Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 6 of 22

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Alice is Beautiful.

Tarrant watches her as they all muddle through this dire and frightening time. He brushes his fingertips over her knee, unable to resist touching her despite the gravity of the queen’s lecture on basic healing arts. He can’t stop himself from studying her throughout the sleepless night spent preparing for their Shuchlander patients. His heart aches for her as she rather visibly resigns herself to merely making up the cots that now line the kitchen and throne room and dining hall instead of helping him and Thackery with moving tables. (“Can’t move ourselves, you know!” one particularly grouchy table had grumbled. “Oh, aye... can’t be bothered tae lose a pound ‘r twine, neither!” Thackery had huffed-and-puffed in reply, struggling to scrape his end across the floor.) Tarrant knows she wishes she could do more, be more, at least assist with brewing potions rather than simply fetch and carry potions ingredients! Yet, just those small tasks tire her. (His Alice needs rest! But there is no rest to be had this night!) And despite her obvious exhaustion, worry, frustration, and dread, Tarrant can See how beautiful, how precious, how rare, how utterly Alice she is.

And, if what she seems to suspect is true – if Underland had experienced an earth-quaking today – then the very land beneath their feet might have chosen to Take her from him!

He cannot Think about it without feeling his grip on calm, rational sanity start to melt away and dribble from his grasp.

And now is certainly not the Time for that!

The kitchen is still quiet and empty of wounded; the mirrors against the walls are still dark and flat. At several long tables, the queen is directing frog footmen, fish butlers and her eldest daughters in the correct preparation of Pain Paste, Wound Winder, and Slumber Saver.

“Alice, could you fetch another jar of worm fat?” Mirana asks, peering into Lakerton’s simmering brew.

Tarrant watches as Alice takes a deep breath, holds it, steps closer to the tables and removes the empty jar from the cluttered collection of containers. Tarrant fetches a second jar from the cupboards and passes it to her. She sets the container of worm fat down on the table, turns and steps away. He watches – feeling unaccountably guilty – as she reaches for the small, leather pouch that she keeps around her neck, hidden beneath her shirt.

“Alice?” he asks softly, gently running his hand down her arm. He’d rather rub her back or her stomach as those locations would be much closer to the upset area itself. (The technique works on Underlanders, but not – according to Alice – on Uplanders! How frustrating!) He Hates that she often feels so ill!

Alice glances over her shoulder at the queen who is, indeed, very Busy at the moment.

“I’m fine,” she replies, placing a Himoha petal on her tongue. “It’s just the smell” is her whispered explanation.

“I Worry,” he confides.

She gives him a wan smile and he can’t help but wish she could have managed a brighter one. “I know.”

Tarrant is very grateful, however, that she does not ask him what it is that Worries him. He’s not entirely sure, himself. Perhaps it’s the fact that not only storms at sea, but those from underground tend to kill people Up There, up where Alice had lived, woefully unprotected and at their mercy! (How many times could he have Lost her and not even realized?!) Or perhaps he’s concerned about what this frightening occurrence might mean for Underland: Will Alice and their child be safe Here? But if not Here, then Where? Certainly not in Upland! And how will he protect his Alice and their littlin’ from these sorts of foes? He cannot fight them with a broadsword and a pin nor avoid them with a bottle of Pishsalver and a teapot nor distract them with a powder puff and a bottle of perfume nor delay them with—!

“Tarrant,” Alice whispers, leaning close to breathe in his ear. He feels her hand on his and realizes he’s shaking.

Tarrant swallows and nods once. He is fine. He must be fine! Now is not the Time to not be fine!

“Come and help me with the pallets in the other rooms,” Alice invites, leading him out of the kitchen.

He follows her, clutching her hand. Never has he been so frightened. Not when he’d watched her duel – for he’d always Known he wouldn’t permit her to be gravely injured, the rules of conduct be damned! Not when he’d engineered his own capture by the Bloody Big Head’s Red Knights – for he’d had a Purpose and the sacrifice had all been part of the Plan! But now he has neither Knowledge, Purpose, nor Plan!

“I can’t do this, Alice,” he hears himself croak. “I can’t... Can’t Lose... What if... Does Underland... We should leave, but where to go? Where is safe for my Alice and our littlin’?”

More panic pours from him, tripping over his tongue, splattering against and echoing along walls of the throne room, dripping down onto his hat and dribbling into his ears. He’s not sure what all he says or how long he speaks-squeaks-screams!

And then there’s Silence.

The Silence that comes from an Alice Touch. Her arms wind around his shoulders and her mouth presses against his and her tongue distracts his from the words he can only say and not Think. He pulls her roughly against him and kisses her back with the same madness that had taken control of his speech. And she replies. Yes, of course she does. His Alice has never backed down from his madness. Had never shied away from him. Not even in the presence of the Blackness.

The passion of this kiss affects him strangely, for there is desperation and fear and strength and persistence... There is heat and urgency and yet...

Tarrant squeezes his eyes shut and delves further into her mouth.

And yet he does not Need her. He does not Want her. He feels no urge to be Inside her. And yet... he does. No, no, he wants her to be within him. He wants to open up his body and tuck her inside, safe, kept. Like a pocket watch in a pocket – although not his pocket watch or his pocket-watch pocket, of course! Unreliable things, the both of them! In fact, he’s not sure if the pocket watch had broken the pocket or the other way ‘round!

Understanding now what he Feels, Tarrant consumes her. And she meets that frantic hunger with her own. She Feels it, too, he knows: he can feel the cold, salty smears of her tears against his cheeks and jaw; he doesn’t wince when her sharp teeth dig into his tongue and lips; he doesn’t mind that her hips do not move against his. This is not Loving. This is Needing. This is Fearing!

It’s the taste of blood that finally reaches Tarrant through the storm raging inside him.

He pulls away, the rich salty tang of Alice on his tongue, his lips. Panting – divided by the feeling of his soul being immolated by shame and his body lusting for more of her blood, their blood, proof of her life, their life! – Tarrant cradles her cheeks in his hands, wipes her tears with his thumbs and stares at her split lip.

“I bit you,” he murmurs, his voice low and gruff, alien to his own ears.

“I bit you back,” she replies, lifting her hand to his mouth and Tarrant is surprised to see smears of dark blue on her fingertips when she pulls them away.

He feels his lips curve into a tentative smile. “Alice? What would you think if I told you I wasn’t sorry?” His voice wavers, wobbles, warbles in the white room.

“Hm,” she breathes on a smile, then leans up and delicately licks the blood from his lower lip. He reciprocates – cleans her – and then kisses her. Softly, slowly, for this kiss is for Healing.

With a final brush-taste-caress to his warm, now-thrumming mouth, Alice leans back. “Soon, wounded are going to be coming through the mirrors.”

His arms tighten at the Reminder. He doesn’t want to Think about it again.

Alice continues, “And I’ll be helping them. Maybe helping to carry them. I need you to trust me to know my own limits.”

Tarrant feels the edges of his mind fracture at the thought of his Alice bearing the weight of a fully-grown, muscled lion, her knees buckling, her body straining, and their littlin’...!

“That’s what Worries me, Alice.” His hands grasp her. His voice trembles. “Your limits are frighteningly muchy.”

She smiles. “I can do this. A little strenuous exercise isn’t going to hurt... us.”

Us. He shivers.

“Please, call for me if you need assistance.” Hearing his own voice, Tarrant knows he can’t pretend he’s not begging.

“I will call for you whenever I need you.”

He wraps her up in his arms again and burrows against her neck. And she Welcomes him. What would he do if, someday, she were no longer Here to Welcome him? The Thought Destroys him.

But before he can crumble at her feet, a soft sound in the hall just beyond whispers to them.

“Sounds like Algernon,” Alice muses softly, turning her face and kissing his ear... which makes Tarrant is very glad he’d tied his hair back today.

He straightens and steps back. “Don’t ever leave me, Alice,” he says quite Seriously.

“I chose us,” she reminds him. “And I still do.”

And in the next instant, the fish butler is pushing open the door. “The mirrors have opened,” he announces flatly and then slither-swishes back the way he’d come. And there’s nothing for it but to follow him.

And when they return to the kitchen, Tarrant flinches away from the noise. Normally, he doesn’t mind a noisy kitchen, for it’s usually filled with Children Noise and Friend Noise and Teatime Noise. But this...!

Tarrant absorbs the sight of the blood, oddly bent limbs, flaps of barely-connected skin. He absorbs the sounds of panic, of pain, of shock. He absorbs the scent of dust and sweat and sewage. He absorbs as much as he can take and then he shuts his Mind to it and gets to work.

“Alice, more bandages!” he hears at one point.

“Where’s the Wound Winder?!”

My son! Have you seen my son?!

“Hot water’s nearly gone!”

“Someone help me with this one!”

Did you get my wife? She’s still inside the house!

“I need a brace! Alice, hold him down!”

Where’s my mumma?!

What happened? Why did the land break?

“Tarrant! Your assistance, please!”

He gently presses the jar of Pain Paste into the paw of the young she-lion for the scrapes and bruises covering her broken arm and bloody leg. “Apply this and I’ll be back in a moment,” he says then bounds over to Alice where she’s doing her best to hold down a very furious-looking lioness.

“Princess Avenana, please! Calm down!” Alice orders her.

“My husband!” she roars. “Where is he?

“Please,” Alice says, meeting Tarrant’s gaze and nodding toward the bottle of Slumber Saver that’s just beyond her reach. He fetches it and dribbles two drops onto the lioness’ forehead.

“No, no! Do not make me sleep! Not now! Not... not... no...

“Thank you, Tarrant,” the queen says, her hands moving over the now-unconscious lioness’ hip. “Do you have her, Alice?”

“Not quite.” Again meeting Tarrant’s eyes, she asks, “Take her left side?”

He does and then the queen braces herself, wraps her hands around the lioness’s thigh and pulls. There’s a horrendous pop! as the joint slides back into the hip socket. Even worse is the lack of reaction from the patient.

Tarrant fears he’ll have nightmares about that sound-and-then-silence.

The queen calls Pondish over and begins explaining how to apply a brace to the princess’ hip to relieve the pressure on the strained muscles. Alice arranges the lioness on the table then moves toward Tarrant. “Do you need help with that one?”

He turns back to the young lioness with the broken arm. “Aye,” he says and the nightmare continues. He loses count of the number of broken limbs he sets, the cracks ribs he wraps, the crushed tails and paws he has to refer to the queen herself for Advanced Healing. He suspects his hands will forever smell of the White Queen’s special Pain Paste.

White Knights escort injured creature after wailing child after hobbling, coughing, sobbing elder through the mirrors. Those treated are taken to rest in the throne room or dining room. Still, the Noise is deafening!

“My wife! Avenana! Where is she?!

A knot unwinds in Tarrant’s gut as the frantic he-lion rushes to his wife’s side. Algernon, who had been the one to point the creature in the correct direction looks rather miffed and resigned at not being given so much as a thank-you. But Tarrant can’t say his own reaction would have been any better.

D’nae think abou’yer Alice like tha’, lad. Injured... pale... unmoving...

Tarrant gathers up his things and moves on to the next patient. And just as Tarrant looks up from sealing a gash in a weary noble’s head, the mirror opens again. The looking glass on the far left ripples, reflecting back light and the misery of the room at odd angles, which – in and of itself – is not worthy of more than a moment’s attention, but the one who steps through it is!

A blood-soaked, blanket-wrapped form slung over his shoulder, Leif bellows, “Champion Alice!”

Despite the fact that Tarrant’s wife and not Tarrant himself had been Summoned, he tucks in the edge of the bandage he’d nearly finished wrapping around the man’s head and hurries to intercept the exchange between the two Champions.

“... need a private room for this one,” he hears Leif say very quietly.

“I know of one,” Tarrant offers before Alice can do more than open her mouth to catapult the questions he can See swirling in her eyes. With a nod, Leif follows Tarrant out of the kitchen and down the hall... to the room on the first floor he and Alice had used to treat her Hafflaffen poisoning, once upon a time.

Tarrant moves to the other side of the bed and strips the silk bed clothes from the mattress, leaving only the linen sheets. Leif lays the body down on the bed and glances at Alice as she reaches for the blanket covering the figure’s face.

“You’re not going to believe this,” he informs her with a warning look.

Frowning, Alice pulls back the edge of coarse fabric and reveals their newest patient.

Tarrant gapes at the figure – unconscious and badly wounded, bleeding all over the White Queen’s guest bed – and, twitching once, seeks out Alice.

Alice who is staring, pale-faced and bey-uriously, at none other than former Lord Oshtyer of Galandonland.



“Madame Mallymkun! Try this doorway,” Leif hears his king direct the dormouse. When he’d learned that she’d be joining their rescue mission, Leif hadn’t been too sure of how someone that small could be of much help. Now he sees the value of having a small size. He glimpses a swish of white as her tail slips through the crack in the fractured door and investigates the gloom beyond, looking for survivors.

“Nuthin’!” she cries after a few moments.

“One more down, about a hundred left to go,” Leif grumbles, surveying the rubble-strewn halls of Palace Avenfaire. Ahead, further down the corridor, Bayne is energetically sniffing, working his way toward them.

“Something... in this one...” the fully-grown dog announces between snuffles. Despite the blocks of sandstone and toppled lanterns and planters, Leif is by his side in a moment.

“Odd,” Bayne continues, obviously puzzled. “The scent is here, but no trail. Odd...”

Leif regards the crushed remains of the door and measures the gap.

“You won’t fit,” the bloodhound tells him factually.

Leif sends him a brief glare. “Your father will chew my tail if I let you go in there. He distinctly said—”

The dog snorts. “Yeah, I heard him, too. But I’m my own dog now. What’s he going to do? Carry me back home by the scruff of the neck? You’re too big and this needs to be checked out. I smell blood.”

And, without another word, Bayne slips into the room. Irritated, Leif stomps – rather ineffectually considering the jagged debris blocking his path – toward the rear doors to the throne room. He has to shift a pile of shattered rock that he thinks had once been a statue of Avengaff the Great Gifter (quite the generous king, or so legend claims) before he manages to haul the door open wide enough to admit him. And, when he enters, what he sees...

Leif stares at the utter destruction of the room. Had this been the origin of the earth-quaking? The storm that had exploded out of the land itself? It seems to be, for there is no room! There is only a wide, yawning hole surrounded by walls.

Thankful for the high windows and the coming dawn, Leif examines what he can make out in the gloom. “Bayne, watch out for that... hole.”

“Do I look blind to you? Relax.”

Leif sighs. Everybody wants to be a hero...

“We’ve got a live one here... Oh...! Dalmatians be damned. I knew I recognized this scent.”

Leif climbs carefully over the rubble near the wall, minding his footing, until he arrives where the bloodhound is glaring at a grubby, sprawled figure of a man. Leif takes one look and growls, “Oshtyer...”

“Should we just... leave him here, you think?” Bayne asks.

Leif closes his eyes, rubs his face – as if that would dislodge the grit in his eyes or initiate feeling in his long-since-numb cheeks and jaw – and replies, “Depends on if he’s still alive.” Nose wrinkling in disgust, he leans down and rolls the bastard over.

Hnguuuh...” The weak groan escapes and it is a groan, despite how very much Leif would like it to merely be a dead man’s belch.

Well, perhaps he’ll know where Valereth is, Leif thinks.

“Not dead,” Bayne observes flatly.

“Go bring a blanket or something, would you?” Leif asks absently, studying the man’s odd attire.

“No kidding,” Bayne replies wryly. “I wouldn’t want to touch that more than necessary, either.”

Before Leif can decide if he cares to respond or not, the bloodhound has squirmed back out through the cracked and shifted doorway. Leif takes a moment to investigate the area. He steps a bit closer to the edge of the hole and peers down... and down... and down a bit more... but only the eternal blackness of a true abyss meets his gaze. Shivering, he turns away and sifts through the shattered and scattered tiles. He’s not sure what he’s looking for, perhaps something to explain how this banished waste of life had managed to not only return to Shuchland but enter the Royal Reception Hall!

The light gradually strengthens and fades from rosy mauve to golden as the sun rises. Leif glares from Oshtyer to the utterly demolished room and then looks up. Although Leif doesn’t have much of a reason for looking up, except perhaps to gauge the time, he does, nonetheless...

He’s frowning at an odd dark splatter on the high ceiling when Bayne returns with a folded blanket in his mouth.

“Gah. Wool,” he gags after dropping the bundle at Leif’s feet.

“Does that look like blood to you?” Leif asks, squinting up at the ceiling.

The dog looks from the ceiling to the man still lying prostate on the up-churned floor. “One can hope, I guess. But if it is... wouldn’t that mean that...?”

“He fell through the hole from... somewhere.”

“Hm. I guess it’s too much to hope the earth had kicked him up there?” Bayne wonders.

“Probably.” Unable to put it off any longer, Leif unrolls the blanket, wraps one side of it around Oshtyer and rolls the man up in it.

“What are you going to do with him?”

“Take him back to Mamoreal. I’ll let Alice and the Hatter have him. Never did get them a wedding gift...”

Bayne barks a shout of laughter. “I almost wish I could be there to see that.”

Grinning with less cheer and more... malice, Leif leans down and hauls Oshtyer’s body over his shoulder. Grunting, he begins to pick his way back to the rear door.

“Hey, what’s this?”

Leif pauses when he’s sure of his footing and looks back. He frowns at the odd, black... thing Bayne’s holding in his mouth. “I don’t know, but I don’t like the look of it. Just set it down there and I’ll come back for it.”

The dog does as he’s told. “Yeah. Smells weird, too. Some kind of metal and... something else. Pepper-y and smoke-y.” Bayne gives it a disdainful sniff before turning and trotting out of the room again, this time in search of more survivors within the ruptured palace walls.

Leif carries Oshtyer over to the door and lays him down on a patch of still-remaining floor before returning for the odd device Bayne had sniffed out. He looks at the thing, wondering over the wooden appendage and attached bulb of black metal and then the slender, hollow tube set at a right angle. Shrugging, Leif puts it in his pack of supplies – with the bandages, water, and pots of ointments provided by the queen – then gets on with it: he navigates himself around the hole for the last time, picks up Oshtyer’s still-limp body, and stomps – as effectively as one can stomp, that is – in the direction of the nearest mirror.

Just before he steps through the cool, calm surface, his mouth twists into a smirk:

A wedding present for Alice and the Hatter, indeed!

And he fully intends to hang around for the, er, “opening” of it.

Leif pushes through the glass, steps into the chaos of the kitchen-turned-infirmary, and roars, “Champion Alice!

Somehow, he’s not surprised when her husband answers the call, too.

And, somehow, Leif is equally unsurprised to watch the man effortlessly delay the numerous questions that are reflected in the eyes of the Queen’s Champion.

Again, somehow, Leif is not surprised in the slightest by their reactions to seeing this face again:

Alice pales, glares, and grits her teeth. In that order.

The Hatter looks up at her, takes the afternoon ship to the Isle o’ Madness, and snarls a welcome upon his arrival there.

It would be funny if it weren’t so... not.

“Hatter!” Leif announces.

The man twitches but his hands fist. And then Alice is there, her hand on his arm and her voice, strong and sure and sane, fills the silence:

“Where did you find him?”

Leif rolls his eyes. “In the bloody throne room of the palace, if you can believe it.” He describes the bottomless hole, the blood on the ceiling, and then: “Bayne found this nearby. No idea what it is or if it’s even Oshtyer’s, but since his clothes are just as odd...” Leif pulls out the black object and startles when Alice shoves her husband away from it.

“Don’t...!” Alice clamps her mouth shut, takes a deep breath and says, “Don’t move, Leif.”

He frowns, watching as she approaches him from the side and gently lays her hand over the alien thing. She lifts it from his grasp and, pointing the open end of the hollow tube away from herself and everyone else in the room, she fiddles with a switch attached to the metal bulb and it releases with a sharp click! Leif glances at the Hatter, who looks equally perplexed by Alice’s odd behavior.

“What is that?” he finally wonders aloud.

Alice ignores him and, fiddling a bit more with the thing in a manner which clearly demonstrates her familiarity with it, opens the bulb and inspects it.

“Alice?” the Hatter asks, his eyes narrowed with what Leif recognizes as suspicion and mad genius. “What is... Why do you... That’s dangerous, isn’t it? A weapon? From... Up There?”

She sighs and upends the thing, dumping five small, shiny oblong-shaped... well, things into her palm before pocketing them in her vest and snapping the metal bulb back into place. “Yes,” she tells them. “It’s a weapon. From London.” She nods to the bed. “So are those clothes, if I’m not mistaken.”

And before either Leif or the Hatter can think to stop her, she steps up to the head of the bed and opens Oshtyer’s jacket and reads a small label sown onto the satin lining beneath an inner pocket. “I know this tailor. Quality. Expensive. My fam... my family uses them. Still, I think.”

“So...” Leif drawls. “Oshtyer was in London?”


He frowns. “Which means the hole in the throne room is...”

“Aye,” the Hatter says, his eyes a murky yellowish orange. “’Tis like th’ rabbit hole. It connects Underland teh Up There. O’ly, they made it from Up There teh Here... an’ no’th’ other way’round.”

The Shuchish curse makes its way past Leif’s lips before he can think to stop it.

Alice looks up and gives him a wry grin. “Yes,” she agrees. She moves to tuck the black object in the waist of her trousers against her back.

Stop!” the Hatter fairly shouts. “What’re ye doin’?! Ye said tha’s dangerous!

“Not anymore. I released the hammer and took out the bullets. It’s just an empty revolver now. Worthless unless you want to beat someone with it.”

The Hatter twitches. “How d’ye know so much about... that?”

Alice sighs. “Can I answer that later? Oshtyer’s bleeding all over the place.”

“Let him bleed,” the Hatter growls.

“And let him die? He might be able to tell us where Valereth is. Or how they managed to dig a hole from Upland clean through to Underland.”

The Hatter doesn’t like it, that much is certain, but he subsides. His eyes still too yellow for Leif’s peace of mind, the man leans over and starts undressing the grimy, unconscious man on the bed.

“I’ll get some bandages and cleansing solution,” Alice offers.

“No amount o’ cleansing solution will help this slithy bastard,” the Hatter replies irritably.

Leif, quite entertained by the Royal Hatter’s agitation yet still unsettled by the implications of that... hole in Palace Avenfaire, accompanies Alice out of the room.

“Champion Alice...” he begins.

“No,” she replies and in a tone he recognizes. “I’ll inform the queen when it’s convenient.”

Leif acknowledges her unspoken request for secrecy with a nod and asks another question entirely. “Do you really think it’s safe to leave them alone in there?”

Alice blinks, her brows arching with surprise. “Tarrant knows I need... our guest to be able to talk. He’ll restrain himself.”

Leif coughs out a laugh. “That... wasn’t quite what I meant.”  Actually, he'd been wondering if Oshtyer might somehow be a threat to the Hatter, not the other way around!

“I know,” Alice replies, her eyes sparkling. “How many times have I told you that you underestimate my husband?”

“I’ve lost count,” he answers, holding the kitchen door open for her and then, without a backward glance, steps up to and through the looking glass... and back into the hell that his homeland has become.


Once again, Alice discovers that she is the bearer of Very Bad news.

“Oshtyer?” the queen repeats. Her tone is disbelieving, but Alice can see the wrought-iron strength in her friend’s dark eyes. “Oshtyer is here?

“Yes, and under guard,” Alice hurries to confirm and assure.

“Double it,” the queen orders in That Tone. The one she’d acquired upon conceiving her twin daughters. Alice aspires to be just as intimidating when it comes to Tarrant’s safety and the well-being of their child.

“Done,” Alice agrees.

“And Valereth?” the White Queen demands.

Alice shakes her head. “No news. As soon as Oshtyer awakens, I’ll be asking him.”

The queen nods, her face set in tense, angry lines. And then, with a frustrated huff, she turns away. “I wish now I had permitted the architects to put in a dungeon.”

Alice refrains from agreeing. “There’s more.”

The queen looks over her shoulder at her. “Of course there is, or you would have started in on the reassurances by now. Well, what is it?”

Alice feels for the queen, she really does. They’d finally managed to tend to the wounded from Shuchland, had actually begun sending many of them back through the looking glass with supplies and tents and other necessities, had finally managed a brief span of sleep themselves, and this is what the queen must deal with over the first cup of tea she’s enjoyed since the earthquake.

Swallowing a sigh, Alice tells her about Oshtyer’s clothing and weapon and injuries; and she tells her about the bottomless hole in Shuchland and the reported blood on the throne room ceiling. Mirana – no, the White Queen! – listens to Alice’s report.

“Well,” she says when Alice has exhausted her reserves of Terrible Tidings. “It seems as if you may yet be using those dresses you requested.”

Alice catches the gasp before it can escape. Part of her is elated to have a more vital role to play in this investigation – finally! – and part of her dreads telling Tarrant of the contribution the queen has asked her to give...

“Yes, Your Majesty. If Oshtyer doesn’t wake up by tomorrow afternoon, I shall go Upland and investigate. Both the origin of the hole and Valereth’s whereabouts.”

Mirana nods. “And I will speak to the leaders of the other realms and the Masters of Intentional Magic about closing the hole as quickly as possible. And the other entrances as well. Just to be safe.”

Alice agrees, “Yes, what if Valereth managed to convince people that Underland is real? We can’t have Uplanders falling down here and...” Colonizing our world, Alice does not say.

“What does the Oraculum have to show about all of this?” she continues.

The queen looks away and Alice feels her own fingers dig into the padded armrests. The chair squirms a bit and she abruptly releases it with an apologetic pat.

“The Oraculum,” Mirana finally says, “refuses to unroll.”

“I’m sorry? It... refuses?

“Yes. The last recorded day was the day before the earth-quake.”


Mirana sighs. “Absolem suspects it is because the fate of Underland is no longer driven by the Powers that created the Oraculum.”

“The Fates, you mean?”


“So, what is affecting...” Alice begins, then stops as the answer comes to her. “It’s Upland, isn’t it? The fate of Underland depends on what happens... Up There.”

“That very well may be. Alice...”

She swallows as Alice at last feels the weight of this task settle upon her heart.

“I am not only asking you to investigate both the cause of the earth-quake and Valereth’s current activities.” And, in that moment, Alice sees true sorrow in Mirana’s face, the face of her dear friend. “Do you know what it is I’m asking of you?”

“I believe I do, yes.”

“I am sorry I must ask you to do this, Alice. I realize the thought of going back is an unsettling one... and...” She frowns briefly. “And one that Tarrant will likely not be pleased with. But, I’m afraid I can’t send Nivens to London. That was one of the problems the last time, you know. You were in London and Nivens, being a rabbit...”

“A talking rabbit in a waistcoat, yes,” Alice agrees. “He would not have gotten on well in the city at all.” And in order to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible, Underland will need a Champion who can navigate an Upland city. But, no, not just any Upland city: London.

“Indeed. Hence, we had to learn your schedule, prepare the rabbit hole, and wait for you in the countryside.”

“It all worked out well,” Alice reminds her. “And it will again.”

The queen smiles sadly and with the Gravity of Sovereignty, formally issues the command, “Alice Kingsleigh, you are the only one who can accomplish this task.”

Yes, she agrees, her heart pounding. It must be Alice Kingsleigh, not Lady Alice Hightopp or Alice Lassling or Champion Alice who must face this challenge, complete this task...

“And I shall,” she promises.

As Alice sets out to address the queen’s requests – stopping by the tailor’s workroom to ask that the dresses be ready as soon as possible, then collecting four more soldiers for standing guard both outside and within Oshtyer’s room – she wonders how she is going to get Tarrant to agree to this, to letting her go. And she knows that if she can manage it, it will be an Underlandian miracle of the most miraculous sort.

Despite the fact that having not two but four guards in the hall outside Oshtyer’s room makes the area quite crowded indeed, the room itself is even more so. The Royal Midwife and Head Nurse, a Dodo bird and Uilleam’s wife, is looking over the bandaged man on the bed. Nearby, Tarrant stands at attention, ready and waiting for Oshtyer to so much as dare a twitch of hostility in his sleep.

“Must have been this bump on the head,” Othenia muses, inspecting the wound and rewrapping it. “Bumps on the head can do that sometimes.”

“Will he wake up?” Alice asks.

“That’s what I was just explaining, dear,” the Dodo replies. “He may not. Or he may. It’s up to the bump.”

She nods. “And the knife wound across his chest?”

“Nearly healed,” Othenia confirms. “Our queen certainly has a knack for medicinal remedies, doesn’t she?”


Alice sees the Dodo out and, reluctantly, turns back to Tarrant. She can feel it through the heart line, simmering beneath her Heart Mark: his apprehension.

“Tell me what the queen said,” he says softly.

Alice nods and, holds out her hand to him. For this conversation, she does not want two rooks, a pawn, and a knight as witnesses. The hat workshop is closer than their apartment but Alice chooses the further of the two. It gives her more time to think, to gather her rationale, to compose her apologies. It also gives her more time to Dread.

This is not going to end well...

Tarrant opens the door for her and follows her across the threshold. She takes a moment to look around their apartment and wonder – rather pessimistically – if it will look different, be different, after this conversation is through. Or rather, after her stubbornness and Tarrant’s madness have finished with it...

She turns and is a little startled to find him very deliberately standing between her and the door with his arms crossed and his eyes – un-ignore-ably yellow! – narrowed. Alice closes her own eyes briefly, draws a deep breath, lets it out, and thinks: He Knows.

But of course he does!

Alice berates herself for committing the very sin she’d warned Leif about: underestimating Tarrant Hightopp.

He very obviously already Knows what the queen had wanted to talk to Alice about, but...

... but he says nothing.

Realizing that this might be her only chance to persuade him of the necessity of her task, Alice orders her arguments and evidence.

“Oshtyer came from London, through the hole in Shuchland,” she begins.

Tarrant stares at her then nods. Once.

“Somehow, Uplanders have managed to make a hole connecting the worlds.”

Again, another nod.

“We need to know how they managed it. And if they’re going to try again. And what they plan to do with it,” she continues softly, oddly fearful of upsetting the tension between them.

He stares. Waits.

“The queen needs someone who knows the ways of the people... Up There.”

His right eye twitches.

And, as they both know where this is going, Alice sees no reason to delay the inevitable: “I’ve been asked to go.”


“The queen has issued me a command,” she tries to reason.

Then I will tell her why you cannot go.

The deep tone and frighteningly perfectly enunciated words are the harbinger of the Blackness – as Tarrant had called it – that has not made an appearance since that afternoon in the hat workshop after Leif’s stupidly heroic rush to “rescue” Alice from a lifetime bound to Mamoreal’s Mad Hatter. Despite the reminder of That Time, Alice does not relent. “It won’t make a difference. There are no other Uplanders who can do this!”

You are NOT GOING.

“You can’t stop me!”

Tarrant’s eyes burn through yellow and approach orange. She watches his skin darken like a bandit’s mask around his eyes. “Alice,” he says, his inflection utterly commanding. “You are first the Queen’s Champion and second my wife. I have watched you – time and time again – put your duty before us. BUT NOT THIS TIME.

“I don’t have a choice!”

THERE IS NO CHOICE!” Tarrant’s hands, fisted, fall to his sides and his eyes flash crimson. For a moment, Alice wonders if the Blackness has truly regained control of his mind after all this time. She easily remembers what he’d done, what she’d allowed him to do, and she feels an instant of True Fear now. For now, with the baby, can she really permit him to do whatever the Blackness urges him to?

Swallowing, Alice focuses on her heart line, shoves her fear aside and concentrates on calming him. “Tarrant,” she tries, watching his tight fists loosen just a bit and his eyes fade back into orange. “You would have me choose to stay rather than to do what is right?”

And his tentative control snaps:

Th’choice isnae yers teh make!” he screams and, despite his anger, Alice has never been so relieved to hear his Outlandish brogue. “Tha’s my littlin’ yer carryin’ an’ ye’ll no’be goin’ ANYWHERE where th’ storms an’ land an’ these thin’s called revolvings HURT PEOPLE!

Her relief evaporates, allowing incredulity to take its place.

She gapes at him. “You’re asking me to go against a direct order from the QUEEN?!


I AM!” she shouts back. “I’m thinking of Underland and you and our child and HOW CAN I CONTINUE TO DO NOTHING WHEN THIS IS MY RESPONSIBILITY?!




Panting, Alice lets his shout be absorbed by the silence. Cleaning the slate, as it were. She has a point to make:

Oh, yes it does!” she argues, taking a step toward him. “Or have you forgotten all the blasted ballads in my honor? Queen’s Champion, Slayer of the Jabberwocky! Come from the mysterious world Up There! Returned to Upland after the battle with the blood of the Jabberwocky!” She shakes her head at him in bewildered fury. “Where do you think Valereth and Oshtyer got the idea to go to London from? Where could they have gotten the idea from if it hadn’t been FROM ME?!

There’s a brief flicker – a moment of Logic – in his obstinate expression and then he presses, “So. Ye’re goin’ teh say ‘Brangergain i’tall’ an’ do this all on yer own? Like ye always do?”

I do not—!

Yes, ye do!” He paces toward her, an accusation following each step: “Champion Alice and her Plan to save the White Realm from Jaspien, Valereth, and Oshtyer! Champion Alice and her Plan to save me from killing that blasted lion! Champion Alice and her Plan to keep our littlin’ a secret because she d’snae need help from ANYONE!”

Alice leans back and looks at him. “I...” She closes her mouth and studies his face, the pain behind the fury in his eyes, and realizes he’s right.

Well, of course, he is! This is Tarrant Hightopp. Her husband, Holder of her Heart. The man who has taught himself how to See into her Soul.

He’s but a snarling breath away from her and yet he doesn’t snap or shout. He whispers, “Mayhap I’m tae mad teh be remem’brin’ a-righ’ly, but I couldae sworn my Alice named me her Champion, once upon a ride on th’Bandersnatch.” His gaze burns into hers. “Or mayhap ye’ve f’gotten?”

Speechless, Alice turns and, shakily, sinks down into the closest chair. Yes, she remembers that late night journey through Tulgey Wood. Yes, she remembers naming him her Champion. How could she forget any detail from that night and the morning that had followed? How could she let herself forget – no, not forget but ignore! – the fact that Tarrant Hightopp had been saving her long before she’d ever been called upon to lift a sword.

How ironic that, years ago, he’d been one of those very people to insist upon that. How ironic that he’d had such immovable faith in her and her path to becoming the White Queen’s Champion. How ironic that she’d once resisted what she has embraced so blindly now. What had happened? How had she pushed him into his workshop so thoroughly? Had she done it to keep him safe or to...?

But, no, no! She would never go to such lengths to assert control over her un-controllable life... would she? She wouldn’t emasculate Tarrant to bolster her own strength... would she?

What have I done?!

The thought Consumes all others, leaving her mind numb, blank, empty.

After a moment, Tarrant moves from his place between her and the door and kneels down in front of her. She watches as he collects her hands. “I shouldn’t have shouted, Alice,” he lisps. “And I shouldn’t have said those things.”

“Why-ever not. They’re true. They’re all true.”

“No, not entirely.” His fingers gently grasp her chin and lift her face to his. “Accusations without context. I ken yer reasons, Alice. Respect ‘em. I do... But please...” His Outlandish disappears and she hears Fear take control of his voice. “Try to understand. Can you imagine what it’s like to watch the one you love take up a sword and fight? Over and over again? You tell yourself you’ll always be there... to step in, if needed... And you can’t be anything but proud of that Champion, of her strength... And then somehow – unbelievably, miraculously! – she chooses to carry your child. Your child, Alice. And you realize there are things you cannot fight, don’t know how to fight, and any one of them might destroy everything that you hold dear. Both of them in a single instant! Can you imagine how difficult it is for a man to stand aside and watch his wife and their unborn child face such dangers?”

Even before he has finished speaking, Alice’s face is wet with hot tears. No, she hadn’t thought about it like that at all. No, of course she hadn’t. She hadn’t considered the Trust he had given her – is giving her! She hadn’t considered how unbelievably hard it must be to surrender control as he had done. (For he had Surrendered it, quite knowingly! Unlike the other times Alice had made the choice for him!) And here she is, throwing the very worst of his fears and nightmares in his face: his wife and their unborn child, galumphing off into the Unknown. No, she hadn’t really thought past his worrying nature and his aggravatingly protective tendencies, not to the source of it all...

“I’m—so—sorry,” she sobs.

“Shhh... shhh...” he croons, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and pulling her toward him.

Alice presses her dripping nose into his jacket. “I’m—so—selfish!—slurvish!—s-sorry!

“Hush, my Alice, please!

His hands move over her back, rubbing and soothing. Alice merely sobs harder, unable to stop the momentum of the utter disappointment she feels in herself.

“I can’t—can’t—”

“Shhh... ye d’nae hav’teh...”

She shakes her head. “No, no.” He doesn’t understand! “I have to—keep—keep this promise!” She forces herself to breathe deeply around the hiccups and tears. “I promised—the queen, Tarrant. I promised!

He shakes his head and says softly, sadly, but firmly, “I cannae le’ye do it, Alice.”

She leans away from him and presses the offered handkerchief to her nose. “Are you... going to fight me over this?” she whispers, shocked and not a little betrayed.

“I am,” he replies.

She gawks at his assertion, at the resolution in his face. He means it!

And then he sighs. “I would. I want to.” He glares at her. “But you’d find a way to go anyway, I’m sure.” His hands tighten on her arms. “I’m sure!” he shouts despite the fact that he’s less than an arm-length away. “Naught fer usal teh try teh keep ye ‘ere, ye stubborn lass! But ye’re no’goin’ teh leave me here again!

And with that, he stands and marches into the bedroom. Flunderwhapped, she sits in the chair and watches his shadow moving through the open doorway.

“I d’nae like this! In fa’I hate it! But ye’re no’goin’ Up There wi’out ME!

Alice gasps as he steps back into the living room, clutching his broadsword in his hands. “No,” she says, standing and moving toward him.

His eyes flash again, back to red in less than an instant. “D’nae tell me tha’I CANNAE, ALICE, FER I WILL BE GOIN’ WI’YE AN’ THERE’S NUTHIN’ YE CAN DO TEH STOP ME!

She closes the distance between them and presses her hands against his face. “You’re not going to London –”

And she hurries to press one hand over his mouth as the madness and pure Fury roll through him.

“ – not with that broadsword!” she tells him. “You’re right! I need you! I need you! I need you to come with me, to look out for me, to protect me. Protect us. I can’t do this by myself and I’m not a Champion Up There. Up There I’m just a woman and... and... things are different Up There. And I need you.”

The anger leaves him and Alice finds herself gazing into green eyes. He lifts a hand, grasps her wrist, and pulls her hand gently away from his mouth. He hovers over her, his stare speculative and weighing. “You need me,” he repeats. It is not a confirmation or a plea. It is a fact. As is the statement that follows it: “I’m going with you.”

He allows Alice to take his broadsword from his grasp. She can sense him following her into the bedroom where she replaces it in its corner and, opening the wardrobe, removes something he will be able to use.

“You’ll need a new suit. In a dark, somber color. And the trousers will have to cover your ankles. Matching stockings would be a good idea...” She turns back around and presses his leather gauntlets and throwing knives against his chest. “And we’ll have to find a knife you can wear under your jacket so that—”

And then she can’t speak for the lips hungrily kneading her own. She shuffles back as Tarrant pushes forward and exhales in surprise as her back meets the closed wardrobe doors. Tarrant reaches between them and the gauntlets are tossed aside somewhere – she’ll check later! – and his hands are delving beneath her now-untucked shirt.

Alice...” he gasps between hot, feverishly mad kisses. “You need me, Alice. Say it.”

She moves, arcs, stretches helplessly as his rough palms chafe up her bare sides. “I need you.”

He presses against her and rubs his whole body against hers in one surging motion. “To protect you,” he growls against her collarbone.

Dimly, Alice notices that several tunic buttons have come undone. Had they undone themselves or had Tarrant somehow...? She watches as his tea-stained teeth scrape against the fabric and, with a swift bite and jerk of his chin, another button is released.

Oh... she muses, breathless.

“Say it, Alice,” he reminds her, moving downward and working her vest open.

“Protect us,” she whispers.

He pauses long enough to look up at her through his brows and Alice marvels at the royal blue of his eyes: love and passion in equal measure. “I will,” he promises and nuzzles the shirt open just enough to breathe against her breast. “I will, Alice, I will.”

And how can she refuse him that promise? How can she when she wants so desperately to undo the hurt she’s caused? How can she when she does want him by her side in London? How can she when she wants – more than anything – to be his equal and not merely a Champion?

“I need...” she gasps, struggling with coherency as his mouth steals her breath.

“What, my Alice?” he asks on a faint lisp. “What do you need?”

She gently but firmly pushes him away from her bared breasts and struggles for focus. “Many things,” she says, “that only you can give me.”

“Tell me.” His rough, hot hands slide around to her back and then down to her hips.

“I’ll need...” She leans closer, unable to resist the silent siren’s call of his much-kissed lips. “... a hat.”

“A hat,” he echoes, his brows twitching in surprise, confusion, and bewilderment. She almost misses the flash of excitement and satisfaction in his expression.

She nods, brushing her lips against his. “Yes. Please, Hatter. Make me a hat.”

And then his hands are in her hair and his lips are on hers again and she’s glad she’d gotten that request out while she’d still been able to remember it because...

... because if she’d expected her request to dilute his passion or distract him from his purpose, she would have been monumentally mistaken.


One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 6 of 22

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