Coppery feathers adorned the chicken. The metallic-looking armor felt rich and silky smooth across the palm of her hand. The hen laid eggs, not golden ones, but ordinary brown ones with dark speckles. In any other place, this was considered normal, but in Quadling Country, it was spectacular.
Her mother purchased Fatima for Glinda for a meager five pieces of silver when she was only fifteen. She called it a mutant chicken. The remainder of the flock displayed colors like chartreuse, sapphire, vermillion, and lavender, and would be slaughtered for rations, but this chicken—she was priceless. And as the most powerful sorceress in the South, her mother could afford it.
Glinda, now twenty-three, touched a family picture of her mother holding the late Fatima with fondness. She rested on the window seat, one foot dangling to the floor below, while sipping honeyed verbena tea. Each drop of nectar coated her insides like a thick hot summer as she melted into a contemplative stare into the cup.
Her father and mother, like Fatima, died a year earlier in the War of the Factions, and now, Glinda remained sole ruler of the South, High Sorceress of Quadling Country. Their death, among the hundreds of soldiers and innocents, sparked a time of peace, which she sustained despite the open belligerence from her neighbors in the East and the West. The earth once shriveled and smothered by blankets of smoke and fire, now lay fertile within a year’s worth of resurrection and water.
The picture was one of the few items she cherished, and she kept it tucked in her gold-belted white gown.
“Mr. Diggs is here to see you.”
Glinda jumped at the sound of the tinny voice and saw the soldier with the pouty jaw standing at the large oak door of the ballroom. The soldier’s trousers were tucked meticulously into her calf high boots, and a long braided tail neatly snaked out of a black beret falling onto her shoulder.
Glinda placed her cup carefully on the window seat, without the saucer, and flattened the creases from the stomach of her dress. She tucked the picture into its niche underneath the belt.
“Send him in.”
Oscar Diggs sauntered in, grasping his cane in his left hand. He used it more as an accessory rather than a balancer. He grinned dreamily at her, and despite her status, he walked up to her and tucked a wisp of long, red hair behind her ear. His breath was warm and sweet-smelling of peppermint on her face. She winced at his touch.
He twirled a curled moustache around one of his fingers and crossed his eyes playfully at her. She couldn’t help but smile. His whimsical nature sometimes reminded her of a circus act.
He heaved a large sigh. “My dear, I fear that Elvina has taken several more of my people.”
Glinda frowned and stepped away from him. Elvina ruled the East. There were rumors that she had been trapping and enslaving the people of Munchkinland, but this news confirmed it.
“How many?” She clenched her hands, digging her nails into her palms. It didn’t matter the number or whether she still grieved for her family; she knew she would have to act.
She looked at Oscar, as he caressed his chin. There was a time that she would have welcomed the adoration of Oscar Diggs, but now responsibility lay heavily on her, and even still, there was something disconcerting about him. He had a manipulative slyness about him, and the way he mysteriously entered the land in a hot air balloon with no previous resume, she was skeptical of his authenticity. But an ally was an ally, and he never exposed himself to be unworthy of her trust, so she kept him close to her.
Glinda turned her head to the tall, arched stained glass window. She let her face fall in anguish. She was not ready for this.
Three years before the War of the Factions, the people of Quadling Country were at peace. Glinda, eighteen, lived quite happy practicing sorcery with her chicken.
One particular afternoon, the sun cascaded over the Emerald City and heavy-seeded sunflowers bowed their heads, their long-legged stalks dancing against a watercolor sky. Glinda walked a dirt path, the crumbs of red rocks crunching and breaking under each step. Her face tilted to the sun, soaking air and heat. She blinked long blinks and floated Fatima beside her, suspending her midair with a simple, yet concentrated grasp of her wand.
She clumsily stumbled and dropped the squawking chicken, falling face first to her knees. Dust and particles stung her eyes, staining her dress into a canvas of small, powerful rust explosions. The light around her dimmed, and she squinted at a figure shadowing above her.
“Elvina,” she whispered.
“Let me have your shoes, cousin.” The girl’s eyes glared of daggers, and a nefarious grin unfolded from her lips.
“My shoes?” Glinda wiggled her foot in the dirt and glanced at the jeweled silver slippers her mother had given her.
“No, actually … my shoes. Didn’t she tell you?”
Glinda frowned. Her mother had acquired the shoes after the lands were divided into the four realms. She had not been aware of their previous ownership.
“They are mine, fair and square. And I am not your cousin,” Glenda replied.
“Aye, maybe not by blood. But,” Elvina paused, “we are the same, you and I.”
“I am not the same as you.” Glinda stood up and brushed her legs from the dust. They were of the same kind, blessed with the kiss of magic, but she wouldn’t admit that out loud.
Glinda knew nature balanced their power: neither could destroy the other. At least, directly. Of course, manipulation of others and surroundings could come into play.
Elvina cackled and then paused. Glinda watched astonished as Elvina’s irises turned milky, and her body froze and casted a dense, blank stare at Glinda’s feet. Glinda felt the warmth in her socks and the earth hiss beneath her feet. The shoes vibrated on her feet, but did not budge. She hopped from one foot to another as small shocks connected to her ankles. She fell again, collapsing, this time her soles sizzling from a puff of swirling smoke.
Elvina frowned as the shoes emitted spirals of steam, but remained tightly embedded on their owner’s feet. Her irises returned to their original color.
Glinda raised her wand in defense and squinted with all of her power and poofed a small dust twister into the dirt. By the time it reached Elvina’s feet, it fizzled out.
Elvina seemed amused and let the laughter erupt slowly in her chest. “Still powerless? Ha! Your parents must be so disappointed.” She clucked her tongue.
“Witch!” she yelled as Elvina, still laughing, turned her back upon her.
Glinda felt her face flush, and her eyes sting because Elvina spoke the truth. Besides simple spells of quickening a flower’s bloom or floating objects in a strong breeze, there wasn’t much else she could do. Her mother, a great and powerful sorceress, had the essence of mind control, while her father had the art of invisibility.
She looked at Fatima. She only had a floating chicken, now dusted in dirt.
The nymphs lived in the River Aglaia. They swelled in the mist in small fat orbs that bounced from the depths of river bottoms to wet air lingering over the lilies and mums.
They didn’t do much talking, mostly twinkling, but it was Chyrsanthe, the elder nymph, who conversed with Glinda’s mother in situations of dire stress.
After Oscar’s visit, Glinda went to the river to seek guidance. She called for the nymph, and Chrysanthe appeared, lustered in bright strobes of cerulean and gold.
“How do I save my people? I have little power.” She wept at the large rock at the edge of the river.
“Go to her. Make peace.”
Glinda shook her head. “But how?”
“Give her the shoes.”
She hestitated. When her mother had given her the shoes, she made Glinda promise to never lose possession of them. They were magic shoes, and they would help Glinda become a powerful sorceress.
“I cannot,” she said, sucking her tears back into her nose.
“You will.” Chrysanthe stood firm, without flutter, on top of the rock. “It is your path.” And like a flicker, the nymph disappeared as quickly as he appeared.
Glinda decided to follow Chrysanthe’s advice and make an amicable resolution with Elvina, but she would put together a small army, just in case. She wanted peace to continue, and within the fortnight of travel, she resolved that she must make any treaty or trade necessary to obtain her people safely. Besides, the safety of her people is what her parents had died for.
After traveling into the depths of the Elvina’s forest, they became enveloped by tall pines, while monkeys flew tree to tree like bats. The cawing and laughing of the ravens echoed from the heights of tall branches. The trail led to a modest hut, where chained Munchkins sat against wooden poles.
“Don’t touch them,” warned Glinda. “They’re enchanted.”
Though she knew Elvina’s powers had no effect on her, she feared for her soldiers. She remembered what her own mother did on the eve of battle, so she stood back and as each soldier passed and cupped each of one of her soldier’s cheeks and wielded a charmed kiss upon each woman’s forehead. She hoped that whatever magic she could muster would boost their protection.
Elvina sat upon a wooden throne, the serpentine branches tangled and twisted among each other where jewels hung like teardrops and glistened and glowed with magic. She smiled as Glinda stood and bowed in front of her. A chortle erupted deep down in Elvina’s throat.
“Elvina. You know what I have come for.”
Elvina didn’t waste any time. “Of course I do. My shoes. I want my shoes. Give me my shoes.” She sat back and crossed her arms.
Glinda pressed her shoulders back, and despite the show she was giving, she felt her cheeks warm and her right eye twitch.
“What? These old things?” She lifted her gown, and Oscar knelt and unceremoniously removed the slippers from her feet one at a time. Glinda laid them sparkling silvery white on a wooden pedestal.
She spoke slow, trying to find courage within her words. “Now. Release my people.” Elvina laughed.
Glinda stood resolute and felt the strength in her well up and unfurl from her stomach. Elvina met her stare and frowned. Elvina looked to Nimee Amee, her maid, and said, “Release them. And give her the box.”
The blonde-haired maiden handed her a wooden box, oaken and heavy.
Elvina smiled. “A gift,” she said.
As Glinda turned, she felt powerful. A resolution without war, without magic, resulting in success.
They left the hut, and as each soldier’s foot touched the forest floor, a rancid smell emerged. Each soldier clutched her own throat with both hands. Their faces turned bright pink, a dull purple, and then finally to a lifeless hue as each body crumpled onto the ground. Glinda looked at Oscar, who grabbed her hand and mouthed the word “run”. So she did.
Their flight through the trees and needles was uneventful. At the edge of the forest, she stopped and slapped him.
“Why did you not die?”
And he looked just as confused as her said, “I don’t know.”
His eyes looked older now. Softened by the sharp after burn of death.
He shugged. “Maybe it’s because I touched the shoes.”
Glinda went to the nymphs. She brought the box with her.
Chrysanthe appeared through the foam.
Glinda fell to her knees. “Give me guidance. I have failed.” The words stung her throat, and she forced the thickness in her swallow. “She destroyed my army. And now she has my shoes. Whatever little power I had, I have no longer. My people are doomed.”
“Ah, child. Your power is not within the shoes.”
She looked at Chrysanthe and was confused. “But my mother said …”
“The girl is coming.”
Glinda watched as the orb dissipated into the breeze. She stood dumbfounded. She looked down at her hands at the wooden box clasped with a small bronze hook. She shivered as she loosened the hook and opened the box.
Glinda’s chest tightened, and she suddenly wanted to rip her dress off, so she could breathe. Underneath an ivory satin cloth, lay a beak and two wrinkly, dried chicken’s feet.
She did all she could do to hold it together, but now melted into her dress. The memories flooded from her.
She felt Oscar Diggs sidle up next to her, and he embraced her with his arm around her shoulders.
“It just a chicken, not Fatima,” he said.
She knew. But she also knew that it was also a reminder.
He held her shoulders. “Madame, Elvina’s Green army has swarmed the Emerald City.”
She sat up and looked blankly at the river before her, the folds and curls of water spilling over the rocks. She remembered her mother, who on her deathbed, gripped Glinda’s hand and told her that she loved her. And before she closed her eyes to pass, she made Glinda vow to remain strong for her people. The magic swells in your blood. Find it, my dear.
She remembered this moment between mother and daughter, between a queen and her predecessor—the sudden fear of being alone, a failure, a weak leader abandoned her. And the anger and tenacity throbbed in her chest like tribal chants dancing amidst beating drums.
The conjuring only took a second and felt completely natural. The power welled up and exuded from her in one large blow. She turned from the river, letting the waterfall’s spray of white mist powder her curls. She summoned the wind, and it wheezed in circles around her, the sky crackling into lightning and earth rumbling beneath her.
Oscar Diggs shouted at her as he ran for the castle, the hail attacking him.
And instead of taking cover, she lifted her arms above her head and just breathed.
Hedwika Cox is an MFA candidate at Antioch University-Los Angeles. Her fiction and poetry has been published in Red Paint Hill’s Mother is a Verb Anthology, Swirl, the Inkling, and others. She is the Fiction Editor of Torrid Magazine and an Assistant Editor at Black Denim Lit.