Rated M for mature themes and reference to sexual situations.
It does not matter how many times she attends this particular festival nor how often it is hosted at Iplam as it is now; it never ceases to make Alice catch her breath at the sight of its beauty and passion and promise. Nor do the sights and sounds ever fail to remind her of that first festival, when she had been carrying her and Tarrant 's son – although they hadn't know then that the child would be a boy, or that he would be a Tamial, or that he would become a Keeper of Time so young or that his instincts about Time and the way he works would make him an Artist in his field and every clock and pocket watch he creates a masterpiece in an of itself. No, neither she nor Tarrant had known any of this when they had hosted (and attended) their first Maigh together. The only thing Alice had known – had dared to suspect – is the only thing that Absolem has ever willingly shown her of her own future in the Oraculum.
And today it is about to Happen.
Alice allows the manor door to close behind her and jogs down the steps that she had once despaired her lost Championhood upon – the steps that Tarrant had offered her tea upon... and then a sword fight in the mist of early morning – and weaves her way through the throng clogging the village center. The Champion Blossoms had retreated once again and the maypole had once again been erected. Alice can't help but snicker at the sight of it... and the shenanigans she and her husband had gotten up to again when they'd been faced with setting it up. In the end, a few stout lads had helped Tarrant (who had gently refused Alice's assistance, his eyes twinkling with mirth and passion, and reminded her that she had already helped with the maypole Quite Enough for one day).
She comes up behind her husband who has also just discharged his own duties. The young men in their clan colors mill about and fidget as they wait for their betrothed to finish their preparations within the main house. Sliding an arm around his waist, she Tickles his heart and presses against his side. After nearly thirty years of being a-Vowed, the action is automatic, as is the way he extends his arm to welcome her.
"Aul done?" he burrs and Alice tilts her head back so that she can see his expression fully from beneath the brim of her top hat.
"You, too, I see," she replies, glancing at the assortment of young men. "Are they going to curse us or thank us later?"
Tarrant snorts, cackles, and finally giggles. "We shall see..."
"Speaking of," she says with a start, "where is Tam?"
She glances up just as Tarrant rolls his eyes. "Where d'ye think, my Alice?"
She sighs. " Again? "
Beneath the brim of his hat, Tarrant's brows arch. "He's ver'be-fortuned tha' Traeva d'snae mind."
Alice snorts. "Well, how could she? Seeing as she's the one he's always going on about." She looks back over her shoulder at the path that leads behind the manor house and into the woods beyond. "At the usual place?"
"I would assume so."
And as they both can't abandon the festival that they are hosting, Alice offers, "I'll go get him. It won't be long now..."
Tarrant squeaks out a laugh. "An' if Traeva has teh wait e'en launger fer him... Fate help us aul."
Hearing the truth in that, Alice gives him a pat on shoulder before hurrying toward the house. As she takes the path, she spies Leif and Tarra... and their little lion-cub, Rend. Alice watches as her former apprentice tends to the customers at her stall while Leif wrestles with his son... doing a very good job of keeping the toddler from sharpening his new claws on the furniture his mother had crafted!
Yes, Tarrant had been right about them: Tarra had indeed waited until she'd finished her apprenticeship to wed her lion-man. And then they'd waited quite a bit longer before inquiring about conception rituals.
Alice smiles. The next time she's in Mamoreal, she really must make time to visit Tarra's workshop and let Rend claw up her boots and chew on the buckles.
Aptly named, that one , Alice allows as she disappears around the corner of the house.
The trail she follows is a familiar one and she knows the clearing to which it leads. As she glimpses it through the trees, she slows and remembers: years ago, she and Tarrant had sparred here, had Stopped Time here, had come together here. Although, in recent years, they had ceded dominion of the clearing to the next generation.
And he is here now, with his closest friend and eternal conspirator.
The sight of her son leaning back against Maevyn 's mauve stomach in the small, grassy clearing, both of them staring up at the sunset-painted sky, brings to mind more than a few occasions upon which an unslept-in bed and a missing son had prompted her and Tarrant to wait up for their erstwhile child and his partner in crime to return home.
She shakes her head as she recalls those rocky years.
The first time Tamial had convinced Maevyn to fly him to the Callion to visit his sweetheart, Alice had been frightened and infuriated beyond words. Tarrant, luckily, had not been so hindered. The punishments they had leveled on Tam should have dissuaded him – then a mere sixteen years of age – from trying such a dangerous and irresponsible stunt ever again!
However, the very next week, there had been a second instance. Once again, she and Tarrant had encountered a concurrence of midnight and an unoccupied Tamial-bed. The fifth time it had happened, Chessur had shown up, uninvited, to propose that they merely bow to the hormones of youth and appoint Maevyn as chaperone.
Alice remembers that she had stomped on Tarrant's foot before he'd wearily agreed. Impressionable and na ï ve Maevyn, entrusted to ensure that their son does nothing more irresponsible than kiss Traeva? A laughable suggestion if there ever were one!
"We shall simply do what we should have been doing for years," Alice had admitted. "What we should have done after the first Festival of War Games."
"Lock the little boggletog in his closet at night?" Chessur had mused playfully.
Alice had snorted even as Tarrant had made an appreciative noise of agreement. "We shall invite those of age in Causwick to apprentice to a trade here, in Iplam."
And so young Traeva had come to Iplam and had taken a shine to silver-smithing.
"She's e'en more talented than mae Mam was," Alice recalls Tarrant musing as he'd turned Traeva's very first silver hair comb over again and again in his hands. Alice had fingered the Champion-themed hatpins she'd been given (and which she is wearing very proudly now in her Hightopp top hat!) and allowed that they were exquisite creations. "What do think, my Alice?" Tarrant had suddenly and brightly asked, holding up the delicate comb he'd been gifted. "Shall I grow a beard or use it for my brows?"
She laughs silently now, at the memory. Yes, Traeva had brought quite a lot of amusement and life and activity to their family. So much so that today seems like merely a formality. Still, Tam has every right to be nervous, to confer with his best friend, to worry that he'll disappoint Traeva Causwoman... who has already suffered quite enough disappointment in her young life.
Alice frowns briefly at the thought of a very young and little Traeva, at her delicate mother and the father that Inghan had seen fit to... remove from Underland. Alice had never asked after the murder Inghan had done, nor why she had brought her sister and niece to the Callion with her. After all these years, Alice knows that the past is just that: past. And – if at all possible – it is best not to throw pebbles into that pond.
Tam, though, knows quite a bit more than she does, Alice is sure. And it worries him. Actually, she would say he has grown up to be just like his Fa... except for the fact that only a matter of life and death could induce his father to cuddle up next to a jabberwocky and pour out his troubles.
"Your absence is conspicuous, Tamial Hightopp," she informs him, stepping into the clearing.
Maevyn looks up and grins apprehensively in greeting.
Tam sighs. "I'm not going, Mam."
"I'm not... Traeva isn't..."
Alice marches over to her son and kicks his highly polished boot. "She isn't going to wait another year for you, young man. Either get your scut to that festival and make her happy or watch her walk away from you."
He doesn't answer and Alice cannot see his face beneath the brim of his top hat. She watches him breathe, notes the way his always-shaggy curls tumble this way and that, just a bit longer than her ever-short hair.
"Tamial," she murmurs, kneeling in the soft, cool grass. "Do you love her?"
"Aye, Mam. But that's why I—"
"Am being a fumptwat," she finishes and he glances up sharply at that. She continues, "Whatever injuries Traeva has suffered have long since healed. And she loves you and she wants to move onward in life. Would you deny her that?"
"But, I could... Maybe I'm not... the right... man for her..."
Alice stares into his eyes, pale with worry, and she shakes her head. "She chose you, Tam. Ten years ago . At the first festival at Causwick, she chose you. And you chose her, time and time again, sneaking out of your bed late at night and getting poor Maevyn here to take you to the Callion, scaring your parents witless...! My son, your doubts... They have no place here, now. Let them go."
She reaches out and places her hands on his shoulders, squeezes his tense muscles. She watches as her son takes a deep breath.
"Now, Tamial Hightopp, youngest Keeper of Time in the known history of Underland, son of Tarrant Hightopp and Alice Kingsleigh, what does your heart tell you?"
And Alice receives the gift of watching her son's eyes color from pale yellow to gold and then darken with determination to the richest shade of cognac she has ever seen. He meets her gaze and nods once, decisively.
Alice holds out a hand to help him up and he stands without further hesitation.
"Brush off your scut, Tam," Maevyn helpfully offers. "And smile, won't you?"
Tam laughs. "Sure. I won't forget."
He takes another breath and turns on his heel. Alice and Maevyn watch as, back straight and fingers curled into fists of resolution, he strides across the clearing to the trail head and disappears into the forest.
"Thank you, Maevyn," Alice murmurs. "For always looking out for him."
The young jabberwocky turns its dawn-colored eyes on Alice and replies, "That's what friends do."
Alice nods. "Give Krystoval my best."
Alice lingers a moment more to watch as Maevyn launches into the air, circles the clearing once, and then takes off toward the Witzend mountains. And then Alice has no reason to linger. She takes a deep breath of her own and returns to the festival, to her husband and her son and her soon-to-be daughter-in-law.
She arrives just as the brides leave the house and she breathes a sigh of relief when she sees Tam standing with the other betrothed lads, looking confident and happy .
In short, he looks just as he should. He looks just as the Oraculum had shown when Alice had seen the prediction of this day so many years ago.
"An ' just what are ye lookin ' sae be-pridish o'er, mae Alice?" her husband rumbles in her ear.
She considers telling him about the Oraculum, about the scene of the future – this future – that she has carried with her ever since she had proposed dying on the battlefield to save Underland from a civil war. She considers sharing this... and then chooses not to. It is not necessary, she believes. And her husband has long since lost faith in that scroll. Instead, she summarizes, "You. Me. Tamial."
Tarrant winds an arm around her back and she slides one around his waist. It is not enough contact, however, and he reaches for her free hand with his own, Reaches along the heart line to her and she Answers. Standing in the circle of witnesses, they watch as their son kneels before his betrothed and intones his sonnet. They listen as his beloved sings her acceptance.
And then the Wedded Step begins.
Alice welcomes both Inghan and Traeva's mother into their family with open arms and Tarrant presses a brotherly kiss to each Causwoman's cheek. And when he meets Alice's gaze once more and his hand twitches toward her belly, she does not ask why his eyes are filled with tears. Nor does she ask why his heart is overflowing with Joy and Awe. She remembers. He does not congratulate her on predicting this moment, so many Maighs ago. She does not thank him for saving her life, for saving Tam's life, that night at the Ascots' country estate. He does not mention the fire she had walked through for him, so that he might live to see this day.
No words are spoken. Well, none are spoken aloud.
And when the Wedded Step concludes and all are properly married and the musicians strike up a lively tune, Alice pulls her husband out into the throng, and dances. The wind whips away their tears and the music drowns out their laughter and their sighs. That does not make them any less real, of course, for they are Felt.
It's not until later – much later – that Alice emerges from this haze of a dream-come-true. The wedded couples have been chased into the manor and the barrels of Battenmead opened when a very abrupt declaration jars Alice back to reality.
"Oh, bugger," Tarrant mutters and Alice Feels his apprehension and irritation.
She looks up from her own mug of mead, following his nod and gazing in the direction in which his gaze is focused. Across the clearing, in the light of the torches, Alice watches Davon Irondirk (still unwed and still in possession of every single one of his perfect teeth) smile his most winning and charming smile... at a rather rosy-cheeked Inghan Causwoman.
"Sure as th' Fates made wee, little boggletogs, auwr lives are abou' teh enter a whole new world o' Complicated," Tarrant predicts.
"You're right," Alice replies as the steelsmith leans in and steals a kiss from the woman. Inghan blushes, blusters, and gives him a blistering scolding in Outlandish. As she storms away Irondirk's smile widens; Inghan's step has a bit too much sway in it to be a product of pure ire. "Bloody hell. You're right," she agrees.
For a brief moment, Alice wonders what ought to be done about it... and then she snorts at herself. Truly, in this case, the services of a Champion are not needed, for there is nothing to be done. Except prepare for the inevitable.
She sighs, shares a knowing glance with Tarrant, and they giggle drunkenly.
"Oi! Yer attention, nauw, ye drunken be-draggle-be's!" a very bossy and matronly voice shouts. Alice looks up to see Mrs. Bakerstone standing on a table with a rather large and rather full mug in hand. "We aul ken whot time i'tis!" she declares with a grin.
Yes, Alice agrees, yes, we do. Gently, she pulls on Tarrant's arm, urging him back through the crowd until they are in the shadows of the forest. She dimly hears the selecting of the judges – and she doesn't doubt that she'd dimly heard Inghan's name among them – but her attention is focused on her husband, on Tarrant's naughty grin and his sparkling eyes. Oh, yes, for this Maigh, Alice won't be kissing anyone except a certain Hightopp Hat inventor!
She wraps her arms around his shoulders and leans in for a kiss just as Mrs. Bakerstone belts out, "An' nauw, aul ye lads who b'lookin' fer a lass, le's see yer Futterwhacken!"
Alice sees nothing except her Tarrant, which is just fine with her. The music starts and the dancing begins and Alice pulls Tarrant a bit deeper into the forest with a very specific sort of Futterwhacken in mind...
She does not notice when Irondirk wins the contest and kisses Inghan with passion and skill to the hoots and hollers of the guests. She is a bit busy at that moment, although she can honestly say that her activities are in keeping with the spirit of the Maigh!
She gazes into her husband's eyes – they would be violet, she knows, if only there was enough light to see by – and holds onto him tightly. Their breaths merge with every kiss and his soft moans heat her blood just as her needy whispers for more drive him to give it to her.
Ask and Give...
Just as the newly weds had Asked with a pledge and Given with a song, just as the unwed lads had Asked with a dance and been Given a kiss.
It is some time later when Tarrant finally manages to convince Alice to return to the merry-making in Hightopp Village. Their absence had apparently gone unnoticed and they easily join the dancers whirling over the trampled grass, becoming lost in the atmosphere of carefree laughter and warm drink and hearty food as the people crowding the fields of Iplam celebrate life... carrying it ever – and forever – onward.
*~*~*~* The End *~*~*~*
Fan art: "The Family" from OPK 5, Epilogue by Erminie on Deviant Art (or follow the link from my FFnet bio)
1. My thanks go out to Amaranthea here on FFnet, who gave me the most wonderful visual in one of her previous comments about a future Hightopp descendant having a chat with a jabberwocky in a grassy field at night, talking about his most recent love troubles. That really stayed with me and finally made an appearance here. And, of course, I love it.
2. Inghan was working at Causwick Castle when Alice and Mirana were taken hostage in Book 2. At that time, Traeva was a very little girl – maybe five or six years old – so she is considerably older than Tam... however, children who suffer trauma in Underland sort of stop aging for awhile. (I mentioned in Book 4, Chapter 3 that childhood in Underland is not linear at all – sometimes children leap forward in maturity and sometimes they even lose progress gained depending on many factors) I hint here that Traeva went though something very horrible as a child, so she stopped developing until she had worked through the issue that caused the shock. When Tam meets her, she is physically only about twelve years old, but her mind is both much older and much younger (as can be the case with children who have suffered personal trauma). Which is perhaps why she seems to know precisely what she wants! What actually happened in this family? Well, that's another story, and I'm not sure it has a place in OPK. Suffice it to say that Inghan's given name is not Causwoman. Causman and Causwoman are the names adopted by people Jaspien has offered to foster, people who have come to him seeking a fresh start.
3. Now we know what Alice saw in the Oraculum in Book 4 that reassured her before the duel (she saw the same scene again when she learned of Tarrant's impending death). What did she see? She saw her son's wedding day, with herself and her husband there. So she knew Tarrant would live, that she would live, that Tam would one day forgive her for being a Champion and doing what had to be done on that battlefield.
There may be some inconsistencies in this series because, really, this is fan fiction. I wrote it for fun and for free, so please don't expect it to be perfect. I try to answer questions from readers as best I can, but please feel free to imagine your own – individual and unique – solutions to some of these issues because, honestly, I think that would be more in keeping with the spirit of Alice in Wonderland.
I realize that I have left some questions unanswered – What will become of Winslow and his future career? Will his grandfather be punished for his crime? – and I have left some things unaddressed – Will Margaret notice that Alice isn't aging? If so, what will happen then? – but I felt that I had to leave these things open because the emphasis in the final book is about Alice's life in Underland and not about her family in London.
Is this the end of OPK? … Perhaps. I don't have any immediate thoughts for a sixth book and, honestly, I think it would be hard to top this one. Seriously: after Alice and Tarrant have defeated Death, what more is there? Still, if I happen to think up an idea for additional fics in this series (even if it's a companion fic or something) I will write it down and share it. Cross my heart.
I began writing this series on May 3, 2010 – with no real expectation of writing more than the first book – and finished Book 5 on January 21, 2011 (ignore the posting date on the story). I have never written so much in so little time before. Most days, I still can't believe I managed it.
Over the course of writing and posting One Promise Kept, I received a great many comments and questions which propelled this series. Sometimes I was inspired to add a scene. Sometimes I was encouraged to develop a plot point in response to an inquiry or speculation. All of you who have left feedback for me have helped make this story possible, and I THANK ALL OF YOU for your generosity and love.
Happy fanfic reading... and fairfarren all!