THE WIZARD OF AURISSAU
By Nathan M. DeHoff
Oscar Diggs, who until recently had been the Wizard of Oz and ruler of the Emerald City, was lost in a vast field of wheat. The hot air burner on his balloon had stopped functioning, and while he knew he was across the Deadly Desert, he had no idea where he might have been. He thought it might be somewhere in the Great Plains. It was definitely nowhere near as colorful as the Land of Oz, with rather gray skies and scenery. Mountains could be seen in the distance to the north, but most of the land was totally flat. After wandering around for a bit, he finally came across a dull farmhouse with peeling paint and knocked on the door.
“Oh, hello!” said the woman who answered it, a young lady dressed in a gingham dress and a sunbonnet. “Are you a stranger around here?”
“You might say that,” replied Oscar. “I’m originally from the Nebraska Territory, but I’ve been away from it for years.”
“Can’t say as I’ve ever heard of that territory.”
“So where are we now? Kansas?”
“Never heard of that either. How could you not know you’re in Wheat Country in Aurissau? Did you drop from the sky?”
“Are you a magician, then?”
“Just a stage one, madam.” Considering how it had worked out last time he claimed to be a real wizard, he was determined not to do that again. Sure, he had lived in the lap of luxury for years, but had also been totally isolated. It was a lonely life, and he had a reputation that he could not possibly live up to. “I flew here in a balloon.”
“You mean one of those toys they give to children at the fair? Are you batty?”
Oscar was unable to answer the question, though, as right then and male voice called, “Meliza! The jackdaws have gotten into the valuables again!”
“Oh, drat those thieving birds! I hear they’re even starting to steal paper money now. Now, how would a bird know that those can be exchanged for gold?”
“I’ve met some birds that were pretty smart,” stated Oscar.
“I suppose so. Well, I’d better get going. Rahey might need me for something.”
“So how do I get out of Aurissau?”
“Get out? Well, there’s the border with Ribdil in the south, and the Kingdom of Scowleyow in the west. Not that anyone goes there anymore. They say it was trampled by an iron giant a few years ago.”
“What about someone who can help me get my balloon back in the air?”
“I don’t know anyone who knows anything about that. Oh, wait. Maybe the wizard can help you.”
“You have a wizard?”
“Yes, yes, the Wizard of Aurissau. He lives in Barley Country.”
“Are all of your countries named after grains?”
“Yes!” replied Rahey, a man in faded overalls who had just come to the door. “All of the basic grains: wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, and jundem.”
“Well, we’re a farming country, you know. I just wish the king—well, never mind that.”
“We need to be going,” said Meliza. “Good luck on your journey.”
So Oscar set out toward the east, using a compass he had in his bag to find the way. Soon, he found a dirt road, which he followed along numerous fences, some of which had papers posted to them. A few said to watch out for jackdaws and brickbats, while others announced local events. The most common subject, however, was a missing princess. Posters offering a reward for any information regarding her whereabouts were posted on practically every fence. The journey was long, and Oscar had to spend one night on the side of the road. He awoke to a farmer shooing him off his property, and refusing to answer any questions about the way to the wizard in Barley Country. Diggs did notice, however, that the field contained oats, so he had obviously changed countries.
Finally, after passing through many fields and coming to what appeared to be Barley Country, he noticed the road leading into a small town. Inside, people were selling grain and various other items. One booth had some rather pretty jewelry, and as Oscar walked by, the merchant offered to buy the emerald ring on his finger.
“Oh, no. This has great sentimental value to me,” answered Diggs.
“Well, just be careful of the jackdaws,” advised the merchant. “I hear they took a lorgnette from a lady outside the opera house in Oat City. What they would want with an opera glass, I wouldn’t know.”
“Do you happen to know the way to the wizard?”
“You mean old Fred? He’s in his studio outside town, to the south.”
By following these directions, Oscar came to a small area of grassy ground with a small booth in the middle. A sign above it read, “Daguerreotype Development. Also, wizardry performed cheap.” A thin man with wispy hair who was dressed in a torn shirt and worn blue overalls stood behind the counter, examining a camera.
“I can’t make hide nor hair of these newfangled cameras,” grumbled the man. “I can summon demons and squeeze blood out of turnips, but that doesn’t pay the bills, does it? Oh, hello, stranger! What can I do for you?”
“Are you the Wizard of Aurissau?” asked Diggs.
“That’s me!” exclaimed the man, as he placed the camera on the counter and put a rather patched peaked hat on his head. “Perhaps you have some service in magic you would like performed? A love charm, perhaps?”
“Actually, I was wondering if you could help me get my balloon back into the air.”
“A grown man, and THAT’S what you ask for? Is this for your grandchildren, perhaps?”
“No, it’s not an ordinary balloon. It’s a large balloon I use for travel. You mean you don’t have hot air balloon ascensions in your country?”
“Come to think it, it seems like I have heard of such things. Something to do with the country on the other side of the desert. What’s it called? Ev? No, that’s on the other side of the continent. Oz! Yes, the ruler of the Land of Oz arrived there in one of those.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that as well,” said Oscar, with a silent grin. “He actually had this one made for me.” This was true enough, in its way.
“Oh, you’ve met the Great Oz? From the little news that makes its way across the desert, hardly anyone ever does.”
“Well, I didn’t meet him face to face.”
“So, floating a giant balloon? What did you use before?”
“Hot air, most recently. Where I come from, though, they use hydrogen.”
“Hydrogen? Oh, no, that’s too highly reactive. Here we use helium.”
“Helium? Oh, yes, the gas from the sun. I didn’t know you could get that here on Earth.”
“Maybe not where you come from, but we at the Society of Magic have managed to isolate it. Now, where is the balloon?”
“I left it back in Wheat Country. It was too heavy to carry, with the basket and all.”
“Oh, well, that’s no problem, as long as it hasn’t been crushed by a stray brickbat. Oh, don’t worry. Brickbats only ever come out at night.”
As Oscar had spent the night in Aurissau after abandoning his balloon, this did not comfort him overly much. He realized he just had to hope for the best, though, so he accepted the wizard’s invitation to come into his home. This home turned out to be underground, accessed by a set of stairs in the back of the stall. It was surprisingly spacious, and contained several workbenches. A sign on one of the doors read, “DARKROOM, keep out,” while a few others were unlabeled.
Diggs began examining a map on the wall, which showed Aurissau and the countries around it. In addition to Ribdil and the Kingdom of Scowleyow that Meliza had mentioned, other nearby lands included Bilkon, Junkum, Quok, Mulgravia, Macvelt, Thumbumbia, Nimenvell, and Meerth. To the north was a large island marked “Hi-Lo (Lo-Hi).” The area to the southwest of Aurissau was labeled “Phunnyland,” with the words “here be dragons” below it. There was also the desert, with an arrow marked “To the Land of Oz (largely unexplored).”
“That map really isn’t all that accurate,” observed the wizard, when he saw Oscar examining it. “Hardly anyone in Aurissau has been to Phunnyland, since it’s surrounded by high mountains. I have, but I’ve never stayed there long. It’s a strange place. They have an entire island made of fruitcake. My son used to send me some every Christmas.”
“Are there really dragons there?” asked Oscar.
“Oh, yes. Most of them aren’t all that dangerous, but there was a purple one that used to eat a lot of the king’s best crops. The mountains are nothing compared to the desert, though. Back in my grandfather’s day, we’d sometimes get visitors from the Land of Oz, but they’ve become very isolated since then.”
“They had some trouble with Wicked Witches,” said Diggs. While he had read about some of the lands across the desert from Oz in various books, none of his subjects knew much about them. He could not recall having read about Aurissau at all. He did recall a Land of Ev and a Land of Ix, as well as a forest where the Queen of the Fairies was said to dwell, but none of these were marked on the map. As Oscar was pondering this, a door opened and a young girl poked her head out.
“Mr. Wizard, do you have any more—oh! I didn’t realize you had company!”
“I’m Oscar Diggs, a stranger in these parts,” explained the former Wizard of Oz. “What’s your name, child?”
“Niki,” replied the girl.
“It seems like I’ve seen you somewhere before. I’ve never been to this country before, but—wait! You look just like that lost princess on the wanted posters.”
At this, Niki quickly shut the door. The Wizard of Aurissau also looked a bit startled, but it quickly passed from his face, and he said, “So, let’s look into refilling your balloon.”
“Wait. That girl IS the lost princess, isn’t she? Don’t worry. I have no intention of turning her in. I just want to get back to my own country.”
“Yes, that’s Princess Pritikin, daughter of King Atkins. She ran away from home.”
“Ran away? Why?”
“Because Father can’t get over the idea of bringing glory to the nation!” said the Princess, opening her door once again. “He’s always involving us in wars or sending his knights on quests, even though we haven’t won so much as a stickball game since his grandfather’s day. I’ve told him over and over that he needs to get in touch with the common people, but he won’t have it.”
“I wonder,” said Oscar. “I’ve been a stage magician for a while, and I have to suspect there’s some way the King might be able to achieve glory without harming anybody else. What if he killed a monster?”
“A monster? You mean I’m going to have to summon one?” questioned Fred. “I haven’t done that in years.”
“Oh, it doesn’t have to be a REAL monster. It would all be a trick of sorts.”
Under Diggs’s direction, the three people began making a monster out of whatever parts they found lying around the wizard’s den. They draped a large crocodile skin over a metal frame, and added a bear’s head that was hanging on a wall.
“Most of these were gifts from friends, who thought all wizards liked having dead animals in their homes,” observed the Wizard of Aurissau. “I’ve never really liked them, but I didn’t have the heart to get rid of them. I suppose I’m finally putting them to good use.”
In the old stone castle of Aurissau, King Atkins and his wife Queen Feingold sat in their thrones, with the King regularly griping about various things, and the Queen trying to concentrate on her knitting. A page ran into the throne room, bowed to the rulers, and stood at attention.
“Yes, what is it, page?”
“I bring news from the 126th Unit.”
“Ah, yes. How went the battle in Birbilia?”
“My apologies, Your Majesty, but it did not go at all.”
“Yes, the unit came across a river they couldn’t cross, and no one knew how to build a bridge, so instead they stayed there and played biritch!”
“Is my entire army totally incompetent?”
“Oh, no, Majesty! Sir Dash played a beautiful trump.”
“And what of the search for my daughter? The Queen is beside herself with worry!”
“No, Atkins, I’m not all that worried,” said Queen Feingold with a sigh. “She’s old enough to take care of herself.”
“But she could have been kidnapped by a rival government!”
“There ARE no rival governments, despite your best efforts at making everyone our enemies.”
Just then, another page burst in, shouting, “Monster! Monster!”
“Who are you calling monster?” demanded the King.
“No! There’s a monster outside! A huge two-headed beast, breathing fire! Probably down from the mountains!”
“A monster to slay? Just the kind of thing I’ve been hoping for! Nephew, go out and do battle with this foul creature.”
“Me?” asked the King’s nephew, the Earl of South Beach, who sat on a nearby chair calmly reading a book on corn tapestries. “I’ve never slain anything in my life!”
“Yes, but with the 126th stuck at that river, you’re the only army I have left.”
So the Earl, a thin man who walked with a bit of a slouch, donned his armor and his sword. The sword had never been used, but was somewhat rusted after all his time of owning it. The monster stood in the yard outside the castle, blowing smoke from its nostrils. Actually, it looked more like steam than smoke, but either way it was quite frightening for the poor Earl.
“Hold!” asked the monster, speaking with both heads at once. “Art thou the pathetic mortal sent by the king of this land to do battle with the great Flipplewurtz?”
“Y—yes! I might not look like much, but I am brave and hardy, and can slay any monster!” He then added, to himself, “At least I hope I can.”
“Well, give it thy best shot, foolish human!”
The Earl ran toward the beast with sword drawn, but before he could reach the creature he tripped over his own feet, and the weapon flew out of his hands. As the Earl stood up, he noticed that the sword had landed right near the tail of the monster.
“Oh, for the love of John Barleycorn!” whispered Fred, who was lurking just out of sight behind a hedge with Oscar and Pritikin. “He hit it in the rear end!”
“I’ll just have to improvise something,” stated Diggs. And with that, he threw his voice once more, and shouted, “Avaunt! Thou hast hit me right in my weak spot!”
“Your weak spot is in your, um, rump?” questioned the Earl.
“Yes! Haven’t you ever studied Flipplewurtz anatomy?”
The Princess, who was inside the false beast working the boiler, promptly stopped. She also blew out the candles that were providing lights for the monster’s eyes. As the Earl was still trying to get his bearings, she walked right out of the crocodile mouth.
“Oh, my brave Earl! You have saved me from this wretched beast!” said Princess Pritikin.
“The Princess? Oh, now maybe Uncle Atkins will stop being so grumpy all the time. Hail, cousin! The Fribbleflurtz swallowed you whole?”
“Flipplewurtz,” corrected the Princess, “and it’s good they have such slow digestive systems.”
With that, the tale of the Earl’s brave stand against the Flipplewurtz and rescue of Princess Pritikin was promptly written up in the history books. Some details were exaggerated, certainly, but it was something to make the King proud. When he bragged about it to neighboring monarchs, they all scoffed and said there was no such thing as a Flipplewurtz, despite the daguerreotype conveniently provided by Fred the Wizard. A new holiday was declared, and the people celebrated with jyllig, which is made from fermented jundem.
As for Oscar, he and Fred managed to find his balloon, which fortunately had not been attacked by any brickbats. With a few helium canisters and a spell from the Wizard of Aurissau to direct the balloon toward Nebraska (not that Fred had ever heard of the place, but the spell did not require that he did), the once and future Wizard of Oz was back on his way.
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