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Age of Bronze

Percy and the Shrinking Violet
By Rachel Cosgrove Payes
Excerpt from Oz-story #1

"I'm bored," Violetta fumed, pacing the floor of her castle suite. "Get out!" she yelled at her maid, who fled. When Violetta was in a bad mood, the servants knew to stay out of her way.

"What shall I do?" Violetta grumbled. "I'm tired of music, tired of dancing, tired of strolling through my gardens." Then she had a brilliant idea -- the tower! Old manuscripts she'd found in Jessamine's cottage after the witch disappeared when a spell went awry were still collecting dust. "Maybe I'll find a new magic spell to learn and chase away this boredom."

Violetta got a big key and hurried to the door leading up to the tower. No one else was allowed to go there. "This lock is stiff," she muttered, turning the key and opening the creaky door. She made her way up the spiral stairs. When she reached the top, Violetta was sneezing from the dust she stirred up. Tossing her head so her long, black hair swirled around her shoulders, she vowed, "Someone will pay for not dusting." She ignored the fact that she didn't allow servants to enter the tower to clean. When angry, Violetta didn't think straight.

Dim light filtered through tiny windows into the round room at the top of the tall spire. Dust covered everything, and Violetta almost gave up her quest until she remembered how boring the day was. She craved excitement. Delving into the trunk she'd carried from Jessamine's cottage, she found a parchment scroll which she carried back to her suite of rooms.

Unrolling the scroll, Violetta read The History of Princess Ozma, Ruler of Oz. By the time she finished the scroll, her violet-colored eyes flashed fire. "It's not fair!" she muttered. "Why should Ozma rule the whole Land of Oz, while I have dominion over one little island in Lake Lavendra?"

Leaping to her feet, the disgruntled woman paced the floor, her amethyst-studded purple gown swirling about her. "I shall do something about this." Her eyes narrowed and her beautiful face scowled. Oh, Violetta was in a temper indeed!

She flung herself down into a comfy chair and propped her chin on one hand. "What can I do to get more power for myself? Can I force Ozma to share her position with me?" Then she shook her head. "Not enough! I should be ruler of Oz. But first I have to get rid of Ozma." Suddenly the solution came to her.

"That's it!" she cried with unholy glee. "I'll send her one of the lovely plants I brought from Jessamine's garden. Soon I'll be able to take Ozma's throne away from her and I'll be all-powerful! Maybe, if I feel charitable, I'll allow Ozma to have Lake Lavendra for herself -- I'll decide that later."

She'd need a messenger to send through the magic "Spiral" that moved you anywhere instantly. She'd learned of it from Jessamine's scrolls. Who'd be a good messenger? Someone who wouldn't frighten the people who guarded Ozma. Maybe -- of course! A child! She thought hard. Crim, her gardener, had a young son. Who'd suspect a lad of ten?

Eyes glittering wickedly, she rang for her maid. "Send Crim the Gardener to me at once," she ordered.

Percy was strolling through the maze in Ozma's garden before breakfast when a bright green beetle lit on the end of his pink nose. His eyes crossed as he tried to see what was tickling it, so he didn't see someone coming around a corner of the high, bozwood maze. Waving a paw to chase the beetle, he crashed into a child who was hurrying in the opposite direction.

"Oof!" said the boy, dropping the potted plant he carried.

"Sorry, fellow!" Percy exclaimed as he snatched the plant from midair before it hit the ground.

"Oh, you mustn't -- " cried the lad who was dressed in a snug-fitting purple velvet suit with an amethyst pin on a lapel.

"Clumsy of me, kiddo," Percy said. "Hey, I've never seen a violet with such jazzy, luscious flowers, nor with such a yummy smell. And smelling's one of the things a rat does best. I've never before had my keen nose tickled by such a lovely aroma."

"Oh, dear, you mustn't -- " the frightened little lad repeated, his eyes wide with dismay, his face paper-white.

"Not to worry," Percy murmured. He knew he sometimes scared people who hadn't heard of Percy, the famous giant white rat of Oz, friend of both Princess Ozma and Princess Dorothy.

The poor lad stood there wringing his hands and moaning.

"Hey, guy, I don't bite," Percy said. "I'm not vicious."

"Violetta will take away my amethyst," the child moaned. "That plant is to be delivered only to Ozma."

"Well, that's not so easy, buddy-boy," Percy told him, holding out the purple clay pot. "Ozma's gone bye-bye."

The quaking delivery boy looked even more frightened and wretched than he had before. "She's gone? What shall I do?" He wrung his hands again. "It was to be given only to Ozma."

"Not to worry, I can handle it for you. I'll take it into the palace and leave it in Princess Ozma's suite. She should be back later today. Just tell Violetta you delivered the plant to Ozma's private suite. I'll tell Ozma that it's from Violetta. Or if it'll make you happier, you waltz into the palace yourself and leave a note for Ozma. I'll show you where to put it."

"No, no," the fellow moaned, "you've been smelling it."

"Well, that's why flowers smell so sweet, isn't it? So we can sniff 'em. Come along -- "

"I can't! I must leave now! She'll punish me!" The boy in the purple velvet suit turned and fled back into the maze.

"Wait!" Percy called, but there was no answer. Weird! He set the potted plant down and hurried into the heart of the maze. He liked running mazes because rats were whizzes in them. Percy knew every twist and tricky turn of this one, and didn't wind up in any dead-end passages; but there was no sign of the frightened kid. "Where'd the little rascal go?" Percy muttered. He knew the maze like the back of his paw, but the boy was gone.

The rat recovered the plant from where he'd left it and carried it carefully into the palace to Princess Ozma's suite.

"You here, Jellia?" he called, entering the reception room.

A pretty little maid dressed in a frilly green gown and wearing a ruffled lighter green apron and perky cap came in.

"Percy! Did you call me?"

"Yep! Got something for you," and he held the plant out to her. "Pretty plant for Ozma."

"Oh, that's lovely. Where did you get it?"

He told her about his strange encounter in the maze.

Her eyes were huge O's. "And the messenger disappeared?"

"Couldn't find hide nor hair of the kid. He seemed scared out of his wits, then skedaddled and disappeared."

"Well, maybe he'd never seen a giant white rat."

"I told him I didn't bite," Percy protested, handing the maid the plant. "But he kept moaning about Violetta -- that she'd be mad at him and take away something -- I thought he said his amethyst. He wore an odd pin set with the purple stones."

"Was he a Gillikin?"

"Beats me. But I'd have to guess he was. Purple's the Gillikin color and he wore a jazzy purple suit -- and that plant's a violet."

Jellia buried her nose in the blossoms. "Umm. And it has a lovely fragrance, doesn't it?"

"Yep, I thought so. Ozma comes back from Glinda's today?"

"Yes, probably sometime in the afternoon."

"Then I'm sure the plant will be okay until she arrives."

"But who sent it Percy?"

"I guess this Violetta babe he seemed scared of."

"Who's she?"

Percy shrugged. "Beats me. Haven't the foggiest, Jellia. Must be someone who grows these beautiful violets."

"Well, that does make sense. This is a heavy pot, though."

"Oh, sorry. Here, let me take it. Where shall I set it?"

"Let's put it in Ozma's private sitting room," Jellia said.

He followed her through several beautifully appointed rooms until they came to the sitting room where the Magic Picture hung on the wall. "How about on that table under the window?"

"Fine," Jellia agreed.

As Percy lifted the plant to the table top he muttered, "It certainly is heavy, isn't it? I didn't remember that this table was so high." He backed away, looked at the violet, and nodded. "Looks great there, doesn't it, Jellia?"

"I'm sure Ozma will like it. The flowers perfume the whole room. What a lovely surprise for Ozma."

Later Percy breakfasted alone. "I'd swear they've put a different chair at my place," he muttered. "It's at least two inches higher than the regular one. I had to scramble to get on it." Maybe his chair had needed a rung glued, or some minor repair.

Later Jellia Jamb joined him. "Someone's playing tricks on me," she complained. "They've given me a much taller chair. I'm having trouble climbing onto it."

"Hey, kiddo, me too! Weird! I'll sniff around, see if I can find out who's the joker. How's that violet plant doing?"

"It's as gorgeous as ever, and the fragrance fills the entire room. I'm sure Ozma will love her gift."

"Funny how that kid in the purple suit disappeared. Wonder where he went. Think he rubbed himself with vanishing cream?"

"Maybe you could find him in the Magic Picture," Jellia suggested. "I'm sure Ozma wouldn't mind your looking into it."

"Great idea. If you've finished your bowl of CheeriOz, we could give it a look-see." Percy hopped down from his chair, landing harder than usual. "Oof! Wait'll I get my hands on the practical joker who fixed our chairs. Let me help you, Jellia."

The two hurried to Ozma's suite, and Jellia drew back the curtain hiding the Magic Picture. "Hmm, I don't know how to ask about the little boy who delivered the plant. He never told me his name," Percy said, perplexed.

"I know -- ask to see Violetta. If she sent him, he's no doubt headed back there by now; although how he got away from the maze so fast baffles me."

"Beats me, but you've got a good idea, Jellia." He turned to the picture which showed a pastoral scene. "Picture, show me Violetta."

The scene changed to an impressive room where a beautiful woman was seated on a purple-draped throne. Black hair so dark it had purple highlights swirled around her shoulders, and she wore a flowing lavender silk gown sparkling with amethysts. But alas, beautiful though she was, her face was contorted with anger, and her violet eyes seemed to flash as brightly as the jewels on her gown. In front of her cowered the lad who'd brought the violet.

"Hey, that's the kid who delivered Ozma's flower. How'd he get back there so fast?" Percy exclaimed.

As Percy and Jellia watched, they saw Violetta gesture imperiously, holding out her long, graceful hand, palm up. They couldn't hear anything, of course, but the rat and the maid saw the youngster fall on his knees, hands folded, beseeching her. The regal woman shook her head angrily and put her hand out again. This time the youthful messenger crumpled down, his face desolate, and fumbled at the lapel of his purple velvet suit.

"Ah, ha!" Percy exclaimed. "He's unfastening the amethyst pin he wore." Even as the rat spoke, they saw the boy hand the pin to Violetta, then crawl away, out of the picture.

"Oh, Percy, she looks mean!" Jellia said, shuddering. "I wonder what will happen to that little boy?"

Continued in Oz-story #1
Copyright © 1995 Rachel Cosgrove Payes. All rights reserved.

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