no place like oz Page 20

I scowled. “I don’t care,” I said, outraged by the injustice. “You would have been better. You deserved that crown! What did she do to earn it, except show up when it was convenient for her?”

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I like it here amidst my corncobs. There’s plenty of time to think, here. And Ozma made me one of her top advisers—she always calls me into the palace when she needs someone with real brains.”

“What about the Tin Woodman? What’d she do with him? Send him off to be sold for scrap?”

The Scarecrow chuckled. “Now, now, Dorothy. There’s no need for that. The Tin Woodman is still where you last saw him. He still lives in the Wicked Witch’s old castle, if you can believe it. He’s spruced it up quite nicely; it’s nothing like it was before.”

“And the Lion?”

“Still ruling over the beasts, just as ever. He lives deep in the Forbidden Forest, in Gillikin Country.” The Scarecrow sighed. “He’s become a bit of a recluse, though. The three of us haven’t been in the same room since I left the castle.”

It broke my heart to think about. Glinda missing; the Scarecrow deposed; my friends scattered across Oz. I had expected to come back to Oz to find it just as I’d left it. But nothing was the same.

“Now let’s take a look at these shoes of yours,” he said, after BonBon had served me an after-dinner root beer float.

I stood, extending my foot proudly, and the Scarecrow studied the mysterious shoes.

“Have you tried removing them?” he asked after examining them for a bit.

“Why no,” I said, surprised that it hadn’t even occurred to me. But as hard as I tugged at the heels, they wouldn’t so much as budge.

“Just as I suspected,” he mused.

“How strange,” I said. “How will I bathe?”

The Scarecrow chuckled. “I’m sure you’ll find a way. At any rate, they’re magical, that much is evident. And they seem to have fused themselves to you. The red is certainly Glinda’s signature. But she . . .”

“It has to have been Glinda,” I said. “I’ve never been so certain of anything. Especially after she appeared to me and asked for help earlier today. We have to help her.”

“We’ll get to the bottom of it,” he said. “Tomorrow, we will travel to the palace. Ozma will have heard of your arrival and will be expecting you. She’s very interested in you, you know. The princess is an avid student of history, and she’s always been fascinated by your story.”

“I’m not so sure I care to see her,” I sniffed. “She doesn’t sound very pleasant in my opinion.”

The truth was that I didn’t trust the sound of her. Was it just coincidence that Glinda had disappeared just after this new princess had seized the palace?

The Scarecrow brushed aside my protests. “Oh, she’s nothing if not pleasant. I think you two will be great friends. She’s about your age, after all.”

“But . . .” I hesitated, not sure whether to voice my concerns, and then decided that if I couldn’t trust the Scarecrow, my oldest friend, all was lost anyway. “What if Ozma’s the one who did something to Glinda?”

I was of half a mind that the Scarecrow would dismiss the notion as ridiculous. But he didn’t.

“The princess is very powerful,” he said, lowering his voice. “She is very shrewd. But she is also very lonely, and in need of companionship. I urge you, go to the palace and befriend her. She will never be defeated by force, but I’ve always found force to be overrated anyway. If Ozma knows anything about Glinda’s whereabouts, you will be the one who can learn about it. Become close with her. Give her no reason to doubt your intentions.”

I nodded. I understood. I didn’t like it, but I understood.

At that, the Scarecrow summoned for BonBon, who appeared out of nowhere as if he’d squeezed himself up out of a gap in the floorboards.

“Follow me to your quarters, Miss Gale,” he said, extending a gentlemanly hand.

“One more thing,” the Scarecrow said as I scooped a now-dozing Toto into my arms. “For now, I think it’s better that you don’t tell the princess that you’ve seen Glinda at all.”

“Okay.” I nodded.

“And Dorothy: don’t mention the shoes.”

Ten

The next morning, the Scarecrow and I stepped out of his mansion into a bright and breezy day. Every ear of corn and every wildflower glistened and sparkled in the sun, and I took a deep breath, inhaling dewy morning air. It smelled like just-baked cookies.

When I looked closely, I saw that the air was filled with thousands of specks floating on the breeze like dandelion fuzz. The difference was that these specks were silvery and slippery, flying through the air like tiny beads of mercury from a broken thermometer.

One of them landed gently on my face. When I crossed my eyes to get a look at it, I was shocked to see a dainty little person with butterfly wings and a wild tuft of silver hair sitting right on the tip of my nose. And without so much as a hello.

“Oh, don’t mind them,” the Scarecrow said. “It’s Pixie season. They can be quite irritating, but they’re harmless.”

Just as he said it, the creature sank its sharp little teeth into my nose. I was more surprised than actually hurt, but I screamed, swatting at it and spinning around in a circle trying to get it off me.