a timely fashion?”

“Ah, yes! All will be answered,” Mirana assures her. “But first, I must apologize for arriving so late into... things. I had hoped... Ah, well, as I mentioned, there’s much to be done at home and I’m afraid I rather lost track of the day! Luckily, my chief of staff noticed that the pile of parchments on my bureau had mysteriously grown, otherwise I fear I would have disappointed dear Alice and broken my promise.” Mirana shudders at the thought. “That would have been unforgivable!”

Mrs. Kingsleigh is silent for a long moment.

Mirana sets her bag down and gestures for the woman to join her. Mirana moves toward the bed and takes a seat on the end of it. She waits for Mrs. Kingsleigh to comply. “Now, before I return to my country, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you a riddle, Mrs. Kingsleigh.”

The woman sighs. “Well, get on with it. I’m used to them by now.”

Mirana arcs her brows in silent surprise. “Alice has not revealed the details of my land to you?”

“No. Just one riddle or hint after another!”

“I apologize for asking you to endure yet another one. Please take comfort in the fact that it will be the last.”

Alice’s mother does appear much happier upon hearing that. “Let’s have it then. I’d like to get back to my daughter.”

“As you should! Now... ah, yes! Here we are: I’m contemplating things that begin with the letter ‘M’...”

Mrs. Kingsleigh huffs. “I’ve heard this one before.”

“And what answers have you thought of, madam?”

“Magic, miracles, madness, muchness... whatever that is, marvelous, magnificence, and mirrors, of all things!”

“Ah, but that is one of the most important ones,” Mirana reassures her. “For it is the way home for me, for Tarrant, and for Alice and their son.”

Mrs. Kingsleigh doesn’t understand. But she will.

“Now, before I go, I ask you to please consider one more thing: although the path to and from my land seems easy. Simple, even, please consider the possibility that the journey itself is very difficult and it had taken quite a lot of strength on Alice’s part to return to you. Just as it will take a lot of strength for her to leave you again. Please keep that in mind and support her decision. Alice deserves every happiness she is capable of.”

Mirana holds out her hand and shakes Mrs. Kingsleigh’s in a perfectly proper lady-like grip. “It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, madam. I hope we’ll meet again soon and, perhaps, at that time, become friends.”

Then, with a brief curtsey to her unwilling hostess, Mirana swoops down gracefully and collects her satchel and then sweeps toward the mirror. Stopping just a few inches in front of its silvery surface, the queen turns and glances over her shoulder. With a smile, she bids Alice’s mother:

“Fairfarren, Mrs. Kingsleigh.”

And then she squares her shoulders and steps into the looking glass...

... and emerges in her office to a rather boisterous crowd.

“What happened?”

“How’s Alice?”

“Is it a boy?”

“Is it a girl?”

“Is i’ta spoon?”

Mirana looks over the assembled throng: Mally, Thackery, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Bayard and his entire family – both sets of pups! She also sees Leif, her own daughters – Alicibeth and Tarranya, Chessur, a violently twitching Nivens, and even a grudging Fenruffle! On the balcony, a motion draws her gaze and she spies Maevyn balanced on the railing. From the orchard below, she thinks she hears the impatient barking bellow of the Bandersnatch!

“My queen!” Dale says, snapping her to attention. “Please, we can see something has happened.” His gaze travels over her dress, forever ruined. “But we don’t know if it’s good or bad!”

Mirana smiles. “Alice is fine!” she announces.

“An’ th’bairn?” Thackery hiccups, clutching a pepper mill.

“Is a Hightopp! Tamial Hightopp,” she informs them.

“It’s a Tamial!” Mally crows.

Bayto frowns. “So that would mean it’s a... boy?”

“Who bloody cares?” the dormouse enthuses. “This calls for a drink! Chess, it’s your turn to make the tea!”

“No cat hair this time,” Bayard demands.

“The cat hair is what makes it Special,” Chessur assures him with a typically unnerving grin. “Only a dog would ask for Dandy Tea without the dander!”

Before Mirana can be swept from her office to an impromptu tea party, she glances at the looking glass and back into Alice’s childhood bedroom. Helen Kingsleigh is still sitting on the bed, one hand flat over her chest and the other clutching the quilt. Mirana watches as the door opens and Alice’s sister leans over the threshold. Speaks. Mrs. Kingsleigh regards the looking glass for a moment more then, with an abrupt shake of her head, replies. Stands. Leaves the room.

“Was it a good idea to leave Alice to explain that?” Dale murmurs in speculation.

Mirana smiles. “Most definitely, my king. A Champion always rises to the challenge placed before her.”

“And as always, I shall trust your judgment on all matters concerning your Champion.”

“What a wise monarch you are!”

He chuckles. “A wise monarch who has read himself into a thirst. Come down for tea. The field reports will wait for an hour.”

Indeed, they will.

And, indeed they do.

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 19 of 22

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