The Witch Must Burn
Page 16

 Danielle Paige

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A few days after Glinda brought up his visit, the Scarecrow arrived. He constructed a makeshift laboratory on the palace grounds and shut himself away as soon as it was completed. Glinda spent long afternoons holed up with him there, and sinister sounds of clanking and hissing emitted from the hastily constructed shack at all hours.
The Scarecrow never slept. He didn’t need to. The servants took turns bringing him his meals at his lab. One of the girls didn’t come back until the next morning—that night, we heard terrible screams from the Scarecrow’s laboratory, and at breakfast the servant girl was dead-eyed and silent. Nox sent her to her room to rest, but when he asked her what had happened in the laboratory, she just shook her head and refused to talk. I knew Nox was as curious as I was, but there was nothing we could do without putting ourselves at risk, and so we went about our duties and kept our eyes open.
My days at Glinda’s palace stretched into weeks, and slowly I relaxed. Nox was right: Glinda kept me close. After the day when I’d painted her nails, she declared that I was “indispensable.” She demoted her previous personal maid, and now every morning she summoned me to her pink chambers and demanded I help her with her hair and makeup, lace her into her tight corsets, and offer her advice on which of her endless dresses to wear. Her obsession with fashion and her looks was even bigger than Dorothy’s, but she didn’t need my help. She had more innate fashion sense than Dorothy and she always picked out the perfect ensemble on her first attempt. After just a few days of composing obsequious compliments and picking up after her as she discarded clothes on her bedroom floor, I was exhausted—but I couldn’t let her see it, and so I made my face into a mask of good cheer. Sometimes I’d see flashes of the other, secret Glinda—the lonely witch who’d let me paint her nails—but they were few and far between; and she kept the powerful witch who’d strapped me into her terrifying machine well hidden, too. I had to remind myself not to be lulled into a false sense of security. I met Nox again in the garden a few more times, but I had nothing to report. Other than the Scarecrow’s secret project, there was nothing out of the ordinary happening in the palace.
If Glinda was somehow pulling Dorothy’s strings, she was careful not to let me see it. She spent her afternoons in the garden, or holding court in her elaborate throne room, where she lounged on an immense, overstuffed pink chaise longue and nibbled pink bonbons off a pink tray. Messengers flitted back and forth between her palace and the Emerald City, reporting on the daily doings of the metropolis—Dorothy’s elaborate banquets and balls, her increasing number of new decrees, another statue erected in her honor. Once, as yet another messenger delivered yet another flowery speech on Dorothy’s magnificence, I saw the muscles of Glinda’s jaw tighten, and I wondered if she regretted her choice of a puppet. For a moment, I almost felt sorry for her. Glinda and I had at least one thing in common: we both thought Dorothy was insufferable.
And then, one morning one of the Tin Woodman’s soldiers arrived at the palace carrying an elaborate scroll, which he unfurled dramatically and read from in a deep, mechanical voice. “By order of Her Majesty, the Regally Benevolent and Eternally Beautiful Dorothy, Rightful Ruler of Oz and Mistress of the Deadly Desert—”
“The introduction is unnecessary,” Glinda interrupted smoothly.
The soldier sputtered and cleared his throat with a noise like a teakettle whistling. “Dorothy demands that her maid be returned to her,” he said in a more subdued tone.
Glinda raised one elegant eyebrow. “Dorothy demands?”
The soldier shifted his weight from one metal foot to the other, clanking nervously. “That’s what it says here, Your Eminence,” he said.
Glinda’s nostrils flared and she lifted one delicate hand from her couch. For a moment, I thought she might blow the soldier to smithereens. But then her expression cleared, and she smiled. “Of course,” she said. “It’s been so wonderful to have Jellia here that I’d simply gotten used to her. She’s been tremendously helpful.” The soldier and I exchanged glances, both of us unsure if we were expected to respond to this. “I don’t know what I’ll do without her,” Glinda continued, “but you may tell Dorothy I’ll send her home tomorrow.”
My heart leapt in my chest, and then sank again. I’d done it—I’d survived, and it was finally time to go back. But what about Nox and his secret plans to restore order to Oz? What could I do from the Emerald City, if he was here? And what did I have waiting for me with Dorothy when I got back?
Word of my pending departure traveled quickly through the palace, and that night he pulled me aside after dinner. I expected him to give me instructions, or some kind of message, but all he said was, “Stay safe. I’m worried she has something else up her sleeve.”
“Wonderful,” I muttered. “That’s comforting.”
“I’m looking out for you,” he insisted. “Don’t do anything foolish. But don’t worry.”
I nodded, but all I could do was worry.
The morning of my departure Glinda summoned me to her room as usual. She was already dressed in a low-cut pink dress that was fairly simple—for her, anyway. Her eyes had a dangerous glitter to them, and my heart sank. After all these weeks of relative calm, the real Glinda was back.
She wasn’t alone—the Scarecrow was there with her. His gangly frame was stuffed into his habitual too-small suit, and the clothes combined with his painted-on face, button eyes, and the bits of straw sticking out from under his hat should have made him look charming and harmless. But there was nothing harmless about the Scarecrow.