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Raindrops and Poppies

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All the non-fairy guests at Ozma's palace stayed up as late as their mortal bodies would allow. Dorothy had to be escorted back to her rooms by a maid, for she was fairly falling asleep on her feet, and one of the Wizard's eight tiny piglets drifted off whilst Polychrome was cradling it in her hands. She slipped it back into the Wizard's pocket so gently that it never stirred.

Polly herself had no need for sleep, and was eager to explore more of the castle. For everything she had seen of the Emerald City delighted her so far, and she had quite gotten over her nervousness around Oz's more fearsome residents.

She strolled through the fine galleries, marveling at the jeweled mosaics and exquisite statues. She wandered into the library, breathing in the new scents of paper and leather, though she was too shy to touch any of the gilt-edged books. When it began to feel claustrophobic inside, she danced along the garden paths, brushing her fingers over delicate rose petals and lingering under more of the rainbow trees with feather-plumed leaves.

The courtyard-facing walls of the palace were dotted with balconies. Polly left the ground and flitted up the stone until she reached the one that she judged led into her own rooms. Here she sat on the edge of the carved railing and took in the view from above, letting the wind toss her hair and play with her gossamer gown.

It gave the Rainbow's Daughter quite a start when someone stepped through the curtains behind her, and another when she realized it was no maid. "Oh! I am sorry, Your Majesty. I had no idea this balcony was yours."

"It's quite all right," said Ozma, with a pretty laugh. She had changed from her stately gown into a light green silk nightshirt and pants that hugged her girlish curves. "I was just wishing I had someone to talk to! I only retired because I was afraid Dorothy would stay up all night if she thought I was awake, and miss the festivities tomorrow."

She rested her elbows on the railing and joined Polychrome in looking down on the gardens below.

"Is this what the view is like, from the rainbow?"

"Not at all," said Polly. "It's so much smaller! You only see plants or buildings or bodies of water in great distant patches, never close enough to have any real sense of them. Do you know, I had never heard of tin until the Emperor of the Winkies explained it? And I still don't know any of the other earth metals and stones in the statues downstairs. Why, I don't even know what I'm sitting on," she added, laughing.

"This is green marble," said Ozma. "And in the gallery . . . perhaps we can go down together, and I can give you a tour. How exactly did you get all the way up here, Polychrome? You certainly didn't come through my rooms, or I would have noticed. Did you fly?" Her delicate brow furrowed. "Can I fly?"

Polychrome was surprised. "Don't you know?"

Ozma's cheeks turned pink. "There's a lot I don't know about myself," she admitted. "I only found out I was a fairy a few years ago -- the same time I learned I was a girl, and a princess, and -- there's been so much to learn about all of it."

"I had no idea," said Polly frankly. "You do a wonderful impression of knowing exactly what you're doing."

She jumped to her feet and flitted along the curve of the railing, as light as a snowflake on the wind.

"I can't fly, not properly, or I would have flown right after the end of the rainbow once I realized it had lifted off the ground. So I'm glad I can't, because think of how much I would have missed!" She couldn't wait to get back to her sisters and tell them every detail. "I'm very light, that's all. The earth doesn't hold me down the same way it does mortals. Perhaps it's the same with you."

She darted down the side of the wall, her bare feet resting on the slightest protrusions in the rock and flows of dust in the air. Reaching a windowsill a level below, she turned back and held an inviting hand to Ozma.

The Ruler of Oz climbed cautiously up onto the marble railing. Polly could see now that she wore green slippers accented with little green bows. They rested heavily on the stone, much more so than Polly's own bare feet. She opened her mouth to call a warning.

But it was too late -- Ozma had stepped out into the air. Her slippers scraped against the wall, her mass of brown curls buoyed upward as she fell. Polychrome darted out and caught ahold of the Princess, and her own magic was enough to slow their fall, so they floated to rest in the top of a great oak tree.

"Perhaps it's not the same after all," said Polychrome shakily.

"No," said Ozma, trying to laugh, though she was clinging to Polychrome's neck as if her life depended on it. In any country other than Oz, it would have. "I suppose you're a sky-fairy, and I'm not, and that makes the difference. I couldn't survive on such light food as mist-cakes and cloudbuns, either."

"Now you're making me hungry." The Rainbow's Daughter had barely eaten at dinner, though her favorite foods were served, because she felt full just watching the humans eat their own portions of meat and rice and exotic sauces and tall glasses of nectar. Of course Ozma was a different kind of fairy, for her plate had been the same size as the mortals'. "That reminds me: there were some delicious-looking dewdrops forming on the flowers down that path. Shall I take you down from the tree?"

"Won't you go down alone? I'd like to see that I haven't lost my touch."

So Polychrome settled Ozma carefully on a sturdy oak branch, and flitted down through the leaves to rest in the grass. She watched the Princess with concern, which turned to admiration as Ozma swung handily down, muscles flexing as she moved.

The lowest branches were so heavy they dragged against the ground. Instead Ozma chose to jump the last few feet, landing in a graceful crouch and flicking a few leaves from her hair as she stood.

Polychrome clapped in delight.

"I used to climb trees all the time," sighed Ozma as the two girls walked down the path. (She identified this material for Polly as "brick.") "Since becoming a princess again, I've been too busy. And so often I was doing it to hide from Mombi for a few hours -- that's the old witch who raised me -- but a ruler can't hide, you know. She has to be available to her people, to do her duty."

"Doesn't a ruler also have to stay healthy?" Polychrome darted from one side of the path to the other, whilst Ozma walked it in a straight line. "You should put it in your schedule as exercise. That's what I would do, if I couldn't find time to dance."

"What a wonderful idea! I believe I'll do it."

Polly spotted the flowers where she had seen the dewdrops: large red-orange blooms, the same kind normally worn in Ozma's hair. She crouched on her toes beside the plant and bent one of the blossoms toward her lips.

"I've never had dewdrops," said Ozma, watching her. "Even without being a sky-fairy, I shouldn't have any danger trying your food, right? If there's enough for you, I mean."

"Oh, there's more than enough! Come here."

Ozma came as she was beckoned. She made to reach for a flower herself, but Polychrome held up a hand to still her. Didn't Ozma want to learn about being a girl, along with everything else? This was as good a place as any to start.

The Princess closed her eyes as Polychrome brushed the petals against her lips, and let her tongue dart out to taste the dew.

"Dear Polly," murmured Ozma, using her nickname for the first time. "Couldn't you stay in Oz a while longer?"

"I couldn't." Polly missed her sisters, and her father. And they would be so worried by now. She had to get home. "But once my family knows I'm all right . . . I suppose there's no reason I couldn't, some day in the future, get 'lost' again."