Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 2 of 13

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
One Promise Kept: Book 5

Mirana takes one look at Alice’s face and feels her smile curl up and crawl into a corner of her mind. She regards her friend’s expression, notes the lines of tension and misery that Alice struggles to hold behind her fury, and sighs.

Alice knows.

“You didn’t tell me.”

The office door closes behind Alice. The sound is as soft as the accusation had been.

“You knew yet you did not tell me.”

“I didn’t tell you,” Mirana admits.


Mirana stands and moves around her desk. Yes, Alice is trembling with rage. Yes, her hands are fisted. Yes, she has every right and inclination to strike out. But Mirana has never feared her Champion, her friend. She will not start now.

“Because he doesn’t have much time left. Because there is no cure.”

Alice’s lips pull back into a snarl. “I don’t believe that! You once told me there was a rite for everything in Underland. You know how to save him. Just tell me what to do.

“Alice...” Mirana whispers. She dares to reach out, to gather her Champion in her arms. Alice remains stiff, but she does not push Mirana away. “Alice, I’m so sorry.”

The admission of defeat seems to cut Alice’s knees out from under her. She sags against Mirana, who stumbles back a step under the sudden weight. Alice’s hands cling to the queen’s day dress, stressing the fabric.

Mirana pets Alice’s hair. “When... how did you discover the truth?”

“Yesterday morning,” Alice chokes out. “And I am married to him. He couldn’t hide it from me forever.”

“No, I don’t expect he could.”

“He wasn’t even going to tell me. He was just going to let me worry what was wrong until the moment he... the moment that bloody scar...!”

Mirana bites her lip. She had left that choice up to Tarrant. The evening she had announced the resolution of the negotiations with the rebels, Tarrant had come to see her in her office.

“Let’s call the others. I’m sure they have questions now that...”

Tarrant had nodded wearily and collapsed into an armchair. Mirana had sent for Mally and Chess and... the others. After the messenger had hopped off, Tarrant had confessed, “I don’t know how to tell her... How to explain... I’m dying and she... she will have to...”

“I know. I remember.”

“Why must it be this way?”

Mirana had sighed and rubbed his shoulder. This man had become a brother to her over the years. She would do nearly anything for him. But she would not – cannot – defy the Fates of Underland for him. “You know what will happen if we interfere.”

She had never seen Tarrant Hightopp cry as he had that evening in the armchair that had stoically endured his misery-wracked, shuddering sobs. She had cried as well. She had not wanted these events to come so soon. She had tried to forget about them, had told herself that there would be another way, that she had misunderstood the messages, the signs...

Unfortunately, she had not.

Chessur had already guessed: “The scar,” he had summarized with characteristic bluntness. “Of course I shalln’t breathe a word of this to Alice. And I will ask Krystoval to take the juveniles... away for a time.” Yes, Alice would surely think to move through Time, to go back, to save her husband... who must not be saved.

Chessur had acknowledged Mirana’s nod of agreement and then he’d gazed at Tarrant with sad eyes. “And just when we’d decided to be only partly civil to each other... I should have guessed you wouldn’t hold up your end of the bargain.”

Mally had been inconsolably shocked. “But... but... she said he... her husband had... and she would be... and no. No… no.”

And the others who – upon seeing their Champion’s newest scar across her throat – had known the Truth...

It had, easily, been the most miserable meeting Mirana had conducted since regaining the crown.

“I need your help,” Alice says, stepping back and rubbing her face briskly with both hands. “I need to contact Krystoval.”

Oh, what Mirana would give to not be the one to tell her friend what she must. “Alice, Krystoval and the other jabberwockies have gone.”

“Gone? Why?” But before Mirana can decide between a White Lie or a Half Truth, Alice sighs. “Oh. Yes. I see.” She rubs her eyes. “Brangeragin itall!”

Before Mirana can ask why the action seems to make sense to Alice when it shouldn’t make sense at all, her Champion rallies: “In that case, I need to see the Oraculum again. I need to be allowed in the alchemy library. I need to... to...”

“Alice...” Mirana does not want to destroy her Champion’s hopes... but how can she feed them, knowing what is around the corner? “The Oraculum will not help you now. And I have already searched the library myself.”

“Well, I need to look. I need to...”

“Of course you do.” The very strength of character that has always made Alice a remarkable warrior makes her just as stubborn now, in the face of imminent death and unavoidable pain. “But when you do not find the answers you seek, go home with your husband and son. Be with them.”

Alice shakes her head, tears welling in her eyes despite how she clenches her jaw, regulates her breathing, smoothes her expression into relaxed blandness. “How can you give up so quickly? I thought you of all people would...”

Mirana has no answer to that. She had sought a cure, even knowing that it must not be used, she had looked. She had found nothing. Of course, she had had to search... her conscience would not have let her look herself in the mirror ever again had she not...

“If there is a cure,” Mirana says thickly, “only the Fates know it. I’m sorry Alice.”

“You’re sorry.” Alice nods. “Tarrant is sorry. Masonmark would probably be bloody sorry if Tarrant would let me tell that rotter what he’d done!”

She shakes her head and turns away, pacing toward the hearth. “So let’s all be sorry! Let’s just be sorry and continue on with life as if nothing will change! Let’s show Amallya how to make a tricorn! Let’s show Tam how to polish brass gears! Let’s have meetings and talk about Tarra’s latest bloody chair and let’s plan for another round of Wooing Rites that we both know aren’t necessary in the slightest and let’s be normal! Let's just pretend—pretend—pretend—!

“Yes!” Mirana nearly shouts, jumping in as Alice’s voice breaks and skips like a scratched record on the phonograph. “Yes, lets be normal, Alice! Thats what Tarrant wants! Wouldnt you if you were in his place?

Alice stares at her. The tears continue to fall. Her chin, despite being clenched, trembles. And then Alice sinks to her knees.

“Please, Mirana. Let me see the Oraculum.”

Mirana sighs through her own tears. Faced with so proud a woman begging on her knees, how can she not relent? “All right, Alice. All right.”

She helps her Champion to her feet and, with an arm around her waist, escorts her to the Far South Tower, heart breaking even as she does so, for she knows what they will see.

And she knows it will make no difference at all.

Not in the end.

In fact, it will only make Tarrant’s death that much harder to endure. For all of them.



Perhaps he should have agreed to go with Alice to Mamoreal earlier than scheduled. Tarrant had been surprised – beyond surprised – when her mood had suddenly shifted after meeting with the queen yesterday afternoon. Suddenly, she had been confident. Happy. She had kissed him goodnight and then had opened up his nightshirt to kiss his heart line, his Heart Mark, his scar...

“Everything will be all right,” she had sighed in inexplicable and puzzling relief.

Tarrant muses over his wife’s sudden change in demeanor, leaning against the wall beside the window in his workshop and watches the scene out on the small arena. Her students battle each other and Tarrant listens as Alice reminds Argur to focus and Sir Silveran to keep his guard up and if Corea thinks that is an adequate block, she’s welcome to try it with Alice as her attacker!

Tarrant smiles at his wife’s spunk, her moxy, her Muchness, her Alice-ness.

“You’ll be needing that,” he informs her on a whisper that she cannot hear through the glass pane and across the yard to the small training field beyond. “Don’t lose it, Raven.”

She had frightened him two days ago. She had frightened him very badly when she had pinned him down and had tried to make war rather than love. She had screamed and raged and had refused to leave their room until lunchtime had come and gone. When Alice had finally seemed ready to emerge, he had prepared tea and something to eat... and she had sobbed at the sight of the table set and the teapot steaming... and the fury and misery had begun all over again. Luckily, Tam had been at the Paneshines’ again and had been spared the worst of it.

Tarrant had struggled to comfort his wife, to help her get it all out, to move on so that they might enjoy some peace together before...

Was I this wretchedly miserable? This inconsolable... then? He had asked himself that question as he had rocked Alice to sleep in his arms that night. He had thought back through the years to his own grief and loss and...

Yes, he admits, he had dealt with the loss of his clan just as badly. And now he understands why he had not been left alone in his misery. Now he knows why...


Tarrant jerks upright at the sound of his son’s voice and the soft knock on his workshop door.

He drops his right hand – he’d been rubbing the scar again – and turns. “Tam, come in. I have something for you!”

His son carefully pushes open the door, then whistles as he takes in the workshop. “You cleaned!” he exclaims. “Look at this! The door even opens all the way!”

Tarrant giggles as his son demonstrates this wondrous feature again and again until the doorknob complains of dizziness.

“What’s the occasion?” his son demands, leaving the door open and kneeling to inspect the space under the tables.

Tarrant gently kicks him in the rear for his insubordination. “What makes you think I need an occasion to straighten up the workshop?”

“Um... maybe because you’ve never done it before?” Tam suggests with a smirk. It’s an Alice-smirk and seeing it on his son’s face almost wrenches a sob from the very depths of his being.

Oh, Alice... my wife, my love... thank you for our son...


“Hm? Oh! Yes. Well, there is a first time for everything, or so I’ve been told.” He pauses, frowning briefly, before deciding that the saying sounds far too much like something Alice would say for it to have originated from any other source.

“Fa?” Tam says again, his brows drawn together in an emotion that isn’t so much wry and sarcastic as it is puzzled. “Are you all right?”

“What? Yes! Of course. I’m fine.” He claps his hands together and rubs his palms against each other. “Now,” Tarrant begins with renewed purpose and focus, “I asked you to come by after you finished your studies today because... Ah-ha! Here it is!”

With a flourish, Tarrant pulls his newest creation out from behind an umbrella stand that he keeps on his far worktable for ostrich and peacock plumes. He holds it out to his son, who blinks at it.


“Well?” Tarrant urges him. “Come, come! Try it on!”

“You made me a top hat?” Tam checks, slowly reaching out for it and lifting it to his head.

Tarrant gestures for Tam to spin in a circle and model it. “You’d do better to adjust your tone. That should have been a statement, not a question!”

Coming back around, Tam frowns. “But... I’m only thirteen and...”

Tarrant waves the question aside. “Yes, yes, I realize this is a bit earlier than planned, but I couldn’t resist. Especially considering the success I had with your Mam’s hat last week. So...” Tarrant takes a deep breath and instructs his son, “Ask yourself a question you would like me to answer.”


“Go on! Go on!”

“Um... all right...” Tam gives him a look that clearly communicates his assessment of his Fa’s strange behavior. Tarrant allows that perhaps he is acting stranger than usual. Well, but, given the circumstances, he thinks it’s appropriate. It’s not every day a father gives his son an Answer To His Prayers top hat!

Tam gasps. “What...? How...? What kind of hat is this?” he sputters, taking it off and turning it upside down to peer inside.

Tarrant steps forward and regards the myriad of colored ribbons that he had used to line the inside of the hat. Like Alice’s Thinking Cap, each ribbon contains a different thought. Tarrant had spent days wondering what sort of questions his son might want to ask him in the future. Why, that mint green ribbon there contains very clear instructions on how to brew a pot of breakfast tea. And that dark brown ribbon explains about harvesting ginger without getting snapped at. And the cream-colored ribbon instructs him to follow his heart, but not blindly, when he meets someone Special...

This hat, Tarrant believes, is even more of an achievement than Alice’s had been. This hat, while not a Father Figure, per se, does contain whatever wisdom Tarrant has gathered over the years and whatever messages he would like to pass on to his son one day... All that is required is for Tam to think of a question or a problem and the ribbon which carries the appropriate response will whisper the answer into his mind.

“Do you like it?” Tarrant asks, trying not to show how nervous he feels. “It’s a new invention. I call it an Answer To Your Prayers.”

Tam snorts. “That’s a great name for it. And it works, too.”

“What did you ask?”

The question had been asked out of scientific inquiry... mostly. His son stammers. “Oh, um, well...”

“Never mind,” Tarrant interjects on a giggle. “Try another, just to be sure it’s working properly.”

“All right.” Just as Tam lifts the hat, he pauses and asks warily. “Do you want to know what question I’m going to ask?”

“I suppose I can live without knowing,” he replies. “Just let me know if the answer is a good fit for it.”

“That was a rhyme,” Tam points out and, grinning cheekily, places the hat back on his head and very clearly wonders about something of importance. And then he blushes.

Suddenly worried, Tarrant wracks his mind for which messages are blush-worthy...

“I think it’s working.”

“Are you sure?”

Tam nods and admits. “I asked if you liked it when I pointed out your rhymes.”

“And what did I... er, I mean, what did the hat tell you?”

“Er, that you... Um, how you feel about me.”

“Ah.” Tarrant grins at his son’s adolescent embarrassment. “I do, you know,” he whispers, sparing his son the mortification of hearing his father say I love you aloud, even with only the doorknob for a witness.

“Um, thanks, Fa. Me, too.”

“I know, Tam. I know.”

Tam nods and glances away before the moment can become emotional or – to his young mind – awkward. A motion beyond the unscreened window catches his gaze and he grins. Tarrant follows the direction of his son’s attention and watches as a sword flips through the air. Alice had just disarmed Sir Silveran... again.

“What was—” Tam begins to ask and then stops and tenses.

“Yes?” Tarrant asks, feeling his brows twitch with concern.

Frowning, Tam removes his top hat and muses. “That was... weird. I was about to ask why Mam was acting so strange the other day and the hat...”

“What did it tell you?” he forces himself to ask, although he suspects he knows the answer to that.

Tam says, “It told me it’s because she misses you, but not to worry because she still... loves me... a lot.” For a moment, his son stares into the inside of the top hat. Tarrant stares with him. Waits.


“Yes, Tamial?”

“I hope that doesn’t mean your invention is broken.”

Tarrant summons a smile. He feels it stretch his lips just before his son looks up at him, his expression apprehensive.

“Well, perhaps there are still a few kinks... but I’m sure they’ll work themselves out soon enough,” he reassures him, the words he ought to say very nearly garroting him. The hat is working fine. The answer will make a great deal of sense very soon, I’m afraid...

Tam grins and offers him back the hat. “Does that mean you need to fix it?”

Tarrant accepts the top hat from his son. “I’ll keep an eye on it,” he replies. “When it’s ready, I’ll leave it on the worktable for you.”

Tam frowns. “Or you could just give it to me?”

Tarrant reminds himself of how very astute and Alice-y his son can be. “And deny you the opportunity to introduce yourselves properly? I think not!”

Tam rolls his eyes. “Right. Fine.” As Tarrant takes a moment to study the assortment of ribbons that make up the hat’s lining, Tam admits, “I haven’t done my chores yet, so...”

“Yes, it would be best to look after them.”

He lifts his gaze and watches his son cross the room toward the door. On the threshold, Tam pauses and, looking back, says, “Thanks for the hat, Fa. It’s really... great.”

“Ye’re welcome, Son.”

As he listens to Tam’s footsteps in the hall and then at the front door where he puts on his boots before heading outside to check on the chickens, Tarrant gently traces the brim of the hat with his fingers. And then he sets the hat squarely on the worktable, presses his fingers against the scar that now kisses the edge of his Heart Mark, takes a deep breath, and – marshaling himself – decides to see to the foodstuffs exchange even though he wouldn’t normally prepare quite so early for it. But, in the coming days, he doubts Alice will feel the inclination to organize it. And he doubts Tam will have the presence of mind to ask the hat for an explanation.

No, in the coming days, Tarrant expects Tamial will want to know Why.

Luckily, he had prepared that ribbon. Of course, he can’t be sure if it will respond when it is prompted to... But, then, again, that particular case is not the sort of situation that can be truly tested, only experienced... and endured.

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 2 of 13

<< Previous     Home     Next >>