Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 8 of 22

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Leif stares at the looking glass, dark again, and frowns. It amazes him that with a single footstep Alice and the Hatter had somehow passed into another world, another realm.


Despite his curiosity of the place, he can’t say he envies the Queen’s Champion and the Royal Hatter their quest.

“Leif, why don’t you stay for dinner before you head back? You look as if you could do with a rest,” the queen invites.

Looking away from the mirror, he gives her an apologetic smile. “If I only I could allow myself the privilege, Your Majesty, but I really must be getting back to Shuchland.”

Mirana sighs.

Dale smiles, “Well, you can spare a few minutes, can’t you? Tarra’s been asking for you. And, last I heard, she was pestering Thackery about hosting a tea party for you when you get back.”

Leif chuckles at the thought. “Well, then I shalln’t keep Her Highness waiting. Where do you suppose...?”

“The kitchen, undoubtedly,” Mirana says. “Thackery was there when you came through, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, setting his pots and pans to order.” The hare had looked rather pleased about finally having all the injured and stressed strangers out of his kitchen.

“Well, no doubt he’s told Tarra that you’re here, or she’s found out somehow. I’m sure you’ll be accosted the moment you open the door.”

Grinning, Leif replies. “I look forward to it, then. Good day, Your Majesties.”

Letting himself out of the office, Leif heads down the hall to the stairs. He knows he shouldn’t take the time for something as frivolous as a tea party of all things; there’s so much to be done in Shuchland!

Just ten minutes, he promises himself. Just ten minutes and then I’ll go back through the looking glass.

Taking a deep breath and steels his resolve for the battle of wills he knows is coming, Leif opens the kitchen door...

... and has to cover his mouth to hide the snort of amusement.

“There! Now you look perfect, Thackery!” With a nod, Tarra steps back to admire her work.

Thackery, his fur groomed flat and glossy, has never looked so... sane. His collar has been straightened and his vest pulled down to cover the waist of his trousers. His jacket is pristine of shed fur and a snowy white towel is draped over his trembling arm.

“Ar!” he exclaims, looking up at Leif’s entrance. Again, Leif has to bite back a laugh at the pure relief the hare exhibits in his expression.

“Leif!” Tarra shouts and streaks across the kitchen toward him.

“There ye are, laddie!” Thackery twitches as Tarra flies into Leif’s arms and he scoops her up in an often-practiced move. “Yer missus ‘as been waitin’ tae long already!” And when Leif doesn’t immediately rush to the table, the hare shouts, “Well? Where’s yer manners, lad! See yer missus teh th’table!”

“I missed you!” Tarra informs him with a scowl. “How come you had to stay away so long? Are you hungry? Thackery made scones. Not my favorite kind though. He says he has too many berries, so they’re Thrambleberry scones. I don’t like Thrambleberries. They make my toes itch. Let’s have some tea!”

Leif sets her down and holds out her chair for her, which she clamors into with much fluffing of petticoats and the occasional flash of a bare knee.

What happened to her stockings? he briefly wonders and then decides he probably doesn’t want to know. Well, only as long as Tarra hasn’t tied anyone up with them and, say, left them in a bathtub... like he’d discovered a few months ago. He sighs at the memory. Poor Chestor. But at least he’d learned his lesson: do not play “Champion to the Rescue” with Tarra so close to dinner time. A single growl of her tiny stomach is enough to make her forget undone heroic deeds, her schoolwork, and even her shoes. Although Leif suspects she rather intentionally forgets her shoes. And her stockings as well, it seems.

He slides into the seat opposite her and lets Thackery serve them, moving his arms out of the way when a tray of scones is plopped on the table followed by a bowl of sugar cubes that wobbles on its edge precariously before Leif reaches out and steadies it.

“It’s hard to balance the sugar bowl on edge. I’ve tried. It’s really hard,” Tarra informs him. She swings her legs beneath the table and kicks him in the knee with her shoe. (So she had remembered to put them on today, after all!) He calmly pours the tea rather than wait for Thackery to dribble it into their laps in a mockery of service.

“Yes, but how often have you practiced?” Leif inquires. “No one can learn to balance a sugar bowl in a day!”

“I learned to balance my sword! You wanna see?” And then she’s scrambling out of her chair and fumbling for something on the floor. When she stands up again, a triumphant smile on her small face and her pale hair tangled and her dress askew, she announces, “Watch me, Leif!”

He raises his hands to applaud when she – true to her word – balances the blunt tip of the wooden blade on the palm of her hand. Just as he claps, she glances at him which breaks her concentration and Leif’s reflexes save the teapot from a rather unfortunate collision with the plummeting weapon.

“That was very well done, Tarra,” he says, holding the sword. “But why do you have this with you? You should leave it in the cabinet near the pitch.”

“You and Alice don’t leave yours there!”

He opens his mouth to argue...

“And he wanted to have tea with us today. It gets awfully lonely in the cabinet with no one to talk to.”



“Barnaby the... wooden sword?”

“No!” She rolls her eyes at him. “Barnaby the Blade! My bestest friend… except for you, but you’re gone a lot lately so I needed a new one.” She holds out her hands for... Barnaby.

A bit reluctantly, Leif returns the sword to her. “And Barnaby... talks?” he clarifies.

“All the time! Well, not all the time because you’re here and he’s shy, but he talks to Thackery, doesn’t he, Thackery? Thackery said Barnaby wants me to eat my carrots, but I think Thackery heard him wrong because Barnaby doesn’t like carrots, either.”

“Is that so?”

“Uh huh. Leif... how come you’re gone all the time now? Mumma says it’s because you’re busy, but you promised me you wouldn’t be busy. Remember?”

He does. Months ago, he’d promised a very distressed princess that he would always make time for her. He’s still not entirely sure what had caused her distress, but it might have had something to do with the brief trip he’d taken with the king to oversee the plans for the Orash orchard near Salazen Grum...

“I remember.” He sighs. “But I have to help people now. You remember the earth-quake and all the people you helped your mumma make potions for?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, they live far away and they need my help.”

“But I want you to stay!

“I’m sorry, Tarrash-rya, I can’t.” The endearment slips out and Leif is startled to hear his own voice name this girl as the other half of his soul.

“Well, then I’ll come with you!” she continues.

Deciding it would be best to chastise himself later, Leif shakes his head. “No, you have to stay here with your mumma.”

“How come?”

“Because you’re a princess.”

“Well, maybe I don’t wanna be a princess! It’s not fair! I wanna go with you!”

Leif sighs. “I know. Promise me you’ll stay with your mumma?” He reaches across the table and gently combs out her messy hair with the tips of his claws. “Please, Tarrash’rya?”

Damn it! Not again! Where is your head, Leif?!

Her small hands grip his monstrously large, furry one and she nuzzles his palm with a giggle. “All right...”

“You promise?” he checks.

“I promise.”

“All right, then. Thank you for the tea, Princess Tarranya, but I have to go now.” He removes his hand from her grasp and stands. As expected, she scowls.

“It’s not the end of teatime, yet,” she argues. “Because I killed Time. Barnaby helped me. And Thackery showed me how, didn’t you, Thackery? Thackery’s killed Time before,” she whispers conspiratorially.

“No, I di’nae!” the hare shouts from within the pantry. “Seen it done, never done it meself! ‘Twas th’Hatter who killed Time fer his Alice!”

“Yes!” Tarra shouts with excitement. “And Thackery says you and me’re just like Champion Alice and the Hatter! ‘Cept you don’t make hats.”

Leif gapes at her. Just like Alice and the Hatter? What in all the realms of Underland is that supposed to mean?

No, he decides. I’d rather not know.

Luckily, he’s distracted from asking. He looks over his shoulder at the kitchen door as the sounds of hurried footsteps advance... and then rush past. Tarra beats him to the door.

“What’s going on?” she asks the doorknobs lining the hallway.

Before any can volunteer the information, the queen appears and lays a hand on her daughter’s head. “I’m not sure, squimkin. Your papu is checking...”

The queen lifts her gaze to Leif – still framed in the doorway – and gives him a worried frown. He follows the slight inclination of her head down the hall in the direction of Oshtyer’s room. Now scowling as well, Leif brushes by the princess – who is rather oblivious to the fact that she’s standing squarely on the threshold and blocking the comings and goings to and from the kitchen. He reaches the bedroom door just in time for Dale to emerge, a somber expression on his face.

“Is he dead?” Leif asks in very quiet, low tone.

“Yes. We’ll have to alert Alice and the Hatter.”

“Hopefully they’ll have news for you as well. Better news, anyway.”

“As do I. Hope, that is.”

Leif sighs. “With your permission, sire, I’ll be returning to Shuchland now.”

Dale nods and gives his Champion a brief pat on the arm. “Fairfarren, Leif.”

“You’re going now, aren’t you?” Tarra accuses as he strides back down the hall toward the kitchen door.

“Yes,” he tells her, reaching for the doorknob. “Are you going to see me off or shall we say our good-byes here.”

She huffs. “Well, I’m a princess, aren’t I?”

He grins as she stomps back into the kitchen. The queen smothers a giggle and Leif follows his... lady over the threshold and over to the large mirror. Reaching it first, Tarra pivots and scowls at him, hands on her hips. “Fairfarren and don’t get any sand up your nose,” she tells him.

Leif struggles to keep his beaming grin from curving his mouth. “To you as well. May you protect the queen just as Alice would.”

She blinks and smiles tentatively. “Does that mean you’re gonna make me a hat?”

He laughs. “I’ll make you into a hat if you don’t behave yourself. A Tarra Cap.”

Her lips purse and she glares up at him.

Relenting, he crouches down and opens his arms. After a moment of glaring and a flick of her eyes which tells him she’s seriously considering kicking him in the knee again – only intentionally this time! – she moves toward him and presses her forehead against his shoulder.

“Remember your promise; stay with your mumma and I’ll be back again soon.”

She sighs. “I know.”

He presses a kiss to the top of her head, stands, tickles her beneath her chin, and then steps through the looking glass. He feels a gentle tug on his tail before he can pull it free completely and glares over his shoulder at the rippling glass.

“It’s about time!”

Leif turns at the irritated huff. “What is it, Bayne?

The bloodhound snorts. “What else? The Jabberwocky, of course. Wants to talk to you... again.”

Leif frowns. “What for?”

“Said he has a message for the queen.”

“Well, it would have been nice if he’d mentioned it a bit sooner. Say, before I’d left?”

“Yeah, tell me about it. I missed out on dessert for this. These Shuchlanders sure know how to toss cookies.”

“Wait until the Autumn Bake-off,” he mutters.

Bayne narrows his eyes. “If the Jabberwocky interrupts that for me, I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

Leif would very much like to express his desire to see that, but as he expects he’ll be calling upon the bloodhound’s nose again in the near future, resists teasing him. With a sigh, Leif tramps out over the still-torn-and-tousled ground, in the direction of the brightest plumes of white-blue flame. Despite the fact that he’s pretty sure the Jabberwocky could obliterate him with a single breath, Leif decides that a discussion is in order. Apparently, Kystoval is unaware of the fact that “message delivery lion” is not part of Leif’s job description. And if the creature continues treating him as such, the two of them are going to have a problem!


The first order of business following breakfast the next day, according to Alice, is a visit to the site of the future Mansion House Underground Station. It had sounded like a rational next-step: confirm the existence of a hole from London to Underland. Or, at least, it had sounded like a good idea until they’d considered the necessary mode of transportation.

“Another cab?” Tarrant frowns at himself, at the wimbling quality of his whisper.

“I’m afraid so. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” he mutters and resolves to quit acting like an over-anxious cheese-maker’s apprentice on his first day in the barn. He is a Hightopp, for the love of crystal buttons! And it’s high time – but not nearly high teatime, according to the lobby timepiece – he started acting like one! So Tarrant opens the door for Alice, holds her hand as he helps her into the rented carriage and does his best not to startle at every shout and slam as they roll through the streets again.

Alice sits beside him but he can’t see her face beneath the brim of her hat. He considers the looks they’ve gotten since arriving in this odd place; women have stared at Alice’s hat and men have sniffed rather dismissively at Tarrant.

“People can tell we’re... I’m different,” he says over the clatter of the wheels against uncommonly clear paving stones. “They stare.”

Alice sighs. “I know. It’s your hair. I wasn’t sure when we’d arrive or what the fashions would be. Your suit and my dress are plain enough to be taken as traveling clothes, but, apparently, long hair is not the fashion here for men.”

“I could cut it,” he muses. “Overdue, really.” Since the White Queen had returned to the throne, in all honesty.

Alice’s hand tightens over his. “That’s not necessary. We won’t be here long.”

He frowns. “But if we’re judged harshly because of my appearance...”

“It doesn’t matter, Tarrant. The fact that you’re a bit... out of current fashion might actually go a long way toward explaining why your wife is so opinionated and fancies herself a businesswoman.”

“I... what?”

Alice sighs. “Women in this world do not...” She searches for her next words. “Do not meddle in what is thought of as men’s business. The trading business, I mean. Imports and exports. If I’m going to bully my way into it again, having you with me might make things a bit easier.”

“I don’t see how...”

Her tone is a bit sad when she explains, “Most likely, my male colleagues are going to look at you, take note of how unconventional you are and blame you for my unseemly brashness and very unladylike character. They’ll say, ‘Well, with a husband like that looking after her, what can one expect?’ And then, hopefully, they’ll tolerate me a bit more than they...” She huffs out a breath. “It’ll be fine,” she says, abruptly closing the topic.

Tarrant pries it back open. “Tolerate you more than... what?”

He feels Alice draw in a deep breath and let it back out, slowly. “Than before. When I was an apprentice. And an unattached female without a father to rein me in.”

“Rein you in?” He blinks. “You are not a horse, Alice. And even then, I’ve met a fair share who took exception to the practice!”

Alice snorts with laughter that sounds more like a sob than actual humor. “Well, the horses – and the women – don’t have the ability to complain about it here.”

“But... that would mean that men command all aspects of life here and, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you once tell me that this Upland London has a queen?”

“It does. Queen Victoria. But you’re still right; women have very few rights in this world. Especially those of my family’s station. The higher one’s position in society, the more strict and suffocating the rules and restrictions.” She leans her shoulder into his and confides, “I’d much rather be a hatter’s wife in London than a lord’s. At least then I might be able to keep a shop or wear trousers in the market or even listen to a joke from a stranger on the street.”

“That sounds utterly...”

“Untouchable?” she prompts. “Isolated? Enslaved?”

He leans his cheek against the cap of her hat and lets out a long, deep breath. “I’m so very sorry, my Alice.”

“Whatever for?”

Closing his eyes, he tells her, “I admit, all these years with you, I’ve feared you might one day leave and return to the place where you were born. I didn’t understand. You’d never abandoned this place... you’d escaped. And... I’m sorry.”

She pets the hand still held in her grasp. “No, I’m sorry. I’ve given you the wrong impression. Women from wealthy families can and do lead rewarding lives as mothers and wives. Still, to my knowledge, my mother has never cooked a meal for her family or sewn a dress for her children or even repaired a pair of stockings. All of those things that matter when you have a family to look after are done by cooks and tailors. There are housekeepers to clean up your messes and a butler to answer the front door and some say that’s the way a life of leisure ought to be...”

“It’s a cage,” Tarrant concludes.

“I’ve often thought so, yes.”

Tarrant shifts and passes his gloved thumb over the back of her gloved hand, over and over again. Although the carriage ride to the Mansion House Station site is not silent – not with the grimy, bustling city thrashing-nearly-bursting just beyond the carriage windows! – not another word is spoken.

The site itself, they find, is closed to curious passersby, but Alice manages to charm a young man selling newspapers on the corner into recounting the demolition.

“An’ a great big hole there was!” he says with energetic gesticulation, preening at the sounds of amazement and awe Alice murmurs. “Cover’d i’tup quick-like, though.”

“Did they fill it in?”

“Wouldn’know, yer ladyship, but I don’think they did...”

Tarrant watches as Alice overpays for a newspaper and then he escorts her back to the cab. “I wish I could see it with my own eyes,” she grumbles. “But that would mean coming back after nightfall and sneaking in and...”

He reaches for her hand. “Alice,” he pleads. “Don’t frighten me with thoughts of you... you both!... going back there through these streets, in the dark, near such a hole...”

“I won’t,” she hurriedly assures him. “I didn’t mean I was thinking of doing it. It’s just... How do I know that’s the hole that Oshtyer fell through? How can I continue to advise the queen on all of this if I can’t even confirm that? True, I sent her a report last night but, what if I’m wrong?”

Tarrant doesn’t have an answer for her.

She sighs.

He struggles for something helpful to say. “Is there another recent hole in London that might be the hole in question?”


“Then, despite the lack of confirmation, we should proceed with your plan, which I have a very good feeling about, I don’t mind telling you. After all, there’s the next demolition in a fortnight’s time to consider.”

Alice nods, takes a deep breath, and sighs heavily. “Well, as I still haven’t come up with any better ideas for dealing with this, I suppose now would be a good time to pay a visit to the company.”

“Your father’s company?” he confirms, although he’s sure that’s the one she’s talking about.

“Yes. I hope Lord Ascot is still heading it.” He can hear but cannot see her wistful smile due to the brim of the hat and the veil that conceal her expressions from him. “He believed in me like no one else. Not since my father passed.”

Tarrant curls his fingers around her hand. “I’m very much looking forward to meeting him.”

Alice lifts his hand and he can feel her lips press against his wrist. Before he can brush his fingertips against her veiled cheek or touch his own lips to the top of her hat, Alice stands in the carriage, raps her knuckles against the roof and shouts a new destination up to the driver.

Kensington, East Venture Trading Company

Tarrant suppresses a shiver.

He can’t help but wonder what sort of place this will be. Oh, he’s seen many a shop, workshop, and stall in Underland, but here they have things called companies and factories and institutions...! In fact, Tarrant is feeling far too overwhelmed to be of much use as a protector at all. He swallows back a hard knot of uselessness and desperation, wincing as it settles in his gut. Oh, how he wishes the queen had sent more than a quick note through the looking glass last night in reply to Alice’s report:

I will inquire to the Masters as to how much time they will require to secure Underland. Please continue with the plans you’ve outlined. You have my full support, such as it is at this distance. I cannot thank you enough for embarking upon this undertaking, Alice. Please give Tarrant our regards.

He frowns, considering the queen’s letter. It had been so short. Brief. And, in that regard, very strange. Tarrant suspects that something else has occurred in Underland since their departure, but he doesn’t mention it. Alice has far too much to worry about now and, besides, the queen’s next letter might very well explain the source behind Tarrant’s unease.

“Tell me about the company,” Tarrant suddenly requests, startled to realize he’d never asked Alice about it and, under the circumstances, it might be quite advantageous to both know precisely what she’d done there and have a rough understanding of the general operations of the business.

Next to him, Alice relaxes a bit – ah, so she’s nervous, too! But of course she is! She’ll be revealing herself to those who’ve thought her dead for nearly two years! – and he can hear the note of relief in her voice. He can’t comprehend the scale of the business, for that he’d have to know what this China and India and such things are and he doesn’t – but he’s happy to finally be of some service to his Alice, even if that means simply distracting her from the coming meeting.

“This could all be for naught,” she says suddenly. “Lord Ascot might be out of the office today, at the docks overseeing some shipment passing through the customs office. Or perhaps he’s taken the day off. Maybe he’s out visiting a potential investor or a client or he might even be aboard a ship and sailing off to Hong Kong and—!”

“Alice,” Tarrant says softly, sliding his arm over her shoulders and pulling her into an embrace.

“Thank you.”

The brim of her had is crushed between them, but she doesn’t let go of him. And he’ll be damned if he’ll be the one to release her first! They rock and sway with the carriage and every time the vehicle begins to slow, Tarrant clutches Alice all the tighter, wondering if this is it: the end of their journey.

The end.

Tarrant doesn’t like the sound of That at all! But, in a way, it is an end. It must be. It feels as if it is. It feels as if he’s about to watch her disappear right in front of his eyes again. In a way, perhaps she will; this world – this Upland London – has not been able to lay claim to Alice since she’d returned to Underland, since she’d bid her mother good-bye and had chosen him. Despite his niggling worries over their future, she has been Underland’s Alice for seven wonderful years.

After today, that won’t be the case anymore.

After today, her family and her former colleagues will know she’s alive. They will have Expectations and Questions and, possibly, Demands and what will he do if those things take her away from Underland?! FROM HIM?!

Nauw, d’nae be actin’ like a fumptwat, lad! Ye’ll stay wi’her an’ yer littlin’, o’course!

Yes, yes, of course he will. He’d do anything, go anywhere, be anyone for his Alice and their littlin’. And if she needs him to become a London hatter, he will!

Both the Resolution and Alice’s warmth calm him. He focuses on the heart line, feels her own simmering anxiety and, gathering his strength, sends her his support and a whisper of confidence. (He wishes he had more of the latter to spare, but he simply doesn’t. What little there is comes from the knowledge that he will be with her no matter where they are or whatever happens.)

“Hatter?” she asks as the cab begins to slow again.

“Yes, my Alice?”

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

He smiles through the pain in his chest; dear Fates of Underland, but he loves her so much it hurts sometimes! “Because they’re together, my Alice,” he whispers back.

Alice takes a deep breath and when she speaks, he hears Muchness: “Yes, we are.”

And it’s excellent timing because the carriage does not pick up speed again. This time it pulls over to the curb and rolls to a jerking halt.

They alight. Alice pays. And then she slides her hand through his arm and they turn toward the elegant office front. Tarrant reads:

--------------------------------------------------- East Venture Trading Company

Est. 1838 – Townsend Ascot, Esq. --------------------------------------------------- Beside him, Alice lets out a breath. “He’s still chairing the company,” she murmurs. “Thank whatever Powers that be. Any other man would laugh us out of the office.”

Tarrant feels a gentle nudge against his arm from Alice and takes that as the signal to move. They cross the walkway and Tarrant opens the door for her. He’s unable to break the connection between them completely and finds himself brushing his gloved fingers against the small of her back. But then they’re within a very comfortable – if utterly boring – lobby.

“May I assist you with something, sir? Madam?”

“Yes,” Alice says, striding forward. “Lord and Lady Hightopp,” she continues in an imperious tone Tarrant doesn’t think he’s ever heard from her before. Not even when she’s had to deal with that thrice-damned, lickspittle Irondirk! “We have business we’d like to discuss with Lord Ascot, if he’s available.”

“May I inquire as to the nature of that business, Lady Hightopp?” the clerk asks in a neutral yet courteous tone.

“It concerns a former apprentice of East Venture Trading. A young woman by the name of Miss Alice Kingsleigh.”

If the clerk finds that to be an odd statement of purpose, he shows no sign of it. He gestures to the sitting area. “I’ll be but a moment. Please make yourselves comfortable.”

Tarrant finds it an admirable suggestion despite the fact that he cannot possibly comply with it. He presses his hand against Alice’s lower back again, unable to go a moment more without some sort of physical connection to remind him that everything is fine, despite the unsettling thrumming along his heart line. Their heart lines. Which means the sensation is actually originating from...

“Alice,” he whispers in the plush room. Against the wall, a magnificent clock measures the seconds with lifeless ticks and droll tocks. Time here is, apparently, utterly regular and predictable. A machine. The thought disturbs him.

“I’m sorry. I’m nervous,” she replies equally softly.

“I know.” He smiles and hears her quiet huff of laughter.

She turns away to study various items spaced throughout the room. Pointing she says, “That is a teapot from China.”

Tarrant follows her gesture and regards the thing. “Too small,” he comments. “How is one to accommodate more than one guest with something that size? Unless each guest is given their own personal tea pot?!” For a moment, he’s thrilled by the Idea.

Alice chuckles. “I know,” she replies to his unvoiced enthusiasm. “Quite the idea, isn’t it?”

“Indeed it is!”

“And this is from India.”

“It looks very much like our mutual friend’s scimitar, doesn’t it?” he muses, studying the jewel-encrusted brass sheath.

“Perhaps more ornamental than functional, however,” she allows.

“Quite right! However would one hope to duck and dodge with that thing clanking and clattering against one’s leg?!”

Tarrant feels Alice place a hand on his upper arm and just as she moves to direct his attention to yet another item, the clerk returns and clears his throat.

“If you’ll wait but a few moments, Lord Ascot will be with you shortly.”

“Thank you,” Alice replies and Tarrant feels her fingers relax against his arm: her fear that her former employer would be unavailable today is quashed soundly.

Alice moves toward an odd sphere in the room and Tarrant wonders at what dastardly sort of person would have dared to scribble over a perfectly good object... whatever it’s purpose might be. Alice motions him closer.

“Here,” she says in a low tone, “is a map – a globe – of the known world Up Here.  And this small spot – do you see it? Within this larger shape?”

“Yes,” he murmurs back, squinting at the unfortunately abused sphere.  (Globe! he reminds himself.) He realizes the scribbles are in fact writing... names of... places just as Alice informs him:

“This is London. Where we are. And this shape –” Her fingertip circles the yellow area. “– is England. The country ruled by Queen Victoria. Here is Europe. And when I sailed to China, we took the ship around this way on the Atlantic Ocean, down past...”

Tarrant gapes at her as she illustrates her journey. He can’t quite get past the first two sentences: This is London. Where we are.

“Alice?” he whispers, chokes, coughs. “This tiny, miniscule, insignificant ink splatter... is this great city that I’ve yet to see the boundary of?”

“Yes,” she replies. “The world Up Here is a very big place.”

He intends to agree with her but only an odd sort of gurgle makes it up past his numb throat and useless mouth.

“Here is India,” she tells him, gently rotating the spherical map in its masterfully carved wooden cradle and pointing to another yellow-colored mass of land. “And China. Halfway around the world. And it is goods from these places that this company deals in.”

Although Tarrant appreciates the explanation of what sort of business a trading company does, he cannot fathom the fact that Alice – his Alice! – has traveled to these places across not one but a half-dozen oceans that must be far greater than the Crimson Sea, the only sea he’s ever known.

“Alice... I...”

“Lord and Lady Hightopp?”

Alice gives Tarrant’s arm a gentle squeeze before turning back to the clerk. “Yes?”

“Lord Ascot will see you now. If you’ll follow me?”

When the lad’s back is turned, Tarrant gives himself a good shake. “I’m fine,” he says in reply to Alice’s patient gaze.

“Yes, you are,” she agrees and despite her anxiety, Tarrant feels a warmth in his chest – a hug from Alice via the Heart Mark. He returns it, places his hand on the small of her back again and they follow the clerk down the hall in the direction of the offices, ready to face whatever awaits.

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 8 of 22

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