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Like a Swan on a Lake

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“Well, are you coming?”

Glinda stepped back from Elphaba and her broom, and her eye was caught by a window on the nearside of the round tower room. From this high up she felt like the whole city was spread before her at her feet, and she told herself quite firmly that this glittering thing was all she ever wanted. But the city wasn’t glittering at all now; clouds had rolled in from the north while she and Elphaba had been with the Wizard, and the city looked less like an emerald, and more like an old copper coin that had gone green with age.

Glinda turned away from the window and back to her friend, her very best friend, who was watching her with a pleading expression on her face. Pleading, but not demanding because Elphie barely even knew how to ask for things for herself, much less demand them. Glinda always thought that was a product of having to take care of Nessa the whole time she had been growing up; Elphaba had spent too much time learning how to take care of others and no time learning how to take care of herself. And that was the crux of the matter wasn’t it?

Glinda sighed, not so much because she felt like sighing, as because sighing seemed like the thing to do when you were giving up your own dreams to take care of a friend, even your very best friend. Truthfully, Glinda was excited beyond measure at the thought, and while she wasn’t sure if it was because she was getting caught up in Elphaba’s excitement or because her own dreams weren’t her own at all, but the dreams that she had because it was what everyone else expected of her, for the moment she felt like she could fly even without the aid of Elphaba’s broom.

“Elphie, you’re trembling,” Glinda said, two parts worried and one part chiding. She picked up an old cloak sitting in the corner of the room, and draped it over her friend’s shoulders. Elphaba helped her arrange the cloak, but she did so absent-mindedly, her eyes still locked on Glinda and her expression still caught perfectly between hope and despair.

Glinda shook her head and laughed a little. “Of course I’m coming with you. You don’t think I’d let you run off without me, do you?”

 


 

This time Fiyero came to the train station with two bouquets of flowers, one for Glinda and Elphaba each, and better sense than to think he could have the conversation he wanted to have with Elphaba before he had the one he needed to have with Glinda or that either of those conversations were ones he could have in a train station. In his defense, he was still fairly new at this whole ‘thinking’ thing; he was sure he would get better with practice.

Fiyero had gotten the arrival time of Elphaba and Glinda’s return train from Nessa. Apparently Madame Morrible had been against Elphaba buying a return ticket at all, suggesting that Elphaba might not know how long she wanted to stay until after she had seen the Wizard, but Elphaba had been quite firm on two nights and the full day in between being more than long enough to be away from her younger sister. As such, she, and presumably Glinda with her, were due to arrive on the second train from the city that morning.

It was about twenty minutes before the arrival time of the first train that morning that Fiyero got to the station. He thought he should be there just in case Elphaba decided to get up early and trade her ticket in for that first train, and she somehow managed to convince Glinda to do the same. But, not surprisingly, the train came and went without any sign of them, so Fiyero pulled out his book and settled in to do some studying while he was waiting – it seemed to him that that would be one of the better ways to practice thinking.

Fifteen minutes before Elphaba and Glinda’s train was due to pull in, Boq and Nessa arrived at the station as well. Fiyero wouldn’t call the other two friends of his, exactly, but he saw them reasonably often through their mutual acquaintance with Elphaba and Glinda, and the three of them chatted easily enough while they waited. But that train came and went too without the arrival of the girls.

“That’s just like Elphaba. Getting too caught up in her own things, with no consideration for the people who might be here waiting for her,” Nessa said. Personally, Fiyero thought that sounded more like Glinda than Elphaba – not out of mean-spiritedness, at least not anymore, but Glinda sometimes needed to be reminded that there were other people separate from her in the world with thoughts and emotions of their own – but he didn’t feel it was his place to say so, since Elphaba was Nessa’s sister.

“I’m sure they’ll be on the next train. If you want, I’ll stay here and wait for them, and let Elphaba know that you were here earlier to meet her,” Fiyero offered.

“That would be wonderful, thank you,” Nessa said graciously. “Come on, Boq, let’s go back to campus.” Just for a moment Fiyero thought Boq was going to object, because he was sure Boq would rather stay and wait for Glinda to show up. But the moment passed and Boq obediently followed Nessa back to Shiz.

Fiyero waited at the train station, studying until his eyes grew sore and his flowers began to look limp and wilted. The girls never came.

 


 

It was a little over a month after her sudden resignation as Headmistress to become the Wizard’s press secretary that Madame Morrible came back to Shiz for a visit, like Fiyero had known she would. It had been something of bad form of her to quit her job out of nowhere like that, leaving the school scrambling for a replacement, and the replacement scrambling to settle in, but that wasn’t why she was back, by any means. Shiz was well-known for being the kind of school where the Right Sorts could send their children to be educated. And if one wanted to successfully manipulate the public opinion, it was important to cultivate the Right Sorts, especially while they were young and impressionable, and therefore at their most susceptible to cultivating.

Fiyero no longer felt nearly as young and impressionable as he had a little over a little over a month ago, but Madame Morrible had no way of knowing that. Not when she had been gone and Fiyero had been extra careful to act the same as he always had, on the off-chance the information might get back to her somehow. Just keep on dancing through.

His plans to use this misapprehension of his character on her part to his advantage were still a bit vague, admittedly. Honestly, he was still a bit vague on what exactly ‘his advantage’ was at this point. All he knew was that if the Wizard was saying Elphaba and Glinda were wicked, then the Wizard was either lying or had been lied to by Madame Morrible. In either case, it was Fiyero’s job to do what he could to help them. He would have preferred to be offering his support in person, but he had been left behind and so would just have to do what he could from here. The how on that was also a bit vague at the moment, but there was one thing he did know for certain; Madame Morrible wasn’t the only one capable of cultivating.

Madame Morrible had looked surprised and pleased and wary all at once when he had requested a moment to speak with her privately, but she scurried her successor out of her former office quick enough. “What can I do for you, Mr. Tigelaar?”

“Please ma’am call me Fiyero. I just wanted to speak with you so I could say I’m sorry for being so foolish,” he told her earnestly. His father had once remarked that he could always tell when Fiyero was lying, as his son was never so earnest when telling the truth.

“We were all young and foolish once; I’m sure whatever it was you’ve done isn’t nearly as bad as you think,” Madame Morrible replied with an overly sweet tone of indulgence that almost succeeded in not coming off as condescending.

“It’s not what I did, it’s what I didn’t do. I spent so much time with Glinda, and Elphaba too, and yet I never realized how wicked they truly are. If only I had noticed, I could have told someone. I’ve heard,” Fiyero said, dropping into a confidential whisper-like tone, “that they tried to attack the Wizard.” He’d heard much more outlandish things than that, but it seemed the most brazen of the rumors that wouldn’t immediately get him labelled as stupid beyond all hope for believing it.

Madame Morrible let out a laugh in response to that, one that she no doubt thought was light and ringing. “My dear boy, is that what you were worried about? Make no mistake, those witches are dangerous let loose to stir up trouble the way they are, but that doesn’t mean they would be any match for the Wizard if they were to try to face him head on in his own city.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Fiyero replied, letting just a bit of sheepishness color his tone. “I just wish there was something I could do.”

Madame Morrible seemed to finally catch the feeling in his tone, for she stopped now to really look at him. Her eyes crawled up and down his body while one glossy nail tapped at her teeth, considering. “Not a drop of magic in you, but then look how well that turned out,” she said in an undertone. After a moment or two more of mulling it over, she seemed to come to a decision, for she bared her teeth in a wide smile. “I think I know of exactly what you could do.”

As soon as his conference with Morrible was over, Fiyero briskly walked back to his dorm, not allowing himself to stagger no matter how much he wished to. He made his way to the restroom and promptly threw up half a dozen times, until there was nothing left to come out but bitter yellow bile. The entire time he was grinning in triumph.

 


 

“May I present Fiyero Tigelaar? In the past, he was friends with the two wicked witches, because he had misjudged their character, and so placed his trust in the wrong persons.” The last bit of that was said with such pointedness that Fiyero’s gaze, which had been briefly distracted by the fluttering of just one of the curtains beside the Wizard’s great face, locked on to Morrible, as though he might be able to decipher the deeper meaning to her words just by looking at her. But if there were any clues in her appearance, Fiyero couldn’t see them, so he looked back at the Wizard, the curtain by this time having stilled. “He’s here now to offer his services to atone for this mistake.”

“Knowing who is worthy of trust is always a hard-learned lesson. But if you can keep to it, I think you’ll find it well worth the price you pay,” the Wizard said. The words were keenly felt, and Fiyero wondered if they held the weight of experience behind them.

This might prove to be even harder than he had been expecting.

 


 

Officially, Fiyero was given the titles and positions of the Captain of the Guard, and Grand Vizier to the Wizard. But whenever he went to mingle amongst the people in the city, something he did often and a pastime the Wizard was an enthusiastic supporter of, Fiyero introduced himself as Prince Fiyero – a title that was his by right as the heir apparent of Kiamo Ko, he pointed out to a displeased Morrible.

Whatever the technicalities of why he was granted such a rank, it soon spread that Fiyero had been chosen by the Wizard to be his own personal heir. And what a ridiculous fanciful notion that was! A person might as well suggest that an owl would inherent the night sky once the moon and stars were dead and gone. Such jokes were shared often, but only ever teasingly and the laughter that followed was never the mean-spirited sort, because Fiyero was such a cheerful lad, and had a kind word for everyone, and the people were quite fond of their golden prince already.

Fiyero heard these jokes and he laughed too, but he also somehow also made it be known, without ever saying the words, that the Wizard was an otherworldly being, who had come from an otherworldly place to help the citizens of Oz. And when otherworldly beings descend to a mortal plane to help in mortal affairs, it was the responsibility of those mortals to better themselves and prepare for the day that the otherworldly being had to return their attention to otherworldly concerns, so that that being could do what they must with a glad heart and a light conscience.

About this latter rumor, Morrible kept her own counsel, which lead Fiyero to assume that she quite approved of putting the idea in people’s heads that the Wizard might yet leave someday and also the idea that someone, someone who was not necessarily Fiyero, would need to step up and take the Wizard’s place. Fiyero tucked both of these conclusions in the back of his mind, where they might be handy should he need them later.

 


 

Once every four months, His Royal Highness, Prince Fiyero of the Vinkus, Grand Vizier to the Wizard, Captain of the Guard of the Emerald City came to call on Her Most Excellent, Lady Nessarose, Eminent Thropp, Governor of Muchkinland.

At first these visits were something Fiyero did for himself as much as anything. It was relaxing to pass a little time with possibly the only other two people in all of Oz – for Boq was always there as well, even if his presence was not much remarked upon, because where else would a manservant be but at his mistress’s side? – who still believed in Glinda and Elphaba. None of them were foolish enough to say any such thing out loud, even when it was just the three of them, but the truth of it was there in the looks they shared with each other.

As time passed, however, the small wicked thing that had been in Nessa from the start that everyone had seen glimpses of now and again, everyone save her father and, perhaps, Elphaba, began to grow and fester. Eventually Fiyero found these visits no longer did a thing to ease his burdens, even momentarily, and it became merely a task he performed dutifully, keeping a promise had never made to someone who was probably long since convinced of his betrayal.

The people of Oz may have been a bit empty-headed at times, but they were not unobservant. So of course they noticed and wondered at Prince Fiyero’s solicitous and courting behavior. And why not courting? Their Golden Prince was at a ripe age for the first blossoming of young love growing into something more, and the Lady Nessarose was such a tragically beautiful girl.

“No, you’ve got it all wrong. Nessa and I are just old school friends,” Fiyero told the first soul brave enough to ask him about the rumors outright. “Besides, she’s been in love with someone else for as long as I’ve known her.”

The people who had all gathered in close to hear his answer, nodded and made appropriate noises while not believing a word of his denials. Their hearts melted as they thought to themselves, ‘Even our perfect Golden Prince can be unlucky in love, and even he can be brought just a bit lower by its unrequited pangs,’ and they loved him all the more for it.

 


 

Fiyero only visited Glinda’s parents once. Their manor in the Upper Uplands was austere and grand, as was befitting descendants of the noble clan of the Arduennas of the Uplands of Gilliken. It also felt, despite the rooms filled with elegant furniture, priceless paintings and artifacts, and tasteful objects d’art, very empty.

Larena Upland and Highmuster Arduenna received him in the drawing room, which felt no more lived in than any of the other rooms he’d seen. Larena greeted him with a curtsy that was both technically perfect and of the precise depth that a lady of her social standing owed a man of his. “Greetings, your highness. My husband and I are both surprised and delighted that you’ve decided to call on us in our humble estate.”

“Delighted, but hardly surprised,” Highmuster corrected her, giving Fiyero a small bow before offering to shake his hand. They took their seats, Highmuster and Larena side by side on the couch with Fiyero on a chair opposite them, and he continued, “I’ve been telling my wife for ages that you were bound to come by and ask about our Galinda sooner or later.”

“It just seems like such a terribly big fuss to make just because Galinda’s having one of her silly little tantrums. Not that we aren’t delighted to have you here, because as I said we most certainly are,” Larena said, directing the first comment to her husband and the latter to Fiyero.

“Am I to understand that you don’t think Glinda is seriously committed to what she’s doing?” Fiyero asked, with just the slightest emphasis on Glinda’s chosen appellation. It seemed a ridiculous supposition to him; surely Glinda wouldn’t have given up her whole life and all she ever wanted unless she truly believed in what she was doing.

“Of course not,” Larena replied, as though Fiyero were being the ridiculous one. “You have to understand, your highness, our little Galinda is a very sweet and lovely girl, but she can’t be serious about anything. I’ve told her that often enough myself, but of course she never took me seriously either.” Larena let out a few lighthearted titters at her own joke and Highmuster chuckled too. Fiyero managed a very weak smile, but it seemed to convince the other two well enough.

“Of course, none of this would have happened if it weren’t for that horrid green girl she’s been spending all her time with, Elizabeth or something,” Highmuster said.

“I think her name was Elba, dear,” Larena corrected.

“Elphaba,” Fiyero said.

“The point,” Highmuster said, “is that we do all we can to make sure our little girl has the best of the best, then she runs off to school and makes friends with that weird roommate of hers and starts getting all kinds of ideas in her head.”

“Not that we’re saying everyone that she met at school was a bad influence,” Larena added, gesturing to make it clear that it was Fiyero she was referring to.

“Of course not,” agreed Highmuster. “It’s just a shame that Galinda is too silly to know the difference between a good influence and a bad one.”

It went on like that for a long while, with the two alternatively assuring Fiyero that they had been absolutely perfect parents, and blaming all of Glinda’s – who they insisted on referring to as Galinda, no matter how many gentle hints Fiyero dropped – mistakes and flaws, of which there were apparently very many that they were happy to expound upon at length, on a combination of Glinda’s silliness and Elphaba’s corrupting ways. Finally, Larena was called away to deal with some matters around the house, and Fiyero hoped to take his leave as she did. However, as he started to stand, Highmuster indicated that he would appreciate a word with Fiyero in private.

“I didn’t want to say this while Larena was still here, but in the interest of full disclosure, I think you ought to know Galinda’s actions of late aren’t entirely this Elphaba girl’s fault,” Highmuster said after Larena left.

“Oh?” Fiyero asked, feigning interest while he counted the minutes until he could leave. Two hours ago, Fiyero might have considered Highmuster’s words a hopeful sign, but by this point Fiyero was well convinced of the inability of both of Glinda’s parents to pleasantly surprise him.

“I myself am a descendant of the Arduenna clan, which I’m sure you are well aware is a very old and impeccable bloodline. The Uplands, on the other hand… I don’t want to say they’re bad blood exactly, even without my wife here to hear it, but they certainly aren’t what I’d call good blood either. But then, you’re a prince yourself, I’m sure you take my meaning,” Highmuster said.

“I do,” Fiyero agreed, only because he did understand the point Highmuster was getting at, regardless of how much Fiyero might disagree with it.

“So you see, Galinda’s atrocious behavior might not be due to falling in with the wrong sorts, not that I would discount that entirely as a factor mind you, and more of a case of blood will out. My mother, may she rest in peace, may have been right after all. She was dead set against my marrying Larena, but I would have none of it. Love makes people do ridiculous things, I suppose.”

“That it most certainly does,” Fiyero said, agreeing with Highmuster for the only time in their acquaintance. Though, honestly, Fiyero doubted the man truly understood what those words meant.

When he finally managed to escape that large, empty-feeling house, Fiyero wanted nothing more than to ride as far and fast as he could, to put the whole thing behind him. In spite of that, once he reached the front gate, Fiyero found himself stopping to look back at the place where Glinda had been raised. He was, he decided, glad that he had come after all, no matter how horrid the visit had been. He thought he understood Glinda a little better now; she was certainly much stronger than Fiyero had ever thought to give her credit for. Perhaps, Fiyero reflected, he owed it to Glinda to watch out for her parents as much as he did to Elphaba to watch out for Nessa. It felt like he did, or at least it felt like it should feel that way. But, no matter how much Fiyero appreciated that first brief visit – and it had been a brief one, even if it had seemed to drag on for an eternity at the time – Fiyero was never quite able to find it in himself to go back.

 


 

As time passed, more and more people approached Fiyero about the witches, some of them seeking his assurances that he would keep him safe from the Wicked Shadow Witch of the West and the Wicked White Witch of the South (Fiyero always found himself amused by the way his girls managed to get themselves associated with the exact opposite cardinal direction that they were actually from). Others instead offered their own assurances of their faith in Fiyero’s ability to catch them.

Fiyero would respond to these comments by offering comfort or thanks, as necessary, then sighing as he stared off sadly into the distance. “I only wish that Elphaba and Glinda had come to me for help when I knew them back at Shiz. I fully believe there is no one so wicked that they couldn’t be redeemed by good, if they would only allow themselves to be.”

“He’s undermining you!” Morrible near-screeched when these comments of Fiyero’s first came to her attention. “You’ve declared these witches to be wicked, and yet Fiyero is building them up to be tragic figures. He’s even calling them by name!”

“If the Wizard says that the witches are horrible and wicked and irredeemable, then of course that is the case,” Fiyero said calmly. “I was only trying to…” Here Fiyero looked down at his feet, as though embarrassed to share his thoughts.

“Trying to what, my boy?” the Wizard asked kindly.

Fiyero looked back up at the glowing green head, determination and resolution newly writ across his features. “You have often said that you think of the citizens of Oz as being like children to you, and truly you have been like a father to them. Slightly distant, but only out of necessity, and you have been the source of all that is right and fair, and done what needed be to done to care for them best, even when it hurt them, and hurt you to know your loving care was hurting them. I only sought to compliment you by providing a softer sort of comfort, and being the person they could approach for easy and unconditional forgiveness, no matter what their mistakes. A mother-figure, if you will.” 

Morrible did not care for this explanation, but the Wizard was so pleased by it, she had no choice but to fall in line.

 


 

Despite Fiyero’s best efforts, they almost caught the witches once. They were still very far away when Fiyero first spotted them, far enough that just Elphaba in her black shift dress in low lighting to hide her skin might have passed unnoticed. Not by Fiyero, of course, he could recognize either of them from much farther away with much less to go on, but by the men accompanying him, which would have allowed Fiyero to turn them away and leave Elphaba be. Unfortunately, at the moment, the noon day sun was shining down, highlighting the brilliant emerald green of her skin. Even if it weren’t for that, Glinda would be unmistakable in her bright white dress, which seemed far too puffy and frilly to be practical, especially in their current circumstances. Fiyero supposed that Glinda might be using some kind of magic to make it more manageable, and he did have to admit that the contrast of the two of them next to each other made for a striking image.

Fiyero was the first one to see the two, but he knew it was only a matter of time before the others spotted them as well, so he quickly and quietly signaled for his men’s attention. “There’s no way we can hope to sneak up on them, it’s too open and it’s a miracle they haven’t seen us yet. We’ll have to try and charge them, and hope to reach them before they make their escape,” Fiyero said. The men nodded in response, and at Fiyero’s signal they galloped at full speed toward the witches.

The hoof beats and the jangling of tack and armor and gear of ten mounted soldiers was hardly inconspicuous, so it was no wonder that Fiyero and his men were noticed as they came full tilt across the open ground. Glinda turned first, and pulled her wand out of her sleeve. Fiyero wasn’t sure if her intention was to cast some sort of spell on them, or to create one of the giant bubbles he’d heard she had taking to flying around in lately. It became a moot point a moment later when Elphaba, her attention drawn by the shift in Glinda’s, also turned around and snatched the wand from her, yelling something that was unintelligible from the distance. Elphaba quickly threw her leg astride her broom – luckily she had already been holding it when Fiyero had first seen her – and Glinda sat down behind her sidesaddle, so to speak, with her arms wrapped tight around Elphaba’s waist and her face buried against Elphaba’s shoulders. As soon as Elphaba was certain her friend was secure, and while Fiyero and his men were still a good fifteen yards away, the two took to the sky and were quickly out of reach.

Fiyero and his men brought their horses to a halt on the edges of the witches’ hastily abandoned camp, and Fiyero ordered a few of them to search the area, hoping that nothing important or irreplaceable had gotten left behind. As they did that, Fiyero looked up to the sky, watching as the two slowly faded from view. He had been hoping for this outcome, and he wasn’t sure what he would have done if they had been successful in capturing them, but he still felt his heart sink to watch them leave him behind yet again.

“There was no way we could have caught them.” Fiyero turned to look at Cain, his second-in-command, and the former Captain of the Guard before Fiyero had taken the title. Of course, Fiyero’s promotion to the rank had been more of a formality because Morrible said it would make him appear brave and heroic to the people of Oz and because the Wizard wanted him to have some position that would make it seem reasonable that Fiyero was in charge of catching the two witches. Luckily, Cain wasn’t the sort of man to hold a grudge over the loss of a title that came with no corresponding loss of authority, responsibilities, or salary.

“You were right that we wouldn’t have been able to sneak up on them, even if we had tried, and there was no way our horses could have run fast enough to catch the two of them when the Shadow Witch has that broom of hers. I’ve heard that she went out during one of the great lightning storms they get in the west, and gathered the whole thing up with her magic and stuffed it in her broom. I don’t know if it’s true, but it certainly sounds like a believable sort of thing, doesn’t it?”

Fiyero made a non-committal noise – people and their empty-headed ideas! – and returned his gaze to what was now barely more than a black speck in the sky.

Cain, correctly sensing his captain was still upset, even if he was wrong about the reason why, continued, “We couldn’t have caught them this time; no one could. In fact, I’ll bet that the Wizard himself wouldn’t have been able to catch them if he’d been here, and I’d even be willing to tell him that if you wanted me to.”

Surprised, Fiyero turned to Cain and took a closer look. What he saw in the man’s face was a total devotion, but not the kind that people might give to their gods, or someone who seemed greater than life. This was the straight-forward kind of loyalty that one person might give to another, that was at once more simple and more complex than the faith in a higher power, but no less lasting for all that.

It suddenly occurred to Fiyero, as it had often to a lesser extent before, that what he was doing wasn’t just about Elphaba and Glinda. It was about all the ordinary citizens of Oz too. Maybe they were empty-headed, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t good people, and they certainly didn’t deserve to be manipulated and taken advantage of by the likes of the Wizard and Morrible.

Fiyero smiled, a far more genuine one than he had in a very long time. “Thank you Cain, but I wouldn’t ask you to do that. Catching the witches is my responsibility, and if there is going to be any sort of consequences for the failure today, they should fall on my shoulders alone.” 

Cain, who would have said much the same thing in Fiyero’s position, smiled back. “Of course, sir. Just know that if you ever need us, every single one of my men is on your side.”

 


 

In theory, Fiyero had very little power within the borders of Munchkinland, certainly not enough to undermine the direct orders of the governor herself. In theory, the Wizard was the only one who could do that, and even then his authority to do so was debatable.

In practice, while the guards to the Governor’s Residence were very loyal and had to be snuck around, those that guarded the borders of Munchkinland took one look at their Golden Prince and let him pass, and it appeared as though it did not even occur to them to question his companion, who due to some legal technicalities that sounded legitimate enough if one didn’t look over closely, wasn’t allowed to leave the providence.

“What do you want to do now?” Fiyero asked once he was sure they were long clear of the guards. He would be happy to put Boq up in the Emerald city, if that as what the other man wanted, but after what Boq had just been through, Fiyero thought it important to give him the choice.

“I think I’d like to head south,” Boq said, the hesitant phrasing belied by the firmness and conviction of his tone.

“To Quadling Country?” Fiyero asked, incredulous. What on Earth could Boq want down there? He looked at Boq, who met his eyes for just barely a moment, before looking away to blush. But in that moment Fiyero saw some of the same sort of obsession that had lead to them fleeing like thieves in the night – not an inapt comparison, given that Nessa seemed to think Boq was her personal possession – in the first place, and Fiyero abruptly remembered what, or rather who, else was to the south.

“I’m taking you to Kiamo Ko,” Fiyero said firmly. “I doubt Nessa is going to let you go as easily as all that, and I don’t have any way of protecting you if you go south.” Fiyero caught the mulish expression on Boq’s face and, deciding it would do more good than harm at this point, added, “Besides, they are not unsympathetic to witches there.”

A wild hope appeared to seize Boq, and belatedly Fiyero realized how his words might be taken. “Do you mean to say that Miss Glinda –“

“Neither the Wicked White Witch of the South nor the Wicked Shadow Witch of the West have ever been to Kiamo Ko,” Fiyero told him, emphasizing the titles for the two young women. Even in an open field with no one else to be seen for miles, you could never be sure who was listening. “However, my mother has a fondness for women who know their own minds, and she won’t hear of any slander against them in her household even if the women in question are witches.”

Boq looked crestfallen, but after a minute he nodded. “I suppose I could stay at Kiamo Ko for a little while. Just until Nessa calms down." 

Privately, Fiyero doubted Nessa would ever ‘calm down,’ but that suited his purposes fine any way. “Just so.”

 


 

When rumors of a lion, perhaps even a Lion, terrorizing the forest to the East made their way to the Emerald City, Fiyero’s second-in-command objected to the idea of Fiyero investigating the matter on his own. Not because his Captain’s sword was still largely untested, which would have been a reasonable concern, and one that Fiyero would have been hard-pressed to argue with, but because it was improper for a Prince to go haring off on his own. This was much easier to dismiss, because even at the height of his narcissism Fiyero had never been one to put on airs in that respect, and he certainly wasn’t going to start now.

And so it was alone that Fiyero went into the forest, and alone that he was first confronted by the Lion. And a Lion he certainly was because, though he roared like a common lion, he approached Fiyero on his hind legs with his front paws up in front of him, almost as though he wanted to box Fiyero.

Fiyero gripped the hilt of his sword, but did not draw it. “I didn’t come to fight you.”

“What’s the matter? Are you scared?” the Lion taunted.

“I don’t have to be scared to not want to fight,” Fiyero said calmly. “I want to help you, if I can.” To reinforce this statement, Fiyero relinquished his grip on his sword, instead reaching that same hand out in friendship as he took a cautious step closer to the Lion. This step brought him into a shaft of sunlight that had managed to cut its way between the treetops and reflected off of the bright braid on Fiyero’s uniform and brought out the golden tones in his swarthy skin.

“I know you,” the Lion said, dropping his fists. Despite this decrease in hostility, Fiyero felt himself tense. He had done the best he could to temper the Wizard’s policies on Animals, but he was certainly not well liked amongst their people. He didn’t drop his outstretched hand, though. “You’re the Golden Prince, the one who saved me from the Wicked Shadow Witch when she tried to steal my courage from me!”

For one strange moment, Fiyero imagined he could see that Lion Cub that Elphaba and he had run off with in class that day years ago juxtaposed over the Lion that stood before him now. “Little one,” Fiyero said, and neither of them thought it odd that a man who was still young yet would address a grown Lion in the fullness of his prime in such a manner, “I don’t think she meant to hurt you.”

“Of course she did,” the Lion growled. “I could smell the stink of her magic in the air, and she’s a Wicked Witch; she lives to hurt others.”

“That’s an overly simplified view of the matter,” Fiyero said, and then sighed. He knew the look of a person that wasn’t going to allowed themselves to be convinced, not without a lot of time and work.

“Listen Lion, you can’t stay here in this forest. I’ve managed to buy some time, but if you keep terrorizing people, they’re going to send hunters next. You need to head south; there are other Animals down there that will take you in and keep you safe.”

“But that’s where the Wicked White Witch lives!” the Lion protested.

“Yes, and the Animals there are under her protection.” Hers and Elphaba’s, but Fiyero wasn’t foolish enough to say that. “The Wizard’s rule is not overly kind to Animals, and this is the only way I can be sure of your safety, little one.”

The Lion nodded miserably, and Fiyero doubted the he believed the lands to the south would be safe, but he would go because Fiyero asked it of him. “Prince… do you want me to lay a trap to help you catch the witches?” the Lion asked, his words all coming out in a rush, as though he felt obligated to offer, but was terrified that Fiyero would accept.

“I wouldn’t ask that of you,” Fiyero reassured quickly, but then an idea occurred to him. “But could you give them a message from me? You needn’t tell them directly if you don’t want, just make sure they receive it.”

The Lion puffed out his chest importantly. “Of course.”

“Thank you. Tell them – no, ask them if they know what it is that makes a great dancer,” Fiyero said. He didn’t think Elphaba would know the answer, but Glinda probably would, and once she did, Elphaba could probably explain the meaning of it to her.

“I’ll ask them myself,” the Lion said, and Fiyero smiled at him.

“You are a very loyal Lion. Have a safe journey, my friend.”

“To you too,” the Lion said. Fiyero turned and walked back to the road, where he had left his horse tied when he had first heard the roaring, but was stopped by the Lion calling out to him again. “Prince, what…” 

“A truly great dancer,” Fiyero said, answering the unasked question, “can take the most difficult and soul-wearying steps and make them look effortless. Feel free to tell Glinda the answer if she can’t figure it out; she was never terribly good at riddles.”

 


 

It was no secret that Morrible and Fiyero disliked each other. Or at least, it wasn’t a secret from each other or the palace staff; in front of the Wizard they both tried to put on a false air of civility and amicability. But everyone else, even possibly some of the common citizens of Oz, was well aware that Morrible had come to regret her decision to bring young Fiyero to the Wizard’s attention, and the both of them were often to be found competing against each other for the Wizard’s good grace and favor.

But it was in that competition that Morrible made her fatal mistake. Morrible had striven to cultivate valuable skills for the Wizard, and make herself generally irreplaceable. Fiyero, on the other had focused all his energy into being loveable. As such, it was a surprise to no one, save perhaps Morrible, that when rumors of treason and plots to oust or even kill the Wizard began circulating, it was Morrible who was banished from all Oz, unceremoniously and on pain of death, while Fiyero settled more firmly into his place at the Wizard’s side. 

Though Fiyero knew things were far from over yet, as he watch Morrible leave the Emerald City with nothing but a small bag of provisions and the clothes on her back, he couldn’t help but smile to himself and feel as though he had already won the war.

 


 

Once Morrible was gone, Fiyero felt freer to move about the palace as he chose. Technically he had always been allowed to go nearly anywhere he wanted, but before he’d felt he was being watched. Morrible hadn’t ever trusted Fiyero, not since the first day; Fiyero was fairly certain she had only picked him because of his charm and because his reputation for brainlessness had led her to the false conclusion that he would be more tractable to molding into something suitable than Glinda and Elphaba had proven to be.

It was while exercising his new found freedom to explore that he first stumbled across the too-small cages holding the winged monkeys. Fiyero had heard rumors about these creatures, and had even thought he’d seen one from a distance once on a moonless night, but their existence had always been completely denied by the Wizard and Morrible. But hearing tell of them, stories that Fiyero had believed no matter what he was told, and seeing the wretched creatures in the flesh was a different matter altogether.

“You poor things,” Fiyero said, walking up to the closest cage. The monkey inside reached out one paw to touch Fiyero’s hand and chittered gravely at him. Fiyero wasn’t certain if the monkey was merely an animal making noise, as animals are wont to do, or an Animal communicating in the only words he had left, but Fiyero listened attentively just the same.

“His name’s Chistery,” said a voice, and Fiyero whipped around.

He allowed himself only a moment to be startled by the familiar features of the old man standing in the doorway, before schooling his expression into his most sheepish grin. “Sorry, I’m not sure if I’m allowed to be in here, but, well, my mother was always despairing over my fondness for exploring growing up.”

“It’s fine, my boy; the prince is allowed to go wherever he wants to I should think,” the old man said. Then he added, with a wink “Besides, I won’t tell a soul.”

“Thank you,” Fiyero said. “Are you the one who cares for these animals?”

The old man grinned, as though he were privately amused. “You could say that. I do a lot of this and that around the palace.”

From there their conversation turned into one about life around the palace, the old man remaining exceedingly vague about what he did while digging deeper and deeper into Fiyero’s own life. He was also shockingly familiar, even with the somewhat casual air that Fiyero encouraged in the servants, but the old man didn’t seem to notice and Fiyero did not deign to point it out. Finally the old man went to leave, giving Fiyero a little more alone time with the animals, since he seemed so fond of them.

“Before you go I have to ask, winged monkeys?” Fiyero said.

“The Wizard did that for them. He believes that everyone deserves a chance to fly,” the old man explained.

“A commendable philosophy. Much better than ‘dance through life,’” Fiyero remarked, and the old man chuckled.

“Don’t worry about it too much. We all think foolish things when we’re young,” the old man said before leaving. 

Fiyero waited a minute to be sure he was gone before returning his attention to Chistery. “I was planning on doing all I could for you already, because any living being deserves more kindness than this. But after what I’ve learned here today, I think I owe you a debt, and,” Fiyero said, thinking of the kindly old man who had robbed him of the two people he cared most about in this world, “I always pay back my debts.”

 


 

Before Morrible was banished, she had come up with the idea to cheer the spirits of all the Ozians by throwing a huge party. Fiyero had been against it, but even with Morrible gone, the Wizard was quite taken with the idea.

“I don’t care what you say or how much you think the citizens of Oz need something to celebrate; I won’t marry Nessa. I neither want her nor love her and even if I did, she wouldn’t have me. We’re only friends.” Not even that anymore, given the way she snapped and snarled at him for stealing Boq away every time he showed up, but Fiyero dutifully visited her all the same.

The Wizard gave Fiyero a fond look, as fond as a nebulous face in a cloud of smoke could look, anyway. “I wouldn’t make you marry someone you don’t love. Besides, I find that people rarely need an excuse to have a party.”

So the word was sent out throughout the Emerald City and all of Oz that their Golden Prince was throwing a festival and all were invited to attend. Joy followed in the wake of this proclamation, joy and too, a trickle of fear. Surely such jubilee was anathema to the evil witches who plagued them, and the witches would strike them down for it. Perhaps it would be better not to have any celebration, to stay home locked away safe instead.

No one dared say these things where the Prince could hear, and yet the whispers made their way to his ears any way. And when they did, the Prince threw back his head and laughed, the sound ringing merrily through the air. “Let the witches come to our celebration if they like; even the wicked should have fun now and again. I’ll save two dances, one for each of them.” And his voice was so bright and happy that people found themselves believing the witches would indeed attend, and have just as wonderful a time as the rest of them.

The witches never did show up, even as the festival stretched late into the night. Some people did notice, those who were still in a state to notice anything by the time the sun was just peeking back over the horizon, that their Golden Prince, who had been right in the thick of everything throughout the whole festival, sat quietly on the side while the tired musicians played last two songs. 

“That’s Prince Fiyero for you,” people said knowledgably in the weeks that followed. “So goodly and true that he even keeps the promises he’s made to no good, wicked witches.”

 


 

“I’ll be back when I can, no sooner or later than that,” Fiyero said, exasperated, as he clutched the reins of his horse standing in the courtyard of his parent’s castle.

The equally exasperated Queen of the Vinkus and Fiyero’s mother, put her hands on her hips and gave him a look that had very little to do with being Queen. “That’s what you say every time, and every time it takes longer before we see you again.” Her expression softened a bit and took on a teasing glint. “If this keeps up your father and I may have to name your sister heir in your place. Or even your friend Boq, at least he can be counted on to be here.”

Fiyero glanced across the courtyard to where the aforementioned two had retreated after saying their own good-byes. They seemed in their own little world, and as happy as he had ever seen either of them.

Impulsively, Fiyero leaned and placed a kiss on his mother’s cheek. Then he hopped up on his horse and grinned cavalierly down at her. “Maybe,” he said, his heart beating a steady thrum of soonsoonsoon in his veins, “you should." 

He spurred his horse into a gallop down the road to home, savoring the rare feeling of getting the final word in on his mother.

 


 

 

Fiyero had considered his outfit very carefully that morning before deciding on the full dress uniform of the Captain of the Guard. There were many symbolic reasons that made it a compelling choice, but Fiyero had primarily decided on it because it allowed him to wear a sword without drawing attention to the fact he was doing so. It was probable that most anyone who saw him wouldn’t even realize the sword wasn’t purely ornamental.

He strode with purpose toward the Wizard’s chamber, and not one person offered a word, or indeed had even a thought to gainsay him. And why should they? Their Golden Prince was the best beloved of the Wizard, and all of Oz, he could go wherever he will. The guards outside the doors did not question for even a second Fiyero’s command that no one should be allowed in until he said otherwise, they merely barked out a sharp acknowledgment of his orders, opening the doors for him and shutting them tightly behind. Fiyero drew from his pocket the heavy golden key that the chamberlain had eagerly fetched at his request, and firmly locked the doors behind him. He tucked the key back away, and turned to face his foe.

The great green mask of the Wizard looked at him from the far end of what was rightfully Ozma’s throne room with an amused look. “Something you wish to discuss with me, my boy?”

“Come out from behind your curtain, Wizard,” Fiyero said, his voice ringing with the air of command he’d learned these past five years.

The same curtain that Fiyero had sporadically noticed wafting in a nonexistent breeze pulled back and out stepped the old humbug Fiyero had encountered in Chistery’s room. “I knew you’d figure it out eventually. Morrible didn’t think so, but you were always much more clever than she thought.” There was something kindly and almost paternal in his gaze; he still had no notion that Fiyero was about to betray him. But any betrayal the Wizard was dealt this day would only be his just reward for his own betrayal of Oz and her people.

“I have figured it all out Wizard. Though I suppose I should call you Con Man. I have decided for this meeting to call things by what they are, and you are nothing more or less than the greatest con man in all of Oz. Second greatest,” Fiyero corrected. Of all the many and varied titles he’d collected these years, con man seemed to fit him best.

The Con Man’s expression didn’t falter. “That’s all a matter of perspective, really.”

Fiyero drew his sword and held it at the ready. “The only perspective you need to be worried about at the moment is mine. And from my perspective this has gone on long enough.”

The first stirrings of alarm began to show on the Con Man’s face. “Now, let’s hold on a minute here, my boy. You don’t want to do anything rash.”

Fiyero’s laugh was harsh in his own ears. “It’s five years too late for rash, Con Man. And I am not your boy, I am His Royal Highness, Prince Fiyero of the Vinkus, Captain of the Guard of the Emerald City and soon to be Regent of the Kingdom of Oz, and you shall call me with respect, if for no other reason than I have a sword, and you do not.”

“Ah, but I have an army, and you do not,” the Con Man replied, a brazen statement, given that Fiyero was standing before him in the uniform of the commander of that selfsame army.

“Do you?” Fiyero asked. By his own accounting, the Con Man had a half an army at best, more likely a third. The rest of the men’s loyalty, if it should come to that, belonged to Fiyero. “I warn you, you want to be very certain of yourself before you make your next move.”

“I could say the same to you,” the Con Man rejoined.

“Here is what I am certain of: in a few minutes I will be leaving this room and calling a meeting of all my heads of staff and state. In this meeting I will give them the grave news that the Wizard called me to a conference this morning to tell me that it has finally come time for him to go the way of Lurline and he has appointed me Regent of Oz until Princess Ozma’s return, if and when that should happen. They won’t be surprised by this news, in fact they’ve been expecting it. The ceremony to swear me into my new position will be small so that it may happen quickly, in one week’s time. Once appointed, I will dedicate my reign to bringing justice to those you have wronged; I might even send a squad or two to comb through caves for frozen Princesses. And if Oz still has a con man for a ruler, at least it’s a con man whose first concern is their interest, and not his own status.

“The only thing I remain uncertain of is this: will you be leaving here as an old, faithful retainer of the Wizard, going to retire somewhere peaceful and quiet and very far away now that his services are no longer required, or dead. In this, the choice is yours.”

Fiyero had been half-expecting his hands to shake a little as he offered this threat and had been worried that that might lead the Con Man to call his bluff. But five years of anger, suppressed and controlled and pushed away down deep suddenly sprang forth at once, holding his hands and his sword steady. Fiyero was no longer even sure he was bluffing.

The Con Man had gone more than a bit pale as he listened to Fiyero speech, but he rallied. “And what’s to stop me from pretending to go along with you and then telling everyone what you’re up to at the first available opportunity?”

Fiyero regarded him with his blandest expression. “Not I. If you want, I’ll unlock these doors and let you go out as you are now, a frail old humbug, and tell the guards the truth, that Prince Fiyero has betrayed you and threatened to kill you if you didn’t yield your title to him. Presently, I will follow you as I am now, their handsome Golden Prince, dressed in his finest raiment as their commanding officer, and tell them the lie I just told you, that the Wizard has had to return from whence he came and now you, his oldest retainer, are attempting to take advantage of the situation to usurp the place of his chosen heir. We shall see which they believe. But may I remind you that by your own doing, the people of Oz are much more inclined to trust a lie over the truth.”

The Con Man’s eyes twitched back and forth as he desperately searched for a way out of this trap. Fiyero let him. He allowed that this Con Man might be cleverer than Fiyero himself, but time was on Fiyero’s side.  The Con Man could not outthink in five minutes that which it took Fiyero five years to create.

Finally the Con Man slumped in defeat. “All I ever wanted was to be a father,” he said quietly. “I thought of you as a son, you know.” 

I have a father, Fiyero almost snapped back, but this creature before him now was no wizard nor con man, merely a tired old man and Fiyero, feeling worn out and hollow himself, had no vitriol left in him for such a foe. “I expect you gone by tomorrow morning,” he said instead. “And may whatever come your way from this point forward be everything and exactly what you deserve.” A curse and a prayer all rolled together.

A faint ghost of a smile flitted across the old man’s face. “And I wish the same to you, my bo- Prince Regent Fiyero.”

 


 

 

Later, Fiyero would never be able to articulate how he knew that today was the day he had been waiting for since he had ousted the wizard, since he had first formed this crazy plan of his, since the day at the train station when no one had showed up. Something in the air, he guessed.

In the past month he had fretted over what clothes to wear today even more than he had over the last time, but now the moment was upon him he found himself pulling on some of his most comfortable and casual clothes, the kind he would wear when greeting old friends, without really thinking about it. He did bring his Regent’s crown, just in case his reception was less warm than he might hope, and he needed to fall back on the role of Regent welcoming honored guests.

He scarfed down a quick breakfast he didn’t taste and then made his way to the top of the tallest tower in the palace. It had once been an old storeroom, but at Fiyero’s request a few years back, it had been remodeled and refurbished into a parlor of sorts, with a grand balcony. He had claimed that he liked the view, and indeed the sunrise over the Emerald City was so magnificent he thoroughly forgot to be nervous for a handful of minutes.

It was fast approaching midday by the time he first spotted the speck on the horizon, and it wasn’t until the speck had differentiated itself into two separate specks that were now becoming distinguishable as a great shimmering bubble and a dark-clad woman on a broom that a horrible thought occurred to Fiyero. What if Glinda and Elphaba had never received the message that he had given to the Lion, or they had received it but not understood it, and even now still thought him a traitor? It was with these fresh misgivings circling in his head that he relinquished his spot at the edge of the balcony in favor of one in the shadows by the door. He wanted only a minute or two to assess their mood, so he might better know how to approach them.

It was not too much longer before they arrived, Elphaba alighting from her broom at the same moment that Glinda’s bubble soundlessly popped.

“Oh Elphie, I do wish you’d let me teach you how to make a bubble for yourself; it’s so much more dignified,” Glinda said, fretting over Elphaba’s flyaway hairs as Elphaba herself tugged her dress straighter.

“I like my broom,” Elphaba retorted, and for the first time in a very long time, Fiyero found himself fighting back a laugh. The unbidden grin he could, and indeed wanted to, do nothing for.

Something in his movement must have caught Elphaba’s eye, for she abandoned the presentation of her dress to nudge Glinda. “Look there’s the lazy oaf now. Still dancing through life while we do all the work.” But there was a mischievous glint in her eyes as she said it, and the smile that Glinda turned on him was nothing short of beatific.

It maybe seemed silly to stumble now, so close to achieving his goal, but by Fiyero’s estimation it was the only time in this whole thing in which he could afford to stumble. For if he fell now then he knew they would be there to catch him.

If only for his pride’s sake, Fiyero managed not to trip as he crossed the last five feet, and he quickly engulfed both Elphaba and Glinda in his arms. He knew that this wasn’t an end by any means, only the next new beginning, but in this moment, Fiyero could feel himself finally, finally relaxing. “My girls,” he breathed. “Welcome home.”