no place like oz Page 12

Witchslayer? I liked that. “It’s me,” I said happily.

“It’s been a very long time,” Cos said slowly. “We never thought we’d see you again.”

“I’ve been trying and trying to get back,” I said, kneeling so that we were face-to-face. “It’s not so easy, you know. A good, strong wind only comes around once every so often.”

I rose back up to my feet and looked around at the growing throng surrounding us, all of them gazing up at me in awed admiration.

I wanted to stay and talk, to hear about everything that had happened in Oz since I’d been gone. But there wasn’t time for that. There were more pressing things to worry about now. Like finding Glinda.

I wasn’t sure how much I should say about what I’d seen back at the old farmhouse. It was possible that no one knew, yet, that anything was wrong with Glinda. If that was the case, it was probably a wiser idea not to let the cat out of the bag in front of an entire village of Munchkins, who, truthfully, are known for being an anxious and high-strung people.

Instead, I decided it was better just to try to get as much information as I could before I decided what to do next. “How has everything been lately?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” Cos seemed befuddled by my question, and the Munchkins began to chatter amongst themselves.

“I mean, how has Oz been, since I’ve been gone? There haven’t been any more witches causing trouble, or anything like that, have there?”

“Oh no, Miss Dorothy,” Cos replied, bobbing his red, cheerful face up and down. “We Munchkins have never been happier, since you slayed the witches all those many moons ago. The crops grow, the sun shines, and there is good magic everywhere. Praise Ozma!”

Hmm. So whatever had happened to Glinda, the Munchkins didn’t seem to know about it.

But what was Ozma?

“Miss Dorothy, would you and your family like to stay for a feast?” A murmur of approval rippled through the crowd at Cos’s invitation. “We would like to celebrate your visit.”

It sounded tempting. A big Munchkin feast—all in celebration of me!—would certainly be a good way to make up for the disaster that had been my Sweet Sixteen. And Munchkins are known to be magicians in the kitchen—literally. But . . .

“I’m sorry,” I said, kneeling down again. “But it’s very important that I see the king right away.”

“Now, Dorothy . . . ,” Uncle Henry interjected.

“The king?” Cos asked. “What king?”

“Why, the King of Oz, of course,” I said in surprise.

When I first came to Oz, before the humbug Wizard had packed up his balloon to head back to America, he had chosen to appoint my friend the Scarecrow as the new king, and the people of Oz had immediately embraced him as their ruler. My friend the Tin Woodman had been made the governor of Winkie Country, and the Lion the King of Beasts. When I’d gone back to Kansas, I’d done it knowing that I was leaving Oz in good hands.

But now it seemed that the Munchkins didn’t know who I was talking about.

“We don’t have a king,” Cos said. The rest of them all nodded their agreement.

“But I was there when they put the crown on his head,” I said.

They all began to mutter confusedly amongst themselves. “Oz has only one true monarch,” Cos said. “Princess Ozma. The rightful and just ruler of our land.”

“Princess what?” I had never heard of any princess before.

They all began talking over each other, trying to explain how great this Ozma person was. “Princess Ozma is beautiful and kind! Princess Ozma is our one true ruler! Long live Ozma!”

“What about the Scarecrow?” I asked.

Cos’s face brightened. “Oh,” he said. “The Scarecrow. I’d forgotten all about him. Well, I suppose he was king. But that was for a very short time indeed, and it was ages ago.”

“It was only two years ago!”

“Two years?” Cos frowned. “No . . . it seems to me that it was much longer than that. Perhaps your calendar in the outside world is different from ours.” He fixed me with a serious look. “Dorothy, much time has passed since the days of the witches.”

Uncle Henry cleared his throat. “Dorothy,” he said. “This is all very interesting, but we need to be getting home. Mr. Munchkin, can you advise us on the best way back to Kansas?”

Cos looked at my uncle and blinked. “Where’s that?”

I didn’t have time to worry about Uncle Henry’s grumbling. Between Glinda’s plea for help and the news that the Scarecrow was no longer the king, it was becoming more and more clear that Oz had changed since I’d been gone. And I had an uneasy feeling that it wasn’t for the better.

If I was going to put it right, I had to find my old friend.

“Never mind Kansas, Cos. It’s very important that we see the Scarecrow right away. Does he still live in the Emerald City?”

“Oh no,” Cos said. “He lives quite near here, as a matter-of-fact, in a mansion made of corncobs just off the Road of Yellow Brick. It’s less than a day’s walk.” He pointed into the distance. “You’ll find the road that way. Just be wary—the trees are restless today.”

“The trees?” I heard Aunt Em whisper to Uncle Henry.

“Thank you, Munchkins,” I announced. “Next time I see you, I hope I’ll be able to feast with you.” Then, confident in my path but nervous about what other surprises Oz had in store for me, I gave my most dignified good-bye wave.