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Out of Oz, Page 37

Gregory Maguire

  “Counsel Bailey,” said Lord Nipp. “Have you anything to add?”

  The Owl had come to court in native dress, which is to say naked. This was a risky gambit, Brrr thought, but who knows? It set him apart from the Munchkinlander prosecutor, who had returned to her stool and was blowing her nose with sentiment and force. Temper Bailey flew to a perch provided him halfway between the jury and Dorothy, who was sitting upright, back ramrod straight, eyes open too wide.

  “I assert that my client, Miss Dorothy Gale from abroad somewhere, must be innocent of the charges of murder and assassination,” said Temper Bailey. “For one thing, while it is true that her arrival coincided with the death of Nessarose Thropp, there’s no way to prove that Nessarose didn’t look up into the heavens at the sight of a small house lurching through the clouds and have a heart attack from terror, falling down dead on the platform just before the house of Dorothy landed. I took advantage of our unscheduled recess to fly to Center Munch and search the coronor’s records. While Nessarose was conclusively determined to be dead, the cause of death is not mentioned.”

  “Well, I doubt coroners are trained to identify the cause of every possible fatality in this universe,” said Lord Nipp. “Cause of death: Collapse of Real Estate? Please. Point dismissed.”

  “Nonetheless, we must deal with the facts legally as we find them,” said Temper Bailey. “In any case, if we accept Counsel Fegg’s conclusion that Dorothy Gale is an unreliable witness to her own actions, we must also therefore strike from the record Dorothy’s observation that the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba Thropp, actually died.”

  “Preposterous,” said Dame Fegg. “All of Oz knows that she died at the hands of this witch.”

  “If you please, I am not a witch,” said Dorothy. She mimed tying a bonnet under her chin “I’ve been trying to make this point for some time, but you people here never seem to put on your listening caps.”

  “I propose to the jury,” said Temper Bailey, “that of the charges brought against the defendant, we must strike them both off the chart of crimes.”

  “Wait; we can get the coroner in here to testify what he saw,” said Lord Nipp.

  “The coroner is dead, my Lord. So all we have are his records. May I close by saying that we’ve heard no conclusive evidence that the defendant committed the crimes with which she is charged? Here in loyal Munchkinland, even as we struggled against the encroachments of the Emerald City barbarians to our west, we must remember that what we are defending is not only the golden treasury of our arable fields and our native customs. We are defending our own honor, too. And we will not convict someone for whom there is no evidence of wrongdoing.”

  “Now I’ve heard everything,” snapped Dame Fegg. “I suppose as a coda you’re going to propose that due to the contradiction in time schemes, that the defendant before us is not even the actual Dorothy Gale who was here eighteen years ago, but an impostor?”

  “Oh, I’m me, all right,” said Dorothy earnestly.

  “I haven’t given you the floor,” said Lord Nipp.

  “Oh, but Your Reasonableness, may I have a word? Please?”

  Brrr could see that Nipp was inclined to say no, but the crowd wanted to hear Dorothy speak. They rhubarbed away in an insistent manner. Maybe the magistrate was stuck between his formal obligations and his own curiosity. If so, his curiosity won. He waved her forward.

  Dorothy stood up for the first time. She towered over the Munchkinlanders, even Lord Nipp on his stool. “When I first came to Oz however many years ago we count it, I was merely ten,” she said. “I don’t know if in Munchkinland a child of ten can be convicted of murder, but I believe in fairness, and I think you do too. When the twister lifted my house from its foundations, and I went whirling off in the skies, I was as helpless as a flea on the hide of a dog. I knew nothing of Munchkinland or anything about Oz, and I don’t see how I can be convicted of murder of a Wicked Witch whose presence I wasn’t even aware of until her corpse was pointed out to me by Lady Glinda.”

  This was, perhaps, not a sound association for Dorothy to make, thought Brrr; Lady Glinda seemed to be persona non grata both in Loyal Oz and in Munchkinland. You couldn’t win.

  “I’ve been fed newspapers in my jail cell—and a very comfortable jail cell it is, I might add. I have seen this trial referred to over and over as ‘The Judgment of Dorothy.’ With all due respect to my estimable hosts, today I would like to interpret that phrase as ‘Dorothy’s Judgment on the Matter.’ And so before you deliver your verdict, dear honorable jury and magistrate, I would like to deliver mine.”

  “Entirely out of order,” said Nipp, sorry he’d let this cat out of the bag, but the crowd was straining to hear what Dorothy would say next.

  “When I first came to Oz as an untraveled farmgirl,” she went on, “everything seemed magical to me. It took some getting used to, the presence of witches and wizards, and talking Animals, to say nothing of a Scarecrow who could walk and a man hammered with tin. It made Kansas look very tame. When I got home a few months later, thanks to the magic shoes that had caused so many problems, everything appeared pale by comparison. I thought maybe I’d somehow made the whole thing up. But then Uncle Henry and Auntie Em showed me a whole new house with a real indoor washroom instead of an outhouse, bought with insurance, and I hadn’t made that up. Plumbing is uniquely persuasive. So I decided my trip to Oz had been real, even if no one in Kansas believed in you.”

  She looked at them. “Yes. No one believed in Munchkinland. They thought I was being fanciful or perhaps tetched in the head. But I never stopped believing in you. I never stopped believing in the Yellow Brick Road, and the Emerald City, and that frightening old humbug, the Wizard of Oz.”

  She paused. She wasn’t quite as good as Dame Fegg, thought Brrr, but she had strengths of her own. “Here I stand now, before the very people I pledged never to forget, only to be accused by them of murders I didn’t intend to commit. I’m older now, as we’ve discussed. And I’ve traveled a little bit since I was ten. Uncle Henry took me by train all across the great mountains in my land to the city by the bay—to San Francisco—and for all that I have seen, the Rocky Mountains that, no offense intended, rival the magnificent Scalps in stature and purity—the great fertile plains of Nebraska—the ocean beyond the bay—I haven’t seen anything that could deflect my memories of Munchkinland and Oz. Not yet, not ever. My judgment of you is that you are a kind people and a fair people, and you will do what is right. You will make for me more memories of charity and justice that I can carry home, if I can ever reckon how to manage the return trip.”

  She curtseyed at Lord Nipp and again at Dame Fegg, and then she curtseyed a third time, not to the jury but to the crowd in Neale House. A small spattering of applause, quickly repressed.

  “Mmm, she’s good,” murmured Mr. Boss. “This should be rich.”

  “I shall liberate the jury to its deliberations,” began Nipp, but then Dame Fegg stood up.

  “There is a matter I meant to follow and I have just remembered,” she said. “May I be allowed to ask a question?” Nipp nodded. “I wonder if Miss Dorothy could describe for those of us who know nothing about Sanfran Tsitsko, or however it is said, the sea you mentioned once or twice. What sea is this?”

  “Oh, goodness,” said Dorothy. “It’s called the Pacific Ocean. It is as wide as the sky, and as broad.”

  “Poetic license is inadmissible in court,” said Dame Fegg. “Nothing could be as wide as the sky. The sky goes to both sides of us, you see, whereas a landscape to be viewed can only go in one direction.”

  “You’re right, in a manner of speaking,” said Dorothy, “but you see, this sea is so broad that you can’t view the other side. It’s said to stretch as far as Asia, and to take many, many days to cross by boat. Once you are out in a sailing vessel or a steamer, you lose sight of the land, of California and all, and there’s nothing around you but water. The sea is as wide as the sky, exactly so, for the water, I am told, s
tretches under you and the sky above, in precisely identical proportions…”

  “That’ll do,” said Dame Fegg. Munchkinlanders were vomiting into their lunch sacks. “You describe a mystical sea that bears no resemblance to reality. I hold you are criminally insane.”

  “Just because you’ve never seen an ocean doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” said Dorothy. “The same way that, when I go home, if I get home, your existence is not obliterated just because none of my family has ever been to Munchkinland.”

  Dame Fegg said, “I have heard enough, Lord Nipp. I think you can send the jury out.”

  “The presence or absence of an ocean of the mind has no bearing on this case!” hooted Temper Bailey.

  “Are there any final remarks?” asked Nipp, picking up his gavel. He pointed at Brrr, who shrank back. But Little Daffy stood up and approached the table.

  “I want to thank you for hearing my testimony, sir,” she said. “As the only Munchkinlander present who witnessed the arrival of Dorothy, I’m grateful to have been welcomed into the proceedings. It’s a custom of Center Munch to conclude a disagreement or a negotiation with a sweet, to show that honorable people can agree to disagree and still be courteous. So I have baked a little present for you.” No one could argue with Little Daffy; none of the Munchkinlanders from Bright Lettins knew the customs of Center Munch. She pulled from a basket on her arm a checkered cloth and unfolded it. “Please, in the name of those Munchkinlanders who remember Nessarose Thropp, accept this offering in the spirit in which I give it.”

  Nipp took a little pastry between thumb and forefinger. Dame Fegg did the same. Temper Bailey, using his claws on his perch, declined an offering. “May I approach the defendant?” asked Little Daffy. “It’s the custom. ‘With special zest we greet the guest,’ ” she intoned daringly. “Or is that verse peculiar to Center Munch?”

  “If you must,” said Nipp. Little Daffy angled the basket and shifted the napkin so Dorothy could see inside better.

  “Take two, they’re small, and you’re a big girl,” said Little Daffy, and Dorothy obliged. Then Nipp instructed the jury to file out to a private chamber.

  “I wouldn’t go far,” said Nipp, “if you want to be present at the declaration of the verdict. I have a feeling this isn’t going to take a long time. We’ll convene again in an hour and I’ll let you know if a decision has been reached.”


  They walked enough apart from the crowds to be able to talk. “This trial is a wholesale farrago of justice,” said Mr. Boss. “Not that I care much for justice, one way or the other. But even so. Your offer of defense, Brrr, hasn’t amounted to much. She’s dead meat, our little Giddy Girl Gale. Cooked and sliced and served on a party platter.”

  “I think so too,” said Little Daffy. “Which is why I think we need to be ready to liberate her if things get ugly.”

  “I doubt they could get any uglier,” said the Lion. The mob would have no trouble wrestling Dorothy up on the scaffold, but they’d never get his big neck in a noose. They’d think of something else for him. The mind went white-blank, and he didn’t speak for a moment for fear a tremble in his voice would betray him. “Do you have something in mind?”

  “Just be on your toes. I mean that literally.”

  Hardly fifteen minutes into the break, a bell began to ring, and the crowd surged to reassemble at Neale House. But the doors to the hall remained closed. The crowd murmured, and Brrr picked up a frisson of something different. Funny how news has a vibration in the air all its own. Something had happened. Something was happening. He shouldn’t have been surprised to see, when the door finally did open, that it wasn’t Nipp who emerged from the formal entrance but La Mombey herself.

  The crowd broke into a cheer, rousing at first but subduing at the expression of their Eminence. A tall and striking woman, in this light she appeared more silvery blond and mature. Not unlike, Brrr thought, Dobbius’s portraits of the Kanraki, those mythical spirits of the ravines of Mount Runcible. He half expected La Mombey to open her painted lips and lead them in a reprise of the Munchkinlander anthem.

  Mr. Boss must have been imagining the same. Sotto voce, he began to warble a few lines.

  “‘Munchkinland, its truncheon lands on all who dare drop by…’ ”

  “Shhh,” said his wife.

  “Gentle patriots,” La Mombey addressed them. “Lord Nipp will call the proceedings to order momentarily. I beg your leave to address you on a matter of urgency in the meanwhile. It is my sad duty to tell you that our investigators have learned of disturbing developments. Word has come to the committees at Colwen Grounds that a new offensive against Munchkinland is soon to be launched. Not from the Scalps, where our noble Glikkun friends are holding the mountain passes as only they could do. Nor from Restwater, at least not that we can glean. No, the Emerald City is said to be commissioning new battalions to make skirmishes across the slopes of the Madeleines in Gillikin into the Wend Fallows of Munchkinland. The Wend Fallows are scrubby and inhospitable marches, but there is little in the terrain that could slow an army determined to cross it. Put frankly, our spies conclude that the aim of the Emerald City, after these several years of stalemate, is to up the ante. The enemy intends to press for a full surrender of the government at Colwen Grounds and Bright Lettins by engaging us on a second front.”

  She raised a staff and a surge of gluey white light pulsed from it. Brrr had forgotten that La Mombey was a sorceress of sorts. He could detect no evidence that a charm had been cast, except the charm of pyrotechnic dazzle, but the crowd oohed and ahhed, and people in the back began to applaud. “We will not let this happen,” she said more fiercely. “In the defense of our homeland, today I declare a conscription of all Animals who originate outside our borders, including those born here whose parents or grandparents emigrated from Loyal Oz during the Animal Adverse laws. We gave you and your families succor when times were hard on you; we know you will stand with us and defend us when times are hard on us. Consequently, since yesterday I have secured the bridges and gates of Bright Lettins with a spell to help you Animals avoid the temptation to flee your duties. Links of lightning, I suppose, designed to deter any deserters. A little aversion therapy, we could call it. Following the close of this trial, Neale House will become the center for enlistment and assignment for the Animal Army of Munchkinland. May I suggest that mothers and their young among us right now be impounded for release until their husbands and fathers and mates come to ransom them. Since so many eligible male Animals seem to have had prior engagements today. For their valor in service, let us chant, hoorah!”

  “Hoorah,” shouted everyone except the Animals.

  Brrr said, “What’s the word for the tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, all the time?”

  “Fate’s foolery,” said Mr. Boss cheerily enough. “Give me one of those biscuits, wife. A surge in war fever always makes me peckish.”

  He fished in the basket and came up with two confections and a piece of paper. “‘Dorothy, take these two,’ ” he read. “Oh, don’t tell me, you poisoned the others? I don’t think I’m hungry anymore.” He put them back.

  “Nonsense, don’t be silly,” she said but could explain no further, as La Mombey had swooped away and the doors to the hall were opening.

  When the crowd was reassembled in the broad chamber, quieter than ever, Lord Nipp emerged, and then the barristers. The Owl looked terrified. No wonder. However the verdict went, Temper Bailey would probably end up in an Animal line of defense trying to hold the Wend Fallows. Me too, if I’m not careful, Brrr thought.

  The trapdoor opened and Dorothy began to climb up, but nerves, it seemed, were finally getting to her. She paused on the ladder, half into the hall, and swayed. Maybe she’d caught sight of the scaffold out the windows at the rear of the room. The Chimpanzees hurried forward and put a gloved hand under each of her armpits and more or less hauled her out. “Oh, my,” she said. “I sure hope it’s not my time of the month.�

  “Nothing good ever happens to that girl,” said Mr. Boss.

  “The judgment is called forth,” said Lord Nipp, and the jury proceeded into the room. The foreman handed a twist of paper to the magistrate. Then followed a bit of symbolism derived from older systems of jurisprudence in Munchkinland, Brrr guessed. Lord Nipp put the paper inside one half of an empty, hinged wooden ball and clapped the ball closed to make a full sphere. The judgment of Dorothy was imprisoned inside it. Next Nipp withdrew from under his table a round cage of metal bars, like a birdcage, that spun on a central axis. Through a hinged door he popped the wooden ball, and then latched the door and spun the cage.

  “Oh don’t, it makes me dizzy,” said Dorothy. “And Lord knows I’m dizzy enough already.”

  “You’re telling me,” whispered Mr. Boss.

  “It reminds me of falling in the elevator, down in the dark, spinning around and about,” said Dorothy. She put her hands out as if to steady herself. The crowd in the hall began to murmur a low note, holding the drone throughout the building and beyond it. The ball clacked against the bars of the cage, making erratic syncopation against the dark hummed note. “I don’t feel quite myself,” said Dorothy. “But then I think that’s customary in Oz.”

  The rotating cage slowed down and stopped. Lord Nipp opened the door and removed the ball. “Let justice be served,” he said. Then he unscrewed the two halves of the ball and took out the verdict. There’s no element of chance to this gesture, thought Brrr. In an older time perhaps more than a single ball danced and battered against others. But time eliminates alternatives until there’s only one eventuality, sooner or later.

  Maybe that was the point.

  “The opinion of the jury,” said Lord Nipp, glancing up from the folded paper, “accords with my own. I have no need to amend it. The court of Bright Lettins finds the miscreant Dorothy Gale guilty of all charges. The magistrate of this court concurs. She shall be put to death to defend the honor of Munchkinland.”