Concerning Wizards
 
"How much would you wager one of those spellbooks down at the market cost?” Heret mused, looking up from makeshift hammock, her eyes focusing on the starlight leaking in through the roof’s numerous holes.

“Unno’.  Why?”

“I imagine it’d be neat to be a wizard.”

“Wouldn’t you be a witch?” Jorel peered at the halfling for a moment, considering, before returning his attention to the weak flame that served as the shack’s combination space heater and stove.  

“Wizard’s a gender-neutral term, I thought,” the halfling mused.

“Then what would you call a menfolk witch?”

“Warlock, I think.” Heret adjusted her position, taking a brief break from her busy schedule of staring at the shoddy roofing to look about their hovel.  It wasn’t the most expansive living space; somebody used to ritzier locales might refer to it as ‘larger than an outhouse, but just a bit smaller than a shed’.  Its walls slanted in whatever direction the wind was currently trending, and the entranceway was less ‘door’ and more ‘tattered cloth’.  Size and poor construction aside, it was located towards the outskirts of the city, squeezed in among many similarly rough hovels, inhabited by many similarly destitute persons. 

“That can’t be right,” Jorel furrowed his brows. “Sounds too evil.”

“And ‘witch’ doesn’t?”

“When I picture a Warlock, I picture a cross-looking wizard with extraordinarily pointed shoulder pauldrons.  Maybe too pointy.  It’s even got ‘war’, in the name, right there at the beginning.”

Heret furrowed her brow, looking to her compatriot.  

“But- when I picture a witch, there’s a whole assortment of images.  Sure, there are the sort that poison our crops and steal errant children, but there’s also the kind old lady who lives in a swamp brewing potions for folk that need healing or curing,” he said, picking up a nearby pile of kindling; assorted detritus that he’d deemed flammable.  He tossed a piece from the top into the fire. 

“Connotations aside, wizard is a gender neutral term,” she returned her gaze roof-ward.

“Fair enough.” Jorel tossed another piece into the fire, before tilting his head and looking back to the Halfling woman, “..Can you even read?  Feels like sort of a perquisite for being a wizard.  Always arse-deep in scrolls and whatnot.”

“I mean, I can read better than you.”

“I’m illiterate.  That’s not a high bar.”

“I could pick it up as I go.” Heret responded defensively.

“I mean, I don’t know shite about magic, but I’m almost certain that’s not how that works.”

Heret took a moment to consider her response, before responding with a great deal of vigor but without a great deal of confidence: “That’s just it, though.  You don’t know shite about magic.  For all you know, those dusty old tomes at the market could be picturebooks.”

“Look, I’m not saying it wouldn’t be great for you to take up sorceressing.  You’d make an excellent she-wizard.  You’re quick-witted, you’re clever, and you’re inexplicably knowledgeable for somebody who, by their own admission, can barely read.  But we’re barely holding together as it is, and we can’t go dropping the sort of coin we’d need to set you up as a wizard.” Jorel frowned, setting down his pile of ‘tinder’.

“It’d just be the one spellbook.”

“You need more than that to be a wizard, though.  You’d need a big hat- all of the best wizards have good hats.”

Heret considered this, nodding in agreement.

“And a staff.”

“Strictly speaking, I don’t fancy that you’ve got to have to have a staff to be a wizard.  That kid- the one with the thing on his face- you know, the one who saved that fancy wizard school- does just fine with one of them sticks.  And I’ve seen some of them mage-types shoot magic junk straight out of their hands.” Heret ran a hand through her unbound mass of curly hair, picking a small piece of junk out of it,

“Any wizard worth their salt has a staff, though.  Therefore, you’d need a staff.”

She acquiesced, “True.  I am worth a lot of salt.”

Their combination stove-space heater flickered for a moment- the fire was starting to die down.  Jorel retrieved his tinder pile, tossing another piece on.  He looked over the next piece.  It was parchment, and covered in symbols- writing.

Though clever, Jorel had been an orphan, and teaching the dirt-covered, knife-eared urchin who’d just stolen their coinpurse never seemed like it was ever very high on anybody’s priority list.  Heret had tried, but her lack of a formal education limited her own literacy skills.  

Jorel had figured it for a letter somebody had written or received and dropped by the wayside.  Even if couldn’t understand the symbols, he recognized the format.

“And- even if you wouldn’t be a witch, strictly speaking- folk don’t always treat witches like they should.  Sometimes, people hear ‘witch’ and get all ‘grab yer’ pitchforks an’ torches’-ey’,” Jorel ran a hand through his somewhat matted hair. “I just.. don’t want you to get hurt- not again.”

Heret absent-mindedly felt at the large, raised mark running over the center of her clavicle.  Years ago, during the Great War, popular sentiment turned against foreigners, and the resulting tension had sometimes turned violent.  Despite having never left the city’s walls in her entire life, Heret looked foreign, and that was often enough, because, in the words of the the wise Oberon of Sunrest, “People are just.. The worst,”.  Back in the marginally less racially violent present, Heret looked over the edge of her hammock, her gaze catching on the symbols.

“Jorel, can I see that?” Her brow contracted with worry.

“Don’t see why not.”

He held it out to her, his long, slightly emaciated limb making it most of the way to her.  She pulled it from his hand.

“Jorel, where did you find this?”  Her narrow, olive-toned eyes scanned over the sparse lines of text over and over.  She grew pale- a somewhat impressive feat, given her complexion.  

“Outside.  Why?”

“Well- the good news is that we no longer have to factor ‘rent’ into our budget.”

“..Why not?”

“Because..” Heret crumpled the rough paper, tossing it towards the fire. “We’ve been evicted.”