Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 10 of 13

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One Promise Kept: Book 5

“Alice...” Absolem had sighed with something that might have been contempt except that Alice has, over the years, come to know him well enough to realize it is merely exasperation twisting his mouth into an expressive grimace and stiffening his posture. “I shall continue to be tormented by stupid girls, I see.”

“Yes, you shall,” she had replied, biting back a smile. Despite his cantankerous tone, it had felt wonderful to hear the sound of his voice again. “As the most absolute creature in all of Underland, I, under instruction to do so by the Fates, deliver the Oraculum into your keeping.”

“Hm...” he had mused and, had he had his hookah at hand, he would have puffed mighty rings of smoke in the interim between then and his next words. “Very interesting.” High praise, indeed, Alice had known, watching him study the contents of the scroll which she had placed on Mirana’s office desk for his convenience.

“And I see I’m to tolerate yet another of your kind here, on Griblig Day,” he had muttered without any real heat. “At a secret location. No doubt I will have told only a hint of it to each of these creatures here so that they must escort this Alice to it together.”

“A perfect plan,” Alice had said. “The location will remain safe then, even in the event that one or two are captured or careless.”

“Or a spy for the Red Queen,” he had ruthlessly added and Alice had appreciated that ruthlessness, that realism. It is a skill she has employed often herself.

At the caterpillar’s insistence, the meeting had been brief and Alice had submitted to the Royal Steel Smith for measurements. She had half-expected to find Tarrant there, with a measuring tape in hand and broad grin expressing the pleasure that also lights his unfocused green eyes, but no, there had been no Mad Hatter to greet her in the workshop. And she had known that the chance of her seeing that smile upon meeting him again would be small. In the throne room, he had hesitated, visibly fretted; he had likely sensed the End drawing nearer: the End of Alice’s time here; the end of his luxury of time to grieve... and soon all the rest will Begin.

Alice watches Tarrant Hightopp nimbly sidestep a lunge from the captain of the White Guard and counter the armored soldier’s next thrust with a heartfelt parry. Of course she had not wanted this for him. She had wanted to save him from the sacrifices and the pain that are ahead of him. But what she wants is only a useless ghost of a dream here. Out of necessity, she had made him promise to fight and to win. Perhaps those promises will be enough – a guarantee – to ensure his safe passage through time until her younger self arrives.

As her future husband attacks the captain of the guard with much improved skill, Alice finds herself both envying and pitying the younger Alice who will arrive in half a year’s time. She envies her for having a future with this man to look forward to, to savor and enjoy and live . And yet she pities her for all the hardships, the pain, the mistakes she will make and moment when she will eventually lose him. Alice knows she can change none of that.

She had been tempted – so tempted! – the night before, when Tarrant had confessed his desire to prove himself, to make her proud of him, to tell him that she has always been proud of him, but she hadn’t. Couldn’t. It will be that need – in part – that drives him to succeed in his role as Leader of the Resistance. It will be that ambition that will endear him – to a certain extent – to her younger self.

Alice wishes she could have stayed with him, but when the weak light of the creeping dawn had spilled in through the window, she had crept out of bed. She had dared to press one kiss to his temple as he had slept peacefully – rather than fiercely or fearfully! – upon the bed. The bed... which will become their bed in the apartment which had been given to the Gray Lady but which Tarrant will claim for himself and then, years later, open to her, his young wife, his Alice...

No, Tarrant will never tell his Alice about the Gray Lady. Perhaps because the memory is too fraught with emotion; perhaps because it would be too difficult to explain their friendship and the context that had brought it about; perhaps because he remembers what she had tried to teach him and honors her memory daily by the very fact that he had chosen to live there, in the very rooms where they had said their good-byes. And, perhaps, for him, that is more than enough. Any words beyond those actions would be... unnecessary.

Shivering with her almost-constant, icy companionship as her heart line decays, Alice watches him from the depths of the orchard, heart aching and breaths wheezing with unshed tears. She is still unsure if the task that the Fates had set her is a blessing... or a torment. And when she at last turns away, it is with both satisfaction and regret.

Leaving the castle is easier than entering it had been, in the end. She merely waits for the guards to be distracted by a group of courtiers making their whispering way through the gardens and slips out beyond the gate. The exertion is brief, but it makes her weakened heart pound and stutter. When she had checked earlier, she had confirmed that her heart line is now completely gray and the Heart Mark has begun to crumble and blur. It had happened much faster than she’d expected and can only assume that as her task has drawn to an end so has her reason to Fight against Death.

It won’t be long, now, she knows. She must leave very soon if she is to receive her reward from the Fates and return home to her husband and her son, but there is one more thing she would like to do – one more thing she, perhaps, must do – before she departs...

And there!

Through the trees, Alice sees a flash of murky grayish white, the matted coat of a large and terrible beast. She steps off the trail and heads for him until she finds herself in a small clearing, facing the Bandersnatch.

The meeting is brief, but necessary.

Mindful of spies, she instructs her future ally in the softest of voices, “Ally yourself with the Red Queen so that when Alice arrives, you will be able to help her. And allow yourself to be entrusted with guardianship over the Vorpal Sword. Alice will need it, when the time comes.” Eyes watering from his pungent smell, Alice leans back and asks, “Do you think you can do all of that?”

And when he assures her that he can, Alice has no reason to linger. She tells herself that there is no need to entertain the overwhelming urge to see her future lover once more; she will have him in her arms again soon. Very soon. All that she must do is let go of this Underland, where she no longer has a place, where she does not belong.

This is the moment, then. The instant she had acquiesced to the Fates’ request for. She can only pray that she has put her friends and future husband on the path that will lead to peace, to the White Queen, and – she selfishly and desperately hopes – to the birth and life of Tamial Hightopp.

Her heart struggles and aches in counterpoint to the chill beneath her skin as she turns her gaze upward, closes her eyes, and whispers the fateful words, “Fates of Underland, I Court Thee...”

And after a moment of windless silence, of Stopped Time, They Accept.




Alice opens her eyes and lets out a sigh of relief at the sight that greets her:

The Mock Turtle, the Sheep, and the Knight.

All three stand to the side of the single torch in the long, black hall that Alice suspects is both Nowhere and Everywhere. For, truly, where else could she possibly hide from Death? The chill that had begun to harden her heart is gone, numb, and the relief is such that, had there been a chair present, Alice would have damned her pride and collapsed into it.

“Well done, Your Majesty,” the Sheep congratulates her.

“I couldn’t have done better myself!” the Knight proclaims, applauding vigorously.

The Mock Turtle sniffles and weeps, his beaky mouth curved up at the ends in a bitter-sweet smile. “You followed our instructions to the letter!”

“Instructions?” Alice queries. “The collection of the Oraculum from the Duchess and delivery of it to Absolem?”

“As well as others,” the ewe warbles.

The Knight takes it upon himself to begin a tallying of Alice’s accomplishments:

“You awakened Mallymkun!”

“Sent the Bandersnatch to his post!”

“Tempted the Cheshire Cat into just enough politicking!”

“Modeled for the Champion’s armor!”

“Informed everyone that the Right Alice would slay the Red Queen’s Jabberwocky!”

“You prepared the Hatter for his destiny: the training, the prophecy, the Pishsalver, and, most importantly, the haircut.”

“Very true,” the Knight points out. “One cannot be a ragamuffin on the battlefield and expect to win.”

“In short,” the Sheep summarizes, “you completed your task perfectly.”

“Yes, yes,” the Knight quickly agrees. “I don’t think any additional prophetic dreams will be necessary to keep things on course. We can allow the March Hares a rest.”

The Mock Turtle turns to Alice and says with rare gentleness, “You brought all things to bear on the future you lived, precisely.” He sniffles. “Right down to Tamial, the next Hightopp, the next Master of Time.”

“I’m glad,” Alice sighs, beyond relieved.

“Time isn’t,” the Knight remarks. “But that’s another matter.”

“And you are weary,” the Mock Turtle observes, his droopy-lidded eyes still glistening with tears.

She nods. “I’m ready to go home.”

“That we can do, dear. If you’ll but follow that door there—” The Sheep points down the long, black hall to the door opposite the one that Alice had used at the inception of her quest. “—it will lead you back to your home—”

“Your room—”

“And your very bed, night clothes and Hightopp-fashioned hatpin wedding ring,” the Knight assures her.

Alice smiles. “And into my husband’s arms...”

She is of half a mind to simply rush to the door – as fast as her exhaustion will allow – and throw herself across the threshold, but she pauses, turns her full attention toward the Fates, intends to express her thanks. It would only be polite to do so! (It amazes her, in an abstract sort of way, that she no longer wishes to scream-blame-accuse them of killing her husband. Not when she is this close to having him back! Her rage at their blatant manipulation subsides in the face of this miracle which will make everything Right again!)

She smiles at the Fates...

… and pauses.

Looking from one guilty, uncomfortable expression to another, Alice hears herself croak out, “What?”

“Er...” the Knight says.

“Well, dearie...”

“Oh! Tell her!” the Mock Turtle moans.

Although Death had been halted in his tracks and Alice no longer endures the chill of his Advance, she shudders as a cold fear dances through her body, prickling her skin and stopping her breath. “Tell me what?” she mouths, her voice as soft as a snowfall without wind.

“Death...” the Sheep begins.

“... is rather beyond us to undo,” the Knight admits. “We are Fate and our domain is over the living.”

“Oh, we can snip a thread,” the Sheep admits.

“But once gone, it’s Gone For Good!” the Mock Turtle sniffles. “The dead no longer have a fate, you see.”

“Yes, it’s quite beyond us to call someone back,” the Knight concludes. “A problem I have bent my mind upon time and time again, I assure you!” His rush to explain does nothing to calm Alice, who fears her very next breath will shatter her, destroy her. “But there it is,” the white-haired, be-armored man-Fate says. “There’s not a thing we can do to put Tarrant Hightopp’s soul back into his body.”

“The scar, now that it has accomplished its Intent... that can be removed,” the Sheep offers but the comfort of the words is cold because...

“But you cannot make his heart beat again,” Alice concludes.

The Mock Turtle slowly shakes his head. “Nor breathe life back into his lungs.”

“Only the one who restores his soul to his body can accomplish those things,” the Sheep explains. “And we have no influence over those in Death’s domain.”

“We are so very sorry,” the Mock Turtle murmurs on a wet sob.

“But we thank you most sincerely for your assistance!” the Knight cheers.

Alice is unaware of her actions until she feels her right hand reach for and grasp the pommel of her sword. “This... is not acceptable,” she growls, recovering from her shock and riding the high, hot tide of betrayal. “You killed him so that I might Court you!”

“Well, we could hardly send you a message, could we?” the Knight protests.

“We tried, you know,” the turtle sighs out. “But you’ve never been able to properly decode March Hare mumblings.”

“And I’m afraid Uplander minds don’t take well to Prophetic Dreams,” the Sheep explains.

Alice goggles at them. “That does not change the fact that you three destroyed my life to right your own mistake!”




The Knight glances at the Sheep who shares a chagrined look with him. “I suppose we did do that,” the Knight admits.

“Leave me out of this!” the Mock Turtle cries. “I wanted no part of this misery to begin with!”

“And yet that is your very area of specialization,” the Sheep argues.

“Regrets! I am the embodiment of Regrets, you wool-minded, knitting-needle-capped bleater!”

The Knight hurries to circumvent the brewing argument from escalating. “A mere slip of the tongue! Let’s focus now, everyone!”

“Indeed,” Alice growls. She lunges with speed that her aged body should not permit and pulls the Knight away from the relative safety of his companions. She locks one arm around him and presses the hunting knife they had equipped her with against the underside of his chin.

“Tell me,” she croaks in the infinite and shocked silence of the black, Hallowed Halls of Time, “how to save my husband’s life.”

The Sheep and the Mock Turtle stare at her and at the embodiment of the Future, a hostage in her arms. She half expects them to vanish the knife from her grasp and simply kill her, but they do not.

Quickly, she presses her advantage. “You said,” she grits out, “that you could not save him, but you did not say that I could not. Tell me what I must do.”

“Only the impossible,” the Sheep says stiffly.

The Mock Turtle shakes his head. “Dreadfully difficult.”

“That has never stopped me before and it will not now.”

“Well, you’ll accomplish nothing by Killing the Future,” the ewe informs her haughtily.

Alice must admit – although she does so with reluctance – that the Sheep is correct. She lowers the knife from the Knight’s throat and spins him around. “You have investigated nearly all there is to investigate,” she says to him. “All of you created and keep Underland—” This she directs to all three.

“Technically, there are not three of us.”

“Nor is there one of us or a hundred of us.”

“Fate is very fickle that way.”

Alice refuses to allow the riddles they speak to distract her from her goal. “One or a thousand,” she says, dismissing their number as irrelevant, “you know how it can be done. Tell me.”

When no one rushes to comply, she reminds them, “I have done you a service!”

“And services demand payment,” the Knight acknowledges with a sage nod.

“But what a waste of a request!” the Mock Turtle despairs.

“Yes,” the Sheep agrees kindly. “You’ll do better to ask for your own kingdom, Your Majesty. Or an auspicious future for your son and his descendants. Those things we can guarantee. This... other thing...”

“You will fail!” the Mock Turtle chokes out, bawling.

“And our debt to you will not be paid,” the Knight explains, eyeing the knife that she still holds with what can only be curiosity in his eyes.

“Then you’d best give me as much assistance as possible with this,” Alice replies, “to ensure that I do not fail.”

The Mock Turtle sniffles.

The Sheep sighs.

The Knight declares, “She’s rather stubborn, isn’t she?”

“Quite,” the ewe agrees. “Very well, Champion of the White Queen, wife of Tarrant Hightopp, Lady of Iplam, Alice Kingsleigh of London. If this is your request, then we will oblige.”

“And when I succeed,” Alice deliberately expresses, her suspicion of them manifesting into a bitter taste on the back of her tongue, “I will be in my husband’s arms and he will be alive and well. We will have our family, our son , and our future will be before us.”

“Just as the Past will forever be behind you,” the Mock Turtle agrees.

“And the Present your omniscient shadow,” the Sheep concurs.

Having received their word and unable to detect any notes of trickery or miscommunication, Alice sheathes her knife.

The Knight smiles and does not make her ask yet again for the information she seeks. “All – and everything – you must do is as simple as following the light at the end of the tunnel, and then closing your eyes and ears to the Beyond...”

“You may call out to the Hatter, but you must not hear his answer...”

“And you may wander as far and as wide as you like, for as all roads in life lead to Death, all roads in death lead to Life...”

“But in death you will join him should you see or hear or touch or smell or taste anything in that realm.”

“Do you understand, Your Majesty?” the Sheep challenges. “This is impossible.”

Alice replies, “I may call but must not hear. I may walk but must not feel or see. I may open my mouth but must not taste. I may breathe but must not smell. Yes, I understand.”

“And,” the Mock Turtle informs her sadly, “despite all that, he may chose to not return with you. The choice must be his, you know, and his family is there with him, welcoming him and healing him. Should he return with you, he will recall none of that.”

“They will be lost to him again,” the Sheep elaborates.

Alice pauses. She considers that for a long moment. And then, closing her eyes briefly, she swallows down her regret, clears her throat and speaks. “He will choose me,” Alice asserts with quiet confidence. Tarrant had promised her that: he had sworn that he would always choose he-and-she over all else. “What dangers will I face? And Tarrant? What dangers are there for him?”

“Only two,” the Knight replies. “The one previously mentioned – if you perceive the Beyond, you will be bound there. And one other – you may call, but anyone may hear you... and answer. There is no way for you to prevent another soul from following you back to Life and into your husband’s body.”

“Tarrant himself will have to fight off the innumerable others who thirst for life,” the Mock Turtle bluntly states and Alice shivers.

The Sheep checks once more, “Are you sure of this path, dear? Death is seductive to many of those in its realm and hungry souls that do exist will be ruthless in their pursuit of you. He is happy there, at peace. In Calling him, you will be asking more of him than you will ever know...”

Her half-hardened heart aches at the thought of asking him to fight yet again. But she knows that, should she change her mind and return without him, she will die and Tamial will be alone, and Tarrant will be utterly disappointed in her for failing their son.

This time, unlike over the duration of her assignment in the past, she has a choice. This time, it will be only herself she can blame if things go horribly wrong: if Tarrant does not choose her or if he cannot fight off the souls hungering for life again. She may awaken in her bed, with her husband’s body in her arms and the soul of a stranger behind his eyes. But if she returns without trying, if she gives up on him – on them – now...

She has a choice. A terrible choice. And the choice must be hers.

She makes it:

“I am sure. I will fetch him from Beyond.”

The Sheep shakes her head in silence.

The Mock Turtle weeps anew.

The Knight steps toward her, curves a gentle arm around her shoulder and turns her toward the torch on the black marble wall. “Then into the tunnel you go, Champion.”

“The tunnel?” she checks, looking from him to the flame upon the torch.

“Yes,” he reminds her kindly, “the light at the end of the tunnel we mentioned. Here it is.”

“But it is only a light...” Alice protests weakly. “There is no tunnel.”

“Hence the impossibility!” the Sheep asserts.

Alice looks away from her as the Knight clucks his tongue at his woolly companion in censure. “Now, now, the Uplander mind is not a thing to be underestimated!” He turns to Alice and, expression eager, he says, “I know you will find a way, as you so often have done before, to save those you love. Show us your Uplander Logic, Champion, and solve this conundrum for me once and for all, for it has vexed me so!”

She turns away from his encouragement, unsure if she ought to be wary of it or soothed by it, and gazes at the flame. The light. The light at the end of the tunnel. She sighs. It is a riddle, of course. Which means she must solve it.

Very well.

There is a light at the end of a tunnel; that is given. And if the light is here, and it is at the end of the tunnel, then that means...

She steps forward, away from the Knight.

“It is as simple – and impossible – as passing through the light at the end of the tunnel,” she muses, staring at the burning flame. The flame dances at her in reply. But no... the flame is not shaking and sliding and shivering... She is.

“Impossible...” Alice murmurs. Yes, six impossible things, she suddenly – desperately! – thinks. Alice strides forward, very much afraid, toward the fire and the heat it radiates and the marble wall and the tunnel that she Believes lies beyond. The Knight, the Sheep, and the Mock Turtle fade from her awareness, until only the flame remains. “Six impossible things. Count them, Alice.”

She takes a deep, rattling breath. “One, I am the White Queen’s Champion, and Champion of all of Underland.”

She fists her hands and glares into the light. It brightens – whitens – little by little until a strange glow begins to encircle the flame.

“Two, I will be loved by a man who admires my muchness.”

The white light pulses brighter, reaching further and she leans toward it slightly but does not step forward. Not yet.

“Three, our hearts will speak to each other.”

Her eyes water as the intensity of the glow grows. She swallows thickly, but there is no moisture to be had in her sticky-yet-dry throat and mouth.

“Four, we will fight the technologies of Upland – Progress itself – and win.”

She can no longer ignore the heat from the flame now, only it is no longer a single torch. It is a wall of pure white, seething energy.

“Five,” she rasps, barely hearing her own voice. “We will Stop Time.”

The roar of the light is all she can hear. The brightness of it is all she can see. It surrounds her. And she knows what she must do now. The last impossible thing – the one she must believe in at all costs!

“Six!” she shouts on a breathless scream. “I will enter the land of Death to bring my husband back to Life!”

And then Alice closes her eyes... and takes a step forward.

The heat licks up her foot, her shin, her knee and it is so absolute that she is only marginally aware of her own scream of agony.


She completes that step and lurches forward, takes another. The fire, the light, the energy is all around her, burning her, blistering her skin and eating away at her flesh. She feels it on her tongue and she breathes it in through her nose.


It licks at her ears and eyelids and hands and fingertips and she wants it all to stop! this is too much she cannot bear this any longer! what must she do to make it stop, stop, stop! do not turn back! no turning back! the pain is EVERYWHERE and there is no escaping it will NOTHING STOP THIS AGONY PLEASE!?


Perhaps she screams his name. Perhaps she does not scream at all.

Suddenly, her wish is granted and there is only silence, darkness, numbness...

For a moment, she pants, catches her breath with air she cannot smell and cannot feel rushing down her throat. She breathes or, at least, she thinks she does. She has the barest notion of her chest expanding and then contracting again, but she cannot be sure. Perhaps she is dead. Perhaps she is not.

There is only one way, now, to know for sure.

Feeling weak, lost, uncertain and helpless, Alice strangles back her fear and takes her first step into what lies Beyond.




Love is a place and it is Here.

He breathes in Peace and exhales Happiness.

The warmth of his Fa and his Mam, his aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and every Hightopp who ever lived and died, embraces him. Welcomes him.

He is home.

He only wishes he could share it all with Alice.

They like her, his wife. His family whispers into his mind: She is good to ye and to Underland, they say. We love her as our daughter.

Do ye forgive me for not saving ye? he eventually asks them, when his awe has turned to wonderment and then acceptance: he is with them again – he has found those he had lost so many years ago!

And they reply, Ye could not save us and we have forgiven the ones who hurt us.

He understands; it would be a waste, indeed, to pollute this beauty with such rancid and fetid emotions as hate and hostility.

And they whisper, Come with us, son...

And he wants to. But he feels something dragging him back, something that makes it more difficult than it ought to be to follow that beacon of infinity.

Thrice a-Vowed, his Mam murmurs and he feels her warmth against him. She will come soon and ye twine will travel to our Iplam here.

Then I will wait, he decides.

’Tis dangerous, his Fa warns.

And Tarrant replies, rhymes, Danger is no stranger to me.

Aye, I know.

We will wait with ye, the voices of his cousins insist and he feels the ancestors he has never met in life surround him in a protective circle. And they Share. They Share all that the Hightopps had lived. The memories are not his, but he shares in the triumphs and joys that they reveal. And as one recollection after another tickles his mind and his being – whatever he is here! – Tarrant comes to realize that he has no notion or feeling of time passing here.

Of course, a saganistute voice answers his wordless wondering. That sort of thing is for the living.

So there is no way to know how much time has passed for the ones left behind?

Ye could check...

But we do not advise it.

Aye, should ye find them in pain or sorrow, ye will not be able to soothe them.

’Tis best to let them heal.

And join us when it is their time to do so.

The thought of Alice, in pain and enduring it for the sake of Underland and their son, disturbs him and his worry ripples out into the Everything. His family replies with waves of reassurance.

Pain be naught but a transitory thing, lad, a voice that sounds very much like his Inner Self counsels him and Tarrant is unsure if he should thank that contributor, or if the words had truly come from himself and he is still mad here...

Not mad, my son, his Mam insists gently in that mam-ish way of hers that he had sometimes heard from Alice when she had spoken to their son. Never mad.

Aye, his Fa tells him. Ye had no need of my warnings.

Ye’re of the wily Hightopps.

And those given to passion.

Genius often seems a mite strange, e’en to the thinker.

The praise is unexpected and makes him feel oddly off balance, makes him long for home and Alice-smiles and Alice-whispers. “Perhaps I’m mad,” he would have said. “All the best people are,” she would have answered.

And she’ll say so again, someone Tarrant does not know very well (yet) replies.

And then, without warning, an awareness swims through the moment, touching and moving through everyone, although Tarrant – still new and unsure here – does not feel it himself and he asks, What is it?

A Call.

Do ye hear it?

Tarrant concentrates, stretches his being further than he has tried since arriving here, reaches out into the Great Beyond and listens...

“... like a writing desk?”

He gasps, moves closer to that voice, that latter half of so familiar a riddle. A riddle that their son is the consummate solution to.

Silence resonates and then the voice – a woman’s voice, an Alice voice – comes again:

“Have I made a rhyme?”

ALICE!! He rushes toward her, his family following, guarding him.

Take care, lad.

Aye, if ye can hear the Call, then so can the others.

The others? he spares a thought to ask.

As one, the ancestors reply: Those that thirst for life.

His Mam says, She is Calling ye back to Life, my son.

But ye do not have to follow, his Fa continues. If ye do, ye’ll remember naught of this place or us.

We can protect her from the others until she departs.

We’ll not let anyone claim yer body and yer name, yer home and yer son, lad.

Yer Alice has our protection until she finds the end of the path.

Wont be long now...

Ye could stay, his Fa invites gently.

Tarrant does not slow his rush toward her, his wife and her Call. For a moment, he can barely comprehend that she is truly Here, that she has come for him, that she can do the very thing that she seems to be doing...

Son? his Fa asks, awaits his answer.

Of course I’ll follow her, Fa. She’s my Alice.

Then we will help ye.

But heed us well: ye must not try to touch or speak to her. She is yet of the living and, as such, she must know nothing of this place or here she must remain.

And leave young Tamial Hightopp alone.

And none of us want that, lad.

Tarrant struggles to understand. A half-formed, dark and disturbing notion whispers to him... a thought that he does not want to have, to contemplate. Hesitantly, he dares only: Alice...?

Mayhap it would be better if ye didnt look now, lad.

Aye, she’s come through the light at the end of the tunnel...

But he ignores the vague warnings and his own unease. Suddenly, he is There, only a breath away from his wife... and he knows she is his wife because he can see her mouth move and hear her voice Call, “Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?”

Oh, he does! He does! And he struggles not to answer, to maintain the silence his family had counseled him to keep. And only when his overwhelming emotions manage to fizzle and burn and abate does he notice...

He notices ...!

Alice, his Alice, looks nothing like the woman he had wed, in a ceremony for just the twine of them, on a blanket in the restored fields of Iplam. She moves through the Beyond, following a path that is of her own making, and yet she does not seem to feel her own progress. He studies her form and for a moment, he doesn’t understand why she is treading through the realm of Death with no clothing whatsoever. Nor does he understand why her skin is shiny and smooth, her head bald of hair and her eyelids fused shut and her ears... He gawks at the small, twisted bumps of flesh. They look more like blisters than anything else and... He glances down her left arm and stares at the remains of her heart line. It is a twisted, muted, dark line along her too-smooth skin, looking like so much spilled wax from a gray, tapered candle...

She came through the light, lad.

The light, Tarrant thinks.

And then he Understands.

Alice, his Alice, has done the impossible. She has ensured that she cannot hear, see, or feel the Beyond... by passing through light, through fire and flame, and allowing it to burn away her nerves, to melt her very flesh over her eardrums and eyes...

“I’m considering things that begin with the letter M,” she says in her perfectly preserved Alice-voice.

The sound of it, so pure and true, coming from this ruined and mutilated body, makes him want to weep.

Hush, my son. She will heal when her journey is finished.

How much longer? he asks his Mam.

Soon, his Fa replies. But the others are coming.

Draw your sword, Tarrant, son of the Clan Hightopp, Laird of Iplam, an ancient voice commands and, unthinking and uncaring of the fact that he is dead and composed of only spirit, Tarrant obeys... and finds himself clutching a frightfully bright claymore. The last time he had held one of these, he had stood upon a battlefield, next to a young woman who had already won his heart and had been destined to win Underland back for the White Queen.

And then the enemy arrives.

The others, he discovers, are Many.

His family pulls close to him, to Alice as she continues, one mindless step at a time, to move through the realm she cannot yet know. Tarrant is beside her, around her, behind her, beneath her, above her, swinging his blade with precision that comes from the clarity of his mind, the sharpness of his intent, the sureness of his purpose:

These booly-gebbing, ghoulish fiends would follow his Alice back to Iplam, back to their house, back to their bed and into his body and—!

Focus now, lad.

He does.

The Hightopps pull in close against the desperate, seething rabble and Tarrant is reminded of that battlefield again, of the Hightopp colors he had clothed himself in as he’d taken up the mantle that the Gray Lady – his Alice, his widow – had offered him so long ago. The spirits of his clan become those colors now, weaving themselves into a tight defense as they speed around him in the windless silence.

We can keep the hordes back.

But beware, lad. If one of these creatures knows yer Alice...

It will be up to me, he acknowledges grimly, not letting down his guard. His Alice has made enemies, he knows. He waits. They will hear her Call and they will come...

“What is impossible for two champions of Underland to accomplish together?” she asks and her voice rings out like the pealing of silver bells.

Nothing, my Alice, he wishes he could say. There is nothing we cannot accomplish together.

Tamial is proof of that. The new Hightopp Village is proof of that. The continuing peace in Underland is proof of that.

And when he awakes beside her in their bed in Iplam, both of them healthy and whole and alive...

Yes, there is nothing they cannot do, no enemy they cannot defeat... together.

Brace yourself, lad!

We cannot stop this one!


And another! Orgal!

Tarrant moves as swiftly as he can, careful not to touch her, to jar her, to awaken Alice to this world of which she must not become a citizen. Not yet!

The claymore slashes and gleams as a pair of dark shapes approach, retreat, circle.

Move aside, Hightopp. Your time with Alice is over.

Never, Knave. ’Tis ye who have no place here! Be gone!

Tarrant keeps his attention on Stayne and also on the silent, cunning figure that he somehow knows is the former Viscount Valereth even though the creature has yet to speak. He keeps his sword at the ready, focuses on each of his adversaries as they move this way and that, testing his defense.

Soon, son. Very soon now.

But it may not be soon enough. He needs Alice’s help to keep both of these villains back and they know it!

You cant stop both of us, Stayne remarks. I promise I’ll not harm your spawn nor your piddly little village. I’ll be a good husband to your lovely wife, even if I must do so from within your wretched body. You know Valereth over there won t make the same vow.

True or not , Tarrant growls, not taking his attention off of Valereth despite his reply to Stayne, I’ll not let either of you cross over!

Still mad, Stayne responds with a sigh.

“All the best people are,” Alice says at precisely that moment, causing an eerie chill to shimmer through Tarrant.

Stayne draws his long-sword.

Valereth presents a rapier.

Tarrant renews his grip on the claymore...

Hold steady, lad!

Two more!

Two?! Tarrant despairs. How-ever will he defend his Alice against four ghouls when he fears he cannot manage these two?

They come as twin streaks of black... They come, but they do not approach either he or Alice. They slam into the poised forms of Stayne and Valereth, knocking them back through the swirling tartan of the Hightopp Clan and into a very far and wide Great Beyond.

Scum! the first creature shrieks after the Knave, and Tarrant gapes. He knows that screech. It had threatened to take off his head at least once...!

Iracebeth of Crims, he marvels even as the second creature coalesces slowly on his right. Why...?

True, she admits with such haughty authority that Tarrant can almost feel the cold weight of irons locked around his wrists and ankles and his bruised knees throbbing against the stone steps of her royal dais. I hold no love for either you or that Alice, but I have even less for that wretch!

And with that, she speeds away. Presumably in pursuit of her prey.

Tarrant turns swiftly to the man now eyeing his wife and Tarrant’s claymore appraisingly.

I cant say I’m not tempted, the once-was Lord Oshtyer admits, but the two of you avenged me. Consider this a token of my... appreciation.

We shall, Tarrant replies as the creature spins and soars off.

Nearly there, son, his Mam assures him.

Dont lower that claymore!

Aye! Thrice more!

What? Why? Who else had Alice angered enough to prompt this kind of attack?

He tries not to panic and waits for what is coming...

And come it does, but it is not an attack.

Tarrant, a woman’s voice calls to him and he finds himself lowering his weapon.

Madam Kingsleigh!

Oh, honestly. How often do I have to tell you to call me Helen ?

Too many, I’m sure, he admits with delight. He turns to yet another familiar presence. Lord Ascot!

Hello, again, lad. Done rather well for yourselves, havent you?

Before Tarrant can fight back the emotion that clogs his throat at the man’s obvious pride, a third being moves forward.

A pleasure to finally meet you, Lord Hightopp. Charles Kingsleigh.

The pleasure is mine, sir. He reaches out to clasp the man’s hand. I’m sorry I never had the chance to ask you personally for your blessing... for Alice and myself...

The man chuckles warmly. Oh, gracious, Topps. I gave it to you the moment you made up a seat for my little girl at your tea table.

And to that, Tarrant has no answer. Nothing except, It is an honor to meet you. I regret, very deeply, that I will not recall doing so upon my return with Alice...

Ah, but that is what dreams are for! The specter grins and winks. Oh, what marvelous dreams the living may have... and who knows what will come to you in one of them!

Tarrant is in unabashed awe of the man. Your daughter has your masterful logic, sir. And your know-how, Lord Ascot. And your muchness, madam.

I should think so! Ascot agrees happily.

And we could not be more proud of her for that, Helen says.

Nor could we possibly love her more, Charles adds.

Should I dream your words one night, madam, sirs, I will tell her you said so, he promises.

You do that, she remarks kindly. Now off with you. It’s time.

Tarrant startles. Mam? Fa?

One more step, luvie, his Mam says.

Well be here when ye’re ready to join us, his Fa says.

We love ye.

Ye’ve made us proud.

Long live the Clan Hightopp , the ancient voices intone.

And then Alice takes that one more step and the world before her parts, like a curtain of water, revealing a room and a bed – a scene – that he recognizes. There is no time for farewells, but, then again, once upon a time, an old Gray Lady had advised him to avoid them as much as possible.

So he does.

He steps with her, follows her home, and knows that he will be forgiven his abrupt departure. Still, he will apologize – later, much later! – when he returns to the Beyond, after all of his and Alice’s journeys have been ventured... and gained.

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 10 of 13

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