THE LAST DRAGONSLAYER
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Jasper Fforde 2010
The right of Jasper Fforde to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
Epub ISBN 978 1 444 70719 9
Book ISBN 978 1 444 70717 5
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
An Hachette UK Company
338 Euston Road
For Stella Morel
The grandmother I never knew
The daughter I will
Once, I was famous. My face appeared on T-shirts, badges, commemorative mugs and posters. I made front-page news, appeared on TV and was even a special guest on
The Yogi Baird Show. The Daily Clam
called me ‘The year’s most influential teenager’ and I was the
Mollusc on Sunday
’s woman of the year. Two people tried to kill me, I was threatened with jail, had sixteen offers of marriage and was outlawed by King Snodd. All that and more besides, and in less than a week.
My name is Jennifer Strange.
It looked set to become even hotter by the afternoon, just when the job was becoming more fiddly and needed extra concentration. But the fair weather brought at least one advantage: dry air makes magic work better and fly farther. Moisture has a moderating effect on the Mystical Arts. No sorcerer worth their sparkle ever did productive work in the rain – which probably accounts for why getting showers to
was once considered easy, but getting them to
was nigh-on impossible.
A taxi or minibus would have been a needless extravagance, so the three sorcerers, myself and the beast were packed into my Volkswagen for the short journey from Hereford to King’s Pyon. The well-proportioned ‘Full’ Price was driving, Lady Mawgon was in the passenger seat and I was in the back with Wizard Moobin and the Quarkbeast, who sat panting in between the two of us. We were three-fifths of our way through an uncomfortable silence as we showed our passes to the sentry and drove from the walled city and into the suburbs. The silence was not unusual. Despite the three of them being our most versatile sorcerers, they didn’t really get along. It wasn’t anything particularly personal; sorcerers are just like that – temperamental, and apt to break out into petulant posturing that took time and energy to smooth over. Running Kazam Mystical Arts Management was less about spells and enchantments and more about bureaucracy and diplomacy – working with those versed in the magical Arts was sometimes like trying to herd cats. The job at King’s Pyon was too big for Price and Moobin alone, so I’d had to coax Lady Mawgon into making up the shortfall. She thought this sort of work beneath her, but like all of them, was realistic. Kazam was almost broke, and we badly needed the cash.
‘I do wish you would keep your hands on the wheel,’ said Lady Mawgon in an aggrieved tone as she shot a disapproving glance at Full Price, who was steering by spell. The wheel was turning by itself, while Price’s arms were folded neatly in front of him. To Lady Mawgon, who in better days had once been Sorceress to Royalty, open displays of magic were the mark of the guileless show-off, and the hopelessly ill bred.
‘I’m just tuning up,’ replied Full Price indignantly. ‘Don’t tell me you don’t need to.’
Both I and Wizard Moobin looked at Lady Mawgon, eager to know how she
tuning up. Moobin had prepared for the job by tinkering with the print of the
Hereford Daily Eyestrain
. Since leaving the office twenty minutes before he had filled in the crossword. Not unusual in itself since the
’s crossword is seldom hard, except that he had used printed letters from elsewhere on the page and
them across using his mind alone. The crossword was now complete and more or less correct – but it left an article on Queen Mimosa’s patronage of the Troll War Widows Fund looking a trifle disjointed.
‘I am not required to answer your question,’ replied Lady Mawgon in a haughty tone, ‘and what’s more, I detest the term “tuning up”. It’s
, and always has been.’
‘Using the old language makes us sound archaic and out of touch,’ replied Price.
‘It makes us sound as we are meant to be,’ replied Lady Mawgon, ‘of a noble calling.’
noble calling, thought Moobin, inadvertently broadcasting his subconscious on an alpha so low even I could sense it. Lady Mawgon swivelled in her chair to glare at him. I sighed. This was my life.
Of the fifteen sorcerers, movers, soothsayers, shifters, weathermongers and carpeteers at Kazam, Lady Mawgon was certainly the oldest, and probably the most powerful. Like everyone else she had seen her powers fade dramatically over the past three decades or so, but unlike everyone else, she’d not really come to terms with the failure of the Mystical Arts to be relevant in everyone’s lives. In her defence, she had fallen farther than the rest of them, but this wasn’t really an excuse: the Sisters Karamazov could also claim once-royal patronage, and they were nice as apricot pie. Mad as a kettle of onions the pair of them, but pleasant nonetheless.
I might have felt more sorry for Mawgon if she hadn’t been so difficult all the time. She had an intimidating manner that made me feel small and ill at ease, and she rarely if ever missed an opportunity to put me in my place. Since Mr Zambini’s disappearance, she’d got worse, not better.
‘Quark,’ said the Quarkbeast.
‘Did we have to bring the beast?’ asked Full Price, who had never really got along with it.
‘It jumped in the car when I opened the door.’
The Quarkbeast yawned, revealing several rows of razor-sharp fangs. Despite his placid nature, you never argued with a Quarkbeast, just in case.
‘I would be failing in my duty as acting manager of Kazam,’ I began cautiously, ‘if I didn’t mention how important this job is. Mr Zambini always said that we needed to adapt to survive, and if we get this right we could possibly tap a lucrative market that we badly need.’
‘Humph!’ said Lady Mawgon, irritated by my words, true as they may have been.
‘We all need to be in
and ready to hit the ground running,’ I added, directing the comment at Lady Mawgon. ‘I told Mr Digby we’d all be done by six this evening.’
They didn’t argue. I think they knew the score well enough without me spelling it out. In silent answer, Lady Mawgon tapped the Volkswagen’s fuel gauge and it rose from half to full. Despite her sulky demeanour, she was well tuned.
I knocked on the door of a red-brick house at the edge of the village, and a middle-aged man with a ruddy face answered.
‘Mr Digby? My name is Jennifer Strange of Kazam, acting manager for Mr Zambini. We spoke on the phone.’
He looked me up and down.
‘You seem a bit young to be running an agency.’
‘Indentured servitude,’ I answered brightly, trying to sidestep the contempt that most free citizens had for people like me. I had been brought up by the Sisterhood, who were not really up with the times, and still thought Mystical Arts Management was a worthy and gainful career. I was almost sixteen years old, and still had four years of unpaid work before I could even
‘You still look too young, indentured or not,’ replied Mr Digby, who wasn’t so easily put off. ‘Where’s Mr Zambini?’
‘He’s indisposed at present,’ I replied. ‘I have assumed his responsibilities. May we get started?’
‘Very well,’ replied Mr Digby sullenly as he fetched his hat and coat, ‘but we agreed you’d be done by six, yes?’
I said that this was so, and he handed me his house keys and left, after nodding a suspicious greeting to Mawgon, Price and Moobin, who were standing next to the Volkswagen. He took a wide berth to avoid the Quarkbeast, climbed into his car and drove away. It was not a good idea to have civilians about when sorcery was afoot. Even the stoutest incantations carried redundant strands of spell that could cause havoc if allowed to settle on the general public. Nothing serious ever happened; it was mostly rapid nose hair growth, oinking like a pig, that sort of stuff. It soon wore off, but it was bad PR – and the threat of litigation was never far from our thoughts.
‘Right,’ I said to the three of them, ‘over to you.’
The three mages looked at each other. Of the fifty-two Mystical Artisans at Kazam, most were retired or too insane to be of any practical use. Thirteen were capable of working, but of these, only seven had current licences. When one worked, they worked to support four others.
‘I used to conjure up storms,’ said Lady Mawgon with a sigh.
‘So could we all,’ replied the Wizard Moobin.
‘Quark,’ said the Quarkbeast.
I moved away from where the three sorcerers were discussing the best place to start. None of them had rewired a house by sorcery before, but by reconfiguring a few basic spells it was decided that such a project could be done, and with relative ease – so long as the three of them pooled their resources. It was Mr Zambini’s idea to move into the home improvement market. Charming moles from gardens, resizing stuff for the self-storage industry and finding lost things was easy work, but it didn’t pay well. Rewiring, however, was quite different. Unlike conventional electricians, we didn’t need to touch the house in order to do it. No mess, no problems, and all done in under a day.