The Witch Must Burn
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“Jellia!” Dorothy’s voice tore through the air, a piercing shriek that made me flinch. I’d been scrubbing the palace floors since sunrise. Dorothy had been on a tear since she staggered out of bed long after the palace was up and bustling, and I’d had the bad luck to be standing next to her when she decided the floors were filthy, despite the fact that we’d cleaned them the day before. I sat up from my brush and bucket as the relentless tap-tap-tap of her heels came storming into the room, and just barely scrambled to my feet and executed a clumsy curtsy.
“What are you doing?” she snarled. “Why are you filthy?” She’d used magic that morning to dress herself—there was no mistaking the way she was stuffed into her corseted and impossibly short dress, or the glittering haze that surrounded her as she moved. Her hair was curled into tight, childish ringlets that were a strange contrast to her glossy red mouth and heavily rouged cheeks. As always, her magical red heels glowed like the fires of Hell. If you got close to those shoes, it was almost as though you could hear them talking to you in a low, seductive whisper.
“You look terrible,” Dorothy said. So do you, I thought.
“You asked me to scrub the floors this morning.” I kept my eyes downcast.
“I most certainly absolutely did no such thing, Jellia.” She always said my name like it was the worst insult she could think of. It drove me nuts. I dared a look up at her through my lashes, trying to judge her mood. If she’d truly forgotten, I’d only make her angrier by contradicting her. If she was trying to torment me, she’d only leave me alone once she saw me squirm like a worm on a hook. She was looking out the window with a scowl, her attention already elsewhere, which meant I wasn’t on her hit list for the day. Yet.
I rolled my eyes and swallowed my pride. “I must have misheard, Your Majesty,” I mumbled.
“Get yourself cleaned up at once,” she snapped. “I’m throwing a banquet and it has to be perfect. And I want all my dresses laid out—and the ballroom prepared—and I want all the Munchkins out of sight. Every last one of them, especially that filthy little blue one. Is that clear?”
“Of course, Your Majesty. Someone is visiting the palace?”
“Glinda is returning tomorrow,” she said coolly.
Even I, practiced as I was becoming in keeping my emotions out of my expressions, couldn’t hide my shock. Glinda was one of the most powerful witches in Oz—possibly the most powerful witch in Oz. Rumor had it that she was somehow responsible for Dorothy’s return, although no one knew exactly what she’d done.
Then Glinda had vanished shortly after Dorothy had moved into the palace. I know I wasn’t the only one who’d breathed a sigh of relief.
“Glinda is coming here?” I blurted. Dorothy narrowed her eyes, studying my face, and I cursed my big mouth. If she was back in the Emerald City now, I was pretty sure it wasn’t to deck us all out in ball gowns and tiaras.
“Surely you’re thrilled,” she said, and I recognized the danger in her voice.
“Oh, of course.” I scrambled to cover my slipup. “I’m just—it’s just a surprise to have such a, um”—I was hit with a burst of inspiration—“such an exalted guest. It will be an honor to receive her.”
An expression of disgust crossed her face. “And change your dress,” she said. “You look like you crawled out of a sewer.” She laughed out loud at her own joke, pivoting on one glittering heel and stalking out of the room. Her ridiculously short dress switched back and forth with each stride. I sighed and scowled down at my mop bucket. Something was up, and I had the sinking feeling whatever was about to happen wasn’t going to be good.
The morning of Glinda’s arrival, the palace was a hive of activity. Servants ran back and forth, putting up decorations and frantically cleaning. Delicious smells from the kitchen filled the halls. I inspected every maid I passed, making sure everyone’s uniform was spotless and perfectly fitted. When I heard the clatter of carriages from the courtyard that signaled Glinda’s arrival, my heart skipped a beat. If everything wasn’t perfect, I’d be the one to pay for it.
Dorothy and Glinda shut themselves up in Dorothy’s chambers as soon as Glinda entered the palace. I spent the rest of the afternoon making sure that everything in the banquet hall was ready for Glinda’s big welcoming dinner. The long table was heaped with white flowers that released a gentle aroma of jasmine into the air. The crystal chandeliers glittered. The tablecloth was a snowy, spotless white, richly embroidered with silver thread. Every place was set just so. Even Dorothy, I thought, couldn’t find fault with anything here.
But that night, as we served dinner to Dorothy, Glinda, and her entourage, everything in the palace felt off. The air snapped with tension, and all the servants were nervous. I looked around and noticed Ozma wasn’t present. Dorothy sulked at her end of the table, her habitual fake smile replaced with a sullen scowl. Glinda sat next to her, and the two of them talked quietly on their own. I moved back and forth between the kitchen and the banquet hall, trying to catch snippets of their secretive conversation.