'Right. He did children's parties.'
Tiger put his hand over his mouth.
'He lowered himself, for them them? For Lady Mawgon and Moobin and those batty sisters whose name I can't remember?'
'All of them. He used to do the events out of town, of course, and in disguise. Simple stuff: rabbits out of hats, card tricks, minor levitation. But one afternoon he must have had a surge. He vanished in a puff of green smoke during his finale. Hasn't come back.'
'So when you said he'd disappeared, you really meant it.'
'Totally. He'll spontaneously reappear eventually, but I have no idea where, or when. I can't get the others to help because I'd have to reveal what he'd been up to, and I can't see the old man humiliated. On the plus side, the kids thought he was great, and a standing ovation from five-year-olds is not to be sniffed at.'
'But that's not the whole story, is it?' said Tiger, holding up a battered copy of Simpkin's Foundling Law Simpkin's Foundling Law.
'No,' I replied. 'Until he comes back or is declared dead or lost, he can't sign us out of our indentured servitude. Technically speaking, we're here until we die.'
Tiger closed the book.
'That's what I thought.'
'He'll come back,' I a.s.sured him, 'or failing that, I'll confess everything and we'll have him declared lost. In any event, I've still got four years to run, and you've got nine. Lots can happen.'
I smiled at him and he smiled back. It was my way of telling him not to worry, and his way of agreeing that he shouldn't.
'I'm going to go and see Moobin,' I told him. 'I need to know how the wizards are feeling. Keep well away from Lady Mawgon and I'll see you later.'
I found Wizard Moobin in his room. He had repaired the door, but was still busy tidying up his room after the explosion. There was almost nothing unbroken. The power of magic can be devastating when uncontrolled. He was there with Half Price, Full Price's very similar little brother. They were so similar, in fact, that I often wondered about the fact that you never saw them together. There was someone else in the room, too, someone I didn't recognise.
'Ah,' said Moobin when he saw me, 'it's you. This is Mr Stamford, a lapsed sorcerer from Mercia. He'll be staying with me for a few days. Mr Stamford, this is Jennifer Strange.'
Stamford was a sallow man with greasy ha
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