Wicked 2 – Son of a Witch
Wicked 2 – Son of a Witch
Wicked 2 – Son of a Witch
By Maquire, Gregory
?THANKS ARE DUE to the team at ReganBooks, starting with Judith Regan and including CassieJones, Paul Olsewski, and Jennifer Suitor.
?Thank you to David Groff, Betty Levin, Andy Newman, and William Reiss for commenting on earlydrafts ofSon of a Witch .
?Thank you to Haven Kimmel and to Eve Ensler, for encouraging words sent at precisely the rightmoment.
?Thank you to Harriet Barlow, Ben Strader, and the company of Blue Mountain Center, New York.
?Thank you, again, to Andy Newman, for defending the ramparts as usual, and to Lori Shelly, forable assistance at every wicked little thing.
Under the Jackal Moon
?The House of Saint Glinda
?SO THE TALK OF RANDOM BRUTALITYwasn’t just talk. At noontime they discovered the bodies ofthree young women, out on some mission of conversion that appeared to have gone awry. Thenovice maunts had been strangled by their ropes of holy beads, and their faces removed.
?Her nerve being shaken at last, Oatsie Manglehand now caved in to the demands of her payingcustomers. She told the team drivers they’d pause only long enough to dig some shallow graveswhile the horses slaked their thirst. Then the caravan would press on across the scrubby flatsknown, for the failed farmsteads abandoned here and there, as the Disappointments.
?Moving by night, at least they wouldn’t make a sitting target, though they might as easilywander into trouble as sidestep it. Still, Oatsie’s party was antsy. Hunker down all night andwait for horse hoofs, spears? Too hard on everyone. Oatsie consoled herself: If the caravankept moving, she could sit forward with her eyes peeled, out of range of the carping, thesecond-guessing, the worrying.
?With the benefit of height, therefore, Oatsie spotted the gully before anyone else did. Thecloudburst at sunset had fed a small trackside rivulet that flowed around a flank of skin,water-lacquered in the new moonlight. An island, she feared, of human flesh.
?I ought to turn aside before the others notice, she thought; how much more can they take?There is nothing I can do for that human soul. The digging of another trench would require anhour, minimum. An additional few moments for prayers. The project would only further agitatethese clients as they obsess about their own precious mortality.
?Upon the knee of the horizon balanced the head of a jackal moon, so-called because, once everygeneration or so, a smear of celestial flotsam converged behind the crescent moon of earlyautumn. The impact was creepy, a look of a brow and a snout. As the moon rounded out over aperiod of weeks, the starveling would turn into a successful hunter, its cheeks bulging.
?Always a fearsome sight, the jackal moon tonight spooked Oatsie Manglehand further.Don’t stopfor this next casualty. Get through the Disappointments, deliver these paying customers to thegates of the Emerald City . But she resisted giving in to superstition. Be scared of the realjackals, she reminded herself, not frets and nocturnal portents.
?In any case, the light of the constellation alleviated some of the color blindness that setsin at night. The body was pale, almost luminous. Oatsie might divert the Grasstrail Train andgive the corpse a wide berth before anyone else noticed it, but the slope of the person’sshoulders, the unnatural twist of legs—the jackal moon made her read the figure too well, astoo clearly human, for her to be able to turn aside.
?Nubb, she barked to her second, rein in. We’ll pull into flank formation up that rise.There’s another fatality, there in the runoff.
?Cries of alarm as the news passed back, and another mutter of mutiny: Why should theystop?—were they to bear witness to every fresh atrocity? Oatsie didn’t listen. She yanked thereins of her team of horses, to halt them, and she lowered herself gingerly. She stumped, herhand on her sore hip, until she stood a few feet over the body.
?Face down and genitals hidden, he appeared to have been a young man. A few scraps of fabricwere still knotted about his waist, and a boot some yards distant, but he was otherwise naked,and no sign of his clothes.
?Curious: no evidence of the assassins. Neither had there been about the bodies of the maunts,but that was on rockier ground, in a drier hour. Oatsie couldn’t see any sign of scuffle here,and in the mud of the gulch one might have expected…something. The body wasn’t bloody, nordecayed yet; the murder was recent. Perhaps this evening, perhaps only an hour ago.
?Nubb, let’s heave him up and see if they’ve taken his face, she said.
?No blood, said Nubb.
?Blood may have run off in that cloudburst. Steel yourself, now.
?They got on either side of the body and bit their lips. She looked at Nubb, meaning: It’sonly the next thing, it’s not the last thing. Let’s get through this, fellow.
?She jerked her head in the direction of the hoist. One, two, heave.
?They got him up. His head had fallen into a natural scoop in the stone, a few inches higherthan where the rain had pooled. His face was intact, more or less; that is to say, it was stillthere, though shattered.
?How did he get here? said Nubb. And why didn’t they scrape him?
?Oatsie just shook her head. She settled on her haunches. Her travelers had come forward andwere congregating on the rise behind her; she could hear them rustling. She suspected that theyhad gathered stones, and were ready to kill her if she insisted on a burial.
?The jackal moon rose a few notches higher, as if trying to see into the gulley. The prurienceof the heavens!
?We’re not going to dig another grave. That from her noisiest client, a wealthy trader fromthe northern Vinkus. Not his, Oatsie Manglehand, and not yours, either. We’re not doing it. Weleave him unburied and alone, or we leave him unburied with your corpse for company.
?We don’t need to do either, said Oatsie. She sighed. Poor, poor soul, whoever he is. He needsno grave. He isn’t dead yet.
?IN TIME,when the travelers had rejoined their cronies and relatives in the Emerald City—insalons, in public houses, in taverns of exchange—they heard more chatter about the hostilitiesthey had managed to sidestep. Rumor flourished. Forty, sixty, a hundred deaths resulting fromthe skirmishes between the Scrow and the Yunamata. Barbarians, the lot of them: They deservedto kill off each other. But not us.
?Rumor could be wrong, of course, but it couldn’t be uninteresting. Two hundred dead. Twicethat. Mass graves, and they would be foundany day .
?But the luxury of safety came later. First, the Grasstrail Train still had to resume itssnail’s progress through the Disappointments. Geographical variety—the hills, mountains,dales and forests that made the rest of Oz so memorable, such a heartland—was in short supplyhere. Just flats, shales, more flats, grey as pulped newspapers.
?The prospect was dispiriting, and the notion of having to carry an invalid with them didn’timprove matters. Oatsie Manglehand’s clients had paid good hard cash for her service. Someoriginating from as far away as Ugabu, and others having joined the group along the easternfoothills of the Great Kells, they considered their own safe travel should be Oatsie’s soleconcern.
?Oatsie reminded them that they didn’t have a vote. She’d never represented that her clientswould travel unencumbered by waifs and strays. Indeed, by terms of their contracts, she wasfree of liability should any of the travelers be murdered on the trail by a fellow passenger, astowaway, a hitchhiker, a native. Oatsie had promised to lead the caravan as safely as shecould, relying on her knowledge of the terrain and its populations. That was it. Period. Tothat end, she’d chosen a new route intended to avoid the current hot spots of intertribalconflict, and so far so good. Right?
?The invalid was loaded aboard.
?Despite her bravado, Oatsie was indeed sensitive to her clients’ fears, and in a way she wasglad to have the unconscious young man with them. It distracted the travelers, while heremained oblivious of their resentment.
?She bedded him in the third carriage back, requisitioning from her clients the warmest ofwinter robes. She mounded him into a cocoon. There he languished, day and night, not so much
fevered as feverless—an equally worrying condition. After a day of trying, Nubb was able tospoon a few tips of brandy between the lad’s lips, and Oatsie fancied she saw his musclesrelax in a new way.
?She couldn’t be certain of this. She was no doctor.
?Of one thing she was sure, though. With his arrival, the mood of the Grasstrail Train changed.Why? Perhaps this: If the poor creature had been beaten to within an inch of his life, andlived, there might be hope for all of them. Think about it:His face hadn’t been scraped .People relaxed. The nasal buzz of prayers around the supper campfire gave way to a quietermood. Song returned, in time.
?We’ll make it. We deserve to. The privilege of life has been accorded us, see? We’ve beensaved. Must be for a reason. Spines straightened, eyes grew bright and moist in a rapture ofgratitude at the plan of the Unnamed God.
?Another week and they had rounded the landmark rocks that marked their U-turn north, and theyleft behind them in the Disappointments the greatest threat of ambush.
?In this month of Summersend, the wind flicked the strands of oakhair in the forest that grewbetween the lakes. Squirrels spilled nuts on the skarkskin roofs of the wagons. The air wasmore watery, too, though both lakes were out of sight beyond the miles of woods on either side.
?As the oakhair forest thinned and they reached the Shale Shallows, the shady surround andhomely walls of an old settlement solidified in the middle of walnut-colored fields. The firststone building they’d seen in six weeks. Despite its steep, aggrieved gables and pinchedoutbuildings, despite its battlement defenses, nothing—not even the Emerald City—could seemmore welcome a sight just then.
?The Cloister of Saint Glinda, they buzzed. How holy it appears.
?The maunts who lived within were divided into ranks. Some took vows of silence and livedcloistered. Others took vows of indulgence. They indulged in teaching, tending the sick, andoperating a hostelry for those traveling between the southern Kells and the Emerald City. Sothe broad carved doors were swung open when the Grasstrail Train pulled up. The welcomingcommittee, a band of three middle-aged maunts with well-starched collars and bad teeth, stoodat attention.
?They greeted Oatsie with frosty politeness. They were suspicious of any unmarried woman whohad found a way to live single, apart from female community. Still, they offered her thetraditional wipe of the face with sweet rosefern. A fourth maunt, sequestered behind a screen,played a welcoming anthem, poorly. Harp strings snapped, and the sound of a most unmauntishoath issued forth.
?The travelers didn’t care. They were almost in heaven. To anticipate beds!—and a warmmeal!—and wine!—and a captive audience, ready to thrill at the story of their journey!
?In this last item, though, the maunts gave bad value for money. At once their attention wasriveted by the invalid. They carried him into the loggia and hurried to collect a stretcher sohe could be hauled upstairs to the infirmary.
?The maunts were beginning to shift the fellow to private quarters when the Superior Mauntwafted by, fresh from her morning devotions. She greeted Oatsie Manglehand with the least ofnods, and glanced upon the broken lad for a moment. Then she waved her hands: Remove him.
?She said to Oatsie, We know him. We know this one.
?You do? said Oatsie.
?If my memory hasn’t begun to fail me, the Superior Maunt continued, you should know him, aswell. You took him from us some years ago. Fifteen was it, twenty? At my age I don’t apprehendthe passage of time as I ought.
?He’d have been a child twenty years ago, an infant, said Oatsie. I never took an infant froma mauntery.
?Perhaps not an infant. But you took him just the same. He traveled with a disagreeable novicewho served for several years in the hospice. You were conveying them to the castle strongholdof the Arjikis. Kiamo Ko.
?He was with Elphaba?
?Now you remember, I see you do.
?The Wicked Witch of the West…
?As some called her. The Superior Maunt sniffed. Not I. Her name here was Sister SaintAelphaba, but I seldom called her anything. She was more or less under a vow of silence—herown. She needed no addressing.
?You recognize him from youth to now? said Oatsie. You’ve seen him since?
?No. But I do not forget a face.
?Oatsie raised her eyebrows.
?I have seen so few faces, explained the Superior Maunt. We will not talk now. I must haveSister Doctor here to look the boy over.
?Whatwas his name?
?The Superior Maunt vanished without answering.
?By nightfall, as Oatsie’s clients finished their nightcaps, the next generation of rumors waslaunched. The man-child was the Emperor’s confessor. He was a brigand trafficking in the sextrade. He spoke in the voice of a Loon. Except for a single rib, the man-child had broken everybone in his body.
?Many of the rumors were contradictory, which in the aggregate made them all more amusing.
?IT WAS A HARD TIME.It had been a hard time, in Oz, for some time (for all time, said world-weary students). The Superior Maunt, too tired for colloquy, removed herself to her chambersand settled in a rocker. Amid trappings more severe than what her younger colleagues couldtolerate, she rocked a little and thought, as coherently as she could. (It was a habit of hers,to forestall the onset of vagueness, that she review a strand of history from time to time.)
?The Witch—so-called—had lived at the cloistered mauntery a decade and a half ago. Onecouldn’t forgetthat —to the Superior Maunt’s knowledge, no one else in Oz had ever been bornwith skin as green as new lilac leaves. But Elphaba had kept herself to herself, acceptingwithout complaint such assignments as were meted out. She’d lived there for, what, five, six,seven years? And then, the Superior Maunt had hired Oatsie Manglehand to escort the close-lipped novice back into the civilian world. The small boy had tagged along, neither warmlyincluded nor shooed away.
?What had his name been, and where had he come from? An urchin left behind by one of the gypsybands that scavenged for petty mushrooms among the roots of oakhair trees? The Superior Mauntcouldn’t remember the lad’s provenance. Someone younger would know.
?Elphaba had gone. Off to Kiamo Ko, there to stew in her own private penance. The SuperiorMaunt occasionally listened to testimonies of sin confessed by her sisters, but during hertenure as a maunt, Elphaba had never petitioned for an audience. Of this the Superior Maunt wasquite sure. Though the nature of Elphaba’s sins had been of great interest to the under-entertained sorority, Elphaba had never obliged.
?Bit by bit—the news filtered through even to an outpost like this—the maunts learned of theslow evolution of Elphaba into a Witch, by dint of her rash behavior, her unexpected familyties. (She’d been sister to Nessarose, the Wicked Witch of the East, as some said. For thelove of the Unnamed God, who could have expectedthat ?)
?The Superior Maunt sighed, chiding herself for the pleasure she took in remembering hercontempt for those days. How she had leapt up from her prayers and clapped her hands, to hearthat the long reign of the Wizard of Oz had drawn to a close at last, and the merciless old
bastard disappeared into the clouds in a hot-air balloon advertising some obscure commercialtonic. Then the surprise ascendancy to the Palace throne of Lady Chuffrey, née Glinda Arduenna,of the Uplands. A sort of prime minister pro tem, until things could be sorted out. (She’dcome out of nowhere, politically speaking: money to burn, and a certain sort of style, but whomight have guessed the vacuum left by the Wizard’s departure would suck in a society wife witha penchant for glitter gowns?)
?Not a terrible choice. The Superior Maunt began talking aloud, to keep her thoughts straight.And I say this without need to reflect nicely on our own Saint Glinda, for whom Lady Chuffreywas probably named. Or renamed herself,Galinda a rural name,Glinda the more sophisticated: thesaint’s name. Clever move. No,Glinda, as she became known popularly—a single name, like ahouse pet, like a lapdog!—Glinda managed to run an open court for a while, and much that hadgone wrong, at least in that prior atmosphere of Wizardic secrecy, was corrected. There was aninoculation initiative, very thoughtful. Some schools for millworker girls, of all things. Goodprograms—expensive to run, though. It had seemed generous and intelligent from the perspectiveof a cloistered spinster—but what kind of perspective was that?
?Then Glinda had stepped aside. Ever the dilettante, she’d grown bored with governing, peopleassumed, and had taken up collecting miniature furniture with a vengeance. Well, to be fair,maybe she’d been pushed out. For a while a puppet government replaced her. A right dolt,calling himself a Scarecrow. Rumors had flown that he was no real Scarecrow, that he wasn’teven the Scarecrow associated with the Visitor: Dorothy. He was just some out-of-work bumdressed up to fool the masses. Being paid every weekend at the back door, probably—but bywhom? Glinda’s people? Her thwarters? The banker barons of industrial Gillikin? Who knew? Indue course he was booted out by the latest nuisance, the next hollow man, reeking with glory:the sacred Emperor.
?The long years since Elphaba had driven her wild broom across the sky had been quiet—on thesurface. Certain atrocities had ceased, and that was good. Other atrocities replaced them.Certain diseases subsided, others had taken grip. Now something was agitating the Scrow and theYunamata in the West, something so fierce that agents from one or both of the tribes werestriking out at neutral parties.
?Like the junior maunts sent out on a mission by the toadies helming the motherchapel in theEmerald City. Those sycophantic biddies! They’d cluck themselves to death if their Emperorasked it. Their emissaries, those innocent young things, had stopped here at the Cloister ofSaint Glinda for nourishment and cheer. Where were their faces now, wondered the SuperiorMaunt. She hoped she’d never see them again, neither in her dreams nor in a parcel in thedelivery of post.
?She was drifting off to sleep in her rocker. She arose, groaning at the pain in her joints,and tried to pull her shutters tight. One of them stuck and had to stay as it was. She’d meantto have it seen to this afternoon, but with the arrival of the caravan, she’d forgotten.
?She visited the toilet reserved for her private use, and dressed in her rough gown for thenight. When she settled herself on her horsehair mattress, she hoped she would drift offquickly. It had been a taxing day.
?The jackal moon looked in her window at her. The Superior Maunt turned her head so as not tomeet its eye, a folk custom with which she’d been raised seven, eight decades earlier, andnever shaken.
?Her mind went briefly to those days in the Pertha Hills of Gillikin, days sharper and morewonderful in memory than what she could apprehend of current life. The taste of pearlfruitleaves! The water on her father’s wagon roof when the rains came. The rains came so much moreoften in her youth. The snow smelled of things. Everything smelled. Wonderfully or not, it waswonderful that they smelled. Now her nose hardly worked at all.
?She said a prayer or two.
?Liir. That was his name. Liir.
?She prayed to remember it when the time came for her to wake up.
?THE NEXT MORNING,before Oatsie Manglehand gathered her band together for the final push to theEmerald City, she took Nubb to a small plain parlor. There they met with the Superior Maunt,Sister Doctor, and Sister Apothecaire.
?When the Superior Maunt sat down, the others sat. Since she abstained from morning tea, theothers abstained.
?If we are to help this boy, we must share what we know, began the Superior Maunt. I’ve pickedup all sorts of hearsay. A report from Sister Doctor, if you please.
?Sister Doctor, a beefy woman with questionable credentials but proven expertise in diagnosis,wasn’t sanguine about the prospects for the invalid. He appears to have suffered little fromexposure, so he will have been left for dead only shortly before you found him.
?Oatsie didn’t speak to this. She didn’t want to begin by contradicting a professional woman,even if she thought Sister Doctor had to be wrong.
?Sister Doctor pressed on. He is a shattered man, quite literally. It isn’t mine to guess howhe came to be so wounded, but his state is like nothing I’ve ever seen. One of his legs isbroken in multiple places; both his wrists are sprained. One of his shoulder blades is cracked.Many of his ribs. Four of his fingers. Three of the bones in his left foot. Not a single bonepunctured the skin, however. And, apparently, no blood loss.
?Not unless the blood ran off in the rain squall, thought Oatsie, but kept still.
?Sister Doctor rubbed the back of her neck and grimaced. I spent so much time setting bonesthat I could do only a cursory exam of his organs. He is breathing shallowly and withdifficulty. The phlegm that runs from his nose is both yellow and bloody. This suggestsrespiratory troubles. Sister Apothecaire has her own notions about this—
?To start with the question of the discharge, began Sister Apothecaire, somewhatoverenthusiastically, but Sister Doctor spoke over her.
?Sister Apothecaire can speak presently. I utter no opinion about her…conjectures.
?The heart? asked the Superior Maunt, overriding the old tired conflict.
?Working. Sister Doctor grunted as if in disbelief at her own answer.
?The word might bewobbly . I suspect an imploded spleen or the like, and septic poisoning.There’s a funny color in the extremities and on certain contusions that I don’t care for atall.
?What color is that? asked the Superior Maunt.
?Sister Doctor pursed her lips. Well, I’m a bit overtired. We worked all night, you know,without resting. But I should have said there’s a green tinge to the bruises, ringed with aplum-yellowy margin.
?Suggestive of internal bleeding, you think…or a disease? Or maybe something else?
?He may be comatose or he may be brain-dead. I have no way of knowing. Though his heart isgood, his color, as I say, is not, so circulation may be failing. The lungs have beencompromised severely—whether by a preexisting condition or by some aspect of his adventures Icannot venture an opinion at this time.
?To conclude— The Superior Maunt rolled her hand in the air.
?Death by nightfall, maybe tomorrow morning, said Sister Doctor.
?We could pray for a miracle, said Nubb. Oatsie snorted.
?Sister Apothecaire will handle treatment, said Sister Doctor, making it sound as if shethought prayer would be a wiser course.
?Youcould pray for a miracle, said Sister Apothecaire to Nubb. I have other work to do.
?Sister Apothecaire, said the Superior Maunt. You have something to add?
?Sister Apothecaire pushed her spectacles down her nose, then removed them, huffed upon them,and wiped them clean on the hem of her apron. She was a Munchkin and exhibited the Munchkinfarmwife’s passion for hygiene—not a bad attribute for a person in her profession. It’s allpuzzling, she agreed. We have made him as comfortable as we could, and as the mercy of ourmission requires. With tape we have bound his limbs to splints and shims. Should he live, hemay regain some degree of motor function.
?What does that mean? asked Oatsie. Speak clearly to the ignorant. Me.
?He may be able to sit up, to use his hands, if his nerves are not shot to hell. He may be ableto walk, in a fashion; that is unlikely, but as I say we aim for the stars. What is moretroubling is the discharge from his membranes. The nose, most obviously, but the other orificesas well. Ears, eyes, anus, penis.
?You’ve had a chance to do some initial work in the laboratory, prompted the Superior Maunt.
?Indeed. Just a start. I’ve found nothing definitive, nothing I haven’t seen before, eitherin my station here at the mauntery or in my prior position as Matron’s Assistant at theRespite of Incurables in the Emerald City.
?Sister Doctor rolled her eyes. Sister Apothecaire never lost an opportunity to publish hercredentials.
?Canyou supply us with a hypothesis? asked the Superior Maunt.
?It would be rash to do so. Even sitting, Sister Apothecaire was shorter than her peers, so hersideways glance at her disapproving colleague required her to poke her chin up, which perhapsgave her a more combative expression than she intended. Whoever he is, I do wonder if this ladwas from high altitudes. The mucous seepage may be due to the systemic collapse of arterialfunction due to a sudden change in air pressure. I haven’t seen such a symptom before, but theFallows are very low ground indeed compared to the highest peaks of the Great Kells.
?The way Sister Doctor murmured mmmmm made it plain to all what she thought of her colleague’shypothesis. She straightened her spine as if to say, hurry up; her longer spine gave her heightover her colleague, which she liked to use to advantage.
?The Superior Maunt intervened. Do you agree with Sister Doctor that death is imminent?
?Sister Apothecaire sniffed. The two didn’t like to agree on anything, but she couldn’t helpit. She nodded her head. There may be more to learn, she added. The longer he hangs on, themore chance I’ll have to study his nature.
?You will study nothing in his nature that isn’t directly related to the easing of hisafflictions, said the Superior Maunt mildly.
?But Mother Maunt! It is in my charge as an apothecaire. The syndrome he dies from may afflictothers in time, and this is an opportunity to learn. To turn our noses up at it is to discountrevelation.
?I have delivered my opinion on the matter, and I expect it to be observed. Now, to you both:Is there anything we can do for him that we are not doing?
?Notify the next of kin, said Sister Doctor.
?The Superior Maunt nodded and rubbed her eyes. She lifted a saucer of tea to her lips now, andwithout hesitation the others did the same.
?I propose we get one of the sisters to play music for him, then, she concluded. If our onlycontribution is to ease his death, let us do what we can.
?Preferably not the sister who was torturing the harp when we arrived yesterday, mutteredOatsie Manglehand.
?Have you anything to add, Oatsie? said the Superior Maunt. I mean aside from your critique ofmusical performance?
?Only this, said the caravan guide. I won’t bother to apologize for contradicting them, shedecided. Sister Doctor proposes that the boy would have been set upon by brigands and left todie only shortly before we found him. But the terrain out there, my friends, is flat as arolled-out tart crust.
?I don’t follow, said the Superior Maunt.
?The body had to have been lying there for longer than Sister Doctor suggests. I would haveseen the marauders in retreat. There was no place for them to hide. There is no tree cover. Youknow how bright a night it was; I could see for miles.
?Do you use magic in your ministrations?
?Oatsie Manglehand, said the Superior Maunt tiredly, we are a sorority of unionist maunts. Sucha question. She closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead with old, bowed fingers. Over hervenerable figure, Sister Doctor and Sister Apothecaire both nodded silently to Oatsie:Yes. Wedo. What little we’re capable of. When we need to .
?The Superior Maunt continued. Before resting for the night, I recalled his name. The boy wasnamed Liir. He left the mauntery with Sister Saint Aelphaba—well, Elphaba, I suppose; shenever professed her vows. Do you remember the boy at all, Sister Doctor?
?I had just arrived about the time Elphaba was setting out, said Sister Doctor. I rememberElphaba Thropp a little. I didn’t care for her. Her moods and silences seemed hostile ratherthan holy. Of the many urchins who are abandoned around here, however, I remember even less.Children don’t interest me unless they are gravely ill. Was he gravely ill?
?He is now, said the Superior Maunt. And somewhere, if his mind is still able to dream, he isstill a child in there, I presume.
?Very sentimental indeed, Mother Maunt, said Sister Doctor.
?I do remember him, now you give his name, said Oatsie Manglehand. Not well, of course. In thebetter years I make three or four separate runs, and we’re talking twelve, fifteen, eighteenyears ago? I have packed more than a few children onto heaps of worldly goods, and buried someby the side of the track as well. But he was a quiet lad, unsure of himself. He shadowedElphaba as if she were his mother. Was she his mother?
?Oh, dubious, very dubious, said Sister Doctor.
?There is the green tone to his bruises, Sister Apothecaire reminded them.
?I blush when I’m embarrassed, Sister Apothecaire; this does not relate me to the radish, saidthe Superior Maunt. Well, we’ll have to ask around. Most of the older sisters who might haveremembered Elphaba are dead now, and the others are in their second childhood. But Sister Cook,if she hasn’t been guzzling the cooking sherry—or perhaps if she has—she will knowsomething. She always slips food to the children loitering in the kitchen yard, and she mayremember where the boy came from.
?Meanwhile—and the good woman rose, to signal that the meeting was done—we will do our bestwith Liir, whether he be witch’s spawn or the reject of a gypsy mother. It hardly matters onone’s deathbed from whom one has been born, does it? The world is the womb now, and theAfterlife waits for one to be born into it.
?She turned rheumy eyes on Oatsie Manglehand. The wagoneer could see that the Superior Mauntwas waiting, hopefully, for her own deliverance from this world and delivery unto the next.Oatsie accepted the old woman’s cool hands on her forehead, knowing the gesture was intendedas a blessing, a forgiveness…perhaps a farewell.
?The wind is high, said Oatsie Manglehand. If we leave now and find the water level low enoughat the near ford, we’ll make the far bank of the Gillikin by nightfall.
?The Unnamed God speed your progress, murmured the Superior Maunt, though her eyes had shuntedinward, as if already on to the next problem. Indeed, she was. Before Oatsie had finished tyingthe strings of her boots, she heard the Superior Maunt say to her colleagues, Now you must help
me on the stairs, ladies, for I will go to visit our invalid.
?She’s a tough old bird, muttered Oatsie to Nubb.
?Let’s get out of here, said Nubb. Don’t want to stay under any roofs that house a son of awitch, even if it’s holy roofs.
?THE MAUNTERY,the oldest bits of which dated back several hundred years, was conventionallyarranged around a courtyard. The vernacular of austere Merthic style—flattened stone columns,bricked quoins devoid of plaster or wash—was indicative of the speed with which defensiblehouseholds had needed to be raised.
?Up far too many stairs, the surgery included an office crammed into a closet, where SisterDoctor kept her notes and manuals. In a storage space under some eaves, Sister Apothecairefilled oaken cabinets with her unguents and restoratives, purgatives and negatives. (Small, asmany Munchkins still were, she could work upright in a space too cramped for her colleague tostand upright in, so she got the private office. Endless grousing over this.)
?The surgery also gave onto two largish dormitories. The right-hand chamber served the poor andill of the domain. The left chamber was reserved for ailing maunts. Through here, behind astout door, loomed an odd-shaped space, the finial of a corner tower. Inside, therefore, it wasa round room, with narrow slitted windows looking in three directions. The room had no truewalls or ceiling, just sloping rafters that met at the top of the conical space. A bedboundpatient could stare up and see how the roof planking traversed the ribs. There were bats, butthey were cleaner than most of the patients, so they were let be.
?It’s like nothing so much as being inside a witch’s hat, thought the Superior Maunt as shepaused to catch her breath. Then she pushed aside the curtain and entered.
?Liir—if it was he, and she was rather certain it was—was laid upon the high bed more like acorpse than an invalid. He’s been given no pillow? asked the Superior Maunt in something of awhisper.
?I see. Well, there wasn’t much to see, really. His braced limbs were swathed in wide stripsof gauze, his chest bound, his head undressed, and that dark hair cleaned with oil and herbs.His eyes, behind slits in the bandage, were closed. The lashes were long and feathery. He hasnot been torrefied, has he? You have tucked him up like a victim of burns.
?The skin needs tending for the sores, so we cannot fully immobilize him.
?I suspect not, thought the Superior Maunt.
?Her eyes weren’t what they had been. She leaned forward and looked closely at the seams whereLiir’s upper and lower eyelids met.
?Then she lifted his left hand and studied his nails. His skin was clammy, like the rind of avalley-skark cheese. The fingernails were crazed.
?Pull back his loincloth.
?Sister Doctor and Sister Apothecaire exchanged glances and did as they were bade.
?The Superior Maunt had had little reason to become an expert in the male anatomy, but sheshowed no sign of pleasure or revulsion. She gently shifted the member this way and that, andlifted the testicles. I ought to have brought my reading spectacles, she murmured.
?She needed help straightening up. Very well, do him up again, she said. Her maunts obliged.
?Sister Doctor, said the Superior Maunt. Sister Apothecaire. I will not have you loosen hisbindings to show me the bruises you report. I rely on your perspicacity. However I make notehere, and will do so formally in the Log of the House, that I observe no sign of greenness inhis skin. I will tolerate no murmur belowstairs that we are harboring any sort of—aberration.If you have been indiscreet enough to propose such to your sisters, correct the damage at once.Is this understood?