He passed through the grass. When she looked closer, she saw he’d left his skin behind. A green sheath. It could be made into a scabbard for a dirk. Before going back to the asparagus, she put her finger in the skin and tried to feel the magic of being a Serpent.
She asked her father for permission to leave.
“As if you need my permission,” he said calmly, with a clumsy attempt at cheer. “But what shall I say if someone comes looking for you with a message from Ozma?”
“There’s no chance of that.”
“Rain,” he said softly, “anyone who spent the better part of a century being prepubescent is going to need some time to figure out how to be grown up. It could happen.”
“Yes. And Candle might come back. And Trism too.”
He wasn’t hurt. “I leave the front door unlocked for one of them and the back door unlocked for the other. They know where I am. I’ve cherished them both, Rain, and I do still. Whoever they are. I love both Trism and Candle. It isn’t impossible for you to love both Tip and Ozma.”
“What’s impossible,” she said, “is to know the truth inside someone else’s heart if they don’t tell you.”
He agreed with that. “Well, I love you. Just in case you ever wondered. And don’t forget that I’ve spent some brief time of my life as an Elephant. They say Elephants never forget, and as I live and breathe, I’m telling you that this is true of humans no less than Elephants. Now, listen. I’m being serious, my desperate sweetheart. What about if a message arrives for you? Where shall I say you’ve gone?”
She threw an arm about airily. “Oh, way up high. Over the rainbow somewhere, I guess.”
In her cell, Glinda woke up with a start. The lumbago was more punishing than the incarceration, but a sense of spring had filtered all the way down the open canyon roof of Southstairs, and she caught a whiff of freshness, of arrogant possibility. Her glasses had broken a year ago. She didn’t need them anymore, not really. She knew who was turning the door handle of her cell. She called her name sleepily, and added, “You wicked thing. You’ve taken your own sweet time, of course.”
Elphaba’s broom, planted at Nether How and fed by the magic of the Grimmerie buried beneath it, had grown into a tree of brooms. Enough to supply a small coven of witches. Too much to say that the breeze soughing through them all was, well, bewitching? On a spring day of high winds, Rain broke off a broom from the treasury tree of them.
But she waited until her father was deeply asleep one night, and Iskinaary collapsed in front of the stove like a Goose brought down by buckshot, snoring. She took her father’s spade over her shoulder and went back to the tree of brooms. She said softly, “Okay, Nanny, I’m following in your footsteps,” and she dug up the Grimmerie. Stole it. She left the spade below the tree so her father would know what she’d done. Then she wrapped the fierce book in an oilcloth and strapped the satchel upon her back. She began by walking west across the Kells, which took her several months. She didn’t look back, not once, to see if Tip was following her.
By the autumn it was too cold to go on, and she spent the winter with a breakaway tribe of the Scrow, none of whom had ever heard of Elphaba Thropp or Ozma Tippetarius and who seemed unconcerned about Rain’s skin color or, indeed, her solitary pilgrimage through the Thousand Year Grasslands. Rain taught herself a bit of Scrow and tried to tell the story of Dorothy, to amuse the clan on the long tent-bound evenings when the icy winds howled, but one of the grandmothers bit her on the wrist, a sign to stop. So she stopped.
She brought out the shell once or twice, to Animals who had learned some Ozish, to itinerants the following spring who had wandered too far to the west and were happy to get directions back to civilization. They nodded about it, unconcerned, unsurprised. One rather lumpy sand creature with an irritable disposition wouldn’t talk to her at all but pointed west, west. Farther west. And then dug itself into the sand and wouldn’t come out for any pleading at all.
She saw a clutch of dragon eggs in the sand once, and let them be.
Though the thought of them made her sling her leg over the broom for the first time. If she was going to hell in a handbasket, maybe she could fly there faster, get it over with.
She kept herself going by remembering the clues. The great salty marshes of Quadling Country. The huge stone wall upon which paintings of colored fish were refreshed annually, though no such fish ever existed in any lake or river of Oz. The way the berm of Ovvels was built like a quay. The image of a shell stamped in the margins on the left-hand side of a map of Oz. The way that Lady Glinda had deciphered the Chancel of the Ladyfish as a market center of some sort. Something more than a temple, more like the seat of an empire. An empire ruled by a goddess with the tail of a fish.
Listen to what the shell says to you.
But then came another stretch of grassland, and beyond that, another swatch of desert. The world was not as definite as the few dots on any map would suggest.
Almost a year after her departure, she was living for a week in a temporary hut she’d built for herself somewhere to the west of Kvon Altar in the southwestern Vinkus. She’d come down with a cough of a sort, and was afraid that perhaps she was dying and might die but forget to notice, and so keep flying forever over alternating patches of wilderness. She gathered liquor from where it beaded up on the shell every night, she licked the dew collected there. Just enough to keep herself from parching. She didn’t think she had much time left.
She didn’t want to leave the Grimmerie lying around in the desert where some scorpion might find it and teach itself to read, as she had taught herself to read. Almost in a fever one dawn, she took the shell and nourished herself with it as best she could, and then, remembering an old life, she blew the horn once again through the broken tip.
Even Ozmists can’t survive in the desert, she thought to herself, sinking into a sleep as the sun rose. The wind blew her lean-to apart but she was too removed from reality to notice. Through the vast sky the sun threatened to burn her green skin brown and mottled. Light wriggled behind her clenched eyelids like threads of blood.
Around midday, delirious with thirst, she opened her eyes. She thought she saw a figure of bones standing nearby, looking down at her. He wore a coat made of greenery. Mountain pine, fir, holly, laurel. Impossible life. The skeleton looked at her. He seemed to smile. All skeletons smile. She closed her eyes and forgot about it.
Disturbed in the middle of a moonless night by something unseen, a cock chortily hacked at the silence in a northern barnyard. A farmer threw a soup ladle at it, threateningly. The cock subsided.
In the forest of Gurniname outside Wiccasand Turning, a stand of rare bone-oak trees, famous for their centuries of barrenness without decay, burst into bloom. The blossoms glowed, not white, but a rich velvety jade with lavender margins. A gourmand hunting for truffles discovered it, and for a while painters flocked to catch the mystery on canvas. But the effect was always too startling. It looked fake. Eventually most of the canvases were painted over. Patrons of art preferred their bone-oak blossoms white, or dead.
Kellswater at dawn. A giant Tortoise emerged from a cleft between two stone plates nearly collapsed one upon the other. She’d lived eighty of her two hundred years in private meditation, prayer and fasting, and she was on the morning side of munch-ish. The history described in the pages of this and previous volumes had escaped her, and s
he it. Undeterred by such scathing ignorance she moved forward on fungoidal flippers, and her rust red horny beak scratched at the air. The light leaching over the horizon snagged and pulled upon ripples of water fletching the lake. Small circles as if from invisible drops of rain puckered the surface. The Tortoise remembered. She knew the commotion was the morning activity of swarmgits upon water, and that where swarmgits could skate in buggy congress of a fine morning, a hungry carp or a lake terch wouldn’t be far behind.
And—and this Kellswater. The dead lake. But she did not comment.
That’s the way it looked to plants and animals. Somewhere else in Oz—the province, the town doesn’t matter—a prissy and adenoidal tutor straight out of Three Queens College had taken a position to hector local schoolchildren into their letters and morals. Intending to set an early example of the mercy of discipline, he arrived in the schoolroom with a small box made of closemeshed wire. “Approach and regard,” he said to the boys and girls in his thrall. “We must be wary of the natural world, learn from its habits of violence and self-interest, and tame it so it may survive. This morning upon my hearth I found an insect of a sort never known before in Oz. I studied entomology and lepidoptery under Professor Finix at Three Queens, so I claim some wide experience with bugs. I say this is an aberration of an existing species—smaller, cannier, and more cunningly hued for camouflage. Were it allowed to breed, it could chew its way through our ‘Oz in endless leaf.’ For our own protection I have caged it in this box. It looks faintly related to the locust of the Grasslands or to the marsh fernhopper. It saws music from its legs, when it is happy. It isn’t happy now, but we will require it to learn to be happy in a cage. And so will you—”
The youngest student, a lad who still wore double padding against accidental leakage, picked up the willow switch in the corner and cracked it upon the docent’s remonstrating finger. The other students rioted. They threw books out the window and chased the teacher into the henhouse, locking him inside. He sat most of the morning blubbering. Then the students ate all their lunch at once and left the wrappings to blow about in the schoolyard, and sang songs of loyalty to anarchy as they released the cricket from its cage.
Not too much should be read into all this. It is the sometime nature of children to be wild. And in wildness, as a traveler from another land has reminded us, is the salvation of the world.
In the coolness of the evening—that evening or the next, maybe—Rain came around enough to find—she must be hallucinating—that her face was shaded from the setting sun by an umbrella.
“Very nice,” she said, admiring her psychosis.
“I’d hoped you appreciated it,” said a familiar voice. Iskinaary peered out from behind the upturned bowl of the fabric.
“Are you the angel of death? Goodness, you scared me enough in life, you’re not going to accompany me across the divide, are you?”
“Very funny. Have a cracker.” With his bill he secured a hard round biscuit from a little satchel slung over his neck. “Don’t worry, it’s not one of Little Daffy’s Curious Cupcakes.”
“I should be glad for one of those right about now. What are you doing here?”
“I’ve been following behind you for the better part of a year. Your father sent me to look for you when you didn’t come back after that hard winter in the grasslands, and I heard you’d continued on. I’ve been waiting out of sight, a few miles back, for several months. Not wanting to be presumptuous.”
“Oh, a little presumption is welcome now and then.”
“You’re dehydrated. Let me take that shell and fly to find some freshwater somewhere.”
“There’s no water here.”
“You don’t know where to look.”
Iskinaary, if it was really he and not some irritating mirage, allowed himself to be fixed with the shell in a kind of sling, and went off for a while. When he came back, the basin of the shell slopped over with freshwater. Rain drank so quickly that she vomited most of it back up again. He didn’t mind. He got her more, and she kept the second portion down more neatly.
In the morning, or the morning after that, she felt better again. “You carried that umbrella all the way from Nether How?”
“I used it too, on certain nights. My feathers are thinning and the drainage isn’t what it used to be.” Yes, Iskinaary was an old Goose.
“You never liked me,” she said.
“I don’t like you now. But I am your father’s familiar, so let’s put personal feelings aside. We have a ways to go, I’ll warrant.”
“I don’t know how far I’m going to get.”
“I don’t know either.” He smiled at her or winced, it was hard to tell the difference in any Goose, and particularly in Iskinaary. “But I think we are not very far from the edge.”
“The edge,” she said.
“Where you are going.”
“You don’t know where I am going.”
They considered this stalemate a while, and then Iskinaary relented. “Your father wasn’t much of a witch, was he?”
“He wasn’t much of a father either.”
“But he was pretty good as a Bird, when he flew with Kynot and the Conference. He learned a little bit. He didn’t learn enough.”
“The Birds have always known,” said Iskinaary. “At least, some have. But Birds, and birds, keep to themselves usually. They flock with their kind. It takes the rare spirit to convince them to flock with those unlike them. Your father conducted one such campaign, in those dark days when the dragons first threatened Oz, threatened the skies for all the Birds, and the earth for all crawling creatures. Liir flew with us on his broom, as you fly now. He might have learned more from us, but he was young, and Birds, well, they don’t volunteer much. It’s not in their nature. They are neutral, and possessed of a certain appealing reticence.”
“Some of them,” admitted Rain. “Not you.”
“So,” Iskinaary continued, “we’ve known. We have always known, or anyway we’ve heard rumors. We could have told you what we’d heard. I could have told you. Humans are so blind, their eyes on the ground, themselves always at the center. Birds know themselves not to be at the center of anything, but at the margins of everything. The end of the map. We only live where someone’s horizon sweeps someone else’s. We are only noticed on the edge of things; but on the edge of things, we notice much.”
“Is everything all right back there in Oz?”
“I’ve not followed along all these months to gossip.” He seemed angry. “I’m trying to tell you to keep going.”
“Well, all right then. But if I’m right, I go alone.”
“You make the rules for the ground. I’ll make the rules for the air.”
She launched herself and didn’t look behind to see if he was following. She knew he was, the rolled-up umbrella in his claws. It would be kinder if she were to carry it, but she wasn’t ready to be kind.
That night, among scratchy grass, she slept and dreamed of Tip. She didn’t know if it was Tip or Ozma, really; it was that kind of a dream that made her furious with need and regret and hope all at once. She awoke in the dark, clammy in a cold sweat even though it would be a warm day, she could tell. A sort of fog, as from Restwater, hung over the sedge.
She said to herself, Did my father send Iskinaary after me because a message had arrived at last?
But she wouldn’t ask the Goose for fear of the answer, either way it might be spoken. She wasn’t ready to know.
She found a place to squat, and after that she broke her fast with Iskinaary. More dry biscuits. Delicious. The wind, the world of shadows. The taunting stars strung on their invisible threads across the glowing velvet black. They didn’t speak—not girl, not Goose, not stars.
Near dawn, she strode through the grass to the top of the near slope, to see if the air would clear, if she could catch a glimpse of the next stretch.
Beyond the slope, at bluff’s
edge, the ground dropped away in a returning curve, a bevel carved out by a stronger breeze. The air felt stronger, brusquer, colder, more filled with tang, almost a strange kind of vinegar in the wind.
She kept going, down that slope and up the curve of the next. The wind possessed bluster and noise she’d never heard at ground level before. Ever.
The fog had oriented itself into a composite of colored scarves through which the sun from behind her was beginning to seethe, gilding the unnatural hills.
They weren’t hills of earth.
The world’s edge was water; water as far as the eye could see; water from the scalloped strand out to the horizon. There was no end to it. The noise wasn’t the sound of wind, after all, but of moving water that made endless avalanche against the sand, punching and pulling back. Foundries of spume and spit, and salt stinging her eyes. Thrashes of weight from side to side, streaked laterally with zinc; mettanite; emerald; lamb’s wool; turquoise. The great weeping rim of the world.
She didn’t wait for the Goose. She slung her leg over the broom and launched at once. A new technique for flying would be needed against this force. Later in the day, if she lasted, she might glance back and find that the Goose had anticipated her departure and was steadily keeping pace a mile or more behind. She trusted that this would be true.
She would make no plan but this: to move out into the world as a Bird might, and to perch on the edge of everything that could be known. She would circle herself with water below and with sky above. She would wait until there was no stink of Oz, no breath of it, no sight of it on any horizon no matter how high she climbed. And then she would let go of the book, let it plunge into the mythical sea.