The Wicked Will Rise Page 12

I folded my arms across my chest. “Is that what you wanted to talk to me about? To tell me you’re staying out of it?”

“You got it, sweetheart. I know your type. You come around, you stir up trouble, and before you know it I’ve got all my monkeys wanting a war with the Emerald City. Thanks, but no thanks. You’re lucky I let you come here at all.”

Um, obviously I hadn’t come here trying to get the monkeys to go to war. Come to think of it, I hadn’t even asked to be brought here at all. Really, all I wanted in the world was a nap. A really, really, really long nap. And a shower. And maybe some ice cream and some bad TV.

Even so, Queen Lulu’s attitude was seriously pissing me off. Without really meaning to, I placed my hands indignantly on my hips. “Seriously? How can you act like what Dorothy does isn’t your problem? You may be hidden up here for now, but she’ll burn this place to the ground as soon as she gets around to it. Wouldn’t you rather live somewhere where you didn’t have to hide? Where you didn’t have to cut off your wings?”

Lulu picked up a banana from a bunch that was sitting on a table by her throne and peeled it. Royalty or not, she chewed with her mouth open.

“Come on,” she snorted. “We monkeys have had the short end of the hot dog for as long as Oz has been Oz. I may be the boss-lady now, but in my day I’ve hauled more than one witch around like I was a common chauffeur. Dorothy, the Wizard, Mombi, and her stupid little Order—they’re all the same to me.”

“The Order wants freedom for everyone.”

I surprised myself at how strongly I felt about it. The truth is, I’d never totally trusted the Order myself. Because, sure, Dorothy was evil, but who was to say that they weren’t more evil? They used to be wicked witches, after all. Who’s to say they weren’t still?

But look. You have to be loyal to something, right? I might have my own doubts about Mombi and the rest of them, but I had thrown my lot in with them, and I had to stand by my choices.

Queen Lulu was giving me a dubious, I’ve got your number kind of look.

“Don’t give me the babe-in-the-woods act, babe,” she said. “Let’s just say you and your wicked little friends do manage to kill Dorothy. You think I’ll be the one resting my hairy heinie on that shiny emerald throne? Not a chance. I’ve dinged enough dongs in my day to know it’ll be the same as it ever was. Maybe worse. Meet the new witch, same as the old witch.”

As she’d been talking, Queen Lulu had been working herself up into a frenzy; now she sprang to her feet and bared her teeth, her sunglasses askew.

I knew I should just nod and agree with her. I wasn’t going to change her mind, and she looked about one wrong word away from swinging across the room and wrestling me to the ground. But I’ve always been pretty bad at shutting up and smiling. Come to think of it, that might have been part of how I’d gotten myself into all this in the first place.

“What about Ozma?” I asked. “Things were good when she was in charge, right? Not all leaders are the same.”

Lulu cackled uproariously. She laughed until she was wheezing, and then, when she was tired out, she collapsed back into her seat and kicked her legs up. “Sure. Ozma was a doll way back when. But we all know that broad’s about six stamps short of first class these days. She’s great if you want to hear a whole lot of nonsense, but she’s not exactly monarch material, am I right?”

Okay, fine, she was right. But that didn’t change my point.

“So what? Should we just be on our way then?”

“Aw, don’t get all bent out of shape. You and Miss Princess can stay as long as you want. I do have my principles, after all, and anyway I’m a big softie. But I don’t want any trouble—and that means no magic while you’re here, got it? We don’t go in for that type of thing. And I know the kind of magic you do.”

“Fine,” I said. “No magic.”

Queen Lulu looked pretty much totally unconvinced. “Show me your hands.”

“My hands?”

“You think I was born yesterday? For all I know you’ve got your fingers crossed behind your back. Don’t think you can pull one over on me.”

I stared at her. Next was she going to knock twice on her throne and call no take-backs? But as ridiculous as it all sounded, I could tell from the way she was glaring at me that she meant business.

I dutifully held my hands out to show I was on the up-and-up. Lulu cleared her throat, like, I’m waiting.

I sighed. “I promise not to use magic while I’m in the village—”


“Queendom of the Wingless Ones. No take-backs,” I added for good measure.

At that, the queen nodded smugly and picked up her fan again. She fluttered it in front of her face. “Very well,” she said. “Now if you please, I must meet with my high council. I’m a very busy majesty, you know.”

I turned to leave, and then, with my hand on the door, I thought of something and spun around.

“Have you heard anything about the Order?” I asked.

“Not a peep,” she said dismissively. “They’re probably all pushing up daisies. Now skedaddle.”

“You must have heard something,” I pleaded. “Mombi told me nothing happens in Oz without the Wingless Ones getting wind of it.” When in doubt, lay it on thick.

That was a lie, of course. Mombi had never once mentioned Queen Lulu. But royal types can never resist flattery. Lulu’s eyes softened.

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