Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Out of Oz, Page 51

Gregory Maguire

  “Don’t I know it,” he told her, but nicely.

  “And I’m not my father.”

  “You’re quite a bit like your father, you know.”

  “I don’t know. I don’t know him at all.”

  “See, that’s what he always said about his mother too. Disavowal of family resemblances; it’s a family trait.”

  “Chistery,” she said, “what are we going to do?”

  “Rain,” he answered, “don’t you see? It’s up to you.”

  “I’m a child, for the love of Ozma!”

  “And I’m a flying monkey. I wasn’t born either to fly or to talk, but your grandmother Elphaba brought both capacities out of me. I am the patriarch in a line of creatures that wouldn’t exist without your family’s interference. Now I can’t fly from here to the washtub, but I will use my tongue to give you my mind. You have to figure out on your own how to use your talents.”

  She pouted at him. “That sounds like the motto of every improving sermon made by any teacher at St. Prowd’s. You could lecture there.”

  “Don’t mock me. How could I decide for you what should be done next? I’ve lived fifty years on this estate and I’m not trained at situational analysis.”

  He handed her the sheets and nodded with his chin toward where she should bring them. “Child of woe,” he added, “don’t you see? You’re in charge now. Nor is dead and the Lion is incapacitated. Liir is gone and Candle is gone and dear old Nanny is feeling fitter than usual but she’s not ready yet to lead a cavalry charge. Tip seems sensible enough but he’s not family. And the little people seem to think they’ve come to a holiday resort.” He snorted. “They could make up their own bed of a morning, in my humble.”

  “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m tired too.”

  “I’m sure you are. Get over it. There’s work to be done.”

  “May I go up to what used to be the Witch’s room?”

  “I told you. It’s your castle now. You can go where you want.”

  So after lunch, Tip and Rain, with Tay at their heels, followed Chistery’s directions and found the staircase leading up to what used to be the Witch’s room, at the top of the curving stairs in the southeast tower.

  The flying monkeys, who lived mostly in the outbuildings but took care of basic housekeeping, had by all appearances done little more than dust in here once or twice a year. The room looked as if it were being kept as a kind of installation of a Witch’s offices, or possibly a memorial chamber to bring faint tears to any pilgrims able to brave the journey. Though so far no one had ever shown up.

  The room was broad and circular, wide enough in circumference to hold a dance competition if the furniture were cleared out. In the center of the room the floor was level, but on several sides, up a few steps, a sort of mezzanine or gallery stretched, lowest underneath the room’s one great eastfacing window, higher on the other side. Perhaps originally this had been an armory, and these stone flats designed for the laying out of lances. Clearly, Elphaba had used the chamber to study arcana derived from her twin interests in natural history and matters numinous.

  A huge stupa of a beehive collapsing in on itself—it must have held five thousand bees. (What a song they sang; they must have driven the Witch mad, thought Rain.) A deceased crocodrilos pickled in brine still hung on chains from a rafter. Some wag, maybe a monkey, had put game dice in its eye sockets, so it peered out at Rain and Tip with a pair of singletons. A flat file revealed sixty or seventy bat skeletons, all different. On a stiff board they found a full mouth of wolf’s teeth, uppers and lowers, laced in by wire and labeled from front to back in a script that had faded illegible. Several umbrellas had been left opened to dry, and had dried well enough by now that their fabric had given way, leaving only ribs and tatters. On one umbrella, spiders had built webs between every one of the struts. It was creepy and wonderful at once, and reminded Rain of her thirst for a spiderworld, long ago.

  The great window was like a web through which to peer at Oz.

  Collections, thought Rain. My shell belongs here.

  Maybe Chistery is right. Maybe I do have something of my grandmother in me. For as long ago as I can remember, I’ve listened better to the animals than to any person. Though I have no magic in me, and I cannot tell what they are saying.

  “Here’s a ball of glass, somewhat mirrored, I think,” said Tip, rubbing dust off with a rag. It stood on a table in the center of the room. “I doubt it’s an ornamental gazing ball. She doesn’t seem to have gone in for interior decoration of that sort.”

  “I’m not sure I want to look at it,” said Rain. “I’ve never liked looking at myself.”

  “That makes two of us. But we’ve come to see what is here. Don’t you think we should try?”

  She moved around the room, learning things with her fingers and her nose as much as with her eyes. He waited, slumped against a stand-up desk, arms folded.

  Rain scowled, not at him but in the act of walking her thoughts along. “Both my parents have their own weirdness—maybe that’s what drew them together. My mother can see the present, she said. I thought she meant she could tell when I was about to snitch a scone from the larder at Nether How. But what mother can’t tell that? Now I think she meant something else. She had—she has—some capacity to understand the present. It probably only affects those she loves or cares about. She could tell, if my father was away hunting for a week, that he was almost home. Is that just intuition, or is it a special kind of seeing?”

  He waited. He knew she was talking mostly to herself.

  “And my father? He didn’t speak about it much, but my mother told me. Once or twice he could see the past. He saw an image of his parents—Elphaba and Fiyero—together. More than once—like a vision. He thought it was just his imagination, that he was trying to invent a relationship between them, to convince himself who his forebears were. But he could see a little more than that, my mother told me. She told me about what happened just before I was born, when Liir had brought the dried faces of human beings—”

  “Don’t,” said Tip, wincing.

  “Is that any harder to consider than a dried crocodrilos?”

  “Actually, yes.”

  “Liir had brought them to the farm where I would soon be born. He hung them in the trees, and my mother played the domingon. He saw that they had histories, that they could speak if they were charmed to do so, and my mother laid the spell upon them to come into the present and recite the—the beauty of their lives, I guess she said. And that testimony of soundness, of themself-ness, helped lift the disguise of a human off of old Princess Nastoya of the Scrow, and she died as she had wished to go, as the Elephant she was behind her disguise.”

  “Maybe your mother’s singing—your father’s memory—called forth the lost Elphaba into you. While you were in the womb.”

  “Maybe you believe in tooth fairies? Or time dragons?”

  “So don’t you want to peer in the ball? What if you have some scrap of the talent in your eyes that your parents do? That your grandmother did?”

  “I can’t bear to see the present, if it involves my father being tortured. I can’t. I can’t bear to see the past, in case it involves him having been murdered. I can’t bear to see my mother fleeing this house of disaster. I prefer my disguise of blindness a little longer.”

  He asked in a low voice, “Can you bear to see yourself unveiled? Or me?”

  She looked abruptly at him in case he was tending sexy. But he meant it truer, deeper than that. “I don’t know,” she finally answered. “What if I do have a talent, and it is neither Liir’s nor Candle’s, but my own? What if I can see the future? I don’t think I want to know.”

  “Can you live without knowing?”

  She almost laughed. “I have lived without knowing most of my life. Isn’t that what we’re all so good at? That’s the easy part.”

  So they didn’t look in the gazing ball, either of them, Rain by conviction and Tip out of deference. Ins
tead Tip opened the shutters on one side of the wide window. Facing east, away from the wind off Knobblehead Pike, the window showed a view of the valley they had walked up from. They could see the ruined stump of Red Windmill, and the valley where Upper Fanarra lay hidden. Through a dip in the mountainous horizon, probably harboring the track of their arrival, they could see where the plain of the Vinkus River must begin. And somewhere down there the beaver dam, with the mother-in-law of Luliaba waiting for them to return with a coracle to float her to her future.

  Before leaving, they made a halfhearted search for accoutrements of magic, but they could only picture tchotchkes from a pantomime about Sweet Lurline and Preenella, her aide-de-sorcière. What were they expecting to locate? Magic wands? They found a bristling bunch of cattails, which magically still had their fur, but that was all the magic in them. What else might they wish for? Some faded pamphlet of practical magic, to help summon up a nice flank of terch or garmot instead of endless salads? A corked vial of smelling salts that might revive the Cowardly Lion into something of his usual growly but steadfast self? They found none of that. The only magic thing they were sure of was the crystal sphere on its stand of carven dragons in the middle of the room, and that much magic was too much. They would have to make their way without it.

  In the welter of so much animal zoologics, they almost forgot Tay. They couldn’t find the otter at first, and then Tip laughed and pointed. Tay had leaped up somehow and landed on the back of the airborne crocodrilos. The green rice otter was swaying back and forth, defying gravity, having a modest little carnival ride for itself.

  “Come here, you nutcase,” said Rain, and Tay obliged.

  “It’s trying out what flying on a broom might be like,” said Tip. “You should try it someday too. If your mother returns with that broom.”

  If Chistery is right, and it’s up to me to take charge, she thought, then I have to decide what to do.

  She called a council that evening, after Nanny had gone to bed. Of the flying monkeys only Chistery sat in. Brrr was cajoled and then browbeaten to leave his larder, and the Munchkinlander and the dwarf bestirred themselves to climb onto the edge of a sideboard so they could see better. Rain took one side of the circular table, Tip opposite her. Dorothy and Iskinaary perched on stools, completing the round. Eight of them.

  Tay played with a dust mouse under the big table. A broom only goes so far.

  They seemed a small and enervated group, too wasted in strength to mount much of a campaign. That couldn’t matter. There was no one else, even if all they did was think.

  “We can’t stay here like this,” Rain said. “Not for the threat to us—the threat is everywhere now. We can’t stay because to stay is to let more of the worse things happen. To stay is to give up.”

  “We have given up,” said Mr. Boss, linking hands with Little Daffy.

  “We haven’t. Have we?” asked his wife. “Well, we’ve given up the Clock, yes, there’s that. But we haven’t given up on each other.”

  “That’s the point,” said Rain. “We haven’t given up on my father, surely? Or defending one side or the other against a fiercer attack than has yet been seen?”

  “Wait a minute. Which side are you intending to defend?” asked Little Daffy, waving her bonnet for attention.

  “Either side,” said Rain.

  “That’s insane. You’re insane,” said Mr. Boss. “She’s insane,” he told his wife.

  “Listen to her a moment,” said Brrr, from his lethargy.

  Rain spoke as slowly as she could, working her way like a tightrope artist across her thoughts, feeling them an instant before walking the words out. “Mr. Boss. You never showed any allegiance either to Loyal Oz or to Munchkinland. What difference does it matter to you who we defend?”

  “If I showed no allegiance to either, why defend either?” he shot back. “Waste of effort. I showed loyalty to the Clock, because my job was to keep it in tiktokety trim as a house and harbor for the Grimmerie.”

  “And the Clock is drowned, so that burden is lifted from you. Meanwhile the book is stolen and about to do damage, serious damage, by whatever faction nabbed it. Isn’t that part of your job?”

  “I quit. I was to mind the book when it was handed to me, to keep it safe. But my employer scarpered on me, leaving me holding the goods. Anyway, I gave the book to Liir. His problem now.”

  “But that’s my point. The book isn’t safe. It’s on the loose, in the wrong hands—whosever hands it is in are the wrong hands. We can’t excuse ourselves from the need to stop it harming anyone—on either side—the damage could be immense.”

  “After you finish St. Prowd’s,” said Chistery, “go to law school.”

  “There won’t be a St. Prowd’s if Mombey has the book and can torture my father into decoding it for her. If he’s able. Or maybe being so powerful Mombey can decipher some of it herself.”

  “You could read it,” said Tip to Rain. “You told me.”

  “Yes, well,” said Rain, “I was only learning to read back then. Not having a history of other writing to complicate me, I managed. Lucky guesses.”

  “It’s in her blood,” said Chistery, pointing at Rain. “Elphaba could read it at once, I’m told. She used it to help give me language.”

  “You’re right about one thing,” said the dwarf to Rain. “I never took up with political or religious clans. Never cared to. But I suppose since my wife is a Munchkinlander and our children will be part Munchkin—”

  “Not to spring any surprises on you, darling, but I’m so far beyond the changes that I’m more of a dwarf than you are,” said Little Daffy.

  “Our symbolic children,” he said to her. “The children of your home-town in Center Munch. You’ve professed a love for your besmirched land. You’ve persuaded me to join you wherever you are. If you’re on that side, so I am.”

  “I love you too, ducks. Though what Munchkinland has become, a shame. A bloody shame.”

  The Lion turned his head this way and that as if not quite believing what he heard. The dwarf and Little Daffy were holding hands.

  Tip said, “Well, I’ve been all over Loyal Oz and renegade Munchkinland, and it seems to me that no people own the land they live on. The land owns them. The land feeds them by growing them their wheat and such, in the Corn Basket of Munchkinland, or growing them their meadows for the grazing of livestock, in the agricultural patches of Gillikin. Or growing them their emeralds in the mines in the Glikkus, or their windswept pampas or steppes in the wide grasslands west of here, which I’ve never seen, but which support the horse cultures of the Scrow and other tribes.”

  “Bollocks. Natural geography may be hospitable—or not—but human history claims geography,” argued the Lion. “Love for nature is a hobby for the mentally unfit. History trumps geography. And thus you can’t blame the Munchkinlanders for defending themselves, however cruel it makes them.”

  Dorothy hadn’t spoken so far. She drummed one hand on the tabletop and put the other hand on her hip. None of them of course had ever seen the Auntie Em about whom she complained, but Rain guessed that Dorothy looked quite a bit like old Auntie Em right about now.

  “I’ve seen a fair amount of Oz, too, you know,” she said, “and as far as I’m concerned loving any part of it without loving the whole thing is a load of fresh ripe hooey. Not that I’m especially enamored of any of Oz on this trip, mind you. But I have a treasury of song in my heart and I can summon up affection for anything with just a little concentration. Would you like me to sing?”

  “No,” they all said.

  “Too bad,” she replied, and stood up.

  She got out about four lines.

  O beautiful for spacious skies,

  For amber waves of grain,

  For purple mountain majesties

  Above the fruited plain…

  Little Daffy was already in tears. Mr. Boss was rolling his eyes heavenward and plugging his ears. Iskinaary murmured to Rain, “What rainbow is she fro

  “Let her go on,” said Tip, who had no authority here, but they obeyed him as a matter of courtesy. He was a guest, after all.

  America! America!

  God shed his grace on thee,

  And crown thy good with brotherhood

  From sea to shining sea!

  “There’s that sea thing again, it makes me want to heave,” said Brrr.

  “Good is always crowned, isn’t it?” said Little Daffy. “The argument for royalty.”

  “What’s amerika? Part of that game the beauty boys used to play, shamerika?” asked Mr. Boss.

  “It’s another name for Kansas,” said Dorothy.

  “I thought you hated Kansas,” said the Goose.

  “Let me have my say, if you’re ready for it. Or I’ll sing the next verse.”

  “We’re ready, we’re ready.”

  “Everyone has a right to love the land that gives them the things they need to live,” said Dorothy. “It gives them beauty to look at, and food to eat, and neighbors to bicker with and then eventually to marry. But I think, now I’ve seen a bit more of America and a lot more of Oz, that your own devotion to your familiar homeland should inspire you to allow other people to embrace their homelands as beautiful, too. That’s what the song says. That’s why I sang it. You can’t see the shining sea from the purple mountains—”

  “I should hope not,” said the Lion. “You’d just cave.”

  Rain said, “I don’t know about the mountain and sea business. But I suppose we’re saying something of the same thing. It’s more important to try to stop what may be about to happen, whichever way it goes—because it’s all worthwhile to someone. The beaver dam is worth something to the beavers, the—the shell to the lake creature that built it—the roost to the hen, the swamp to the marshstalker. Nether How to my father.”

  “And this place to me,” said Chistery, “though Kiamo Ko could do with a bit more in the way of central heating.”

  “Are we going to decide what to do, though?” asked Rain. “That’s why we’ve come here to sit together for a few moments.”