Psudina led Saguaro to a terrace that offered a magnificent view of the gardens below. The sweet fragrance of the flowers was prevalent in the air.
Moths were swarming in Saguaro’s stomach. If Psudina were to ask her about her plans to find her “relatives,” she had no idea what her response would be.
She glanced again at the potted cactus in her hands. I can do it. Saguaro cactuses can survive for up to two years without water. I was named “Saguaro” for a reason. I can be strong, too.
“You said your father told you about saguaro cactuses?” said Psudina finally.
Saguaro nodded, relieved that Psudina hadn’t asked about her plans. “He’s the one who came up with my name. Apparently, someone gave him a saguaro long ago, and he wanted to name me after something that was unconventionally beautiful, where you have to look a little harder to see its appeal. He thought my name would be stronger with the pronounced ‘g.’”
“You know, it’s funny how life turns out,” Psudina said, looking from the cactus to Saguaro. “Who could predict that the gift of a saguaro cactus to a young boy would one day inspire the name of his daughter? As a matter of fact, the story behind your name reminds me of a boy and girl I once knew. Would you like to hear about them? ”
“Sure,” Saguaro said. Though she wasn’t sure why Psudina wanted to tell her this story, perhaps it would give her time to think about what she was going to tell Psudina about finding her relatives.
Psudina reached out to smooth back Saguaro’s hair before starting.
“As you may have gathered, I’ve been the Quadling ambassador for most of my adult life. I became interested in defending the rights of Quadlings when I first visited Quadling Country in college, and I moved there as soon as I graduated. Although it took a lot of work and trust building, especially because women were not revered in politics at the time, I eventually became the Quadling Country ambassador.
“During this time, Oz had no central leader, as the Wizard had not yet taken power. People were still struggling from the effects of the Great Drought, which had impacted Animal rights at the time. The Emerald City, which was then known as Ozmatown, had also not yet been transformed. As a result, Oz relied on the leaders and representatives of each of the individual Lands more than ever. We gathered together to form the Council of Four, which was comprised of Frexspar, the then governor of Munchkinland; King Marlillot of Winkie Country; Gillikin Country’s prime minister; and myself.”
“So you were the only woman on the Council?” said Saguaro, getting caught up in the story despite herself.
Psudina smiled. “You picked up on that, didn’t you? It was certainly difficult at times. I had always been the black Sheep of my family, and my sister in particular couldn’t understand why I had turned away from our elite lifestyle in the Upper Uplands to live among the impoverished Quadlings. I daresay she didn’t understand why I never married, either. She wasn’t the only one. The other members of the Council were similarly wary-Frex, in particular.”
“He was the governor of Munchkinland?”
“Exactly.” Psudina laughed a little at the memory. “Oh, Frex! To be honest, the two of us never got along. He was quite religious and didn’t feel that an unmarried woman had a place in politics. I always felt sorry for his wife. Still, as a member of the Council, it was my duty to be courteous, and when their baby girl was born, I sent her a gift. I suppose you can say that is where the story begins.”
“Is this the girl you thought of when you heard my name?”
Psudina chuckled. “You’re very good at keeping up, aren’t you? As a matter of fact, yes. Unfortunately, the little girl encountered bad luck from the moment she was born. You see, she was born with a…birthmark of sorts, which was visible to everyone she met. It was ironic, really. Frex had always preached that such defects are brought on by the devil, and then his own daughter ended up with one.”
“So Frex wasn’t happy that his daughter looked the way she did?”
“I’m afraid not. Frex always was a small-minded man. The first time he saw me after receiving the gift, he was very flustered, and I could tell that something was wrong. Luckily, since he was hosting that particular meeting at his home, I managed to convince him to let me meet the little girl. I fell in love with her the moment her mother placed her in my arms. Birthmark or not, I could tell the girl was special and that the violet in her aura was more pronounced than any other violet I had ever seen. As a matter of fact, the only other person I’ve met with such a pronounced violet is you.
“I couldn’t get the girl out of my mind. As I went about my work in Quadling Country, I found myself thinking about her and wondering how she was doing. Her parents ended up having another daughter, and her mother died giving birth to this younger girl. My heart ached when I heard of the two motherless girls. I always made sure to visit them whenever I was in Munchkinland, though I must confess that I was much closer to the older of the two. The younger girl was confined to a wheelchair due to a complication during her birth and was favored by her father. As soon as she was able, the elder girl became the primary caretaker for her younger sister, even though she was just eighteen months older.”
Saguaro thought of her mother, whose circumstances were so similar. She wondered if her mother had been responsible for her younger sister, too.
“Meanwhile, King Marlillot of Winkie Country and his wife also had two children. The elder of the two boys was about the same age as the older of Frex’s daughters. When the younger son was born, I gave him a gold goblet and the older boy a baby saguaro cactus from my home in the Lower Lowlands. The queen was quite displeased by this unique gift, but the older son was instantly taken by the cactus.” Psudina laughed again. “I can still remember how confused he was when I explained that although saguaro is spelled with a ‘g,’ it isn’t pronounced.
“Unfortunately, just like the elder of Frex’s daughters, the older Winkie Prince’s childhood was not an easy one. Due to unique circumstances, his younger brother became Crown Prince. Young Prince Tiyago received all the attention, and his older brother was very much ignored.”
“Wait just a clock tick,” Saguaro said, thinking back to the Fyre stories. “You’re saying this boy was King Tiyago’s brother?” Was it possible that Prince Fyre had existed, after all?
“Yes, he was,” said Psudina. “You didn’t know King Tiyago had a brother?”
“I had no idea.”
“I’m not surprised. Honestly, I think most people forget about his elder brother entirely. He became disowned from his family and is rarely talked about, though I can assure you that none of it was his fault. Still, that’s another story for another time.
“I found myself feeling for this older of the two princes in the same way I felt for the older of Frex’s daughters. I made a special effort to include visits to both of them whenever I went to meetings in Winkie Country or Munchkinland and offered myself as a confidant for them to talk to. Both were beautiful people in their own ways. The girl was strong and optimistic despite her life circumstances, and though a bit more confused about his place in the world, the boy was also very special. I’ve never met anyone else who made me laugh as much as he did. When they left for their respective colleges, I hoped that their lives would improve.”
“And did they?” Saguaro asked, remembering Prince Fyre’s struggles at his various schools.
“I suppose that depends on how you define success. The girl threw herself into her studies, and although she did not make many friends at school, she became a standout student. With the boy, the opposite occurred. He became so engrossed in his social life that he abandoned his studies entirely, and he ended up failing out of many schools.”
Saguaro caught her breath. The exact same thing had happened to Prince Fyre.
For the first time in a long while, she found herself wondering if Prince Fyre really was her father. This would explain how her father had gotten a saguaro cactus and the similarities between Psudina’s story and Fyre’s. Still, even though all evidence was pointing in that direction, Saguaro refused to believe it. Her father was the person she trusted most in the world. He would not lie to her. Even if Fyre were real, that did not mean he was her father.
Psudina continued. “Finally, the boy found a school that was a good fit for him. As it turned out, this was the same school that Frex’s daughters were attending.”
“And did he and the girl ever meet?” Saguaro asked.
Psudina’s eyes twinkled. “As a matter of fact, in one of the strangest coincidences I have ever experienced, they did. And do you know what happened next?”
Saguaro shook her head.
“They fell in love.”
Saguaro’s stomach filled with moths again. For a moment, she felt as though she were back in her bedroom with her father, waiting to hear the end of Prince Fyre’s tale. If the story was going where she thought it was, then this girl had to be Fae, the girl with whom Fyre had fallen in love. She had always been bothered by the story’s ambiguous ending. Maybe Psudina knew the details of what happened to them.
“What happened next? Did they ever marry or have children?”
Psudina startled her by bursting into laughter. “I apologize, but I’m not sure if I’m the best person to answer those questions. I lost track of them soon after they fell in love.”
Saguaro’s enthusiasm disappeared as quickly as it had come. “Why did you lose track of them?”
“Well, to be honest, up until recently, I was under the impression that they had died.”
Saguaro swallowed. “Died?”
No wonder her father had never given her a straight answer about what had happened to Fyre and Fae.
Seeing Saguaro’s expression, Psudina reached out to touch her hand. “Oh, Saguaro, there’s no need to be so nervous! I was merely under the impression they had died. I’m not finished with the story yet.”
“You mean they’re not dead after all?”
“I can’t answer that yet,” Psudina said, causing Saguaro’s confusion to persist. “But I can tell you the end of my story.
“Although this boy and girl disappeared from my life, I never forgot about them. I still loved them very much, and I never stopped thinking about them. Every so often, I wondered if I had been wrong about their deaths, and if so, how they were doing. But I never let myself think about this for long. It was too painful, I suppose.
“And then, a few days ago, I found myself at another meeting…this time of the Council of Five. Now that Oz has a central leader, we have five members instead of four, and I am the only representative who also served on the old Council. Before the meeting, I had no reason to expect anything extraordinary to occur. Instead, I was focused on the updates I would give at the meeting and on spending time with Gabryel and Glinda after the meetings concluded.
“But then, the morning before our first meeting, Sarima asked to speak to me in private. She led me to an empty corridor, where a portrait of King Tiyago’s brother as a little boy still hung on the walls.
“There, she told me about the girl she, Avaric, and Nor had found lying on the road a few days before. The girl had had an allergic reaction to woozeberries, and Sarima had brought her along in the hopes that I could heal her. The girl had also used sorcery to save Nor from being kidnapped by two men who were intent on finding the next Ozma. Perhaps most curious of all, the girl had green skin, though Sarima did not want that to hinder my opinion of her. I went to heal her during a lunch break a few hours later.”
“I don’t understand,” Saguaro interrupted, the moths’ wings flapping wildly. “What do I have to do with your story?”
Psudina squeezed Saguaro’s hand.
“You have everything to do with it,” she said softly. “You see, Tiyago’s brother was named Fiyero Tigelaar…and the older of Frexspar’s daughters was Elphaba Thropp.”
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