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Out of Oz, Page 64

Gregory Maguire

  The music was atrocious, though, and way too loud.

  Just before Rain slipped out of the proceedings a guard collared her and said, “There you are. You’re requested in a reception room in Mennipin Square this evening.”

  Her heart skipped up some stairs. “Surely you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”

  “Not bloody likely.” He grinned at her. “You don’t exactly pass, you know.”

  She supposed she didn’t. “I don’t want to meet Ozma in some chaperoned chamber—” she began.

  He interrupted. “Begging your pardon. I’m not representing Ozma.”

  She waited until she could govern her quavering voice. “I see. Then am I under arrest?”

  “Only socially. Do you want an escort?”

  “Are you offering to be my boyfriend?”

  He blushed. “No, miss, and no offense intended. I merely meant to suggest if you didn’t care to travel alone at night—there’s some young ladies who wouldn’t dare, you see—I was offering my services, I mean the services of my regiment. Miss.”

  “Well, I’m not one who is troubled by being out at night,” said Rain, and took down the address. She had accepted no invitation to dance at any of the installation balls that were mounted all over the city. With whom would she dance? Her grandmother’s old broom?

  She walked to the assignation more or less impervious to the explosions of colored lights that scratched themselves against the black sky over standing sections of the Palace of the People. She thought she could hear Dorothy leading a sing-along at the Lady’s Mystique, but that couldn’t be right. Now that the official business was over, Dorothy would be at the Lion’s side. Must be one of those entertainers who impersonated her. Rain moved herself along.

  Crossing a bridge over one of the nicer city canals, Rain paused for a moment to look at the pyrotechnics reflected in the water. The fireworks were like great colored spiders. For an instant she saw the Emerald City under attack again, this time by monstrous insects. But Mombey was in custody now, and her bloodhound spiders no longer hunting for Rain or the Grimmerie. The past was the past. Rain had to get out of here. She was going mad.

  At first she didn’t recognize the man who answered the door. Neither did he twig in to who Rain was until they had said their good evenings to each other. Their voices cued them both. Then she fell into his arms in a way she had never fallen into her father’s. Puggles said, “To think I lived to see this day! You are a sight for sore eyes.”

  “No, I make eyes sore. Tell the truth!”

  But they laughed, and she had not laughed—well, she hadn’t laughed much in her life at all. Had she.

  “So this is Lady Glinda’s house? Why didn’t they just tell me?”

  “She doesn’t want her circumstances to be widely known,” said Puggles. “It’s a temporary posting, you see. She can’t be bothered to become engaged in the skeltery-heltery of social callers. Not under these conditions.”

  “May I ask what conditions you’re being cagy about?”

  “I’ll leave it to her to tell you herself. She’s awaiting you in the front parlor. Can you see yourself up? The double doors on the right. I can’t do the stairs as well as I ought.”

  She was halfway up but turned and called lightly to him, “Puggles? What happened to Murthy?”

  He shook his head and made some obscure pious gesture that country folk persisted in making, against all odds.

  Lady Glinda sat in warm lamplight with a throw rug upon her knees.

  “I should have thought you’d be kicking up your heels at the prime event,” said Rain, coming in as if she’d just gone to pick up a pack of perguenays at the local newsagent.

  “Oh, I’ve long since gotten over the taste for fuss, though I was obscenely pleased to be extended an invitation.”

  “A former Throne Minister of Oz, no less, taking a quiet night at home, and on such a night. You surprise me.”

  “Come here, my dear, and stop remonstrating. Let me look at you.”

  Lady Glinda’s voice was still warm, but a little frail, and a tremor pestered the stem of her neck so her chin dove and rose in the tiniest of hummingbird flutters. She hadn’t lost her taste for pearls, and the at-home tiara was vintage Glinda, though it looked as if it had gotten sat upon more than once. So too the spectacles that fell on a loop from Lady Glinda’s neck. She’d been reading. Who knew.

  Glinda put the pince-nez to her face. “So it’s true. Oh, my darling, it’s true.”

  “That I’ve gone native?”

  Glinda nodded and patted the sofa next to her. “I had to accept it on faith, you know—that you were Liir’s daughter. By the time I met you the concealing spell had already been cast. You could have been any other urchin child brought for protection to a big house and left there by a loving and canny parent who didn’t know how to care for a child.”

  Rain said, “They dropped me off like laundry, didn’t they? To be washed and dried and cared for? By a stranger.”

  “Now don’t be like that, child. They were under extraordinary pressures. We all were, back then. Some of us still are.”

  “Tell me about it.”

  “They did the best they could. Besides, I was hardly a stranger. I had known your grandmother. We were like this.” She twinned her second and third fingers together as if they might strangle each other.

  “All that I might have had of them,” said Rain. “Access to my mother’s instincts for the present, for knowing the truth of what was happening now, here. Access to my father’s occasional capacity to read the past, to tell it. And what did I get in exchange?”

  “You lived,” said Glinda simply. “You survived. I won’t say in style, for I can see that doesn’t mean a whole lot to you.”

  “I lived alone,” said Rain. “Until General Cherrystone came to Mockbeggar Hall and put you under house arrest, I had the run of the kitchen yard and the run of the backstairs workrooms and the ledge at the edge of the lake from which to jump into the water. There were people everywhere but no one was mine, and I was no one’s. I can’t repair that.”

  “The history of a nation was happening around you. Children don’t often notice this, but it happens, most years, to be true. For you no less than some, but no more, either. Every child makes its peace with abandonment. That’s called growing up, Rain.”

  “My first memories are of mice, and fish, and a frog in the mud,” said Rain.

  “Is that anyone’s fault?” replied Glinda. “And is that so terrible, after all?”

  “No one has to be so alone.” She gritted her teeth. “I pushed my hand in the pocket of ice and pulled up a little golden fish, and saw how alone it was. It was the first family I had, you know.”

  Glinda sighed. “Your hand was bare. The fish flopped upon it, I suppose? Tickled some, maybe?”

  “Yes. Just about my earliest memory, I think.”

  “Who do you think was holding your mittens while you pawed about to rescue the fish?”

  Rain looked at her lap.

  “Who do you think put the fish back in the water so it could swim to its own kind when the sun went down?”

  The spectacles slid off Glinda’s lap into a pile of knitting on the floor.

  “Who do you think walked you back across the weir and handed you over for a bath to warm you up?”

  Rain said, “And you didn’t even know if I was really Elphaba’s granddaughter.”

  “And I didn’t know if you were Elphaba’s granddaughter.”

  They had tea brought in by a parlor maid. Glinda showed Rain her collection of bubbles on ormolu stands. “Don’t talk to me about the present,” said Glinda. “I know something about what is going on. Tell me what you’ve done. Where you’ve been since you left Mockbeggar all those years ago.”

  Rain obliged with brevity. Glinda paid only scant attention, taking up her knitting and counting stitches under her breath. When Rain began to talk about the Chancel of the Ladyfish above the Sleeve of Ghastille,
though, Glinda began to listen more closely. “Describe that place to me,” she said. “I love architecture, you know. It’s one of my passions. Always was.”

  Rain did the best she could—the low stumped pillars, the altarpiece built lengthwise into the wall, the view from the height. The figure of the fishy goddess or whatever it was. “I never could do mythology,” admitted Glinda. “The Great Morphologies of vin Tessarine totally defeated me back at Shiz. I cheated on the final, but don’t tell anyone or they’ll revoke my grade, which wasn’t very high even with the cheating.”

  “I don’t do mythology either,” said Rain.

  “It’s the building I’m interested in,” said Lady Glinda. “The way you describe it sited on that slope. I’ve always paid attention to the temples of Lurline—so many small and insignificant Lurline sightings were claimed in the Pertha Hills of my childhood. The dales are positively crusty with chapels. You can’t ride the hounds without breaking your mount’s leg at least once a season on some sacred stone omphalos overgrown with ivy. But what you describe doesn’t sound Lurlinist to me, or if it is, it represents a watery variation of the myth of our sky-goddess and avatrice.”

  “The great stone woman was maternal and stern and supplied with a fishtail. Beyond that I can’t say; I don’t remember the details. I had just met up with my parents for the first time in memory and frankly I was distracted by the inconvenience of them.”

  “Well, if I had to venture an opinion at a meeting of the Crowned Heads’ Book Discussion Group and Jug Band, I’d guess your parents stumbled upon the remnants of a temple built for quite a different purpose than the consolidation of religious feeling. It sounds more like a business center to me. Commerce always builds fancier temples than faith does.”

  “A fishmongery in the highlands?” Rain laughed. “You ought to have studied for that test a little harder.”

  “Well, if you go up to Shiz, you study for me, now, will you? Learn from my mistakes.” Glinda laughed too. “Rain, what will you do?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Do good, though, will you?” She blinked brightly at the green girl. “If not for your parents or your grandmother, then for me?”

  “I don’t know what good I could do.”

  “None of us does. That doesn’t let us off the hook.”

  “What will you do?” asked Rain challengingly.

  Glinda sighed. “Haven’t you heard?”

  Rain shook her head.

  “I am being sent to Southstairs. I go tomorrow.”

  “What for? That’s impossible!”

  “It’s not impossible and now don’t you go upsetting yourself or you’ll upset me. It’s quite right and proper that I pay for my mistakes. When I was at Mockbeggar Hall I unleashed the power of the Grimmerie against those dragons, and the dragons were indirectly under the supervision of Shell Thropp. I attacked the armed forces of the Throne Minister of Oz, Rain. That’s just about treason. I can be pardoned, but not quickly. Haste would not be seemly. The Lion, if he’s to rule wisely and deserve the trust of the citizens of Oz, must be seen to have no favorites. Including me. Justice demands no less. I am a former Throne Minister but I’m not above making mistakes. I leave in the morning.” She laughed. “I had been hoping to finish this little bed-jacket before I went, but I think I’m going to have to have the carriage stop at Brickle Lane on the way to Southstairs so I can pick up something ready-made. I don’t want to arrive looking less than my best.”

  “But it’s outrageous. Southstairs! If you go, I should go too.”

  “You were a child, dear. Not responsible. If you persist in objecting, you’re a child still.” She put out her hand so Rain could help her stand. “I mustn’t keep you, dear. And I have much to attend to myself. I just so wanted to know if it was true, and now I know. Maybe Elphaba will come back one day, or maybe she won’t, but in the meantime I have known you. That will see me through, I do believe.”

  Elphaba is not coming back, thought Rain, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it. Not to an old fool like Glinda.

  “Oh, Rain,” said Glinda, when the girl was almost out the door. “One more thing. About Tip. You may think that a story should have a happy ending—”

  “Whoever told me stories?” asked Rain. “I’m not looking for happiness. But I’m not looking for an ending either.” She wouldn’t talk about Tip to Glinda. She just waggled her green fingers and slipped away.

  It wasn’t hard for Rain to get the attention of the Cowardly Lion, though it was difficult to get a private moment. He was surrounded by staff.

  “I want architects from the planning council all over that dome, do you hear me. Extra buttressing against tremors. Talk to some professor of aesthetics about the designs if you must, but I want to approve them. I don’t care which college, pull a straw from a broom and make a wish. Tell the Glikkun contingent they can go to hell. No, don’t tell them that; give them some chits for supper and have them come back after dark. Pursley, have you the list? I want a delegate sent to the town of Tenniken to see if you can find any contemporaries who knew a soldier named Jemmsy. Died in the Great Gillikin Forest thirty odd years ago, a member of the Wizard’s army. Don’t ask me why, just do it. I’m issuing a new line of medals for courage, and his relatives deserve a whole bunch of them. They can flog them in the streets for all I care.”

  Rain almost grinned. The rogue Lion as a functionary of the government.

  “Was Rain here? Where is she? There you are, my dear. Have you come to advise me about the Glikkuns? They’ve refused to be party to the peace we brokered with Munchkinlanders and a nasty little situation is brewing up in the Scalps. Sakkali Oafish, the troll chieftain, wants nothing to do with me. The harridan. We go back a ways. I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried to get the Nome King involved. Common cause among the trollfolk. It appears history is going to keep happening, despite our hopes for retirement. And what about the Munchkinlander problem? They’re not cooperating with my proposal of extension of health benefits to the Animals who served in their army. Can we be shocked, do you think?”

  “You look in clover, Brrr. If not particularly rested.”

  “It’s the weskit, isn’t it? A Rampini original. How do you like the curls?”

  She shook her head.

  “I was afraid so, but I’ve gotten used to them. It keeps the mane out of my eyes without my having to resort to a hairband. Now, about the color? I was silvering prematurely, but is this look a bit rancid?”

  “You’re expecting Muhlama H’aekeem to come find you here, now you’re single again and, oh, by the way, the king of the forest. Ha!”

  “Ha,” he agreed, brought down a bit. “She hated authority. Did everything in her power to avoid it. She didn’t come to the installation nor send a card. When did the noble old concept of tribute go out of style? Well, maybe when my term limit has expired, she’ll show up again.” He began to comb out his whiskers with his claws, worrying in advance.

  “Brrr. Pay attention. You can’t seriously be intending to put Lady Glinda in Southstairs prison?”

  The assistants bustled, but more quietly, so they could eavesdrop. He roared them out of the room, but then told Rain she had understood the matter perfectly correctly. He hoped it would not be for long. Glinda would be given every courtesy possible under the circumstances, but liberty was costly, and she would have to pay. “It’s for the good of the nation, Rain,” he said. “I shall haul her up again just the first moment that my advisors recommend it safe to the polity to do so.”

  Mister Mikko, the Ape, came to the door with a few statements needing signatures, but Brrr sent him packing. “So glad to be able to put him on payroll. I owe him. Now what are we going to do about Dorothy?” he asked Rain.

  “Don’t look at me,” said Rain “You’re the Ozma Regent now.”

  “She hangs around the Emerald City any longer, she’ll become a demagogue,” said the Lion. “Either that, or a parody of herself. Like the rest of us.”
  “What does she want?”

  “Well, I believe she wants to go home. Again. Doesn’t she?”

  “Last I heard. She’s not insane, you know. I’d want to leave too.”

  “But I haven’t got any ideas,” said Brrr. “I’m the leader now; I don’t have time to think.”

  “We could always try the Grimmerie,” said Rain.

  “Mister Mikko, bring the book from the treasury,” roared Brrr. “I do so love having my whims indulged in,” he admitted to Rain. “How about some chocolates?”

  “You’ll suffer again, Brrr. No elevation is eternal.”

  “Don’t I know it. I’m just trying to have fun while it lasts.”

  So, thought Rain, an Animal as Throne Minister of Oz. After all this time. Whatever would Elphaba think of that?

  Dorothy’s departure from Oz was arranged so hastily that Little Daffy and Mr. Boss were absent—out of town, engaged in their harvesting expedition in the Sleeve of Ghastille. They didn’t get to say farewell, or anything saltier.

  Before dawn, Brrr escaped his royal guards and commandeered a hansom cab so he could make his good-byes to Dorothy in person. He met Rain and Mister Mikko in the insalubrious courtyard of a private atelier in the Lower Quarter, a back-neighborhood place Mister Mikko had located where they might attract less attention. Mister Mikko commandeered the book. An elderly chatelaine, Miss Pfanee, opened the gate to the few who had gathered. She curtseyed low when she saw the Cowardly Lion among the delegation. His presence had not been advertised. But when she caught sight of Rain gleaming green in the predawn gaslight, she gasped and fled and didn’t come back.

  Amid the wheelbarrows and compost and some rangy geraniums put out to die but refusing, so far, Rain settled on an old blanket and touched the Grimmerie for the first time since the pine barrens above Mockbeggar Hall.

  Mister Mikko stood on one side, almost asleep from the strain of his new responsibilities. Dorothy knelt at the other, Toto gnawing the edge of one of her heels. Rain pulled back the cover. The book flew open to a blank page—at least it began blank.