The Hidden Man
Jellia strode back to the Wizard looking around the room "When was the last time you cleaned up around here?"
The Wizard looked somewhat ashamed. "Umm, I've been rather busy lately, I have some projects I've been working on."
Jellia rolled up an old copy of the Ozmapolitan. "This kitchen is filthy! It's infested with wogglebugs! She started swatting the kitchen counter.
"Uhh!" the Wogglebug became rather pale.
"Oh! I'm so sorry Professor!" Jellia's cheeks reddened with shame.
The Wogglebug swallowed. "No, it's quite alright. No one understands the occupational hazards of being a household pest better than I do. Please go on."
Jellia came up behind him and put her hand on his shoulder. "Clean people always feel better about themselves than dirty people. You've been alone for so long that you've probably forgotten that. I'm going to draw a bath for you. Now that you're going to have me around you're going to have to keep clean. You scrub up really good while I wash your clothes."
Jellia could hear the Wizard behind a screen splashing and scrubbing him self as she wrung out his shirt and hung it on the clothesline. "What were you doing when I came in? All that talk about pistons and such?"
"Oh, that, I'm planning on building a small steam engine."
"What's a steam engine?"
"It's a machine that harnesses the power of steam to do amazing things! I was planning to use it to lift some heavy objects around here!" The Wizard's voice had a tone of excitement.
Jellia chuckled, "Sorry to disappoint you but steam isn't very strong. All it can do is rattle the pot lid or make the tea kettle whistle."
Jellia heard the Wizard exit the tub of water. The towel hanging on the screen disappeared. "Your people have access to some pretty powerful magic but my people have created a magic of our own. One of the things we have learned to do is harness steam. By confining it at not letting it escape we use it to haul tons of cargo and people thousands of miles across the country. It can lift incredible loads or propel an iron ship a hundred feet long across the ocean." He came out from behind the screen buttoning a clean, if slightly damp, shirt.
"Sit down in that chair!" Jellia ordered. "You need a haircut!" She found the whole steam thing hard to believe. But she'll hold her tongue until the device was finished.
The Wizard ran his hand over his hair and beard, "And a shave too, I believe." He sat in the chair and Jellia threw a clean cloth over his shoulders and picked up some clippers.
A while later the Wizard looked at himself in the mirror. "You're right, I do feel much better. Jellia thought he looked like a quite handsome middle- aged man once he was properly dressed and groomed.
"I've better go now before Miss Broom finds me missing." She said. "But I'll come back tomorrow as soon as I get a chance."
The Wizard smiled at her. "I look forward to seeing you.
Over the next few days Jellia came back to the secret chambers quite a few times. The Wizard told her tales of his travels in America with the circus and some of his early adventures in Oz when he first arrived. She kept the place clean and even helped him with his steam engine after the parts started arriving.
One day she opened a cabinet and found, a dusty box made of black and white checkered wood, being somewhat curious she opened it. Inside were some small objects, some of which were carved to look like people. "What's this?" she asked.
"A chessboard," the Wizard answered. "I carved it myself a few years ago when I was bored. But I quickly discovered that playing by myself wasn't any fun so I put it away."
"Well, you're not by yourself anymore. Teach me how to play."
"Very well." The Wizard removed the pieces and opened the box so that the outside formed a checkerboard. He then set up the pieces. Jellia pulled up a chair and watched as he pointed to the largest of the white pieces. It was carved to look like a bearded man with a crown. "This is the king. He's the most powerful piece."
"What does he do?"
The Wizard smiled. "Mainly he spends his time running away and avoiding trouble. He can move one square in any direction."
Jellia picked up her king and shook her head. "He doesn't seem very powerful to me."
"He's the key to the whole game. If your king gets captured, you lose the game, capturing your opponent's king is how you win the game. It doesn't matter how many other pieces you have on the board. Once the king is lost, the game is lost." He then moved his hand over to the piece next to the king. It was carved to represent a crowned woman. "This is the queen, the power behind the throne. She can go in any direction as far as she wishes. She is actually the most powerful piece on the board but she is still ultimately expendable if necessary to protect the king.
Jellia held up her queen and inspected it closely. The Wizard was actually a pretty good woodcarver. The king and queen were flanked by two pieces that looked like men with tall pointy hats. She put the queen down and picked up one.
"Those are the bishops," The wizard explained. "High officers of the Church and protectors of the king. They are very rigid in their thinking. Each one thinks the color he is on the one true path. To stay on that color they only move diagonally and can go as far as they want.
The next pieces were carved to look like some fantastic animals. Jellia had never seen anything like them. The Wizard tapped one. "These are the knights, the carving is of a horse, I don't think there are any horses in Oz or at least I haven't heard of any. But I digress, knights are armored soldiers who ride horses. Horses can jump over other pieces. They can move straight one space and diagonally one space."
"I understand," Jellia picked up the corner piece, a castle tower. "And this one?"
"That is the castle or rook, they move in straight lines"
"For the purpose of the game they do. And all these little men in the front are the pawns. They represent the minor nobility. They hope to impress the king with their bravery, by crossing the entire board they can get a promotion. But what they don't understand is that the king secretly thinks very little of them. Most of them will end up being destroyed."
"That's horrible!" Jellia exclaimed.
"That's war, it's the very essence of cruelty." The Wizard replied. "Let us begin."
They played three quick games. The games were quick because Jellia was a terrible chess player. She quickly discovered that the Wizard was a very clever man and he wasn't going to let her win just to make her feel better. Any victories she was going to get out of this man would have to be earned. He had a lot of tricks and with each game she learned a few more.
"You really have to learn to sacrifice your pieces." The Wizard advised.
Jellia shook her head. "I can't, I feel so sorry for them, especially the pawns."
"You must learn, don't worry, they're just wood, you won't hurt their feelings." He carefully placed the pieces back into the box and handed it to her.
"Oh, I can't."
"I insist. they've been sitting alone in the dark for years, you brought them out. You deserve them more than I do." Jellia accepted the box, gave him a curtsey and quietly left the secret chambers.
The Wogglebug looked thoughtful. "Do you still play?"
Jellia smiled at him, "Yes, but not very often. There's not very many people around here who play."
"Well, you're looking at one. We should have a game sometime."
"Okay, but I'm warning you, I'm a little better than I was."
Over the next several days when she was alone in her small room, Jellia would take out the chessboard, she would replay the games she had played with the Wizard and set up several different problems and try to work them out. The next time she and Wizard played, he might still beat her. But he would have to work at it.
One day she opened a door she had never opened before. It was a large stone cylinder with stone steps out of the walls spiraling upward. It was extremely dusty and neglected. Apparently no one had been in there for many years but that made no difference to Jellia. Dirty was dirty. She looked up the stairs into the darkness. No sense in cleaning the ground floor when the dirt from the upper layers will just come down. Always start at the top. She picked up her bucket and cleaning supplies and started up the stairs.
"You carried all that up these stairs?" The Wogglebug's legs were still sore from the stairs. He couldn't imagine how hard that would be.
"Just that first time, look up."
The Wogglebug looked up and saw a large trap door over his head. "There's another one under this table. At the very top there is a ring with a pulley attached. You don't think I carried all my furniture up the stairs did you?"
The Wogglebug looked embarrassed. "I didn't think of it at all but I really should have. An oversight that is nearly unforgivable."
"It's quite alright."
"No, I am a genius. I have no excuse for overlooking the obvious. But, do go on."
Up on the top of the tower were three rooms stacked on top of each other. A balcony completely surrounded the tower. There were old bunk beds, furniture, and moth eaten mattresses. Apparently this was an old, long abandoned watchtower where soldiers long ago looked for enemies. Jellia set to cleaning.
The next evening Jellia dropped in on the Wizard. He had his sleeves rolled up and was working on his small steam engine. He glanced up as she came in. "Hello, Jellia, can you hand me that wrench over there."
Jellia grinned. "No."
"No, the steam engine can wait, it's not going anywhere. I've got something better planned. Now wash up, you're dirty."
"Oh?" The Wizard put his tools down. He looked puzzled but he got up to clean up and change. Jellia waited patiently until he emerged in his suit. "Now what?"
"Just follow me." Jellia led him into the secret passages now completely cleaned. She kept peeking through the peepholes. "It's late, there shouldn't be anyone in the hallways but still, you never know." At last she opened one of the secret doors to one of the parlors, led him down a deserted hallway and opened up another door to the tower base. The Wizard still looked puzzled as she led him up the stairs. When they finally reached the top Jellia said "Close your eyes." The Wizard shut his eyes as she led him by the hand. Then she stopped him. "Now open them"
The Wizard opened his eyes, they were standing on the tower balcony. The sky was full of stars and a half moon hung in the sky dimly lighting the landscape. His eyes widened in astonishment. "Don't worry, nobody can see us up here. We're safe."
The Wizard's eyes filled with tears. "I haven't seen the sky in twelve years, it's so beautiful!" He breathed in deeply. "I don't know how to thank you."
Jellia grinned, "You already have." He turned and saw that she had a chessboard already set up. "How about a game of chess?" He smiled and sat down at the chessboard. He did beat her in the end but it took him more than half an hour and it wasn't easy.
"Your game is getting better." He said.
"I've been practicing." She picked up one of the pieces, a woman with a crown. "You need a queen."
"You're the king, you're all powerful but immobile. You can't move much and if we lose you we lose everything. You need a queen, someone who can move around freely all over the board. I can go all over Oz. I will act as you assistant."
The Wizard leaned back in his chair and thought. "Very well, will you be my queen?"
Jellia smiled, "Of course," she looked out the window. "Come on, we don't want to miss the best part!"
They walked out on the balcony and watched the sky turn pink as the sunrise approached.
"That was very brave of you." The Wogglebug said.
"Brave? In what way?"
"Because the queen is ultimately expendable."