Out of Oz, Page 28Gregory Maguire
Brrr shrugged. At least Liir’s tone was more moderate. The Lion paced around the fourth corner of the Clock. Liir followed. They looked up at the clock face just as a small bird, a Wren, came pock-pocking down out of the sky. She landed without the mildest sense of alarm upon the dragon’s snout. The man and the Lion looked up at it, and their jaws dropped, for several reasons.
The Lion was agog because the clock face, which had read one minute to midnight since the first moment he’d seen the Clock two years earlier, now read midnight.
“We meet again,” said the Wren to the Lion; it was the humble bird who had warned them to flee the Emperor’s soldiers on the Yellow Brick Road.
As for Liir, he didn’t dare believe he recognized the bird. Wrens, after all, look rather alike, at least to human eyes. But as the Wren spoke, Liir knew her to be Dosey, whom he’d last seen a decade ago after the Conference of the Birds had swum the skies over the Emerald City crying Elphaba lives! Elphaba lives!
Dosey said, “Mercy fritters, but I’ve been winging your way for a week! Begging pardon, gents, but your Goose just told me you were having a bit of a chinwag down this way. I thought you’d want to hear what I have to say. The message comes direct from General Kynot. I translate from High Eagle. ‘Apparently a few months ago, the impossible happened. She’s back.’ ”
“She’s back?” said Liir.
“Elphaba?” said the Lion, his blood hurrying at once, so he could get himself out of the way.
“If you please, sir, not Elphaba. Dorothy,” replied the Wren. “Dorothy Gale.”
At the Chancel of the Ladyfish, the dwarf snarled at Liir and the Lion. “I don’t believe in Dorothy. Wasn’t that all a ruse? Some tricky business to divert the crowd while the Wizard was being turfed out of the Palace?”
“She was real enough to me,” said Liir.
“And to me,” said the Lion. “Haven’t I got the emotional scars to prove it?”
“Assuming a Dorothy,” ventured Nor, “I doubt she’s back. Her supposed return sounds like just another variation on the theme of the legendary Ozma. ‘Beautiful heroine disappears, but she’ll return in our darkest hour, amen.’ Hah. That sort of bluff only postpones and displaces our need to reform. Listen: nobody ever comes back to save us. We’re on our own.”
“Dorothy wasn’t as beautiful as all that,” said the Lion, “so I doubt she’d be convincing as everyone’s favorite martyr mounting a comeback tour. I bet it isn’t her. Probably some out-of-work male escort doing a send-up. In our modern times nobody can tell the difference anymore.”
“Let’s assume it is Dorothy,” said Liir. “For the sake of conversation. Once upon a time I almost had a crush on her, after all. How did she get back? What’s she doing here? Where is she?”
“What’s said, sir, is that she arrived about a half a year ago,” said Dosey. “Up in the Glikkus. The Scalps jostled up and down. Tremors were felt all over Oz. Some called it an earthquake, others the Great Heave-Ho. A Glikkun village known as High Mercy were flattened, just about to pebbles, they say. And when they’s cleared away the rubble they finds this female character in a squarish conveyance of some sort. Its dented walls are only open iron curlicues, but the frillwork has kept the creature from being crushed until herself could be dug out.”
Rain looked up. “We had our earthquake too. The Clock did. Remember? All them buildings fallen, after the Clock rolled down the hill into the poppy pasture?”
They had remembered. Mr. Boss was looking uneasy.
“Did our Clock cause Dorothy’s earthquake?” asked Rain.
“Don’t speak about what you don’t know,” snapped Mr. Boss.
“We all did that, we’d be mute forever,” Liir said softly, in her defense, and a silence followed until Candle brokered a return to the subject.
“So what happened?” she asked. “Was anyone else hurt?”
“Almost total good luck for them Glikkuns,” warbled the Wren. “The entire village were out larking in some high meadow. It were a holiday, seems, and nobody bothering in the local emerald mine. Which was great good fortune, don’t you know, as those mines collapsed whole and entire. But a cow tied up to a tree came to a sorry end.”
“So what did they do with this Dorothy?” asked Nor. “Where is she now?”
“Since she came to ’em caged in a sort of cell, all imprisoned already, they blamed her for the wreck of their homes. Then the pox and parcel of ’em up and moved into the village next door, which had seen no damage to speak of. They brought her with them. None could say whether she was concussed or whether she’d arrived two worms short of a breakfast, if you catch my drift.” Dosey looked around brightly for an opinion about Dorothy’s capacities. No one spoke.
“Anyroad,” she continued, “they tended to her for months until she recovered somewhat of her memory. Apparently she’d been hauling about some little dog, but it had gone missing. Either got itself crushed in the rubble or took its chance to make a getaway through the bars while Dorothy was trapped inside. By the time herself was sound enough to remember her name, the snows had come. The pass down into Munchkinland is closed until spring—gotta get through snow season and most of mud season before anyone can go cross-country. But ’em Glikkuns has alerted Colwen Grounds, and they mean to send her down there. For legal processing and what-have-you.”
“So Dorothy is back in Oz.” Liir could hardly believe it.
“Word has it that when she finally realized she was in Oz, she said, ‘I suppose that cow was a sacred cow, beloved of the nation and so on,’ and then wasn’t she all over crying like she cain’t warm to the pleasures of travel.”
“If the Glikkuns had aligned with the Gillikinese instead of Munchkinlanders, she’d be on her way to the Emerald City for a high royal celebration,” said the Lion. “A return to old times! Music, parades, the whole foldiddly fuss.”
“Instead, she’ll be sent from High Mercy to Colwen Grounds for repatriation into Munchkinland, is my guess,” surmised Mr. Boss.
“Begging your pardon, but there en’t much of High Mercy left,” said Dosey. “She’s jailed in the town next door. Little Mercy.”
Little Daffy sniffed. “Who cares about that Dorothy anymore? Nothing more than a bother, always dropping in when she’s not invited.”
“I doesn’t pretend to know how any humans think, nor government officials neither,” replied the Wren. “But I’m told they’re going to hold her accountable this time.”
“For arriving on a landslide and squishing a cow?” Little Daffy laughed.
“Hey, cows have feelings too, I’m told,” interrupted the Lion.
“No, no,” said Dosey. “It weren’t no special cow with virtues or such. That Dorothy is going to stand trial for the death of Nessarose Thropp and her sister, Elphaba. That’s why I come all this way to find you. Liir and Lion especially. General Kynot thought you should know.”
“We live in the hamlet of No Mercy,” snapped the dwarf. “What do we care about what happens to her?”
“I don’t get it,” said Liir. “Didn’t the Munchkinlanders consider Nessarose something of a dictator? Sure, she was the one to call for secession! So she’s the mother of Munchkinland. But then they went sour on her because of her tyrannical piety. They’re the ones who called her the Wicked Witch of the East, after all. Now suddenly they’re missing her enough to bring her unlucky assailant to trial?”
“I en’t prepared to comment on the matter,” said Dosey. “I’m just doing the job given me by the General. You can choose to come and defend this Dorothy or not. There. I’ve delivered my message as was asked of me. I’ll be happy to accept nest for the night, and I’ll be off in the morning.”
“You’ve wasted your time, Dosey Dimwit,” insisted the dwarf. “We have no interest in this matter.”
“She’s convicted of the murder of Nessarose, she’ll be hanged.”
“Good. One less illegal immigrant to feed.”
ree with Liir. This doesn’t add up,” said the Lion. “Why would they bother?”
“You can’t be so thick.” Nor’s voice was cross. “It’s a public relations stunt. Don’t you see? They’re doing the scapegoating thing again. Probably some Munchkinlanders are wavering about the high cost in blood and treasury of defending their country. Nothing recommits the public to the cause than a good public mocking of the enemy.”
Nor seems to have a better sense of political gesture than the rest of us, thought Liir.
She went on. “Munchkinlanders stoop this low, they’re courting danger. We’ve been talking all winter about the need to keep out of the gunsights of the Emperor of Oz. But you know, certain individuals among us are in as much danger from Munchkinland.” Her eyes passed toward Rain meaningfully, flitted away. “If Elphaba were still alive,” Nor pressed on, “her presence would negate the Emperor’s claim to Munchkinland. Though he’s her brother, she’d take precedence, by age and by dint of her gender.”
“And so does her issue,” said the Lion wearily. “Even if you’re male, Liir. And your issue even more than you—when she reaches her majority.”
Now they all looked at Rain. She squirmed under their attention. She had an even stronger right to be ruler of Munchkinland than her great-uncle Shell, Emperor of Oz, did. The Emperor must know this too, if rumor of Rain’s birth had been beaten out of Trism bon Cavalish. What chance the Munchkinlanders were also factoring in some advantage in locating Rain? The Munchkinlanders had just as much interest in finding her too—maybe more. Her presence there would pull the rug out from under Shell’s claims.
The girl might be in no less danger now than she’d been in during the past decade.
“She’s not safe unless she flies,” said Dosey, voicing what they were all thinking. “And you must fly with her, of course. You’re her flock.”
“Ah, we’ve got wing-cramp,” said the dwarf. “We’re ready for a cunning little bedsit with a coal fire. You bring unwelcome gossip, little birdy-on-the-breeze. Always crying panic. Go find yourself a perch somewhere else.”
Candle rarely spoke before all of them, and her voice was deferential. Her fingers knotted on the tabletop before her. “Dosey is as welcome to stay here as you are, Mr. Boss.”
Liir interceded. “Dosey, let’s go outside, for a moment, while Candle prepares you a perch.”
Iskinaary apparently took Liir’s attention to Dosey otherwise. He hissed in that aggressive way Geese have, lunging at the Wren as if to wrench her legs off. The Goose was rewarded by a wet little plop of bird spatter on his bill while Dosey escaped, squawking, “Heavens ahead a’us! En’t we all confederates and veterans of Kynot’s Conference?”
Out in the air again, Liir tried to wipe the smile off his face. “Envy runs in every direction that air and light do,” he told Dosey. “Never thought I’d see that old Goose go after another Bird.”
“I can see ’e’s your familiar, as ever was,” replied the Wren. “Not one to stick my beak in where I’m not wanted, I’m not. I’ll take myself downslope. I can see to my own needs.”
“That would be a disgrace.” Liir wished there were a way to embrace a Bird; he put his finger out, and the Wren hopped upon it. “It’s been ten years since the Conference where I met General Kynot and Iskinaary and all you others. How is he, the crusty old salt?”
“The Eagle is ready, steady, and stalwart as ever, if afflicted with wingnits, sadly. Cain’t fly as high as he once did. But he sends his regards.”
“Where is he located?”
“That’s confidential, begging your pardon, sir. He don’t command a mighty following anymore, mind. But we Birds is always suspect of treachery by every party, given our freedom to wander the skies. So we keeps certain facts close to our breast-feathers as we can do. Pays to be circumspect.”
“Ought we, up here in our own aerie, to be cautious about any particular Bird population?”
“Cain’t say for certain. Birds of unlike feather rarely flock together—that was the great success of Kynot’s Conference. We various clans and congregations, we don’t much attach to one another. Nor do we go in for argy-bargy. I’d say we mostly minds our own affairs.”
“But you’ve gone out of your way to find us and tell us about Dorothy.”
“I’m nothing special,” said Dosey. “But I had my reasons.”
Liir cocked an eyebrow.
“I’m a bit stout in the bosom, or where my bosom would be if I had a bosom,” said Dosey. “And my hearing en’t all that particular, and there’s silver in my wing and a rasp in my morning song. But when the word was going around about this Dorothy, and that you and the Lion would want to know in case she needed some defending, I volunteered for the mission.”
“Strong feeling for a human being you never met.”
“It en’t that Dorothy. She can hang on a gibbet,” said Dosey, cheerfully enough. “It were you, sir. Begging your pardon and all that. I’ve had my own clutches in my time, and when the current nestlings call to me, they have to chirp so many greats before the granny that they run out of breath. So I know what it’s like when an egg rolls out of the nest. Your child were just about to be born when we was flying together, and I had a scared feeling that the Emperor might swoop like a serpent upon your nest, in revenge. I wanted to see for myself, sir. I’m glad you’ve got her tight under your wing now.”
“You’re a mother many times over,” said Liir. “You’ve only observed her a moment here or there, I know. But what do you make of her?”
Dosey’s bill was made of chitinous horn. The only way Liir could identify a smile was by the way her downy cheeks puffed out, tiny grey berries at the corners of her beak. “Boy broomist, listen to me. She’s the ugliest little duckling I ever seen, but as I lives and breathes, she’s got flight in her, too.”
Once the Wren departed, next morning, the claws came out.
“We have no reason to trust that Dosey,” said Mr. Boss. “She could’ve been lying through that common little beak of hers. How do we know Dorothy’s really returned? Far more likely she was killed as dead as Ozma was murdered before her.”
“Utter rot,” said Liir. “Dosey put herself in considerable danger, making a solo flight at this winterish time of year, just to find us. She has no reason to lie. The Birds are aligned neither to Munchkinland nor to Loyal Oz.”
“But Liir,” said his wife. “We can’t fly like Dosey over the border, not during wartime. We can’t forge into Munchkinland as if we’re off to market day. Who knows how fiercely those margins are now guarded? So you maintain a holdover affection for Dorothy. Fine. But whoever this Dorothy turns out to be these days, surely she won’t want your child put in danger?”
Liir saw the wisdom of this, but not the charity.
Brrr cleared his throat. “Dorothy has nothing to do with a civil war between Loyal Ozians and Munchkins. She’s a political prisoner no less than Nor was at her age. If Rain were in the same situation, wouldn’t we go through hell trying to rescue her?”
“For you, there’s a bruised child behind every campaign isn’t there,” said the dwarf. “I’m just saying.”
“She’ll be a matron by now,” argued Brrr, “and in any case, she asked me to look after Liir. Doesn’t she deserve the same? What friends has she in Oz, if not us?”
“It’s a diversion,” insisted the dwarf.
“From what? Saving your own skin? I’m all for rolling out,” said Brrr.
So was Nor. There was a reason the Lion and Nor had struck sparks as a couple. Brrr saw it more clearly now. Nor was no homebody, and Brrr would rather be on the prowl, too. At this late date, with arthritis in his hips and a permanent case of halitosis, Brrr was discovering a certain quality of Lion about himself he’d never identified before.
It came down to a vote. They all elected to leave except Mr. Boss, who was tired of endless commuting. Rain wasn’t asked her opinion.
Iskinaary, who since Dosey’s visit
had begun to shadow Liir about eight feet behind, like a shawled wife of an Arjiki chieftain except more garrulous, said, “Let’s go. What are we waiting for? If this good weather lapses, we’ll be snowed in as deep as Dorothy. All winter long.”
On the eighth day of cold sunny weather, a thaw of sorts, when the cobbles were dry of snow but the ground still hard enough not to be mud, they harnessed Brrr up to the shafts of the dead Clock. Liir wrapped the Grimmerie in what remained of Elphaba’s old black cape and carried it under his arm.
Rain shunned Nor’s outstretched hand, cradling her shell instead. Tay rode on Rain’s shoulder. Little Daffy shouted, “Come on, you,” as Mr. Boss pretended to have died of a stroke, but he got up and stumped after them.
They’d gone a third of the way down the slope, when Rain suddenly said, “Wait, but we forgot the broomflower.”
“What’s she croaking about?” asked the dwarf.
Liir put his hand to his mouth—sweet Ozma, in the stress of the moment and the presence of the Grimmerie, he had left it behind—but Rain bolted back up the hill. A few moments later she had returned balancing Elphaba’s broom over her shoulder.
“Where’d you get that flea-ridden thing?” asked Little Daffy.
“Stuck in the level chink in the stones running below the Ladyfish,” said Candle in a low voice. “How did she find it there? I thought we hid it well enough.”
“The Fishlady tolded me it was there, and not to forget it,” said Rain. “Almost I did, but then I ’membered.”
Whatever accompanied them down the hill—a mood, a spirit, an apprehension, a spookiness, a sense both of mission and of menace—made them all fall silent for quite some time. Iskinaary was the first to break out of it by singing a ditty straight out of the beer hall
The night is dark, my hinny, my hen
Romance in the air, my dove, my duck;