The Witch Must Burn
Page 11

 Danielle Paige

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“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t wake up until the alarm.”
“It’s not an alarm,” he said. “It’s the signal that means you should be at your post already. Don’t let it happen again.”
“I won’t.”
Finally, he looked up, and his expression softened a little. “I’m just working out the schedule for the rest of the day,” he said in a low voice, gesturing to the chart. “I’ll try to keep you out of Glinda’s way today. After yesterday, I imagine you could use a break. I can’t do much if she summons you directly, but at least this way you won’t be right in front of her. I’ll try to keep her occupied. Hopefully she won’t come after you until the afternoon.” In a more ordinary tone—one the cooks could easily overhear—Nox explained the workings of the palace to me. “This chart is posted in the kitchen with the day’s schedule. Sometimes we have various guests and dignitaries who are served meals in the dining hall, but right now Glinda is here alone. If she doesn’t have guests, she usually eats in her chambers. Servants eat in the kitchen after the main meal is served. I’m sure we’re a much smaller staff than you’re used to in the Emerald City; we all do a bit of everything. You’ll meet the rest of the maids today at dinner. But in the meantime . . .” He trailed off and studied me thoughtfully. His dark hair fell into his eyes, and he had that kind of mournful, beseeching look about him that would have suggested poetic depth to a girl with a slightly less pragmatic disposition than mine. I imagined he probably did pretty well among the ladies of the palace, although Glinda couldn’t have had much interest in his considerable charms if she kept him relegated to the kitchen. Then again, it was hard to imagine the words “Glinda” and “romance” in the same sentence. I couldn’t exactly picture her swooning over photos of heartthrobs, or waiting anxiously at fancy restaurants for her dinner date to show up. I wondered suddenly if Glinda’s interest in the Wizard was more than academic—after all, they were more or less equals. But it seemed more likely that she was trying to rope him into her crazy magic-mining plan somehow.
Nox was looking at me with one eyebrow raised, and I realized I’d been staring at him. “Sure,” I said, trying to remember what we were talking about. Meeting the maids—scheduling—dinner. “Dinner! Do I need to do anything to set up? At Dorothy’s my job was pretty . . .” I waved my hand around. “I mean, I was responsible for basically everything. Although Dorothy didn’t care what color her food was. I might need some help with the pink thing.”
But he shook his head. “That’s really what I’m here for,” he said.
I couldn’t help the note of petulance that crept into my voice. “Then why am I here? Really?”
He paused and looked over his shoulder. Right. The cooks. Eyes and ears for Glinda everywhere. Or else he was using them as an excuse not to tell me what he knew, what he meant by “we” yesterday. “Glinda wants to know how she can use you,” he said softly.
I saw out of the corner of my eye one of the cooks half turn in order to hear us better.
“It’s just that I want to be certain I do the best possible job for Glinda,” I said loudly, in a sugary voice. “It’s so important to me that I serve Her Eminence well.” One corner of Nox’s mouth twitched, and I realized belatedly he was hiding a smile. Score one for me, I thought. I’d made the Stone Man himself crack a grin. He reached forward, as if to touch my hand where it rested on the table, and then seemed to change his mind and picked up his pen again.
“I’ll send you out to the gardens for the morning,” he said. “You don’t need to worry about tending them or anything like that. Most of the landscaping is done by magic, and there are a few Munchkin gardeners who take care of the rest. But here in the kitchen, we use herbs and vegetables from the main garden, so you should make yourself familiar with it.”
“What should I do if Glinda calls me while I’m outside? She was”—I paused, making sure my voice was under control—“unhappy with me for my tardiness last night.”
“Punctuality is very important to Glinda,” Nox said drily. “But you should be safe for the morning, at least. Take this basket with you. Here’s what we’ll need for the day,” he said, handing me a basket from a shelf overhead and a neatly printed list of various vegetables, fruits, and herbs. “I imagine it will take you a few hours to find everything,” he added. That wasn’t even close to true, I thought, looking over the short list he’d handed me. He was basically giving me the morning off to wander around outside. If I didn’t know better, I would have hugged him. “Yes sir,” I said, and he smiled.
“Nox,” he said. “Please. There’s no need for formality in the kitchen.” And he smiled at me again—a real smile this time, winning and full of charm. I couldn’t help myself; I smiled back.
Dorothy’s palace in the Emerald City had gardens far grander than Glinda’s, though never in a million years would I have been dumb enough to point that out. Even so, Glinda’s gardens were nothing to sneeze at. A little heavy on the pink flowers for my taste, of course—rows and rows of sweet-smelling singing roses in a dozen variations of the shade; towering pink lilac trees, which released visible puffs of perfumed smoke at intervals; an orchard full of pink-barked trees, each of which bore a different pink fruit: peaches, apples, hot-pink pomegranates (points for creativity, I guess, even if not for realism). There were even tiny pink flowers that covered the winding paths through the decorative portion of the gardens like a carpet, and when you stepped on them, they shot out little jets of pink glitter. By the time I got back to the kitchen I was going to look like a disco ball.