no place like oz Page 26

Ozma wandered down the main path idly, her scepter slung casually over her shoulder and the train of her dress trailing on the ground behind her.

“Don’t keep me in suspense,” she said. “So what was it? Another cyclone? I know it’s not easy to get here from your world, believe me. I’ve looked into bringing you here myself, actually—we’ve had some political trouble, and since you were so good at handling it the first time—well, but that kind of magic is very complicated. There are few in Oz who can manage it.”

A part of me didn’t want to lie to her. I’ve always believed that honesty will get you farthest. And it was hard to believe that someone as seemingly sweet and guileless as the princess could possibly have had anything to do with Glinda’s disappearance. But the Scarecrow was my oldest friend in this world, not to mention the smartest person I’d ever met. If he thought it was best to keep a few things secret from her, I knew that I should trust him.

“Well,” I explained, remembering that it’s always best to base a lie in some version of the truth. “It was my birthday, and you see, in Kansas, on your birthday, you get one wish. I wished I was back here, and next thing I knew, poof! We were all crash-landing in the middle of Munchkin Country.”

Ozma looked skeptical.

“That’s it?”

“I wished very hard,” I clarified.

“But it’s so odd,” she said, touching a finger to her red lips. “I thought magic didn’t exist in your world. It seems that something would have had to bring you here.”

“It was my sixteenth birthday,” I scrambled to elaborate. “That’s kind of a big deal over there. So that’s probably why it worked. Besides, I always felt like being in Oz the first time changed me somehow. Maybe I brought a little bit of magic back with me.”

She hmmm-ed. Her tone was still unconvinced, but her eyes were open and trusting. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe me. She just thought there was more to the story.

I decided to change the subject. “But I want to know all about you,” I said. “Are you really a fairy?”

The path we’d been following had ended at a wall of tall, thick hedges, no more than twenty feet wide, right smack-dab in the middle of the courtyard.

“Hold on,” Ozma said, suddenly distracted. “I want to show you something.”

She waved her scepter in a wide arc, and as she did it, the hedges parted, revealing a small opening. Ozma slipped right through it. After a moment’s hesitation I followed, and as the opening grew shut behind us, I found myself in a hedge maze. To my left and right, narrow grassy paths were bounded by impenetrable shrubbery that rose high over our heads. In front of us was another opening, and on the other side of that more paths and another hedge wall.

Something about being in here made me nervous. The maze had looked small from the outside, but now that we were in it, I could see that it was much bigger than I had realized, the paths leading far into the distance in either direction.

The atmosphere crackled with energy. I didn’t like the feeling of this place. Even though the sun was as big and bright as ever when I looked up, its light somehow wasn’t reaching us in here.

I could feel magic everywhere. The leaves on the hedges nearly vibrated with it. But it was a different kind of magic than the magic that ran through the fields of Munchkin Country like a babbling brook. It was different from the dark, threatening magic in the Forest of Fear, too.

This magic was old and ancient. It was gnarled and weathered and fossilized. I don’t know how I knew it. I just did. And I knew that if you stood still for too long in here it could swallow you.

For the first time, my shoes hurt.

“Which way do we go?” I asked.

“It’s all the same,” Ozma said. She was different in here, too. In the garden, she had been girlish and sunny. In here, though, her spine had straightened and her chin was raised. Her dark hair was suddenly wild and tangled; her delicate, girlish beauty was now fierce and fiery. She seemed older. She seemed less like a princess and more like a queen.

“All the paths lead to the same place,” she said.

I wanted to ask where, exactly, that place was, but the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth.

So we walked aimlessly, the bushes growing thornier and more overgrown and the leafy corridors narrower as we went. The air was still and quiet, and although the spires of the palace were just barely visible over the tops of the hedges if you craned your neck to see them, the city seemed very far away.

We took one corner and then another and another. Were we walking in a circle? My shoes burned on my feet, and I found myself wondering, again, what kind of magic exactly was pulsing through them. Were they communicating somehow with the magic in the hedge maze?

Ozma kept on walking. She had said it didn’t matter which way we went, but I started to suspect, from the way she carefully considered each gap in the maze before deciding which one to turn down, that there was more to it than she was letting on.

I had so many questions to ask, but it was like the maze had cast a spell over me that kept me from speaking at all. It was a creepy feeling, but I felt oddly calm about it. It was hard not to when it was so peaceful in here. Ozma was the one who finally broke the silence.

“Oz is bordered on all four sides by the Deadly Desert,” she said out of nowhere when we had rounded a corner into a twisty section of the maze where the hedges were overgrown with thick, brown vines. They were dotted with tiny blossoms, deep purple and smaller than my thumbnail, and they stretched over our heads in a canopy that hid the sky. “A desert so dry that you touch just a grain of its sand and it will suck all the life right out of you. One touch and poof, you’re dust.”