Illustrations by Rachel Finnegan
(Please check out her work at: http://www.rachelfineganillustration.blogspot.co.uk )
There is a small rock just off the coast of Kent and upon this rock squats Howlspark boarding school, an institution dedicated to teaching students about the elements and In Oculus Quad. Now, it used to be that this boarding school had an entry fee. Sometimes there were donors who would make sure poor families could afford to send their children to Howlspark. However, one year there were too many poor families and too few donors and, just as the school applications office was about to close, a poor bookseller with a handsome son called Meade came to the headmaster. Knowing he couldn’t afford the fees for his son but not wanting to disappoint him, he lied to the headmaster and said, ‘My son can fold paper into platinum.’
The headmaster replied, ‘That’s an impressive skill. If your son is as gifted as you state, bring him here tomorrow and I’ll put him to the test.’
When the boy was brought to the headmaster, he was taken to a room that was full of tottering stacks of paper. The headmaster said, ‘Now, set to work. If by tomorrow morning you haven’t succeeded in turning these mountains of paper into platinum. Well, you must die.’
The headmaster was a bit old-fashioned and very rather harsh, but those were the terms. The son mutely nodded. The door was locked and he was left alone. He stared at the paper and, now and then, took a piece and folded it but nothing would happen. It would remain being a piece of paper. It wasn’t long until he was pacing the room. His hands balled into fists, his teeth clenched. As the day drew on and Meade was no closer to making the paper platinum, he started to shout and rave. Then, quite abruptly, there was a popping noise and there appeared a little creature that looked like a man with a long nose and no ears, who said, ‘Good evening, sir. Why are you so annoyed?’
‘My dad’s sent me here to die. I don’t know what I’ve done to annoy him but he’s told the headmaster I can make platinum from folding paper. That, I don’t have a clue how to do.’
‘What will you give me,’ said the strange creature, ‘if I do it for you?’
‘This ring on my finger,’ said Meade.
The little creature took the ring then started whizzing around the room. Fold, fold, fold, place, and a piece of paper were now a sheet of platinum. He put it in its own pile and picked up another piece of paper. Fold, fold, fold, place, and another piece of paper had turned to platinum. And so the creature continued until all the stacks of paper had been turned into piles of platinum stacked around the room.
When the next day broke open, the headmaster returned and when he saw the new wealth in that room he was stunned and delighted. But his heart was full of greed. He had the bookseller’s son taken into another room full of pieces of paper, these piles were much higher. Again, he commanded Meade to fold the paper if he valued his life. The son knew not how to do it, and started to rage again. Bellowing, shouting and knocking the pieces of paper onto the floor. Still, the strange creature appeared and said, ‘What will you give me if I fold the paper into platinum for you?’
‘This pendant I’m wearing,’ answered the boy.
The little creature took the pendant and began to fold the paper. By morning the creature had folded all the paper into shining platinum.
The headmaster laughed and performed a little jig at the sight, but still it wasn’t enough. And the bookseller’s son was taken into a bigger room full of piles of paper that stretched from floor to ceiling, and said, ‘You must fold all this, too. But if you succeed, you shall have a place at this school and become my successor.’
Even if he is a bookseller’s son, thought the headmaster, I couldn’t find a richer successor in the whole world. He’d make this school very wealthy and I’d be the one to be thanked. After all, I was the one who would’ve permitted him in the first place.
When Meade was alone again the strange creature returned for the third time, and said, ‘What will you give me I fold the paper for you this time?’
‘I’ve nothing left to give,’ answered Meade.
‘Then promise me, if you eventually become headmaster, to give me your best students to be my servants.’
Who knows if that’ll be the case? Meade thought. Still, there didn’t seem a way out so he promised the strange creature what was wanted.
When the headmaster came in the morning, and found a fortune of platinum, he allowed Meade into Howlspark. Many years later, after hard work that earned him good grades, Meade left the school.
A couple of decades later, the headmaster was taken ill and Meade was called for. There was a little confusion over the headmasters’ resignation but, as promised, Meade became the next headmaster. During the first night of Meade’s new office, the strange creature appeared and said, ‘Now remember what was promised.’
Meade was horror-struck, and offered the little man wealth, books, magical items and more if he would leave the school children alone. But the creature said, ‘No, something alive is dearer to me than all the objects in this school.’
Then Meade began to grow angry and frustrated, so he threatened the creature. The creature, scared of how powerful Meade had become, said, ‘I will give you three days. If by the third day you’ve discovered my name, then the smartest and most gifted students will remain free.’
Meade stayed up the whole night, writing a list of all the names he’d ever heard. The next morning, he summoned the teachers and school ministers to a meeting and asked them about the names they knew. When the creature returned, Meade began with Calor, Crepitus, Flamma, Vapos, Ardor and all the other names of the important Fata (also known as fairies) that dwelt in In Oculus Quad. But to every single one the strange creature just shook his head and said, ‘Guess again.’
On the second day Meade had all the students in the school send, on square bits of paper, the names of their families and friends to his office. He read off the many sheets, from the most ordinary to the most extraordinary. Perhaps your name is Ethan, Sophia or Hannelore, Vittoria, or Magnolia, but the creature always answered, ‘Guess again.’
On the third day Meade sent the caretaker into the very heart of In Occulus Quad to try and find a name that was most peculiar and wonderful. When the caretaker returned, he said, ‘I went to the highest mountain and to the deepest part of the seas, where the catfish and the dogfish are the best of friends. I was about to give up hope, as you needed the answer this evening, but as I was coming back out of the water I saw a little tent. Before the tent was a fire and round the fire a creature with a long nose but no ears danced and hopped and hollered, saying
‘To-day I mine, to-morrow build,
The next I’ll own a slaver’s guild.
Ha, glad am I that no one knew
That I be named Bulgerinstiltew.’
Meade, at hearing this, was very happy and instantly gave the caretaker a pay rise. It wasn’t long after that the strange creature came in and said, ‘Now, headmaster, what is my name?’
At first he said, ‘Is it Spina?’
‘Is it Argentum?’
‘Perhaps it’s Bulgerinstiltew?’
‘A fiend has told you that! I spit upon that fiend!’ cried the strange creature, and in his rage he stamped his right foot so hard that it broke through the floorboards. And then, still in a rage, he pulled at his left leg with such force that he tore himself in two.