‘Oh, yes. I had one of those wizards in the back of my cart once.’
‘Really?’ Grenk’s neck felt hot. He could tell the carter wasn’t impressed by wizards. Grenk was glad his official wizarding hat was in his travelling trunk, now balanced precariously on the load of… well, the load of whatever it was the carter was transporting.
‘Magic,’ the carter spat off to the side of the cart. ‘I mean… well, it ain’t natural is it?’
Grenk had slept through many classes on the philosophy and nature of magic back at the university. He felt that if he’d stayed awake a bit longer he could – perhaps – argue the point with the carter. But then there was the most basic rule of the road – never argue with a carter. Grenk had been told that at the first inn he’d stayed in. It was a lesson he learnt well the next day when he’d had to walk 12 leagues to the next village after disagreeing with a carter.
How could Grenk have known that the woman he was disparaging was the carter’s wife? Or – for that matter – such behaviour was regarded as perfectly normal out here in the countryside?
After all, out here in what Grenk still thought of as the wilds, they didn’t have the luxury of modern plumbing. He could still hear the laughter at the inn when he’d asked the way to the privy. Eventually the woman behind the bar had understood his request and pointed to the hedge behind the inn, but by then everyone in the inn, not yet unconscious from drink, was laughing at him and his strange city ways.
Admittedly, though the woman had shown remarkable dexterity and balance to be able to do that off the side of a cart while it was in motion, especially on these roads.
If you could call them roads. Often little more than a wide expanse of dried rock-hard mud between two hedges, rutted and ridged so that the cart bounced, bottomed and rattled like a pebble rolling across a corrugated metal roof.
Grenk missed the city. He missed the civilisation. The whores, the brothels, the backstreet drinking dives. All the places a young student could spend his allowance instead of wasting time learning at lectures.
Grenk had been rich when he arrived to study at the university. But that was before the letter came calling him home urgently.
Still – somehow – he didn’t quite know how. He had become a wizard. He was a qualified wizard now, after only taking twice as long to graduate as a poorer student. He had his accredited scroll, he had his official wizarding hat, a staff, and he had the rune-embroidered robes. He even had the start of a beard.
He could have had a good life of both prosperity and debauchery as a big city wizard. But first the letter came, calling him home, and then his allowance stopped.
Grenk had to leave the university in a bit of a hurry, his final year fees unpaid. He left his rooms with rent due and a bill at the brothel that made even his eyes water.
He’d had to leave Glorienna too.
And still he didn’t know why he had to return home. All he knew was that it wouldn’t be good.
‘Nah, magic – can’t be doin’ with it,’ the carter said and spat again.
At least this time Grenk knew better than to argue.