William Calhoun and
the Black Feather
William named after two Williams
Number 7 in the Green Wiz Street belonged to an old woman, Mrs. Oliver, who was much over seventy. With each day, moving around was becoming more difficult for her, not mentioning walking near the house. She lived together with a boy called William Calhoun. Exactly seven years ago, as she was strolling around her house in the evening, about to head home to get ready for bed, Mrs. Oliver noticed a small bundle in the middle of the road opposite her house. The bundle looked like a piece of crumpled fabric thrown out of the passing car. However, since cars on the roads around here were rare, this find was quite a surprise. It was very quiet. Thinking that one of the locals must have thrown out some old clothes, Mrs. Oliver turned around and started walking towards her house. But she stopped when someone started crying. It was a baby cry, no doubts. She looked around and saw no one, but in a few seconds, she realized where the crying was coming from. Her walk somewhat unsure, she headed to the road and, as she came closer, took a good look at the bundle. It turned out to be a baby, wrapped in rags.
Mrs. Oliver picked the baby up. Sensing her care, he fell quiet. His big blue eyes stared at Mrs. Oliver and then the baby’s tiny mouth opened in a smile.
«Stop it,» Mrs. Oliver grumbled. «I’m not that old for you, young man, to make fun of my looks!»
No more doubts left, she took the baby home and brought him up as her own.
A teacher of literature in the past, Mrs. Oliver had retired long ago and now lived alone. Her husband passed away a year ago and they didn’t have children of their own. After that, the lonely widow lived waiting for the hour she would follow her husband. But she was destined to keep living for seven more years, which she had fully devoted to young William.
She came up with the name for the boy right away. She called the baby boy after two worthiest people, in her opinion, — William Shakespeare and William Blake. Besides that, there was a small white feather sticking out of the rags the boy was wrapped in. Pale yellow word was visible on the feather «Calhoun’. So Mrs. Oliver didn’t think on the last name much either.
«Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night…» she quoted as she took the dirty rags off the boy. «What are you born to, mister?!»
From the very first day, she grew quite fond of the boy.
«You are likely destined to a very rare fate and a long life if you’ve ALREADY survived,» she told him each time.
It was probably a teacher habit to call her students «mister’ and «miss’ or, perhaps, she really thought the child to be special, but she always addressed the boy politely «mister Calhoun’!
Seven years have passed since that memorable event. Mrs. Oliver decided that the day the baby came into her life will be the boy’s birthday. So it was William’s birthday today. Mrs. Oliver had spent the whole day in the kitchen and made William’s favourite strawberry cake. As a gift, the boy got a set of warm clothes from her — a sweater, thick woollen socks and two shirts.
«You’ll need that for your trip when mister Hoggart comes, my dear,» Mrs. Oliver said.
Mrs. Oliver realized that she wasn’t getting any younger and it was time to find a family where the boy wouldn’t be a stranger. And it was time to send William to school as well. So, a month ago she sent a letter to distant relatives of her late husband where she asked to take William in, explaining that she didn’t have much time left and she didn’t want the boy to go to the orphanage.
The Hoggarts visited them once when Mr. Oliver was still alive. Mrs. Oliver understood back then that these relatives were very decent and intelligent people. They lived in London and were quite wealthy, so there were no doubts that William wouldn’t be a burden for them.
Two days ago, a letter came from London saying that the Hoggarts would be happy to have young William staying with them for as long as he wanted, and that this Sunday evening Edward Hoggart, the head of the family, would come for the boy.
William himself wasn’t taking the idea of moving away well. He had no desire to part with Mrs. Oliver, to change something in his life. And, as he often admitted to himself, it was pretty scary to just go and live in a family of people he didn’t know. Nobody was going to become his friend, because he didn’t know how to be friends with anyone. He happened to have no friends. There were very few people living in the Blackchester County, not mentioning the Green Wiz Street, with its five or six families. Mostly retired people. Until the very last moment, William was trying to convince Mrs. Oliver not to send him off to the Hoggarts.
«But grandma!» William had treated Mrs. Oliver as his grandmother all these years, though he knew the truth about his appearance in her house. «I like living with you! Why should I live with other people if I have you?!»
«Alas, my dear, you will have to go. I’m old and there’s little I can do. Life isn’t something eternal! There comes a time when we all go where we came from — to the other world! But you… your life is about to change. And you should greet those changes with a smile, not with an old woman who’s already standing with one foot in the other world.»
«Then I want to stand with one foot in the other world, too!» William didn’t want to give up.
«Don’t be silly, young man!» Mrs. Oliver said in her strict teacher-like voice. «How pitiful your life would be if it continued to consist only of an old woman and her house!» Then she added in a softer tone: «You’ll find friends, perhaps, even admirers…»
William listened to her silently.
«But, most importantly, a normal family!»
«But I don’t know anyone there…» he objected gloomily.
«Then use a chance to know those who aren’t your grandma! Besides, your parents, no matter who they are, should be proud of you, young man. Do your best! The Hoggarts will find a good school for you and if you study well, you’ll get admitted into a prestigious university!»
William gave it a thought, then said:
«But I know nothing about my parents, grandma. How do I know if they are proud of me or not?»
«That’s easy! Make the whole world proud of you! Then your parents will be among others as well!» said Mrs. Oliver passionately, she never stopped believing in what she was saying.
«Alright, whatever you say, grandma! I mean, I’ll try… They will be proud…» William said unsurely and added in a sad tone: «Even if they had left me.»
«Go and check your suitcase, young man,» said Mrs. Oliver as she tried to avoid this difficult topic. «Mister Hoggart will be here any minute.»
The boy went to his room obediently to check if he had packed everything for the road, while Mrs. Oliver kept standing there for another minute. And if William had been there with her, he wouldn’t have missed the tear that was running down the wrinkled cheek of the old lady.
Seven years passed since the day Mr. Hoggart took the boy. William was going home at his customary slow pace. He grew up, and his golden hair had become even brighter than in his childhood. Unnatural dark blue of his eyes and smooth features gave him the air of mystery. On 1 July, he turned fourteen and he was going to finish school in a couple of years. Mr. and Mrs. Hoggart were rather kind to him from the first day he had started living with them. They gave him their last name, and over time, William almost completely got used to being a Hoggart. He seemed to have even forgotten that somebody had addressed him as «Mister Calhoun». All in all, William was rather satisfied with his life, but to his mind, it was rather boring. He had some friends but for some reason he wasn’t very close with any of them. William liked being alone, he liked pondering on different things.
So. On that September day, he was going back home from school and, as he was passing a café, he suddenly realized that he had never been in a place like that. First of all, he didn’t really have anyone to go there with, and, secondly, Mrs. Hoggart always remembered to put lunch into his school bag. But now he wanted to go in and see what was inside. Inside he saw people sitting at the tables and, when he spotted a barman, he walked up to him and was about to order a bottle of water when the other man spoke first.
«Bathroom’s to the right!» he snapped and started wiping a glass vigorously.
«What makes you think that I want to go there?» William said, surprised. «I simply want to drink some water.»
«Listen, lad!» boomed the irritated barman. «Either you’ll go to that bathroom and sit on the toilet, where you belong, or you’ll get the hell out of here and I continue serving demits without you bothering me!»
Surprised with his words, William thought that it was probably the rules: before sitting at the table, you need to wash your hands. He wanted to proceed to the room by following the directions on the wall, but the annoying barman intervened again.
«Is it your first time here or something?!» he bellowed. «To the right and straight on!»
In his heart, William was grateful to the patrons for talking so loudly that nobody heard this awful person yelling at him. He obediently walked in the direction the barman pointed him at, just to stop seeing his annoying face. As he walked, he couldn’t help wondering why he hadn’t simply turned around and left after this horrible treatment? But William’s train of thought was interrupted when he saw a strange picture on the bathroom door — a funny fat man sitting at a table in a night gown and a pointy hat.
For a while, William wondered what this meant, but couldn’t think of anything. He shrugged and walked right in. Upon entering, he started towards the sink to wash his hands, but then the door to one of the cubicles opened noisily.
A man in a porter uniform and with a strained smile on his face stared blankly and pompously invited William:
«This way, young sir! Have you got a reservation?»
The front of the man’s uniform had a large emblem depicting the same fat man in a nightgown and a strange hat. On that emblem, the man was sitting at the table and stroking his belly in a satisfied way.
William looked around to make sure that this weird man in pompous clothes was addressing him. But there was nobody else in the room. The porter was looming over the toilet as if he was standing by the entrance to a five-star hotel. He was wearing white gloves.
«Are you talking to me?» William asked as he collected himself.
The obligatory smile was gone from the porter’s face in an instant and his eyes that were staring blankly shifted over to William.
«Young sir! There’s nobody here besides us. I believe you have come to our establishment in order to quench your hunger and thirst. My duty is to see you to your table where you will wait for your order like all the rest!» The voice of this weird man was growing impatient. «And now would you kindly allow me to escort you?»
«Er… Well, let’s go!» William said, having decided that since he had never been in such establishments before he wasn’t aware of something. The second man today was looking at him like at an alien! No way! He had no desire to continue being a laughing matter! And William headed to the exit.
«This way, young sir!» the strange man said behind him.
William turned around and to his horror he saw that the porter’s finger was pointing directly at the toilet seat.
«No way! That’s it!» he thought. How had he even ended in a place like this!
William really wanted to leave this utterly weird establishment where everyone, at least to his mind, was treating him like an idiot. But something inexplicable didn’t allow him to do it. And, with a mental shrug, William decided that from now on he wasn’t going to be surprised with anything, no matter what happened. Even if he would be served his meal right here. He approached the strange man and he gestured at the toilet seat.
«Please, young sir!»
After a moment’s deliberation, William sat down and gave the porter a quizzical look. But the strange man just slammed the door shut and flushed the water.
William didn’t even have time to be surprised again when everything started spinning before his eyes, but in a moment everything was back to normal again. However, his stomach seemed to be still spinning and that unpleasant sensation made William throw up. The toilet came in quite handy in this situation. When William came round, he was going to apologize to the mysterious «porter», but the man was already offering him a white handkerchief, as if he had foreseen that something like that would happen to the boy. William thanked the porter and took the handkerchief.
The strange man opened the cubicle door before him and pointed towards the exit. William left the cubicle and as he turned around, he saw a really odd picture: the porter was calmly sitting on the toilet, buried in a fresh newspaper. Sensing William’s glance, he gave the boy a quizzical look and nodded towards the exit again.
«Enjoy your meal, young sir!» he said almost politely and continued reading.
William went to the sink, washed his face and left this really weird bathroom. Imagine his surprise when instead of the familiar corridor, he saw a completely different place. Now he was surrounded by a narrow pathway illuminated by candles, with voices coming from a distance. They were singing loudly. William made a few unsure steps along the pathway, without any idea where he was. Then he saw a door labelled «Common Hall». As he opened it, William made a few more steps and froze on the spot.
The boy saw a large hall illuminated by numerous candles in ornate holders, on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Several semi-circle sofas by the table occupied one part of the room. The other part consisted of small compartment-like rooms, inside which William could make out smaller tables and people sitting around them. Nearly all of them were wearing robes, and he thought that there was some kind of a dress-up party in here. Some of the patrons were wearing cloaks and feathered hats. And the girls had feathers attached to their hair. Feathers! They were everywhere! And at the same time, all feathers were different: big, fluffy, of various colours and length.
William was looking at all that as he stood rooted to the spot. He felt completely out of place. And no wonder: he was wearing threadbare jeans, old shoes, and a sweater with a white collar sticking from underneath. William thought that he and his clothes really stood out from this background. Feeling at loss, he made a step back and at the same time someone he couldn’t see bumped into him, nearly knocking him off his feet. The clash ended with the sound of broken dishes.
«Hey, pal!» a female voice said. «Are you going to stand here all day?»
Barely managing to stay on his feet, William turned around and saw a young woman standing before him. Her clothes bore the same symbol like that on the porter’s.
Judging by her clothes, she was a waitress here.
«I’m sorry, ma’am!» William apologized and bent down to collect broken pieces from the floor. «How clumsy of me. I’ll clean it up at once!»
For a few moments, the waitress watched him with interest, then she asked:
«What are you doing?»
Her look told William that he was doing something improper.
«It’s my fault,» he said. «And I want to help you, ma’am!»
«Ma’am?» the waitress asked with a smile. «Where are you from, buddy?»
«I live here, in London,» William got up.
«And have you ever been in taverns before?»
«Er…» he blushed. «No… it’s my first time here.»
The waitress curiously watched him for another moment, then said:
«Alright, alright! I’ll clean it myself!»
Then she took a green feather out of her hair, waved it and said:
His eyes wide, William watched the plate pieces soar up into the air from the floor and glue back together. Moreover, the spilled soup splashed into the plate and settled in there smoothly. And then a couple of spoons and a jug flew up, made a circle and settled on the tray in her hand.
After performing all that, the girl turned to him:
«Still here? Better sit over there,» she pointed at a table by the wall. «It’s vacant. Somebody will tend to you soon.»
After a bit, William came round, looked here and there and slowly walked to the table she pointed at. He was seriously considering the fact that it was just a dream. Then somebody all but slammed a thick book on the table in front of him.
This made William jump up. He looked at the book, which resembled a volume on the world history. He could make out green letters on the cover that read «Menu’.
«Good day, young sir!» somebody said.
William looked up and saw a tall thin blond man with large hands. One of his hands was tapping the table next to the menu. William thought that if the owner of this hand wished so, he could easily cover the menu with his palm.
«Look,» William finally broke the silence. «Where am I?»
«You are at the «Well-Fed Wiz…» the waiter’s voice broke off as if his mouth suddenly became dry.
He wasn’t even looking at the visitor, but he suddenly froze, then slowly turned his gaze on William sitting at the table.
«Sir,» the boy asked. «Are you alright?»
«I cannot believe my letters…» the waiter whispered slowly, his eyes round with surprise.
Even though the waiter said this phrase almost under his breath, William managed to hear it. Hear it, but not understand it.
But the waiter didn’t seem to be even listening.
«Yes! That voice… I cannot be mistaken…» he continued muttering, giving William an even more intent look.
«What are you talking about?» William said, confused.
«What is your name?» the waiter disregarded William’s words again.
«William! What does it have to do…»
«And your full name?» he interrupted.
«Hoggart! William Hoggart. Listen, what does my name have to do with it? Can you explain to me where I…»
«A liiiiie!» the waiter suddenly yelled, slamming his other hand into the table.
William jumped up in fear again.
«Green Monogram! This cannot be!» the waiter continued yelling desperately. «No, I simply refuse to believe it, sir!» His eyes bore into William, as if trying to find something in him.
«What can’t be?!» William asked angrily.
«But… your last name…» the waiter’s voice dropped to a whisper. «It is different!»
«Different?» William repeated.
He felt as if he was going to go mad if nobody explained to him what was happening. And WHAT WAS THIS PLACE he was at?!
«Is the name Calhoun familiar to you?» the waiter was persistent. «Calhoun? Perhaps you have heard the name Calhoun before?»
«Look, sir! Stop acting so odd! I don’t know the name Cal…» Now it was William’s turn to trail off.
The waiter leaned towards him so close that the boy felt the man’s uneven breath on his face.
«Why did you fall silent?! You have heard this name before, have you not?» he asked, peering into one William’s eye, then another one.
«Did you say — Calhoun?»
«Yes. That is what I said. Calhoun,» said the crazy waiter, patiently, but barely holding himself, as he kept peering into William’s eyes.
«I don’t know anyone with this name, sir…»
«Green Monogram!» the waiter shrieked as he straightened up. «Mailmages are never wrong! They… they simply cannot be!»
«Mail… who? Listen, sir, you didn’t even give me a chance to finish!» continued William, not restraining himself any longer. «I wanted to say that I don’t know anyone with the name Calhoun, but it seems familiar.»
In an instant, the waiter was in a dangerous proximity to his nose again. William even had to throw his head back a bit.
«Where?! Where have you heard it?» the waiter continued.
«Well… you may not believe me, but I have a feather with an inscription «Calhoun’…»
«A feather!» the waiter cried out madly. «By the Burnt Envelopes! I knew it! I just knew!»
William was staring at the waiter with deep concern, the same way as people look at a sick person.
«Are you sure you’re alright, sir?»
«Oh, I am more than alright!» the waiter said with satisfaction. But his smile was gone in an instant.
«Where do you live?»
«Why do you need to know where I live?» William decided that he wasn’t going to take part in that stupid act any longer. Enough, it was time to go home!
He got up and wanted to head to the exit, but the waiter said seriously:
«Knowing where you live is the most important thing I must know in my life, Master Calhoun! Please, answer me. I am begging you! On my knees!» Like promised, he fell to his knees with a thud and folded his large hands as if he was going to say a prayer.
«Blackfriars Lane» William took pity on this mad man.
«And House? Which House?!» the waiter asked in a trembling voice.
Upon hearing this, the waiter jumped up, tore the apron off him, threw it on the floor and stumped on the emblem embroidered on it. «Since this moment on I am not working in the «Well-Fed Wizard’ any longer!»
Giving William a loving look, he grabbed his shoulder with his large palm and said loudly:
«Number 13, Blackfriars Lane!»
William felt as if he was thrown into a kaleidoscope. Everything started spinning before his eyes, like vegetables in a blender in the kitchen of the kind Mrs. Hoggart. He felt a tight grip on his shoulder, but after a few moments, he was relieved to feel that the grip was lessening. The whirlwind was getting slower and after a moment, it stopped altogether.
He felt as if he was smashed into the floor, so sudden was his arrival. But to his surprise, he didn’t feel any pain. As he looked around, he noticed familiar items, furniture, bookshelves… It was hard to believe that it was really happening, but William was standing in the middle of his room, back in the Blackfriars Lane. And the crazy waiter was looming over him.
From Kin to Kin, Kin for the Good of Kin!
When William was able to speak again, he asked in a slightly trembling voice:
«But how did we get here? And who… who are you?»
«We will have time to speak about it, Master Calhoun! And now, please, show me the feather.»
William felt that his patience was running out. The waiter noticed that and hurried to add:
«It is the last thing I am asking you! After that, Master Calhoun will get answers to all his questions, I promise!»
William thought that if he hadn’t yet gone mad after all that had happened to him today, then a few more seconds wouldn’t change much.
«Well, alright!» he agreed and headed to the wardrobe where he kept his old things in a tattered suitcase.
He took a wooden box from the bottom of the suitcase.
«Is it in there?» the waiter asked impatiently, eagerly following William’s every move.
«Yes, I’ve always kept it in here. I used to take it out and stare at it for hours, then stopped. A useless thing!»
With that, he opened the box. To his amazement, the tiny feather that used to fit the box without any problems, was now large and fluffy, bent in half. It was really fluffy!
«But,» William could barely believe what he’d just witnessed. «It was smaller…»
The waiter stood silently, looking at the feather as if enchanted. William decided to take the feather out of the box, but the moment he touched it, the feather started moving as if it was alive. Taken by surprise, he threw the box up into the air, but at that moment, the waiter’s wide nimble hands caught it without letting it fall. Holding his breath, he returned the box to William. The feather was still moving and slowly, lazily, stretching out its hairs, just like a person who wakes up in the morning full of energy, yawning and stretching before getting up.
«No, I’m definitely dreaming!» William had no more doubts. «Such things can’t be happening in real life.»
The waiter came closer, bent over the feather and read the name inscribed on it very quietly:
«Calhoun…» Then he added in a normal voice: «There could have been no mistake, I knew it from the moment I heard your voice…»
He made a few steps back and said, giving William a serious look:
«Young William should not be surprised with such things. It is quite…»
«What?!» Everything that had been building up in William over the day suddenly burst out. «A rude person tells me to go to the bathroom where he says I belong; in the bathroom I meet a strange man in a uniform who sits me down on the toilet and flushes me; then I find myself in a very strange place with oddly dressed people; then a waitress nearly knocks me off my feet, and she can collect soup from the floor and glue broken dishes back with the wave of an ordinary feather; and in the end I meet you, and in a few seconds you move me to my own room, where I take out the feather and it is bigger than it was seven years ago and, what’s more, it moves! And you say that I shouldn’t be surprised?!»
Despite William’s heated speech, the waiter remained calm.
«My name is Nymus,» he said. «I am the mailmage of the Calhouns! YOUR mailmage, Master Clahoun!»
«My who?!» William asked.
«Mailmage! Each wizard kin must have one,» and after a pause, he added: «As far as I can see, Master Calhoun still does not know that he is a wizard?»
William needed half a minute for the question to sink in. As he took a grip on himself and ran today’s events in his head again, he asked:
«So, I’m not mad and all that happened to the waitress and the tray was for real?»
«Yes. I saw that, Master Calhoun. I admit, I even laughed at your clumsiness. How stupid of me! Laugh at my own master!»
«I’m not your master, what are you talking about? And why do you keep calling me Calhoun?»
«Young William has so much to learn! You should better sit down.»
After giving it a bit of thought, William realized that the mailmage was right. He sat down and then Nymus continued:
«What do you know about your family?»
This question made William shiver, as if someone had just thrown a shovel of snow right into his face. Suddenly, he looked at the mailmage as if this Nymus was the most important person in his life.
«You know about my REAL family?»
«I do! Tell me, how long have you been living here, young William?»
«Since I was seven. Before that, I lived with my grandma. She found me in the street when I was a baby.»
«And how old are you now?» asked Nymus in the same busy-like voice.
«Not long ago I turned fourteen. On July 1.»
«Green Monogram! Then it is really you. I understood that as soon as I heard your voice! Listen, Master Calhoun,» Nymus’s voice became even more serious and busy-like, «All your family and relatives tragically died fourteen years ago. It happened a day after you were born.»
William was speechless. For a while, he couldn’t say a word, no matter how hard he tried. Then he took a grip on himself and asked:
«How did it happen?»
«Nobody knows!» Nymus replied. «The only known thing is that seventeen wizards died over one night. All of them Calhouns. After that night, the Calhoun kin perished. And I…» he trailed off holding back his tears, «was left without work.»
William thought that the last words were too selfish. They were talking about a completely different thing. And he snapped:
«How is your work connected with my family?»
«It is connected by ancient, really ancient magic, Master Calhoun! Each wizard kin has their own mailmage kin that serves them faithfully. From kin to kin, kin for the good of kin… Our kin was always proud of their masters. Because the Calhouns is a rather famous kin among wizards.»
«And I…» William found it hard to process all the information Nymus was giving him. «So, I’m a Calhoun, too?»
«The last,» the mailmage corrected him, «the last Calhoun. Until today you were also considered dead, young William.»
There was a brief silence, after which William said:
«You’re saying that I’m a wizard! I’m sorry to disappoint you, but… I can’t do things like you do or like that waitress in the tavern.»
«It is easy to refute!»
William gave him a puzzled look and the waiter — the mailmage now — continued serenely:
«Take the magic feather.»
William took the box obediently. As he opened it again, he didn’t even have time to touch the feather. It shot out of the box on its own and, pausing in the air for a moment, started drawing eights at high speed.
«Do not be alarmed, Master Calhoun,» Nymus calmed him down, «The feather is not going to hurt you. You just need to call it! It will not lie in your hand otherwise.»
And indeed, William’s attempt to grab the feather, then another one and another, ended with the feather slipping away from him the moment he was going to grab it. The feather seemed to be teasing him, hanging right before his nose after each unsuccessful attempt.
«You need to say «Obnoxus’,» Nymus advised, «and it will lie in your hand.»
William gave him a look full of disbelief, but decided to make one last attempt:
«Ob… Obnoxus!» he repeated after Nymus.
The moment William said the word, the feather swayed from side to side and lay onto his hand. The next moment, bright blue light escaped from the tip of the feather, frightening William. The pale yellow inscription «Calhoun’ on the feather shone bright and became golden.
This lasted for a few seconds, after which the glow died. The inscription became pale yellow again and the feather in his hand was moving its hairs lazily and calmly, like a cat moving its tail when scratched behind the ears.
«The feather has found its master,» Nymus smiled and advised: «Always keep it close, Master Calhoun Without the feathers wizards become vulnerable.»
«So it’s true?» William asked, still staring at the feather. «I’m a wizard?»
«Yes, Master Calhoun. And you are no worse than other wizards. Like I said, you have all the rights to live and study among people like yourself.»
«But,» William looked up at Nymus, «I already live with the Hoggarts and go to school.»
«It can be easily fixed. Now tell me, do they treat you well?»
«Yes!» William said truthfully. «They are wonderful people.»
«That is good!» Nymus said approvingly. «Master Calhoun, you will need to change school. Now you are going to study together with other wizards.»
«Does this mean that there are special places where magic is taught?»
«You think wizards are illiterate? Or that they do not have their own world? Only magic is not taught, young wizards are taught to control it by developing their skills.»
«Tell me, in that place…» William began, as he suddenly remembered, «where we met… were there also…»
«There were only wizards there,» Nymus finished for him. «But I cannot understand how you managed to get there if you did not know about it.»
«By accident. Well, it was my first time at a café,» William admitted. «And when I entered, the barman directed me to the bathroom. You know the rest.»
«Oh, the fate favours us, young William! We have reunited — a wizard and his mailmage!»
«Are you… are you going to live with me now?» William asked awkwardly.
«Live?!» Nymus laughed. «No, young William! Mailmages are not supposed to live with their masters! They live at the Magic Post Office! I used to live there as well until I was fired after losing my masters.»
«But it wasn’t your fault that they died, Nymus. Why did they fire you?»
«A mailmage without his wizard is no mailmage at all. He becomes useless and is banished. I was forced to go looking for work and became a waiter at the „Well-Fed Wizard“, that is how the tavern is called,» Nymus explained seeing William’s reaction to the name. «I have worked there for fourteen years, but now it is in the past! I shall return to the Post Office tomorrow and tell them that I have found my master, then they will take me back!»
«Well, I’m happy for you, Nymus!» William said sincerely. «You said you used to serve my family… My parents… what were their names?»
«They were Patrick and Sally Calhoun,» Nymus replied. «But like I said before, nothing is known about their deaths. Their bodies were found far from their home.»
William repeated the names of his parents in his head and, for a while, he sat silently. Then he turned to the mailmage again:
«Did you know them well?»
«The mailmage position of the Calhoun family had just been transferred to me at that time. I took it from my father Lester after he had retired. I had just finished the Post Office Academy and started working there. And soon…» Nymus stumbled, «I lost everything.»
He was looking at William as if he could hardly believe that they had met. After a few moments, Nymus continued in a more cheerful voice:
«A for your studies… Like I have already told you, you will have to change school. You are fourteen, and this is the age when wizards are enrolled in the Preparatory Course to one of the MUnis.»
«MUnis?» William repeated.
«Magic University! After graduation, each wizard can choose a profession. You cannot do without higher education, Master Calhoun! There were many powerful wizards in your kin and they all did great at Templedoor and beyond it as well…»
Nymus’s voice dropped to a whisper. But after a pause he continued cheerfully:
«First thing in the morning, we are going to the Magic Post Office, I shall get the mailmage license back, and from there we shall go register your magic feather so that you could enrol in the Preparatory Course!»
«It’s all great, but what am I going to tell Hoggarts when they get a letter from school about me missing classes?»
«Letters are my job, Master Calhoun,» Nymus smiled. «Hoggarts will not get any letters about your absence from the demit school.»
«Who are demits?» William asked. «I’ve heard this word from the barman, but didn’t pay too much attention to it back then.»
«That is how we call non-wizard folk,» Nymus explained.
William found it hard to believe that all of this was happening to him for real. His life was changing rapidly. And each moment spent with Nymus changed his destiny even more. After a bit of thinking, he spoke up again:
«So, Hoggarts will know nothing about the school… And where am I going to study? Where’s this school?»
«The classes take place in London,» Nymus replied.
«In London?» William repeated, unbelieving.
«Yes, in London! Looks like I need to tell Master Calhoun even more about wizards and the wizarding world.»
«Yes, please, if you don’t mind!» William replied gratefully.
Nymus placed one hand over the other, as if he was going to start a very long story:
«Well, you will learn most of it in the classes on wizard history, but I will tell you the main things!»
«Take a seat, Nymus,» William pointed at the bed beside himself.
«Take a seat?!» Nymus repeated indignantly.
«Well, yes. Is something wrong with that?»
«Master Calhoun, no decent mailmage will allow himself to sit when his master is present, under no circumstances. It is not according to the mailtiquette!»
«Stop calling me master!» William said angrily. «I’ve never been a master to anyone. I’ve never even had a dog. Besides,» he added in a less angry tone, «I’m your wizard and I allow you to sit in my presence.»
«No, Master Clahoun, I am a decent mailmage and I am very happy to find my wizard again! But even under these happy circumstances, I shall not break the Post Office Code! Allow me to keep standing before you and do not offer me to take a seat again.»
«Well, as you wish,» William gave up. «So, what about wizards?»
«Yes, right! The world we live in, Master Calhoun, equally belongs both to demits and to wizards.»
«But Nymus,» William interrupted him, «during the fourteen years of my life, I’ve never met any wizards. Other people I know also believe that all the talks about wizards are nothing more than fairy-tales.»
«Long time ago, fairy-tales were written by wizards themselves, as they described their own adventures or the lives of their friends. Then demits started writing fairy-tales. As for the fact you have never met wizards until today… that is how it is supposed to be! Demits should not be aware of the true state of things. But you are a wizard, Master Calhoun, and it is wrong that you find this out only at the age of fourteen. It is completely wrong, Green Monogram!» the mailmage couldn’t help swearing again.
«Nymus, Nymus…» William hurried to cool the mailmage’s emotions. «I’ve found it out thanks to you, please, calm down.»
«I apologize, Master Calhoun,«Nymus hurried to say and continued. «So, where was I…»
«Talking about wizards and ordinary people,» William reminded him.
«They are called demits.»
«Fine! Wizards and demits. Continue!»
«Right, demits! Most of them believe that everything they have achieved is due only to their own efforts!»
«Of course, not, I swear to Post Office! There is the IFW — International Federation of Wizards, which acts in all countries of the world. Its current president is Quincy von Bulberg. Though, to my mind, Fafner would have filled the role of the international leader of wizards so much better. But who am I, a mere mailmage, to judge these thing. I am just a midget! A Letter Worm! A wide-feet frog!» Nymus suddenly started to humiliate himself.
«Nymus! Stop insulting yourself!» William said strictly. «We’ve already agreed that you are my Mailmage!»
«Yes, Master Calhoun, that is true!» Nymus brightened up. «I serve the proud Calhoun kin, the last representative of this noble kin!»
«Er… thanks, but you’d better continue your story about wizards,» William interrupted him softly.
«Whatever you say, Master Calhoun! Your word is the Envelope Seal for me!» and Nymus bowed elegantly.
«Oh, come on, stop apologizing, bowing, calling me master, and being so overly polite! Since today we’re friends, remember this. And friends don’t bow to each other!»
These words made Nymus’s face practically glow.
«Oh, my noble Master Calhoun! It’s clear that there’s noble blood in you, the noblest of them all! And I am very proud that I am…»
«Tell me, Nymus,» William interrupted him calmly, «can a master fire his mailmage?»
«Yes, if desired! Then representatives of several vacant kins will be sent over for a new mailmage to be selected. But this happens only if a mailmage dishonours the kin of his wizard or angers the wizard for some reason…»
Then he added in alarm:
«And why is Master Calhoun asking about it?»
«Because Master Calhoun will fire you if you bow to him again or will continue praising him every other sentence!»
«Oh Master Calhoun!»
Nymus fell to his knees and started wailing and pleading not to be fired:
«Fourteen years living in disgrace for staying without masters, for dishonouring my noble kin… Oh, I am a worthless mailmage, Green Monogram! Worthless! Worthless!»
«Now, now…» William tried to calm him down, «I’m not going to fire you, just stop acting like this and embarrassing me!»
These words made Nymus smile. He jumped up and turned to William.
«As you say, Master Calhoun! Like I said, your word is the Envelope Seal for me!»
«Alright, then!» said William. «Now, please, continue telling me about the federation of wizards and its connection with pe… with demits.»
«Yes! So, demits do not even suspect that there is at least one wizard among the leaders of their countries, who makes sure the situation stays under control. Because if wizards stop helping demits, the balance will shift and then…»
«It will be chaos!» Nymus said. «The peace between wizards and demits will be gone!»
«Has it happened before?»
«Thank Celestine, no! But things worse than that happened!»
«What can be worse than what you’ve just described, Nymus?»
«Once,» Nymus’s voice dropped to a whisper, «there were dark times for wizards. Wizards were on the verge of extinction! But it is best to avoid mentioning this! As we, mailmages, like to say: «Do not disturb the Post Office archive!»
William gave it a bit of though, then said:
«Well, if it’s best to avoid it, then we will! Tell me, where do wizards live? Not here, in London?»
«Not only in London! Wizards live everywhere. In all corners of the world.»
«And they live in houses, like demits?»
«Of course, they do!» Nymus said indignantly. «Their houses are situated quite close to demit ones. But they are either hidden from prying eyes or they can be seen, but nobody will pay any attention to them.»
«Why is that?»
«Because a Repulsion spell is placed on wizard houses, which allows them to avoid any attention from demits. They do not need it.»
«And schools for wizards, are they hidden from demit eyes as well?»