Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 2 of 15

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
One Promise Kept: Book 4

Tarrant opens his eyes when something tickles his nose and the weight on his chest prevents him from gathering enough air for a good snort. He blinks, lifts his head from something that’s definitely not his usual pillow, glances down the length of his body and encounters Alice’s tangled hair in his direct line of sight. She’s fast asleep, her head pillowed on her arms which are folded over his chest. She lies against the length of him, her legs between his own on the wide sofa in his new workroom in their Iplam manor.

For a moment, he is at a loss as to why they hadn’t gone to bed the night before. He surveys himself and Alice – both of them are fully clothed so it can’t be that they’d...! No, no, of course not! Well... not here, in any case! – and then he remembers:

A suit fitting...

A dress altering...

A bit of brushing up on their Upland waltzes...

A glass of Witzend wine and a promise to go to bed in just one more minute...

Tarrant smiles. His right hand is in Alice’s hair and his left is across her shoulders and his right leg has gone stubbornly to sleep and life, in this moment, is utterly Beautiful!

“Eugh. You two are... just...”

On his chest, Alice stirs but doesn’t wake. Tarrant looks up in the direction of the open doorway and grins at his son. “Shush. Don’wake yer Mam.”

Tamial rolls his Orashlach-colored eyes. (Alice calls the color “cognac,” oddly enough... Whatever odd Uplandish thing a cognac is...) “I’m hungry,” their son announces. “What time are we leaving?”

“When it’s Time to leave,” Tarrant replies.

“So I should feed myself, right?”

“That might be wise. I’m currently... occupied,” he murmurs, stifling a giggle at the joke. No, not preoccupied but Occupied. A state of being he rather enjoys when it’s Alice who Occupies his person.

Tam snorts. “I know. At least you’re both wearing clothes this time.” And with a visible and obviously exaggerated shudder, their thirteen-year-old son slouches down the hall and into the small, attached kitchen.

“Did our son,” Alice mumbles against his chest, her eyes still closed, “just imply that he’s seen us naked?”

“I believe he did, love,” Tarrant answers, kissing the top of her head.

“Disturbing. Don’ wanna think abou’ it.”

“Then, by all means, don’t, Raven.”

“Mm. All right.”

Tarrant does his best not to laugh. Truly, Alice is unfailingly amusing before her first cuppa. Unfortunately, these days, that is the only time his Alice is amusing. At all others he can feel the weight of her listless dissatisfaction. He hates that he’s done this to her. He hates that he cannot undo it. He hates that he can only distract her with trifles – morning duels and shared baths and herbal teas and aerial snap dragonfly shows at dusk – rather than offering her a true solution.

He sighs. For over a month, he has suspected that this move had been a mistake. And not only because of Alice’s discontentment with the daylight hours. Tam had been very upset to leave his friends behind in Mamoreal. But Tam is thirteen years old and still un-apprenticed at anything! True, there aren’t many opportunities in Mamoreal what with the queen and the courtiers demanding the very best and as quickly as possible. The artisans residing there have no time for leisurely instructings and the customers have no patience for amateurish attempts. It’s time for Tam to consider a trade. Long past time. And as their son has never expressed any sort of interest in providing a service for the king and queen and the royal court, Tarrant had determined that his son’s future must be found by a different route. Why not the one to Iplam?

Still, he wishes his wife and son would have taken to this new life... easier. For Tarrant, it’s more responsibility – as The Hightopp, he is the government of this little cluster of people who have yet to become a Village. For Alice, it’s less – she no longer protects the queen or her children and, with that weight removed from her shoulders, sometimes Tarrant fears she’ll float away. For Tam, it’s more boredom as there are no children here his age. And also it’s harder work: there are gardens and orchards and winevines to tend to and sheep that demand regular coat trimmings and chickens that squabble over who has laid the biggest egg of the day and...

Yes, the world is much... smaller here than it is in Mamoreal. Perhaps it is too small for Alice. Too small for Tam.

Perhaps he ought to send them to Salazen Grum – No, no! It’s called Crimson Harbor now! he corrects himself – and perhaps there Alice might be happier; Tam might take a liking to a trade...

“You’re worrying again,” Alice mutters on a sigh.

“So sorry. Habit, you know.”

Alice lifts her head and stabs her chin into his breastbone. “A new one,” she accuses, opening her eyes just as he winces. “You’re worrying and plotting.”

There’s no use denying it. “I suppose I was.”

Thankfully, she removes her chin from his chest and even, very considerately, shifts her weight off of the inside of his right leg. “And just what were you scheming and why?”

He studies his wife’s face. How far will he go – can he go – to make her happy again? Can he let her go, if that’s what it takes? Can he be the man he must be here in Hightopp Village without her by his side? Or will he fade, fall into gray days again, waiting for her to return to him or waiting for someone to release him from his obligations?

“I’m looking forward to visiting Upland,” he declares.

Alice quirks a brow, alerting him to the fact that she’d noticed the Deliberate Change of Topic. “I’m still surprised to hear those words come out of your mouth,” she informs him, letting the original subject go... for now.

Tarrant relaxes and shifts gingerly – despite the lack of actual ginger; those will be a bit late this year – and winces as life begins to tingle and sting back into his leg.

“Why-ever would you, Raven? That Upland London is a rather interesting place. At times.”

“Yes, especially when you’re off with Hamish, making trouble.”

“Alice...” he sighs with weary tolerance. “There is no making involved. Perhaps a bit of inadvertent finding or maybe a smidgeon of dusting off or—”

Alice presses a finger to his lips.

“Thank you,” he mumbles.

Her lips curve into a knowing grin. “We can’t have you incriminating Hamish. Margaret’s quite strict with him.”

“Yes, poor fellow. Why, the way he lets loose when we visit would suggest she never lets the chap have any fun at all.”

Alice snorts. “Listen to you. Switching gears already to London speak?”

He waggles his brows. “Do you really think there are gears up here?” He lifts the arm that he’d draped across her shoulders at some point during the night at taps his temple with his fingertips.

“There must be, otherwise how could you call Hamish a ‘chap’ one instant and manage a rhyme the next?”

“That is an excellent point, my Alice.”

“If the point Alice has excellently made is that there seems to be a suspicious lack of tea, then I wholeheartedly agree!”

Tarrant sighs. Alice looks up at the cat that is no doubt hovering directly and irritatingly over his head, and replies, “Chessur, didn’t we recently have a discussion about the courtesy of knocking before entering a residence?”

“Oh, yes, we did, as I recall. But, if you will recall, I objected on the grounds that I am never curt. Not unless it can be helped.”

Had the observation been made by anyone else, Tarrant might have been amused. “Courtesy. ’Tis court no’ curt, Cat.

“Oh, is it?” he replies in a too innocent tone. “I do beg your pardon! However, I’m sure you’ll understand how wary even I am of courting a happily wed Lady. Now... about that tea...

Alice snorts and sits up. “Subtle, Chessur. Really subtle.”

“I try,” he responds and, with a wink, evaporates.

“Bloody menace,” Tarrant grumbles.

Alice raises her brows as she stands then reaches down a hand to help Tarrant up. “You know he only does it because he finds your ire so entertaining.”

“There’s no accounting for taste,” he mutters.

“Of course there is. It comes from the ingredients and method of preparation!” she scolds him, sounding very much like Thackery in that moment. Tarrant sighs; he misses tea with Thackery. That mad March Hare is always good for a round of circuitous conversation and a bit of defensive ducking. Tarrant doesn’t have much use for either in Iplam and he worries his skills may be getting dull.

He looks up when Alice lays a hand on his arm.

“We’ll make a trip to Mamoreal after Margaret and Hamish’s party. I’m sure Amallya would like to see you. You’ve still so much to teach her about haberdashery. And then there’s those special orders...”

He nods. Yes, his apprentice, while highly skilled still has much to learn and Tarrant often takes the more challenging custom hat requests off of her hands. Once Hightopp Village has organized its marketplace satisfactorily and the trade caravans begin passing through, he’ll be able to travel to Mamoreal more than once a week. Of course, at the rate Princess Amallya is learning the trade, he doubts she’ll be needing his counsel for much longer.

“When I’m no longer needed at the castle,” he declares, ushering Alice toward the door, “I think inventing would suit me.” This is not the first time he has expressed this particular musing to Alice. However, she never fails to gift him with a delightfully unique response. This time is no different.

“A bit too well,” Alice remarks. “You imagination might get carried away with you.”

“If that happens, I hope you will revive your skills in my rescue or defense... whichever is needful.”

Alice grins. “I suppose I shall have to. What sort of inventions are tickling your fancy at the moment?”

“I’ve only a vague notion,” he admits, “but I should like to make a hat that would be useful for something other than fashion, rain, sun, and wind.”

Alice rubs his shoulder. “I’m looking forward to this miracle hat already, Raven.”

They stop in the hallway, as if by silent and mutual agreement, and Tarrant presses a soft kiss to her lips. “I am looking forward to hatting you in it,” he murmurs.

She smiles and he leans toward her again...

“No, no, no! That’s most definitely not the way tea is prepared!” Chessur yowls.

Tarrant freezes.

Alice tenses.

“Yes, it is. This is exactly the way I’ve seen Fa do it every single day!”

“I highly doubt there are borogove toenails in Iplam Breakfast Blend,” Chessur asserts with an audible sniff of derision.

Tarrant turns his head away from the kitchen doorway just down the hall at the touch of his wife’s hand against his cheek.

“You know that’s just a ploy to get us to make it for them,” Alice murmurs, rising up on the balls of her feet to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth.

“Aye. We’re onteh their tricks,” he agrees, moving against her as her hands settle on his hips.

“Bah! I told you not to add those vile, rancid things!”

Alice pulls away and sniffs the air. She winces and sputters. “Or... perhaps not.”

“Perhaps,” he concurs, fighting the urge to gag at the stench.

Chessur executes a very authentic rant: “Yet again, the next generation utterly mutilates Time-honored traditions out of ignorance and hubris!”

“Well, you could have made it yourself! Didn’t want to get your paws dirty, Chess?”

Alice sighs.

“Aye, we’d better see teh that.”

“You go first. You duck faster than I do.”

He chuckles. “And I could use the practice.”

They brave the kitchen, point Tam and Chessur to out-of-the-way chairs, open the windows and address the abused the teapot.

“We’ll never get the taste out of this clay,” Tarrant mutters, nodding for Alice to take it Away, which she does while he starts with a fresh pot and no borogove toenails. “These,” he educates his son while Chessur looks on smugly, “are for the Batten bushes. In the garden. To keep the bread-and-butter flies away.”

Tam sulks and Chessur grins.

Even though tea hasn’t been served yet, Alice begins her lecture. “Now, Chess. While we’re gone, we expect you to keep an eye on things—”

“Yes, yes, sit in the village and watch. Watching the village sit. Village-sitting,” Tarrant interjects with a giggling snort. Alice playfully pinches his elbow for interrupting her. He doesn’t apologize.

The do’s and do-not’s are explained and Chessur is sworn not to cause mischief and then after a frantic half hour of bathing and hectic packing, Tarrant finds himself regarding the large mirror in the manor’s hat workshop. In its non-reflective surface, they can see Alice’s older sister sitting in an armchair in Hamish’s private study. Waiting patiently.

Tarrant watches his wife and then his son step through. And just as he collects their small trunk, he pauses, straightens, looks Chessur in the eye and declares, “And no jabberwockies!”

The cat looks rather disappointed at that rule and Tarrant can’t stop himself from smirking in reply before he steps through the looking glass.


Tamial Hightopp – forlorn and down-trodden, once-was champion of the Futterwhacken – sighs dramatically as he takes in the scene before him.

His Mam is exclaiming over Aunt Margaret’s needlework stuff in a tone even he knows is totally false. You’d think Aunt Margaret would realize...

He shakes his head and huffs. Grown ups.

His Fa is nodding thoughtfully as Uncle Hamish demonstrates the correct posture for a croquet swing. Tam rolls his eyes. “Fa doesn’t even play croquet,” he grumbles.

“I’m sure it’s all a secret code.”

“For what?” he asks, turning toward his dark-haired cousin, Winslow.

The taller boy leans in and confides, “Fencing.”

“Fencing?” Tam is confused. “What about it?”

“Mother doesn’t want him to do it anymore. She says he’s too fat.”

Tam evaluates his uncle’s form. “Well, he is...”

“So he says he’s taken up croquet, but...”

Tam smirks. “You think he goes fencing when he’s supposed to be at the playing field?”

“Got it in one.”

“Should I ask him what his score is?”

“Or maybe to see his croquet stick? I bet it’s as new as the day he bought it.”

“Why hasn’t your mother noticed yet?”

Win shrugs. “Grown ups.” It’s both an explanation and a curse.

They snort with humor.

“What’re you laughing about?”

Win sighs. “Nothing, Townley.”

“You always say that!” the younger boy protests. “But when Elaine asks, you always tell her!

“All right, what’s going on over here? What are you keeping from Lee this time?” a girl with carrot-orange ringlets demands.

Tam goggles. “You’re bossier every time I see you, Laney.”

“Thank you. Now, Win, what are you on about?”

“Just a stupid croquet stick,” he informs her reluctantly.

“Well, that does sound pretty stupid,” she agrees, crossing her arms.

“Why couldn’t you just tell me that?” Lee whines.

Win throws his hands up and shakes his head. He leans down to pick up Tam’s travel bag. “Come on, Tam. Let’s go see if Lucinda’s finished with your room yet.”

They leave the stuffy, crowded room and the moment the door closes behind them, they blaze a path for the stairs. “Come on!” Win declares, dumping Tam’s bag in his room and gesturing for him to keep up. They climb another flight up to the attic floor of the grand country estate and tromp into a small, modest parlor.

“Look out there,” Win directs him, pointing to the window. Tam does. Far below and across the lawn, people are setting up a dance floor and streamers and canvas pavilions.

“That’s for the party tonight?” he guesses.

Win nods and a wistful grin stretches his mouth wide. “Chef’s cooking for it. Something special.” He closes his eyes in abject anticipation. “I can only imagine...

Tamial Hightopp – the most menacing mischief maker in all of Underland... and now Upland! – grins. “You wanna find out?”

Win opens his brown eyes and grins. “What do you have in mind?”

Tam waggles his brows – tamer than his Fa’s after he’d had a word or two with them about not growing wild – and invites, “Follow me!”

Fifteen minutes later, stolen and squished chunks of sticky sweet bread in hand, the pair take refuge from the chef’s wrath by the pond behind the stables. They giggle over their near misses from that rolling pin swinging hoyden and try to outdo each other in making sugary messes all over their hands and faces.

Win leans back on his elbows and declares, “I’m glad you’re visiting again. It’s so dull with just Laney and Lee out here. I can’t wait to go back to the city.”

“What about your lessons?” Tam asks. He’d actually been surprised to find that he’d missed his teacher – stuffy Master Fenruffle – back in Mamoreal. And, well, of course he misses his two best friends. He wonders if the little, lost rath Ian had found in the forest near the castle is doing all right. Toves can leave nasty scrapes, he knows. And he wonders what Lanny’s doing now, if Thackery’s counted the jars of compote. Tam shakes his head at the thought of Lan’s sweets hoard...

“Lessons!” Win scoffs. “Boring. Pointless. Why do I need to waste my time learning French or Maths or Geography? Everybody knows I’m going to be joining the company just as soon as I’m old enough.”

Tam frowns. “But wouldn’t all that stuff be useful for a trader?”

Win sighs heavily. “It would. But I’m not joining that company. I’ll be taking my father’s old position.”

“Says who?”

“Grandfather Manchester.” Win scowls and begins picking apart the remains of his spoils from the kitchen. “In about five years, I’ll be old enough to be an apprentice. Making pots and pans and tea kettles. Wonderful. So exciting.”

“My Fa would get pretty excited about tea kettles, actually.”

“Well, but that’s because he’s mad.”

“True.” Tam squints into the water as Win chucks a piece of bread at it. One of the Ascots’ fat, boringly colored ducks paddles over and gobbles up the soggy morsel. “Fa wants me to enter a trade.”

“But you’re only my age!”

He shrugs and contemplates the remains of his own half-loaf. Despite the hollow feeling in his stomach, it no longer looks appealing. “I know. But that’s the way it is... there.”

“In Underland, you mean?”

Tam nods.

Win tosses another bit of bread toward the ducks, which scramble and squabble over it. “I wish we could change places,” he announces. “I’d give anything to do something really interesting like be a champion like Aunt Alice. Or maybe a horsemaster like... who was it again?”

“Prince Chestor.”

“Yes. Prince Chestor. Or even a courtier! I’d make a rather dashing courtier, I think!”

Tam snorts and giggles. “Sure. You’d have to wear a white wig though.”

“What for?”

“Well, it’s called the White Court for a reason, isn’t it?”

Win considers this seriously for a moment and then shrugs. “We’d make our own court! No wigs allowed.”

“Eat whatever we want...”

“Ride around Underland looking for adventure...”

“Have sword fights and do away with villains!” Tam tosses a corner of bread crust at the ducks. “Sounds great, doesn’t it?”

When Win doesn’t answer, he looks over his shoulder. His cousin is frowning so fiercely Tam wonders if he’s about to cry. “Win?”

“No, that part doesn’t sound great at all.”

“Which one?” It had all sounded pretty epic to Tam.

Win rolls up into a sitting position and mutters, “Can you keep a secret?”

“Of course. I’ll put right here in my pocket.”

Tam’s attempt at levity is not met with amusement. And, considering what his cousin has to say next, that’s completely understandable.

Win leans closer and whispers, “I received a letter just before we left the city.”

“And? What did it say?”

Win glances over his shoulder, scanning the grounds to ensure that they’re both still alone. He wipes his hand on the grass and reaches into his jacket. Without a word, he hands a large, cream-colored envelop to Tam who opens it warily.

Two carefully folded pages from a newspaper, yellowed nearly to brown with age, slide out first. He scans the first, reads something about a gentleman’s duel.

“Win... does this say Uncle Hamish and your father actually dueled?

“No, actually, it suggests that they might have.”

Tam continues gaping at him.

Win finally snorts with humor. “It is hard to imagine, isn’t it? But look at the date.”

Tam does. “Oh, well, I guess eleven years ago, he wasn’t so...”


He bites his lip to keep from laughing.

Win points to the next page. “Now that one.”

Tam obediently scans it until he sees what must have upset Win so much. “Oh...” In one small article, the death of Lord Marshall Manchester’s only son – Lowell Manchester – is recorded. “I’m sorry, Win.”

“Look at the date.”

Tam does so. And then, frowning, he checks the date on the other newspaper again. “Is this... right?

“Yes. I went to the archives in town and checked them myself.”

Tam gapes. “But, that would mean that... I mean. Do you think Uncle Hamish...?”

“Read the note.”

Tam pulls it out of the envelope and flips open the cardstock.


“When we go get back in the city, I’m going to talk to him,” Win announces.

Tam nods. “All right. But I’m coming with you.”

“But how are you going to convince your mother and father to let you stay in London?”

“It doesn’t matter. Do you really think I’ll let you go alone no matter what they say?”

His cousin slaps him on the back, a brave smile on his lips. “Good man.”

“The best,” Tam assures him. Yes, this looks like a task well-suited to Tamial Hightopp – investigator extraordinaire and champion to his Uplander cousin! He replaces the newspapers and note in the envelop and hands them back to Win. “Have you looked over the meeting place yet?”

“Why would I do that?”

Tam rolls eyes, abandons the uneaten hunk of sticky bread and stands. “Well, maybe I’m not a champion like my Mam, but even I know you can’t just walk into a situation like this without knowing the terrain. That’s the first order of business!”

“But... we can’t very well go there now.”

“No, we can’t. But we can check a few maps, can’t we?” Tam grins and waggles his brows. Adventure, he decides, tastes good. “Let’s be off to the library!”

“And we’d better not let anyone catch us, or there’ll be questions!” Win warns him.

And as they race across the lawn, ignored by the servants and hired workers, Tam considers that note:



Clarges Street and Bolton E. off Piccadilly

If you want to know the truth of your father’s death, come alone.


Despite his taste for Adventure, Tamial frowns. The Adventure he likes, but the message itself... He swallows back against the sour taste of something bad in his throat. That hollow feeling in his stomach is back but he’s not hungry. It’s not a pleasant feeling. No. Not at all.



Mirana takes in the sight of her second eldest daughter – her short hair now colored a most unflattering brown; her lithe figure dressed in the common garb of an apprentice to an Outlandish tradesman – as she descends the stairs with a grubby pack slung over her shoulder and a wide smile stretching her lips.

Mirana takes in the sight of the young woman who is moments away from setting out on her own. She fists her hands in her dress to keep her panic and denial in check: it’s not supposed to happen this way! She and Alice had prepared...! They’d anticipated...! And yet, somehow, her daughter will be leaving home today on her first assignment. Her first task. Her first confrontation with Fates and whatever those fickle beings have planned for her.

It’s utterly unfair! she rages in silence. Her vows – her intentions which have always been of the purest sort! – mean nothing now. No, the Fates care not that Mirana has never harmed another living creature. Underland’s caretakers torment the White Queen with this sight!

Tarranya is going off to fight. Yes, Dale had assured her – and firmly reminded Tarra! – that there will be no battles. No swordplay. No bloodshed. But that does not mean there will be no danger! There are innumerable evils Out There that can slip past even the tightest defense and the sharpest sword!

“Who is that?” Dale asks in a teasing tone that somehow rings with pride. He lays a paw on Mirana’s shoulder, reminds her of their conversation earlier:

“We knew this day would come, Mish’rya. For Tarra first and foremost among each of our loves.”

“Yes, I know. She’s always been the most headstrong.”

“I sometimes wonder if perhaps we should have named her for Champion Alice what with that stubbornness of hers...”

“It might have been more fitting... Too late now.”

“But, let us not dwell on what we are losing. We must consider what our daughter is gaining. We must let her go, my love. And, if it comes to it, we must let her fail. We cannot protect her forever.”

Yes, Mirana knows this is true. It doesn’t help, however. Still, she does her best to manage a teasing reply. “I’m not sure. Perhaps we’d better summon the guards to deal with this infiltrator.”

Tarra barks out a laugh. “Go ahead, Your Majesty! I can take them down!”

She strikes a pose on the stairs and Mirana startles, noticing that somehow a pair of wicked-looking knives have appeared in each of her daughter’s scarless hands.

No, her daughter has not yet earned any scars, not like Alice has.

Alice... Had Alice really been only a year Tarra’s senior when she’d become Mirana’s Champion? When Mirana had more or less forced Alice to become her Champion? Had Mirana not sent McTwisp Up to lure her Under? Had she not more or less insinuated to Alice that the only way back to her world would be through the path that lead to a fearsome beast, a slaying, and the drinking of its cursed blood?

Her vocal chords twist until her breath whistles out of her. She will chastise herself for this later. Perhaps she will even ask Tarrant to suggest a proper punishment... Later. For now, her daughter demands her attention.

“You look like a common thug,” Alicibeth informs her twin.

Tarra struts down the remaining steps. “Thanks, Bethie. But now you’ve got me wondering: how many common thugs have you seen?”


Smirking, Tarra turns toward her brother. “Chestor, don’t go tearing up the pitch on Winsommer while I’m away or I’ll skin you with Thackery’s rusty carrot peeler.”

He cringes a bit before rallying. “You just try it, and we’ll see who gets hacked in the end.”

Tarra grins and ruffles his hair before he can bat her hands away. “Amallya,” she continues, regarding the Hatter’s apprentice. Mirana has sensed that the connection between these two has strengthened over the last two years as they’d both raised their voices and asserted themselves, presented themselves for their destinies with singular focus.

“I made you a hat,” Mirana’s third daughter says, revealing the accessory from where she’d been holding it behind her back. As always, Mirana examines her daughter’s hands for traces of mercury stains, but they are as pale and flawless as ever; the special gloves Tarrant had fashioned just for her daughter seem to be doing their job sufficiently.

Well, at least one of her obstinate and independently-minded daughters will be spared the hardships of her chosen profession!

“I love it, Ama. Here, what do you think?” she asks, modeling it.

“You suit it just fine,” Amallya informs her. “Even with that dreadful hair dye.”

“It’s the color of manure,” Leivlan informs her.

Dalerian smirks. “Should have told us you wanted dye made from excrement. We could have asked the Bandersnatch for a contribution and then you’d be aromatic, too.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Tarra teases back. “I know exactly who to go to for some good shukm. Know the ins and outs of it, do you boys?”

“Ew,” Thacie groans. “I just ate!

“Sorry, Thrasher.”

“That’s not my name and you know it.”

“Yes, I definitely do... Thrasher.”

“Well,” Mirana says, judging this to be the optimal moment to interrupt. Before Tarra ends up having to fight her way to the front door and the Outlander waiting patiently beside it to take her to Crimson Harbor. “Now that you’ve offended most of your family...”

“Yes, time to be off!” Tarra pivots on her heel and takes a step toward the door. “Maybe I’ll bring you back some nice, cured eel snout for a treat!”

“Ugh, gross!” Thacie objects as Alicibeth sniffs contemptuously. Chestor makes a face, Amallya continues gazing dreamily up at the ceiling as if watching a vision of her next creation flutter and float down from the rafters. The twin boys grin.

“Go on,” Ian says.

“We dare you,” Lanny interjects.

“We’ll put them to good use.”

And that is surely a thought that will keep Mirana up at night! She tugs on Dale’s arm and the two of them follow after Tarra, escorting her through the hall and out onto the castle steps.

“You’re going to hug me, aren’t you?” Tarra mumbles. “Out here in front of everybody.”

“Of course. I am your mother.” She makes a show of looking around, shading her tearing eyes from the early morning sun. “And I don’t seen anyone watching us. Just you, me, your father, and the trees.”

“And I’d bet a half batch of Upelkuchen on which ones are the gossips of the lot,” Tarra grumbles, glaring at the tranquil sea of blossoming trees.

Mirana pulls her daughter into her arms and Holds On. “No heroine-ics, you hear me?” she rasps into Tarra’s ear. “You find out what you need to and come home.

She nearly sobs when she feels Tarra gently pat her back. “You’re awfully authoritative. One might even think you’re a queen or something by the way you act.”

“Hah!” Mirana laughs. “I’m afraid I’m much worse; I’m a mother.”

“Give me a dragon to slay any day.”

“All right, all right, my fair ladies! It’s not polite to share affection in public unless you’ve enough for everyone,” Dale teases and wraps his long, heavy, pelted arms around them both.

“You’re both acting ridiculous,” Tarra informs them. “I’ll be fine and I’ll be back before you know it!”

Despite her daughter’s confident tone and brazen grin, Mirana shivers.

A throat clears and Mirana turns to see Master Setteeson approaching. “I d’nae wish tae b’ a-gimblin’ in, bu’ if’n we’re teh make th’ ‘Arbor afore dusk, we’d best b’ a-trekkin’.”

“Of course,” Mirana replies. “Of course.”

Her hands shake as she releases her daughter.

Dear Fates... Mirana can hardly believe that this moment has arrived. Her child is about to walk out into the wide world and she is she merely going to stand here and do nothing?!

Dale wraps an arm around her waist – to hold her up or restrain her from running after Tarra and dragging her bodily back to the castle, she’s not sure.

“Stay safe, Squimkin. Don’t give us reason to worry,” he says as Mirana struggles with herself, her panic, her dread, her useless tongue and inflamed heart.

“I’ll be just fine.” She tilts her chin and adjusts her new hat to a rakish angle. “And I’m going to give you both a reason to be proud of me.”

“We already are, you silly berry,” her father answers, chucking her under her chin.

“Master Setteeson! I’m mightae humblin’ fer th’delayin’. Off we b’ a-trekkin’ nauw?” Tarra asks in a startlingly authentic rendition of Outlandish.

The bearded and bellied mad chuckles. “Aye, off we be. Yer Majesty.”

Mirana manages a nod of acknowledgement in his direction and then watches as they turn to go. Tarra takes two steps down the stairs before Mirana suddenly realizes that someone is missing!

“Wait! We must inform Champion Leif that you’re leaving!”

Tarra pauses on the steps but doesn’t turn. Her right hand fists and Mirana watches as she takes a deep, controlled breath. When her daughter turns, whatever emotion that had been evoked by the mention of her long-time friend is gone.

“It’s all right, mother. We’ve already said our good-byes.”

And then she jogs down the steps and catches up with the man Mirana is entrusting with her daughter’s care. It’s not until the two of them have gathered up their packs, convinced Setteeson’s grumpy donkey to consent to pull the cart, and have disappeared beyond the far gate that Mirana recognizes the odd, uncomfortable resonance vibrating in her chest.

“We’ve already said our good-byes.”

She’s heard that before.

And, in a rush of epiphany, remembers when and where!

Why, those words had been spoken here. Twenty years ago, by another Champion setting out on a quest. And those very words had been spoken with regards to that Champion’s future lover.

Mirana remembers: frighteningly similar words had been spoken shortly before Alice had galumphed off to meet the Jabberwocky for the Trial of Threes.

Dear Fates, she begs, let this not be a premonition.

Let me have made the correct decision this time!

Of course, there is no answer. Not yet. For this, she must wait for Time to answer her plea.

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 2 of 15

<< Previous     Home     Next >>