The Game's Afoot
Like a thick black cloud billowing forth from a closed space, winged simians emerged from an opening at the highest spire of the once-dreaded castle of the Wicked Witch of the West just as a mob of fur-clad, green-skinned warriors breached the door to the chamber where the witch’s winged monkeys were allowed to dwell.
Now that their wicked mistress was gone…literally melted away by a young girl the green-skinned crone had captured…the winged monkeys had no choice but to return to their true master, having fulfilled the first of his three wishes.
Loyally serve the needs of the Witch of the West until she places the ruby slippers upon her feet, or until the unlikely event of her death.
The monkeys had hesitated prior to their retreat, wondering if the powerful witch’s demise was nothing more than a trick intended to deceive her slayer, who had since departed from the castle. Since the witch’s remains never reformed, they concluded that the witch was truly dead, if only to keep from being butchered by the angry mob bursting into their room.
The winkie guards stared up at the dark, writhing cloud, hearing their chittering and screaming growing more and more faint as they ascended into the early morning skies.
It was then that the guards noticed their skin slowly reverting back to its normal color, and the horrific facial features of the witch, which their former mistress had forced upon them all through her magic, began to become a bit more human. No longer would these freed winkies need to bear having gnarled, pointed noses or boil-ridden green skin.
At last, they could walk among their winkie countrymen without fear of being acknowledged as monsters, and they once again sang out their joy over the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West.
At last, peace and prosperity would return to the western Winkie Country.
Although most people in and around the land of Oz were content…and in many cases, quite festive…in the knowledge that the wicked witches who once tormented the land had been destroyed, others felt a sense of melancholy for the fact that the gingham-skirted young girl who had played a part in their demise…Dorothy Gale…was now gone.
None, however, felt this melancholy more than the one who had been ordained the new ruler of the land by its former figurehead…the great and powerful Wizard of Oz…who had left his people the same way he had discovered their land: by way of a hot-air balloon.
Making matters worse for the land’s newest King…known in name, as well as in nature, as the Scarecrow…was that he had no real interest in being a King, even after being given the great wizard’s blessing. As much as he now longed to return to his ‘post’ in Munchkinland, the crown that had been stitched to his forehead reminded him that he could not.
He even asked the Royal Palace’s head maid, Jellia Jamb, if he could rule from the Munchkinland post where Dorothy had found him rather than sit upon a throne, day and night, administering to the problems of the people and using his newfound wisdom to create solutions. He could also continue to enjoy seeing the always-beautiful skies of the land through his incredibly lifelike eyes rather than being confined to the interior of a throne room.
Jellia, however, reminded him that anyone and everyone in Oz knew the throne room to be a very important place, and that every ruler of Oz must make use of it. Or so it had been proclaimed by Pastoria, the monarch that benevolently administered to his people before his mysterious disappearance.
“Could I at least arrange to have a post made in here?” The Scarecrow King had asked. “We could call it…an exalted post, for the wise ruler who hangs high and proud above his subjects!”
A smiling Jellia shook her head, however. “Would that not lead to people wanting to ‘hang around’…all over the land of Oz…in honor of their King?” She asked.
The Scarecrow surrendered to this wisdom, and although he was able to maintain the appearance of a contented ruler, his true feelings could be seen upon his face when he was alone in the throne room.
It was not that he didn’t like helping people out, though. Indeed, since assuming the post, there were many occasions where the Scarecrow was a boon to those desperate for help.
Nevertheless, a scarecrow as smart as he was knew that his longing to be back on his wooden post in Munchkinland was because a certain young girl and her little black dog were no longer around. He surmised that he would have felt more contented to rule Oz if it were possible for the Scarecrow to have Dorothy help him out as an advisor.
His two other friends…the Tin Woodman, who he had learned was once a munchkin man named Nicholas Chopper, and the once-Cowardly Lion Dorothy Gale had so bravely confronted…were quite busy settling into their new lives and responsibilities, so the new ruler of Oz could not vent his laments during his few moments of solitude.
He was happy, however, that they were prospering from their individual initiatives.
Nick, out of the goodness of his well-earned, ticking heart, selflessly volunteered to aid the people of the western Winkie Country, most of whom had been enchanted and cursed to serve the green-skinned crone who had taken their strongest men as her slaves, and tortured the rest of them so mercilessly with her wanton displays of terrible witchcraft. The former slaves needed to re-acquaint themselves with their old lives and families, and homes destroyed during her regime needed to be rebuilt. In this latter case, Nick worked day in and day out to provide as much wood as possible…much of it taken from the Forbidden Forest…for the highly-talented winkie craftsmen as they set to repairing much of the damage inflicted by magical fireballs and summoned beasts.
Although the bipedal Lion still considered himself to be cowardly despite having been given his medal for bravery by the Wizard, he was nevertheless embraced as a King by the natural creatures of the forests of Oz…or rather, by those creatures of the forests of the southern portion of Oz, which was called the Quadling lands. One of those creatures…a malnourished tiger…was the only one to challenge his claims of bravery, and so the Lion had agreed to help rid the forest of a threat which lingered deep in the Quadling woodlands in the wake of the demise of the witches. A large, many-legged creature who had relocated to said woodlands from the Forbidden Forest just to terrorize beasts, benign and otherwise, in and around the Quadling lands.
The Scarecrow had yet to hear if he had succeeded in vanquishing this particular threat.
Jellia, who like her many charges wore a traditional maid’s uniform save for the fact that the white apron was tied to an emerald green maid’s dress rather than a black one, interrupted the stuffed monarch’s lonely solitude with the announcement of a visitor. “Your Highness…a most upset cookie cook from the Yip community, Cayke, awaits your counsel outside.”
The Scarecrow gasped with concern. “Dear me! Send her in at once!”
The erudite monarch could hear the faint sound of crying becoming louder once Jellia went back outside the throne room. A moment later, once Jellia entered with the distraught female visitor at her side, Cayke made an effort to calm herself, wiping away tears from her pale, tear-streaked face.
The middle-aged cookie cook was dressed in a sky blue pinafore-style outfit with a white cooking apron tied at the waist. Three pockets stitched to the apron, below the waistline, betrayed the presence of folded pieces of paper in each of them. Her short, but full head of hair was teased out stylishly, and its red and white colors made her hair resemble an oddly-shaped piece of peppermint candy. The full-leg stockings she wore were also red and white-striped.
After performing a respectful curtsey, Cayke’s voice shook as she finally spoke, and in a tone which would normally sound quite lovely if she were in more pleasant spirits. “Y…your highness…I wish to report a theft. A terrible theft, which makes me completely unable to do my good work!”
The Scarecrow quickly glanced to Jellia. “A glass of lacasa for this woman, if you would!” Once Jellia nodded and stepped away to prepare the drink, which was unique to the land of Oz, the stuffed monarch turned his attention back to Cayke. “What was stolen from you, my dear?”
Cayke was suddenly overcome with another sobbing fit. “Ohhh! I can never again be a cook!” She wailed. “Positive energy is so important to the yips! My work always makes them happy…especially the younger yips! What am I to do, your highness??”
The Scarecrow King placed the stuffed glove of his hand upon the bawling cookie cook’s shoulder in sympathy. “There, there…what could you have lost that was so important to your cooking?”
“It was my dishpan, your majesty!” the cook then lamented loudly. “It went missing weeks ago! I…I could not see you sooner, as I dared not risk being caught by the witch of the west…but now that she is gone, I am begging you for your help!”
“If it is help you wish, it is help you will receive!” The Scarecrow proclaimed, as Jellia returned to the throne room carrying a large cup of the lacasa drink, which she then offered to Cayke. “Jellia, send forth word to my people that their king demands the presence of the four generals of each of the armies of Oz at once!” The Scarecrow commanded.
With a curtsey, Jellia hurried outside. Among her many duties under King Pastoria was that of a town crier in addition to her services as the Royal Palace’s head maid. As the Emerald City was regularly filled with people from all over the four lands of Oz…Munchkinland in the east, the Quadling lands of the south, the Winkie Country in the west, and the Gillikin provinces in the north…the message would indeed be spread as the Scarecrow desired.
At the stuffed monarch’s gentle urging, Cayke slowly drank the lacasa beverage with a shaky hand, and its delicious contents calmed her mind some. “Tell me, my dear, what this dishpan looks like, if you would.” The Scarecrow then asked.
After a couple of sniffles, the cookie cook looked to the stuffed monarch, wiping her eyes. “It’s made of solid gold.” She began. “And…lined with diamonds.”
The cobbler’s hammer was intended for a nail. It instead struck the hard leather heel itself, causing the shaped leather piece to flip wildly upwards.
“WHAAAAAT?? Dead??” The old man’s voice growled, his aged eyes glaring upon the simian creature in front of him. “What about the slippers I made for her sister??” He then angrily asked.
With the enchanted, gold-colored cap upon his head, the slim-figured old man was able to understand the chittering of the winged monkey, who explained the events that led to the demise of the green-skinned witch.
Once the monkey finished chittering, the gray-haired old man’s face looked a little more angry. “Those ruby slippers were my finest work! I don’t care what you have to do, but I do hereby wish that those ruby slippers be found, and returned to me!”
The miserly, hawk-nosed old cobbler then heard a knock at the front door of his home. Snapping his old head in the direction of the door, he then whipped his head back to the single winged monkey in front of him, while at the same time pulling the gold cap off of his head. “Off with you! But remember well that your lot owes me one more wish!”
The single winged monkey flapped back out the window of the old man’s workshop as another round of knocking was heard. “A pox on your impatience!” He growled as he made his way slowly through the workshop to the front store section of his two-floor cobbler’s business dwelling. “End that rancorous banging, or be denied your request!”
Pushing the front door open angrily, he fixed a nasty frown upon whomever waited there. “What is it??”
The young boy at the door jumped and let out a gasp, shocked by the angry old cobbler’s appearance. Still jittery from the shock, the timid young boy swallowed audibly before speaking quietly. “Um…s…sorry, sss…sir…” He then held up what looked like a pair of boots, both of them looking battered and worn. “…M…Miss Mombi sent me t…to give you these.”
“Oh, Mombi sent you, eh?” The old man mused, stepping intimidatingly close to the smaller visitor. “You must be that pitiful servant boy she told me about.”
“Y…yes, sir.” The boy nervously answered, lowering the shoes.
“Well, don’t just stand there, blubbering and quivering!” the grumpy old cobbler growled. “Get in here and wait!” He then snatched the shoes from the boy’s hands. “Give me those!”
Nervously settling into a single chair, the boy…who wore a set of aged and somewhat tattered purple clothes…kept quiet as he heard the nasty-mannered man muttering incomprehensibly as he worked in the other half of the room, which was separated by a wall and a single door. The boy idly looked around the shop area, seeing various pairs of shoes of all sizes, all of them in pristine condition.
One particular set of shoes caught the boy’s eye as he continued to wait, even though they didn’t particularly stand out among the other pairs of footwear on display in the shop. He stood up and quietly wandered over to get a closer look.
He then slowly raised a hand to touch this particular pair of shoes…
“DON’T TOUCH THOSE!!” The old man snapped, now directly behind the boy, who whipped his head to face the angry shoemaker with a frightened face. “They wouldn’t fit you anyway! Those shoes were made for a man, not a boy!”
The little boy lowered his head submissively. “S..sssorry, sir.”
With a snort of derision, the old man turned towards the door to the workshop…but stopped a couple of paces from it. The boy looked towards the old cobbler curiously.
“How often do you go to the Emerald City, boy?” The old man then growled, still facing his workshop door.
“Nnn…never, sir.” The boy responded. “Mombi doesn’t want me going there.”
The grumpy cobbler then turned back to the boy with a menacing look. “But you will go for me, if you expect me to continue this…surprisingly hard work on her shoes!”
The frightened boy gasped. “But…but I…I can’t go there! Wh…what if she catches me? She could be anybody!”
“Not my concern, brat.” The old man growled. “I won’t perform one more minute’s work unless you go to the Emerald City and find out the name of the girl who killed the Wicked Witch of the West! Unless you can tell me her name now?”
“I…I don’t know, sir.” The boy timidly replied. “I don’t get out much.”
A wicked yellow grin full of misshapen old teeth was now on the cobbler’s mouth. “Perhaps you would prefer that I stop work, and leave you to tell Mombi that you kept her payment to me for yourself??”
The boy was now scared out of his mind. The old man could see him sweating now. “But…b..but she…she’ll catch me…please…”
“NO ‘BUT’S, BRAT!” The cobbler then fired a finger to the front door. “OFF with you! Find out that meddlesome girl’s name! Do not return until you have learned it!”
“GO, you whining little pup!” The old cobbler snapped.
With another gasp, the boy rushed out the front door and dashed away from the cobbler’s home. The grouchy old man moved to the large window of his shop and confirmed that the boy was indeed heading in the direction of the Emerald City.
With a menacing chuckle, he slowly moved back into his workshop, keeping Mombi’s fully-repaired, but unpolished shoes idle. He moved to the opposite half of his workshop, which was curtained off.
All he could do, for the moment, was wait. Wait for that silly little boy to give him the name he needed to find out who it was that killed the witch of the west.
In this more private section of the workshop, the old man moved towards one of the walls, upon which a single round, flat object had been hung. Passing the strange and unusual odds and ends that were on a nearby table, he looked upon his own reflection in the mirror, which he had acquired from the hut that the Wicked Witch of the East used for her home.
He knew, however, that once he learned the name of the one who not only killed the west witch, but the east witch as well, speaking her name unto the mirror would reveal exactly where she was.
Even if she was in any of the lands far beyond Oz.