Toadmila remembered the man well. They used to call him “His Lordship” at the orphanage. She remembered the condescending way in which he talked to the sisters, and the way he looked at each of the children, inspecting them as if they were cattle to be bought at the market.
“You should stop scowling at His Lordship before he notices, Toady,” Gilbert whispered in her ear. “He's going to ruin my plan if he gets mad at you before I talk to Father.”
“Your plan,” Toadmila said stiffly, “is to give me the ten gold coins you owe me, and let me go back to Grimwood.”
“No,” Gilbert answered, pulling away the tapestry. “It's better than that.”
He walked into the great hall and let the tapestry fall behind him. Toadmila didn't know if to go with him or go back. She wanted her money badly enough to wait in the corridor, but perhaps not badly enough to risk being beheaded for sneaking up on the king from behind the throne. She heard clattering of swords and chain mail as the guards turned to see the prince walking to his father's throne. She did not dare move even an inch of the tapestry to look, not with all the eyes in the room turned in that direction.
“Father,” she heard the prince say.
His voice was cut off by the sound of feet running and heavy fabric rustling.
“Mother, please!” the prince's voice resonated through the hall. “The guards from the gate have already sent word that I'm alive and well. You can let go now.”
Toadmila pressed her nose against the edge of the tapestry to look. She saw the queen, still young and breathtakingly beautiful in her golden dress, hugging the prince with no evident intention of letting go.
“Mother, please,” Gilbert insisted, trying to push her away. “My savior awaits to be introduced to you.”
“Your savior?” the queen cried. “Then you were in danger! We thought this was one of your pranks. Lefroy assured us–”
“That I am in good hands,” Gilbert interrupted her. “Or at least that's what he should have said.”
“He said you were safe,” the queen babbled.
“Saved,” Gilbert pronounced. “Saved from unprecedented boredom. I owe a great deal of gratitude to the witch of Grimwood Forest, who has provided me with much needed entertainment the last two days, while I made my way back here. Father, we must reward her!
He waited a moment for the king's approval, then turned to the tapestry and motioned for Toadmila to come forward.
Toadmila considered if now might be a good time to turn him into a worm. Boredom indeed, with all of Lefroy's warnings of wars and assassinations! But a quick look at the guards assured her that this was not a good time to anger the king.
“Miss Wartly!” Gilbert called impatiently, and Toadmila found herself pulling away the tapestry and walking to his side, as if she's been summoned by magic.
Before the king, she dropped into her deepest curtsy yet, keeping her eyes on the floor and resolving to be polite.
“We are grateful for whatever assistance you have given our son, Miss Wartly,” the king said in a deep voice.
Toadmila did not dare look up to see if he was frowning or smiling.
“Our treasurer will see that you are properly rewarded,” the king went on.
“Miss Wartly deserves more than that, Father,” Gilbert said quickly. “I have decided that I want my own adviser. You have Lefroy, I want her.”