The Beginning and the End
"If we can't comprehend the plan at hand, how can a higher plan make any more sense?
But were I to believe in martyrdom, I suppose I'd say you can only be a martyr
if you know what you are dying for, and choose it."
Wicked, p. 254
Twenty Years Later…
"Well, Miss Dorothy, what do you think?"
"Oh!" said Dorothy with profound exhilaration. "I think it's simply wonderful!"
It was indeed a magnificent prospect from her vantage point at the window. Rolling hills of purple heather washed across the sunlit valley of beautiful Old Pastoria. The Munchkin River streamed through the grasslands with crystal-clear grandeur, and the distant horizon was richly dotted with dozens of quaint blue houses. She pressed her face against the glass and gazed out over the fields, watching the farmhands lead their cattle through wide seasoned pastures. "Look!" she said, pointing with her finger. "I think that scarecrow just moved!"
"It appears Miss Dorothy has quite the imagination," said the Prime Minister dryly.
"That would certainly explain how she managed to land her house on top of a church," said Her Eminence. "And would you please kindly gather your animal before he chews my ankle to bits?"
"Oh, don't mind Toto; he's just excited. We've never been on a train before! Not that I can remember, at least, though I suppose it's entirely possible. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em got me when I was just a baby, but I've never left Kansas in my whole entire life—till the twister came, of course. I wonder if trains in Oz are different from the trains we have back home? We don't have talking animals in Kansas, which is really quite a shame. Toto would say such clever things if he were able to talk. He'd probably ask what we were having for dinner, or tell me about Bonnie's cat. Oh! Bonnie's a pretty young girl that lives up the road near our farm. She's very nice, but she hates it when Toto tries to chase her cat. What funny little homes these are! Munchkins are pretty small, aren't they? People say that I'm big for my age, but—"
"Miss Dorothy—" said Her Eminence sharply, "we appreciate your enthusiasm, but we still have a ways to go before we arrive at the Pine Barrens Station. You should try to sit back and relax a little before your wear yourself out. Don't they teach little girls in Kansas the intrinsic value of silence?"
"Well, Aunt Em says I could talk the leg off of Mr. Simmonson's horse. But that doesn't make much sense to me. How do you talk a leg off a horse?"
"Well, if anyone could do such a thing, Miss Dorothy, I dare say it would be you. And as for your inquiries regarding trains in Oz, I can't imagine they'd be very different."
Dorothy turned to look out the window and nibbled her biscuit thoughtfully. She fed the rest of it to Toto, who continued to squirm in her arms. "Why do we have to stop at Pine Barrens? Wouldn't it be easier to ride the train all the way into the city?"
"What a clever idea," the Prime Minister teased, "but you can't build railroads overnight, Miss Dorothy. It's taken us years to construct this railway across our state of Munchkinland. Someday the tracks to the city will be finished, but for now, we travel by carriage."
"I guess I don't mind," said Dorothy, sighing. "It's better than having to walk, I suppose."
There was a quiet knock on the cabin door and a gentle call for tea. The Prime Minister politely bid them to enter and the door clicked open immediately. An aging Sloth stood next to a tea cart, wearing a small pink apron. She adjusted her glasses and grabbed the tea pot steaming on the lower shelf.
"What will you have, my noble guests?" she said in a courteous voice.
"Spiced red tea with a slice of lemon. Thank you, Ms. Dibbley," said Her Eminence.
"None for me; thank you, Ms. Dibbley," the Prime Minister smiled. "It upsets my stomach rather horribly every time I travel."
"Very good, your grace. And what about you, dearie? Can I get you something to drink?"
Dorothy primly shook her head. "No thanks. I don't like tea."
"Very well, very well," the Sloth hummed cheerfully, pouring the tea for Her Eminence. They thanked her again which she acknowledged with a bow before she left their cabin.
A welcome silence fell on their party for a brief period of time. Dorothy, for her part, was still trying to get over the curious situation she'd gotten herself into. To have been carried off in a tornado was one thing (and certainly very astonishing), but to land in a place so strange and beautiful was too much for her imagination to take in. The Land of Oz was unlike anything that Dorothy had ever known. The places looked incredible. The food was unbelievable. And the people?
The people were fascinating.
"Why are you green?" she suddenly asked, entirely without guile or meanness.
The Eminent Thropp looked down at the girl with a vague and methodical expression. "I ate all my vegetables and refused to have sweets. This is what it did to me."
"Oh, stop it," huffed the Prime Minister smartly. "You're not being funny, your Eminence. She already has her head full of whirlwinds and armless Munchkin ambassadors. Why not just tell her you're a witch while you're at it and see how she takes to the news?"
"A witch?" said Dorothy, her eyes growing wide.
"Well, more of a sorceress, actually," said Her Eminence.
"But witches are wicked back where I'm from! They're old and mean and ugly!"
"A flattering appraisal, if not entirely warranted, and who's to say I'm not wicked?" She glared at Dorothy with a sinister stare that was far more playful than menacing. But Dorothy looked incredibly unnerved and shifted a bit on the seat.
"Just ignore her, Miss Dorothy," the Prime Minster sighed. "My sister enjoys persuading others that she is the Devil incarnate. The truth is much more pitiable and boring regardless of what she tells you. Our Eminent Sorceress is no more harmful than an ill-tempered cat; grown too lazy to chase the sparrows or remove herself from the carpet."
"If I were cat, I'd be eating your ferns and shredding the curtains in the parlor."
"And if you shredded my curtains, dear sister, Bronson would be serving you in a very watery soup."
The two smirked at each other teasingly as if sharing some inside joke. Dorothy looked from one to the other, a little confused and disturbed. She chose to spend the remainder of the trip quietly staring out of the window, watching the trees and meadows pass by in a bright and colorful blur. She didn't know what to make of Oz or what was left in store for her. But of one thing Dorothy knew for certain: she wasn't in Kansas anymore.
The Emerald City was gracious enough to appear quite splendid when they arrived. Though the abhorrent palace was as ever an eyesore, Elphaba was charmed nonetheless. Families were walking along the central boulevard where a Bear was playing a jaunty tune on a five-stringed violin. Children clapped their hands with glee and couples danced to the music. An Emerald City officer was idly standing out near the curb, trying to woo a passing beauty who blushed behind her fan. It was late afternoon; the perfect time to go strolling around the city.
"Is that the palace?" Dorothy exclaimed, gazing out of the window. "Oh my! It's very grand, isn't it?"
"It serves its purpose," Elphaba smirked, staring at the building derisively.
"Does a king live there?" Dorothy asked. "Will we get to meet him?"
"No kings, Miss Dorothy; only diplomats. Oz is run by elected officials under the Emerald City Council. My sister, for example, is the appointed emissary of the State of Munchkinland. She represents me and the Munchkin people during regular council negotiations. They meet every quarter or so right here at the Emerald Palace. We've no more need for monarchies."
"Or dictatorships, for that matter," said Nessarose.
"Or theocracies," Elphaba smirked.
The carriage clattered along the streets up to the palace gates. A uniform line of imperial guards stood at the front in formation. The coachman handed their papers to the guard, who checked them very thoroughly. "Make way for the Civil Servants of Munchkinland!" he called to the towers on the wall. Soon, the gates were slowly rolled back, revealing the yellow-brick lane to the courtyard. The coachman pulled the reigns on the horses and the carriage took off for the palace.
"Looks like we're going to be treated to the usual obsequious civilities," mumbled Tora. He was the personal escort to the Civil Prime Minister, and just so happened to be a Silverback Gorilla.
"Manners, Master Tora," Nessarose grinned. "He is a friend, after all."
"Who?" said Dorothy, looking out of the window.
"The great big Lion you see near the steps wearing the royal colors," she replied.
Surely enough as their carriage pulled up right next to the palace curb, they beheld a tall and elegant Lion standing at the foot of the staircase. He was dressed from head to toe in the robes of the Emerald City magistrates. The colors were meant to look regal and splendid, but Elphaba thought they looked ridiculous.
The footman opened the door to the carriage, and the ladies were escorted out.
"Your Eminence," said the Lion very graciously as he bowed low before them. "And Madame Prime Minister, we are honored by your presence. Have you traveled well?"
"The grace of the Unnamed God gives us strength as ever. It's a pleasure to see you again, Sir Brrr; however unfortunate the circumstances. Please allow me to introduce you to our friend, Miss Dorothy Gale. She's the charming young girl who arrived in Munchkinland by way of our recent storm. Miss Dorothy? This is our friend, Sir Brrr: a valiant Lion and comrade. He's a palace representative, and he's going to be your escort for the next couple of days."
Dorothy and the Lion locked eyes on each other. She managed a bashful curtsey.
"Miss Dorothy," he said with a formal bow that was every bit as courteous. "Welcome to the Emerald City. I'm told we've been given the singular task of trying to get you home again."
"I believe that's the general idea," said Elphaba, "though I imagine the council wishes to question the girl on the particulars of her arrival."
"Indeed," said the Lion with a twitch of his whiskers. "Council business as usual. Would any of you ladies care for some refreshment after your lengthy trip?"
"I'm sure Miss Dorothy is excessively famished and would greatly appreciate it," said Nessarose. "Unfortunately I have an appointment with several of the Quadling council members. Can I trust you to see Miss Dorothy situated in a comfortable room, Sir Brrr?"
"Madame," he nodded with noble grace. "I'll send for the porters immediately." He turned to one of the palace courtiers and gave them the instruction.
"Am I staying here?" said Dorothy nervously, looking between Elphaba and Nessarose. "Will either of you be coming with me?"
Nessa attempted to console her. "You'll see me tomorrow at the council assembly when we meet with the senate. We've yet to decide how to get you home, which you know is very important. Don't worry, dear girl; the Emerald attendants will take good care of you. And if you're lucky, maybe Sir Brrr will be kind enough to give you a tour."
But Dorothy remained unsettled at the thought and hugged her dog more tightly. Toto continued to twist in her arms in an effort to be free of her.
"Here, Miss Dorothy," said Tora kindly while taking the young girl's hand. "Why don't we go and look at the fountains along the inner promenade?"
Dorothy sighed and allowed him to lead her over to the magnificent displays. The two sisters watched them with amused expressions, then Nessarose turned to Elphaba. "Will Her Eminence be joining me and the Quadling contingent for a round of tedious dialogues?" she asked.
"Tempting," Elphaba lightly responded. "But I'm afraid I'll have to decline. It wouldn't do to subvert the authority of our very capable Prime Minister."
"I hate you, you know," Nessarose scowled.
"Undoubtedly, my dear. But I fully intend to make it up to you by treating you to dinner at Hastings."
"I'd love to, Elphie, but I promised Shell that I'd accompany him to the Margreave's this evening. Both he and Avaric extended the invitation when they learned of our plans to visit. Don't look at me like that, Elphaba… I never said you had to come. My guess is that Shell is desperate for money and hopes to charm a coffer out of us."
"Don't give him a cent," Elphaba spat. "He's on tenterhooks with me as it is."
"Yes…which is why I suspect the invitation was addressed to me instead. More's the pity, as they say. Perhaps if the meeting runs long enough I won't have to keep the appointment." Nessa started chucking quietly. "Who would have thought that political negotiations would be the lesser of the two evils?"
Elphaba shrugged and tapped her chin in an affected, histrionic manner. "You could forgo all civic formalities and spend your evening with Dorothy."
Nessa let out an audible sigh and looked over at Dorothy's figure. "She's a lovely young girl… really Elphaba, but I think she might be the death of me."
"Funny you should say that," Elphaba cackled, "I've thought much the same thing myself." They watched as Tora lifted her in his arms and Dorothy gleefully yelped. When Elphaba looked over at Nessa again, she noticed her expression was somber. "Nessie?" she said. "Are you feeling alright?"
"Of course," said Nessa, not unpersuasively. "This week's just been a little stressful, is all. The past few days have been very taxing, and I have a lot on my mind. The thought of more meetings has managed to unsettle me and I feel ill-prepared for tomorrow. There's no delicate way to detail the deaths of several hundred Munchkins. No doubt the council will be far more concerned with all of the topsoil the storm obliterated."
"I must be rubbing off on you, dearest. You're starting to sound just like me."
"Were I being cynical, I'd probably agree with you, but in this case I'm just being realistic. The older I get, the more convinced I am that corruption can never be wholly eradicated from any form of government. It makes me wish I was back in the Corn Basket, playing with the children in the fields. Do you know there's a group of students there that have perfect attendance at seminary meetings? They used to gather at the church near the mill; the one that was crushed by the house. It was a beautiful building, you would have loved it; a relic from the thirteenth century. It wasn't sturdy, and it was also a bit drafty, but still— it was a special place. Oh heavens, just listen to me… such a sentimental fool. You must be terribly appalled."
Elphaba wrapped her sister in a hug that was sweet and lovingly fierce. "We'll build a new chapel; one that's less drafty and a little bit sturdier than before. Would that make you happy, my dearest Nessie?"
Nessarose smiled warmly. "It just might Elphie, though I'd prefer a hot bath and a tall glass of brandy."
The two sisters laughed as Tora returned with a much more placated Dorothy. Nessa leaned over to kiss Elphaba's cheek, disregarding her normal austerity. "I'll see you back at the townhouse tonight… if you're still awake when I get there."
"Don't count on it," said Elphaba with a wink as she let go of her sister.
Tora stepped over to Nessa's side and prepared to escort her up the staircase. "Till tomorrow, Miss Dorothy," said Nessa graciously with a slight nod of her head. Dorothy bid them a breathless goodbye as she watched them disappear through the entrance.
A porter happened to be standing nearby, trying to make himself useful. Elphaba walked over and tapped him on the shoulder. "Pardon me, lad, but could I trouble you for a favor?"
"Your Eminence," he said with a hasty bow, clearly eager to please.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a pencil and a small pad of paper. She scribbled a hasty note on a sheet and folded it quickly in half. "Would you please send this note to Senator Brickbard and tell him 'The Witch' is here?"
He blushed as he took the note out of her hand. "Of course, your Eminence," he replied. She watched as he scampered quickly into the building. Lurline, but she loved to embarrass them.
"I think that does it," came the voice of Sir Brrr, now standing next to Elphaba. "The girl's effects will be taken up to one of the palace's guest suites. Is there anything else you'd like me to attend to?"
"Not that I can think of," she replied. "Just be sure to take care of Miss Dorothy, and try not to eat her if possible."
"Your Eminence," he said with a cunning smile, slightly baring his teeth. "Alright Miss Dorothy: the palace awaits. Are we ready to be off?"
Dorothy nodded and looked up at Elphaba with Toto still in her arms. They stared at each other for a long, quiet moment as if both hadn't made up their minds about the other.
"I guess this is goodbye," said Dorothy.
"I guess it is," replied Elphaba. What a curious feeling to be having all of the sudden. There was actually sadness in her voice.
Dorothy looked equally unsure how to feel, considering all that had happened. "No one will ever believe me when I tell them about this place," she said. "Miniature Munchkins... talking lions… a lady who has no arms. But you might be the strangest person ever. A witch with green skin, that is."
"And?" said Elphaba with an arched eyebrow. "What is your conclusion?"
Dorothy bit her bottom lip as if seriously contemplating the question. "You can be a little scary sometimes, but you're also kind of funny. Toto doesn't bark at you, and he likes to bark at everybody. Your children seem to be very happy, so you must be a really good mommy. I never had a sister myself, but I think your sister likes you. And Munchkinland is a beautiful place, so the people there should love you."
"Hardly," said Elphaba, smirking slightly. "That's a very broad assessment."
"Well," said Dorothy a little more shyly, "I think your skin is pretty."
Elphaba laughed with spirited humor and kindly knelt down beside her. "And you, Miss Dorothy, are one of the strangest little girls I've ever personally encountered."
"Is that bad?" asked Dorothy timidly.
"No, my dear. Not at all. I consider myself most fortunate to have met you. Oz will never be the same."
"It's a lovely place… Oz, I mean. But it's not Kansas, is it?"
"No indeed," Elphaba replied. "I imagine it's nothing like it."
Dorothy looked up at Brrr the Lion, who stood waiting a few feet away. She turned back to Elphaba and plucked up the courage to quickly kiss her cheek.
"Thank you," she whispered to a startled Elphaba. "Thank you for being so kind. Will I ever see you again, do you think?"
"Stranger things have happened, Miss Dorothy. Stranger things have happened."
Dorothy nodded and ran over to the Lion, eagerly taking his paw. Elphaba watched as they walked up the steps before disappearing into the palace.
Stranger things… she said to herself. And only in the Land of Oz…
It was rounding close to a quarter to three on Emerald City time. The customary tide of palace personnel still flooded in and out of the building.
Elphaba was wandering through the botanical gardens on the second story tier. It was a glass-encased shrine to the loveliest horticulture that all of Oz could offer. The spindly blue mink was already in bloom, as was the feather celosia. She admired each stalk and hanging tendril with casual though apathetic interest. It had been quite a while since she'd visited the city, though communications with the palace were a weekly affair. Commerce and other legislative matters extended well beyond the boundaries of Munchkinland. And while Nessarose had readily assured her that she would report to the council herself, Elphaba decided to join her on a whim in taking Dorothy to the palace.
Perhaps it was a hasty desire to distance herself from the carnage. Then again, it could have been nothing more remarkable than curiosity. It wasn't exactly in Elphaba's interest to accompany them both to the palace, yet off she went on a casual jaunt as if it was perfectly natural. Travel was expected of the Eminence as well as her appointed council, but contrary to popular opinion, Elphaba preferred to stay at home. The nomadic life of her early childhood had been replaced with a matured and complacent desire to remain at Colwen Grounds. As changed and remarkable as the Emerald City was, it was still a giant of opulence and pretention that could never completely be liberated. She liked to imagine that this was a parting gift from their shamed and conquered Wizard. Whatever the case, she could never get used to the austerity of this cursed city.
Elphaba continued her walk through the gardens, studying the shoots of pearl millet in contrast with her skin. She had avoided the senators remarkably well…
…with one notable exception.
"And here she is," said a voice from behind, bright and richly familiar. "The Civil Eminence of Munchkinland has consented to grace us with her presence."
She turned around and saw him approaching under a canopy of lace-leaf maples. His hands were clasped behind his back; his shoulders were firm and broad. The portliness of his undersized person lent him a distinguished grace. He walked with a slight limp to his gait from an old wound on his leg. The scar that traced from his brow to his cheek was much more visibly apparent. His hair was stylishly spiky and grey, complementing the maturity of his countenance. He wore the ruffles of an Emerald City Dignitary, and they looked (as always) ridiculous.
"You're looking shorter," she flatly stated.
"You're looking greener," he replied.
They both laughed and embraced each other, completely abandoning formalities. "It's good to see you, Boq," she said. "You're always worth the journey."
"And you, Miss Elphie, are as radiant as ever— spoken without a clever wink or any cheeky impertinence." His smile was equally as sincere as his words, no matter his craft as a politician. "Come… let's take a walk near the balcony. I'm allergic to these almond blossoms, and you don't need a sneezing mess." They walked out of the gardens side-by-side, creating a rather interesting pair for the palace attendants to gawk at.
Elphaba immediately inquired after his health as well as that of his family. Boq filled her in on every detail with his usual, good-natured enthusiasm. He, in turn, was eager to hear all of the particulars surrounding Dorothy. News had been varied and often contradictive since they'd learned of the storm several days ago.
"Does the council suspect Quoxian insurgents of terrorizing Munchkinland with windstorms and little girls?" she mused.
Boq chuckled lightly at the thought. "We're not that gullible, Elphaba. Although to be honest, I think the council might have welcomed the idea. I'm sure you've heard that General Farrar has been making some noise about expansion. 'The troops are getting restless,' he says. 'We need to extend our borders.' It's becoming quite the hot-button issue with everyone on the council."
"Expansion," said Elphaba with a hint of disapproval. "Just another word for gluttony. Are they really so keen for recreation and bloodshed that they'd cross the deadly sands to find it?"
"It might be worth it, all things considered, provided we're not invading friendly territories. The arrival of the girl from an unknown country is likely to strengthen these arguments. For all my reservations, I have to admit that the idea sounds intriguing. Just think of it, Elphie; we could actually discover an ocean— just like in the stories."
"A body of saltwater capable of scalding me in an awful, painful instant? Goodness, Boq; what was I thinking? I'll ready the troops myself."
They shook their heads with quiet laughter as they stepped out onto the terrace. It commanded a very spectacular view of the Emerald City streets. The sun was shining brightly overhead, glinting off of the polished surface of the palace gates below. They rested their arms on the balcony's ledge and breathed in the air of the afternoon.
"They said the windstorm was ghastly," said Boq. "How many people were harmed?"
"Too many to count," Elphaba replied. "We lost several villages along the Eastern border. Thankfully the house only flattened a church and didn't take any Munchkins with it. I told Nessarose that if she was just a little more pious, she'd be a Civil Pancake."
"That's quite a disturbing thought," he said. "Thank goodness you're both alright. Milla and I could scarcely believe it when we heard the news five days ago. We were actually supposed to be visiting friends in Far Applerue this week. She's been nagging me for months on end to take our family to the country. But business put a delay on our plans, and this will only delay them further."
Elphaba shifted on the balcony ledge and planted her palms on top of it. "Are you worried about houses falling on top of you or the just the storms that carry them?"
"Neither," he said with a subtle grin. "Though I'd prefer to avoid both where I can. Right now I'm trapped between border disputes with tribes in the Lesser Kells." He ran a hand wearily over his forehead and slid it back through his hair. "I tell you, Elphaba, these are the days when I'd rather be holding a saber instead of a pen."
"Careful" said Elphaba, smiling wryly. "You're beginning to sound like you're bored."
"I'd crave a little boredom if it meant I was spared from the constant headache of politics. Honestly Elphie- there are days when I wish I'd been cut for a nobler purpose."
"You are noble," said Elphaba, turning serious. "These bastards are lucky to have you. Hasn't Oz been made all the greater with an honest man representing us? Our famed hero of the People's Revolution is now fighting our battles in office."
"I don't feel like a hero," he said a bit distantly. "I still feel like I'm in over my head. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I'd gone into farming as I'd originally planned."
"You were too good, Boq. You had more to offer than a harvest of strangled beets. We don't get heroes very often in Oz, so you shouldn't object to the designation."
"You're one to talk," he said with a grin. "I've never seen anyone more disenchanted with fame than the Civil Eminence herself. The people still talk of your deeds to this day, even if you refuse to listen. Miss Elphaba the Great: our mighty sorceress who drove out the Wizard himself! You're totally ignorant of their love for you, Elphie; Oz would follow you into the depths of hell if you believed it a wise decision. And yet you're content to remain in Munchkinland, parading around with a meaningless title while nursing your ailing father."
"The years have been kind to my father and me," she said with a faraway look. "We've actually learned how to forgive each other, if forgiveness was ever needed. Having his love without any of his shame is worth more than Oz's opinion of me, however grand and ridiculous it is. Fame is all well and good, Master Boq, but it means little to me without family."
"A noble sentiment," he said, leaning back. "And how are the kids these days?"
"Ravenous little devils, the lot of them," she said with a twinkle in her eye. "The only thing I'm less fit for than politics is mothering unruly children."
"Oh stop it," he said. "You're not fooling anyone. Being a mother suits you. Why look—there's a smile playing on your lips that has nothing to do with my outfit. Face it, Elphaba, you adore motherhood for all of its trials and challenges."
"Don't act so superior," she huffed. "I never said that I didn't love it. Those little terrors have kept Nanny young and Nessarose continually on edge. I'd like to think that that comes from my side, but I suspect they've learned it from their father."
"And how is he?" said Boq, eyebrow raised.
Elphaba gestured helplessly with her hand. "Touring the country… having affairs… whatever men do on business. He'll return next week, and the children are as anxious to have him home as I am."
"I'm surprised you didn't go with him," said Boq. "Take some time away for yourselves."
"As tempting as the diversion may be, there's too much to be done at home. The havoc created by the ungodly weather will set Munchkinland back for months. We have talked about taking a trip down to Rush Margins in the fall. I'd like to visit Illswater again, and he'd like to spend a week or so enjoying the hotel bedrooms."
"Sounds like a conflict of interests," he smirked.
"It's more like a conflict of time."
Boq sighed and folded his arms over the ledge again. "A trip to Illswater sounds pretty nice, though I'd have a devil of a time convincing Milla to go there. It's hardly Mossmere or scenic Lake Chorge, but it is an important part of my childhood. Don't you find it rather astounding to consider where life has taken us? Seems like only yesterday we were kids, chasing each other in the mud."
"We're still in the mud," said Elphaba jokingly. "We're just too old to care."
Boq snorted and nodded his head in obvious, silent agreement.
They turned and looked out over the balcony to the bustling streets below. A brougham turned up the nearest corner and stopped at the gates of the palace. The driver called out to the passengers within, who quickly stepped out of the compartment. It was a group of students from Shiz University, probably on some field trip or other. They were easy to spot in their forest green sashes and mischievous, eager expressions.
"Now there, Miss Elphie, is a real piece of history," said Boq, straightening up. "A band of students from Shiz University, filled with life and expectations. It does my heart good to see them looking so thrilled and terrified. A part of me even envies them, actually. When was the last time you went back?"
"I can't remember," she said off-handedly. "Those years are all a blur."
"No time for nostalgia or rose-colored memories of our nights in those back-alley bars?"
"Shiz was just a means to an end, Boq. Nothing more or less."
"Oh, come off it, Elphie; it was the beginning of the uprising— the birth of the revolution! Even you can't deny that those streets and buildings should be considered sacred ground. Remember the rally in the spring of thirty-nine when we stormed the gates of parliament? It was a crowd of thousands…hundreds of thousands. I'd never seen anything like it." He looked out over the balcony as if he were painting the details in his mind. "And you were there, standing at the forefront, beautiful and terrible to behold."
"Oh merciful hell, you still think you're a poet. What romantic nonsense! If this is the talk that gets Milla all hot, I'd be better off buying the novel."
"Shove it, Elphaba. You were never any good at hiding your romantic sentimentalities. If you're going to be in town all weekend, we should take a trip up for the day. There's an express train that leaves for Shiz around eight o' clock in the morning. We could be there and back within a day or two… just enough time for a drink at the Peach and Kidneys."
"That sounds lovely," she said despondently, "but I don't think that I'm up for it."
"I took Milla there for Lurlinemas this year to spend some time with Yellowgage," he continued. "Do you know they've erected a statue of Dr. Dillamond near the old science building? It's a pretty swell memorial, actually; they did the old Goat proud."
"Sounds like something Tibbett cooked up with the members of the board." But she had to admit that her heart leapt a little to think of her mentor being honored. "So Yellowgage is attending Shiz? I didn't think you planned on forcing any of your children to attend."
"It was his idea, if you can believe it. I never mentioned it once. But he said he wanted to be like his dad—whatever the hell that means."
"Your children adore you," she said in earnest, "and your history is worth continuing."
"Well, what about yours?" he asked sincerely. "Have any of the kids expressed an interest?"
Elphaba stared at the ledge for a moment, becoming introspective. "The thing about histories is that they are kindest to some when they remain in the past. Shiz is a history that is long best forgotten. I'd prefer that my children made new ones."
"But Shiz is where it started, Elphie."
"It's also where it ended."
Boq gave her a questioning look that was far more personal than she liked. He opened his mouth to say something to her, then obviously decided against it. They both looked down at the handful of students still wandering outside the gate. Elphaba studied each of the girls with a passing, varied interest. She'd actually been one of them, once upon a time; or nearly two decades ago. They were days that might have belonged to another in a different place and life.
"It's been eighteen years," she flatly stated, hardly above a whisper.
"Eighteen what?" he quietly asked.
"Eighteen years since I've been there."
Boq nodded with a sober expression, arms still folded on the railing. "That's quite a long time. You might be surprised just how much you've missed it."
She didn't say anything, preferring to let the silence do all of the talking for her. The minutes stretched out uncomfortably between them, which saddened Elphaba a little. She didn't want it to be like this with Boq; she was far too happy to see him. But even the past had a way of haunting all that remained between them.
"Listen," he said, "why don't you join us for dinner? Milla would absolutely love to see you and so would all of the children. I don't know if Nessa is working late, but the invitation extends to her as well."
"I'm sure she'd be delighted," said Elphaba with a sigh, "but we'll have to take a rain-check. Shell's made arrangements for us to join him for dinner at Avaric's estate. Don't start with me, Boq," she said off his look, "it wasn't my idea. I've never been fond of the Margreave's whiskey or my brother's squandering habits. Besides, Milla would never forgive you for inviting us over on short notice. Why don't we plan for something on Sunday or perhaps the day before?"
"I think that will suit us just fine," he grinned. "An evening with the Thropps—sans Shell."
They remained on the balcony for another half hour, soaking up the rays of the sun as well as each other's company. They were two old friends, standing in a city whose beauty was finer than emeralds. Those who passed them by might have wondered what intimacies they shared, never comprehending the lasting affection that had always bound them together.
Elphaba didn't fully understand why she purchased the train ticket to Shiz. It seemed every bit as spontaneous and questionable as her visit to the Emerald City. Obviously she'd let Boq persuade her against her better judgment. But there she was— seated at the front of the 8:30 Emerald Express.
The station master had provided her with a cabin reserved for palace dignitaries, and though she'd never grown accustomed to such gratuitous attentions, she was grateful for the privacy it offered. This was a very personal trip; one that would be better spent alone. Not for romantic or wistful reasons, but more for the sake of solace.
Nessarose didn't say anything that morning when Elphaba spoke of her intentions. She might have thought that Elphaba was a fool, or maybe she was actually proud of her. There were things as sisters they never discussed out of mutual respect for each other, and Shiz was one of those precarious subjects that was best left untouched between them. She must have felt something; she had to have wondered what inspired Elphaba's decision. But Nessa chose to keep her own council and simply bid her safe journey. Elphaba wasn't sure if she felt more relieved or insulted by her silence. Some days Elphaba actually missed her sister's hypercritical opinions.
The train sped past the Emerald border and out into the open country. The fields and forests of southern Gillikin rolled by in a haze of green. The sun peeked out through a patch of clouds, shimmering faintly on her window. Elphaba leaned back on the cushions of her seat and drank in the silver morning.
The trip between Shiz and the Emerald City wasn't always so swift and pleasant. She vaguely remembered cramped carriage rides that took days to manage between them. The luxury of a railway was quite a blessing, though it felt a little peculiar. This wasn't the road to Shiz she remembered. Too many things were different.
Elphaba took a tired breath and slowly closed her eyes. She was going back, and she didn't know why she had put it off for so long. No, she thought. That wasn't true. She knew full well what had kept her away. And no matter the distance she'd placed between them, Shiz could still haunt her dreams. But now was the time to confront those demons and hopefully, finally be rid of them. Boq had managed to touch on something when he spoke of their time there together. The place held more than rose-colored memories of summer days from her youth; it was the birth of insurrection in Oz—the beginning of the People's Revolution.
But not all scars carried valiant memories of hard won battles for Oz. Some were deeper… coarser… less visible, and they all bore the name of Glinda.
Elphaba looked down at both of her hands, now free from their gloves. At a certain angle in the light of the sun, she could still see the scars on her palms. Her daughter once asked her about them before when they were working together in the garden. Elphaba told her she had gotten them wet, and the matter was swiftly concluded.
What else was there to say, really? She could scarcely remember the incident herself. Life had a way of effectively diluting the trivial details of her past. But even campaigns and social upheavals weren't enough to remove them completely. Sometimes that required her heart to divorce itself from those memories.
For when she remembered her youth at all, and specifically her time with Glinda, it was passing shades of harsh recollections from an emotionally detached viewpoint. She saw Miss Galinda Arduenna of the Uplands: a striking young girl that was vain and selfish to say nothing of perfectly arrogant. The girl she had met her first year at Shiz and had unintentionally been stuck with. She remembered her coldness, cruelties and scorn; it was the foremost image that came to mind. The haughty sneer… the mocking laughter… the derision in her eyes.
For Elphaba to remember the Glinda who had laughed with her and sought her during the night… the Glinda who leaned tenderly against her while they studied together by firelight… whose hands had touched her with so much reverence as well as frightening hunger…her lips tasting of warm summer days and cool autumns all at once… To remember that Glinda would have been impossible if not completely unbearable. If she could have burned those images from her mind, she would have done so years ago.
Of course, in the irony of life and love, memories of the shallow and self-centered girl were every bit as painful as the sweeter ones. So Elphaba never thought much of her at all, and preferred to forget her when she could.
It was remarkable, in a way, to see how indifferent she'd grown in her later years. There was a time when Glinda had nearly destroyed her with grief and unquenchable heartache. The fire that consumed Crage Hall that night could have easily consumed her as well. Physical death seemed much less daunting after the emotional death she had suffered.
But Elphaba had miraculously survived the ordeal by no fault of her own. The one thing that saved her and kept her going was the fact that she wasn't alone. Her friends had sustained, loved, and embraced her no matter her anger and reticence. Nessa was there to comfort and keep her when all Elphaba wanted was death. They were some of the darkest years in her life, yet they were also the most prolific. The pain she felt had fueled the fires of revolution throughout all of Shiz.
It exhausted Elphaba to recall those days spent in secret meetings all over town. She'd rarely slept. She drank excessively. Her words provoked hundreds of thousands. Dillamond's teachings became gospel to the masses of Animals and their supporters. The fires of injustice became a massive conflagration of foaming, searing anger.
They had stormed the gates of the parliament building. They'd spread their message throughout Oz. Elphaba was inspiring a nation to revolt with all that was left in her heart. Rage. Rebellion. Fury beyond comparison. The will to divide and conquer. By the time the Wizard knew what he was up against, it was already too late to turn the tide.
There had been bloodshed, of course. Many lives lost, both of strangers and friends. No one would forget the great Civil War that took place in the scorched Vinkus desert. The resistance fought fiercely from the grounds at Kiamo Ko where Elphaba and her friends had made quarter. The battles were long, the losses were great, and the Wizard continued his destruction.
Who would have guessed that a lost book of spells could have changed things so dramatically? When Elphaba chanced to discover it in Kiamo Ko, that was all that was needed to secure victory. Everything collapsed in an instant for the Wizard and his pitiful, failed regime. On one side stood his half-starved armies, and on the other stood the Witch. No man, woman, or beast could best her on the fields of battle. She fought them like the roaring thunder with powers incomprehensible.
But Elphaba was never completely whole, no matter all that she'd gained. Her friends may have rescued her from the hell of despair, but she'd lost all proper feeling. There wasn't much in her beyond her anger and the cause of the People's Resistance. A string of short and meaningless affairs had only made matters worse.
But the experience taught her an important lesson that had proved to be rather valuable. She learned that romance could be every bit as meaningless as a course in Miss Greyling's sorcery lectures. It was a bitter lesson to learn the way she did, but one that was necessary to move on. Sometimes it took hitting rock bottom before you learned to pull yourself up again.
Yet hope and the possibility of happiness were not as far off as she'd imagined. A little faith, as Nessa once said, was powerful enough to move mountains. The People's Resistance won the war in the great battle for Oz. The Wizard was dethroned and publicly exposed for the toothless imposter he was. From that moment on, everything held the promise of a brighter tomorrow. The people of Oz had been given something greater to hold as their standard.
As for Elphaba, the greatest change had come from within her heart. Time had proven to be the greatest balm that eased the pain of her guilt. She'd discovered love in an unexpected place, surprising even herself. A whole new life with exciting possibilities paved the way to a kinder future.
She opened her eyes and leisurely turned to look out the window again. Yes, she was happy, and it pleased her to remember that without regards to her past.
Some would say that there was more to life than what she'd allowed herself; she could have ruled in the Wizard's place and the people would gladly have followed her. But Elphaba was happy to keep a title that was almost entirely meaningless. She served her people without the cares and concerns of excessive political intrigues. Her sister sensibly ruled beside her, both as an advisor and friend. The two had grown as close as sisters could ever hope to become. And Elphaba loved her husband and children, so there had never been room for regret. This was happiness as best she understood it; a life where she was content.
But if she held some small regret since the night of the Crage Hall fire, she kept it buried deep inside her where her conscience could be free of it. There was more to a lifetime than a few winsome days spent in the agony of youth. So she carried on without turning back, regardless of the truth.
The train pulled into the University Station around six o' clock in the evening. Some maintenance work at Paxon's Crossing had delayed their arrival unexpectedly. Thankfully, Elphaba wasn't in a hurry and bore the delay rather well. There was plenty of time to wander the town and secure a room at an inn.
She followed the line of passengers out through the station's furthest exit. Few had recognized her in the crowd as she'd dressed inconspicuously for the occasion. They passed through a tunnel and out into the open via the underground stairway. When she stepped out onto the parkway street, the place was almost unrecognizable.
Elphaba stood gaping on the corner sidewalk, trying to gather her bearings. Shiz was as foreign as the day she'd arrived here twenty-two years ago. The entire university district was lined with brand new shops and businesses: Gillikin banks, Quadling breweries, and even a Quoxian restaurant. The city seemed to be coming alive upon the arrival of twilight. She walked a ways up parkway street, entirely overwhelmed by the changes.
But when she stepped back onto the campus grounds, it felt like she had stepped back in time. Shiz University, her alma mater, had hardly changed all. The wind still carried the perfume of pearlfruit, mingled with water from the canal. The lights in the buildings still flickered brightly through all of the narrow windows. Her heart swelled painfully with tender remembrance, but she pushed the feeling down. She didn't come here to give in to grief, nor drown herself in melancholy.
Truthfully, she felt a strange kind of thrill strolling the grounds once again. A handful of things had been added since her day; a few new gardens and buildings. The chattering students and groping couples were still much the same, however. She wandered south through the campus courtyard in a dazed kind of wonder.
Her footsteps carried her around the park and past the student library. There was the fountain— stopped and drained for the maintenance workers to clean. A chorus of crickets took up from the bushes, eager for the advent of night. She reached out and touched the bud of a primrose, stopping for an appreciative sniff.
Such a romantic, she heard Crope's voice somewhere at the back of her mind. She smiled softly and stepped back on the path, heading straight for the science building.
The memorial for Dillamond that Boq had mentioned was visible at a far distance off. The statue stood tall in the grassy courtyard, surrounded by a beautiful flower bed. Elphaba approached its circular base and glanced up at the granite spectacle. It was a terrible likeness of her mentor and friend. Dillamond would have approved.
Her lips quirked up into a wistful smile as she read the inscription at the base:
'Though flesh may divide one soul from another, the strength of the heart is the same. We are united beyond the stars and sinews our Maker has created us from.' -Dr. Thaddius Respin Dillamond, 1568 - 1637
Inspiring words that had united a country to stand for something greater. If only Dillamond could have lived long enough to witness the fruits of his legacy. Elphaba sighed as she glanced back up into the granite features of the Goat.
They may have taken your life, old friend, but your work will always live on.
She turned away and began to walk towards the last leg of her journey. She had purposefully saved this trek for the last as she knew it would be the most painful. A turn to the right of the garden area… a left just past the shed. Her steps had retraced this path before at least a hundred times.
Finally, the pavement came to an end in a dark and open doorway. She took a step back and glanced straight up at the new Crage Hall building.
It had taken them years to rebuild this place— long after Elphaba had gone. She stared impassively at the structure so different to the one she'd previously known. The pediments and arches looked distinctly more modern in comparison to the rest of the building. The roof was a contemporary nod to the crowning in the northern capital district. A group of girls came laughing through the doorway, clearly in the mood for mischief. Elphaba watched as they all passed by. Of her, they took no notice.
It was strange to think of herself in this place, sharing a room with Glinda. After the fire had destroyed Crage Hall, the students were moved into makeshift dormitories on the other side of town. It had been a horrendous experience for all, especially the privileged girls, but in the end it proved beneficial in forming the People's Resistance. Her friends had been able to gather more frequently at the bars and halls around town. With so many students and so few chaperones, it was ideal for planting the seeds of sedition. Those drafty dorms were much more vivid to Elphaba than her bed in room twenty-two. She guessed that meant that she'd been largely successful in suppressing most memories of Glinda.
Her gaze rose up to one of the towers high above the building. Something within her involuntarily shuddered just at the mere sight of it. After all, the last thing she remembered was watching it burn to the ground. Black nights of those scorching fires still haunted her every so often.
When she visited the remains of the tower after the fire, there was barely anything left. A few charred ashes, a roof razed to pieces, and a blackened stain on the floor. The police and fire officials concluded that a chemical fire had been started. There had been evidence of a shattered oil lamp as well as the remains of two bodies. The fire had ignited everything in the room and killed both of its occupants instantly. The circumstances were highly suspect, as was the nature of the chemicals. It was only later that the victims were identified as Glinda and Madame Morrible. The latter might have given her comfort if the former weren't so terrible.
To this day, students would still tell the story of the famous Mad Witch of the North: a girl who had burned down the Crage Hall building in an act of deranged insanity. The event managed to be the talk of Shiz for several years to come. What was hidden in the secret tower? Who really started the fire? Was the girl Glinda really a Witch, or was she really a monster? There were those who believed that her ghost still haunted the corridors of the Crage Hall building. It gave the girls something to squeal about as they chased each other through the hallways.
But Elphaba could never reconcile in her mind why her friend had done what she'd done. The reality of her death had stunned and defeated her from the moment that she'd first learned of it. Was the fire a penance to unanswered guilt from a childhood tragedy of her imagining? Was it a falsely prophetic act of taking upon the mantle of Kumbricia's Familiar? Or was it simply a murder committed in a room hidden within a tower; Glinda's last violent act to exact her revenge on Morrible? Elphaba might have been too convincing in her hatred and fears of the woman. Did Glinda believe that Elphaba would thank her for destroying them both with the building?
Whatever the case, Elphaba concluded that there was madness to the method. Maybe Glinda had been insane as others had often suggested.
She gazed back up at the silent building, now under a cloud of darkness. If souls exist, I hope, dear Glinda, that yours is finally at rest.
Elphaba sighed and wrapped her shawl more tightly around her figure. She suddenly felt cold for some strange reason, and not in the least bit comforted. Maybe it was a mistake to have come back to Shiz to dig up these memories again. She stepped on the path and moved down to the gate that exited onto the boulevard.
The backstreets were empty, which was slightly puzzling since the parkway thoroughfare was lively. Elphaba actually wished for some company to distract her from the chill of her thoughts. She was just about to cross the street, when suddenly, she stopped.
Just ahead of her, on the other side of the road, stood a crone with a cart full of trinkets.
The woman was a spindly and horrible creature, covered in tattered robes. She was humming a tune slightly-off key as she dangled a small marionette puppet on the gnarled fingers of her hand. When she looked up and saw Elphaba staring straight at her, she offered a toothless smile.
"Here for a trinket or a marvelous work?" the crone rattled in question.
"You…" said Elphaba in a solemn whisper. "I think I know you, woman."
"Do you indeed? Curious wonder. But yes… I suspect you do. We're old friends, aren't we Miss Elphaba? Saints and sinners you might say." She continued to swing the marionette puppet in a comical, careless manner. It was a blonde little thing in a pretty white dress, bouncing and tumbling on the strings.
Elphaba took a guarded step forward. "Yackle," she said unevenly.
"My oh my, such a clever witch; as sharp as a knife and twice as painful when slipped across the skin. And how is the Eminence of Munchkinland doing? You look as ripe as a peach." Her eyes rolled up and down Elphaba's figure, though the cataracts had spoiled them dreadfully. Elphaba felt the blood freeze in her veins just at the awful sight of it. She took a step back as if the beast could violate her with her gaze.
"You gave me a draft," Elphaba staggered, dragging the memory from her mind. "Something was wrong… I remember it vividly… it was supposed to cure the poisoning..." She moved closer to the crone's wooden cart, the hairs on her neck standing stiff.
Yackle craned her neck at an angle, watching her measured progress. "Speak the words trapped in time. Tell us truths remembered."
Elphaba's breath began to quicken. "What curse did you set upon us?"
Yackle shrieked with piercing laughter and wagged her horrible head. "A curse, she says! Oh, blessed Lurline…I declare I shall keel over dead! You made out fine, Miss Eminent thing; the least you could do is thank me. Now I'm not one for laurels and praises, but at least give me credit for trying!"
Elphaba's hands curled into her dress, bunching the material together. "Who are you?" she whispered into the wind.
Yackle gritted her teeth. "Why I'm your guardian angel, my darling; the saintly Saint of Elphaba. Others may call me what they will, but the name is nothing without purpose. I'm the mender of fates… your fairy godmother… whatever these fools believe in. I've watched over you since the day I heard of a tiny babe of green. Your life was the portent of change, dear Elphaba; it is written in the vein of prophecy. But the killing moon still waxes and wanes, demanding its bloody sacrifice. Praise it all, for yours has been spared in place of the flesh of another."
Elphaba slowly shook her head. "What have you done?" she whispered.
"Done, dear girl? I did very little. My role was purely motivation. I whispered, inspired, and planted the seeds, but you unleashed the dragon. Call it love, or call it murder; it's all the same in the end. The truth belongs to another heart that few can comprehend.
"I'm no witch or cunning sorceress with spells so fine and grand. The Mad Witch lent you a long life to live. I merely lent you a hand."
Yackle winked and placed her arm on top of the wooden cart. Elphaba looked down at the withered appendage and felt her insides constrict. Right as the spot where the arm connected with the woman's knobby wrist, an angry red stump was all that remained of an obviously severed left hand.
Elphaba stepped back with silent revulsion, her breath becoming still. Something within her retched at the sight, though she couldn't place her horror. Why should an amputation unsettle her? What couldn't Elphaba remember?
"What is this?" she darkly muttered, unable to suppress a shudder.
"This?" said Yackle, proud and boastful. "This is your happy ending! A perfect finale to this marvelous story set in the Land of Oz. Rather delightful and very endearing; aren't you thrilled to see it? You've changed the world and given them hope; you are Miss Elphie the Good. What's left to lament in this beautiful tale that we have woven so richly? The ghosts that linger in the stones of these buildings couldn't wish for anything greater. Every story is so much the same, but this one was going to be different. Fate demanded the blood of a Witch, so we made certain that yours would be spared of it."
Elphaba's legs were turning soft, her heart was beating faster. "Who is we?" she whispered breathlessly.
Yackle shook her head. "You never understood, did you my dear? You could never grasp the meaning. But perhaps you were never meant to, Miss Elphaba, which is truly your greatest tragedy. Weep not for the loss of beauty or love that has long since faded to dust. Weep for the heart that beats inside you and the ignorance that will keep it."
She clenched her hand into a bony fist before letting go of the strings. The puppet fell on top of the cart, splayed at various angles. Elphaba stood staring into its button-blue eyes before her gaze found Yackle's once again. They stood apart, separate but connected; bound in terrible providence.
"Shall I tell you a story?" said Yackle lightly. "I think you might like to hear it. It's one that's often been told before and will likely be told again. Some things may change with every telling, but others are set in stone. This story begins and ends much the same as it has in ages before. There's a city of Emeralds, a crafty old Wizard, and a Witch that dies in a tower. They call this tale the Wonders of Oz, or perhaps the Lives of the Wicked.
"But you missed the keenest part of all, hidden between its pages. It's also the story of two witches apart, united in sorrow and in love. One of them stands in borrow'd light and portrays the picture of goodness. The other stands as a wicked horror, reviled and cursed by her sins. They live in the shadows of each other's hearts, though both must surely learn, that only one is allowed to survive…but the other one?
"The other one burns."
Glinda placed the ghost of a kiss where her fingers had left. Her lips touched Elphaba's with the slightest pressure and warmly in their intent. It was only a moment, too delicate to be realized, but its intensity was enough to burn her. She was unprepared for the temperate contact, and it stole the breath right out of her.