“It’s a stalemate, no pretending otherwise,” said the garrulous one among the locals. “Where have you lot been, that this is all news to you?”
“Doing missionary work,” said Little Daffy quickly, before Brrr could falter or fudge. “Is Mombey here?”
“Said to be in residence at Colwen Grounds.”
“And Dorothy?” asked Brrr. “Is she expected soon?”
They didn’t know what Brrr was talking about. “Dorothy? Her? We won’t see the likes of Dorothy again. Not in this lifetime.”
“She shows up here for a pint, I charge her triple,” promised the waitress, and bit the farthing Little Daffy was paying with. “She has a lot to answer for, knocking off our lady governor like she did.”
The old farmer chided the waitress. “You’re not old enough to remember Nessarose Thropp. That Dorothy may have played fast and loose with government figures, but there was quite a bit of singing and dancing back in the day. Folks fell to their knees in thanksgiving for their release from bondage.”
“Munchkinlanders don’t have too far to fall,” said the waitress, swishing a rag at a table. “Who can even tell when we’re on our knees?”
“Well, she fell from a great distance, that girl,” insisted the farmer.
“Wearing a wooden house around her as some sort of defense. A weird cleverness in that child.”
“She wasn’t all that clever,” said Brrr, realizing too late that neither was he.
“You have a point of view? Listen—you’re not that Lion? The Cowardly Lion, they called him? One of Dorothy’s lackeys? Say it en’t so.”
“Not so, I’m afraid,” said Brrr.
“You have no right to any opinion then.” The other farmers dropped their chins over their steins and frowned across the froth. The atmosphere had a tang to it, like saltpetre. “I think it was you. Wasn’t it? Got her out of here safely before she could be asked to account for herself?”
“That would be my brother,” said Brrr. “My twin brother, I’m afraid. A luckless sort, but there you have it.” For the first and perhaps the last time in his life, he was glad to have an identical twin he’d never met. “Finish that prawn, Mr. Boss, and we’ll be on our way.”
Why don’t the Munchkinlanders sue for peace?” asked the Lion of his cronies. “Sure, they’ve lost Restwater, and it’s an insult and an outrage. But if their agriculture carries on nicely enough upstream, why not make the best of a bad situation and call for an armistice? Give up the lake and get their lives back to normal?”
They asked around, they gossiped, they eavesdropped. It turned out that supplying the EC with water all those years had been fiscally advantageous to Munchkinland, and the government of the Free State was as reluctant to part with the income stream as with the territory itself.
The deeper question—why do populations squabble for dominance?—remained unanswered. Native pride, the patriotism of different peoples, seemed jejune to the Lion. Mawkish, embarrassing. Though since he’d grown up without any pride of his own—neither a family tribe nor that pestery, myopic little fuse of self-admiration—he no longer expected to understand what motivated others.
But was it even true that Dorothy had come back to Oz? No one in Bright Lettins seemed to have heard about it. Maybe the rumor of her return had been planted to stir things up, to try to flush the Grimmerie into the open somehow. Or maybe strategists had hoped to flush Liir into the open. In which case, what a relief to have left the great book behind with Liir and his family.
Maybe Dorothy had taken ill and died before a show trial could commence. Or maybe she was being held incognito until her public humiliation could do the most good, at least in terms of lifting homeland morale.
The Lion and his friends took to wandering the streets after their morning coffee and cheddar-and-onion butty, ambling and window-shopping and keeping their ears open. Brrr was surprised to see little in the way of a police force. “Is the absence of a civic constabulary a sign of self-confidence?”
“I bet the Munchkinland defense is all occupied in the apron of land around Haugaard’s Keep,” said Little Daffy. “But who cares? We’re not here to bring down the nation or to save it. We’re just here to help Dorothy if we can. Look, a distress sale at that milliner’s shop.” She came out sporting a bonnet of uncertain charm.
The dwarf snorted. “We’re looking for Dorothy. You’re looking like you’re wearing a failed dessert.”
“I love you too,” said Little Daffy, clearly glad to see him returning to form. “Let’s go back to our room and play Tickle My Fancy.”
“The loud version,” agreed Mr. Boss, cheerily enough. “Give Dame Hostile a little entertainment through the keyhole.”
“I’ll catch you up later,” said the Lion.
He was perusing the goods in a pushcart and being ignored by the merchant when a sudden cloudburst forced him under a nearby portico. Waiting out the rain in a throng of Munchkins, he heard the swell of their comments include the words La Mombey. Brrr didn’t need to push to the front of the crowd. He could see over their heads. One of a pair of horses pulling a brougham had cast a shoe, and a farrier was sent for. Without fanfare the door to the carriage opened. An attendant in Munchkinlander formal couture, cobalt serge and silver buttons, held up a parasol as a woman alighted.
Could this be Mombey? The murmur at ground level suggested so. She was tall and striking, nowhere near as old as Brrr had imagined. Her full shimmery-coppery silk garment draped, uncinched, from the fabric yoke at her shoulders. Her pale hand looked linen smooth. She pivoted to study the street with a languid air, her face impassive, cut almost too prettily, as if a wax model for a bronze casting of Lurline, or maybe the Spirit of Munchkinlander Assiduity. She gave a half-curtsey toward the citizens crowded under the arcade, and retired into a private home whose astounded owners, standing on either side of the door, appeared ready to explode with honor and subservience.
The Munchkinlanders resumed gabbling in appreciation of their leader. Brrr listened for some reference to Dorothy, but he heard only about Mombey; her behavior discreet, intelligent, warm, reserved. Her military sense subtle and her clothes sense impeccable. We’ll win out over the EC in the end. She has talents she hasn’t yet used.
“What exactly do you mean, ‘talents she hasn’t yet used’?” asked the Lion. But by now he knew that while Munchkinlanders tolerated talking Animals in their capital city, they rarely wanted to exchange more than pleasantries.
He waited along with the rest of the crowd. When an hour had passed and the rain let up, he left his post and returned to A Stable Home.
The disgruntled chatelaine was dusting the ferns and sneezing. To his report, the old woman said, “Mombey makes her way west from time to time, to discuss military strategy with General Jinjuria. We’re quite used to having Her Eminence pass through and we think nothing of it. We are now the capital city of Munchkinland, after all.”
“What was meant by the rumor ‘talents’?” asked Brrr.
“Oh, she’s got more than a touch of magic skill.” The old woman flapped her rag out the window. Most of the dust blew back in and landed on the top of the credenza.
“I didn’t know Munchkinlanders approved of magic.”
“I don’t approve of discussing politics with Animals. You want another opinion, try the Reading Room down by Clericle Corners. A bit of a pong but what do you expect.”
Brrr decided he would and was glad he did. At the end of a long reading table, peering out of one eye through a handheld lens, sat an elderly Ape whom Brrr had once known. Mister Mikko. A former professor at Shiz, now sporting a fiercely unconvincing set of false teeth. Which he bared at Brrr when Brrr approached, and then had to pick up and jam back into his mouth because they fell out on the table.
“I’m joining no Benevolent Societies for Stray Cats today, sir,” the Ape barked at Brrr. “How dare you approach me in this sanctuary of repose.”
“You don’t recogn
“I couldn’t recognize my own grandmother if she bit me on my blue behind. My cataracts have baby cataracts of their own.” Still, Mister Mikko squinted, fitting his monocle under his brow. “Upon my word. It’s the Lion who helped me lose half of my savings. Have you come to pay it back, with interest?”
“Take it up with the banks at Shiz. The harm done you originated there.”
“You stiffed me of a higher rate of interest than the banks allowed, and you got in trouble for it. Don’t think I didn’t hear about the scandal. We may be at war with Loyal Oz, but that doesn’t stop the financial news from getting through. I follow the papers, sir!”
“Well, if my pot of gold ever turns up at the end of the rainbow, you’ll get the first scoop.”
“I don’t want a scoop of whatever is in the pot at the end of your rainbow.” Still, Mister Mikko folded the paper and closed his arms around his chest. “I’m surprised you’d show your face to me, after that larceny.”
“I’ve paid my debt to society, and I’ll make it up to you if I ever get the chance. How is Professor Lenx?” Mister Mikko had lodged with a Boar, another professor retired from Shiz during the enactment of the Animal Adverse laws.
“He passed away, poor sod. I couldn’t keep the house up on my own. Didn’t have the heart, and what’s more, couldn’t afford the help. Thank you very much for that. So I abandoned the old place at Stonespar End and I moved here, where I live in a disgusting hotel for elderly Animals. It’s a good thing I lost my sense of smell a long time ago, believe me. No, don’t sit down, I didn’t invite you.”
“This isn’t the Emerald City under the Animal Adverse laws. I can sit where I like.” Brrr looked about to see if their conversation was annoying anyone, but the only other patron was a White Parrot who had fallen asleep clinging to the windowsill.
“Don’t mind him,” said the Ape. “He’s both deaf and asleep. We can’t disturb him even if we shouted fire into his ear.”
“I don’t trust anyone anymore,” replied the Lion.
“Welcome to the club.” But the Ape relented a little; he clearly was lonely after the death of his companion. “Not that paranoia seems an inappropriate response to a government that relies on secrecy to protect itself. Rather it seems quite sane. Oh, yes. I lectured in Oz history, so you see I know whereof I speak. Surely you remember.”
“No, I was never a student of yours. I was your fiscal agent.”
“Time runs together. How recently did you fleece me?”
“How recently did Professor Lenx die?” This was cruel of Brrr, but he had to move the conversation on.
Mister Mikko removed his monocle and looked coldly out the window. “I never can remember,” he said, quite evidently lying: probably he could remember every hour of his life since. “My area was the early and middle Ozma realms. I never was good at Modern History. Why are you interrupting my meditations with your prattle?”
For all his meekness and tendency to isolationism, the Lion had never entirely trusted sentient Animals. He would have to speak carefully and try to avoid attitude. “I’m told that the Eminence herself has arrived in town today—Mombey, I mean,” in case Mister Mikko’s short-term memory was faulty and he was imagining Nessarose Thropp.
“I’m not a nincompoop,” barked the Ape. “I know who Mombey is. She has the right to come and go as she pleases. What is your problem?”
“I’ve been trying to find out if she’s here to convene a legal investigation. A court case, I mean.”
“You’re afraid you’re being brought up on charges of embezzlement? Where’s the party? Sign me up as a witness for the prosecution.”
“No.” He supposed there was nothing for it. “I’m told that the girl from the Other Land has returned.”
“Ozma?” The Ape snorted his teeth onto the table again, and a good deal of saliva too. “You are imbecilic. Ozma Tippetarius was flung into an infant’s grave eleventy-seven years ago. She decides to come back to life after all this time, she’ll be in a wheelchair. She can have my teeth as tribute.”
“Not Ozma. Dorothy.”
The Ape snorted again. “You’ll have to remind me about Dorothy. Was she one of those idiotic Gillikinese scholarship girls from Settica or Frottica? It was all the rage for about ten years, sending milkmaids off to college. A bad plan all around.”
“Dorothy from Kanzass. The one whose house flattened Nessarose and released the Munchkinlanders from tyranny.”
“Oh yes. So they could rise and embrace another tyranny: our good queen Mombey.”
“Look, Mister Mikko. I’m only asking if you know anything about the return of Dorothy. I heard that she was going to be put on trial, and I wondered if Mombey’s arrival in Bright Lettins means Dorothy is about to be brought in too. If you’re not interested in current affairs, well, don’t let me bother your nap.” The Lion stood up to leave.
“Oh, don’t mind me, you young fool,” snapped the Ape. “I’m less interested in the return of Dorothy than I am in the return of my missing bank deposits. But let me put my ancient ear to the thin walls of my single room and catch what’s squawking, and I’ll be back here tomorrow to tell you what I have heard.”
The next day, a brighter day on the unpleasant side of warm, Brrr met Mister Mikko again. After spending the fee to enter, and finding the Reading Room as sparsely used as the day before, he learned from Mister Mikko that the Ape had had no luck scaring up any information about Dorothy. “I didn’t expect to,” said the Ape, “but in good faith I did ask.”
“You didn’t ask,” said the Lion. “You just wanted me to have to spend money to find out you were useless. Thanks a lot.”
“Nothing like old friends when you need ’em, is there.”
“Oh, my,” said the Lion.
“You’ve got keen instincts,” observed the Parrot. “Yes, Mombey is in town, and yes indeed, to open a court proceeding against Dorothy. It’ll all come out in the town squares tomorrow. I know this from a few Pigeons who live on the rough in a gutter outside a printery. The bills are being run up for posting on kiosks and newsboards. One has to wonder how you knew.”
“A little bird told me,” said the Lion.
DOROTHY: ASSASSIN OF PATRIOTS read one broadside.
INCOMING! said another. SHE’S BACK.
THE TRIAL OF OUR TIMES read a third.
“Tell me about it,” said Mister Mikko. He summarized for the Lion. “The proceedings will start in five days. That gives magistrates for the defense and for the prosecution a chance to prepare their cases. It looks like Mombey herself picked the barristers.”
Brrr had had his brushes in court before, and always on the wrong end of the law. But that was back in the Emerald City. Were things done differently in whatever passed for Munchkin justice? Mister Mikko set Brrr straight.
“Generally disputes in Munchkinland are settled on a case-by-case basis. The tradition of reliance on precedent isn’t deeply rooted in Munchkinland, given the rural and piecemeal settlement of the county. Most cases are decided behind closed doors, the traveling magistrate serving as confessor and adjudicator both. I’ll wager he pockets the fine, too. It’s my belief that jurisprudence in Munchkinland doesn’t exist at all except to reinforce the prejudices of the top dog. Which despite the metaphor is never an Animal, at least in Munchkinland.”
“I didn’t know you had a Dog in this fight,” said Brrr.
“Ha-ha. Well, pay attention. This trial will be more formal. No executive sessions here, this one will be open to the public—you can’t be surprised at that.”
“Are there jurors? Witnesses?”
p; Mister Mikko elaborated. For a so-called open trial, a five-member jury was usually empaneled at its own cost. In this instance, it seemed Mombey was going to present the case herself, in an initial declamation, and then turn the proceedings over to a celebrity magistrate appointed to the position for this trial only. The barristers pleading the cases for the prosecution and for the defense would post their requests for witnesses on a billboard on the door of the Grange Central. Potential witnesses only had to show up in time to get a seat. Generally they could nominate themselves of their own free will, or refuse to testify if they weren’t in the mood. But rules could vary case by case, so who knew.
“Nipp,” Brrr told Little Daffy back at the inn. “He’s the appointed magistrate. Does that name ring a bell?”
“Not to me,” said Little Daffy. “But don’t forget I was cloistered for all those years.”
“I know of him,” said Mr. Boss. “He was the first governor of Munchkinland after Nessarose Thropp was murdered in cold blood by that prim little Miss Dorothy, bless her little soul.” He was in a good mood.
“You’re not opinionated, I see,” said Brrr, though he was glad Mr. Boss seemed to be coming back around some.
The trial was designated for Densloe Den, a little salon theater, but for fears of crowding was soon shifted to a venue called Neale House. A former armory now used for the spring cattle fair. Above its arches on three sides ran a gallery. The Neale could sit a large number of visitors, but on the first day the interest seemed slim, so Little Daffy, Mr. Boss, and Brrr easily got tickets to attend the instructions to the jury. The room wasn’t a quarter full. They could have had front row seats, though Brrr by dint of his size was required to recline on the floor to one side. He couldn’t have fit a single thigh in a folding chair scaled for Munchkinlanders, not for money nor love.
The day’s newsfolds, left on the seats of chairs, presented potted biographies of the trial’s dramatis personae. Brrr only had time to read about the magistrate. Nipp had begun his career as a kind of concierge at Colwen Grounds, serving Nessarose Thropp up until the day she was squished. Apparently because he’d held the keys to the actual house, Nipp had stepped in as emergency Prime Minister until the Munchkinlanders’ appetite to be governed by an Eminence reasserted itself. Mombey had emerged from a prior anonymity—the argument for her elevation wasn’t rehearsed here. Whereupon Nipp had retired with honors that included a fancy cake, a sash, and a lifetime supply of ammonia salts, which apparently had some symbolic significance no one at the city desk of the press had bothered to identify.