Still in Maldon, we’re about to have a chat with Pascal Levek, the town postmaster. Unsurprisingly, Pascal spends most of his time at the posthouse, where he either deals with customers downstairs or looks after the messenger birds upstairs with the help of his son, Georges. I didn’t have the chance to meet Georges, who also looks after after the domestic fowl — mainly chickens — which are kept in wheeled coops.
IC: Pascal, thank you for agreeing to speak with me.
PL: A pleasure. I enjoy meeting new people.
IC: I’m curious. What does your role involve? Maldon seems like a fairly small town, and I’d imagine the amount of post between townsfolk is quite small.
PL (laughs): Oh, townsfolk don’t use the postal system to communicate with each other. You’re quite right, we’re a small town. It’s far quicker to simply knock on someone’s door or hand deliver a note.
IC: So who does get post?
PL: Messages are usually sent between Ascar and here, although sometimes between two settlements. The convoy captains often send and receive messages when they reach a new settlement on their tour of duty. There are occasional communications between our artisan here and Ascar’s techne people, who might share technical knowledge or dispense advice. Of course, there’s always the possibility of sending emergency messages to Ascar if we need help although that’s a very rare occasion indeed.
IC: I’d imagine so. Has that ever happened?
PL: Since I’ve been postmaster, just the once, a few months ago. The mayor had a specific concern and ordered me to send an emergency bird. I will say, Ascar responded immediately and even sent a blimp with a captain to investigate the problem. We’re lucky to be so well looked after.
IC: I do hope the problem was sorted.
PL (scrubs at a spot on the table): Yes, it was. But that’s between the mayor and Ascar.
IC: I noticed you referred to “emergency bird”. Are all your messages sent using birds?
PL: Yes, they’re faster than sending someone physically, and far safer, with all those beasts in the wilderness.
IC: So… someone delivers a batch of birds that have hatched elsewhere? And you maintain a group of birds for each settlement, as well as for Ascar?
PL (blankly): Oh no, it doesn’t work like that at all. We hatch our birds locally, and train them up here.
IC: Uh, how does that work?
PL: I’ll show you…
Here, Pascal led me outside and up the external stairs. But he didn’t take me into the bird room. Instead, he led me up to the roof, which was flat with a bird coop near the stairs. Painted on the roof was a pair of signs, like this.
PL: Each settlement has its own symbol and we have a list of them all. The first symbol says this is Maldon. The second symbol, with legs pointing in four directions, says this is a post office. If someone in… let’s say Keighley, a village west of here… wanted to send a message to us, they’d tie a message to a bird’s leg, then show it a paper with these two symbols drawn on it. Then, when they launch the bird, it knows what to search for. When it sees the symbols on this roof, it lands. Usually it goes into the coop, which I check twice daily, although if I’ve left a window open and it’s been here before it might hop inside.
IC: … wow. That’s quite a system, with pretty clever birds. I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything like it before.
PL (brow wrinkling): It’s the standard, isn’t it? But… where did you say you were from?
At that point, I made my excuses and terminated the interview.