Just as I do with my other books, I will be snippeting pieces of Polychrome on Fridays every week until my projected release day in November.
The gray Dove, slightly larger than the others, sat silent on the branch, a branch tinged with the color of twilight shadows and pre-dawn sky. Despite the mildness of the day, the perfect time of near-awakening of the world, it did not join with its brethren in the cooing, mournful yet soft and comforting sounds that such birds usually made.
The other doves paid him no heed. They had long since learned that he was not at all like they, and while he took some small comfort in their presence, he spoke little and sang not at all. They cooed and chirruped softly, filling the air with sleepy morning sound.
The large Dove abruptly sat up higher. There was movement there, through the deserted Gillikin forests where few ever came, carrying with it a flash of green brilliance rarely seen in these purple-tinged lands.
For the first time in… years? Decades? He had long lost track of time, but it had been long, long indeed; but now the Dove gave vent to a laugh, a rippling chortle, as the moving creature came full into view.
And it was well worth a laugh or two; shambling through the undergrowth with a rolling gait, sometimes on two splay-footed feet, sometimes making use of knuckles at the end of long arms, was a brilliantly green monkey or ape, covered with soft silky emerald hair, with a face as comical as a circus clown.
But the glint in the dark green eyes was far from amused, especially as the other doves took up the laugh and sent it rustling through the forest, a chorus of mirth. "Oh, now, do I look so amusing, little doves?" The voice was soft, gentle, unexpectedly feminine.
"Coo! Coo! You do, do!" they chorused.
"Then I wonder if you find this amusing, as well," the Monkey said gently; with surprising speed and viciousness, it began whipping stones and branches from the forest floor up at them. These were not small objects of rebuke, either, but large, well-aimed missiles, meant to knock their targets from their perches, to maim or worse.
Two doves were smashed from the branches with screeches of astonishment and pain; the others took flight in terror and consternation, unable to comprehend the violence which so rarely was seen in Oz.
The large gray Dove, having read those dark eyes in the moment before, had merely moved to the other side of the trunk, and now peered back around, to find the Monkey already regarding him speculatively.
"Now you're a strange one, Dove," the Monkey said. "Not only do you not fly from me, you seem familiar with violence, so that it frightens you not at all."
Seeing no missile forthcoming, the large Dove hopped back onto his accustomed branch and studied the green Monkey curiously. Finally, he said, "Had I been born a dove, it would be otherwise."
"Oh-HO!" cried the other, and did a short, capering dance. "So you are one transformed as I!"
"Transformed?" The Dove could not quite keep the sound of envy from his voice. "At least your shape leaves you hands, Monkey, hands and a shape which can live something of a civilized life. What of me, bereft of all but speech that was formerly mine?"
The Monkey's smile was humorless, an unsettling and half-mad expression which made the Dove almost decide to flee. "Oh, how very reasonable that sounds, little Dove-who-is-not, yet how little it shows you understand. Those who did this to me knew well what they did. As a Dove you have no way to attempt anything you did as a Man – for a Man you were, I think? Yes, of course, you were. Yes ,as a Monkey I have hands, yet not the delicate and sure hands I had once, hands that could weave and sew, and make gestures of supreme power and control. They taunt me, misshapen and useless things, fit only for feeding me… or," its eyes glinted with sadistic humor again, "throwing missiles at those who mock me."
The Dove shrugged its wings. "With hands such as those I could manage, at the least, to end this transformation and return myself to human form. Nor do I particularly worry about mocking others, as it is one of the few amusements remaining to me."
"Indeed? Yet you hid from my little barrage. I think you speak loudly but not so honestly, little Dove."
For answer, the Dove darted down and grasped the Monkey's tail in its beak and gave an effort, lunging upward. The Monkey gave a howl of pain and astonishment as it was hurled upwards into the trees by a strength vastly greater than any Dove should possess. "I speak as I wish and act as I wish, within these pathetic limits, Monkey. Now your amusement begins to pall, and I wish you would leave me to my self."
But the Monkey's expression had faded from pain and anger to intense interest. "Such strength… even an ordinary human being could not have done that. Who were you, Dove? Who were you, that even in this form you have such power, and who was it that managed to transform you to this harmless-seeming guise?"
"You would know? Very well, I will tell you, for all of this has made it come clear for me again, after years of trying, trying to forget. Once I was a man dwelling in the land of the Herkus, a humble and ordinary cobbler, a shoemaker by trade. But that was a trade I despised, for my forefathers had all been mighty wizards, and that should have been my trade as well. Instead my father, accursed be his name, went wandering away, leaving me behind with no instructions, no knowledge, and nothing to my name but our house. I was forced to find a trade that was both needed and which I could do, and in shoemaking I found it – something requiring attention, and focus, a delicacy of touch, yet strength as well. But I hated it, for I should have been great and respected.
"But finally fortune smiled upon me – or so I thought – and I found a hidden cache of magical instruments and recipes within my own home. I quickly mastered these, and discovered many other secrets known to no others; I thus gave up my old profession and withdrew to a mighty and solid Wicker Castle which I constructed through magic alone. I then discovered that the great and wise Ozma," and never had words been uttered in so venomous and sarcastic a tone as the Dove spoke the last four, "had decreed all magic save that of herself and her two lackeys, Glinda the Good and the Wizard of Oz, was forbidden. As I recognized that one day they would come against me unless I stopped my practice of magic – and as I had no intention of doing that at all – I resolved to prevent them from acting against me by striking at them first.
"I arranged to steal all of the objects of magical power they owned, and their notes and recipes, so that they would be effectively powerless. Ozma's power comes from being a fairy princess, and of course cannot be removed, but she cannot use her power for injuring others, and I judged that she could be of no threat to me if I could neutralize the others. By bad fortune she happened to discover me as I was removing all of her mystical treasures, and I was forced to kidnap her – and after she began to drive me to distraction with her insistence that I surrender and be punished, transformed her to a form silent and distant."
The Dove looked bitter and pensive for a moment. "But all my cleverness was for nothing. Two expeditions, through coincidence and luck – and, I will admit, perseverance and a certain cunning – eventually tracked me down. The Wizard, though bereft of much of his power, was still educated in magic and helped them through my defenses to the Castle.
"But STILL I would have defeated them, for I trapped them in my throne room; but there remained to them one magical device which – having been acquired only recently, as we of Oz tell time – I had known nothing of. That was the Magic Belt of the King of the Nomes, captured by the mortal girl Dorothy Gale, and she had somehow acquired some small control over its vast powers and used it to first undo my enchantment and then to transform me to the shape you see before you." It glared at the Monkey defiantly.
The Monkey gave vent to a surprisingly lilting laugh. "Oh, my dear Dove, how very entertaining a story! I have heard something of it before, in the rumors of tales that echo back to us from the Mortal world. Yet I had heard you reformed and repented of your evil."
It gave a screech more appropriate to a diving hawk than a Dove. "Repented? Of being deprived of my birthright and desiring only to ensure I could live as my ancestors had? All I regret is that I had not the knowledge to turn that thrice-accursed Dorothy Gale to stone and all her friends with her, ere she came to my door!"
"Oh, my dear, dear Dove, you cannot imagine how lovely those words are to hear. For know that I, too, am a victim of the mighty Ozma and her so-called justice.
"Once I was a simple housewife – a homemaker with no concerns or interests outside of my little valley. As I was also a Yookoohoo –" the Monkey smiled again as the Dove gave a start of surprise, "—I had no need of anything outside my valley. I kept to myself and invited no visitors.
"So when visitors did intrude on my valley – on my property – I felt it was not at all wrong for me to use them to assist me, since they had intruded upon my privacy without permission or warning."
"Oh! Oh!" the Dove cried triumphantly. "I, too, have heard rumors of you in the same way, but it seems perhaps those were more clearly translated. You were once the Giantess, Mrs. Yoop, who captured two of the heroes of the realm, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, as well as a mortal boy and one of the Fairies, and when they escaped was herself transformed – into a shape, it was said, that can never be shed."
"You speak near enough the truth, Dove." The Monkey studied him intently. "Yet no enchantment is truly unbreakable, and I know of ways it might be done. I cannot work the magic of a Yookoohoo in this form, for I have never taught myself the trick of working that magic in a form not that of a Giant or a Man. But other forms of magic I might, if only I had access to the tools thereof."
The Dove was silent for long moments. Finally it shifted uneasily on the branch. "And if you had such access…?"
"Then," the Monkey said softly, "I would be very grateful and willing to assist the one who could give me such access, and thus a form able to work that magic that is mine by right."
The Dove shook his head. "Many are those who have tried this, including myself – the opposition of Ozma and her champions. They fail. They always fail."
The Monkey chittered in frustration. "Yes. And Glinda… she would read of it in her Book."
The Dove suddenly looked up. "Not true. Not true. So long as neither of us wore the form of a man or woman. The Book of Records sees only the actions of men and women, or fairies and such that are very much like men and women. Of beasts it records not a word."
The Monkey narrowed its gaze. "But as soon as we regained our forms…"
"Yes." The Dove paused.
After a moment, the Monkey said, and its voice was soft, insistent, urging, "But… if we made plans before we changed back…"
"We would have to repeat my original plan," the Dove said slowly. "But this time we would have to prevent any from undoing what we have done." He sounded tempted, but reluctant.
"Could it be done?" The Monkey's voice reminded him that this had once been a woman. A giantess, but a woman nonetheless.
"Oh, yes." His voice grew stronger as things became clearer. "Oh, certainly. They looted my castle, of course, but I was no more a fool than my ancestors. Copies I made of instruments and recipes, hid them in secret areas of my castle. They left the castle itself… and with your help, I could retrieve them. And then…"
"And then," the Monkey said, so quietly it was like the whisper of his own thoughts, "and then we could regain all we have lost… and more."
The door to the throne room was flung open. Framed in that huge portal was a delicate figure of a girl, fair hair wild and tangled in an unwonted manner, cap askew, gossamer garments actually rent, torn, grimy and smeared with red-brown stains that spoke of a grimmer origin.
The Rainbow Lord shot to his feet and started forward. "Polychrome!"
His eldest daughter walked – not danced, walked, with a heavy foot so unlike the tread that normally could leap from a blade of grass and leave the dew on it barely marred. "Father… Iris Mirabilis, my lord… I have returned… from the mission… on which you sent me."
He caught the exhausted girl as she staggered. Fairy princess or not, she had clearly reached her limits, and his heart was filled with dread. He could see she clasped a bundle to her with one arm, gripped it to her like death. Now he truly knew fear; he had hoped the thefts, so like others in the past, had been something easily dealt with… but now… "Forget the formalities, daughter mine, are you injured? Be these stains of your blood?" The thought filled him with both rage and horror. None had dared truly injure one of his children for time out of mind – not that many even had the power to attempt it.
Polychrome managed a weak smile. "No… no, Father. Any blood… is from those who pursued me."
"You fought them?" He knew his daughter was… unorthodox. She danced to Earth often, forgetting the Rainbow, wandering the world below until she wearied of it. Her dances were more than mere dancing, for she had modeled many of them on the training of his Storm Legions, a ballet not merely of beauty but of wind and lightning. But the thought that she not only could, but would fight…
"In a manner of speaking." Her voice, though now with a touch of humor, rasped faintly, and he called immediately for wine. "I led them on a merry… chase, through angered trees and invisible hazards. And evaded them many times, despite their weapons. They harried me, even to the skies above the Desert, and beyond, Father. Oh, Father!" She suddenly pressed herself into his chest and began to sob. "Oh, Father, it is all too terribly true! The Emerald City… is gone!"
For a moment his mind simply refused to accept the words. Finally he said, "What do you mean when you say 'gone', my daughter?"
A servant appeared and proffered a goblet; Polychrome seized the Cloudwine and drank the entire goblet in one long series of swallows – something startling and worrisome, for a fairy princess who could normally subsist on a few dewdrops and mist cakes for a day or more. When she spoke again, however, her voice was smoother, and a touch of color was returning to cheeks that had been pale as morning mist.
"Gray stone, Father." She shuddered. "Gray, cold stone, all of it. For a mile and more around to the very towers of Ozma's palace, solid gray stone, and soldiers of stone and metal commanded by those who now rule from that grim mockery of what was."
He nodded slowly. The disruptions in the very essence of the air had given him much cause to worry, and the rumors had been terrifying. But to hear it from his own child… "Go on, Polychrome," he said gently. "You did not take so long, or suffer so much, only seeing this transformation. The theft of things magical, that was how this began. Was it as they believed?"
Her violet-blue eyes met his, and he saw the answer there before she spoke. "Oh, yes, Father. But far cleverer, far more dangerous. And not alone."
"And none resist this… abomination?"
"Why do you think I stayed, Father?" Polychrome's voice was sharp, angry, and he drew back in surprise. "Many of them were my friends! I sought for them, through the Quadling Country where I found the Palace of Glinda in ruins, to the Munchkins, fleeing in terror from the armies sent to subdue their lands. I saw the Gillikin Forest in flames!" Tears burst out anew. "Most of my friends were in the Emerald City when it happened! A Council of War, to determine how to locate their enemy – something their enemy had already planned upon! Ozma, Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Wizard, Glinda, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, all of them, all of them were there! I…" she almost broke down, but in a show of discipline and strength that almost forced tears from the Rainbow Lord's own eyes, she took hold of her voice and heart and refused them the chance to retreat. "I saw through the windows of the Palace, Father, saw the gray stone statues of the heroes of the realm, mortal girls and metal men, all stone, dead, dead stone."
"And Ozma herself?"
She nodded slowly. "Father, she is sealed within a crystal pyramid at the very doorway to the Castle, facing the great Courtyard, where she must have been caught by whatever hideous spell they used."
He was silent for a long moment; he watched as Polychrome took another goblet and sipped from it. Finally, he spoke. "You say 'they', Polychrome Glory." He rarely used both of her names, saving that for times of great import or great tenderness… and this, he judged, was a time for both, for his favorite daughter was sorely wounded in the heart, if not in body. "Who are they?"
For answer, Polychrome looked down and slowly loosed her grip on the bundle she held, with a wince from the pain that comes when loosing a near-deathgrip. She brought out the oddly-shaped lumpy bundle and looked down at it. With a sigh, she reached in and removed first a long gray envelope, sealed with green wax. On it was inscribed "Iris Mirabilis, Lord of the Rainbows" in a spidery but elegant hand. Wordlessly she extended the envelope to her father.
He regarded the envelope for a moment, then broke the seal and withdrew the letter, which he read.
To Iris Mirabilis, Lord of Rainbows and the Seven Hues of Heaven
As your lovely and accomplished daughter Polychrome has seen fit to visit our realm, newly acquired, of Oz, and as there may be some confusion as to the status of this land, we send you this missive.
Be it understood that all of Oz is now under our rule, and shall remain so; and that we have under our control all of the power of that land and can direct it as we will, even unto the power once belonging to Ozma its ruler, the sorceries of Glinda, the enchantments of the Wizard, and all other manner of power held here.
As Oz was and has always been the core of true Faerie power, since its blessing by Lurline ages agone, you will recognize that we are now a greater power than any other. We do not seek warfare with you or the others of Faerie or the enchanted lands above or below, but make no mistake: we shall tolerate no interference in our affairs. Leave us to ourselves, and all shall be well. Meddle, and whosoever has challenged us shall be destroyed. Each of us was vanquished once; we shall not be defeated again.
We remain, sir,
Ugu the Unbowed
King of Oz
Queen of Oz
The Rainbow Lord knew his face looked like a thundercloud as he set the letter down. "So quickly has it happened… and they claim to control the power itself. But… who is this 'Amanita', Polychrome?"
She gave another shudder, and he realized that Polychrome – his brave, undaunted, ever-cheerful daughter – was truly afraid of this unknown woman. "Who is she? I have never heard this name before, my daughter, and yet you seem afraid of her, as though you knew who she was."
"Oh, I know her, my Father. She it was who captured me once, held me prisoner, stripped me of my form and most of my power, kept me as a plaything and a pet, and would have done so perhaps forever had not others come who gave me a chance at freedom."
Shock caused him to draw in a breath. "Her? That monstrous Giantess, the Yookoohoo? She has taken a new name? But I thought that Princess Ozma had sealed her powers away in a form from which they could never be recovered."
"Perhaps… perhaps her old form cannot be recovered, Father. But she has a new one, a beautiful Human girl with hair green as emeralds; but I knew her when she laughed as the letter was given to me, for I had heard that laugh many times."
He remembered discovering how his missing daughter had been imprisoned. The thought of that monster loose again… "But something still seems amiss. They caught you spying, and sent you away with this letter. Why chase you and harry you near to death?"
Now Polychrome laughed, a laugh as joyful as a sudden ray of sunshine, and at the same time bright as a blade unsheathed; and he wondered at just what sort of girl he had fathered. "Oh, not for that, Father. But for the fact that I sought allies and friends not yet imprisoned, and in the Winkie Country I found a few still fighting; but they were falling, and their King gave to me a final charge… and…" Now, for the first time, she hesitated.
"Polychrome… what is it?"
Her jaw set for a moment, and then her shoulders slumped. "He made me promise to give my charge only to you… but that I must leave the room, and am only to be told… whatever you feel I must know."
An unnamed dread began to creep over him. He held out his hand; slowly, unwillingly, the girl let him take the bundle. He removed the wrappings.
Within lay a pink stuffed bear, a small crank protruding from one side.
Others might not have recognized the significance, but the Rainbow saw many places indeed. This innocent, even silly, looking object was one of the most potent mystical objects… or beings, depending on how one viewed it… in all of Oz. The Pink Bear was a seer, a prophet, blessed or cursed with the ability to live only whenever the crank in its side was turned, and to think, and speak – and see into some place where the future, past, and present were all one, where distance was meaningless and walls nonexistent, and speak of what it saw there.
"And the Lavender King…"
Polychrome turned her face away. "They torched the forests."
An appalled silence fell over the throne room. Finally he stood. "You gave your word, my daughter. You must leave the room… while I hear the last words of one monarch to another, on the fall of his allies and the loss of the greatest of the Faerie lands."
After a moment, Polychrome nodded. He gestured to the servants, who immediately came forward and helped Polychrome out; her sisters, he knew, would help tend to her as well.
He placed the Bear on the arm of his throne and placed his magic upon it; the Little Pink Bear would at least not have the indignity of relying on someone to turn that crank; it would turn itself until the Bear desired it to stop.
The little head turned jerkily, and one paw came up. "Hail, Iris Mirabilis!" the Bear said in a high, childish voice. Then its head sagged, and the eyes sparkled as though with tears. "My King is destroyed. My… father is gone."
"I know," he said softly. "And I have no words of comfort for you now, I fear. Your King and father sent you to me, in the hands of my daughter, risking her life and giving his own that she might escape, I would guess. Why?"
Answering questions was what the Bear had been created for; its duty might not be warming, but it was familiar, and easier than feeling and grief. "To guide you, to show you the way."
"There is a way to defeat these people? To restore Oz to what it should be?"
"It has not been what it should be for a long time. Mistakes were made." The little Bear's words were more complex and cryptic than normal.
"Much power prevents me from speaking plainly. Some is my own; I am a prophet, prophets speak as they must." The little Bear paused, then spoke again. "Balance was lost here. Balance is also lost without, in the human world. Both must be regained. Both are needed."
The Rainbow Lord nodded. The Faerie had always relied on mortals for certain things, and the mortals had in their turn been supported by the Faerie in much of their essence – even though these days they knew it less and less. "Then tell me what must be done."
" Two paths before, and the way never clear." The Bear's voice was cold and hard now, the voice of a speaker of destiny. "One brings you joy, the other filled with fear. All will hinge on the choice of one, a choice only made before it has begun."
The words continued, and as the Rainbow Lord heard the Prophecy unfold, his face became more and more grim. There were no certainties. Even the best path was fraught with danger and potential for mishaps. And in the end… it would cost him the most precious thing in all the world.
But that was the price that true Kings paid; all that they had. And more.