The Wicked Will Rise Page 22

If she was dead, it was even more unclear how I felt about it. Of all the members of the Order whom I’d met, Mombi was the one I trusted the least. She had lied to me more than once, and she had always seemed to have the most right to call herself wicked.

But, for better or worse, I had bound myself to her, in more ways than one. And, on top of that, I had questions I needed to ask her.

Queen Lulu had declared that the trial be held as soon as Mombi woke up. If she woke up. And while Pete—who Lulu, oddly, had been unsurprised to see instead of Ozma—had been barred from entering the queen’s chamber, I had been chosen to act as Mombi’s lawyer, for reasons I couldn’t make sense of.

Now, here we were. I’d heard of kangaroo courts and even monkey trials, but this was taking it to a whole new level. Not that it mattered much anyway—I’d been in Oz long enough to know that courtroom procedure around here didn’t have much in common with what I knew from watching SVU reruns. In Oz—in my experience at least—there was no due process, no Fifth Amendment to plead, and if the judges were sassy, it wasn’t usually in a well-meaning, salt-of-the-earth kind of way. It was usually more like sassy-psychotic.

For Mombi’s sake, I could only hope that Lulu was a more evenhanded judge than Dorothy had been when I’d been put on trial.

“This court will now come to order!” Lulu barked from the bench, which was really just her throne. “The despicable crone known as Mombi stands accused of high witchery, gross dishonesty, untold crimes against monkeys, outrageous trespassing, and general unpleasantness. Also, she is extremely unattractive. Miss Amy, do you speak for the witch?”

I was standing behind a long, wooden table that had been set up in the middle of the chamber.

“Uh, I’m not exactly a lawyer,” I said, addressing Lulu and the rest of the monkeys. “But do you really think she’s fit to be put on trial? Look at her—she can barely stand up at all.”

It was true. On her best day, Mombi was haggard and withered, but you only had to spend a minute or two with her to realize how tough she was despite her old age. Today was the first time she’d ever truly appeared fragile. There was something about it that was unsettling, and I was reminded of the first time I had ever really understood that when my mom was “relaxing,” she was high as a kite and not taking a funny kind of nap.

It was that feeling you get when you realize that the person you’ve always looked to for protection can’t help you at all—that she, not you, is the one who needs taking care of.

Mombi was leaning heavily on the table, hunched over, her shoulders trembling as she strained under every breath. It was no secret to anyone in the room that she was in serious pain. She had a stool next to her if she wanted it, but she was standing. You had to give her credit for poise.

I had to get her out of here and make her get better, if for no other reason than because she was my best chance of figuring out what was going on. Not to mention my best hope for finding Nox.

“Your honor,” I said, addressing the queen as politely as I could.

“Your royal honor,” Lulu corrected me in her high-pitched, nasal singsong.

“Sorry, your royal honor,” I said. “But I think we need to get Mombi to someone who can help her. It’s—”

“Zip-zip!” Queen Lulu barked, pulling her fingers across her lips. Suddenly I realized who she reminded me of: Judge Judy. Now this was a version of the law I recognized. Back home, Judge Judy was my mother’s favorite show—Mom was always coming up with enemies she wanted to face off against in Judy’s courtroom. You know, like our landlord, the lady in the next trailer over with the annoying dog, the bartender at Paddy O’Hooligan’s who wouldn’t serve her a third drink. She was always sure she would win. Big surprise, she never quite got around to filling out all the applications to get Judge Judy to take her cases.

The good news was that if this was Judge Judy, I knew how to deal with it. Basically, I just had to suck up. “It’s an honor to appear before you today,” I said to Lulu, smiling smarmily. She seemed pleased at my deference, and as she shuffled some papers around in front of her, I looked over at Mombi. “Are you okay?” I whispered.

“I’ll be fine,” she muttered through gritted teeth. But she didn’t look fine.

“How should I say you plead?” I asked.

Mombi wheezed. “Guilty!” she cackled to the room at large, doubling over at the effort it took just to laugh.

“Miss Gumm,” Lulu said sternly. For some reason—procedure?—she was refusing to speak to Mombi. “Please remind your witch friend that the sentence for her crimes is death.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But can you remind me exactly what her crimes are?”

My words were lost in the pandemonium that had broken loose as Lulu had announced the penalty and the rest of monkeys began hooting and chattering and jumping up and down.

“Kill the witch!” screeched a monkey—the one who had looked so cute in his little green overalls just yesterday.

“Burn her!” a smaller monkey shouted.

Then they were all yelling at once:

“Melt her with water!”

“Make her pay!”

“Witches get stitches!”

Queen Lulu let the pandemonium go on for a long spell, looking extremely pleased at the scene she’d created. Finally, when things were threatening to get truly out of hand, she hopped up in her seat and waved her tiny, furry fists.

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