Authors: Danielle Paige
Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Fantasy, #Romance, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Paranormal & Fantasy, #Sword & Sorcery
“Did you know there’s a hidden district of Oz where the talking pastries can seek refuge?” The Scarecrow was sitting on a pile of books in the Great Library of the Emerald Palace, turning the pages of an enormous encyclopedia volume.
“Too bad we can’t eat them now,” the Lion rumbled. “Are you done with that book yet? Can we go outside, at least?”
“I’m only on Volume 23 of
The Collected History of Oz: Its Landscapes, Customs, and Peoples
,” the Scarecrow said peevishly. “There are thirty more volumes.” The Lion groaned aloud, but the Scarecrow ignored him.
His greatest regret since he started reading was that he could not read them fast enough. He had decades of history to catch up on—he’d spent his entire early life tied to a post in the cornfield, after all. He’d gone so long without a brain, and the thought of all that wasted time was nearly enough to make him cry—except, of course, that he couldn’t. At least he was a king now.
That was something. He was powerful. He was smart. And he was getting smarter by the minute.
“Aren’t you done yet? I
want to eat something.” The Lion roared and stretched, rolling over on his back and gnawing at the spine of one of the Scarecrow’s books.
“Knock that off!” protested the Scarecrow. He was startled by the flash of anger in his old friend’s eyes. Since he’d arrived in the Emerald City a few days ago, the Lion had been constantly restless. He seemed almost ferocious—a far cry from the terrified creature who’d journeyed with the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and the Tin Man through Oz. Scare was happy for his friend’s newfound confidence, but sometimes he wondered if the Lion had lost a little something when he gained his courage. Sure, the Lion used to jump at the sight of all creatures smaller than him, but seeing this big creature wearing his fear on his sleeve made the Lion more approachable. Now, as the Lion’s muscles rippled beneath his fur and his lips curled up in a growl, the straw in the Scarecrow’s stuffed arms stood on end.
The Scarecrow, giving in to the Lion’s hunger pangs, rang for one of the servants. Fiona was the smartest Munchkin on his household staff, with a mind that moved as quickly as a Kalidah and an uncanny ability to sense his whims before he even knew what they were. Sometimes, the Scarecrow wanted to crack open her brain just to see how it worked. Not literally, of course.
“Is the old tin can on his way?” the Lion asked, but there was affection in his voice. Scare felt it, too. They’d decided to celebrate the second anniversary of the Scarecrow’s coronation with
a reunion. The three friends hadn’t seen each other since little Dorothy had returned to the Other Place and the Wizard had made the Scarecrow King of Oz, the Lion King of the Beasts, and the Tin Woodman King of the Winkies. Privately, the Scarecrow thought he had gotten the best deal out of the three friends. The beasts were unruly and had fleas, and the Lion didn’t even have a proper castle. The Winkies were short, unattractive, and quite dull. But King of Oz! That had a nice ring to it, the Scarecrow thought, looking at his old friend as he lay sprawled across the throne room floor picking his teeth. And he had plans, for his friends, for himself, and for all of Oz. At night he lay awake, his newly expanded mind roving through all the possibilities. Once he had read everything about the history of Oz, he’d be prepared to be a great king. More than anything, he wanted to see his own name in one of those books someday, with a long list of great deeds. But the greatest accolade of all would be for him to be recognized as the wisest ruler Oz had ever had. He hadn’t told anyone of his secret dream—not even the Lion.
The Scarecrow still wasn’t used to his title. He told himself that he wasn’t as bad a ruler as the Wizard, who’d secreted himself away in the Emerald Palace and who’d been a fraud besides. Plus, he had his brand-new brain. Sometimes he could almost hear it whirring away in his head, thinking all sorts of new thoughts.
“He sent a messenger,” the Scarecrow replied. “He had some royal business to attend to, but he’ll be here as soon as—”
One of the library windows shattered in an explosion of
broken glass, and something whizzed past the Scarecrow’s ear and buried itself in one of the books behind his head.
“What in the name of Oz?” he asked, leaning in to inspect the precious volume. Another projectile flew by and hit one of the floating sunfruit-fueled lamps, sending fruit and chunks of glass flying.
“What is it?” shouted the Lion, jumping to his feet. The Scarecrow picked a lump of metal out of
Anthropomorphicum Catalogarium: A Bestiary of Magical Creatures, Their Diets & Their Habitats
. “This book is priceless,” the Scarecrow moaned. “Why, if I told you the lengths I had to go to—” Another piece of metal flew in through the broken window, narrowly missing his other ear.
“To the Deadly Desert with your stupid books!” the Lion gasped, flattening himself onto the carpet. “We’re under attack! What
“They’re bullets,” the Scarecrow said wonderingly at the tiny piece of metal in his palm. “I’ve read about them, but I’ve never seen one. They come out of a gun.”
“They’re going to kill us both, whatever they are,” the Lion growled, knocking the Scarecrow to the ground as another rain of bullets hailed down on them.
can’t be shot,” the Scarecrow reminded him.
“Well, I can,” the Lion said curtly, creeping stealthily to the window and gesturing the Scarecrow to keep low. “What in the name of the Wizard is going on out there?” He peered over the sill.
Rows and rows of girls, standing in military formation, stared back at him. They wore identical uniforms: tightly fitted leather leggings and pointy-toed stiletto heels with flared minidresses made of chain mail. Each unsmiling mouth was painted the same shade of cherry red, and each girl’s fingernails were polished a matching crimson. Each girl’s glossy hair swung in a matching ponytail. And they brandished matching pearl-handled silver pistols, all of them pointed at the palace.
The girls parted ranks to make way for another girl, this one riding a chrome-plated moped. Her chain mail minidress was shorter, her lipstick was redder, and her ponytail was higher. She had an unmistakable air of authority.
“I am General Jinjur of the Ladies’ Military Auxiliary of Oz!” she shouted, firing another shot into the air. “You ain’t the real king, you old strawbag, and I’m dumping you out on your straw behind! Come on down, meet my girls—and bring your big scaredy-cat friend with you!”
“My goodness,” the Lion said in surprise, peering down at General Jinjur. “What on earth can she possibly mean? And I’m certainly not cowardly anymore.” He lashed the tail the Wizard had given him and growled.
“I don’t know,” the Scarecrow said. His new brain was racing. An all-out attack on the Emerald Palace was unprecedented—at least in the history he’d read so far. No one had ever tried to oust whoever was in charge. “Keep her busy,” he hissed to the Lion as General Jinjur fired another shot into the air.
“Busy doing what?” the Lion asked incredulously, but the Scarecrow was already racing over to his bookshelves, running his finger across the spines. “
. . . no, not that one,” he muttered, reading aloud. “
Herbarium Magisterium . . . Tax Codes of the Quadlings . . . How to Cook for a Rigmarole . . .
Despots of Oz: Their Way, or the Highway!
” Triumphantly, he pulled the book off the shelf and flipped frantically through the pages.
“Chiss . . . Dr. Pipt . . . Eureka the Kitten . . . Evoldo . . . Gayelette . . . the Hungry Tiger—here we are! General Jinjur of the Western Lands!”
“What on earth is a book going to tell us?” snapped the Lion, who was trying to drag one of the library’s heavy bookcases in front of the broken window as Jinjur and her soldiers fired round after round of shots at the library. “Come down, you cowards, and meet the future of Oz!” she shrieked. “I know all three of you are in there!”
of us?” the Scarecrow asked, looking up from his book.
“She must mean the Woodman,” the Lion panted. He’d managed to move the bookcase a few inches and was now slumped against it before he tried again. “Why would she want to kill all three of us?”
“‘Jinjur is a fearsome warrior but not a clever one,’” the Scarecrow read aloud. “‘She has long coveted the throne of Oz. In the time of Dorothy, the Witchslayer, she gathered her all-girl army to make a move on the palace, but was thwarted when the Wizard gave mighty gifts of magic to Dorothy’s noble protectors, the Lion, the Tin Woodman, and the Scarecrow. She remains a threat to the sanctity of the throne of Oz.’ That’s all it says, really. Something else about how she thinks men are too incompetent to rule.”
“You’re not a man, you’re a scarecrow,” the Lion said, pushing the bookshelf another inch. “She must think the three of us are somehow in her way. Poor Tin. We ought to warn him
“Should we go down and meet her?” the Scarecrow asked anxiously. “I haven’t gotten to the books on military strategy yet. I never thought I’d need them.”
The Lion frowned. “I bet I could take her. But those pistols could do a number on my hide,” he said. “Doesn’t the palace have an army to fend off invaders?”
The Scarecrow smacked himself on the side of the head, jostling his new brain. Of course! The Royal Army! What had he been thinking? Sometimes he wondered if the Wizard’s gift wasn’t slightly defective. He ran to a corner of the throne room and pulled a tasseled velvet rope. A deep, melodious gong sounded in the depths of the palace, and a moment later a tall, lean old man tottered into the throne room.
“Royal Army at your service, my lord,” he croaked, sounding like a tree creaking in a strong breeze. The Royal Army didn’t look very promising, the Scarecrow thought. His armor was dented and scuffed, and in several places pieces of it seemed to be missing. His sword was broken. His long, scraggly white beard was dotted with what looked to be toast crumbs. A pair of cracked spectacles slid down his big, beaky nose, and he looked around him with a slightly bewildered air. Still, he was better than nothing.
“The castle is under siege,” the Scarecrow said quickly. “I need you to go downstairs and take care of things.”
“Take care of things, sir?”
“You know,” the Scarecrow said vaguely. Warfare was new
to him. “Drive them off, or something. I haven’t read about giving orders yet. You’re the army, don’t you know these things?”
“All the way downstairs, sir?”
The Lion stood on his hind legs and roared, and the Royal Army jumped about a foot in the air. “Yes, all the way downstairs!” the Lion bellowed. “Your king has ordered you!”
“Yes sir, right away, sir,” gasped the Royal Army, his face white in terror. He bowed twice and ran out of the room. A second later they could hear his metal-tipped boots clattering on the stairs.
The Lion’s courage might prove useful, the Scarecrow thought as he went back to the window to watch the Royal Army deal with the invaders. He’d always seemed such a silly creature during their adventures in Oz, frightened of practically anything. But clearly the Wizard’s gift was taking hold. The Scarecrow didn’t tell his friend his uncertainties about his own gift. Something stirred at the back of his mind, something that suggested it was better to keep that suspicion to himself for now. Something almost alien, like a cold serpent moving in a dark burrow. The Scarecrow blinked, and the feeling went away.
Below them, the Royal Army rushed out of the palace to confront General Jinjur, brandishing his broken sword. “Cease and desist at once!” he squeaked, waving the sword at her. “His Royal Highness demands it!”
Jinjur laughed, her voice carrying easily to the Scarecrow’s window. “That old thing ain’t no royalty,” she called out scornfully. “The Wizard didn’t have no claim to the throne, and you
can’t pass on what ain’t yours. We’re here to put Oz in proper order.” She tossed her ponytail, and behind her the girl soldiers saluted smartly.
“How?” the Royal Army asked.
Jinjur smiled. “Why, I’ll take power, you daft old coot.” She cocked one hip and winked at him. The Scarecrow stared in disbelief. He was absolutely certain he’d never come across anything like this in the history he’d been reading. Attacking the Emerald Palace? Demanding the throne? She knew the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Woodman were supposed to be there together—had she been spying on the palace all this time?
The Royal Army lowered his sword and looked up at the Scarecrow, clearly waiting for instructions. Getting rid of her was going to be harder than he had thought. The Scarecrow had no idea how to deal with this strange girl and her sinister army, and the Wizard’s brain wasn’t offering him any answers. The Lion seemed to sense his confusion.
“I could go out and help,” he offered.
“Help what?” the Scarecrow asked. If only his brain really worked! What would the Wizard have done in his place? Again, that feeling stirred at the back of his mind, and suddenly a thought occurred to him. He was the King of Oz; he should probably start acting like one. He straightened up.
He went out onto the balcony and looked down at the girl. He paused before speaking, curiosity outweighing everything for a moment. Knowing why she was holding the gun mattered more than any fear he had about her shooting at him again.
Jinjur stared up at him, a nasty smile playing over her bright-red lips. The Scarecrow felt a sudden twinge of anxiety. No ruler of Oz, he was sure, had ever faced a challenge quite like this.
“I am sure that we can come to some kind of understanding, Ms. Jinjur.”
He could reason with her—he could reason with anyone. Wasn’t that the point of the Wizard’s gift? His own books had said she wasn’t clever.
Jinjur laughed. “The only understanding I need is that you’re even worse at this job than the Wizard, and the three of you are standing in my way.” She narrowed her eyes. “Where’s the other one? The metal one?”
“He’s in the kitchen,” the Lion lied quickly.
“I want you to get him. And then I want all three of you down here.” She fired a bullet into the ground.
“I’m actually quite a good ruler,” the Scarecrow protested. “I haven’t raised taxes, and I’ve settled dozens of petty disputes. And I’m going to establish the most wonderful thing you can imagine—a school system for the Munchkins of the Emerald City. Next I’ll create schools for all of Oz!”
“We don’t need no
in Oz!” Jinjur snapped. “You’re unnatural and you ain’t a proper king. You don’t belong anywhere but in a field on a post.”
Now Jinjur’s words hit him somewhere below the brain.
He realized in that instant that she was not reasonable. And it was time for him to act like a king.
“I will not bow to threats!” he boomed down at General
Jinjur. “Leave the palace at once, and do not return!”
It appeared they were at a standstill. Scare cocked his head to the side, wondering how this would play out. He had done what his books said was kingly, but she was not moving.
“It’s time for a new era in Oz.” She leveled the pistol at the Royal Army’s chest, and, still smiling, pulled the trigger.