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Out of Oz, Page 36

Gregory Maguire

  “I can tell you precious little about her death; I don’t answer to its being called a murder,” said the Lion. “I was locked in a kitchen larder with the Witch’s son, Liir, and by the time we’d escaped the room and dashed up the tower stairs to the parapet of the castle, Dorothy was already descending the stairs, weeping her eyes out.”

  “I cried so hard,” said Dorothy, “I looked like I’d thrown that bucket of water over myself.”

  “And so the question is,” said Brrr, “what happened up there? Did Dorothy kill the Witch? Either on purpose or by accident? All any of us know about the matter is that the Witch is done with. She’s gone. But was she killed?”

  The room fell silent. Dame Fegg turned to Dorothy and so did Temper Bailey. Several hundred Munchkinlanders paused in their knitting or their munching of small round breakfast pastries. The Chimpanzees held their fans still.

  “I shall remind you that you are under oath to answer honestly,” murmured Lord Nipp, almost as if afraid to break the spell of the question.

  Dorothy put her face in her hands, a sloppy gesture given the length of her sleeves. When she lifted her teary cheeks, her upper lip was creamy with mucus; it looked as if she had applied a depilatory unguent. “I believe in taking responsibility for what happens,” she admitted. “I believed it six years ago, and that’s why I went to Kiamo Ko, to confess my part in the death of Nessarose Thropp. And I confess my part in the death of Elphaba Thropp too, to the extent I can be sure that it happened. But when I threw a bucket of water at the Witch, to save her from burning to death in her black skirts, what happened was a huge plume of smoke and a sizzle, as of fatback on a griddle, and the Witch collapsed amid the drapes of her skirts and the billows of smoke. The acrid stench and the burning in my eyes made me turn away, and I vomited in terror and surprise, and when I looked back—well, she was gone.”

  “Killed,” said Fegg.

  “Gone,” said Dorothy.

  “Is that the same thing?”

  “Who can say?”

  “Very good question,” said Temper Bailey. “Who can say? Were there witnesses?”

  “Only Toto, and he used to be the strong silent type,” said Dorothy.

  “Oh, now, let’s not start that sniffling again,” scoffed Fegg.

  “The Witch’s old Nanny finally made it up the stairs, and she swept me away while she cleaned up,” said Dorothy. “I never went up there again, and I never examined the scene of the death. I was a witness at her disappearance—and, sure, maybe it was a death. But wouldn’t there have been a corpse?”

  “Of course there was a corpse,” snorted Dame Fegg. “You’ve proven yourself to be an unreliable witness any number of times. In your glee and relief you just didn’t check, or you’re pretending not to have checked.”

  The room seemed to rock a little; maybe it was the heat, or maybe that Dorothy carried personal earthquakes with her to deploy at will. Brrr sat up straight. Temper Bailey emitted a series of small who-who-whos, but whether that was a stutter or an admission in Owlish that he was not wise enough for this particular job was hard to say.

  “Before you kill again,” said Dame Fegg, “I will see you put to death.”

  Lord Nipp had to pound his gavel repeatedly. When silence returned at last, he called a halt in the proceedings for two days. He made the suggestion that Animals should be invited to hear the final assessments and the judgment of Dorothy, and Munchkinlander farmers should roundly encourage their lodgers and farmhands to show some civic spirit and witness the conclusion of the trial. After all, a cow had been killed in the Glikkus. There was such a thing as solidarity.


  Why the adjournment? From the point of view of the prosecution, it seemed to Brrr a clumsy move. The hiatus might allow that rumor—that Elphaba was somehow still alive—to gain weight and sway public opinion in Dorothy’s favor. Mister Mikko agreed and concluded that Nipp must have a sound reason for delaying. Might they be trying to dig up a witness, somewhere, someone who could confirm Elphaba’s death by revealing anything about the disposition of her corpse?

  “Preposterous,” said Brrr. Who could it be? Back on that dreadful day, neither he nor Liir had been allowed up the stairs to the parapet where Elphaba had died. The only human souls who might give testimony about the scene of that tragedy were Dorothy herself and the Witch’s old Nanny, who had gone up after Dorothy had come down but who had refused Liir access. Brrr had assumed it was out of kindness; Liir had, after all, been a mere fourteen years old. And a young fourteen at that.

  Could Elphaba’s old Nanny have been capable of a deceit of any magnitude? Concealing the Witch?… Brrr thought not. Even then Nanny had been stunningly unmoored from reality. Were she still alive, she’d be over a hundred years old now. At any rate, Kiamo Ko was a thousand-some miles away any route you took. They wouldn’t be putting Nanny or her ghost on the witness stand.

  Then, he wondered, what about Chistery? The chief of the flying monkeys? As far as Brrr knew, Chistery was an anomaly in Oz. He’d begun life as an animal incapable of language, and yet he had managed to learn it, thanks to Elphaba’s ministrations and maybe to her magic. Brrr had no idea how old Chistery would be now, nor how long snow monkeys generally lived. He asked Mister Mikko his opinion, but the Ape bared his false dentures at Brrr and refused to get into a discussion about it. “I don’t even know my own expected life span,” he snapped; “how could I possibly be conversant on the life span of an invented line like a flying monkey?”

  Even if he were alive, Chistery would likely be too old to fly all those miles to speak in confirmation of the Witch’s death, decided Brrr. And an Animal’s testimony would carry only so much weight.

  The evening before the trial was set to reopen, Mr. Boss said, “In the absence of any other clue about why Nippy Nipp Nipp adjourned for two days, I’ve been wondering if emissaries of La Mombey have been working to get information out of Dorothy now that she’s been threatened with execution.”

  “Information about what?” asked his wife.

  “Isn’t it obvious?” he said. “La Mombey must be as interested in locating the Grimmerie as the Emperor is. Maybe she thinks that only something as powerful as that book could have drawn Dorothy back to Oz, and that Dorothy knows something about its location. A threat of death might loosen her tongue.”

  “Dorothy’s is one tongue that doesn’t need any more loosing,” said the Munchkinlander. But Brrr wondered if Mr. Boss had a point.

  They made the mistake of walking back to their lodgings through the piazza outside Neale House. Flares had been set up so that the tradesmen could hammer together a kiosk of some sort. “They’re going to sell souvenirs that say THE JUDGMENT OF DOROTHY! Headbands or armbands,” guessed Little Daffy.

  “They’re building her a little house she can ride back to Kansas,” said Mr. Boss.

  They stopped joking then, as someone strung up a rope, and someone else tested the trapdoor. “They wouldn’t,” said Little Daffy, dabbing her eyes. “My own folk, coarsened so?”

  At A Stable Home, she ventured to ask Dame Hostile, “Do you think Lord Nipp will order Dorothy to be hanged?”

  “She’ll swing like a bell, ding dong, they say,” replied the widow. “And by the way, I’m giving notice to you lot. When you booked in, you concealed your association with that Dorothy. So I want you to clear out tomorrow. I don’t need this house to get a reputation for attracting lowlife.”

  “But I’m a Munchkinlander!” cried Little Daffy.

  “That’s pretty low,” said the dwarf, “though I’m not one to talk.”

  “I’m retiring,” said the chatelaine. “I can’t talk to you anymore.”

  “We didn’t do anything to you,” said Little Daffy. “I know my manners. We clean up after ourselves. Look, I’ll bake you a coffee bread for the morning.” She was almost beside herself, to be treated this way by her own kind.

  The only response from upstairs was a slammed door.

had had enough. He repaired to his chamber, from where he could hear the distant sound of hammering and cheering half the night, as the laborers tested and retested their equipment.

  Regardless of the reasons for the postponement, when the trial reconvened Neale House was even more crowded the next day. A thousand Munchkinlanders surrounded the building and spilled into the square by the front doors. The Animals that Munchkin farmers had cajoled or browbeat into joining them were largely of the junior variety—kits, cubs, pups in training harness. They were escorted by Ewes and Dames, in hooded expressions and the occasional going-to-town bonnet. The human factor in the crowd snickered and occasionally nickered. Even a jaded old Goat with a beard on her chin and a wen on her rump commanded little respect in a crowd of beer-barrel farmers.

  “So far in this picture-pretty town, my size and presence has seemed more than enough to allow me to pass through any crowd,” murmured Brrr to the dwarf and his wife. “But the Munchkinlanders seem to be gigantic in menace, or is that just me?”

  Mister Mikko said, “I’m turning back. This atmosphere reminds me too much of the crowds that gathered to hear about the Wizard’s Animal Adverse laws. I can wait till tonight to hear what develops. And if I happen to die today of hexus of the plexus or bonkus of the konkus, don’t think I go unwillingly. It’s been a long rocky life, with plenty of possibility but too much human ugliness.”

  The room was filled to the rafters, literally, since Munchkinlanders sat straddling the beams. The atmosphere had gone grave. Nipp cleared his throat and took sips of water and cleared his throat again before harrumphing, “Due to circumstances on the international front, I’ve been required to speed up the trial. In the absence of further witnesses this morning, I’m going to ask the advocates to present their final arguments. I will then charge the jury with making a judgment of Dorothy Gale: guilty as charged or innocent of some or all charges. I retain to myself the privilege of listening to the jury’s advice and determining if it is sound. May I remind you all that the final arbitration of justice remains in the hands of the magistrate. Me. Dame Fegg, you may begin.”

  The prosecutor, clearly, had been briefed about the change in calendar. She’d come cloaked in some sort of dark academic robe that set off her iron braids, this morning coiled and pinned to each temple with treacherous-looking hair swizzlers. In a voice rounded with theatrical tones, perhaps the better to carry out the windows, she called Dorothy to the chair for a final time.

  The defendant emerged from belowstairs in the usual manner. No one lent a hand, but at least for her final turn on the stand she’d been allowed to appear in her own clothes, an ensemble that had no origin in Oz—a blue velvet skirt with shiny black jet piping at the hem that, at intervals, looped waistward in hand-stitched arabesques. Cut to the midcalf and girdled with a wide stomacher, it cinched a white linen blouse with mutton sleeves. A toque filigreed with spiky feathers and fake linen roses in blue and silver perched at a drunken angle upon her head. She clutched her gloved hands repeatedly as if in her distress she were about to burst into song.

  “Lord Nipp,” began Dame Fegg. “Counsel Bailey. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Ladies and gentlemen of the gallery and beyond. Indeed, ladies and gentlemen of history: I address you all.”

  Dorothy gave a little cough. “Yes, Miss Dorothy, I address you too,” said Dame Fegg in exaggerated courtesy, the first nasty giggle of the morning. Brrr rolled his eyes at Little Daffy and Mr. Boss.

  “This trial has not taken so long that we need to review point by point what’s been put before us already. I shall therefore make a cursory summary for the sake of the record. I put it to the jury that Dorothy Gale is guilty as charged of the murder of Nessarose Thropp and Elphaba Thropp. Whether she is also guilty of the murder of that cow in the Glikkus is not our concern this morning.”

  “No one said it was a talking Cow,” said Dorothy. “But I’ve kind of noticed you don’t always pay attention to that distinction.”

  “Ooooh,” said the humans in the crowd, as if this were a point in a debating tourney. Brrr couldn’t tell if they approved, generally, or if Dorothy was hitting too close to home. The Animals, he noticed, were silent, even stiff in their composure.

  “I believe we’ve established that, some eighteen years ago, the collapse of Miss Dorothy’s domicile upon Nessarose, the Eminent Thropp and governor of Munchkinland, indisputably resulted in her death. Though known at the time as the Wicked Witch of the East, Nessarose is honored for her role in launching Munchkinland independence. Therefore Dorothy Gale is guilty of slaying the mother of our country. Our dear Munchkinland.”

  “Here comes the dump,” murmured Mr. Boss to Brrr. “I can smell it.”

  Dame Fegg left the circular plinth from which she had conducted most of her examination. “We are a small people,” she said. “Before most of us were born, the Ozma Regent, Pastorius, began the job of strangling our native independence by renaming Nubbly Meadows in southern Gillikin as the Emerald City. Pastorius planned the early stages of what would become the Yellow Brick Road. His work, however innocently meant, was ready for exploitation by the Wizard of Oz. Until Nessarose Thropp inherited the mantle of Eminence that was rejected by her sister Elphaba, we were in thrall to the powers of what is now called Loyal Oz. So the recent history of Munchkinland—the history into which many of us were born—casts us most often as the handmaiden of the rich, the laborer in the field, the servant under the stairs, the midget comedy troupe.”

  The room had gone fully silent, humans and Animals alike.

  “Small, yes,” said Dame Fegg, reclaiming her dais now for emphasis and striking a pose, “small, but not insignificant. We accept from our forebears the stewardship of our dear Munchkinland. The bones of our ancestors herringbone the soil we plow. The land they tilled, the views they cherished, are ours. We shall never allow any invader, either Dorothy Gale or the Emerald City Messiars at Haugaard’s Keep, to abuse our liberty and to confiscate our sacred trust of land. From the slopes of the Scalps to the north, where the Glikkuns still dig for emeralds…” She paused to drag out a handkerchief, giving Mr. Boss a chance to mutter, “Technically the Glikkus isn’t Munchkinland; this lot is as blind to native borders as anyone else.” She continued, “… to the brave little hamlets perched on the edge of the great desert to the east—to the lonely, sere sweeps of the Hardings and the Cloth Hills that divide us from soggy Quadling Country, and over, yes, to Restwater! to Restwater, damn it! which shall not remain in the greedy grasp of the invaders, but shall return rightfully to those who cherish it most!”

  A cheer went up. “This could turn into a riot,” muttered Mr. Boss to his companions. “I always enjoy a good riot.”

  “We came to do a job, and we’ll see it through,” said Brrr, hoping he meant it. He glanced at Little Daffy to see how she was faring. She nodded that she was firm.

  “And on up to the Madeleines,” continued Dame Fegg. “That rank of soft mountains to our west, dividing us from Gillikin. The longest stretch of unprotected border of Munchkinland, an easy bolster, nothing more, along whose slopes the clouds roll toward us, furnishing us with the rain that makes us the Corn Basket of Oz, nothing less. Productive Munchkinland, that part most of us know best—the soft rolling lavender fields, the farmsteads lit with cheery lamplight of an evening, the harvest festivals, the local traditions of long tables set out on village greens. The beer—yes, let us defend our right to brew hops!”

  Another big cheer at this.

  “All of it—all of our way of life, treasured bequest of those who went before—all of it threatened by invaders. I give you Miss Dorothy,” she said, playing to the crowd rather than the jury. “Miss Dorothy Gale, a young woman unreliable in her memories of how she came first to Oz to commit regicide against the ruling family of our motherland, our Munchkinland.”

  Later, Brrr swore he heard someone from behind a door sound a note on a pitch pipe, but perhaps cynicism was getting the better of him. Someone in the cro
wd began to sing what the Lion had come to know as Munchkinland’s anthem.

  Munchkinland, our motherland,

  No other land is home.

  We cherish best this land so blessed

  As pretty as a poem.

  We’ll never rest when from the west

  By rude oppressors we’re oppressed.

  We proudly stand with Munchkinland,

  Our treasure chest, our humble nest,

  Our motherland, no other land

  Is home.

  Brrr cast a glance to the front. Even Temper Bailey was singing—to keep mum was probably considered sedition. The cheering that followed could probably be heard all the way to Kanziz. Not good, the Lion thought. He wouldn’t have been surprised to see those Chimps come out with tankards of ale to sozzle the mood further.

  Dame Fegg wiped her eyes. “And so, from the heartland of Oz, from the capital city of our Free State of Munchkinland, do I put it to the jury one final time. Dorothy Gale’s testimony about her youth and innocence in her prior sojourn in Oz can’t be considered admissible, as that very youth made her an unreliable witness to the events of the times. Nonetheless, in this country everyone must pay for what crimes they commit, and nobody can adequately defend Dorothy against the crime of murder of Elphaba Thropp. By extension one deduces that the accused’s aims were coherent, her capacity to assassinate our leaders honed to surgical precision, and her disguise as gullible sweetheart on a walking tour entirely convincing to those morons with whom she came in touch.”

  “I object,” called Little Daffy. Mr. Boss looked at her sideways with a clenched lower lip, dubious but approving. His little Munchkinlander spitfire. “I may have been young and dressed as a daffodil, but I was no moron.”

  “You aren’t counsel. You have no right to object,” said Lord Nipp.

  “I should think that’s exactly the kind of right we are trying to defend in Munchkinland,” said Little Daffy. Brrr found he wasn’t so surprised at her brass. Purportedly she had spent a decade or so chafing under the direction of her former colleague Sister Doctor. She’s not shy, our Little Daffy.