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Blackberry Stone

Chapter Text

Ozma had made up the story about witches dividing up the kingdom and overthrowing her grandfather. In hindsight it was full of logical fallacies and naive concepts of the nature of the world, but only the four of them were at the dinner table. Dorothy had so ardently vouched for the Wizard and his apparent change of heart (“He is just old and lonely and all by himself I think,” she had said amongst the roses of the greenhouse) but at the time Dorothy seemed to be much younger and still so much a child. Ozma couldn’t help but want to shield her from the whole truth of the Wizard’s role in shaping her own early life (though Dorothy would learn in time). As for Zeb, he would never stick around long enough to find out the whole story for himself. That left only the Wizard and Princess Ozma knowing the finer accuracies of how Pastoria lost his throne.

There were some truths brought out in the story that the Princess and the Wizard built at the dinner table on the Wizard’s first night back in Oz. The princess’ ancestors were indeed titled “Oz” or “Ozma”, with informal names to determine one from the next. Her father had been Oz Pastoria, and she herself would be Ozma Tippetarius, though now she found herself as the only Ozma alive and with little desire to be called “Tippetarius” ever again. Ozma became her self proclaimed name and title. The naming of the rulers and the land and the nickname the Wizard gave himself truly were a coincidence. The stage magician from Omaha, believing this coincidence to be a sign to implement his American right to “manifest destiny”, used his sleight of hand tricks and papier-mâché wonders to manipulate a population who had a tendency to defer stations of power to the strongest magic workers amongst them.

While Ozma’s half of the story was full of partial truths and outright lies that could be quickly and easily disproved, the half of the story that belonged to the Wizard displayed an absurd lack of knowledge of the culture and people he conquered in the name of his own initials. (“They thought me a superior being,” he said with no trace of self doubt and Ozma had to suppress an eye roll.) The story told at the table did not say what the Wizard did to remove the pre-existing seats of power, nor did it give explanation as to why years ago a baby was given to a witch.

After dinner, after the meeting of old friends, when the guests decided to retire for the evening, the Princess walked with Dorothy to the floor where their respective rooms were located. She bade Dorothy good night and when Dorothy’s door had shut, Ozma went back downstairs.

Behind the throne room was the entrance to a tower that had been locked and unused for many years. Ozma had explored it once, using a transportation spell learned from Glinda to send herself into the top most room and back out again. It had been dusty and stuffy and held only a cobweb covered bed and an empty work bench. She had hoped to find some of the Wizard’s masks or costumes that her friends had told her about, but it appeared anything of importance had been removed by the time the Wizard left in his balloon. Ozma had left the tower disappointed, especially since the energy expelled to magically exit the tower meant that she had little left for her magic lessons in the following week.

Ozma now stood at the bottom of the tower and knocked on the gold gilt door.

There was silence and then the sound of descending footsteps. The door creaked open but all Ozma could see was the empty stone stairway.

“Who’s there?” asked the Wizard’s voice from behind the door.

“Princess Ozma.”

“Oh,” the Wizard’s voice sounded relieved and he slid out to stand in the doorway. He was still dressed for dinner in his green velvet coat. She could see him slip something shiny and metal into the coat pocket. He bowed deeply, presenting her with the shiny dome of his head, “Your majesty.”

“I hope you have no reason to fear attackers while you are in this country, Wizard,” said Ozma evenly. “Though your story at dinner did leave many things unsaid about the last time you were here. Perhaps you have enemies I do not know about. You mustn’t keep secrets, I do not want the safety of my people, or those in my protection, at risk.”

The Wizard gave a guilty expression and Ozma, looking upon his wrinkled and spotted skin, did think he looked terribly old. “My apologies, your majesty. Being back in this place, well, I fall into old habits. I suspect you know, that not everyone considered me ‘wonderful’ or ‘great and terrible’, even when I was on the throne.”

Ozma gave what she hoped was a stern look and held out the open palm of her hand. The Wizard reached into his pocket and handed over a silver letter opener. Beyond the usual static of the fairylandishness of the object, there was not a trace of magic about it. Ozma regarded it curiously, but did not hand it back to the Wizard.

“Would you like to come in?” the Wizard gestured up the winding stairs of the tower.

“No, I would prefer to stay out here. I only wish to have a world with you.”

“Of course, your majesty.”

“As you know I am very good friends with Dorothy Gale. She speaks very highly of you and your reformation of character and I want to believe every word she says. I never knew you personally when you were on the throne, but my other good friends the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman did and during tonight’s gathering they also expressed that you are much changed from the time when they knew you.”

The Wizard blushed, “Your friends are keen observers. I like to think that I am much the same man that I was when I left Oz, but perhaps I am a little changed from my second time in the circus.”

“I trust the words of my dear friends but I have yet to form a full opinion of my own. What I know about you, besides what is written in the history books, is that when I was a baby you gave me to a witch and my life until a few years ago was not one I would wish upon any child.”

Something shifted in the old man’s face then and his eyes seemed to look at her for the first time. He was taking it in now. How the baby who was once a mere obstacle was now a living walking person, undoubtedly molded and changed by his schemes of manifest destiny. His grey eyes slicked over for a moment but he did not lose his composure. When he next spoke his voice was different. It was different from seconds ago when he spoke to “your majesty” and it was different from the dinner table and the sitting room where he spoke as if to an audience. “I beg your majesty forgive me,” his voice was soft and he spoke to Ozma, the girl, not the princess, “For what I did to you and your father.”

“What did you do to my father?” she asked gravely.

“I gave him to the witch Mombi, along with you and your mother.”

She ignored the sensation of her heart being sliced in half. The sudden blotted form of a mother rising into her story. She would feel it later, try to put a face to the mother later.

“What happened to them?”

He gave an expression that told her how much he never considered what happened to the royal family once they were out of his way. Glinda had once, under bated breath during a history lesson, called the Wizard “A foolish man”. Ozma knew a great many people who called themselves fools but were in fact amongst the smartest people she ever met and Ozma knew a great many people whom only she thought was a “fool” but thought themselves the smartest person in the room. Ozma could now see what sort of “fool” the Wizard was.

It was painful to have this revelation while simultaneously watching him reflect on his actions. He straightened himself up, back to performing for the child queen, “Well uh, I’m sure whatever she did with them-“

It was all Ozma could do not run away from where she stood. She stared into him, hoping her unflinching gaze looked the way Mombi's or sometimes Glinda's could. Perhaps it worked because he deflated then and she could see a tear leak out and down the side of his crooked nose.

“I do not know what happened to them after that. I only needed the royal family out of the way and I was considering just banishing them to the countryside somewhere but the witch from the North-" and Ozma knew from his voice that he was not referring to the "Good" one, "-had promised to help me in my endeavor, but she threatened to expose me if I didn’t give them to her and if I am honest, nothing scares me more than witches.”

“You and I both.” Ozma did not hold back the bitterness that flooded her voice.

The Wizard stared at the ground, his eyes still reflecting all matter of foolish, heartless, cowardly actions taken in his life. The silence was overwhelming, Ozma didn’t even notice that she was holding her breath until he looked up and spoke.

“Perhaps I just came all this way to apologize. I can leave in the morning. You can whisk me away with magic shoes or carpet or whatever have you- Dorothy’s told me the different ways and you would have the right to do so. I’ll go back to the United States and promise to never look for the Fairylands again.”

Ozma crossed her arms and considered the crumpled old man in the velvet suit before her. Her anger was with his foolishness. His revelation and apology showed that he was not foolish like that anymore, but what was in the past could not be changed.

“Or you can cut off my head,” he continued, “Have me hanged, drawn and quartered, find out what happened to your parents and do that to me. It is a fate not undeserved.”

He may have kept her family alive. Her anger then, she realized not for the first time, was with Mombi. The old witch took advantage of a man trying to take advantage of a captive audience. Ozma decided to keep a large quantity of her anger on Mombi and allocated a fair amount of it onto to the abstract concept of “claiming yourself king of a land where other people already live and have a complex system of governance, simply because you’ve never heard of it and you landed there on accident.” Ozma was never very good at her formal history lessons but she understood history. It was her job to look into the past and see what did and didn’t work so as to make the best decisions for the present. She understood that if the Wizard acted so foolishly and unthinkingly, it was because what he did was what was done back in Omaha, or the United States, or wherever it was he was from. She could see his willingness to accept humility but that did not mean he had still learned the right thing to do.

“You will stay here,” she said, coming to her decision. “You will watch how this country was meant to be governed. You will understand how its traditions, its culture, its government are meant to be without threats of magic or interloping showmen calling themselves ‘wizards’. You will not intervene with matters of politics or affairs of state.”

The startled expression on his face told Ozma that this was not an option he had expected. She continued, “If after sometime you find yourself changed from this experience, you will be free to do as you like. Return to where you are from, travel the globe, stay here. If after sometime you find yourself unchanged, unperturbed by the idea of an invading force claiming a group of people ‘conquered’, then we will perhaps consider…” she didn’t even know what to call it, “…a different course of action for you.”

The Wizard, no, Mr. Diggs, bowed his head again. “Thank you, your majesty. I agree to your terms. It is the very least I can do. I accept my role as prisoner.”

“I never said you were a prisoner. You are an observer,” said Ozma sharply, “You have done enough. The most beneficial thing you can do would be doing ‘the least’.”

- - -

Forgiveness, is not as hasty as what is written by royal historians. “Forgiveness", is the word applied when the royal historians are from the same culture of “discover and conquer”, where wrong doers are not allowed the opportunity to heal or change but are locked away from public eyes and ears. “Forgiveness", is the word applied when the royal historian cannot think of an alternate form of repercussions other than “punishment”.

When Ozma went to bed after confronting Mr. Diggs, she tried to imagine the different ways she could go about doing what it was she had so suddenly found herself setting out to do. At first Ozma was tempted to toss a load of history books at him and have the old man read up on the history of Oz. She wanted to quiz him on the ways of life before his sudden appearance in the country’s timeline and have him write long unimaginably boring essays on why he was wrong. She fell asleep brooding on this idea but when she woke up in the morning, she realized that would mean putting herself in the role of school teacher, the way Glinda had been to her, and that was not something she was willing to put a grown man through. What she understood as what he needed to learn, how he needed to change, needed to be done through more practical means.

Everyday of the weeks and months that followed, Ozma requested Mr. Diggs’ presence at court. As promised, he did not involve himself into the matters that did not have to do with him. He did not take a hand in matters of state and did not say a word, but he watched. He listened. He took note of how the different matters were handled.

Ozma in turn felt his presence at court and felt she needed to teach by example. This is how you rule a country, this is how you resolve conflicts. This is how you allocate resources fairly so that everyone receives what they need, this is how you effectively stop witches. She worked harder at her duties to prove to him and herself and her people that she was more than capable of helping her country flourish. As the Princess built up her kingdom from the disrepair it was in when she came into power, she felt the people’s trust in her grow and she felt trust in herself grow.

Through out it all, Ozma could see Mr. Diggs thinking. She could see him talking to others outside of court, not to speak to an audience, but to listen. He worked to keep his public image spotless and apologized appropriately when he inevitably made a mistake (though his mistakes were never so major as to create an incident). In turn his reputation began to turn favorable by those who had every right to wish ill of him, though there would always be those who had the right to choose not to forgive him for his past actions.

Ozma tried to imagine how this scenario would have played out had he been unwilling to change his ideas of the world but decided to remain simply grateful that he was willing.

- - -

Mr. Diggs would put on performances of his stage magic now and again to delight the court or visitors of the Emerald City. He would have his tiny piglets jump through hoops or produce bouquets of flowers or balls of fire from his sleeves or hat. It was a popular source of entertainment in the palace, especially since to real fairies, there was something amusing about a mortal man who claimed his practice was “magic”. Ozma was at least glad that he wasn’t claiming it to be anything other than a series of sleight of hand and voice throwing tricks.

- - -

The Wogglebug Athletic College was mounting its first student production in its newly constructed theater. To advertise “The Romance of Pastoria”, a light historical comedy, the director of the theatre department had requested an audience with the Princess, who was a significant patron of the college. The cast and crew stood before the royal throne and put on a preview performance before all of the court.

The play itself seemed to be a flowery musical with little relation to actual history beyond the names of the characters and showcased some popular songs that were favored by the college’s students. There was a set up for a romantic mishap between the main characters that promised to resolve itself neatly in a weeks time on opening night.

The preview was well received and when court was dismissed for the day, Ozma had gone over to speak to the theatre troop personally. She had wanted to speak to the director as well, but found the director’s attention taken by a passionate conversation with Mr. Diggs on the subject of theatrical special effects. Mr. Diggs having had much experience in that area, it was soon decided that he was to go to the college the next day and see what he could do to help with the final performance.

“They won’t have time to add anything too grand to the performance as it is too late into rehearsals,” Mr. Diggs explained as he and the Princess walked together to dinner, “Still the director would like to go over the script with me to see if there’s anything that can be added for spectacle.”

“That sounds like a fine plan. I admire your dedication to the arts,” said Ozma easily. “I won’t expect you at court until the performance then.” Then an idea flashed through her mind and she decided to see what would happen if she pursued it. She said, “It’s a shame this performance won't have anything on a larger scale as you said. Your solo shows are marvelous indeed, but I can’t imagine what you could make with a larger crew of artists to aide you.”

He blushed and said, “Oh I don’t know if I’m quite ready to go back into the big flashy stage shows again but if you are interested in my work,” his eyes shifted down the hall and his voice lowered as he gave her the answer she wanted to hear, “Some of the old props I used when I was the ‘Wizard’ are still in this very palace. If you would like to see them-“

“Yes!”

He had a mischievous glint in his eye, “After dessert, when the table is cleared and everyone retires for the night, meet me at the main doors to the throne room.”

Ozma agreed and dutifully sat through dinner and dessert and when the last plate was cleared tried not to look too eager to “retire for the night”.

She met Mr. Diggs in front of the doors in the anteroom to the throne room as promised. He was speaking to the head of the palace staff.

“Princess!” he said with a theatrical bow, “Jellia has come to help. She knows this old palace better than anyone as she was my assistant during my stint as the ‘Wizard’. She will be joining us tonight.”

Jellia gave a smile and a polite curtsey that Ozma returned.

Mr. Diggs took off his dinner coat and threw it on a nearby sofa before rolling up his shirt sleeves.

He pointed a quick finger at Jellia who immediately walked to the other side of the anteroom and moved a table away from its place against the wall. She counted the wall panels from the door and found the one she was looking for. Just as she was about to place her hand on the panel a voice from above suddenly cried out, “Yes! I knew it!”

Ozma spun around startled, but smiled when she remembered the mounted Gump head on the wall.

“I have been staring at that panel for years and I knew it was hiding something!”

Jellia smirked at the Gump and pressed the panel. It pushed inward and then opened out as a long thing door, revealing a small compartment holding a system of pulleys and rope.

Mr. Diggs looked inside the panel and nodded at Jellia, who took out a duster and cleared away layers of dust. Then Mr. Diggs fiddled with the pulleys and gave a thumbs up motion.

He then went over to the other side of the doors and found a similar panel, pressed it and it revealed a similar cabinet of ropes and pulleys.

“Yes! I knew it too!” exclaimed the Gump.

Mr. Diggs blew off the dust that came out in an eye stinging flurry, and then checked the pulleys in the same way as in the first cabinet. Then he opened the large doors to the throne room and gestured for Ozma to follow.

Just as she was about to follow the Gump said, “Oh please just let me see what's going to happen, I’ve been wondering for so long!” Ozma stood on the sofa and carefully took the stuffed animal head down from the wall. She cared him with the back of his plaque against her stomach so that he could have a good view of the room around him.

The throne room seemed so wide and empty without any people and only the gas lamps dimmed low for light.

Mr. Diggs had stopped in front of the throne and got on his knees to pull away the green runner carpet that led to the royal seat.

Beneath it was nothing more than the gold tiles that lines the floor but Ozma followed Mr. Diggs’ gaze to a thin line that ran between the tiles and watched as he pressed down on a select few in a row that ran before the throne. The tiles opened up as the wall panels had, but instead of revealing another set of pulleys the empty space just opened to a strip of darkness. Ozma stared into the void of what, presumably, was whatever it was that lay beneath the throne room.

“Alright, Jellia, lift him up! Stand back, your majesty.”

Ozma took a step back, and there was the sound of gears, like the ones that wound in Tik-Tok, but made of much bigger mechanisms.

Up from the space in the floor rose an enormous head of a green skinned man painted on a large flat piece of wood. The shape was dusty and covered with cobwebs and the paint was chipping in parts but Ozma could see what this had once been.

“There used to fire that came up around it,” explained Mr. Diggs, “But the tanks that held the gas are empty now. I made sure of that before I left so the city wouldn’t go up in flames.”

The enormous red eyes of Oz, the Great and Terrible, glared down at Ozma and Princess Ozma glared back at it with equal ferocity. A startled spider skittered across the nose, making clean tracks in the dust and the mask seemed to loose all its power.

“And this has been under my throne this entire time?”

“There is much, much, more to this throne room than meets the eye, your Majesty.”

“But I’ve looked! There is no basement to this room. Directly over head is your tower and I have looked there too!”

“These tricks were built into the walls when I had the palace built. This head is built into the floor and only comes up when someone pulls the ropes in the other room. Would you like to see more?”

“Yes!” said the Gump and Ozma nearly dropped him in her surprise. It could be sadly easy to forget the Gump even when she was holding him in her arms.

Mr. Diggs climbed the steps to the throne and removed the tasseled green velvet cushion that rested on the seat. He felt into the groove between the back of the chair and the seat and seemed to find what he was looking for when he went “Aha!” and an audible ‘click’ was heard. Mr. Diggs pulled on the right arm of the throne and then the left and the chair split apart in two halves. The seam down the middle of the seat grew wider and wider until the chair appeared to be something more of a sofa balancing on top of a box with a wide hole in the middle. Mr. Diggs reached into this dark hole and began to pull out what seemed to be sticks wrapped in raw wool. He took out each part carefully and connect the parts to one another. As the thing he was building began to take form, Ozma could not help but be reminded of when she constructed Jack. Except that this was nothing like Jack at all. Mr. Diggs pulled more and more limbs out of the throne and more yards of wool that he draped over it parts of it like a tent tarp and other parts as if he were dressing a wax mannequin in a store window. When everything was all in its place, Ozma shuddered at what she had unknowingly been sitting on top of for years. Now on her altered throne sat a terrible monster that seemed to be a cross between a spider and a rhinoceros. Its old sheep’s wool was matted with dirt and dust and was falling off to the floor in places. Ozma could see that in the right lighting the five eyes of this beast would flash and glower in a threatening way. It was awful to look at and Mr. Diggs' face held an expression of concern mixed with regret as he looked over it.

“Yikes,” said the Gump.

“We had the ceiling rigged with wires so that each limb could be moved individually from the tower. Usually it was I or on occasion, Jellia.” After a long pause he said, “I had been particularly proud of this one but it is not pleasant to look at is it?”

“Perhaps the college could use it? For a monster in their plays?” said Ozma helpfully.

“Oh! Yes, that is a capital idea! Now!” he turned his attention to the ceiling and pointed up.

“There used to be a piece that could come down and if the audience sat on the right mark, which is where I arranged the audience to sit, it would look as if a large ball of fire sat on the throne and gave commands. That’s long gone now I think. It was just an unassuming circle of cardboard covered in strips of tissue paper.” He crouched down to overturn two tiles on the floor on the right and left of the throne's arms. Underneath were what looked like two metal grates. “The vents!” Mr. Diggs shouted to the anteroom. After a few moments Ozma and Mr. Diggs were faced with a burst of dust, pushed up by a stream of air from the metal grates. Ozma coughed and Mr. Diggs offered her his handkerchief to wipe away the dirt before explaining, “Air would be pumped out through a tube that ran from the reception hall to here and it would wave the paper about and we would change the color of the lights to make it look like the ‘flames’ were changing color. ”

“I cannot believe all of that was hidden here,” said Ozma, dusting off the Gump before returning the handkerchief.

“There is one last trick we used to pull that would work splendidly on the locals when I needed something from them! Oh I hope it is still here!” Mr. Diggs turned back to the throne. With a great amount of effort he pushed aside the monster. It landed in a grotesque heap of arms and legs on the floor. Mr. Diggs was reaching back into the hidden compartment of the throne. He bent so far into it that it looked as if his tiny form was going to be swallowed by the chair before he at last surfaced, tugging out some items.

There was a dress, an emerald tiara, a wig, and an overlarge pair of wings like those of a dragonfly, made from gauze and beetle wing sequins.

“Someone would dress in this disguise and sit on the throne and either recite some memorized lines or I would tell them how I wanted the conversation to go before hand.”

Ozma studied the dress. It was old and certainly in a style from the Emerald City, all that green silk gauze and gold trimmings. The tiara didn’t seem a cheap costume trinket either. The gemstones were set as if by a master jeweler. There was also something unseen surrounding these two items that did not surround the wig and the wings. Ozma was not one to trust her own magical instincts but it did feel something like magic.

“Who wore these?”

“Oh sometimes Jellia, sometimes one of the other maids, but I was not averse to putting it on myself as it is something often done in the theatre-“

“I mean, who did this dress belong to before you had it?”

“Hm? Oh I don’t recall. I believe Jellia found it in the palace somewhere.”

“I did,” said Jellia, walking into the throne room, “The Wizard knew how to make disguises the people would fear, but he did not know how to make disguises the people would trust.”

“So I left that in the hands of a native of the fairylands,” said Mr. Diggs.

“This was your mother’s dress. One of them, anyway. I had not realized it was still here.”

Ozma immediately handed the Gump's plaque over to Mr. Diggs and picked up the dress.

It was old and smelled of mildew and dust but when Ozma held it out to look at it, the formless blot of a mother figure, who had started to make appearances in the Princess’ self-narrative about her own early years, started to gain a shape. Ozma could image the sort the person who would wear a dress like this, how they would fill it out and stand and walk in it with a stately grace. This was a queen’s dress and why shouldn’t it be? Her mother was a queen. There was the crown to prove it. The dress seemed to buzz with a magic of its own as she pulled it into her arms.

“Have them, they are yours,” said Jellia.

- - -

In the end the throne room was put back to order, secret panels closed, the Gump back on his post in the waiting room with a promise to have more visits from Ozma. (“Don’t worry, I get plenty of company, and that’s all I really need,” he had said, “But I do appreciate the thought.”)

The Princess and Mr. Diggs agreed that the cardboard head might be of interest to the Royal History Museum of the Emerald City, so after they let their friends look at it up close for about a day, it was sent away for the public to see. The hideous rhinoceros spider was also given to the museum but had to eventually be put in the archives as it scared too many children in its public display.

The wig and the wings were gifted to the theater department of the Wogglebug Athletic College on the night of its first performance of “The Romance of Pastoria”, which the Princess and the former Wizard attended. The play was a success.

Her mother’s dress and tiara, Ozma kept, and stored it in the back of her wardrobe.

- - -