The Wicked Will Rise Page 23

“Shut up!” she screeched. She didn’t really seem angry, just excited. “All of you! I’m in charge here!” The room snapped to silence as I heard Mombi clear her throat. All eyes turned back to her.

“Monkeys of the court,” she said. Her voice was measured and quiet, but had a commanding edge to it. “If I may speak.” Mombi gathered herself up and stood tall, clearly trying to summon as much dignity as she could. You know, given the situation.

“I stand before you bruised and bloodied,” she said, laboring over each word. If this were Judge Judy I’d probably have assumed it was all a show, and that she was playing the victim card. But Mombi looked like she was in real pain. “My comrades, the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, are lost, scattered to the four corners of Oz—an Oz whose future has never been more in doubt. My magical abilities are almost completely drained. In short, I am a shadow of myself. Why? Because I have been fighting a war for many years. I have done this not for power, not for glory, but for Oz. I fight not just for myself, but for the Munchkins, and the Nomes, and yes, for the monkeys—for winged and wingless alike. You ask me how I plead. If I am accused of fighting for those who cannot fight, then I refuse to pretend at anything other than the truth. Of that crime, I am guilty.”

As she rolled along, I could see a fearsome glimmer of the Mombi I knew returning as she marshaled the little strength she had left to make her plea. She was building up steam.

“But what of those who can fight, and choose not to? Wingless Ones, while you cavort mindlessly in the trees, far from the troubles below, your brothers and sisters are in chains, forced to serve their mistress’s cruel whims. You turn your backs on them simply because you think that they are not as brave as you. Need I remind you what those backs look like now? Did you deform yourselves—pay the ultimate price—just so you could cover your eyes and ears to the truth? Is this bravery?”

She fluttered a quivering hand around the room dismissively and went on. “But I am not a young witch, and I know very well that monkeys do not learn new tricks easily. So I do not stand here asking you to fight. I only ask that you grant me safe harbor so that I might continue to do battle on your behalf.”

I was impressed—even after all the time I’d spent with her in the Order’s headquarters, I’d never been completely convinced that she was really the freedom fighter she claimed to be. As much as Nox had always sworn otherwise, I’d always had a nagging suspicion that maybe she was just an opportunist, eager to get rid of Dorothy so that she could be in power for herself.

Now, listening to her speech, I saw the true passion she had for what she believed in. It was hard not to admire it.

The monkeys of the council all looked convinced, too, and were exchanging nervous, thoughtful glances. The only one who didn’t seem to be buying it was Queen Lulu, whose eyes were fiery with anger.

“Save me the sob story, sister,” Lulu said. “You talk a good game, but I wouldn’t call bingo just yet. We all know who you are. We all know what you’ve done. If it weren’t for you, Oz might not be in this mess in the first place. Or are you forgetting the little deal you cut with the Wizard way back when?”

There was murmuring among the monkeys, but Mombi cut in.

“What do you want me to say?” she bellowed, suddenly full-throated in her rage. “That I’m nothing but a common bush hag like Glinda the Supposedly Good? You want me to say it? Yes, I’ve been wicked, and I regret my crimes! You want more blood? Well, if it’s blood you want, you’ll have that, too, I promise. Just let it be Dorothy’s blood—and mine, if it comes to it—rather than your own and the blood of your people. Persecute me not, Wingless Ones. Instead, let me rest here safely to recover my strength so that I can help destroy our oppressor before she destroys us all.”

With that, Mombi collapsed breathlessly onto the stool at her side, and there was silence again. Queen Lulu stroked the hairs on her chin in contemplation, and then, finally, climbed up onto the back of her throne. She slammed her gavel against the wall of the royal tree hut with so much force that the whole structure shook.

“The court has reached its decision!” she said. I took a step back in surprise. Wait, that was it? “Mombi, as not even you yourself dispute the charges against you, you have been found guilty on every count.”

There was a murmur throughout the room, and I held my breath, waiting to see what came next. Was I going to have to fight to save her? The Tin Woodman, fine. The Lion, okay. They were both monsters. But I hadn’t signed up to kill any monkeys. And I also wasn’t going to let them just kill Mombi for no reason.

Luckily, I didn’t have to make that choice. Because Lulu wasn’t done:

“However,” the queen went on. “In my role as monarch of the monkeys, I have chosen to overrule the decision of the court. There can be no doubt that Mombi is as guilty as a nun dancing the hoochie coochie on Sunday morning. Even she admits it. But for now, witch, out of the goodness of my heart, I’m reducing your sentence and placing you under house arrest.”

She banged her gavel again. She liked that gavel. “Justice has been served!” she proclaimed. “Miss Gumm, you may escort the convict back to the Princess Suite, where she will be allowed to contemplate her crimes while she recuperates. But I remind you once again: no magic. Capisce?”

“Capisce, your royal honor,” I said.

The court broke out into applause, and Mombi nodded solemnly. She stood, and slowly began hobbling to the door. When she got there, she stopped and looked over her shoulder, glaring at me. “Well?” she asked impatiently. “Are you going to escort me or not?”

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