Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 3 of 13

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

Tarrant awakens to the feel of his wife’s lips on his chest, over his heart, against his scar.

“Alice?” he whispers in the darkness, puzzled.

“Hush,” she mouths in not-quite silence. “I’m kissing it better.”

He giggles, gathers her in his arms, kisses her, caresses her, makes love to her, all before the sun has risen. They sleep again, wrapped in each other arms, beneath the bed covers and when Tarrant next wakes, it is to a very uncomfortable twinge in his chest.

His eyelids fly open and his gaze moves toward Alice. She is soundly asleep and even drooling a bit on her pillow (poor thing! But it has resigned itself to the soggy treatment by now, he is sure) and he lets out a sigh of relief.

Alice had not felt his alarm at that tiny spike of pain. Alice does not know...

She does not know that his time is nearly up.

He slides gingerly from the bed, pulls on his pajama trousers and shirt, and tip-toes out of the room. He pauses here and there to lean against the wall of the upstairs hallway to catch his breath and let the pains pass as the scar moves, bit by bit, into his heart. Tarrant stops at his son’s bedroom door and – careful not to rouse the door knob – pushes it open.

Tamial sleeps on his stomach, sprawled and drooling – just like his Mam – in the bedtime trousers Tarrant had made for him not too long ago.

“I wish I could have given you more...” he murmurs, thinking of the top hat sitting on the worktable downstairs. It seems like such a poor substitute now although, at the time he had conceived it, an Answer To Your Prayers had sounded like a brilliant idea.

Tarrant crosses his son’s room in silence and kneels beside the young man’s bed. His son...

He studies the sleeping face, the wild rose-blond curls, the skin and hands unstained by hatting chemicals and unscarred by garrotes and knife blades. Their son is the sum total of both himself and Alice... and yet he is perfect in all the ways they are not.

Tarrant’s heart strains painfully and he holds his breath. When the stabbing ache passes he lets out a sigh of thanks. He is not ready yet. But he knows he must hurry.

He leans forward and presses a kiss to his son’s temple. “May ye be blessed, Tamial Hightopp, Laird of Iplam. An’ look after yer Mam. I love ye.”

The words are a whisper and he doubts his son can hear them at all... or, if he does, he will think them only a whisper in a dream. Perhaps one that he will forget the instant he wakes. Such is life, Tarrant knows. And such is death.

He retreats back into the hall quietly and closes the door. On the way back to bed and his wife, Tarrant pauses a half dozen times as the scar more than kisses the edge of his heart: it begins to bisect the muscle itself. He is careful to close the bedroom door behind him but he is not careful when he crawls back into bed. He is selfish enough to want to hold his wife, to feel her hold onto him, as the end comes.

The End does not frighten him, for he knows he will be fine. He will go Beyond and he will wait for Alice to join him. Perhaps he will prepare tea. Perhaps she will arrive on a Saturday as she had once been so wont to do...

“Alice,” he whispers, pulling her into his arms.

“Hm?” she murmurs sleepily.

“I love you, Alice.”

His wife snuggles against his chest just as another shard of pain pierces his chest. He gasps and she pauses, looks up, frowns. “What is it? Tarrant?”

The pain subsides and he smiles, threading his fingers through her hair. Her question summons a swarm of words that get themselves all trussed up in a tangle before he can order them into formation.

Alice leans over him, braces herself on her elbow, and – with one dexterous hand – opens his nightshirt. Her hand smoothes over his chest in the gloaming of just-before-dawn and her gaze drops to his skin.

“I can feel it now,” he hears himself whisper.

“It’ll be all right,” she tells him, faith and determination shining in her eyes. “I... I saw the Oraculum. Everything will be fine. I promise.”

He smiles even as his heart stutters, stumbles, and recovers. “Yes. I know. We’ll be fine.”

Tarrant hisses as the next slice tears through him.

Alice frowns. “It hurts?”

“Only a little.”

“It shouldn’t. You’re fine. You are totally and completely fine, Tarrant. I saw... the future and we... Tam is...”

“Alice,” he says gently, petting her hair, her cheeks, her neck... her scar. “You saw in the Oraculum what you needed to see.”

She shakes her head. “No.”

“The path ahead of you will be difficult. I am sorry I cannot walk it with you.”

“No. No! You listen to me Tarrant Hightopp! You do not die today. Not today!”

He pulls her close. She is stiff in his arms, still fighting for him. And he loves her more than ever for that. He buries his face in her short hair, inhales her scent. It still captivates him, even after all these years.

“Why...” he whispers, “is a raven like a writing desk?”

She gasps, sobs and he tenses with the next wave of heat. It lasts longer than the others, lingers before subsiding. His chest aches as his heart struggles against the scar and its Intent.

“Why, my Alice?” he prompts her when he has enough breath to do so.

She pulls back just far enough to look into his eyes. He does not like the sight of her tears. He would have preferred to see her smile at the end.

“Because they have a son,” she answers between deep, dragging breaths. “Because one cannot exist without the other.”

His hands spasm, clutching whatever happens to be within the grasp of his fingers: her nightshirt and her hair. “No, Alice. You mustn’t follow me. Not yet. Our son... Tam needs you to be strong. Underland needs you to be strong...”

You are my Underland,” she reminds him.

And there! She smiles. It is not a happy one as it must push its way through her tears, but it is a smile. He can feel the pain building once again and he does not know if his heart will be able to endure much longer. “Thank you for... my Alice... Live, Alice. Tamial—!”

He might have said more, but then again, perhaps not. White-hot not-there-steel shears through him and Tarrant watches his wife’s face as his son’s name falls from his lips on an uninterrupted sigh. It is fitting, his thinks in this final moment as he feels himself falling away, that their son’s name would be his final utterance. For Tamial is tangible proof that the greatest riddle of all time had finally been solved: the riddle of a raven and a writing desk.


Alice waits. She struggles to do so patiently. She strives to do so silently. She waits for Tarrant to blink, to focus his green eyes on her as he takes his next breath...

He doesn’t. He doesn’t because he is... he is...


The sob, abbreviated and bitten off as it had been sounds too loud in the silence of early morning. Surely, it would have woken Tarrant if he were... if he weren’t...


This is impossible!

Impossible because the Oraculum had promised... It had shown...

We have a Future!

Her thoughts revolve around this point, trying to puzzle out the why of this... mistake. This is a mistake! The Oraculum...!

Tarrant’s fingers stop gripping her hair and nightshirt. His hands stop pressing against her warmth. His arms stop pulling her closer. Her husband simply... stops.

Alice scrambles to catch his hands before they fall, her fingernails scratching at his skin and she tries to stop the inevitable.

No! I’m not letting go!

She does not speak these thoughts aloud because she fears what she will hear: she will hear nothing. No answer, no reply, no argument, no consolation. Nothing. She will hear nothing if she speaks aloud. She cannot bear the thought of enduring silence from him. Tarrant has never been this silent, this still.

She wraps her arms around him and hauls him into her lap, leans over him and presses her lips to his hair. Her grip is strong around his unresisting, unmoving, unbreathing form. She does not think about the lack of light in her husband’s eyes. She does not think about the breath that does not move his chest, about the heart that does not beat beneath his scarred Heart Mark.

He is tellingly silent.

But he can’t be.

This can’tbe!

The Oraculum...!

Alice squeezes her eyes closed, inhales his scent, sobs.

The Oraculum had shown her precisely what she had needed to believe in order to let him go, in order to give him what he had needed, in order to not waste his final days with anger and futile searches for a cure...

A cure that Mirana had told her wasn’t possible. A cure that could have been possible if only Krystoval had offered her a single vial of its blood.

Her hot tears cool as they soak into her husband’s hair.

Why hadn’t she sought out the jabberwockies? Why hadn’t she begged Maevyn and Krystoval to let her Move through Time just once more? She could have gone back to that tunnel, pushed Tarrant out of the way of Masonmark’s knife... Or she could have thought to take a small jar of Pain Paste with her... Such a simple thing. Such a small thing yet so consequential! She could have saved him if only...!

She presses closer to him even though he does not hold her. He does not even press back; the gravity that had always drawn them together is gone.

A cure... She would have given anything for a cure, just as she would now give anything for a way to call him back to her, to Tam, to their life and to the future the Oraculum had...!

Why had she allowed that wretched scrap of parchment to sway her? She should have been searching for a cure! She should have pressed Mirana harder... should have torn that library to pieces... should have noticed Tarrant was dying long before she had forced him to tell her... should have...!

Damn you all! All I needed was a single vial of Blood!

Why had that been denied her? Simply because she shouldn’t be mucking about with Time? No one in Underland bloody cares about the bastard! They certainly hadn’t noticed when Tarrant had killed him, now had they?

It doesn’t matter, she tells her husband, petting his hair with a shaking hand. Krystoval can’t stay away forever. The jabberwockies will be back or I’ll seek them out... it doesn’t matter...

Yes, one way or another, she will save him!

Her lips move, but no sound emerges: “Tarrant...”

There is little else she can think.

She has never felt so alone.

Alice shivers, shudders, quakes. She tries to stay silent: she does not want to hear her husband not answer her; she does not wish to awaken Tam. She does not want anyone to see Tarrant like this, to know... For if they know, if they see, then it will be True!

“I’m not letting you go,” she informs him in absolute silence. It’s a rash promise, but she doesn’t care. “I’ll find a way. There must be a way!” Even if she has to hide her husband’s body and hunt every corner of Underland for the jabberwockies...!

“I will find a way.”

She knows she will have to do it alone. She will have to leave Tam behind, for he must never know that his father is dead. No one must ever know...

Alice shivers... and then shivers again. Frowning, she clenches her fist as yet another chill races up her arm. The sensation disturbs her and she hates it for interrupting her thoughts, her plans... She must make a plan for bringing Tarrant back!

But the icy rush is insistent. Snarling, Alice pulls her left arm out from behind Tarrant’s shoulders and glares at her heart line...

Her heart line...

Another wintry wind rolls beneath her skin, up her arm and blusters against her heart. She watches as the dark blue lines that emerge from the tip of her finger lose their color, turn a rather uninspiring shade of gunmetal... and then ash gray.

She shivers again with yet another chilling sensation.

She watches as yet more color is leeched from her heart line. From the tip of her finger to her first knuckle, the bond that Tarrant has always fed with his blood grays beneath her skin.

It grays... dies... because he has died and...

Alice suddenly understands.

It will take a will stronger than hers to fight the advancing chill, the Death crawling toward her heart. Perhaps, if she hadn’t needed Tarrant so much... if she had lived for her son more... Perhaps, then, she might be able to survive long enough to find Krystoval, to beg, plead, bargain, steal!

But she doubts she will get very far. Not now.

She shudders with yet another icy lick up her bond mark. The grayness advances an almost imperceptible amount.

Alice bites back another wave of misery; there is no hope. Perhaps she should give in. At least she will be with him, wherever he is...

Oh, but he will be horridly disappointed in her! Will he forgive her for leaving their son so easily? So quickly? Will she be able to forgive herself?

Alice pants out a breath. It’s either that or scream and she must remain silent!

She wraps her arms once more around her husband. She rocks him in her arms which are aching from the strain of holding him close, but she will not let go! She has promised him and promises matter here in Underland! They matter just as much as Intent! The Fates had punished her once for not keeping her Promise and she...!

Alice stops. Freezes. An idea rises through her grief and steals her very breath. A handful of words that Mirana had meant as a comfort – cold as it had been at the time – return to her, recross her mind.

“If there is a cure, only the Fates know it.”

Mirana had uttered those words, had given Alice the key to saving Tarrant. And even now, it is not too late! It cannot be too late! No one knows he is... and so long as no one knows, Events might be changed, altered, adjusted...!

“A cure...” Alice muses, still breathless, still in silence. One hot, half-mad thought chases another through her head. It is better than thinking about the chilling numbness creeping up her left hand. She does not look at her heart line again. She does not want to see...

Alice fists her left hand in her husband’s hair and her right in his shirt. She looks up at the ceiling through her tears, away from his unblinking eyes and unshifting chest and unthrumming pulse. Day has broken and sunlight is pouring uninvited in through the bedroom window... like seawater gushing in through a cabin door on a sinking ship.

She is drowning, she realizes. There will be no journey for her: she does not have the strength to hunt the jabberwockies. She does not have the strength to beg. She knows that her heart line is turning to ash beneath her skin. She can feel Tarrant’s blood fading, drying, crumbling... And when this Death – his Death – finishes crawling up her arm and reaches her Heart Mark, the heart beneath it will stop beating. She had not lied when she had told Tarrant that a raven cannot exist without its writing desk.

But, one utterly mad thought hisses in her ear, there is a way. There is always a way. You know who to ask. You know what to do...

She closes her eyes and accepts the answer. The only answer that is left.

The Fates.

Yes. The Fates. Only the Fates would know how to save him. Only the Fates would have the power to grant her this boon. Only the Fates can help her now.

Alice wipes her face clean on her nightshirt sleeve and gently lays her husband back down, arranges him comfortably. She will be back for him. She will bring him back... somehow. This is not the end.

This is not The End.

Alice grasps his right hand with her left. She curls against his body – so cool, too cool, too still, too silent – and presses a kiss to his unsmiling cheek, to the corner of his slack lips.

“I love you,” she tells him, keeping her eyes tightly shut. “And I’m going to bring you home.”

He does not answer, but she tells herself he is smiling. He is waiting. Just as he has always waited for her. And again, she is late.

But she is not too late!

Alice takes a deep breath, gathers her frantic, crazed thoughts and speaks as steadily as possible: “Fates of Underland, heed me, for I seek to Court thee.”

Courting Fate...

When Mirana had first mentioned it that day the two of them had sat beside the training field watching Leif and Tarrant spar, Alice had never expected to ever think on it again. She had let the concept fall into the recesses of her mind, into her nearly-forgotten memories.

But she had not forgotten. Not truly. Although she had not remembered in time to stop Death from taking her husband.

Always late, Alice, she scolds herself.

Another deep breath and she steadies herself further. A part of her cannot believe that she is doing this, that she is daring this. She had never expected that she would wish to seek Them out!

But she seeks Them now. Krystoval has abandoned her. Mirana has turned away from her. There is no one left to seek! Not in the time she has left!

“Fates of Underland... Accept my Suit...” she bids Them, begs Them.

Alice holds her breath, not knowing what to expect, not knowing if she is even petitioning Them properly, not caring. If she fails, she will ride immediately to Mamoreal and demand to be shown the correct procedure. Mirana will tell her. Mirana will have to tell her. Alice will not give her a choice in the matter. Friend or no.

“Accept my Suit!” she cries.

“Rather impatient, aren’t we, dear?” an aged voice warbles. “It takes time to make the connection, you know. And we three are not as young as we used to be.”

With a silent gasp, Alice opens her eyes...

And finds herself in a long, wide, black marble hallway. It is dimly lit by a single torch but it is bright enough for Alice to make out three figures standing opposite her. To her left and to her right, the hallway stretches out into near darkness. She can see doors at either ends, but none along the wall of the corridor itself. Iplam is gone. Her home, her room, her bed, her husband are all gone!

Reflexively, Alice reaches for her sword and her right hand curls around the pommel. Startled, she glances down. She is dressed for battle. She takes note of the leather jerkin and the leg guards strapped to her thighs and shins. Even her hands are covered with leather. She spares a thought for her wedding ring – the one she never takes off unless she is fighting – and prays it will find its way back to her later. After all, there is nothing she can do about its absence now.

Alice inspects the borrowed protective gear and, as she regards the unfamiliar trappings, she notices... the heart line is not... she is not...

The chill has stopped.

She is not sure why that is the case and it makes her uneasy.

Alice warily appraises the trio of figures that had not been in her company moments ago, the hallway she had not been standing in, the sparring gear she had not been wearing... Finally, she returns her attention to the creatures sharing the hallway with her.

“You are the Fates of Underland?” she ventures.

“Obviously!” one asserts. Alice wills her eyes to adjust and, squinting, she manages to make out a large, up-right standing turtle with sad eyes.

“And you rather took your time in Courting us!” the next says impatiently. In the light of the torch, Alice sees an elderly sheep with a pair of knitting needles thrust through her wool atop her head.

The third contributes, “I suppose you rather didn’t like my method for bringing you here. But it was of my own invention!”

Alice gapes at the third figure – a knight with a wide, kind face and gentle eyes – and remembers...

“I know you. I know all of you.”

“Ah, so she does remember!” the turtle gasps, large saltwater tears rolling down his leathery cheeks.

“Yes, we had thought you would have forgotten,” the Sheep bleats accusingly.

“Uplandish minds... I realize not everyone can be a Mad March Hare, but I should like to invent a contraption to make your mind more reliable, Champion,” the Knight muses aloud. “Perhaps something utilizing a butterfly net?”

Alice regards them. “How is it possible – if you’re really the Fates – that I met you when I was a little girl in Underland?”

“Because we sought to meet you, of course!” the Sheep huffs.

“Ridiculous question,” the Knight mutters.

The turtle sniffles and steps forward with a slight bow. “I am the Mock Turtle,” he intones. “Do you recall my history?”

“Vaguely,” Alice replies, as a hazy memory of lobsters and whiting drifts through her mind. She then turns to the Sheep. “I recall rowing a boat for you...”

“Life is but a dream, dear,” the elderly ewe acknowledges.

“And you,” Alice continues, glancing at the Knight. “Always prepared...”

“It’s as well to be provided for everything,” he declares proudly.

Alice looks from the Mock Turtle to the Sheep to the Knight. “Past, Present, and Future?” she summarizes and the Mock Turtle applauds.

“Marvelous! This one’s quite quick about the wits!”

“Yes, I can see why we chose you,” the ewe agrees.

Alice frowns. “You... chose me?”

“Yes, through a means of my own invention, naturally,” the Knight answers.

“But,” Alice interrupts, “I chose you. Just now.”

“Not hardly!” the Sheep declares. “We needn’t accept a suitor simply because they offer!”

“And, by the way, your suit was hardly phrased properly,” the Mock Turtle informs her gravely. “Why, a proper Courting requires only the finest—!”

“Now, now,” the Knight interjects. “The lady here used a method of her own invention. We all agreed that was a quality to be praised!”

The Mock Turtle subsides unhappily at that.

“What is this place?” Alice interjects before the three of them can galumph off on some other tangent or other.

“The Hallowed Halls of Time,” the Sheep informs her.

“We would have invited you to have a seat in the parlor,” the Mock Turtle apologizes, “but I’m afraid it’s a bit of a mess.” He glares over the Sheep’s knitting needles at the Knight.

“You’ll be glad for the device when I’m done!” he assures the Mock Turtle who shakes his head sadly.

Alice clears her throat, drawing the attention of the Fates back to her. “I need your help.”

“What a happy coincidence!” the Knight declares, clapping his hands together with delight. “For that is the very thing we wish to discuss with you!”

Her heart leaps at the announcement. “Then you’ll do it? You’ll breathe life back into Tarrant?”

The Mock Turtle sighs. “Well, suppose we did. Do you think that scar would let him make much use of it?”

Before Alice can clarify her request, the Sheep says, “We need you to do something for us, Alice.”

She studies the ewe’s severe expression and sighs. Bloody hell. Of course nothing is ever simple. Of course she would have to pay for this favor despite all that she has already done for Underland and its citizens. “What is it you want from me?”

“Come, come!” the Knight admonishes her. “This will be a grand adventure!”

Alice sighs tiredly. “I should like to judge that for myself. What must I do?”

After a communicative glance between the three of them, the Mock Turtle says, “A very long time ago, we created the Oraculum...”

Alice grits her teeth at the mention of that misleading and willfully malicious document.

“To help us keep track of Persons of Interest,” the Sheep interjects.

The Knight puffs up his chest. “It was—”

“Of your own invention,” the Mock Turtle wearily concludes. “Yes. We know.”

“But rather than making us less busy, it made us more so.” The Sheep glares briefly at the Knight before clearing her throat and informing Alice, “We decided to give the Oraculum to an individual worthy of keeping it,” the Sheep declares, continuing the tale.

“Of all the ones to Court us, a duchess was deemed the most worthy,” the Knight contributes helpfully.

The Duchess,” the Sheep amends.

The Mock Turtle sighs as if expressing the sum total of his long years of existence. “At the time, the Duchess had seemed like a very logical choice. She had a very nice manor house with a library. We had been sure the Oraculum would feel comfortable there.”

“Also, as a Duchess, she would be in a position to advise the queens of the Oraculum’s predictions,” the Sheep interjects with surprising lucidity.

And,” the Knight announces despite an irritated glance from the ewe and a forlorn shake of the head by the turtle, “the Duchess’ home is squarely between the territories of the two queens! And everyone knows the best place to be is never at one end or the other but squarely In Between!”

“Unfortunately,” the ewe continues, “the Duchess did not follow our instructions.”

The turtle sobs, “She keeps the Oraculum locked up in a glass case, separate from its other papery fellows!”

“A travesty!” the Knight agrees most vehemently.

“She uses the Oraculum for her own personal gain,” the Sheep bleats rather aggressively. “Ingratiating herself with the Red Queen... Even sent her children to work for the woman! Turns them into whatever creature the queen requests!”

“As if a queen has the right to request specific creatures! What in Underland makes her think she is one of us?” the Knight blusters. “Although it is a rather ingenious application of ground pepper...”

The Mock Turtle sobs.

Alice attempts to make sense of the situation. “So... you want me to do what? All of this is in the past, is it not?”

“What is the past when we are Here? In the Hallowed Halls of Time?” the Sheep enigmatically muses.

The Mock Turtle is, thankfully, more direct. “Yes, yes, all in your past, Champion of the White Queen.”

“We want you to retrieve the Oraculum and deliver it to a more reliable keeper,” the Knight declares.

Alice frowns. “But... if all this is in the past... how could I possibly do that?”

“Tut tut!” The Knight wags a finger at her. “Have you not been paying attention? We are in the Hallowed Halls of Time!”

Alice is still not sure what that means. “And...?”

“And we will show you which door you need to use. Not to worry!” the Knight says brightly.

“But... if this is the Hall of Time—”

“The Hallowed Halls of Time,” the turtle corrects her shortly.

Alice bullies onward, “Then I could use it to Move back through Time and save Tarrant, couldn’t I?”

“I’m afraid not,” the Sheep bluntly answers.

“Yes,” the Knight agrees. “You see, there would be an extra you... where there is already a you. And that would be quite confusing for everyone! Especially you and especially since you have no memory of seeing another you at any point in your past.”

“But,” the Mock Turtle sighs dramatically, “several people do have memories of you, another you, at a time when you shouldn’t have been in Underland, which leads us to believe that it is you we send to fetch the Oraculum and find it a new home.”

“I... beg your pardon?”

The Sheep waves a hoof impatiently as if brushing aside a fly. “No pardons, please, Your Majesty.”

“Do you accept this task?” the Knight asks with such directness that Alice is taken aback.

“The task of... Moving through Time—”

“No, no!” the Mock Turtle huffs. “You haven’t been listening!”

“It’s the Uplandish mind,” the Knight whispers to the turtle over the knitting needles thrust through the sheep’s wool atop her head. “Dreadfully logical and distract-able!”

“You will Step back in Time,” the Sheep clarifies.

“How is that different from drinking jabberwocky blood?”

“It’s very different!” the Knight replies.

“Indeed. Stepping is quite different from Moving. Did you never learn that in your lessons, child?” the ewe inquires shrewdly.

Alice looks from one pair of eyes to the next and, finding no allies, sighs. “Lessons in Upland are quite different.”

“They do at least lessen day by day, do they not?” the turtle checks.

“Er... no. They begin and they end but they do not lessen. If anything, they grow more lengthy over time.”

“Well, then they can hardly be called lessons, can they?” he mutters.

Alice lifts a hand to rub her temples then stops as she recalls the rough leather covering her fingers. This is not going at all the way she’d expected! She had called out to the Fates for help. And now, in the midst of negotiations they are bickering over semantics!

“Ah... you’d best make up your mind soon, dear. Death waits for no one and Age is quick to catch up to you!” the ewe declares and Alice pauses. The Sheep gestures with a hoof toward Alice’s hand and she turns her attention toward it.

Alice pulls off the leather gauntlet on her left hand, afraid of what she will find. She has not felt any chills since arriving here, wherever Here is, but...

She looks down at her left hand and gasps. She then pulls off the gauntlet from her right hand... and gapes.

“What has happened?”

“You are only as young as you feel,” the Sheep answers simply.

Alice regards her hands which are now wrinkled and heavily-veined. Her skin has turned papery and has sunk down between the tendons. It hangs loosely around her too-large knuckles.

“Grief has struck down many in their prime,” the Knight comments with a sad smile.

“As we are in the Hallowed Halls of Time,” the Mock Turtle explains, “you have been a widow for a minute and also a millennium.”

“We can see which you prefer,” the Knight tells her with a nod to her gnarled hands.

Alice takes a calming breath and then inspects the heart line. Despite the age of her body, the heart line appears to be holding onto its remaining color. “Champion Alice, dear, you’ll need to make a decision soon,” the Sheep tells her, deftly cutting through the brewing argument. “Age is not a fellow to be trifled with.”

“Shall I help you come up with a method to halt Death in its tracks?” the Knight offers.

“She only needs a strong will to live!” the Mock Turtle replies.

“Which she has not chosen,” the Sheep sighs. “The child doesn’t know what she wants!”

“Yes, I do!” Alice replies, jumping at the opening. “I want Tarrant back. I want my husband. Surely there must be a way to give him life again, make him healthy and whole and well and without that wretched scar through his heart!”

The three Fates frown at her.

“A purely nonsensical sort of thing to want,” the turtle observes.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific, dear.”

“Or perhaps start from form and work your way toward function?”

Alice sighs out an irritated breath. “My husband, Tarrant Hightopp—”

“Yes, the Mad Hatter, we know,” the Mock Turtle assures her rudely.

Biting back a growl, Alice grasps for patience. “He is... dead.

“Our condolences,” the Sheep murmurs.

“I wish to undo that,” Alice concludes, disregarding the ewe.

“Death?” the Knight clarifies. “You wish to undo Death?” His bushy, gray brows fly toward his frazzled, white hair.

“Yes. Surely, there must be a way?”

“Of course, there is: Life!”

“And where do I find him?” Alice asks.

The three Fates glance at each other, swapping puzzled expressions.

“Life simply is,” the Sheep finally says. “It’s Death that’s very conveniently Around the Corner.”

“Well, despite his location, I’d rather not invite him to this gathering, if you don’t mind,” the Mock Turtle sniffs and the Knight nods in agreement.

“Please,” Alice says. “If I complete this task for you – if I find the Oraculum and give it to a trustworthy keeper – will you save my husband’s life? Please? I just want to be with him again.”

The three Fates glance uneasily at each other. Finally, the Knight clears his throat and says, “If you Step into the Past for us... you will be with the Hatter again.”

Alice nods, relieved to finally have arrived at an understanding. “Fine. All right. I’ll do it. Just show me the way.”

As one, they gesture down the long corridor to Alice’s right. Alice follows the claw, hoof, and finger with her gaze until she finds herself facing a portal that looks more like a prison door than a portal that had been finely crafted to match the grandiose atmosphere of the hall.

“And where does this lead?” she asks.

When no one answers her – not the melancholy and short-tempered turtle nor the sometimes-stern-yet-often-compassionate sheep nor the overly-helpful and inventive knight – Alice looks back over her shoulder.

The hall is empty except for the single torch burning in its bracket on the wall, halfway between the doors. Alice is tempted to investigate the other portal, but she looks down at her hands. They are the hands of an old woman and she would rather not stand around and let Age catch up with her. Despite the condition of her body, she does not feel any excessive aches in her joints or weariness of sight. If she’s going to traipse across Underland looking to steal the Oraculum from the Duchess, then she’d better make sure she doesn’t linger here any longer than she already has!

Alice dons her gauntlets and strides toward the door that the Fates had indicated. Her sword is a comforting weight at her side and she briefly checks for... yes, she has her throwing knives and garrote and hunting knife. She is as ready for this adventure as she will ever be.

She tries not to dwell on the fact that she is alone – utterly alone for the first time in twenty years. She tries not to consider why the Fates had seen fit to arm her for battle. She tries not to think about the fact that if she fails, her son will pay the price, for she doesn’t believe the Fates will honor their bargain if she does not fulfill her end of it.

It’s a simple task, she tells herself, pausing in front of the horridly large, dark and solid, forbidding door. All Alice must do is locate the Duchess’ home, take the Oraculum, and deliver it to Absolem.

One simple series of tasks and she will have her husband back, her family back, her life back.

One simple task.

And with that thought firmly in mind, she reaches out and grasps the rusty handle on the door.

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 3 of 13

<< Previous     Home     Next >>