Home > Magic Study (Study #2)(12)

Magic Study (Study #2)(12)
Author: Maria V. Snyder

Metal rattled. Esau returned with a handful of silver coins. “It’s all I could find, but it should be enough until you get to the Citadel. Now go up and say goodbye to your mother. It’s getting late.”

“Isn’t she coming with us?”

“No. You’ll find her on the bed.” He said those words with a mixture of resignation and acceptance.

I pondered his words as I pulled the lift up. I found her curled up in a ball on top of the quilt in her bedroom. Perl’s body shook as tears soaked into her pillow.

“Next time,” she sobbed. “Next time I’m going with Leif to the Citadel. Next time.”

“I would like that,” I said. Remembering Leif’s comment on how she hadn’t left the jungle in so long, I added, “I’ll come home and see you as soon as I can.”

“Next time. I’m doing it next time.”

Having decided to delay the trip to the Magician’s Keep, Perl calmed. Eventually, she unfurled and stood, smoothing her dress and wiping tears from her cheeks. “Next time, you’ll stay with us longer.”

It sounded like an order. “Yes, Per… Mother.”

The creases of worry disappeared from her face, revealing her beauty. She hugged me tight and whispered, “I don’t want to lose you again. Be very careful.”

“I will.” I meant it. Some hard-learned habits couldn’t be broken.

There were only a few exits to the jungle floor. Each exit was named after a family whose residences were nearby. I reached the room that had the Palm ladder. Just as I swung a leg onto the first rung, I heard Nutty’s voice. I had already said goodbye to my parents and Bavol Cacao, but hadn’t been able to find Nutty anywhere.

“Yelena, wait,” Nutty said.

I stopped, looking up in time to see her swinging through the door. She clutched a mass of colorful cloth in one fist.

“I made these—” she paused to catch her breath “—for you.”

The light yellow skirt—subdued by Zaltana standards—was printed with small buttercups, and the shirt was a solid coral color. I eyed the skirt with suspicion. Nutty laughed.

“Look,” she said, pulling the skirt apart. “See? It looks like a skirt, but it’s really pants. You’ll be awfully hot in those black trousers when you cross the plains.” She held the waistband up to me as if judging the length. “And this way, you won’t stand out so much.”

“Clever girl,” I said, smiling.

“You like?”

“I like.”

She seemed pleased with herself. “I knew it.”

“Can you make me some more? Perhaps you can send them with Bavol when he comes?”


I removed my backpack, and searched for some money. “How much?”

Nutty shook her head. “When you get to the Illiais Market, buy some cloth from Fern’s stand. Then have her send it to me. I’ll need three yards for each set of clothes. I’ll make as many as you want.”

“But what about wages for your efforts?”

Her ponytails flew as she swung her head no again. “Zaltanas do not charge family. Although…” Her brown eyes glinted. “If anyone should ask who designed your clothes—feel free to give them my name.”

“I will. Thanks.” I folded my new outfit and stuffed it into my backpack. Then Nutty hugged me goodbye.

The warmth from her body clung to me as I climbed down the ladder. It lasted until the first cold sneer from Leif drove it away.

He waited for me on the jungle floor. Leif had changed into traveling clothes that consisted of a tan cotton tunic, dark brown pants and boots. He carried a large leather pack on his back and a machete hung from his thick belt.

“Keep up or be left behind,” he said to the air above my head. Turning his broad back to me, he took off at a brisk clip.

I knew I would soon tire of looking at his back, but, for now, the pace he set was a welcome chance to stretch my legs.

Without another word uttered between us, we traveled on a narrow path through the jungle. Sweat soon soaked my shirt, and I found myself glancing up in search of necklace snakes. Esau had also mentioned tree leopards. I decided I would search Esau’s field guide for a picture of the predators when I had some time.

Various birds sang and whistled and animal cries echoed through the leafy canopy. I wanted to know the names of these creatures, but I guessed Leif would ignore my questions.

He stopped once, taking a machete from his belt. Without thought, I grabbed my bow. Snorting in derision, he merely hacked at a small sapling.

“Strangler fig,” he huffed over his shoulder.

I made no reply. Should I be honored that he had finally chosen to talk to me?

Leif didn’t wait for a response. “A parasite. The strangler fig uses another tree to reach the sunlight. Once there it grows bigger, eventually strangling and killing its host.” He pulled the fig’s branches away from the tree. “A process I’m sure you’re very familiar with.” He tossed the plant onto the ground and marched on.

Not a lesson on jungle life, but a jab at me. I contemplated tripping him with my bow. It would be a petty, mean-spirited thing to do. Tempting, but I threaded my staff into its holder on my pack instead.

We arrived at the Illiais Market just as the sun began to set. The collection of bamboo structures had thatched roofs and bamboo shades for walls. Some of the “walls” had been rolled up to allow customers to browse and the light breeze to cool.

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