Deep in the forest between Quadling Country and the Emerald City, the Hungry Tiger lay basking in the warm sunlight filtering through the trees of his second favorite meadow, contemplating his prospects for lunch. He wanted, of course, to have a fat baby for lunch, but as that would too severely pain his conscience he was, as always, carefully considering what might be his second choice, and whether or not he should go and join the Cowardly Lion, who was currently occupying the entirety of his favorite meadow. So deep was he in his contemplation that he did not notice the small figure awkwardly but determinedly working its way across the forest floor. He did not notice until, that is, the small figure climbed over a bit of log he had been idly using as a back scratcher, and fell, with a plop, onto his back. The massive tiger jumped up with a start and sent the little thing flying into a pile of leaves and grass.
"Oh!" cried the Tiger, "I'm dreadfully sorry, but you startled me so". He started towards the pile of leaves when the toddler--for that's what it was--righted himself and blinked warily up at the tiger. The Hungry Tiger stopped short upon being confronted by the very thing he so often desired most, a wonderfully plump baby boy, who appeared to be about 2 years of age. His hair and eyes were brown, and he was dressed in the red clothing of a Quadling, from a little red cap to his little red shoes.
"It's to be expected," the child answered "why anyone would react so to being fallen upon. I am sorry to have done so, but I had hoped to make it around you without you taking notice of me. Unfortunately I am not an accomplished climber. I hope you are not the sort of tiger to wish to eat me?"
"I am afraid I must dash your hopes, for I would indeed very much like to eat you." At that the babe recoiled in terror and began to toddle away as quickly as his fat little legs would carry him.
"Oh don't run away!" cried the tiger. "For in truth you have no need to do so. I am in possession of a greatly developed conscience, and could not possibly bring myself to actually consume you, though you look very tasty indeed."
"That is a great relief," said the boy, "as I am not very quick and would not be able to avoid such a fate." He plopped back to the group, somewhat tired from his efforts and sudden excitement.
"How is it you come to be such an excellent speaker?" inquired the tiger, "for I don't believe I have ever heard a baby converse so well as you."
"Ah, to understand that I must tell you my tale and properly introduce myself." he answered as he settled himself comfortably on the ground. "My name is Todd and I come from Quadling Country. I am going to the Emerald City to take a petition to Ozma on behalf of all the children of Quadling Country."
"If you have come from Quadling Country, why is it you didn't bring any concerns you have to Glinda, who is ruler there and quite wise and powerful?"
"The answer to that is directly related to why it is I can speak clearly, when babes usually cannot. My mother, you see, is a maid in Glinda's palace. It is her responsibility to see to the cleaning of Glinda's store rooms, in which the sorceress keeps all manner of magical object and potions, which she has collected from across the many fairy realms."
"Glinda is a great student of magic" commented the tiger, "and keeps many things for her studies."
"Indeed. Now, as I am sure you have noticed, since Ozma's return to rule the Emerald City no one has aged a day."
"I have noticed it--I am certain one would have to be quite oblivious not to--and several of my dearest friends rely upon that aspect of our fairy land to avoid the death of old age that comes to all elsewhere."
"Avoiding death is well and good," Todd answered grumpily, "but if one is a baby it is not desirable at all! For it means endless time unable to care for one's self, or talk, or have any say in one's own life. It is frankly dreadful to be stuck a toddler for all time."
"I had not considered that," gasped the tiger "that does sound most dreadful. It is so often true of magic that it changes things in ways one might not expect."
"It is hard on the mothers and fathers as well, who can never look forward to seeing their children all grown up, or think of grandchildren, and must do such things as change diapers for many years on end." At this the little boy's face scrunched up as though he was about to cry. "It is nothing short of awful. My mother, being tired of having a baby with whom she could not speak, noticed a potion in one of Glinda's stores. It proclaimed that it would give great intelligence to any who drank it, even, as it said on the bottle, 'a baby would gain the greatest intellect with one dose'. My mother longed to have someone at home to talk to--my father having perished just before my birth--and resolved to give me the potion. She decided not to ask her mistress though, and instead stole the bottle."
"Ah!" cried the tiger, "I now understand why you might be reluctant to approach Glinda with your cause--you fear she will be angry, since your mother stole from her."
"That is part of it." Todd responded, "However, upon drinking the potion I found myself not only able to speak and hold conversations with grown ups, but also still able to understand the babbling of my fellow infants. At the nursery school I attended we finally got to talking, and I found that I was not alone in feeling that we were being deprived the right to grow up and stop being babies, and that something must be done to change that."
"A reasonable thought" said the tiger, "or so it seems to me."
"My mother did not think so. She told me that Glinda and Ozma were both very wise and very busy, and that it was not our place to bother either of them with our small concerns. In truth, I think she was also quite terrified of what Glinda might do upon discovering her theft."
"But Glinda is every bit as good as she is wise and powerful. I can't imagine she would be too harsh on her."
"Perhaps, but regardless I decided to set out on my own, for the sake of my fellow infants, and see if there is anything to be done."
"A worthy goal" said the tiger, rising, "and so I will undertake to aid you, for it would take you a very long time to reach the Emerald City by yourself, but if you will agree to ride me we would reach that wonderful place much faster."
"Are you quite certain you won't eat me?" Todd asked nervously, for the tiger was enormous indeed and Todd himself quite small.
"It would pain my conscience greatly to eat you now, when we have become acquainted. I am told that sometimes one must face trials of temptation, so perhaps this is one now. To carry so wonderfully plump and delicious looking a baby for several miles upon my back would be a terrible trial, but having offered I cannot go back on it now."
"I do wish you wouldn't refer to me as delicious." Todd frowned at the Hungry Tiger, who was now looming quite close.
"That I cannot help" said the tiger, "I may restrain my appetite, but to restrain my appreciation of the appearance of delicious food would just be too much to bear."
"Very well then, I suppose beggars can't be choosers, and a ride would be most welcome."
The Hungry Tiger lowered his head, and Todd scrambled his way up to the massive beast's back. He settled himself firmly on the tiger's shoulders, with his chubby little legs around his neck. All at once the tiger took off through the forest, moving as swiftly as he could without dislodging his passenger. Before too much time had passed they came to the clearing where the Cowardly Lion lay napping. The forest king awoke at the approach of his friend, and sat up in surprise at the sight of the little boy riding him.
"Why, my friend, have you a baby upon your back? Surely you haven't decided to give up your noble ways and resort to eating little children now?"
"Of course not" said the affronted tiger, "I am taking this little fellow to the Emerald City, to see Ozma." They related to the lion the boy's tale and current mission. Upon learning it the Cowardly Lion offered to go to Glinda's palace and inform her of what had occurred.
"For surely" said the lion, "your mother must be worried about you?"
"I suppose she might be."
"Then you continue to Ozma and the Emerald City, and I will go south and speak to Glinda."
"Thank you for your kindness" said Todd, and with that they were off again, speeding through the forest. The trees presently thinned into a pleasant countryside, dotted with small farms. The tiger ran on, though the occasion farmer caught sight of them and yelled in surprise at the sight of the pair, so strange was it to see a tiger and a babe. On and on the tiger ran, going just slowly enough for the child to hold on. After the initial terror of being astride such a powerful beast, Todd found himself quite enjoying the ride. Much better, he thought, than the prospect of walking all this way.
Several hours later, the brown countryside gave way to green and the duo at last approached the grand city at the heart of Oz. Todd gasped as the great wall that surrounded the city rose up before them and they neared the great gate. Scarcely had they reached it when the little door opened in the great gate and the Guard with the Green Whiskers appeared.
"Why, Hungry Tiger, welcome back" he greeted them, "but what's this? Have you decided to give into your hunger at last, that you have a baby with you?"
"Does everyone know of your taste for fat babies?" asked Todd.
"I may have mentioned it on occasion" said the tiger. The guard gave him a look.
"On more than one, indeed I do not think anyone can make your acquaintance and not be informed of your fond wish to have fat babies to eat."
"Well, I am not going to eat this one. We have become friends."
"Very well then. I don't think I could let you in if you were going to have him to supper, but as you say you are not, you may come in."
"Thank you" said the tiger, and they entered the glorious city. Todd stared in wonder around him at the glittering walls and cobblestone streets. Everywhere people bustled about in green clothes and there were gemstones set into most of the building.
"What a brilliant city!" he cried.
"Well, it is that, when the sun is out" commented the guard.
"We had best finish our journey now, it's hardly far at all to the palace." They said goodbye to the guard and the Hungry Tiger strode boldly down the street to the home of Ozma and her dearest friends. As he was a frequent visitor to the city--for he often pulled Ozma's chariot with his friend the Cowardly Lion--most took no notice of him, until they spotted the baby upon his back, and then many inquired if he had finally decided to succumb to temptation.
"I think the guard was right" commented Todd, "and the entire city knows of your tastes! Though I suppose it is some comfort that no one seems to honestly believe I am in any danger."
"I had not realize my preferences had become so well known" the tiger commented with a sigh. "I wonder what others think of me for it."
Jellia Jamb showed them into the palace at once when they arrived, and the pretty girl wasted no time in sending for refreshments for them both--a great bowl of stew for the tiger, and a bowl of porridge for Todd, and they settled wearily into the comfortable sitting room. So soft and warm was the little chair Todd set himself upon that he feared he would soon be fast asleep. No sooner did the food arrive than Ozma swept into the room, bright and rosy cheeked as ever. She wore a beautiful flowing gown and a simple crown on her dark hair, and threw her arms around the tiger's neck without hesitation. Behind her came a little girl, dressed in a simple frock, with a little dog trotting beside her, an older gentleman in a suit, and a scarecrow.
"Why, Hungry Tiger, why have you brought this little Quadling fellow here?" asked Ozma.
"My name is Todd" the little boy answered, "and I can speak for myself."
"My!" said Ozma, "that is unexpected. How do you do? I am Ozma, and these are Dorothy Gale, the Wizard, and the Scarecrow. How did you come to speak so clearly, though by appearance you are a mere babe?"
"By means of a magic potion stolen from Glinda."
"Oh dear, I don't like to hear of anything being stolen from someone like Glinda" said Dorothy, "she's much too kind."
"Speaking of Glinda" Jellia interrupted, "She's here, and the Cowardly Lion is with her."
"Well, show them in at once then" said Ozma, "and let's see if we might get the whole of this tale."
Glinda and the Lion both entered within moments. The beautiful Sorceress carried a large wand and wore a bright red gown. She went immediately to Todd, while the Lion curled himself upon the rug beside his friend.
"Well. I am sorry to say your escape was so well planned that your mother had yet to notice it when we informed her. I have scolded her severely for taking what wasn't hers to take, but I think that shall be the end of that. She is very sorry to have done so."
"I am sure she is" answered Todd, "but I am not. Your majesty, I have come to deliver a plea from the babies of Quadling Country, and I suspect there are those throughout Oz who feel the same."
"What is it?" Ozma asked, "for if there is something troubling any of my subjects, even the smallest ones, I wish to know of it."
"I had heard it was so, and pinned all our hopes upon it being true. You see, we are tired of being babies. Since you returned to the throne, no one in all of Oz has aged even a day, and we are quite put out about it. It is one thing to stay a young person, and be able to go and have adventures, or even a child of 8 or 10, who can still manage to do much on their own, but to be stuck forever a helpless babe is really no fun at all."
"Why" said Dorothy, "I had never thought of that! I can't imagine how awful it would be to be stuck a baby forever, and never get to grow up and run about on your own."
"Never having been a baby" said the Scarecrow, "I can't imagine it myself, but my excellent brain tells me that no one likes to be helpless forever."
"Well then, there must be something we can do about it." Ozma sat at a little table and put her head on her hand and thought. Dorothy sat too and thought, and the Wizard and the Scarecrow sat and thought too. Glinda stood by the window and considered, tapping her wand on her chin.
"It seems to me" said the wizard at last, "that one would wish to allow those who want to age to age, and those who don't to stay as they are, and thus everyone could reach the age they wish to stay and stay there."
"I have to say" added Dorothy, "I wouldn't mind a little bit of aging myself. Not too much, and only if Betsy wished to as well, but maybe a year or two would be nice."
"While I myself" said the Wizard, "have no desire to grow any older at all."
"Nor have I" said Glinda.
"But how do we do such a thing? If we can think of specifics, perhaps we can use the magic belt to make the magic work." Ozma tapped her fingers on her cheek as she thought hard.
"What about a potion?" asked the Scarecrow. "Potions are so very popular."
"I do not think that would be wise" said Glinda, "for it can be very hard to control such potions. I have known them to exist, and they have often been used for ill means."
"Hmm. Perhaps a place then?" asked Dorothy, "For after all, out in the rest of the world people get older all the time. Could we make a little part of Oz age people, and then one could go in and come out at the right time?"
"Oh Dorothy that is a fine idea!" said Ozma, "and I know just the place." With that she bounced out of her chair and extended a hand to Todd. "Would you join me?" she asked. Todd took her hand, and the whole party trooped down to the palace gardens. There they found a small walled garden used for growing vegetables for the kitchen.
"The gardeners were just asking if we might have a way of making the vegetables grow a bit faster, as we have so many people living in the palace these days" Ozma observed. "What if we specially enchanted this garden to age things--perhaps three or four times as fast as normal?"
"It might well work" said Glinda, "as the garden has one door, and thus can be controlled."
"Won't the gardeners stop wanting to go in?" asked Dorothy.
"I would cheerfully pick vegetables in return for a bit of aging" said Todd, "and I think many others would as well."
"That settles it then" said Ozma, "let's see what we can do."
Ozma, the Wizard, and Glinda set about at once to enchanting the garden such that it would age any living thing that entered it. Todd watched with interest at the intricate magic being worked, as the three mages worked in perfect coordination, the sort only born of long familiarity and dear friendship. An hour later they declared it finished, and Todd became the first to wander in, declaring that he could feel it working already.
"Don't you want to stay in longer?" Dorothy asked.
"I feel that aging is something one should take ones time with" Todd responded.
"Well" said the Scarecrow, "at least a garden is a good place for growing up in." The other politely ignored him, as they all went into lunch at Jellia's urging.
Though the Hungry Tiger did mourn that nothing would be as nice as a fat baby to eat.