The Witch Must Burn
Page 4

 Danielle Paige

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Astrid’s mouth trembled, her smile widening desperately and then faltering altogether. From the other end of the table, Glinda laughed. “Now, Dorothy,” she said. “There’s no need to be upset. I’m perfectly content.”
“This is my palace!” Dorothy shrieked, all the syrupy sweetness gone from her voice. Her eyes blazed as she reached out and grabbed Astrid’s arm, sending the platter clattering to the floor and the roast flying for the second time. Dorothy’s glossy red talons dug into Astrid’s flesh, and tears filled Astrid’s eyes as a trickle of blood ran down her arm. “You know what we do in my palace with servants who cannot perform their tasks properly?” She released Astrid’s blood-streaked arm and leaned back in her chair.
Glinda put one pale hand on Dorothy’s arm. “Not yet, Dorothy,” Glinda said, so low I almost missed it. “The time is not yet.” I stared at Dorothy, my mouth half open in horror. She’d been cruel before, entitled and prone to outbursts. But I’d never seen her do anything like this.
“No, Your Majesty!” Astrid cried, sinking to her knees and sobbing. “Please, Your Majesty, I’m sorry—I’m so sorry—it will never happen again—miss, please, don’t hurt me—”
“That’s enough,” I said sharply. Dorothy looked up at me, her eyes narrowed with surprise. “I made a mistake with the order of the dishes. There’s no need to punish Astrid.” I added a hasty and belated, “Your Majesty.”
“Is that so,” Dorothy said. Her sudden calm was even more terrifying than her rage of moments ago. “Really, Jellia, you disappoint me.”
“The servants are my responsibility,” I said.
“Are you disagreeing with how I choose to discipline them?”
I took another deep breath. If I could distract Dorothy and calm her down, we might all get out of this banquet unscathed. “Of course not, Your Majesty,” I said. “As always, your wisdom is boundless. But I should have known that—that”—I racked my brain and hit on an idea—“I should have known that Astrid was too young to wait on such an important guest. The pressure was too much for her. She’s just nervous, Your Eminence—please, there’s no need to punish her.” I curtsied in Glinda’s direction for good measure, and caught an evil little smile flicker across her face and vanish again.
“Your head maid is a feisty little thing, isn’t she?” Glinda said, turning from Dorothy to me. “Come here.” Surprised, I looked at Dorothy, whose expression was uncertain. Astrid, forgotten, began to creep away from the table on her hands and knees.
“Obey Glinda, Jellia,” Dorothy snapped. I curtsied again and walked over to where Glinda was seated. She’d barely touched her food; her plate was still full. From a distance, she was beautiful; up close, she was even more so. Her soft strawberry-blond curls framed her heart-shaped, ageless face. Her eyes were a bright, cornflower blue. She was wearing a pale pink ball gown sewn together out of what looked like tiny scales of leather; the effect was almost like armor, but still managed to be pretty. She stretched out one delicate, immaculately manicured hand and gripped my chin, turning my face back and forth as she studied me like a bug under a magnifying glass. Her blue eyes bored into me and I felt as though I were falling into a bottomless pool, sinking deeper and deeper below the surface as I helplessly watched the sunlight recede above me and the darkness intensify all around me. You’re supposed to be the Good Witch, I thought faintly. But the look in Glinda’s eyes was cold, hard, appraising.
“You can’t just have my maid,” Dorothy said indignantly. Her voice broke the spell. I inhaled sharply, as though I’d just been underwater. “She’s mine.” What was she talking about?
“Just for the summer,” Glinda said, her eyes not leaving my face. “You can have her back just as soon as I’m done with her, Dorothy. You wouldn’t begrudge me this one favor, would you? After everything I’ve done for you?” Her voice was so syrupy I swore I could see the words oozing out of her mouth and flowing across the table toward Dorothy like a pink, sugary tide. Dorothy blinked, her mouth falling open a little, as the thick, shimmering liquid slid up the front of her dress and into her open mouth. Dorothy licked her lips, which glistened as though they’d been dipped in sugar. I blinked. I wasn’t imagining it.
“Just for the summer,” she whispered. But Glinda wasn’t looking at her; she was still staring at me.
You see it, don’t you, little girl? You can see the magic, not just feel it. I heard her voice inside my mind, but her lips weren’t moving. Her fingers tightened on my chin and I went rigid with terror. I had never been so frightened in my life. You don’t even know what you are, do you? You haven’t the faintest idea, she crooned inside my skull. I can make much use of you, child. Much use indeed. She let me go and I staggered backward, nearly falling to the floor. Around us, the guests who’d fallen silent during Dorothy’s tantrum began to chat nervously again, and the buzz of conversation filled the banquet hall. The servants, moving hesitantly at first and then with more confidence, refilled glasses and cleared plates, brought out trays piled with colorful desserts. The room returned to normal for everyone but me.
“Just for the summer,” Glinda said pleasantly. “I think it will be such a wonderful time. Don’t you, Jellia?”
My heart hammering in my chest, my limbs finally released from her terrible power, I answered in the only way I could. I turned and fled the room.