Dorothy shuts herself in her room and cries for days.
Or at least, so Ozma presumes. When she finally breaks down the doors, Dorothy and Toto are nowhere to be found, only a lump of pink fur napping in the sun on Dorothy's bed. Confronted, Eureka yawns, stretches, and says wearily, "Couldn't you have guessed she would do this? Go spy on her with that Picture of yours if you're so worried."
A thousand years of girlish charm are starting to wear awfully thin. "How dare you speak to me like that? At a time like this—"
"Why! if a cat may look at a king, I suppose I'm within my rights to sniff at a princess," counters Eureka. "Dorothy knows adventures better than anyone. You might trust her on that, at a time like this or any other."
Lemon-yellow flowers swarm down the hillside, attended by golden bees and butterflies with saffron wings; their pollen paints her white wool stockings halfway to her knees. She stops for a rest beside a babbling stream. Maybe she'll follow it for a while, soak her stockings in it this evening, and let them dry on the rocks while she sleeps.
A butterfly alights on the grassy shoreline inches from her resting hand, hair-thin legs picking their way forward. The open and close of its wings is hypnotic. She stares at the one on the left.
"Woof!" said Toto after a dangerous minute, and that means Don't even think about it.
There was a time when the people of Oz could be killed.
Ozma remembers cold mountain air whistling past his ears, remembers landing with torn sleeves and knobby knees in a pile of rubbish collected in the nest of foreign birds. There were fine jewels (Tip scraped his elbow on a cut sapphire ring) and scraps of foreign currency, papers in strange colors emblazoned with the stern faces of monarchs even Glinda might not have recognized, but most of it was leaves and half-rotted paper bags and the shredded remains of school assignments or shopkeepers' accounts. And when the jackdaws winged home, screaming at the intrusion, he remembers thinking: We're going to die.
Nick and the Sawhorse clubbed off the birds while Tip huddled under the Scarecrow's straw, nose shoved against the cover of a book with its title too faded to read and the pages all but gone. If any of the attackers were killed rather than merely frightened off, he couldn't tell, and Ozma hasn't asked.
The change, whenever it came, was subtle. People still know what it means for life to end, even as they reassure each other of the common knowledge that, oh, it's all right, that doesn't happen to us (although we could still be stabbed through, or torn to pieces, or buried deep underground, or)
Of the last four deaths recorded within the borders of Oz, two of them were caused by Dorothy.
Ozma's never asked how she feels about that.
There are no less than four farm-houses made of violet-tinted boards with placards out front proclaiming them to be
THE CHILDHOOD HOME
OF HER GRACIOUS MAJESTY
PRINCESS OZMA OF OZ!
One is much too large, built up nearly to the point of being a manor home. Another is perilously close to Yoop Castle, and a third a few minutes' walk from a charming Gillikin village. The fourth is at the fringes of the Gray Swamp, with nothing resembling a pumpkin patch in sight.
Of course, any of these might have been quite different a couple hundred years ago. Few visitors could tell you the difference, and all four sites have little shrines, piled with flowers and trinkets of thanks for whatever luck protected their beloved ruler while under the dominion of a wicked, if not Witch, certainly Magical Personage of No Small Power.
The real site is all but forgotten now. The weeds have overgrown it, as they have the corn-fields and pumpkin patch, leaving only a few posts to show there was once a building here.
She knots one of her blue gingham ribbons around the tallest post, and moves on to find someplace more hospitable for her and Toto to sleep that night.
Ozma leans against the wall under the mounted head of the Gump, stuffed and plumped and quietly riding out the tenure of its second life, and says, "Was it so awful, being put together?"
For a time the hall is quiet as the ash in the fireplace. Eventually glass eyes roll toward her. "It was dreadfully awkward. I'd be willing to suffer it again, though, if you or your friends need another emergency chariot and haven't anything better handy."
"What if we could craft you a more fitting body? Something resembling the one you had before? Though it would have to be stuffed, or perhaps wooden, of course."
The Gump chews it over. "I can't imagine it would feel right. Have you ever offered to graft fully-jointed hands to the Sawhorse?"
"I suppose not," admits Ozma. "But then, as far as I can tell, the Sawhorse has never been less than content with its lot. All the creations of the Powder of Life are like that....except you."
"Oh, I'm content these days, after a fashion," the Gump replies. "Able to startle your fussier courtiers when they come by, and spend the rest of the time dozing. It's not the same as the way I rested before I was stuffed, but it's quite as calming once you get the hang of it."
This is closer to what Ozma sought it out to ask after; but here, on the foothills of the topic, she finds herself struggling to go farther. "If...if at some point you felt it wasn't worth being aware any more, and that you'd rather just rest from then on...."
"I suppose I'd do it," says the Gump with a facial shrug. "If you were tired, wouldn't you sleep?"
Half a mile off, and she can already smell the poppies.
She plans to give them a wide berth, but the wind shifts to a direction less dangerous, and she ends up close enough to spot a bedraggled form not far from the scarlet field's edge. "Keep your distance," she says to the smaller, more vulnerable form beside her. Toto flattens his ears but obeys.
Her eyes don't want to understand the black-and-navy shape, until all of a sudden they do. It's a man, Munchkin by the clothes, his apparent age close to the Shaggy Man's and his wiry beard even more disheveled. His shapeless tunic bunches over the arm slung across his face, the way her own does when the moon is too bright and getting up to close the curtains would pull her back from the hopeful brink of sleep entirely.
The Lion's words echo in her ears, fresh as yesterday: The smell of the flowers is killing us all. But the Munchkin before her, in spite of the length of his beard and the way dried mud clings to the back of his clothes, is still breathing.
What she couldn't bear to see at first is this: he brought a pillow.
"Do you suppose," Ozma asks the visiting Scarecrow one evening, "I should be grateful to Mombi?"
Her friend thinks the idea over with his usual deep concentration, obvious to those who know him in spite of the open smile painted on his face. "I can't think of any reason for it. Why do you ask?"
Ozma leans over the balcony railing to watch the setting sun. "I had parents, once. It's in Glinda's book, so it must be true. But in my memory, there's nothing about them. And in their absence, I wasn't raised by anyone who loved me." Her voice shakes; it takes both royal dignity and plain old boyish stubbornness to wrestle it steady. "All I had was her, and she was so dreadful that it was no great loss to be rid of her. Might that be a gift?"
"Ah! this is about the considerations of meat people," exclaims the Scarecrow. "I'm afraid I can't help you much there, for I never had parents, nor even parent-figures. If you were to say anyone raised me...why, it might have to be Dorothy." He considers it further. "I'm grateful to her for not being dreadful. And even when she first returned to Kansas, and I thought we were to be parted forever, it never occurred to me to feel otherwise. But if you were to feel differently, I don't suppose there's anything wrong with that."
"I don't know how I feel," admits Ozma. "About...well, anything, really."
"This may or may not help," says the Scarecrow, "but I believe you gave the right order."
One of Glinda's beautiful guards catches her attempting to sneak in, levels a crimson spear, then realizes who it is and has a minor fit.
The girl looks young, which isn't unusual in itself, since in Oz one can grow as slowly as one wishes and the Good Witch of the South has never employed crones. But there's something striking about her, and on questioning, it comes out that she's only ever known one ruler to be on the Emerald City's throne.
For the first time in a thousand years, Dorothy notices just how long her life has been.
"Perhaps I won't pay a call to Glinda today after all," she says, then looks over the way the younger woman's uniform hugs her figure and adds, "When do you get off duty?"
"Whuff," says Toto, meaning Feeling better, are we?
It's predicted to be a doubly unlucky year of Ozma's reign, and the weather so far is playing the part. Grey dawn-light hangs in a fog over the Royal Garden, its paths slick and puddled from last night's thunderstorm, its flower-beds bedraggled and thick with mud.
Ozma rounds a corner, tugging her cloak more tightly around her shoulders to ward off the chill, and catches her breath.
The three-tiered fountain is an old familiar sight. So, by now, are the two marble statues that sit on the fountain's edge, hands clasped as they gaze into each other's stone eyes, gentle affection carved into every line on their faces (legacy of the Liquid of Petrification: it preserves things exactly as they were). What draws her eye is the wreath of fresh poppies laid at the statues' feet, red blooms big and gaudy and clearly placed there since the rain.
"I've missed you," she says out loud. "Won't you come inside?"
"If I'd noticed something earlier," she stammers, clasping Ozma's hand under the warm quilts. "Or maybe if I hadn't waited so long to bring them here—"
"What's done is done," says Ozma, cutting her off. "And...it's best, I think. Your aunt and uncle were never the type to ask for things they didn't need. Perhaps when you're not fairy folk, immortality stops being such a gift, eventually."
Dorothy remembers the Sleepers. "Perhaps immortality's not a gift for fairy folk either."
Ozma remembers his pounding heart, the smell of wet paper and glue, the muffled whacking of axe-swings. "Perhaps not."
The fairyland's texture changes underneath them, new rules of magic rippling outward from its heart to its farthest corners. It's a shift in the metaphysics of the world — both women know it — but on some level they can't help feeling as if they're remembering something long-forgotten: if you're truly ready to stop for good, no power in Oz will force you to keep going.
"Dear Ozma," whispers Dorothy, arms wrapping gratefully around her slender waist. "Promise me you'll never get that tired before I do."