Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 3 of 15

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One Promise Kept: Book 4

“So, Lady Hightopp, how goes your new life?” Margaret asks with a smile reminiscent of the one Alice had been given at another party that had been held at the Ascot family’s countryside manor. Yes, Alice knows that smile. That’s the I-know-you’re-thrilled! smile. Well. It was monumentally misplaced then… just as it is now.

Alice bites back a sigh. “It goes.”

Margaret wraps an arm around Alice’s waist and gives her a brief, brusque embrace. “Mother would be so proud.”

Yes, that is true. Every time Alice had visited for tea, their mother had worried – usually in eloquent silence – over Alice’s occupation. “I almost wish she were here to gloat,” she replies.

“For shame, Alice,” Margaret scolds her gently with a sad smile. “A well-bred lady never gloats.”

“Hah. Tell that to your mother-in-law.”

“Once upon a time, I was very tempted to! But she hasn’t been the same since...”

The sigh she’d stubbornly held back escapes Alice. “I miss him. This world isn’t the same without him.”

“No, it isn’t,” Margaret agrees. “It’s hard on Hamish as well. After the duel, they grew quite close. I imagine Townsend was as thrilled by his son’s manly display of idiocy as Geraldine was scandalized by it.”

“A scandalized Geraldine Ascot,” Alice muses. “Now, that I am sorry I missed.”

“You shouldn’t be!” Margaret hisses even as she smiles out across the milling assortment of predictably civilized, wine-swilling party guests.

Alice shakes her head at her. “Unbelievable,” Alice tells her.

“What is?”

“How much this life suits you. Are you sure we’re of the same flesh and blood?”

“Not at all. Perhaps my real sister was switched with you? Tell me, are there any uncommonly sensible women in this land of yours?”

“Not a single one. We’re all mad there.”

Nodding toward the scene of an impromptu picnic just to the side of the gazebo, Margaret argues, “But not Tamial. He’s got a level head on his shoulders.”

Alice has to bite her lip to keep from informing her sister that – in the frenzy of Futterwhacken – even that is subject to change. Although... Tam’s head has been level for quite some time now. In fact, the last clear memory she has of his Futterwhacken had been the day she’d learned of Tarra and Leif’s will-be marriage, the day Alice had invited Mirana to take tea at the hat workshop with Tarrant and Amallya... nearly a year ago. “He’s simply better at adapting,” she insists both in defense of his innate Underlandian madness and in denial of her son’s lingering depression.

“Hm. Still, he and Winslow have always seemed to get along well enough. It’s hard to believe Tamial’s two years his junior.”

Alice bites back yet another sigh. “Actually, he’s come into young adulthood, or the Midlin’ Mark as Tarrant’s people call it. He’s thirteen.”

Margaret frowns. “But... Alice... he was born eleven years ago.”

“I’m not debating that.” And she knows she can’t. Time has been kept regular over the years with the aid of the small correspondence mirrors which have remained open, providing a connection between Up and Under. After the Oraculum had once again unrolled, after Alice and Tarrant had ensured Underland’s safety and continued future, after Tam had been born and their reasons for remaining in London exhausted, there had been no reason to retire those small, silver mirrors from Official use. Alice had kept one and so had her mother. Now, however, that mirror is in Margaret’s possession and has been for nearly four years.

So, yes, eleven years have passed – equally! – in Upland and Underland. Tam should be just entering his Age of Consideration. He should be just old enough to choose a trade for himself. He should be. But he isn’t.

“It’s not fair that he’s grown up so suddenly,” Alice replies. “I don’t like it, but there’s nothing to be done about it.”

And she’d asked. Many times. She’d very nearly hunted down Time himself to demand he return those lost years to Tamial, to her and Tarrant. Of course, that would have only compounded the issue.

“Time has a frightful temper, Alice,” Tarrant had said, his arms firmly wrapped around her waist even as she’d struggled. “And he’ll not be forgetting just whose son Tamial is.”

Alice had cursed at that.

“That’s the last time we let Thackery watch Tam!”

Yes, one romantic bedtime story about the occasion during which Tam’s father had killed Time in order to wait for the arrival of the White Queen’s Champion had lead to an absolute disaster. The very next day, drunk on Chivalry, Tam – with his cohorts Ian and Lanny – had chased down Time. Tam had been the only one fast enough to keep up and, before he’d known it, Time had taken Flight and two entire years had sped by him.

Mirana had once explained to Alice that although adults in Underland merely reflect the age they feel – a rather simple system all around – the growth of children in Underland is determined by quite a lot of factors: the steadiness and pace of their education; the expectations of their parents; their minds which seem to develop much less gradually than those of Upland children, lurching forward – and sometimes backwards! – in years in fits and starts; and also, there’s the child’s desire or motivation to become a grown up. Tam, however, had found the one exception to the natural order of things: he’d provoked Time.

Like incorrigible father, like equally incorrigible son.

Alice fears there will be a Grudge now between the Hightopps and Time that will last until the end of Underland. To make it official, perhaps Alice ought to give the fellow a good smack across his ever-changing face!

She regards her son and mourns for those lost years: he’d been ten years old one day, and then twelve the next. Neither she nor Tarrant had felt additional punishment was necessary for the utter idiocy of meddling with Time. The facts of life had been more than sufficient in severity:

“You’re going to have to choose a trade,” Tarrant had explained to him firmly over high tea the day after the incident. “And you’ll have to decide sooner than expected.”

“But I can’t help it if I’m twelve now!”

“’Twas yer own folly tha’ brought ye teh this age ye’re at, an’ there’s no undoin’ it once Time’s had his way wi’ye.” Because Alice knows her husband inside and out, because he had made no effort at all to dampen the emotions within his heart, she had seen and Felt his regret. “’Tis tae late fer ye teh be-make yerself inteh a baker ‘r a loomsmith...”

“I don’t want to bake bread or make carpets!”

Which had been just as well. Tam had grown too big, too set in his ways, as Tarrant had explained it, for any reputable masterof those crafts to take him on, to awaken, to mold and polish his Intuition in the intricacies of those particular trades.

They’d hashed out their son’s remaining options: furniture maker, haberdasher, glass smith, mason, and – reluctantly – they’d suggested the life of a soldier for the White Queen! Tarrant had even swallowed his pride and offered to speak to the Irondirks about taking Tam on as a steelsmith.

Their son had refused them all.

Later that evening, as Tarrant had curled his body around hers in their bed at Mamoreal, he’d sighed out, “’Tis retribution. I was this difficult wi’ me own Fa. Only ra’her than tryin’ teh talk me in teh a trade, he was doin’ his best teh talk me out o’th’ one I’d chosen.”

The poor man, Alice had thought, imagining the very scene Tarrant had described. However, she’d chosen to say instead, “It’s a difficult age and he’s come into it so suddenly and unexpectedly. And the expectations on him are greater now than ever before. Give him some time. He’ll sort it out.”

But Tamial is most definitely not sorting it out. His thirteen years weigh on him like an ill-fitting suit.

“Nothing to be done about it,” she repeats, pulling herself back to the present: back to her sister and brother-in-law’s tenth wedding anniversary party.

Margaret sighs. “Sometimes you have nothing but utter nonsense to say, Alice.”

“I know.” But she doesn’t apologize for it. What would be the point? Nonsense is such an unavoidable part of her life that she’s better off accepting it and moving onward.

“Some things never change,” Margaret murmurs with a wistful sigh. “Here we are, so many years later, and I still envy you, little sister.”

“I... wha... I beg your pardon?”

Margaret actually giggles as her sister’s obviously flabbergasted expression. “Have you any notion of how exciting I imagine it is to start a new town? Have you really thought about it, Alice? Those people are your people. They depend on you and Tarrant completely.”

“Oh. It’s a marvelous responsibility,” Alice hears herself intone.

Margaret clucks her tongue at her. “For shame, Alice. You’ve spent years in the service of your queen as her Champion. And now here you have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to champion a whole town!


“Darling, here you are!”

Alice startles as Hamish – with Tarrant in tow – strides over. She marvels at how – despite her brother-in-law’s increased weight which is surely indicative of wedded bliss and professional success – he still manages to move as purposefully as ever.

“They’re ready for us to lead the dancing,” he tells her, offering his arm. “Alice,” he greets her with a nod. “I hope you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Quite. Thank you for the invitation.” Somehow, the words come out despite her shock at Margaret’s observation and her own dawning shame.

“We’ll see you both on the dance floor,” Margaret says with a wink as Hamish sweeps her toward the lit wooden platform. Yes, the words had been spoken in the format of an invitation, but Alice hears the underlying instruction. Suddenly, she smiles: there are some things that will never change. Her sister’s bossiness for one... and Alice’s role as a Champion for another. Even if the cause for which she fights does change.

Margaret is right.

Alice shakes her head and sighs.

Tarrant moves to stand next to her here beside the looming hedges. “They make an uncommonly well-matched pair, do they not?” he murmurs, offering her a glass of wine and a curious glance; she knows he can feel the echo of her jumbled emotions churning over and around his own heart.

“Frightfully so,” she answers with a smirk and decides – firmly – to enjoy the party now and ponder later.

Her gaze darts in the direction of the nighttime picnic being held by their son and his cousin. “Those two as well.”

“Hm. Yes.” Tarrant’s brows draw together in a frown. “I suppose the answer to the question we’ll undoubtedly be asked before we leave on the morrow must be ‘No’.”

Alice sighs. “I’m afraid so.” Undoubtedly, Tam will ask to stay here in Upland for a while longer. Unfortunately, to allow him to do so would merely encourage him to continue avoiding the decision he must make... soon. “He cannot start hiding from his problems.”

“Although... I recall a time when that had been the wisest course of action.”

“Luckily, we don’t have a Red Queen to worry about these days.”

“Luck or the Oraculum?” he muses aloud.

“Perhaps both,” Alice admits. “But mostly the Oraculum.” She glances at him and answers the question that raises both of his wild brows. “I’m not sure I could have put on the armor in the first place if not for the fact that my success had already been guaranteed.”


“Yes. If I had known then what I know now about the Oraculum... things very likely would have turned out... differently.”


She doesn’t disagree. The Oraculum is an oracle, true. But it shows what the denizens of Underland need to see in order to stay on the path the Fates have chosen for their world. Tarrant had uneasily told her this when she’d explained why she’d been so obsessed with timing the birth of their son as carefully as possible.

“Alice, the Oraculum is a guide. Why else would it show us your... defeat at the Trial of Threes and the destruction of Mamoreal if not to warn the queen that she had taken the wrong path?”

She had regarded his anxious, yellow-green eyes and pointed out: “The Oraculum also showed that I would be the one to defeat the Jabberwocky in the first place. Are you saying that was a self-fulfilling prophecy? My belief in its inevitability made it so?”

“That is the world we live in, Raven.”

Alice had had to bite her tongue against cursing the Fates aloud.

“If... that is, if you would rather not create a child here... I mean, if you do not feel it would be safe...



“Do you have any doubts?”

“... There are always doubts.”

“Then sit down and confide them in me. Please.”

He had. And then they had set a date for the Ritual of Conception. Before that memory can drag her into its depths, Alice lifts her glass and takes a sip.

“You’re very distractable tonight,” Tarrant observes.

“Intentionally. My experiences at Ascot parties are... mixed.” And, considering Margaret’s unerringly precise remarks only minutes ago, tonight is no exception.


“Yes. Hamish proposed in that gazebo there...” she informs him, gesturing with her wine glass.

“Did he?”

“Right before I followed a very peevish-looking white rabbit into the forest and then took a tumble down a hole.”

“Ah, yes. Those questions that needed answering.”

She doesn’t refute the assumption. “And of course you remember the last... occasion we attended an event here.”

“... I do.”

Alice lays a hand on his arm. “I miss him. Townsend.”

Tarrant gives Alice a brief, sad smile. Her heart line warms with thanks at the distraction. She knows now what he had experienced that night; one afternoon, on a balcony overlooking the castle gardens, as they had watched Tam playing hide-and-seek with Mirana’s twin boys, he had told her.

“You came looking for me... And Valereth ran you through.”

For a moment, she hadn’t understood what he’d been talking about. She’d turned to him and he’d replied even before she’d spoken.

“You told me to drink, to move through time.” He’d looked at her then, showing her the pain in his eyes that he’d been holding onto so tightly she hadn’t felt it through their heart line. “I did.”

“Yes,” she’d answered, at last understanding. “You did. Thank you.”

She does not know the details of that night and the events that had prompted the use of the Jabberwocky’s blood, but she knows enough. Enough to distract him from the memory.

“Lord Ascot was an uncommonly Underlandish Uplander,” Tarrant observes.

Alice smiles. “He was. I believe knowing my father made him so. I wish you could have met him as well.”

“It would have been an honor,” he agrees. “But I am happy to have met your mother. You do her credit, you know. It is from her you draw much of your Muchness.”

Alice startles and looks up at his knowing expression. “I... you’re right. She was rather... muchy, wasn’t she?”

“And I’m sure she still is, my Alice.”

Grinning, Alice blinks back her tears. “As usual, you are right.”

We are right,” he gently corrects her, taking her wine glass and setting it aside on a nearby table before offering her his arm. “We are right for each other and no one else.”

Alice damns social convention and presses a kiss to the corner of his softly smiling mouth as he leads her toward the lighted stage and the couple waltzing gracefully upon it. They follow Hamish and Margaret’s lead, but it is not a London waltz they perform despite their evening of practicing the night before. No, if a Champion and a Hatter cannot dance to a different tune, they can at least choose different steps.

Margaret sees this and shakes her head, smiling.

Hamish sniffs and rolls his eyes tolerantly.

The song doesn’t quite match the rhythm of the steps of the Waltz of the Tumtum Tree, but that’s fine.

Emboldened, more couples join the stage to dance, to celebrate, to live.


“An’ jus’ where d’ye think ye’re goin’, laddie?”

Damn it, Leif swears: he’d successfully dodged the jabberwockies that have been hanging around since the annual Pick-a-Therry looking for lost and misplaced bushels of Thrambleberries, but he’d completely forgotten about Thackery!

“Out for a picnic,” he quips, explaining away the bundle of provisions he’s in the process of... borrowing from the March Hare’s stores.

“No picnics planned fer t’day!” the hare asserts, his eyes googling and whiskers twitching. “Gi’me ano’her one!”

“Another what?”

Excuse!” Thackery shouts and Leif winces as the percussive force of it is amplified by the kitchen’s white, stone walls.

“Why bother?” he grumbles, knowing it’s useless to argue with the creature.

He heads for the door and Thackery clamors after him, a cutting board clutched before his skinny chest like a shield. “B’cause th’lass is yer o’her half, ye daft Shucher!” Thackery declares in response to the rhetorical question.

Paw on the kitchen door, Leif pauses. “I beg your pardon... What?!

“Oh, aye, I’ve seen it!” the hare asserts with a shudder that had probably been intended to be a sagely nod. “Ye’re goin’ afteh yer missus. Aye. Aye. Bad idea, that. ‘Twould be better served teh kill Time! More romantic, ay’ways!”

Leif leans over the hare who shivers and quivers but doesn’t cower. “I am not going to sit around with my tail in my hands waiting for Tarra to get herself hurt.”

“Sae ye’ll b’th’ one teh do it, eh!” Thackery points an accusatory, furry digit at him. “It won’ mend! Once tha’ strut’s been gimped... won’ mend!”

What won’t mend?” Leif demands despite his better sense telling him to just get on with things.

“Strut!!” Thackery asserts.

Leif turns back toward the door.

The March Hare grabs his tail!

Trust!!” Thackery shouts with a hard yank. “Trust, ye loaf-headed long-tail! Strut, trust, all four th’ same an’ one repeated makes five. Aye, aye, jus’ ano’her way o’ speakin’ it!”

When Leif jerks his tail out from the hare’s grasp, Thackery dives for the cutting board he’d dropped. Scowling, Leif accuses him, “You aren’t normally this incomprehensible.”

“Well, ye don’ jus’ say sommat important straight out!” he declares. “Got teh go ‘round a bit, ye ken. ‘Tis more polite, aye?”

Leif sighs. With a rueful shake of his head, he pushes open the door.

“Ye’re missus won’ b’ likin’ this a’tall! Nae, nae, no’ta’tall! Kill Time, I say!”

The door shuts. Despite that, Leif can still hear the hare’s unsolicited advice, though it is muffled:

“’Tis what she expects! No’ a cuttin’!”

Leif takes two strides down the hall before a wistful sigh of “... board...” resonates through the painted, wooden door. He feels his lips twist into a cynical grin: the hare doesn’t even know what he’s talking about. The thought is both humorous and comforting.

He returns to his rooms and places the provisions he’d collected from the pantry in his travel bag. Hoisting it over his shoulder, he reaches for his scimitar...

And frowns; Leif’s paw hovers over empty air where his sword should be held aloft by its stand.

“Now, why would you be looking for this, cousin?”

Leif turns and regards his king, who stands examining Leif’s scimitar in the doorway just off the common room of Leif’s apartment.

King Dale continues, “You have food and water packed. Perhaps you’ll go for a trek today? Picnic on one of the mountaintops around Mamoreal? If that’s the case, you certainly won’t need this.

Leif glares.

Dale smiles. “No? Well, you’ve also packed a cloak meant for concealing the wearer and shabby clothing. You’ll be visiting a Grobben Pub, then? Still, I would think a knife would be better in that case than a sword.”

Mute, Leif holds out his paw for the weapon.

Dale does not give it to him. “I have only to demand that you tell me what you’re planning and you will confess all,” he reminds his Champion and, not for the first time, Leif wishes Dale weren’t quite so skilled at being an absolute brat of a cub when it suits him.

“But we both know what you’re going to do, don’t we?” the king replies. “She won’t understand, Leif. Nor will she tolerate this.”

“I know.”

Dale shakes his head. “If I, her father, can find the strength to let her go, why can’t you?”

Leif swallows. He does not want to answer that. His First Claw feels unnaturally heavy against his chest. He resists reaching for it, glancing down at it, and yet Dale’s golden eyes lower and add weight to the pendant.

He struggles to ignore the niggling thought in his mind, the stirring in his soul, the knowing that his First Claw has already been claimed. But no. No! He will. Not. Think. It! He has kept this terrible secret for so long... he will not reveal it now! He reminds himself that Tarra is not... not... She is not for him. He does not want her. She is Royalty. His cousin’s daughter. A mere girl...


The thought of his First Claw in her possession turns his stomach even as it makes his pulse race. He fights the rush of dizziness.

Leif measures the moment in breaths, in frantic heartbeats. And when his liege once again raises his gaze, Leif can see hostility – or something very much like it – in the king’s eyes. “My daughter?” he confirms. “Tarranya?”

He wishes he could deny the suspicion that the king asserts. He wishes his own heartbeat and breaths and the scent of his anxiety were not capable of betraying him. But of course they can; they have. His cousin has heard, seen, and smelled...

The only comfort Leif can give the father of the girl his soul has Chosen is this: “I have no interest in her.”

Dale takes a step closer, examining Leif who battles against the urge to step back. “When I met Mirana, it was this way for me,” he rumbles, the words are both reluctantly spoken and shaped into a warning. “I did not fight it, as you do.”

“It should be fought,” Leif replies. He bites his tongue to stop the assertions there. Surely, Dale knows the rest: she is a princess; she is too young; she is a kinsman’s daughter; she is not for him.

“You... are an idiot,” the king informs him, “if you think she has not sensed this already. You are a fool if you think she accepted this task without a thought to winning your approval.” Dale regards him, weighs him. “So many things are clear now. Her drive to be Alice’s equal – your equal. You told me once: that is the only kind of mate you would ever consider. She has changed herself to fit you.

The observation leaves Leif feeling physically ill. He has to force himself to not close his eyes, to not turn away, to not press his paws to his ears.

And Dale is not yet finished:

“It began years ago,” he muses unhappily in a considering tone, speaking as his epiphany plays out. “Perhaps even the first time she saw you training with Alice. Saw, and something in her knew she would have to become a Champion. For you.”

Leif clenches his jaw shut to keep himself from arguing. He mustn’t. He knows he mustn’t. He is a Champion – it is not his place to argue with the king.

But he burns to!

Dale holds out the sword.

“Do what you must for your own peace of mind but do not shake her confidence. And you might consider the fact that your reluctance to yield to her – your unwillingness to set aside your own pride – has driven her to this. If you had accepted her for who she truly is...”

Thankfully, the king does not finish his sentence. He does not finish laying the blame upon Leif’s shoulders. It teeters, clings. There is the smallest chance that Leif will find a way to shed it before it settles in place and crushes him.

“And you’re not going alone,” the King announces. “Take Mallymkun and Bayto with you. You’ll need her size and his nose.”

“Sire, I don’t need—”

“Tarra does. She needs to do this alone. If she sees you, you will damage more than her warrior’s pride.” Dale shakes his head, a hard look in his eyes. “I will not permit it. I want my daughter to return home safe and whole.”

“She will,” he swears, accepting his sword from the king’s grasp. “I’ll see to it, even if she never sees me.”

“Make sure that she doesn’t, Champion Leif. Make sure she doesn’t.”



Tarrant can’t help but giggle at the sight of the utter bliss on Hamish’s face as the man takes his first sip of Hightopp-brewed tea.

“I don’t know how you manage it, my odd friend, but you make the best tea I’ve ever had.”

“It’s the borogove toenails,” he replies cheerfully, wishing Alice were sitting next to him here in the Ascot Manor Conservatory to share the joke.

Hamish holds up a hand. “Say no more, I beg you. I shall pretend you said something reasonable and continue enjoying my morning tea.”

“By all means.”

Tarrant idly wonders what could be taking Alice so long. Surely, assisting her sister with getting Elaine and Townley ready for the day will not take much longer... And both Tam and Win should be awake by now...

“Have you time this coming Thursday to come through for a trip to the club?” Hamish wonders aloud.

“I’m afraid not. Alice and I are required at court to tend to our apprentices.”

“Ah, yes. They do require tending, don’t they?” Hamish heaves a great, put-upon sigh.

“A shortage of useful minds at the company?” Tarrant summarizes.

“A dearth,” Hamish agrees. “A veritable void.

Tarrant muses, “What might be the reason Winslow isn’t apprenticing with you yet? He is of age, is he not?” From Hamish’s scandalized expression, Tarrant infers: “Ah, perhaps not. That must be a custom unique to...”

“Yes, that mad nameless place you and Alice insist on dwelling in, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Quite. Although why you sound so jealous I’ve no idea.” Tarrant smirks.

Hamish sips noisily at his tea. “How’s Tamial doing with that small matter of the fate of his future?”

Tarrant giggles at his friend’s snark. “If Alice’s sister ever saw you like this, she’d consider it a mercy to permit you a bit of posing with those not-swords.”

“God above, Tarrant. They are called foils.

Tarrant just grins.

At that moment, two blurs of motion race past the conservatory windows. Tarrant twitches and Hamish’s gaze flickers toward the wall of gauzily curtained windows as two thirteen-year-old boys thunder by.

“Two little lords in a lark,” Hamish remarks proudly.

Tarrant frowns and then considers those words until he gives it up as incomprehensible Hamish Speak. Reluctantly, he allows, “Tam will be a laird, one day, I suppose... Although he hasn’t much interest in it at the moment, honestly. Nor did I at his age. Perfectly normal. Better things to do. Including selecting a trade for himself.”

“A trade!” Hamish sniffs.

“Aye. They tend to be a mite useful from time to time.” Yes, his hatting skills have been quite useful in distracting the Red Queen from her quest for the wee lad, Alice, hadn’t they?

“Useful for what, I ask you!” Hamish rallies with considerable bluster. “Have you given no thought to training your son to take over management of the family estate?”

“Goodness, no! Why-ever would we do a thing like that when it’s the boy’s instincts that require development? However can a person be expected to manage a village if he cannot manage his own hands? His own mind?”

“That didn’t stop you, apparently,” Hamish mutters from behind his teacup.

Tarrant ignores that and concludes his highly sensible explanation: “No, no. A trade is very necessary where I come from, Ascot. Quite necessary.”

“Hm. How is the next Royal Hatter coming along?”

“Splendidly!” Tarrant’s eyes unfocus with pride. “She did very well when she chose her trade. Why, her instincts almost shape themselves!” Even he hadn’t taken to the craft so effortlessly. Why, in another year or so, he doubts his services will be required at Mamoreal at all! Not even for the trickiest and most conspicuous or unique of hats! Which reminds him... he mustn’t forget to take the orders he’d assigned himself with him when they go back to Mamoreal... And that blasted Cat had better not have taken them out of their boxes and played with them! Oh, brangergain i’tall, he’d known he’d forgotten something!

Aye, like a warning teh tha’ slurvish Cat teh keep his paws off th’ hats?

Yes. Something exactly like that!

“It’s quite nice when an apprentice takes to one’s trade so effortlessly,” Hamish remarks, pulling Tarrant’s attention away from the thought of painstakingly picking invisible cat hair off of custom hats and bringing it back around to the subject at hand. Or rather: the subject at tea.

“Ah, yes. The void you mentioned.”

“Indeed. I’m hoping Townley will suit the business when his time comes.”

“What of Winslow?”

“Ah. Yes. Well, as Lord Manchester’s only grandson he’ll be expected to go into that family business.” Hamish frowns into his nearly empty teacup, either lamenting the loss of his beverage or his adopted son’s future. Or both. “The boy’s not terribly taken with the thought of making pots and pans and tea kettles.”

“Which is a shame, truly. They’re all absolutely lovely instruments,” Tarrant observes. “Although perhaps one cannot be overly imaginative in their creation and development.” Yes, Tarrant feels he’s quite lucky to have chosen a trade that allows him such room for experimentation. While all pans and cookery utensils of the sort must be round, the same is thankfully not true of hats!

“Still, he’s a smart lad,” Hamish asserts, enjoying his own moment of pride-ish behavior. “I’m sure he’ll find a way around the obligation when the time comes. If he doesn’t take to it, of course. He may yet surprise himself by enjoying it.”

Tarrant’s lips twitch as he thinks of all the lovely racket Thackery and the queen’s children had once made in the castle kitchens with pots and pans and tea kettles. “Perhaps it is not the product itself but the application he may endeavor to enliven,” he suggests.

Hamish raises a brow at that. “None of your mad ideas, now, Hightopp. Winslow gets into quite enough mischief as it is these days. Why, just the day before we left the city, he disappeared for two hours! Two hours! When we asked where he’d gone, he told us he’d been at the library!” Hamish huffs. “I sent the butler around to confirm.”

“And did he?”

“Go to the library?”

“Confirm it?”

“Well, yes. On both counts. Which was what made it so strange. Winslow has never gone to the library of his own volition.”

“Well, as Alice constantly reminds me – despite the fact I most certainly have not forgotten! – this is a bothersome age for boys. The changes and such.”

Hamish snorts. “True. I suppose a bit of oddness can be expected.” The man then gives Tarrant an anxious once-over. “He’d better outgrow it, however!”

Tarrant giggles. “And here Alice and I are still trying to get Tam to grow into his!”

“That sort of remark is not going to encourage me to pass on Winslow’s request,” Hamish grumbles, giving in to temptation and reaching for the teapot despite the fact that Alice and Margaret and the children have still not made an appearance at the brunch table yet.

“A request? Of me?”

“Yes. He asked me if he might borrow Tam for a few days.”

“Well... this is unexpected.”

Hamish sets about fixing his tea to perfection. “Still... Winslow impressed upon me the difficulties Tamial is experiencing with regards to the selection of a trade. Thought perhaps it might do the lad good to see another way of doing things. Broaden his mind.”

Tarrant glowers. The gesture is lost on Hamish as he measures cream into his tea. “The broadening of a mind is a very serious thing. A head can only take so much, you know.”

Hamish glances at him. “Still, it can’t hurt.”

“A too-broad mind? It sounds excruciating, in all honesty.”

“Still, I’m passing along Winslow’s request.”

Tarrant’s glower renews. “Yes, I noticed. A request Alice and I anticipated coming from Tam. Not from you.

“Ah. Winslow did his work well, didn’t he? Converting me to his point of view. I’m sure there’s a promising business man in that boy somewhere, waiting for his day to come.” Hamish smirks. “They do learn fast, don’t they?”

Tarrant feels rather disquieted by that observation, but Hamish merely replaces the spoon in the sugar bowl and stirs his tea. “Frightfully fast,” Tarrant numbly agrees. Indeed, whose unsettlingly brilliant idea had it been to have their request posed by a man Tarrant considers a friend and equal? (...well, an equal in most things. Haberdashery is obviously not one of them!)

“Well, should you decide to permit your son to visit for a bit, I would have no objections.”

“I’m afraid we shall have to decline,” Tarrant replies unhappily.

“As you wish. The offer remains open. Perhaps Tamial might find something worthwhile to do with himself here if life in your country doesn’t suit him. Considering Alice’s inclination to... live abroad, it’s only logical that Tamial might require a similar... choice in the matter.”

Tarrant’s first thought is to accuse Hamish of trying to finagle the means of looking glass travel out of Tam. It would undoubtedly make the trading business... speedier. However, he merely says, “Yes, yes. That is an option Alice and I have discussed. Perhaps after he’s located a bit more of himself he’ll be ready. Or we’ll be ready. Yes, I believe that’s what I meant to say.”

Hamish snorts. “I find myself in agreement with you on that point. It’ll do no good to let Tamial go if you’re not ready.”

Tarrant sighs. “So you are capable of being reasonable! And to think, it’s only taken eleven years for this momentous event to occur. Perhaps Alice chose this as one of her six impossible things today...” He resolves to confirm that very fact with her as soon as possible!

Before Hamish can snap out a rebuttal, the Conservatory door opens and admits the very person Tarrant most wishes to see.

“Alice! Is everyone laced up, buttoned in, and properly stockinged for the day?”

She grins and hangs back as Margaret herds her two youngest children towards the table. Lee starts prattling about shoes that had gone for a walk by themselves and had hidden on top of the armoire and how in the world had they managed to get up there and wasn’t it lucky Auntie Alice thought to look for them there because she says that sometimes things without a pair of feet of their own can fly...!

Tarrant giggles and his grin widens. Alice puts a bit of a swagger into her walk, making her long skirts sway.

“Laced? Oh, yes. Buttons? Thoroughly buttoned. Stockings?” Alice’s gaze falls toward her own skirts and Tarrant giggles. “Properly stockinged? Well, who’s to say what is proper?

Tarrant hopes he’ll be the one who investigates that issue throughly just as soon as circumstances permit. His hands twitch toward his smirking, sashaying wife but he – manfully! – refrains from pulling her over his knees and into his lap. However, there is one matter he can address quite effectively in their current company:

“Alice, by any chance did you include an uncharacteristically sensible Hamish in your List this morning?”

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 3 of 15

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