Out of Oz, Page 50Gregory Maguire
“I shouldn’t have left her in order to rescue Dorothy,” Brrr muttered in a voice Rain had to strain to hear. “We took our sweet months on a switch-back journey in case we were being followed—we went to the Chancel of the Ladyfish first, to see if your kin had returned there, or had left word under the stone with the question-mark horse. When we found nothing, we decided to come here, hoping to find Candle and Liir. It was his boyhood home, after all. In any event, we thought this castle might be a safe hole to hide Dorothy in. But I never guessed Ilianora would come back here too. The very site of her childhood trauma, the abduction and the murders—and now it happens all over again. No wonder she couldn’t bear it.”
At the death of Nor a few days earlier, Brrr continued, Candle had been unable to contain herself. She had bundled some nuts and sandwiches in a cloth and said good-bye to the travelers who had arrived shortly after Liir’s abduction—Brrr, and Little Daffy and Mr. Boss, with that big horsey farm-girl in tow. Candle had left on foot. She intended to go to Nether How and tear the ceiling apart with her fingernails, if she had to. She would pull down the witch’s broom if it hadn’t already been found and stolen by the same brigands who had stolen her husband. She would climb to the top of the house and jump off. She would teach herself to fly on that broom or die. She would dare the broom to fail her.
She would find Liir before he went farther from her than he’d already drifted.
Rain and Tip might almost have passed Candle on the trail, Iskinaary implied, but the Quadling woman was traveling by night.
Impossible, said Rain’s face, now knowing the pitilessness of the landscape.
No, it was true, assured the Goose. Candle had the benefit of a lamp-lark that she had charmed with her music and petitioned to accompany her. “A lamp-lark can shine like a small beacon in the night if it’s singing to a mate. Trust our Candle to play her domingon to sound like something of which the lamp-lark approved.” Candle also took an uncharacteristically tame mountain goat who would allow a saddle on her.
The Arjiki period of mourning for Nor had begun while Candle’s mount was passing out of sight. It was over now, just as Brrr and Little Daffy and Mr. Boss finished filling Rain and Tip in on the news.
The girl they called Dorothy sat a little way off on a milking stool, listening gravely, wrinkling her nose at the stench of roasted death stealing in on the updraft. An old woman nobody had yet introduced to Rain sat next to her.
So her father was gone, who knew where. Her mother was equally gone. Her aunt Nor was gone even further. The small family that Rain had inherited late in her childhood was scattered. As a social unit families have only a limited tenure, though it’s the rare soul who comprehends this while still a child. Rain was that soul.
All that was left to her was the Lion.
More than Little Daffy and Mr. Boss, the Lion stood for Rain. For her, beside her. His great lined face had turned to her finally, as if it had taken effort to slough off grief and register who Rain really was.
This upright young woman able to look him in the eye—what a sharply direct look it was, too. Loving and unflinching, the native opposite of how she had seemed several years ago. Living with her parents, then boarding at school, Brrr now learned, had straightened her out. Life had given her language. He was impressed and a little intimidated—but from the distance that a new grief imposes.
While all Rain could see, looking back at the Lion both fondly and clinically, was a creature sodden with sorrow. Shocked, and barked at into something nearing old age. His very whiskers trembled with palsy.
Tip tried to help her take measure of their situation, their resources. Laughably pregnable, this castle of Kiamo Ko. No place to stay if Rain wanted to be safe. How had Candle and Liir ever thought they could protect themselves here? Brrr, who hadn’t seen Liir since parting from him in the Disappointments and turning toward Munchkinland to rescue Dorothy, couldn’t answer. “I told you, it was his home, once upon a time,” the Lion insisted. “He grew up here. The first time I ever saw him was in this very courtyard, when the Witch’s flying monkeys had carried Dorothy and me up the slopes and dumped us onto the cobbles. You know, my left rear ankle has never been the same. I’ve always had to favor it.”
Rain could tell, even in his bereavement, that the Cowardly Lion was trying to encourage her, to cheer her up. It didn’t help. Perhaps one day she would look back and it would help then.
She was growing up, to be able to conceive of a “one day” and a “looking back.”
“But that it was his home? So what?” Rain had no sentimentality about places. “His home is built on the edge of a chasm during earthquake season, and he feels safe so he stays there? Because it’s, it’s home?”
“No place like it,” said Brrr. “Don’t be withering, it’s not becoming.”
Rain didn’t get it. She asked Mr. Boss and his wife what they thought, but they seemed not to be taking the full measure of the tragedy. They slept a lot. Maybe scaling a mountain this steep was harder on their little legs than on Brrr’s or Dorothy’s.
Of Dorothy, Rain was dubious. The foreigner seemed spooked to be here in the Witch’s castle; she didn’t like to be left alone. At first Rain was afraid that Dorothy was going to make a play for Tip, and it would be the Scarly thing all over again, but Dorothy seemed oblivious to Tip’s sweetness. “I just keep thinking about Toto,” she said. “I wonder if he’s still hunting for me somewhere, out in this blasted hideous world you cretins inhabit.”
“You’ve gone sassy, you have,” said Mr. Boss.
“Being convicted of double murder and condemned to death has helped erode some of my native midwestern taciturnity.”
“I think your little dog probably met up with some great big dog,” said Mr. Boss, “who is a lot more fun to hang out with than you.”
“How dare you make fun of me in my distress. I’d like to find a pack of those great big dogs and introduce them to your behind.”
“They’re doing this for your benefit, you know,” said Brrr to Rain, but she wasn’t sure she believed him.
She walked with Tip out of the castle again, in the direction from which they’d approached. Away from the smoldering embers. She cried, but turned her head away from his shoulder, not wanting to shame herself that much. Tip knew better than to ask why she was crying. It wasn’t really the death of her aunt, or the splintered lives her parents were living in defense of her, who had never asked to be defended. It was the whole pitfall of it, the stress and mercilessness of incident. She felt she was living on a stage controlled by tiktok machinery, and the Time Dragon dreaming her life was prone to nightmares.
Tip seemed to know all this without saying a word. He was the only article of faith that stood between her and the edge of the cliff, which looked eager to buckle if only she gave it half a chance.
She didn’t sleep much, in the small room to which the senior flying monkey had showed her. Tay crowded her pillow, shivering. Apparently the rice otter didn’t take to mountain air. Tip slept nearby, but apart, on a pallet outside her door. She could hear his breathing when he finally fell off to sleep. That was the first comfort afforded her since they’d arrived.
In the morning, she was all business. “Who is that old woman at the window?” she asked Iskinaary.
“Her name is Cattery Spunge, but she’s called Nanny,” said the Goose. “She’s already passed through her second childhood and she’s in her second adolescence now, and has decided to be sprightly again after spending a generation in bed.”
“What’s she doing here?”
“She raised your grandmother Elphaba, and she lived here with Liir until he was about fourteen. She’s been retired for about forty-five years but she’s considering looking for a new position as governess or possibly manager of a granary or something.”
“Hello, Nanny,” said Rain, approaching her.
The woman turned and put down her bowl of frumenty. Rain had never seen anyone so o
ld. Her cheeks and neck were wrinkled like a piece of vellum scrunched and only partly reopened. “Elphie?” said Nanny.
“No. My name is Rain.”
The old woman said, “My cataracts are puddings. I’d like to dig them out with sugar tongs. My, but you do look like Elphaba. Are you sure?”
“I just arrived.”
“Well, I’ve been expecting you for a long time.”
Rain wasn’t certain that she had convinced Nanny who she was, but she decided it didn’t matter. “You are the only one who knew Nor when she was a child.”
“Yes, that I did.”
“What was she like?”
“She was the first one to ride the broom, you know. Elphaba told me. She was bright and peppy and full of beans.”
“But how could she ride that broom? She didn’t have an ounce of magic in her.”
“I’d have said so too. But who is to say that magic follows our expectations. Give me your hand, child.”
“Are you going to read my palm?”
“With my eyes? I can’t even see your fingers, let alone your lifelines. No, I just want to warm up my own hands. The young have so much fire in them.”
“Do you have any idea where my father might be?”
“Oh, my dear, Frex went off to the Quadling lands to bring faith to the noble heathen, don’t you know.”
“My father,” she said. “I’m talking about Liir. Liir Ko.”
“Liir Thropp, you mean,” she said. “Elphaba’s boy. When the soldiers came and kidnapped the family, and little Nor among them, Elphaba was out somewhere. Shopping, or raising mayhem. Or conducting lessons in sedition. I don’t want to talk about that part. Liir followed them and got kidnapped too, but then they let him go because they didn’t know who he was. They thought he was a kitchen boy. Well, he always was grubby, I’ll give them that. They’d have saved themselves a lot of bother if they’d kept him when they had him.”
“That was then,” she said. “What about this time? Did you hear them arrive, did they say anything that would give you a clue about where they were taking him?”
“I’ve always been a very sound sleeper. It’s my best talent.” She took out a few teeth and cleaned them with her thumb, and then reinserted them. “Popcorn kernels, you know; the old gums can’t take it anymore.”
“What do you think?”
“I think,” said Nanny, “that there is nothing more I would like right now than to tell you what you want to know. But I can’t. So the next best thing I would like is to have a nap in this sunlight. I feel the winter chill something fierce, you know. If when I wake I find I’ve remembered anything further, I’ll call for you. What did you say your name was?”
“I don’t think so.” She squinted at the bright summer sun. “Snow, perhaps, or hail; it’s too cold for rain at this time of year.” She pulled a tippet about her shoulders and almost immediately began to snore.
Rain continued her circuit, stopping to press Iskinaary for his opinions. “Why didn’t you go with him? You’re supposed to be his familiar, aren’t you?”
“Only a witch has a familiar, and he’s not a witch.”
“That’s no answer, and you know it.”
Iskinaary refused to budge on the matter, but Rain pestered. “It doesn’t make sense. You’ve always stayed by his side. You could have followed him from a height and seen where he was being taken. I can’t believe you failed him at this point in your long friendship, if that’s what you call it.”
She goaded him further until finally he hissed, “If you must know, I wanted to go with him, but he yelled at me to stay behind and take care of Candle. So I followed his word though it broke my heart.”
“You’re a big fat liar. You didn’t follow his word at all, or you’d be traveling with my mother down to Nether How, to get that broom. You broke your promise to him. You are as cowardly as the Lion.”
“I resent that,” called the Lion, who wasn’t listening although certain phrases do carry.
“Save it for the magistrate.” Iskinaary drew himself up to his full height. His cheeks were sunken in a way they had not been before, but his eye was steely menace still. “Candle told me to stay here because you were likely to show up. She has that talent. She sensed your approaching.”
“And so she left,” said Rain, without mercy, for what mercy had her mother ever shown her? “A talent for lighting out just when I show up. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”
“She wanted to protect you. She said you were more important than she was.”
“I doubt you believe that,” said Rain.
“I never said I believe it.”
The senior flying monkey, Rain learned, was called Chistery. He was so stooped that his chin nearly touched his knees. He was devoted to Nanny and agreed with her that Rain had something of Elphaba about her. “Frankly, when I first saw you, I thought you were Elphaba returning.”
“As I understand it, Elphaba was green.”
“So I’ve heard. But flying monkeys are color-blind, so I wasn’t going by your pallor. You do have something of Elphaba about you. I can’t quite name what it is.”
“The talent of being in the wrong place almost all the time?”
“Maybe, Rain, a feeling for magic. Have you ever tried it?”
“Don’t be absurd.”
“Or maybe it’s your air of disdain. Elphaba was strong in that department.”
Perhaps to distract the disconsolate group, Dorothy told Rain and Tip about her day in court. The subject of her trial and her conviction bore heavily on her. At lunch one day, Dorothy turned to Nanny and said, “You were present, Nanny. You were here when Elphaba disappeared. The day her skirts went up in flames and I threw the bucket of water on her. I ran weeping away when I saw her disappear, but you came rushing up the stairs as I went down.”
“Oh yes, I used to have very good knees. An attractive domestic, according to certain opinions posted anonymously to me.”
“What did you see when you got there? You never would say. You came down the turret stairs and locked the door, and said she was dead, but whatever happened? I don’t remember a funeral such as the one we had for Nor.”
“The times were different, the standards were different, and I was on my own. After all these years you can’t hold me to lapses in decorum. Who are you, anyway? Are you a tax collector, asking all these nosy questions? I tithed to my eyeteeth and anyway I never earned a penny. I never stole that golden garter. Melena gave it me. Everything I did, I did for love of Melena Thropp, my lovely Melena with the powdery skin and the lavender nosegays. Sue me.”
“I’m Dorothy,” said Dorothy. Her voice was taking on a peevish edge. “Dorothy Gale, from Kansas.”
“Oooh she’s smart,” said Nanny to the rest of the table. “Wants us to know her name and address so when we read it in the columns we’ll go oooh la la. I’m not impressed. Pass the port.”
Little Daffy handed down a pitcher of well water and poured it for Nanny. She took a big gulp of it and said, “Yum, smackers,” and fell asleep in her chair. Chistery came around to wipe her lips and to wheel her away, which wasn’t easy, since his chin hardly came up to the seat of her chair. But his long arms, crooked with bone spurs, could still reach up to the chair’s handles, so off they went.
“But what happened to Elphaba?” asked Rain. Perhaps cruelly, she added, “Look, we know what happened to Nor. We saw it. What happened to the Witch?”
The Lion left the table without asking to be excused, uncommon rudeness for him, but no one blamed him.
“That’s the big question, isn’t it,” said Dorothy. “What really happened to the Witch?”
After her first reunion with the Lion, Rain noticed that he was keeping to himself. He had taken to sleeping in the very larder, Chistery whispered, that old Nanny had locked Liir and the Lion in when the Witch was hounding Dorothy up the stairs to her tower, and thence to the parapet over the gorge. “If I had only
lived up to my name,” Rain heard the Lion mutter once, to himself or maybe to Tay, who was hunting for something along the baseboards under the flour bins.
“What do you mean?” she couldn’t help asking.
“If I’d been as cowardly as they called me, ever since the Massacre at Traum, I’d never have accompanied that foreign agitatrix, Dorothy, out this way. The first time, I mean. I’d have gone on to a long and sorry life as the confirmed bachelor I was really cut out to be.”
Meaning, Rain supposed, what? That he regretted the consequences caused by the death of the Witch? That he regretted having fallen in love with Nor, a human woman? Could he really wish that he hadn’t ever met her, to avoid this suffering now? Rain knew herself to be young, untried by any suffering that really counted. (Rain was still alive, after all, and though her parents were dispersed and endangered, she wasn’t stretched out upon a stone floor with her chin in her paws.) But even were something to happen to Tip, she thought, she couldn’t imagine wishing she had never met him.
Maybe she just didn’t know Tip well enough yet. Maybe you have to earn the kind of grief that the Lion was exhibiting. Though privately, and perhaps this was callous of her, she also wondered if Brrr was putting it on just a bit thick.
Still, he had the benefit of knowing what Kiamo Ko had been like with his common-law wife in the next room, for a few days anyway, of fatal reunion, and now—where was she? Where was she really? Where did the dead go?
Where had Elphaba gone?
It took Rain two or three days to realize that Chistery and the other flying monkeys were deferring to her, as if she were the owner of the castle now. “I’m not Elphaba,” she reminded Chistery, after he came down from Nanny’s room where he had been discreetly changing her bedding.