Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 11 of 15

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One Promise Kept: Book 4

The Bandersnatch arrives well after sunset, rousing the entire castle and threatening the stability of its foundation with each ear-pounding, stone-shaking, booming Grruuff!

“Open the gate,” Alice instructs a wincing guard who seems to be in too much discomfort to notice that Alice had hurried outside barefoot with her shabby, borrowed housecoat only half on over her equally shabby and obviously borrowed shrift. “I’ll calm him down. Just open the gate.” The vulture on duty doesn’t have to be told a third time.

The great doors swing open and Alice is nearly bowled over by the frumious beast. (Truly, it is remarkable that a single day away from his groomers at Mamoreal can result in such a stench. He hasn’t smelled this bad since she’d traded his eye for the Vorpal Sword!) She thinks fleetingly of the brief bath she’d had earlier – had it been only that afternoon? – and then his great, flapping tongue is nearly pushing her over in its slimy enthusiasm to taste that she is truly all right.

“Gah! I’m fine, Bandy,” she insists, waving her arms in protest.


“Yes. Really.”

He eyes her as she tries to wipe the worst of the slobber off of herself with the skirt of the robe.

“Grrrl...” he intones solemnly, looking rather apologetic.

“Uh huh,” she says, not in a particularly forgiving mood at the moment. “Where have you been? Didn’t Bayto find you last night?”

She receives a series of whine-ish growls that she imagines – and since she still can’t speak Bandersnatch, she can only imagine! – are a litany of excuses.

“Never mind. You’re here now,” she says, cutting off what appears to be a thorough self-flagellation. “Thank you for coming.”

He sighs gratefully and she rubs his ears. Luckily, he seems perfectly content to spend the night in the courtyard rather than try to follow her inside the castle and back to the room she is sharing with Tarrant. Although, by the supremely offended look on her husband’s face when she returns, she half expects to find herself keeping Bandy company in the yard tonight.

“So, that was the Bandersnatch arriving,” he deduces. He doesn’t bother to ask. He can smell the answer from all the way over there, apparently.

“I requested a bath on my way back,” she consoles him.

“And once you have partaken of it, I shall thank you generously.

She does and he delivers on that promise, gathering her against his right side and conducting a very Thorough survey of her face and neck with his lips. She falls asleep with her hand over his Heart Mark and his warm breath puffing rhythmically against her once-again washed hair.

Yet another commotion wakes her what seems like only moments later.

“Tha’snot Bandy,” she grumbles, mouthing the words against the sheets.

Tarrant rubs her back consolingly. “I believe that would be the carriage and contingent of the White Guard you ordered, Lady Hightopp.”


The twinge of puzzled amusement she feels traveling like a drunken sailor up her heart line from Tarrant tickles her into rolling over and groping toward the edge of the bed. Despite the fact that every muscle in her body screams in silent protest against the action, she manages to stand. “Bloody boggletogs,” she grumps, wincing as she bends over to collect her just-laundered breeches and patched tunic. “Why do people have to wear so many clothes?”

Tarrant snorts, giggles, and whispers, “Perhaps it is merely an attempt at self-restraint.”

“Self-restraint?” she echoes blankly, but when she glances over her shoulder at him and observes his appreciative stare aimed at her bare back, she Understands. “Ah. Perhaps.” And at times and in places like the one they are currently occupying now, Restraint is very needful, indeed.

As Jaspien orders his trunks brought downstairs, Alice nods to the Queen’s Guard (several of whom had volunteered to be her sparring partner on one or two occasions) and nudges Tarrant into the carriage. The supplies she’d requested are there and she smooths a dose of Pain Paste – quality Pain Paste and properly brewed to boot! – on his wound. Someone had thoughtfully included a basket of Mamoreal edibles and as the trunks are lifted onto the back of the carriage and lashed into place, they eat their morning meal which, thankfully, does not taste of gamy meat and mud.

Mindful of how the quality of food seems to have decreased since Jaspien’s imprisonment had begun nearly two decades years ago, Alice reluctantly saves a serving for him. He had acted as their host, after all. It’s the least she can do... well, aside from granting his boon. Which reminds her...

After they have gotten underway and after Jaspien has inspected and gnawed through each morsel, Alice ignores the fact that Tarrant is still glaring at the man and asks, “What is it – precisely – you hope to gain from this venture, sir?”

“My gains need not be precise,” he counters in a bland tone. “Nor need they be mine exclusively. If I’m not mistaken, this is the time of the Barterment, is it not?”

“Yes. In a few days.”

“Then the timing of your visit could not have been better,” he informs them. “My people have tanned leather to trade for necessities. That is my primary objective.”

“So you do not wish to speak to the queen?” Alice clarifies. She had assumed – from what she’d heard from the maid the day before – that Jaspien would try to bargain for a lighter sentence or attempt to persuade the queen that he has paid his debt for his betrayal.

He sighs. “I would like to present my case, of course. However, I realize that is not something you have the authority to guarantee me, Champion Alice.”

“What makes you think that it is within my power to grant you safe passage to Mamoreal?”

He blinks his watery and unremarkable eyes at her. “Frankly, I did not expect you to even honor this request. Why would I have asked for a second? Necessities concern me,” he replies in a disinterested tone. “I do not waste time considering luxuries.”

And with that, the man folds his arms over his chest, settles back against the bench seat, and dozes. Alice reaches for Tarrant’s hand in the silence and his fingers meet her halfway. She glances out the window and smiles for the Bandersnatch which is keeping up with the pace of the horses just fine. She does not curl into her husband’s warmth, although she wants to. She wants to forget what is waiting for her in Mamoreal: a queen, a turn-coat princess, a revolution.

She reminds herself that Tam is safe; Tarrant is healing; she is the Queen’s Champion and if there is a revolution to be faced, then she will face it.

The anxiety she feels burning her heart from the outside in lets her know that Tarrant’s thoughts are probably not dissimilar to her own. Of course he doesn’t want her to fight. Of course he worries that the next time someone swings a blade at her throat she will not step back quickly enough. She worries a little about that as well; it has been months since Alice has had a day of serious training. However, there is no changing that fact. Not now. With a concentrated effort, Alice focuses on the things she can change, the duties she can perform.

There is a queen to advise.

A rebel cause to confirm and consider.

And, if her suspicions are on target, then there will also be a Champion’s Challenge to answer.

She narrows her eyes in thought as she recalls the most recent conversation she had shared with her apprentice:

“Tarra, what do you think you’re doing?”

“What does it look like, Champion?”

“It looks like you’re experiencing a very Serious Error in Judgment.”

“Does it? That’s... interesting. Although not very surprising. You never were strong enough to go against my mother.”

“And you fancy yourself in that role now?”

“What do you think?”

And she does. She thinks; she Believes...

She closes her eyes and sighs. Alice can see where this path leads. If the information she has is correct – if these rebels are who they seem to be: willfully ignorant children – then there is only one way to end this. For good. And Tarrant is not going to like it at all. In fact, this path scares her. Luckily, they have several hours of travel left yet during which time Alice can make an effort to resign herself to what is coming.

Beside her, Tarrant twitches and inhales sharply, no doubt in reply to the heart ache that had throbbed through her before she could manage to subdue it.

“What are thinking, Alice?” Tarrant asks in a very soft tone, his inquiry resonating along the heart line, which, by the feel of it, has healed as much as it can. It seems... muffled or a bit smothered, but she can feel him better now than she had before. It is progress she receives gladly.

She looks into his eyes which are a bit more yellow than she would like. Her fingers move over the back of his right hand and she points a finger toward their travel companion. He appears to be sound asleep, yes, but Alice can’t risk the chance that he’s not. And the subject of her thoughts... well, even if she and Tarrant had been traveling alone, she would have been wary of discussing her thoughts here. In a carriage of questionable durability.

“About the Barterment,” she answers just as softly. “The hides from Causwick might change things a bit in our favor.”

“How so?”

As Alice explains a bit about the dynamics of supply and demand – what she can remember of it from her time apprenticing with the trading company, that is – the land rolls past. Even though the horses had not been given much time to rest after they’d arrived at Causwick, the carriage makes good time. They arrive at Mamoreal sooner than Alice would have thought possible. Yesterday, this safe haven had seemed years away, an impossible distance for their feet and wills to manage. And yet here they are. In only a half dozen hours.

The carriage pulls to a halt just outside the outer gates, waking Jaspien. The man scowls out the window and observes, “We’re outside the castle.”

“Yes,” Alice replies, opening the door.

“And... we are disembarking here?

“Did you actually believe I would permit you to enter the castle without having you thoroughly searched first?”

“I... beg your pardon?”

Alice explains patiently as the guard begins to untie the trunks from the boot of the carriage, “Your things will have to pass inspection before I can allow them within the castle walls.”

The man ignores the intent stare Tarrant is giving him and replies in an irked tone, “Champion Alice, what could I possibly be attempting to transport other than what I have claimed?”

“I can’t answer that,” she replies. “But it is my job to ensure that your visit here poses no threats whatsoever. So. You can choose to submit yourself to a search of your person or you can make your own way back to Causwick Callion.”

Although he is very unhappy about what he no doubt sees as a violation of his person, he consents. Alice instructs the senior member of the guard not to escort Jaspien into the castle until every weapon, potion, powder, or questionable item has been confiscated and destroyed. She then reaches for Tarrant’s hand and strides up the drive, leaving the ruler of the Callion at the White Army’s tender mercies.

“Do you think that was really necessary?” Tarrant muses, his eyes gleaming with amusement.

Alice smirks. “Do I think he’s actually planning an assassination or some such act of violence? No. However, it is necessary in that we need a little time alone with Mirana to sort things out. And Jaspien needs to know that we still don’t trust him.” She tilts her head to the side, considering. “If he has any sense at all, he’ll use this time to think about how he might take this chance to begin making amends for his past actions.”

“Alice...” Tarrant warns her softly. “There is no forgiveness for his treachery.”

“None that you would offer him,” she corrects him.

“Aye. I cannae f’rgive his orderin’ yer capture.”

“I’m not asking you to, Raven.” And she never will.

They climb the stairs and Alice smiles at Lakerton, who opens the front doors for them. Before she can ask to see the queen, Nivens scrambles into the foyer, nearly tangling up his legs and tripping himself in his haste.

“You’re back! Youre back! And you’re LATE!” he insists without conferring with his pocket watch.

“A bad habit, I know,” she replies wryly.

In true McTwisp fashion, the white rabbit doesn’t even comment on Tarrant’s left arm which is still cradled in a sling across his chest. Alice doubts he even notices though his irritation. “Well, come along! Come along! You mustn’t keep her majesty waiting!”

“We’re waiting on ye teh announce us,” Tarrant reminds him.

“Oh, goodness! Yes, follow me!”

They climb the stairs, stride down the hall, open the door - “Gently, please! I’ve been slammed more times than I can count in the last two days!” the doorknob begs pitifully – and then...


“Mirana,” Alice replies, wrapping her arms around the queen.

“You’ve heard... you know that... that...”

“Yes, although I should like to hear it once more, just to be sure. And,” she continues, alternately patting her friend on the shoulder and rubbing her back, “I should very much like to know where the majority of the White Army is. The grounds seem rather... empty.”

“Of course. Of course.” The queen gathers herself and invites Alice and Tarrant to join her and the king in the sitting area of her office. They do and the queen reaches for her husband’s hand as she confesses, “I ordered the army to Crimson Harbor.”

Alice feels herself stiffen. She can easily imagine how that must have looked to the citizens of the White Realm, watching as the army had stormed its way through Underland...


Mirana takes a deep breath. “I ordered them to detain the rebels only. To retrieve Tarra safely and bring her home.”


“But this,” Mirana tells her, reaching for a roll of parchment and handing it to her. “It arrived last night. Bayne reported that Tarra delivered this herself. She stepped out to meet the army but she didn’t – wouldnt...

Accepting it, Alice leans back in her chair and unfurls the document, reads it, and bites back a smile.

“A Champion’s Challenge,” she observes as neutrally as possible. Yes, her Belief in Tarra has not been misplaced. “The only thing that could stop an assault from an army,” Alice continues. “And the only thing that could prevent the army from bringing her home: she’s vowed her services to the New Resistance and they are Challenging you. I believe she may have done you a great favor, Your Majesty.”

Mirana gapes at her. “Alice... how can you say that? She... she..!

Alice briefly grasps Tarrant’s hand and forces a cleansing breath. This is the moment, she sees, in which her musings in the carriage earlier will come to the forefront. She wishes she could have found a way to prepare her husband for this... but she is not sure it would have made a difference.

Alice stands, crosses the rug, and kneels at her friend’s feet. “Mirana,” she answers softly, “Your Majesty,” continues with a glance toward the king, “Tarra is doing precisely what I have trained her to do. She is acting as your Champion even now. And she is trusting us to bring her home. However, that route cannot be accomplished with an army escort.”

She pauses as Tarrant’s emotions begin to intensify through their now-imperfect connection. His mind is racing, she knows. He’s thinking ahead, following the path of her logic and considering the only strategy that has a hope of resolving this issue once and for all. And he is not liking it. Not one bit.

“Your Majesties,” Alice tells them both, hating that she must leave Tarrant to this discovery without the comfort of her touch, her physical presence. But her vows hold her here, now. There is nothing she can do for her husband. Not now. Later, however... “Allow me to answer the Challenge. Accept.”

Mirana shakes her head. “But... Alice! If we accept then we must meet on the battlefield and if you begin the duel...”

“One of us must die,” Alice replies, trying to remain calm as Tarrant’s agitation burns through Anxiety and approaches Terror-Panic-Fury-MADNESS! “Yes. That is the point, Your Majesties. These rebels... these children have never seen Death. They think battle is glorious and honorable. We must show them precisely what it is they are seeking. Tarra will rally them all together – each and every one of them – and then we will show them Death.” This declaration is met with silence. Alice concludes, “But I have not forgotten my promise to bring Tarra home safely. She will be. It won’t be your daughter who falls. I promise.”

“Alice...” the king pleads hoarsely. “We cannot...”

She sighs. “It is the best option for ending this peaceably and with as little bloodshed as possible. These children want to fight. We must convince them that what they want is vile and not at all what they believe it to be.” Alice turns toward the queen. “You have both raised children. You know they will not listen to reason, not when they believe they are in the right and we are in the wrong.”

She stands. “Please, trust me in this.” The words are not only meant for the queen and king.

“Alice,” Mirana begins, looking lost, distraught, on the verge of tears.

“You are not choosing your daughter’s life over mine,” Alice assures her. “I am choosing her life. This is my choice. Please accept it. Let me show these children what war is. Let Tarra come home.”

And because Mirana is a mother, she cannot do anything other than agree. She nods, tears rolling down her face.

Alice offers her most reassuring smile through the burning of her Heart Mark. “If you’ll excuse Tarrant and I for a moment...?”

“Oh! Of... of course,” Mirana replies, clearly remembering that Tarrant is present. She glances around Alice to where he is no doubt gripping the right armrest of the chair with enough force to reshape the wood. Whatever she sees is not pleasant; Mirana cringes at the sight. “Come, Dale. We need to speak to the children.”

As the queen leads her husband from the room, Alice turns, takes this moment to absorb the sight of her husband while he still has the means and the motivation to restrain himself. For what she has just sworn to do, she doesn’t doubt he is furious enough to kill her himself. Or, more likely, hie away with her to Upland and smash every mirror in existence.

His eyes are the darkest red she has ever seen. The color matches his heart line – her blood – actually. His face is pale – too pale – and set as if carved from stone.

“I am not breaking my promise,” she informs him softly, moving to kneel at his feet. “I am choosing us.”

“You are choosing to die,” he answers in the voice of the Blackness. Alice aches to touch him, but she doesn’t. She knows what one touch could lead to and while she might not be opposed to confronting his violence and passion all at once, she knows that he would not be able to forgive himself for permitting the Blackness to control-dominate-claim! her a second time.

Think, Raven. There is a way.”

His eyelids twitch as he does just that. He thinks. And his eye color begins to fade into a lighter, more rational hue.

“I will need your help,” she tells him. “This is one of the things that only you and I can do... together. Please, Tarrant.”

He is still furious – his orange irises and the simmering heat over her heart attest to that – but he is beginning to See...

“The queen needs us. Underland needs us,” she reminds him. “And I need you.”

Alice dares to touch him, then. She places her hands on his knees and feels him shudder in reaction. She dares a bit more, rising to her feet and seating herself on his lap, careful of his left shoulder and arm – the Pain Paste will likely not have healed a stab wound that deep in only a handful of hours. She places her hands on his cheeks and presses her forehead to his.

“I need you,” she pleads, her heart aching with his as his irises shift in color yet again; this time into the color of pure misery: black. She cannot bear the sight of it so she closes her eyes, but that only directs her attention to the emotions pouring out over her heart, drenching her in the flames of his desolation.

But she forces herself to say the words. This is the only way. The best way. And he must Trust her!

“Tarrant, I need you to help me die.”



Tamial Hightopp – purveyor of the Past and sharer of Secrets – has been demoted, just as he’d expected.

That doesn’t make him feel any better, though.

He watches from the parlor window as the carriage pulls away. The carriage in which Uncle Hamish and Win are riding. The carriage they will take to the company office to look up the name of the captain and each member of the crew that had sailed on the ship Lowell Manchester had left for America aboard. The carriage that will take them on their adventure. Or rather, the carriage they will use to complete Tam’s Adventure.

Yes, he’s jealous. This time yesterday afternoon, this adventure had belonged to him and Win. Just the two of them. If he’d known that Uncle Hamish would be taking his place, he wouldn’t have been so quick to confess to what they’d seen in the looking glass, that’s for sure!

Or... is it?

Tam sighs. Last night, despite telling secrets and confessing to Things he Should Not Have Done – confessed voluntarily! Without being caught or even suspected beforehand! – he had felt... Well, of course he’d been scared at the time. The things he’d seen had been scary. And thoughts of his punishment for being so reckless had been a little frightening. But, last night, he’d felt... stronger. Strong enough to take his punishments – whatever they would be – because it had been more important to help Win. Last night, he’d felt a little bit... heroic.

Today, however, he feels like a heel.

It could have been him going out with Win, infiltrating Uncle Hamish’s office during the man’s “croquet match” and trying to deduce who might have done Lord Manchester’s dirty work for him aboard the ship. Lowell hadn’t boarded it already dead, of course! So... how had they done it? Had it been the captain and a poisoned bottle of liquor? Had it been a sailor and an argument over a card game? Had it been an anonymous shove during a storm, an “accidental” knock on the head?

Tam shivers. His Imagination is making his mind a very Dark and Unsettling place today. The weather doesn’t help, either; it’s raining. Again.

He’s tempted to go back upstairs to the looking glass and request a nice sunny day to escape to!

At the thought of sunny days, Tam recalls the gardens around the castle at Mamoreal. He misses those warm days. He misses his friends. He wonders about Lanny and Ian... and he wonders about that little rath they’d found before Tam had been told to pack up his things.

“We’re going home to Iplam,” his Fa had said and, at the time, the words had made no sense whatsoever. Iplam had always been That Place Where We Spend A Few Weeks Every Summer Working Hard Building and Fixing Things. It had never been home. Not to Tam. The castle was – is – home! And he misses everything about it:

His two best friends and the croquet pitch...

The four young jabberwockies that sometimes swoop down for a visit and the gossiping cherry trees...

Thackery’s nonsensical and haltingly told tales as he bangs around in the kitchen...

Mally’s stern lectures on the proper way to pass the sugar at tea...

The hat workshop...

The balconies...

The chatty doorknobs and grouchy keyholes and...

“Tamial? Are you all right?”

He looks up as Aunt Margaret lays a hand on his shoulder. He doesn’t want her to see him cry, so he turns back to the window and glares out at the gray day and rain-drenched street.

“I wanted to go with them,” he mutters.

She sighs. “And they would have invited you, but your father is very upset that you’d traveled through the looking glass without permission.”

“You didn’t have to tell them...” Oh, the betrayal! Why, when he grows up, he’s going to be Different. No, he won’t run around telling adventuresome children’s parents what they’ve been up to!

“Yes, I did, dear,” she replies.

Well. There’s really no way to argue with that. He huffs. Grown ups!

“When can I go home?” he asks, then winces when he realizes that “home” is in Iplam, not Mamoreal. He sighs. At least the weather’s better there than it is here!

“Your father said he would come and get you tomorrow night.”

Tam nods and, having nothing else to say to the woman who had turned coat and ratted him out, he heads out of the room and toward the stairs. As Tam has no interest in books or sewing or younger cousins, he finds himself in the dusty attic again.

He listlessly searches for that parasol that Aunt Margaret had requested but he hasn’t been able to find yet. And still can’t.

He wastes the rest of the day up there... with all of the other forgotten, useless, homeless things.


After the Challenge – containing the queen’s acceptance and Alice’s signature – has been sent on its way to Crimson Harbor and the rebels (and Alice’s own apprentice) there, Alice finds the royal family in the queen’s tower parlor.

Over the years and with the birth of each child, rooms had been opened and refurbished along the spiral staircase; this tower has always been the home of Mirana’s family. Always. Well... with one recent exception: Tarra had moved into Alice’s old Champion’s quarters the same day she had donned her uniform for the first time. And this is not the first time Alice has had to interrupt the queen’s private time with her family although this is the first time doing so has unsettled her.

Yes, just as she had suspected – imagined, dreaded – they are all taking this turn of events Very Badly. Tarrant especially. There is nothing Alice can do to change what must happen – and it must happen; after deliberating on the possible outcomes during the journey back to Mamoreal, Alice had realized that this sacrifice must be made... she only hopes it will have the effect she hopes for – but her job now is to see to the queen and her children’s safety and wellbeing. There will be time for Tarrant soon, she knows. But this – her duty – must come first.

She opens the door, surveys the room, and calls forth every ounce of courage she has. She must show them that everything is fine. They must have confidence, faith, and an open mind or Alice’s death will be for naught.

“I will show you that there is nothing to fear,” Alice says, holding out a hand for Amallya to take. The young hattress is still in shock – hearing that your sister will fight for the enemy on the morrow is rather startling news – so it takes the young woman a moment before she notices Alice’s outstretched hand... and takes it. Mirana looks up from where she has pressed her face into Thacie’s hair. Next to her, Alicibeth holds her mother’s hand, looking very pale and drawn. Alice includes Chestor, Dalerian, Leivlan, and the king in her invitation. “Come with me.”

They do.

She leads them through the castle corridors and up the winding stairs of the Far South Tower... to the room where Absolem still guards and oversees the Oraculum. When she opens the door, he is perched on the podium that holds the scroll. Waiting.

“Am I late?” she asks him with a wry smile.

His wings rise and fall in the approximation of an exasperated shrug.

“Yes,” she continues, “but I’m sure you’re used to it by now.” She imagines Absolem would very much like to call her stupid again and the memory of him doing so tickles her. She struggles to keep the humor from eking out: Tarrant would most definitely not welcome the sensation. Not now. Not today.

“Look,” Alice invites the queen and Mirana steps forward to regard the silent oracle. The scene is the same as it has been for over a year:

Tarra stands with Leif beneath the arbor, his First Claw is on its leather cord but around her neck and his expression is one of pure flunderwhapped wonderment.

“How could this still be the future if Tarra isnt still acting as your Champion?” Alice asks her and Mirana shudders, reaching out blindly for her. Alice gathers the queen in her arms as the king, whose paw is resting on his wife’s back, takes his turn peering down at the scroll. Their children follow him.

Although everyone is still unnaturally silent, there is a measure of hope to it now that lifts the horrible weight from their shoulders and smooths the frowns of worry from their brows.

Mirana makes no move to untangle herself from her Champion’s embrace and so Alice nods for the king to escort the children out the still open door. Gesturing, he gathers everyone and herds them into the stairwell.

“You see?” Alice whispers softly to the queen – her friend – as the door closes behind the king and the children. “Everything will be all right.”

“No, no it won’t!” Mirana insists. “How can you even think that when you will be dead and it will be my daughter who has murdered you?”

Alice places her hands on the queen’s arms and gives her a gentle shake. “Stop. Stop this, Mirana, and listen to me! I will not turn Tarra into a murderer. I will not.

The queen stakes a deep breath and opens her eyes.

Alice promises, “The hand that delivers my death will not be Tarra’s.”

Mirana’s brow clears as Alice’s oath is absorbed by the silence. But then she frowns in thought, “Alice, whose hand then, will it be?”

She reaffirms her grip on her friend’s arms for a moment before dropping her hands. “I cannot tell you; please don’t ask.”

“But... I don’t understand...”

“I know you don’t and I’m sorry. But I need you to have faith in me, in my promise to put a stop to the rebellion, to bring your daughter home safe and unharmed. Yes, she will be Changed by these events, but she will not carry the stain of murder on her hands or soul.”

Mirana examines Alice’s face and Alice submits to the searching stare. After a long moment, the queen nods. “I believe you, Alice.”

“Thank you.”

For another moment, neither woman moves. And then Mirana sighs out a breath of relief. “Everything really will be all right,” she says and, finally, it is not a question.

“Yes. And when the time is right, step forward and offer the rebels amnesty and open negotiations.”

“Negotiations? You still believe they will want to fight after they watch you... a woman... a wife and mother... fall on the battlefield?”

Alice assures her, “It is my intention to turn them against Death, not War. The issues that gave rise to this rebellion will not have gone away. They must be addressed. We must find a way to allow the people of the White Realm to partake in all traditions that have shaped their heritage. Even fighting.”

“But I have forbidden it. The risks... My vows...”

“I know. But you will find a way,” Alice consoles her. “I trust you, Mirana, my most saganistute friend. You will find a way.”

The queen’s eyes mist with tears and Mirana’s voice quavers when she speaks. “I should forbid you to die, Alice. I will never forgive myself if I do not.”

“Don’t think on it,” Alice tells her. “Think only of Tarra, of peace, of Underland. And yes, some sacrifices must be made for that, some concessions must be given. But it will not be in vain.”

Mirana nods, defeated by Alice’s logic. Alice reaches around her and raps on the door. A moment later, the king – who stands alone on the landing – opens it and ushers his wife outside.

“Are you coming with us?” he asks softly. The sadness in his eyes tells her that he had overheard their conversation. Alice doesn’t mind; Mirana will need him to be strong for her and he will best accomplish that by understanding what she is facing.

“Not yet, Your Majesty,” she replies in an equally soft tone.

He nods. “I shall leave the door open, then.”

Alice watches them go and only when the door at the base of the turret has shut behind them does she turn back to Absolem.

“There is one thing – two things – I would like to know,” she begins. He does not look surprised by this. But, then again, nothing surprises Absolem. “Will Tarrant be all right? Will Tam understand?”

For a long moment, Absolem does nothing. He gives her no indication that he had even heard her. But then he flaps his wings, rising over the Oraculum. With practiced ease, alights on one half of the scroll and walks it closed. He continues walking and, beneath the rolled up parchment, the top of the podium moves as well. Absolem measures out a length that seems agreeable to him and then, with a flick of one of his legs, kicks it open.

Alice steps forward and looks down at the scene. It is – undeniably – of the future, of the distant future. And the scene is one that she once mentioned to Tarrant moments after she’d realized it might be Possible. And it is more than Possible. If all goes as planned, it will be Fact. A Future Fact.

She sighs. “Thank you, Absolem.”

He nods and closes the Oraculum once more. There is no reason to linger now, so Alice turns toward the open door and makes her exit.

She knows where she has to go next. She follows her feet through the castle, taking a path that is as familiar as it is missed. She goes home: to her and Tarrant’s and Tamial’s apartment, where her husband is waiting for her.

“He’s in a foul mood,” the keyhole warns her.

“Yes, I can Feel it,” she agrees and opens the door.

The room looks exactly as they’d left it when they’d left for Iplam. White sheets are still draped over the furniture. Aside from the un-sheeted looking glass through which they had sent their son to London only days earlier, Tarrant is the only source of realness in the entire room of ghostly, vague shapes.

“You took the sling off,” she observes.

“I’m fine,” he insists. In the wake of his declaration, the silence somehow seems more... alive, inescapable, malicious.

“Margaret sent a letter while we were... away,” he lisps, not looking up from the closed book in his hands. “It’s on the table.”

Alice doesn’t alter her course to collect it. She sits beside him on the sofa and wraps her arms around his shoulders. “What did she say?”

He leans his head against hers and lets out a breath. “Tam has gotten into trouble. Galumphing about London with Winslow. Opening up looking glasses and traveling into the past.”

“Did he?”

“Saw Hamish and Lowell’s duel. Your sister wants to know if that’s really possible.”

“And did you reply?”


She waits a moment, but when he doesn’t elaborate, she gently teases, “And you told her that anything is possible so long as you believe it is?”

He takes a deliberate breath, swallows, and then reaches for her arm.

“I cannae do this,” he declares, not looking up from the tome in his lap. “Please, Alice. Let us save Underland another way.”

Alice pets his hair and inhales his scent. She doesn’t answer his plea with words. Anything she would say at this point would merely be a siren’s call to the madness and she wants him sane. She will not waste a moment with him; she will not let the madness take that from him, from her, from them.

Instead, she collects the book – an encyclopedia of anatomy that had once been part of her mother’s library – and sets it aside. She’d shown him earlier precisely which diagrams they will need to concern themselves with. Alice knows she will not be able to avoid all pain, but she is not interested in tormenting herself, either.

She takes her husband’s right hand and presses it against her skin, positioning his fingers just so. He caresses the unmarred flesh with his fingertips and his gaze focuses on the area. Tomorrow morning, she will be cut open, bleeding... dying...

“No,” he whispers, snatching his hand away and pulling her close. She falls gracelessly in his lap, clutches his shoulders with her hands. “No,” he insists. “No.”

She wants to tell him that everything will be fine; she has seen the future in the Oraculum, after all. She knows that they have only to follow the path that is before them and everything will be just fine. But Tarrant takes no comfort from that document. He trusts prophecies – “And with his Vorpal Sword in hand...” – not rolls of dried up vellum, the images upon which have been known to change from time to time.

Alice closes her eyes and draws upon a line of poetry that had caught her eye one night when she’d been quizzing Tam on his lessons:

In a blaze of pragmatic invention, he shall wrestle with Fate, and shall reign...

“... Alice...”

She turns toward the warm breath against her cheek and groans into Tarrant’s hot, insistent, wet mouth. She forgets about the queen, about Jaspien, about the battle on the morrow, about the sacrifice she will make, about the hearts that will be broken.

She gives herself to him and he Takes her. She is his to do with whatever he desires, whatever he must.

He is not gentle.

But, then again, she has never asked him to be.

When his hands tremble, when he leans over her and hesitates, she reaches for him, calls him back to her with a touch, assures him that he is not alone. She is still here. Still his. She takes in the pain from his heart, halves it, marvels at the intensity of his despair. If she had believed he were capable of answering coherently, she might have asked him why...


But she doesn’t ask and he cannot say.

Which is fine, in the end. They Speak with hands and lips, legs, hips, and tight grips.

No words are necessary.


One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 11 of 15

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