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XVI. Psudina

 

When she turned around, Saguaro found herself looking into the thoughtful face of a woman who appeared to be in her mid-sixties. The woman’s graying red hair was spiked on top of her head in a style that was unorthodox for someone her age. Her green dress was fringed with an assortment of fabric strips that appeared to be from dresses that had done their time long ago. Many of the colors and patterns looked out of place next to the rest of the green dress. Her hemp sandals emphasized her tall stature, and a cascade of freckles splashed her surprisingly tan face and arms. She studied Saguaro through her horn-rimmed glasses.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Saguaro said, feeling uncomfortable under the woman’s gaze. Something about the bright blue of the woman’s eyes compelled her to tell the truth. “I know I promised Sarima that I wouldn’t stray, but I got bored, and I must have lost track of time.”

 

“That’s quite all right,” said the woman. Saguaro was relieved when her thin lips curved into a smile. “I would have been more surprised if you’d stayed here. Tell me, did you encounter any Winged Monkeys or buckets of water on your journey?”

 

“Excuse me?” said Saguaro.

 

“I was simply wondering if you’d managed to undercover any of the castle’s secrets,” said the woman, still smiling.

 

“Well, I didn’t see the things you mentioned,” said Saguaro, “but I fell through a trapdoor and ended up in an underground tunnel, so I guess I uncovered a few secrets.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

She held out her hand and shook Saguaro’s in a firm handshake. “My name is Psudina Glaze, and you, unless I am completely mistaken, are the girl named Guarie that Sarima and Avaric have told me so much about.”

 

“They’ve talked a lot about me?” said Saguaro, not sure how she felt about this.

 

“Well, indirectly,” Psudina said. “There was a limit to what they could tell me, given that your presence here is such a secret. Nonetheless, I could tell that they were very taken with you. Princess Nor, in particular, was buzzing to tell me more. You must have made quite an impression on her.”

 

Saguaro thought of the way Nor had clung to her after she’d frozen the two men who’d tried to kidnap her. “She’s a very sweet girl. I don’t have much experience with young children, but I like her a lot.”

 

“Nor is a special one,” Psudina said. “I’m glad that she’s met you. It’s difficult for her with two older brothers, you know. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that from what I’ve heard, I’ve become quite taken by you, as well. Would I be correct in assuming that at least one of your parents is also gifted in sorcery?”

 

Saguaro was startled by this unexpected change of topic. “Umm, yes. My mother practices-that is, practiced-sorcery, too.”

 

“I thought so. Such a gift is normally passed from mothers to daughters, and the same was true for me. My mother had sorcery powers, and though neither she nor my sister ever practiced it, the talent was passed on to my sister’s daughter.”

 

“Are you saying that if I were a boy, I wouldn’t have inherited my mother’s powers?” Saguaro asked.

 

“Oh, I think you would have gotten something,” said Psudina, winking. “Then again, your life would probably be completely different if you were a boy, wouldn’t it?”

 

Having never imagined life as a boy, Saguaro had no idea how to respond to this.

 

Psudina invited her to sit down on the bed and asked her how she was feeling. After Saguaro told her that she was feeling better, but still a little achy, Psudina rummaged through her bag until she produced a jar of oil. She used the oil to massage Saguaro’s temples, and then placed her hands on Saguaro’s head.

 

An intense heat radiated from Psudina’s hands to her scalp. Saguaro jerked away at the contact.

 

“I’m sorry. I forgot to warn you,” Psudina said, taking back her hands. “Sorcerers tend to have a heightened sensitivity to this method of healing because the energy connection is far more acute. I’m curious, though.” Psudina plucked a strand of straw from Saguaro’s hair and held it out to her. “I suppose I should take this as evidence that you made it to the stable?”

 

Saguaro flinched. With her torn overalls, the straw in her hair, and her green skin, she had a feeling that she had never looked more like her parents’ daughter.

 

“Yes. The tunnel I was in earlier led to the stable, and I wanted to say hello to the horses.”

 

“I see,” said Psudina. “Well, I’m sure they were glad to see you.”

 

Instead of prying further, she put her hands back on Saguaro’s head. Now that she knew how it would feel, this time wasn’t as bad.

 

Saguaro expected Psudina to cast a spell, but instead, she asked Saguaro to close her eyes and began moving her hands above her head. When she finished about ten minutes later, Saguaro was surprised that she did not feel any different.

 

“My kind of sorcery uses the energy in nature and is less instantaneous than traditional spells,” Psudina said, seeing her uncertainty. “Your pain will be gone by dinnertime. I have to be back at the meeting in half an hour, but in the meantime, I was hoping we could have lunch together.”

 

She took a tray from on top of the bureau and handed it to Saguaro. On a plate was a colorful salad of fresh greens and vegetables. Psudina placed an identical tray on her own lap.

 

As they ate, Psudina asked Saguaro more about herself: what she liked to do, what her favorite foods were, and whether she liked to read. She did not ask her where she was from or about her family, which Saguaro assumed was because Sarima had already told Psudina what she knew.

 

“You know, you have a very strong aura,” Psudina said, when they were finishing their salads. “Violet and environmental tan, I believe.”

 

Saguaro frowned. “You read auras?”

 

“My specialty is reading peoples’ energy fields,” Psudina said. “We each have at least one color that defines us and says something about our personality.”

 

“And my colors are violet and environmental tan?”

 

“Violets believe that they have an important place in the world and are determined to fulfill their destinies. It’s one of my life colors, too,” she said, causing Saguaro to smile, for she had never met anyone else who shared this quality. “Environmental tans are very attuned to their physical environments and understand things through touch and first hand analysis. They structure their lives with order and logic. I must confess that it’s your violet, however, that intrigues me. I’ve only met one other person whose violet was as bright as yours. You must want something very much.”

 

“You recognize that just from looking at me?” Saguaro asked, surprised by the accuracy of her observation.

 

“I trained for many years to see such things. I’m sure that if you work hard, you can learn to see auras in the same way. Something tells me, however, that you have a different gift.”

 

Saguaro sighed. From her mother, she knew that most sorcerers have specialties, and she was curious about what hers would turn out to be.

 

Psudina had finished her last bite of salad and was now frowning thoughtfully. “How much do you know about the Tigelaar family, Guarie?”

 

“Not much,” said Saguaro. “I know that Sarima and her husband lead Oz and that this castle belonged to them before Miss Glinda renovated it, but nothing beyond that. Why? Do they have something to do with my sorcery specialty?”

 

“Not to my knowledge. I was merely curious. Still, you bring up an interesting point. I’m guessing that no one informed you that the Witch of the West also took refuge in the castle before Glinda renovated it.”

 

Saguaro’s throat was suddenly very dry. “No, I didn’t know that. I guess that explains why Sarima seems to hate this castle.”

 

Saguaro took a long moment to consider this information. The news, though startling, was not that frightening to her. Still, it prompted another question.

 

“How did she get the castle from the Tigelaars?”

 

The intensity of Psudina’s expression surprised her. “No one really knows. Most assume that she took it by force, but I’ve always believed that she had a connection to one of the Tigelaars.” She studied Saguaro again. “Did Sarima not tell you anything?”

 

“Nothing at all,” Saguaro said. “She acted very strange when I tried to bring it up.” Glancing around the room, a new possibility occurred to her. “Did the Witch also stay in this room?”

 

Psudina hesitated. “Would such a thing upset you?”

 

“Not really,” said Saguaro. “I’d just feel better knowing one way or the other. Caper said that no one ever goes to this room, so I thought that would make sense.”

 

“Yes, this is thought to be the room she once stayed in. There’s no evidence one way or another, but that is the general consensus.”

 

Saguaro swallowed hard. She wondered if the cork she had found under her pillow had once belonged to the Witch of the West. It would explain why Sarima had seemed so uncomfortable with the subject.

 

“Well, that doesn’t matter,” Saguaro said, partially to reassure herself. “It’s just a room, and it isn’t as though her ghost is haunting it. Besides, who really knows what the Witch was like in the first place?”

 

To her surprise, Psudina reached out to brush back Saguaro’s bangs, which had fallen in her eyes. “I had a feeling you would be sensible about this,” she said quietly, keeping her hand on Saguaro’s hair for a moment. She stood up and walked to the other side of the room, leaving Saguaro to think about the reason for this unexpected display of affection.

 

Psudina returned with a book in her hands. “I need to get back to the meeting, but I borrowed this from my grandnephew under the pretense of giving it to Nor. I thought it could entertain you until one of us comes back with your dinner.”

 

“Thank you so much,” Saguaro said, accepting the book, which appeared to be a collection of Ozian fairytales. She found herself thinking of another book and the Goat who owned it.

 

As if reading Saguaro’s thoughts, Psudina paused on her way to the doorway. “You know, Guarie, for as much as I respect your decision to explore, not resting might have an adverse effect on your healing. Do I have your word that you will keep to your room?”

 

Saguaro’s heart sank. Lying to Sarima was one thing; lying to Psudina, a gifted sorceress, was another thing entirely. There was no way she could sneak out without Psudina knowing.

 

“Of course,” she forced herself to say.

 

“Good,” said Psudina. “It wouldn’t be right to lie to Sarima again. I wouldn’t fret, though. I don’t know the source of your strong violet, but I have a feeling that you’re closer to finding what you’re looking for than you may suspect.”

 

She left the room, leaving Saguaro with still more to ponder.

 

 

****

 

The afternoon slipped by. At around six ‘o clock, just as Saguaro was in the middle of a story about a magician’s experiment with the Powder of Life, Psudina returned. This time, Nor and Sarima were with her.

 

Nor nearly knocked her off balance with the fierceness of her hug. “I missed you so much! Mummy was in meetings all day, and Uncle Avaric barely had time to play with me, either.”

 

“Nor, let Guarie breathe,” Sarima said, and the little girl reluctantly let go. She smiled at Saguaro. “Are you feeling any better?”

 

“I am, actually,” Saguaro said, then turned to Psudina. “Thank you so much.” Indeed, she no longer felt achy at all.

 

“It was my pleasure,” said Psudina. “I may have to repeat it in a few days, but my hope is that this treatment will hold.”

 

Sarima waited until the four of them set up their dinner on the floor before turning to business. “Guarie, Psudina and I were talking-please stop pouting, Nor-and we agreed that we would like to help you find your relatives. Psudina is going to stay with her niece and grandnephew in the Emerald City. You could ride with them and stay with Psudina until you find your family.”

 

“We were going to leave after the meetings are done, but if you’re willing, I thought we could go tomorrow morning, instead,” Psudina said. “My grandnephew goes to boarding school during the year, and I know that he’s eager to return home. He came here directly from school, you see.”

 

Although Saguaro had been reluctant to accompany Sarima, Avaric, and Nor at first, she felt much more comfortable about traveling with Psudina. She could tell from their time together that Psudina had a more open way of looking at the world, and she appreciated that Psudina had been willing to be honest with her. Yes, Saguaro would have to come up with a way of putting Psudina off in order to keep up her lie about her parents, but she could figure that out later.

 

“Well, if it’s not too much trouble, then that would be very helpful, thank you,” Saguaro said. “As long as it’s not too much of a bother to your niece and grandnephew, that is.”

 

“Oh, believe me,” said Psudina, “they’ll be more than thrilled to have you. Besides, my niece still has work here-she has more meetings to attend-so she won’t be joining us for another few days. She’ll catch me up on whatever I miss.”

 

Nor began to sniffle. “Nor, I know you wanted to drop off Guarie in the Emerald City, but we have to get home,” said Sarima. “Don’t you miss your brothers and father?”

 

“I do, but I’m going to miss Guarie, too!” said Nor. “What if I never see her again?”

 

“Oh, I doubt that will be the case,” Psudina said. “I am confident, Nor, that Guarie’s and your paths will cross again. I’m sure it won’t be long before you see each other.”

 

“Did your magick tell you?” said Nor hopefully.

 

Psudina chuckled. “I suppose it did a little. Most of all, I have a feeling.”

 

“What about you, Guarie?” asked Nor, turning to her. “Do your powers say anything about whether we’ll meet again?”

 

Saguaro was taken aback by this question. “Umm, not really…but my powers are nowhere as strong as Ms. Psudina’s. Anyway,” she added, inspiration striking, “just because we may not see each other for a while doesn’t mean we can’t make the best of our time now. Ms. Psudina lent me a book of fairytales, and I was wondering if I could read it to you.”

 

“What do you say, Nor?” Sarima said. “Would you like Guarie to read to you after dinner?”

 

Nor’s eyes sparkled. “Yes, please!”

 

This seemed to have been the right suggestion, for Nor was considerably brighter for the rest of dinner. Sarima and Psudina left them together to spend the rest of the evening reading tales of King Krewl, Princess Polychrome, and other fairytale characters.

 

Still, when Sarima returned and asked Nor to say goodbye and get ready for bed, the little girl burst into tears. “I’ll miss you, Guarie!” she said, clinging to Saguaro’s waist.

 

“I’ll miss you too, Nor,” Saguaro said, a bit surprised to realize how much she meant it. She had never thought much of small children before, but this little girl was different. She bent down and gave Nor a kiss on the head.

 

Sarima watched Nor leave with obvious affection. “You’ve been very good to her,” she told Saguaro, “and my daughter’s a picky one to please.”

 

Saguaro shrugged. “It hasn’t been a problem.”

 

Sarima sat on the bed and motioned for Saguaro to sit beside her. “Guarie, Psudina told me that you two spoke about the history of the castle. I want to apologize. I should have realized that a girl brave enough to take on two grown men would be more than able to handle the truth.”

 

“Oh,” said Saguaro, “don’t worry about it. I don’t blame you.”

 

“But you should,” said Sarima. “I have personal issues with the Wicked Witch of the West, but there was no reason to bring you into them. As a mother, I wanted to protect you. Avaric and I didn’t want to scare Nor by telling her the truth about the castle, and perhaps that influenced my decision, too.”

 

“I think Nor can handle more than you think,” Saguaro said, and from the look that passed between them, she knew that Sarima understood what she meant.

 

Sarima forced a laugh. “True. By the way, Avaric is sorry he couldn’t get away to say goodbye. We both agreed, however, that there’s something we should tell you. You remember, I presume, our friend who died?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Well, strangely enough, we found you on the sixteenth anniversary of his death. I didn’t consider it at the time, but I now think that it was more than a coincidence. You see, Guarie-and Avaric agrees with me-in my thirty-eight years, I haven’t met anyone else who has reminded me of him so strongly.”

 

“I remind you of your friend?” said Saguaro, startled.

 

“You do,” said Sarima. “I didn’t see it at first, but you have the same thirst for adventure and the same glimmer in your eyes when you’re talking about something you care about. There was even a moment when you were talking about children and secrets that I heard his voice through you. He never approved of adults’ decisions, either. He would have liked you, I think. And that’s what I want you to remember. You may resemble the Wicked Witch of the West physically, but that isn’t what Avaric and I see when we look at you. Instead, we see a strong, spirited young woman, who has a heart very similar to that of our dearest friend. Nor isn’t the only one who’s going to miss you.”

 

She pulled Saguaro into a hug. Saguaro, surprised by how good it felt, closed her eyes and let herself melt into the warm embrace.

 

Saguaro felt glum as she got ready for bed that night. It was a bit startling to realize how much she was going to miss Sarima, Nor, and Avaric. She still did not approve of Sarima’s and Avaric’s decision, but she had grown quite fond of the three of them. She wondered if she would see them again or whether Psudina had simply been comforting Nor.

 

Though she meant what she had told Psudina earlier, Saguaro also felt a little nervous as she slipped into the warm bed. There was something about the night that seemed to bring the Wicked Witch closer. She must have been able to cast the Witch from her thoughts, however, because when she dreamed, she saw not the Wicked Witch of the West, but her own mother standing before her.

 

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