no place like oz Page 22

“Does it serve up scotch, too?” Uncle Henry joked.

“I don’t see why not,” the Scarecrow said.

Soon my uncle was contentedly tippling his favorite Glenlivet vintage and I had poured myself a cup of rich, dark hot chocolate, and then we were off. The carriage shot forward down the road like a bolt of lightning. The scenery was whipping past us in a green and gold blur, but we were perfectly comfortable inside our cozy little bubble. Every time we curved into a hairpin turn or went speeding down a hill, our vehicle would adjust itself so that we didn’t even shift in our seats.

“Henry Ford could take a lesson from whoever built this,” Uncle Henry marveled, gazing out the window.

Outside the carriage, forests, villages, and rivers all appeared and disappeared as quickly as they’d popped into sight while the Saw-Horse sped ahead, moving with such speed that his wooden feet didn’t even make a sound against the brick road.

“He really is fast,” I said to the Scarecrow.

“He is indeed. He claims to be the fastest horse in the land, and I don’t doubt him. He’s also Ozma’s closest confidant, you know. He’s been with her longer than anyone. He’s the one who brought her back to the city after her exile, and he’s been her most loyal servant ever since.”

It almost made me sorry for this Ozma, to think that her only friend was a wooden horse that looked more like a piece of scrap lumber than an animal. Even Miss Millicent had to make a better friend than a talking log jammed together with a few twigs.

When he was certain that Aunt Em and Uncle Henry weren’t paying attention, wrapped up as they were in their own conversation and in watching the scenery, the Scarecrow put his arm around me casually and leaned in close, whispering, “Be careful what you say in the Saw-Horse’s presence. Rest assured that anything you tell him will find its way to the princess’s ear.”

I nodded slowly, not sure what to make of any of it.

After a bit, the Saw-Horse began to slow his pace, and I saw that we had come to a wide river.

“Oh dear,” the Scarecrow said. “Isn’t this always the way. It’s the Wandering Water.”

“What’s that?” Aunt Em asked nervously.

“Just another of Munchkin Country’s many nuisances,” the Scarecrow explained with a wave of his stuffed hand.

“If it’s anything like the Forest of Fear, I’m turning back now,” Henry said firmly. “And Emily is coming with me.”

I didn’t speak up, but I had to agree that, after yesterday, we had all had more than our fill of Oz’s alliterative annoyances.

“Not to worry,” the Scarecrow said. “The Wandering Water isn’t unpleasant—just inconvenient. It’s a river with a mind of its own, you see. You can never tell where you’re going to find it. In a few hours it will have moved on to somewhere else entirely. Never fear, though, the road isn’t without its own personality. It will get us across with as little delay as possible.”

As we galloped toward the water, I saw what the Scarecrow meant. The river was actually moving, shifting and undulating, snaking its way across the landscape, paying no attention to the fact that it cut right through the middle of the road, leaving no way to cross.

But as we approached, the Road of Yellow Brick began reconfiguring itself, too. As if it sensed us coming, golden bricks began to float into the air, one by one, constructing themselves into a curving bridge that led high up into the sky where it took a meandering, curlicued route across the water.

The only problem was, it didn’t look very stable.

“We’re not going over that, are we?” Aunt Em asked, craning her neck out the window and turning a shade of pale green.

“Oh yes,” the Scarecrow said. “Not to worry, though. The Saw-Horse has never lost a passenger.”

Soon we were trotting upward into the clouds, the river hundreds of feet below us. The bridge of yellow bricks continued building itself as we made our way across it, fluttering in the breeze like a ribbon.

Aunt Em’s eyes were squeezed shut, and her knuckles were white, her hands clasped together in her lap. Uncle Henry gripped her arm tight, not looking much braver than she did.

Back in Kansas I’d never been much for heights myself, but now that I was in Oz, I discovered that I didn’t care. It was all part of the adventure. Why come to a place like this and then turn away the secret things it has to offer you?

So as we climbed higher and higher into the sky, I forced myself to keep my eyes open.

All of Oz was spread out below us like a patchwork quilt. When I squinted, I almost thought I could see the red towns of Quadling Country to the south and the yellow hills of Winkie territory to the west. The purple Gillikin mountain range stretched north as far as the eye could see. That is, until I saw the Emerald City glowing on the horizon, and I forgot everything else.

I would never forget that glittering skyline.

From high above the Wandering Water, the city appeared first as a green glimmer against the blue sky and then popped into focus, rippling like a mirage beyond a massive glass wall that rose over the trees. The curved rooftops of the skyline blended into each other in a series of sloping, gentle waves, all surrounded by a halo of light.

In the center of it all, the pointed spires of the palace rose straight up into the air, scraping the clouds. I wondered what it would be like to stand at the top of one of those towers and look out over all of Oz. I wondered how far you could see from up there; I wondered what it would be like to know that all this magic was yours. Did Ozma appreciate what she’d been given?