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Ozma and the Royal Jackknife of Oz

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"Wait!" Ozma called as Glinda ordered her soldiers to dismantle the camp. She disappeared inside the gossamer curtains surrounding Glinda's royal couch. In a moment she returned, a small frown marring her dainty features. "But where is my jack-knife?" she asked. "I was certain it must have fallen among the cushions, but I cannot find it."

Glinda smiled gently. "That was Tip's knife, and part of your transformation into a boy. Of course it disappeared when you became a princess again."

Ozma looked around her friends in dismay. She had never before been without her knife, and it felt quite peculiar. Her eyes sorrowfully landed on Jack Pumpkinhead, who owed his very existence to Tip's cleverness with his knife.

"Never mind," said the Tin Woodman. "Whenever you need something cut, I and my axe shall be at your service."

"The new leg he made for me is very fine," Jack comforted her. "The knee is cleverly jointed." For it was true, when Nick had fitted Jack with the mahogany table leg, he had taken particular care to ensure that the new joint would be longwearing.

Ozma nodded, then reached up to kiss the woodman's cheek, for he had a tender heart and Ozma was a kind princess. "Thank you, dear friend. I am sure that Jack will be in caring and gentle hands." Nick squeezed her hand.

Ozma turned and smiled sweetly at Glinda. "Of course, but I had forgotten. Knives are for boys, and I am a girl."

At Glinda's approving nod, Ozma dropped Nick's hand and went to ready herself for their march on the Emerald City and General Jinjur. One witch was very much like another, after all, and Tippetarius had a lifetime of practice in doing what he wanted behind witches' backs.

 

 

"Pockets," Ozma said to Jellia Jamb, the tiny palace maid who had shown Ozma to the royal treasury. Ozma had waved goodbye to Glinda's army from the city walls, and then gone straightaway to the treasury to replace her lost jack-knife.

There were many beautiful engraved and bejeweled knives in the royal treasury, but Ozma was a practical princess, and so she selected for herself a plain penny knife. (Although they are not called such in Oz, for that fairy country has no need of money, the royal treasury instead storing all kinds of useful or decorative things that the people of Oz might need.) Jellia found Ozma a pretty little reticule beaded with emerald chips, just the right size to carry the penny knife, but Ozma did not like the sensation of the tiny bag banging at her wrist.

Ozma looked down in dismay at her flowing, empire-waisted gown. "Pockets," she repeated to Jellia. "What good is a pocket knife without pockets?"

Jellia patted the pockets of her own emerald-trimmed jacket. Everyone in Oz desires to be useful, Jellia knew, and it is always easier to be useful when one has pockets. "I shall speak to the royal seamstresses," she promised.

The royal seamstresses loved their new princess, and so they built proper, worklike pockets into each of Ozma's diaphanous gowns. Oz truly is a fairy country, for the seamstresses were so clever that no matter how many wonderful things Ozma pushed into her new pockets, the pockets never ruined her gowns' light, swirling lines.

 

 

On their triumphant return from the Nome Kingdom to the Land of Ev, Ozma stopped the procession when she heard Prince Evring crying. Ozma was a tenderhearted princess, and was always very grave to hear that someone was unhappy, even when that person was not one of her subjects.

"Why, whatever is the matter?" she asked the little boy, who was being comforted by Dorothy and his mother, the Queen of Ev.

"I lost my whistle!" Evring cried.

Dorothy explained to Ozma about the funny tin whistle that had been the Tin Woodman's enchanted form during his enslavement to the Nome King. Little Evring had pocketed the toy whistle and become attached to it, and Billina had only just then recognized it for who it was. Ozma kissed the Woodman in welcome (for she had been so worried by the child's crying that she had not at first noticed that their friend had been returned to them), then took the crying boy by the hand. "Then we shall make you a new whistle!" she told Prince Evring, and led him down to the edge of the stream they had been traveling beside. Dorothy, the Queen, and the Tin Woodman all followed to see what Ozma would do.

Ozma found a willow growing close beside the stream (for in Ev, as in our country, willows like to keep their feet wet) and used her knife to cut a stout green twig from the tree. Instructing the boy carefully, but not letting him touch her knife for he was still too young, she trimmed the end of the twig to make a comfortable mouthpiece, then made a modest notch in the twig's side. Ozma cut a shallow, neat ring around the willow stick, then firmly rapped with the flat of her knife all along the notched end of the twig. Evring had stopped crying, the better to watch what Ozma was doing. Ozma asked if Evring could guess what she would do next, and Evring shook his head no. Ozma grasped both ends of the twig tightly, one hand on either side of the ring, and twisted hard. With a pop, the bark of the notched end of the stick came loose, and the boy laughed in surprise. Working quickly, because even the sweetest of small children can easily become bored, Ozma slid the loose bark off the stick, cut a large recess into the stick's heartwood, then shaved a shallow flat extending from the recess to the mouthpiece to allow the passage of air. Sliding the bark back onto the twig, she snugged the two pieces tight and handed the completed whistle to the boy.

Evring blew a piercing blast on the whistle and laughed delightedly, then ran to show his new toy to his oldest brother, Prince Evarose.

The Tin Woodman said, with a queer expression, "It is handy that you had your knife, dear princess. It is difficult to make a willow whistle with an axe, and I would not be the cause of a child's sorrow."

Ozma's eyes sparkled with laughter. "Never mind," she comforted the woodman, "whenever you need something to be cut, you may always call on me and my knife."

 

 

Upon returning from Ev, Ozma spent a day sitting with Jack Pumpkinhead in his fields, carving ever more fanciful heads for her friend. "There, Jack," she announced, very satisfied with herself, "Now you have more heads than the Princess Langwidere!"

"But what shall I do with so many heads, dear parent? I have only one neck." Ozma considered Jack's shoulders, and Jack hastily continued, "Which is exactly the right number of necks! If I were to have two heads, I might quarrel with myself, and would never be happy again."

Ozma smiled at the thought of Jack quarreling, but only asked, "I have seen you cover your smile when you did not want someone to mistakenly believe you happy, have I not?"

"Of course," Jack replied. "But are such moments worth exchanging one entire head for another?"

Ozma laughed. "Perhaps not, but try them on anyway, Jack, and we shall see if there are any you like as well as the one you are wearing now."

She and Jack played dress-up with his new heads, spinning tales to each other about each of these new Jacks. After trying on the final head, however, Jack returned to the head modeled after the one that Tip had first carved for him only two short years before, the one with the wide, crooked smile. "For who would I rather be, than the Jack Pumpkinhead that I have always been?" he asked.

Ozma became sober at his words, for she had always been Tippetarius, who she would never be again. "Quite right," she abruptly congratulated Jack, and began rolling the discarded heads to the edge of the field, where passerby might take them away for pumpkin tarts.

 

 

"Oh, botheration!" Ozma declared. She removed her knife from her pocket and began cutting away her skirts, roughly trimming them to just below her knee.

"Ozma!" Dorothy exclaimed. "It's not proper to talk slang! And whatever are you doing?"

"I can't climb this tree in a gown, can I?" Ozma was crosser than one should be with a friend, but even royal princesses are sometimes not as sweet-tempered as they should like to be.

"We could fetch one of the royal gardeners," Dorothy suggested. She, too, could hear the orphaned nestlings crying above them, and wished them rescued as much as Ozma. No one could ever starve to death in Oz, but that did not make the nestlings' hunger any less cruel.

But Ozma ignored Dorothy's sensible idea. "Besides," Ozma continued as if her friend had not spoken, "I shall need something with which to lower them down to you." Indeed, the material she had cut away made a perfectly serviceable wide, silken sash.

"But Ozma…! It's not dign'fied!" Dorothy could not say why it was so scandalous to see Ozma in skirts no longer than Dorothy's own, for the two girls were of an age. But it was different when one was the queen of all Oz, Dorothy knew, and she could not bear the thought of anyone criticizing her beloved Ozma.

"I would rather be undignified than see any of my subjects suffer," Ozma answered from halfway up the tree.

There was nothing Dorothy could say to that, and so she wisely said nothing, instead gently receiving the nestlings into her skirt as Ozma lowered them. When Ozma finished, she jumped out of the tree and landed near Dorothy with a whump.

"Where shall we take them?" Dorothy asked, while Ozma brushed clean her scratched knees.

"Bill will know how to care for them," Ozma suggested. "Or if Bill cannot, then one of her brood."

"Billina," Dorothy corrected. "She is a hen, not a rooster."

Ozma scowled, cross again. "She says her name is Bill."

 

 

When Ozma next met Dorothy for a walk in the gardens, Ozma was wearing bloomers. They were not the heavy athletic bloomers that one sees here in America, but gracefully cut and befitting a fairy princess. Their fabric was the finest, shimmering spider-silk, as strong as it was light. Ozma twirled, showing off her new costume to Dorothy.

"Bloomers!" Dorothy exclaimed.

"Aren't they wonderful?" Ozma asked. "Jellia Jamb had them made for me. She agrees with you, you know, that it isn't proper for the Queen of Oz to go about with her skirts half gone." The day with the nestlings had not been the first time, nor even the second, that the royal princess of Oz had impulsively cut her skirts away.

"But bloomers aren't respec'able." Despite living in a fairyland and having seen many wonderful things, sometimes Dorothy was still just a girl from Kansas.

Ozma became very still. "Do you not respect me then, Dorothy?"

Dorothy hesitated only a moment. "Of course I respect you."

Ozma smiled, and there was something of Glinda about her. "I am the ruler of Oz," Ozma said quietly. "It seems to me that my person would be the definition of respectability. Is it not so?" She waited quietly for an answer.

Dorothy tried not to shiver. She had always loved Ozma and Glinda both, and there was no reason that she should feel a sudden empathy for those unfortunates who were caught practicing magic in Oz. "Bloomers aren't respec'able in Kansas," she finally allowed. "But I'm sure they're quite respec'able in Oz."

Ozma's smile changed, and she was once again the beloved sweet fairy princess that she had ever been. She took Dorothy's hands and kissed her upon both cheeks. "Then let us go walk in the gardens. And today, perhaps," she winked at her friend, "I'll teach you how to climb a tree."

 

 

The Sawhorse ran Ozma's and Dorothy's wagon between the long, serried ranks of Glinda's soldiers. The army was magnificent in its uniforms of Quadling red. The silver-tipped spears, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, glittered in the sunlight. The Emerald City kept only a nominal army, for a city could not rest easily with armed soldiers in its midst, but here on the southern border of Oz, where the Nome King and other enemies were most likely to cross the Deadly Desert, Glinda commanded an army ten thousand women strong. These soldiers were the very women who had placed Ozma on her throne when she had been released from Mombi's enchantment, sixteen long years ago. The young girl—for Oz is a fairy land, and no one ages there except when they choose—acknowledged Glinda's loyal troops with her customary grace.

Ozma never wore bloomers when visiting Glinda, for Ozma was a prudent princess, and what was merely distinctive among the wonderful heterodoxy of Ozma's court seemed dangerously erratic against the regularity of Glinda's. Glinda's handmaidens hailed from all five countries of Oz, but they varied only in their complexions (for Glinda's handmaidens ranged from as dark as new tilth to as pale as the sands of the Deadly Desert, just as the humans of Oz do) and the ribbons at their throats that marked each as Quadling, Winkie, Munchkin, Gillikin, or Emeraldite. The gentle fairy nature of Oz was made manifest in the measured beauty of Glinda's court, yet Ozma could only feel that the strange variety of her own court—humans and beasts, fairies and mortals, meat and constructs, Oz-born and immigrants, royalty and vagabonds, animate and automatic—was a more honest reflection of Oz itself.

Whenever Ozma visited Glinda's court, Ozma's custom was to bring only Dorothy and the Sawhorse with her, for the one was no more conspicuous against that perfect regularity than Ozma herself, and the other was unobtrusive by habit. It was Glinda's custom to never visit Ozma's court at all.

While Glinda and Ozma discussed how to best increase the happiness of the people of Oz, Dorothy amused herself with the Great Book of Records, which tells everything that happens in the land of Oz. There Dorothy discovered the declaration of war between the Skeezers and the Flatheads. Dorothy was not surprised that neither Ozma nor Glinda knew of the two peoples, for while Dorothy had long explored Oz in Ozma's name, discovering the peoples of Oz and making Ozma's rule known to them, Dorothy had not yet traveled in Gillikin Country.

To Ozma's surprise, Glinda counseled that Ozma ignore the impending war.

It shall never be said that the sorceress and the queen argued, for both truly loved Oz, and there can be little happiness in a land when its most powerful leaders are divided. But the woman and girl did not agree on whether these two peoples, one non-human and both so remote as to not know themselves to be Gillikins, might yet partake in the peace and prosperity of the land that was so beloved by both sorceress and queen.

On Dorothy and Ozma's long journey to Gillikin Country, Ozma wore her bloomers again, for they were practical for traveling. Dorothy wore the Nome King's magic belt, which protects its wearer from all harm, and a silver ring that would always tell Glinda where the two girls were.

"Pay no attention to that civil war behind the curtain!" Dorothy scoffed. The Kansas girl was kind and generous, but once her temper was ignited, it was slow to cool. Several days into their journey, she was still seething over their audience with Glinda.

Ozma did not look away from the road ahead of them. "Indeed," she replied, her voice heavy with sorrow, "pay no attention to the civil war behind the curtain."

 

 

"Beheaded?" Jinjur exclaimed, scandalized. Ozma, however, was undisturbed, having heard this tale of the Wizard's before. Oz was a land that did not know death, but Ozma privately felt that dividing an immortal person into a thousand pieces and scattering her remains across the poisonous wastes of the Deadly Desert was no less gruesome than the bloody punishments used in the civilized lands.

Fortunately for all, the customs of Oz value forgiveness over punishment, as Jinjur and the Wizard both had good cause to know. Jinjur had once led a revolutionary army against the Scarecrow, but Jinjur had since become the person the Scarecrow trusted to repair his face when its paints wore thin. The Wizard, who had once abducted the infant Ozma and caused her to be enslaved to a witch, was now Glinda's sole apprentice in magic. (Glinda had advised Ozma to enact a precautionary law restricting the use of magic to the Wizard and Glinda herself. Ozma was always grateful for Glinda's advice.) The Wizard now resided in Ozma's palace, where Glinda trusted him to watch over the young queen's safety.

Now the two former traitors took tea with Ozma. Ozma whittled a small toy with her clever knife, while the Wizard amused them both with stories from the civilized lands where he had once lived. As was her continued habit, Jinjur wore her revolutionary uniform, patriotically resplendent in the five colors of Oz. Jinjur's costume had inspired the Wizard's current tale, this one of another group of revolutionaries who had once used their knitting needles as tools of revolt, in a land called France.

"But I do not understand," Jinjur asked. "They encoded their secret messages to each other in the stitchwork of their knitting, and passed those items between themselves. Why were they not suspected and their messages intercepted?"

"The knitters were women," the Wizard explained, "and thus the French officials were in the habit of ignoring them. Remember, the revolutionaries were fighting for égalité—equality—as well as liberty and fraternity."

Jinjur laughed, clearly incredulous. "Ignored the women?" Ozma smiled to herself, for the Wizard's stories were often littered with such absurd details. Ozma was content to let the absurdities pass unremarked, but Jinjur's clever mind picked at them with the same intensity that Toto worried at rats. "As if one could ignore Queen Lurline, Princesses Ozma and Dorothy, Glinda the Sorceress, the witches Mombi and Elphaba! One could more easily believe that the messages had remained unsuspected because they were being passed via some banal pastime of men and boys."

"No, you fail to understand!" the Wizard interjected. "This story takes place in France, where—"

Ozma considered the small, carven grasshopper in her hand. The deliberate strokes of her knifework on the grasshopper's wings were almost regular enough to suggest an insect's scales. She would leave the surface unfinished, lest she obscure those knife marks. The toy was otherwise nearly completed, needing only to be fitted with its whistle and two emerald chips for its eyes before she included it among the official state gifts sent from Oz to Ev on the occasion of King Evarose's coronation. The modest grasshopper would pass nearly unremarked in that glittering pile of jewel-encrusted goldwork, merely a small personal token from one child ruler to another.

But tonight, before Jinjur returned to her home in Munchkinland, Ozma would speak privately with the former revolutionary. She had not planned to enlist Jinjur quite so soon, but Ozma had admired Jinjur since she was a boy, and they would all be safer if the perceptive General knew what secrets needed to be kept.

Once, Ozma had marched with Glinda against the traitor Jinjur. But one general was much like another, after all, and Ozma noticed what her allies did behind her back.