no place like oz Page 28

“So,” Ozma said. “I suppose that’s a very long way of answering your question. Yes, I’m a fairy. The truth is, it’s really not as exciting as you might think. It’s actually not so much different from being a regular girl.”

She was so matter-of-fact about the way she said it—the same way I would say that my aunt and uncle were farmers, or that I was from Kansas. I couldn’t imagine being a fairy princess and not even caring. And how could she think it was the same as being a regular girl?

“I know it’s stupid,” I asked. “But do you have wings? Fairies do usually, right?”

Ozma didn’t mind. She laughed and flipped her palms up as if to say, You caught me. She tossed her black hair and shook it out, and as she did, two huge butterfly wings unfurled from her back and fluttered a few times.

The wings were golden and translucent, lined with veins, and so delicate that they barely looked like they were there at all. They looked like nothing more than the impressions that burn into your eyes when you look at the light for too long.

“They don’t do me much good,” she admitted, flapping them a bit to demonstrate. She hovered a few inches from the ground and then let herself down again. “They work, but flying makes my stomach queasy, and anyway, I have the Saw-Horse to take me wherever I want to go. I hardly use them at all.”

The oddest feeling came over me. I wanted to reach out and touch those shining, beautiful wings so badly. If I had just asked, she probably would have let me, but I didn’t want to ask. It wasn’t like me at all, but I wanted to reach out and grab one of them and hold it in my fist. I wanted to know what it would feel like for it to be mine and not hers.

But I didn’t do it. I held my hand back, and Ozma drew the golden wings in. Rather than folding them up neatly like a bug’s wings, or a bird’s, her body just seemed to absorb them back into itself. If she noticed my reaction, it didn’t seem to bother her.

The princess walked to the bench and sat, letting her scepter clatter to the ground. She tucked her legs under her body and stretched her arms lazily to the sky. “This is my favorite place in the whole Emerald City. Maybe in all of Oz,” Ozma said. “I’d spend days here, if they let me.”

With an entire palace, an amazing garden filled with magical plants, and a whole Emerald City as a personal playground on top of it, I found it hard to believe that this drab little sitting area, with its broken bench and its muddy puddle, and its stunted, gray little trees—all surrounded by an enchanted hedge maze with obviously sinister intentions—was the best place the fairy princess could think to spend her free time.

“Really?” I carefully sat down on the bench next to her. “Why?”

She pressed a lock of her perfect hair behind her ear sheepishly. “Oh, who can say? It’s quiet, for one thing. No one bothers me in here—I don’t even think anyone else knows how to get in. In here, I don’t have to be a princess. The strange thing is that in here I’m more alone than anywhere else, and yet it’s the one place I don’t feel quite so lonely.”

“Oh,” I said. I didn’t know how else to answer that. Who wouldn’t want to be the ruler of your very own magical kingdom? I could think of at least ten girls back home who would gladly claw each other’s eyes out for the privilege.

“Maybe it’s because of what happened here,” Ozma said. “Maybe that’s why I like it.”

I gave her a blank stare. I didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Can’t you tell? This is the place where Oz began.”

I looked at the ring of squat little trees, branches heavy with round, red fruit. Pomegranate.

I looked at the puddle, and saw that it wasn’t a puddle at all, but a pool that bubbled up from deep within the earth. Floating in the center, so tiny that I’d missed it at first, was a brilliant green lily pad with a vibrant red flower at the center, its petals as red and glittering as rubies.

This was the spring that Lurline had found. This was where all of Oz’s magic came from. I was at the source of all of it.

My shoes burned.

Thirteen

The peculiar sight of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry dressed in some of the finest clothes in Oz greeted me in the great drawing room of the palace. They were draped in colorful silks and satins and their collars were so high that they couldn’t turn their heads.

It wasn’t just their clothes that had been gussied up either—apparently someone had seen fit to style their hairdos according to the latest Oz fashions. Uncle Henry’s hair had been swept up into a funny little triangle and his beard was trimmed into a sharp point. Aunt Em’s hair, freshly coiffed into a gigantic updo, had been dyed a ridiculous lime shade with emerald combs holding it tightly in place.

Even poor Toto hadn’t been spared. He looked like a giant black puffball, his fur blown out so that he was twice his normal size. The greatest indignity of all was that they had tied a bright green ribbon around his neck.

I couldn’t help but giggle at the sight. They looked wonderful by Oz standards of course, but I wasn’t used to seeing Uncle Henry out of his coveralls, or Aunt Em out of her gray muslin frock.

They all glared at me. Toto snarled.

Ozma entered the sitting room a moment after me. “My, don’t you look wonderful!” she exclaimed at the sight of them. “Like real members of the court.” They glared at her, too. This was as mad as I’d seen them since the time that the Shiffletts down the way had let the cows loose and they’d trampled Aunt Em’s prize petunias.