‘Anyway,’ she said.
‘Any way? Are you sure?’ Tulp said. He looked down each of the three other roads in turn, then longingly down the track back to the village.
‘No, I mean… well, anyway,’ Tessla said. ‘This is goodbye and all that.’ She swapped her wizard’s staff to her other hand and held out her right hand towards Tulp.
Tulp looked down at her hand as though she was offering him a long-dead fish.
‘In the town, they shake hands when they meet or say goodbye.’ Tessla explained.
‘Do they? Why?’
‘I….’ Tessla shrugged. ‘Really, I have no idea.’
‘Well, won’t they have shit on their hands? I know when I’ve been out in the fields or sorting the animals it is a rare day when I don’t have shit on my hands.’
Tessla let her hand drop back to her side with a forced casualness. She wiped it on her wizarding robe, just to be sure.
‘Perhaps that is why they do it!’
‘Shake hands, to prove they haven’t got shit on them.’ Tulp beamed.
‘Possibly,’ Tessla acknowledged. Tulp was her brightest student, far and away above all the others she’d taught at her part-time school since she’d come to the village. Which was why she’d suggested he be the one that the village send to the university in the town. Her old university.
The new king had a policy, apparently, according to a letter sent to her by her old tutor. After the success of his Equal Opportunities Wizardry Policy, which had seen girls, and Tessla was one of the first, take off, he’d now decided that the university should take diversity a step further. So now each of the outlining villages in the kingdom was now ordered to send its brightest peasant youth male or female to the university.
Tulp was her brightest, yet Tessla wondered how he would cope in the town, at the University. The village didn’t even have a name because no-one there ever left. Because no one ever left the village, they did not have to say where they had come from or where they wanted to get back to, so the village had not needed a name.
Tessla wondered about Tulp, just how bright he really was. He a pretty good at fire spells. Too good at them actually, considering how wayward his aim was. He was too easily distracted. She had him practice his fire spells out in the big field, but he was too distracted by so much. He’s roasted birds unfortunate enough to be flying overhead when he was ready to discharge his spell, and he’d caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to see. The same with mice, voles and on one occasion a fox shifting the undergrowth. Tessla had learnt to stay very still when Tulp was about to inflict one of his fire spells on the world. That is unless he turned to point it in her direction.
She took off her official pointy hat and poked her finger into the hole, still charred around the edges.
‘So, this is goodbye, then,’ she said eventually.
‘Is it?’ Tulp stared at her, unwilling to go. ‘How does that work then?’