Summary: Socialite Galinda becomes embroiled in the mission of Elphaba, Eminent Thropp and all round renegade. Politics. Intrigue. Gunfights. Riots. Kisses. Gelphie. (AU bookverse.)
Author's note: We are T for now but it's going to go M because gunfights mean violence and kisses mean... y'know. A huge thank you to my beta, The Songwriter's Ghost, who has been ridiculously amazing. I would love to know what everyone thinks.
"Have you yet made the acquaintance of the Eminent Thropp of Munchkinland?"
Gazing off in to the distance, entirely bored by the conversation taking place around her, Galinda was prompted back to reality. "Indeed not," she recovered enough to reply to her questioner, a boorish old banker and his simpering wife whose dress was at least two seasons past its fashion.
"You would surely have remembered," he said, voice laced with vulgar speculation. His wife and the fourth member of the group giggled along.
Of course Galinda had heard rumours about the young Eminence but would never reveal she was party to such petty gossip, even while it fuelled her social powers. Besides, she never forgot anyone she met. Indeed she would be noting never to invite any of this lot to her own parties. The current affair had been turning out something of a bust. However the prospect of meeting the Eminent Thropp was an enticing one. There were few such dignitaries Galinda was not in contact with, never mind had not met.
What did they say about her? Galinda mentally reviewed her evidence, allowing the conversation to continue around her. The Eminent Thropp kept herself to herself, sequestered away at Colwen Grounds. The previous Eminence, her grandfather – no, it was great grandfather – had been well known in the Emerald City. Galinda herself had met him several times but she had been no more than a child then. He never mentioned his great granddaughter even when Galinda told him her age, which she later knew was the same. He died shortly after Galinda married, too sick to attend the formal wedding reception.
Galinda had been twenty then, young and foolish. So the new Eminence must have ascended at the same age. Goodness. Too young for that sort of position, a dull as dishwater affair. Perhaps that was why she was hiding out. Didn't want to get in to it. Yet the other rumours were different. She was involved in politics. The wrong kind of politics, or at least on the wrong side of the political climate. Then there had been that strange hushed-up scandal with the Animals a few years ago.
Society said she was a recluse but clearly that was not entirely the case, being as she would be attending here. But in five years Galinda had attended all the best events and parties and not yet met her. So perhaps she was. Time would tell.
Inevitably it caused something of a stir that the so-called recluse would be in attendance tonight, at a quite routine sort of a gathering. Galinda had almost begged out of it earlier but there was little else to do. Clearly such things happened for a reason.
As if deliberately timed to cut off the conjecture the lady in question arrived.
"The Eminent Thropp of Munchkinland," announced the footman.
Galinda tried not to be so eager to glance up and over at the door. Meeting with people was her stock in trade. Still, she had to admit she was intrigued.
The Eminent Thropp, tall and tense, strode a few paces in to the room, stopping to greet their hosts. She was followed by a short variety of Munchkin who bustled behind her. She gripped the hand of both her male and female hosts in a strong-looking handshake, eschewing any curtsey. Her dress was severe and little more than a length of cloth draped over her with a high collar, long sleeves and ankle length skirt. And she was really quite green. Galinda had imagined it as a tint or a shade. This was green through and through.
The whole room had stopped to watch. Her Eminence was well aware and turned to the party as a whole. Galinda imagined she might drop a curtsey now, but she didn't. She put two fingers to her brow and flicked them away quickly in a funny little salute. Then she headed off towards the buffet through the murmurs both captivated and horrified. The Munchkin hurried after her, a vague look of distress on his face.
The arrival of other high profile guests called attention away. There were jewels to be admired, new hairstyles to be scrutinised, gowns to fawn over. The appearance of the Eminent Thropp was soon overshadowed. Not for Galinda however.
Galinda skirted the room, doing a little reconnaissance, eyes fixed on the mysterious Eminence. The Munchkin was straining on his tiptoes to mutter discreetly as close to her ear as he could get, which was not very. Whilst not all Munchkinlanders were short there were few quite so tall. And none at all so green.
"The man in the hat –"
"The outrageous hat." Her voice was low, her tone sarcastic, her eyebrows knotted together most unattractively.
"Fine, outrageous hat. He's the Arch-"
"The Archduke Jette, yes, I know."
"Really, Elphie," the Munchkin whined in a miserable and overly familiar way. "What is the point of my being here – or your aide at all – if there is nothing for me to do!"
Galinda decided it was time to make her arrival. She would not wait to be introduced, instead she gathered herself, glanced down at her dress to make sure all was in order, fiddled with her handbag and approached. She looped back around to the centre of the room so she was coming at them straight on.
Fixing her trademark smile she planted herself in front of the curious pair. "I am Galinda of the Arduennas of the Uplands, Lady Chuffrey." Properly she should be Lady Chuffrey first and foremost, then her mother's birthright. But it was a concession to etiquette she still could not bear herself to make.
The Eminent Thropp looked down at her. "It is good to meet you, Lady Chuffrey." She didn't introduce herself. She didn't need to. The woman had opted for the correct honorific so clearly she was choosing to break the rules in full knowledge of them, rather than in accidental ignorance. Still though she offered her hand.
Galinda took it. Why not? It was not every day one got to touch green skin. "Your Eminence." She curtsied.
Her Eminence laughed. There was a hint of disdain. "Call me Elphaba."
"I really don't think –"
"Oh, come along. We are peers are we not? The three of us I should say are the youngest in the room by a clear score of years. I cannot cope with any more 'Eminencing'."
Galinda exhaled sharply, not sure whether to be pleased or horrified, laugh or run away.
The Munchkin rushed forward. "Lady Chuffrey, please do excuse her Eminence. We have only this afternoon arrived in the City and she is tired from the journey."
"Rubbish. I am nothing of the sort."
He ignored her. Galinda began to think this wise. "I am Boq, aide to her Eminence." He took Galinda's hand and bowed. She curtsied. All very proper. Master Boq had been underestimated.
"Thank you, Master Boq, it is very good to meet you."
He tipped his head graciously in return. "The pleasure is mine."
Galinda looked back at the green woman to see her rolling her eyes.
Rather than intimidate or peeve Galinda it served more to galvanise her. "How is it we have never met before, Elphaba, and yet here you are?" If the incredibly informal mode of address had been some sort of dare or bluff Galinda had called it out. But Elphaba seemed hardly to notice.
"I do not get out much. And if I do I prefer not to be engaged in this kind of nonsense." The whole time there was no eye contact, instead those eyes were roaming around the room. Not in fear or with nerves, just in an intent interest, recording the scene. What colour were her eyes? Galinda could not quite tell, they seemed quite black. Why it should matter she did not know.
"Her Em- Elphaba's business keeps us away from the Emerald City a good deal, I am afraid." Master Boq was putting in a much better show. "And when we are here we are so often regrettably detained."
"It is regrettable neither to me nor to those who make these invitations," Elphaba spat out. "It is well known I am not good company, not to mention complexion-challenged, both of which override my title wonderfully. I prefer a good argument to idle chatter in any case."
"Well come then let us have a disagreement, it should not be hard." Galinda was feeling really rather bold, for having had but one glass of champagne.
The restless eyes settled on her for a moment. "I do things to please myself, not others," Elphaba said haughtily.
"Isn't that what they call selfishness?"
"I..." Clearly her Eminence was unaccustomed to being manoeuvred in to a corner. Her eyes narrowed and she near enough snarled for a fraction of a clock tick.
Again Galinda had been misjudged and underestimated. It was a common occurrence, an occupational hazard for beautiful, bubbly blondes. She knew that. She wasn't going to complain, it had its uses.
Galinda saw Master Boq's eyes light up with mirth to the point where he had to put a hand to his mouth to keep from laughing. She felt suddenly rather proud of herself.
They were interrupted by some commotion over by the card tables. Some poor young thing was having a swooning fit. Galinda looked away discreetly.
"This is what happens when you put corsets on girls," Elphaba observed dispassionately.
"Is that more proof of your non-conformity?" Galinda challenged, really not at all sure what had got in to her.
She received a harsh look but no words.
"I shall leave you then to enjoy or not enjoy the party as you wish." She turned to Boq with a smile. "It has been lovely to make your acquaintance, Master Boq. I hope very much to meet you again soon."
He blushed and took her hand again with a bow. "Indeed I hope so, Lady Chuffrey."
"Your Eminence," was all she offered the aloof Eminent Thropp, with a barely-scraped curtsey. She got only a small nod in return.
As she walked away she deliberately diverted to stay nearby: in earshot but of out sight. She heard the Eminent Thropp – Elphaba – whomever – mumble, "I don't like her."
Master Boq sighed. "You don't like anyone."
Galinda felt rather pleased with herself. She had finally met the Eminent Thropp and established a relationship of what appeared to be mutual loathing. Although she had already understood not to take anything the strange green girl said at face value.
Relief swept over Boq as the carriage pulled up the drive of Colwen Ground. He was always glad to be back. To see the place still standing, if nothing else. He wondered sometimes if he had the nerves for this kind of work.
It was home though, as well. Four years he had lived here with Elphaba and a gathering crowd of others.
It had been a year after the previous Eminent Thropp's death, when Elphie graduated, that she moved back to Nest Hardings with Boq at her side. The transition had been a hard one for her, as it had been a hard one for the region. The great house shut up until she took up residence, her being the sort of Eminence she was... there had been some 'debate', is how he generally explained the situation to people.
The Mayor of Center Munch at the time had taken particular exception to Elphie's new way of organising the household. "There were people relied on this house for their living," he told her in their first meeting, where Boq hovered, uncertain as to his role in all this. He quickly realised his role was largely to stop Elphie grievously offending anyone important. Or at least trying to stop that happening.
"And those people are more than welcome to return to the household in a different role." Elphie had said with remarkable restraint. "I refuse to apologise for ending the indentured servitude everyone hated at the time and yet love so much now."
So that was how things had been. An egalitarian collective affair that drew a good deal of suspicion. But it worked for those who accepted it and joined their little retinue. It eased Elphie's conscience as to the inherited wealth and income, to spread it around a little. Or a lot. The exact particulars were a closely guarded secret. Boq, of course, knew.
Boq looked across to Elphie who was also gazing up at the house, though he could not even hazard a guess as to what her thoughts might be. They disembarked from the carriage and walked around the back to the kitchen door, the old servants entrance. There were no servants any more.
They dropped their bags in the hallway and headed in to the library where they were greeted by Mallo. A fellow Munchkin he had been one of the first to join the new Eminent Thropp at Colwen Grounds and was now as much Boq's right hand man as Boq himself was Elphie's.
"Welcome back," Mallo grinned broadly at them. "Did you bring me a present? One of those Palace snow globes?"
Boq hugged him, smacking him briskly on the back. "How are things?"
"Oh fine, fine. How was your excursion? Did you meet with him?"
By way of greeting Elphie clapped her hand on Mallo's shoulder and gave him a little shake. "Yes, though the little information he had to offer was certainly not worth enduring that party for."
Boq sighed. They had discussed this, both before and since. "You have to get out more, you are arousing suspicion."
"And me suddenly attending parties is not suspicious?"
"Elphaba made a new friend," Boq told Mallo, ignoring her. "Of a sort."
Mallo was rightly intrigued. "Ah, so?"
Elphaba rolled her eyes. "Galinda of the Arduennas of the Uplands," she said with a fluttering wave of her hands in imitation of an excitable girl, "is not going to be talking to us at any more parties."
"Speak for yourself," Boq teased. "I fancy she was quite taken with me."
"And I fancy Milla could probably best her were it to come to a fight. Which no doubt you would enjoy immensely," she said with distaste.
Boq ignored that comment.
Mallo waded in. "I believe you, Elphaba." What a suck up, Boq cursed him. "Besides, you don't have friends." That was more like it, he chuckled to himself.
Elphie didn't miss a beat. "Do I not? Well who are you lot cluttering up my house then? Out!"
The both of them ignored her.
"Anyway," Mallo turned to Boq, back to business. "You have the reports from the City?"
"We collected the ones we could. Here." Elphie handed over a bunch of friendly letters from acquaintances and colleagues. Except of course Elphaba didn't get friendly letters. Just ones that contained coded messages.
Boq watched Mallo take them and then hand some over in return. Including one towards himself.
"And there is a letter from Miss Milla," Mallo waved it around. "But I think it is of a more personal nature..."
Boq snatched it quickly. "Stop it," he said as severely as possible. "I am trying to keep this discreet."
"Your relationship is not going to stay secret very long if you stand around grinning like a fool every time her name is mentioned," Elphie observed. "You're doing it now! Lurline preserve us!"
Mallo laughed. Boq glared. Mallo started filing away the letters for later. Boq celebrated a small victory.
Not total victory unfortunately, as Elphie continued musing. "I hope none of this sordid affair is taking place under my roof?"
He rose above her provocation. "You're not my mother." He knew her well enough to know what was coming. He was just giving her an outlet to blow off some steam. She hated travelling and he knew she was more pleased to be home than she would ever say.
"I certainly hope not. There would be some rather serious questions to be asked if that were the case." After the oh so witty retort she grinned at him. They both knew his game though. She knew what he was doing. He liked to think it was appreciated.
There was more though, more that needed to be said. "Everyone needs love, Elphie." Softly, gently, lest he awaken something.
"I am not everyone. I am not even anyone."
With that, she left. Maybe he had awoken something.
Mallo was looking at him. "Nice try."
He shrugged and poked at the letters on the desk. "These are going to take all night."
"Not you. You are down on the rota for making dinner."
"I've only just got back!"
"Now then Boq, you're not trying to wriggle out are you? There is no arguing with The Great Rota."
"Who made this rota? I don't accept it," he grumped, heading out of the room toward the kitchen with Mallo following.
"I believe you drew up this months one. Don't make me tell her Eminence you are shirking your duties."
"Oh I most certainly would. What would even happen though? Is there a punishment?"
They entered the kitchen, which doubled as a dining room. Most of the house was shut up, the living areas anyway. The library, the kitchen and a small parlour were all of the ground floor that were not under dust sheets. The ball room, the gallery, the grand dining room, the billiard room, the two drawing rooms... they hardly saw the light of day.
"I don't think it has ever needed to get that far," Boq finished up. He stood in front of the Great Rota, hanging over the fireplace. "Oh, damn," he said, confirming his turn. "At least I am not on scullery duty as well. And I didn't pick up any cheese on the road. How annoying."
He pushed up his glasses, turned to the pile of vegetables and rolled up his sleeves. A life in politics was so grand, so exciting.
Galinda was taking tea in a hotel restaurant, all high ceilings and lace table cloths, with her friends Pfannee and Shenshen. The pair intimidated her more than a little. They were quite the silliest young women imaginable but Pfannee in particular had a thread of iron running through her.
"You were at Shiz," Galinda enquired in an attempt at an idle manner. "Did you know the Eminent Thropp?"
"Gracious, yes. We used to call her Green Bean." Pfannee still seemed terribly amused by this. "What a creature. Why in Oz do you ask?"
"I met her," Galinda stirred her sugar in carefully. "The other day at a party at Trel's."
"Oh, did you go to that in the end? I could hardly be convinced. I went to the opera instead."
There was some sort of put-down in there but Galinda was not concerned. "What was she like, then? Before she became the Eminence?"
"What is she like now? I have scarce seen her half a dozen times since we graduated, thankfully. She never attends court, ever. Again, thankfully. Or any decent gatherings. Not that it is a surprise. I understand she must be asked but at least she knows better than to actually accept."
"I could not quite make her out. That is why I wanted to know."
"Well, she was a horribly solitary creature. She was in the common dormitories despite her position, the shame! She did awfully well in her studies. Unnatural amounts of time spent with books will do that to you. Even once she became Eminence she refused to leave, staying out the year. She was terribly close to that old Goat, you know, the one with all the Animal rights nonsense who killed himself in his lab. He was such a bore. He probably fell asleep over his microscope exhausted from his own lectures and slit his own throat."
Shenshen leaned in, voice low. "There were suggestions – including from Elphaba herself – that he may have been murdered, that things may have been political. Do you remember? It was in all the papers for some time. We would have been nineteen or so."
At the age of nineteen newspapers had existed in Galinda's life only to start the fires in her rooms and to hide her father's face at the breakfast table. Far away behind the impenetrable barrier of print he had huffed and sighed and never looked at her. Perhaps that was why she enjoyed seeing them burn so much.
Shenshen continued. "And you must have heard the strange rumours about those Animals at her home a few years ago? That the Gale Force had to clear out?"
Though only vaguely aware Galinda nodded. She did not want to appear uninformed, even in front of and in comparison to these two.
Pfannee diverted back to the less political and more gossipy. "Then there was always the hideous fuss in bad weather. Not enough that she was green but she swaddled herself up as if she had just come off the Thousand Year Grasslands riding a camel. Some nonsense about not being able to touch water."
Galinda had heard whispers about the water thing. "Is that true? I thought it must be a bizarre rumour. Some Munchkin prophecy or folk tale."
"If it is not true it is a long standing lie that she took pains to reinforce. To whose benefit I'm sure I do not know. Though she did like to always cause a scene, speak out of turn and so on."
Galinda digested all of this carefully. Shenshen looked bored. But Pfannee continued.
"The funny thing was, for all the green and the prickliness – a cactus! Oh! Why didn't I think of that back then? – she did have a way with herself. The boys loved her. Avaric the devil, that Winkie prince Fiyero, the Munchkin boy, the pair of dandies from Three Queens... they couldn't get enough of her."
"Did she... well was it... did she disport herself with them? In that way?" Intrigue claimed Galinda's articulacy.
"Heavens, no. One would have been able to tell by their faces had they ever claimed that prize. No, she didn't even have that hold on them, which made it all the stranger."
"She is strange," Galinda concurred.
Pfannee was watching her carefully though. "Yes. It is all very strange."
Trying to shake it off Galinda returned to the Florinthwaite Club and her rooms there. She thought she might take a little nap before whatever the evening held. She could not remember what particular engagement there was, she would need to check her diary. But it was not going to be very different from yesterday, or tomorrow.
Chuffrey was in the lounge of their suite and glanced up – over his newspaper – as she entered. What joy, a husband so like her father.
"Good day, darling?" he asked, his eyes already back on his paper.
"Yes, thank you," she said absent mindedly, dropping her handbag on a chair but not sitting down. "I had tea with Pfannee and Shenshen."
"That pair," he chuckled. "One more and they would be a coven."
"Well, there were three of us."
"You are not like them." She loved him for moments like that.
Such flattery was not going to ease her mind however. "No, I'm not. Even they went to university, achieved something of their own."
Chuffrey lowered his paper now. "Whilst they were doing that you were getting married and enjoying life in the Emerald City and beyond." That was his reassurance. It was the best he could do, she supposed. "You got a good few years head start on them."
Stood listlessly by the window, fingering the drapes, Galinda nodded. When marriage, a rich life of wealth and conspicuous consumption, the Emerald City and deputations across Oz were seen as the ultimate goal then yes, she was doing rather well. What more could she ask for?
She looked in her diary. "Play tonight," she reminded him. "We are in Lady Pernil's box."
He nodded, head back in the paper.
"I'll ring for someone to come and press your suit. Is there anything else you need?"
"No..." he trailed off, engrossed again.
Her allotted time had expired. She went through to the dressing room, met her maid and rang the bell to summon a member of housekeeping. She would arrange their clothes and then retire to her bedroom, maybe have that nap. She could always sleep through the boredom.