The first thing Saguaro felt the next morning was someone stroking her hair. She opened her eyes to find Psudina’s blue eyes blinking back at her.
“Good morning, dear,” Psudina said. “Did you have a good night?”
Saguaro nodded. For an absurd moment, she had thought that the person stroking her hair was her mother.
Psudina allowed Saguaro a few moments to stretch before speaking. “I’m planning for us to leave as soon as you and my grandnephew are ready. It’s about seven ‘o clock now, and I’ve already packed breakfast for the road and set up the carriage. All that’s missing is the two of you. I was thinking that I could wait in the library while you get changed.”
Saguaro put on one of her few clean dresses and took no time packing her things. She felt inexplicably sad as she looked over the small room for the last time. If the Wicked Witch of the West was connected to her parents’ secrets, then perhaps she should have spent more time studying the room in which the Witch had stayed. While Saguaro knew that Glinda would be able to tell her more, she could not shake the feeling that she had missed something important about this room. She was glad that she had decided to bring the cork from under her pillow with her.
After meeting Psudina in the library, Saguaro followed her outside to the open carriage. Its faded red paint and muddy wheels were a stark contrast to the shiny ornamentation of the Tigelaar carriage.
To Saguaro’s delight, she saw that one of the horses was the same mare she had met in the stable. The mare seemed to recognize Saguaro too, because she whinnied when she saw her.
“Well, I see Gryphon has a new friend,” Psudina said. Saguaro noticed for the first time that she dimpled when she smiled. “Have the two of you met before?”
Saguaro nodded. “She said hello to me when I visited the stable yesterday. She seems like such a sweetheart.” She reached up and let the horse sniff her hand. “Hello, Gryphon. It’s so nice to know your name.”
“This one is Stefan.” Psudina motioned to the other horse, whose coat was a speckled grey. “Both of them are Andalozians, which is a breed very popular in Quadling Country.”
“They’re so beautiful,” Saguaro said, stepping back to admire them. Though Avaric’s shires had impressed her, Saguaro was even more taken with the Andalozians’ powerful muscles and the lavishness of their manes.
A small figure emerged from the castle carrying a large trunk. Because the trunk was so big and he was carrying it vertically, the trunk completely hid his face.
Psudina laughed. “Gabryel, I thought you were going to ask Avaric to help you. That trunk is bigger than you are! Would you like me to take it from here?”
“No, it’s fine. I just need to catch my breath.”
He set down the trunk next to a few others and sat on it. As she got her first glimpse of his face, Saguaro realized that he was the same boy she had met in the stables the day before. She was relieved to see that his clothing was not quite as ridiculous as it had been in the barn. Although his shirt and vest were identical to the previous day, he had no tie and wore khaki pants in place of the striped knickers.
The boy seemed to notice her too, because his hazel eyes widened. Psudina, seeing his reaction, took matters into her own hands.
“Miss Guarie, meet my grandnephew, Master Gabryel. Though, the way I heard it, you’ve already met.”
Neither Gabryel nor Saguaro confirmed this. Saguaro noticed that Gabryel was clenching his hands.
“Gabryel, isn’t there something you wanted to tell Saguaro?” Psudina asked, shooting her grandnephew a meaningful look.
“Oh, right.” Gabryel fiddled with a loose button on his vest. “I’m, uh, really sorry about what happened yesterday. I was just trying to protect Doctor Dillamond, and, well, it won’t happen again.”
Though she had not quite forgiven Gabryel for interrupting their conversation, Saguaro forced herself to be polite. “It’s all right,” she said. Gabryel-was it only a coincidence that he had the same name as the castle?-looked relieved.
Once he had loaded his trunks into the carriage, Gabryel turned to Psudina. “Mom wanted me to ask if you were sure about driving the carriage by yourself.” He spoke in a much louder voice than he’d used while talking to Saguaro. “She says that you could use one of her coachmen if need be.”
“Didn’t you point out that I made it just fine from Quadling Country? Besides, it’s a much shorter drive to the Emerald City,” said Psudina.
“I tried. But you know how she is.” He gestured to his trunks in the luggage compartment, which numbered more than Sarima’s and Nor’s combined. “I didn’t want to bring half of these things to St. Ozma’s, but she insisted.”
“Well, I’ll explain to your mother that it was my idea when we see her again,” said Psudina.
Psudina climbed to the front seat as Gabryel and Saguaro settled in the back. Gabryel had brought a book along and buried his nose in it as soon as they were on their way.
Saguaro kept glancing from Gabryel to Psudina. Psudina was so focused on driving down the hill that she did not want to interrupt her, but Saguaro was impatient to have her question answered.
Finally, she said, “Gabryel? As in Camp Gabryel?”
“Um, yes.” Gabryel seemed startled that she had spoken to him. “My mom converted Kiamo Ko around the same time she adopted me, so I guess she had the name in her head.”
From the front seat, Psudina chuckled. Apparently, the driving did not require all of her attention. “Gabryel, haven’t you told her?”
Gabryel ran a hand through his hair. “I thought she knew.”
“Miss Guarie’s not from around here,” Psudina said. “I know you’re used to being recognized from the moment you step into a room, but Guarie hasn’t grown up with the same information your classmates have. Now, are you going to tell her about your mother or should I?” Her voice held an impish tone.
Gabryel turned a page of his book. “You can tell her, I guess.”
“If you insist.” Psudina exhaled in an exaggerated sigh. “Miss Guarie, allow me to again introduce you to Master Gabryel Upland, the son of my niece, Glinda.”
She felt as surprised as she had the previous day when the Goat had asked about her mother. “Your mother is Miss Glinda? Glinda the Good?”
Gabryel’s cheeks turned red. “Yes, she is.”
“Sorry, it’s just-” She had no idea how to explain the importance of meeting Glinda, without admitting that she’d been lying about finding her relatives. To think that she could have met Glinda if she hadn’t been trying to hide from everyone! Then again, she had almost met Glinda! After all, if Glinda was Gabryel’s mother, then Glinda must have been the woman he was speaking to when Saguaro was in the tunnel. Why in Oz’s name hadn’t someone told her that Glinda was at the meeting?
Finally, she said lamely, “I just had no idea that your mother was at the meeting. Come to think of it, I didn’t know she was married, either.”
“She’s not married,” said Psudina. “Or isn’t yet. Glinda hasn’t ever been married, although she’s currently engaged to a man named Wroc.”
“Wric,” Gabryel corrected her.
“Gabryel-” Psudina sounded amused in spite of herself. “I know you and Boq have that nickname for him, but you don’t use it in front of him, do you?”
“Boq’s told me about how Mom called him Biq at Shiz before she learned his name,” Gabryel said stubbornly. “If Boq had to endure that, then it’s only right that Wroc does, too.”
“All right, all right,” Psudina said. “I won’t come between you and Boq. Still, I’m staying impartial on this one. I can’t bear to think what Gadonna or your mother will say if I don’t.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” Gabryel said, sounding horrified at the thought.
Saguaro listened with interest as Psudina and Gabryel tossed around these unfamiliar names. She felt a sudden longing for her parents and the unique banter they shared. She missed being a part of something without worrying about fitting in.
Still, in other ways, she had never truly had that with her parents. She couldn’t tease them about anecdotes from their past, as Gabryel apparently could with this “Boq.” There were even times, like when her parents would laugh after she explained to people how to pronounce her name, that she felt ostracized from their jokes entirely.
It wasn’t just the bad parts of their pasts that Saguaro knew nothing about. She didn’t know anything about the good parts, either.
“So, Gabryel and Guarie, I have a surprise for you,” Psudina said, once they had made it down the hill. “Seeing as your mother isn’t accompanying us, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to take a different route to the Emerald City.”
Gabryel looked up from his book. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Indeed I am,” said Psudina. “You see, Guarie, normally when my niece goes to Kiamo Ko-excuse me, Camp Gabryel; I’m still not used to the new name, you see-she goes from the Emerald City through Kumbricia, so that she stays closer to civilization. I was thinking instead that we could go through the Great Gillikin Forest and camp out there for the night, before reaching the Emerald City tomorrow afternoon.”
Gabryel was grinning. “Thank you, Aunt Psudina. I love the Great Gillikin Forest. I hate that Mom never wants to go there.”
“Are both routes about the same distance?” Saguaro asked.
“Give or take a few hours,” said Psudina. “According to my plan, we’ll be almost done crossing the Great Gillikin Forest in about eight hours, and we can camp out near the edge of the forest. We’ll then have about six hours left on our journey tomorrow. If you like, Guarie, you can have a look at my map, so you can visualize it better.”
Psudina handed Saguaro her map, which turned out to be identical to the one Ie’ello had given her. Saguaro was about to study their route, but a notation at the bottom caught her attention. In cursive lettering, it read, A map amended by Doctor D. Dillamond in 1912, from the original by Professor H.M. Wogglebug in 1904.
“Doctor Dillamond!” she said aloud, unable to suppress her excitement. “That’s why the Goat’s name sounded so familiar!”
Gabryel bit his lip and returned his attention to his book.
“Oh, yes,” Psudina said. “Doctor Dillamond’s specialty is history, but cartography is another passion of his. He worked very hard in his off time to update that map.”
“And what does he do, exactly?” asked Saguaro, hoping to gauge more about how he might have known her mother. Though she had come to terms with the fact that she would have to wait a few days before asking Glinda her questions, she wasn’t taking a total break from sleuthing. “Is he a historian of some sort?”
“Actually, it’s quite a long story,” Psudina said. “Gabryel, would you mind handing Saguaro one of those cinnamon rolls I baked last night? I think this story needs a measure of sweetness.”
Glancing up from his book for only a short moment, Gabryel picked up a basket at his feet. Saguaro sorted through muffins and cheese sandwiches until she found an especially fat cinnamon roll.
“Doctor Dillamond’s story is quite sad,” Psudina said, as Saguaro savored the sweet pastry. “He used to be a professor at Shiz University, my alma mater, but circumstances changed this. I don’t suppose you know very much about the Cleansing Years when Animals were treated as the lesser species?”
“No, I’ve never heard of them before,” said Saguaro. “They sound terrible.”
“Quite,” said Psudina. “While Animals and people in Oz were originally regarded as equals, when the Great Drought occurred, this all began to change. People grew hungrier and angrier, and they needed a scapegoat of sorts. That’s when they turned to the Animals.”
“That’s horrible,” Saguaro whispered, a frosty feeling settling in her stomach. For the most part, Cascadian Animals were never treated any differently from people. Still, her mother had always worked hard to defend them when minor skirmishes occurred. Perhaps this explained why. “You’re saying that there were laws against them?”
“There were,” said Psudina grimly. “Many were fired from their jobs and were denied the same educational opportunities as people. But by far the worst part was that many Animals actually forgot how to speak and became more animal in nature.”
“Animals forgot how to speak?” Saguaro said in bewilderment. “How is that possible?”
“There is some disparity about this,” said Psudina. “Most people are under the impression that they were simply pressured not to speak, but there is evidence that a darker power was involved. Regardless, the whole matter was kept very hushed at the time. Only a few of us knew the scope of what was happening.”
“And Doctor Dillamond was one of the Animals involved?” asked Saguaro.
“He was. I was never in any of his classes, but he did teach Glinda. At first, it seemed like Doctor Dillamond would be all right. He was the only Animal professor at Shiz for a while, which was quite a feat considering that most universities had no Animals on faculty. But he was soon fired and succumbed to the same fate as the others.”
“Are he and the other Animals all right now?” said Saguaro.
“Well, things still aren’t perfect, but they’re a lot better than they were. Glinda’s fought hard to give Animals equal rights, and one of Gabryel’s current teachers is an Ox. As for Doctor Dillamond…that stable you were in isn’t an ordinary stable. Soon after my niece became Leader of Oz, she opened up a few Animal Rehabilitation Centers or “A.R.C.’s” for short. The stable is the A.R.C. for Winkie Country. It’s a program where Animals teach other Animals who were similarly affected by the laws, and they slowly work their way through recovery. Doctor Dillamond started out as a student, and now he’s one of the teachers. It’s too bad you saw it during summer break; it is an amazing program when it’s in full session.”
“He’s much better, but he still has trouble sometimes,” Gabryel said, putting aside his book and joining the conversation for the first time. “He’s very nervous around unfamiliar people, and sometimes that makes him relapse a little.”
“That’s why you were so against me seeing him,” Saguaro said. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
Gabryel shrugged. “You didn’t know.”
She was relieved that she had not sought out Doctor Dillamond again. Though he had seemed all right when talking to her, it had probably been dumb luck. Besides, Psudina had already given her a new possibility to consider: perhaps Doctor Dillamond had taught her mother.
She knew one thing for certain. Her mother had been involved in the crusade for Animal rights. She was sure that her mother had not sat idly by while such a thing was happening. She had always defended Saguaro when Cascadians had called her Ordinary, and she would have stood up for the Animals of Oz, too.
Psudina lightened the conversation by telling Saguaro more about her job as Quadling Country’s ambassador along with funny anecdotes about her sister, Gadonna. Gadonna was apparently quite a character, and although she lived with Gabryel and his mother, she was currently visiting friends in the Upper Uplands of Gillikin Country. Psudina also tried to encourage conversation between Saguaro and Gabryel, but Gabryel remained more interested in reading his book than talking.
When they entered the Great Gillikin Forest, Saguaro was struck by the character of the environment. Every type of tree she could imagine surrounded her, from pines and oaks to maples and willows. Some trees she had never seen before. Psudina pointed to one particularly massive tree that was called a “quoxwood.” It was sky blue in color, and its flakey bark reminded her of dragon scales.
They pulled into a small clearing at the edge of a flowing stream a few hours before nightfall. Gabryel set up the tent, Saguaro retrieved firewood, and Psudina tended to the horses.
As they ate their dinner of grilled vegetable patties (Psudina, like Saguaro, was a vegetarian), they all stared into the fire. Psudina broke their long silence when she asked, “Gabryel, what’s that book you’ve been reading?”
“It’s a revisionist tale of Princess Langwidere,” said Gabryel. “It tells how she got all her heads and so forth.”
“Ah, Princess Langwidere,” Psudina said. She stood up and waved her hands in front of the fire. The flames swirled into an image of a beautiful woman, who was holding a curly haired head. An instant later, the curly haired head was on top of the woman’s body and she was holding the head she’d been wearing just moments before.
“Legend has it that Princess Langwidere of Ev changed heads in the same way most of us change clothes,” said Psudina, seeing Saguaro’s astonishment. “A bit of a gruesome tale, really.”
“It’s a good book, though,” said Gabryel. “I’d love to write something like it someday.”
Psudina smiled. “I have no doubt that you will.”
After their dessert of roasted munchmallows, a treat Saguaro had never tried before, Gabryel disappeared into the tent to read. Psudina chuckled when she noticed Saguaro’s sticky hands.
“Have another one. We have plenty more.”
“Are you sure?” Saguaro asked. “I’ve already had two.”
“Quite sure,” said Psudina.
Saguaro complied and began roasting another one in the fire.
“I’m sorry about Gabryel,” said Psudina after a few minutes. “He’s always been very shy. I can still remember the first time he came onstage for one of his mother’s speeches. He was so scared by the audience that he hid under her dress.”
“That’s understandable,” said Saguaro, relieved to hear that the cause for Gabryel’s behavior was shyness rather than snobbery. “I wasn’t very outgoing as a little girl, either.”
“Honestly, I think it’s been worse since his mother sent him to St. Ozma’s this year. That’s the preparatory school Glinda went to, but since it’s located near her home in the Upper Uplands, she was able to live at home and not board. It’s been difficult for him living so far away. The fact that Glinda has since met Wroc and become engaged to him can’t have helped. Gabryel’s only met Wroc a few times, you see.”
“That must be hard,” Saguaro said. Being away from home now was difficult enough; she couldn’t imagine leaving home at eleven.
She withdrew her munchmallow from the fire and allowed it some time to cool. “Tell me about Miss Glinda. What’s she like?”
A wide smile spread across Psudina’s face. “Ah, Glinda. Well, I’m not sure how to start. She’s a person who is very hard to describe to someone who doesn’t know her. She gets her bubbly and feminine side from her mother, although she’s nowhere near as fussy as Gadonna. She was a bit sheltered and spoiled when she was younger-my sister’s influence, to be sure-but she’s grown up to be an extraordinary woman. I’m extremely proud of her.”
Saguaro took a moment to muster the courage to ask her next question. “Do you think I might be able to meet her?”
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Glinda will be thrilled to meet you,” said Psudina.
Saguaro took the munchmallow off her stick and popped it into her mouth. The gooeyness made it difficult to respond.
“You know, Guarie, I don’t mean to pry, but I want you to know that I’m here if you need to talk or have any questions. I’m sure it’s very difficult for you to be out on your own.”
Saguaro considered this for a moment. The truth was that she had a multitude of questions. She’d been wondering even more about her parents’ pasts in the last few days.
Still, since she couldn’t reveal any of this without disclosing her lies, Saguaro instead told Psudina about her strange feelings in the tower. She left out the part about the torches lighting themselves, as this wasn’t something she was ready to talk about.
Psudina frowned thoughtfully after Saguaro finished. “You know, Guarie, I’ve always been a firm believer that the nature of one’s powers comes from a deep place in the subconscious. A sorceress who is concerned about her destiny may be more likely to have visions of the future, just as a sorceress like myself, who has always been interested in the psyches of others, may be more skilled at reading auras.”
“So you’re saying that whatever I felt in the tower connects to a part of my subconscious?” Saguaro asked.
“In a way, yes,” said Psudina. “There are other possibilities, but that is the one I’m sticking with. Perhaps it’s also connected to the strong violet I read in your aura.” She was referring to Saguaro’s aura color that signified her desire to seek out her destiny.
Saguaro mulled over Psudina’s theory as she tried to fall asleep that night. Nothing made any sense, especially since she had never been in the tower before.
At this thought, Saguaro sat up, remembering what Psudina had said about her strong violet. She might not have been in the tower before, but she had no idea whether this was true for the two people closest to her.
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