Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Out of Oz, Page 63

Gregory Maguire



  In the streets of the city they were saying that Ozma had come back. Within weeks, illustrated pamphlets in six colors became available at every vendor. One edition with bronze ink on the cover cost two farthings extra and sold out to collectors in an hour. It purported to present an entire modern history of Oz, starting with the arrival of the Wizard and the deposing of the Ozma Regent, Pastorius. The best part was a grotesquely colored section that everyone turned to first: the murder of Pastorius. Oh, the blood! Like a fountain all down the steps of the Palace of the Ozmas. Then the Wizard’s vile contract with Mombey, Pale Queen of Sorcery, to secret the child away while the Wizard set up shop to hunt for the fabled Grimmerie. For which he’d come to Oz in the first place, and over which, failing to secure it, he left, disconsolate.

  In one of the final panels of that section, Mombey secretly made a pact with the Ozmists, and siphoned a zephyr or so of them for pumping up the Wizard’s balloon, to assure he could never return across the Deadly Sands. A lovely and theatrical conceit, if unsupportable by the testimony of witnesses, who wrote letters to the editor complaining about the rewriting of history. The liberties these artists take! Hacks, the lot of them.

  Dorothy had her own section. Part III. They colorized her too highly and she looked like a Quadling afflicted with St. Skimble’s Rash. With her familiar, Toto, who could speak in the funny pages (arf arf !), Dorothy careered around Oz like some sort of a drunken sorceress, spilling mayhem out of her basket and kicking up her sparkly heels in musical numbers that didn’t translate particularly well on the page.

  A nod was made to Elphaba and to Nessarose Thropp, and to Dorothy’s crime spree against them. However, maybe because the Emperor was about to abdicate the Throne Ministership of Oz, his portrayal was accorded a certain respect, if only for his having served as a place holder until Ozma could be released from her spell. How quickly a history of offenses can be rewritten. Yet there was some sour truth to it: Shell Thropp may have ordered the invasion of Munchkinland, but he hadn’t killed Pastorius. Nor had he imprisoned Ozma Tippetarius in a spell so deep it could keep her in a near perpetual boyhood until, through trickery played by a magic mouse (a magic mouse?) La Mombey accidentally reversed her own spell, revealing her depraved plan for world dominance. Or Oz dominance.

  The extravaganza went into seven printings in a fortnight. It didn’t begin to show up wrapped around take-out fried fish for at least a month.

  Little was made in print, either by the popular press or by pulpit expositories, of the material waste and psychic distress of the recent past. The dragons of Colwen Grounds, the war, the long privations, the fight for water, the death of so many on both sides of the conflict. The negotiations remained in a delicate stage. It didn’t do to allow sensibilities to become inflamed with reference to abominations too recent to be forgiven—if ever they could be forgiven.

  Would Ozma come to rule? How would her legitimacy be determined since eighty-five years, give or take, had passed since her birth, but she was apparently still in her minority? Had Mombey herself not unwittingly identified the girl as Ozma—by that unsavory magicking of Tip homeward from boy to girl—the metamorphosis might have gone unremarked as any other backstreet carnival trick. (The details of the transformation were too squeamish for most citizens to imagine closely, except the depraved.) “Not Ozma!” Mombey had cried, out of her skull. Everyone present had heard her, and when Tip had been carried away for medical attention, the form of a teenage girl in a lad’s dress sartorials had escaped no one’s notice. (A number of men had trouble satisfying their wives for months in the ensuing vexation to their own makeup.)

  Whether Ozma still wore the red locket on its chain—only one person knew enough to ask that question, and she would not ask it.

  Hardly anyone else alive had ever seen Tip’s mother, Ozma the Bilious. No one could comment on any family resemblance the new Ozma might have to her forebears except by the fading rotogravured portraits that had remained hung, seditiously, during the reigns of the various Throne Ministers, in houses left shabby because their tenants could never afford redecoration.

  And would Ozma Tippetarius accept the mantle? Did she have to? Did she have a choice?

  Furthermore, would Munchkinland accept her as a ruler of a reunited Oz? No stalwart Munchkinlander could forget the crunchy little fact that the Ozma clan was Gillikinese. But it was Mombey who’d brought Ozma Tippetarius back to the throne from Munchkinland, which gave the rebel nation a stake. Before a month had passed some began, quietly, to call Mombey the savior of the nation. Without an Ozma to pull the warring factions together, the fighting might have gone on a good deal longer.

  It was said that at Haugaard’s Keep, on Restwater, when they learned what a mess things had gotten to in the Emerald City, General Traper Cherrystone called a ceasefire and invited the Foill of Munchkinland into the Keep to discuss an end to the hostilities. No one was quite sure what happened next. The only witness was a tree elf named Jibbidee, and he wasn’t talking. In the Oak Parlor of the Florinthwaite Club, bruited about over a third glass of port, thank you, retired military officers whispered the rumors. Loyal Oz’s General Cherrystone had proposed to General Jinjuria that together they decline to accept the nonsense about the return of Ozma to the Emerald City, join forces, and rule as a military tribunal over Restwater themselves, setting up a protectorate over the access rights to the great lake. Jinjuria was said to have refused, whereupon Cherrystone shot her, and then took his own life.

  The legal standing and even location of Lady Glinda Chuffrey of Mockbeggar Hall remained unknown.

  So, too, the confused reputation of the Wicked Witch of the West. But in the rush of sentimental and even patriotic fervor that greeted the unexpected return of Ozma Tippetarius, word began to circulate that the great spell cast by La Mombey, to call the lost forward, had done more than stay Liir Thropp from his death and reveal the green skin of his daughter, Rain. It had done more than sabotage Mombey’s own plan to keep Ozma Tippetarius young, hidden, dumb, and male for another hundred or two hundred years. Mombey’s application of the spell from the Grimmerie, they said, had also inadvertently summoned Elphaba Thropp from—well, from wherever it was she had gone.

  “As if she’d come back when asked,” said Mr. Boss. “What do they think she is? A charwoman?” The accidental family—what was left of it with the death of Nor, with the departure for Nether How of a frosty Liir and an angry Candle and an eye-rolling though mute Goose—was squatting in a garden flat below a shell-shocked semidetached villa off the Shiz Road in the North-town neighborhood. Rain had refused to follow her parents unless she had settled things in her own mind.

  Until the circumstances righted themselves somehow, they’d resigned themselves to this dump for the winter. The rising damp gave them all headaches of a morning but tenacious ivy hid the worst of the damage to the building’s exterior plaster. The place had views on a strip of garden that hadn’t benefited from the firebombing of the dragons a few months ago. Nonetheless, Tay liked to climb on what remained of the shattered ornamental cherryfern.

  “I can understand the rage for Elphaba. It’s more convenient to have a hero waiting in the wings than to endure a blowhard standing in the spotlight,” said the Lion. “Didn’t Nor used to say that? Also easier on your moral comfort, for one thing, to keep waiting for redemption of one sort or another rather than work it out for yourself. Since its time hasn’t arrived yet.”

  “Well, that’s a matter of opinion we never asked you for,” said Dorothy, who had agreed to return to the fold after Liir had made his departure. “Just for that, I think I’m going to do my warm-ups. Right here.”

  “I mean, look,” explained the Lion. “The so-called where’s-the-Witch mania has simply displaced Ozma hunger, that’s all. No one alive can remember what it was like to live under blood royalty. Three generations have grown up without the crown—to go back to it again just like that satisfies th
e appetite for resolution too quickly. People need something to be missing. They need to crave something they don’t have.”

  “It used to be Lurline, when I was growing up,” said Little Daffy. “Lurline would come back eventually and grace us all with the spirit of better posture, or something. If the Ozma vacancy has been filled, then the people on the street need a new hunger. Why shouldn’t it be for that old witch?”

  “This new hunger you’re talking about,” said the dwarf. “Better get going or we’ll miss the morning rush.”

  They were making quite a killing with Little Daffy’s Munchkinlander Munchies. Once they had set aside enough capital they were planning to fund a trip back to the Sleeve of Ghastille to harvest more of the secret ingredient.

  “There’s someone here at the door,” called Mr. Boss as he and Little Daffy were leaving with their bakery wheelbarrow.

  “It’ll be for you, Dorothy. You go. I’ve got blisters from padding halfway across town chasing after your damn dog,” said the Lion. “It doesn’t know how to pee without dashing all the way to Burntpork. Dorothy, if you don’t get that Toto a leash and a muzzle, I’m going to get one for you.”

  “You try muzzling me and watch the nation rise against you.”

  Dorothy came back. “For you, Brrr,” she said. “They asked for Sir Brrr.” She mimed a mean little curtsey but ruffled his mane as he went by. “Where is Rain, anyway?” she asked in general, but only a grandmother clock ticked in answer. Brrr had gone into the garden to talk to a military guard of some sort. No one else was home.

  For a few days, like the other curiosity seekers who thronged the kerbstones of Great Pullman Street, Rain found herself drawn to the facade of Madame Teastane’s Female Seminary. A sober building made of brick, painted in a no-nonsense black flatwash and finished in white trim, it signaled with confidence the rectitude of public office. The windows at street level remained curtained. No one came and no one went except ministers, who refused to comment. Rain saw Avaric bon Tenmeadows once, with a satchel, ducking a rotten apricot lobbed at him by someone impatient for news of the Ozma. Their queen. If queen she was.

  Rain’s life had been spent in hiding. Disguised with ordinariness. She now felt cursed with this glare of green upon wrists and cheeks and everywhere else—she couldn’t bear to look at herself much. But as she wandered about the streets of the Emerald City like any one of the thousand paupers hoping to filch a meal, cadge a donation from some softie, work for an hour or maybe fall in love for less, she realized that no one bothered to bother her.

  She hadn’t needed to hide her whole life long. No one wanted to find her anyway.

  The winter had come in mild, and the shrubbery of the Oz Deer Park remained in sufficient leaf to give her cover. She felt she blended in better than, say, the starving families of the Quadling Corner, who took the most menial jobs and for breakfast ate paper and leaves with mustard. She could walk along the Ozma Embankment, looking for her life. Wherever it might be.

  It wasn’t housed on a top floor of Madame Teastane’s Female Seminary, that much was certain.

  Perhaps, she thought, she would go up to Shiz. If they would have her. She was a year early but Miss Ironish had concluded that, against all odds, Rain was clever. Perhaps she could have a private tutor for a year to prepare. She didn’t quite qualify as a legacy student, as her grandmother had never matriculated. But those were mere details. Miss Ironish could arrange it.

  Tay scampered after Rain but she felt the creature was suffering from the lack of a campaign. Maybe she would take it back to Quadling Country and release it to its companions. Male or female, it could find what company it might. Perhaps she owed the rice otter that much.

  She was circling around the ramparts of Southstairs Prison, slowly heading for home, or what passed for home, when she stopped to let a carriage go by. Two small children of the Vinkus—Arjikis, she thought, in those leggings—were splashing in the gutters. “A lion could beat a dragon any day,” said one, speaking pidgin Ozish. “Could not,” said the other. “Brrr could,” protested the first, “now he’s in charge.”

  That was how Rain learned that Tip had accepted the institutional role of the Ozma only provisionally, on a condition of deferred elevation. Tip had finalized a military settlement for peace by proposing for elevation to Throne Minister, as her regent, the Lord Low Plenipotentiary from Traum, Gillikin. None other than Sir Brrr. The Cowardly Lion as he once had been known. When Ozma reached her maturity, she would reconsider whether to rule.

  Well well, thought Rain, Tip had only a handful of days in which to ascertain the Lion’s strengths. And all he had done during that period following Nor’s death was to grieve. Is that, in the end—that capacity to hurt—the most essential ingredient for a ruler?

  In a ceremony of surpassing simplicity, Sheltergod Thropp, His Sacredness, turned over the accoutrements of power to the Cowardly Lion. Shell handed over two keys, a few folded documents, some receipts for personal items that had gone missing during his term in office, and one or two crowns. He wasn’t sure which was more legitimate, so Brrr had them placed on a wooden hat rack in his dressing room where they wouldn’t pester his mane. He hated to have his waves flattened now that he could afford to have them done again.

  “You’ll stay for the formal investiture?” the Lion asked Shell.

  “I don’t believe so, if you don’t mind.”

  “We are recalling Lady Glinda from Munchkinland.”

  “I never cared much for Glinda. No, I’ll just tootle along if it’s all the same to you.”

  “But where will you go? Private life could afford little by way of satisfaction to one of your, um, background.”

  The former Emperor said, “There was a story my old Nanny used to tell me at darktime. A fisherman and his fishwife lived by the side of the mythical sea that shows up in so many old tales. The fisherman caught a great thumping carp, all covered in golden scales. The Fish spoke—fish can talk in stories, you know—and in return for being thrown back into the sea, it promised to give the man a wish. The man couldn’t think of much to wish for—a ladle for his wife, maybe—but when he got home that night and she had a ladle, she hit him with it for having such low self-esteem as to request only a kitchen implement. Go back, she said, and ask for something better. I want a cottage, not this bucket of seaweed we sleep in. A cottage with real glass windows, and roses round the dovecote.”

  “Indeed,” said the Lion, who had always felt skittish about stories and anyway had a country to begin running.

  “You can imagine how it goes. She kept sending him back over and over. The Fish was obliging. Whatever the fishwife wanted, the fishwife got. And it was never enough. In succession, she required to be a duchess, to have a castle, to be a queen, to have a palace, to be an empress and have an empire. Why the man didn’t throw her into the sea, I don’t know. Stories don’t make much sense sometimes.”

  “He must have loved her.”

  “Eventually, in the teeth of a horrible storm, lightning and thunders from all sides, she demanded to be made like the Unnamed God itself. Quaking for his life, the fisherman crawled to the sea and made the petition. The golden Fish said, ‘Just go back, she’s got what she wished for.’ And when he went back home—”

  “She wore the golden sun on her brow and the silver moon on her fanny,” guessed the Lion.

  “She was sitting in the bucket of seaweed again.”

  “She overreached herself,” said the Lion. “Ah, morals.”

  “Or did she?” said Shell. “Perhaps the most godly thing is to be poor, after all, to give up trappings and influence.”

  “So.” The Lion was trying to steer this interview to a close. “You’re going to take up telling stories to children during Library Hour?”

  Shell clasped his hands. Only now did the Lion notice they were mottled and trembling. Shell had his sister Elphaba’s long nose, and a drip was forming just below the tip. High sentiment, or an aggrieved immune system
? “There are rumors of caves in the Great Kells—as far as Kiamo Ko, even farther. Hermits go there to live, to hide, to die. Sometimes earthquakes come and bury them in their homes. I should be prepared for that, don’t you think?”

  The Lion didn’t reply. He was learning to hold his opinion to himself. For a few years, until Ozma was ready, he was no more or less than Oz itself. Oz didn’t have opinions. It had presence.

  Plans for the installation of Brrr as Throne Minister would have involved Rain, but she couldn’t bear to be close to Ozma in some public setting. Ozma—Tip—Ozma (but which one?) had the greatest power in the country, and could send for Rain at any hour of any day, for a private audience, and Rain would have come. But that message never arrived. So the thought of accepting a formal invitation to sit in a formal chair for hours a few feet away from the young monarch-in-waiting gave Rain a feeling in her chest as if her very heart was somehow suffocating in there.

  But she had no heart, she’d given it away.

  Her accidental family never mentioned the matter. They protested, too robustly to be convincing, that they would much rather stay home with her. They preferred cards. But when the afternoon of the Lion’s elevation arrived, a scrappy sense of jubilation broke through anyway. Little Daffy and Mr. Boss celebrated by whooping it up like a couple of teenagers, drinking too much whiskey-sweet from a hip flask. Dorothy sat in the garden even though the air had turned chilly. When the time came near for the actual coronation, the four of them changed their minds, linked arms—well, Little Daffy and Mr. Boss linked arms and, at a different altitude, so did Rain and Dorothy—and they hurried through the streets to stand at the back of the crowd and watch from afar. Both the hall and the piazza in front were hung with banners of Ozian emerald, but they were interspersed with standards of red and gold. The Lion’s chosen colors, perhaps. They tended to mute the patriotism of the event in a way Rain admired.