The Witch Must Burn
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
“I’m very disappointed in you, Jellia,” I heard Glinda say, and then everything went black.
I woke up on my back in the long, sweet-smelling grass. Every part of my body ached, and when I tried to open my eyes my vision was so blurry I shut them again. My head pounded with a dull, throbbing pain.
“Awake, lazybones?” Glinda’s voice came from a few feet away, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at her. “I’m afraid you’ve failed me rather badly this afternoon, and it will take quite a lot of effort on your part to make it up to me. I’ve had to revamp the entire mechanism, and all that wasted time is your fault.”
“What happened?” I croaked, my voice barely above a whisper.
“You should have had enough magic to power the device yourself. But you simply weren’t up to the job, Jellia, and now I’ll have to find a way to run it manually. How inconvenient for me.” She sniffed delicately. “I suppose I need to think of something for you to do all summer at my palace. You’re not nearly as valuable to me as I thought you would be.”
Every muscle in my body cried out in protest as I struggled to sit upright, cradling my pounding head in my hands. “Now stand up and make yourself useful,” Glinda said, her voice sharper. I heard her snap her fingers, and I yelped aloud as my body was jerked into a standing position. I was afraid I’d fall over, but her spell held me there. “Open your eyes,” she said, and my body obeyed her. Slowly, my vision returned. We were still in the field, and the sun was still high in the sky—but that didn’t mean anything. Dorothy controlled the passage of time in Oz, and she liked long afternoons with lots of sunshine. Something was moving next to Glinda’s terrible machine. I squinted, and saw that the soldiers had corralled a handful of terrified Munchkins. While a few soldiers guarded the Munchkins, another was busy taking apart the harness and helmet they’d strapped me into. When they finished, they began lifting the Munchkins up to the platform part of the seesaw.
“Munchkin labor,” Glinda sniffed, her honeyed voice underscored with disgust. “Unreliable, ineffective—and impossible to leave unsupervised. I’ll have to station some of my soldiers here, and even return myself to make sure the job is getting done properly. All of this could have been avoided, Jellia, if your magic was sufficient to power the machine.” She studied her device thoughtfully, and then looked back at me. “Perhaps with some refinements you’ll be able to help me again.” One of the soldiers barked an order, and the miserable-looking Munchkins began jumping up and down in place. With a terrific, earsplitting groan, the machine began to turn. Glinda sighed and turned away. “Onward to my palace, I suppose,” she said.
Magic. Glinda was mining magic, pulling it out of the soil as if she was just digging a well. It was everywhere—it was in the land itself.
I struggled to stay awake in Glinda’s carriage, but my body had other ideas, and I passed out again as soon as it moved forward. I had no idea how much time had passed when Glinda shook me impatiently and I snapped back to consciousness. My muscles still ached, but the rest had done me a little good; the headache had subsided, and my vision was much clearer. “Look sharp, you lazy girl,” she said. “We’re almost to the palace, and I won’t have you setting a bad example.”
I’d heard about the Summer Palace, Glinda’s famous home, but I’d never seen it with my own eyes. It was nearly a full day’s journey from the Emerald City, and Glinda’s domain wasn’t exactly a hot vacation destination. Outside the carriage, the countryside was remote and desolate. Lonely-looking blue hills, barren and rocky, surrounded us, and the trees were twisted and thorny. Here and there, huge craters dotted the landscape, and I wondered if she’d already tried out her magic-mining experiments closer to home. We were approaching a huge, sparkling pink gate, made out of some stone that refracted the setting sun’s light and sent it in dazzling sparks across the desolate, rocky ground. Beyond the gate, candy-cotton-pink towers stabbed upward to dizzying heights. As soon as Glinda’s entourage was within the castle walls, the gate swung shut. Like it or not, I was home.
Glinda’s palace was as pink on the inside as it was on the outside. The walls were coated with a textured pink paint that looked as though someone had smeared sugar over everything. Chandeliers, crusted with pale pink gems, hung from the high ceilings. Pink-framed mirrors reflected the pink light, and everywhere hung pink-hued portraits of Glinda in an endless series of pink ball gowns. Waist-high pink vases held huge bouquets of pink flowers, which released little puffs of sickly-sweet perfumed pink smoke into the air at regular intervals. I tried not to gag as a waft of scent hit me, leaving a faint pink smear like a slug’s trail on my uniform. Glinda, who didn’t seem to walk if she could help it, floated ahead of me, gesturing me to follow her down the pink-floored main hall of the palace. “I have the perfect place for you, Jellia,” she singsonged as I trotted after her, wincing at my still-sore muscles. “We’ll start you in the kitchen.”