Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 7 of 22

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“Where’s your hat?”

Tarrant turns, exceptionally happy to have an excuse to look away from his reflection in the workshop looking glass, and feels his burgeoning grin fade as he absorbs the sight of the woman just entering the room.

“Alice?” He frowns thoughtfully at his wife. “I don’t wish to upset you, but that... that garment is...”

Dreadful, he thinks, studying the utterly unremarkable and overly conservative lines of the... dress? Yes, it must be a dress, although he’d always thought dresses were worn so that a lady might enjoy the experience of wearing it. This creation – whatever its purpose – provides no such luxury. The color is utterly uninteresting – a dark slate blue. The style is unforgivably conservative – a high collar, long sleeves, and unadorned skirt, the hem of which brushes the floor with every step. How very... blah!

If he hadn’t Known better, he’d assume that the woman in the dress is equally dull and unimaginative! The Injustice! Luckily, he does Know better, but that doesn’t change the fact that the garment makes Alice appear horribly conservative, severe, and aloof. Yet he Knows she is none of those things. Well, not without considerable provocation!

“I know,” Alice replies. Her gaze moves over him as he models his Uplandish suit. He knows what she sees: the dark and dour grey, the restrictive cut... His own reflection – a man with long, wavy auburn hair in utterly unremarkable and oppressive clothing – depresses him. “Your suit as well,” she says with an apologetic smile.

Tarrant sighs. “I don’t think I shall enjoy this Upland London you’ve spoken of, Alice.” He tugs at his unembroidered cuffs and boringly straight lapels.

Still, it’s a small price to pay for the progress he’s made; finally, he will not be relegated to the curb, to the periphery of the battle while his Alice confronts the challenges she must face; finally he will stand beside his Alice!

Her Champion.

Her Champion in an utterly unremarkable and oppressive suit, but her Champion nonetheless!

“Likely not. Although you might find the complete boorishness of it amusing to mock.”

“Is that how you survived fashions like these?”

“Absolutely. When in doubt, imagine the men in dresses and the women in trousers.”

Tarrant snorts out a frantic laugh. “I shall keep your suggestion in mind.”

Alice links her arm through his and turns both of them toward the mirror. “We look like a perfectly normal couple from London Society,” she muses with resignation. “Well, except for my hair. Too short. But there’s no help for it.”

“The queen could brew an elixir for it,” Tarrant says, turning to press a kiss to her temple.

“No, it’ll be all right.”

Tarrant swallows a sigh. They’ve already argued this point: Alice cannot ask the queen for any sorts of potions without revealing the fact that she’s carrying a child. Despite Tarrant’s opinion on the matter – that it’s high time Alice made the announcement! – Alice had insisted that revealing the truth now wouldn’t help the situation at all: as the only Uplander in Underland, Alice would still be required to go, but now the queen would have a whole new weight of worry to bear.

After a moment more of contemplating their uninspiring disguises, Tarrant watches as Alice turns away and surveys the workshop. “Where’s your hat?” she asks again.

Tarrant nods toward his usual chair at the tea table in the room. Alice strides over and picks it up. He leans toward her when she returns to his side and places his top hat upon his head. He feels himself smiling – quite broadly! – and his heart swells at both the gesture and the memory it calls forth.

Alice remembers, too:

“There. That’s better,” she tells him, brushing her fingertips against the worn edge of the brim.

“It makes the suit look even more morose,” he tells her, still smiling. “I think it’s best if I leave it here,” he concludes, reaching up to remove it.

Alice’s fingers wrap around his wrist and stop him. “No, don’t do that,” she says, surprising him. “Your father and mother crafted that for you. They’re... part of it. So that makes this hat part of our... family. I don’t want you to leave it behind.”

He aches at the sheer quantity of uncertainty encapsulated in those simple statements: What will happen once they leave Underland? Will they be able to return soon? Will there be an Underland to return to? Or will they fail in their mission to keep it safe and whole?

Tarrant doesn’t know what to say, so he says nothing. The hat remains where Alice had placed it: upon his head. And the heartache remains where it had taken root: deep within his chest.

“I have something for you,” Tarrant somehow manages despite his aching throat. “Your request.” He turns away and removes a singularly unique piece of headwear from a featureless mannequin. A soft smile stretching his lips, he gently settles it upon Alice’s head. “Is it sufficient?” he asks, knowing it is that and so much more.

He studies his wife in the unique creation. It’s a study in contradictions: a cloche with a wide brim varying in width, reminiscent of a fan-tail yet conceals more than it reveals, a whimsical piece with a veil that appears from beneath a trio of down-and-forward sweeping feathers on the left and flutters mysteriously beneath the brim before gathering up beneath an assortment of ribbons on the right. Meandering brass beads and golden scripty-scrolling-stitching against the indigo cap create a midnight sky in motion.

It is, undeniably, an Alice hat. And it is also one of Tarrant’s most skillful creations to date. No one will notice the face beneath this emerald-and-mint striped brim and the smoke grey veil that drapes beneath it. No one will wonder if the eyes of the woman who wears it match the shimmering sapphire-and-emerald feathers or the bronze daisies peeking out from above and beneath the puffed, silk hat band.

Yes... a very Alice hat. A very Alice Hightopp hat!

“Alice? Is it sufficient?” he repeats when the silence has gone on for longer than he’d bothered to count.

“You... made this... just this morning?”

“No,” he giggles, enjoying the adoration in her tone. “I made my suit today. Your hat...” He can’t resist trailing his fingers along the feathers. “... I made yesterday evening.” It had come to him in a vision as she’d described the sort of hat she would need, the sort that would enable her to move about freely in a society that considers her a ghost. Oh, he always has several Alice hats in mind, just in case she should ever ask him to make one for her. It had been a dream come true to hear those words from her.

“Make me a hat...”

And now, something from his Mind and his Hands that she had Invited into Reality touches her intimately, shelters her, illustrates both her possession of him and his devotion to her.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to make hats for you, my Alice,” he murmurs. “And, if you’ll permit me, this and your Hightopp top hat will not be the last of them.”

“I adore everything you create. And this is... exquisite,” she murmurs. But as she studies her reflection her smile dims.

Tarrant swallows back a sudden surge of panic at the sight of her disappointment. “What is it?” he forces himself to ask. Does the scent of the feathers make her nose itch? Perhaps the lining of the cap itself is too warm? Or maybe—

Everyone will notice this,” she replies sadly. “It’s so lovely it’s impossible not to.”

And suddenly he understands what troubles her. “Alice,” he replies, his chest feeling as if it’s cracked open with relief. “You are entirely correct. Everyone will notice your hat.” He pauses. “Instead of you.”

Alice blinks at him and then she smiles, laughs, relaxes. “You’re right. It’s the perfect disguise. Thank you, Tarrant.”

“You are most welcome, my Alice.”

And so, with them both of them hatted properly in Hightopp haberdashery, they leave the workroom. Tarrant closes the door behind them and tries not to wonder when he’ll be back.

Their trunk – already packed – and Alice’s valise are waiting beside the mirror in the queen’s office. They’ve already safely stored the potions Mirana had prepared for them: the Pain Paste and Wound Winder and Pishsalver and Upelkuchen. Tarrant’s gauntlets are on his wrists and the knife he’d found to suit him tucked against his ribs with the aid of the special buckles he’d fashioned on the inside of his coat. Oshtyer’s revolver is in Alice’s valise with a small bundle of odd, paper money Alice had recovered from their guest’s pockets. He’d made a face at the currency, but Alice had been quite adamant about taking it along.

They make a detour past Oshtyer’s room on the way to the Royal Office, but the guards report that there’s been no change in the man’s condition.

“That bump may do him in yet,” Tarrant murmurs, momentarily distracted from their journey by the odd combination of relief, disgust, and trepidation that assails him at that moment.

Alice sighs. “I suppose it doesn’t really matter. We probably couldn’t have trusted anything he would have said.”

“Aye,” Tarrant concurs.

They head back up the stairs and with every step they take in the direction of the queen’s office, Tarrant feels his shoulders tense and Alice’s hand tighten on his arm. At the door, they both draw a deep breath. Tarrant reaches for the door handle, pauses, then sweeps off his hat, lifts Alice’s veil out of the way, ducks beneath the brim of her hat, and kisses her. Thoroughly.

He presses his hand gently against her stomach and rubs small circles against the drab fabric of her dress.

I’m frightened, he doesn’t say.

I’m worried, he doesn’t confess.

I can’t be without you, he doesn’t remind her.

But when he pulls back and Alice reclaims his hat in order to set it upon his head again, he sees the acceptance in her eyes. No, those words had not been spoken, but they had been revealed to her nonetheless.

“Are you ready?” she asks and he notes she does not ask him if he’s sure. He is not more sure of anything else in this moment: I must be with you, wherever you go.

“Yes,” he replies and opens the door.

Within, the queen, the king, and the King’s Champion are waiting. The mirror, a large, free-standing piece that does not require Pishsalver to pass through, shows the interior of what seems to be a young lady’s bedroom.

“Good afternoon, Tarrant, Alice,” Mirana greets, smiling through her worries.

“Your Majesty,” he returns, closing the door behind them.

They don’t have to tell her that Oshtyer has not yet awakened. Had he done so, Mirana and Dale would have been immediately informed. The queen renews her smile and manages a steadying confidence this time. “Alice, Tarrant, I have something for you.”

Tarrant approaches the desk and gazes down at the objects to which she’d gestured: two small compact mirrors.

“I’ve connected these looking glasses,” the queen explains, “and I’d like you to keep one of these with you as we’ll be able to use it to send correspondence.” Mirana doesn’t say that they’ll also be a means of escape should something Very Bad happen, but Tarrant hears the unspoken words. Alice! Th’ littlin’! Tarrant fears he would not be able to withstand the pain should something Happen to either of them. He covers Alice’s gloved left hand with his own and squeezes her fingers.

“Thank you, Mirana,” Alice says, reaching for one of the silver-set mirrors and moving away to tuck it into her valise.

“Krystoval sent something along for you,” Leif says, moving toward Tarrant. He feels his heart suddenly race at the sight of the purple, viscous fluid filling the vials in the lion’s hand. “As a last resort.” And then the lion grins and shrugs. “Those aren’t Krystoval’s exact words; that Jabberwocky really enjoys drama and doom, I’ll say that much, though.”

“What were Krystoval’s exact words?” Alice asks.

Leif huffs. “’For use in the event that the circumstances you find yourselves in become unbearable...’ I think. That’s pretty close.”

“Drama and doom, indeed,” Alice agrees and Leif chuckles.

Tarrant accepts the vials and tucks them into his best pocket with a nod. Having jabberwocky blood in his possession makes his skin crawl and his heart ache and his mind whirl with painful memories, but he feels Alice’s touch through the heart line and it loosens the grip of his panic enough to allow him to breathe.

A last resort. To escape unbearable circumstances.

Yes, yes, that would have to be the case for Alice to drink the Jabberwock’s blood. It’s anyone’s guess what could happen to the littlin’ if she were to attempt to travel that way. And it would have to be an inconceivably urgent set of circumstances for Tarrant to even consider drinking his own vial and leaving his wife and child behind!

“Has the Oraculum unrolled at all?” Alice asks, sliding her hand into the crook of his elbow again.

Mirana shakes her head. Alice lets out a gusty breath. “And Absolem’s task? Has he started...?”

“Yes. We are not sure how long it will take to strengthen the earth between Underland and Upland, but – through Intentional Magic – we hope it will be soon.”

Alice nods. “We’ll send you word through the mirror as often as we can.”

The queen smiles. “And I shall leave the connection open so that you will have no trouble doing so.”

With that reassurance, Alice bows to the king then gives Leif a wry smile. “I can’t believe I’m leaving you here to cause trouble by yourself.”

He grunts out a chuckle. “Maybe I’ll surprise you and behave myself.”

“’Surprise’ would hardly be apt, in that case,” she counters. Tarrant studies her expression – concern, anxiety, guilt. Yes, he knows Alice feels guilty for leaving Underland when there is still so much that needs to be done. Magic to be Awoken and Woven, homes to be rebuilt, earth to be healed, people to be organized and calmed. Tarrant resists a sigh: how could he have ever doubted Alice’s nature? How could he have ever thought that a single promise would have been strong enough to mold her temperament into a Champion’s? No, his wife has always been a Champion... and – he expects – she always will be.

“Well, then, it’s time to be underway,” the queen says, stepping forward. Tarrant feels Alice’s hand leave his arm and then the queen and her Champion are locked together in a tight embrace. “Fairfarren, Alice. Be safe.”

“And you, Mirana,” Tarrant hears his wife manage thickly.

Pulling back, the queen immediately shifts her attention to Tarrant, “Fairfarren, Tarrant. Be safe.”

He nods. “We’ll send a note as soon as we’re through.” He gestures to the small mirror still resting on the queen’s desk.

“Yes,” she agrees. “And you’ll hear from me very soon.”

And, Tarrant realizes, that everything that had needed to be said has been. He reaches for his wife’s hand and interlaces their fingers. “Together,” he reminds her.

“Together,” she agrees, her eyes shining with unshed tears. She accepts the valise from him and he lifts the small trunk by the handle. And then Tarrant steps up to and through the looking glass.


Alice had expected Tarrant to be curious about (and then, unavoidably disappointed with) the world she’d been born into. She just hadn’t expected him to examine every object in her old room as if it were some sort of strange puzzle whose solution were as necessary as his next breath of air.

While they’d waited for the house to empty for the day – Alice’s mother, who she could hear speaking to the housekeeper downstairs, to her charity functions and the staff to the daily shopping and other errands – Tarrant had amused himself (mostly silently) with the artifacts from Alice’s childhood.

He’d been particularly taken with her collection of kaleidoscopes:

“How does this fascinating object work?” he’d lisped from where he’d lain across the foot of her somewhat dusty bed.

Alice had looked up from the note she was sending to the queen through the compact looking glass and had explained about lenses and mirrors and colored glass and Tarrant had giggled and peered into one tube after another.

When he’d exhausted his curiosity over the single framed photograph of her family – taken when her father had still been alive – and the dolls she’d played with as a child, he’d carefully pried open the wardrobe door and had very nearly exclaimed – despite the lingering presence of others in the house – over a pair of ice skates that Alice had completely forgotten about.

“What sort of terrain requires one to outfit oneself in a pair of shoes that have blades fitted to its underside?” Tarrant had muttered, nursing the new cut on his finger that he’d acquired when he’d tested the blade’s edge despite Alice’s hissed warning.

Even though he’d whispered protests about wasting ointment on so trivial an injury, Alice had massaged a bit of Pain Paste onto the cut.

“You can’t go around bleeding here,” she’d reminded him as she cleaned up the smears of blue. “If anyone sees that blue blood of yours, they’ll cart you off the some laboratory for scientific study!”

And how on earth would she rescue him if that happened?

That would most definitely be an occasion for jabberwocky blood...

Not that she would dare drink it herself... not that he’d ever dare to leave her here in London alone. Not that she can drink it, even if the occasion calls for it.

Alice passes her hands over her stomach and, not for the first time, wonders at the miracle she and Tarrant are creating, wonders at her own abilities to see this choice through, wonders at her own capabilities as both a Champion and a mother and she wonders at the fact that she is here – in her mother’s house in London – now – married, with child, intent on saving an entire world. And she has to admit to herself that not once had she ever imagined that the circumstances of her return to Upland would be anything like this.


She turns at the sound of his worried lisp. “Raven.” And then she smiles through a pair of tears as he enfolds her in a warm, secure embrace.

According to the clock, two hours pass before the front door opens and closes one last time. Alice moves quietly – just in case! – to the door and cracks it open. She’s just stuck her head out into the hall to confirm the emptiness of the second floor when Tarrant giggles.

Frowning, Alice looks over her shoulder and sighs as he unabashedly inspects a drawer full of her unmentionables. “All of these stockings look never-before-worn!” He lifts out a pair that had, undoubtedly, been meant for the legs of a girl of no older than ten. “Your dislike of the things has been rather life-long, hasn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so,” she answers and then gestures for him to follow her.

They encounter no one as they carry their things down the hall and descend the stairs. She knows Tarrant wants to linger in the house and investigate everything but he restrains himself and – moments later – Alice is leading him out the back door, through the tiny garden, past the gate and into the narrow alley behind the house. Thankful for her hat and veil – “I can remove the veil if you’d like... later,” he’d offered and Alice had never appreciated his optimism more! – Alice steps out onto the coal dust-coated main street. She warns Tarrant to watch where he steps and starts looking for a cab for hire.

Pressing a handkerchief to her nose and mouth, Alice moves toward the next major intersection. Beside her, a bright flash of color alerts her to Tarrant following her example. She glances at him and notices his eyes are the color of disgust and she’d have to agree with him. Already she misses the clean, invigorating air of Mamoreal. At least her stomach doesn’t protest too badly, thanks to the Himoha she’d packed for the trip.

A cab is procured and their things stowed within. They rattle along the streets toward the hotel Alice had named.

“Where are we going?” Tarrant asks, his voice muffled by the handkerchief.

Alice smiles as he leans toward the window, his wide, peridot-green eyes and curious gaze taking in the passersby and residents. The shop mongers call out tempting prices and promises to entice customers to purchase a bouquet or an orange or a good shoe-polishing. Beggars shuffle out from alleys to ask for a pence or some other pittance. Children struggle to keep up with their mothers. The lucky ones shout and holler as they race each other through the crowds, unencumbered by a parent.

“It’s very crowded here, Alice,” he observes, sitting back a bit, his knees brushing against hers in the small space.

“The hotel we’re going to should be more comfortable.”

“Hotel?” he asks.

“Oh, um, an inn. Of sorts.”

He frowns. “Is that where we’ll be staying? Not with... oh, of course. Not with your family. No, no, of course not. Sorry.”

Alice smiles to show him that the apology had been completely unnecessary. Yes, it hurts to know her mother is so close and yet Alice must avoid her: their first priority is Underland, after all. And Alice had made that choice a very long time ago. Still, it stings.

She glances out the window and blinks back tears. Frustrated with herself and her overbearing emotions, Alice forces herself to continue in a neutral tone, “If they have a room, yes, we’ll stay the night at the hotel. It’s near the ferry wharf... well, near the passenger port. Mostly, travelers pass through there. Strangers.” And with Alice’s “death” to consider, strangers would be the best sort of company to be amongst.

Tarrant nods and glances back out the window. A moment later, he gasps. “What is that?

Alice leans across the space between the benches and follows his gaze. “Oh, that would be Big Ben.”

“I can see it would be quite impossible to kill Time here,” he mutters weakly. “Not with a veritable monument to him looming over everyone!”

Alice laughs. “Londoners are slaves to Time,” she agrees.

The cab lurches a bit as it goes around a corner, then lurches a bit more and the driver shouts at someone who hadn’t been quick enough stepping up onto the curb and out of the muck of the street. Tarrant twitches and looks up, in the direction of the loud, angry voice.


“Yes?” she replies, guessing what’s coming.

“Can we... that is, if possible... as soon as possible... could we...?”

Alice reaches for his hand and winces when he grabs her fingers and holds them very tightly. “We’ll be back home before you know it. Just a bit longer, Raven,” she assures him.

He relaxes at the familiar words and the beloved endearment. “Thank you, Alice.”

“Thank you for coming with me,” she counters. With us, she corrects herself.

His smile is weaker than she’d hoped for, but it is heartfelt, she can see and feel that much at least. “I couldn’t not, my Alice.”

The cab ride is a typical one in London in the middle of the day and, when the cab pauses for a moment at an intersection, she throws propriety out the window and slides from her seat onto the bench next to Tarrant. He threads his arm through hers and clasps her hand hard, sighing with relief. There is more jostling and shouting from the driver, all completely normal in a city this size, but with each unfamiliar noise Alice feels her husband tense beside her. Not only Tarrant is relieved when the carriage finally halts and the driver calls out their destination.

They descend and Alice gestures for Tarrant to take her hand and help her down, which he does. She gives him a smile and a wink, then turns and pays the driver with a few of the pennies she’d found forgotten in her jewelry box in her old room. When she pivots back around she has to stifle a giggle at the sight of Tarrant’s slack-jawed amazement.

“An... inn, you said, Alice?”

She takes his arm. “A hotel,” she corrects and urges him up the steps of the massive brick structure. She has to admit it is rather impressive. Not in the way Mamoreal is, of course. There’s no grace to be found here, simply a solid, massive example of masonry.

The doorman ushers them inside and Alice navigates Tarrant through the lobby to the welcome desk. They procure a room – and Alice is very happy that Oshtyer had been carrying a sizable bundle of paper pounds on him when he’d fallen through to Underland. She knows she’ll have to visit the bank to change a few bills into smaller, more useful denominations, but manages to exchange one quid for shillings and pennies before the porter – a lad no older than twenty – arrives to escort them up to their room. Alice has to nudge Tarrant before he’ll relinquish their trunk to him. Frowning, he does so and they head up the stairs. On the fourth floor, they enter their room and Alice slips a penny into the boy’s palm.

Tarrant closes the door, his brows drawn together in an expression of puzzlement Alice expects she’ll have to become used to very quickly here. Before he can ask, she says, “It’s appreciated when services are rewarded.”

“With coins?” he confirms.

“Don’t worry about it,” she replies, lifting off her hat and setting it carefully on the hall vanity. She pulls off her right glove and brushes her fingertips over Tarrant’s brow and down past his cheekbones. “You’re in Upland now. I’ll take care of the details, if you’ll take care of us.”

His arms come around her and he presses a kiss to the side of her neck. “Tha’s what I promised ye, Alice, an’ I will. Th’ twine o’ ye.

They spend an hour in the room: Tarrant investigates the odd fixtures and amenities and Alice explains the purpose of a shoehorn and coal scuttle (the name of which Tarrant finds highly amusing: “Scut! Scuttle! Scuttler!!” he snickers).

“This... coal substance,” he murmurs, serious once again. He considers the black, dusty mass, “is burned often for warmth? Why is it so cold here? Or do Uplanders use the hearth for other reasons?”

“England is generally cool. And rainy,” she allows. “The seasons are different here,” she adds, reflecting on the odd phenomenon of a sunrise and sunset one can set one’s timepiece by in Underland... all year round.

Tarrant frowns. “Why don’t Londoners have several days at once then? It’s warmer that way. Especially in the winter. But I suppose that would make it two or three times as wet, wouldn’t it...”

Alice blinks, surprised. “Two or three days at a time...? Wait, is that why Mamoreal is always buried in snow in winter but never frightfully cold?”

“It’s different here?”

She marvels at how honestly shocked he is by the concept of only one day occurring at a time. “Yes. It’s different.” And before he can ask yet another question, one she’s sure will require quite a bit of doodling and possibly some visual aids, Alice says, “If there’s time before we leave, I’ll take you to Brompton Boilers.” Brompton Boilers, officially known as the South Kensington Museum and home of London’s wealth of scientific knowledge and industrial technology. Well, outside of a university, anyway.

Tarrant’s eyebrows arc with inquisitiveness and Alice sighs through her smile.

“I’m sure we can find answers to many of your questions there.”

He grins the grin of a delighted school-age boy. And when her husband wears a grin like that, she can’t resist a quick kiss and a tickle.

Merrianglin’!” he accuses her on a high-pitched giggle and she laughs with him.

“Come on,” Alice says after they’ve wound down on a sigh. “Let’s get something to eat downstairs. I need to check today’s date.”

Alice wonders if Tarrant’s amazement at his surroundings will ever cease to entertain and enlighten her. Of course she enjoys seeing an utterly flunderwhapped expression on his face – she doesn’t have the opportunity to witness it often what with his familiarity with everything Underlandian and his genius and intuition constantly at the forefront of his mind. And, as Alice studies his impressions, she finds herself seeing London – and all of Upland Society – in a new light. Growing up, she’d often disagreed with the social conventions and the expectations that others had had of her, but she’d never really seen London from the perspective of a foreigner. And, despite his perfect command of the English language, Tarrant is a foreigner. He hadn’t played in these streets or sung the rhymes that Alice had grown up chanting. He hadn’t heard the stories or learned the history or science that Alice had. With a slight start, Alice realizes that, for the first time, she has the opportunity to be his teacher of Upland rather than his student of Underland.

Perhaps a visit to Brompton Boilers is in order before they return to Underland...

Just as soon as we sort this out, she reminds herself and requests the menu and a newspaper.

And with their orders placed and Tarrant giggling at his place setting and the assortment of triplicate forks, duplicate spoons, and knife – which is precisely the same in Mamoreal as it is here in London, interestingly enough – Alice reaches for the newspaper, gapes at the date and gasps.

“What is it?”

She glances up. “The date. Today’s date.” Her mind refuses to produce a more comprehensive thought than that.

“Yes?” his prompts in a worried lisp. “What is today’s date?”

Alice stares into his peridot-green eyes. “It’s... it’s only been twenty-three months since the ship... Since you...”

He scowls. “Time,” he grunts and it is both an answer and an accusation. “The queen told us he wasnae teh be trusted when travelin’ be-twix Up an’ Under.”

“How is this possible?” Alice wonders aloud.

Tarrant fiddles with his salad fork. “Perhaps it’s all those combined winter nights? Lingering moments and such? They’re quite frequent in times of peace...”

She shakes her head, closes her eyes, and decides she simply cannot spare the energy to think about it now. Perhaps later. If she has absolutely nothing else with which to occupy her time. Rousing herself, Alice unfolds the newspaper and once again bids farewell to her peace of mind:


Alice forces herself to read the article rather than skim irresponsibly through it as she had with the Thrice a-Vow. Surely, she’s learned her lesson since then! Still, it’s hard to keep herself from reading ahead of the printed words.


Even after she has finished reading the article, she can’t look away from the paper. Dear Fates, but it had been easy to discover the source of Underland’s earthquake and the gaping hole in the throne room of Palace Avenfaire. Frighteningly easy. Dealing with the source of the trouble, however...

Alice swallows. Or tries to, anyway.

This is impossible...


And because she very much needs to hear Tarrant tell her that things are impossible only if you believe they are, she meets his gaze and tells him, “I think I know what caused the earthquake.”

He leans over his place setting, eyes wide and eager. “What was it?”

“This,” she replies, nodding to the paper. “A new train system in London. An underground train system.”

He considers that concept; his full attention is bent on the task. Alice hurries to give him all the information he needs to understand the situation:

“This isn’t the first underground railway they’ve built in London, but yesterday was the first time they used dynamite to excavate the station.”


“Dynamite,” she repeats and struggles to explain it. “I... it’s...” She flounders.

“Is it dangerous?” Tarrant asks, cutting to the heart of the matter with his usual skill.


“And could it create a hole, cause an earth-quaking?”

“I can’t think of anything else that can. Not so efficiently and quickly.”

“And they used this... die-namite yesterday? Which would have been several days ago in Underland?”

“Yes. To clear the way for a train station with three platforms.”

Tarrant’s eyes flicker and his brows twitch with his thoughts. “Are they planning on using die-namite again?”

Alice nods. “In a little over two weeks. They’re going to... to blast again. A different station. A bigger one.”

“How much bigger?” he asks softly, apprehensively.

“Twice as large.” She meets his wide-eyed and horrified stare. “And that’s not the end of it. Because yesterday’s demolition was a success, they’re considering using dynamite on more future underground construction.”

Alice ignores her table manners, braces her elbows against the tabletop and covers her mouth with her hands... as if she could somehow re-trap the words she’d just spoken. As if she could somehow make them less true. Less real. Less utterly terrifying.

When Tarrant gestures for the newspaper, an obstinate expression on his face, she relinquishes it without an argument. He stares at the article while she indulges in a few minutes of very un-Champion-y, mind-blanking panic.

“How am I supposed to fight this?” she hears herself whisper on a half-choked breath. There are no swords or garrotes that can conquer this foe. For even if she could somehow eliminate the chairmen of the London Underground project, she knows only more will take their place. Alice is not dueling a suitor, battling a jabberwocky, or facing off against mercenaries... She is fighting progress itself!


With a start, she focuses on Tarrant. “Sorry. I’m fine.” Thankfully, he ignores the bald-faced lie.

He clears his throat. “This article says this station is owned by –” He glances down to confirm his recollection. “– the Metropolitan District Railway.”

“Yes...” Alice agrees after a moment of expectant silence.

“Well... isn’t that a... business of some kind?”


Tarrant tilts his head to the side. “Correct me if I’m wrong, Alice, but you know a thing or two about business, don’t you?”

Only a thing or two. I utterly failed at it when I was an apprentice with the trading company.”

Tarrant considers her with narrowed eyes. He shakes his head. “No, no... You offered Valereth’s mercenaries land and opportunity to sway them. Can’t you sway this company from using dynamite again?”

“Even if I could, what good would it do? This is the trend of the future: underground earthworks. Underland won’t be safe forever.”

He taps his fingers against the edge of his plate. She recognizes the rhythm: the Waltz of the Tumtum Tree. “Wha’ d’ye ken abou’ Intentional Magic?”

“About as much as you know about Upland weather patterns.”

He cackles, snorts, and clears his throat. “Ah, well, it’s very strong magic as it comes from the intentions of those who believe in it.”

“Three butterflies are going to have to employ quite a lot of muchness to accomplish much of anything at all.”

Tarrant shakes his head at her. “No, no, Absolem and the others are the Masters. It’s the intentions of everyone in Underland that gives the magic its strength and...” He glances at her through his brows. “I think we can assume that everyone in Underland is hoping for the same thing right now...”

“You mean, with everyone focused on keeping Underland safe from Upland...?”

“The Masters will be able to stop future dynamite-quakings.”

Alice feels a tentative smile form on her lips. “Can they do... or prepare... whatever it is they have to within two weeks’ time?”

“I wouldn’t know... But, if they can’t?”

She bites her lip. “I have no idea how I could delay that project.”

Tarrant hesitantly offers, “I know I’ve only been here a few hours but... this London... money’s important here?”

“Very. It’s arguably the most important thing for most people.” Yet another reason why she loves Underland so dearly.

“We have money,” he reminds her.

She sighs. “Not nearly enough. I’d have to be one of the wealthiest women in the whole city to even approach them successfully. Convince them to delay. But I’m no one here. Not anymore. Everyone thinks I died at sea almost two years ago...”

Alice sits up straight with a gasp, eyes wide and staring.


Her hands begin to shake as her path – his path, their path – comes to her, one inconceivable step at a time.


She blinks and focuses on him. “I have to...”

“What?” Tarrant’s fingers clutch the table edge.

“I have to write a letter to Mirana.”

He nods, watches her, waits.

“And, tomorrow morning, I have to talk to my former employer.”

“Lord Ascot? Why, Alice?”

Her lips compress into a thin line. “It’s a good thing you can remove that veil from my hat because, after tomorrow, I don’t think I’m going to need it.”

“You won’t?” he asks. His hands relax their grip. His eyes sparkle with Plans and Plots and Possibilities.

“I won’t,” she confirms, her stomach knotting with tension and uncertainty. Her smile wobbles alarmingly. “Because, after tomorrow, I don’t believe I’ll be dead anymore.”

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 7 of 22

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