Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 4 of 15

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One Promise Kept: Book 4

By the end of the very first day of her assignment, Mally has acquired a notion. A very violent notion. And it has to do entirely with the man-lion she’d been ordered to ensure doesn’t do anything... Stupid. She can already tell that’s going to be a lost battle. Blast it all! This idiotic lion is going to ruin her spotless record with the Queen’s Guard!

Leif!” she hisses. “Ge’ outta ’ere!

She glances anxiously from the cloaked lion to the workshop window where Mally has been watching Tarra assist the furniture maker. They’d had a very early morning and both Mally and Bayto had heard the overwhelmingly information-packed lecture Tarra had received from the furniture maker that morning:

“As ye’re righ’ly aged fer yer Craftin’ Instincts teh b’wakened, ye’ll intrehdaece yerself as mae apprentice, y’ken? Nauw, as mae apprentice, ye’ll likely b’advisin’ th’custom on their orders. We’ve only an hour ’r twine teh fill yer head up wi’ th’ ways o’ smallish carpentry – o’herways ken as ’inteh-home wares’ – sae heed mae well, lass...”

Then, just as the town had begun to stir to life for the day, Tarra had been sent out with replies to the furniture requests that had been delivered in the master’s absence. Mally had followed her, clutching Bayto’s collar and had overheard Master Setteeson’s lecture rephrased and reused over and over again all morning long while various clients had fretted over this brocade or that shade of wood stain. With a brief stop at the furniture shop, Tarra had delivered the detailed orders to her employer and had once again been sent out. This time to procure lunch.

It hadn’t taken long for her to be Noticed.

“Ye’re new teh town,” a lanky young man had observed as Tarra had wrapped up her purchases at the baker’s.

“Oh, aye. Dae’in’ a bit o’ apprenticin’!”

“In which trade be ye workin’?” the young man had asked before placing his order at the shop.

“Smallish carpentry an’ inteh-home wares.”

“Ah. Sae ye’re Setteeson’s naew apprentice?”

Tarra had smiled with a becoming mix of pride and bashful modesty. “Fer th’ time bein’.”

“Well, I’m Abler Masonmark. O’ th’ stone engravers trade. Mayhap ye’ll b thinkin’ o’ steppin’ ou’ this evenin’? B’ glad teh show ye th’ town.”

“’Tis a date, Abler Masonmark. Stop ’round an’ ask fer Dirka Worthwool.”

Mally and Bayto had hidden around the corner and watched the two part ways. Apprehensively, Bayto had whined, “Do you want me to tell Leif that, too, when I go back to the inn with my report?”

Mally had cringed. “Aye, you’d better. No telling what that fool will do if he learns of it otherways...”

Unfortunately, Leif had decided that he’d had enough quiet time at the inn “coordinating” the mission and waiting for news. Apparently.

Mally waves her paws at him. “Ge’ back to the inn! She’ll see you!”

The shadows beneath the hood of his long cloak shift into an oddly scowl-like pattern. “I need to see this Masonmark.” It is not a request, Mally notices.

She considers her options. And while it would be very satisfying to call his attention to his unreasonable behavior, it would be highly unprofessional. Mally prides herself on being a Professional. “Fine. See only! No speaking, showing, or threatening!”

He gives her a flat glare and, thankfully, refrains from arguing.

“Where’s Bayto got to?” she whispers instead, returning her attention to the window and the tasks the roundish and eye-patched furniture maker seems to be enthusiastically explaining to his temporary assistant.

“I sent him to sniff out the town. Maybe he’ll overhear these supposed rumors and we can all leave on tomorrow.”

Mally shakes her head. Here, in the narrow alley behind the furniture maker’s shop, in the shadows of approaching dusk, she dares to argue, “Settin’ aside the fact that Bayto ain’t all that good at Outlandish, there’s this one to keep in mind: she won’t be goin’ home so quickly, you know. Like our Alice in that way. She’ll see it through to the end.”

Leif grunts and Mally turns around in time to catch the bitter twist of his lips.

“Sour bile?” she muses, with a knowing smirk.

“Something like that.”

“Well, as I’ll be taking my supper out tonight, maybe Bayto and I could bring you back something more to your liking than the... fare at the inn?”

I’ll cover the... date,” he spits out. “You’ve been on duty all day. Get some rest, Mally.”

“No. Absolutely not! She’ll see you lurking about and—!”

“She won’t see me! I can blend into the crowd!”

“Right. In Shuchland, maybe. Go back to the inn. Bayto and I can handle this.”

“I am not going back to the inn!” he growls at her. His voice is soft but the deep tone of it rattles Mally’s bones. “This is my mission!”

Mally gives him a once over. “Aye. And you’re perfectly suited for it. Inconspicuous size. Good tracking skills. Very useful, you are.”

His paws curl into fists. “More useful here than at Mamoreal.”

“How d’you figure that?” Mally returns, looking through the window again. Tarra appears to be using a handful of sand to smooth over the rough edges of an unvarnished, wooden rocking chair. “The king and queen ain’t got any Champions now.

“They will in five days’ time. The White Guard can manage until then.”

“Five days...? Oh. Right. Thursday.” When Alice and Tarrant normally visit the castle. And she won’t even be there this time for tea when her friends arrive! Blast it all!

Irritated and her teacup of patience well and truly empty, Mally snaps, “Do whatever you want. I’m goin’ be keeping an eye on our charge tonight because I – unlike you – can understand Outlandish. So it’ll be me who hears these rumors. You just continue supervising.”

Miraculously, he doesn’t argue. Mally breathes a silent sigh of relief and turns her attention back to the workshop. She can barely hear Setteeson’s occasional comments:

“Nauw, ye see this line ’ere? Tha’s a chair line. Won’see a line like this on a ken-made settee ’r table...”

“An’ this slope here? Follows th’ curve o’ a unicorn’s spine. Ye’ve gotteh take th’ custom’s species inteh consideration, ye see?”

“Th’ ver’best inteh-house wares fit th’ owner. Th’ chair fits th’ owner; th’ owner fits th’ chair. Tha’s the job, lass. Fittin’.”

Mally isn’t sure if Tarra listens and nods and, occasionally, hmms because she’s genuinely interested in the lecture or if she is taking her role very seriously.

In any case, when the evening bell sounds, calling in the workers from the nearby fields and Orash orchards to dinner, Tarra helps Setteeson clean up his workroom. Just as they finish, the bell on the shop’s front showcase door draws their attention.

Through the glass, Mally hears Abler Masonmark’s voice call out. “Gehd duskin’, Master Setteeson, ser! I’m ’ere teh call on Ms. Worthwool if’n she b’liken teh gae out fer supper t’night.”

Setteeson waves to him through the open door between the shop and the workroom. “Ar,” he says. “Dirka’s ’ere. A moment, laddie.”

Mally cannot hear what Setteeson says to his assistant in a low mumble, but Tarra’s answering smirk is very clear. Obviously, she’s quite proud of herself for having made contact with at least one of the local youths.

“It’s the younger ones Setteeson said were speakin’ out against the queen,” Mally muses. “Right?”

Leif nods. “Yes.”

Mally sighs. “The young do like to boast and brag. You realize this could just be normal teenage malcontent. Mere lads and lasses wouldn’t really have any plans to move agains’ the White Crown.”

They watch Tarra move out into the front of the shop to greet her new... friend. Leif sends Mally a sharp glare. “It’s our job to make sure they don’t.”

She huffs and, before he can turn away, leaps onto his shoulder. “I ain’t forgot!” she admonishes him. “Now, let’s see how good you are at tracking!”

And, as it turns out, he’s no Bayto, but he’s still pretty good. They arrive at one of the village taverns and Leif finds himself a seat at the bar in the deepest shadows in the place. Mally scurries away, weaves through boots and dodges drips of Grobbenale and Battenmead until she’s under the table Tarra is sharing with Abler Masonmark.

Mally listens. Not just to their conversation, but to many others in the room.

Still, no strange, radical rumors are murmured. No dissatisfaction is spoken against the White Queen.

Not tonight, anyway.

You’d think they’d be more obliging what with guests from out of town present!

And ain’t lads supposed to want to show off for the lasses? Mally indulges in her frustration and irritation by glaring at Abler’s knees.

When Tarra and Abler get up to leave, Mally reluctantly returns to Leif – muttermonging-less – and they follow, keeping to the shadows of Crimson Harbor. Abler shows Tarra around the streets, pointing out the scrollery and laundry. He also shows her a sweets shop and a local milliner’s. They’ve made a complete and pleasant tour of the town by the time their path brings them back to the furniture shop.

Everything is just fine. Normal. Even the way Abler leans toward Tarra, as if to demand a good-night kiss is normal.

Tarra plays the game: she smiles, pinches his cheek, thanks him for the evening, and disappears inside the shop.

Abler doesn’t seem all that surprised. Or even disappointed. It’s a game, after all. And, apparently, one he likes to play.

“I don’t like him,” Leif declares, scowling after the young man who is strutting off down the quiet, dark street, whistling under his breath.

Mally rolls her eyes. “I’m gettin’ as tired of your jealous frowns as you probably are o’ makin’ ’em!” she declares.

“I am not jealous.”

Mally shakes her head and sighs. “An’ you’re thick, too,” she grumbles.

He slides a fierce glare in her direction. “We have a job to do, Mallymkun,” he murmurs in a dark tone.

“That’s what I’ve been tryin’ to remind you of!” she hisses.

“Is that what all your squeaking was about?”

Mally has to command herself not to draw her sword. After all, they’re both here for the same reason. They both serve the same crown.

Still... Mally has a notion:

Working with this prime, up-right walking example of Stupid is going to be hellish. And about These Sorts of Things, Mally is never wrong.


It is a hellish week.

After arriving in Iplam through the looking glass – with a scowling and sullen son in tow – and after debriefing a frustratingly vague evaporating cat and after quickly inspecting the half-dozen painstakingly customized examples of quality head-wear for invisible cat hair (a task not to be taken lightly and which must be done properly when he has more Time!) and after apologizing to the sheep and chickens for neglecting to warn them that a Cat would be village sitting for a day and a half, Tarrant still has his regular duties to get on with. Of which there are Many.

“What can I do to help?” Alice asks him, laying a hand on his arm even as she holds out his top hat on the threshold of the manor. And for that question alone, he feels a surge of love for her so strong it makes his throat lock and her breath catch.

He brushes his fingers along her jaw and under her chin. “I’m due at Eldred Boothsmith’s first today,” he tells her, withdrawing a roll of parchment and stick of charcoal. “As ’tis nearly time fer th’ autumnal Crafted Goods Barterment. Woul’ ye go round an’ ask th’ families after the perishables they’ll be requirin’ fer th’ comin’ week?”

Alice nods. “Of course. I’ll stop by the coup and the dairy stalls to see if there are any requests from that quarter as well. Perhaps the chickens are getting tired of cracked blue corn or the cows would prefer a bit of clover hay...”

Tarrant marvels at her. He doesn’t doubt that the heartache that still tightens his chest is from her. He doesn’t doubt that she still aches for a sword and a sparring partner or even a reluctant student. But he can very clearly see that she is trying. Perhaps something good had come of their trip Above...

“Thank ye, my Alice.”

“You’re welcome, Raven.”

And so Tarrant makes the rounds, listing the goods that each family will need for the coming autumn and winter and the products they have available to trade for them. Alice starts at a different home and asks after each family’s list of edibles and other daily necessities they’ll need for the coming few days. It’s a much bigger job than it seems as, in order to ensure there is no more waste than can be avoided, the exchange of edibles must be negotiated and coordinated precisely. Tarrant leaves the task in Alice’s very capable hands and gets on with his own tasks for the day.

Later, just as day turns to evening, Alice finds him in the manor study, scowling at the lists of necessities and barter-ables.

“Everything’s arranged for the foodstuffs exchange tomorrow morning,” she tells him, coming around the side of the desk and glancing over his shoulder at the parchments spread out on the desk. After a moment, she rubs his shoulders.

With a nod to the unfurled lists, she says, “This will be just fine,” and, not for the first time, he admires her ability to see order in chaos.

He’d spent an hour puzzling over how to ensure that his first attempt at representing his village’s citizens at the Crafted Goods Barterment benefits every one of Hightopp Village’s residents and yet, with a single look, Alice can comfort him in a tone that is confident rather than compassionate.

“How d’ye do tha’?” he asks, pushing his chair back, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her down to sit on his knee.

“Do what?” she asks, smiling a she looks over the parchments a bit more closely.

“See th’ order in all this chaos?”

“I suppose my time with the company, brief though it was, wasn’t a complete waste of effort after all.” She bumps his shoulder playfully. “Speaking of... How do you see the Truth behind all the masks people hide behind?”

He grins. “I suppose we all have our talents.”

“Yes, we do,” she says, then turns back to the list of items needed and the list of goods available for trade. “We’ll go to Mamoreal and try to get the best possible items for everyone, of course,” Alice assures him and, with her aforementioned background with the Ascot family’s trading company in Upland, he doesn’t doubt they’ll succeed, “but I don’t think we’ll have too much trouble this season... even if we ask our Hightoppians to barter amongst themselves.”

“Hightoppians?” he echoes.

“Uh-hm,” she murmurs then leans back in his embrace, one arm looped over his shoulders and the other hand resting over his heart. “I know it hasn’t been all that long since they arrived, but... we’re all a kind of family, now, too. Aren’t we?”

Tarrant looks at her and thinks of the camaraderie that is slowly building in their little village. He thinks of the jokes and jests and hand shakes and slaps on the back and hails of welcome and cups of tea and the sharing of warm bread and fresh cream and just-harvested vegetables and...

“Aye,” he replies. “Ye’ve th’ right o’ it, my Alice. Hightoppians.”

She smiles.

He rubs the palm of his hand against her thigh and wonders aloud, “You look happier, Alice.”

The ache is still there – her ache – but he can see that her smile is genuine and the light in her eyes is true.

“Yes,” she says simply. “It’s going to be fine. Everything is going to be fine.”

And, for the first time since they’d made this enormous change in their lives and responsibilities, Tarrant believes it.

“Come help me with dinner,” she orders. “We’ve a disgruntled son to feed.”

He sighs but lets her stand and then pull him out of his chair.

Yes, Tam is indeed most disgruntled. Not only had he been denied a holiday Above, but all of his troubles had been waiting to welcome him home. Unfortunately, Chessur had not helped the matter:

“Back for another try, are we?” Chessur had purred upon seeing their frowning son. “And here I was sure you’d take to an Uplandish trade this time!”

As Alice and Tarrant cut up vegetables for stew and slice the bread and tear up non-sentient leaves of lettuce and cabbage for salad, the faint thumps of a rawhide drum can be heard from upstairs.

“I wish that meant he’d finished with his studies today, but...”

“Aye,” Tarrant answers with a frown. “More likely he di’nae pick up a single book or scroll.”

“Except to move them out of the way so he could get his drums out.”

Tarrant sighs.

That sigh follows him over the next few days. Tam is moody, depressed, and irritable – more so than normal – and Tarrant seriously begins to wonder about his son’s health.

“Could he be... ill?” he asks Alice one night as she washes the dinner dishes and he dries. From upstairs, Tam is strumming on his guitar angrily.

“Yes,” Alice replies. “It’s an ailment commonly known as Puberty.”

Tarrant winces and accepts the dripping earthenware bowl Alice hands him. “Mayhap the trip to Mamoreal will cheer him.”

“Dear Fates, I hope so.” She scrubs at the cast iron pan that the night’s potato pie had been baked in and grits out, “I don’t know what else to do.”

Tarrant isn’t sure either. Nightly quizzes on his studies had yielded very poor results. More responsibility around the village had in fact driven him more and more often to his room.

He wishes he and Alice had more time to spend with him but this budding settlement is their responsibility and there are other families counting on them and...

Tarrant looks up at the ceiling as a particularly harsh chord is aggressively strummed. “Alice... I’m afraid.”

“I know,” she says, her soapy hand reaching out and grasping his. She’s exhausted but she tries to reassure both him and herself: “If we can just be patient a little longer... Something will catch his interest soon. I’ll ask Mirana to let Tam, Lanny, and Ian run amok in Mamoreal Town together. Perhaps that will help. A little adventure, I mean.”

“Aye. Although I pity the craftsmen there... well. It’s for a greater good,” Tarrant decides. “Perhaps if they found a little trouble...”

“Exactly,” Alice agrees.

Unfortunately, Tam doesn’t.

“I don’t want to go to Mamoreal tomorrow,” he announces suddenly over the dinner table.

“I... beg your pardon,” Tarrant manages, his cheese sandwich forgotten halfway to his mouth.

“What’s the point?” Tam dares. “Nothing ever changes. Here. There. It doesn’t matter.” He looks up from stabbing his uneaten sandwich with his fork. “It’s boring everywhere.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Tarrant sees Alice’s jaw lock and her eyes flash. After nearly a week of constant un-gratitude and stubborn, self-imposed angst, Tarrant fears their son is one more stab of his fork away from a confrontation with Alice’s inner Champion.

“Be glad things aren’t changing,” he quickly replies, rubbing his stockinged foot over Alice’s beneath the table. “Boring is a good thing.”

Tam snorts. “Sure. It’s great. Why can’t I visit Win Above?”

“I’m seriously considering it,” Alice grits out.

Tarrant opens his mouth to say... well, to say something!

“Or better yet,” Tam continues, his eyes flashing with inspiration that is absolutely staged. “Why not just show me how looking glass travel works? Then I wouldn’t have to bother you to keep the mirror open at all!”

Tarrant sighs.

Alice takes a deep breath. “If you’re done mutilating your dinner, you may consume it at any time,” she informs him.

“I don’t like cheese sandwiches.”

“Then perhaps Your Majesty King Hightopp would be so kind as to prepare a menu so that your parents, who obviously have nothing better to do with their lives than cook meals for you and wash your dishes, might offer something more agreeable tomorrow night!”

And that quickly, Lady Hightopp – still too new and too tentative to be more than a forceful Idea – disappears in the wake of Champion Alice.

Tarrant’s wife stands and carries her plate over to the wash basin. She sets it down with a thunk!, steps into her boots, and grabs the tall, plain stave leaning beside the door with the cloaks and hoods. Tarrant watches Tam flinch when the door slams shut.

“It’s not fair,” his son informs the remains of his dinner.

“No,” Tarrant agrees, aching for his wife. Aching with his wife. “It isn’t. This is life, after all. And while you’re busy thinking on how life isn’t fair to you, go ahead and consider how fair it’s been to your Mam who had to give up her job and her friends to come here. Consider how fair it’s been to the Hightopp family, all but one of whom died in this very clearing because of the greed of the Bluddy Red Queen. Life was interesting then. Ver’excitin’! Why, one ne’er knew when ye’d be taken by th’ Red Knights, tortured, beheaded. Oh, aye,” he growls. “A ver’interestin’ time was had by all. Now, when ye’re done not eatin’, ye can wash yer dishes yerself an’ - as ye’ve an appointment wi’ Sir Fenruffle at Mamoreal t’morrow – ye can get teh work on yer studies.”

Tarrant doesn’t bother with his own dishes. He rises, grabs his shoes and the second stave, and follows his wife out the door.

He finds her in the clearing behind the manor where Chessur had delivered them the last time they’d held the Maigh here. It’s hard to believe that eleven years have passed since then. Especially when he’s faced with his wife’s depthless and brightly burning passion, be it rooted in anger or love.

The stave whistles through the air as she practices the moves he knows she fears she’ll one day forget how to perform. But he also knows she fears needlessly. When she turns, the staff arcing through the air and screaming toward him, he meets it with his own.

The fight is brief and Alice wins.

She pins him to the ground, her weight balanced equally on her shins which she uses to press his thighs down and on her hands which hold the staff across his chest. For a minute, she pants down at him, her eyes glowing with pure fire. He watches, spellbound, at the amber light that burns there. And then she stops pinning him to the earth. Her knees lower to either side of his hips. Her hands release and toss aside the stave. She presses against him, pelvis, chest, and lips.

“Stop with me,” she mumbles into his gasping mouth.

His hands reach for her. His brows twitch with concentration and intent and then...


The breeze stops. The sounds of the twilight creatures stop.

Everything stops... except for them.

Time stands still as they fight to get closer to each other. She takes him into her. He makes her feel every movement, every moment that passes for them... for only them.

Yet even as he joins her in the rush of release, he does not find peace. How can he? How can he knowing that Alice will always be a Champion and only sometimes a Lady? How can he knowing her greatest fear is obsoleteness and weakness? How can he knowing that when she is hurt or unsure or frustrated, her first instinct is to fight?

He’s lucky she enjoys it when he joins her in that. He’s fortunate that is something he can give her. But what of the need itself? Is that not tragic beyond compare?

He lies with her in the motionless silence of the Iplam twilight. They look up at the unmoving stars, at the snap-dragon flies frozen in mid-flight. Soon, they will release their hold on Time. Soon, they will allow life to live again. Soon, they will live again. But not now. Now they are two Champions in exile.

Until this moment, Tarrant had believed it had been only Alice who suffers from that particular affliction. But he sees the truth now. How can he not? How can he ignore the words he’d snarled at his own son?

For the survivors of the Bloody Big Head’s reign of terror... the fight will never be over. And he and Alice are merely playing at being a lord and a lady. The past, he realizes – remembers! – is just over his shoulder, calling his name, hoping to trip his step should he be tempted to turn and look back.


Tarra doesn’t look back as that blighter, Abler Masonmark, takes her hand and leads her into the orchards surrounding Crimson Harbor. Despite his need to remain hidden, Leif almost wishes she would. But, over the past few days – ever since her arrival at this harbor town – Tarra has not once looked back. She’s looked up, side to side, and in front of her; Leif has watched the results of Alice’s tutelage manifest themselves in Tarra’s confidence and subtle awareness of her surroundings.

And yet, she never looks back.

Does that mean she is aware of them? Of him? Of the ones who are watching out for her?

Or is she precisely what he’s always accused her of being: a thoughtless and careless little princess playing at being a warrior?

Bayto’s tail slaps Leif across the back of his knee and the lion jerks to attention. He’d been daydreaming again. Damn it.

It’s just as well Bayto had been the one to catch him at it. If Mally had she would have raised holy hell over it. Yes, it’s just as well she’d carefully climbed into the picnic basket Tarra had prepared for her luncheon date. No doubt Mally has already found her way into Tarra’s cloak pocket or hood. Quite possibly, Tarra is fully aware of her presence.

Not that it will be required.

There is nothing here. No rumors. No anti-White Queen sentiments. No rebellion. No danger.

None of the concerns Setteeson had described are present here.

Leif wonders if it had all been a ruse. He wonders if the White King and Queen are in danger... but how could they be with their guard and the army close by?

What had been the purpose of drawing Tarra and himself away from Mamoreal?

He cannot fathom it. Perhaps Alice could. His lips twist into a wry grin. Yes, Alice would definitely have an idea or two about their current situation. She is never short on ideas. If anything, she is grandiose.

The only thing grandiose about this... mission is the number of “friends” Tarra has managed to make, has managed to fool into believing she’s an Outlandish lass and not second in line to the throne of the White Realm. For the past three evenings, Leif had lurked and listened. As had Mally and Bayto. There had been merriment and a bit of flirting and quite a lot of bad jokes and even more gossip.

But not a single word against the queen. Not a single whisper of malcontent or rebellion. Not a single, stinking, solitary one.

So, there is no investigation to be had. That is very clear now. But Mally had been right about Tarra’s stubbornness: of course, the girl is refusing to go home. No one had asked her, of course, but Leif can see it in the tilt of her head, the lift of her chin, the tension around her eyes. She still thinks she has a job to do.

Obstinate child.

Well, let her do it. There is no danger here. Certainly not in broad daylight in an orchard frequented by young people on their Rest Day. What could possibly happen to her there? In that happy, populated place?

He waits with Bayto in their room at the inn and watches from the window. They have a good view of the street and there is no reason for Tarra or her... date to return to town by any other route. He watches as couple after couple leave town... and then some time later return. He waits as group after group of young people skip and trip their way to the orchards and then galumph back though the streets, energized and full of life.

He watches... but neither Tarra nor her... date return.

“It’s getting late,” Bayto whines.

Leif nods even as he wonders at the difference in temperament between this son of Bayard and Bayelle’s and his brother Bayne. Bayne would have made that observation ages ago along with a no-nonsense declaration about going out for a look. Whether Leif had approved or not.

“Let’s go,” Leif says and reaches for his cloak.

It’s almost natural by now to slink through the shadows. It almost doesn’t feel like the thievery he knows it is: he is stealing privacy from Tarra. He is stealing her freedom, her assumption that she is accomplishing this mission by herself, her culpability in the consequences of her actions.

But is it stealing if she never realizes he’d done it?

And is it stealing if she knows he’s there, but never looks back to confirm so? If she gives him tacit permission to be there?

All good questions. Unfortunately, this is not the time for them. Nor does Leif possess the patience required to sort them out at the moment.

He follows Bayto’s nose, which is by far superior to his own, out of the shadows of the town and into the orchard. The sun has set but the sky is still glowing. Soon, it will be dark but that doesn’t bother Leif. He has his sword and Bayto has his nose.

The third time Bayto turns around and retraces the same path within the orchard, Leif can’t stop himself from demanding, “What is it?”

Bayto doesn’t answer. He sniffs his way back into town, around the furniture workshop, around the buildings and stores Tarra had visited the day before, and then back to the orchard.

“What is it?” Leif commands on a hissing breath.

“Nothing,” Bayto replies, lifting his nose from the ground for the first time since they’d set out. “There’s nothing. She was here. Right here. And then... nothing.”

Leif stares dumbly at the hound’s black shape in the darkness.

Bayto concludes, “She’s... gone. Both she and Mally are just... gone.

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 4 of 15

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