The laundry room of Oz's royal palace was a dark, damp hiding place, but I, Leeris Cinder, was a woman, a grown witch - almost seven years old, and only little munchkins are afraid to sit on the wet floors in the middle of the night. But the night was not exactly what I was hiding from. No, it was the winged monkey blood that splattered the ground, the sounds of my mother screeching through the hallways that frightened me into the washroom. Even brave daughters of good witches were afraid of that.
My mother had ordered me and Glinda, my sister, to the throne room last night. Glinda is gentle, but stubborn. She had stood at the foot of her pink bed, the rough linen covers cascading around her shoulders like a beautiful silk cloak. Glinda always had a way to make anything coarse and ugly pretty - even breaking the rules.
And, knowing that in our mother’s eyes she could do no wrong, she was willing to allow my mother to wait for us both, and risk her anger.
Our winged monkey servant, Adolf, had worried the same as I, and ran into our chamber, his oohs and ahhs warning us of the trouble to come. “Mistress is ahh-ngered! Mistress is ahh-ngered! Y-ooh must come seeh her!” He’d grabbed Glinda by the hand, and led us to the throne room to hear what the Queen of Oz had to say.
Instead of seeing our formerly sweet mother, Queen Nora Cinder, sitting kindly on the throne with her sane side taking over, we saw Mama teeter on the edge of madness: murdering our monkeys, sending furniture slamming against the walls without even touching it as she went off on another tirade of anger.
Adolf wasn’t nervous anymore. No, his expression was now pure terror. He knelt to his furry knees, his tail between his legs like a scared dog.
“I am soohrehh! Mistress is fitting noohw!” Mistress is fitting. The winged monkey’s words for my mother’s bouts of craziness.
And just as Adolf’s mouth closed, his eyes a big chocolate vortex of soulfulness, blood spurted through the air, followed by a monkey’s wing. Adolf turned around to see my mother hacking an unrecognizable animal to pieces.
I ran from the throne room, blood staining my dress and my mouth letting out a scream that could turn the stain to ice, before my mother decided to turn the ax on me.
The washroom is quiet, with a patch of bright light from the moon shining in onto a table in the middle of the room. I can still Mama yelling, even from here, across the palace. Mama, with her old age, had gone slightly mad. Her duties to Oz became more strained, more forced. Mama used to be the best witch in the land, ruling the people with a strong but gentle fist. But now insanity had taken over, and most of the descisions were made by her munchkin advisors.
I can hear footsteps slamming against the tile floor of the laundry room. My heart begins to bang against my chest like a drum, the beat hurried and strong. Had Mama finally decided that she wanted me dead? Did something in her mind tell her that I, her youngest daughter, was standing in her way and making her madness worsen?
"Hunney?" No, it wasn't Mama. Mama never called me honey, especially not in that funny Southern accent. "Leeris, dear, it's Karenna." Karenna. Ah, the munchkin maid. With a limp in her left foot and a funky voice that rang true, she was dubbed useless by my mother and made to do our laundry, train the winged monkeys, and take care of us children. She was said to practice the dark arts. Often nicknamed the Mistress of the Dark Arts.
And she'd come to find me. Me, the child who caused such grief among many people of the castle. I cocked my head to the side, shoving myself further into the corner of the washroom.
"Yes?" I asked. Maybe if I spoke up, and she heard the fear in my voice, she'd leave me alone. After all, people do not walk up to a wounded, scared animal....
"Leeris, your mama has been relieved of her duties as Queen of Oz," Karenna said, bustling around the laundry room. I could hear the distinct sound of her throwing another batch of dirty clothes into the warm water bucket, and the laundry basket hitting the ground. The swish of her dark purple gown against the tile was almost hypnotizing. I bit my lip, tearing flesh from the inside. A metallic taste filled my mouth. I don't like that. I spat onto the ground, trying not to be too loud. The spit drained down my throat the wrong way, making me cough.
Karenna followed the sound of my hacking, finally coming to the left corner of the room. She found me. No. The munchkin was shorter than the average woman of her... species. With bright red hair and blue eyes, her irregular limp caused her to grimace in pain with every step she took towards me. "Hunney, your Glinda has taken over the throne. She's gunna take good care of ya and this here kingdom."
"But what will happen to Mama, Karenna?" I asked. No matter how scared I was of my dear mother, I still cared for her. I wanted to know where she was going, and why, suddenly, Glinda was to take over. My mother had sworn in front of us, many times over, that she would rather die than give the throne up to anyone in her family - I don't know if it was her madness influencing her then, or if she simply feared that we'd inherit insanity in our old age as rulers of Oz as she had. Either way, she didn't want us there. So had Mama finally crossed over?
"Your mama was sent to Oz's betterment chamber. It's to help her deal with the insanity." Karenna smiled, trying to joke. "You wouldn't want you mother taking on an ax again, would you?" I cracked a weak grin, nodding.
"No, I would not be fond of that, Karenna."
"Okay then, Leeris. Do you want to come out of the washroom?" Karenna, looking pained, knelt down next to me. I didn't want to cause her this hurt. No one should be risking their ability to walk for me. I'd been told before that I was not worth it. So why was she, of all people, coming in here to help me? Why was she walking towards me when every step she took could be her last?
"Karenna," I gulped, wondering if I should be prompting this conversation. "People say you are the Mistress of the Dark Arts. If you have that power.... why don't you use it to heal your foot?" Karenna pondered my question. For a moment, I could see purple flames flaring in her blue eyes. It died down as she opened her mouth.
"I wouldn't be a very good mistress if I allowed people to know that I use this magic," she said. "And besides that, it is not me who will be needing such power. It is you, Leeris. You are to be queen, and my men will fight anyone to get you there. But first..." Karenna reached for the laundry basket that she'd dropped on the floor. Murmuring nonsense, she glared at the basket with such heat and anger that it almost radiated towards me.
And then I realized that it was in violet flames. Karenna blinked. The flames flickered, leaving a trail of purple sparks tracing the air. Her eyes bore into mine, and I began to wonder, what if I am meant to be on that throne?
But no. Karenna was just a maid, playing with darkness. I was just the third in line for the throne. It was unlikely that my sister or the chief munchkin advisor, Tristan, were going to die any time soon.
I thought a moment.
Unless I had something to do with it.
I didn't have to be the forgotten sister of Oz's new queen. I didn't have to live up to my mother's gentle authority, or my sister's beauty. This right here - this is where I can take a different path. No more enduring ugly looks, no more being told that I was an out of the wedlock child with no hope for the future.
My seven year old mind could barely process these thoughts. All I have to do is take the Mistress of the Dark Art's hand, and make a world for myself. I don't have to remain on the wet floor.
Yeah, maybe I was a bad apple. Someone who fell so far from the tree that I didn't have an ounce of good magic or beauty in me, unlike my sister Glinda. I knew what I didn't have. But what I did have?