The Witch Must Burn Page 13

The Wizard laughed. “Dorothy’s arrival was . . . foreseen, Glinda. But do not make the mistake of underestimating her. I know you think you control her, but she most certainly has plans of her own—and she’s far more dangerous than you can imagine. And what’s this I hear of your magic mining? You know Oz doesn’t have the infrastructure to support that kind of a power draw. In fact—”

They were moving away from me and though I strained so hard to hear the rest of what he was saying I nearly fell over, his words were unintelligible. I sat back against my tree, my mind racing. I hadn’t heard enough to tell me much, but it seemed more than possible that my initial assumption about the Wizard was wrong.

He hadn’t seemed pleased with Glinda at all—and her own wheedling, ingratiating tone suggested she was well aware of the fact. Were they working together, or was she trying to convince him to side with her? What did it mean if he’d been in Oz all along? Were they double-crossing Dorothy—or was he double-crossing Dorothy and Glinda? And it seemed pretty clear that Glinda really was trying to steal Oz’s magic. Whatever was going on, it was definitely something big. And maybe I didn’t want to know the answer. It was far easier to be a servant girl, oblivious to the political machinations of the real powers of Oz. What could I do to stop them?

And then I had a sudden, terrible image of Ozma, wandering with unseeing eyes through the halls of Dorothy’s palace, and my heart sank all the way into my scuffed boots. Who was I kidding? Of course I cared. If there was anything I could do to help Ozma, to turn her back into the vibrant, powerful, generous ruler she’d once been . . . Well, there wasn’t much I wouldn’t give to have the palace back the way it should be. And when you got right down to it, that meant no Dorothy. And no so-called Good Witch, either.

I’d been in the garden for a long time, and even though Nox had cut me a break this morning, I didn’t want to push my luck. I picked up my basket, looked around one last time to make sure Glinda and the Wizard were out of sight, and hurried back to the kitchen.

Nox was there, more or less where I’d left him, although now instead of going over the schedule he was overseeing the decoration of four enormous pink cakes that the Munchkins must have baked that morning. Each cake had been frosted in a slightly different shade of pastel pink, and a young Munchkin baker was painstakingly creating elaborate portraits of Glinda on each one—a radiantly beautiful Glinda holding a bouquet of enormous pink roses; Glinda, looking benevolent, distributing pink cupcakes to beaming Munchkin children; Glinda with a festive background of fireworks and a cheering crowd; Glinda reclining on her immense pink bed, looking sultry.

The portraits were so detailed they looked as though she was about to spring to life. I gave an involuntary shiver. Nox looked up as I came into the kitchen and set my basket on the counter, careful not to jostle the surface and upset the Munchkin’s work.

“That last one seems a little scandalous,” I said without thinking. Nox raised an eyebrow at me and the Munchkin looked startled. “Nice pictures, though,” I added to the Munchkin. It wasn’t his fault Glinda was a power-hungry despot trying to suck Oz dry of all its magic. He was just trying to do his job and stay alive.

“Remember what I told you yesterday?” Nox asked in a warning tone.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m just feeling a little revolutionary, I guess.” The Munchkin dropped his container of frosting and stared at me in fear, and Nox’s eyes widened. He rounded the table and grabbed my arm.

“That’s enough,” he hissed in my ear. I shook him off angrily.

“No, you know what’s enough?” I snarled at him. “This charade is enough. Glinda is destroying Oz, and you know it. We can’t let her get away with this! She’s the one who’s making Dorothy into a monster, and she’s the one who’s stealing our ma—” Nox clapped a hand over my mouth and wrapped his other arm around me.

“I said that’s enough,” he snapped. The Munchkin was staring at us, his mouth open. “Get back to work,” Nox told him. “I’ll deal with this. Understood?” The Munchkin nodded, turning back to his cake. Nox dragged me outside into the hallway.

“Listen to me, and listen carefully,” he said in a low voice. “Talking like that will get you killed, do you understand? I know you don’t understand why—I know I haven’t been able to tell you everything. But you can’t die. We need you.”

“So that’s why you’ve taken an interest in my welfare?” I was suddenly furious. “I can’t die because you need me? For some mysterious cause? I don’t even know what the cause is, Nox! I just know Glinda has some kind of crazy, sinister plan for me, and I have magic I don’t understand, and what if Glinda tries to put me back into that terrible machine, and . . .”

“Look,” he said so quietly I had to strain to hear him. “I know. Believe me, I know. I’m on your side, Jellia. But you can’t draw attention to yourself like that. You’re risking your life. You need to be strategic.” He looked as if he was struggling with a decision, and then he sighed. “There are other forces at work here you don’t know about. Just—you’re not the only one in Oz who feels this way, Jellia. Be patient.”

“Don’t tell me to be patient,” I retorted, and then I thought about what he’d just said. “Wait, do you mean the Wizard?”

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