no place like oz Page 24

Only then did I realize she had been teasing me. “Sorry,” I said sheepishly. “I just—”

“See here, Dorothy,” she said. “I know your uncle doesn’t approve of staying here just as well as I know that you don’t want to ever go home if you can help it. Myself, I can see both sides of it. This is a lovely country—not counting those terrible trees—but our whole life is back on the farm.”

“We could have a new life here. A better life.”

“We could,” she agreed. “But would it really be so much better? What would we do all day, with no cows to milk or fences to mend? We’d go stir-crazy before long.”

I shook my head emphatically. “There’s so much to do here,” I said. “You’ve hardly seen any of it.”

“Maybe,” Aunt Em said with a shrug. “And maybe it wouldn’t matter. At any rate, I say we’re here now, and we might as well enjoy ourselves.”

“I am enjoying myself,” I said.

“It seems to me that you’re awfully sour for someone who’s having the time of her life,” Aunt Em said.

I was trying to decide how to respond to that when the enormous doors of the palace swung open and a small, delicate figure came hurtling down the grand, emerald-studded steps. She raced toward me, her diaphanous white dress and dark, wavy hair flowing behind her, all tangled together in a whirling cloud.

“Dorothy!” she shouted. “It’s really you! I’ve been waiting for this day forever!”

She bounded across the courtyard and threw her arms around my neck, pulling me against her in a tight embrace before stepping back and giving me a warm, searching smile.

It wasn’t the greeting I’d been expecting. When I’d sought out an audience with the Wizard, in this very palace, it had been an arduous, hours-long process of being patted down by guards, standing in endless lines, and waiting in antechamber after antechamber before finally being allowed ten minutes alone with Oz’s supposed ruler.

Ozma, apparently, was less formal than all that.

Her eyes were a vivid, haunting green, lined with kohl and shadowed with gold, and they had a kindness behind them that took me by surprise. Her mouth was a ruby-red exclamation point in the center of her round, pale face. She was tiny, too: the top of her head barely reached my shoulders.

She wore a tall, golden crown with the word Oz inscribed on it, and had two big red poppies tied into her hair, one on either side of her face, fastened with long green ribbons. She had a golden scepter tucked under her arm as casually as a normal person would carry an umbrella.

“I can’t believe I’m finally meeting you,” she said. “I was so excited when I heard from the Munchkins that you had come back. The famous Dorothy Gale. The Witchslayer! I suppose I owe you a thank-you for saving my kingdom.”

“Anyone would have done the same,” I said, waving the praise away. I stole a quick glance over at my aunt and uncle and saw that Uncle Henry had his arm around Aunt Em and was pointing out various buildings in the distance.

“Are these your parents?” the princess asked, gesturing at them with her scepter, which I now saw was topped with the same insignia that was on her crown: a gold O the size of my palm that enclosed a smaller, stylized Z.

“Oh no,” I said. “This is my aunt Em and uncle Henry. I live with them, back in . . .”

Her eyes lit up. “Oh yes! Kansas! It sounds like such a fantastic place. They say the roads there are made of dust! Or was it dirt?”

“Well . . . ,” I said, “both?” I couldn’t imagine being excited by dirt roads considering the opulence that was all around us here, but Ozma was already rushing over to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. For their part, they seemed to be adjusting to the idea of meeting royalty. They wore the same friendly expressions that they used for greeting a neighbor’s out-of-town cousin at the church breakfast.

Ozma leaned down and patted Toto on the head. He was so happy to be back that he was running in circles. “And this is little Tutu?”

He snarled at her. Toto didn’t like it when people got his name wrong.

“Toto,” I corrected quickly.

“Of course!” she said. “How silly of me. I guess I owe him my thanks as well.” She knelt down and scruffed his fur, and while he bristled at first, soon he was happily licking her hand.

The princess turned her attention back to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.

“We have rooms for all of you, and the finest clothes in the city,” she said. “I want you to know that, for as long as you’re here, you can make full use of everything in the palace. My servants are yours to command.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Uncle Henry said hesitantly. “We’re not planning on staying long.”

Ozma tilted her head in concern. “Oh?”

“Uncle Henry . . . ,” I started. “We only just got here.”

“We need to get home,” Aunt Em explained apologetically to Ozma. “You have a beautiful kingdom, but we’re not the magical types. We have a farm back home, you see, and responsibilities.”

Ozma waved her scepter with an air of dismissal. “Of course! I’ve heard such things about Kansas; I don’t doubt that you’re eager to get back there. But I’ve waited so long to meet Dorothy; surely you can stay for a bit.”

Ozma called out: “Jellia! Show the Gales to their quarters, please. And please make sure their every need is attended to.”