Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 8 of 13

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One Promise Kept: Book 5

The road Stayne and the Red Knights take is not one that Alice recognizes. In all her years of traveling between Mamoreal and Crims and then from Iplam to both destinations, Alice had never noticed this path at all. And as she navigates it now, she wonders if this is – quite possibly – the last time it is ever used. It is grown over in places, losing itself in the foliage of the forest and she has to struggle to not only keep up with the group ahead but to stay silent and remain out of sight. Despite the fact that following in the wake of your enemy is a very safe position to be in, it is only safe so long as that enemy has neither reason nor inclination to pause and look back.

Even though she burns to outflank them, to hurry ahead of them to make sure Tarrant, Mally, and Thackery have made it to Mamoreal already, Alice holds herself in check; she is very careful that both she and Uilleam do not give Stayne a reason to glance over his shoulder.

With her left hand, which is annoyingly numb, Alice gestures for Uilleam to stay close. Although the Red Queen’s bulldog isn’t looking for a blue dodo bird, she doesn’t doubt the man will threaten to snap Uilleam’s neck should he get his blood-stained and black-leather-gloved hands on him. For a moment, the pang of helplessness she feels as she thinks of these silly, lovable creatures at the mercy of such a monster overwhelms her quiet and persistent panic.

When this is all over, she decides, she will thank Uilleam for going into that house with her. His presence had grounded her with unexpected efficacy. Yes, she had missed Tarrant. Yes, she had ached to have her husband beside her and her son in her arms. Yes, it had taken every ounce of her strength not to sit down on that disgusting kitchen floor and weep at the thought of all that is left before her on this path the Fates had set her upon. But she had not dwelt upon those thoughts; Uilleam had been there, someone to protect, to guide, to shelter. Someone who will remember this day and all that had occurred.

I am not alone, she had thought, had believed. And it had helped. Tremendously.

The Dodo Bird’s very existence had focused her, had strengthened her, had readied her for any confrontation... Of course, she had not expected to confront Chessur.

I should have remembered, she chastises herself as she dashes on tiptoe to the next Tum Tum tree. Her memories of Underland from her childhood – back when it had been a Wonderland to her young mind – are still hazy and vague. She had recalled the Duchess with her large head and snarling frown and pointy chin when the Fates had mentioned pigs. She had remembered an angry cook and a pepper mill and a small, grubby house in the woods. Alice feels one corner of her mouth turn up in wry – if dark – amusement. Even as a little girl, she had tried to save Underland. One baby at a time. She had failed, of course, but she had been unable to not try.

Perhaps... it has always been her destiny to come back here, to pick up the sword, to fall in love, to fight.

The thought is as comforting as it is frightening.

I was destined to do this, she hears herself say, admit, acknowledge.

Does that mean that Chessur had been destined to be so utterly selfish he had not even warned the Hightopp clan of the Red Queen’s plans?

Oh, Chessur...

Suddenly, so much of the cat’s efforts on her behalf – and on Tarrant’s behalf – make a great deal more sense. There, in the kitchen, Alice had realized what her future friend must have known about the Red Queen. Had known... but had said nothing about.

“I never get involved in politics.”

What utter rot!

“Later, Alice,” she mouths to herself. Yes, later, when Tarrant is safe and the Oraculum delivered, perhaps she will have a chance to speak with Chessur about his unforgivable indifference.


Alice moves quietly, quickly along the path, ducking behind the groaning trees. She flinches as Stayne hacks away at branches in his path. She pities the trees, but there is nothing she can do for them now. Not with one numb hand and a left arm that is losing strength and resiliency by the hour. Not with a dodo bird to keep out of trouble and a trio of “lunatics” to save from Stayne’s volatile temper and underhanded interrogation methods. There is only so much one old woman can do!

At least I have the Oraculum, she consoles herself. But the comfort that thought provides is cold. Stayne is still between her and Tarrant, hacking at the trees as he goes, threatening any and all into doing his bidding...

Alice wishes she still had full control over her left hand. If she had, she would have fisted it. Little by little, the Death crawling up her heart line is rendering her useless and weak. She does not have much time left. And soon she will have to leave her future husband and her future friends to their fate here. She will have to let them go on and fight without her.

She grits her teeth, damns her limitations, and presses on... in silence.

Well, perhaps not in Silence. The sounds of the Knave’s steed’s stamping hooves, the swish and thwack! of the Knave’s long sword, the rattle-clank of the loping Red Knights fill the forest. Alice sounds and Uilleam sounds, however, do not.

And then another – a completely different – noise erupts in the forest, shattering the macabre march on the fading road. A noise that makes the hairs on Alice’s arm stand on end. A noise – a cry, a call, an animal scream – she would know anywhere.

“The Bandersnatch!” Stayne hisses. “You two, come with me. You four, continue on. Delay anyone and everyone you find between here and Mamoreal!”

“Yes, sir!”

“Uilleam,” Alice hisses softly despite the crash and clatter going on up ahead as Stayne’s black stallion and two card soldiers dive off of the road and into the brush, clamoring in the direction of the Bandersnatch’s affronted roar.

“Yes, Gray Lady?”

Alice debates for a short moment: would it be wiser to give the Oraculum to Uilleam and send him on? Or should she – a trained fighter – keep it despite knowing that the Knave is searching for her?

With a sigh, she says, “Hurry on, now. Try to get around the card soldiers without being seen and warn Hightopp and the others that the Red Knights are coming.”

“I—! Wait! You are leaving?” he squawks.

“Yes. But I will find you again soon! Now hurry!

Alice turns and crashes into the brambles of the forest, heading in the direction of the Bandersnatch. No doubt the dodo would have demanded to know why she is abandoning him now, and, in all honesty, Alice can’t be sure even she knows the answer to that. But she feels it. There is some purpose that is pulling her toward the Bandersnatch. Something she must do. Something she must make Right...

Be safe, Tarrant, she prays, pressing her left wrist against her jerkin and the roll of parchment hidden beneath it.

She dives through the forest, no longer careful of the noise she makes, for the Bandersnatch makes much more. His roars are more than offended now. The tenor of his cries becomes enraged... and then desperate, pleading.

When she spots a flash of straining and struggling not-quite-white fur ahead, she slows, places her right hand on the pommel of her sword and creeps forward. What she sees through the tangle of wild berry bushes is not pleasant: the Bandersnatch struggles against the ropes and nets thrown over his heaving form. The Knave, obviously pleased with the work of the card soldiers, slides his sword into its scabbard. Even from this distance she can see a smirk on his face. A smirk and...

Wait. What...?

“No eye patch,” she mutters, staring at the man’s eyes. Two eyes. But then she shakes her head. That detail is unimportant. What is important right now is working itself into a panicked frenzy in the middle of the forest, clawing at branches, last year’s autumn debris, unfortunately located bushes and saplings, and anything else his claws can reach. Despite his efforts, however, those terrible claws cannot reach the moorings of the ropes binding him to the ground.

“Excellent work,” Stayne announces. “The queen will be very pleased.”

The Red Knights – looking rather battered, mud-splattered, and sporting a very noticeable number of twigs and mulched leaves in the chinks of their armor – stand up a bit straighter upon hearing the man’s praise. Although Alice suspects what they truly feel is relief.

“Thank you, sir,” Card Number One says.

“Now, tire the beast out and then bind his legs so that he can walk and not galumph. I’ve something to take care of and will return shortly.” Stayne directs his gaze to the pair of card soldiers that had followed him from the road. “You two stay and assist.”

“Um, but sir... what do you mean by tire the Bandersnatch?”

The Knave sneers, “You each have spears, don’t you? Use your imaginations.”

Alice’s hand curls around the pommel of her sword as the Knave showily turns his mount back to the forest and the road they had had just left. She glares after him briefly, not regretting one bit each and every scar she carries on her hands from the garrote she had used on the man’s neck.

You are dead, Ilosovich Stayne. Less than four years from now, you are DEAD.

It is a pity she cannot kill him now, cannot save Tarrant from being interrogated by this man, cannot stop the Red Queen from getting her hands on the Oraculum...

Still, despite those dark times yet to come...

There is hope. It all works out.

And, as soon as she gets this blasted scroll to Absolem, it all will work out.

Soon, Raven. You’ll be home soon and everything will be fine.

“Use our spears?” one of the dimmer card soldiers mutters aloud. “What d’you suppose that means?”

The Bandersnatch growls and rolls its eyes, huffing with exasperation. Alice snorts out a silent laugh. Yes, she’d be exasperated, too, had she been the one to be captured by such a group of idiots. But, rather than simply sit back and allow them to come up with any... enterprising uses for the weapons they carry, Alice carefully watches as the Bandersnatch wriggles again, measures the amount of slack he’s got to work with, and then she acts.

“Oh, ho!” she calls, standing upright. “Looks like you boys have caught yourselves a Bandersnatch!”

The card soldiers startle and leap into formation with their spears held at the ready.

Alice smiles thinly and moves toward the beast as if she is eyeing up a prospective mount... which, admittedly, she is. Or will. In the future, anyway.

“He’s a beauty,” she tells the soldiers as they watch her circle around the back of the heaving creature. “Would you take a cask of Witzend wine for him? I’ve been looking for a new mount, you know. For the grandkids.”

As she speaks, she takes advantage of the Bandersnatch’s bulk, which blocks her from view of the Red Knights. She pauses beside each stake and gently kicks at it a bit, then leans her heel against it, loosening it within the ground.

“You don’t want no Bandersnatch for your grandkids, lady,” one of the card soldiers declares.

Alice laughs. “Oh, you don’t have any little ones of your own, now, do you?” she teases him with a knowing smirk. “Yes, I thought you looked to be a bachelor,” she concludes when the soldier stands up a bit taller to compensate for the blow to his pride.

Another card soldier turns to his fellow and proclaims, “Ain’t you asked that nice maid to marry you yet?”

“He ain’t got a ring!” a third Red Knight interjects. Alice continues to work at the moorings, wiggling them loose one at a time. Out of the corner of his jaundiced eye, the Bandersnatch watches her progress.

“I do have a ring!” the first card soldier protests.

“Well, then give us a look then,” yet another invites, nudging him with his armored elbow.

The first grumbles, “I don’t got it on me now. I’m working!”

Alice gives the stake she’s currently working a final kick and with a glance and a nod at the Bandersnatch, he erupts into motion. Alice ducks down, flattening herself against the ground and rolling away as he surges up from beneath the net and lets his massive tail fly through the air.

It’s an easy shot; all of the Red Knights are still clustered together in tight formation and all with their weapons only partially at the ready. The bulk of the Bandersnatch’s extremely frumious tail slams into them and they somersault back into the forest, smacking and clanging against the trees.

Yes, it’s an excellent shot, but Alice knows they won’t be down for long. It takes more than a hard slap to stop the Red Knights. The Bandersnatch turns toward her, snuffling his thanks. Alice knows neither of them have time for that, no matter how welcome.

“Get out of here!” she hisses, shooing him away with her arm as she lurches to her feet. “The Red Queen demands they capture you. You know they won’t stop. If they do, it’ll be their heads!”

“Grrrup!” he insists, shuffling a bit closer.

Alice crosses her arms. “Bloody brangergain, Sir Bandersnatch. Unless you want to find yourself working for the Red Queen, you’d better get galumphing!”

He shakes his head, turns to the side and nods for her to jump up on his shoulders.

“Blast and buttered toast,” she mutters. “If it’ll get you moving...” She takes a running leap (insofar as her aged, creaky knees can run) and pulls herself atop his dirty, matted fur. Her eyes water at the stench, but she says nothing to him about it. He knows he smells rather... rank. And, in the future, when he has his own troupe of grooms to see to his baths every day, his scent is musky rather than pungently ripe. She thinks of that future and tells herself it helps. Even though it really doesn’t.

He takes off just as the pile of armor-plated cards start clanking and clunking with purpose. Leaning over his ear, Alice whispers her destination...

… a dormouse, a hare, and a hatter on the road to Mamoreal.


Bends in roads are very dangerous places, Tarrant decides, raising his hands up in the air and smiling as best he can, which is Quite Well indeed considering the very long, very sharp, and very experienced sword being pointed at his chest.

Yes, as soon as possible, he will petition the White Queen to equip all twisting curves in the roads with warning signs.

Caution: Knave may be around the bend

Or something similar. Perhaps a silhouette on a plain, pale background of some sort would be more universal and therefore useful to all of Underland’s citizens, even those unschooled in reading and such. And, really, after a warning like that, you’d have to be completely ’round the bend to... well, go around the bend!

Tarrant giggles.

“Is something funny, Hatter?” the Knave demands.

“Oh, yes,” Tarrant hears himself lisp even as Thackery hugs his right knee tighter. He can feel Mally’s weight as she stands (no doubt proudly) at attention on the brim of his hat. He wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she’s looking the blighter straight in his black-hearted eyes. “I do believe I’ve just thought up a rhyme,” he declares, sharing the news with All: the hare, the dormourse, the Knave, and the four card soldiers.

“A rhyme?” Thackery hiccups.

“Let’s hear it, then!” Mally invites.

“Yes, let’s,” the Knave drawls in a dark, dangerous tone. “But first, answer my question, Hightopp.”

Tarrant twitches at the sound of his family name. He does not like hearing it spoken by Ilosovich Stayne. He much prefers it said in the old, gray Alice’s scratchy voice, full of impatience or comfort or immovable strength...

“Was there a question?” he muses aloud, trying to stay calm. Suddenly, galumphing off to the Gray Alice’s assistance with only a pot, a pan and an assortment of hatpins does not seem like such a saganistute idea after all... “I do believe it has escaped me. Or... wait! Perhaps it has escaped you? Something has escaped, I’m fairly certain!”

“My patience,” the Knave growls, crowding forward and Tarrant resists glancing over the man’s shoulder at the Hell Steed smirking at them with his gleaming red eyes and slimy horse teeth.

“Have you seen,” Stayne repeats, “an old Outlandish woman?”

“Aye!” Thackery shouts.

The Knave startles and narrows his eyes at the hare who is still clinging to Tarrant’s leg.

“’Twas off teh th’ Witzend Washer Ways wi’er basket o’ wimples!”

Tarrant glances up from Thackery’s googling gaze to the Knave’s scowl. “What Thackery means,” he interjects with as much levity as he can, “is that he has seen at least one of the old Outlandish womenfolk before. Perhaps if you defined the perimeters of the question...?”

“Right!” Mally agrees from atop his hat. “We’ve all seen Outlanders o’ all ages. A bit hard not to with us three being from Witzend, yah see...”

Worried for Mally – the Knave could easily crush her with a single fist! – Tarrant giggles again. As it turns out, it is the Right thing to do for Mally... but a very Wrong thing for himself.

Tarrant chokes on his breath as Stayne’s gloved and horse-ish smelling hand reaches out and twists itself around Tarrant’s dirty and tattered bow tie. Tarrant feels the blade of the sword press against his stomach as the Knave pulls him closer. In order to better growl in Tarrant’s face, perhaps...

“Have. You. Seen,” the man repeats, biting off each word singularly and with extreme precision, “An. Old. Outlander. Woman. Today!

For a moment, Tarrant panics. How can he tell the truth? And yet he knows he is a terrible liar! He prevaricates, “Was... was that a question?”

The sword point against his belly twists and he startles at the feel of sharp, cold steel against his skin – the bloody Knave had en-holed his vest and shirt!

“Yes, Hightopp. That was a question. Answer it.”

“Aye, aye! Ye ask a quest’n teh ge’an answer, lad!” Thackery coaches him... rather unhelpfully.

“An’ that ain’t all! E’ery riddle gets an answer, too!” Mally declares and Tarrant grabs onto her train of thought with both grubby hands.

“Do you know why a raven is like a writing desk?” he hears himself babble.

And then he sees rage coalesce in the Knave’s eyes. Tarrant realizes something Vital (very suddenly and with great clarity): he has pushed Stayne Too Far.

The Hell Steed stamps his foot. “Gut him,” the creature urges and Stayne looks on the verge of doing that very thing... and with great relish...

Tarrant forces himself to keep his eyes open, to glare back at the man. He will not meet his end in fear! He will not disgrace the Gray Lady further. True, he is not – nor will he ever be – a warrior brave enough or strong enough to fight the Bluddy Behg Hid’s minions... but he will not cower before them!

“I saw an old Outlandish woman!”

Tarrant startles, blinks. Stayne pauses, continues to stare at him, and Tarrant moves his tongue about within his very dry mouth to check – just to be sure! – but... no, no, his mouth is still very much closed. Which means someone else had just spoken and...!

The Knave slowly sets Tarrant back on his heels (for which his aching toes are very thankful) but still keeps his fist around Tarrant’s bow tie and his sword trained on his belly. He glances to the side and Tarrant finds himself doing the same thing... until he sees a very shaky dodo bird, his knees knocking together with fright.

“Did you now?” the Knave replies silkily. “Where did you last see her?”

Tarrant wiggles his brows at the dodo, trying to convince him to riddle or perhaps rhyme his way out of this mess – there’s no point in all of them dying here on this forgotten road! But the Red Knights encircle Uilleam and he squeaks with a rather embarrassing lack of dignity when they train their spears on him.

“Where did you last see her?” the Knave says again.

Uilleam wimbles with fascinating incoherence.

Tarrant nods a bit, encouraging him to draw out his answer. The Knave, however, glances quickly back at Tarrant who – somehow – manages to slap a vacant grin on his face just in time. He tells himself that Uilleam is here, which means the Gray Alice is near (a rhyme!) and surely she will be able to help them! With that thought, he feels his smile take a turn for the genuine.

“Dodo birds respond very well to lullabies,” he informs Stayne in a courteous tone.

Stayne growls at him then turns back to Uilleam. “Tell me where she was and when you saw her, Dodo, or you’ll have the pleasure of watching me gut the Hatter, here, before I do the same to you!”

Uilleam screeches, steps back, then screeches again when he pokes himself upon one of the spear tips. “At the Duchess’ house! I saw her just minutes – moments – ago on this road fleeing the Duchess’ house!”

Tarrant feels his smile slip from his face. He glances about the road, from tree to tree, but he does not see the Gray Alice anywhere. He shakes his leg, trying to dislodge Thackery, to urge him to run, to save himself, to find a nice lady-hare and have litters and litters of googly-eyed, twitching, leproids... but the blasted creature clings tighter.

“Thank you, Dodo,” Stayne replies in a tone doused in oil and slick with grease. He then looks back at the Hatter and his smile widens, becomes rather... toothy.

“I’m considering things that begin with the letter M,” Tarrant whispers.

Impossibly, Ilosovich Stayne’s grin widens. “As am I...”

Tarrant summons a smile – shaky though it is – as the Knave’s intent becomes clear, as he braces himself, readies himself for thrusting the sword through his gut...

“Merri’anglin’ mayhap?” yet another voice inserts into that threat-laden, final-breath-of-a-moment, a voice that makes Tarrant’s heart leap up into his throat despite the constriction of the neck tie still held in the Knave’s grasp.

Yet again, Stayne pauses. And, with comical hesitance, looks up and over Tarrant’s shoulder and toward the road that the Red Queen’s forces had already traveled. Tarrant is tempted to turn his head and confirm with his own eyes that the old Alice is there – really there and not a blessedly reassuring figment of his mad mind! – but, regrettably, he cannot.

The same, Gray-Alice voice continues, “Nae, tha’snae a merri’anglin’ ye’re after. Mayhap a manglin’?”

The Knave narrows his eyes and loosens his grip on Tarrant’s neck scarf. “You...?”

“Grabber-snatched th’ Oraculum? Oh, aye. I s’pose ye’re wantin’ teh clap yer peepers on i’?”

Tarrant’s ears strain as the sound of paper against something... perhaps leather?... hisses in the wake of the Gray Alice’s flawless Outlandish. And then he stumbles, arms flailing to keep from crashing down in a heap on top of Thackery, as the Knave not only releases him but shoves him out of the way.

“If’n I’m kennin’ yer bellyachin’ a-righ’ly... This be wha’ ye’re lookin’ fer?”

Tarrant turns his head – sighing happily as he is now able to indulge in the very simple action – and grins at the sight of his mentor, the Grayest of Gray Alices, standing in the middle of the road and speaking the most outlandish of Outlandish, holding up a scroll of rather papery and ordinary-looking parchment in her right hand.

But then Tarrant notes that she is, unfortunately, standing between the Knave and the Duchess’ house... which perhaps helps Tarrant as it implies that he and Thackery and Mally had not seen her on the road after all, which is true – they hadn’t! – but now she’ll have to duck and dodge the Knave to get free and clear and...

His brows twitch and he glances down at Thackery who stares back up at him with what is no doubt an equally worried expression: neither of them have tested the Gray Alice’s ducking and dodging skills for they have not had a single Tea Occasion since her arrival in Iplam.

Tarrant feels his fingers curl and uncurl again and again as he kneads this new worry.

“Give that document to me, Old Woman,” the Knave commands, holding out his left hand.

For a moment, no one moves... well not too much anyway. Uilleam is still shuddering in the circle of spear points and Thackery is still panting with panic and the Hell Steed is still smirking his stomach-lurching smile.

And then the Gray Alice lifts her chin. The dim, forest-filtered daylight illuminates the scar across her throat as she shoves the scroll back inside her leather jerkin.

“Come an’ ge’ it, Knave o’ th’ Bluddy Behg Hid!” she declares, drawing her sword.

Tarrant experiences a very strange sensation caused by his urge to cheer clashing violently with his fear for her. What can she – Alice-y though she may be – who is naught but an old, gray widow, do against Underland’s most fearsome and down-right dirtiest and dishonorable and ruthless fighter?

The Knave laughs. He throws back his head and laughs. The man doesn’t even deign to answer her challenge. With a nod and flick of his wrist, he directs the four card soldiers to... handle her.

Tarrant wracks his already disjointed mind for something – some way – to help her. He looks at his shoes, the road, the hare, his hands, the trees, the sky, his hat...

The Red Knights obey the silent command quickly, leaving Uilleam on the side of the road and advancing on the Gray Alice with uniform alacrity. The widow braces herself and places her left hand on the pommel of the sword as well, presumably to steady the blade further. The card soldiers close in, spears pointed rather inevitably at her very inadequate leather jerkin.

“Ye’ll wanteh be-well o’ thase wee sticks, lads,” the old Alice croaks, her dark eyes shifting from one to the other as they approach. “Ye wou’nae wanteh damage yer master’s precious Oraculum nauw, wou’ye?”

They falter, briefly. But that brief pause is Enough.

She erupts into motion, pivoting smartly and slicing the head cleanly off of the left-most spear then, twirling sharply, slams the flat side of her blade into the stunned card soldier’s helmet. The knight falls back against his fellow, who loses his grip on his spear and the old Alice swings her sword again, knocking the weapon into the woods.

That quickly, two are down and weaponless: one is Out and then other is shoving and struggling (unsuccessfully) to move his comrade’s bulk.

The old Alice smirks. “Com’on, lads. Le’s see ye do better than tha’.”

They try, Tarrant gives them that. But their efforts are in vain. Another blurrily-fast slash-pivot-thrust-spin-smash! later and both are lying face-down on the side of the road. Tarrant blinks. Amazed. How had she...? And she hadn’t even killed a one of them and...!

The sound of the Knave gritting his teeth interrupts Tarrant’s disbelief and relief. And then the sound of the man’s footsteps as he advances on the Gray Alice stops Tarrant’s heart.

To her credit, the Gray Lady doesn’t back down. She holds her ground as she holds her blade: with confidence and determination.

“Mally...” he hears himself whimper. “Fez... pan... pot... hatpin... hat... hatter... help...”

“Yahr hat!” Mally hisses at him, stomping on the brim to get his attention. “Toss yahr hat, Hatter!”

Happy to obey, happy to be doing something to save the only person he can consider Family now, he carefully lifts his hat off his head. He notes that Mally has braced herself on the brim, one of the hatpins in her paw, and gestures toward the Knave, toward the old Alice, toward the Tum Tum tree branches hanging over the road above the pair. His brows twitch as he Understands.

“Oh, well-thought, Mally,” he praises her on a whispered lisp as he eyes the distance, the angle, the ambient light and direction of the wind... He takes into account the strength of his Will, determinedly Forgets the fact that his hand and his eye (neither the left nor the right!) have never managed very well at coordinating when it comes to long distances, and then...

“Hold on tightly!”

… he curls his arm in and, with a snap of his arm-elbow-wrist! sends the hat spinning up into the air. He mouths silent encouragements to it to go up and over and up a bit more and just a little to the left and...!

He sighs with relief when the hat is caught by the grabby branches of the Tum Tum tree and Mally gives herself a brief shake, looks around to orient herself, and then – hatpin held in her mouth – scurries from the hat and onto the thin branches.

The sound of steel striking steel startles him into returning his attention to the Knave and the old Alice. He knows he must be gaping like a mindless simpleton but he can’t seem to stop himself. The old Alice cuts the air with her sword, redirecting the Knave’s longer blade into the ground where she steps on it and slashes at the villain with her sword!

The Knave is stronger than her, though, and quickly pulls his weapon free. The Gray Lady doesn’t wait for him to begin his next attack. She is fast – very fast! – as she swings for his head, misses, and then arcs her blade toward the man’s knees.

The Hell Steed makes a sound of appreciation as the Knave jumps back awkwardly.

“You’re not going to let her get away with that, are you?” the black horse demands of his master.

“Most certainly not,” Stayne replies, tightening his grip on his sword and moving in once more.

Tarrant risks a glance up into the branches of the trees and, after a moment, spots Mally who is leaping from twiggy bough to wispy branch – risking life and tree limb! – to gain a position directly over the fighting.

He fists his hands, watches and flinches as the swords meet again, and wishes with all his might that he had been a better student of the warcraft that the Gray Alice had tried to teach him! He had been useless and blunderingly skill-less in Iplam and he knows he’s equally useless now. But that Truth will not be so for very much longer! He makes this decision even as he curls his fingers into a fist, growling out his frustration and fear.

“I’ll re-learn it all,” he promises on a soft rumble. “I’ll protect mae friends an’ th’ White Queen. She’ll wear th’ crown again. I swear it!”

“Swish and flick!” Thackery squeaks. “Should’a broke th’ wee sticks!”

Tarrant glances away from the fight as the old Alice nimbly sidesteps a thrust from Stayne’s noticeably longer long-sword and pushes him back with a well-placed jab of her own. He follows the hairy hare digit that Thackery points across the road and gasps as the one conscious Red Knight manages to wriggle out from under the weight of his still-unconscious comrade.

Tarrant berates himself for his useless idleness as the card soldier collects a discarded spear and rounds on the combatants. “Bluddy brangergain...!” Tarrant curses. Why hadn’t he taken the chance to step-stomp-jump! on the fallen spears and render them useless?

Yer heads got a use fer more than holdinup yer hat, lad!

Indeed it does.

Not that it matters now!

Or maybe it does...

Tarrant glances down and scoops up the uneaten apple he’d dropped. Collecting the pan he’d released when he’d rounded the bend and found the Knave standing opposite him with his sword drawn, Tarrant continues to ignore Thackery’s clingy-ness as he hefts the fruit, eyes the Red Knight, takes aim and...

Tarrant tosses the apple straight up in the air, swings the pan by its long handle and...


The sound of the apple being struck by the flat bottom of the pan sounds remarkably like Thackery’s name, Tarrant muses as the fruit rockets through the air and smacks (with satisfactory soundness!) the Red Knight in the side of his helmet.

“Excellent thwack-ery!” the hare approves, releasing Tarrant’s knee and applauding.

“Have I made you proud, old friend?” he replies, grinning.

“Blast it! Juice in the hinges! You’ll pay for that!” the Red Knight grumbles, turning his spear in their direction.

Gulping, Tarrant stumbles back a step before Thackery reattaches himself to his knee. He glances toward Alice but no help will be coming from that quarter in the next few seconds! She ducks another slashing attack by the Knave and refuses to circle him. And, considering the fact that a very hungry-looking Hell Steed is watching the proceedings from behind Stayne, Tarrant considers that a very wise strategy. His gaze flies up and finds Mally still racing-jumping-struggling amongst the boughs. He looks back at the Red Knight and clutches the cooking pan tighter in his hand.

The Red Knight lifts the spear, readies himself to strike.

The old Alice rolls away from the Knave’s plunging blade.

The branches above Stayne continue dipping and swaying.

And Uilleam – forgotten until this moment – startles, screeches, and streaks toward the center of the road. His panic distracts the Red Knight, who swings wildly with his spear, catches the dodo in the side with the pole of the spear and sends him hurtling toward a tree. The sound of his blue-feathered body striking the massive trunk is followed by the most hideous roar imaginable.

The Knave, just readying his next lunge, hesitates.

“Gothcha!” Mally cries and, gripping a rather supple-looking branch in one paw, she dives for the Knave’s face, hatpin held at the ready. With a very dormouse-ish battle cry, she swishes and flicks the Knave across his cheek and eye.

The man shrieks, grabs for his face...

And then Tarrant staggers back as the most frumious mass of nearly-white fur he has ever smelled charges into the road and butts the startled Red Knight through the air...

… and into the rather distracted and distressed Knave.

One of the trees sways deliberately into their path and with a sickening thump! the Knave strikes his head upon its rough bark-covered bulk.

But the Bandersnatch is not finished; he spins and roars again – this time at the riderless Hell Steed. The beast panics and, hooves scrambling for purchase, crashes into the woods with the Bandersnatch hot on his heels.

“Mally!” the old Alice shouts, tucking her sword under her arm and holding out a hand for the dormouse to leap onto, which she does.

“Did I ge’is eye?” Mally demands.

“You intended to, did you not?” the Gray Lady replies in a lecturing tone, glancing over her shoulder at the dormouse’s victim. “Intentions are powerful things,” the old Alice continues in a grave and thoughtful manner. “Yes, you got his eye. Well done, Mallymkun. Well done.”

Tarrant glances at the crumpled figure of the fearsome Ilosovich Stayne and winces at the sight of the deep, bloody scratches on the left side of the man’s face. Oh, goodness. Yes, that will most definitely steal his sight and leave a scar if he doesn’t get a bit of ointment on that immediately. Which he very likely won’t.

Tarrant smirks. “Congratulations, Mally!” he calls, “on your very first eyeball!”

She cackles with glee.

“Uilleam?” the Gray Alice croaks with concern.

Flinching – once again recalling the Dodo Bird’s surprising contribution to the melee – Tarrant gently pries Thackery off of his leg and rushes over to the creature twitching and moaning at the base of a rather stout Tum Tum.

The dodo tries to pick himself up, but crashes back into a pile of feathers and long neck and large beak. “My... leg...” he whines on a weak breath.

“Hightopp,” the old Alice says firmly. “Would you carry him? We must get to Mamoreal and the queen’s infirmary.”

“Mirana o’ Mamoreal ain’t the queen,” Mally reminds her.

“Let’s not waste time on semantics. The Red Knights will pull themselves together soon.”

Tarrant hands the sauce pan to Thackery and – as gently as he is able – gathers up the dodo. Despite his attempt to be careful, the bird blanches beneath his feathers and whimpers. The Gray Alice’s hands assist them and after a bit of tentative repositioning, Uilleam finally sighs.

“It’s bearable, Gray Lady, Master Hatter.”

“Then let’s be on our way.”

Thackery wastes no time in setting off down the road, conducting the path ahead with a wooden ladle and a saucepan, as if expecting the wind and the trees to suddenly strike up a rousing hero’s theme. Mally climbs up onto the old Alice’s shoulder and Tarrant smiles appreciatively as the old woman knocks his hat out of the tree branches with the tip of her sword. She carries it back to him and he holds still as she settles it upon his head.

“There. Now we’re all ready.”

“Thank you,” he lisps as they begin the remainder of their journey.

The widow arches a heavily fleshed, gray-haired brow at him. “Hm, yes, I do believe I’m owed that much. I distinctly remember telling you not to come with me today, Hightopp.”

He ducks his head. He can feel his brows tremble above his unfocused eyes. Her censure, mildly voiced though it had been, cuts him far more deeply than it should have. “Ye wen’teh see th’ Duchess. Ye took yer Stubbornness an’ yer Sword, Gray Lady. I thought... mayhap ye wou’be... an’ I cou’nae...”


He looks up at the sound of his family name, surprised by the depth of emotion he hears in her tone. Her dark eyes are glistening and her wrinkled lips are pressed tightly together. He is not sure if she is now fighting a battle against laughter... or tears.

“Gray Lady?” he prompts warily.

She takes a deep breath and looks away. “Nice shot. With the apple.” She glances back at him, a smirk on her thin lips.

He giggles. “You did tell me to use whatever is at hand to fight.”

“That I did. Be it an apple and a saucepan or powder puff and a bottle of perfume,” she mumbles. “Whatever is at hand, Hightopp. Never forget it.”

“I won’t,” he promises. And he can’t help but feel a little be-pride-ish over the fact that he hadnt forgotten it. Not today. Not when it had really Mattered!

The old Alice turns her gaze back toward him at that, her brows lifting in question. Perhaps she had heard the Pride in his tone. The Expectation, Determination, Declaration, Anticipation...

He offers her a shy smile. “I’ll do better – be better – at warcraft, Gray Lady. I’ll fight for the White Queen.”

For a long moment, she says nothing. She simply looks at him and Tarrant fears she is weighing him, measuring him, finding him lacking...

“Then all is as it should be,” she eventually answers. That and no more.

Tarrant glances periodically at her as they make their way down the road to Mamoreal, wondering and fretting why the Gray Lady hadn’t sounded nearly as happy about his acquiescence as he’d expected she would.

One Promise Kept: Book 5

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 8 of 13

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