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XVIII. The Emerald City

 

Saguaro couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. Various images and thoughts kept swirling and colliding in her mind.

 

Doctor Dillamond. Her mother. Glinda. The Wicked Witch of the West. Nor. The cork. Her father. Prince Fyre. Her powers. Green skin.

 

Saguaro realized that she had been deluding herself. She had been so focused on the benefits of learning the truth that she hadn’t taken the time to acknowledge the potential harm involved. There was a reason her parents hadn’t told her about their pasts. Just as Nor would be stunned to discover the identity of her real father, Saguaro would likely be shaken by the truth as well.

 

Maybe her parents had been stowed away in the tower of the Wicked Witch of the West. Perhaps her mother had had a run-in with the Witch that had left her seriously shaken. Maybe her mother had been tortured for her involvement in the crusade for Animal rights, and possibly both of her parents’ childhoods had been more difficult than Saguaro had ever imagined.

 

She could theorize all she wanted, but hypothesizing wouldn’t bring her any closer to the essence of the truth.

 

By the next morning, Saguaro was exhausted. She’d also begun to worry about how she would search for the truth in the Emerald City while pretending to find her relatives. Would she have to admit that she had been lying the entire time?

 

Psudina noticed that she was distracted, but Saguaro shrugged it off by saying that she had once again begun to experience the aches and pains of the woozeberries. Though Psudina frowned, she repeated the healing ritual. Strangely enough, this did make Saguaro feel a little better.

 

She managed to sleep for the first few hours of their journey. When she awoke, she asked Gabryel to lend her a piece of paper from the notebook he was writing in. She hoped that drawing would distract her from what lay ahead.

 

This turned out to be the wrong decision. What started as a self-portrait turned into a picture of her mother.

 

Meanwhile, they continued to grow closer to their destination. An emerald glow appeared in the sky before them. It grew bigger and brighter until they finally reached a green wall and a gilded gate, both of which were studded with glittering emeralds.

 

Psudina stopped the carriage and turned to Saguaro. “Would you like to ring the bell?” she asked, pointing to a bell beside the gate.

 

“Is it important that I do it?” Saguaro asked.

 

“Not especially,” said Psudina. “Still, it’s part of the ritual for entering the Emerald City for the first time.”

 

Saguaro rang the bell. A moment later, the gate swung open, and they drove into a large room, which was lined with even more jewels than the gate and wall outside.

 

A tiny man with a curly mustache greeted them. He was clad in emerald from head to toe and wore the green glasses Nor had told Saguaro about.

 

“Why, if it isn’t the Good Witch of the South and the son of Glinda the Good!” he said, then furrowed his brows at Saguaro. “And who is this?”

 

“This is Guarie, a good friend of ours,” said Psudina. “It’s her very first time in the Emerald City, so she needs to experience an authentic welcome.”

 

“But of course,” said the man. He opened a large box on the floor to reveal a collection of green spectacles. The man searched until he found the right pair and then fitted them on Saguaro. As she gazed through them, the already green room turned an even more vivid shade of emerald. Best of all, Psudina’s and Gabryel’s skin looked as green as hers.

 

“What about the two of you?” asked the man, turning to Psudina and Gabryel. “Would you like glasses as well?”

 

“I think we will,” said Psudina. “Actually, as long as we’re on that subject, there’s something Glinda wanted me to ask you. I know that the rules requiring citizens to wear green glasses have been more relaxed as of late, but Glinda thought that in honor of the upcoming festivities to celebrate sixteen years since she took rule and such, she would ask you to again require glasses to be worn at all times.”

 

“Consider it done,” said the man. “I’ll inform the guards around the city to notify anyone who isn’t wearing glasses. I always find the city more magnificent through the glasses myself. Should we also enforce the use of spectacle locks? That is the way we did things during the Wizard’s Regime, and it would ensure that people always wear their glasses.”

 

“That’s a good idea,” said Psudina. “You don’t need to do it for the three of us, as I can promise that we won’t take them off, but I think it would be a good idea for everyone else.” She winked at Saguaro. “After all, we wouldn’t want anyone ruining the fun.”

 

After Psudina and Gabryel were similarly fitted for their glasses, the man appraised them with a warm smile. “What do you say? Shall I arrange an appointment for the three of you at the Wash and Brush Up Company, or would you like me to play a song on my mouth organ?”

 

“Not this time,” said Psudina. “Still, we’ll keep the offer in mind for later.”

 

The man tipped his hat, and they were on their way again.

 

“Prepare to be amazed,” Psudina said, just as they passed through another gate and entered the city for the first time.

 

Saguaro held her breath.

 

Twinkling before her was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen. Everything was green, from the tall towers above to the glimmering stone pavement below. Dozens of laughing people lined the streets, some carrying balloons or parasols and others twirling long wands with silky ribbons on the ends. Women wore elaborate dresses in a wide array of festive styles, and men were clad in pleated shirts and green trousers. Many also wore fancy hats atop their heads.

 

The city was crowded with food carts that filled the air with aromas from a medley of snacks and confections. Vendors called out scintillating descriptions of their menu items in an effort to entice prospective customers. Saguaro noticed a stall selling green popcorn, another selling green candy floss, and a third that sold green lemonade. She wondered whether the colors were real or due to the glasses she was wearing.

 

One little girl’s attention was also drawn to the green lemonade. She pushed her way through the crowd, then ran towards the stall. By the time the girl’s mother, a tall woman dressed in green furs, caught up to her, the girl had already bought herself a tall drink. Saguaro laughed as the woman scolded her.

 

Before the little girl could respond, one voice drowned out the others. “Look! Over there! It’s the Good Witch of the South and Gabryel Upland!”

 

At this announcement, everyone began pointing and staring.

 

Saguaro tensed. She was sure that at least one person would not be wearing their glasses or that someone would demand to know the identity of the strange girl in the carriage. But instead, no one seemed to notice her at all. They all began to surround them, their eyes focused on Psudina and Gabryel.

 

“Now, now, it’s very nice to see you, too,” said Psudina, as a wide-eyed Gabryel seemed to shrink before them. “We’ve had a very long journey, however, and I’m sure all of you understand how eager we are to rest.”

 

One woman holding a notepad forced her way to the front of the crowd, her broad-brimmed hat overflowing with ribbons. “But this is the first time we’ve seen either of you in ages. Just a few tick tocks of your time, and then you can be on your way. Psudina, how are things going in Quadling Country? Gabryel, how did you like boarding school?” She glanced at Saguaro. “Is that where you met your little girlfriend?”

 

The clamoring crowd closed in on them. Several people begged for autographs. Saguaro even noticed the flash of a camera from the corner of her eye.

 

“In the name of goodness, halt!”

 

A tall man had shoved through the crowd and was holding his arms in the air. His gold armband displayed the official symbol of Oz, a “Z” circumscribed by the letter “O.”

 

“As Ms. Psudina said, she and Gabryel are weary from their travels. You are showing great disrespect by forcing yourselves upon them,” said the man. “Now, go in peace. I’ll take over from here.”

 

The crowd dispersed, and the man began to lead their carriage through the streets. Though onlookers continued to stare and whisper, no one else approached the carriage.

 

“Thank you,” said Psudina, once they reached a quieter corner. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here.”

 

“You’re lucky I was,” said the man. “Miss Glinda sent a telegraph to Wroc to inform him that you two might be arriving today, and he told the rest of us guards to keep a lookout for you. I think she was concerned that something like this might happen.”

 

Psudina sighed. “I suppose my niece was right to be so concerned. I’m still not used to being noticed in public. Being Quadling Country’s ambassador was never supposed to be a glamorous job.”

 

“I suppose when someone is dubbed the Good Witch of the South, things begin to change,” the man agreed.

 

They followed the signs to “Upland Road” until they reached a more secluded section of the city. A beautiful emerald palace stood amid an elaborate garden. With its shimmering diamond shaped windows and the lush pastel flowers of the garden, the palace’s welcoming feel contrasted greatly to the foreboding nature of Camp Gabryel.

 

The man guided the carriage to the entryway, where two palace guards helped unload the trunk. “Before I take my leave, would you like me to return the carriage?” he asked.

 

“Thank you. That would be much appreciated,” Psudina said.

 

The man drove the carriage to a stable across the street, while the guards helped bring in their luggage. Neither asked about Saguaro.

 

After they entered the palace, another pair of guards greeted them in a high arched foyer. A man made entirely of tin sat at a desk in the room’s center. Unlike the other citizens of the Emerald City, he was not wearing green glasses.

 

Gabryel ran over to engulf the tin man in a massive hug. “Boq! I’ve missed you so much!”

 

“I’ve missed you too, Gabryel,” “Boq” said, his grey eyes dancing. In contrast to his tin exterior, his eyes were completely human. “Things haven’t been the same without you. Look how tall you’ve grown!”

 

“You saw me in April,” said Gabryel, rolling his eyes. “I haven’t grown that much.”

 

“Be that as it may, you’ll be taller than both your mother and me before you know it,” Boq said. He was indeed a short fellow and only a few inches taller than Saguaro.

 

Boq was equally enthusiastic when he greeted Psudina, but something seemed to change when he noticed Saguaro. His tin face suddenly lost its shine. Though he forced a smile after Psudina introduced her, Saguaro could tell that he was nonplussed.

 

Psudina, perhaps to compensate, motioned to two doors on either side of Boq’s desk. “Guarie, the door to the right leads to Glinda’s public quarters, where her office and the ballroom are located, and the other leads to her private living quarters. I was thinking that we could have a snack in the private quarters while the guards bring in our things.”

 

“All right,” said Saguaro.

 

In the dining room, they sat at a long table and took out the leftover cinnamon rolls and sandwiches. Saguaro kept looking around, intrigued by the crystal plates and the watercolor still lifes on the walls. It was hard to believe that she was sitting in the dining room of the person who could have the answers to all her questions.

 

“Oh, no!” said Gabryel suddenly. “The saguaro cactus you gave me!” He pronounced it “sa-wah-ro,” in contrast to the enunciated “guh” of Saguaro’s name. “I forgot to ask Mom whether anyone has been caring for it.”

 

“Don’t worry, Gabryel,” said Psudina. “Your mother mentioned how healthy it’s looking just the other day.”

 

Gabryel relaxed, but Saguaro straightened. “You have a cactus? A saguaro?”

 

“Yes, I gave it to him about a year ago,” said Psudina. “They’re native to Quadling Country. Why? Do you know about saguaros?”

 

“Well, as a matter of fact, ‘Guarie’ is short for Saguaro,” she said, a bit relieved for the excuse to explain about her full name. While “Guarie” was her nickname, being called by it exclusively felt like another lie. “It’s what I’m normally called, but when I mentioned my nickname, ‘Guarie,’ in my sleep, Nor and the others heard me, and it stuck. Saguaro’s the name I prefer, actually. I’ve always pronounced it differently, though. Whereas the ‘guh’ of the cactus is silent, for my name, it’s Saguaro with the ‘guh.’”

 

Gabryel’s mouth was hanging open. Psudina, also looking startled, put a hand on his arm. “Gabryel, why don’t you bring Miss Guarie…err, Sa-gwar-oyour cactus? I’m sure she’d love to see it.”

 

Gabryel left and returned with a potted baby saguaro. Saguaro was quiet as she took in the long, yellow spines and the waxy skin of the plant for which she had been named. She wondered if her father had been similarly moved the first time he’d laid eyes on a saguaro.

 

“Wow,” she said finally. “My father told me a lot about saguaros, but I’ve never seen one in person before.” She was overtaken by the urge to stroke the cactus, but restrained herself because of the prickles. “It’s so beautiful.”

 

Psudina had been watching her intently. When Gabryel and Saguaro turned to look at her, she cleared her throat. “Gabryel, do you mind leaving Saguaro and me alone for a moment? There’s something I need to talk to her about.”

 

Gabryel shook his head and left the room.

 

Saguaro swallowed hard, her sense of awe swept away. She had a feeling Psudina was about to ask about her plans to find her “relatives,” and she wasn’t sure she was ready for this discussion.

 

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