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Age of Bronze

Jack Pumpkinhead's Day in Court
By J. L. Bell
Excerpt from Oz-story #5

Through a kitchen window Jellia Jamb watched Jack Pumpkinhead amble up to the royal palace of Oz. Usually Jack brought vegetables from his farm in the Winkie Country, but today his long thin arms were empty. His steps, though jerky, appeared more determined than usual. The young palace housekeeper shook a coffee cake out of its pan and opened the kitchen door. "Good morning, Jack!"

"Good morning," Jack replied in his husky voice. "Where is my father today?"

"Princess Ozma is in the Ozure Isles this week." Jellia knew that Jack called the pretty ruler of Oz "father" because Ozma had assembled him from sticks and old clothes and a pumpkin when she was still enchanted as a boy. Jellia looked up at the pumpkin head's orange grin. "Don't you remember Ozma's plans, Jack? Maybe they went out of your head when you carved yourself a new one."

"I do have a shiny new head today, and it has brought me a bright new idea." The wooden man put one twig hand to his broad mouth and whispered, "My last head had become quite soft. I didn't think nearly as well with it."

Jellia hid her smile by turning to dust her cake with powdered sugar. Though the whole Emerald City liked Jack, no one could argue that he was ever a deep thinker. "What is your new idea?"

Jack straightened proudly, bumping a lamp. "Today I will help my father by sitting in when people come to her court."

Jellia's mouth popped open. Ozma's subjects often brought her problems they could not resolve themselves. And often their disputes were difficult even for the princess. "You? How?"

"I will sit in for Ozma by sitting in her chair." And Jack disappeared up the kitchen stairs.

Jellia dropped her sugar shaker into her apron pocket and ran after the wooden man. "Wait! You can't just sit on Ozma's throne."

"Is she or is she not my father?" Jack called back.

"She is, but -- "

"And isn't it common for a father who rules a country to appoint her son as regent when she goes away?"

"Ozma usually asks the Scare -- "

"I know, " said Jack shortly, or as shortly as a tall man could. "She usually asks the Scarecrow or the Wizard, not me."

"They've both ruled the Emerald Cit -- " Jellia began.

"Now it's my turn." Jack collapsed onto Ozma's throne with a clatter. He straightened his limbs and sat up stiffly, gazing around the empty throne room. Jellia backed out in confusion.

Just outside the main door, the Frogman sat at a small desk with a pad of green paper and a quill pen. In the foyer the Soldier with the Green Whiskers was lining up subjects. "Stand in pairs, please! Tell the Frogman what your disagreement is!"

Jellia dashed up and whispered in the Frogman's tiny ear. His eyes bulged as he listened. He stood and excused himself for ten minutes. Then he and Jellia peeked through the throne room door.

Jack was sitting on the throne, balancing on his pumpkin stem a small coronet he had found under a cushion. "So Jack wants to be Ozma's regent today?" the Frogman mused, rubbing his broad chin. "What was the seed of that idea?"

"He has a new head today," Jellia explained.

"Of course! With new seeds inside."

"And his new head looks a bit green."

The Frogman coughed discreetly. "I see no problem with that."

"For you green is natural," the little maid quickly assured him. "But a green pumpkin? Jack must have picked that head before it was ripe."

"In that case, it's no wonder that Jack is acting sour and hardheaded."

"And I bet his new head is green with envy."

The Frogman sighed. "I don't know why. Listening to people argue is a most unpleasant task. Ozma much prefers to grant her subjects favors. To tell the truth," the amphibious courtier confided, "half the time I suggest a way to solve the problem myself, so Ozma needn't become upset."

"Does that work?" asked Jellia.

"I hear few complaints," replied the Frogman modestly. "I used to issue such rulings all the time when I lived in the Yip Country, and since I bathed in the Truth Pond, I can speak only the truth about any situation. I'll resolve as many disputes as I can today. As for the rest, Jack is unlikely to make any argument much worse." And he waddled back to his desk with great dignity.

Jellia slipped into the throne room and closed the door behind her. She thought about going down to the kitchen to finish her coffee cake, but with each step towards the stairs she worried more about what might happen while she was gone. With Ozma away, she had no banquet to prepare, Jellia told herself. And there was plenty of straightening she could do in the throne room.

The housekeeper had dusted the ornaments three times and straightened each painting twice by the time the doors opened. "Burrie the butter-maid," announced the Soldier with the Green Whiskers, "and Paizly the perfume-maker!"

A pair of young women entered, both dressed in the green clothing of the Emerald City. The butter-maid had the muscular arms of someone who pumped a churn much of the day, while the perfume-maker brought in a swirl of aromas.

"Good afternoon, " said Jack. "How may I, as regent, help you?"

The women exchanged glances at seeing his round orange face. Finally Burrie curtsied and explained, "Paizly and I share a cottage on Strawberry Street. She has the basement, and I have the garret. But her perfumes waft all through my rooms, and my butter is starting to smell like elderberries and musk!"

"So the people who eat it are incensed?" Jack asked.

"People want my butter to smell like butter!"

"Oh. I didn't know that because I never eat."

The perfume-maker had been waving her hand. "That's not the whole story, Your, um, Regency," she said. "When Burrie pumps her butter-churn on the floor above, the thumping knocks over my glass vials."

"How vile!" Jack exclaimed.

"I can't stop my scents from being sent upward," Paizly said sadly.

"And I have to pound on the floor when I churn," sighed Burrie.

Jack tapped one finger on his hollow head. Finally, he asked, "Why don't you turn your cottage upside-down?"

Jellia rolled her eyes and slumped against a marble statue.

But Paizly asked, "You mean, why don't we swap apartments?"

"That's a fine idea!" replied Burrie. "Then my churn will thump against solid ground in the basement."

"And my perfumes will waft out into the sky from the garret!"

"Thank you both for coming!" Jellia announced, quickly showing the women to the door. They left arm in arm.

Jack rubbed his forehead and sat back. "I don't see how switching apartments will help after they upend their cottage, but they do seem happy." For another hour he sat, clicking his fingertips on the arms of the throne. Fortunately, he never became hungry or thirsty, and since he had never been regent before he did not find such a wait unusual. "Now I know why in her court Glinda has so many ladies-in-waiting," Jack told Jellia.

The doors opened again, and the Soldier announced, "Hune the dairyman and Mathilde the milk-cow."


Continued in Oz-story #5
Copyright © 1999 J. L. Bell. All rights reserved.

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