“How much do you remember about those times? With your mother and brothers and me and the Witch? And those other aunts of yours? Back in Kiamo Ko?”
“I was hardly a teenager when I was abducted,” she said. “And so of course I remember almost all of it. Or I thought I did. But I’d forgotten this.”
“Do you remember they took me too?—but Cherrystone decided I wasn’t worth the labor of hauling overland? He left me tied up in a sack and hanging from a tree. I had to gnaw through the burlap, which took the better part of a day … then I fell twelve feet and almost killed myself. And by the time I came around, you were gone. You were all gone. I made my way home to the castle and waited for the Witch to come back—she was in Munchkinland, I think. That was just when her sister, Nessarose, orchestrated the Munchkinlander schism, and they seceded from Loyal Oz.” He’d been talking too fast. He slowed down. “What happened to you when they took you?”
“What I do remember I don’t want to talk about.” She’d been with her mother and her older brother, Irji. And those aunts. Gruesome. Maybe Nor was right: maybe Liir didn’t really want to know. After all. Nor had been the only one to survive.
“Do you know that I talked my way into Southstairs Prison to find you?” he asked her. “After the Wizard abdicated and Lady Glinda came to be Throne Minister? My guide was none other than Shell Thropp. Shell Thropp, the Witch’s brother. My uncle, though I didn’t know it yet. A cad of the first order, and now he’s the Emperor.”
“We’ve just learned he’s divine. Being related to him, does that make you a saint?”
Liir bowed his head, though not in piety. “When I finally got into the prison, you had just escaped from Southstairs. A few days earlier. I was that close to finding you. They said you’d hidden yourself between the corpses of some Horned Hogs and been carried out in a pudding of putrescent Animal flesh.” He tried to laugh. “Really?”
“I don’t care to think about it.” The way she spoke told Liir it was all too true.
“It sounds as if you were so close to Cherrystone at Mockbeggar Hall. Didn’t you want to take revenge on him? After all, at the Wizard’s instructions he abducted and murdered your family. Or had them murdered. Much later, once I went AWOL from the service of the Emerald City Messiars, he began to have me hunted too. He attacked the mauntery called Saint Glinda in the Shale Shallows because we were said to be there. He—”
“We? You and Candle?”
“Me and Trism. My bosom companion. We’d torched the stable of flying dragons that were being used to terrify the Scrow and the Yunamata, so Cherrystone was out for our blood. And when Cherrystone caught up with Trism at last he probably beat the bloody hell out of him. Listen, at Mockbeggar Hall, didn’t you want to put a stiletto through Cherrystone’s throat? I would have. Wanted to, at least.”
She went back to the lettuces and began to arrange them in ranks of size, as if that mattered. Her voice was flat and unconcerned when she spoke again. “I’ve spent all my adult life either fighting the excesses of the Emerald City hegemony or trying not to fret myself into paralysis. One can only do what one can do, Liir. Today I can harvest a little lettuce. Tonight you and your wife and your child and my unlikely husband and your Goose and my colleagues, Mr. Boss and Little Daffy, will have some lettuce to eat. One day perhaps I will not find lettuce in my hands, but a knife. Maybe General Cherrystone will have come to eat lettuce but will dine on the blade that cuts the lettuce. If I only think about that, I can think about nothing else, and then I might as well lie down under these stones and join the others who can’t think anymore, either.”
In a steely but warm voice, she added, “I might ask the same of you, Liir. Cherrystone’s zeal to find you, because you might lead him to the Grimmerie, has broken you apart from your own daughter no less fiercely than I was broken apart from my mother—and from my father. From our father. You might’ve spent these years of your strong youth hunting him down.”
“I might’ve done,” he agreed. “But if I’d been unsuccessful, Rain would’ve had no father to come home to, sooner or later. A fate we fatherless understand, you and I.”
“We do,” she said. “We understand lettuces, and we understand that. We don’t understand Cherrystone. But we don’t need to. Maybe.”
They walked back to the hostel slowly, without talking, that final maybe like a heavy boulder slung between them, on a yoke laid across both their backs.
About the darkness recently apparent in his wife’s eyes, the Lion was puzzled. He knew Ilianora hadn’t been prepared to find her brother. She hadn’t been looking for Liir. Maybe having found him, then, had slapped awake an old buried ache for others who’d been slaughtered.
This was a sore that Brrr couldn’t lick clean no matter how he tried. Maybe if Rain had taken to Nor … maybe his wife would have softened a little more … but no. Rain never took to anyone.
Except, a little bit, to him. Which was damn awkward under the circumstances. With her parents and her aunt moping around for scraps of attention. The girl wasn’t capable though. Or she just wasn’t interested in them.
What were they all waiting for in this Chancel of the Ladyfish, as Highsummer turned to Harvest’our, and Harvest’our gave way to Masque? Were they all glued to Rain, as if she might give them a sign? Were the companions of the Clock to linger indefinitely? The question became moot when the snow blew in, and they were more or less ice-bound. They were no longer quite guests, these months along. But neither were they at home.
The Lion listened as Liir and Candle talked to each other in the coded abbreviations that couples develop. He couldn’t make much of Candle—a cipher, that one. But he remembered Liir from ages ago, that time when Brrr had arrived, with Dorothy and the shambolic others, at the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. The flying monkeys! They’d given him the creeps. The loopy old Nanny who had nonetheless seemed the sanest of the lot. The mysterious way Dorothy had vanquished the Witch while the Lion and Liir were trapped in a larder. Then the beginning of their long journey back to the Emerald City.
All the time Liir had been the least of them, a stringy, cave-chested marionette of a kid. The thinnest fleck of hair on the upper lip, the cracking voice, the sidelong glances at Dorothy, as if he couldn’t believe his luck but still didn’t know if it was good luck or bad.
The Lion hadn’t expected to meet up with the lad ever again. Now it was—what?—fifteen or twenty years later. The boy-turned-man still projected something imprecise. But his back was strong and his love for Candle was tender, and he regarded Rain as a jewel so precious he couldn’t touch her. That was Rain’s fault, to set herself like that, but it was her father’s fault too, to accept her terms. I never would, thought Brrr, with the smugness of the perfect parent, or dog handler, or litigator.
One day during a thaw, when Candle mentioned a hankering for a hare to roast, Liir braved the slippery paths to check his traps. The Lion decided to go along. They all but slid into the carcass of the decrepit Clock, its open stage gaping. They looked over the wrecked set. Snow upon fallen buildings.
“It’s acting out the death of a civilization,” said the Lion.
Liir peered with interest. “It looks like an earthquake. Growing up in the Great Kells, I saw my share. Those slides of scree when the mountains shake their shoulders. The circular felt tents of the Arjiki nomads collapse, and the herders just put them up again.”
“Mr. Boss imagines the magician of the Grimmerie went to be a hermit in some cave in the Great Kells and an earthquake slammed boulders over the entrance. He’s either dead or trapped for good. Though I think if he’s that magnificent a wizard he could magick open a mountain.”
“Yes, Elphaba mentioned hearing about a magician in the outback. Before her time. Like everyone else, he’s no doubt waiting for his cue to return in Oz’s bleakest hour, et cetera.”
They strolled around the corner of the Clock, looking for a way into its secrets, and for a way into ea
ch other’s. He never calls her his mother, thought the Lion. Only Elphaba.
He never comments on Elphaba, thought Liir. What did the Lion really think of her? Lunatic recluse or dangerous insurrectionist? Or mad scientist lady making flying monkeys with magic stitchery?
But who cares what Brrr thought, when Elphaba was dead and gone, dead and gone. “What time does it tell?” asked Liir.
“It’s not a real Clock. The time on it is fixed. It’s always a minute short of midnight.” They poked through the broken drawers and cracked shutters. Spools of orange thread, scissors, pots of evil glop whose drips obscured their handwritten labels. “Did the dwarf used to sit up all night preparing for the next day’s revelations?” asked Liir.
“No. The magic of it was beyond the dwarf. He was only the custodian.”
“Not the custodian of much, now. It would make useful firewood this winter.”
“I think he’d kill you before he’d let you tear it apart.”
“I call that an unhealthy affection for the theater.” Liir swallowed. “Speaking of affections, healthy or otherwise, do you think there’s any chance you’re going to release my daughter into our care?”
The Lion gave him a sharp look. “We brought her here, didn’t we?”
“Oh, yes. And all due gratitude. Medals for courage, bravocatories on the bugle. All that. But it’s been several months now, and Candle frets that Rain continues to sleep in your room. You’ve planted yourself like a big furry hedge between a daughter and her parents.”
“I don’t tell her where to sleep. Neither do I tell her what to say or think or feel.”
“Candle will go mad if Rain doesn’t open up to us some.”
“You can’t be surprised. There was always going to be some collateral damage. Don’t be disingenuous. I mean, you did let her go, after all. What kind of parents would do that?”
Liir’s eyes were agate hard and dry. “I believe you’ve never been a father. So you don’t understand. Any parent whose child was in danger would do the same.”
“I know what justification means. Believe me. Had a fair amount of time nursing wounds of my own and trying out different explanations for all my behavior. In the end, you know what? I’m the only one responsible for what I chose to do.”
Liir sat on a boulder and kicked at some snow.
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me,” said the Lion. “You had your reasons. Just don’t go accusing me of, I don’t know, whatever you might call it.”
“Alienation of affections.”
Brrr observed how readily the phrase came to his old friend’s lips. The Lion growled low, warningly.
Liir relented. Head sunk in his hands, he began to tell the Lion the story of Rain’s birth nearly a decade ago. He and a friend had been trapped in a siege at a mauntery in the Shale Shallows—
“I know. Your bucko companion. Trism bon Cavalish,” supplied Brrr. Liir’s head whipped up. “I was doing some state work for the EC before I got mixed up with the crew of the Clock,” admitted the Lion. “An old maunt named Yackle told me about your handsome sweetheart.”
“That part of the story is over.” Liir went on to tell how he’d escaped the mauntery by broom. Flying by night above Cherrystone’s forces. Leaving Trism to make his way by land, if he could, to the secret haunt where Candle, pregnant with Rain, was waiting for Liir. By the time Liir arrived six weeks later, after the Conference of the Birds, Candle admitted to him that Trism had indeed shown up. Briefly. But she wouldn’t say what had happened. Something had happened. Affection, lust, attack, revulsion, envy—she never clarified it, and Liir had stopped asking. Husbands manage their silences like stock portfolios. He’d left again, to escort the corpse of a dead princess toward an elephants’ graveyard. By the time he’d returned, Candle had given birth to Rain just as Cherrystone’s men had sniffed out Apple Press Farm. They were closing in, but Candle had slipped the noose, hoping to draw them off the scent of her child and of Liir. She had left the infant for Liir to discover. It had worked.
“How had the forces found the place you’d been hidden?” asked the Lion.
“They must have used Trism, one way or the other. Maybe they tracked him there. Or after he left, they caught him and beat the information out of him. Either way, he betrayed us, and betrayed our daughter. Intentionally or through stupidity. Neither excuse is forgivable.”
“What happened then?”
The Messiars from the EC had intercepted Candle. Turned out she’d been cradling and crooning to a bundle of washing, not a child. Thinking her simple, they’d let her go. Some advantages to being a filthy Quadling! Candle had taken herself to the mauntery to rest up from the unhealed bleeding that had followed childbirth. Not knowing any of this yet, Liir had headed west, into the wilderness, with the child in his arms. He’d followed the Vinkus tribe from which he’d recently parted.
“I know the Scrow,” pointed out the Lion. “With their elephant chief, Princess Nastoya. I was with you the day you met them, on our way back from killing the Witch at Kiamo Ko.”
“Even you’ve bought into the propaganda? You were there.” Liir spat. “You didn’t kill any witch! You and I were locked in the scullery.”
“Figure of speech. We were talking about the Scrow.”
“Hidden how?” asked the Lion.
“You haven’t understood? You’ve been traipsing around with my daughter for who knows how long, and you’re that clueless?”
“I know she walks a bit askew from the rest of us,” said Brrr, as gently as he could. He knew what he knew, by now, but wanted to hear it spoken.
“She was born green,” said Liir. “That’s like being born with a bull’seye painted on your forehead. Ottokos did his best, but he couldn’t manage the spell to conceal her stamp of bloodline. Iskinaary, who kept a watch on the comings and goings around the Scrow camp, spotted a caravansary approaching with some EC personnel. So I lit out with the child in the opposite direction—by now Rain was about a year old, maybe—and I circled overland back toward Apple Press Farm. Back toward Munchkinland. I didn’t really know where to go, where we could be safe—”
“Welcome to Oz, where nowhere is safe,” said the Lion.
“I stopped at the mauntery in the Shale Shallows and was reunited with Candle. We were beside ourselves with fear for our green Rain. We were young. I mean, I was twenty-four, roughly, but a young twenty-four. A stupid twenty-four. We set out without a destination, just to keep moving. A chance encounter with—with a snake charmer on the road—it provided us our only hope, and we arranged to have Rain disguised as a pale human of uncertain lineage. Then, as we approached Munchkinland’s border, I thought of Lady Glinda, who had helped me several times before. We presented ourselves at Mockbeggar Hall, and Lady Glinda deigned to see me. She took a good look at Rain, and persuaded us that the safest place to hide the girl would be in her own household. Among the staff. So hidden that Rain herself wouldn’t know about her origins, and couldn’t give herself away.”
So that was how it had happened. Lady Glinda, the protector of Elphaba’s granddaughter. Well, it sort of figured.
“That was the best thing to do for a young child, I suppose.” The Lion’s tone was supercilious; he could hear it himself, and couldn’t help it.
“Hey. She’s still alive,” said Liir. “It’s almost ten years later, and she’s still alive. Candle was apprehended and let go, and I’ve been an outlaw since I was a teen, but Rain—Rain was safe.”
The Lion said, “They were never looking for her. They wanted the Grimmerie. They still want it. The highest secrets of magic that Oz has ever
held are contained in that wretched book. They couldn’t care a twig about a stupid angry little girl. And you made her that way, by giving her up. You squandered her childhood.”
“What gives you the right of superiority? So you walked her home from school. Kudos. We’re grateful, or haven’t we mentioned it? But note that she is alive to be walked, Sir Brrr.”
Liir had a capacity for cold rage, Brrr observed, just like Elphaba’s own. But Brrr hadn’t come here to be woodshedded. “How alive, exactly? She’s more like an otter in human shape than she is like a girl. Look, I mean, really. Lady Glinda? She couldn’t raise a child. She couldn’t raise an asparagus fern.”
“Well, you can yield Rain back to us and give us a second chance. Stop circling about her with your big furry mane, keeping her chained to your heel.”
“She’s been abandoned one time too many,” snapped Brrr. “Listen, I don’t mutter about you behind your back. And I don’t lock any doors. She can walk your way any time she wants. She’s a child and she’ll come to trust who she can, in her own good time. I don’t have anything to do with that. But I’m not leaving her alone with you here till she’s ready.”
They were all but shouting at each other. They stood en garde, panting, though their concern for the child’s welfare was mutual. “You’ve been so thoughtful,” said Liir, seething. “Hauling Rain off with the Grimmerie. When the Emperor of Oz has been seeking it on and off all these years. That’s a really secure situation for a child?”
“Don’t think the irony hasn’t escaped me. With the Emperor calling in all magical totems. Isolating us for easier location. You think I’ve enjoyed becoming a sitting duck just to tend to your daughter?”
Liir was nonplussed. The book was a huge part of the problem. “How much longer can the Grimmerie be kept out of the Emperor’s hands, especially now that its charmed vault has come to its untimely end?”