Home > Magic Study (Study #2)(8)

Magic Study (Study #2)(8)
Author: Maria V. Snyder

With the word “magicians” my windpipe tightened. The scene of my brief abduction at the Fire Festival the previous year played in my mind. The tents, the darkness and the smell of Apple Berry mixed with the taste of ashes and the image of Irys ordering four men to strangle me to death.

“Does Irys wear your perfumes?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. Apple Berry is her favorite. In fact, she asked me last night to make her more. Does the scent remind you of her?”

“She must have worn it the first time we met,” I said, choosing not to say more. If it hadn’t been for Valek’s timely arrival, Irys would have succeeded in killing me. It was ironic how both my relationships with Irys and Valek began badly.

“I have found that certain smells are linked to specific memories. It’s something Leif and I have been working on as part of his project with First Magician. We’ve created a variety of scents and odors that we use to help victims of crime remember. These memories are very powerful, and they help Leif get a clearer picture of what happened to them.” She moved away from me. Sitting down, she spooned fruit into three bowls. “I had hoped the Apple Berry would trigger your memories of us.”

“I did get something, but…” I stopped, unable to put the brief impressions into words. I quelled my growing aggravation at being unable to recall anything from my six years of living here. Instead, I asked, “Do you make many perfumes?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Esau brings me wonderful flowers and plants to use. I enjoy making new perfumes and scents.”

“And she’s the best in the land,” a booming male voice said behind me. I turned to see a small, stout man enter the room. His resemblance to Leif was unmistakable.

“Her perfumes have been worn by Master Magicians, as well as the Queen and Princess of Ixia when they were alive,” Esau boasted. He grabbed my wrists and pulled me upright. “Yelena, my child, look how you’ve grown.” He squeezed me in a bear hug that lasted several seconds.

A strong odor of earth filled my nose. He released me, sat down with a bowl of fruit in his lap and a cup of tea in his hand before I could react. Perl handed me the other bowl as I resumed my seat.

Esau’s uncombed gray hair fell to his shoulders. As he ate, I saw that the lines on his hands were stained dark green.

“Esau, have you been playing with that leaf oil again?” Perl asked. “No wonder you took so long to come down. Trying to scrub it off so you wouldn’t smear it everywhere.”

I could tell by the way he ducked his head without responding that this was an old argument. Esau stared at me in silence, squinting and cocking his head from side to side as if deciding on something. His complexion resembled tea without the milk. Deep lines etched his forehead and fanned out from his eyes. He had a kind face used to laughing and crying.

“Now I want a report on what you’ve been doing all these years,” Esau said.

I suppressed a sigh. No more chances to avoid it. Used to obeying orders in the north, I told them about growing up in General Brazell’s orphanage in Military District 5. I glossed over the unpleasant years when I had reached maturity and become Reyad and Mogkan’s laboratory rat. My parents were distressed enough just hearing about their plans to use their kidnapped victims’ magical power to help Brazell overthrow the Commander; I saw no reason to tell them the brutal details of how they had erased the southern children’s minds.

When I mentioned becoming Commander Ambrose’s food taster, I failed to tell them that I had been in the Commander’s dungeon awaiting execution for killing Reyad. And after I had spent a year there, I had been given the choice of the noose or the poison taster’s position.

“I bet you were their best taster,” my father said.

“What a terrible thing to say,” Perl admonished. “What if she were poisoned?”

“We Lianas have a great sense of smell and taste. The girl’s here and safe, Perl. If she wasn’t good at detecting poisons, I doubt she would have lasted this long.”

“It’s not like someone was trying to poison the Commander all the time,” I said. “Only once, really.”

Perl’s hand flew to her neck. “Oh, my. I bet it was his pet assassin that tried to poison him. That loathsome creature.”

I stared at her uncomprehending.

“You know, his spy, Valek? Every Sitian would love to see that man’s head on a pike. He murdered almost the entire royal family. Only one nephew survived. Without Valek, that usurper would have never gained power and upset Sitia’s good relationship with Ixia. And those poor northern children who are born with magic. Slaughtered by Valek in their cribs!”

While she shuddered with revulsion, I gaped. My fingers sought the chain around my neck, and found the butterfly pendant Valek had carved for me. I squeezed it. Guess I wouldn’t be telling her about my relationship with him. And I decided not to enlighten her about the Commander’s policy on Ixians discovered with magical abilities. Not as gruesome as killing babies, but usually ending in death for the unfortunate man or woman. Valek had not been a fan of that policy, but he wouldn’t disobey an order from the Commander. Perhaps, in time, Valek would help the Commander see the benefits of having magicians on his staff.

“Valek isn’t as horrible as you think,” I said, trying to redeem his reputation. “He was instrumental in uncovering Brazell and Mogkan’s plans. In fact, he helped to stop them.” I wanted to add “he saved my life twice,” but the twin grimaces of loathing on my parents’ faces stopped me.

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