Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 6 of 13

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One Promise Kept: Book 5

“On your feet, Hightopp.”

Tarrant manages to pull in a breath and mutters, “Fifteen.”

The Gray Lady doesn’t comment on the fact that this is the ten-and-fifth time she has said those four words to him, in that precise order and in that exact tone... today. The sun had barely risen when she had awakened him by the blade.

Tarrant rolls over onto his knees and, groaning, pushes himself up with the aid of the wooden stave that, miracle of miracles, he still clutches in his hands.

Tarrant sighs and tries his best – and fails wretchedly – not to marvel at how utterly useless he is at this. Once upon a time, he had known how to fight – had won a fair number of scraps with his cousins. But that had been a Long Time Ago. And, in the interim, it seems he has traded one skill for another: war-craft for haberdashery.

And he knows haberdashery will not downal that Bluddy Behg Hid.

He needs this, he knows. Who will depose that despicable monster if he does not? The Gray Lady had been very clear on this: “You saved the White Queen for naught, Hightopp? Finish the fight!”

Fight. Yes, yes. He must fight!

Yet Knowing that has not made it So. He grits his teeth and considers the silence that presses in on his ears like a scream.

Why dont you remember this, Hightopp? the Gray Alice doesn’t ask him.

Why arent you trying harder? she doesn’t demand.

He should try harder, he knows. However will the Bluddy Behg Hid be removed if no one fights her minions? And, in the current state of things, Tarrant doubts any will be brave enough – mad enough – to oppose her forces! Yes, this Alice is correct: Underland needs him; the White Queen needs him; the crown must be returned! And that will require force: for certain the lothesome, grasping, booly-lickering toadie herself will never relinquish the power that she had eradicated an entire clan of people to gain.

Yes, he must relearn this. He must fight!

And yet it all seems so pointless now; fighting will not bring his Mam back nor his Fa. His aunts and uncles and cousins – and the others whose faces he cannot recall – will also remain quite dead. Fighting now, after the worst has occurred... Tarrant tightens his grip on the stave. This lesson is too little, too bloody late.

Too late... and yet something in him whispers that this is only the beginning. But the beginning of what? He fears that Unknown looming in the dark and lonely days ahead. He suspects he will need these skills. The urgency and passion and stubbornness (which might very well be an Alice Trait, he concedes) with which the Gray Alice instructs him has confirmed that the ability she is attempting to hone in him is needful. Will be needful. She had not said as much, but she had not needed to.

One day, he will have to make a choice: freedom or servitude; courage or fear; life or death.

One day, his actions will decide that dilemma.

He shakes his head, turns away from his instructor and takes a deep breath. Tarrant Hightopp knows he is no warrior, not like this widowed, wrinkled and gray woman seems to be. He is a hatter and that is all he has ever wanted to be!

“I’ll not allow you to forfeit,” she warns him, lifting her staff into position.

He knows that tossing aside his own stave will not grant him a reprieve. The last time he had done that very thing, he had been knocked about the clearing until, desperate for a moment of peace, he had scrambled for it and picked it up again. The pleased smirk on his instructor’s wrinkled face had been maddening enough for for him to attempt an assault. He had welcomed the rage, let it infuse him; power his muscles and steel his joints. And then Tarrant had found himself flat on his back, contemplating the sky and his bruised tail bone.

“Madness will not save you,” she had sighed. “That way lies defeat. I promise you.”

But the Madness is the only strength he has left anymore.

Tarrant twists his hands against the wood grain of the glorified stick that this Uplander who wears Outlander-made leathers had fashioned. He is not sure if he is attempting to snap the stave or wring it into nothing.

“Your enemies will not fight themselves,” she reminds him.

He grits his teeth. He knows. And the fact that it is necessary that he remember how to fight crushes what few, charred crumbs of his heart remain.

His self-appointed instructor does not ask him if he is rested, ready, resolved to do better.

She merely attacks again.

This time, he counters her assault neatly, strike after strike. He marvels that this whithered, stoop-shouldered, colorless creature can wield such power and skill. She drives him back... back... back...

“Watch your surroundings, Hightopp!” she orders.

She lunges forward.

He parries, ignores her warning, steps back and...!

“Omph!” he announces, staring up at the sky which blurs and swirls as he makes ineffectual gasping motions with his mouth, waiting for a kind breeze to re-inflate his lungs.

The Gray Alice sighs and taps the end of her stave against his booted foot, the heel of which had been caught in the rather vicious jaws of a bit of what must have been a rhododendron bush... this time the week prior.

She says nothing – no chastisements, no jeers, no instructions. She doesn’t have to. He knows what he’d done wrong. And Alices, it seems, do not particularly care for repeating themselves aloud. The soft tap on the sole of his boot is an unarticulated I told you so that speaks Loud and Clear. Echoes, even.

Not good enough...

Those three words whisper around the charred remains of his ancestral home, condemning him, damning him... And Tarrant Hightopp does not have the strength to deny their truth, not anymore. He rolls onto his side, clutching the stave and pressing the length of it squarely to his forehead, between his eyes, as if the pressure will beat back the clamoring cries of his own conscience.

It doesn’t.

Not good enough!

He should have done more... saved more people... fought the Jabberwock... He should have...!

“Stop,” a whisper commands and leather-clad hands rub the arm and shoulder not pressed into the blackened dirt. “Stop, Hightopp.”

He wishes he could. He wants to stop. He wants it all to Stop.

Please... Peace...

He begs but the plea is silent. Or ignored. Within his fevered mind, he cannot be certain he had not spoken aloud. The burning-stinging-sanding sensation of his eyes is rather distracting.

The Gray Lady pulls the stave from his grasp easily – when had he loosened his fingers around it? – and replaces it with herself. And he does not care that she had so easily disarmed him. She smells alive, feels warm, and her croaky voice soothes him with its unfamiliarity:

“Go on,” she invites. “Scream it out.”

He does, clutching the edges of her thick, leather armor.

And yet, with each sobbing cry and breathless shout, only more of the same seems to crowd in his throat, pushing and shoving and struggling. In cases like these, sleep is his only haven and, throat raw, he relinquishes his hold on the waking world and allows himself to fall away into darkness. If the Gray Lady will not permit him the Madness, then he must take refuge somewhere... here... in sleep.

Tarrant is not sure how long he sleeps – to his knowledge, he has never had access to his pocket watch in his dreams – but when he opens his eyes again he feels as if he had traveled to some far distant realm and returned... with no memory of the wonders he must have seen, the hats he might have itched to repair, the people he had gleefully riddled. Disappointment is inevitable.

“Yahr frownin’ already,” Mally accuses by way of greeting. “Sleepin’ always makes me feel better...”

“I notice you aren’t engaged in that very activity at the moment,” he replies, sitting up and taking in his surroundings. It’s dark now but it doesn’t quite feel like midnight yet. He sits where he had fallen that afternoon and wept against the Gray Lady’s jerkin. A small fire had been built nearby and a serving of dinner sits on a rock beside the flames. His stomach seems to have been left behind in his dream wanderings so he ignores the stew-filled half-loaf of bread in favor of speaking directly to the dormouse.

Her reply to his observation is a shrug. “Lately I ain’t been spending so much time with my eyes shut. Somethin’ th’ Gray Lady said a few days back... I reckon it woke me up.”

Tarrant huffs out a sarcasm-made laugh. “An’ what was that?” Perhaps it will inspire him. Underland knows he could certainly use something inspirational.

“She said fearlessness was a habit yah gotta learn.”

Tarrant blinks at her for a moment, noticing her confident pose, the pride that lifts her little dormouse nose into the air despite the lack of aromatic cheese in the vicinity... “You look to be a good student of it, Mally.”

Her tiny chest puffs up at the compliment.

“I, on the other hand...” he murmurs, belatedly wondering where the Gray Alice has gone. He glances around once more, but he and Mally seem to be alone. “Where is...?”

“Helpin’ Thackery clean ’is pots’n’pans seein’ as how this is th’ last o’ th’ pease porridge.”

He lifts his gaze to the bread bowl once more and feels a hollow throb in his gut. “Nine days old?” He checks out of habit rather than any real sense of apprehension.

“Naw. Mayhap five. I think I saw ’im brewing up this batch th’ first time I came... er...”

Tarrant sighs. Yes, he remembers the first time Mally had tried to talk to him after... after...

“I am sorry I... shouted.” Shouting, he suspects, had not been the whole of it nor the worst of it. He cannot remember what had happened clearly, but it’s likely there had been some unforgivable stomping and kicking as well. “So sorry, Mally,” he lisps.

“It’s all right,” she replies, her tone strong and true. “I fergive yah.”

He knows he doesn’t deserve it, but he nods anyway. It is one small weight removed from his shoulders. Relieving himself of it does not make him feel better. Nor does it make him less crushed by sorrow. But it does manage to remind him that he is strong enough – for the moment – to bear the other worries and woes.

“Hatter,” Mally muses into the silence, correctly enunciating his title for emphasis. It works. She has his undivided attention. “I’m considerin’ things that begin with th’ letter M...”


“An’ men,” she continues.

Tarrant struggles to think of a third. His mind feels as if it is swimming in a wordless sea.

“An’ th’ Resistance,” she says when the silence becomes too noticeably full of fire cracklings.

He considers that very carefully for a moment. “Mally, that is not a word that begins with the letter M...”

“It does,” she insists. “’Afore there can be resistance, there must be mutiny, aye?” She leaps toward him and onto his knee. “Hatter... I’ve been thinkin’ about it... an’ the Resistance starts with lots of Ms... malice... mayhem... murder... mutiny...”

“And what does it end with?” he asks her, startled by the thought she has put into this singular issue. “More murder. Misforture.” Madness.

She shakes her head. “Miracles. It ends with a miracle,” Mally insists. “With a Mad ’Atter.”

He sighs. “It won’t. I can’t... I’m pathetically useless at fighting and—”

“Well, aye, yah’re a right sight painful tah watch,” she agrees with brutal honesty. “But yah jus’ got tah remember tah keep yahr balance... Like this!” She demonstrates by bending her knees, setting her jaw, and clenching her little paws into fists. “An’ yah gotta keep yahr guard up, like so!”

Tarrant feels tears sting his eyes as his little friend shows him the very posture his instructor had spent all day trying to teach him, evoke from him, inspire in him. Somehow, the very same lessons that had withered his will had lit a fire in this dormouse!

“Yah can’t give up!” she orders him, pointing rather rudely at his no doubt smudged nose. “We’ve got us a Resistance tah Manage. An’ that,” she declares proudly, “is an M word, too!”

“Those are all terrifyingly good points, Mally,” he rasps. Despite that, he doubts that he can be the warrior the Gray Lady is asking him to be. “But I’m just a hatter. And you’re just a mouse...”

Mally stomps his kneecap with surprising force. “Shut it, you! I ain’t listenin’ tah people tellin’ me I’m too small tah do what I want! So I’ll thank yah tah keep yer judgin’ an’ opinionin’ tah yahrself!”

His apology sticks in his throat and he watches as Mally slides gracefully down his grimy pant leg to the ground.

“I ain’t lettin’ you let that Bloody Big Head win, Hatter!” she informs him. “I’ll fight ’er my-self! But yah’re lettin’er win o’er my dead body!

Mally marches off, head and tail held high, and he lets her go. Marveling. How is it that one so small is better suited for the fight the Gray Alice is preparing him for? Tarrant closes his eyes and sighs, shamed.

The feeling becomes an unfortunately constant companion. It follows him in through slumber, stalks him in his shadows, stares at him across the clearing. Or perhaps that is merely the tired gaze of the Gray Lady.

This old Alice is stubborn, he must admit. She has developed the skill of Stubbornness into an art, distilled it into a heady brew, honed it into a blade that is razor sharp. The next day’s lesson brings a new resolve in her, a straighter spine and a stiffer upper lip.

“Pay attention, Hightopp,” she says by way of morning greeting. And then she pokes him and prods him like a wooden, jointed mannequin, positions him and shoves at him to judge his balance.

And then the Tests begin. Holding up her sword, she orders him to focus on the point of it. “Good. Now this blade’s your noon position. What’s at three o’clock?” she quizzes him.

“Afternoon tea?”

Her wrinkled mouth twitches at the corners and her dark eyes sparkle with humor. “If you answer correctly, I think we can manage that. Now, Hightopp: the three o’clock position. What do you see out of the corner of your eye?”

And so it goes. All day, they knock staves together. She tests his balance even as she periodically demands an inventory of the field, their onlookers, and his obstacles. Despite all his efforts and despite all her insistence that he fling rocks if he must to distract or delay his enemy, today his is no more skillful than he had been the day before. The thrice-times-fifth time he falls the Gray Alice calls a halt and, sighing tiredly, sets aside her weapons, tucks away the stern face of an instructor, and offers him her shoulder... which he leans on. Gratefully.

He does not shout or holler or sob this time. He is too tired for any of that.

“Is there a dormouse watching us from high tea?” he mutters, his eyes closed. “My nose itches.”

The peaky widow chuckles. “Very good, Hightopp. You’ve sniffed her out.”

It is such a small thing, but it is the high point of the day and he decides to quit while he’s ahead. Slumber is a welcome respite from the expectations of Reality. He crawls into the nest – sneezes twice as the scent of fresh bedding tickles his nose – and curls up. Without a thought for dinner, he sighs out a breath and escapes the heartache and muscle pain and disappointment for a few hours.



She has never felt so alone.

Alice shivers, hardly noticing the chill that skitters up her arm. Over the last four days, the sensation has become familiar. She no longer wastes her energies fisting her now-completely-numb left hand in response to Death encroaching upon her flesh, crawling up her arm, licking hungrily toward her heart.

There is no point in resisting. The Fates had been right: she does not have the strength required to fight this and win. To survive the death of her Thrice a-Vowed, she must thirst for Life much more than she thirsts for him. But she doesn’t.

Youare my Underland.”

He is her home.

Her best friend.

Her everything.

There is no her without him.

Alice tilts her head back, gazes up through the budding tree branches and lets out a long breath. It does nothing to shift the hollowness that yawns wide and dark and frightening beneath her sternum. Since the moment her husband had sighed out his last breath in her arms, she has realized that one cannot live without a beating heart. But one can exist. As trees exist, as a river exists... with mindless purpose.

She surveys the forest around her and then, reluctantly, addresses the bend in the stream where the water pools deeply enough for a bath. A very cold bath, she amends, crouching and testing the water with the bare fingertips of her right hand. No, the water temperature has not improved since the last time she had forced herself to bathe. Her bones had ached from the chill for hours afterward. And yet, knowing that this will be the last time does not provide her comfort.

Pulling off her leather armor and tunic and breeches, she splashes into the stream. First she washes her clothing and hangs them from the branches of an obliging Tum Tum tree.

“If you would wave them a bit in the breeze?” Alice requests. “I’d appreciate it.”

The trees shifts and sighs and swishes its branches in the weak breeze with a bit more gusto than can be solely the result of the wind.

“Bugger all,” Alice sighs, regarding the chilly water and, before she can talk herself out of it, plunges beneath the surface. She comes up for air, gasping and grasping handfuls of sand, which she uses to hurriedly scrub her wrinkled, withered and weary body. She tries not to think about her age, her frailty.

Everything will be fine. Just get the Oraculum...

Yes. The Oraculum. That is the reason for her existence here, now. Her purpose.

Although she has no intention of checking, she finds herself studying the graying heart line on her arm. From the tip of her finger the gray lines twine up like dying ivy... up over the back of her hand... past her wrist... along her forearm... Four days without Tarrant’s living blood infusing the heart line has left a trail of ash-colored markings all the way up her arm. By the end of the day, it will advance to the point of her bony shoulder. And then it will begin its final descent... to her Heart Mark.

Tarrant is no closer to being the man he must become by Griblig Day than he had been upon her arrival here. She thinks of his halfhearted attacks and resigned defense, of his inability to summon the motivation to care about his surroundings or his opponent’s strategy...

“You’ve lost your muchness, Raven,” she mutters.

And she does not know how to give it back to him. Not without revealing the future she knows. Not without possibly changing that future.

She shivers at the thought. Dear Underland, what will she do if some action – or inaction! – on her part results in changing the future? Suppose she returns to an empty house? Suppose something she does or says – or does not do or does not say – results in Tamial Hightopp never being born?

In her rush to save Tarrant, she had not fully considered the ramifications of her actions, of this task. There are so many mistakes she could make... So many things that could go irreparably wrong...

But you have been here already, she insists. Tarrant recognized the scar... And Mirana knew...

Yes, things are meant to be this way.

As bladder-weakeningly frightening as that thought is... it is true.

Alice closes her eyes and acknowledges her fear. She accepts the ache that throbs through her entire body at the thought of never again seeing her son, her husband, her home, her family...! She misses Tamial’s often-times wry and occasionally cocky grin. She misses her husband’s rhymes and giggles. She misses...

Soon, you’ll be home, she reminds herself. Yes, she will arrive before Tamial wakes up – he will never even know that she had left him, that his father had died. Tamial will awaken to a perfectly normal breakfast with buttered bread and milky tea with both his parents sitting beside him at the table and everything will be fine!

Alice draws a deep breath, fortifies herself, and ducks beneath the surface of the swirling water again. This time she applies the sand to her hair, scrubbing dried sweat and grime from her scalp. She keeps her eyes closed for this task and tries not to get any water in her ears. So intent is she on this seemingly simple enterprise that the factual statement from the creek bank startles her into nearly leaping out of her skin.

“Tha’s a heart line on yahr arm. Yahr a-Vowed.”

“Mally,” Alice replies, sighing with both relief and reproach. She should have sensed the dormouse’s gaze, benevolent though it is. In fact, her performance these days leaves a lot to be desired in many ways. She had never realized how totally Tarrant completes her until...

Careful to keep her chest – and the very distinct Heart Mark upon it – turned away from the mouse, she asks, “Why are you here? Is Hightopp—?”

“The same,” the mouse sighs. Yes, he has not been much of a friend to her since Horvendush Day. She had sent Mally to go make peace with him the night before while Alice had helped Thackery scrub out his cooking pots but Mally had stomped her way over to them far too soon and with far too fierce a frown for things to have gone very well. However, Alice is pleased to see that, despite Tarrant’s determination to be moodily melancholic and his lack of muchness, Mally has not washed her paws of him.

Shivering from the cold kiss of the breeze on her wet skin, Alice climbs out of the water and steps onto a grassy patch to allow her skin to dry in the sunlight. Above her head, her clothes are still swaying to and fro in the breeze. She reaches out and pats the trunk of the tree in thanks for its unwavering dedication in drying her poorly washed and battered garments.

“Yarh heart line’s grayin’,” Mally observes from a bit further down the bank.

Still keeping her back to the mouse, Alice nods. “Yes. I noticed.”

There’s a moment of silence but Alice knows it won’t last. This Mally – this furiously curious Mally – is a force to be reckoned with.

“It’s ’cause yahr a widow, ain’t it?” the mouse muses and Alice doesn’t deny it. “Was it an accident?”


It. Alice knows what the dormouse is referring to. Not the heart line but the events that had made her a widow. She draws in a deep breath and forces herself to stay standing: she locks her knees and leans a bit more heavily against the obliging Tum Tum tree. “It was Intentional... at the time it was done.”

A moment of uncomfortable silence follows. “Well. I hope yah ran the murderin’ rotter through!”

She has no reply to that, so she gives none. Alice merely looks up through the still-skeletal canopy at the dimming sky. Night will fall soon and the temperature will drop. Alice hopes the wind manages to dry her bare skin before then.

Behind her, she senses, Mally is still lingering, so there must be something else on her surprisingly active mind. Oh yes, this mouse is not the sleepy creature Alice vaguely recalls from the tea party she had attended as a child. This dormouse is as pouty as she is feisty and contrary and opinionated.

She waits for Mally to speak her mind. The wait isn’t a long one.

“’Ow come th’Atter gets tah be the one tah lead the Resistance? I coul’ do it!”

For a moment, Alice marvels at how far this mouse – her future friend – has come in only a few days. The creature who had hidden herself from difficulties behind her own closed eyelids is no more. This dormouse, Alice can believe, truly would pluck out the eye of a bandersnatch!

“I’ve no doubt whatsoever that you could, Mally,” Alice readily admits. “But the Hatter needs this. He needs a purpose. And he’ll need a lieutenant who’s always looking out for him.” The next words burn in Alice’s throat, but she forces herself to say them. She forces herself to relinquish her place at Tarrant’s side to the one who is meant to be there in the coming months. Oh, how it hurts to not only know but Admit that she has no place beside him here, now. “Can he count on you for that, Mallymkun? Will you look after him?”

“Humph!” she declares and Alice can nearly see her cross her small arms over her little chest. “He shouldn’t need any lookin’ afteh! What’ee needs is a good, hard kick in the scut!”

“I’ve tried that,” Alice reminds her.

“Well, you ain’t tried hard enough!”

Alice bites back a bark of laughter. “And what would you have me do, Mally?”

“Come afteh me!”

“I... beg your pardon?” she chokes out, glancing over her bare shoulder.

Mally’s very determined black eyes stare back. “Use one o’is hatpins, mayhap, an’ put it tah my throat! He’ll fight when he sees that!

Horrified, Alice shakes her head. “No, Mally. Absolutely not.”

“But he’ll fight!” she insists with all the determination of someone who Knows they are Right!

“Yes,” Alice concedes. “He’ll fight. And then he’ll get angry with me for threatening you.”

“So we’ll tell ’im it was all fake!”

Alice blinks. “Mally. Listen to yourself. Please. Would you have Hightopp turn away from you for good?” After the tragedy this man has suffered, Alice doesn’t doubt him capable of holding a grudge against anyone who attempts to capitalize on his pain, manipulate his heart...

The dormouse stomps her foot. “What’s ’ee good fer now? Eh? Nuthin’!”

Dont!” Alice hisses. “Don’t you say that, Mallymkun. EVER.” The command doesn’t impress the dormouse. Her expression is still scrunched in obstinacy. Alice tries again, “You are making the same error of him that everyone else makes of you. How many times has Uilleam – or the others – told you that you’re too small to be of much use for anything, too small to mean much to anyone, too small to fight? How often has—!”

“Stop!” the mouse cries, tear springing to her eyes. “Stop it! I can do whatever I want! I can!

“And so can Hightopp. He just needs... time.” Time that Alice doesn’t have.

Mally opens her mouth, pauses, seems to consider her words, and then says, “Yahr... yahr not stayin’ with him? Yah said... yah asked me tah look afteh him...”

“There are things I have to do,” Alice admits. “I can’t stay much longer.” She reaches out with her right hand and checks the state of her tunic and breeches.

Dry enough, she thinks and pulls them on. She dresses in her battle leathers and straps her sword to her hip, buckles her knife to her belt and slides her gauntlets on. She hates the fact that she must wear these wretched gloves but it would not do for Tarrant to see her heart line. After all, in the future, his first clue that the Gray Lady is actually his Alice, stepped backward in Time, is the wound she asks him to cut into her throat.

Alice closes her eyes, remembering the evening after she had told him her plan in the queen’s office. He had been so furious, so resigned, so frightened, so sad, so...

He had known. He had known that helping Alice – giving her this scar – would herald his own death. But knowing what she knows now... Alice realizes that even if she had not asked him to slice open her throat for all to see, that would not have saved him. Even then, Masonmark’s scar had already begun its slow, inevitable journey toward her husband’s heart.

All of this was Fated to be, she thinks... but finds no comfort in the thought.

“Will...” Alice clears her throat. “Will you look after him, Mally? Believe in him?”

The dormouse sighs. “Aye. I will, Gray Lady. Mayhap if I show him how, one day he’ll take a notion tah believe in his-self.”

“I expect he will.” He must!

Mally rides back to Iplam on Alice’s shoulder, unseen by Thackery and Uilleam who both greet Alice warmly – as if they hadn’t just spoken to her at lunch.

“Sommat smells edible, Thack!” Mally announces, startling the two fellows. The hare twitches and the dodo fluffs his feathers. Alice smirks as Mally orders herself a bowl of whatever Thackery had made with extra pepper. Thackery stumbles over his own hairy feet to comply and Uilleam gives the mouse a wide berth when she hops down from her perch.

Clearly, things in this quarter, with regards to Mally, have changed.

She glances through the veil made by the trees at the man curled up in the nest tucked beneath one of the few still-standing patches of wall in the field. The studs are little more than charcoal and only bits of paneling still cling to them. More than anything, she wants Tarrant away from this place. He cannot heal here. He can only remember... and regret.

“No change!” Thackery tells her, handing her a bowl, un-peppered.

“There will be,” she replies firmly. She remembers how strongly Tarrant had believed in her when she’d come to Underland. She remembers how his passion and persistence had won her over, had made her doubt her own weaknesses, had given her the Idea that perhaps she could be... no, perhaps she is the Right Alice after all. And when Absolem had helped her see that all of this was real... She had known right then that she would fight. That she had to fight. That she could fight.

Tarrant had done that for her.

And now she returns the favor.

“He’ll be the one to keep us all safe...” she tells the creatures who are listening attentively.

“Aye, he will. I believe it,” Mally concurs stubbornly and Alice could not feel more thankful for the show of support. True, Mally does not believe that Tarrant – as he is now – could protect much of anything. But she knows that she must first believe that he can if he is to have a hope of gaining the confidence to do so himself.

Dinner is a quiet affair and Tarrant sleeps through it. As usual. When she joins him in his nest, she takes in the way he clutches at his grubby jacket and curls his knees toward his chest for warmth. He is shivering, she sees. His eyes are tightly closed, as if he is holding onto Sleep by an effort of pure Will. He has lost weight and his hair is more tangled than ever. His face is dirty and his breath as stale as ever.

“We’ll get you to Mamoreal,” she promises him on a whisper. “Wash this place off of you. Pack your memories away for later.” Yes, he needs a respite. Whether he is willing to accept it or not.

She lies down with him and he seeks out her warmth only a moment after she has settled beside him. She grits her teeth and blinks furiously to keep the tears back as this man who has not yet grown into the hatter who will become her husband (but who is alive!) nuzzles her hair, sighs against her neck, clutches the trailing edge of her tunic like it is his only link to sanity...


She has to force herself to not use the heart line to Call out to him.

I will finish this task for the Fates. I will find help for you at Mamoreal. And then I will bring you home.


“I promised not to ever let you go. And this will not be the end. I will not let it. You will be home again. I promise.”

It is only a whisper, but Alice senses that Underland does not care. A promise is a promise. And here is another one that Alice is now Bound to keep.

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 6 of 13

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