Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 14 of 15

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One Promise Kept: Book 4

“How goes the negotiations?” Alice inquires later that evening and Mirana forces a brave smile.

“Absolutely nowhere,” she admits in a falsely cheerful tone as she examines first Alice’s throat and then the dinner tray Alice had managed to demolish with a little assistance from Tarrant and a cooperative spoon.

“But with Irondirk as intermediary...?”

“Alice, they want me to reinstate the profession of mercenary. You know why I can’t do that.”

“Yes. I know.” Under no circumstances can another power-hungry conspirator be allowed to rise up against the White Queen. “But there must be a compromise all can live with.”

“I have not thought of it yet. Have you, Alice?”

“When I do, you will know it.”

Mirana bids her a good night. Alice wishes her luck with the negotiations which will resume in the morning. After the door closes, Alice listens to the soft, susurrus sounds of life passing through and around Mamoreal. She listens and thinks... and is still thinking when Tarrant returns from bathing in the bathroom across the hall.

“Are you ready to speak to Tam?” he asks, still subdued despite the rest they’d taken together that afternoon.

“Is he ready to speak to me?”

Tarrant reaches for his pocket watch pocket but drops his hand, fingers twitching, before retrieving it. Perhaps it is not working today. Again. She sighs. Yes, Time does have quite the temper when it comes to her husband. And now her son as well.

“Perhaps the more important question we should be concerning ourselves with regards the two of you finding a middle ground at the same time,” he replies.

“Middle ground, yes, I see what you mean,” she comments, frowning as the idea tickles her mind. “Middle ground is very useful... in many...” Alice trails off as the idea does more than tickle now. It whirls, races, takes flight!


“Where is Jaspien?” she asks suddenly.

Tarrant scowls. “In his rooms, I should hope!”

Where she absolutely cannot visit him. Blast it all! “Well, he needs to be let out of them.” She reaches for the pull cord beside her bed to call a frog footman. Tarrant stops her. He leaps forward and snatches the pull cord away with one hand while grasping her wrist with the other.

“Wha’ d’ye think ye’re doin’?” he demands.

“Jaspien is here for the Barterment,” she replies.

“The day after tomorrow,” Tarrant confirms. “You will no doubt see him then.”

“Tonight,” she insists.

His mouth compresses into a thin line. “Be this ano’her one o’ yer duties teh Underland tha’ keeps ye from yer family?”

She winces and replies, “Yes. I’m afraid it is.”

He glares at her for a long moment. “I d’nae ken why ye don’ jus’ take yer crown an’ b’ done wi’ it.”

“My crown?”

“Aye. Ye fergot tha’, tae, o’ course.” With a huff, he sits down on the edge of the bed again, as he had earlier. “When ye were a wee lass, ye found yer way te Underland on twine occasions. On th’ second, ye were made a queen.”

“I... was?” She frowns. This seems familiar, oddly enough, but the recollection is indistinct, wispy, and slithers away before she can grasp it.


“But then... how did I become a Champion?”

“’Tis nae rule tha’ I know of tha’t’ll stop anyone from becomin’ a Champion,” he answers. “Bu’ th’ queen woul’ know more. An’...” he muses with a thoughtful look in her direction, “I wonder if yer unclaimed crown woul’ explain why ye... do th’ things ye feel ye must... fer Underland.”

Alice blinks at him for a long moment, her mind wandering through myths and legends, through vague memories of an Underland that she had dubbed Wonderland, through Uplandish pagan stories... pagan rites...

Somewhere, had she once read that pagan kings and queens – in times of strife and stress – had been called upon to bleed for their people, to give their lives to end their citizens’ torment? She shivers.

Yes, this is indeed something to take into Consideration.

But for right now...

Tarrant, no doubt Feeling her determination, sighs. “All right, Alice,” he murmurs, reaching for and pulling the cord. “Let’s get on with it and save Underland.”

“Thank you,” she says softly.

He glances at her, his eyes very green and even now turning bluer and bluer with the emotions she can feel from him along her heart line. “I wouldn’t know what to do with you if you changed now, Raven,” he confesses with a smile.

And when Algernon opens the door, he interrupts a very ardent kiss. The poor fellow looks a bit green around the gills at the sight and Alice hurriedly conveys her request so that the fish butler can make his escape.

Which he does. Gratefully.


Tarrant watches his wife – the holder of his heart and the keeper of his madness – approach the very man who had once sought to use her to gain control of the White Realm. It rankles that, even now, he cannot make that drab, gray man feel the same pain and panic and give-me-back-my-Alice-you-worthless-scut-of-a-rath! that Tarrant had endured. Time has not faded his memories or his thirst for vengeance. Perhaps, one day, he will have the latter.

But, then again...

Tarrant glances at the bandage still wrapped around his wife’s neck...

Then again, perhaps not. Perhaps there will not be any vengeance. Or, perhaps there will... In any case, he doubts he’ll be able to enjoy it.

“The guards informed me that the Causwick stock had been tampered with,” the man states factually, his bland voice echoing in the room that is empty of visitors with the exception of the three of them and two members of the White Guard, even though Alice had said not a word.

“Have you taken inventory?”

“Yes. Everything is here.”

“Good,” Alice replies.

“In your opinion, is it?” the man dares to question.

Tarrant’s hands fist but he does not interrupt. He stands by the door to the castle in the main hall where samples of goods – both finished and unworked – are displayed from all over Underland. Very shortly, each representative will begin bartering with their constituents’ needs in mind. And he will be very happy to have Alice at his side for that. Their Hightoppians are relying on them.

Alice’s response to Jaspien’s blunt question draws his attention away from the future and back to the present. “While I hold no fondness for you, sir,” she answers just as rudely, “I hold no ill will toward the people under your protection.”

Jaspien has nothing to say to that and, after a moment, Alice continues, “What will you trade for?”

“Wool, dried vegetables, wheat...”

“All things you could grow yourself,” she interrupts.

“Not in a swamp, Champion Alice.”

“So change the swamp into something that will grow vegetables and raise wool sheep.”

The solution sounds so simple Tarrant is equally as surprised by Alice’s flippant tone as Jaspien appears to be.

“And with what resources would earth works of that sort be possible?” the man sneers. Alice has obviously struck a sore spot.

“Not yours, of course. The White Queen would have the resources for that. You would, naturally, have to... make certain compromises in order to gain self-sufficiency for Causwick Callion.”

“Compromises of what sort?” the man asks, his tone thoughtful.

Alice regards the leather hides of the swamp cattle and remarks off-handedly, “Violence is not outlawed on your lands, is it?”

“No... Although it is no longer encouraged.”

“Yes, peace is best, is it not? And yet, it is in our nature to compete, to battle. That is the trouble with the White Realm. There is no... venue for these natural impulses to be... exercised.”

“Speak plainly, Champion Alice. I am too weary to unpuzzle riddles.”

“The queen needs a place where those who wish to pursue the arts of war may do so. Causwick Callion is a place where that would be possible.”

“Are you suggesting I simply give the White Queen my lands?”

“No. Of course not. How would that benefit your people?”

“It would not.”

No, Tarrant muses, the people of the Callion had journeyed there to escape the high standards of moral behavior set by the queen. They would not wish to become citizens of the White Realm.

“Precisely,” Alice agrees. “I’m sure... were you to give the issue the thought it requires, you could draft a proposal that would be... mutually beneficial.” Alice looks up at him and says, “An annual festival of war games would require campgrounds, a stadium, fields... fields, sir, that I’m sure you could find a use for when the festival is not being held.”

Jaspien regards her with his cold, gray eyes for a very long moment. Finally, he says, “Yes, I see. Perhaps the best time for such a festival would be in late autumn, to allow the participants to train during the warm summer months...”

Warm summer months... in other words, the growing season. Tarrant’s brows twitch as he considers Alice’s words. Yes, Causwick could use the cleared and drained swampland to grow their own foodstuffs and then the festival would be held following the harvest....

Alice nods. “The festival participants would be guests on your land, sir. I’m sure they would bring... gifts in exchange for your hospitality...”

“I would not ask for much...”

“But they would not be a burden. They would not deplete your food stores...”

“Hm,” the man agrees. “Yes. A proposal. Perhaps sooner rather than later.”

“I’m sure the queen would like to hear it as soon as possible. Projects of this sort require a great deal of preparation.”

“Then, if you will excuse me, I will draft your suggestions.”

Alice puts out a hand to stop him. She clarifies, “I am sure the queen would appreciate your assistance with resolving the current difficulties the White Realm is facing.”

And – amazingly enough – the unimaginative man Understands: he does not require Alice’s endorsement for the queen to hear him; he should take this opportunity to begin to mend the rift between the White Realm and Causwick; it would work in his favor to present these ideas as his own. He replies slowly, “That is... good to hear. Good evening... and thank you, Champion Alice.”

“Do not thank me; I’ve done nothing. This meeting never happened. Good evening, Prince Jaspien.”

Tarrant watches as a prideful gleam enters the man’s eyes at the sound of his old title. No, he is not a prince any longer – not in name – but he could be a prince once again: a Prince In Practice.

Alice gestures to the guards and asks them to take the man back to his rooms. “Make sure he has parchment, ink and pens. And should he wish for a message to be delivered to the queen, allow it.”

“Yes, Mistress Alice.”

“Mistress Alice...” Tarrant muses, his chest tightening with amazement and love and... “You make me unbearably be-pride-ish, lass,” he informs her.

“So, you think Mirana will accept?” she queries as he welcomes her back into his arms.

“I think... she has wanted to do something to help the people of the Callion for a considerable amount of time,” he ventures. “And I think these rebels and you, my Alice, have given her the perfect excuse to offer assistance to those who need it without going back on Jaspien’s punishment.”

“Which suits you, I see.”

He shakes his head. “I’ll sooner forget than forgive... and while I may not have the memory of a jabberwocky, I do not discard memories willy-nilly.”

“Yes, I know.”

He giggles and a bright, happy smile blossoms on Alice’s face at the sound of it. He sighs with delight; it is good to see her smile again, just as it is good to laugh again. Despite that, he has not forgotten the things that Distress him. He pushes them aside for a moment. He should not waste Alice Moments, after all. Later, he will allow himself to Remember. Later, he will grieve, rage, sob. Later.

“Everything will be all right,” Alice informs him. “And now I’m really ready to tell Tam that.”

“Then let’s locate him.” Yes, Tarrant would like to have his family back. He would like his wife and son to resolve their guilt and anger, respectively. He would like to have both of them with him at the Barterment. He would like to have both of them with him for as long as the Fates allow.

They find their son sitting on the terrace, leaning against one of the massive horse head balustrades, contemplating the pitch below. Alice gives Tarrant’s hand a squeeze before she steps outside alone and approaches their son.

Their son.

Who suddenly looks as if he has grown into his thirteen years. And more.

“That’s your Fa’s pocket watch,” Alice observes softly, seating herself on the stone railing and Tarrant blinks, noticing the object his son is turning over and over in his hands.

Tamial nods. “He gave it to me. He said I need it more than he does.”

Tarrant’s heart nearly throbs with Loss at that. He holds it back, however. He does not want Alice to think the comment is overly Significant. Yes, Tamial needs the watch more than Tarrant does. He had already consulted it... for the last time.

His son continues, “He said I should use it to find the Right Time for Things.”

“Are you having any success with it?”

“Sure. Like now for instance.”

“What time is it now?”

He sighs, squints in thought, and looks at the face of the watch. “It’s time for us to talk,” he replies.

“You can... see that?”

“I haven’t figured out how to tell him, but I think Fa already knows: I want to Master Time.”

“Of course he knows. He’s your Fa. And he’s very proud of you.”

“But he didn’t want me to see... You didn’t want me to see...”

“No, we didn’t. Of course we didn’t. Battle and death is so ugly, so horrible, Tam. Of course we want to protect you from those things.”

“Well, you didn’t.”

“No. You outsmarted us. Congratulations, darling.” The words are not sarcastic, but sad. So very sad...

“It... it doesn’t feel like...” Tam replies on a choked whisper. “I don’t feel proud of it.”

“That’s good. I don’t feel proud of it, either. Neither does your Fa. What we did on the battlefield... it was...”

“Necessary, I know. Fa explained.”

“And how did he do that?”

“He told me the people who wanted Aunt Mirana to give up her crown would start a war. He told me you had to show them how... bad war is. How bad Death is. And you did. You showed them, Mam.” Tam looks up at her. “There won’t be a war now, will there?”

“No, there won’t. Your Fa and I... we convinced them not to fight.”

“And now Aunt Mirana is talking to them?”

“Negotiating, yes. We will find a solution.”

“So... you won’t have to fight again? Be a Champion?”

Tarrant Feels his wife’s internal battle. He shares it. Alice isn’t sure if she should offer their son the truth or comfort. After a long moment, he feels her resignation and listens from the other side of the threshold as she says, “I want to tell you that I will never have to pick up a sword again. I wish I could quit, Tam. But this is who I am. Just as you are who you are... just as you can move through Time when you step into a looking glass, just as you can read your Fa’s watch whenever you want and not whenever Time lets you. It never worked very well for him, you know. Not after he...”

“... killed Time. I know, Mam. I know.”

“Yes, you do.”

And Tarrant is tempted to kill the bastard again. But no. No. He mustn’t.

“You planned everything,” he accuses her. “I should have known when Fa gave me that new jacket. It hadn’t even been washed yet.”

“I’m sorry, Tamial,” Alice says. “I should have told you why we needed you to go to London. Do you forgive me?”

Tamial considers that. “Are you going to do it again? Send me away to keep me safe?”

“We might,” she admits with brutal honesty. “Will you go if we ask you to?”

He huffs out a teary laugh. “I might.” He turns his attention back to the watch in his hands. “But I... I might not have ever seen you again if... if I hadn’t...”

She does not tell him everything has turned out all right. She does not repeat Tarrant’s lecture on duty and consequences and monsters and such. She says, “I know.”

“I could ask the watch. It would tell me how long... how much...”

“How much time we have?” Alice supplies.

Tam nods. “But Fa said not to. He said I would start counting down to death instead of living for the future.”

“I’m sure I’ve said this before, but your Fa is—”

“—a very saganistute man. I know, Mam.”

“Yes. Yes, you do.” The moment stretches, settles, and then Alice reaches out and tweaks Tam’s trouser cuff. “Are you hungry?”

“A little,” he admits.

“I bet your Fa’s got the kettle on. And Thackery made spinach puffs today. There might be some left.”

Tam’s stomach gurgles. He and his Mam share knowing grins. And just as she reaches out to help him up, Tarrant steps back into the shadows and hurries for the castle kitchens. His wife and his son have just reminded him of of his priorities. He has some tea to put on and puffs to hunt up and... oh, yes, he never did get around to asking for that jar of Batten jam, did he?

Tarrant smiles as life orders itself into simple, familiar tasks again. These he can handle. These are a pleasure to perform. These are the sweet moments in life that must be enjoyed. Cherished. Treasured.

He resolves to do just that.


“Champion Tarranya.”

Tarra turns away from the awakening garden, away from the sun-kissed edge of the Witzend horizon, and looks over her shoulder at the approaching lion man. Smiles. Says: “Not a Champion. Not anymore.”

Leif’s brows arch. “Quitting so easily?” It would have been a taunt, had he not clearly intended for it to be a Dare.

Tarra, bless her beautiful soul, does not rise to it. “No. Exploring other options. I do have talents, you know. In other things besides whipping your tail on the pitch.”

“Hah!” Leif barks, stepping up next to her to take in the view on the other side of the garden gate. “I should very much like to see you try.”

“Oh, you’ll get your chance,” she promises. “Maybe tomorrow. Before I leave.”

“... Leave?”

She nods. “Back to Crimson Harbor. I guess Master Setteeson needs an apprentice after all.” She shrugs. “Who knew I’d have the Instinct for carpentry?”

“Into-home wares,” he softly corrects her.

She chuckles. “Thanks. Into-home wares.” For a long moment, the silence that is carried on the early morning breeze is melancholy, aching.

“You never had to become a Champion for me, Tarrash’rya,” Leif rumbles softly.

“Pompous kitten,” she chides him. “You think awfully highly of yourself, don’t you?”

Leif gapes at her until she turns and informs him in a very blunt manner, “If you honestly think anything could make me do something I didn’t want to...”

He chuckles, reaches out and runs a claw through her pale hair. “Without you here to keep it in check, my ego will be completely out of control.”

“No doubt. I suppose that means you’ll just have to find time to visit me.”

“Oh, I guess I could work a few trips to the Harbor into my busy schedule.”

Tarra snorts. “You do that. It’ll be a nice change for you: managing your time instead of trying to manage me.”

“I never managed you,” he argues. “I tried – and failed spectacularly – to manage how I... I mean, I tried to... to...”

This time, the silence is awkward and heavy, teetering with the unbalanced weight of unsaid things. And, of course, Tarra refuses to tolerate that. She lifts her hand to Leif’s mane and gently pushes it aside so she can see the ornament he wears around his neck.

“Are you ever going to give this damn claw to me?” she challenges him. “It’s mine, you know.”

He chuckles at her directness. “Yes. I know.”

“But... maybe it’s best if we wait,” Tarra muses in a teasing lilt. No, her tone is not wise – not at all! – it drips with Challenge. She’s too transparent to successfully wield the weapon of emotional manipulation. But, then again, Alice had never taught her how to do that. Naturally, she uses it poorly, awkwardly. Fantastically. No, Tarra does not want to guilt Leif into surrendering to her. She is simply too prideful to beg for it. This is her way of expressing her desires, of admitting what is in her heart. “You would wait for me, right?” she continues, her lips curling into a knowing smile. “It’s just for a couple years... until I finish my apprenticeship.”

“A couple of years...” Leif muses, humor making his golden eyes glow. “That’s all the freedom I have left?”

“Oh, definitely. Once you’re mine...” She shakes her head in warning.

Leif, interestingly enough, doesn’t look all that concerned. He looks... thrilled. And then he looks... sad. “I will miss you, Tarrash’rya,” he informs her, brushing the backs of his furred fingers against her cheek. And then he reaches up, lifts the thong that holds his First Claw over his head... and settles it over hers. “... and now I won’t,” he concludes, settling the necklace against her neck and centering the claw over her tunic.

For a long moment, they say nothing... simply smile into each other’s gazes, wait for their souls to touch, to merge, to share... And then Tarra gasps, reaches for his paw. She rasps, “Leif... I can... feel...” She pauses, swallows. “Is that how you... for me?”

“Yes,” he rumbles, his own expression morphing with awe, with amazement, with flunderwhapped delight. “Yes, that’s what I feel, but you... you...! How is this possible? You... for me? You’re still so... young!

He reaches for her as her hands disappear into his thick mane.


Tarra shakes her head, gently reprimanding him. “I’ve always felt this way, you blind idiot. You were just too stupidly stubborn to notice.”

“Not anymore,” he swears and then leans down and kisses her.

Mirana smiles as she steps back from the railing of her office balcony and gives the couple embracing under the garden arbor the privacy they deserve. Yes, she is a mother and yes, she is inclined to snoop, but Tarra does not need her now. Tarra is happy. And it is Mirana’s job, as both a mother and a queen, to ensure she has every opportunity to enjoy that happiness.

She returns to her desk and the proposal lying atop it. Negotiations will resume shortly and she has a decision to make.

Mirana picks up the parchment, reads it once more, and then calls for a footman. Marshing answers it a few moments later and, entering the office, croaks, “What can I do for you, Your Majesty?”

“You can deliver an invitation to Jaspien. I would like him to join the negotiations today and present his ideas.”

“As you wish, Your Majesty.”

The frog bows himself out and Mirana glances toward the balcony. Oh, she is tempted to check on them, but... no. She’ll settle for asking the trees later.

Yes, Tarra had been right; the ever-blossoming cherry trees are terrible gossips, especially about romance.

And they have been fortunate in that regard, Mirana knows. Tarra and Leif. Herself and Dale. Alice and Tarrant.

Oh. Yes. Alice and Tarrant. Mirana’s heart aches for them, for herself, for what is coming. For what neither she nor Tarrant must be permitted to prevent, to stop, to circumvent. No, no one must interfere in the coming events.

And come they will.

For good... or ill.

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 14 of 15

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