Think About Your Troubles
It's true what they say about Winkie Country…almost everything is yellow; the grass, the soil…even the people dress in yellowish garments. The Wicked Witch of the West wasn't yellow, though. She was browned with age, wrinkled like a dried fig, and she dressed mostly in black. Her castle was made out of yellow brick and grayish stone blocks, and in this castle Dorothy, Toto, and the Cowardly Lion were being held captive.
The witch had only wanted the lion; she had decided to harness him to her chariot and make him work like a horse would. Dorothy, however, was another matter. When the girl first arrived in Oz, the Good Witch of the North had given her a kiss of protection, which was plainly visible on the child's forehead; it was because of this kiss that the Flying Monkeys hadn't dared harm her, and had brought her before the Witch of the West instead. The Good Witch had also given her the magical Silver Shoes, taken directly from the dead Wicked Witch of the East's feet when she had turned to dust.
Now, the Wicked Witch of the West desired these Silver Shoes also, but she was prevented from taking them by the Good Witch's kiss, and indeed by the Shoes themselves. Since the Witch couldn't do much to the girl, she immediately set her to work in the castle, hoping that some opportunity would arise, and the girl would discard the shoes.
Dorothy was sweeping the dust from the kitchen out the door, which opened just outside the Courtyard's gate; it was inside this Courtyard that the Cowardly Lion was being kept. Dorothy looked sadly at her friend, who was now untied and sitting despondently in the middle of the yard. The Lion shook his head sadly when their eyes met, then snarled as the Witch shoved Dorothy out of the way, causing the girl to stumble.
The Witch approached the gate and entered the Courtyard, saying, "Now then, it's time to see how well you can pull a chariot."
The Lion roared his loudest and rushed at the Witch, who picked up her skirts and ran, making it out just in time. The Lion's paw swiped through the bars of the gate, the claws shredding the train of her garment.
The Witch, enraged, looked from her torn skirts to the still-snarling Lion. "If I cannot harness you," said the Witch to the Lion, speaking through the bars of the gate, "I can starve you. You shall have nothing to eat until you do as I wish."
Dorothy had only a fraction of a moment to look, in pity, at her friend before the Witch grabbed her arm and dragged her inside. Even so, before this happened, her eyes met the Lion's, and the anger lines in the great beast's face softened. The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman may have been destroyed by the Flying Monkeys, but he and the child were still whole and well, as was the little black dog, Toto.
* * *
The Courtyard was small, and the Cowardly Lion's only shelter from the elements was a small overhang, underneath which was a pile of straw bedding. The Lion had spent most of the day pacing his yard, inspecting the high fence in the hopes of escaping, but even so he knew it was no use. He saved the farthest corner of the yard for his toilet needs, burying his waste like a house cat would.
By nightfall, he was very hungry and terribly afraid. Not so much for himself, though he was certainly afraid for himself, but for Dorothy and Toto. He had not seen them all day, and who knew what the Witch was putting them through…
Since the Witch wanted to break his will but not kill him, he was allowed one bucket of water, which the terrified Winkies pushed between the bars of the gate with a long-handled rake. The Lion realized that they were slaves, and he himself would never harm them without provocation, but of course they couldn't know that. Now, hoping to relieve his hunger a bit, he headed for the bucket…but then he remembered that he had already drunk all the water. He sat down with a whine, and almost mercifully it began to rain. He decided to wait for the bucket to fill with rainwater, then he would fill his stomach. He would not work as a horse for that Witch!
* * *
Dorothy, who was supposed to be in bed, crept down to the kitchen while the Witch was sleeping, hoping to find some food for her friend. Meeting no one on the way, she tip-toed over to the cupboard, which was more like a pantry, and looked inside. There were bushel baskets of vegetables, which the Lion wouldn't care for, but there were also hams hanging from the rafters and slabs of curing bacon nearby the hams. Snatching up a clean, white towel, the girl took a slab of bacon and reached down a ham, wrapping them snugly in the towel. She wished that she could take him more, but she didn't dare. Supposing someone noticed that some food was missing? Toto, watching this, sat up on his hindquarters and waved his front paws in the air, whining.
"Shh!" the girl tossed him a chunk of meat to keep him quiet. Then she carried the bundle outside to where the Lion was imprisoned.
Dorothy paused while her eyes became adjusted to the darkness, and presently she saw the Lion sitting disconsolately in the rain beside a water bucket; every now and then he would lower his huge head and lick the bottom of the bucket, trying in his impatience to drink the fraction of an inch of water that he found. The Lion's ears twitched at the sound of approaching footsteps, and he snarled before he even looked up. Just as Dorothy shushed him, he recognized her.
"Dorothy!" he whispered urgently, "Are you all right? Did she hurt you?"
She put her finger to her lips and squeezed between the bars; the gate was locked, but she was small enough to fit. The Lion nuzzled her before she was completely through, not even noticing the parcel she carried.
"If she hurt you, I'll…"
"Shh! Not here, someone might hear us. I brought you some food." Whispered Dorothy. The Lion's ears perked up at this, and his stomach growled. He motioned with his nose towards his bed of straw, and he and Dorothy crowded under the overhang to avoid the rain, lying down. Dorothy opened the parcel of food, and the Lion lay with the ham wedged between his huge front paws and ate with gusto. The meat was gone in three bites, and then he cracked the bone with his teeth, licking out the marrow with obvious relish. He preferred his food raw and still warm, but after a day without any nourishment this was heaven! He made short work of the bacon, and gathered the ham bone fragments into a pile.
"I'll go bury these bones now," he told Dorothy, and he carried them to the far end of the yard and did so. He washed his paws in a puddle that had formed near the center of the yard, and nuzzled Dorothy again as he lay down upon the straw. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," she replied, laying against his side as he began to wash his face, catlike, "though I'm sorry I couldn't bring you more; I didn't dare."
He stopped his washing for a moment and said, "Please, don't be sorry. I've had much less in a bad day's hunting. I don't want you getting into trouble with the Witch, just so that I can have a full belly. Promise you'll be careful."
"I promise," she replied dutifully, "but are you sure it's enough?"
"Yes," he assured her, "it will sustain me well enough. As I've said, little friend, it's more than I get most huntings. In the forest, if I kill a deer or some other beast, I must eat as much of it as I can before the scavengers come and chase me away from it. Indeed, to eat an entire ham and a slab of bacon, without worrying about vultures coming down to peck out my eyes, is a rare treat. So, worry no more."
Dorothy nodded, and snuggled up to his mane as he put his paw down, apparently deciding that his face was clean enough. Toto curled up at the girl's side, and they were silent for a while, until Dorothy suddenly began to cry. She muffled the quiet sounds in his mane, and the Cowardly Lion began to twitch the end of his tail, the only outward sign that her tears distressed him. He laid his chin on top of her head and purred softly, while Toto tried to lick her face.
"I just want to go home!" the child told him.
"I know," he purred, "I want to leave this awful Courtyard…being locked up frightens me almost as much as the Kalidahs do." He shivered as he remembered their meeting with two of those beasts, with the bodies of bears and the heads of tigers. He was deathly afraid of Kalidahs, and strange though it was, the Courtyard seemed almost as bad to him. He hadn't lied when he told Dorothy that being locked up frightened him. It was one thing to be locked in a bedroom for the night in the Emerald City; at least he was safe there, and he was a guest, not a prisoner. Being locked up in the Witch's Courtyard was another matter entirely.
"And that Witch frightens me!" returned Dorothy.
The Lion was angry with the Witch right then, and he told the girl, "I may be a coward, but I'd gladly sacrifice myself to protect you. I won't let her hurt you."
"There's nothing you can do." Dorothy sniffled, "Don't do anything, please. She'll kill you, as surely as the Flying Monkeys destroyed the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman!"
Her sobs redoubled, and at the reminder of their friends' fates, the Lion's eyes also filled with tears. He closed his eyes tightly, and Dorothy noticed that the top of her head was becoming damp, but she didn't call attention to it. She put her arms around his neck and snuggled closer, trying to comfort him as he purred to comfort her. "We could try to escape." The Lion said finally.
"How?" she asked.
"I don't know." he replied with a sigh. "We'll have to think of a way, otherwise we shall be here forever. I certainly don't want that."
"No." she agreed.
"After that," he continued, "we can try to find our friends. Maybe it isn't too late to save them. Remember, they are not made of flesh as we are, so they cannot even feel pain."
She nodded, and soon she stopped crying. The lion lifted his head and tried to reach for his tail with his paw, so that he could dry his eyes with the tip, but Dorothy reached up with a handkerchief and did it for him. He dipped his head forward and placed his massive forehead against her smaller one, a feline gesture of friendship that she didn't understand, but allowed. "All will be well, little sister."
She nodded again, then said, "If we escape, what about the Witch? Won't she come after us?"
He shuddered, and said, "Yes, I expect she will." He sighed. "I'll be too afraid to fight my way through if she brings all of her soldiers."
"Don't fight." She told him earnestly.
They fell silent again, and presently the Lion said, "Why don't you and Toto try to escape by yourselves?"
"No! I won't leave you behind, and besides, we won't get very far on our own. You're much faster than we are." Dorothy protested. The Lion nodded sadly in agreement. Then Dorothy suggested, "You could try, though."
"And leave you behind? No."
"But…" she began.
He shook his head, and emphatically repeated, "No."
She sighed, and said, "Well, I suppose we'll have to think about it…and we'll have plenty of time for that."
The Lion's tail began to twitch more fervently, every now and then giving the ground a thump. His purring had stopped completely. An owl hooted in the distance, and the Lion gasped and jumped to his feet so quickly that Dorothy bumped her head on the ground. Since it was padded with straw, however, she was unhurt. The Lion stared with dilated eyes into the darkness, lashing his flanks with his tail and trembling. Dorothy put her hand on his back.
"It's only an owl, Lion."
The Lion settled himself back down on his straw, shamefaced, and put his head down on his paws. "Now I'll never be as brave as a lion is meant to be," he said sadly, "I'll be a coward forever." Tears trickled down his muzzle and dripped onto the ground.
Dorothy was about to say that she thought that this was the least of their troubles, but she realized just in time that this would be a mistake. He was saying these things because he was afraid, and he didn't like it. He was as much a prisoner as she and Toto, and to disparage his troubles just because they weren't her own would be wrong and cruel. The Lion was not just trembling with fear now; he was crying. Silently, but crying.
"We're safe for the moment. As long as I obey her she won't harm me, and I'll keep bringing you food at night." She said comfortingly, petting his head and drying his tears as they came. He wept silently for a few minutes more, too ashamed of himself to speak. Finally, he began to wash his face again. Dorothy laid her hand on his mane, and said, "Let's not think about it anymore tonight."
He nodded his shaggy head. "No…we're getting nowhere. Even if we did somehow manage to escape, the Winkies would do their mistress's bidding, and there are too many for me to fight, coward or not."
Dorothy wiped another tear from the Lion's face, and said, "I don't think you're that much of a coward."
"Oh, I am." He insisted, "Only I know what is inside of me, and one the one thing that is missing is courage."
"You are brave enough when it counts." Dorothy told him, "You may be scared sometimes, but you've put it aside whenever we've been in danger. Uncle Henry says that that's what real courage is."
The Lion shook his head. "All the same, I shall never be happy until the Wizard gives me courage."
Dorothy sighed, giving up. She rested her head on his mane again and closed her eyes, holding Toto in her arms. The Lion began to purr again, and he touched her forehead with the tip of his tongue, careful not to scratch her with the tiny, sand-papery hooks; a lion's kiss good-night.
Sometime around midnight, it occurred to the Lion that Dorothy would be punished if she was discovered there, along with a towel that had food evidence sticking to it. He gently nudged her awake with his nose, and whispered, "You had better go back to bed, and dispose of the towel you brought my supper in. It wouldn't do to have her find you here."
Dorothy realized the sense in this, and she quickly gathered Toto and the towel and wished her friend a hasty good-night.
The next morning Dorothy was sweeping the porch again, and again the Witch shoved her out of the way and made for the Courtyard. It was approaching noontime, lunch time, and the Witch thought that the Lion would be ready to cooperate. She put her face near the bars, just out of reach in case the Lion decided to make another swipe at her, and asked, "Are you ready to be harnessed like a horse?"
The Cowardly Lion, who had just been licking a forepaw, looked up and answered, "No. If you come in this yard, I will bite you."
"Very well!" snapped the Witch, "You shall have no food today."
The Witch went back inside, and the Lion caught Dorothy's eye. The corners of his mouth turned up a bit, and he winked at her as if sharing a private joke.
Dorothy smiled back and opened her mouth to say something, but just then the Witch shouted from inside, "Where are you, girl?! There is a floor to be scrubbed! Dishes to be washed! Meals to prepare! Socks to mend!"
Dorothy had ducked inside at the first bit of the tirade, and the fleeting little smile disappeared from the Lion's face. He laid down with his head on his paws like a resting Sphinx, and heaved a great sigh.
It was several days before they found a way to escape the Witch…or, rather, before Dorothy stumbled upon a way…
Author's Note: Of course, most of you know what happened. This story was based on the book, not the movie. I feel that this very well could have happened, and since the book doesn't really describe the conversations these two had during their long imprisonment, I thought I'd write about one of them on my own. I've lost count as to how many time's I've read the book, so I'm pretty sure no one was out of character. Now for my disclaimer…I do not own The Wizard of Oz, or anything tied to it. They are the property of Mr. L. Frank Baum, and I don't know how many publishers. I actually used a couple of lines from the story itself, but most of it was my own words. I believe I only used three sentences, and it was the dialogue between the Witch and the Cowardly Lion, regarding her wish to use him as a horse. If I'm asked to take this fic down for Copyright reasons, I will do so.
By the way, I realize that lion's don't really purr, but the Cowardly Lion did in the book, so he does in my story. I hope you enjoyed it!