The Witch Must Burn Page 3

“How are the Scarecrow’s experiments coming, Dorothy? Are we on schedule to begin mining?”

“He’s doing his best,” Dorothy mumbled. “But we’re all worried about you-know-who. If you had better control over your sister—”

“My sister is unimportant,” Glinda snapped, cutting her off sharply.

“But he’s a danger to all of us,” Dorothy said petulantly. “Who knows why he’s returned? Or what his plan is?”

“My spies tell me that he hasn’t returned; he never left Oz at all. He may be throwing his lot in with the Wicked . . .” Glinda’s voice was cool and calculating. I couldn’t quite catch the end of her sentence, and it wouldn’t do to show I was listening. The wicked what? I wondered. “And we don’t yet know for a fact that he means to depose you,” Glinda said, her voice low. “His power—”

She cut herself off, looking at me. I lowered my eyes. “Go get more wine, won’t you, Jellia?” she said sweetly. “And you mustn’t pay attention to Dorothy and me. We’re just indulging in silly gossip!” She tittered gaily; it was like watching an eagle try to sound like a mouse.

“Yes, Your Eminence,” I said, curtsying quickly and turning to obey her request. The Wizard, I thought, my mind spinning as I went back to the kitchen. They were talking about the Wizard—they had to be. And Glinda was helping Dorothy—which meant that she must know about Dorothy’s slow takeover of the palace. Did Glinda know what was wrong with Ozma? Could the Wizard really have returned to Oz? And if he had, what did that mean for us? Had he returned to overthrow Ozma and take back the throne? Or did he realize that Dorothy was out of control? Was he trying to regain control of Oz—or protect it? And what exactly was the Scarecrow working on?

Astrid, one of the youngest servants, tripped on her way from the kitchen to the dining hall, bringing my thoughts back to the moment. I was right behind her and watched in dismay as she dropped the platter of roast beef she was carrying and burst into tears. “I’m—I’m—I’m sorry,” she sobbed, falling to her knees and trying to pick up the shattered pieces; she only succeeded in soaking her dress in the messy remains of the roast. I looked around quickly. Thankfully, we were alone in the corridor and no one had seen her blunder.

“It’s all right,” I said gently, hauling her to her feet. “I’ll make sure a Munchkin cleans this mess up.” I eyed her dress. Magic in the castle was strictly forbidden among the help, but I’d risked it before when trouble brewed. Besides, Dorothy was already tipsy so I didn’t think she’d notice, and being shorthanded at the banquet could end in disaster.

“Here,” I said, tugging at her dress and concentrating. I could feel the warm buzz in my hands, and Astrid gasped as the stains disappeared.

“Th-thank you, Jellia,” she whispered. She seemed shocked—almost as if she’d never seen a staff member do magic before. I’d always assumed everyone else here used it when they were in a fix.

“You can’t go back into the hall with that face. Smile.” I dabbed the remaining tears out of her eyes with the corner of my apron and looked at her sternly as her mouth quivered. “I mean really smile, Astrid. Go back to the kitchen and don’t carry anything to Dorothy until you look like you mean it.” It would be handy, I thought, if there were some spell that could keep all of us permanently smiling; Dorothy was only too happy to dole out punishment at random to anyone who didn’t look like they were having the absolute best time of their lives in her company. That was a hard level of happiness to fake.

“Yes, Jellia,” she whispered, and fled.

But that wasn’t the end of her mishaps for the evening. A few minutes later, as I topped off Dorothy’s wineglass yet again, a rigid grin fixed across my own features, Astrid came back into the banquet hall with a fresh platter of roast beef. Instead of a smile, her face bore an expression of terror. I caught her eye and tried to signal her to turn around, but it was too late. Dorothy could spot suffering from across a room like a cat on the prowl for errant mice. “Annabel,” she crooned, her voice dripping with lethal sweetness. “Come over here with that.” Astrid’s eyes went wide in fear. At Dorothy’s feet, Toto growled from his jeweled velvet pillow. Not for the first time, I thought that I’d have sacrificed a body part if it meant I could throw that wretched dog out a window. A very high window. Astrid rounded the banquet table with her platter and came to stand on Dorothy’s other side.

“Your Majesty,” she said, her voice shaking. Technically, Ozma was the only person in the palace we should have addressed as “Your Majesty,” since technically she was still the queen. But Dorothy was only too happy not to correct us. Soon we won’t even notice she’s taken over everything, I thought. The expression on Dorothy’s face was different than I’d ever seen it—instead of her usual scowl of adolescent petulance, she looked positively malevolent. A chill ran down my spine. Something was very, very wrong. I have to get Astrid out of here, I thought frantically, taking a step forward. But it was too late.

“Annie,” Dorothy crooned. “I’ve been waiting for the roast all evening. Jellia told me it’s extra special tonight. Was there a problem in the kitchen, Astrid?”

“A p-problem, Your Majesty?”

“Something that might cause such a significant delay with the service,” Dorothy said, her voice dripping honeyed menace. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Whatever happened next was not going to be good. “It must have been something simply disastrous, to keep a guest as honored as Glinda waiting.”

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