Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 5 of 22

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Mirana much prefers the tasks of motherhood to those of sovereignty. Alone in her woefully silent office – even Dalerian and Leivlan are oddly quiet in their bassinets! – Mirana leans her head in her hand and struggles through the wordy and phonetically spelled, curving and curling script typical of Galandonland correspondence. It’s a bit difficult to tell, but she thinks Hornsaver is requesting a renegotiation of their trade agreement with regards to Galandonland tea and Witzend wine. Apparently, Spring is not smiling upon them this year and their crop will be much reduced... Either that or Hornsaver is attempting to compare bumblebees and sunshine to ship sails and seas and is wasting her time with six pages of metaphors.

With the mood she’s in at the moment, Fates of Underland help the unicorn lord if he really had sent her a small novel’s worth of meaningless prose!

“Your Majesty?”

Mirana looks up and smiles. “Alice, welcome back! And, for the love of buttered fingers, how many times do I have to tell you—”

“Mirana,” Alice gently interrupts her with a sad smile.

The queen watches as Alice closes the door behind her and approaches the desk. “What’s happened, my Champion? Was the Gathering...?”

“Fine. The Gathering was a fantastic success.” Mirana watches as Alice slouches in her chair and fidgets. She can nearly see the storm of words that her Champion is fighting with through the windows of Alice’s eyes.

“Then tell me what has happened?”

“Maevyn spoke.”

Two words. Just two words, and yet Mirana finds herself utterly captured by them. In her chest, her heart feels as if it has stopped beating. “And...?”

“It was Valereth and Oshtyer. They took...”

“... the blood,” Mirana finishes, numb. As it has so many times before, the clock measures the passing of their silence and contemplation. “Alice,” Mirana finally gathers enough fortitude to say, “we must...”

“I’ve already assigned Davon Irondirk the task of investigating their whereabouts. He’s to recruit assistance from amongst his former comrades and send word periodically. With your permission, I’ll ask the Bays to help sniff out their trail.”

“You’ve still...”

Alice nods. “Yes, I’ve kept their boots. If there’s a trail anywhere in Underland, Bayard, Bayne, Bayto, Bayshe, and Baylia will find it.”

“Yes, I don’t doubt they will.” If there’s a trail to be found. Of course, Bayelle has the most sensitive nose, but with her expecting the next litter of pups, it won’t do at all to send her out on long distance treks!

“Mirana, are you familiar with the Crafter’s Core?”

The queen blinks at the sudden change of topic. “Oh, yes, of course, Alice.” Seeing Alice’s irritated expression, the queen adds, “I’m sorry. That was a bit abrupt. Why do you bring it up?”

Alice draws a deep breath and Mirana braces herself for another round of Uplandian logic.

“The attack happened four years ago. Valereth and Oshtyer were banished three years before that. That’s a long time to go without shoes. And new clothing. And whatever other necessities they’d need. With your permission, I’ll ask King Dale to assist me with going through the records of thefts in the realm.”

The queen nods, following everything rather easily thus far. “And what does that have to do with the Crafter’s Core?”

“Well, if we find an occurrence of theft that seems as if it may have been perpetrated by Valereth and Oshtyer, I’d like to contact the rightful owners and, through them, learn who had crafted the stolen item so that they might—”

“Ah, yes! So the master might Call the item back to them using the Crafter’s Core! A brilliant idea, Alice!” Briefly, the queen debates instituting this practice for all reports of lost or stolen goods, but... no. No, it would be most unfair to the craftsmen to expect them to go galumphing about Underland in search of their customers’ misplaced property. Why, they’d never have time to craft another thing again! But, in this instance, when the consequences of not locating Valereth and Oshtyer might be very dire, indeed... Yes, perhaps this once...

“I approve completely. Please let Dale know your thoughts. He’ll be most happy to assist you in whatever way he can.”

“Thank you, Mirana. However, we must also consider the possibility that someone might not go to the trouble of reporting a missing jacket or a pair of last year’s boots. And that’s where Irondirk will step in; I’ve asked him to visit villages and homesteads and inquire about missing items.”

Mirana frowns. “This quest... if there are no fresh trails for the Bays to follow... this may take quite an investment of time,” the queen acknowledges.

Alice nods and sighs heavily. “I know. Irondirk and his team will expect a reward for their efforts. I haven’t promised anything specific yet, but I’ve told them they would be generously compensated. I hope I haven’t...”

“No, no, that’s fine. Just fine. Perhaps they’d accept a title?”

Alice’s grin is wry. “I’m sure they’ve something much more... practical in mind.”

“Ah. Well, I shall ponder it and ask your opinion of whatever alternatives I come up with.”

Alice nods. After a moment, she says in a soft tone, “It makes sense to me now, the Crafter’s Core, I mean. Tarrant has always been so protective of his hat... Did you know his father made it? Even wove the fabric used on it? And his mother crafted the hatpins for it? It was a gift. For completing his apprenticeship and being promoted to your service.”

“Ah, I’d nearly forgotten,” Mirana replies, leaning back in her chair and smiling. “Eiam Hightopp was rather gifted with the loom. And Lezlia was one of the very best silversmithies in all of Underland...”

Alice continues, expression contemplative, “I always assumed Tarrant had made it himself. If that were the case, he would be able to find it anywhere were it lost or stolen or... borrowed. But he can’t can he? Only his father or mother would be able to use the Crafter’s Core to Call it...”

Mirana nods. “Yes, as I understand it, the connection that is formed between the creator and the creation is never passed on to others, even members of the same family or direct descendants.”

“So, if it were to be lost, he might never be able to find it...” she muses and Mirana watches Alice’s expressions.

“Are you perhaps remembering a time when Tarrant placed you on his hat and threw you across a river to safety?” Mirana dares to speculate. She knows the story of Alice’s return and Tarrant’s sacrifices for their – his – Champion very well.

Alice hums through a breath of laughter. “No, actually. I was thinking of a moment in which I returned it to him.” She shakes her head. “I couldn’t imagine him being without his hat, but I had no idea what it would mean to him...”

“Is it any wonder the man fell in love with you even more deeply, Alice?” Mirana replies. “How could he not? Not only had you returned to Underland, not only had you dared to attempt his rescue from the Red Castle, but you’d given him back the last lingering essence of his parents.” The queen smiles gently. “Whom, I know for a fact, he loved very deeply.”

“That’s the only way he knows how to love,” Alice whispers through a wide smile and misty eyes.

Suddenly, Mirana notices how far they’ve strayed into very personal territory... and without expressed permission from the person to whom that territory belongs! “Oh, I’m sorry, Alice. I should not have spoken so freely without Tarrant’s consent! Have I upset you?”

Alice shakes her head and presses her fingers to her eyes as if she expects that will push the tears back to where they’d come from. “No, no, it’s fine. I shouldn’t have brought it up, but I was so... affected by... and curious... and I didn’t want to make him think about the past... I’m sorry,” she says finally, drawing a deep breath before lowering her hands. “I’m fine. Just tired. The Maigh was...” She visibly flounders in search of an adequate description.

Mirana smiles. “Yes, so I’ve heard.” Then, clearing her throat, Mirana continues, “But, for now, back to the issue at hand.”

“Yes,” Alice agrees, sitting up straight. “Irondirk will be looking into it, as will I with the assistance of the king. I’ll send out the Bays as soon as they can be ready to go.”

“As always, an excellent plan, Alice. Thank you.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” the Champion replies, standing.

“And I thank you for that, Alice.”

Alice opens her mouth to reply but closes it again.

“What is it?” the queen asks her friend with curiosity.

“Something maudlin. Put it out of your mind,” Alice softly requests.

“Very well. I shall do my best.”

The queen stands as Alice moves toward the door. She drifts toward the bassinets and looks down upon her youngest sons, still sound asleep.


Looking up, the queen notes that Alice is standing at the still-closed door. “Yes?”

Are there any other uses for jabberwocky blood?” she asks very quietly.

Mirana feels her heartache at Alice’s stressed expression and slowly shakes her head.

“And what does it do exactly? Will it give you anything you wish?”

“No. It does not give things. It bestows the power of Movement.”

“To other lands, other worlds?”

Mirana nods and then, hesitantly, adds, a warning in her tone, “And through Time itself, although that is a very closely kept secret.”

Horror follows Alice’s expression of comprehension. “Which is why, after I drank it – after slaying the Jabberwocky – I returned to Upland only moments after I’d left?”

Mirana nods. “I would expect so. As I’ve mentioned before, Time passes differently in Upland. And I doubt it would be so accommodating. Yes, I think you wished yourself back to that place and that time because, quite frankly, you hadn’t thought to wish yourself hours or days into the future.”

Alice’s mouth works for a moment.

Seeing the fear in her Champion’s gaze, Mirana hurries to assure her, “It would be nearly impossible for either of them to have learned of the blood’s true Power, Alice.” And if they had then it would likely be far too late to stop them from fiddling with Time at this late juncture. In fact, if they had chosen to travel into the Past, things would have already changed and Mirana and Alice would likely not be having this discussion at all!

The queen continues, “I will do whatever I can to help you and Irondirk locate Valereth and Oshtyer. But, please, Alice, tell no one that they may have used jabberwocky blood to escape.”

“I won’t say anything,” she promises thickly. Alice takes a deep breath and then opens the door.

Mirana watches her go and, turning toward her sons, muses:

It is a conundrum, indeed; what would have driven Valereth and Oshtyer to seek out the blood of a jabberwocky? And at such great personal risk? If they had intended to move through Time and into the Past in order to alter events in their favor, then the changes would have already been wrought! But what could they hope to gain by traveling into the unknown Future?

It must be a Place, then, that they’d intended to go to and not a Time. This thought is a more comforting one to contemplate and yet also not. For if Valereth and Oshtyer have used the jabberwocky blood to escape Underland, how could they possibly be a threat to the White Realm, to Shuchland, or to Galandonland now? But, then again, is it not her responsibility – at least in part – to ensure that Underlanders do not cause harm to Those in Other Worlds?

Mirana sighs. Yes, Valereth and Oshtyer must be located. Whatever trouble they are causing must be dealt with. She despises the thought of bringing them back to Underland – oh, how wonderful it would be to just ignore the issue entirely! – but she knows it must be done.

And if it must be done, then it will be done, which means...

Mirana reaches for the bell that will call her attendants. She’ll need help transporting her sons’ bassinets up to the Far South Tower, where Absolem still oversees the Oraculum.


This is my fault.

Alice slides the sharpening stone over the curved blade of her scimitar. The gravely, scraping noise cuts into her soul without leaving a mark on her skin. She ignores the singing birds, the enthusiastic breeze, the full-to-bursting bunches of blossoms weighing down the boughs and branches of the cherry trees, ignores the sounds of life from within the castle kitchen. Alice sits on a bench in the kitchen garden and considers all of the ways she is failing – and has failed – in her duties to Mamoreal and its queen.

I ought to be out there with Bayard and his pups. I ought to be helping Davon and Argur and the others. I ought to be doing something!

But she knows she can’t. She knows what Tarrant would say if she were to so much as look in the Bandersnatch’s direction. She knows he’d be right.

And, in all truth, there had been much to be done here, in the Hall of Records. She’d spent two weeks with King Dale and Tarrant and Fenruffle and Nivens and – whenever she could spare the time – the queen, scouring the history of reported thefts in Underland looking for anything that might have been particularly desirable to a pair of banished members of the aristocracy.

At first, things had been promising: missing boots and jackets and knives of the highest quality had been investigated. The craftsmen and women who had created the objects had consented to Call them, but only one had been found: a pair of boots, worn beyond use, at the bottom of a compost heap at a Witzend farm.

Alice wishes she’d been able to accompany the cobbler on that particular quest, just for something to do, but Tarrant had suggested Leif be sent before Mirana could volunteer her. Alice had very nearly gotten angry with Tarrant over that, but his pleading gaze had stayed her objection. Luckily, no one had seemed to notice their exchange. And what with two banished former coup-leaders unaccounted for – and what with Alice being one of those to actively work toward their defeat – she knows Tarrant is only going to become more protective in the weeks and months (Alice suppresses a groan at the Thought!) to come.

During the first two weeks following the Maigh, reports had been coming in and orders had been sent out to Irondirk and his team with regularity thanks to the team of gryphon messengers the queen keeps on staff. Unfortunately, news – and it had been very old news at that! – had dried up rather quickly. Despite Davon Irondirk’s charm and cunning, he’d been unable to locate a single individual – be it person, creature, or plant – that had seen either Valereth or Oshtyer even once within the last four years.

The Bays, despite the scents provided by Valereth’s and Oshtyer’s shoes, had been unable to find any lingering trace of them anywhere and had returned to Mamoreal with nothing but exhaustion to show for their efforts.

Which has lead Alice to the inevitable conclusion: the former viscount and lord are no longer in Underland. Just as she’d feared. And while there are, according to Mirana, many times and places they could have traveled to, Alice suspects she knows exactly which one: London, her London.

My very existence here in Underland would have made them think of Up There.

It would have taken just a single wish and a thought of Alice Kingsleigh’s home to take them to England. Alice, upon leaving the queen’s office on the day of her and Tarrant’s return, had sequestered herself in their apartment and had opened the looking glass for the first time since she’d visited her mother to say farewell. Her mother’s room, her father’s study, Margaret’s solarium: those rooms she’d managed to inspect and – eventually – her family members moving freely about them. Alice had even noticed the baby that Margaret had cradled in her arms, a baby which Alice strongly suspects is her niece or nephew... But the other rooms and their mirrors had been closed to her. Perhaps because those rooms had been changed and thus Alice had been unable to successfully build the image of them in her mind and will the portal to open between the two worlds. She had tested this theory on her old room in her mother’s house. It had opened easily and this room had also looked precisely the way she’d remembered it.

So, her sister and her mother (although Helen Kingsleigh had looked far, far older than Alice had expected) are safe. Still, Alice had had to forcibly remind herself that she could not travel through the mirror and return safely, not without someone on this side to keep it open for her. However, Alice is convinced that going through the looking glass and asking a few questions – oh, not to her family, of course, who believe her long deceased – is a viable option. If only she had the money, Alice could hire a solicitor or even a less reputable investigator to look for Valereth and Oshtyer! The idea had come to her fully formed and she’d asked the Royal Seamstress to make a few Upland-style dresses for her, just in case the queen had approved the idea.

She hadn’t.

“Let us wait a bit longer and see if any more recent reports of their activities come to light.”

But Alice knows there won’t be; there will be no more recent reports. Unless they come from London.

And Valereth and Oshtyer might not have thought to attack a jabberwocky and drink its blood and travel to Upland if Alice had never chosen to stay in Underland: if she had never suggested Chessur as a part-time parent to Krystoval, had never introduced Chessur to the Jabberwocky, had never participated in the Trial of Threes, had never promised Tarrant that she’d return, had never slain the Jabberwocky in the first place, had never allowed herself to be lured away from that horrid engagement party by a white rabbit in a waistcoat, had never...

She sighs.

You could be fretting over nothing. Perhaps they used the blood to travel to another place altogether...

Although, she doubts it. As with the knowledge that one might be able to travel through Time with the aid of the blood of a jabberwocky, accounts of the Other Worlds have been kept secret. Mirana had assured her that only the current Masters of Intentional Magic in each realm and their king and queen are permitted to know those things.

“Absolem,” Alice had said, guessing the identity of the White Realm’s Master of Intentional Magic.

Mirana had nodded. “Yes. And Magenka of Shuchland. There is another in Galandonland although I do not know much more than that.”

So Alice had arrived at the conclusion that were Valereth and Oshtyer to travel anywhere via jabberwocky blood, it would be to Upland, to Alice’s home, using her as a reference to get them there.

And what sort of damage could those two be causing in London, so close to Alice’s unguarded loved ones? Dare she hope those unscrupulous bastards had simply opened up a small shop and are even now concentrating on swindling people out of their pence and pennies? Still, even if that relatively harmless thievery were occurring, it would be her fault for it had been she who had lead them there, who had made the journey possible, who had given them the very idea and the motivation... however indirectly.

Yes, it is her fault; she had allowed them to live, hadn’t she? Should she have killed them as she had Stayne? No mercy: is that the way it must always be when confronting a threat to the White Queen and her reign?

Alice shies away from that thought and the dark path that unfurls with it. No, she will not take that road; she will not consider it. Not yet. First, she must do whatever she can – whatever she must – to fix this mess. Had this happened a few months ago – before she and Tarrant had decided to conceive a child – Alice would have been out there or perhaps already Up There, hunting those greedy, cheating, opportunistic wastrels down. A few months ago, it would have been just as much her fault as it is now. But now...

It is her fault but not her fight.

“Th’rock ain’t movin’, ye wee bessom!”

Startled, she looks up and into Thackery’s twitching expression. When had he stopped banging around in the kitchen and wandered out here?

“No’ movin’!” he repeats, his ears flopping a bit with emphasis.

Frowning, Alice glances down at the sharpening stone in her grasp. “It moves,” she replies, demonstrating.

“No, no, no’ movin’ in th’slightest!” he insists, blinking his left eye rapidly. “If ‘twere ye’d be sittin’ on it rather than it sittin’ on ye.

Alice shakes her head, still not understanding.

“Oh, aye,” he argues. “No such thin’as a thoughtful rock, jus’ thoughts full o’ rocks!” Thackery nods and adjusts the basket over his arm. “Ye leave tha’ one be, Alice. Ye cannae move a rock tha’ doesnae wan’tae be moved!”

“I agree with the hare, Champion Alice.”

Alice sighs with resignation as Leif sits down next to her on the stone bench.

“Don’t huff and puff at me, Miss Champion,” he says smartly through a smirk. “If this is the thanks I get for trying to cheer you up, I’ll just let you enjoy that rock you’re wearing around your neck a bit longer.”

“Sure, let me enjoy the experience. Builds character,” she grumbles, watching Thackery stride-twitch-stumble-stride-stomp-march-twitch away from them and toward the vegetable garden.

“Breaks backs,” he rebuts. She refuses to fidget under his searching gaze; she resumes honing the edge of the blade.

“You keep that up and you’ll have nothing but a cheese knife with a fancy pommel,” he tells her.

Alice has to tighten her fingers around the stone to stop herself from flinging it in the general direction of the compost heap.

“Besides, if you don’t trust this Outlander to do the job right, what are you sitting around here for?” Leif challenges, misinterpreting the source of her quiet misery. “I’ve never seen you back down and take a seat when there was action to be done.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” she mutters.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “Like listening to the Hatter?”

Alice glances up sharply.

“Ah, I figured that must be it. What did he say to keep you at Mamoreal? I know, I know: I know it’s none of my business, but tell me anyway. I’m dying of curiosity,” he informs her with a wide grin.

“Then get on with it and die already,” she snipes back, her mouth twitching in a tiny smile.

“Ah-ha! I got one! Right there. That twitch was a smile.”

“Was not. Go away and bother Thackery. Haven’t you been promoted to protecting the vegetables from slugs yet?”

“What makes you think they’d trust me with something so important?”

“A wild guess.”

“Hm. All right, I’ll take one,” he says, flipping her droll comment around on her and turning it into an offensive conversational gambit. “The Hatter told you to stay put or he’d never wear that kilt of his again, right?”

“Excuse me?”

“Now, calm down! Don’t try to hide how much you love it. We all know.”

“No, if you knew how much I love that kilt, I’d have to dispatch you.”

“Can’t keep secrets in this place. It’s no use, Alice.”

“I’ll bet you I could.”

“I’m sure you’d try. So, what do you think of me asking the Hatter to make me one?”

“Make you one what? One sorry excuse for a lion?”

He chuckles. “A kilt, of course!”

Alice shakes her head. “Don’t even think about it, Leif. Tails and kilts just... No.”

“But, you’ve thought about it. Quite obviously,” he crows with delight. “You had an answer all ready for that question, didn’t you?”

“Maybe I did, but not because I was spending hours of my life contemplating it. It’s just common sense.”

“Maybe you haven’t noticed yet, but we’re a little short on common sense around here.” Leif nods in the direction of the garden where Thackery is noisily trying to beat the potatoes out of the ground with a bucket.

“Can’t say that I have. Are you sure?”

“That bucket speaks for itself.”

Indeed it does, Alice agrees, listening to the poor object’s protests: “Put me – oof! – down you mad – ack! – March Hare! Ow! What you want – ouch! – is a spade! A spade! Gah! You’ve put the bucket before the – argh! – spade!”

“I suppose I ought to do something about that,” Alice muses.

“Oh? Are we Champions for the gardening implements now?”

“Implements. Is that a new one for you?”

“How did you guess?”

“Wait, let me guess another one,” Alice continues, smiling broadly. “Tarra taught you that word over breakfast today?”

“Lunch, actually. You can’t honestly expect me to remember a word that long for more than a couple hours, can you?”

“Actually, I’m continuingly surprised that you manage to remember your own name.”

“Can’t take credit for that. If not for people shouting it at me at a dozen times a day, I just might.”

“Fates, your brain’s turned to cheese. Is this what happens to people when they befriend six-year-olds who think they can conquer all of Underland with a wooden sword and a screaming battle cry?”

Leif chuckles. “That would be Envy talking. Be strong, Champion Alice. Fight it.”

“I’ll do my very—”

Whether Alice had been about to promise to do her very worst or her very best to fight her baser nature is lost in the sudden rumbling that rolls over Mamoreal from the distance. Alice has just enough time to frown at Leif – who looks equally puzzled by the strange not-quite-thunder noise – before the bench beneath them begins to shake. Alice grasps it with two hands and braces her feet on the ground only to discover that it’s the ground itself that is shaking!

Shaking and shuddering, rolling, rocking, lifting, and thrumming with frightening strength!

The trees groan and shiver, releasing their blossoms in shock.

She looks up at what she can see of the steep mountains ringing the valley and watches as rocks are dislodged and tumble down into the rushing white river that encircles Mamoreal. She hears screams in the distance as people panic in the small village beyond the castle gates. And the castle itself...

Ear-splitting cracks and groans join the grumbling noise of the earth and marble dust rains down on Alice and Leif. She throws herself off the bench and backs away from the wall, dragging Leif with her. Turning, she gapes – horrified – at the way the walls ripple like a massive ocean wave above them.

There’s a shout from within, then a scream and the cry of a baby and—

—a moment of heart-stopping panic that envelops her heart, bakes it solid, then fractures it into jagged pieces.

Tarrant! The queen! The children!

As one, Alice and Leif dash toward the entrance of the castle. Just as they pass through the archway, suddenly, the earth quiets. The rumbling stops. The world is silent and still again. The Champions race up the dusty stairs and ignore the coughing and wheezing of the carpets. Alice turns down the hall toward the queen’s office while Leif rushes off in another direction.

“Are you all right?” Alice gasps, flinging the door open and taking in the sight of the queen, huddled in the corner and grasping her sons to her chest. Leivlan, it sounds like, is protesting the rough handling very loudly and Alice reaches out to take him from Mirana’s tight grasp. “They need to breathe a bit, Mirana. Please.”

The queen blinks her wide eyes. “Alice... what...? What was...? Thacie! Amallya, Chestor, Tarranya—Alicibeth!! Where are they?!

Alice, still holding Leivlan who is fussing a bit, but no longer wailing uncontrollably, grasps Mirana by her elbow and pulls her to her feet and toward the door—

—where Alice nearly runs into Tarrant.


“I’m fine! You?! Are you hurt?!” He doesn’t look hurt, just startled and scared, but her heart is still pounding with both his fright and hers, and the clashing of their heartbeats is distracting.

“Yes, yes. Fine, fine. Come, Your Majesty, let’s locate your little ones!”

And, five frantic minutes later, the queen is sinking to her knees next to her husband who has his great arms full of confused and frightened children. Alice hands Leivlan over to the arms of a waiting nurse and pivots into Tarrant’s chest. She closes her eyes and swallows back the squeak of protest when his arms become painfully tight around her.

“What was that?” Leif demands, opening his arms for Tarra when the girl flings herself at him.

“I...” Alice says, hesitantly. “I think...”

Despite the fact that her voice is muffled in Tarrant’s jacket and she can’t move her jaw much for the spools of thread strung up and slung across his chest, it seems as if her voice echoes in the library where the king had been overseeing his children’s lessons and the nurses had been minding Amallya and Thacie.

Alice announces in a gruff whisper, “I think it was an earthquake.”

“A... what?” Mirana manages, her dark eyes still wide with shock.

“In Upland, we call them earthquakes. They happen sometimes. When I was a child, there was one in Italy that...” Alice swallows and rasps, “... killed thousands of people.”

Tarrant leans back and demands: “Th’ land Up There kills folk?!

“Sometimes,” Alice replies.

The panic enflaming her heart renews and Alice reaches up to press her hands to his face before his irises can flash past yellow into orange. “Shush, now. I’m here. I’m not Up There. I’m fine. We’re fine.”

Tarrant struggles with his breaths, until they deepen and slow. Alice brushes her fingers over his cheeks and smoothes his hair and wonders where he’d left (or dropped) his hat.

“Alice, do Uplanders know the cause of these... earth-quakes?” the king asks worriedly.

“’Twas I!”

Everyone in the room startles and turns their attention toward the doorway where Thackery is slumped on the floor, a picture of abject misery, with a dirty bucket grasped in his paws.

“’Twas I!” he repeats, his voice rising with alarm. “I shouldae use’th’spade!

“No, no, Thackery,” Alice replies, finding her voice first. “It wasn’t you or the bucket! No one knows why these things happen, but they do. In some places more than others.” She turns back to Tarrant. “It’s been over a hundred years since England experienced an earthquake. I was perfectly safe growing up there!”

The Hatter closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and nods. When he opens his eyes again, he’s completely calm, rational, collected. Alice turns back to Thackery and reaches out a hand to him. “It’s all right,” she says, leaning down to rub his shoulder.

After a moment, Mirana takes a deep, steadying breath and announces, “We’ll need to inspect Mamoreal for damage and make sure no one is requiring assistance.”

Alice nods. She tugs on Tarrant’s sleeves and leads him toward the door. “Come with us, Thackery. We could use your help.”

The survey of Mamoreal reveals a few fallen roofing tiles, some toppled water fountains, a broken window, and several dust-covered, panicky residents.

“Do... you think all of Underland felt that... earth-quaking?” Tarrant lisps as Leif leads the Queen’s Guard back toward the castle.

“I’m not sure,” Alice is forced to admit. “It came like a train roaring down the track. The queen’s messengers will be able to tell us for sure... I’d hate to think it was worse elsewhere...” For if it had been, certainly, there must be casualties far more serious than a shattered window and some overturned fountains!

As they pass through the gates, Alice blinks at the lines of white soldiers packed along the castle drive. “What...?”

“Ah, returned at last,” Fenruffle announces, stomping over to them. “The queen would like a word. She’s entertaining a... guest on the croquet pitch.”

“I see.” Although, in fact, she doesn’t. After years dealing with the Head of the Queen’s Household, Alice has learned not to expect much in the way of detail or explanation from him. “Thank you,” she replies despite the fact that the irritable gryphon has already turned away and is now snapping at a frog footman.

With a worried glance at Tarrant and Leif, Alice steps off of the paved drive and into the orchard. They circle around the castle along the meandering paths toward the croquet pitch, walking fast.

“Champions! Sir Hatter!” the king calls as they emerge from amongst the still-shocked and shivering cherry trees. He motions them closer and Alice takes in the sight of the queen conversing with the Jabberwocky. It regards Mirana seriously, its dawn-colored eyes narrowed in thought.

“What’s happened?” Leif asks, keeping a wary eye on the visiting creature.

“Krystoval has come with news. As keepers of the land, the jabberwockies can feel when it is damaged or unwell.” The king takes a deep breath and says softly to his Champion, “This earth-quake, it’s worse in the south. Much worse.”

Leif’s eyes widen. “Shuchland?!”

The king shakes his head, his expression grave and tense. “It hasn’t been confirmed by the messengers yet, but...”

“I’m leaving with the army,” Leif announces.

The king places a long-fingered paw on his friend’s arm. “As am I.”

Next to her, Tarrant relaxes. Alice swallows back a sigh; with both the king and his Champion away Alice will have to stay in Mamoreal to protect the queen and her children.

“We’re recruiting everyone we can to assist us in the rescue efforts... if they’re required,” the king continues. “Mallymkun, Bayard and his pups, the Bandersnatch... We will do everything we can to help.”

Leif nods.

Alice just hopes the king and his Champion won’t encounter any difficulties in returning to their homeland, the land from which they’d been banished rather brutally. But Alice knows Mirana would not have agreed to let them lead this mission of mercy had she felt that their personal safety might be in jeopardy...

Champion Alice!

“Yes, Krystoval? Is your family all right?” Alice bows away from the king and approaches the Jabberwocky. Tarrant shadows her.

“No,” it replies shortly. “But that is an issue for later. At the moment, the land that has been torn asunder must be dealt with. I am taking Grofflie, Thoran, and Wavlert with me into the south. The healing will go faster with their assistance, limited though it will be.”

“And Maevyn?” Alice prompts.

“I have asked the White Queen if she would permit Chessur and Maevyn to reside here... for the time being.”

“And I have agreed,” Mirana hurries to assure Alice.

Alice nods. “We’ll look after Maevyn and Chessur.”

“Thank you, Champion Alice.”

“You may call upon us whenever you have need, Krystoval,” Alice reminds the Jabberwocky.

“And... if I might impose a small request?” the queen ventures. At the Jabberwocky’s nod, she continues, “In order to bring the injured aid as quickly as possible, I’ve spelled several large looking glasses, connecting them to the ones here at Mamoreal. They’re quite heavy and I’m concerned that they might slow down the army or break during rough journey...”

“I will deliver them to Shuchland,” Krystoval offers.

“Thank you. I’ll have them brought out and wrapped.”

The queen drifts into the castle to see to those preparations. Alice turns back to the Jabberwocky. “Why isn’t Maevyn going with you?”

“Maevyn is ill,” Krystoval replies, worry creasing its face and turning its expression into a fearsome grimace. “I do not know the cause. Nor has Maevyn been able to describe the symptoms clearly but claims to have been feeling poorly for some time now.”

“The queen and I will see if there is anything we can do.”

“I appreciate that, Champion Alice, but I ask that you not poison my offspring with your haphazard alchemedic attempts at a remedy.”

Appreciating the stern tone of a concerned parent, Alice replies, “Should we have any suggestions for treatment, we’ll send word before we act and wait for your approval.”

“That will be acceptable.”

And, with that settled and nothing else to do but wait, an uneasy silence surrounds them.

“Krystoval,” Tarrant says after a moment and the Jabberwocky turns its gaze toward him. “Do you recall any of these... earth-quakings happening before in Underland?”

Alice places a hand on her husband’s arm in appreciation. Of course the Jabberwocky would know! It is very nearly as old as Underland itself! And with its memory...!

The Jabberwocky shakes its head. “I cannot speak for the three-and-a-third-years that I spent, time and again, waiting to be returned to Underland, but no, Hatter Hightopp. I have never witnessed an event such as the one that has occurred on this day.”

Tarrant frowns, his eyes paling with worry. Alice slips her hand into his. She struggles to find an assurance that’s not empty, and, after a moment, whispers to him: “Together.”

Yes, despite all that’s happened, they’re still together.

Tarrant looks up and offers her a shaky smile. His fingers tighten around her hand. “Aye,” he agrees. “Raven.”

And, for now, in these uncertain times, that is all they can give each other.

And, despite the fact that they still fear and worry and dread, Alice knows that they do so together. And, for now, that will be the source of their strength.

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 5 of 22

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