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Out of Oz, Page 62

Gregory Maguire

  Candle had Rain brought in, too. She kept the lights low all night. On adjacent pallets father and daughter struggled for health, struggled against different resistances. Avaric scuttled to the edge of the tent, but Brrr wouldn’t let him enter. “This is no business of yours,” he said.

  Later, well beyond midnight, the Emperor of Oz arrived, on his own. In the middle of the night, without a guard or an escort, without even a dog on a leash. The Lion stood up stiffly and emitted a low warning rumble, but Shell was family, like it or not, so the Lion had to let him pass.

  “She is not your concern,” said Candle quietly to Shell.

  “She is God’s great-niece,” said His Sacredness. “She is my older sister’s granddaughter. I can see that now.”

  “Go away. What you couldn’t see when she was in disguise you can’t see now. All human forms are disguises. And you claim to be sacred? You know nothing but the shell of people, nothing. Go away.”

  Liir sat up in the gloom and spoke for the first time, across the insensate body of his daughter. “Go away,” he agreed. “She has nothing for you.”

  “She holds both the future and the past,” said Shell, wringing his hands.

  “No more than the rest of us,” said Liir, and pitched a shoe at His Sacredness.

  Near dawn, Dorothy came by the tent, exhausted from a night of revelry. Liir was asleep inside and she said again that she didn’t want to bother him. She joined Brrr, who was still sitting guard outside. “Something’s got to give,” she said. “I can’t go on like this. Here, I brought a flagon of freshwater. They’re saying that Mombey has been taken into custody.”

  “Oh, they’ll say a lot, won’t they,” said the Lion huskily. “Get to the point. What are they saying about that Tip?”

  “Not much.”

  “Can you find out a little more?”

  “Are you asking me to be a spy?” Dorothy smiled wanly. “Look, Brrr. I’ll do what I can. A lot of the Quadling army has removed itself to the Plains of Kistingame, along with the dragons. I can go sniff around there.”

  “Dorothy, you think pretty highly of yourself, but even you risk trouble traipsing among an army of angry soldiers. You watch yourself. They came to conquer, and they feel themselves tricked into surrender. They’ll take it out on you.”

  “Toto’s a little nipper. He’ll see me safe.”

  “He’s dead asleep in your basket.”

  Iskinaary emerged from the tent, shaking his head. He’d been keeping vigil too. “I’ll go with you, Dorothy. And I’ll bet General Kynot can send us a couple of Falcons.”

  “Father Goose,” said Brrr.

  “Don’t start,” said Iskinaary.

  “The truth is,” said Dorothy, “I’d rather have something useful to do than sit here and wait.” She twisted her hands together looking, Brrr guessed, perhaps a little bit like that Auntie Em. He remembered his theory that the young Dorothy may once have had a crush on the Witch’s boy. Liir was solidly middle-aged while she was only now becoming marriageable. She’d come back to Oz too late, to a man who got away by growing up faster than she could. She’s had to put up with an awful lot, our Miss Dorothy, thought the Cowardly Lion. Meeting up with Liir if she doesn’t have to is one adventure I can see she’d rather avoid.

  “Send word if you find anything out about Tip,” said Brrr fondly. “And while I don’t make the plans for this group, I’m guessing that as soon as Liir and Rain are well enough to be moved, the family will want to evacuate this tent and get out of the City. We can work out details later.”

  On the sixth day, Little Daffy sat back on her heels and said to the Lion, “Come, you, we’re going to the Corn Exchange to try to scare up some flour wholesale so I can bake something and open up a little commercial concern of my own.”

  “You can manage without me,” said Brrr.

  “You heard me,” said the Munchkinlander. “With everything still in flux I never know if the good people of the Emerald City are going to set their dogs upon a humble Munchkin farm woman plying her trade.” She meant what she said. Certainly the Lion would prove a more useful defense than her dwarfish husband. But Brrr realized that she too was ready to let the Thropp family alone for a few hours, to come to what peace they might. And Dorothy thought the Lion should take himself out of the picture too.

  Liir and Candle alone in the tent, Rain as catatonic upon the pallet as her father had been in his cart. Liir thought, I’ve given to her all the worst of my traits. If I had lost the will to live, for a time, how could I hope that she might be stronger? I’ve shared nothing with my daughter but my fear of inconsequence, that which has plagued me from my first days.

  “In your disguise as an Animal, where did you go?” said Candle to him. The first direct remark she’d made since he’d been abducted from the castle in the west. The absence of the guardian Lion was giving her license to speak, it seemed.

  Liir had thought about this. “The soldiers plying Mombey’s charm of bewitchment gave me a bigger choice than they thought. They believed it was a superficial charm, and perhaps in some persons it might have been. The hide of an Elephant, the guise of one. But I remembered how Princess Nastoya had lived as a human. Despite her long concealment she never stinted from embracing the fullness of a disguise, its meaning—she learned as much as she could about how to be a human while trapped inside the human’s form. Even though she wanted liberty from the disguise, in the end, so she could die an Animal. I thought perhaps she had made the wiser choice. I thought she had managed to become a human better than I, born one, had yet done. I thought I would rather die an Animal.

  “A cowardly choice, perhaps,” he admitted, but Candle had said nothing.

  “You didn’t help train the dragons to attack the city.”

  “No, I didn’t. That was Trism.”

  “I know who it must have been.”

  They looked at opposite panels in the walls of the tent.

  “In the end, Trism knew enough about dragons to do the job himself,” she said. “They never needed the Grimmerie, did they. After all that. After our ruined lives. They didn’t need you to read the book, nor Rain.”

  All the wasted time running, hiding. All the years.

  “No,” he admitted through his tears. “They only needed time—the time it took for Trism to experiment, over and over, with what he had learned from that one page of the Grimmerie torn out by Elphaba Thropp, those years ago, and given to the Wizard of Oz. Time to work it out. Once they’d gotten the book at last, they found—ha!—that Trism couldn’t read the book. They wanted me to try but I refused. It was then I must have chosen not to come back—to stay an Elephant, let the disguise kill me. Mombey was enraged. She tried to read the book, too. I don’t know how she managed the other evening, for she couldn’t crack it open when she had it in her hands.”

  “Of course I know how she managed. Rain was there. The book obeyed her, not Mombey. The book itself brought the spell forward.”

  “Rain didn’t do a thing.”

  Candle rolled her eyes. “You didn’t do a thing. No, listen to me. You didn’t do a thing to stop any of this. You didn’t open the book to try to learn how to turn the dragons against their masters. You didn’t halt the attack in which very few families in the Emerald City failed to lose a loved one. You didn’t make any effort to … to call fire down upon the dragon hordes. You didn’t move to stop an assault that pitched itself against your own daughter.”

  “I didn’t know she was here, of course.”

  “Where else would she be?”

  Liir thought of the girl thrown off the bridge at Bengda, the bridge he as a young soldier had set fire to. It was a bridge that had never stopped burning, and it never would. A child who had never stopped falling through the night, and she never would.

  He said, “I haven’t the words to answer you. The Grimmerie has brought nothing but grief to every soul who has used it. I wouldn’t use it against my kind—Loyal Ozian or Munchkinlander—even if
I had ceased to be my own kind.”

  Candle said, “That is not like you, Liir. That is vile. It is inhuman.”

  “I do not claim,” he admitted, “to have made the human choice.”


  When Brrr looked into the tent flaps the next morning, Rain was sitting up in the cot. “No, don’t leave,” she said to the Cowardly Lion. “I know already.”

  He shrugged. Liir got up and went out to find some facilities to use, to shave. The weather was coming in colder and they couldn’t stay in a tent much longer, if Rain was to continue to recover. Candle, who after last night wasn’t yet talking to her husband, left too but in a separate direction. Little Daffy and Mr. Boss sat down in the sun outside with a coffee tin to share. They counted up their earnings. Little Daffy called into the tent, “When is Dorothy going to come home and regale us with tales of her night’s adventures before sacking out to sleep the morning away?”

  The Lion intended to keep private his sense of Dorothy’s hope to avoid seeing Liir. “She’s on a mission,” he replied.

  “Isn’t she always.”

  Rain said in a low voice to the Lion, “You don’t have to pretend. I know. I know it all, Brrr. I know it already.”

  He arranged himself as he thought a stone lion in front of a library might do, with dignity and a sense of starch. “Well, everything’s changed,” he said, companionably enough, as if the acrobats had evacuated the arena overnight and a troupe of fire-eating tree elves had arrived to set up instead. “Not such a big surprise. Things do roll on.”

  “On the strength of this one accusation against Mombey, the war has been called for Loyal Oz? Who did the calling, then?”

  “I have a theory, Rain,” said the Lion. “Hiding in the heart of every downtrodden commoner is where the romance of the crown lives strongest. Alarming, I know. The citizens of Oz struck with mobs and protests, days and nights of rioting, and neither army would take up weapons against them.”

  “How is Tip? Brrr, I know what happened. I’m not blind. And I think maybe I’ve always known. Just tell me—how is Tip?”

  He had to decide if she was working him to find out what little he knew himself, and had heard, or if she was confessing a knowledge beyond his. Probably the latter. For all her youth she was proving basalt at the bone.

  “Dorothy and Iskinaary have gone to reconnoiter. The Goose sent a report via that Wren. Tip is recovering nicely enough, that’s what is said on the streets. The Hall of Approval has been meeting right next door, in our own Aestheticum, to try to work out the proper course of action, but Tip isn’t attending—hasn’t the strength yet.”

  “Where is my … where is my friend?” she ventured.

  “They’ve made space in a private apartment in Madame Teastane’s Female Seminary, which is somewhere on the edge of Goldhaven.”

  “With attendants, I assume. An armored guard.”

  “Well.” The Lion tried to smile. “An old chum of yours, as I understand it. A woman from Shiz named Miss Ironish. She’s been brought in from St. Prowd’s, since Madame Teastane’s staff and students all fled the city weeks ago and are sitting out the troubles comfortably on the shores at Lake Chorge. Miss Ironish claims to have known Tip in a small but honorable way. Her blameless record convinced the Emperor that she was the right one for the job.”

  “And Mombey?”

  “Ah, that’s another story. Some say she’s in Southstairs, secreted there for her own safety under cover of darkness. The Palace will neither confirm nor deny that rumor. Others say Mombey accidentally called her own past upon her as she called that of others, and too much corruption crept up in her blood, and she expired of extreme old age as she ought to have done a century ago. That’s hard to confirm or deny either, and the Palace has its reasons for keeping the matter in doubt. They don’t want to be accused by patriotic Munchkinlanders of having assassinated the Munchkinlander Eminence the minute she entered the capital.”

  “What do you think?”

  “I think if she had the strength to change her visage just one last time, she became a woggle-bug and someone stepped on her in the rush to catch the latest newsfold.”

  “Or swatted her with a rolled-up newsfold.”

  He waited.

  “I learned how to read, once upon a time,” she told him. “I can read the headlines, you know.”

  “I suppose you can.”

  “The royalists will be having mighty parties.”

  “It’s too early to tell. Though the confetti factories are probably going into overnight shifts.”

  She sighed. “And my great-uncle?”

  “Well, it’s all up in the air still, isn’t it? There’s the question of how ready to rule the new leader might be. As we know from Dorothy, age doesn’t always constitute wisdom. And people grow up on different schedules, one from the next.”

  “Has Shell abdicated the throne?”

  “It’s still unsettled whether the Palace will accept a return to the rule of monarchy. And the question of whether the monarch wants to rule. I understand there is human choice involved.”

  “I don’t know if there is,” said Rain.

  “Oh,” said the Lion. “Don’t give me that. I’m the Cowardly Lion, remember. There’s always human choice.”

  She put her face to his shoulder, her greening hand upon his paw. “All right then,” she said. “Enough grieving. Can you make arrangements for me to have an audience?”

  “I have it on the highest authority that Tip has been waiting for you to ask.”

  “Who’s authority is that high?”

  “A little Bird told me.”


  Miss Ironish opened the door of Madame Teastane’s Female Seminary. She shooed the guards on the stoop to one side and told them if they didn’t stop bristling their bayonets in her face she’d give them what for and no mistake. “Come in, Miss Rainary,” she said. A new sobriety had tightened her corset. She never mentioned the change in Rain’s appearance, except to mutter, “My, how you’ve grown.”

  Scarly took Rain’s umbrella and put it against a hat stand.

  “I believe you will be comfortable in the parents’ parlor,” said Miss Ironish. “Scarly will bring you a biscuit or a glass of water if you like. Please wait here and I will announce the Crown in a few moments.”

  “I can help myself to a glass of—”

  “This is hard on everyone,” said Miss Ironish sternly. “Wait.”

  She left the room with a backward glance rich in opprobrium. A few moments later Scarly tiptoed in with three lemon brickums and a cheese tempto congealing upon a porcelain salver. Apparently school fare didn’t improve even for royalty.

  “Miss Rainary,” said Scarly, moving out of the sight of the crowds who haunted the paving stones, the faithful who waited outside day and night, desperate to catch a glimpse of the miracle. “Oh, Miss Rainary.” She couldn’t control the gasp in her voice.

  “I hope it isn’t too horrible,” said Rain, a little coldly.

  “It en’t horrible,” said Scarly, and she took Rain’s hand. She could get nothing else out, though, and fled through the butler’s pantry when she heard Miss Ironish return.

  “You may arise, Miss Rainary,” said Miss Ironish, and stood back against the door as Tip came through, making every effort not to twist her hands. Miss Ironish retreated and the door closed firmly though without the sound of a click.

  Rain said, “Am I to call you Ozma?”

  “You may call me Tip,” she answered.

  “I’m told that when you discovered what had happened, you fainted dead away. I thought, when I could think, ‘Well, isn’t that just like a girl.’ ”

  “Not funny, Rain. Under the circumstances. How did you find out?”

  Rain neither moved away nor did she come closer, and neither did Ozma Tippetarius. They stood nine feet apart on opposite margins of a sunbleached carpet. “I suppose—I don’t know—maybe I dreamed it.”

  “You’re lying. You
don’t lie. Have you changed?”

  “Well.” She held up her green fingers. “A little.”

  Tip waited.

  “Tay always liked you,” said Rain, “and Tay didn’t like men, generally.”

  “Was that it?”

  Rain thought. “Yes, I think that was it.”

  “You’ve never even known if Tay is male or female itself, have you? Yet you claim to know how Tay can respond to me, even when a disguise is laid upon me for—for all those years I can’t remember?”

  “We’re unlikely to make an acceptable ruling couple,” said Rain. “For one thing, you’re about a hundred years older than I am.”

  “Well, I hide it well, don’t I.” The tone was bitter.

  “You knew it all along,” said Rain.

  “I didn’t. Mombey kept me apart from other children. We always shifted about every few years. I’m told most childhoods feel eternal, Rain. Mine did too. I wasn’t to know it was longer than anyone else’s. Perhaps I wasn’t smart, but grant me that. Or maybe Mombey charmed some sense of calendar out of me. It doesn’t matter. We’ve both had our childhoods filched from us, Rain. There’s that. If there’s nothing else.”

  “There’s that,” Rain agreed.

  They stole glances at each other, the green girl and the queen of Oz. Those forgotten called forward, against their wishes, into themselves. Rain might as well have been Elphaba at sixteen. Ozma Tippetarius had eyes the color of half-frozen water.

  They could not cross the carpet to take each other in their arms. Maybe someday, but not today. More of their childhoods had to be stolen, yet, for that to happen—or maybe some of it returned to them. The charmless future would show them if, and when, and how.