Ruler of Beasts (Dorothy Must Die, #0.6)

Written By: Danielle Paige

Ruler of Beasts (Dorothy Must Die, #0.6)

Danielle Paige



ONE


Oz hasn’t been interesting in a long time, the Lion thought, picking his teeth.

There was that whole business with General Jinjur, when he’d helped his old friend the Scarecrow attempt to oust the vicious and bloodthirsty usurper to the throne of Oz. Truth be told, the Lion had almost admired Jinjur. She might have been ruthless, but at least she wasn’t boring. He hadn’t had so much fun since he’d helped little Dorothy to defeat the Wizard. The battles had been terrible, of course, and he was sorry about the many casualties, but he had found that he enjoyed fighting—especially when he knew he was on the side of right. The Wizard had given him courage, but in battle he truly felt alive—as if he was channeling his real lionish nature. None of this loafing around the palace, watching the Scarecrow read encyclopedias thicker than the Lion’s paws.

But the battle with Jinjur was ages ago. Now, the Queen Ozma ruled Oz, and the Scarecrow had retired to a corncob mansion out in Munchkin Country. The Scarecrow had a good heart, but the Lion wasn’t sure if this dear old friend had been a very good king. He’d thought his newfound wisdom would make him a better ruler, but, as the Lion himself knew, it wasn’t wits alone that made a successful ruler. Ozma, on the other hand, seemed born to rule—which, technically, she was. She was a fair and just queen, making sure her subjects were happy and peaceful and content.

And bored. The Lion yawned and stretched. He was lounging on his platform at the heart of the Kingdom of the Beasts. Ozma had been queen for a year, and absolutely nothing had happened. No mysterious invaders, no battles, no bloodthirsty girl soldiers. His subjects were peaceful and obeyed his decrees. The birds sang prettily in the branches, beautiful wildflowers bloomed amid the rich carpet of moss that covered the forest floor, bees hummed merrily in the warm summer air, and if something didn’t happen soon, he was going to chew off his own paws.

“Cornelius!” the Lion roared. Moments later, his closest adviser appeared at his side, bowing deeply. Cornelius was a rabbit, but unlike most of his kindred, he was an extremely clever one. His pronounced buckteeth gave him a slightly sinister air, but he was always neatly dressed in the latest Ozian fashions; he made sure the most current catalog scrolls—printed in glowing sunfruit ink on leaves from the giant sailflower plant—reached the forest, so he could keep up with trends.

“Your Majesty,” the rabbit said, bowing again.

“I’m bored,” the Lion said petulantly, rolling over on his back and waving his paws in the air. “I’m dying of boredom. Nothing happens anymore. Everyone is so peaceful.”

“Isn’t that a good thing, Your Majesty?” Cornelius asked cautiously.

“NO!” the Lion roared, springing to his feet. The rabbit jumped about a foot in the air and stood eyeing the king nervously. Cornelius was important to the Lion—and useful—but the King of the Beasts had a reputation for snacking on his subjects a little too regularly for even his most trusted advisers to feel entirely safe.

“We could, er, invade a neighboring county,” the rabbit suggested hastily. “If His Majesty wishes. I am sure the beasts would be happy to go to war.”

The Lion sighed loudly, his breath none too sweet, and settled back on his paws. “No, you’re right,” he said sulkily. “War isn’t the answer. Not this time, anyway. Oh, if only something would happen!” He brightened. “Have I told you about the time the field mice had to rescue me from the poppy field?”

“No, Your Majesty,” said the patient rabbit, who had actually heard the story at least fifty times.

“Well,” the Lion began, “this was back in the early days, before I had my courage, and when little Dorothy was traveling through Oz—you wouldn’t have met her, of course, but she was . . .” The Lion trailed off, staring into space. He thought of the trip down the Road of Yellow Brick often. It was before he had courage. But that time with Dorothy, Tin, and Scare at his side remained the standard against which he compared every experience after. He had never felt more terrified. But he had also never felt less alone. He had been a part of something. And now he was alone with his crown. Was it possible that the seeking was better than the having? Or were his old friends just better than his subjects?

“She was?” the rabbit prompted.

Dorothy was everything. She had pushed them all to change from heartless to full of heart. From dumb to smart. From fearful to fearless. It had been forever, but he still hated that she had gone from here to home.

“Dorothy was interesting,” the Lion finally roared crossly, waving his paws. “Not like this bloody stupid forest and all these wretched animals! What am I going to do with the rest of my life, Cornelius? Being king was fun at first, but now all I do is sit around all day. I can’t even go on an adventure, because kings aren’t supposed to leave their subjects on their own.”

Cornelius’s whiskers twitched as his mind raced. “You could have a tournament, sir,” he suggested.

The Lion brightened. “A tournament!” he exclaimed, clapping Cornelius on the back with an enormous paw. The rabbit winced. “You’re a genius! That’s the perfect thing. It’ll kill an entire weekend, at least, and afterward we can have a feast. Spread the word at once.”

Cornelius hadn’t seen the Lion so excited in months. He raced off into the Forest of the Beasts to tell the Lion’s subjects, feeling very pleased with himself. He’d succeeded in distracting the Lion—and saving his own skin—for the time being. Let the Lion eat some other hapless forest creature. Cornelius was intent on keeping his post—and the Lion’s gratitude.

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