It was not what she’d expected.
‘But… you’re a woman.’
Tessla looked down at herself. ‘Well spotted.’
‘But….’ The leader of the group looked around at the others behind him, then back to Tessla. He made a stroking gesture under his chin. ‘You don’t have a… a beard.’
‘Well, wizards have beards.’ He turned back to the villagers behind him. They nodded and muttered in agreement.
‘Not all of them. There were several in my classes at university that didn’t have beards, even when they graduated.’
A restless shuffle flowed through the group and they began to look at each other, shaking their heads.
‘Graduated?’ One of the villagers asked.
‘Became proper wizards… qualified.’
‘That’s another thing,’ their leader added. ‘You don’t look old enough.’
‘I’ll get older… eventually.’ Tessla hoped that was true. There was a tendency for only the good wizards to get older. The rest tended to suddenly stop getting older and become just a pile of ash next to a pair of smoking shoes. Natural wastage in the wizarding game was rather high.
‘Well, we expected someone older, that’s all,’ the leader said.
‘With a beard,’ someone else muttered from behind him.
‘Well, for the money you were offering….’ Tessla shrugged.
‘But that was all the money in the village.’ The group stared back at her wide-eyed.
Tessla hadn’t the heart to tell them it was just enough for a night’s stay in one of the city’s inns, and not one of the best inns either. But she was desperate. She had debts to pay and the magical supplies shop had threatened to repossess her pointy hat. That reminded her.
Tessla dug deep into the travelling pack she’d borrowed and pulled out her new hat. Carefully she tucked up her hair and jammed it inside the hat.
The crowd in front of her gasped.
‘See I have a hat. An official wizarding hat.’
The crowd glanced around at each other again.
The leader stepped forward, taking off his own hat and bowing. ‘Sorry, your Maj… Excellency… er…. It is just that women wizards… well….’ He glanced back at the rest of the villagers. ‘We’ve never heard the like.’
The other villagers nodded and muttered their agreement.
Tessla nodded back, feeling a bit more relaxed. ‘It’s just there is a new law, throughout the land. I’m surprised you haven’t heard about it.’
They all shook their heads.
‘The new equal opportunities law… about women having the same rights as men, being able to do the same jobs…?’
The villagers shook their heads.
‘Out here we don’t hear much about what goes on in the big cities.’ Their leader looked apologetic.
‘Anyway, er… miss?’ the village leader said.
‘What’s a law?’