Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 10 of 15

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One Promise Kept: Book 4

The hardest part about being a mother is also being a queen.

Mirana stands on the balcony that has suffered through dozens of crashing tea tables and regards the setting sun, her eyes looking Queast-ward, but unfocused. She does not see the sunset. She does not see the ridge of the mountains that ring Mamoreal as they are silhouetted in the rosy light. She is, actually, trying very hard to see Nothing at all. To think of Nothing. Thinking and seeing are not pleasant pastimes when one is Waiting.

Mirana has never had any particular aversion to Waiting. As a queen, she knows that many things take time and waiting is often the wisest course of action.

But as a mother... and under these circumstances... Waiting is a torture she cannot bear!

She had never explicitly said so aloud, but even prior to this... turn of events, she had been waiting. Although, at the time, she had not known what it was she’d been waiting for. Tarra’s departure had too closely mirrored Alice’s on the dawn of the Trial of Threes for her to not feel apprehensive, for her to not imagine the unwanted attention of the Fates, for her to not wonder if perhaps that tingle of dread had been a warning: Something is coming...

And it has. The fear now has words to define it: Tarra has disappeared, been taken by rebels, is somewhere between Crimson Harbor and Gummer Slough in one of the tunnels that had once funneled death and decay away from Iracebeth’s castle.

There had been nothing positive in Bayto’s report. Nothing concrete she could console Tarra’s sisters and brothers with. Nothing except the promise that Alice has gone after her and both Mirana and the Queen’s Champion will do everything they can to bring Tarra home. And yet, for a fleeting moment – when she had first heard the news – Mirana had experienced an inexplicable moment of relief, as when the thorn finally breaks the skin after tormenting one with the possibility of deeper pain and injury for so long. Had it been odd – wrong? – to taste the flavor of relief in the back of her throat? Perhaps. She certainly feels guilty enough over it now... now that the Unknown has become...




The night wind arrives with a gentle, cool puff of a sigh. Mirana does not shiver until the weight of her husband’s warm long-fingered paws settle on her shoulders. Until that moment, she hadn’t realized she was cold.

For a minute – maybe more – neither speaks. But, of course, the questions – the doubts – are never silent.

“Have I made the Right Choice?” she hears herself whisper. How long has it been since she’d last used her voice? No, no! She does not want to revisit that memory. And yet the question she has just asked is inexorably tied to it. She sighs. She does not want to face herself right now... and yet there is no one else to face. Were she to look into her husband’s eyes, she would only see a reflection of herself, her own doubt, her own fear, her own imperfections.

His fingers stir, massaging her taut shoulders. She does not relax one whit but they both take comfort in the gesture. “I can only say what I’ve already said, Mish’rya,” he murmurs, his voice sounding equally as rough as her own.

“Then say it again. Please.”

He does:

“We must consider our people. They trust you and that is a gift too precious to break.”

She nods: She must not break her Vows or their Trust.

“But we cannot abandon our daughter to the mercies of the rebels. We would never forgive ourselves.”

She blinks several times in order to see past the hot and stinging watery veil.

Yes: if she allows harm to come to her daughter... if she does not act when Tarra needs her...

“We have responsibilities to protect our people, even from themselves.”

Mirana bites her lip. Her fingers curl tighter around her upper arms. For once, she fears that releasing them into the air to dance with the breeze will send her spinning out of control, into madness. Perhaps this was what had driven her sister to such extremes. Perhaps a moment very much like this had shattered her spirit and torn her mind apart. Were she faced with these rebels who have taken her daughter, would she hear herself shout: Off with their heads!

Dale continues, “We can trust Sir Fenruffle to carry out your orders. No one will be harmed. The army will use its numbers to force the rebels to surrender and they will bring Tarra home.

Mirana does not ask if even that much will damage the White Realm beyond repair. What will her people think, believe, fear when they see her army descend upon the orchards surrounding Crimson Harbor? Will they think the worst has happened: the White Queen has turned... Red? Will they trust her explanation? Will they rise against her, hurt each other, endanger her children?

But if she had chosen to do nothing... How could the citizens of the White Realm respect a queen who – when her own daughter is in peril – does less than everything in her power to save her? How could she trust herself to be the ruler they expect her to be? To leave Tarra there, to weigh her life cruelly and impartially against those of her citizens, would damage her soul irreparably.

The Decree is no easier to contemplate now than it had been when she had given it hours ago.

“The army is ready, Your Majesty. What are your orders?”

“My orders... Yes. Yes, its time. Sir Fenruffle, march to Crimson Harbor. The army may defend itself and detain the rebels but there will be no causalities, sir. No injuries. No weapons used with the intent to cause pain or death. I Forbid it.”

She had tried to define and keep to the line between being a Mother and Queen. She had thought she had identified it, had stayed true to both her selves.

Now, as she waits, Doubt fills the empty space beside her where her Champion should be standing

Mirana lifts a hand and covers her husband’s where it still grips her shoulder. (Is he trying to hold her together or anchor himself? Perhaps both...) She aches to ask her Champion, her friend, what she ought to have done. Warfare – even one without deadly weapons – is not something Mirana has ever contemplated. Not even when her sister had begun her brutal campaign for dominion over all of Underland. (Although, yes, she had been rather too willing to sacrifice Alice for the sake of All, but Alice hadn’t been a member of Underland at the time and, somehow, it had seemed easier for Mirana to pit her own “monster” – a being from Up There – against her sister’s Jabberwocky. Now, she sees how unforgivable that had truly been. And she still has not repented properly for it!) And even when Mirana had issued the Champions’ Challenge to Jaspien and his co-conspirators, she had done so at Alice’s behest. She had trusted her Champion’s plan, her judgment, her foresight. She has none of those things to guide her now.

She draws in yet another deep breath. The Mother within her struggles against the White Queen, the Woman who has Taken Vows... She wishes Dale could be the one to help her, shore her up, to justify her actions, to shoulder the responsibility of it all. When she had asked, he had advised her to the best of his ability, despite being as deeply biased on the matter as she is herself:

“If we attack in earnest, more lives other than our Tarra’s may be lost...”

He had not meant it as a deterrent, but as an observation. She had watched as he’d struggled to sound – to be! – impartial, to be a king first and a father second. Though his expression had twisted with pain and panic, he had restricted himself to stating an observation; Mirana, however, had taken it as a warning. She had dared to press him, to test the strength of his objectivity:

“And if her life is lost because we do not attack... because we rely on only the strength of the armys numbers?”

Dale had done his best to reassure them both: Alice is with her; Leif is with her. Either of them would sacrifice their lives for Tarra. Tarrant’s ingenuity and Alice’s genius will prevail. Irondirk had proven himself years ago, when they had asked him to hunt down all traces of Valereth and Oshtyer, to be a loyal and resourceful servant to the Crown. He will make a positive contribution to Alice and Leif’s mission...

On her shoulders, Dale’s long-fingered, amber-furred paws stir, remind her that she is not alone. It helps... and yet it doesn’t: for a moment she does not feel alone, but she is. She is the queen. This – the assault – had been her decision and it could only have been her decision. Right or wrong, she’d had to decide. She had not asked – forced! – her husband to shoulder this burden. It would have been unforgivable had she put this weight upon his shoulders; she will not permit herself to blame him later should her decision turn out to be the Wrong One. She knows what the consequences of the Wrong Decision may be, but that does not help her identify the Right One. Even now after it has been made and implemented and it is too late to turn back.

“We will know soon,” Dale says, more to himself than to her. Mirana doesn’t mind; she is not the only one who is allowed comfort here. Although, honestly, she knows she ought to be making a better effort on his behalf. “Very soon.”

“Very right now, if you wish, Your Majesties.”

Mirana feels her own eyes widen at the sound of that voice. Gasping, she turns, transferring her grip so that she now clutches one of Dale’s wrists in both of her hands. She looks around him toward the center of her office and there the Cheshire Cat appears on wisps of swirling teal smoke, grinning. As always.


“Yes, as always, excellent observation skills, Your Majesty.”

“Have you seen Tarra?” Dale asks before Mirana can.

“Yes, earlier this morning. At the time she was quite safe and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself. She appeared to have those.. rebels rather neatly in hand.”

Mirana lets out a sigh of relief... until the memory of Sir Fenruffle’s proposal and her Decree return to her.

“I do hope this means you’ve already pardoned me for not announcing myself at the door but I thought you might like to hear that as soon as possible. In addition, Alice sends a rather urgent message. Although...” he drawls with a slightly worried squint, “I couldn’t help but notice the lack of... army. Perhaps Alice’s concerns were quite valid after all.”

“Her concerns?” Dread returns, beats against her skull and pounds on her breastbone.

Chessur fidgets. “Don’t tell me you’ve acquiesced to any feather-brained, pompous propositions recently... Have you?”

The White Queen draws herself up to her tallest, straightest, most regal bearing. “Perhaps I have. I shall have to hope Alice and I are of one mind on the matter of feather-brained, pompous endeavors.”

Chessur grins sheepishly. He offers no apology for offending her, nor does she expect one from a Cat. “Then I’ll just get on with the message, shall I?”

“Thank you. Although,” she muses, “I suspect there is quite a bit more than that you could tell us.”

“Indeed I could, and indeed I shall. However, I suspect that will take several teatimes.”

She arcs a brow at him. “Is that your very tactful way of requesting a tea service?”

“Well... I have traveled rather far today. Tea would be most appreciated.”

The queen strides back into her office from the balcony and tugs on the Calling Cord.

Seeing this, Chessur is immediately and quantitatively more agreeable. “First and foremost, I think I had better start with Alice’s urgent requests.”

She nods.

“If you would, please have a carriage for three sent to Causwick Callion, along with a dozen from your guard and some basic injury remedies.”

“Causwick... Callion...?” In her shock, she drops the mask of the queen and stares.

“Yes. Interesting development, isn’t it?” the cat remarks. “But I wouldn’t worry that history is repeating; Alice and Tarrant are not alone, per se, in Jaspien’s Castle. The staff there seem to think very fondly of her and, as I happened to cross paths with the Bandersnatch on my way here, I was able to point him in the right direction; he is galumphing into that dreadful swamp even as I speak. However, I doubt he’ll agree to bear a third person when Jaspien insists on accompanying your former Champion and Royal Hatter back here. And then there’s the matter of his luggage. It would appear that the Prince of the Callion is a man of considerable baggage, Your Majesty.”

Mirana goggles at him for a very long moment. “Yes, I see,” she finally manages. “This will require several teatimes.”

The Cat grins wider. “Well, I certainly won’t complain and, if you’ll pardon me for saying so, I do believe you might also benefit from multiple servings yourself.”

“I’m sure you’re right, Chessur,” she replies, moving toward the tea table just as a knock sounds on the door. Tea is ordered and Alice’s requests addressed and when the three of them are alone again she reaches out a hand to her husband. No, they are not perfect monarchs – their hands, clasped on the tabletop, attest to the continued fear and apprehension that they feel as Parents – but they are in Control again. Alice has sent the singularly most important thing a monarch who is facing a rebellion could ask for: reliable information.

But before Chessur can divulge the wealth of knowledge he has gathered, a rather doggy sort of knock sounds on the office door.

Biting back a growl of frustration, Mirana calls out, “Enter!”

Warily, Bayne does. “I beg—your pardon for—interrupting—Your Majesties—but Sir—Fenruffle—ordered me to—deliver this—as quickly—as possible.”

She holds out her hand for the scroll tied onto the underside of his collar. He makes a valiant effort to hold still despite his heaving sides and turns his face away so that the foam and drool on his jowls do not smear her skin or the sleeves of her dress. She has half a thought to thank him for his presence of mind, but then the scroll is unrolling and its contents shouting at her in silent black ink and...

“No,” Dale rumbles. “This is not possible!”

Mirana stares at the Champions’ Challenge in her hands. She gapes at the perfectly worded issuance of Intent to Do Battle and the signature beneath it.

She does not even reprimand Chessur when he evaporates and then brazenly hovers over her shoulder.

“Ah, yes. I was getting to that.” He sends an irritated glance at Bayne, who puffs his chest up as much as his panting breaths allow. “Tarra appears to be cooperating with the rebels. If I’m not mistaken, it was she who assisting them with the drafting of this Challenge.”

“But... no. No, your ears must have fooled you, Chessur,” she somehow manages to say. “Tarra is the child of a Soul Bond. How could she... How would that even be possible?”

Chessur does not reply.

Bayne’s only contribution is his continued winded breathing.

Dale curls his arm around her shoulders.

The wordless silence is heavy enough to crush oyster shells.

This is why she should not ask questions to which she already knows the horrifying answers. But no. No! Mirana will not consider these blasphemous thoughts now. Not now!

Mirana shakes her head, refusing what she hears, what she thinks, what she suspects.

“She stood against Alice. Resisted rescue,” Chessur continues in tone meant to be merciful. “And both Leif and Irondirk are their prisoners.”


“Yes, if what Mallymkun told me is true, Tarra fought Alice when she dared to attempt a rescue. Tarrant was badly injured – in the melee, I believe; although, I confess, I never really confirmed the details of when and how it had happened. Still... They were forced to retreat. I found them at Causwick Castle, where Alice no doubt traded a guarantee of safe passage to Mamoreal for succor.”

Dale growls. Mirana rubs his arm. Yes, she knows that promise was not Alice’s to make – that favor was not hers to give – but Mirana would rather allow her that latitude than contemplate any harm coming to her Champion or her Hatter.

“Have you heard why Prince Jaspien wishes to visit Mamoreal?”

“Unfortunately, no.”

Mirana drops her gaze to the parchment – already wrinkled – in her grasp. She stares at her daughter’s handwriting, at her signature which promises her life for the cause that these rebels have rallied themselves around.

No! This was not supposed to happen!

And yet it has.

Mirana realizes then, as she stares at the Declaration of Intent to Do Battle, that she would never have truly believed Chessur and his tale of her daughter’s apparent participation in all of this. She would not have wanted to believe it. The very idea that Tarra would – could! – move against her own mother, against her own family, against the White Crown is inconceivable.

But not impossible.

Tarra had never taken her Vows.

And if the Soul Bond is permitting her daughter to do this, to even think it, then there must be some merit to what these rebels fight for... Otherwise, how could Tarra have signed her own name here, on this document? Otherwise, how could the moral compass that the Soul Bond provides for their children permit this?

Otherwise, how could Princess Tarranya of Mamoreal become the Champion of the New Resistance?

But there is another option:

Or, a small, very Dark part of her mind whispers, if the Soul Bond and the moral compass that it provides has... broken...

No. No, no, no. That thought is far worse than considering the possibility that Mirana is in the Wrong and these rebels fight for a Just Cause. That thought is far too terrifying to contemplate.

She draws a deep breath and glances at Bayne. He has gotten control of his breathing finally and is waiting for her response. Sir Fenruffle is waiting for her response.

But the White Queen has no response to this. Despite the warmth of her husband’s arm against her shoulders, Mirana is utterly alone.

I need my Champion!

“Chessur,” Mirana asks shakily. “Does Alice have a plan?”

“Well, she did not say as much to me, but...”

“But?” she prompts.

Chessur sighs fondly. “But, my dear queen, when doesnt she?”

And because that is absolutely true, Mirana manages to collect herself. Tarra is fine. An assault is not necessary. Alice will be here soon. Everything is under control.

“Yes,” she replies, speaking with confidence for what feels like the first time since Master Setteeson had arrived so many days ago. She pats Dale’s hand and concurs, “Yes, you are quite right, Chessur. When doesn’t she?”

It is not a question.

It is a guarantee.


Thanks to a bit of luck, a spark of intuition, and an obliging looking glass, Lowell Manchester’s killer had been revealed.


Tamial Hightopp of Iplam, Magician of Mirrors, does not know what to do about it!

“Win?” he whispers following a very uncomfortable dinner with his aunt, uncle, and cousins during which Winslow had been very, very surly.

His cousin continues stomping up the stairs, not pausing, slowing or looking back over his shoulder. “What?”

Tam hesitates, oddly anxious in his friend’s presence as he never has been before. Perhaps it’s because he’d most recently heard that tone of voice from Lowell Manchester. He shakes his head, trying to knock the memory out of his skull. “Shall I come up with you?”

“No. I want to be alone.”

Stunned, Tam stands on the step midway up the stairs and listens to his cousin storm down the second floor hallway. He flinches when a door slams shut, echoing throughout the house.

“I don’t know what you did,” a bossy tone informs him, “but you’d better do something about it.”

He turns and regards Laney who is glaring at him with her fists on her hips. “Like what?” he dares her to answer, irritated by the command.

“Apologize,” she suggests.

“This isn’t my fault!” In fact, Tam would argue that if it’s anyone’s fault, it’s Win’s! He’s the one who wanted to see the duel for himself! Hes the one who wanted to know who really killed Lowell Manchester!

“Then tell my father about it and let him sort it out. He’s good at that sort of thing, you know.”

Tam doesn’t, actually – he’s never spoken much with his Uncle Hamish – but he nods as he rolls that thought over in his mind. Looking somewhat satisfied, Laney brushes past him and heads upstairs.

He lingers on the steps and thinks. Ever since they’d come back through the mirror, Win has been... well, angry. Tam had tried to talk to him, had asked him what he wanted to do now... Furious silence had been his cousin’s only response.

Tam doesn’t like this. Winslow always has an answer for everything!

Not for the first time, Tam regrets ever opening the looking glass, ever stepping into the past, ever finding out what sort of man Lowell Manchester had been and the sort of man Win’s grandfather is.

He killed his own son!

Tam can’t comprehend it. He just... cant.

Maybe thats whats making Win so angry – he doesnt understand it either...

He sighs. He hates admitting that he needs help. He really does. But, as his Fa sometimes says, “Others may not be able to help you think, but they can help you See.”

Mind made up, Tam turns around and heads back down the stairs to the drawing room. He’s still trying to think of how to explain the situation without incriminating himself or Win when Aunt Margaret’s voice floats down the hall to him.

“... could be wrong with Winslow? I’ve never seen him so...”

“Yes,” Uncle Hamish agrees gravely. “He looked...”

“He looked just like a younger version of Lowell tonight,” she replies, her voice muffled.

Tam creeps forward and peers around the door jamb. There, in the center of the room, Uncle Hamish stands with his arms around Aunt Margaret as she presses her face into his shoulder. Instantly feeling uncomfortable at having seen them look so... sad and... weak, Tam pulls back into the hall to spend a few more moments with his thoughts.

Win had looked like his father tonight. Had looked more like him tonight than he had last night at diner. Surely, that must be a Bad Thing. Especially since Tam has seen exactly what kind of man Lowell Manchester had been.

And then another thought occurs to him: what will Uncle Hamish do if Win doesnt go back to normal soon? Will his uncle... will he be just like Lord Manchester and...?!

And then it is as if the Fates – which he’s sure ought to lurking in Underland and not sticking their noses in other people’s business Up Here! – had heard his fearful thoughts:

Uncle Hamish decrees, “If he continues to behave like this, we’ll set him to rights.”

“But perhaps he...”

“No! I’ll not allow you to say it, darling. We’ll do what’s necessary to ensure he does not turn into that rotter!

Tam gasps. Could he mean...?! Is he going to...?!

The thought is incomplete – unthinkable! – but his panic is fully formed.

“No! Dont!” Tam hears himself shout as he barges into the room, startling his aunt and uncle. They step apart but Tam doesn’t pause to apologize for scaring them. This is Too Important! “Please don’t blame Winslow! This is my fault!”

“Your fault, dear?” Margaret asks. “Why would you say that?”

“Er...” Oh, blundering Bandersnatches! Now what, genius? “Um, just please don’t... don’t hurt Win fer actin’ like ’is Fa.” Tam winces as his words trip off his tongue in brogue. He sighs; perhaps there are times when acting like your father is just natural.

“Tamial, we would never hurt Winslow,” his aunt insists. “Why would you say such a thing?”

Tam glances behind him at the open door. Suddenly his rush to stand in as Win’s Champion doesn’t seem like such a great idea. The safety of the hallway and the nearest looking lass of adequate size beckons...

“Tamial,” Uncle Hamish says sternly. “Close the door and have a seat, young man.”

His heart pounds in his chest as he complies. He tries not to think of nails and coffins.

Tam trudges over to the seat Uncle Hamish points to and sits himself in it. He clasps his hands in his lap, hating the gesture even as he does it – I’m supposed to be too old to feel this ashamed of myself! – but he can’t help it with Uncle Hamish’s stern, blue gaze focused on him. He wonders if Uncle Hamish really could... hurt Win for acting like... his father. His dead father. Tam shivers.

“Talk to me, dear,” Aunt Margaret says. “What has happened to upset Winslow? Did you two get into an argument.”

“Er... no. Not... no.”

She waits. He fidgets. It’s hard to resist Aunt Margaret’s Look but it’s possible. When Uncle Hamish clears his throat, Tam reflexively glances up at him and quells beneath the force of the man’s frown.

Tam closes his eyes briefly and sighs. There’s no hope for it; he’ll get in Big Trouble for this. So will Winslow. In fact, his cousin may never forgive him. Still, Tam takes comfort in the sudden memory of his Mam and Fa. They would want him to tell the truth. They would want him to help Win. Even if it means getting himself into Serious Trouble.

“Win and I... we heard you fought Lowell Manchester in a duel a long time ago, Uncle Hamish,” Tamial admits, carefully editing the events to spare Win as much as he can. “And I... I opened a looking glass and... I asked it to show us the duel... and it did.”

“I... beg your pardon?” his uncle rasps.

Oh, yes: when they figure out just what he’d done, it’s going to be Bad. Epically Bad. But there’s no turning back now. “I opened a looking glass to the past, sir.”

For a minute, Tam wonders if he’d merely imagined saying that and hadn’t actually said anything at all. But, if that were the case, wouldn’t Uncle Hamish and Aunt Margaret be demanding he say something right about now? They aren’t. In fact, they don’t even seem to notice that no one is talking at all.

Somehow, the silence is Not Comforting.

“Er...” he says.

“The past?” his aunt murmurs. “Tamial, that’s not possible.”

“I didn’t think it would be, either. But I asked the mirror to show us the duel, and it did.”

“You... you saw...?” Aunt Margaret asks as Uncle Hamish is clearly too stunned to do so.

“The duel? Absolutely.” He glances hesitantly at his uncle. “You were really good with a sword.” The thought of Uncle Hamish fighting reminds him of something else: “Why did you ask my Fa to stand with you? Did you really fight Lowell Manchester for Aunt Margaret?”

The man chokes.

“Fight Lowell for... me?” his aunt gasps. “I... Where did you hear that?

Oh, blast! “Um... well... We heard, well, that is, I heard a rumor that Uncle Hamish wanted to marry you when you were still married to Lord Manchester and that’s why they fought.” Yes, Tam decides, its much easier talking to Aunt Margaret about this.

Uncle Hamish is still gaping at him, his complexion reddening, when Aunt Margaret reaches out and pats Tam’s hands. “No, dear. Your Uncle Hamish tried to help Lowell but he... misunderstood and took offense.”

Tam scowls, trying to comprehend that. “How can someone get angry when you try to help them?” But even as the words leave his mouth, he thinks of Win.

“It’s... complicated,” she admits. “And not very relevant at the moment. Where did you hear such a rumor?”

Tam finds himself fidgeting again; this conversation is not going very well at all! “A man told us.” He digs though his memory for the name of the man who had gone to the duel with Lowell, who had pulled out a gun and then had thrown his Fa’s knife at Uncle Hamish and hit Lowell instead. For the first time, Tamial spends a moment thinking about that man and decides he probably shouldn’t be trusted.

“Mister Blakefield,” he says without further prompting.

“That rotter!” his uncle growls, turning away and pacing furiously.

Tam and Aunt Margaret watch him for a moment. “Um... Uncle Hamish knows Mister Blakefield?” Tam whispers to his aunt.

“Yes,” she answers. “They are very old... acquaintances.”

“Hah!” his uncle barks, startling Tam. “Acquaintances don’t try to turn their associate’s own son against them!”

“I can see why Win is so upset,” Aunt Margaret muses, “but, please, Hamish, let’s not lose our heads over that man. We’ll deal with him later.”

“I’ll lose my head if I bloody want to!” Uncle Hamish rages.

Amazingly, Aunt Margaret stands and moves toward him. Tam leaps out of his chair and grasps her elbow. “No!” He steps between them, remembering how Lowell had grabbed her, had sneered at her, had hurt her. Uncle Hamish is easily as angry as Lowell had been but Tam does not have to simply stand by and watch his aunt be hurt this time!

“Tamial?” Aunt Margaret says, laying a hand on his shoulder. Only then does he realize his fists are clenched and the room is utterly silent. Even his uncle had stopped his furious pacing and angry shouts.

“I... I’m sorry,” Tam says, unsure of what else he ought to say.

“Did you believe,” Uncle Hamish asks in a shocked tone, “that I would hurt your aunt just now?”

“Well... you were really angry,” Tam admits awkwardly.

“And have you seen people hurt each other when they are angry?” Aunt Margaret asks.

Tam sighs, nods, and figures he might as well tell them everything. At this point, he’s too tired and confused to keep secrets anymore. “We – Win and I – when we went through the looking glass, we followed Lowell Manchester home and we saw...” He looks up at his aunt then glances away, uncomfortable with the memory. “We saw you try to help him but he... he was so angry and he... he hurt you and... and then you called for the doctor.”

“Oh, my Lord...” His aunt sinks down into her chair again.

Unable to look at his aunt, he glances at his uncle who looks much paler than usual. “What did you see, Tamial?” he asks.

“Er... he grabbed Aunt Margaret’s wrists and... he said some very bad things to her. And the he pushed her and she... fell.” Tam can’t resist looking in her direction although he doesn’t try to read her expression. “You didn’t ask the doctor to check your face when he arrived. And... before that... when you were in the first floor water closet... Win could hear.”

“Oh, no... No...” she whispers, sounding thoroughly wretched. “I never wanted him to see – to know – what Lowell...”

Uncle Hamish strides over to her and places his hands on his wife’s shoulders. “We’ll talk to him. Explain.”

“Yes,” she agrees, accepting the handkerchief he offers her and dabs at her eyes. After a moment, she takes a deep breath. “Yes, we will.” She then turns and addresses Tam again. “But that still doesn’t explain why you feared we would hurt Winslow for behaving in a... similar manner to...”

Tam takes a deep breath. He thinks of his Mam, the White Queen’s Champion. He thinks of his Fa, Uncle Hamish’s best friend. A Champion and a Friend. Tam would like to be both for his cousin. And he knows what his parents would do in this situation.

He looks up and confesses, “The truth is... Win got a letter from someone just before the anniversary party...” And so Tam describes the conversation at the pawn shop and how he’d hidden because Win had had to appear to be alone.

“But we didn’t know how to confirm what he said... And then, this afternoon, after Win’s lessons were finished, I got the idea to try the mirror. I asked it to show us the duel.”

And then he tells them about what they’d seen and how no one had seemed to hear either him or Win. No one had seen either of them, either. “It was like we were ghosts,” Tam confesses. “So, when Lowell hurt you... I’m so sorry, Aunt Margaret. We couldn’t stop him.”

He doesn’t tell her that they had been too shocked to even consider trying to save her. That would be too mortifying to ever admit to!

“It’s all right,” she assures him. “I was fine and he never hurt me again.”

Tam winces. “I... I know.”

“You do?”

He nods. “I... I didn’t only ask the mirror to show us the duel.” He glances at Uncle Hamish apologetically. “I also asked it to show us who really killed Lowell Manchester.”

“Tamial...” his aunt says softly. “No one killed Lowell. He died on the journey to America...”

“He was supposed to,” Tam interrupts her.

“I don’t... I don’t understand,” she replies. The words seem to indicate that she expects an explanation, but her tone seems to ask him not to explain at all.

“That evening, Lord Manchester visited,” Tam continues hesitantly.

She nods. “Yes. I remember.”

“He... he ordered Lowell to go to America. And, as he was leaving, he said... he said...” Tam swallows, gathers his courage, and... “He said he would send Lowell to America, but that Lowell would never step foot on it.”

“No...” Aunt Margaret replies. “No, you must have misunderstood, Tamial. Lord Manchester would never...

Tam says, tries to explain, “After... after Lowell hurt you, Winslow wanted to come back but... I didn’t know how to open the mirror on that... that side. I tried everything, but we couldn’t leave. But then, after we heard Lord Manchester say... those things... suddenly we were back. In my room upstairs. Like nothing had happened.” But So Much had happened! Far too much!

“I could take you back there,” he offers – mustering every last ounce of his courage to do so. “I could show you... if you wanted.”

The proposition is met with silence. The very silentest sort of silence.

“You really believe you could, don’t you?” Uncle Hamish wonders aloud.

Tam looks up. Frowns. “Of course I do. I did it already!” And there’s no reason for the mirror to refuse him so long as he asks nicely!

“Hamish,” Margaret interjects. “That’s hardly the point now. Tamial has provided sufficient details to prove to me that he has seen what he’s said he’s seen.” She turns back to him and confirms, “And Winslow saw and heard all of this with you?”

He nods. “I think he’s angry because... well, I dunno. He didn’t like Lowell Manchester very much. And... Lord Manchester... he really... Well, he must have really... done what he said he did because I don’t think the mirror would lie about something like that...”

Margaret smiles, but the expression somehow looks very sad. “No, I don’t imagine mirrors can lie. They have never lied to me, in any case.” She looks up at her husband and says, “We need to talk to Winslow.”

Tam lets out a blustery sigh. “He’ll know I told you. He’ll never want to speak to me again. Maybe I could just go home?”

Aunt Margaret pats his knee. “We’ll discuss that in the morning. Come on,” she continues without even glancing at the clock, “it’s time for bed.”

Although his aunt doesn’t look at the clock as she announces the time, Tam feels compelled to confirm it, and he is wryly amused at the fact that she is right. It’s nearly ten o’clock: well past bedtime.

He lets his aunt and uncle gesture him up from his chair. “What will you tell Win? About his father? About his grandfather?”

“The truth,” his uncle answers.

“We will tell him that his father did have several good qualities – charm, wit, humor – when I married him, but that he became ill. And yes,” Aunt Margaret continues, answering Tam’s unasked question, “overindulgence in drink and gambling is an illness, dear. A very serious one. The man you saw was not himself, and had not been in a very long time.”

“And... Lord Manchester?” he dares, whispering.

“Tamial does not have to see that man if he does not wish to,” Uncle Hamish declares. “I will look into what really happened aboard the ship – that should not be too difficult a task to accomplish as the ship was one of ours and the company keeps very thorough records. One way or another, we will sort this out.”

“All right.”

Tam receives an escort to his room, quiet thanks for his help, and a wish for pleasant dreams. He doesn’t think he’ll have any though. Despite insisting that he – and everything else – is all right, he doesn’t truly feel that way. Thanks to Time flying with him, he is thirteen years old instead of eleven, but tonight he feels younger than he can ever remember feeling. Young... and unsure. Everything is not all right: Win’s father had not been a nice man and Win’s own grandfather had somehow killed him. No, everything is not All Right. In order for everything to really be all right, Tam suspects it would have to be his Mam and Fa wishing him a gehd night with callaycious dreams.

As he climbs into bed, he closes his eyes and imagines that they are doing just that...

Still, the reality of it would have been better.


One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 10 of 15

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