Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 9 of 15

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One Promise Kept: Book 4

“Where are we?”

Tamial Hightopp – master of mirror magic and supplier of stupendous surprises – doesn’t answer his cousin’s dumbstruck question. Obviously, they are in a forest. The leaves have long since turned autumn colors and many carpet the earth. Considering the thick frost on the ground, Tam thinks he ought to feel colder than he does, but he doesn’t feel cold at all. As his mother would say: “Curiouser and curiouser.”

“That’s not an answer,” Win grumps in response to his mumbled observation. “Nor do I believe ’curiouser’ is a word.”

Tam snorts out a laugh. “You know, sometimes you sound just like Uncle Hamish.”

Win scowls. “What are we doing here? Was that Looking Glass Travel?”

“Er... yes. We went through the mirror... I think.”

“You think?

“How should I know if that was normal Looking Glass Travel or something else? It doesn’t usually feel all windy and swirly. And I’ve never opened a mirror myself before, all right?”

“This is not all right,” Win declares. “We don’t even know where we are!

Tam backs up a step and raises his brows. “You were the one who wanted to try it! What’s wrong with you?” A day ago, Win would have been over the moon with delight at finally having tried Looking Glass Travel!

Win snipes back, “What’s wrong with me? Not a bloody thing!”

Tam winces at the swear word.

“I’m just fine! Bloody fine! My dad maybe killed my father so he could marry my mum. Everything is FINE!

Tam flinches as the shout echoes in the forest. Given the frost on the ground, it’s very early morning rather than very late evening and Win is going to wake somebody up if he keeps bellowing like that!


Luckily, Win can’t think of an and after that. Tam lets out the breath he’d been holding. After a moment of tense silence, during which Win does not start shouting again, Tam says, “I was thinking about the duel. Your dad and Lord Manchester’s. And... who really killed Lord Manchester. You know, when I looked into the mirror.”

This seems to appease Win. Slightly. “Well, I don’t see any duels taking place right now—”

But even as he announces his complaint, the sound of an approaching carriage click-clack-crunches closer.

“There!” Tam says, pointing to a concealed trail not too far off. Indeed, just there is a carriage rolling along the rarely-used ruts that are meant to be a road through the forest. “C’mon!” Tam urges his cousin. Without looking over his shoulder to see if Win is following, Tam takes off after the coach. He frowns after a few strides when he realizes he can’t hear Win behind him. He stumbles to a halt and turns. Win nearly crashes into him.

Rather than berate him for his clumsiness, Win observes, “You’re not making any noise.”

“Neither are you.” Experimentally, Tam reaches out to the nearest tree trunk and presses his hand against it. Nothing happens to the trunk of the tree, of course. Tam’s hand, however...

“Watch out!” Win shouts, pulling Tam’s arm back. They both stare at Tam’s fingers which had, momentarily, disappeared into the tree.

“No, no, I’m fine,” Tam assures him. “See?” He wiggles his fingers to prove it.

“Let me try that!” Win presses his own hand against the tree. They both watch him sink up to his shoulder and his hand reappears out the other side of the trunk.

“That’s...” Tam says, feeling his eyes widen.

“Brilliant!” Win declares.

Feeling a bit enpuffed, Tam reminds him, “Well, that was what you wanted, right? Something brilliant?”

Win laughs. “I can always count on you.”

Tam smirks.

The carriage, however, has already rolled to a stop in the distance.

“C’mon!” Win orders and takes off through the woods.

They stumble to a halt behind a pair of trees lining a small clearing. In front of them, the carriage sits, its driver dozing and horse huffing.

“You know,” Win whispers. “I heard duels are often fought in places like this. Because they’re not permitted. You can get arrested and fined for fighting in one.”

“Really?” How different things are in Underland where it’s his Mam’s job to fight in duels! Or, at least, it used to be...

Tam turns toward the unmarked carriage. “Who do you suppose is inside?”

Win grins. “Let’s find out!”

They creep forward, mindful of staying out of sight of the driver and horse. But, again, they make no noise as they move so neither turn in their direction. They pause next to the coach and Tam contemplates the curtains covering the windows and the step hanging down under the door. If they can’t touch the step, how are they going to...?

“Of course!” Tam hisses, experiencing a brainwave.

Win shushes him but, again, none one seems to be the wiser.

“Watch this!” Tam demands and presses his own face through the side of the carriage. He opens his eyes once he’s sure he’s through. He grins as Win tries to yank him back, but he doesn’t relent until he’s gotten a good look at the coach’s occupant.

“It looks like a doctor,” he reports after he lets Win pull him back outside.

“A...? Wait, that didn’t hurt?” he squawks, forgetting to keep quiet.

“I didn’t feel a thing.”


“Try it.”

He does. Tam watches as Win’s entire head disappears through the carriage wall and then reappears when he leans back. “Brilliant!”

“I told you so.”

“The doctor didn’t even see me!”

Tam considers this. “I don’t think anyone can. Or hear us,” he muses, considering all the racket they’d been making with each new discovery of their abilities here.

Before Win can suggest putting either of those speculations to the test, another carriage clatters and clunks up the forest road. Again, it is unmarked, but Win squints at the driver.

“That looks like Grandfather Manchester’s driver...”

“So that must be your father in that carriage,” Tam deduces.

Win nods slowly. He looks rather nervous all of a sudden and Tam realizes that he has no memory of his father. “You’ve only seen him in photographs, right?”

“That I can recall...”

“Then let’s go have a look at him.” Tam jogs across the clearing daringly, right out in the open! No one seems to see him at all. Grinning, he approaches the carriage which stops, rocking gently on its springs. He can hear a muffled voice and a request:

“... wish you would tell me what Ascot did or said to provoke this.”

Tam frowns. That voice sounds oddly familiar...

“That was not part of our agreement,” a second man replies. “You’re here to watch Ascot be humiliated—”

“True. And I’m very much looking forward to it.”

“—and to keep my blasted brother-in-law from getting in the way.”

“Yes. I remember.”

Tam glances at Win and then both boys put their faces through the carriage wall. Tam examines Lowell Manchester’s face first as it looks very much like Win’s. Except Win has never looked that... mean. Not even just now in the forest when he’d been screaming at him over their accidental Looking Glass Travel.

“Ascot will likely choose foils. I hope you still remember which is the pointy end,” the other man muses, turning away from the window to smirk at Manchester. Beside him, Win gasps. Of course, it goes unnoticed by both men in the carriage.

“What is it?” Tam whispers, wary of speaking over an important revelation.

“The man from the pawn shop!” Win replies, reaching his arm through and pointing.

Tam frowns. “Why didn’t he tell us he was at the duel that day?”

“I don’t know...”

“Ah! That sounds like another carriage,” the second man remarks, pushing aside the curtain with his cane. “And here I half expected him to get cold feet.”

Lowell Manchester doesn’t answer. He watches through the window. Tam pulls his head outside for a moment to see the approaching carriage. When the Ascot coach comes to a halt and the door opens, Tam yanks on Win’s sleeve.

“Look! Look!

Turning, he does. And gapes.


“Uncle Hamish,” Tam finishes, still gaping.

They share incredulous stares. Once upon a time, eleven years ago, the man had been rather fit. Finally, Tam finds himself able to imagine his uncle fighting a duel. Luckily, he won’t have to imagine anything! Why very soon now they’ll...

Tam’s thoughts spiral away from him as the Ascot carriage door opens once more... and his own Fa steps out!

“Tam! What is your father doing here?”

He doesn’t know. He’d never heard anything about this! Ever!

No, he has no idea what his Fa is doing at Uncle Hamish’s duel, but he suspects he’s About To Find Out!



Alice sleeps as if this is the last chance she will ever have to enjoy the activity. She is so utterly still that Tarrant has to press his hand against her ribcage just to reassure himself that she’s still breathing. He touches her brow to check for one of those strange, contrary, hot fevers Uplanders are prone to. But she is fine. Simply... exhausted.

She even sleeps through the delivery of tea and the meal, although which meal it is, he can’t say as there are no windows in the room and thus no clues as to the time of day.

Tarrant does not recognize the woman who brings the tray, but she glances at Alice, a fond smile turning the corners of her mouth up.

“Poor dearlin’,” she whispers. “’Ave ’er eat a bit o’ this ginger bread soaked in tea firs’. She needs strength afore she can manage th’ stew.”

Tarrant can’t resist asking, “D’ye happen teh know Alice from when she was here... afore?”

“Och, the lass was summat!” the woman replies. “A righ’ laugh th’ way she carried on, leadin’ them warmongerin’ louts about by their noses!”

Tarrant blinks. That is not what he would have expected to hear at all about the time Alice had been held prisoner here. Why, even now he can remember the constant rolling-burning-aching-SAVE-ME! that had assaulted him during Alice’s every waking moment through the heart line. It appears that Alice had been far more successful at fooling everyone in Causwick than he’d ever imagined possible. But, then again, shame on him for underestimating Alice’s abilities to shape the impossible into Something Possible!

“’Tis a shame teh see ’er again like this, though,” the woman – either a maid or a housekeeper here – continues. “Back when th’ ground a-gyer’d an’ a-gimbled an’ we heard she went Up Thar... well, we was all cheerin’ fer ’er teh take up ’er sword an’ cleave those greizin’ guddler’s shukm – Val’reth an’ Oshtyer.”

Tarrant can’t help the twitch of his lips at her enthusiasm for seeing those two come to harm. “Ye di’nae take a likin’ teh either o’ ’em?”

“Oshtyer!” she spits. “Th’ booly geber was a’ways tryin’ teh get one o’ us girls on ’er one-some! Th’ prince woul’ put tha’ blighter in ’is place but tha’ Val’reth...” She shakes her head. “He ne’er di’ naught teh help us... ’Tis fortunate we aul look afteh each o’her here!” She nods decisively. “Sae, ye ask mae if’n I di’nae take a likin’ teh ’em. Nae, I mos’ certainly di’nae!”

“But... th’ twine o’ them were here on Jaspien’s invitation...” He frowns. “Yet ye d’nae cast blame on Jaspien fer...?”

“A mahn’s o’ly teh blame fer ’is aun faults. An’ considerin’ m’laird’s greatest desire is teh b’free o’ this wretched place, ’is punishment fer ’is err’ in judgmen’twas severe enough.” The woman pauses and looks at Tarrant. “Ye’ll tell th’ White Queen, aye? Tha’ m’laird ’as paid enough fer ’is crimes? ’Twasnae o’ly hisself he was thinkin’ o’ gettin’ better lands fer... Thar’s a fair number o’ us who ’ave nae place else teh go... who serve ’im b’cause he doesnae judge our crimes sae harshly...”

“Yer crimes?” he parrots in disbelief. He cannot imagine this matronly woman guilty of anything more frightening than stealing chicken eggs!

“Aye,” she says sadly. “Murder ’tis still frowned upon in th’ White Realm, las’ I heard.”

Tarrant regards her in stunned silence.

“Murder is murder,” she lectures him, lectures herself. “E’en if’n ’twas an accident. Or e’en if’n ’twas fer th’ best. M’laird’s a kenfull mahn, Laird Hightopp. An’ e’en th’ best o’ men ’ave their foolish moments. He’s nae perfect nor e’en saganstitute.” With a wry grin, she summarizes, “I woul’ ne’er expec’ tha’... None o’ us woul’. We’ve all o’ us ’ere made th’ same mistakes. Our laird, tae.”

Tarrant winces as a deep throb vibrates unevenly through his heart line. His hand, still resting on Alice’s shoulder, stirs, soothes. He knows she’s awake now, that she’d heard this woman’s plea.

“Gingerbread an’ tea,” the woman reminds him. “Then ge’ ’er teh try a bit o’ tha’ stew.”

He nods and waits until their visitor has closed the door behind her before turning toward his wife. “Alice?” he whispers.

“I’ve failed. Failed her and the others here,” she mouths without opening her eyes. He feels the sting of misery over his heart and carefully brushes her tangled hair back away from her eyes. “I should have realized...”

“Hush. Ye cannae save e’eryone,” he murmurs.

“I’m supposed to try,” she argues. “I’m not supposed to run away and leave people like her behind...”

Alice’s exhaustion is a beast he can feel bludgeoning her; he can Feel her unhappiness and malcontent and guilt and self-flagellation resonating in the blood of hers that he carries beneath his skin. “Ye need teh eat sommat, Alice,” he replies.

“Not hungry.”

“Laung pas’ ’ungry, ye mean.” Tarrant pours the tea, soaks the black spice bread and coos, “Open up, nauw, lass. ’Tis th’ Brunch Bandersnatch a-galumphin’ teh ye.”

“Want th’ Bedtime Bandersnatch,” she grouses, but obligingly opens her mouth. It’s awkward feeding her with one hand but the fact that she doesn’t even remember his injuries speaks volumes of her own state. But, just as the housekeeper had predicted, a slice of warm, soggy gingerbread later and Alice is opening her eyes.

At which time, of course, she Remembers.

“Tarrant! Oh, bloody...! Are you all right? Here, lie back and I’ll—”

“Ye’ll do naught. Chessur’s been by.” Despite his command, she pulls herself into a sitting position and fusses with his bandages. “Cleaned an’ stitched it. I’m fine.”

Seeing this for herself, Alice lets out a long sigh as she replaces the bandages. “Chessur’s here?” she confirms. “Did you send him on to Mamoreal?”

“Nae,” he replies, his brogue reasserting itself along with the Upsetting Possibilities the cat had raised regarding Jaspien and Alice and... “He’s looking in on our host... Ye di’nae tell me we were in bloody Causwick Castle!”

She nods, resignation slumping her shoulders. “I know.”

“Ye drugged mae, Alice,” he burrs, his accent thickening.

“Yes, I did.”

“An’ whot gehd woul’ I ’a been teh ye then were Jaspien teh come by expectin’ payment fer ’is hospitality?”

He sees he has surprised her with that. She looks up at him, frowning. The heart line lopsidedly transmits her confusion. “What?”

Tha’ ’tis precisely my question, Alice,” he replies, struggling not to let his temper gain control of him. “What di’ye promise th’ mahn in exchange fer helpin’ us?”

She reaches out to place a – most likely – comforting hand on his brow, but he remembers when she had done that before and had massaged Sleep Saver into his mind with her fingertips.

He flinches.

She notices.

Alice retracts her hand as if she fears he will bite it. Instantly, he is sorry. So very sorry. He knows she Feels it. Her expression softens but she doesn’t reach for him again. “I needed you to sleep and to stay still. You needed the rest but you would move and reopen the wound and... I was so tired I couldn’t... I’m sorry. I obviously wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“Neither was I just now.” He reaches for her and she permits him to draw her close until her arm is around his waist and her breath puffs against his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Alice.”

“As am I.” She sighs. “I’m glad Chess came. How did he find us?”

“Mally sent him.”

Alice snorts. “It’s a good thing we have so many friends to lecture him on doing the Right Thing.”

He chuckles his agreement.

“So Mally is safe? At Mamoreal?”

“Not precisely, no,” their erstwhile friend replies, materializing before them with a charming grin. “She’s currently hiding in Princess Tarranya’s cloak hood, keeping an eye on said princess – who seems to be getting along rather swimmingly with the – ahem – rebels.” Tarrant rolls his eyes at Chessur’s sarcasm. “Mally has also charged herself with fretting over the imminent stupidity of the rebels’ two captives. A lion man and a steelsmith I’m sure you’re both acquainted with.”

“Oh, bloody boggletogs,” Alice mutters, closing her eyes on a frustrated sigh.

“All in good time,” Chess does not reassure them. “Apparently this rag-tag rabble seems to think they can force the queen to step down. If I still understand Outlandish correctly, then their rally-cry is the freedom to bear arms.” Chessur rolls his eyes. “Only Outlanders would be proud to call themselves descendants of mercenaries.

Alice’s brows arc.

Chessur then turns toward Tarrant and comments, “If you were still curious as to what your esteemed host is up to at the moment... Well, he seems to think he’s going somewhere despite the queen’s edict for him to remain inside his castle until the end of Underland. Unless Underland has ended and I am unaware of it... or he amuses himself day in and day out with packing a trunk for the sole purpose of dragging it around the keep for exercise...”

“He’s requested an escort to Mamoreal,” Alice admits with obvious reluctance. “That was what he asked for... and what I’ve promised him.”

“Did he now? That is interesting...” Chessur purrs. “Well, I suppose even I would grow tired of the lovely view from these ramparts were I forced to look upon them for the last nearly-twenty years.”

Tarrant ignores the cat, as usual, and asks a pertinent question: “Why does he want to go to Mamoreal?”

“I wasn’t in any condition to ask at the time,” Alice replies. “So I don’t know. Chess,” she continues, turning toward the cat.

“Yes, Alice?”

“I need a favor or few.”

He sighs. “I thought as much. Well, get on with it.”

“Go to Mamoreal and have a carriage sent for us along with a dozen members of the guard. And a medicinal kit of properly brewed medicines would be useful.”

“That’s one favor... possibly one-and-a-half,” he remarks, counting aloud. “And the next?”

“Reassure the queen that everything is fine and she should not be listening to Sir Fenruffle right now.”

“And what do you imagine he’s saying?”

“Well, if they’ve spoken to Bayto and if they found detailed diagrams of the tunnels, he’ll be wanting to assemble an armed force and attack.”

“Oh, dear. He does have the penchant for being rather... action-oriented, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, I suppose that’s my fault. I gave him the taste for dramatic heroics when I had him act as our distraction.” At Tarrant’s inquisitive grunt, she elucidates, “Er, when the queen and I tried to escape Valereth’s mercenaries at the Southern Crossroads Inn.”

Tarrant vaguely recalls something about a battered Fenruffle, a twitchy and hovering Nivens providing wound care and... something about Thackery and scones...?

Chessur observes, “He still wears those Jubjub-gotten scars with pride.”

“He does. Feather-brained pompous...”

“Anything else, Alice?” Chessur purs.

“No... Yes!” She sends Tarrant a sheepish grin before addressing Chessur. “Don’t tell Sir Fenruffle I called him feather-brained or pompous.”

“And I was so looking forward to that!” he bemoans, smiling.

“I don’t doubt it.”

“Before I forget,” Chess continues rotating lazily on a swirling cloud of Cheshire essence, “You probably shouldnt hold Tarrant accountable for insinuating that you might have considered... submitting to Jaspien in exchange for succor... I believe I was the one who suggested it first.”

“I don’t doubt that either,” Alice replies as Tarrant marvels at the effort Chess is making... for him. For Alice. For someone other than his own cat self. Tarrant regards the cat sceptically; less than an hour ago by the feel of the time, they had both agreed not to be friends but, perhaps, this sort of subtlety will be permissible between them from now on...

“You have a gift for stirring up trouble, Cat,” she concludes with a wry grin.

Although cats can smile, they cannot chuckle, which is a shame for Tarrant is sure Chess would be indulging in that very gesture of humor Right Now if only he could. On a whisper and a whoosh, the cat disappears and Tarrant leans over and presses his lips to Alice’s temple.

“Did you honestly think I would... with... with... him?” she asks hesitantly, clearly referring to Jaspien and the demand that would have sent Tarrant into unavoidable and inconsolable madness.

“Chessur,” he replies slowly and with brutal honesty, “knows the identity of each and every one of my Greatest Fears, I’m afraid. And he has always been exceedingly talented at reintroducing me to them.”

“That one,” she answers, reaching for his right hand and grasping it tightly, “will never happen.”

“Another promise, Alice,” he warns her softly.

“Accept it,” she bids him and he is startled to hear the trace of fear in her voice and a sudden uneasiness along the damaged heart line. He imagines himself, dying... What wouldnt Alice do to save him? He shivers.

“I choose us,” he reminds her, not denying her oath.

“Us,” she agrees and then Silence wraps itself around them, warm and comforting in this strange room, in the dominion of a man who is still their enemy.

It’s quite a while before they get around to eating the stew. It is cold and congealed and not at all appealing, but it fills their stomachs and helps them sleep. Tarrant allows the darkness to take him away from the aching, stinging pain of his wound and the uncertainty in his mind.

If history holds true and the present follows the same pattern as the past, then they will need their strength soon, he knows.

Very soon.


Tamial Hightopp – secret sorcerer of Time and Place – gawks, unabashedly, with his mouth hanging wide open. It’s a good thing that it’s late autumn here and there are no flies buzzing around, because he’s pretty sure he would have caught one or two in his gaping maw. Of course, it’s also a good thing that the things and people here don’t seem to hear or see him. Those flies probably would have buzzed right through his head and kept on going...

“Did your father just...?” Win rasps.

“I... think so,” Tam admits as the verbal argument heats up in the small field. As unbelievable as it had been to watch Uncle Hamish duel – and duel well at that! – it had been even more shocking to watch his own Fa throw a knife with a tiny flick of his wrist and strike Lowell Manchester’s companion in the shoulder with it. Accusations are thrown, guns are mentioned, the duel is called to a halt and threats are issued (by Lowell Manchester to Uncle Hamish) and then everyone is climbing back into their respective carriages.

“Twimble fumpt,” Tam swears – part of him thrilling with glee at the liberty of saying the forbidden words and the knowledge that no one can possibly catch him at it! – and turns to Win. “Who do we follow?”

Win looks back and forth between the two carriages for a too-long moment. “My father,” he finally declares and Tam rolls his eyes.

“Which one?”

“Lowell,” Win replies, eyes narrowed at Tam’s sarcasm.

And then, as Tam turns toward the carriage, he realizes Their Problem. “Uh, how are we going to get inside... and stay inside?”

Win gives him a panicky glance.

So its up to me to figure it out... again, Tam acknowledges. “Bluddy bulloghin’ boggletogs...” he mutters, glaring at the carriage. The driver begins gathering the reigns. Well, one way or another, they’ll know if they have any other abilities in his place.

Tam lifts his foot, frowning with resolution, and places it on the carriage step. Stands up. And stays there. He grins. “Grab on!” he calls to Win as he focuses on grasping the nearest protrusion and braces himself with his Will. “Grab on and mean it!” he orders.

Win complies, his expression morphing from a fierce scowl into a grin of delight in the second it takes the driver to crack the reigns and the horse to take off.

“Does this mean we can touch other people if we really think about it?” Win asks as the wind does not blow through their hair or snatch away their words.

“I don’t know!” Tam admits. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could?!”

The ride is long and bumpy but the poor performance of the coach’s wheels over the rutted forest road and then the country lane and then the gunk-filled London streets never bothers them. Tam inhales deeply, relishing the lack of coal dust and the absence of shukm-stink in the air. They wind though the maze that is The Great Upland City until the carriage clatters to a stop in front of a residence Tam has never seen before. He glances at Win, who is frowning up at the building.

“You know this place?”

“No,” his cousin replies, stepping down from the carriage. Tam does likewise. The sun has risen, but it’s still early and not many people are out and about. The carriage door opens slowly and Lowell Manchester’s companion gives the street a brief inspection before pulling Win’s father outside.

“Roberts,” Lowell calls to the driver.

“Yes, sir?”

“After he sees me inside, Mr. Blakefield will require transport home.”

“Very good, sir.”

Tam and Win follow the pair of men up the stairs. “What do you think?” Tam whispers, despite knowing no one except Win can hear him. “Do we stay with Lowell or go with Blakefield?”

“Lowell,” Win decides again.

A startled-looking butler – far more animated than Mr. Brown! – pulls open the door and Blakefield more or less drops Lowell into the man’s arms.

“Do let me know the details of the next meeting, won’t you?” he drawls, already turning on his heel and trotting down the steps.

Lowell doesn’t answer. “Get me inside, damn you!” he barks at the still gaping butler.

“Yes, sir. I beg your pardon, sir!”

Tam and Win scuttle through the open doorway before the butler manages to close it. It seems silly, Tam realizes as he stands in the foyer of the grand but unfamiliar house, to have rushed. They probably could have just walked throughthe door...


“Madam Manchester,” the butler begins, “I have no notion—”

“I don’t pay you to have notions. Help me upstairs then smarten yourself up!” Lowell demands of the butler, ignoring the woman hovering uncertainly in the hall. Tam stares at this much younger version of Aunt Margaret. He stares and he thinks, maybe Uncle Hamish really did fight Lowell for her heart...

Win charges up the stairs after his father and the butler who is assisting him. Tam, unwilling to be left behind in this Mirror Past (even if he is the master of it!), scrambles after them.

Just like with the carriage, his Intent is enough to keep his feet from sinking through the steps and then down through the second floor rugs and back onto the first floor parquet. He follows his cousin at a brief distance, feeling somehow shy at this moment.

The butler settles Lowell Manchester on his bed and then hurries from the room when his employer bellows, “If youve finished gawking and gathering up gossip, GET OUT!

Tam flinches, glad that this man isn’t his Fa and Very Sorry that he is Win’s. Tam moves to stand next to his cousin in the room but doesn’t say anything. Lowell removes his boots and jacket and waistcoat, wincing very dramatically with each motion.

“I wish we could do something to help,” Tam mumbles awkwardly, seeing the red blood – just like his Mam’s – seeping through the man’s white shirt and staining the bed sheets beneath his sliced thigh. “We could try to touch him, I guess...” His stomach rolls at the thought. Tam does not want to be anywhere near this man.

“I don’t want to touch him,” Win answers in a hushed and strained whisper. Tam glances at him and watches as his cousin’s fingers curl in on themselves until Win’s hands a fully fisted and his skin stretches white over his knuckles. “I don’t think I like him very much...”

Tam probably would have thought of something to say – although maybe it wouldn’t have been all that wise or funny... it’s hard for him to imagine a saying that would sound nice or a joke that would be funny Right Now – if the door hadn’t opened behind them and Aunt Margaret hadn’t swept into the room with a pitcher of steaming water and a pile of linens over her arm.

“What happened to you?” she asks her husband as she sets the stack of fabric down on the bureau and goes to collect a very old-looking porcelain water basin.

“Nothing, Margaret.”

Surprisingly, Tam’s normally Muchy aunt doesn’t argue. He’s heard her get after Uncle Hamish often enough to know that her silence is very strange, indeed. Win scowls, obviously agreeing. Aunt Margaret never accepts “Nothing” as an adequate response... to anything.

She sets the basin down on the nearby sideboard and pours some of the steaming water into it. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you’ve been out dueling, Lowell Manchester,” Aunt Margaret remarks in a tight tone. She reaches over to pick up the first square of linen but a hand darts out and wraps itself around her wrist.

Tam and Win watch, frozen with horror, as the man pulls her to the bedside. She tries to twist away, to free herself, and then, gasping, begins clawing at the hand that looks far too big, far too strong, far too tight around her slender arm.

“You’re... you’re hurting me...” she protests with frightening hesitancy.

“Good,” he replies, shackling both her wrists in his hands. “Good, you despicable harlot. It’s meant to hurt!” His fingers wrap even tighter around her arms.

“Ah... Ah-ha!! Please stop, Lowell!

“Why should I? Will you? You’ve been spreading favors behind my back, Maggie?

“Ow... Lowell! Please!

“Please, what?” he demands, a sharp-toothed, humorless grin stretching his mouth. “Please forgive you? Please don’t punish you? You deserve it, you know.”

PLEASE STOP!” she shouts and with a growl and a sneer, he shoves her away from him. She steps backward, trips over his discarded boots, steps on the hem of her skirt and crashes against the wall. The sound is a sickening smash that makes Tam want to heave right there in full view of... well, the only person in the world he would rather die than be violently ill in front of.

Lowell laughs as Margaret pushes herself up off of the wall and probes her jaw and cheek gingerly with her fingertips.

“Have I broken anything?” he asks with amusement.

“Only my illusions,” she replies. She does not look at him as she gathers herself and makes her unsteady way toward the door. “I’ll call the doctor. Clearly, you are not well, sir.”

When she leaves, Tam and Win go with her. They don’t even have to confer on this; neither of them wishes to stay in the presence of that... that...

“I don’t like your father very much, Winslow,” Tam whispers.

“I don’t either,” his cousin replies after a moment. “And my name is Win.”

Tam nods. “Sorry.”

Win sighs and stops at the bottom of the stairs. Aunt Margaret orders the butler to go and fetch the doctor immediately and, once the front door closes, her stiff posture melts and she dashes for the first floor water closet. Through the door, they can hear the sounds of her sobs and retching. Win takes off and dashes into the library. Tam watches as he struggles with the door, trying to close it, trying to shut out all the awfulness in this house, but his hands slip and slither through it.

He finally gives up and presses his hands to his ears. “I want to go back,” he declares, glaring at Tam. “Right now.”

“Go back?” he parrots stupidly. Go back?! Tam isn’t even sure how they’d managed to Get Here in the first place! “Uhm...”

“You don’t know how,” Win finishes for him, sneering. “Bloody fantastic, Hightopp. Brilliant. Now we’re stuck here! For how long? Do you even know that?

“No, I don’t,” he shouts, his frustration boiling over. “And don’t blame me for this! You wanted to know the truth! You don’t get to put it all on me just because you don’t like it!”

Tam rushes from the room in silence. He pounds down the hall without a single percussive step. It’s very unsatisfying, he decides, to stomp and blunder so very quietly. He races over to the window and glares at what he can see of the world outside through the weave of the draperies. He reaches for the curtain, absently trying to push it aside before he remembers that he can’t. He can’t touch or be touched by anything Here. He can’t be heard, either. Still, there is an advantage to being so quiet; he can hear everything else in the house. There’s a bit of clanking occurring in the kitchen and a floorboard squeaks above his head at one point. None of these noises alert him to Win’s return, though.

“Sorry,” he says. “For shouting.”

“It’s all right,” Tam replies turning from the lace-curtained window and the view of the backyard garden. “It’s... fine.”

“So... how are we getting home?” he asks after a minute.

Tam sighs. “I’m still not sure. But let’s try.”

And they do. They find the nearest full-size mirror and Tam struggles to copy his actions from earlier.

“Take us back to Uncle Hamish’s house in London!”

“Take us home!”

“Open up, you bloody-minded looking glass!”



Night approaches and, oddly enough, despite the meals that have come and gone, Tam doesn’t feel the least bit hungry. “Do you think we’re ghosts?” Tam asks off-handedly as he lounges on the sofa with his booted feet up on the low table opposite.

“Or figments?”

“Yeah, maybe this is a dream.”

“That would mean we just have to wake up.”

But neither of them can think of how to do that.

The sun has sunk down behind the line of houses across the street from the front parlor – which they had decided to inspect to pass the time – when a carriage pulls up out front and a black-cloaked man in a very fine top hat steps out. He ascends the steps slowly and with the aid of his cane, his back rigid with pride. Once again, the butler attends to the door.

“Lord Manchester! May I take you coat and hat, sir?”

“I won’t be staying long.”

Tam joins Win at the door and they watch as an older gentleman relinquishes his hat and walking stick to the butler’s care.

“Make yourself comfortable, sir. I shall let Lady Manchester know you are here.”

“No need. I’m here to see my son. Where is he?”

“Upstairs in his chambers, resting, sir.”

Tam exchanges a look with Win. Again, they do not need to say anything to decide their next course of action. They follow.

They have to run up the stairs to keep up with the older man’s brisk pace. And Tam feels his brows climb up his forehead when the man simply barrels into his son’s room without knocking.

“You have humiliated this family for the last time!” the elder Lord Manchester announces in a mockery of greeting as he slams the door shut. Tam and Win press their way through the door and watch as Lowell attempts to rise from the bed. His face is pale and sweaty and his eyes feverishly bright.

“Father, I...”

“Am a waste of Manchester flesh! Gaming debts. Women. Brothels. Drinking in the middle of the day! And now this! Dueling!” The man glares down at his son.

Lowell blinks, confounded. “How did you know about...? Ah. Bloody Roberts.” He snorts. “I see my driver has found additional gainful employment with you.

“An expenditure that would never have been necessary if you weren’t so obviously in need of nannying!” the elder Manchester retorts. “Do you know how much your exploits have cost this family?”

The mention of money seems to jar Lowell and he hastily rasps, “I just need a little more – just a small advance on next year’s salary – and everything will be fine, sir. Just—”

“It is never just a small advance, is it Lowell? Let’s call a spade, a spade.” He stares at his son who has finally managed to sit up and is slumped on the edge of the bed. The effort has cost him; he can barely keep his head up. The man doesn’t protest his father’s next words, “You are useless to me. Utterly useless. No, I should like to amend that. You are an utter loss, Lowell Manchester. You have cost me time, money, and pride. I’ll not permit you to destroy the Manchester name as well.”

“So you would have me be thrown in gaol?” Lowell asks weakly.

“Are you deaf, boy? No, I won’t let you ruin this family and disgrace our reputation by going to gaol!

“Then what...?”

“You will go abroad. To the Americas.”

“The Americas?” Lowell chokes, raising his head finally. “What am I to do there?

“Do whatever you feel compelled to do,” Lowell’s father replies. “My preferences have never held much weight here; I don’t expect you to honor them anywhere else!”

“I’m sor—”

“Yes, you are. A sorry excuse for a son. I wash my hands of you.” Lord Manchester turns on his heel and storms toward the door. Tam and Win reflexively dive out of his way. “I will make the arrangements and be back later this week with the details of your travel itinerary. In the meantime, I suggest you make your preparations.”

He pauses at the door and turns to inform his badly shaken, pale and trembling son. “I believe one of Ascots’ ships is setting sail this following weekend and you will be on it.”

“Heading for America...” Lowell mutters, shuddering with distaste.

“Yes.” And with that, Lord Manchester opens the door and makes his displeasure felt in his abrupt exit. He stomps down the hall toward the stairs and Tam stares after him, Win by his side.

“America,” the older man mutters to himself with grim determination. “But I’ll be damned if you ever have the chance to set foot on it!”

Tam gasps, turns toward his cousin, reaches out and grasps Win’s shoulder, opens his mouth...

… and then the wind currents that had sucked them both into the Looking Glass Past swallow them up and spit them back out... onto the rug in Tam’s room in Uncle Hamish and Aunt Margaret’s house.

For a moment, he stares up at the ceiling, which looks exactly the same as it had when they’d left; the gloaming not-quite-light of the gray day is still reflecting across the plaster and – there! – across the room the window is still displaying the same rainy scene that it had earlier...

“We’re back!” Tam announces. Grins.

He turns toward Win and finds his cousin lying beside him with his hands covering his face.

“Win...? What is it?” But then, just as he asks, Lord Manchester’s parting remark catches up to him:

“Yes... America... but Ill be damned if you ever have the chance to set foot on it!”

He swallows, turns toward the mirror, remembers his own desperate command to the looking glass, and gapes:

“Show us the duel... Show us who killed Lowell Manchester...”

The mirror had done precisely that. It had transported them to the duel and it had kept them there until the murderer had revealed himself. And – if the Looking Glass Past is to be believed (and Tam fears it can be trusted to show the Truth... for what else would it show?) – the man who had killed Lowell Manchester is Lord Abbercombe Manchester.

Win’s own grandfather.

One Promise Kept: Book 4

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 9 of 15

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