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"Excellently done!" Madame Stalia crows happily as the gargantuan slab of granite settles with a creaking groan. Like a rush of water escaping, I feel our combined energies release suddenly, driving me to my knees in exhaustion. Moaning expressively, Glinda follows suit, pressing her face to my shoulder like a friendly cat.
For the better part of a week our sorcery tutor has been riding us harder than ever before. Unlike the previous four and half months, we're keeping up with her demands. But not easily.
The woman is a hard taskmaster, but she's completely brilliant and knows just how hard to push us. Recommended by Madame Gaven, she's been a good match since we met and has made astonishing inroads to our magical education. Here, where our adventure with Delia began, we've been testing ourselves to our limits.
The rough village the Gale Guard began here back in the dead of winter has blossomed into a real town. And at the edges of that village, looms the half-completed summer home that Glinda and I have been working on with various craftspeople. It overlooks the cave where I first met our near-adult daughter. Grass has obscured the shards of emerald and crystal bubble, but sometimes I swear I can see a secretive gleam in the sunlight.
There won't be as many of those gleams now, for Glinda and I have begun the construction of the portable hole. It seemed a fitting test for our growing skills and has proven to be a monumental task. The enormous stone we just moved is only one step in a very complicated process.
Though, by the cheering and clapping, a popular one.
Waving tiredly at our friends, Glinda and I stay put for a moment, knowing that Stalia will be cracking the whip any moment now. "Come on then, darling," I coax and climb to rubbery legs to regard our work.
It was Kayen that pointed out that the cave seemed far more spacious than first glance would indicate. So I hired a miner and a family of Moles to confirm her findings. It has been cleared out to indeed reveal a space that it extremely large and very structurally sound. Now, we have sealed off its real-world entrance with this monstrous slab of stone magically hauled from elsewhere on the ragged cliff face.
We spent all morning and most of the afternoon carving a circle of magical sigils on the face that now covers the entranceway. Glinda holds the circle of cloth we both remember Delia carrying. When she spotted the distinctive cloth in a dressmaker's window in spring, she had made a truly alarming, excited squeaking noise. Needless to say, we bought the whole bolt.
Stumbling over to our workspace, a heavy white linen blanket on the grass, we sit and prepare to finish this task. First is the blue embroidered cloth, the circle a bit wider across than my leg is long. Beside is a matching circle of heavy white linen with the same magical sigils painstakingly embroidered in its weave. Then the inky black cloth of linen and cotton for the inside liner. A spool of heavy black thread and a pile of brass grommets await us to finish the job.
"Ready?" Glinda asks softly and even the sweaty and exhausted she is powerful and gorgeous.
"Let's do this."
In perfect tandem, we finish in two steps. Glinda feeds the three layers through her fingers, murmuring magics over the fabrics while the thread dances from its spool beside her as though in a powerful wind. The thread stitches itself into the layers to bond them forever and I begin turning the circle in tandem with her busy hands, watching the edge of the stitches approaching my fingertips. We've been practicing the intricacy of this craft for weeks and most of the village has one of these bags.
But not this particular one.
I can feel the difference in this one, the sense of power trapped forever in the cloth and the granite slab behind me. Murmuring the long memorized words of power, I call up a set of the two-part grommet and mash them into in place, just inside of the painstaking stitches. The sharp edge snips out a tiny circle and the flange seals it tight. As I finish, the circle must keep moving or we lose our work and I give in to the repetition of the movement. Call up a pair of brass pieces, smash them into place with sheer magic and will, concentrate on Glinda's voice and let her concentrate on mine in return.
I'm a little startled when the original grommet presses cold into my fingertips, my gaze jerking up to meet my love's happy blue eyes.
"Do you feel it?" She asks softly and I nod. With the completion of the bag, the painstaking circle of spell, will and inspiration has closed. Gingerly reaching out, I marvel that my hand vanishes into the darkness that was once merely black cloth.
"Just promise you won't use it strictly as a traveling closet," I tease wearily and Glinda laughs.
"Not strictly, my love."
Soaked with sweat and completely wiped out, both of us collapse side by side on the linen to clasp hands. Stalia approaches to collect our work and cluck over it.
"Very nice, girls," she compliments and the crowd cheers again. "I must say that I was leery of such a complicated project so soon, but you've managed admirably. However, you are going to be sore and exhausted for days now. How far did you get on your wand then, Glinda?"
"It will be a far more complicated endeavor then I thought originally. However, the student wand you helped me with will be fine for now. I don't want to be dependent on an object anyway."
"Wise choice for sorcers of your abilities," our tutor agrees. "Rest now and take pride in your accomplishment."
"With pleasure," I murmur, wiggling around a bit to press my nose into soft blonde curls and relax into sleep.
Summer In the Forest
By the time winter truly broke and spring took over the land, the Emerald Palace had been transformed again into a functioning entity. Oh, Elphaba and I can take some of the credit, but the staff really just needed encouragement and direction to get back on track. Elections have been going on at the local level for months now, allowing the populace to take closer control of their destinies. Rights for the remaining Animals are back on track and attitudes continue to improve.
Things are not at all perfect, but all and all everyone is generally pleased.
The additional benefit of things smoothing out is that Elphie and I have been away from the Palace for over a month now and things haven't fallen apart. The near-solitude at the edges of the burgeoning town of Tolerance has allowed us to concentrate on our studies and one another. The clan of Flying Monkeys flies a courier every morning and we send the courier back in the evening. The arrangement is working nicely and we're only a few hours away if there's an emergency.
Babies have been born by the dozens among the Animals and the friendly humans that have moved here. Voices and the sounds of daily life carry through the verdant green of the forest edge where it smoothes to grasslands in the direction of the central Winkie lands. Crops are planted, small herds of food-beasts are tended to and the unceasing clatter of an emerging town carries in the summer heat. Vendors come and go constantly, commerce fed by this emerging town and the royal coffers.
The only dark shadow is the startling numbers of common animal children being born to Animal parents. It's disheartening to everyone. Whatever miasma reduced Doctor Dillamond to a common goat still appears to be spreading.
And no one knows how to stop it.
It's incredibly disheartening and we keep working at it, determined to reverse what damage we can.
Home while the permanent structure is being built has been several great round tents made solid with a spiderweb of wooden slats reinforcing the walls and soaring, wooden-ribbed roofs. They are every bit as homey as any home and have all the amenities, including great woolen and linen rugs as flooring. There is no real kitchen as we eat at the common mess hall with everyone else. There's a certain delight in the regular socialization with every layer of the populace from the police to the garbage collectors, from the housewives to the politicians.
Right now, I am focused on the task of my wand. When Delia told me there was a reason for the size of it, I honestly believed that she had to be exaggerating. But now I've seen the sheer amount of raw materials needed for what I want the thing to do and realize that the bulk of the object I handled all those month ago is actually an economy of size. It will take me years to get this completely right.
Thundering hoofbeats distract me from my frustration at the project and I look up to see Elphie approaching. When Farkell the bay roan Stallion pranced into camp shortly after we came here, it was love at first sight. He's young and frisky and has a terrible crush on my fiancé, but he's harmless. They have so much childish fun together that I have no room in my heart for jealousy.
Besides, there is something agonizingly sexy about watching Elphaba ride. What little is left of her awkwardness falls away and she moves with her friend's large body as though an extension of his mind. Graceful and unfettered, they run about and just enjoy their freedom.
"Pups," Hurgle scoffs with mock indignation at the display of youthful exuberance. Just as Kayen is rarely a few strides from Elphie's side, I too have my own guardian and companion in the massive old Rhinoceros. From the second in command to a ragged bunch of Animal outcasts, he has admirably become a much adored companion to little bitty girlie me. While I have not seen exactly what he is capable of as a warrior, I don't envy the enemy that sees only his age and bulk and foolishly underestimates him.
Some moments behind Farkell and Elphie is Kayen astride a gray mare, trailed by the sinuous Chackle, still chuckling over the antics.
"It's such a beautiful day," the high-strung Stallion enthuses, still dancing about to a tune only he can hear. "You can almost feel it!"
"Steady, my friend," Elphie laughs and pats his neck affectionately, her verdant skin fascinating against his mixed reddish and white coat. "I'll get down and leave you to frolic the day away."
"But it's no fun without you," he whines, but stills so that Elphie can slide from her sidesaddle and pull the leather contraption away from his strong ribs. Affectionately hugging the Horse's big head to her torso, she can caress his ears with easy familiarity.
"While you might enjoy preening for every pretty filly or Filly that looks your way, my friend, I have a fiancé that needs my attention."
"Fine," he huffs dramatically and shifts to curl his great neck around her slenderness in his unique hug. Then he prances to me to breathe gently over my upturned face in greeting. "Good to see you, Glinda. Don't work to hard!" with a kiss-like touch of his soft muzzle to my cheek, Farkell is off like a shot into the trees, mane and tail flying.
"I love that boy like a brother, but he's exhausting," Elphie chuckles and leans over to kiss me properly. "You still seem stressed over this project."
Gesturing at the many nuggets of various metals and shining crystals scattered across the tabletop, I glower balefully at them. "This is going to drive me mad."
"Darling," my love soothes my frazzled nerves, nuzzling my hair. "Give yourself some time. This is a life-altering project. It needn't be complete in a season or even a few. Take the time to be certain that it's done right and it won't make you crazy."
She's right of course and I sigh heavily before shoveling the whole mess back into the protective bag I've been storing it in. "I can see why Delia commented on the size of the damn thing now."
As always, mention of her name fills us both with conflict. We don't talk very often about those few days, though the immediacy of the pain has dulled with time. There just doesn't seem to be much to say and we're waiting to see when she'll make her appearance into our lives.
But my body remains stubbornly unresponsive to whatever magics create our daughter and it's beginning to bother me a bit.
There are days that I really wish that I'd asked more questions of Delia. The unknown timeline of her conception and birth bothers Glinda so much. It's as though the very anticipation of motherhood has altered her, bringing stress and heartache. I can't quite figure out why she can't seem to just let things happen in their own time, but takes on these delays as some kind of personal failure.
Or am I being too harsh?
Neither of us seems to be able to articulate it and I find myself desperately missing Missus Pew. She's always good at getting the truth out of us. Some days I feel my youth acutely, despite being nearly twenty years old.
But further contemplation must wait as I get an entirely unexpected shock. Having a carriage pull up is surprise enough, as visitors are rarely allowed this close without announcement. Then I notice the Munchkinland markings on the vehicle, the signs of the importance of the carriage, and a dim memory is rattled loose.
Father always barely tolerated me, seeing my strange skin as some personal affront to him, a punishment for some sin I still don't understand. I was always an inconvenience and an embarrassment. It only became worse when Nessarose was born with her little legs all tangled and mother never woke after the birth. I'm only just beginning to make inroads into dealing with that misplaced guilt after having blamed myself for those events for my entire life.
There are days when I know that damn Wizard got off easily with mere banishment.
Then my thoughts are scattered as the carriage door opens and the figure I've both longed for and dreaded steps into the sunlight.
The years have changed him. Or is it only my memories that have blurred with time? For I certainly don't remember him ever looking so vulnerable or so… human. This is not the larger than life figure of my childhood, forever looming over my life in unyielding disapproval. This is merely a man, beginning to gray with age and responsibilities and maybe even regrets.
The coachman and a liveried servant work in tandem to set up the wheelchair I remember clearly, before gently retrieving Nessa and settling her with a minimum of fuss.
Father doesn't even look at the proceedings.
Part of me is unnerved by his steady regard, the dark eyes flat and cool as they have always been. But now he's even doing it with his favorite?
I don't even realize that my eyes have narrowed and my ire has risen until he recoils in alarm and the press of gathering magics close in on all of us. Instantly, small familiar hands have grabbed me, breaking the eyelock, making me focus somewhere else than my conflict with this man. "Elphie!" She barks and the oppressive magics of my temper fade away again. "Focus darling," she coos gently, stroking my face, calming me as she always does. Hugging my head to the curve of her neck and shoulder, she contains my shudders, preserves my dignity and my sanity, addressing my family in my stead. "Master Frex, Miss Nessarose, if you will please wait inside, we will be with you in a moment. Kay, will you please tend to them?"
"Of course, ma'am."
I knew this reunion, if it ever happened, would be stressful, but this is ridiculous. I have better self-control than this!
"Stop it Elphie," Glinda soothes, but there is steel in the gentle words. "You can't expect a lifetime of hurt to just go away. Nor do you need to hide it from me, darling. Just cling for a minute and then we'll go face them together."
Fighting the tears doesn't stop them, it just makes them burn like acid as I sob against this woman who never ceases to amaze me. Some minutes pass before I draw enough strength to straighten up and take a steadying breath. Glinda just watches me with those sparkling summer blue eyes, completely sober and supportive and strokes my cheek with cool fingertips.
In that perfect, understanding quiet, we step into the tent to face my father and sister.
Kay has found a chair for father and provided both of them with a beverage. I silently thank her with a look, to which she smiles faintly. Another wordless communication keeps her here as support. She can read me almost as well as Glinda after this much time. Fighting the trembling, I sit on the light couch to face my childhood family, Glinda never releasing my hand.
"I hardly know where to start," my voice says of its own volition and all three of us Thropps cringe. But the floodgates are open now. "After all this time, I figured that you'd written me off completely, since I've no more time to be Nessa's personal valet. Now I rate such a long journey? Or are you here merely in the guise of politics? Since I'm actually important now."
I sound bitter and angry even to my own ears, faced with the contrast of my neglectful past and my loving present. With effort I rein in my tongue, struck by how devastated Nessa looks. In that show of stark emotion, I see something that I'd never really thought I would, even as I always wanted it.
She cares about me.
It's a shocking revelation, even after our reunion back at Shiz all those months ago.
For long moments we sisters simply stare at one another, feeling the change between us. Then a shy smile quirks the corners of her mouth, as though strangers meeting and perhaps finding that they might like one another. It's then that I realize that father is here because of her.
She persuaded him to come.
"I…," father tries to speak and his voice strangles off with strain, drawing my attention to him again. "I have never done right by you, Elphaba."
It is the closest thing to an apology I have ever dreamed of and I hold my words back again, waiting to see what happens next. He's not looking at me, but his fingers, clenched painfully tight in his lap.
"I… regret that now. You deserved better. You both did."
I find myself nodding thoughtfully. This simple acknowledgement makes some tight, hurt part of me, buried deep, unwind a bit like a seed warmed by spring sun.
"Thank you, father."
It's not forgiveness, but it's a start.
Put On Your Dancing Shoes
After that strange and tense reunion, things settle into an almost warm formality. It takes me some time to realize that this is positively friendly for these three.
I am completely baffled by them.
Yet, so very many things about Elphie are becoming clear. The complete lack of warmth shaped her and Nessarose both, leaving them isolated and scarred. Each dealt with it in their own way. Elphie by being a recluse and Nessa by her prickly superiority, which I'm glad to see has faded. Even I was gifted with a shy smile and congratulations over our engagement.
Frex seems to have been as open as he's capable of, and his mechanical best wishes I wisely don't take personally. That he acknowledges me at all is enough for now.
There's even a long, rambling tour of Tolerance, with Kay quietly swooping in to push the wheelchair so that Nessa can enjoy the company of her family flanking her. Their words might be cool and perfunctory, but the body language is fascinating. Nessa in particular seems a shy little girl finding unexpected delight in the simple presence of her family members. And Elphie seems to feel like an actual sister for the first time, going so far as offering her hand, which Nessa clings to with both of hers.
The small smile dancing at the corners of my lover's face at the sudden sweetness of her younger sister is not feigned. At least that relationship seems well on its way to being salvaged.
Walking leisurely on Elphie's right, holding that hand, I soak up the lovely day and the unexpected new family members. A flash catches my eye, drawing my attention to the sparkling, jewel-like shoes on Nessa's feet. I remember the gift a bit, how Elphaba seemed hurt and maybe jealous of the elaborate things. Being a gift from their father, I bet it's the intent of the gift more than the shoes themselves.
What I can't figure is why eyeing the shoes makes me think of Elphie's broom. The objects have nothing in common except for sentiment and…
Elphie's broom can fly.
That simple, utilitarian object she enchanted in stark desperation. What could she do with intent? My mind wanders off to the enchantments that link the magic bag and the cave and I have my answer.
We're unlimited when we work in tandem.
And we're only going to get better with time.
Spells from the Grimmerie run through my head, my now-trained mind picking out things that might work if pieced together carefully. Would the animate the inanimate spell work on Nessa's non-functioning legs, since they're not technically inanimate? Or perhaps a modified levitation spell on the shoes?
When Nessa points something out excitedly to her father, I use the opportunity to tug Elphie a few paces away. Curious, she doesn't fight me, accepting my quick kiss with a smile. "You have something planned," she comments, seeing right through my attempts at covering up my excitement.
"Possibly. Have we given thought to enchanting something to give your sister the gift of walking? After all, love; you are the most powerful sorcerer in all of Oz." Dark eyes are startled and the razor-sharp mind behind them busily processing. "Perhaps those shoes can become something more than a bauble that caused contention between you?"
Watching Elphie's busy eyes change from confusion to thoughtful contemplation to blazing determination thrills me to no end. The quick, almost rough kiss doesn't hurt either.
Striding over to her family members, Elphie's tone is excited but composed. "Father? I have a strange question."
"Nessa's shoes. Do you know what stone chips were used to make them glitter, if any?"
Taken aback, Frex nonetheless thinks for a long moment and the similarity of that expression to my Elphie's is startling. "I believe they are primarily Gillikan crystal and Quadling ruby."
For the first time, Elphaba smiles at the man she has always called father. "Excellent. I was hoping for the later." The warm expression transfers down to Nessarose, watching the exchange with wide eyes. "Glinda has pointed out something dreadfully obvious to me. By chance and now design, I appear to be the most powerful sorcerer in Oz." An imperiously raised green hand halts the shock and what looks like fear on her family's faces. "No matter any of our feelings on the matter, that fact cannot be changed. My point in bringing this up is," the expression on my love's face is impossibly gentle as she gazes at her little sister, "I'm quite certain that together, my fiancé and I can enchant a means for you to walk."
To Be Continued…