Dorothy swooned and nearly fell into the open trapdoor. Little Daffy was on her feet and at Dorothy’s side before anyone else could move. “I’m an apothecaire, and I was Matron’s Assistant at the Respite of Incurables in the EC. Before the troubles,” she added. She felt Dorothy’s pulse and put her hand on Dorothy’s head. “Wouldn’t it be just our luck if the murderess dies of a heart attack before she can be put to death? Just like what was suggested of Nessarose Thropp. Ironical in the extreme.” To the Chimpanzees who had rushed forward to help, Little Daffy barked, “Move aside, Monkey boys, she needs air if she’s to survive long enough to be killed.”
“Clear the front of the room,” cried Nipp. Temper Bailey obliged by flying through the open window.
Little Daffy motioned to Brrr to approach. “We’re losing her. Quick, quick. Mr. Boss, Lord Nipp—Dame Fegg! In the name of justice! Air at once. I’ve left my apothecaire’s satchel with my colleague just below the scaffold. We must get her on the Lion’s back; he can rush her there.” The magistrate and the barrister helped drape the insensate defendant on Brrr’s back.
Little Daffy slapped her husband’s rump and said, “Up, you too,” and Mr. Boss scrambled right onto Dorothy’s spine, his bowlegs splayed out on either side of her, clamping her in place. “To make sure she doesn’t fall,” said Little Daffy. “A hand up, please. Your Lordship, arrange that a vial of smelling salts be brought to the scaffold. It’s of utmost urgency. If we’re not careful, she just might slip away from us.”
Then, to Brrr, “Off, you,” and pointed her finger. Finally Brrr understood her scheme. He hoped he wasn’t too old to clear the windowsill, and in fact he scraped his loins rather badly in the effort. He emitted more of a yowl than a roar. The Munchkins in the alley scattered in terror as Brrr, Little Daffy, Mr. Boss, and the unconscious captive bolted into their midst. His heart pounding, Brrr tossed Munchkins aside like ninepins, and passed the scaffold, its ligature looped to a peg and swaying in the force of his rush. He careered around the edge of the crowd. Whatever shocking charm La Mombey might have set upon the bridge across the Munchkin River, to keep Animals from leaving before conscription, he would push through it. The charm couldn’t hurt half as much as his scraped underside already hurt. So what if links of lightning might neuter him: execution by firing squad would accomplish the same thing.
The plunge through rings of blue lightning was like being raked by sticks of fire on all inches of his body. It singed his whiskers and softened his claws, and the dewclaws dropped out and never grew back. The sizzle did give a measure of extra bounce to the curl of his mane, he could feel it through the torment. He’d make a prettier corpse in a moment or two.
Little Daffy and Mr. Boss seemed unfazed by the charmed barrier. They sat like human clamps upon their human saddle, who had not been revived by the scorching light.
Four or five miles beyond the city limits, on the west side of the Munchkin River, the Lion paused under a stand of quoxwood trees. Dorothy fell with a heavy clump off his back. “Is she dead?” he asked.
“No,” said Little Daffy. “But I don’t expect the effects of my poppified pastries to wear off for a few hours.”
By the time Dorothy began to come around, they were a dozen miles north of Bright Lettins. Village lights to one side and another suggested happy settlements, but the Dorothy Gale Rescue Brigade hunkered down in a cart shed aside a field of lettuces. They ate the rest of the pastries and quite a bit of lettuce, and drank from a bottle of plonk that a farmer had hidden inexpertly beneath some burlap sacking.
“I hate your new hairdo,” said Mr. Boss to Brrr. “Makes you look more dandified than ever. Hey, how did it feel to bust through that charm? You carried it off like a pro.”
“It tickled,” said Brrr, “the way being jabbed with red-hot pitchforks soaked in brine tickles.” He had never thought to get a compliment from the dwarf. It was almost worth the unending agony under his pelt, as if he’d survived an attempt at the skinning of his hide. Taxidermy while you wait.
Dorothy began to stir. Her first intelligible words were, “Now that we’re alone, I can ask. Where is Liir?”
“Hidden in the outback somewhere,” said Brrr. “With wife and child.”
“I must still be hallucinating. Wife?”
“He’s older than you,” said the Lion. “Remember that.”
“So am I, now,” said Dorothy, dizzily. But a bit of prairie reserve crept into the pitch of her voice and the upward jerk of her spine. “Why did you rescue me?” she continued, when whatever passed for coherence in her had returned.
“I did it because I don’t like bullies,” said Brrr, “and they were bullies to their boots, everyone except Temper Bailey.”
“I did it because I don’t think you’re guilty,” said Little Daffy. “I was there in Center Munch, no lie, and I was about the age you are now. I do remember your arrival. Everyone hated Nessarose. It was liberation. You were a Hero of the Nation. It’s political expediency to name you a villain now. Bald opportunism. You were being brought down only to drum up a patriotic fervor just before the Eminence announced another front is about to open in the war. Which means it isn’t going all that well for Munchkinland, I should guess. Really, do they think we are morons?”
“Evidently, the answer is yes,” said the Lion. “And you know, of course, their tactic will work just fine. They’ll find a way to make Dorothy’s escape from execution play into their war fever somehow.”
“As for me,” said Mr. Boss, “why did I help? Well, I hardly knew what we were doing until we did it. But in a deeper sense, why did I come to Bright Lettins at all? Because I wondered if your return to Oz was caused by the collapse of the Clock of the Time Dragon.”
They all looked at him as if his thinking had, perhaps, collapsed.
“You two remember,” he said to the Lion and the Munchkinlander. “Rain suggested it. Liir’s child,” he explained to Dorothy. “One of the last things the Clock showed us was an earthquake. After it fell down that slope near the Sleeve of Ghastille. Near as I can tell, that happened just about the same time as the earthquake in the Scalps. Maybe the Clock’s insidious magic brought Dorothy back, against her will.”
“Are you showing solidarity with something besides the Clock?” asked Little Daffy. “Senility hits at last.”
The dwarf grunted. “Least we could do is stand by her, since she never bought the ticket to come.”
“And I have no return ticket,” added Dorothy. “I don’t suppose there are any more of those pastries left? They leave a kick, but my, they are tasty.”
At St. Prowd’s
Rain didn’t count the days or the hours in a day.
She didn’t count the items in the collections she made, neither of pinecones nor grey stones. Feathers ranging from the length of a human fingernail to that of a folded umbrella, in colors from pale white to coal and all the stations between. Animal bones—antlers, a bat wing, a femur someone had whittled partway into a flute and then abandoned. It was strange and triangular on one end and no one could identify the creature it must have come from.
She cataloged clouds but didn’t count the varieties; she noticed separate weathers but didn’t tally up the sorts. She gathered a bevy of small lake seashells like babies of her precious large one, or like its toys. The tin cup of arrowheads was her favorite. She knew each one by heft and design, by adze stroke and lichen stain. She didn’t know how many she had.
She didn’t look as closely at family matters. The incidents, the backgrounds, the causes-and-consequences, the self-delusions presented as potted biographies. To the extent she was aware of them—her relatives—they seemed like bundled, ambulatory atmospheres. But she’d picked up the art of pretending to listen. It seemed to calm them all down, and who knows, maybe she learned something. She didn’t count the lessons, if there were any.
In two years the family had managed, among them, to build a little home. It had been hard going at the ou
tset. Not much more than a lean-to dug into the side of a hill. More cave than cottage. When they’d survived the first winter, Nor had made her way overland to the nearest settlement—some two weeks away by foot—and come back to Nether How with a sack of square-head nails. Useful enough, but since the art of construction wasn’t one of Liir’s strengths, everyone was grateful for the help of a trio of hunters heading west to hunt skark. They’d stopped to water their horses at Five Lakes, and by the time they’d left ten days later, they had framed up a tidy cottage on the stone foundation Liir had been carting into place for a year. It remained only for him to finish it. He got the roof shingled just in time, though that second winter the house had to double as a shed. (Candle had managed to befriend a goat and some wild chickens.) He and Nor worked all winter fitting the floor and walls with planking while Candle foraged in the woods for edible roots and bark and for seedpods to begin a lakeland farm.
“What does it take to grow a farm?” Liir asked his wife once. An old joke.
“A family,” she’d answered. Not so funny, but true. They all worked, husband and wife and sister and, to the extent they could get her attention, daughter.
In the luff of the Great Kells, which loomed over them to the west, the winter was warmer than they’d expected. Snow, to be sure, but many of the storms seemed to slide overhead, holding their worst until they’d moved farther east. Or maybe the site itself was magical. Long ago on a solitary trek Liir had discovered the isolated district he called Five Lakes. He’d had a certain vision right here, on the hummock of land where he’d now built their home. He told Candle and Nor about it one winter evening, after Rain had settled down.
That’s what they did, to see their way through the winters: tell their lives, as honestly as they could. Rain heard these tales as she heard the fire crackle. Pretty sounds, but no way to assemble them.
“It’s hard to remember for sure,” said her father through his patchy, unconvincing beard. “Maybe I’ve filled in parts of it to make more sense. But what I remember—what I think I remember—is that as I was lying on the ground in a spasm of regret, I seemed to detach from myself, to float above my restless body. I could see myself below, half awake, turning and tossing. I became aware of a movement on the side of the hill, not far from this home, though I don’t know where precisely. I saw an old man forming ghostily in the uprights of autumn saplings. He was stumbling in from somewhere, like a figure in fog taking definition as he neared. Or like the way a poaching egg goes from translucent to solid. He seemed lost, but not in that frantic manner of the very old. Just unsure of his location. He peered at the water with interest, and around at the land. But though he emerged from nowhere in a magical way, he didn’t see me, either on the ground or in the air. As he filled in, I saw he had in his arms a big book. Maybe it was the Grimmerie, but I suppose there are other big books in Oz. He nodded, as if approving where he’d washed up, and turned to the north.”
“I’ve always believed you can see the past,” said Candle. “I think he couldn’t notice you because you weren’t there yet. What you saw had happened much earlier.”
Nor grunted. “I remember hearing my mother and Elphaba talking about where the Grimmerie came from. My mother said that one day an old man had come to the door of Kiamo Ko, long before Elphaba arrived, before I was born probably, and taken a bite to eat. He said the book was a great weight to carry, and with Sarima’s permission he would leave it behind. It would be collected in time. My mother put it in some attic where Auntie Witch found it years later.”
Liir replied, “That weird apprehension of witnessing something past has only come over me once or twice, and a good thing too. I don’t miss it.”
“If we live long enough,” said his half-sister, “we all end up seeing the past. That’s all we can see.”
“I can see the present,” said Candle. Perhaps her skill was related to women’s intuition, but of a steelier sort. Tonight her understanding was humble. “I can see that somebody’s little girl is only feigning sleep. She’s listening to every word we say.”
In two years and some, Candle had learned how to be a mother. A mother to a reckless, feckless, one-off of a child—but what child isn’t?
Listening wasn’t quite what Rain was doing, but hearing—letting the sounds trickle by—well, yes. Caught out, she sat up in her trundle cot that, daytimes, slid under her parents’ higher bedstead. “I can’t sleep tonight.”
“Too much talk of magic,” said Nor.
“Tell me about the time you flew Elphaba’s broomstick,” said Rain. She had noticed that grown-ups liked to be asked to speak.
“Pfaah, magic, a set of poison hopes,” said Nor.
Candle said, “No more talk about magic. You need your sleep, Rain. We’re going to try to rush another wild sheep into the fold tomorrow, spancel it and dock its tail, and you make the best sheepdog I have. Come now. Lay down.” But Rain wheedled and whined until the grown-ups relented. The next telling was Nor’s.
“I was about your age, Rain,” said Nor, “and living at Kiamo Ko, a castle way north of here. Elphaba had come to live with us already, along with your father, who was younger than I.”
“I still am,” said Liir.
“I suppose Elphaba must have arrived at Kiamo Ko with that broom, but I don’t know if she understood its powers. I had taken it out to a barn to clean up after our guests, and I felt it twitch in my hands, to pulse with life. Like a garter snake when you grab it, but not wriggly. It’s hard to explain. I decided to ride it like a hobbyhorse, but when I threw my leg over it, it rose in the air.”
But the attack had brought him to the ministrations of Candle, and that had brought Rain into the world, into their lives, so he stopped complaining.
“I want to fly,” said Rain. “I want to fly, and to see.”
“You touch that broom without permission, you’ll get a walloping you never knew I was capable of,” said Liir.
“And I’ll thwack you too,” said Candle, who was so tenderhearted she didn’t set traps for the field mice that ravaged her seed stock.
They all looked overhead; they couldn’t help it. In the apex of the ceiling, above the loft, Liir had closed in a triangular space by hammering up a ceiling three boards wide. He had boxed in the broom. If you didn’t know it was there you would never guess. As for the Grimmerie, he had planned to encase it in fieldstone next to the chimney stack, adjacent the bread oven. But worries about having to flee suddenly, leaving it where it might be found, had scuttled that strategy. Thus, the Grimmerie was wrapped in an old army satchel of Liir’s and kept on top of the dish cupboard. Ready to go at a moment’s notice. Everyone was forbidden to touch it.
So of course Rain wanted to get the Grimmerie. Any number of times she pulled over a stool and settled her hands on the dark blue canvas sacking. But it wasn’t worrying about punishment from her parents that stopped her. Their cautions didn’t figure. It was the memory of what had happened with the dragons on the lake. To Call Winter upon Water. And that was merely one page. What good might be done through the agency of a single powerful page? What good, and what evil?
She wasn’t afraid of doing good or of resisting evil. She was merely afraid she might not be able to tell the difference.
Still, how it called her! If Candle could sometimes tell the present, if Liir had once or twice been able to tell the past, Rain felt she could tell the hunger of the Grimmerie. A hunger to be read. The book had an active desire to be cracked open and have its messages delivered. The furnace’s lust for tinder.
They rarely left her alone in the cottage, those adults. Her people? She found the concept hard to take in. At any rate, the next group
of people. More people to add to her collection of people. It seemed she would rotate through an endless set of temporary arrangements. She hadn’t forgotten the Lion, the dwarf, and the Munchkinlander herbalist lady. Or Murthy and Puggles and other warm cloudy presences without names, those who had lived belowstairs with her at Mockbeggar Hall and taken care of her scrapes and ailments.
Back then she had run about like a chipmunk, unnoticed unless she was about to trespass on some formal affair of Lady Glinda’s, in which case she’d be boxed about the ears or distracted with a boiled sweet. Here at Nether How, this scrappily forested hill hummocked up between two isolated mountain lakes, she was always under someone’s watchful eye. If the three adults had to go off somewhere, either Oziandra Rain had to traipse along or she was left under the care of Iskinaary.
“They love you because you belong to them,” he hissed at her once. “They can’t help it. But I think you’re trouble heating up on a slow flame. I’ve got my eye on you.”
“I never done nothing to you,” she replied, dropping the stone in her palm.
Sheep, companionable enough, roamed their neighborhood, keeping the ground cover cropped. Once a year the three adults managed to shear a few of them. How best to prepare the wool? There were tricks to it some traveler would eventually share, but in the meantime the family kept warm enough. None of them ate meat as a first choice, but if a lamb was found with a broken neck and it couldn’t thrive, they killed it out of mercy and Candle thanked some deity or other for its spirit and its chops. Liir and Nor wouldn’t join in the prayer. And Iskinaary refused to come to table if there was flesh upon it.
“One day I’ll break my neck, and then you’ll have a conundrum on your hands,” he told them.