Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 20 of 22

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Alice has known many names in her lifetime:

Alice Kingsleigh, daughter of Charles and Helen Kingsleigh.

Champion Alice, champion of the White Queen – Mirana of Mamoreal.

Alice Lasling, mercenary-trained champion of Prince Jaspien.

Alice Hightopp, Tarrant Hightopp’s wife.

Lady Hightopp of Iplam.

And now...

Alice regards her son, who has worked up quite the appetite from trying and failing to (most likely) Futterwhacken for nearly an hour, and considers her newest name: mother.

She is Tamial Hightopp’s mother.

“I ken tha’ look.”

Alice smiles but doesn’t take her eyes off of their little Tam at the sound of her husband’s voice. “Do you? Already?” For, certainly, it’s a new one. She’s certainly never felt this particular expression from inside her own skin before!


“What does it tell you?”

“How ver’much I luv ye, Alice.”

She looks up at that, at the sight of Tarrant leaning over her armchair, his hair still damp from his bath and his nightshirt is peeking out from between the lapels of the housecoat her father had once worn in winter. For a moment, she’s at a loss for words – she’s as wordless as a newly hatched jabberwocky! – but then they find her, as they always do... eventually.

“You take my breath away,” she whispers.

His eyes deepen in color, past that indigo of unconditional and absolute adoration to a shade she hasn’t seen much of recently – not since that morning before the duel, actually: violet.

“Th’ gentlemanly thin’teh do in tha’case would be teh giv’it back, wouldnae it?” he muses on an equally soft whisper of his own. And then he leans down and brushes his lips against hers.

“But are you a gentleman?” Alice murmurs when he pulls back after that too-brief and shallow contact. She leans forward, following his mouth. The arm not wrapped around Tam finds another use: her hand tangles in the worn, soft fabric of the housecoat lapels.

Tarrant’s eyebrows twitch: yes, he’ll play her game. “I’ve been told ‘twould be teh m’benefit teh b’come one.”

“But your wife would suffer horribly...”

“Och, nauw we cannae ha’tha’...” And with those words, he closes the distance between their mouths, thrusts his hand into her hair and possesses her. She groans, marvels, and shoves away the twinge of embarrassment and shame – here she is, suckling their son at her breast and yet she wants-desires-needs-longs-aches for her husband’s touch!

And because she needs More, of course, he pulls away. “No, Alice,” he lisps, covering her hand with his. “It’s too soon. The queen specifically said...”

“But I’m fine!” Dear Fates, had that been a whine?

It must have been, because Tarrant chuckles softly and a smile of pure Masculine Delight stretches his lips. “You are considerably more than fine,” he agrees. “However, now is not the time.” He cocks his head to the side and observes with delight, “Rhyme.”

She knows. Her sigh of impatience and regret signals her agreement. Yes, she may be healed, thanks to Mirana’s skills in alchemy. Yes, she wants him. But, perhaps, it’s best if they don’t... here.

This time next week, you’ll be home.

In Mamoreal.

Alice tells herself she can wait.

Herself disagrees.

But, Alice, being the more rational and determined of the two, releases his housecoat. Her father’s housecoat. A father’s housecoat. Tarrant is a father now, isn’t he? It wouldn’t be Right for him to wear the housecoat of a bachelor now would it?

“The robe suits you,” she tells him. “From one father to another. Perhaps you make it feel at home again.”

“Now that, my Alice, is a compliment deserving of some Attention.”

Alice tries to hide her smile of anticipation but feels it peeping out at him regardless. “What sort of attention, Raven?”

Again he leans down, but this time her lips encounter only his damp hair as he angles his face toward her neck. She obligingly tilts her head to the side and shivers when his lips – and then his teeth! – caress her skin.

“The sort,” he rumbles, “that you will enjoy Quite a Lot... once you’ve taken your turn in the bath.”

“Am I need of a bath?” she teases.

“You are, as always, utterly Alice-y,” he assures her, inhaling deeply. “But ‘tis m’job teh take care o’ ye...”

And she had better let him do it, she knows. Surprisingly, it’s gotten considerably less difficult for her to remember to allow him to. It doesn’t hurt that her reward for doing so is nothing less than his undiluted happiness.

“All right. Would you see to the fire, then? Tam’s nearly ready for bed.”

“Tam?” Tarrant asks, moving toward the hearth and knocking away the ashes before adding more coal.

“Tamial. Tam,” she explains and then dares to add, “Tam o’shanter...”

Her husband’s shoulders stiffen and he turns toward her just in time for her to see the Light of Inspiration enter his eyes. “Tam o’shanter...?”

Their son stirs, satiated and sleepy for now. Alice lifts him up to the square of linen draped over her shoulder and pats his back. “A hatter’s son must have a hat, Raven.”

“Indeed he must!” Tarrant declares and reaches for Tam after they hear his soft burp. With experience gained from minding the queen’s children one Wednesday morning after another for years (and then with that experience refined over the course of the previous month since Tam’s birth), Tarrant nestles their son into his arms. Tamial opens his eyes a bit, works his little lips and fists his little hands, waving his too-soft arms aimlessly.

“Ah, no more Futterwhacken t’nigh’, Tam,” Alice hears Tarrant tell him as he moves toward the bed. “Nauw ‘tis time fer th’ Bedtime Bandersnatch teh carry ye off teh yer dreams. ‘Ere he comes! Gal~umph! Gal~umph! Gal~umph!”

Alice swallows a giggle as each narrated stride of the fictitious beast is matched with a hypnotic sway of Tarrant’s upper body. Just watching him lull their son to sleep is making her tired!

She leaves the room with one last glance at Tarrant, sitting up in bed now and humming a tune that brings the Maigh Festival to mind. His arms still rock a bit, but very slowly and gently now. Surely, Tam has closed his tiny little eyelids and is falling asleep...

And if Alice wants to take advantage of the Attention Tarrant had promised her in exchange for the compliment she’d Paid him, she’d better stop dawdling!

When Alice emerges on a cloud of steam, hair washed but still damp, fingertips only slightly wrinkled and her skin still flushed from the hot water, she heads directly for the bed and her husband. Climbing up next to him, she leans closer and...


A small, gentle snore whispers from between his slack lips and whistles lightly through his nose.

With a small huff of disappointment, Alice sits back a bit and regards him. Botheration, but she’d hoped...! It’s been over two months since the last time they’d...! And Mirana’s pastes and potions have worked wonders...! Even the depression her mother and sister had warned her about had run its course and now she’s Herself again and she wants...!

Thwimble fumpt,” she mutters under her breath.

A small twitch from within the blanket Tarrant still holds close to his chest draws her gaze. Alice smiles down at Tam, who is wide awake and appears to be studying his father’s face with Great Interest.

“Yes,” she whispers to him, unable to not touch her son, offer her finger to him and watch him curl his little hand around it. “He may Share those features with you some day. I hope you like them as much as I do.”

Tamial is too young to have mastered the art of smiling, but he seems pleased nonetheless.

Alice gently lifts Tam from his father’s arms and moves off the bed. She paces with him in front of the fire until he gets drowsy and her hair dries. She keeps an eye on Tarrant, too: worries about his back, but lets him sleep.

When she looks down and sees Tam’s eyes – a soft amber now! Tarrant had told her they’ll keep changing until he chooses a Disposition he prefers over the others – soften with exhaustion, watches those little eyelids begin to lower, she places a soft kiss on his brow, inhales the scent from his thin, red-gold curls. She lays him down in his bassinet and then moves to the side of the bed to make sure Tarrant is deeply asleep. She sees that he is and dares to shove him a bit. He snuggles down until his head touches the pillow. She pets his long hair gently as she watches her husband sleep.

“Thank you,” she whispers. “Without you, we wouldn’t have him.

How many times has Tarrant saved her life?

In the makeshift hat workshop in Salazen Grum.

During the battle on Frabjous Day.

Through the looking glass of her cabin aboard the Wonder.

During the Trial of Threes.

During the Champions’ Duel when she had fought for Jaspien.

And not only had he Killed Time for her, but he had Moved it: had gone into the Past...

Her husband is a hero. She’s known this since she’d realized that he’d saved the White Queen on Horvendush Day, since he’d organized the Resistance...

Tarrant Hightopp has always been a hero. Most recently, he’s been Alice’s.

She glances once more over the edge of the bassinet at their son, who sleeps on his stomach, oblivious to the wide world and the great gift he’s already been given.

“Your Fa saved you,” she informs him softly.

Yes, he had. Alice doesn’t doubt that Tarrant would still do anything and everything necessary to save her life if it ever comes to that again, but now she knows she’s not alone in receiving that honor. Now she knows she shares that Special Place in his heart with another, with Tamial.

And Alice can think of no one else she would rather see secure and safe beneath Tarrant’s capable protection.

This is not the first time she’s had this particular Thought, but this time she does not cry. She does not sob. She does not wake Tarrant with the overflow of intense Anguish these sorts of things have been capable of coaxing from her until very recently.

Tonight there is no gut-wrenching, heart-twisting, inexplicable sorrow.

Tonight, Alice smiles, slides into bed, and when she feels Tarrant’s arm wrap around her waist and his nose press into her hair... she sighs and goes to sleep.


“Hightopp. I’m in need of your assistance.”

Tarrant looks up nervously at Hamish Ascot across the billiard table. “I’ve heard that before,” he mutters darkly.

Hamish frowns in confusion, blinks in recollection, then smirks in expectation. “This is a favor of a completely different variety,” he assures him. “Although, by some standards, it is more perilous.”

“Then tell me in the carriage,” Tarrant requests, lining up his shot. “So that I won’t have to repeat my refusal so many times.”

“I’m afraid I can’t take ‘no’ for an answer on this particular occasion,” Hamish replies. “Besides, ‘tis the holiday season. Christmas is just around the corner. It’s rude to refuse to help your fellow man.”

“But it’s not rude to drag him away from his wife and son on a moment’s notice?”

“For the love of the queen!” Hamish huffs. “You’ve been trapped in that house for an entire month. I rescued you!”

Tarrant pulls back the cue stick, pauses, looks up a Hamish, stands, pinches his nose between his thumb and forefinger, takes a deep breath, counts all his friends from Thackery – backwards! – and says, “Ascot.”

His tone turns the unpretentious syllable into a very Dirty sort of word, indeed.

“Besides,” Hamish continues blithely, disregarding Tarrant’s Tone. “You can’t tell me you’ve completed all of your Christmas shopping! Not unless you’ve had the vendors come ‘round the house for you to peruse their wares!”

“Shopping?” Tarrant echoes.

“Yes. Shopping. For Christmas presents,” Hamish explains very carefully.


Hamish rolls his eyes. “Bloody...! Of course. I should have known what with your absolutely barbaric fascination with knives that you’d know nothing of Christian customs.” He eyes Tarrant warily. “I feel it’s my civic duty to inform you that your immortal soul may be in great jeopardy, sir.”

Tarrant blinks. “Immortal...? Never mind! Never mind! What’s this about presents? There’s to be some sort of Gifting?!” And why hadn’t Alice told him this?

“Yes! Pay attention, Hightopp!” Hamish clears his throat and lowers his voice. “Now, it’s customary to buy close friends and relatives a thoughtful gift. Perhaps something they would like to have but for some reason – expense, perhaps – refuse or hesitate to purchase for themselves.”

Tarrant swats the cue ball with the stick in his hands, giving up on taking the shot he’d been due. He’s too busy considering the fact that what little Uplandish money that still remains in their possession is with Alice at the moment, so how can he possibly purchase anything for his wife, their son, their hostess, and everyone else who ought to be Thanked properly with a Christmas gift?

“Must the gift be bought?” Tarrant queries, interrupting Hamish. But as he hadn’t really been paying attention anyway, it’s all for the best. No doubt the man will thoughtfully repeat himself. And be more blunt about it the second time around.

Hamish gives him a brief glare. “No, there’s no requirement stating that the gift must be bought, although I hope you’re not considering thievery.”

“What?! No, no, of course not!” Tarrant responds, thoroughly Offended.

Seeing his distaste at the Idea and his disgust with Hamish for even Thinking it, Ascot nods. “Good. Now, as I was saying, I’ll need your expert advice. I’ve noticed you have a way with children and I’m endeavoring to procure an appropriate gift for Winslow.”

“An appropriate gift,” Tarrant echoes nervously. “What would be an un-appropriate gift?”

Hamish frowns in thought. He inspects the tip of his cue as he often does with his walking stick when he’s uncomfortable or stalling for time. “Well, I wouldn’t want to purchase anything too... advanced for him. To do so might suggest that I expect to be present when he makes use of it in the future. That would... give the wrong impression, I believe. So I must find something he can enjoy now and also in the future as I’d regret it very much if the gift indicated that I wouldn’t like to be present in Winslow’s future when the fact of the matter is that I hope to...well... that is...”

“Ah. A gift for both Winslow’s mother and Margaret’s son! Now you’re starting to make sense.” Tarrant gives him a long look. “Was it really necessary to over-explain?”

Hamish huffs again but his lips twitch in a reluctant smile. “Yes, I believe it was. Otherwise I’m sure you would have expired from shock at my candidness.”

Tarrant snorts. Candidness. Candied. Candied-ness! “I enjoy being the one to tell you this, sir, but you’re going to have to work on your Sweet Somethings if you hope to one day charm Lady Manchester’s ears!”

Looking fabulously scandalized, Hamish hisses in the near-empty room, “You are enjoying this situation at my expense just a little too much, Hightopp!”

“I disagree! However can one enjoy something too much?” he counters, grinning.

Hamish leans back and sighs. “Yet again, you make far too much sense to be considered sane.” He regards the table. “Are you at all interested in finishing this or shall we begin my errand now?”

“Let’s begin your quest for Winslow’s gift,” Tarrant decides. “You can give me more examples of appropriate gifts. I’ll need to prepare something for Alice and Tam, and Mrs. Kingsleigh, of course...”

“Right, come along then,” Hamish says, sending the balls into nearby slots with fashionable flicks of his wrist and then turns and racks his cue stick. “I shall educate you on the way.”

And Tarrant will say one thing for Hamish Ascot: when the man takes on a task, he applies himself to it thoroughly. By the time they’ve disembarked from the carriage and entered a rather posh-looking toy shop, Tarrant wonders if, perhaps, he should have been taking notes! But never mind! Never mind! He knows what will be expected of him on this Christmas Day. Now all he has to do is find – formulate, finagle, figure out! – a way to...

He finds himself staring at a small, brown, velveteen figure of a stuffed rabbit and has a Moment of Inspiration. “Yes, exactly!” he very nearly shouts. Hamish, who had been inspecting a wooden train set, steps over and blinks at the toy.

“This one?”

“It’s perfect!” Tarrant enthuses, still wrapped up in his Plans. “Thackeries are highly useful, you know,” he continues, picking up the lifeless creature.

“Well. Despite your insistence on being incomprehensible most times, I must admit it’s a charming thing. If a bit plain.”

“Plain things are the very best sort,” Tarrant assures both Hamish and the velveteen rabbit. “For they can always be dressed with Imagination, which never ceases to suit them unfailingly well.”

He offers the squish-ably soft toy rabbit to Hamish with a smile.

Hamish blinks at him then accepts the potential Winslow Gift. “It’s sometimes frightful to hear such oddness come from you... and believe it actually makes sense,” the man mutters, looking over the brown bunny.

“You’ll miss me when I’ve gone,” Tarrant predicts suddenly. And then amends: “When we’ve gone. Don’t even try to deny that Alice’s muchness has grown on you!”

“Muchness is what you call it?” he responds in a skeptic tone. “But yes, I believe I will. As will my father. You know he’s been asking about the two of you. And your son, of course. He sends his best. He’d like you to come out for a visit before you go, if you think Alice is up for the trip.”

Tarrant hesitates, glancing out the shop window at the dour weather. It is cold and rainy and that rain often turns to ice by morning; he can see it gleaming in the light of the gas lamps on the street when he parts the curtain of their room and looks out...

“Suppose the carriage had trouble keeping its wheels together on the ice? Or found itself unequal to the task of staying on the road?” Tarrant murmurs. “I’d feel much better if I could interview the vehicle before we set out...”

Hamish snorts. “Well, perhaps in the spring you’ll make the trip out to the estate.”

Tarrant looks down and finds himself staring into the glass eyes of a porcelain doll in a blue dress. “Perhaps. Hamish...”


“We’ll be returning home soon.”

There’s a brief pause. “Yes, I expect you would have to. But certainly not in this weather?!”

Tarrant sighs and meets his friend’s gaze. “In truth, the weather has no bearing whatsoever on our mode of transport. Alice has invited both her mother and sister to be there when we... leave. And I’m inviting you.”

“Of course I’ll see you off, Hightopp.”

“I... Thank you, but...”

“What is it now?”

Tarrant smiles. “I’m afraid it will be a terrible imposition for you, seeing as how you don’t believe in magic.”

Hamish snorts. “A magical mode of transport? What will you do? Walk through a wardrobe?”

“Not quite,” Tarrant replies, Intrigued by the idea. “Although it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest were that an actual route to... Somewhere.”

Hamish scowls. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“Magic,” Tarrant repeats patiently. “I’m sure you’ll believe it when you see it.”

Hamish has no witty rejoinder to that. Instead, he asks, “Let us assume I will be able to... accept that some sort of magic exists. But... why show me at all?”

Tarrant grins. “It would be nice to see you at tea on Mondays.”

“Tea... on Mondays?” Hamish confirms slowly.

“Yes. It’s all arranged. Alice will be coming back on Mondays for afternoon tea with her mother and sister. When possible, I’ll be accompanying her.”

“Just... for tea?” Hamish repeats warily.

“Yes. Tea is quite the most Important beverage of the day.”



“I do believe I...” And here, Hamish’s confused frown reverses itself into a delighted grin. “I should very much like to continue our association. It has been... unexpectedly rewarding.”

“Yes, yes, it has!”

And rewarding things deserve things awarded to them!

Tarrant watches Hamish call the clerk over and pay for Winslow’s Christmas present. Tarrant, however, does not follow the exchange. He feels his eyes un-focus as he considers all the he will have to do, and the brief time in which he must do it!


The first clue that Tarrant had been Up To Something had been when she’d caught him sending a scroll through the small Mamoreal mirror. He’d jumped when she’d called his name. Yes, he’d very clearly jumped and his eyes had been a rather interesting shade of Guilt.

“Writing to Thackery?” she’d asked, off-handedly.

“Er... well, yes, but... it’s nothing to worry about, you know. It’s just a... a...” Alice had watched him search his scattered thoughts. “A recipe!” he’d fairly shouted. “Yes, yes, a recipe. Nothing to worry you at all!”

And, normally, a recipe wouldn’t worry her. Not at all. However, Tarrant’s mannerisms had spoken of Something Else. Something he is attempting to keep a Secret.

Alice hates secrets. Of all kinds. General and capitalized ones.

“Hamish is coming over for Christmas supper,” Tarrant had announced to fill the Suspicious Silence. “And he’s staying... after.”

“After?” Alice had asked with raised brows.

“Yes. I’ve invited him.”

“I... see.” Getting Margaret to agree to see them off had been hard enough, especially with their mother refusing to confirm or deny that Mirana had departed their house through the mirror! Alice knows her mother had seen her do so; she’d had that shocked look about her for days after Tamial had been born. Alice wonders if Tarrant had felt this frustrated when she’d been insisting that Underland had been nothing more than a dream!

Tarrant had fidgeted a bit as she’d considered the fact that he’d invited Hamish to join her mother and Margaret to watch as she and Tarrant step through the looking glass and return to Underland. And she’d spent another moment noting his nervous gestures and feeling his discomfort sizzle along her heart line, wondering what in the world could be making him so anxious.

Finally, she’d smiled. “All right. But if he panics...”

“He won’t!”

Will you? she’d nearly asked but had bitten her tongue at the last moment.

Now she wonders if, perhaps, she should have been a bit more... insistent last night.

“What in the world is going on up there?” Margaret demands as yet another series of ceiling shaking thumps! gallop down the hall.

Alice, her hands full with taking care of Tam’s most recent testament to the astounding progress an infant’s digestive system can make, frowns. “It’s Tarrant, I’m sure. He shouted something about Christmas presents this morning before he dashed out of the room like the ribbon on his hat was on fire.”

“Now, that I’m sorry to have missed,” Margaret mumbles.

Upstairs, a door slams and several other boisterous thumps are heard.

“Is that coming from... Mother’s sewing room?” her sister muses with a scowl.

Alice can’t confirm or deny that as she hadn’t really been paying attention. “Most likely. He’s determined to make something for each of us before Christmas morning. Despite my assurances that it wasn’t necessary.” Her mother and sister had agreed not to exchange presents this year when Alice had gently explained that Tarrant is unfamiliar with the custom and he has quite enough to keep him busy just now. But somehow, he’d Found Out. Alice blames Hamish.

Margaret observes, “By Christmas? But that’s the day after tomorrow!”

“I’m aware of that,” Alice replies, juggling various squares of clean linen, soap, and a basin of warm water. “And, from the sound of it,” she adds as more enthusiastic thumping erupts from above, “so is he.”

“Do you put up with this sort of thing often?” Margaret dares to ask.

Alice gives her an exasperated look. “There is a reason for why the hat workshop is in a separate wing of the castle.”


Thump! Thump-thump-thump-thump!

“Oh, this is ridiculous!” Margaret declares. “How are we supposed to concentrate with all this racket going on?”

Alice assumes the question is rhetorical and Margaret does not want to know how happy it would make Alice if their cross-stitch session were cancelled due to an overabundance of thumping.

Thump thump!

“I’m going up there.”

“Margaret...! At least wait until I’ve got Tam all dressed again!”


Margaret twitches, huffs, and glares at the ceiling. Alice knows that Look. She grabs Tam’s bunting and hurriedly – but carefully! – bundles him into it. Tamial, who has become accustomed to rather leisurely sorts of changings, with lots of singing and playing and bathing and such, takes exception.

“Oh, brangergain i’tall!” Alice mutters as he lets out a loud wail of disappointment in response to the poor quality service he’s received. This, combined with the thumping, apparently satisfies her sister’s Limits. Without another word, Margaret pivots smartly on her heel and sweeps out of the open lavatory door. Alice grits her teeth as her sister marches toward the stairs.

“Bloody. Blasted. Boggletogs!” Alice informs her son, wrapping him up in a warm blanket and scooping him up in her arms. By the time she makes it to the stairs, Margaret has already reached the top landing. Mindful of upsetting Tam – whom she’s noticed is very Particular about the speed, smoothness, and general rhythm of his transportation – Alice follows. She peers over the top step just as Margaret comes to a stop at the sewing room door.

Her face skewed into a most irksome expression, Margaret knocks once then throws open the door. And gapes. And, fumbling for the doorknob, closes it again. She then blinks, shakes her head, opens the door again, gapes once more, then firmly shuts it.

By this time, Alice has managed to mount the stairs and is striding down the hall.

“Are you all right?” she asks.

“Alice!” Margaret turns and holds out her arms.

Mindful of Tam’s Preferences in motion, Alice glides a bit faster. Yes, she really should have asked Mirana about those comportment lessons! “What is it?” Alice asks, wondering if her sister had somehow caught Tarrant in between trousers and kilt. And, if so, she really ought to be looking a bit more appreciative of the sight!

Margaret takes a deep breath. “I need you to open that door and tell me I’ve not gone mad.”

Intrigued (and a little relieved that Margaret had – apparently – not seen something she Should Not Have!), Alice reaches for the doorknob. As the door gently squeaks open on its hinges, she finds herself greeted with the very wide, very guilty stares of her husband, Mallymkun, and Thackery. The three of them are still standing frozen in the midst of what looks like the ruins of a sewing-room-turned-hat-workshop.

She snorts.

Turning away from the utterly inanimate scene on the other side of the threshold, Alice giggles and regards her sister. “Would you like me to confirm that there is, in fact, a white dormouse in lovely blue brocade jacket and a march hare in a striped waistcoat who both appear to be helping Tarrant with the making of a variety of hats?”


Sniggering, Alice turns back to the room and watches as Mally looks up at Tarrant questioningly. Tarrant glances at the dormouse guiltily. Thackery twitches, hiccups, and shudders.

“Hello,” she greets them. “Welcome to London. Will you stay for tea after you’ve finished helping Tarrant?”

That seems to break the odd, ice-like air that had frozen them in place.

“Tea? That sounds lovely!” Mally enthuses. “And is that Tamial?”

Tea!” Thackery exclaims. “Th’ cups ‘ad better b’upside dauwn an’ righ’ side out!”

“You were contacting Mally and Thackery about helping you with our Christmas presents?” she asks her husband, who nods slowly.

“You could have just told me,” she chides gently, marshalling the will to not look at the not-finished projects scattered across the tables.

His smile is bashful and boyish in the extreme.

With a shake of her head, Alice starts to pull the door closed. She wishes them luck and then reminds them, “Open a window when the mercury gets a bit dense, will you?”

She receives three nods of agreement and then she shuts the door.

Margaret is still standing next to her, looking numb.

Alice explains, “You’ve just encountered two of our closest friends. I’ll introduce you properly when they’ve time for a break.

“I’m... looking forward to it?” Margaret asks.

“It’ll be a memorable experience,” Alice promises, curving an arm around her sister’s waist. “Now, let’s go downstairs and you can show me those new cross-stitch patterns.”

Surprisingly, her sister obliges. Or, perhaps, it’s not so surprising after all. After seeing a mouse and a hare fully dressed and in the company of her brother-in-law, perhaps a bit of normalcy is not only welcome, but called for.

They cross-stitch.

And when Tarrant comes downstairs to ask about tea, they prepare a tray and take it up to their Underlandian guests in the sewing room.

Alice had warned her sister that Mally and Thackery were not normal animals. And certainly not dumb ones.

Mally fusses over Tamial, tickling his nose with her tail and winding her paws through his sparse, silky hair. She also vents at Alice: “It’s so nice you told us we could stay for tea.” And: “It’s so exciting to finally know I’m an aunt!” And so on and so forth. Tarrant twitters into his cup gleefully.

In response to one of Mally’s more obvious – yet veiled in an uncharacteristically sweetly spoken tone – scoldings, Thackery throws a teacup at Alice, which she ducks easily and Tarrant catches deftly. “Now, now, remember what I told you, Thack,” he gently reprimands. “We can’t be ruining Mrs. Kingsleigh’s tea set.”

“Spoon!” the hare insists.

“Yes, yes, you can toss those.”

And he does. Vigorously.

“Have you finished what you were all working on already?” Alice asks at this point.

“Nearly, nearly!” Tarrant assures her and she watches his eye color shift and flicker in response to the mercury glue he’d no doubt been up to his wrists in this afternoon. His gloved hands flutter about the tea service and his giggles are plentiful enough to charm Tamial, who waves his arms and kicks a bit despite his wrappings.

“Not today,” Alice sympathizes with him just as Margaret dares to ask Mally about her family and then – upon learning that she is an unwed Mouse of the World – inquires about her profession. “But someday soon,” Alice continues, speaking in a confidential tone to her son, “your Fa will teach you how to Futterwhacken splendidly!”

For that, Tarrant leans close to her and kisses her cheek.

And teatime continues:

Mally goes on about her recent duties as a member of the White Queen’s Guard.

Thackery upends his teacup and commences with attempting to recombine the maker’s name on the bottom of the cup into rare Witzend words.

“This is wonderfully mad,” Alice whispers to her grinning husband. “You should have told me to expect them!”

“I wanted it to be a surprise,” he lisps, his pupils mismatched in size and orientation.

“It was,” she answers.

And later, Margaret joins her in waving goodbye to Mally and Thackery as they hop back through the looking glass in her old room. Tarrant had already sequestered himself in the sewing room again – “I’ve a deadline! So sorry, ladies!” – and so he had elected not to see his friends off.

After the rippling looking glass calms and its surface smooths flat again, Margaret approaches it and tentatively dips her fingers into it. “Is this how you’ll... go back? Is this what Mother saw when your... queen... left?”



“Does it... hurt?”

“No, but it does feel a bit strange.”

“I can only imagine.”

Yes, but it is an imagining that Margaret never would have dared to contemplate. Well, not until now! And this seems to be the season for never-before-contemplated Things. For Margaret is quite obviously and equally stunned when, two days later, following Christmas supper, as she’s wearing her Hightopp original bonnet and Winslow is playing on a blanket wearing his new beret, Hamish offers her a gift for her son to open.

“What’s this?” she asks, startled.

Alice nudges Tarrant. “Let’s see what’s keeping Mother and that tea service,” she murmurs. They make a discreet exit. As they close the library door behind them, they hear Hamish murmur, “It’s only a trifle, madam.”

“It’s... very kind of you to think of Winslow,” Margaret replies slowly. “A bit odd, you know, but I appreciate it...”

There’d been the sound of paper being torn and the soft, papery pop! of a box being opened and then a gasp. A Margaret gasp.

“I understand it may not be... entirely appropriate. Please do not misunderstand me, madam. I am not suggesting I could ever fill the position his father once held. But, if you have no objections, I should very much like to be his friend.”

“Winslow’s?” Margaret clarifies, clearly stunned.


And on that note, Alice and Tarrant, with Tamial in his arms, tiptoe into the kitchen to see about that tea service and the conspicuously absent Helen Kingsleigh.

“Have you been sent to fetch me?” Helen asks smoothly when they enter the kitchen.

“Not quite,” Alice tells her.

“We’ve sent ourselves to ensure the tea preparations take as long as possible!” Tarrant asserts.

Helen smiles and they dawdle. Alice passes Tam to his grandmother and she and Tarrant fiddle with the sugar bowl, debate the proper arrangement of the edibles, ignore the kettle when it begins to boil then they waltz over to the stove to the hummed tune of the Tumtums when the kettle insists on being ignored no longer.

They spend nearly thirty minutes puttering around in the kitchen.

And smile knowingly at each other with every uninterrupted minute that passes.

When they finally return to the library, they find Hamish seated on Winslow’s blanket across from Margaret. Winslow’s newest toy is performing a polka with the aid of Margaret’s hands and Hamish is twirling the giggling toddler around and around. Alice swallows a smile at the sight of Win’s beret perched precariously on Hamish’s bright orange hair.

“Auburn haired men...” Alice hears her mother muse on a good-natured sigh.

“And blonde daughters?” she whispers back, grinning.

“An unexpectedly... satisfactory pairing,” Helen agrees softly as Tarrant interrupts the dance to exclaim over Hamish’s headwear.

“No, no, that is most certainly not the proper hat for you, sir!”

And, Alice has to admit, the dove grey billycock Tarrant produces and places upon his head does suit him much better!

“This is a Hat Party,” Tarrant declares, assisting Helen with her wide-brimmed and luxuriously feathered touring hat before producing a tiny swatch of fabric from his pocket and tugging it gently onto Tam’s head.

“A Hightopp tam o’shanter,” Alice sighs happily. And, with the article being made from their son’s tartan, there’s no risk of his eyes not matching his headwear. Tarrant clamors upstairs and fetches both his own top hat and Alice’s asymmetrical cloche-turned-sunhat.

“There!” he says joyfully as he places Alice’s hat upon her head. “Now we all look ourselves!”

Hamish rebukes him, “Hightopp, how can we look ourselves while sporting hats we’ve never worn before?”

“Perhaps the hats have found us,” Alice suggests.

“The Right Hat will always show one’s Inner Truth,” Tarrant agrees.

“Then what does the wrong hat show?” Helen inquires.

Tarrant gives her a sad smile and shakes his head. “Unfortunately, there are a great many people wandering around lost in the wrong hat, madam.”

Alice considers this, considers her husband as he considers the sight of his son in the arms of his mother-in-law. She considers how very many people struggle to make themselves fit a top hat when a bowler would suit, a bonnet when their being begs for a cloche. So many misguided people, fearful people, people unknown to even themselves...

And Tarrant Sees it.

I love your Sight, she Sends, her heart so tangled up in a feeling so precious she thinks she could weave a tartan from it and clothe him in it, using the edge of the mysterious pain she suddenly finds her heart in possession of to trim the ends and produce a cut to fit him perfectly.

Tarrant’s breath hitches, his throat works, and when he looks up at her his eyes are black. Alice doesn’t doubt that her own mirror his. Black: the Color of Everything.

The feeling is that Intense.

“Well,” Hamish announces, demolishing the breathless moment. “As we’re all perfectly safe from being lost in wrong hats, I expect now would be the time to give you the trifle I picked up with you in mind, Hightopp.”

“And what would that be?” Alice asks as Tarrant beams with delighted expectation.

Hamish stands and leaves the room. They listen to his footsteps recede down the hall toward the front door.

“Do you think it’s a walking stick?” Tarrant whispers loudly enough for Helen and Margaret to overhear. “Hamish is very fond of walking sticks, I’ve noticed.”

“No,” Margaret counters. “Hamish is very fond of his walking stick. And if he actually gives you that one, I think I might just swoon from the shock of it.”

Helen raises her brows at the observation but does not scold her daughter for making such a... wifely comment about a man she’s not married to. Well, not currently married to. And Alice suspects her mother holds her tongue not just because it’s Christmas.

Hamish re-enters the library with a long, suspiciously familiar-looking wooden case under his arm. “The queen only knows why I feel the need to give you two of these – you could certainly do more than enough damage with one – but I’m quite confident my dueling days are over, so it’s time to give them a new home.”

Alice watches as Hamish sets the box down and gestures for Tarrant to open it. With visible reluctance, he does.

Alice steps up next to him and, looking down into the velvet-lined case, grins. “Well, now you won’t have any excuses not to show me what you’ve learned!”

“A mahn’s ne’er wi’out excuses,” he grumbles, almost glaring at the pair of fencing foils.

“I trust you’ll permit Alice to chase you around a bit with them, if for no other reason than to ensure you don’t make it too easy for me to trounce you some Monday in the future.” Hamish grins, looking quite proud of himself.

Be-pridish, enpuffed Hamish Ascot, Alice muses, enjoying how Perfectly Outlandish fits this new man who has grown up and out of the shell of a shallow and spoiled boy. And if Tarrant Hightopp can work wonders like this on a man he’s known for only half a year, what miracles await their son?

Alice grits her teeth at the sudden and deep Throb of her heart.

Again, Tarrant looks up at her in response and an inquiry tickles beneath her skin.

With a slight shake of her head and a wry smile, she puts him off. She’ll tell him later. Perhaps after Tamial has grown up and is dancing the Wedded Step with his bride at the Maigh...

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“What sort of clock makes a noise like that?” Margaret muses into the suddenly tick-y moment in the room.

Alice frowns and automatically glances toward the clock which had been decked in holly to match the festive atmosphere of the library. But, no, the sudden, small, high-pitched, twang-y ticking isn’t coming from that time piece.


She turns back to Tarrant and meets his equally befuddled gaze. And then...

And then their gazes drop, as if choreographed to do so, to his vest pocket.

Slowly, he lifts a hand and dips his fingers into the fold of fabric and pulls out his pocket watch.

“It’s ticking again,” Alice observes, looking up and into his eyes.

His frown clears and his brows curve into a sad arch. “It’s Time,” he agrees.

“You’ll be leaving now?” Margaret asks, gathering up Winslow and standing.

Alice nods. “Yes. We will.” She holds out her arms to her mother who passes Tam to her.

“And... how will you be returning?” her mother asks warily.

“You already know the answer to that, Mother,” Alice tells her softly.

“And yet not one of you has seen fit to inform me of it. Hightopp tells me I’ll only believe it when I see it,” Hamish pouts.

Margaret lays a hand on his arm. “And even then, you might not believe it,” she warns him with a smile.

Despite the words, his own lips curve into a grin. Before Margaret can remove her hand, he presents his arm to her and she lightly curls her fingers around his elbow. “Well, I must admit, I’m curious now.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” Alice can’t resist observing.

Tarrant giggles.

Helen takes a deep breath. “And a second time for some.” She gives her daughter and son-in-law a shaky smile.

Alice nods. “Then let’s move upstairs, shall we?”

In Alice’s old bedroom, a trunk, a valise and various other items they’d collected during their stay sit next to the looking glass.

“I’ll go first,” Tarrant offers, brushing his fingers down her back. Alice nods. “Ascot, if you’ll lend me a hand? Still attached, of course!”

Hamish steps forward, wearing the frown of confusion Alice had seen quite often on her mother and sister’s faces. He opens his mouth to protest when Tarrant doesn’t stop in front of the mirror, but moves to step into it. Of course, Tarrant moves faster than Hamish’s objection can be voiced and the man ends up squeaking in a very undignified manner as Tarrant stands half in, half out of the glass. His head and shoulders disappear for a moment and Alice imagines he’s greeting whomever is waiting on the other side.

“Are you sure this is... quite safe?” Helen murmurs, her wide eyes locked on the alarming sight of a nearly-half of Tarrant.

“Perfectly. I’ve never even caught my toe on the frame on the other side.”

“What’s it like?” Margaret presses.

Alice considers that. “It’s like walking through a reflection. It’s cool to the touch and then it’s warm. It pushes back on you a little and then it doesn’t. It’s like walking through a looking glass,” she summarizes.

When Tarrant turns back to the room, he says, “The queen and a few... friends are waiting for us.”

“Ah, we can’t keep the queen waiting,” Alice observes.

“She’s got quite the rapport with Time, I believe,” Tarrant replies. “Which would explain the reminder we just received.”

Alice cocks her head to the side in agreement. “Yes, it would.”

“Ascot, if you would pass me the valise last?”

Obliging, Hamish hands over the sword case first.

Alice embraces her sister. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Yes, very soon!”


“I’ll miss you, Alice.”

“This isn’t good-bye; this is the beginning! A new beginning. For all of us.”

“I... hope you’re right.”

“I’m right mad, remember? You can trust in that.”

“I shall do my utmost, dear.”

She offers an arm and receives an embrace, offers her cheek and receives a teary kiss. And then, with a wave, she steps up to the mirror and her husband still standing in it.

“Let’s go home,” she whispers.

His eyes deepen in color past emerald to cobalt. “Aye,” he agrees. Looking up, he thanks everyone, “Mrs. Kingsleigh, thank you for your hospitality.”

“It was my pleasure. And I believe I asked you to call me Helen.”

“You did. And, circumstances permitting, I shall again.”

“You do what you must to ensure circumstances do permit, Tarrant. I’ll be expecting you to accept my hospitality many times in the future.”

“We shall. Lady Manchester—”

“Margaret,” she interrupts firmly.

“Margaret, it has been most enjoyable making your acquaintance.”

“For me as well.”

“Ascot...” Tarrant looks at the man who has the most Disturbing gleam of calculating Muchness in his blue eyes. He sighs and grumbles, “Hamish, the next time I see you, I’ll be explaining precisely why you cannot use looking glass travel in your trade.”

“I await your explanation then.”

With a nod and a smile, he gently curls his arm around Alice’s shoulders and then they step back... through the looking glass.

And before Alice can register the fact that her mother and sister and Hamish Ascot are now merely reflections in the mirror, a shout goes up.

“Oi! Ye’re back!”

“Ye’re late fer TEA!

Ducking Thackery’s chosen projectile, Alice turns and gasps at the sight before her:

The queen’s office is filled to bursting with their friends. She even glimpses Maevyn on the balcony and Chessur floating beside the young jabberwocky. From outside a distinctive “GRRRRRRRRRBBBrrrlll! GRRT!!” sounds from the Bandersnatch’s throat.

She sees the Tweedles and Leif, of course. Even Nivens and a scowling Fenruffle. Her regular sparing partners, the frog footmen and fish butlers and..!


Mirana steps away from her husband and children and extends her hands to both Alice and Tarrant.


“Welcome home, Champions of Underland.”

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 20 of 22

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