What Child is This?
Disclaimer: I don't own the land of Oz or anyone who lives in it, claim jumpers got there way before me and copyrighted it. I own nothing but the plot – blah blah blah don't sue me.
"So there is one Unnamed God Fabala. And through him you will receive treasures in the next life, if you are his humble and faithful servant in this one."
The young girl looked up at him with large dark eyes, "Horrors." She said. Frex Sighed. It was their daily meditations and he couldn't help but think that preaching to his young daughter wasn't much different than preaching to the lost flock of munchkin land. At least this way he knew he had a captive audience. And it gave him a way to practice his oratory skills if nothing else.
"I think that's enough for today." Little Elphaba had found interest now in pulling up blades of grass and Frex pulled them from her before she could put them in her mouth.
"No Elphaba, you mustn't' eat grass."
She just looked up at him blankly, as if waiting for him to instruct her as to what she could do. Frex felt slightly uneasy under her gaze. Could a toddler show defiance? He mumbled a quick prayer and picked her up. She weighed almost nothing, giving him a slight feeling of power and strength.
It was late afternoon. Nanny had gone to town under the pretense of getting supplies and groceries, but he suspected it was just an excuse to escape from the quiet countryside she loathed so. She'd taken Melena with her, probably as a way of raising her spirits.
They had had quite a shock at dinner last night and no one seemed to want to remain near the house. Even Turtle Heart had gone out, Frex thought with a tight chest, saying he needed more glass blowing supplies. He wiped the thought quickly from his mind.
Someone had to stay behind to watch over Elphaba, he didn't mind being the one but as the day began he realized he had never actually spent a whole day alone with his daughter. It made him slightly afraid and anxious. Matters hadn't been helped much when he had walked to her crib that morning and seen her already awake and standing up, pointing at him and saying, "Horrors! Horrors horrors!"
It had taken him a minute to remember that in the confusion of last night she had been saying the same words as she sat starting into Turtle Heart's blown glass. It was just infant babbling, mimicry, he told himself trying to convince himself she was not really accusing him of anything. No need to feel guilty, he said picking up the child. Although what had he to feel guilty about?
As he held her now he knew at least one thing he should be guilty of. He looked at the tiny green hand that swiped at a near flying butterfly. As it flew away Elphie rested her head on her father's shoulder.
"Do you need a nap Fabala?" asked Frex feeling a sudden wave of tenderness for the infant in his care. She looked up and with her other hand showed him a clump of grass with the dirt still hanging from the roots. Hidden among the tangled blades was a yellow dandelion.
"Where did you get that?" Frex asked genuinely shocked. Had it been when he was wasn't watching? A slight paternal fear gripped his heart as he cursed himself for being negligent. What else might she have picked up if he hadn't been watching.
But there was no harm done now he supposed and he looked at the offering. He noticed how the grass blended gently with Fabala's soft baby skin. Would he ever get used to that?
"Is this for me?" He asked taking the lump of grass warily from her. She continued to stare at him. "Well thank you little one. But let's go inside now." Frex noticed the clouds coming in from the West. The clouds could very well be just a tease, for Oz was still in the middle of a serious drought, but he didn't want to risk it. He walked carrying his daughter over his shoulder and into the house.
Once safely inside he placed Elphaba on her blanket and found a small bowl to put the lump of grass in. When he returned Elphie was looking warily out the window at the dark looming clouds.
Frex sat in a chair close by watching the tiny girl sizing up the cloud like an enemy. There was something unsettling about the way her face was set in such determination. Perhaps he should just get used to the fact that his daughter would always raise questions for him that would never be answer. And it was all his fault wasn't it? He felt the guilt creeping back into him.
Suddenly there was a large clap of thunder and the sky opened up. He didn't have time to take in the wonder of the sudden violent storm for Elphaba at the first loud boom had let out an equally loud scream. The child burst out crying and shrieked loudly as the house was pelted with rain.
Frex froze. Nanny had always dealt with Elphaba on those rare occasions she had cried. And now as she sat crying on her blanket he realized he had no idea what to do. He sprang to his feet and looked around panicked. He had to do something, the more she cried the louder she screamed and Frex realized with astonishment that her tears were burning her although he couldn't tell how much.
He picked her up still shrieking and repeating "Horrors!" over and over again in a panicked wail. He carried her away from the window struggling to keep a grip on her as she squirmed furiously. He took his sleeve and tried to wipe her face without spreading the moisture even more.
He did his best to calm her. "There there now Fabala, don't cry anymore." She had stopped shrieking and now was simply crying loudly. He tried his best to rock her and felt he must look very awkward.
He thought quickly, what would Nanny do? But found it useless when he couldn't think of an answer. He would have to improvise.
Still shushing her he picked up the bowl where the dandelion lay and picked it up.
"See Elphaba, see the pretty flower?" She looked down and continued to sniffle, her pointed teeth clenched and biting her fingers so that Frex feared she might harm herself.
He wrenched the hand from her mouth and she stared up at him again. For a moment they both looked embarrassed. She had stopped crying but continued to sniffle, and he rocked her gently, his brain still pumping adrenalin. He suddenly felt a deep awe for his mother, rest her soul, who had tended to this sort of thing 7 times, once with twins.
As his heart rate returned to normal he looked down at the little green face, slightly puffy from the tears. She was silent now, almost solemn. He sat down still holding her and the little bowl of grass. He cast his eyes around the room looking for some sort of inspiration as to what he should do next. His gaze landed on a bookcase in the far corner.
He frowned and a small battle waged inside of him. On the one hand he did not exactly approve of most fairy stories. They had explicit themes of the occult and sorcery which went directly against the Unionist doctrine. But on the other hand it might provide some small entertainment for Elphaba who for all her solomness was still shaken and hiding her face. Besides that he was desperate and could think of nothing else.
He looked at the bookcase once more. Perhaps if he could find a tale with some sort of moral it would not be so bad.
"Elphaba, do you want me to read you a story?"
He was met with another stare but she didn't give any indication that she didn't want a story. He took this as a yes and put her down for a moment as he rose to select a book. He looked sideways at the book titles and found the one Nanny had bought as a gift for Elphaba last Lurlinmas. Strange, he thought as he picked it up, how he had protested so vehemently when Elphie had ripped off the colorful paper and he'd seen what it was. He had lectured Nanny at great length about the evils of pagan beliefs and pleasure worship and now there he stood flipping through the pages trying to find a suitable story. If Nanny were to walk in and catch him she would give him no peace till the day she died. Best to hurry then.
He paused on one and skimmed it quickly. There were large references to magic and other pagan nonsense, but evil was punished. And besides that it had some colorful pictures in it that Elphaba might like to look at. He decided to split the different and read this one.
Elphaba had been watching him intently and her eyes followed him as he walked back to the chair and sat down. "Come here Fabala." He lifted her up carefully and moved the bowl to a table beside the chair to keep it from turning over. Oh, the row that would ensue if the ladies came home and found dirt tracked into the house. He would probably get a talking to as it was for ruining a perfectly good supper bowl.
Frex cleared his throat and began to read as Elphie looked at the book along with him. She looked eerily as if she were trying to read along.
"Once long ago when Oz was a wild place there were small villages scattered about the mountains and plains." There was a colorful picture to follow the passage. A little town stood with hearth fires glowing from within. "Isn't it pretty?" he asked her hopefully. When she made no sound he figured it was safe to turn the page.
"There was one such town in a small valley on the edge of a great forest. All the children were told to never enter those big dark woods, for deep in the forest lurking in the shadows lived an old witch." Frex looked at the adjacent illustration in the book. There was the witch, hunched over and wrinkled. It was done in the style of a woodcarving with deep set lines making the witch look even more haggard. She was holding a frog in one hand, presumably to be used in some sort of potion. At her feet slinked a mangy black cat. Everything a witch should be, though Frex.
He looked down at Elphaba to see what she though of the sketch. She was examining it closely. Then after a few moments she pointed a chubby finger at the drawing and looked up at her father.
"Yes Fabala, that does look like Nanny." He said, allowing himself an all too rare moment of honesty at the old woman's expense. There was no harm, it wasn't as if little Elphaba was going to tattle on him.
He continued with the story. "There was one little boy in the village who always misbehaved. He told all who would listen that he was not afraid of the old witch. This made his mother and father very frightened, for they did not want him to venture into the forest. 'No son', they told him, 'you must not say such things. If you enter the forest you will no longer be under the protection of Lurline.'"
Frex paused and wondered whether or not he should continue with a story that reeked so sourly of devotion to paganism. He looked at the drawing of Lurline. She wore flowing pale blue robes which sparkled, her face pale and forever youthful and ageless. She carried with her a silver wand and was placed looking down benevolently over the village.
Would he not do permanent damage filling Elphaba's young mind with such impure thoughts? She was looking at him, almost eager for him to continue. Well, she had had quite a fright and the story did seem to soothe her.
Reluctantly he turned the page. "But the boy refused to listen and one night he decided to willfully disobey his parents by venturing into the woods at night. 'Oh how brave they will all think me' he said gleefully as he moved through the trees. But soon it had grown so dark the boy could not see and before long he was hopelessly lost, the lights of the village being no where in sight."
"Suddenly in the darkness he saw a house in a shady glen. He crept over to it and peeked through the window. He saw what looked to be a very ordinary looking home with no one in it. But as he looked the front door began to open and out stepped the witch."
The illustration showed what looked to be the gnarled hand of the witch emerging from inside the house as the boy looked blissfully unawares.
Elphaba began to squirm slightly on his lap.
"'Hello my fine young boy.' said the witch in a raspy voice. The boy was startled but could not run. The witch shuffled closer and the boy cried out, "Stay back!" The witch laughed at him and told him that it was no use to run, for she had spells that would turn him into horrible things if he continued to fuss.
"The boy cried out once more, 'Oh sweet Lurline! Please save me from the witch! Spare me please!'
"The witch laughed again and raised her hand to cast a dreadful spell on the boy, who was wishing that he had never disobeyed his parents."
Elphaba was beginning to squirm more and tugged on Frex's sleeve. But Frex had actually become so engrossed with the tale that he did not notice her.
"Suddenly, just when all seemed lost, a white light appeared in the sky. The boy looked up and saw Lurline in all her glory step down from her chariot. She had come to save him!
'How dare you!' said the witch enraged, 'the boy is rightfully mine!'
'No.' Lurline said in a sweet but powerful voice 'You will not harm this child with your wicked black magic!' Lurline raised her wand, pointed it at the witch, and-"
He stopped abruptly as Elphaba had broken loose from the crook of his arm and began hitting the book with the palm of her hand. Frex was startled by her violent reaction.
"Fabala! Stop it! It's only a story!" And before he could stop her she had torn out the final pages of the story and stuffed them in her mouth, tearing at them with her sharp little teeth. Frex quickly dropped the book and tried to wrench whatever pieces of paper he could away from her and out of her mouth.
"Elphaba! Have you gone mad?" She stopped thrashing slowly and looked up at him, her chubby face set in what looked like a glare. Was she angry at him? What had he done?
"Was the story not to your liking?"
She made no sound.
"Well then we won't read anymore. And we'll rid ourselves of this book too while we're at it." He needed no more proof that the book had to go, and no more excuse to not throw in into a deep ditch somewhere.
She had crawled onto the floor, out of his lap, and regained her usual searching, waiting stare. He was at a loss as to what to do next. He felt like he had failed at everything. The child was an enigma he could never hope to understand and he was ready to concede defeat.
Some silence passed between them and Frex felt angry at himself for letting a child who could barely speak cause so much uncertainty in him. He had known his place in the world at one point hadn't he? Before she was ever born?
No, he thought sadly, his daughter was not to be blamed for his failings. If there was any blame it was his. He had lost his way; and cursed her in the process. It was the first time the thought had ever come clearly to him, without the deep lurking guilt obscuring it. There it was crystal clear. A slip of judgment and wrong phrasing had doomed and innocent life and there was no way to give her back the normal life she should've been born with. There it stood, the phrase 'sins of the father' never more fully illustrated. But what could he do?
She was looking at the bowl on the table. She pointed to it as if she could will it to move. Finally he spoke to her. "What is it Fabala?" he asked tentatively, almost apologetically, as if she might suddenly turn to him and say, 'oh father do not blame yourself you are forgiven.'
She continued to look at the bowl and point to it. He took it off the table and kneeling down next to her set in on the floor between them. He wondered what she found so fascinating about it. Was it the color? Did she draw the similarities between the color of the blades and her own fingers? She put her tiny hands in the bowl and then out again, then repeated the motion.
He watched her precise movements. She may have been cryptic but she was also intriguing, and amazingly intelligent. Her hand came up holding the yellow dandelion. She offered it to him with a neutral expression on her face.
He took it from her gently. He didn't know what he was supposed to do with it. He felt like it was some sort of test. He examined the bright yellow puff for a moment, and then on a whim completely unlike him, placed it in his hair. She looked at him almost quizzically. "How do I look?" he asked her.
She said nothing but offered him a large clump of grass in response. Feeling slightly more relaxed, and knowing full well how silly he must look wearing a flower in his hair kneeling on the floor, he leaned forward and sniffed the grass in her hand like some kind of animal. Then playfully he began to nibble at the grass clutched in her fist. She looked at him like he had gone completely out of his mind but he chewed very loudly and thanked her in a high voice, saying he was very hungry.
Slowly she took out another handful of grass from the bowl and held it up to him.
"More?" he said in the high voice, "Are you trying to fatten me up?" he asked her with mock accusation. He leaned in and began to nibble at her little green fingers. And suddenly she did something he had never seen her do before. She laughed. It was a high pitched delighted squeal. He smiled in return, she didn't hate him. In his excitement he started to bleat like a goat and came closer to her on all fours. She tried to toddle away and he gave playful chase. She was squealing with delight now and then began to mimic his bleating. "Baa!" she said. It was her second word, and this time he heard it.
"Yes Baa Fabala, just like a goat." She grinned but suddenly went still and looked behind her at the door.
Frex looked up but could not see what she was looking at.
The door opened and in came Turtle Heart; slightly wet from the early storm, a sack swung over his shoulders filled with the glass blowing tools he'd gone to fetch earlier that day.
Frex stood up quickly and as he did the dandelion fell from his hair and landed on the floor. He gave him a quick awkward nod and looked at the clock that hung on the wall. It had grown late and from the window he could see Nanny and Melena coming over the hill.
"I see your trip was successful." He said to Turtle Heart, finding that words would not flow as easily for some reason.
"Yes Sir," replied Turtle Heart, who was petting Elphaba's head in greeting before coming over to Frex. She watched the two men stand as if they did not know what to say to each other. "I'm sorry to be being gone so long. Hard to find these tools are."
Frex swallowed, "Now brother think nothing of it. You do not answer to me you are your own man here."
Before he could babble on anymore Nanny burst in, Melena following behind. Both of them looked as if they had been done up in town, their hair piled on top of their heads and Nanny wearing an appalling amount of makeup.
Turtle Heart backed away uncomfortably at Melena's entrance and quietly left the room, taking his sack with him.
"My, my." Said Nanny, visibly winded from the walk up the hill. "We thought that storm would never let up." She busied herself hanging up her and Melena's traveling cloaks to dry.
Melena herself hadn't spoken yet. She had settled herself into a chair and stared vacantly around her as if she didn't know where she was. Frex knelt by her side and was instantly hypnotized at how beautiful she looked with the bits of rain still clinging to her dark lashes.
"Good evening my love." He greeted carefully, placing a kiss on her forehead. "Are you well?"
"Oh she's fine!" Nanny cut in quickly then busied herself with the parcels they had brought from town.
But Frex could see something was amiss. His wife's eyes were vacant and the pupils abnormally large. He stood up immediately.
"Nanny, what have you given her?" he demanded.
"Why what would ever give you that idea?" she asked, not meeting his accusing stare.
"You know I do not approve of the sort of potions and concoctions used by pleasure faith madmen; made from who knows what! They are blasphemous, not to mention potentially poisonous!" He was incensed that she had gone over his head and defied him again. Was he never to have authority in his own household?
"Nanny has no idea what you're talking about." She said haughtily. Just then she tripped over the bowl of dirt and grass. She yelped trying to regain he balance. "Now why on earth is this here? You would think we had no class at all! Dirt in a fine serving bowl the very idea! Nanny doesn't know what to do about it all anymore."
Elphaba watched as Nanny took away her grass and threw it out the door into the misting rain. Desperately she look at her father for help but he was not looking at her, he was about to speak harshly at Nanny again when her mother's arm shot out and grabbed him by the hem of his coat.
He dropped to his knees beside her. "Frex." She said finally coming out of her daze. "I have been to...to a, doctor." She said slowly, almost as if she were struggling to remember a rehearsed line.
"Is everything alright?" he asked quickly.
"Yes." She said slowly, finally turning her head to look at him. "He confirms that I am with child. And he tells me..." she broke off slightly and looked to Nanny over Frex's shoulder. Elphie saw Nanny give her mother a slight nod of encouragement.
Melena continued, "He tells me that it will be a girl."
A smile broke over Frex's face. A girl, a baby girl. He placed a hand over Melena's stomach. He was so happy.
"Yes can you believe it? A little girl! Nanny couldn't be happier!" She gushed. "Nanny had a feeling."
"This is marvelous." Said Frex joyously, all memory of the quarrel over the mysterious drugs in Melena's system forgotten. "There is so much to do to prepare, to plan." He began to pace and talk out loud to himself, Nanny continued to chatter on and Melena seemed to slip back into her stupor.
Elphaba toddled over to the fallen dandelion. It had been crushed under foot in the commotion. She looked up at her father but he was too busy planning the arrival of her sister. Ever since her mother had come home everyone seemed to have forgotten she was there.
She looked at her mother's stomach where her father had stroked it tenderly and narrowed her eyes. "Horrors." She said biting the head off the dandelion with gnashing teeth. She let it fall to the floor half chewed.
She looked once more at her father and fixed him with a glare no one saw. "Horrors." She said again but no one heard her, much like the first time she had spoken.
No one was paying attention.