Home > Magic Study (Study #2)(6)

Magic Study (Study #2)(6)
Author: Maria V. Snyder

Nutty stopped suddenly, and I almost knocked into her. We stood on a square platform in the tallest tree in the jungle. Nothing blocked the view.

An emerald carpet stretched out below us, ending at two sheer rock faces that angled toward each other. Where the two cliffs joined, a vast waterfall poured forth, ending in a cloud of mist. Beyond the top edge of the rock cliffs, I saw a flat expanse. A mixture of tans, yellows, golds and browns painted the smooth landscape.

“Is that the Daviian Plateau?” I asked.

“Yep. Nothing lives there but wild prairie grass. They don’t get a lot of rain. Beautiful, huh?”

“An understatement.”

Nutty nodded, and we stood for a while in silence. Finally, my curiosity broke the lull in conversation. I asked Nutty questions about the jungle, and eventually wove the conversation around to the Zaltana family.

“Why do they call you Nutty?” I asked.

She shrugged. “My real name is Hazelnut Palm Zaltana, but everybody’s called me Nutty since I was little.”

“So Palm is your middle name.”

“No.” Nutty swung down over the edge of the platform and into the tree branches that supported it. The leaves shook and after a moment, she climbed back. She handed me a group of brown nuts. “Palm, as in palm tree, is my family’s name. Zaltana is the clan name. Everyone who marries us has to take that name, but within the clan there are different families. Here, crack them like this…” Nutty took one of the nuts and banged it on a nearby branch, revealing an inner nib.

“Your family is Liana, which means ‘vine.’ Yelena means ‘shining one.’ Everyone is either named after something in the jungle or their name means something in the old Illiais language, which we’re forced to learn.” Nutty rolled her eyes in exasperation. “You’re lucky you missed that.” She poked me with a finger. “And you missed having to deal with obnoxious older brothers, too! I once got into trouble for tying mine up in a vine and leaving him hanging…Oh, snake spit! I forgot. Come on.” She hurried back through the trees.

“Forgot what?” I asked, scrambling after her.

“I was supposed to take you to your mother. She’s been looking for you all morning.” Nutty slowed only slightly to negotiate a rope bridge. “Uncle Esau’s back from expedition.”

Another family member to meet. I considered “accidentally” losing her. But remembering the hostile glares that I had received from some of my cousins, I stayed with Nutty. When I caught up to her, I grabbed her arm.

“Wait,” I panted. “I want to know why so many Zaltanas frown at me. Is it the blood smell?”

“No. Everyone knows Leif can see gloom and doom in everything. He’s always looking for attention.” She gestured at me. “Most of them think you’re not really a Zaltana, but a spy from Ixia.”

Chapter Three

“You’re joking right?” I asked. “They don’t really believe I’m a spy.”

Nutty nodded. Her ponytails, one on each side of her head, bobbed in contrast to her serious face. “That’s the gossip. Although, no one would dare breathe a word of that to Aunt Perl or Uncle Esau.”

“Why would they think such a thing?”

Her light brown eyes widened as if she couldn’t believe my stupidity. “Look at your clothes.” She gestured at my black pants and white shirt. “We all know northerners are forced to wear uniforms. They say if you were truly from the south, you wouldn’t want to wear pants ever again.”

I glanced at Nutty’s orange skirt. The hem was tucked up into her brown fur belt and she wore a pair of short yellow pants underneath.

Ignoring my stare, she said, “And you carry a weapon.”

That much was true. I had my bow with me in case I found a place to practice, but, so far, the only space big enough had been the common room and that was always too crowded. Now was probably not the best time to tell Nutty about the switchblade strapped to my thigh.

“Who’s been saying these things?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Different people.”

I waited. The silence drove the information out of her.

“Leif’s telling everyone that you don’t feel right to him. He says he would know his own sister.” She fidgeted with her sleeve, rolling up the bright cotton fabric. “Sitians are always worried that the Commander will attack us someday, and we think northern spies are gathering information on our ability to defend ourselves. Even though Leif tends to overreact, his magic is strong, so almost everyone believes you’re a spy.”

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know. I was going to wait and see.” She looked down at her bare feet. They were tanned and callused.

Another reason I stood out among the Zaltanas. I still wore my leather boots.

“That’s very smart,” I said.

“Do you think so?”

“Yes.”

Nutty smiled. Her light brown eyes lit up. I noticed a sprinkle of freckles across her small nose. She continued to lead the way to my mother.

As I followed, I thought about the accusations that I was an Ixian spy. I wasn’t a spy, but I couldn’t say that I was a true southerner, either. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to be called a Sitian. My reasons for being in the south were twofold: to avoid being executed and to learn how to use my magic. Meeting my family had been a bonus, and I wasn’t going to let some petty rumors ruin my time here. I decided to ignore any more sidelong glances for now.

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