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Midnight Meanderings

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Fairies do not, as a general rule, require sleep. Yet even a fairy, if she is the ruler of a magical land, can want a bit of time each day to rest and have a few moments when she is not needed by anyone.

And so it was understood in the palace in the heart of the Emerald City, which itself was located in the heart of the land of Oz, that Princess Ozma was not to be disturbed for anything less than a state emergency after midnight and before five’o’clock in the morning.

“But what do you do during those hours, dear princess?” Glinda the Good asked her once. Glinda was very powerful and very wise, and so felt herself privileged enough to offer such an impertinence even to her ruler. “Do you weave, as I and my maidens do? Or do you read, to improve your knowledge of this land and its customs? Do you use your magic picture? Or do you …?”

“Madam,” answered Ozma. “I rest.”

And though Glinda wanted to press further, something in Ozma’s dark eyes warned her not to.

It would have surprised the sorceress greatly, therefore, if she could have penetrated the fairy magic Ozma used to hide herself each night (not that Glinda would ever resort to spying on her princess, of course—Ozma used the magic just as a precaution against other, less respectful eyes), and seen just what the girl deemed restful.

First, Ozma changed out of her dainty white dress into the ragged purple trousers and top she had worn before transforming into her true self. Then she set her crown aside (not without a guilty look or two, though she knew no one could see her) and tucked her hair underneath a pointed Gillikin hat. Finally, she traded her jeweled slippers for knee-high purple boots with the tops folded down and, thus attired, snuck out the back door of her palace hidden by the aforementioned cloud of magic.

Most nights she stayed in the Emerald City, striding along with her hands in her pockets, whistling through her teeth, stealing apples from the trees that lined the public roads and occasionally skipping stones across the little streams that meandered through the city.

Sometimes, though, she grew bold and ventured out of the city itself. She didn’t dare ever take the Sawhorse. He was loyal and stubborn, and could be relied upon to keep his mouth shut about anything, but his hooves were loud, and people might start to suspect something if they saw a boyish figure, dressed in the clothes Ozma wore when she was the boy Tip, riding out of the Emerald City each night on Ozma’s own Sawhorse during the exact hours Ozma herself was retired.

And wouldn’t her advisors have something to say then! An end to freedom, that would be. The Scarecrow would insist on having her accompanied by a guard. Glinda would insist on proper princess garb. The Tin Woodman would make sure her people knew she was coming so they could prepare a proper welcome. Everything that Ozma was trying to avoid would happen.

So no Sawhorse. Instead, she used her own two feet, only helped occasionally by magic if she wanted to go somewhere very far indeed.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like being a princess. Indeed, she had been born to rule. It was in her very blood, and once Mombi’s spell had been lifted, her instinctive knowledge had all rushed back to her.

She didn’t even mind—much—Glinda’s condescension or the Witch of the North’s grandmotherly cosseting. They had both taught her much about her magic, and she was indebted to them.

But oh, she did miss, sometimes, the freedom of being Tip. Even life as a practical slave to old Mombi seemed less entrapping than the bonds of her crown and robes! To be free to whistle when she wanted, to shirk her chores to go fishing, to play pranks for no other reason but the sheer delight in it, even willing to take the beating that came as an inevitable result …

She loved this land and her people, but it was all so very different.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it was very strange to be in a girl’s body. Her subjects called her “dainty,” and it took all her grace not to shy away from such a “soppy” descriptor. The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman treated her as though she was made of glass, no matter how many times she told them she was not as fragile as she looked now. “I used to chop wood, just like you!” she told the Tin Woodman. “Mombi used to make me stand in the field and wave my arms for hours to keep the birds away,” she said to the Scarecrow, only exaggerating a trifle. Nothing she said made a difference.

Not to mention how odd it was the first time the Royal Dressmaker of Oz came to measure her for her new wardrobe, and her chest was larger than her waist.

Thankfully, the purple shirt she had worn as Tip had been too big all the way around for her even as a boy, and with a belt holding it in to her now-slender instead of sturdy waist, it poufed enough above to disguise anything underneath.

Sometimes Ozma thought if she had a chum, it all might be easier. Someone who treated her just as Ozma-Tip, the person, instead of RULER OF OZ. She had met, via her magic picture since no one could cross the desert, some of her neighboring rulers, and they were all lovely people, but all so dignified and regal by both nature and practice. Ozma’s nature might be royal, but her habits, up until recently, certainly weren’t.

She listened wistfully to stories about Dorothy, and wished she might come back so that she and Ozma could have adventures together. Dorothy, Ozma was sure, wouldn’t be shocked to be awoken at midnight to go filch apples and catch fish. In fact, she might even be able to think up a scheme or two Ozma had missed.

She supposed she would adapt eventually, and being a girl, and princess, would seem as natural and normal to her as being Tip had been all those years before.

In the meantime, she would have her midnight adventures alone.

They were better than no adventures at all.