The Witch Must Burn Page 8

“I’m trained as a lady’s maid, Your Eminence,” I panted as I hurried after her.

“Too good to start out at the bottom, are we?” she cooed.

“It’s not that, Your Eminence, it’s just that I thought—” She whipped around in midair, her ball gown swirling, and stared down at me.

“In my palace, you don’t think, Jellia,” she said. “Is that clear?”

“Yes, Your Eminence,” I said.

She smiled. Despite her pretty face, the expression made her look like a shark. “That’s more like it, Jellia. And don’t think I won’t be keeping an eye on you. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Your Eminence.” In a puff of pink glitter, she vanished. I stood blinking in the hallway, uncertain what to do next, when a tall, lean boy about my age with thick dark hair rounded a corner and stopped in front of me. He was one of the best-looking people I’d ever seen; I was very happy to see that he wasn’t pink.

“You’re the new girl,” he said, his curt demeanor at odds with his charming looks.

“Yes,” I said, and curtsied for good measure. He snorted.

“Save it for Glinda,” he said. “I’m here to help you stay alive.”


I was taken aback by his bluntness, but after what I’d been through on my way to the palace, I was grateful that someone was finally being level with me. “I’m Nox,” he said, stalking away from me. I realized I was supposed to follow, and hurried after him. “I oversee the kitchen, where you’ll be stationed for the time being until Glinda . . .” He paused, and a look of pity crossed his face for a second before he returned to stern indifference. “Until Glinda promotes you.”

“Promotes?” I asked as we walked. The maze of pink corridors was hopelessly disorienting; I couldn’t imagine ever being able to get my bearings.

“She has a habit of it,” he said, his tone discouraging further questions.

“What happens to people she promotes?” I persisted.

“To be honest? I’m not sure you want to know.”

“Oh,” I said, and was quiet for a moment. “I’m only here for the summer. I work in the palace in the Emerald City, normally.”

“I know,” he said.

“You seem to know a lot about me.”

“Your reputation precedes you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He didn’t slow down. “Glinda’s not the only one who’s kept an eye on you. It’s my job to know what happens in the palace.”

“I thought you just said you worked in the kitchen.”

“Among other things.” With this cryptic answer, he pushed open a pink-paneled door at the end of yet another pink hallway, and I followed him into what was obviously the palace kitchen. A bank of ovens took up most of one wall; next to them, pink pots bubbled on a huge pink stove. But the rest of the room was mercifully ordinary; the long counter that stretched the length of the kitchen was just plain old wood, the floors were gray stone, and the walls were painted a clean white. “Glinda doesn’t come in here,” Nox said, as if to explain the color scheme. Three Munchkin cooks bustled back and forth in front of the stove, and a bedraggled girl who looked about ten was washing dishes in the kitchen’s huge sink. Nox didn’t introduce me, and none of them looked up as we came into the room. “Glinda only eats pink food—mostly cake, which is why there are so many ovens,” Nox said. “She likes strawberry ice cream, too. If she wants something that isn’t ordinarily pink, we have to enchant it. Just hope you don’t get stuck on cleanup after bubble gum fondue night.”

“Bubble gum fondue?” He was kidding, right? But his expression was serious, and based on his demeanor so far, it didn’t seem like he kidded anyone about much of anything.

“Listen,” he said, “I don’t know how they do things in the Emerald City, but if you want to survive here you’d better not let Glinda overhear you say anything she might find unflattering. And she has ears everywhere in the palace.” He looked meaningfully at the cooks.

“Right,” I said. “Thanks.”

He took a tiny pink bird covered with pink rhinestones out of his pocket and fastened it to my apron with a little pink clip. “Don’t ever take this off, even when you go to sleep. She’ll know, believe me. This is how she summons you when she needs you. It’ll direct you to wherever she is in the palace.” As if on cue, the bird let out an earsplitting blast of noise, and I jumped about a foot in the air. Nox didn’t even flinch. “Jellia!” Glinda’s voice, tinny and compressed, shrieked across the kitchen. “Bring me a strawberry sundae!”

Nox crossed the kitchen to a tall freezer, which he opened to reveal a row of strawberry sundaes, already prepared. “When she wants something, she wants it right away. We make her favorite dishes ahead of time so she doesn’t have to wait.” He took a pink platter and a pink vase down from a shelf, filled the vase with pink roses from another cooler, set a sundae and the flowers on the platter, and handed the platter to me. “Good luck,” Nox said. “I’ll see you back here when you’re done.”

I’d hoped I would get some time to rest after my ordeal in the field, but clearly that wasn’t going to be the case. I did a mental self-assessment; I was still sore, but I’d manage. The bird pin barked directions at me as I hurried back through the palace corridors and up spiraling flights of pink stairs. Finally, I found myself at a set of pink double doors. I knocked lightly, and the doors swung open.

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