Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 12 of 13

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One Promise Kept: Book 5

“You did everything you could,” Mirana’s lion-husband and king soothes her.

She rolls toward him and burrows into his warmth. Yes, there is a kingdom to be managed and children to see to. (Except for Tarra, who has been apprenticing in Crimson Harbor for two weeks and Mirana will not think about how much she misses her! Not now when she is facing another Thursday and Alice’s imminent arrival... without her Hatter!)

“It wasn’t enough,” Mirana insists, pressing a lace-trimmed handkerchief to her nose.

Dale sighs. “Mi-sh’rya, you gave that scar a Royal Decree to slow it. Don’t you think your Hatter and your Champion appreciated the additional time you gave them?”

She hiccups softly. Yes, she had interfered. She had not been able to stop the scar from realizing its Intent, but she had managed to Command it to take more time in going about it. “I should have done more,” she insists.

Her husband rubs his long-fingered paws along her back. She is still in her shrift and she knows she ought to get up, get dressed, get the children downstairs for breakfast and then off to their respective lessons or livelihoods...

“Mirana,” Dale rumbles firmly. “Had you been able to do more, you would have. And then this past you have spoken of... this Gray Lady who found the Oraculum and turned the Hatter into the leader of your Resistance... none of it would have happened that way. And if that had been changed...”

“I know,” she sniffles. “Our lives now might have been changed as well. Perhaps we would not have met and wed when we had... and our children...”

He presses his whiskery mouth to her forehead. “It is selfish of me to think it, but if it means the safety of our children, then I...”

She sighs. She knows. She feels the same guilt. How can she want Tarrant to die? For any reason? But if changing the past somehow hurts her children...!

No, things must happen exactly as they had happened or perhaps not everything would be the way it is now. Knowing this, she had given up the very idea of defying Tarrant’s destiny; she had acquiesced to the future she knows over the great many she does not. What she is not sure of is the nature of that lack of intervention: had it been queenly... or cowardly?

“You Decreed that his end would be gentle,” Dale reminds her. And, closing her eyes, she remembers: the morning of the autumn Barterment, with Alice and Tam in attendance at the market, Tarrant had slipped away on some excuse and had arrived at her office, where she had been writing a formal reply to Jaspien’s proposal. Tarrant had curled up in the very armchair that his Alice had sat in years and years ago, when Mirana had first told her of the Wooing Rites and the duties of the Champion, and he had cried.

“Do you know how it will happen?” she had asked.

He had nodded miserably before pulling himself together with a series of deep breaths. “The scar Masonmark gave me. It’s already begun to move,” he had lisped.

And Mirana had shaken back her scallop-edged sleeves. “Show it to me, Hatta, and let me see what I can do.”

And she had done it.

“You shall not be hasty in your Intent... nor shall you cause undue pain...”

She had Commanded and Decreed... and it had given Tarrant more time, more peace... But, oh, if only she had dared to Court Fate again! She might have convinced them to spare his life, or teach her of a cure, or allow Alice to come to them another way!

And now... now she will never know if any of that might have been possible. Surely, by now, Tarrant has... passed. It would have happened on early Tuesday morning if her calculations are correct... and she knows they are. Still, she has not received word that there is one less hatter in the White Realm, nor has she heard that there is a new Laird of Iplam...

Nevertheless, by now Alice has very likely Stepped back in Time and saved them all... for the first time. But her success will not change the fact that Tarrant is irreversibly dead. She fears what this will mean for her friend when all that Alice must say and do is at last said and done.

What will Alice do without her Tarrant? Or will she somehow manage to convince Fate to return him to her? Despite the fact that, to Mirana’s knowledge, that has never been done before nor do the Fates have any power over those in the realm of Death...

Oh, Hatta...! Surely, the sacrifices that have been demanded of him are Too Much. You have been wronged, my friend, by your world and by your queen. She is thankful that Alice had remained beside him, loyal and true and strong and brave, since the moment she had been pulled from that sinking ship through the mirror. They two had had nearly twenty years together... and while that is no small duration of time, it seems far too brief to Mirana’s aching heart.

And very soon – today! – Mirana will be greeting an old, gray, peaky widow on the steps of Mamoreal... and what will Mirana say to her then? What could possibly make any of this marginally bearable for her Champion?

“Alice will never forgive me... for not doing more.”

“You did all you could,” Dale repeats patiently. “And Alice will understand that. It is you, my love, who must forgive herself.”

His words are wise, but she is not ready to hear them. Mirana closes her eyes and shakes her head with regret. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, Mirana can see how effectively all of them have been manipulated by the Fates (and perhaps even Chance) into forcing Alice to Step back in time:

Mirana had been the one to tell her of Courting Fate in the first place, years and years ago.

Chessur had asked the jabberwockies to go so that Alice would not be tempted to ask for a vial of blood.

And the very fabric of Underland – the magic that makes promises and intent Real in ways that they are not in Upland, in ways that Alice could not have anticipated – had lead to...

“I’m so sorry,” she murmurs into her husband’s mane, recalling that old widow. The Gray Lady had done so much to make this world – the world Mirana rules now – possible. In fact, Mirana would dare to say that, as Alice had made this Underland, should she ever choose to, Alice – who is a queen in her own right! – would have more right to rule it than Mirana does.

“I deserve to be usurped,” she acknowledges. “I should have... If I had only told Alice to Court Fate before... then They might have warned her of the scar and the Intent before Tarrant was ever injured in that wretched canal and he might still be...alive. Alice has every right to blame me for this. I should have known it was no coincidence that one Alice would be the harbinger of another. There has only ever been one Alice to visit Underland. I am a fool for not seeing it sooner.”

When Dale does not immediately refute her, she despairs, “This will change everything.” She consults her handkerchief again on the issue of her runny nose. “I will have lost Hatta... and Alice, my friend...”

“No, that will not happen,” Dale insists. “You must trust Alice, as you have always done. And you must be strong for her, and for the children... for Ama...”

She nods. Yes, he is right. Alice will need her. And the children... they will all miss their Uncle Hatter... Amallya most of all...

“And you must get out of bed, Mi-sh’rya.”

She still doesn’t want to, but she knows she must. And so she does.

Her sorrow and guilt and despair have not been exorcised, but she manages a brave face and a pair of dry – if somewhat reddened – eyes.

Chestor notices. He allows his brothers and sisters to take the lead with his father and drops behind. Falling into step with his mother, he places a lanky arm around her waist. Mirana’s smile returns briefly, prideful and watery as it is. Her eldest son may not have a way with words, poor awkward boy, but his grace manifests itself in other ways. In silence, and out of sight from the rest of her family, Mirana squeezes him back and presses a kiss to his neat hair.

It is a measure of his goodness that he does not object in the slightest, despite the blush that turns his face bright pink. “Mother?” he asks softly, pausing in the hall as everyone files into Thackery’s kitchen.

She lingers, tweaking the locks of hair she had mussed back into place, and rubs his shoulder. “I...”

“Can’t talk about it?” he guesses, resigned. There are many things Mirana does not discuss with her children, many troubles and issues that she – as queen – must handle herself. She will not burden her children with these worries unless absolutely necessary. But, in this case...

She shakes her head. “I am expecting some... bad news.”

“If you haven’t heard it yet, then it might still be all right,” he ventures.

Overcome, Mirana pulls Chestor into her arms. “Thank you, darling,” she says to his bright pink ear. “You make an excellent point.” And one she would give almost anything to make Real. “Now,” she says with false brightness, “you go on and have some tea. You know how Thackery hates it when someone’s late.”

“But... are you not eating?” Chestor hesitates with one hand on the door.

“I’ll be along in... just a moment.”

He nods and gives her an encouraging grin before turning toward the door.

“Don’t forget—” she begins.

“To duck. I know, Mother.”

She watches as he pushes open the door, but no spoons or teacups or even teabags are launched at him. No Witzend-accented screams of “YE’RE LATE!”

No, instead, a sound that is... impossible tumbles out into the corridor. It is the snorting, cackling giggle of a Mad Hatter. She freezes, her eyes wide and jaw agape, until Dale shoulders past Chestor and reaches out a furred hand to her.

“Mi-sh’rya,” he rasps, his own eyes looking quite as watery as hers must be, “you must come and see this.”

Numbly, she lays her hand in his and allows him to pull her into the room. There, at the long kitchen table, sits not only her family, but her friends and loyal subjects and... her Champion and her Royal Hatter.

In the midst of accusing Leif of running back to Mamoreal for the sole purpose of lazing about when he ought to be hard at work at Causwick Castle and assisting with the preparations for Underland’s very first Festival of War Games, Alice – a perfectly perfect Alice who is not gray in the slightest! – pauses, turns toward Mirana... and smiles.

But Mirana is a bit too preoccupied to respond, for here sits her Hatter, healthy and whole and vibrant with happiness, laughing with delight at the hat Ama is proudly modeling for him.

“Tarrant?” Mirana asks, staring quite rudely, she is sure, but unable to help it!

“Your Majesty!” he crows, standing and rounding the table to present himself before her. She watches him bow, still unable to understand how... Surely, he had... and Alice had... because if she hadnt...!

“Alice!” she declares, panic turning her question into an exclamation.

“It’s done, Your Majesty,” Alice replies, pushing herself up from the crowded bench and doing her best not to jostle Tamial.

“Done?” she echoes. “But...” She looks back at Tarrant. “How is this possible?”

Tarrant giggles warmly. “We will tell you!”

At the table, Sir Fenruffle clears his gullet. “Yes, it appears I have been replaced by two substitute history instructors this morning.” Interestingly enough, he does not appear all that upset by the forced holiday.

Her gaze passes over her children: all except Tarra, of course, are present and currently filling their plates, unaware of the miracle that has taken place. Mirana takes in Thackery’s roving gaze and toothy smile. Nivens is also in attendance, seated next to Mallymkun. Leif is here and, to his left, so is Uilleam (who is looking quite proud of himself for something or other). Bayard and Bayelle – and both litters of pups – have squeezed in along the benches as well. Tweedledum and Tweedledee are rather characteristically seated side-by-side, although oddly unquarrelsome. Chessur hovers impudently over the sugar bowl and grins at Tamial.

Mirana allows Dale to lead her to her seat and Tarrant returns to his place at the corner of the table, two seats away from his Alice with their son between them. “Tell me, please! How it is possible that you are both... here!” Mirana finally manages to say, ignoring the teacup Dale is holding out to her.

Ian grunts and Lanny scoffs, “By carriage, I imagine. Unless you came by Bandersnatch this time?”

Tamial rolls his eyes.

“Tea, first, love,” Dale purrs, interrupting the speculation and earning an adoring grin from the March Hare.

"A T always comes first when it comes to tea," Tweedledee announces authoritatively and his brother frowns into the depths of his own teacup before grinning and nodding in wholehearted approval.

Knowing this is undoubtedly the quickest way to get the answers she needs, Mirana accepts the steaming beverage and takes a sip. “Now,” she says, placing the cup and saucer and its unsavored contents onto the table. Mirana clutches her husband’s wrist to ground herself and addresses her Champion and her Hatter: “You have my undivided attention!”

Tarrant glances at Alice who, with a smile, nods. “You start.”

“From the beginning, Raven?” he confirms and she agrees:

“That would be a very typical place to begin,” she concurs.

And, having obtained her blessing, he does:

“Once upon a very unfortunate Horvendush Day, there was a newly crowned Red Queen with a prison made of marzipan which she filled with a great many rather reluctant prisoners...”

It is, without a doubt, the most engaging and urgent history lesson, Mirana has ever had. And, by the looks of their gob smacked – or would that be flunderwhapped in this instance? – faces, none of the children have ever been so entertained before, either. Or so engaged. Question after question are launched into the breakfast atmosphere.

“Aunt Mally, tell us they’re joking? You? A sleepy dormouse?”

“But, Uncle Hatter! What about your Muchness?”

“Didn’t you recognize Aunt Alice? Was she really a shriveled up, old hag? Really?

“So that’s why the Bandersnatch only lets you ride him! Oh... and Uncle Hatter, too.”

“But... if all this is true,” Tamial Hightopp eventually says with a very Alice-y sort of frown, “then how come you didn’t know before that you’d have to Step back in Time? Aunt Mirana has the Oraculum...”

“Actually,” Alice replies gently to her son’s question. “Absolem has the Oraculum... and he refused to let me see more than a few glimpses of the very distant future. I had no idea your father would die... or that I would Court Fate... or go into the past.”

“You really... died?” Tam asks his father, his eyes wide and face pale.

Tarrant merely smiles. “And now you know why your Mam and I were acting so oddly!”

“But... why didn’t you tell me?” Tam demands. “And... oh! The hat! You made me that hat with all those answers and...! I asked it why Mam was acting so strange and it said...!”

“Aye,” Tarrant admits, saddened. “It told ye that yer Mam was actin’ odd b’cause she missed me... I was... tryin’ teh anticipate yer questions, lad. After I was gone.”

“But... but... why didnt you tell me you were...?!”

Mirana’s heart goes out to the boy who is nearly a man... and on the verge of frustrated tears.

And Tarrant, bless his beautiful soul, is not unaffected. His blue-green eyes shimmer and his voice crackles a bit as he replies: “Because I di’nae want teh make ye sad one moment afore ye would be.”

“And it’s all worked out fine, in the end,” Alice interjects rather timely. “Because we have your Fa back with us again.”

Tam gives his Fa a suspicious look. “And that’s why I won’t be needing that hat anytime soon?”

“Precisely! I’m afraid that – if you have a question – you shall have to ask me personally,” Tarrant replies with a wink. He reaches out and tousles his son’s curly hair. And, despite the arm-waving and grumpy protests, Mirana gets the distinct impression that the youngest Hightopp does not mind the high-handed gesture very much.

With tea and breakfast finished and questions from the youthful members of the gathering asked and answered, Sir Fenruffle ushers the lot off. “To the library with you! I want your notes on this adventure legibly written before lunch!”

The adults linger: the hounds, the hare, the dormouse, the cat, the dodo, the Champions, the Hatter, and the king and queen.

“Alice...” Mirana begins after the door has shut and the kitchen has been silent for a very long moment. “How did the two of you manage to cheat Death?” She looks between her Hatter and her Champion, sure that they had somehow managed the impossible through their combined efforts.

“Would you believe my Alice bartered with the Fates for me?” Tarrant lisps.

“No,” Mirana responds promptly. “Given the nature of the Fates and the scope of their powers, no, I would not believe that, Tarrant.”

Alice sighs, places a hand on her husband’s arm, and confesses, “I did barter... in a way. I pointed out the fact that since they had destroyed my... family to right their mistake – they never should have given the Oraculum to the Duchess in the first place! – I was owed a boon.”

“So easily?” Mirana challenges.

Alice bites her lip. “Well, there was a bit more, erm, persuasion involved, but they were very gracious... in the end.”

The White Queen nearly snorts. “Alice. It is a well-known fact that the Fates rule over the Living. They could not have returned Tarrant’s soul to his body, even if...” Mirana pauses, takes in the expression on her Champion’s face – one that she knows contains many secrets – and rephrases, “You went into the realm of Death, didn’t you?”

Around the table, gasps and gurgling chokes are heard. Were any other matter being discussed, Mirana would have paused, patted backs and whispered reassurances to her assembled friends, but the White Queen barely hears them, so focused is she on Alice. In this moment, she is a queen, and she demands the truth from her Champion.


“That is impossible,” the White Queen counters.

“And yet, here we are.”

“But... you cannot enter the realm of Death and escape it alive if you so much as see—”

“Hear, touch, taste, smell or otherwise perceive it. Yes, I know. I was told that very thing,” Alice replies bluntly, meeting the queen’s challenge with a stare of her own. “And the solution to that conundrum lies in the very act of passing into the realm of Death.”

“Alice...?” Tarrant lisps on a tone tinted with burgeoning fear as comprehension dawns in his expression.

Mirana pursues the truth more directly. “Do you mean to tell me you purposefully—?

“Yes, I did. And it worked, didn’t it?”

Mirana’s urgency begins to give way to horror and she whispers, “Alice... You are saying that, when you passed through the light, you allowed it to...?”

“Again, yes,” Alice replies abruptly, her back stiff and straight. “I did. And, as you can see, I am fine.

“Alice, what did you do?” Tarrant demands, truly frightened now.

Thackery bangs his teaspoon on the table. “Caught walkin’ through fire, aye, ye wee bessom?”

Tarrant gasps, eyes Alice’s frozen expression, and leans toward her. “Tell me ye di’nae, Alice. Tell me there was ano’her way teh...”

She looks up into his seeking, fearful gaze and he chokes on a sob at what he sees in her eyes.

“Oh, Alice,” he whispers, gathering her hands reverently in his own. “Ye... th’ pain... Ye shouldnae’ave...”

She reaches out and pets his grasping, trembling fingers. “It was the only way to enter... that place without seeing it, the only way to Call out to you without hearing an answer, the only way to walk without feeling anything from my surroundings...”

He shakes his head, cupping her cheeks now, in his hands. “No, Alice... No...”

She reaches up and grasps his wrists, although she does not pull his hands away. “The pain was brief, and the fire did its job well.”

Mirana doesn’t doubt that it had, for here Alice sits. There can be no other explanation: the light that Alice had passed through had destroyed her ability to perceive her surroundings, had cauterized her nerves and burned away her sight and hearing and... The queen shudders.

“Yes,” Alice continues softly, focusing on her husband’s devastated expression and ignoring all else. “I walked through fire for you. Do not deny me that when I know you have suffered for my sake more than once.”

“Just as you have suffered, again and again, for mine! Alice!” Mirana watches as Tarrant’s brows twitch and his lips twist with the power of the emotions rising within him.

“Gray ’r gold, small ’r tall, late ’r Champion... all the same!” Thackery announces, soothing the moment with his abrupt observation.

“That is true,” Mirana admits. “Which bring me to my own confession. Alice...”

Her Champion and her Hatter both look up and Mirana finds that she needs the strength of her husband’s hand upon hers to continue. “I should have realized you – my Champion and the Gray Lady – were one and the same. I should have warned you to Court the Fates long before you did. If I had—”

Alice shakes her head. “They would not have answered my Suit, and you know it. I wasn’t ready then, or properly... motivated. I wouldn’t have had as much to lose... or as much to gain.”

“Alice! Listen to me! I participated in the most wretched scheme to take your husband from you! And, at the time, I had no reason to believe that you would be capable of bringing him back!”

“You’re under a misapprehension, Your Majesty,” Alice says sternly. And then she continues in a teasing tone, “You are hardly Queen of all Underland – past, present, and future! You are as much subject to Fate as anyone. How could I blame you for being caught in the same trap as I? As a mother myself, don’t you think I can understand why you didn’t try harder to interfere?”

“Well, yes, but—”

“You are – if you’ll forgive the Uplandish saying – only human,” Alice insists.

“True, but you see, I—”

“I do see. And I thank you,” Alice continues, “for using your powers to extend the time Tarrant and I had together.”

“But, Alice, it was all—”

“All you could do. And you did not hesitate to do it.”

“I should have—”

“No, you shouldn’t have.” Alice delivers that comment with an air of conclusion and a victorious grin.

Mirana huffs. “If you will please stop interrupting me, Alice!”

She smirks. “A Champion’s prerogative, Your Majesty. When one’s liege is being a wimble-maker, it’s a Champion’s duty to step in and save them from themselves.”

“Oh, botheration,” Mirana grumbles. She subsides, a hesitant smile curling her dark lips.

“’Twas all Fated,” the March Hare summarizes. “An’twere nuthin’ teh b’frettin’ o’er! Auwr Alice ’as a way o’ negot’atin’ wi’th’ Future.”

Mirana can’t help but smile at that, even though it is a rather watery and wobbly smile. “And I don’t doubt you got all that you wanted out of that bargain... and more.” Yes, Alice’s skills at bartering had been more than sufficiently proven at the autumn Barterment!

But, despite Alice being perfectly capable of managing her own future, Mirana still fears. “Alice...”

“We are all right, Mirana. Everything is fine.”

“No, it ain’t!” a shrill voice declares.

Everyone turns in the direction of a very upset dormouse. “The Gray Lady said – you said, Alice – that yer husband’s death was Intentional!

“It was,” Tarrant himself admits with visible reluctance.

“I want tha’ rat bastard’s head on a plate!” Mally howls, thumping one small fist into the palm of her other hand. “Tell me ’is name, ’Atter!”

“No, Mally.”

“’Atter...!” she threatens.

“Mallymkun!” he barks. “’Tis over. An’ I d’nae believe th’ perpetrator will try again.”

Mally purses her mousy mouth into a sour expression. “If ’ee so much as tries... I swear...!” She draws her sword and swishes it.

“He won’t,” Alice assures her.

“Well...” Chessur drawls into the increasingly awkward moment. “This is all cheery. I suppose I can alert Krystoval that the blood of the jabberwockies is no longer in urgent demand?”

“Yes, you may, Cat,” Alice replies on a tolerant sigh. “Tell that lot to come home as soon as possible. Don’t you miss getting chewed on by juveniles?”

Chessur blinks slowly. “I’ll have you know they’re well past their second teethings.”

“The next phase is the poison-tipped tail spikes, I believe,” Mirana mutters into her teacup.

Alice snorts. “Good luck with that.”

“Good luck...” Chessur muses, unperturbed. “Now that is something I have enjoyed since a very gray widow showed up and pointed me in the right direction.” He twists in the air, swirling into an evaporating mist, “And that’s all the thanks you’ll ever be getting about that,” he declares.

“You’re too kind,” Alice mutters, grinning.

There is no reply. The Cheshire Cat has already vanished.

“Well,” Bayard speaks up, “I don’t mind telling you, Alice, that I’m sorry I missed out on all the adventure back then.”

“Ah, but if you had smelled me, Bayard...” Alice begins.

“Hm? Oh, yes,” he responds with a doggy frown. “I would have said something... and it had to be a secret, didn’t it?”

Mirana commiserates with the hound. Deception is not something Dog Logic takes to with ease.

In answer, Alice merely nods. And then her gaze alights on the Dodo Bird, sitting patiently beside a very quiet and contemplative Leif. “Uilleam,” she says with a grin. “It’s nice to see you again, my friend.”

He preens. “Thank you, No-longer-gray Lady. Although I expect that I have missed you a great deal longer than you have missed me!”

“I expect you’re right.”

“Of course I am!” he declares pompously. The statement only makes Alice’s grin widen, however. And then the dodo levels himself up off the bench and hobbles his way over to Alice and Tarrant. Mirana spies something under his wing, something bound in blue leather...

“This is for you,” Uilleam says, presenting her with a thin book.

Alice accepts it and, holding it out for Tarrant to see it, lifts the cover. “Uilleam...” she breathes as Tarrant gently thumbs the first page aside. “This is...”

“A record of the adventures of the Gray Lady,” he supplies. “I wrote it after you left. And now seems a good time to give it to you. I expect it’ll have its own place in your family history.”

“It will. It does,” Alice tells him. “Thank you, Uilleam.”

He nods once. “And Othenia and I will be expecting you ’round for tea in the near future!”

“Tarrant and I will be there!” she promises, grinning as he stumps his way from the kitchen.

“Alice, Hatter...” Leif says on an awe-filled sigh. He shakes his head ruefully and then, glancing up, gifts them with a twinkle in his eye. “You...!”

“Had all the fun without you... yet again,” Alice finishes for him. “And you’re jealous.”

He leans back and laughs. “Sure I am. Still, I think I could have beaten you one-on-one, Gray Lady.”

Alice smirks. “I would have liked to have seen you try!”

Tarrant giggles. “Indeed! You rather put Stayne through his paces, Raven!”

“That was a little fun...” she admits. “Unfortunately for you, Leif, I’m the one you’ll have to prove your mettle to if you still intend to marry Tarra before she turns nineteen!”

He chuckles. “You’ve got that backwards, Champion. She’s the one who needs to have someone explain the concept of Patience to her. As for me, waiting is looking better and better every day,” he muses.

“Scared of the big, bad Alice, lion?” she teases.

He noisily swallows a laugh. “Isn’t everyone? As big and as bad as you are! Although... I guess I ought to do you the favor of letting you practice on me. Bethie’s up for a bit of wooing soon enough! And with her vows...”

“I know,” Alice replies. “There have already been inquiries.” She glances at Mirana, who nods.

“Yes. Several. Including one from a certain unicorn lord we both know, on behalf of his son. Whom I believe you are also acquainted with, Alice?”

Alice snorts. “Wonderful.” She smirks at Leif. “I’ll try not to let you feel too left out.”

“How generous!”

And despite Leif’s sarcasm, Mirana cannot help hearing the truth of his words as they ring out in the kitchen Yes, Mirana hears the Truth... and she is not alone in that:

Thackery twitches.

The Tweedles elbow each other.

Mally sighs.

Alice smiles.

Tarrant giggles.

And Mirana feels Dale’s warm hand turn and clasp hers beneath the table. Yes, all things considered, Fate has been very generous, indeed.



Tarrant surveys the bustling, boisterous goings-on surrounding the impregnable walls of Causwick Castle and marvels. Here he is, sitting beside his Alice (who is frowning fiercely as one of her students – Ursalea... yes, that particular shade of fur is unmistakable on a bear – battles with a more experienced lion from Shuchland). The atmosphere is seething with life and packed with cheers and even the surrounding murky swamp and drooping willow trees seem more optimistic. The Callion has changed: here they are – he and his Alice and their son (who is around here somewhere, making a nuisance of himself, Tarrant happily muses) – witnesses to that metamorphosis, in attendance at Underland’s first Festival of War Games!

He had never expected to live to see this day.

Alice’s hand grips his tightly as they watch from the hastily-erected stands. Well, he does not watch the sparring match on the packed earth. He watches his Alice as she watches the matches. He knows, not from witnessing it for himself, but from reading his wife’s expressions, the varying degrees of tension in her shoulders, and the warmth that travels completely unimpeded through the renewed heart line, that her students have done well.

They have made her proud.

It is a sensation he recognizes easily, now. This warmth has always been there, he realizes. Yes, it has been ever-present and always for him. Alice has always been proud of him... he had simply mistakenly identified the feeling before as Alice-ness, as an intrinsic and inseparable aspect of who his wife is. Now he knows this warmth that she Sends him without conscious thought is not just the manifestation of her existence; it is not only a facet of her love... It is More.

Tarrant does not know if he has ever been More to anyone else. His family had loved him and been proud of him, he believes. The White Queen cares for him as part of her family. Mally and Thackery would fight beside him if ever the need arises again. But Alice... To Alice, he is More.

She had dared to Step back in Time with only the thought of saving him on her mind. No, she had not rescued the Oraculum and completed the assigned delivery for the sake of Underland. This time... this time she had fought, had given her life, to save him.

Alice had once told him, on the bed of a guest room in her mother’s house Above, that she loves him more than anything. And now he knows it is as true here and now as it had been then and there.

“Do you forgive me?” he whispers into her ear.

The combatants have not broken from their furious exchange of blows, but Alice responds immediately. She turns her full attention to him, gives him this moment that he selfishly demands despite the fact that she is working now!

“Forgive you? Whatever for?” she murmurs back with endearing confusion.

“I doubted you,” he reminds her, lifting his hand and trailing his fingertips over the scar on her throat. “After you died to save Underland, I thought it had finally happened... that you no longer...”

His heart aches at the thought and she Feels it.

“Tarrant...” she sighs with a rueful shake of her head. “I love you more than anything.”

His lips curve upward and his heart warms at the words, at the feel of that love, which she Sends along the heart line to him. “I know,” he replies. And this is not the place for kisses, nor is it the time – he has demanded too much of Alice’s attention as it is! – so he forces himself to turn back to the swordplay in the rustic arena.

And he is just in time to see the lion’s sword spiral through the air.

Ursalea had disarmed him.

The fight is over and the spectators applaud. Alice’s is the loudest voice amongst the rabble. She stands and cheers, grinning as madly as a Mad Hatter. The she-bear, on the other hand, is a bit too busy looking flunderwhapped to take a proper bow.

“She’ll advance to the next round after lunch,” Alice sighs with happiness as she lets Tarrant lead her from the wooden stands. The game participants and visitors mill about, awaiting the announcement of the next match. Some drink warm Grobbenale and Battenmead from mugs of wood or brass or even glass that are clipped to the owner’s belt when not in use. It is nice to see such accessories in the place of swords, Tarrant thinks.

“Things will be better next year,” Alice predicts, gazing around at the facilities that Leif had been in charge of preparing. “Leif will have more time, for one thing. And perhaps there will be more volunteers to help.”

Tarrant hums his agreement. Truthfully, he is rather indifferent to the games, himself. The peaceful compromise they represent is important, yes, but his Alice is not fighting in these matches, so the outcome and sophistication of the event itself has little bearing on him. But, at the mention of Leif, Tarrant finds himself glancing about and – yes, there! – locating the White King’s Champion.

Tarrant giggles at the sight of Tarra bullying the he-lion into accompanying her as she makes the rounds at the stalls. Perhaps she is looking for carpentry tools. Or perhaps a leather binding for what will become a book of memoirs of their house.

Alice pivots and glances at the sight that has so amused Tarrant. She smirks. “Do you really think Tarra will let him wait another three months?”

“Oh, Alice,” he answers. “That princess is having far too much fun to hurry the inevitable.” Inspiration – or perhaps instinct – takes him and he hears himself burr, “’Twon’ happen ’til her apprenticin’s done. Ye’ll see.”

“And so will you.” He clearly hears her knowing reply. The words are so soft a gust of wind could have easily blown them away. Luckily, the wind is quiet and leaves them be for Tarrant to catch.

“Aye,” he agrees, still hardly daring to believe that it is true. “I will.”

He does not thank her for defying the Fates for him, for venturing into Death for him, for suffering the unimaginable pain of passing through the Light at the End for him, for trusting him to follow her back, for risking everything for him.

He does not thank her... again. Yes, his Alice sometimes gets rather impatient when people repeat themselves too often. But a heart line message... that, he is sure, doesn’t count. And so he Sends her his awe again. And she Answers with her love.

“Lassling? Alice Lassling?”

Tarrant turns, placing himself half a step in front of his wife, wary of that title and all who freely speak it. This time, however, there is no threat. The speaker is the woman who had delivered tea and ginger bread and stew to them when Alice had bargained with Jaspien for succor.

“Madam...!” Tarrant greets her with a grin, and then pauses when he realizes... “I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced. Tarrant Hightopp.”

“Inghan Causwoman,” the older woman says, shaking Tarrant’s hand firmly and then Alice’s. “’Tis gehd teh see ye again, Lassling.”

“Alice, please,” Tarrant’s wife gently – but firmly – objects. “And it is wonderful to be here. How are you finding the event?”

“Mos’ beneficious,” she declares with pride. “Auwr leather-works b’tradin’ well an’ th’ gifts from th’ guests...” She shakes her head in wonderment. “Auwr expectations werenae this high when auwr laird firs’ gave us th’ news tha’ we’d be hosts teh th’ festival.” She takes a moment, to look around at the people and mud-colored stands and arenas and recently drained but as yet un-planted fields. “’Tis nae Maigh,” she admits. “An’ we’ve a laung ways yet teh go afore it becomes th’ event we all hope it teh be...”

Inghan Causwoman pauses in her survey and pins Alice with a sharp look. “Bu’ if’n th’rumors’re true, then ’tis ye we all have teh thank f’r bringin’ a livelihood teh auwr lands, Champion Alice.”

Obviously uncomfortable, Alice responds with gratifying muchness, “You should not discount your lord’s hard work, Madam Causwoman. Without him, this would not be possible.”

The woman’s mouth curves into a wry grin. “Aye, ye’ve the righ’o’that.”

Tarrant reads, in Inghan Causwoman’s knowing look, a wily logic that is disconcerting in its near-Alice-ness. Alice returns the woman’s smile... and a secret is locked away: no, this festival would not have been possible without Jaspien’s efforts... nor would it have been possible if not for Alice’s initial suggestion of it. But Tarrant knows that the latter contribution will never be mentioned: no one will ever know that the White Queen’s Champion had also championed for the people of the Callion. That honor will fall squarely on Jaspien’s shoulders... just as it should.

Inghan leads them through the market, introducing them to various craftsmen, women, and beasts. Tarrant meets a man he is sure must be a relation of the Sheafments, who had developed an ingenious method for preserving records in the damp swamp air: tar and feathers!

“Th’ tar seals awae th’ wet, aye?”

“And the feathers?” Tarrant hears himself ask as he inspects a specimen.

The older man informs him, “Keeps i’tall afloat in th’event o’flood.”

Alice, Tarrant notices, finds many of the adaptations that the folk of the Callion have made of great interest as well. As they make the rounds with Inghan’s services as guide and introduction-facilitator, Tarrant has half a notion to invite many of these craft-workers to Iplam... or perhaps invite their apprentices...

“Remarkable work-womanship,” he praises one lady’s black-clay pots that had been baked in a charcoal pit rather than under the sun (which rarely shines very strongly here). And when he makes that comment, he watches Inghan and... yes, there! The calculating gleam in her eye is the very one he’d expected. It appears he is not the only one contemplating an exchange of sorts in the future. Truly, Iplam could be a middle-place between Causwick and Mamoreal, for it is not so much ruled by the White Queen as it is governed by the Hightopp family.

Yes, perhaps, in the future, Tarrant will invite some of the youngsters here to come to Iplam, to learn Outlandish trades and to share Callion technologies...

“My Alice...” he muses after they have bid farewell to Inghan and are on the way to collect their son. It is nearly supper-time and Alice’s students have nearly finished with the stew she’d assigned them to prepare. True to expectations, none of the guests have imposed upon the Callion’s meager food resources. In fact, if anything, they have supplemented it by bringing gifts of grain and dried fruit and vegetables, pots of honey and oil and herbs. The White Queen had thoughtfully issued a list of gifts that would be appreciated by the Callion and a great many of the visitors who have made the pilgrimage had heeded the advice.

“Yes?” she prompts, when he allows the scent of a well-spiced soup to distract him.

“Hm? Oh! Yes,” he clears his throat. “As I was saying, I do believe that Causwoman will be a person of interest to Iplam in the future.”

Alice grins. “I got that sense as well. She was telling me quite a lot about the society here... and made a special mention of the many children who hope to apprentice in Outlandish trades. Her own niece, included.”

“This bears consideration,” he concurs. “We would nae wan’teh anger the clans by removing opportunities from those who seek apprenticeships a’th’ Maigh, but...”

“Perhaps,” Alice suggests slowly, “we might do a bit of research into forgotten or lost trades? If we can create more work, then more apprentices will be needed...”

Tarrant grins at his wife and – again – marvels. “I ha’ th’ mos’ saganstitute Alice in aul o’ Underland,” he informs her softly.

“And if she is the only Alice in all of Underland?” she replies with a wide smile of humor.

“Then aul th’ more awespicious,” he murmurs. Uncaring of the dimming twilight and the people and creatures milling about from tent to bath house to shop stall to stew pot, he leans toward his wife and kisses her. Thoroughly.

Tarrant takes his Time – and a fair bit of Alice’s Time, as well... but these sorts of things must be done properly! – and only when the laughter and murmurings of uninvited onlookers begin to register does he pull back. And even then, he does so reluctantly.

Alice opens her eyes and looks at him. “You don’t have any lost time to make up for,” she reminds him, delivering the answer to the question he sees in her eyes. Yes, the kisses he gives her have changed, but not because he had missed any opportunities to kiss his wife. No, he lingers at her lips and prolongs their embraces now because...

“Alice, for how long were you without my kisses? Surely, I can attempt to compensate you for that.”

She grins. “All right. In that case, I suppose I can let you.” And when she lifts her face for another kiss, he immediately obliges.

“And now,” he remarks softly, ignoring the chattering and caterwauling and whistles, “shall we locate Tam?”

“We’d better. He’ll forgive us for many things, but not if we make him miss his supper.”

They wander around the corner of the castle wall, toward a mostly-drained but too-small field. It had been deemed too narrow to accommodate any of the games or crowds of spectators, but the rambunctious galumphing of littlin’ after littlin’ fit rather nicely within its safe boarders.

Tarrant sweeps the field with his gaze, looking for a swamp-mud-splattered boy with red-gold and curly hair – which could quite possibly be accessorized with twigs and bits of hanging moss – and stumbles to a halt just as Alice’s hand urgently grips his jacket sleeve.

Their hearts Stop.

For a long, breathless moment, Tarrant can only gape and gawk.

“Is that...?” Alice begins in a voice that is nearly devoid of breath.

“Our Tamial, aye.” Tarrant gulps as he watches his son lecture and then demonstrate with great flair... “Futterwhackening...”

And the shorter figure beside their son does its best to copy the movements, managing to do so but with considerably less panache.

“... with a... girl?” Alice wheezes.

Tarrant wheezes with her. This is very much a moment for wheezing, he decides. Or possibly outgribing... Or both.

“Does this mean... what I think it means?” Alice finally asks, no doubt prompted to do so by her Muchness and Curiosity.

“Aye,” Tarrant allows, reaching blindly for her hand. “Aye, it does.”

From the other side of the field, Tamial’s voice carries as he instructs his young and lovely student, “You need to think of something happier.”

“Happier?” she answers in tone far too bewitching to belong to a mere littlin’. Oh, no. That is the voice of a Lass. “Like what?”

Tam huffs, immune to her teasing. “Like... flying! Like feeling the wind in your face or... like winning a duel or like... outracing Time or...”

“Like kissing?”

“Eh... huh?” Tam appears utterly flunderwhapped by the suggestion. “Ki—?!” he squeaks.

With a look Tarrant recognizes Very Well – for his Alice has worn it on numerous occasions – the little lass leans toward Tamial and invites, “I’m sure I’ll think much happier thoughts if you kiss me...”

“Uhm, I... W-w-well...”

Tarrant holds his breath. His chest aches as Alice does the same.

Tam gulps very visibly in the darkening evening. “Uh... all right...”

And that is how Tamial Hightopp not only receives his first – and thankfully chaste! – kiss, but also how he manages to achieve heretofore un-managable and ought-to-be-impossible Futterwhacken steps.

Tarrant watches in apprehensive dismay as his son positively glows with happiness. He grins... well, madly as he Futterwhackens beside a lass who – from the look of that smile – must have a bit of Cheshire in her family tree somewhere! Tarrant opens his mouth – to despair or moan or beg for mercy, he’s not sure which – but nothing whatsoever emerges.

It is Alice who, at least, manages: “Er... have you spoken to Tam about... um, girls, yet?”

Tarrant frantically shakes his head in the negative.

Bloody bulloghin’ brangergain!

He remembers – with great trepidation! – when his own Fa had sat him down for The Chat and – blast i’tall – he’d been about Tam’s age at the time and... Horridly, completely, wretchedly...! A bloody Fate Worse Than Death...!

“Surely not?” Alice inquires, very obviously (and bravely) biting back a snort – or several – of amusement and Tarrant realizes he must have been muttering aloud.

“What? I... oh! I...” He glances across the field at his son who is now giggling along with that lass! Tarrant’s heart pounds in his chest: drumbeats of Dread. Perhaps, for this occasion, he should revisit the idea of giving Tam that top hat. Had he prepared a ribbon for this? He’s sure he must have! Perhaps a scarlet one, warning him of lascivious lasses and their smiles and giggles and demands for kisses and—!

I could talk to him,” Alice playfully suggests. “I’ve given advice on the subject before, if you recall.”

Their first Maigh, yes, Tarrant does recall! Perhaps too well! He meets his wife’s gaze. (And if he had seen any hint of apprehension in her expression, he would have taken her up on that offer!) Faced with a veritable outpouring of unsettling muchness, he quickly assures her, “No, no! I’ll do it!” He utters the words on his son’s behalf, thinking only of rescuing Tamial from an experience far more mortifying than the lad can contemplate. Dear Fates, how wretchedly embarrassing it would be to discuss Those Topics with one’s own Mam, who fancies herself a Champion of her son’s Chastity!

Tamial might one day forgive him, but he would never forgive himself!

As preoccupied as he is with these thoughts, the realization dawns rather belatedly – in fact, it occurs to him as Alice’s muchy expression transforms into a smirk of triumph – that he had just been masterfully maneuvered into making a Promise. Tarrant blinks, considers retaliating, and then sighs. He gazes upon his wife, feeling so many things all at once – weariness and toleration and humor and love and...

“You, my Alice, are dangerously slithy, when you set your mind to it.”

“Ha! Luckily for you!”

And yes, he must admit that his Alice has used her cunning to his advantage many times. “Aye,” he agrees. “I’m a ver’lucky mahn, indeed.”

Turning back to the now-murky-with-darkness field and suddenly-up-growing-son within it, he sighs. Tam continues grinning and Futterwhackening with the lass an the evening’s emerging dragon flies. He grumbles, “I suppose this means he will finally demand that the doorknob be turned around.”

“If he doesn’t, I’m sure the doorknob will. I’m a bit surprised Tam never realized why it was installed the way it was.”

“Oh... he’ll un-riddle it soon enough,” Tarrant acknowledges. Yes, when his son finally demands Privacy, he will realize that his parents had been keeping an eye on him – or rather, they had been keeping the doorknob’s eye on him. Not that doorknobs have eyes, and yet they make marvelous child monitoring devices!

Alice tugs on his arm and Tarrant stomps (very noisily) over to Tam, where they introduce themselves to the lass – a Traeva Causwoman and the very niece of their helpful guide, Inghan! – and then threaten Tam with overnight starvation if he does not accompany them back to the tent. They do not try to to get a single, coherent sentence out of him once they have seen his new friend home. Alice snorts into her stew at Tam’s dreamy expressions and – sometimes – vibrating ears.

Otherwise, it is a rather hum-drum sort of evening despite the fact that they have made a tent their home for the duration of the festival. Tarrant lies down beside his Alice and, exhausted from being awakened by every odd swamp and festival noise during the night before, tumbles into sleep...

And then, after what seems like a very short duration of time, he wakes. It smells quite early in the morning and the world is cloaked in the darkness that lingers before dawn and the next round of games when Tarrant gasps and his eyelids fly open. He sits up, his heart pounding, and his wife stirs.

“What is it?” she whispers. “A nightmare?”

Her warm hands reach for him and he takes them. Mindful of their son, who is sleeping the sound sleep of the well-Futterwhackened only a step away, he whispers back, “Nae, my Alice. A dream.”

She crawls from her pallet into his arms and listens as he tells her of the place he had visited in that dream, of its lovely, pure, golden light. “As if’twere built from Love itself,” he murmurs into her hair. “An’ th’Hightopps were there... all of them, my Alice. An’ they told me...”

Such wonderful things: their love for him and Alice and Tamial, their pride in all that they have done and will do!

“An’ Townsend! He was there,” Tarrant lisps quickly and quietly as Alice listens. “An’ yer Mam an’ yer Fa! An’ they were sae proud o’ ye, Alice. An’ they aul luv ye sae much! Ye take afteh them aul, aye? Yer Mam’s muchness an’ Ascot’s savvy an’ yer Fa’s merry madness... An’ I dreamed,” he tells her as quickly as possible, lest the dream start to fade away and he forgets it! “I dreamed they gave us their blessings, Alice.”

“Tarrant,” she murmurs on a hitching breath and only then does he feel her tears soaking into his shirt and cooling in the early morning chill. “My love, my Hatter, my Raven...” She lifts her face to his and he can just make out the edge of her smile in the darkness. “I know they did.”

He smiles back. “Of course ye do,” he agrees. “Of course. But still... ’twas nice teh hear.”

“Yes, it was. Thank you, Tarrant, for that dream.”

He giggles softly. “I am not sure I deserve thanks, my Alice. It was only a dream.”

“It is still a dream,” she insists. “Remember? I’m still dreaming us, Tarrant. And I’m not waking up.”

“If that is the case,” he warns her, his brows twitching with the rapture and magnitude of his thoughts, “this adventure of ours could take a very, very long time.”

“Perhaps,” she murmurs back, “that is precisely what I intend.”

Tarrant curls closer to her and sighs happily into her hair. “Then, by any and all means, my Alice, dream.

And then she settles down against his side, sighs out a happy breath and – for all intents and purposes – appears to do just that.

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 12 of 13

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