She wasn’t listening. She was staring at a small scrap of caninity barreling with businesslike dispatch along the road, away from the thud of the collapsing architecture. His nose was to the gutter and his tail wagging ferociously as if he, for one, had never doubted the nature of home or the adequate play of his own personal free will. “Toto!” cried Dorothy.
So that was home, then, thought the Lion, as the dog catapulted into Dorothy’s bosom. That’s as good as it gets. I have no right to deprive Rain of the possibility of reunion with Tip because I fear it might not satisfy her. Let her take her chances and make that decision herself.
“Rain,” he said before they turned in for the night, “let me tell you what I saw today.”
She didn’t know what to think about Tip arriving with Mombey. Rain needed to see him first before talking to him, to make sure that in returning to Mombey he hadn’t betrayed Rain somehow, been party to her father’s death. Maybe he’d been a secret envoy of Munchkinland all along.
After all—that coincidence—that he should have come to be hiding in her wardrobe! They’d talked about it, laughed and loved it. She was much older now, and it seemed suspicious.
“I’ll install you in the Aestheticum,” Brrr told her. “There are a dozen places to hide among the legs of all that compacted furniture. You can watch and decide what to do as you like. If you’re quiet enough, you will witness history.”
“I’ve witnessed enough history,” said Rain. “But I can be quiet. That’s one of my strengths, remember.”
She got ready to go with Brrr the next morning. Early, before dawn. The wind off the canals was disturbing ash and dirt from where it had settled overnight, gritting the air for the day. Candle got up too and silently helped Rain dress—not that Rain needed help. Mother and daughter fussing with a face flannel, apron strings, getting in each other’s way. A few feet off, Dorothy snored softly, Toto in her arms. The light in the sky a system of beveled intensities, pale, less pale. Candle said, “I don’t want you to make the wrong choice, Rain.”
Rain didn’t look at her. “How do you know what choices I have?”
“I don’t. But I know… I know you are going to select among what possibilities are offered you. Every parent knows this, and I know it as well as any.”
“No matter how far from me you have lived.”
“No matter.” Candle brushed her daughter’s hair. “We’ve lived apart, but I see what you know today, and that you don’t know everything. Rain, don’t…” She paused.
“Don’t make the mistake I made?” Rain heard her own voice, low and mean. Rain was the result of Candle’s mistake. Or maybe the mistake itself. No doubt about that.
“That’s not what I meant at all,” said Candle. “Every choice brings wisdom in its wake. If you got to have the wisdom first, it wouldn’t be a choice—just policy. What I mean is—” She turned her attention to Tay, who was now awake and grooming itself. “I mean, don’t sleep with the boy.”
“Oh, well, I’ve already had my sleep for tonight.” Larky-snarky. Such kindness as Rain might have wakened with had evaporated. The dawn began to steep in the limbs of the pummeled trees. In the company of the Lion and the rice otter she took her leave, and without turning around she waved her hand over her shoulder at her mother’s farewell.
Dawn over the Aestheticum. A mawkish pink. Word had apparently gotten out among the Birds. The silhouette of the shallow dome, its granite ribs and quoins picked out a pale yellow, was punctuated with sentinels of Birds. The old Eagle, Kynot, saw the Lion and the girl approach, and he swooped down to meet them with a guard of three or four.
“It’s not quite the original gang,” said General Kynot. “Birds don’t tend to live as long as humans. But respectable enough, to see our companion off.”
“Lurline love-a-chickadee, but you’ve grown,” said a Wren to Rain. “You remembers me? Doesn’t you, sweet? Quadling margin lands, when you was traveling with that Clock? It’s Dosey, begging your pardon, miss.”
Brrr glanced at Rain. Her face was blank. She who had always had more time for Animals was eager to see her human. “We can’t stop to chat about the old times,” said the Lion. “We must get in before the girl is spotted here.”
“We’ll be up top,” said the Eagle. “If you need us, roar for us, Lion. We’ll break through the high windows if we can.”
Brrr pawed out the keys to the Aestheticum. Since he and Rain were the first to arrive, he gave her a quick tour. “This platform here, with the single schoolroom bench—the Emperor will come in and sit upon that. Opposite, a platform of exactly the same height but, notice, covered with that rather rare Varquisohn carpet, is where La Mombey will sit. Her throne is actually a stage prop from a community theater production of The King of Squirreltown’s Daughter, but I don’t think Mombey will object. Her ministers will be here, see, and here. While the Emperor’s staff and emissaries of the counties will be installed behind that velvet rope. Do you think the jeweled beeswax candles are a little over the top? Yes, I think they are.” He plucked out the emeralds, pursed his lips, and then put them back in.
Rain wandered about. All the alcoves under the balcony that ringed the whole room were piled thick and high with dusty furniture. She found a cove she could wriggle into. An old marble tomb ornament of a knight and his lady afforded some height. Rain could climb up, kneel onto the flat of the knight’s stone sword laid along his breastplate and down between his knees, and peer through filigreed gewgawkery scrolling along the tops of wooden pillars. If she stayed in gloom and no further illumination was cast, she might remain unobserved and still catch most of what was going on.
She pulled open the door of a wardrobe and removed a couple of broken umbrellas, making room so she could duck inside to hide in the event of necessity. In another piece, a huge linen press, she found a bottom drawer two feet longer than she was herself, and deep enough to sleep in. She took a pillow from yet another drawer and arranged herself a bed in case this festival of political mortification went all night and she was stuck here unable to move. On a second pillow she set the shell, for safekeeping. She even found a royal chamber pot tagged with a stamped provenance: OZMA THE BILIOUS. Well, she’d use that if she had to.
“There will be pastries at the tradesmen’s entrance in half an hour,” said Brrr. “You can be my assistant until a certain moment, then when I give the signal, you’d better make yourself scarce.”
At Brrr’s side, she hung out at the door, listening to the city come alive. Horsemen tethered their steeds to stanchions of iron; vendors showed up to sell early chestnuts, stale bread, apricots, onion tarts—mushy and a little rank. Sometimes she heard what Brrr muttered to her, a who’s who of contemporary Oz. The Lord Mayor of Shiz, here to represent all of Gillikin. A Scrow chieftain identifying himself as Shem Ottokos, to witness for some of the tribes of the Vinkus. “The Yunamata won’t cede to him rights of representation,” whispered Brrr, “but whoever knows what the Yunamata think about governance? They don’t even use hair combs.”
The delegation from the Quadling Country was late. Rain caught a lot of eye rolling. She overheard someone say, “You know the squelchyfolk.
But the Quadlings, ah, the Quadlings,
Slimy, stupid, curse-at-godlings…
They probably got lost in the big city.”
Then the advance party of the victors began to assemble—the Munchkinlanders. Most of them were squat and small, like Little Daffy. Others were more rangy, with their small breasts and big pelvises, kangaroo-folk as Rain had heard it put about at street corners.
Militia in dress habillard, ministers in robes of office, a few key generals called in from the field. Brrr wondered if General Jinjuria, who had held the terrain beyond Haugaard’s Keep for much of the past decade, would be arriving to witness, but she didn’t show up. On reflection, the Lion realized that any conquering leader who had the capacity to change her visage daily to capitalize on shifting opinions of beauty and glamour woul
d probably be less than happy to have a popular female general known as the Foill of Munchkinland descending to divert attention away from her superior.
“Time to take your hiding place,” he murmured to Rain.
She looked both ways before slipping into the shadows. Everyone was busy with pots of ink and stacks of vellum, books of legal doctrine. Arguing over seating and who took precedence over whom. It was easy to disappear in plain sight.
Once inside the forest of furniture, she scrabbled this way and that to reclaim her vantage point. Memory, which rarely came together for her, woke up a little. This was like crawling around Lady Glinda’s bedroom, back in Mockbeggar Hall, the time they’d all been crowded into a single room. Would Lady Glinda arrive to witness the historic moment? Rain craned to look. The first person to come into her line of vision, appearing a little lost, was Tip.
Rain caught her breath. It hadn’t been long since they’d seen each other, but so much had happened in the meantime—the news of her father’s having been magicked into the form of an Animal, and of his death in that form. The assault by dragons upon the storied Emerald City. So Tip seemed different, in just those few weeks. One could change that fast. What had happened to him? What had he put himself through, and for whom? For her? Or for Mombey?
A cold dampness covered her skin. She’d been used. He’d been planted somehow in her cupboard to seduce her, to learn her secrets. When she’d had no more to yield, he’d left her. On the double.
She huddled behind a varnished oak column carved with volutes and wooden ivy. Tay writhed at her ankles. Rain couldn’t breathe, just looking at how Tip moved cautiously into the open arena, holding himself in a new way. Stiff. Uncertain. Stronger. More supple. Or was it less supple?
Additional impedimenta were being hauled in. Some minions with fans, in case the heat grew oppressive. Some other lackeys with braziers in case of chill. Someone set up fifteen music stands and fifteen music stools, and moments later someone else came along and ordered them taken away again. Tip circulated, his eyes at the roof level, as if he were part of the guard detail, making effort to fortify the premises. But he looked goofy doing that.
The room was coming to order. There was no chair for Tip; clearly he had no formal role here. His pacing slowed down. Luck was playing games with Rain and Tip both: he paused in the very quadrant of the large hall in which Rain had hidden herself, and he began to hunt among the furniture for someplace to lean. He moved a few feet in under the overhang, where a low desk gave him a perch. He was in the next alcove to Rain’s, and an arched opening allowed her to see him through hat racks and the legs of overturned tables.
Was he honing in on her whereabouts as he might have done at St. Prowd’s? Was she a lodestone to his compass needle, that he should pick this section of the space to loiter? More certain than ever that something was amiss, she knew she must back away. As soon as she could breathe, and before she could die. But Tay slithered in the shadows and wriggled forward to wreathe Tip’s ankles the way the lake otter had been cavorting around Rain’s own, with a teasing alertness.
Tip was magnificently composed, Rain saw. His chin never dropped to indicate he’d noticed Tay. His eyes remained trained on the lintels of the room, the struts in the ceiling, as if flying monkeys intent on attack might be lurking in the shadows. His cheeks reddened and his breathing quickened.
The ground was shifting beneath her feet, and she must leap one way or the other.
On the basis of those involuntary clues—the beauty of how his body responded—she would leap toward hope, this time, and trust he was not Mombey’s agent. If he was to give her away, let him do it now, so she would know. She couldn’t live any longer without knowing one way or the other.
Tay returned to Rain, soundlessly. A furniture warehouse seemed as natural a habitat for a rice otter as a swamp, the way that green spirit moved about it.
Rain began to wriggle her way through the maze of tight spaces. Tip folded his arms across his chest, in the manner of a man hard to please but cautiously satisfied with what he saw. He backed up against the nearest pillar. He sank his right hand in the sash of his tunic, as if looking for peanuts or a key or a handkerchief. He put his left hand around the edge of the glossy polished cylinder, and Rain caught it. She was on her knees in the shadows, behind the pillar, kissing his fingertips, moving her mouth against his soft cupped palm, which had opened to receive her chin. She grazed his fingertips again with her lips, and parted her lips to take two fingers into her mouth.
“All unauthorized service force, five minutes,” bellowed Avaric. “We will clear the hall for the dignitaries.”
Factotums, servants, attachés, and minor satraps scurried, sending dust motes to eddy into the light slanting down from a ring of clerestory windows just below the shallow dome. More gentlefolk and fiercefolk from Munchkinland arrived. Though the hall became fuller and warmer, the noise began to subdue itself. Would he be forced to leave, her Tip, or had he received clearance to stay? She tugged at his wrist: come, come. She pulled him backward into the shadows and stood to meet him face-to-face.
“I may not be seen to disappear again,” he whispered.
“They know you’re here, they know you haven’t left,” she whispered back. “Have you left? Have you left me, Tip?” But if she’d ever known anything before in her life, she knew the answer now by looking at his face. He had not left her. “Don’t leave me. Don’t go. How will you find me again?”
“But you gave me a map. Of course I’ll find you.”
He pressed his fingers against her temples, pressed a forefinger to his lips to hush her, and sidled away. But the expression on his face said wait, the expression on his face said later; it said soon.
He went to his post behind the dais to which La Mombey would be escorted. With a new military bearing he stood, his polished boots just a little apart, his arms folded behind his back in that gesture that signifies no need for quick access to weaponry. His hair had been cut shorter. Someone had nicked the back of his neck with a razor. After all the blood and death Rain had seen, she wanted to weep over that nick as she hadn’t yet wept.
He sat at his schoolboy bench for a few moments. When the air became even grander with the puffery of incense, he removed himself to his knees. Someone hurried over with a cushion but he waved it away, and stayed on his knees, eyes closed, as La Mombey entered at last.
Rain had heard Brrr’s descriptions of the Eminence of Munchkinland—the various guises—and she remembered Tip’s story about how Mombey had come by the skill of transformations. La Mombey looked like—what was it? Yes—she had it—like one of those figureheads on the boats that were dragged across the lawns at Mockbeggar Hall. She might have been carved of ancient oak. Her brow was broad and her wide-set eyes the color of overripe plum. Her hair was not so much blond or carrot as a kind of livid gold, shining with metallic highlights, just as her full skirts and bodice did. She was taller than anyone else in the room.
La Mombey approached her station and curtseyed to the Emperor of Oz and bade him rise. He did. The formal statements began in a humdrum tone, low to the ground, that Rain
didn’t strain to interpret. She merely watched the attitudes of the two leaders, the Emperor’s form sagging, nearly listing, Mombey’s body cantilevered forward with unnatural strength.
Once the proceedings were under way, a steady stream of interpreters, legislators, orators, and reconciliators moved into place, speaking in the vernacular of ceremony. Men and women moved pieces of paper from ledgers to lecterns and back again. Other men and women brought tea. Someone welcomed, late, an emissary of the Nome King of Ev. Someone petitioned that the proceedings be halted until a Quadling representative arrived. Someone else petitioned that that previous petition be reproved. Then the Quadling emissary stood up and said he was already present, thank you very much. It was Heart-of-Mushroom, identifying himself as the Supreme Glaxony of Quadling Country. He wore the same loincloth he’d worn in the jungle, and nothing else.
Eventually the proceedings became humdrum enough that Tip could back up and stand down from the dais, turn to consult an honor guard posted underneath a vulgar plaster cast approximating the famous Ozma Lexitrice statue near the Law Courts Bridge. Tip then circulated the perimeter of the hall, choosing his moments carefully, until he’d returned to the edge of the nook where Rain waited for him.
All eyes were on Mombey and the Emperor. No one looked at Tip, no one saw Rain in the shadows. Even Tay seemed glued to the proceedings. Tip stepped back into the carrel, among the boxy secretaries and bureaus, the carvings, the wardrobes and linen presses. It was no longer like Lady Glinda’s salon. Now it was like the crowded basement shop in Shiz. BROKEN THINGS OF NO USE TO ANYONE BUT YOU.
They didn’t speak, but they mouthed words, and read each other’s lips. Read the language of relief on each other’s faces.
You’re all right.
You’re all right?
Yes, I’m all right. Now.
How did we manage?
How will we manage.
There they stuck for a moment, words failing them, until Tip leaned forward. He put his arms around her, cradling her bottom, lifted her till his face was between her breasts. Silently he stepped forward and sat her down on the statue of the knight, on the broad flat blade of the stone sword. We mustn’t, he said. No. It can’t be.