Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 5 of 13

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One Promise Kept: Book 5

Of course, the White Rabbit refuses: “The... the Hatter?!  But... but...! He’s gone mad! Completely ’round the bend!”

The dodo protests with surprising tact: “That... is a rather unsettling and... unexpected request, Gray Lady.”

“I know,” Alice answers them both. In silence, she expands on that simple statement with a more truth than either Nivens or Uilleam could ever suspect her to know:

Yes, Tarrant Hightopp is mad. He’s also alone at Iplam, sitting in the ashes of his home, keeping company with the dead: his family and the unfortunate guests at the Maigh... the Maigh where he had nearly been betrothed to some lass out of necessity rather than love...

Alice isn’t sure if she is angry with the Fates for sending her to Underland too late to save them... or thankful that they had not forced her to face that choice: save Tarrant’s people or selfishly choose her own future with him... and their son.

Yes, if the Jabberwocky had not attacked that day, Tarrant would have performed the Thrice a-Vow with an Outlandish lass, would have had other children... He never would have married Alice. Tamial would not have been born... Unless, of course, Tarrant had later lost his wife... and that is a tragedy Alice would not wish on anyone.

He may not be Alice’s husband yet but she will not leave him alone with the ashes of his family. Not unless she has no other choice. It will be risky. She must not reveal her true identity or the fact that she has a heart line... She must not change the future by tinkering too much with the past... She fists her left hand and takes a moment to consider the heart line and its rate of decay. She has time. Time enough for this. For him.

“I know he’s mad,” she repeats calmly. “And I know my request is unusual. If you’d rather not accompany me, I understand and I thank you for your time and assistance.”

“Now, now,” Nivens mutters, “there’s no sense in thanking us for our time. No one has Time all to themselves, you know.”

“Quite,” Uilleam agrees. “And as we haven’t shown you to the Duchess’ house, we haven’t been of much assistance to you, either.”

“Yah don’ wanna be visiting th’Atter,” a sleepy voice informs her. “Woul’ bite ’is own hand if’n it tried tah feed ’im.”

With a sigh, Alice replies, “I won’t be swayed. If you won’t be coming with me, then I bid you all fairfarren.” Nivens twitches and glances at Uilleam whose expression morphs into one of pure stubbornness. “In the spirit of the Unexpected, I shall accompany you,” the dodo declares.

“So will I!” Mally announces, not stirring from Alice’s shoulder.

Seeing Niven’s increasing distress, Alice muses, “There is something you could do for me if you’d rather not come to Iplam.”

“And what might that be?” he asks in a voice made reedy and thin with stress.

“Do you know Absolem, the Blue Caterpillar?”

“Absolem? Why, of course I do! He’s very well-known in these parts.”

Alice nods. “I would like you to invite him to accompany you to Mamoreal. I will meet you there as soon as possible.”

“And what should I tell him this is concerning? He doesn’t take kindly to abandoning his hookah!”

“Take the hookah to Mamoreal for him,” she answers, solving the dilemma quite neatly, she thinks. “And you may tell him that it concerns the Oraculum.”

“The...? I beg your pardon,” McTwisp worriedly interrupts. “Did you say an oraculum?”

“No. I said the Oraculum.” Alice notes his confusion. Apparently, the Duchess has not let the document’s existence become common knowledge. Which makes a great deal of sense: if she had, the Red Queen would have – no doubt – demanded it for herself. Alice consoles the uninformed White Rabbit, “You’re right not to know what it is... but you will. Find Absolem and take him to Mamoreal, McTwisp. Please.

“Oh... all right.” He consents but continues to fret: “This is going to take quite a bit of cajoling, I can tell already!” He sighs and evaluates Alice with his large, pink eyes. “Are you sure that is what you want, Gray Lady?”

“Yes. Do that for me and we shall call our debt even, sir.”

“Very well, very well. Fairfarren, all. And don’t bother offering me any luck – you’ll need it all for yourselves.” With one last concerned glance, the White Rabbit hops off down the road and disappears around the bend.

Alice lets out a long breath, suffers another shiver which dances up her left arm, and then pivots to return the way she’d come.

“I find it very unexpected,” Uilleam muses, “that you seem to know your way to Iplam, but not to the Duchess’ house.”

Alice does not have a reply handy to that, so she merely grunts.

“It is also unexpected that no one seems to know who you are and yet you have met the Hatter.”

“I have heard of him,” she temporizes.

“Hm... And just why would you be seeking him out? If it’s a quest you’re on, I doubt he’ll be of any use to you, Mad with Grief as I imagine he must be.”

“He is!” Mally interjects. Alice doesn’t bother to check and see if the mouse’s eyes are even open as she speaks. “Saw ’im run ol’ McTwisp out of Iplam quicker than a strike from a hungry Jubjub! An’ all th’ rabbit wanted was tah deliver a message from th’ White... er, from Mirana o’ Mamoreal! She was checkin’ up on him, see?” Mally huffs at the memory. “O’ course, th’Atter threw me out next...”

“Which is why you went off to sulk in the Red Queen’s squimberry patch?”

“I don’ sulk!” Mally rebuts with an audible pout.

“I’m not surprised to hear you say that, Mallymkun,” he sighs out in disappointment.

A soft snore is Mally’s reply.

Uilleam shakes his head, his great beak thrusting to and fro with the motion. “Why must dormice always avoid confrontation? It would be much more unexpected for her to argue back.”

“Fearlessness is a habit not many take the time to learn,” Alice replies softly, suspecting that Mally can hear her perfectly well despite the buzzing snores she performs flawlessly. One of the mouse’s paws grips the collar of Alice’s jerkin a bit tighter and Alice knows she’s right.

She continues, “If our dear dormouse only had a sword – even one scaled to her size – she would be quite fearsome, don’t you think? Able to pluck out an eye easily enough – why, you’d never know she was crawling up your vest and neck until it was too late.”

“What a perfectly wretched idea!” Uilleam insists with a shudder.

“And the moral of the story,” Alice murmurs to him – as if Mally is not eavesdropping on the entire exchange, “is to never underestimate someone of small stature.”

Uilleam argues, “With her being so small, an underestimation would be a difficult thing to accomplish, indeed!”

Alice sighs but lets it go. Clearly, it takes quite a lot of convincing to persuade this dodo into admitting an error in logic.

The walk back to the crossroads seems longer than it had been on the outset. And when Alice remarks on this, Uilleam startles.

“But of course! The trees and the road hardly want us to arrive too quickly at the Crims Crossroads. Likely they expect us to change our mind and turn back.”

Alice huffs. “Brangergain i’tall! I’m going to Iplam, not Crims!”

Following that declaration, she shouldn’t be surprised to stride around the next bend and find the crossroads very conveniently laid out before her, but she is. And, eager as Underland seems to be to assist the three of them in escaping the Red Queen’s domain, the road to Iplam seems to soar beneath their feet. Alice is thankful for this as an ache begins to throb along her spine, in her hips and knees. Perhaps her body had not been as unaffected by the sudden Aging as she’d thought.

They stop to eat a few berries and woodland mushrooms (which do not make one grow or shrink) and Alice wishes longingly for a decent tea service. Still, she knows this road – she’s traveled it often in recent months; once a week, in fact – and expects they’ll arrive at Iplam by dawn. Sooner if the road continues to be so very helpful.

She considers the time – her time, that is, the time remaining to her – and hopes she will be able to fulfill the Fates’ request despite this side-trip. But, she acknowledges, the Fates had said that many citizens of Underland have memories of her... and both Tarrant and Mirana had seemed to believe that he would die, that he must die, so that Alice would be persuaded to do what she must. The thread of her logic is thin and barely makes any sense at all to her sleep-deprived and grief-addled mind. But something – some instinct – tells her that this is the path she must take. She must not leave Tarrant alone, not now. Not when he needs something to hold onto so that he might pull himself out of the ruins of tragedy.

“Och! Who gaes thar?!”

Alice leaps back as something whistles through the air at her knees.

The March Hare’s name is on the tip of her tongue but, luckily, Mally is faster.

“Thackery, yah mad lump!”

“Ar, Mally? Whot ye be doin’ a-way up thar?”

“Sleepin’ ’til yah started swingin’ tha’ blasted ladle!”

Alice squints in the darkness at the March Hare who squints back at her, his narrow shoulders quivering with his hare-ish pants. “A Gray Lady, aye? Mae condolences f’r yer loss.”

“Thank you,” Alice replies, trying not to focus too much on the reminder. “We’ve... I’ve—” she corrects herself with a thought to Uilleam and Mally, “—come to see the Hatter.”

Thackery shakes his head, his scraggly, too-often tugged ears flapping weakly against each other. “Nae, nae, nae!” he insists. “’Tis busy countin’ ’is oyster shells!”

Alice lifts Mally from her shoulder and deposits her in the cup of Thackery’s wooden ladle.

“Seeing as how we can’t see much of anything due to it being long past sunset,” Alice explains, “we’re going to need some comfortable spots for sleeping. Uilleam, Thackery, if you’d assist our resident expert, Mallymkun?”

“Right!” the dormouse says with shocking authority. “Teh th’ north-east, men! Mah nose tells me there’s a nice bed o’ sleeping grass yonder!”

As the hare and the dodo jump to comply with her order, Alice marvels. It should have been harder to get them to obey a dormouse they seem to be in the habit of discounting. And, in fact, they should have hesitated to obey Alice, who is a stranger to them all.

“Assuming authority makes all the difference,” she muses to herself and then turns her attention back to the road and the clearing beyond. It’s dark, yes, and the moon is half-empty of illumination, but she can see a figure crouching in the midst of the burnt and blackened field. In the darkness, she can’t make out his hat or hair or shoulders... he is merely a black form huddled on the darker ground.

Alice does not try to make her steps silent. Of course, he already knows she is approaching. Tarrant Hightopp is no fool; he is crafty like a fox. With that in mind, she stops just beyond the reach of his long arms.

She pauses, watches him, and waits.

“Ge’off mae land,” he finally growls on a wisp of breath.

“You’ll have to throw me out, Hightopp,” she replies, wincing at the sound of his family name formed by her mouth and delivered with a voice made husky with age. It sounds horridly impersonal, but, she reminds herself, this man is not the Hatter – her friend. Nor is he Tarrant – her husband. This man is someone else. Someone she does not know well at all. Someone who has yet to break through his chrysalis and spread his wings. And she must be impersonal – for her own sake and the preservation of what is left of her heart. Also, Tarrant had never spoken to her of a Gray Lady who had bullied her way into Iplam days after his clan had been utterly decimated. It’s best not to make too strong an impression, she realizes, and, for that, distance is a useful ally.

In response to her announcement, Tarrant pauses in whatever it is he’s doing – counting oyster shells, perhaps – and trembles visibly in the dim light of the moon. “Ge’off mae land,” he repeats, his voice louder this time and warbling with the force of the fury that rocks his form.

Another shiver races up Alice’s left arm, reminds her that there is no time to waste in repeating useless phrases.

“No. You’re not to be alone.”

He laughs. It is a hollow, grating, frightening sound. “I am alone. Be gone, trespasser!

Alice sighs and debates crouching down beside him. In the end, she decides he’s still too volatile for her to risk putting herself at a disadvantage. The night wind stirs and Alice inhales deeply, silently, relishing his scent. He has not bathed in days: his sweat has cooled and turned stale, his clothes are smudged with ash and dust. He does not smell exactly like her husband... but the scent that she remembers – the essence of him – is there, beneath all that unpleasantness and pain.

Thinking of his future – of their future – Alice informs him, “You can’t stay here forever.”

He stands suddenly and Alice struggles not to gasp at the frightening figure he poses in the darkness. His hair is long and matted and his skin glows with pallor and his eyes burn from the pitch-black shadows beneath the brim of his hat...

Tarrant Hightopp takes a step toward her, his hands flexing into fists. He is Menace personified and Alice doesn’t doubt that the face of his infuriated madness alone had been more than enough to drive away McTwisp and Mally and Thackery (who had quite clearly been standing guard, either to protect Tarrant from interlopers or to protect interlopers from Tarrant). Yes, the face of his madness is frightening, but Alice has never been afraid of this man. She will not allow fear to infuse her in his presence now simply because they are strangers to each other!

Alice steps toward him and says in a very clear tone, “Downal wyth Bluddy Begh Hid.”

He twitches at that. His entire body stops, jerks once, and is still.

“You can’t stay here, like this, forever, Hightopp,” she repeats. And then, softly, insists, “Downal wyth Bluddy Begh Hid.”

He inhales sharply, his hands opening and then fisting once more.

Alice reaches for those hands, wraps her gloved fingers around his and tells him, “What happened here was not your fault.” He shivers at those words. Before he can rally an argument, Alice reminds him, “She – the Bloody Big Head – did this. And you will make her pay for it. One day, the White Queen will once again wear the crown and you will be the one who makes it possible. You, Hightopp.”

He shudders and although his breath is stale from days lacking in hygiene, Alice feels a thrill go through her at the sound of his gutteral murmur: “Downal wyth...”

“Downal wyth Bluddy Begh Hid. Say it, Hightopp. From start to finish.”

He swallows audibly. “Downal wyth Bluddy Behg Hid...”

Alice is not surprised by the sound of a hoarse sob erupting from his throat. He sinks to the ground and she follows him, sits with him. She rubs his shoulders and he clings to her – a stranger in a leather jerkin, armed from neck to knee with weapons – and weeps. She could be anyone, Alice knows. Tarrant would not care if she were the Bandersnatch. It is only thanks to the Fates that she – someone who knows him better than anyone else – could be here, now. If Thackery had been more insistent with him or Mally muchier or Uilleam able to see past the end of his proud beak, it would have been one or all of them here, holding Tarrant as he grieves.

But they are not here. Alice sighs into his matted hair and ignores both the aching of her joints and the chill that skitters up her left arm. She holds onto the man who is not her husband but who needs her. She manages to set aside her aches and pains and exhaustion, but the heartache... That is not so easily avoided.



Tarrant wakes with a gasp and a phrase of Outlandish burring from his chapped lips:

“Downal wyth Bluddy Begh Hid!”

“I agree wholeheartedly,” a voice Tarrant does not immediately recognize announces. “But first things first.”

He turns toward the sound of that voice and twitches back when he discovers an apple held out in front of his nose by a gnarled hand. He sits up, feeling more tired than he had the night before when this old woman had butted and blustered and bossed her way onto his land, had given him an enemy to hate, and had held onto him while he’d cried for all the things he hadnt done. He hadn’t saved his family – not one of them. He hadn’t saved the fathers from the other clans or their daughters – one of whom would have become his wife. He hadn’t found a single body to bury, only shards of blackened bone; oyster shells, Thack had called them and Tarrant both wants and hates to admit that it is easier to think of them as such.

“If you don’t eat this blasted apple, after all the sweet talking I had to do to get the tree to give it to me, I’ll throw it at your chin, Hightopp.”

He takes the apple and his attention focuses on the thin scar spanning the front of her neck. An odd scar, to be sure... on an odd, old woman. A woman so deep within the gray grasp of Widow’s Peak that Tarrant cannot even being to guess at the color of her hair or the hue of her eyes beneath her grief.

“Who are you?” he murmurs, mindful of keeping a safe distance between them. Last night he had felt as powerful as one of the Fates... but now he feels his body quaking with muscle spasms. He feels weak, drained. He contemplates the apple in his hand with a brief glance and sighs: he does not have enough energy to even eat the thing.

“Does it matter?” the old woman answers.

“Yes,” he decides. “I believe it does.”

Her dark eyes watch him from beneath the gray-tinged folds of her drooping eyelids. If he weren’t so... shattered, he would have been quite frustrated at continuing to be unable to guess her True age beneath the peakiness. Tiredly he acknowledges that he cannot even recall if he has ever seen her – or a younger version of her – before. But he knows one thing for sure: “Ye’re nae an Outlander.”

“An’ jus’ hauw can ye b’sae sure?” she burrs at him without blinking. “Mayhap I am.”

He shakes his head. “Ye’re a widow, aye. And tha’s Outlander-made leathers ye’re wearin’... But I d’nae ken whot ye are.”

The woman sighs. “I’m an Alice,” she says flatly.

“An Alice?”

“From Above. You’ve met Alices before, surely.”

“Only one,” he admits. “Although ’twas on twine occasions. An’ she was much... golden-er than ye are.”

“Younger, you mean,” the gray woman says with a wry twist of her bloodless, wrinkled lips. “Say what you mean, Hightopp. And mean what you say.”

He feels his brows twitch at the instruction, feeling as if he ought to mind this rather grandmotherly woman. “Are there many Alices?” he asks instead.

“A fair few. But I know the one you met.”

“She was rather... muchy for a creature that professed not to think,” he observes.

“The practice of thinking... well, one isn’t born with the skill fully developed, Hightopp.”

He considers that. “In which case, perhaps I was a bit too strict with her.”

“I’m sure you’ll get a chance to make that right.” The old woman’s dark eyes drop to the apple still sitting in the cradle of his dusty hand. “Eat.”

With a great sigh, he does. He takes in the fact that the small nest he’d taken to collapsing in when he can no longer force himself to search the field for his family’s remains had been slightly enlarged. He experiences a flash of memory as he sets his teeth against the freckled apple skin and takes a bite: last night he had curled himself around this wizened old Alice as if she’d been a teapot and he a tea cozy. He remembers waking periodically throughout the night, choking on his own tears and smelling leather and sweat and gray hair. She had smelled alive... but not too alive. If she had smelled young and new and innocent, it probably would have broken him. But as she is now, close to Death but not dead yet, she is a comfort rather than a reminder, a regret.

Tarrant watches her reach for a second apple with her right hand. Oddly, she does not pull off the glove on her left hand as proper etiquette dictates. “You’ve wretched table manners, you know,” he observes, gesturing with the bitten apple to her left hand. “Gloves come off at mealtime.”

“And were we sitting at a table, you’d be right to reprimand me,” she replies.

Ah, yes. But there are no tables. Not a one to be found in all of Iplam. Tarrant knows; he’d looked. In fact, there is nothing to be found here except more... oyster shells. He glances toward the charred wooden box that he’d scavenged from the wreckage of his parents’ house. The old woman follows his gaze. He doesn’t tell her what’s inside and she doesn’t inform him that those are not oyster shells... for which he is very thankful.

He forces himself to eat another bite of the apple, but it sticks fast, wedges itself between his tongue and roof of his mouth. Tarrant closes his eyes and despairs: he does not even know whose bones he has found. He does not know how many graves to dig. He cannot even remember their faces. Not properly. So many of the guests who had come to the Iplam Maigh had been acquaintances at best. And the lasses... The lasses...

“I cannae remember their faces,” he hears someone choke out.

The old woman is silent so the voice continues: “They came teh mayhap wed me... One would ha’been mae wife. An’ I cannae remember their faces. No’ a one o’ them.”

“They were not meant for you,” the old Alice says softly but with a strength of conviction that could have been a blade in and of itself.

He coughs around the bite of apple still sitting dry and unchewed in his mouth. “None are meant fer me,” he whispers, cringing around the crumbling heart in his chest. His family is dead; his employer has been banished; he had lost days of his life to the madness his Fa had warned him about... It is too late for him now, he knows; it is too late because he is too far gone and he has nothing to offer a wife.

There will be no Thrice a-Vow for Tarrant Hightopp. There will be no companionship. No children. No home.

“Eat that blasted apple and stop feeling sorry for yourself!” the old woman barks.

He startles, nearly dropping the fruit into the soft grass bedding Thackery had no doubt lined the nest with. Tarrant had never thanked him for it. In fact, until now, he hadn’t even noticed it. He supposes he’ll feel ashamed of himself later. For now, he simply feels numb. Empty.  Echoing-ly vacant. In silence, he eats the apple in his hand with impatient, unsavoring bites and tosses the core away. And when he stands and picks up the wooden box, the old woman stands with him.

It takes less time to comb through the burnt and blackened field looking for bones than it had before. The Gray Alice pulls him out of his thoughts whenever he becomes lost in them; a gentle shove is all it takes or even just a sharp shout. Time and time again, he comes back to the here and now with a start and a shake of his head to the echo of “Hightopp!” circling the clearing.

Several times that day, the old woman leaves him alone where he sits, sifting through the dirt and ash with his bare fingers, and returns shortly with bread bowls of stew. He can taste that both had been made from Thackery’s recipes but he never sees his old friend. He spares a thought for Mally – he’d shouted at her until she’d run off, he recalls – but cannot bring himself to ask about her.

The day ends with a small grave and the box of not-oyster shells being laid to rest within it. Feeling more lost – more purposeless than ever before – Tarrant unashamedly leans on the old woman’s shoulder and lets the screams and tears and fury do what they will. She holds his wrists when he feels like thrashing and hitting something (even himself); she rocks him in her arms when he fears he’ll turn himself inside out with the overwhelming force of his grief and regret; she wipes his tears and snot away with a handkerchief and pats his back as he hollers and sobs and chokes.

It is a long, mad night.

And Tarrant Hightopp might not be very familiar with Alices in general, but just before exhaustion drags him away into sleep, he marvels at their courage and fortitude. And he wonders if this Gray Alice could be right: perhaps Alices do grow muchier over time.

He nearly smiles as a memory of a small, golden Alice informs him of the rudeness of making personal remarks. She had been rather muchy, he recalls, despite her later insistence on not thinking. And Tarrant hopes this old Alice is correct about him one day meeting that little Alice again: he thinks he would rather enjoy that.



Spending the night in a bed made by a Mad March Hare with the stars peeping through the cracks and crevasses overhead and the long arms of Tarrant Hightopp around her had been the most unique torture Alice has ever endured. More often than not, she had let her tears join his. He had not noticed in the dark: her tears had been shed in silence, his had not.

Waking up with his lanky-and-lithe limbs grasping at her had very nearly broken her wide open and spilled her heart out onto the ground. It would have fit neatly into the box with the charred and shattered bits of bones had Alice been willing to surrender it.

“Not yet,” she had muttered, rolling away from the last of the Hightopps and stalking off as fast as her aching joints had permitted. She had sweet-talked a gnarled apple tree lurking within the unburnt forest into surrendering two of its fruit and she had tried not to think of Tarrant’s face as seen in the light of day. (His skin had been so pale and stained. She had recognized those stains – she had wiped tears from those cheeks only the night before – and had known that in his Mad Grief, the chemicals of his trade had been concentrated in his tears and spilled onto his skin.) Alice had gathered up both apples and had tried not to think of the grayness of grief dulling his clothing and eyes. She had tried not to think about his hair, long and matted and unkempt and utterly devoid of natural color. It would have been white if not for the mercury he had spent years and years hoarding within his body, through touch and breath.

She had stayed by him, had searched the blackened earth for the bones of his kinsmen, his family. Oyster shells, he had muttered time and time again and she’d come to understand what Thackery had meant about counting them. At the end of the day, even thought they’d swept the field twice over, the collection in the box had been woefully small.

He had broken down again after they had closed the earth over that little box. He had broken open, poured out his anger and regrets in great bucketfuls of noise and tears, and she had held him. Alice had always wondered how her husband had dealt with this tragedy in the days following it. She had assumed that the familial bond between her husband and the White Queen had begun then: she had assumed that Mirana had been the one to offer him comfort, no matter how superficial or insignificant it may have been in the long run. Alice had even wondered if they had found some sort of escape with each other after that horrible tragedy. She had never thought – not once – that her husband and the queen had been... intimate (not with how nervous Mirana had been on her wedding night! and Alice clearly remembers Tarrant’s heartfelt and unrestricted passion... no, he had been no more experienced than she... although he had known what he was about!), but she had been a bit jealous that perhaps her friend had been there for the Hatter when she – Alice – could not.

But no. No, Tarrant and Mirana had not... grown closer to each other in that way, following this nightmare. Tarrant had led the queen away from the attack, back to Mamoreal, and then he had turned right around, had come back here, and had run off anyone and everyone who had thought to help him.

Everyone except an old, grayed widow with more guts than sense of self-preservation.

Yes, now Alice knows how Tarrant had managed to survive the crushing desolation. She cannot decide if her presence here is ironic... or a blessing.

The grief, necessary though it had been, had changed him: Tarrant Hightopp now looks even more like a wild-man with his blaze of twig-twisted, orange hair and dirt smudged face and charcoal-stained fingers. Alice regards him now, in the darkness of midnight. Her heart aches for him. This man has lost so much and yet there is so much more he will be required to give. As he is now, Alice knows that will be impossible. This Tarrant Hightopp doesn’t have the strength to be a leader, a fighter, a man capable of killing time.

Alice considers the date. The Maigh – the Festival to Welcome Spring – is over. Summer is on its way and, in the coming autumn, Griblig Day and the Right Alice will arrive. At which time, Tarrant will have to be a hero, a champion, a mad hatter, the leader of the currently non-existent revolution.

She sighs and gently pets his forehead and snarled hair. For this specific task, she had removed her left gauntlet. It is too dark to see the heart line, but she can feel that her entire heart-line finger is numb. And the lack of sensation hasn’t restricted itself to that area alone: the feeling of nothingness has begun to crawl up her hand to her wrist. No, Alice does not have months to help Tarrant Hightopp. At most, she has days.

And she has spent two of them already.

“I’m sorry, Tarrant,” she whispers in the darkness as he breathes heavily and slowly. He is clearly very deep within the realm of sleep. “I’m so sorry, but you must be ready for what is coming. Your Alice will need you.”

Somehow, in the time remaining to her here, Alice must help this man discover his inner strength. She closes her eyes and considers the task the Fates had set her: she still has not liberated the Oraculum from its prison in the Duchess’ library and every day that she spends helping Tarrant is one day not spent in the accomplishment of her mission! How overwhelming it is that she must save him twice: from his grief and from the scar that stills his heart!

She lies down with him, cries as the scent of him reminds her of so much love and so much pain and so much... so much that is beyond words. She closes her eyes and tells herself not to think of her husband’s death.

“Think of his life,” she murmurs on a sigh.

The first light of dawn wakes her and, for a moment, she lets herself feel his warmth, smell his stale breath, taste the dust of Iplam from her wrinkled lips.

And then she moves.

She wrenches herself from his arms and shoves him away from her. She’s a little slow getting to her feet. Luckily, Tarrant is equally slow opening his eyes. By the time he does, Alice has the point of her sword against the tender skin of his throat.

“Downal wyth Bluddy Behg Hid,” she reminds him as he blinks up at her, confused and groggy. “They’re just words, Hightopp. What are you going to do to make them real?”

He opens his mouth, wheezes, clears his throat and tries to wrangle speech with his tongue once more. “I’ll fight?”

“Is that question or a statement?” she asks archly.


“Can you not even take a sword from an old, gray woman, Hightopp?”

He continues staring up at her looking lost and guileless. She experiences an instant in which the inclination to toss the sword aside and gather him into her arms, soothe him as if he were Tamial just startled awake by a nightmare, nearly overpowers her. But no. No!

She tightens her grip around both the pommel of the sword and her emotions.

“Pathetic,” she spits at him.

His brows draw together in the most abject expression of betrayal she has ever seen.

Hardening her heart, locking away her soul, she asks him, “If you cannot bring me down, how will you manage to get to the Red Queen?”

He has no answer to that.

“Get up,” she sighs, lowering her sword and holding out her hand. He hesitates to take it and she shakes it insistently. “Take it, Hightopp. It’s time to see Mally and Thackery and Uilleam. Thank them for looking after us.”

For a moment, he doesn’t seem to understand her order. But then as it sinks into the silence around them, as it makes itself comprehensible, he nods wearily and finally takes her hand.

Once she has pulled him upright, she hesitates to release him. Tarrant startles when her grip tightens around his wrist. The leather of the gauntlets digs into his skin, Alice is sure, but he must understand!

“And after we thank them, you and I have much to do,” she tells him.

His too-orange brows twitch. “Whatever do you mean, madam?”

“I mean this,” she replies lifting the sword by the blade so that the pommel is staring him in his tear-stained and dirt-smudged face. “I mean revolution,” she continues to his wide-eyed stare. “I mean Downal wyth Bluddy Behg Hid.

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 5 of 13

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