Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 4 of 22

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Chessur, despite being a cat – and not just any sort of common cat, but a Cheshire Cat, no less – takes great pride in the fact that he makes an absolutely fabulous jabberwocky.

He glances at the nest, at the three hatchlings snoring-snorting-snuffling in their sleep and then gently pets the fourth he has wrapped up in his long, scaly tail.

“Chessur?” the creature mewls, almost like a kitten might.

“Yes, love?”

“How much longer?”

“I’m not sure. Soon.”

The small jabberwocky – smaller than Alice’s true Alice-size – snuggles deeper into the coils of Chessur’s Jabberwocky tail. He knows it doesn’t sleep. It hides. Chessur pets the youngling’s still-soft scales carefully with the smooth, curved backs of his claws.

Yes, Chessur rather enjoys being a jabberwocky. Surprisingly, he rather enjoys looking after Krystoval’s little ones: the next generation of Underland’s dragons, keepers of the earth, bringers of life. He does not envy these creatures their duty to Underland, however. No, Chessur has no interest in creation, in the healing arts, in magic of that sort. It smacks of politics, he’d long ago decided. And Chessur is quite content to have nothing more required of him than companionship and stimulating conversation and... at times like these... a watchful eye directed at the hatchlings.

Hatchlings. Still, the four of them are so very small and young despite the five years they’ve aged. But, Krystoval had warned him:

“I am not sure how much time they will need to mature. It has been a very long time since a jabberwocky has been born and I did not pay attention to the passing of time when I had been a youngling...”

At this rate, Alice and Tarrant will be knee-deep in generations of Hightoppsbefore these juveniles manage to grow strong enough to leave the nest!

Not that Chessur will miss them when they go. No, he can’t imagine that he will. He’s still a cat at heart, after all! And cats do not attach themselves to others. Not as a general rule... Well, not lightly in any case!

He sighs and, briefly, almost wishes for the ability to breathe flame. It would certainly help to pass the time were he able to amuse himself with the various shapes and smoke rings he might create.

For the love of Thrambleberries, how long does it take to interrupt a Maigh festival and abscond with a Champion and her husband?

Chessur grins at the mental picture. For he’s sure that in no possible version of events does there exist one in which Tarrant does not accompany his wife – the mother of his could-be-son-or-daughter – to the Lair of the Jabberwockies!

Yes, Alice... he muses, his cat’s mind twisting and leaping fluidly from one thought to another. Yes, he knows Alice carries Tarrant’s child. Had known it immediately. It had been in her changed scent. Just as Tarrant’s (and also Alice’s) had changed after they’d performed the first exchange of the Thrice a-Vow, Alice’s smell had changed following the Ritual of Conception. Instead of smelling the usual Alice-with-a-touch-of-Tarrant smell, Chessur had also detected that plus the scent of a stranger. A new little person.

What puzzles Chessur is why neither Alice nor Tarrant have told anyone. Not the queen, who had smelled no different at all despite the fact Chessur is sure she would have been reeking of smug pride had she known. Not Mally or Thackery or Champion Leif... No one. They hadn’t even bothered to inform Chessur!

Ungrateful bipeds, he accuses, his teal eyes narrowed. Well, if a cat can hold his own against Thrambleberry-scheming jabberwockies, he can certainly outwit a stubborn Outlander and his paranoid Uplander wife!

And with the thought of that particular couple, Chessur mourns the lost opportunity to wear Tarrant’s hat at their Choosing. Of course, he hadn’t been invited. No one – again with those two doing things their way! – had been invited. In fact, the Choosing itself had included only the two of them at Iplam. One day, Tarrant had been angsting and emoting like it was going out of style, and the next he’d been all smiles and giggles and riddles with his gaze unerringly locked on the ring on Alice’s finger.

He’d been a pathetic sight, really.

Yet another reason Chessur is forever thankful that jabberwockies do not wed. Nor mate. Yes, being a jabberwocky is a blessedly simple existence when it comes to personal relationships. Companionship of the... carnal sort is always dreadfully complicated and fraught with misunderstandings and insecurity and abject misery. Chessur has seen it often enough to know how true that conclusion is! It’s a relief that he’ll never be expected to engage in those sorts of acts with Krystoval. No, the only things the Jabberwocky has ever asked of Chessur have been companionship, conversation, the occasional hatchling-sitting, and – of course – the fetching of Thrambleberries. All of which are things Chessur had gladly given – and still gladly gives! – his most closest of friends. Well, with the exception of the Thrambleberries, of course. He and Krystoval seem to be at a bit of an impasse on that issue...

The small, warm body curled up within his long tail stirs again. “Chessur?”

“What it is, dearness?”

“I’m scared.”

“Of what, child of the fearsome Jabberwocky?”

There’s a contemplative pause. The baby shifts, sniffs the air, paws at the ground with its tiny claws. “I don’t know. Something moves. It makes me feel... bad.”

Chessur frowns. “Have you felt this before?”

“Sometimes. Lots of times. But I couldn’t tell you before now.”

Yes, Maevyn had been the last among its siblings to find the power of speech.

“It will come,” Krystoval had assured them all time and time again. “When Maevyn truly wishes for it, it will come.”

And, finally, it has!

“Krystoval will return soon,” Chessur says, resuming the stroking motions of his claws against the tiny thing’s back and Maevyn subsides with a gusty sigh. Luckily, the scales on his tail protect him from being burned by the white-blue flame.

Chessur finds himself contemplating Maevyn’s odd claim: Something moves... Of course, since it makes no sense whatsoever, his mind finds it a fascinating concept to contemplate... Nearly as fascinating as the impressive phenomenon that is a jabberwocky’s memory. Truly amazing mental faculties, jabberwockies have. Able to recall – and with great clarity and detail – all the way back to the time spent in the egg... Remarkable! Although, Chessur can’t say he envies them that skill. There are plenty of things he’d be more than happy to forget if only...

And then the familiar burst of Jabberwocky-scented air fills the nesting site and Chessur looks up.

“Krystoval!” Maevyn squeaks and tumbles out of Chessur’s loose grasp to clamor over to its arriving parent.

Chessur stands lazily and smirks as Tarrant slides down from Krystoval’s back and then reaches up to help Alice down.

“No clan colors?” Chessur drawls as the Jabberwocky nuzzles Maevyn in affectionate greeting. “And here I thought we were interrupting a party.

Alice rolls her eyes. “You can’t expect us to charge off into the unknown, on the back of the Jabberwocky, wearing a skirt and a kilt, can you?” she rejoinders, hands on her trouser-clad hips.

“Won’t your guests be offended with your abrupt departure?” he muses.

“Somehow,” Tarrant replies, “I don’think they’ll be noticin’ our absence o’ermuch. No dou’ they’re fleein’ back teh their homes as we speak.”

Alice places a hand on his arm. “Davon might manage to keep everyone calm.”

“I apologize for the poor timing,” Krystoval says, a bit stiffly. “However, I was under the impression that you wanted to be notified as soon as possible when Maevyn was ready to speak.”

“I did. I do. Of course this takes precedence, Krystoval. And, honestly, your timing could not have been better,” Alice says with a curiously wry grin.

Chessur has to ask: “And what imminent catastrophe did our favorite, fully-grown jabberwocky circumvent?”

Alice snorts. “Me breaking an Outlander’s jaw.”

With a soft smile, Tarrant collects her fisted hand and busses her knuckles with his fingers. “I’d been considerin’ th’ nose, me-self,” he murmurs, googly-eyed.

Chessur valiantly forces back a gagging cough at the utter sweetness of the exchange. “What fascinating parties you throw, Tarrant. Punches included, it seems.”

The man’s eyes flash with amusement and Chessur realizes, with no small amount of irritation, that he must have just made a rhyme... or a pun... or said something-or-other that a madman would find interesting.

Alice turns toward the Jabberwocky. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t do anything for Maevyn... before. I hope that will change now.”

“As do I, Champion Alice,” Kystoval replies, cuddling the youngling.

“Alice?” A small, hesitant voice calls out. “Alice is here?”

Chessur turns and notices three pairs of bright eyes watching them from the nest. Glancing at Krystoval, Chessur grumbles, “Had to wake everyone with your grand entrance, didn’t you?”

The Jabberwocky arches a brow and drawls, “Don’t I always?”

“Maevyn?” Alice asks, approaching the Jabberwocky and its youngling.

“Yes, Alice?” is the hesitant reply.

“You know I’ve spoken to your siblings about what happened that day. The day you were hurt. Would you tell me what you remember now?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Chessur notices the subtle motion as each of the three hatchlings lower their heads in shame. Four years ago, they hadn’t been able to speak of the attack on their nestmate. And, last year, when they had finally managed to find their Words, they hadn’t been able to say much, for they hadn’t seen much. It had been Maevyn who had wandered out of the nest and into the forest where the attack had occurred. Still, Chessur knows the silly younglings feel irrationally guilty over their inability to both help their sibling in its time of need and provide any useful information regarding the event itself. With a put-upon sigh, Chessur gathers the hatchings together under his fully-functional Jabberwocky wing and nuzzles their necks.

“I remember...” Maevyn begins, peeping over the Jabberwocky’s claw. “I remember a... a cloth. Bright. Beautiful. It fell from the sky and I watched it dance over the edge of the nest. I... I followed it.”

“It’s all right,” Alice replies, reaching out to pet Maevyn’s stubby crest. “No one is angry with you. And we all know you’re more careful now. Everything’s fine.”

Chessur watches this and, reluctantly, admits that Alice is going to make a very adequate mother. But, then again... she’s had plenty of practice with looking after Tarrant, hasn’t she?

Maevyn sniffles a bit and with a flash of muchness in its eyes, continues, “I went into the forest. I don’t remember going so far. I was just following the pretty cloth. When I finally caught it... that’s when the men came out.”

“The men?” Alice prompts.

Maevyn buries its face in Krystoval’s claws. “Two men. With knives and something else. A glass something. They hurt me with the knives and they pressed the glass against my scales. I think... I think they took my blood.”

Chessur stiffens and glances from Alice to Krystoval and then to Tarrant. From the Outlander’s tense posture, he knows Tarrant has grasped the significance as well.

“It’s all right now, Maevyn,” Alice continues, no doubt seeing that Krystoval is too enraged to speak softly. “You’re safe now, aren’t you? Krystoval and Chessur are here and you’re safe.”

Indeed, that day Chessur had been called to Mamoreal to assist the White Queen. Queen Mirana had wanted to know if Chessur would be open to using his evaporating skills to spy on Jaspien, just to be sure the worthless creature wasn’t planning anything. Of course, he’d had to refuse, but not before agreeing to train a suitable replacement. And when Chessur had arrived back at the nest, Maevyn had been missing and Krystoval frantic, torn between leaving the three hatchlings behind to search for the youngling and remaining in the nest to keep its other children safe. It had only taken moments for Chessur to follow the scent of blood and fear and locate Maevyn, a few licks of his tongue to purify and close the wounds, but Chessur had been too late to catch the beasts that had done that horrible thing.

And now, to find out that those beasts had, in fact, been men...!

Well, as a cat, he shouldn’t be surprised.

“Tell me about the men,” Alice asks gently.

Maevyn mewls. “They covered my eyes. Didn’t see. Couldn’t see! It was so dark!”

“Shh... open your eyes Maevyn. It’s not so dark now and your family is here.”

The hatchling does. “They had names. Men with names.”

“What were their names, darling?”

“Osh... Oshtyer. And Vale... Valereth.”

The silence following that announcement is telling.

With a visible effort, Alice gathers herself, folds up her anger and puts it away. “Did they say anything else? Where they were going? What they were going to use your blood for?”

Maevyn closes its eyes and shakes its head, curling into Krystoval’s chest. The Jabberwocky covers the baby’s shaking body with its other claw and strokes its scales just as Chessur had done earlier.

“No more, Alice,” Krystoval says gruffly.

Alice nods. “It’s fine. It’s enough.”

“Chessur, if you would take Champion Alice and her Hightopp back to Iplam?”

The cat-who-is-also-a-jabberwocky nods. Krystoval moves toward the nest and curls up with Maevyn. The other three hatchlings toddle out from under Chessur’s wing and climb into the nest as well, snuggling together.

Chessur experiences an odd twinge in his chest at the sight. If he didn’t know better, he’d say he regrets not being able to join Krystoval in cuddling up with the hatchlings, but, as a cat, he would never want such a thing!

Turning back to Alice – who looks far too knowing for Chessur’s peace of mind – and Tarrant – who also seems a bit too smug at the moment – he growls, “Well, do you want a ride back to Iplam or not?”

“We’re waiting on you,” Alice tells him.

“An’ I hope ye’re better a’flyin’ nauw than ye were durin’ th’ Trial o’ Threes,” Tarrant muses, with a glance at Alice.

“I am,” Chessur replies shortly, but not wanting to risk getting vomit and bile between his scales addresses Alice, “but if you’ve brought whatever it is that keeps you from becoming nauseous, then I suggest you ingest it now.”

Alice looks startled. “You know I...?”

Chessur gives her a droll look. “Honestly, did you think my nose would tell me otherwise? At a more convenient time, Alice, you and I shall have a talk about the futility of keeping secrets from me, but for now, a bit of your nausea remedy, if you don’t mind.”

With a sigh, Alice pulls a small, leather pouch from her tunic pocket and Chessur catches a whiff of Himoha flower. “And, I’m curious, Alice,” he continues as she places one shriveled petal on her tongue. “Just how did you procure that pregnancy aid without the assistance of the queen?”

“What makes you think I didn’t?”

Chessur lowers himself to the ground and allows Tarrant to climb onto his shoulders. “Please,” he says with a roll of his eyes. “If the woman were any more in the dark, it’d be midnight at Mamoreal every hour of the day.”

Alice admits, “I helped Mirana with her children, you know, so I knew about the Himoha flower. And when she speculated that, were Tarrant and I to start a family, all I’d have to do is just reverse the dosage from one blossom to—”

“To one petal, yes. What with your contrary Uplander body,” Chessur finishes as Tarrant pulls Alice up and in front of him. Chessur unfurls his wings and pauses to check just one more time: “Is your stomach quite settled, Alice?”

“I’m fine. I won’t get sick all over your beautiful scales, Chessur,” she promises.

Deciding that’s more than sufficient as reassurances go, the Chessur mutters as he gives his wings an experimental flap, “At least Krystoval let you both put trousers on...”

“Ye’d have an objection teh carryin’ a man in a kilt?” Tarrant drawls.

Chessur grits his teeth at the Outlander’s obvious amusement. “A kilt and naught else beneath it,” the cat replies. “Yes, I’d have an objection. One, at the very least.”

“So would I,” Alice contributes.

And before they decide to abuse his delicate ears with an elaboration on that thought, Chessur launches into the air.


Alice reaches for Tarrant’s hands and slides down from Chessur’s shoulders. Her feet hit the ground and she winces at the roll her now-tender stomach makes. Krystoval’s flying had been much smoother.

“Thank you for the ride back, Chessur.”

He pointedly inspects his still-pristine scales. Ascertaining their spotless condition, he replies, “My pleasure, Alice.”

“I’ll jus’ step ou’ an see how many o’ our guests ‘ave taken Irondirk’s assurances teh heart,” Tarrant murmurs, brushes his fingertips across her cheek and then makes for the clearing. Alice can still see movement beyond the trees, so she knows that either some have decided to remain or they simply haven’t finished packing yet.

Eager to put off rejoining the crowd, Alice turns back to Chessur and smirks. “You know, I don’t remember you caring so much about the condition of your scales before you got this new set.”

Chessur glares at her. “How would you like a bit of jabberwocky spit in your hair, Champion?”

“About as much as you’d like to have my lunch revisit us on your fancy scales. Speaking of which, Krystoval let you learn this shape?”

Chessur clears his throat. “In a way. The Jabberwocky was having a bit of trouble with the laying of the eggs and I suggested a massage might... Why am I telling you this?” he suddenly demands.

“Because I asked? And I’m curious?”

“You’re nosey,” he corrects.

“And you’ve been secretly hoping for an opportunity to tell me how exactly you learn a shape, since – somehow – I never see you on Tarrant’s birthday.”

“Ah, yes. The one day a year when it’s perfectly acceptable to embarrass someone as much as possible...”

“So?” Alice asks. “How do you do it?”

Chessur leans toward her and grins. Motioning her closer with a claw, his smile widens until it stretches nearly all the way up to his crest. “By doing what cats do best,” he answers blithely.

Alice bemusedly shakes her head. “What? Cough and vomit up bits of hair from their gullets?”

No!” Again, Chessur clears his throat. “By rubbing against a body, Alice. And, when the acquisition of... finer details and... textures is required... by licking. A cat’s tongue is very sensitive, you know.”

Alice resists covering her face with her hands. Just barely. “I almost wish I didn’t,” she replies. “Know, that is.” She glares at Chessur out of the corner of her eye. “If I weren’t absolutely sure that you’ve given away your soul to the Jabberwocky, I’d probably be jealous.”

“Jealous of me for having rubbed and licked Tarrant?”

Years before I found the opportunity to do so myself, yes.”

Chessur shudders. “I... did not need to know that. Fairfarren, Alice.”

“Wait! Will you be stopping by Mamoreal to alert the queen?”

“To your disturbing Tarrant-licking tendencies? I don’t think so... Not in the near future, at any rate.”

She huffs, “No!” Honestly, Alice doubts Mirana would be very surprised by the revelation should Chessur elect to share it with her. But Alice decides she’ll let Chessur traumatize himself with that whenever he gets around to bringing the subject up with Her Majesty. She clarifies, “I meant about Oshtyer and Valereth.”

Chessur considers her with his vibrant eyes. “Again, no. You’ll be returning to the castle shortly. That will be sufficient. I may stop by later... to see what’s being done about the situation.”

“You’re more than welcome to. Fairfarren, Chessur.”

Chessur turns to once more take to the skies and, stomach now mostly settled, Alice forces herself to take a step in the direction of Iplam. Fates only know what sort of mess is waiting for her there. No doubt a series of ingratiating apologies will be required and she’ll no doubt end up having to explain the informal treaty of friendship between the White Queen and the Jabberwocky and then the lot of them will publicly ostracize both her and Tarrant for even considering befriending such a beast...

In short, this should be only slightly more bearable than having to remove that sewing needle with which Tarrant had once managed to skewer his thumb.

She cringes at the memory.

Nearing the end of the sheltering trees, Alice takes a deep breath and wades out into her and Tarrant’s doom...

Silence falls over the milling crowd when Tarrant pauses, turns, and spears her with his gaze. At first, she wonders if their guests have gone so far as to organize a lynching, but then she notices the rich, lovely green of his eyes and the broad smile on his face.

She nearly runs smack into a young boy who tumbles into her path, breathless, and pants, “C’n I ride th’ Jabberwock next, Lady Hightopp?”

Alice gapes. “What?” Dear Fates on plates, Kystoval would not be happy to be spoken of as if it were nothing more than a pony at a fair! “Um... I’m afraid the Jabberwocky has gone home now,” she manages when the boy repeats his insane request.

Several children whine and pout upon hearing that.

She glances up at Tarrant again and she can see him biting a knuckle to keep from bursting out laughing. She turns to the man who is, undoubtedly, the culprit of this insanity. “What did you tell everyone, Davon?”

The smithy smiles, showing off his crooked, broken, stained, and missing teeth with his usual brashness and cheer. “Why, abou’ th’Trial o’Threes, o’course! Tha’ our Lady Hightopp met th’Jabberwock on th’battlefield an’walked away wi’it under her thrall!”

Alice... gapes. “You... you said that...”

“So, nauw everythin’s al’righ’ an’th’ Jabberwock has an int’rest in death an’ destruction nae longer,” he concludes with a flourish.

Although Alice knows that much is true... Still! Davon had made Krystoval sound like a tame house cat! Of all the...! She’s gathering herself – and her thoughts – for a good lecture on that very point when a movement draws her attention. Tarrant lifts his chin a bit, smiles at her – his grass-green eyes sparkling – and winks.

Alice swallows back her ire and irritation. She sighs. “That wasn’t for you to tell, Davon,” she grumbles, wondering how long it will take the Jabberwocky to hear of this. Well, maybe she’d better tell it herself rather than wait around for the gossipmongers to do it for her via Chessur. And she’d better tell the queen as well. If megalomaniacs like Jaspien, Valereth, and Oshtyer had abducted her and the queen simply because Alice had been an undefeated Champion with a heart line, what good could possibly come from Alice’s supposed control over the Jabberwocky becoming public knowledge?

However, that is a battle for another day. Now, other issues must take precedence.

“Irondirk,” she says decisively, “a word, if you don’t mind?” As she passes Tarrant, she gives his arm a squeeze then strides over to and steps inside their tent, leaving the curtains open.

“Nauw, Alice, d’nae be upset a’me f’r speakin’th’truth,” Davon gently scolds her, looking highly amused with himself, as always.

Alice gives him a droll look. “What you’ve done, you’ve done and there’s no undoing it now,” she replies. “However, that was not what I wish to speak to you about.”

He considers that for a moment and then his expression brightens. “Be this concernin’ th’answer teh yer riddle?”

Alice has to think about that for a moment before she can even recall giving the man a riddle. Although it had only been yesterday, it seems so much further in the past!

Before she can tell him to just forget about the blasted riddle – which hadn’t really been a riddle at all but a clever way of refusing absolutely to dance with him – he remarks, “Och, I though’I couldnae trus’Th’Hightopp teh giv’i’teh ye...”

Oh, botheration, let’s just get this out of the way once and for all!

“Give what to me?” Alice asks with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.

“Th’gloves! Ye said if’n I cou’find a way teh dance wi’ye wi’out layin’ a hand on ye...”

Alice rubs a hand over her face as if she could scrub the exasperation she feels from her skin. “As... genuine as your effort seems to be, you’ve answered the wrong riddle—”

“Have I nauw?”

She can’t help the smirk she feels twitching her lips upward. “Most definitely. And once you figure that out, I expect I’ll be back in Mamoreal.” At least, she very much hopes to be! “Now, are we finished with this nonsense? As the Queen’s Champion, I would like to make a formal request for assistance.”

And in that instant, the somewhat puzzled, unendingly amused weapons-smith vanishes. His expression hardens, his eyes lose their shine, his shoulders tense. “Wha’b’ye an’th’White Queen requirin’ o’me, Champion Alice?”

“Not only of you, but of anyone you feel might welcome the challenge.”

He nods once and she continues:

“It’s in the best interests of their majesties that two individuals be located as expeditiously as possible – a former viscount and lord I believe you were once acquainted with? Valereth and Oshtyer.”

“An’ wha’s bein’th’price on their heads, Champion?”

Alice holds up a hand. “There will be a reward offered to those who deliver either or both to Salazen Grum or Mamoreal alive. However, should that task prove... impossible for one reason or another, information on their last-known whereabouts would also be welcome.”

Davon scoffs. “’Tis nae sword-work ye’re askin’ f’r, bu’ reconnaissance.”

“Exactly.” She steps forward and, eyes narrowed, informs him, “It’s not often the White Queen asks favors of her citizens, but when she does, she does not forget those who provide honest assistance. And the White Queen knows the value of good information well.”

“M’be so...” he drawls, a speculative gleam in his eyes. “Ye’re thinkin’ those twine slithy, shrifty greizin’-grommers’ll b’hidin’ sommere in th’White Realm?”

“I know they’ve passed this way before, about four years ago. From there, I do not know where their trail leads. But, they would have needed clothing and shoes... and had probably had to steal them. I’ll be checking the records of reported criminal acts at Mamoreal, but perhaps the thefts were so small the injured parties felt it was too much of a bother to file a claim...”

“Aye,” Davon agrees, squinting in thought. “An’ tha’will b’how we’ll find th’bastards. No’from th’records, bu’from askin’about...” He glances out the open doorway of the tent toward the oddly quiet festival scene beyond. “While there’re so many here, I’ll b’gettin’started on those questions,” he tells her. A smile Alice recognizes from long, long ago curves his mouth upward. “An’ I’magine Argur’s feelin’ a mite bored wi’shipwork...”

“Choose anyone you think would be an asset to your quest. The reward will be distributed generously amongst your team members, no matter the number.” Alice pauses, then adds, “So long as it’s within reason. Send word to me as you learn it. I may be able to send assistance that will help you pick up their trail faster.”

Davon scowls. “Assistance won’b’necessary, Champion. We can—”

“Accepting the assistance I might send will not in any way interfere with the reward.”

“Ah... well, then, we’re in accord.”

Alice nods.

In the next moment, Davon’s eyes are twinkling at her again and he’s grinning at her with a complete and utter lack of hesitance despite the horrid condition of his teeth. “Are ye sure I di’nae answer yer riddle, Lassling?”

“I’m sure,” she replies flatly. She almost wishes him luck, but – in the end – decides it’s best not to encourage him. With a gesture, she invites him to leave and then Alice steps out behind him. It takes only a few moments for her to locate Tarrant – still dressed in his trousers with his broadsword slung across his back. Although, from his position, she knows he’d been keeping an eye on their tent, his attention is mainly focused on the Irondirks’ display of wares.

“All done,” Alice says, coming up beside him.

“Ah, excellent.” He turns and gives her a relieved smile. “Shall we get changed, then?”

Alice wanders with him in the direction of the guest house, where they’d quickly stepped out of their tartans and thrown on their Mamoreal clothing for the journey to the Jabberwocky’s nest. Tarrant opens the door, then briefly surveys the inside before stepping back and allowing Alice to precede him.

The door closes and Alice feels Tarrant’s hands on her arms. But rather than pull her into his embrace, he steps into hers, wraps his body around hers, and presses his lips to her forehead. “Alice...” he murmurs and she recognizes that worried tone.

She sighs. “Do you happen to know of any other uses for jabberwocky blood?” she asks on a whisper, dreading the answer.

His arms tighten around her shoulders. “O’ly the one ye’re aware of, my Alice.”

The moment stretches taut as they both consider the fact that if someone were to feel a desire to travel somewhere within Underland, making the journey on foot would be far easier and far safer than stealing the blood of a jabberwocky. Unless, of course, it isn’t Underland a person wanted to travel to...

Her fingers curl tighter, wrinkling his jacket, and her fists press against his waist. Pressing her cheek to his shoulder, Alice says on a breath, “I don’t think Irondirk is going to find either Oshtyer or Valereth. I think there’s a reason they attacked Maevyn. I think...” Her throat suddenly slams shut and she stares into the darkness of the cottage.

Tarrant speaks with his body: curling his arms around her even tighter, pressing his jaw against her temple. In the darkness, they hold onto each other, hold back the oppressive pressure of the unknown, and try not to acknowledge what it is they’re really doing here in the dark: they’re waiting.

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 4 of 22

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