There was tea and it was good tea- not grainy, gritty with unground leaves and lumpy particles of sugar, but expensive tea- imported from Kvon Altar. It hardly needed any accoutrements save for the Wizard's characteristic swirl of cool milk to cloud up the surface of the liquid. And a fine cotton napkin on the side- resting on the teacup like a lady might recline upon a loveseat. Delicately pale stains adorned the corners of the napkin, where the Wizard had dabbed it against his wrinkled mouth. Munchkin-embroidered dragonwood leaves grew upon the edges- Munchkins did have a talent for the more miniscule arts of stitchery.
"Bring the girl in," he announced to the handmaid with white gloves. "I've heard stories about her…"
"I wouldn't know, sir," the Maid warbled gently, "but the stories might not be true. She's only a child-"
"And so, her stories might be more colourful than that of a boring adult. I do so despise these Ozian adults-"
"I know sir-"
"And how children entertain me with their little woes! I adore children."
"One would never have guessed," the Maid offered dryly. She pressed those gloved hands against the navy wool of her uniform, which bulged slightly. She was a plump woman.
"You do so flatter me by keeping your mouth shut," the Wizard hinted. "Now bring in the girl and then she- why are you bothering with the ugly chairs again?!"
The Maid quickly let go of the kitchen chair- the extra chair- and backed up against the wall.
"You're getting senile," said the Wizard.
"Not at all sir, but yesterday you told me to bring the extra chairs-"
"And fat too," he added with a smile. The fire was blazing quietly and it gave a blue-orange tint to the Gillikinese rug- His Majesty's favourite rug, with aubergine and grey and sapphire knots of silky smooth wool. But the small and tidy parlour was well lit with the latest fashion in gas lamps and nothing was amiss.
"The child is waiting."
"Oh. Yes. Well, I'll-" and with a mousy squeak, the Maid pulled open the heavy mahogany door and rushed down the hall to find The Girl.
The wizard fingered his polished brass bell, resplendent on his carved writing desk and waited. The fire crackled arthritically. His favourite clock- a strange wrought-iron figurine that breathed metal flames around the numbered face- ticked and tocked with a subtle sense of humour. It had been a gift from a talented trade-worker- a glass-blower or potter perhaps?- who had himself received it as a gift. Apparently, the clock was a miniature of some sort of Ozian spectacle. But what was the trade-worker's name? Some sort of animal….
The Maid and the girl arrived in the Wizard's parlour breathlessly, appearing to have scrambled down the hall as quickly as a mouse flees a cat.
The Wizard said sharply, "You may leave now." The Maid rushed off, pulling the ridiculous door shut behind her with a deciding thud. At the time, having the door sculpted with twisted Kumbrician figures and the gnarly smirks of gryphons and demons had seemed intimidating and important. But now, the door only seemed silly- a timid man's idea of terror.
"Hello, sir," she announced brightly. But the girl was shy- that's why she clutched the wicker basket so tightly. What was in the almighty basket?
"Tell me about your world," the Wizard blurted out immediately.
The child looked surprised- offended possibly. She was well-scrubbed, with tight braids and an annoying innocence that the Wizard found nearly tiring.
"But we haven't exchanged proper greetings yet," said the child. "I never begin a conversation with-"
"My dear, I have exchanged proper greetings with many citizens of Oz, and I still took rein of the their country, appointed myself a dictator with absolute power and then made cruel and self-serving laws," explained the Wizard with a kind patience. He pulled at the edges of his fashionably striped vest- the Wizard always dressed sharply- and noticed that the buttons were being stressed. Perhaps he had gained weight from all those buttery pastries, brought in from the Applerues.
"That isn't very nice," she whimpered. "You shouldn't be cruel to people. Or dogs, you know. It always comes back to bite you! That's what my Auntie says." The linen cloth in her basket shifted several inches to the left, of its own accord.
"I should think that the dogs would come back to bite you," mused the Wizard with a twinkle in his eye." The girl pouted. She knew she was being made fun of by this old man in costly trousers and childishly patterned ties. Perhaps the one woven with pink and yellow air balloons was inappropriate for today.
"What was your name again, little girl?"
"I'm not little, I'm twelve and I'm called Dorothy Gale."
"Dorothy. Tell me about your world." He noticed that she was wearing loud, garishly jewelled shoes. They clashed hideously with her modest, farm-child dress- checkered, with a handmade pinafore and knee-high stockings.
"There isn't much to tell," said the child who was called Dorothy Gale. "The house we have is eight years old and I was there when we built it and it has clapboard and an iron stove and real glass windows and we have two chickens whose names are…"
The Wizard was thoroughly disinterested in the names of farm animals- and thoroughly disinterested in the well-being of Oz's own Animals, for that matter- but he let the child continue, because she reminded him of something vague faraway.
Dorothy reached into the wicker basket with a girlish hand and patted something inside. "….but there was so much to do! I didn't at all know where to start, seeing as we hadn't had the fair come to Atchison in forever- and I hadn't ever seen a merry-go-round on God's green earth, so it was quite exciting, and also scary."
"You do live quite far from here, don't you?" said the Wizard. The otherworldly dragon clock had ticked all the way through Dorothy's little speech. It was going about its business more loudly now- as if it meant, it somehow knew to make its little clicks be heard above the girl's shrilly adolescent voice.
"Not very far, Mr. Wizard, I'm staying with the nuns at the Cloister of St. Aelphaba- how do you pronounce that troublesome name anyways?"
"Never mind you that, I meant your real home. The home with clapboard and glass windows and chickens," explained His Majesty. Speaking with a child was tiresome- where did he get the idea that it would be somehow invigorating? This Dorothy was a silly, sweet, stupid child, who had some sort of rodent nibbling at the fibres of her hamper.
"Oh, it's very far from this place," gushed the girl, who leaned her little head forward to exaggerate the point, dainty braids swinging lightly. "I don't even know how I got here- isn't it queer? There was a storm and a great noise, and there was lighting…" she trailed off. "I don't know how I'm going to get off.' Dorothy had a sad expression at this thought.
The Wizard was an intelligent man- perhaps weak in his governing skills, as recent politics had come to show- but wholly capable in the art of manipulation, a gentleman's art.
The satin sheen of his hot air balloon tie was gleaming in the lamplight. Gracefully, the Wizard stroked its smooth surface. "I can take you home, dear," he said carefully.
"Oh please, would you? Would you take me home?" Dorothy exclaimed with feverish excitement.
"I could. I might take you home," he answered, though he had not an inkling of how to bring Dorothy home.
The girl smiled a huge, gummy smile and nearly shouted "Oh thank you, Mr. Wizard! I didn't think anyone here could help me, seeing as I've asked so many people and none of them have ever heard of Kansas-"
"Hold on, hold on," interrupted the Wizard. "I don't just give away favours for free, do I? No, of course not- otherwise, all of Oz would come up to my office and say Will you make my farm grow? Will you find a husband for my daughter? I can't do magic for just anyone!"
"But sir, if you're a wizard, it must not be very difficult to help people."
The Wizard scoffed at this idea. "Helping people? My job is not helping people. I can't help all of the louts in Oz, no matter how pretty their little Gillikinese debutantes are, so I have a policy of helping no one."
Dorothy pulled a face. She was sweating- perhaps from the flames that cowered in their majestic stone fireplace. Crossly, she complained "Well, how will I get home, then?"
"Dorothy," spoke the Wizard gravely. "I must have you do something for me before I do anything for you."
"But what on earth would you like me to do?"
He paused for a moment, pondering the question. What could this useless, brown-haired girl do, other than lug around a lunch basket with some sort of mouse inside and beg for assistance? The Wizard considered the crinkled papers on his desk- each one stamped regally at the top left corner with the grandiose Palace insignia. Red on white, imposing and authoritative. And there was a small message, hand scrawled on a withering scrap of parchment- a short, concise order sent directly by Yackle, whose code name was becoming more and more important with every politically treacherous day in Oz.
"I want you to kill the Wicked Witch of the West," proclaimed the Wizard quietly but decisively.
"Oh no! Heavens no, you can't mean that-"
"And I want proof, little Dorothy. This Wizard did not come to power by being lied to by precocious children."
"I'm not killing anyone, sir! Not even a Witch!" howled Dorothy indignantly. "I just want to go home!" She pranced back stormily , almost into the sizzling hearth. The brashly jewelled shoes clicked against the grate and Dorothy instinctively sprung away from the hot metal.
"But she's a very wicked woman. She'd rather spend time beguiling those awful creatures of hers with grotesque magic than do anything else!"
Dorothy murmured thoughtfully, "I don't think creatures are awful."
"And she never bathes!" cried the Wizard. "She's a demonic seductress! A self-made martyr! An offensive freak!"
"Why doesn't she ever bathe? I like bathing."
"I don't know why!" screeched the Wizard. "But the woman is wicked! She deserves to die!" he manifested in what he hoped was his most frightening rant.
"Perhaps she's afraid of drowning, " Dorothy offered warmly. "I do hope she has a bathtub in her house- or castle, I suppose- we have plumbing at home now, and I don't have to go to the well anymore-"
"I DON'T CARE WHY SHE DOESN'T TAKE BATHS! I WANT THIS WITCH DEAD. (Sooner rather than later would be nice.) AND BRING ME PROOF. (Preferably the Grimmerie.) I AM DOING YOU A FAVOUR, YOU UNGRATEFUL WENCH!" The Wizard's face flushed red with the effort. He slammed his hands down on his desk and the bell dinged angrily.
"What's the Grimmerie?" asked the ungrateful wench.
"It's a book," described the Wizard more calmly. "A very special, strange, enchanted book. It's a book of spells. I want you to bring it for me. That would be enough proof."
"Reading is my favourite pastime," replied Dorothy, "but I don't want to kill anyone."
"Well, in this world, we get what we pay for," said the Wizard matter-of-factly. "And you will pay for your lovely little trip home by killing the Witch for me."
Suddenly, the mahogany door swung open and in stepped the Maid. She was smoothing out the wrinkles in her uniform with fluttering hands and then brushing back stray hairs that had fallen from her modest cap.
"You rang the bell, sir," the Maid explained hastily.
"Yes. Yes, I did," agreed the Wizard, blushing slightly at his previous hysterics. Dorothy waited patiently, although she was upset- he could see that.
"Take the child back to her rooms at the Cloister of St. Aelphaba and let her wash up- she enjoys bathing, you know! What a peculiar child- and tomorrow, you will find a coach to take her to the unruly mountains of Kiamo Ko. Be sure to find a nice, private one- I wouldn't want some bandit snapping up our little house-wrecker! Although I'm sure there are some who would be glad to see harm fall upon our little Dorothy Gale," he said dryly.
The Maid nodded.
"She has a job to do," the Wizard continued. "She knows what it is. Dorothy, when you have done what you are supposed to do, you must send a letter to the Palace alerting them as to the fact that it is time for them to send for a coach to take you back the Emerald City. And then I will send you home," he promised.
Dorothy glowed at the mention of going home. She would get the job done, thought the Wizard. The girl was too young and foolish not to. And then…and then all of the West would be his to rule over. The Vinkus, with all of its strange mountains and deserts and the tribes that ruled over them. Ugabu and Ev and Fliaan and all the odd countries beyond. There were limitless opportunities for the growth of Gillikinese rule. As long as the Munchkins didn't act up again- but at least Dorothy had taken care of matters there, what with her randomly destructive exploits. If only a monstrous storm could arise in the temperate sands of Kiamo Ko, all of western Oz would belong to the Wizard. But there was still that girl- his only hope. The Witch had been quite skilful at evading the Wizard's forceful troops as of yet.
The Maid ushered Dorothy out of the Wizard's office, wrapping a gentle arm around her silly checkered waist. They left down the hall. The Wizard rose with a groan from his leather armchair to shut the door behind them.
The inner mechanical workings of his bizarre clock shuffled, clicked and clacked with unmatched preciseness. The minute hand, which was oddly fashioned in the shape of a scaly iron tail, could not make up its mind as to whether it preferred the sanctuary of the theatrically italicized numbers three or four and so it rested between them in a sort of compromise. The hour hand was considerably shorter and had three ugly claws on the end of it. This hand pointed directly at the scalloped six adorning the bottom of the clock.
The clock's noise became noisier and noisier, until the clicking was so loud as to remind the Wizard of horses trotting down a cobblestoned street, their hooves tapping out the Morse code (a code which he had picked up in his lowly days as a switchboard operator for the Western Union. This was in Dorothy's world- a world in which he had achieved decidedly less success than here in Oz.)
The Wizard has resided in Oz long enough to understand that almost nothing is as it seems. Certainly the clock had no arbitrary mechanical problem which caused it to increase the volume of its incessant ticking. No- it had to mean something more important. Something sinister…times were changing, literally and figuratively. There was no better judge of the times than a time dragon clock.