Thursday, April 27, 2017

Amonshire (Ch2, P2) (DRAFT)

Aram hurried to collect his money and put them into his pocket. It was less than he had hoped, but still better than nothing. He was about to walk through the arch, when a gate lamp lit up on top of it, then turnpikes on both sides of the arch lowered down, closing the entrance. Aram stood in front of the turnpike, looking curiously into the arch. The walls facing each other were made of bricks, painted in black. He was about to stretch his neck farther and glance into the arched passage, when a train passed before his eyes at a high speed, coming out from one wall and rushing into the other. Aram jumped back, terrified. The train came to a halt, the turnpike rose, the doors opened, and people came out, some with luggage, other looking into newspapers in their hands. The turnpike lowered down again, and the train rushed on.
“The portal train,” Theodore explained, while Aram stared uncomprehendingly from one wall to the other. “One of the ways to get home.”
“It moves through walls?”
Theodore laughed. “Through portals. You can get a train schedule from the stores on the Square and see if it passes through your town. Let’s go in there,” he said, jerking his head toward the Square.
It turned out to be bigger than Aram had expected, and more beautiful than he could imagine. Shops and stores rose around the Square carpeted with emerald grass; iron lamp poles flanked the store entrances and the two-tiered fountains with sparkling water. A bricked belfry was erected between two buildings, tall and narrow, the bell’s enormous waist peeping through the window bars.
In here hangs the bell which rung out the alarm on the Wicked Day,” said the plaque above the belfry door.
The Square was full of people, but due to its great size it didn't seem crowded at all. Aram loved the attires of the Amonshire dwellers, which differed so much from the jeans and the T-shirt he was wearing. Obviously the town had its own fashion, which was a mix of long-trailed 19th century gowns and formal suits worn by the grow-ups, light silken dresses, pants and jackets preferred by the youth, and had a touch of common magician preferences, like star-dotted mantles and pointy hats worn mostly by the elderly, long robes with silver embroidery that seemed to be the favorite of the elves and dryads, and the richly made clothing of the dwarves, the sleeves and collars of their colorful shirts trimmed with gold, their boots made of finest leather, and their hats adorned with gems.
A marble-carved statue stood on a high pedestal in the center of the Square, of a man whose decency and nobleness were palpable even through the cold stone. There was something written across the pedestal. Aram couldn’t read runes, but he knew one when he saw it. The name of the man carved from stone was written in runes and he turned to Theodore for help.
“Who’s that?”
Theodore and Nick stared up at the tall statue on the pedestal. “Feamir the Wise,” Theodore said, “the founder of Amonshire and its first burgomaster. A most incredible person, a half-breed, born in times when half-breeding was outlawed, unlike today. His mother was a witch, the daughter of a wizard and a sorceress, and his father was the son of an elven woman and a goblin warrior. Amonshire was one of the towns founded for half-breeds, like Bìnàn suǒ in China, or Hollow in Ireland, the so-called crossroad towns. You’ll learn more of him during the History class.” While speaking, Theodore had reached Bathsheba's Atelier, where large pointy hats and mantles embroidered with gleaming half-moons were hung behind the glass window. Theodore pushed the door open and all three entered a bright store crammed with shelves and headless mannequins whose unfinished clothing was held together by needle pins sticking out of their bodies. Another mannequin stood in the center, wearing a long blue mantle, and an old witch was pocking needles into the fabric. Seeing the new customers, she snorted, then mumbled, “Another pack of Academy softies. Come here, let me take your measurements.”
The old witch looked so displeased and angry Aram wished he didn’t have to get a robe from her. Too big and menacing looked the needle pins in her hand. A young girl came into the store through another door, holding packs of fabric in her hands, looked at the three boys, and said with a smile:
“Let me help you, Grandmother. Come here, dearie, stand under the light.”
It was certainly better that a pretty young girl would be taking his measurements instead of a grumpy old witch, Aram thought, walking into the brightest part of the store. The girl took a tape measure out of the pocket of her apron, measured Aram's height, the distance between his shoulders, his waist, chest and hands, while a quill on the desk near the window wrote down all the measurements she dictated on an old yellowed parchment. Finishing, the young seamstress approached the desk and scanned the parchment.
“11th column, 5th row, blue and white,” she said to someone invisible, looking at the wall clustered with tall shelves reaching the ceiling. Immediately, one of the drawers opened and folded clothing sprang right into her hands. Smiling, she handed it to Aram, then performed the same trick for Nick and Theodore.
“Thank you,” they said, all smiles and grins, handing her the coupons. The young witch winked and saw them off.
“I can see the bookstore,” Theodore said once they were outside. “Hurry up.”
Aram took his backpack off his back and began shoving the Academy robes into it, keeping a close watch on Theodore's and Nick's backs. Finishing, he stood up and almost stumbled upon an old woman in front of Bathsheba's Atelier. He could swear she hadn’t been there just a second ago. She was small, almost tiny, but not a dwarf. Her delicate frame was the cause of her old age; it seemed that every lived year had made her shrink a bit, and nearing eighty (or maybe ninety?), she had become almost as small as the green toad in her hands. She wasn’t wearing rags, but her clothing looked as old as her, and her broad pointy hat was dusty and patched up. Pressing her pet closely to her chest she was staring at the brand new forest-green hat behind the shop window. Her wrinkly face was sad, her eyes full of unhappiness. And the toad in her hands looked as unhappy as its mistress.
 Aram!” Nick’s voice boomed in the street. Aram turned around. Nick and Theodore were standing in front of the bookstore, waiting for him. Throwing a final glance at the old woman, Aram ran to his friends.
“Scientia potentia est,” was carved over the heavy wooden door. After the bright square the dimly illuminated bookstore seemed too dull, and all three stumbled first over the threshold, then over the chairs left in the middle. A woman was sitting behind a desk in the corner, with square-shaped spectacles on her nose, which enlarged her eyes so much she resembled an owl in the night. She didn’t pay attention to the boys who were stumbling over the chairs and hitting against the bookcases, but continued to stare at the paperwork on her table and mumble something under her breath. She crossed a line with a big quail in her hand, moved her palm up, and the mountain of books in similarly colored bindings lying on the chair nearby rose into the air and soared to the closest bookcase, squeezing into the last empty spaces on the fourth shelf.
Theodore approached the witch, holding up his book coupon, but before he managed to open his mouth, the woman, without taking her large bespectacled eyes from her paperwork, pointed at the tallest bookcase standing against the opposite wall.
Academy, 1st Year,” was inscribed on top of the bookcase.
All three waddled clumsily to the bookcase with rows of shelves and the same fourteen books in colorful bindings. Some of the shelves were already empty, with the Academy coupons left in the books’ places.
“These are ours,” Theodore said. He gathered all fourteen books from one of the shelves, then began shoving them into his backpack. He succeeded with just the first six, and had to carry the other eight under his armpits. Aram and Nick gathered their books, and all three left the bookstore, this time trying not to stumble over anything so as not to drop the books they had barely managed to tuck under their armpits.
The last store was Mr. Filliby’s Stationery. A young magician was interning at the store, and trying to impress his elderly employer who was silently watching him from the corner of his eye, the young magician accepted the coupons, then diligently packed quills and dip pens, inkpots, ink bottles, copy-books in beautiful bindings, metallic rulers, a set of pencils, erasers, small scales and vials, and a pack of embroidered tassels into three wooden cases and handed them to Theodore, Nick, and Aram, who managed to somehow squeeze the cases under their armpits with all the books already there.
“You need a bottomless sack,” the young magician suggested, opening the door for them.
“You know, he’s right,” Theodore said, trying hard to hold the books and the stationery case under his armpits. “We need the sack, and as soon as possible.”
“Should’ve thought of that before,” Nick said, struggling with his own books.
“There’s a magical items' store over there,” Theodore said, “let’s go get one.”
Just as they were crossing the street Aram spotted the beautiful girl with golden hair coming out from one of the stores. The store’s front window was brilliant, with beautiful dresses hanging behind the glass, all glitters and rich fabric. Of all the stores around the Square this one had the most beautiful door—silver bars and glowing blue glass, its top bedecked with crystal pendants chiming in the wind.
gleamed the owner’s name across the door.
Aram stared at the girl. She had a girlfriend with her, both of them carrying blue paper bags and seeming delighted with their purchases. She was closer now and even more beautiful. So beautiful that Aram’s hands went weak and all the books and the wooden case crashed onto the ground. He hurried to collect them. Nick and Theodore had already entered the store, so he had to manage it all alone. By the time he finished, the beautiful girl and her friend had passed the street and were walking toward the arched passage.
Aram entered Leroy’s Magic Empire. This shop was even darker than the bookstore, illuminated by just a dozen of candles standing so high on the shelves their light didn’t manage to reach the floor. Nick and Theodore were nowhere to be found.
The narrow foyer ended with a steep staircase flanked with wooden gargoyles. Aram walked across the foyer to the staircase, all the while staring at the items for sale. What were those jars with colored liquids, he wondered, and those sealed cans with something small bouncing inside them?
Leroy’s Magic Empire, Aram mouthed. Everything inside the shop had to be magical, and he longed to know the secret of anything sold there: what was inside those japanned boxes, what kind of magical power possessed those thick candles that were sold together with those skull-shaped candlesticks, what happened when you put on those golden-framed goggles, what were those thick books about, and who just whispered his name from that locked chest under the wall?
The hair on his neck bristled. Aram stood still, listened. The chest was silent. Could have been his imagination playing tricks inside that murky shop with dust-covered windows and windowpanes littered with scrolls and parchments.
“Nick?” he called, looking up at the staircase, “Teo?”
No one answered.
Ultimately getting angry with the heavy books under his armpits, Aram placed them on the floor and went up the stairs. The store was apparently big, if he couldn’t spot his friends anywhere, but it was also too dimly illuminated for Aram to be able to learn its exact size. He heard a voice and followed it. It surely didn’t belong to Nick or Theodore, as it was thin and gentle, but at least the voice’s host might help him find his friends. Aram looked around. There were mirrors everywhere, big and small, wide and narrow, round and rectangular, framed with silver or wood or even bones. The last mirror gave him shudders. Who in their right mind decorates a mirror frame with bones? He touched the mirror glass, felt its warmth against his palm, then saw the price tag and pulled his hand back immediately. One thousand and five hundred golden Dragons! If he accidently broke that mirror, even selling his grandfather’s house wouldn’t take them out of dept.
The wind blows strong,
The night follows noon,
The souls rise up by the light of the moon.”
The gentle croon was coming from the corner, somewhere behind one of the bookcases, but as Aram peeked behind it, the crooning stopped. A crystal ball was twinkling on the table, and mesmerized, Aram bowed down over it. The crystal ball had seemed empty at first, but gradually, distorted colors began shimmering inside it: deep red, then deep blue, then two big gray dots that winked a few times.
Aram jumped back with a gasp.
“Sorry.” A girl in a blue jacket peeked out from behind the crystal ball and rose to her feet. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Aram stared at her.
“I was trying to… Never mind.” She laughed, drawing a hand through her auburn hair that barely reached her shoulders, going in all directions but down. “Come on, don’t look at me like that, I really didn’t know I wasn’t alone in here.” She smiled with her gray eyes that in the semidarkness seemed abnormally bright.
“Are you alone in here?” she asked.
“I was looking for my friends,” Aram said.
“Is one of them tall and red-haired like me?”
Aram nodded.
“And the other a bit shorter and blond?”
Aram nodded again.
“They went to the other side of the shop, let’s go find them.”
Wordlessly, Aram followed her. She seemed to know the shop better than him and after a few turns in-between the bookcases, Aram spotted Theodore and Nick by a dusty window, examining a brown sack.
“Your friends?” the girl asked Aram.
“There you are!” Nick cried upon seeing Aram. “Look, we’ve found a bottomless sack, now we can put all our books inside it.”
“Good to know,” Aram said, then saw two girls next to Nick and Theodore, surveying a similar sack.
“You sure it won’t get ripped apart?” one of the girls asked, “We’ve got fourteen books each.”
“It won’t,” Theodore assured her, then turned to Aram. “This is Karishma,” he said, pointing at the girl with long black hair and narrow glasses. “And this is Meilin. Both first-years."
A short girl with shiny black hair and a face flat and gentle like the full moon, smiled sweetly to Aram.
"Girls, this is Aram, the third part of our company,” Theodore said.
“Hey,” Karishma smiled, “where are you from?”
“Armenia,” Aram said.
“I’m from India,” Karishma said, “Meilin’s from China.”
“From Bìnàn suǒ?” Nick asked knowingly, and Meilin nodded.
“And who’s your friend?” Theodore said jokingly, looking at the redhead next to Aram.
“Actually, she’s our friend,” Meilin said.
Gwenlian,” the red-haired girl answered. “From Ireland.”
Paying for the two bottomless sacks, all six finally came out of the dark shop and for the first minute had to squint and hide their eyes, so piercing seemed the sunlight after darkness. And because the dinner time was approaching, all six decided to leave sightseeing for another day and took the road to the arched passage. They were passing by Bathsheba's Atelier, when Aram saw the old woman with the toad walking away from the shop-window.
“I’ll catch up with you in a moment,” he told Theodore, and ran back to the store.
“Don't go anywhere!” he told the old woman on his way, rushed into the store, paid one Basilisk and seven Pixies for the green hat with a gleaming gemstone, came out and hurried to the old woman, who was staring at him with a mix of confusion and bewilderment on her ancient face.
“There you go,” Aram said, handing her the hat.
Without saying a word, the old woman took the hat from his hands. Her toad croaked loudly. 
His company was nearing the arched passage, so Aram hurried away without hearing the old woman’s words of gratitude. The turnpikes were raised, and they hurried to cross the road, then headed up the hill, to take a cable car and get back to the Academy.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Amonshire (Ch2, P1) (DRAFT)

I’ve got us a map!” Nick cried, barging into their room.
Aram looked at the cuckoo clock on the wall. It was so early that the witch hadn’t yet come out of the house.
“What map?” Aram asked.
Theodore mumbled something under his breath and pulled the blanket over his head.
“The map of the Academy grounds.” Nick sat on Aram’s bed and almost shoved the map into his face. Rubbing his left eye, which stubbornly didn’t want to open yet, Aram took the map and began unfolding it. The map was thick and consisted of many layers bended over each other, but each time Aram managed to unwrap the map’s four folds, the last two would somehow wrap up beneath the remaining layers.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Nick explained. He took the map from Aram and unfolded just one layer, so that the size of the map didn’t exceed a small rectangle. “This is where we are,” he said, pointing at the page. At the very top of it, in beautiful letters, was written:
You Are Here
“The grounds are very big, and if you try to unfold the whole map, we might drown beneath it,” Nick laughed, “that’s why you should open a fold at a time.”
“But that way I won’t know where things are,” Aram protested.
“Yeah, you won’t. That’s why there are direction signs everywhere. This map is showing you just the closest things, but I still thought it might be useful.”
“Where did you get it from?” Theodore asked, peeping his head from under the blanket.
“From a fifth-year elf. He was reading in an arbor near the bakery. We got into a talk, and he offered me one of his three maps. I wanted to buy all three for the three of us, but the greedy magus wanted one Unicorn for each map. I talked him into fifteen Basilisks. Not bad, huh!” Nick waved the map happily in the air.
“Hate to break it to you, but it seems you’ve been conned,” Theodore said, sitting up in his bed. “One Unicorn equals to ten Basilisks, not twenty, as you’ve mistakenly assumed.”
Nick’s jaw hang open.
“So you’ve actually paid more than one Unicorn,” Theodore continued. “Sorry.”
“Damn that greedy elf,” Nick muttered, then said something in Russian under his breath that made Aram chuckle.
“Let’s go find him,” he told Nick, “and get your money back.”
Huh?” Theodore smirked. “You won’t get anything back from an elf. Never trade with them, they are greedier than dwarves.”
Aram patted Nick on the shoulder. “Was that all you had with you?”
“Not all. But fifteen Basilisks, Chernobog take him!”
Aram smiled again. “Basilisks and Unicorns, what’s that?” he asked. “Is that what the money’s called here?”
“Amonshire uses the old currency,” Theodore said, then stretched his hand to his pants and from its pocket pulled out a few coins. “I don’t have golden Dragons with me, they have the biggest value. Then comes silver Unicorn, then bronze Basilisk.” He showed Aram one silver coin with a rearing unicorn emblazoned in its center, and one bronze coin with a coiling basilisk engraved over its surface.
“In Koldograd we use other currency,” Nick said. “Guess I should be more careful here.”
Aram took the Unicorn from Theodore and looked closely at it, then rubbed the coin with his thumb. “So, one of these silver coins with the unicorn equals to…”
Ten bronze Basilisks,” Theodore said. “And ten silver Unicorns equal to one golden Dragon. The Dragons are slightly bigger but also much flatter, forged from gold.”
Aram turned the coin over and squinted at the inscription on its back circling around an engraved hourglass:
Pecunia, si uti scis, ancilla est; si nescis, domina.
“Anything else?” he asked, returning the coin to Theodore.
“Copper Pixies. They have the smallest value. Ten Pixies for one Basilisk.” Theodore found a copper coin in his pocket and tossed it at Aram, who caught it midair and deftly turned it over in-between his fingers.
Adprime in vita esse utile, ut ne quid nimis,” said the inscription around the hourglass. A thin-limbed, pointy-eared creature gleamed on the other side of the coin.
“Is there something like an international bank here, where I could exchange money?” Aram asked, and tossed the copper coin back to Theodore.
“Not sure about a bank, but there should be exchange booths, you can get a few Basilisks and maybe a couple of Unicorns for what you’ve got with you.”
Aram thought of the little money he had in his backpack. He wouldn’t have taken more from Grandpa Kevork, who was hardly making both ends meet. Two to three Basilisks and maybe as many Pixies were probably all he could get. He thought about what Grandpa Kevork was up to now.
“How do I get back home?” Aram asked. “I’m not sure I remember the exact location of the tunnel I crept through.”
Nick grinned. “You can’t go back that same way. Moreover, once you leave, you won’t be coming back to the Academy that same way. It’s a onetime road.”
And?” Aram stared at Nick, expectant.
“There are other ways to get back home,” Theodore said, glancing at the cuckoo clock. “Time for breakfast is approaching. Afterwards, we’re going to town after stationery and books. You’ll see the transportation means all by yourself,” he said, smiling cunningly. That was the glance people gave you when they were going to show you something extraordinary, Aram thought. After breakfast they crossed the castle grounds and walked to the gates. Nick kept looking into his map, as if trying to justify his pointless (as Theodore called it) purchase, but the direction arrows rising high on the grounds gave them enough information to reach the gates in less than twenty minutes.
“If not for this bushy maze, we could’ve reached the town much earlier,” Theodore said in dismay.
But Aram loved the garden maze, even though it slowed down their pace and hid most of the view. Still, the garden was too beautiful to complain, blooming with big-budded flowers Aram had never seen before, teeming with curved trees with golden-colored fruits hanging down their low branches, and filled with mazing paths that threatened to take them to the other side of the grounds if they misread the direction arrows. They were almost by the big bronze fountain with the spinning witches when Aram saw the gardener who was trimming the flourishing bushes nearby. It was an old woman with gray hair collected into a bun on the top of her head, wearing a checkered skirt and an apron dotted with multiple pockets. The clippers in her hand seemed too big and heavy for a small-framed woman like her, but she used them with much agility, never once stopping to take a breath during the whole time Aram was passing behind her back.
“This way.” Theodore pointed to the right as they came out of the open gates.
Aram looked around. The only thing familiar outside of the castle wall was the narrow path he had taken the other day to reach the gate. But there were other roads too, stretching down across the hill, or moving up into the mountains on the left. There was a forest spreading around the castle, thick and gloomy, overgrown with trees taller and thicker than the castle pillars, but no paved road stretched to the forest and no soul that walked out of the gates neared the old oaks and their tangled branches.
The road that Theodore took stretched down the hill and after a few more steps a colorful town enclosed inside a chain of mountains opened before their eyes.
“Is that…?” Aram asked.
“Amonshire,” Theodore said. “One of the most beautiful magical towns in the world. Follow me.”
He led them to the top of the closest hill, to a small hut painted in light blue and covered with golden thatch, surrounded by a wooden fence. A narrow strip of snow-white smoke was curling out of the hut's long chimney, and judging by the sounds coming out of the hut, there were gears working at full speed. An elderly man with a long white beard wrapped around his neck and a short pointy hat on his round head was standing on the other side of the fence, once in a while glancing at the pocket-watch in his hand. A group of Academy students was crowding the entrance to the hut, and while Theodore was stretching up to see how many people in the line were before them, Aram was staring at the small pieces of clouds soaring above the hill and down to the town. What seemed strange to him was that all the clouds were of the same size and similarly shaped, as if they had been neatly cut out of the largest cloud above their heads that was shielding the sun now.
“Aren’t we supposed to go down the hill?” Aram asked Nick.
“I guess so,” Nick said, stretching up just like Theodore and trying to see why everyone was queuing by the hut.
We’ll be taking an aerial tramway,” Theodore told them, making Aram and Nick look up into the sky.
“I don’t see any ropeway,” Nick said.
Aram looked around, searching for any kind of towers that might support the tramway cables. He didn’t see any ropes or lines, but fixed his eyes on a girl in the line, with emerald eyes and hair shining like gold. She was surrounded by other girls, as pretty as her, but there was something different about her. It could have been the sound of her laughter, or just the smile in her eyes, or maybe the way the cool breeze played with her hair, but Aram could swear he hadn’t seen anyone more beautiful in all of his thirteen years.
“Is everyone here from the Academy?” he whispered to Theodore.
“Most of them, yes. This tramway’s usually used by the Academy students for reaching the town, but other people can use it too.”
I still don’t see any ropeway or a cable car,” Nick complained, putting his weight from one foot to the other. “Are you sure we’re at the right place?”
Aram was to ask the same thing when one of the car-sized clouds gently descended on the other side of the fence. The pocket watch in the old man’s hand let out a loud clink and he hurried to the thick white vapor that was now soaring obediently over the ground. The old man, who turned out to be the tramway conductor, reached out to the cloud and, to Aram’s total bewilderment, opened a door. Three people came out of the cloud and walked to the other side of the fence, then came out of an open gate and went down the hill. Aram saw them off with his eyes, turned to look back at the conductor and the car-sized cloud.
"Students?" the conductor asked the blond girl Aram had been watching. She and her girlfriends nodded all at the same time and one after the other slid into the cloud. The conductor shut the door which Aram still could not see but heard it cling, then stepped back and glanced at his pocket watch. The cloud gently soared into the air and began descending over the hills toward the town as if supported by an invisible cable.
“We are going to ride on a cloud?” Aram asked, gawking at the cloud that was now far over the mountains. He felt weak in the knees but said nothing about that.
“It’s not a cloud, but a cabin inside white vapor. If someone outside Amonshire sees it, he’ll take it for a cloud. An aerial tramway without cables would rise a lot of unnecessary questions, don’t you think so?” Theodore said.
It would, Aram had to agree. They were the last in the line, and when the conductor opened the gate for them, Aram once again felt weak in the knees. He braced himself up and tried to look as calm as possible, so that Nick and Theodore would not see his shaking palms.
The conductor’s clock clank, he opened the cabin door, a few people came out, and then Theodore bent down and calmly stepped right into the thick cloud. Nick followed him, though not as confidently. It was his first time too.
“We have something else in Koldograd for short distance travels,” he said, getting in, “and I like it more.”
Aram clenched his shaking palms and got inside the cloud. As Theodore had told, it wasn’t actually a cloud, but a glass cabin sporting comfortable seats with seatbelts. The cloud was thick around the walls and above the roof, but was thinner beneath the cabin floor, offering a full sight of the view below.
“The Woodland looks even creepier from this height, and does it even have an end?” Theodore was musing out loud, while neither Aram nor Nick dared look down. “Look at the sea, it’s calm today.”
Aram forced himself to look down at the sea. His breath clogged in his throat. It was beautiful, but also vast, an endless layer of blue stretching into the horizon. The mere idea of falling into those waves was terrifying.
Unlike Aram, Nick was still not daring to look down. Moreover, he was sitting with his eyes closed and taking slow breaths.
“Nick, you alright?” Aram asked him.
“Yeah, sure. It’s just taking longer than I thought.”
We’re almost there,” Theodore assured him. “Two minutes the most.”
Now Aram could see Amonshire, its old-styled thoroughfares and narrow roads, the tall buildings with pillars at their fronts and the smaller ones with conical roofs; the long river snaking through the town and the bridges hanging over its blue waters, the sea port with wooden ships and white sails, and the big stadium covered with green grass; a colored tent that could be a circus and an airport for dirigible balloons, one of which was rising into the sky.
“Unbelievable,” Aram whispered, watching the ship-sized dirigible float into the air and take a course to the west.
“I told you there are other means of transportation,” Theodore said.
Nick still didn’t open his eyes.
The cabin came to a halt and the conductor opened the door. This one was younger, with a long brown beard coiling around his neck. The moment they stepped on the ground, Nick and Aram let out a heavy sigh of relief. Theodore grinned.
“You’ll get used to it.”
“Let’s hope he’s right,” Nick whispered to Aram as they walked to the open gate, where a pillar with direction arrows rose on the ground.
Town Council, Museum of Magic, Public Library, Prefecture, Square, Stadium, which way are we supposed to go?” Aram asked.
“The shops we need are around the Square,” Theodore said. “I’ve been only once to Amonshire, so if we have time, we can have a bit of sightseeing. When the classes begin, I don’t think any of us will be thinking about visiting the town after some fun.”
Aram and Nick exchanged curious glances. Surely, the classes couldn’t be as hard as Theodore kept telling them. Aram thought of the three coupons in his backpack. The first was to be used for the textbooks they had to get from a bookstore called Witches Read. The other two were for Mr. Filliby’s Stationery and Bathsheba’s Atelier. If he needed anything else, Aram had to buy it on his own.
“So where’s the exchange booth?” he asked.
Theodore looked around. “I'm almost positive there’ll be one by the square.”
Following direction arrows they soon stepped on the cobbled alley leading to the town square. It was mostly Theodore who was looking at the arrows and searching for the way. Aram and Nick were constantly distracted by the unknown town's thoroughfares, the fountains that were even more wondrous than the big one on the Academy grounds, the colorful buildings with sculpted facades, the stone bridges hanging over the river that babbled through the whole town. It seemed at first that the old-fashioned carriages passing across the cobbled streets were the only means of transportation, until Aram didn’t jump up from a sudden whoosh whistling above his head. It wasn’t a bird, nor a broom with a witch, but a flying carpet, rectangular in its form, woven from colorful threads and carrying two passengers. Next second the long-awaited brooms came into view. From a closer sight it turned out they had saddles (sometimes even two) and some of them even had commodities like a steering wheel shaped in a form of a slingshot. The whooshing stopped the moment they stepped on a mosaic pavement, where there stood a round sign with a pair of wings that was crossed with red. It wasn’t hard to guess that the street wasn’t intended for flying. The buildings flanking the street were connected to each other with arched bridges, and flying through them could be dangerous for both the fliers and the people crossing those bridges.
“Did you see those witches on green brooms?” Theodore asked Aram and Nick. “Those were the postwitches. They carry letters everywhere.”
Aram glanced back at the street where flying wasn’t prohibited, hoping to catch a glimpse of a postwitch. “Will they take a letter to my Grandpa?” he asked.
“To anyone whose address is correctly spelled on the envelope,” Theodore said. “But if you’re not ready to write a letter now, you can do that at the Academy. Will says there’s a post box by the gates and a postwitch collects the letters every day.”
The mosaic street led them to an arched passage with curvy letters engraved over its entrance:
The Square of Feamir the Wise
A narrow booth stood nearby, with a strangely shaped roof that resembled a sack of coins. A small man in a greenish hat was sitting behind the window, looking like a mix of a dwarf and a garden gnome.
A leprechaun,” Nick said, as they went closer to the booth. “The greediest of all.”
Aram took all the money he had from his back pocket, counted them and placed them on the stand in front of the leprechaun. The leprechaun had such a disgruntled look Aram expected him to push the money away and shut the window, but he rubbed the coins between his fingers, held the few banknotes against the light, grunted and hid away Aram’s money, then placed coins on the stand. 
“Six Basilisks and nine Pixies,” he said.